Friday, January 06, 2012

Noah gets a haircut!

Ha ha, that title makes me laugh, simply because it could almost read: "Noah gets a hair cut" such was the minimal nature of the trim he received on Tuesday.  He'd had this long piece in the front that had actually started to get into his eyes, and just ended up looking random and out of place all the time, so we decided to have a go at doing something about it.  At first we lined up for Matt to hold him and me to do the cutting, but I proved absolutely useless and Matt and I swapped places so that he actually did the cutting.  Not very significant in terms of length removed, but I still saved the small little locket in an envelope, sealed with the date and the fact that Noah's first barber was none other than dear old Dad.  It has looked so much better all week, though his nursery teachers still say he reminds them of Tintin because of his 'do!
Before...looking a bit straggly!

Ha ha, Daddy, I'll show you how to do it...!

Next time I'll just do it myself.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Book Review: Room

I had heard about Room a little bit sometime last year but didn't seek it out.  When, the week before Christmas, I saw it on the shelf at our local temporary library, I was pleased to find a book that I was interested in reading (as most of the time with the library, I have to have a book in mind that I want to read before ordering it).
Room is amazing.  Sad, shocking, horrifying...but funny, heart-warming, and well, just amazing.  As I started it two days ago (or was it just yesterday), I read a few of the one-liner reviews on the back: "This book will break your heart" and "Affecting and uplifting".  I thought to myself, how can it break your heart and be uplifting - it doesn't seem possible. 
But somehow, it did and was both.  Room is the story of Jack and his Ma.  Jack's five and has only ever known the inside of Room.  There was a moment when I was reading, about 100 pages in, where I went downstairs and told Matt that the book I was reading was very sad.  He asked me why I was reading it.  "Because it's also really good," was my reply, before I headed back up to keep reading.  Jack's narration is so innocently poignant, yet acutely honest.  It pained me to think of the infinite love, patience, imagination, and strength that Jack's Ma had to display, for the most part constantly, apart from the days when she was "Gone".  It pained me because most days I get fed up and I have everything I could ever need.  They had near enough the complete opposite.

One passage in particular made me smile:
In the world I notice persons are nearly always stressed and have no time.  Even Grandma often says that, but she and Steppa don't have jobs, so I don't know how persons with jobs do all the jobs and all the living as well.  In Room me and Ma had time for everything.  I guess the time gets spread very thin like butter over all the world, the roads and houses and playgrounds and stores, so there's only a little smear of time on each place, then everyone has to hurry on to the next bit.

Also everywhere I'm looking at kids, adults mostly don't seem to like them, not even the parents do.  They call the kids gorgeous and so cute, they make the kids do the thing all over again so they can take a photo, but they don't actually want to play with them, they'd rather drink coffee talking to other adults.  Sometimes there's a small kid crying and the Ma of it doesn't even hear. 
Although it made me smile the first time I read it, it's made me sad when I've re-typed in all out.  The great paradox of parenting: how can a child be that most gorgeous wonderful creature that you do just need a break from or else you'll go crazy?!

It's been an especially strange to time to read Room, I think, coming just as we went back to work and nursery after the Christmas break.  This morning, I observed within myself that low-level stress that exists in the hours before 8:00 am (really should be 7:55) when I'm trying to get everyone ready and out the door in time to get myself to work.  How I loved the generally no-deadline, no-schedule way of the past week and a half!  Without work, I think, I would have time to play more with the kids, focus on them more, be more there for them.  But then, I know this isn't probably actually's just what I tell myself.   Ma in Room is incredible.  There's a part where someone - her mother, I think - is questioning why she didn't propose that Jack be let out in the real world, to live a better life.  Her reply is that he had everything by being with her.    That part just nearly broke my heart.  And yet, you imagine she wondered all the time whether she did the right thing. 

I loved this article with Room author, Emma Donoghue.  I loved Jack and his voice, his awareness of language and yet innocence about certain aspects of speech (idioms, metaphors, how a sign at a clothing shop that says "Men, Women, Children" doesn't mean that it sells those!).  I loved this book and I think it will stay with me for quite a while.  The heartbreaking and the uplifting parts, all of them.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Our wild life!

The UK was battered with horrible weather today - gale force winds, fallen trees, heavy rain.  In London, it rained a lot and very hard, and on a day like today there is no better place to go with the kids than to our local Horniman Museum.  We struggled to find a parking spot, since it was clearly also the idea that many other mothers and fathers with restless children had happened upon after clearing up the breakfast cereal bowls.  In the short walk from the car to the entrance, we got soaked - the rain was blowing sideways and Noah's new Elmo umbrella just wasn't doing the job.

Anyway, once inside, it was nice and cozy and we got up close to the old stuffed animals in the natural history section of the museum, before spending a good while in the music room, and in particular the hands-on room where Blake and Noah both enjoyed blasting out various forms of "music" on Thai wooden frog drums, tube organs that you "play" by bashing flip-flops at their openings, and various assorted other instruments.  It was great fun.  Even more impressive was that we managed to get in and out without Blake wetting himself or having to spend any money in their cafe.  I was very happy with the excursion and felt like a good mother for at least trying to get them out of the house to do something cultural.  We've had A LOT of tv on over the festive period, and it's back to "normal" tomorrow so we'll see how we do.  I am not looking forward to the drop-off at nursery as I anticipate that Noah is not going to enjoy saying goodbye for the day.

