Tuesday, 30 November 2010


This week's post is a gastronomic tortilla ramble by way of the Cinnamon and Truffle blog. Please check it out.

Food, as you may have gathered from my previous post, is my second great love after family. The two are so closely connected; food is a deliciously messy, hands-on way to show love. Families who eat together stay togetherit's truetheir mouths are too full to argue. And food-flingling provides an alternate channel of communication to young babies whose verbal repertoire is so frustratingly limited to burping and 'googaleebababa'.

Thank you to the ever-wise Cinnamon and Truffle, my favourite transatlantic food experts, for indulging me in this post.

Dig in.

Make tortillas, not war.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Warriors, turkeys, aliens

Three Novembers ago, this house recieved it's first bald alien vole. On that infamous day two carefree twenty-somethings grew suddenly old, but all three survived the experience. Then one year ago, us two seasoned parents of one drove again through the empty, rain-washed streets of midnight to bring home a second vole from the clutches of the NHS. There followed a blissful few weeks of peace, then a desperately exhausting year. Only recently a sense of calm has returned to this house. But I remain suspicious, because this calm reminds me of a silent toddler who has found mischief in the next room.

We spent much of November hovered over flaming birthday cakes. While the kids joyfully tried to set their hair on fire, Papa and I trembled over the year gone and whispered with cautious optimism about the year to come. The business of flaming cakes done, the voles and I went for a day out in London. After accidentally getting caught up in a vicious tourist tangle surrounding the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, we went to kick up fallen leaves in Green Park.

Such a perfect day, drank fruit shoots in the park.
London parks in autumn are pure magic to kids and the childish (me) alike. Lampposts twinkle in the mist, and curiously well-mannered squirrels dart along crooked paths and up ancient knotted trees. There are even enchanted wardrobes and chalk drawings hidden between stacks of kicking-leaves if you look carefully enough.

Post-leafy-running-amok, the girls climbed back into their ponderous double buggy, and I steered our convoy through the streets of Mayfair en route to the Christmas-light-bedecked bedlam of Oxford Street. We were on Berkeley Square, Bentleys to the left of us and art dealers to the right, when we encountered a human obstruction: a huge, volatile Odin look-alike, who was both angrilly and gingerly cradling a steaming hot mug of something. He planted his feet squarely in front of the buggy and extended an accusatory 'ko' finger directly at Ali's head.

Be-suited men on either side of us bristled, then hovered at the ready.  London urban anonymity is a funny thingstrangers would rather jump in front of a bus than look you in the eye, but they will never fail to whip out first aid or judo as required.  'SPACE INVADER!' shouted Steamy Mug Man. Ali took on a guilty, cornered look, like a baby in the headlights, then released an ear-shattering crow. Steamy Mug Man relaxed, nodded, sipped his mug contentedly, and walked on. Ali blinked in confirmation. The suity men and I stood in awkward confusion for a moment, then relaxed back into urban anonymity and moved on. 

When we were nearly to Oxford Street, I realized that Steamy Mug Man must have been referring to Ali's hat (which clearly is a bit Marvin the Martiansee the sinkable Molly Dolly modelling it below*). I wonder if Steamy Mug Man realized the enormous wisdom of his words. Upon reflection, I am convinced he is either a) a prophet, or b) a papa who's own space has been similarly invaded.

All your space are belong to us. 
Speaking of space invasion, I only recently watched the film 'Aliens' for the first time. If you saw 'Aliens' in a more timely manner, back when dinosaurs still roamed freely, I will remind you of the final scene. It features Sigourney Weaver in a massive space-marine-lifter-suit-thingy, defending her adopted little girl in an all-out fight with the big-mama alien. Sigourney says some tough, sweary yo-mama things, then ejects the big nasty alien out into the vacuum of space. That job done, she turns to give her girl a cuddle. In prior scenes, 'Aliens' touches on various unpleasant aspects of early parenthoodchildbirth, the feeling of constantly being chased by creatures bent on your destruction specifically and world domination more generally, and an exodus of all fashion sense from the galaxy. But it is this final scene that offers up a wonderful and rare thing in film: a totally awesome maternal super-hero. Watching 'Aliens' reminded me of one of my favourite quotes: 'Becoming a mother' writes Naomi Wolf in Misconceptions 'requires a supreme focus, a profound discipline, and even a kind of warrior spirit.' 

