Thursday, 24 March 2011

Moh of life's big questions answered

I received a truly great piece of news this week: my good friend A&E Mum has finally caved to immense pressure from everyone she knows and started a blog of her own. Apart from being an exemplar human and awesome parent, A&E Mum is a wonderful writer and a truly great cook - her recipes are not to be missed, especially if they are actually cooked by her.

A&E's inaugural adventure into the surprisingly complicated realm of oily fish and baby subtext addresses some of life's great existential questions. Have a read - then please join me in demanding additional dispatches in the native Babish dialect of her house: 'Moh!'

At the lunchtime hour, they cry 'Moh, moh, moh!' (photo courtesy of A&E Mum). 
In other news, Chaos HQ is lost under a mountain of moving boxes and packing tape. Like WC Fields, we packed the corkscrew, and are now forced live on food and water for several days.

In other, other news, the delightful Mrs Worthington has tagged me in a game of 3 by 9. Here are my answers as requested:

Three names I go by: Mama, Auntie, Social Secretary.

Three places I've lived: Norwich, Sydney, Los Angeles.

Three places I've worked: In my youth I was once chained to a dish-sink at a feed-store cafe in the good company of resident pet chickens. I then became an archive lackey in the dark basement of an academic book publisher. I emerged, covered in dust, in a history department broom closet, where I was once protected from the advances of an evil flasher by one of several noble colleagues - but that's another story. My CV has since taken a messy turn - no seriously, it is covered in ketchup - I am looking for a damp cloth.

Three things I love to watch: The Thick of It, Breaking Bad, 30 Rock.

Three places I have been and love: Taos, Berlin, Cozumel.

Three people who email me regularly: My mum, my sister, my beloved.

Three things I love to eat: Waffles, cookies, fruity moonshine.

Three people I think will respond: The lovely, talented trio that I'm tagging right now*: Multum in Parvo, What Will Julia Do Next? and A&E Mum.

Three things I am looking forward to: Summer, a new town, cake (generally).

*As per my usual fineprint: No pressure. Please partake and pass the bug on in the manner you see fit, if you want to. Use of this meme is entirely at your own risk. Please do not leave meme unattended at any time. This meme is a choking hazard and is not recommended for the under-threes, or for use with heavy industrial equipment. May cause blurred vision in chimps, please consult a doctor if symptoms persist.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

When (and if) I grow up

In a generous act that she will surely come to regret, the lovely Kate Takes 5 has taken up my listography suggestion for this week: things I want to be when I grow up.

Mummy, I'm home. 
I hang out with two short people all day. They leave me with a profound desire to fight back against kiddie entropy by cultivating grown-up habits. My research indicates that being a grown-up usually involves a respectable job, a non-imaginary pay-check, an almost perverse interest in salad, comfortably ugly slippers, and emotional pallet that extends beyond 'hungry', 'elated' and 'despondent'.

Frankly, I am ashamed to admit that growing up would be a major lifestyle change for me. So I'm taking the baby steps method. My first step is this list. Perhaps you'd like to join me and add your list below.
  1. Astronaut. In addition to being the obligatory childhood ambition, I hear that the infinite vacuum of space is largely tidy and er, spacious. That would be one giant leap for this woman.  
  2. Tightrope walker. I am currently an unpaid circus performer, so a swap to paid circus performer doesn't seem like much of a stretch. Plus, this has been a dream of mine since discovering Phillipe Petit and Man on a Wire.
  3. Filthy-rich layabout. I hear there are downsides, like a crushing sense of guilt and a propensity to collect poodles. But I've thought long and hard about it, and decided that I'm willing to hang out with any sort of dog if it means I get to sleep in and faff about. 
  4. Superhero. A fusion of the world's three best things: flying, do-goodery and dressing up. Unfortunately, most successful candidates begin their careers by falling into vats of battery acid or getting bitten by giant spiders. 
  5. Throat singerI'd be a heckava busker if I could master this sound. I'd never get rich, but I'd be the coolest thing on the underground.   
A very short rat race. 
Written down like this, it all sounds awfully scary and committal. I think I'd rather revert to chewing on furniture with Ali, running in sugar-high circles with Ana, and picking childish squabbles with my sister (kidding Tanta, stop hoarding all your best toys already).

Like this guy, I'll continue to put adulthood off...for now. 

Friday, 18 March 2011

Snakes in the grass

My time on this island began in Oxford nearly a decade ago. I arrived in my early twenties with my beloved by my side and not much else.

I quickly discovered the particular fish-out-of-water-feeling that comes with landing on foreign dirt - like that first cold step outside after a swim - a lonely, shivering kind of uncomfortable that starts at the pores and ends up in the bones. Thankfully (somewhat) temporary.
Travel with me alone towards Iffley. 
Like many before me, I discovered that England is expensive. Especially Oxford. Especially since we were already broke. So my beloved and I cultivated free hobbies, like walking.