I am not actually looking forward to being back on a schedule, although I'm sure I'll get used to it quickly.  With that I'd better be off to bed - no more late Sunday nights for me this year!

Monday, January 02, 2012

My first day of 2012

I have made a few resolutions thus far in the new year.  Not many, and not necessarily difficult ones either.  Yesterday I wanted to ring in the new year with some traditional good luck cooking, and I was tempted by the multi-cultural take in this recipe from the New York Times.  To be honest, one of the things that isn't on my resolution list is to become a better cook, though maybe it should be!  I woke up yesterday morning thinking that I would start my dish to serve for lunch, only to discover that I should have soaked my black-eyed peas overnight.  Matt asked me why I just hadn't bought canned ones anyway, but I had only seen dried ones at the store.  After a bit of research about whether there were any accelerated ways of soaking beans and peas, we came up with the idea to boil them and then let them sit for a few hours in the heated water, and have the whole thing for dinner instead.  Good plan!  The boys and I headed off to church with some parting words from Matt to "say hello to God for me".  Cue awkward moments a few hours later when, at the vicar's house where everyone had been invited for post-service New Year's Day drinks, Blake decided to remind me what Matt wanted us to tell everyone.  "Yes, sweetie, I did that let's go see if we can find you a cookie!" 

Yesterday's weather was really miserable, and at around 3:30 there really wasn't a creature stirring in the house as all of us were in the middle of naps.  This was glorious at the time, and then not such a good idea when later in the evening, Blake had absolutely no interest in going to bed.  Anyway, the house was still smelling vaguely of the black-eyed peas which Matt had cooked earlier, and which he'd taken off the heat a few hours before.  Or so he thought.  Turns out that after our naps, there was no water left in the pot and the peas were, well, thoroughly cooked!  They resembled more like refried black-eyed peas than whole kernels.  But amazingly they were still edible!  This twist presented a problem with my executing the original recipe, which involved boiling the peas in the onion and bouquet-garni'd flavored broth.  Although as the quote goes, "within every problem lies the seed of its solution."  As it turns out, I didn't have any clue how I was going to make that bouquet garni anyway, given that I didn't have any thyme or a parmesan rind.  So we improvised and got out some miso soup packets and had soba noodles in miso, with a garnish of wilted spinach and black-eyed pea paste.  It was pretty far from delicious - and probably miles from the intended taste from the original recipe - but it made me feel extremely virtuous, industrious, and innovative in my improvisation.  Noah had gone to the door with his wellies in his hands, so we took that to mean that he wanted to take a walk, so we went off in the early evening for a walk around the neighborhood.  The boys splashed in puddles, and it was nice to look in on people's lingering Christmas decorations. 

I then headed off to the Ritzy to kick off another resolution:  to go to the movies once a month (not counting any partial visits, attempted with Blake).  I saw The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which I thought was excellent and pretty true to the original novel, with a few key exceptions which you can read about online if you don't mind spoiling it.  The violence was hard to watch but Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara gave great performances, I thought.  I couldn't believe what she looks like when out of the Lisbeth Salander character - those make-up people deserve some awards for her transformation!  I was in bed before midnight, another resolution, and all in all, it was a good start to the new year.  If it turns out to be a good year, it could be the start of a new tradition for the good luck that comes with turning black-eyed peas to sludge.

Books reviews: Mudbound and The Perks of Being a Wallflower

If there's one thing I can say about 2011, it's that I did a lot of reading, more than I had in previous years, I think.  In the last few days of the year, I got through two books, Mudbound, by Hillary Jordan, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Steven Chbosky, and I can recommend both of them if you haven't yet read them.

Mudbound is the story of the life of a family on a farm in the Mississippi Delta.  Henry, the husband, uproots his wife and two daughters from the city to move them out to a farm he was compelled to buy.  He proposes calling their new home "Fair Fields", but Laura, his wife, suggests "Mudbound" instead, given the propensity for flooding; the name sticks.  I was yet again amazed at the writing (as I was with The Help) and the way someone can evoke such incredible imagery to describe a place and a way of life about which I have only the vaguest ideas.   Race plays a key role in the story and the friendship between Jamie, Henry's charismatic younger brother, and Ronsel, the son of one of Henry's black tenants, is bittersweet because of their shared experience of having served in, and survived, World War II.  It's incredible to think of the war that black people had to fight in America to gain equality.  At any rate, I really loved Mudbound, and like it even more that I've now discovered Jordan is herself an Okie from Muskogee like my mother. 

The Perks of Being a Wallflower was totally different to Mudbound, but equally enjoyable in a modern coming-of-age style.  Charlie is the teenage protagonist struggling to deal with the difficulties of that awkward time in life where you try to understand all the myriad complexities of what's happening around you: friendships - with the same and opposite sex, fitting in, discovering what's "cool" in the form of extracurricular activities (both legal: films, music; and illegal: drugs, alcohol).  Charlie is also, in my opinion (though this differs from the opinions of many reviewers), probably somewhat special in that he's highly sensitive and very intelligent, although it's not until the end of the novel that we understand some of the reasons behind why he might react to life in the way he does.  Perks seems to be given glowing reviews that call it a new classic, but although I liked it, I didn't think it was all that profound.  It was well-written and painted a realistic and emotional scene of life as a 15-year-old; maybe that's exactly what makes it a new classic. 
I'm excited to see that Perks has already been made into a movie, and surprised that Mudbound doesn't seem to have been.