This November marks one year since the arrival of the second space invader. So far, there are still four survivors. I say with cautious optimism that things are looking up, and I am deeply thankful for this. Additionally, I am thankful for the privilege of living in this land of magical parks, be-suited-judo-baby-defenders, and wise sages disguised behind steamy mugs. What I intended to do at the start of this ramble through a yellow wood was to send a holiday toast my fellows and family across the big blue watery space. So if you are still with me, I will do so without further delay.

May your turkeys be gigantic, your cranberries overflowing. May you never lose your cultural inclination towards optimism, your warrior spirit, your belief that tomorrow must be better than today (even when you are feeling as tired and battered as Sigourney after fighting a big nasty alien). May you enjoy your feast, momentarily unencumbered by your worries, and over-eat up to your eyeballs (I always do) till you fall over into a food-induced stupor, flanked all around by the warmth of your beloved space invaders. 

Happy Thanksgiving.

*A&E Mum: no offence intended. As you can see, the hat you gifted us remains a family favourite. 

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Geek baby talk

'Binks hates puppies. Binks killed Grandma.'

So have you had the talk with your kids yet? I mean, THE big talk? If you need help keeping your snowflakes Jar Jar Binks-free for as long as possible, try these helpful tips from Asylum via GeekDad at Wired.

Friday, 12 November 2010

There is no Ali, there is only Zuul

Ali, the baby formerly known as Darth, has dropped her signature deep breathing habit and the contemplative 'ko'. Now when considering the dark side of the baby force she screams like a Nazgul closing in on a juicy ring-bearing Baggins for breakfast. These outbursts are at at such an ear-splintering frequency that everyone in the vicinity experiences a sudden compulsion to hand over valuables and jump into moving traffic to make it stop.
Rebel yell.
Apparently this is called 'crowing', although to my ears it is more eagle-on-steroids than piffling chicken. The rare Genghis Khan victory shriek never used to bother me, but Genghis has now taken over and installed new sound amplification equipment. And it is a driving hazard. When Ali deploys sound-weaponry from the back-seat as I pull into a huge convoluted roundabout with seven exits (a 'WTF roundabout' in American parlance), my brain-radars are instantly jammed, and I fear not only for our safety, but for the entire local area.

Sometimes I can cut a screaming session short by handing her a hairbrush, which inexplicably causes her to drop the vocals and play quietly for several minutes. But the threat of hair-brushing, funnily enough, is the one thing that makes her big sister Ana react like a Sam Raimi deadite, so I have to be careful.

Sometimes I wonder, rather wishfully, if I will be deaf by next Tuesday. Bearing two children has left me with super-acute hearing. Walls are no longer sound barriers; I can hear my kids breathing through floorboards and crying across town. I would be able to hear them over oceans and across continents too, had I not sworn off travel for the foreseeable future. Earplugs are now placebo and I don't have the time to attend metal concerts, but there is a flicker of hope growing in my mind that Ali's Nazguling might just be the cure for my over-active ears.

Hearing aside, I'm not sure how long my nerves can survive this. Ana crowed for a short time and then stopped. Screaming, like Darth-breathing, will surely migrate into the ever-expanding cupboard of things that have passed. Till then, I remain in aggressive negotiations with Genghis and Gozer for the return of my sweet little baby.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Pure boy

In response to my recent inventory of Monster Dog's victims, the lovely and eternally wise Oma sent me the following story about her very own Monster Puppy. 

Scott's bedroom (wood) floor is a chronicle to his many different phases, probably a better one than any baby book could be. 

There was the spur marks from his cowboy phase during which he refused to take the boots and spurs off, and wore them even to bed. Before that we thought he'd never get past the hammer-a-nail-into-everything-wooden stage. After the cowboy phase came Machete Man with lots of collateral damage to not only the wood floor, but also window screens, bushes, trees and everything else that looked like it might benefit from some pruning. 

There are pocket knife gouges, Gorilla Glue chemical fusion experiments, battery acid burns and counteless other insults to the once beautiful pine planks. Looking at the floor I'm so thankful that we humans have the ability to heal!
Boy meets world. 
My advice: keep St Jude around, give him a place of honour in your house! You will need him, since I suspect Monster Dog and Little Sister are working on their next stunt as we speak. Oh, by the way, I looked at the floor in Scott's room the other day and briefly thought that I should sand it down and re-varnish it, but then I looked again at all this evidence of my little boy exploring his world and I decided that it just might be a very, very long time before I need a shiny new floor in his room. 


Friday, 5 November 2010


Tonight is Bonfire Night. Ana checks her window for 'fidaworks' every time there is a pop or a crackle outside. The increasingly drunken firecracker enthusiasts setting off explosions in my street are not very coherent, but I think what they are trying to say is:

Remember, remember the 5th of November 
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I know of no reason 
Why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.
Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, twas his intent
To blow up the King and Parliament.
Three-score barrels of powder below
To prove old England's overthrow;
By God's providence he was catch'd 
With a dark lantern and burning match.
Holla boys, Holla boys, let the bells ring.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King!
And what should we do with him? Burn him!

November 5th is a flammable peek back to the mean and unpleasant land of 1605, full of nasties like drawing, quartering and lighting your enemies on fire. The wildest celebration is in Lewes, Sussex, where bonfire societies march on smoky streets gripping burning crosses, chanting and yelling like something out of a nightmare. Then they go and burn effigies all night. It's frankly terrifying. 

Life on this island has become much less of a fire hazard since 1605. It's easy to remember that on Bonfire Night.  

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

In memoriam on el Día de los Muertos

To mark the Day of the Dead (and because I watched 'An American Werewolf in London' over the weekend), I am pausing to remember some recent victims of the Monster Dog. This is not an exhaustive list, just a handful to illustrate Monster Dog's capabilities.
Day of the dead-tired Mama.
First up is the long-suffering Molly Dolly, kidnapped months ago by the Monster Dog and imprisoned in the bathtub. Here she endured aggressive hair-washing and decorative bath-crayon-tattooing at the paws of her captor. Her plastic eyes glazed over with limescale cataracts and even more distressingly, she developed a mullet. I rescued her this week, and she now lives under an assumed identity at an undisclosed location in the lounge.
The sinkable Molly.
Next up is the lovely little Sugar Pixie, who once perched atop a pretty pink Madeira birthday cake with dignity. Monster Dog absconded with Sugar Pixie while a roomful of witnesses were too busy stuffing cake into their faces to notice. By the time I found her the next morning, she was beyond help.
Before: confident Flora.
After: twitchy Merryweather. 
But it's not all doom and grisly gloom at Monster Dog headquarters. St Jude and the Plaster Family, both residents of my bookshelf and former victims of the Monster Dog, have gone on to lead productive lives after undergoing reconstructive surgery and glue therapy.  

Jude's troubles began when Monster Dog scaled the bookshelf and dragged him away to her lair. Having once previously lost his head en route to becoming the patron saint of desperate causes, St Jude is pretty used to this sort of thing. That said, decapitation remains annoying no matter how many times you are faced with it. Monster Dog only managed to rip off Jude's halo and give it a good chew before I could intervene. With a little help from modern medicine and some quality wood glue, the halo was beatifically restored. 
 Take some wood glue and make it better.  
While in the business of pawing the shelf over for victims, Monster Dog also sunk her teeth into a Plaster Family. Although Plaster Papa attempted a brave defence, Monster Dog left his disembodied head in the living room as a direct warning to other decorative statues not to cross her path. Usually decapitation has a poor prognosis, but in this instance I was able to stem the plaster flow with glue and reunite the head with the happy family. 

The dreaded Monster Dog still roams these parts. I fear the curse will not be lifted until she hits adolescence at least. And even then she has a little sister. So as the faithful say to St Jude: pray for us. 

Monday, 1 November 2010

52-card Mama pick-up

Ana just scaled the bookshelf in spider-girl mode, found a full deck on the top and flippantly cascaded it, card by card, to the floor.

"Okay Mama, you pick it up now."

Wild card. 
I get no respect. Somewhere the ghost of Rodney Dangerfield is smiling.