One day we left Jericho and wandered into Port Meadow, an ancient common northwest of Oxford. We passed The Perch, the Trout (pubs), the ruins of Godstowe Abbey and kept right on walking. Quite unplanned, we walked 35 miles that day. By chance we bumped into a self-proclaimed recovering journalist called Linda Ellerbee who was trekking the length of the Thames for her 60th birthday (and later wrote about it). She walked with us for a while before hitching a ride on a narrow boat. It was from her that we got the bonkers idea to walk the length of the Thames, which we later did.
Return to dust. 
Iffley lies down the Thames Path in the other direction, south of Oxford, past Christ Church Meadow. There is a 12th century church there called St Mary's. It is so old that the faces protruding from the stone have returned to blank slates. Accross Iffly lock, there is a meadow, and in the springtime the meadow is full of an unusual-looking native flower called snake's head fritillary.
Rose by another name.
We spent our two Oxford springs searching out snake's heads in the grass; skint, foreign, blessed with companionship and sturdy feet. A less lucky twenty-something called Keith Douglas wrote this about Iffley four years before he died at Normandy in 1944:
What sudden fearful fate
can deter my shade wandering next year
from a return? Whistle and I will hear
and come another evening, when this boat
travels with you alone towards Iffley
as you lie looking up for thunder again
this cool touch does not betoken rain
it is my spirit that kisses your mouth lightly. 
This ramble into yesteryear's photo album was inspired by Flashback Friday, hosted by the lovely Cafe Bebe.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Branching out

I've befriended a few trees in my four years out in the far reaches of John Betjeman's Metroland. Not surprising since trees outnumber humans here, and can be more sociable.

My neighbour's yard is overshadowed by a huge oak that hosts a noisy sunrise choir of birds of all feathers. Ana calls it 'my tree', because it's the first thing she sees from her window each morning.

In the winter it is etched against the sky in a bright snowy outline. In the autumn it spreads orange and yellow confetti across our yard, and the girls spend hours rolling in the leaves, tossing them, giggling and inevitably eating some too. Once per year, my neighbour  tries to grievously injure himself by climbing upwards and trimming its vigorous growth - it is a process that involves rope, chainsaws, and a good deal of luck.

Ana's tree.

After Ana's tree, my next best leafy friend lives along the Chess Valley between the sleepy villages of Latimer and Chenies. My friend lives in a muddy field - a beautiful spot, though cows-infested and bearing this rather alarming sign: 'dogs seen worrying livestock will be shot'. My friend is an ancient oak stump - a huge one - with a little tiny oak sapling growing right out of the middle - a thing far too symbolic to retain any real tree street cred to be honest. The oak is fenced in by a tangle of barbed wire (presumably to keep out the worrisome dogs), but there is also a nice place to sit nearby. A good thing, because if you find the spot, you too will have to sit and think about it for a while.  

Dawn chorus choir bench. 
I can't find a picture of it - not sure if I ever even took one. But an image of it will be etched in my mind long after we leave Metroland.

A deciduous post inspired by The Gallery at Sticky Fingers.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Bright post, big internet

Standing in the armpit of strangers is one of the most beautifully-written posts I've read in a long time. My post of the week comes via Elsie Anderton, chatelaine of The Babylon Lane Tales, and is actually more than a week old (all of us here at Chaos HQ struggle with simple concepts like 'time'). Thanks to the lovely Ella of Notes From Home, and the BMB blogger of the week, for hosting.

After a few short words of this lyrical post, you too will extricate yourself from a stranger's armpit and walk in her shoes to that place where you can just be you, with the memory of a small hand in yours. Reading it, I was reminded of Jay McInerney's Bright Lights, Big City, one of my favourite books.

As you might infer from a title like Bright Lights, Big City, the book has bupkis to do with babies. Even so, the last two lines have become my parenting mantra: 'You will have to go slowly. You will have to learn everything all over again.'
The good side of the city. 
In other news, Chaos HQ is relocating to the bright city from the dim suburbs. As such, posting will become even more sporadic over the next few weeks while I argue with my ISP and rummage about in a mountain of boxes for my lost brain.

I will move slowly, punctuated by moments of flailing about. I will try, fail, and eventually succeed at learning everything all over again.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Songs the sunshine sang to me

Listening to Tom Petty on full volume is a guilty pleasure of mine. Especially as I drive through dark, drizzly English mornings. To my ears, Wildflowers is the sound of sunshine and a reminder that I lived in Southern California for a spell.

Mind you, living in SoCal is annoying in at least a hundred ways. But Wildflowers makes me remember only the good things about it - several imaginary good things even. Which is the point of nostalgia after all.

A tardy post for Mumra's Friday playlist (thanks - love the idea).

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Bitte, baby

The marvellous Kerry On Living, a fellow linguist and expert in free will, has just awarded Mañana Mama the Liebster award - thank you Kerry! The staff here at Chaos HQ are currently expressing their excitement by lobbing toasting fruit shoots.

I want to pass on the good will, so I'm raising a fruit shoot toast* to a handful of my favourite bloggers.

Heart to heart. 
Bibsey A warm, witty account of 'life after birth' in expat Spain. Featuring Cava bubble baths and bums lost in translation. May inspire feelings of sunshine-lust and blog-design-envy.

A Scandinavian Sojourn Delightful tales of the unexpected from a British mum in Denmark, a land untouched by Marmite. With appearances by pancake kings, garden variety deer and other wonderful stuff.

Dummies and Dog Hairs The adventures of two toddlers, two canines, and two harassed parents in a confined space - and yet a very soothing read - like stepping into a warm auntie's kitchen that smells of freshly baked bread and is hung with beautiful family photos.

Mummy at the School Gate A fun read by a mum of three who is 'just about existing' in spite of pirate policemen, a total loss of cleaning mojo, and various other stuff.

Mad Geek Mommy A loving portrait of a delightful little boy who really, really loves his cheerios.

To all of the above - it is a pleasure to read your work, thanks for sharing it. Here are some recommendations for how to accept and spread the award, should you feel inclined to do so:
  1. Create a blog post about the award. Include the Liebster image and a link back to me.
  2. Choose and notify 3-5 of your favourite bloggers to pass the award on to, with an eye towards bringing new or lesser-known bloggers to light. 
  3. Sit back, basking in the warm Liebster glow, and toasting with fruit shoots.  
*No actual fruit shoots were harmed in the writing of this nonsense. This post is not sponsored by fruit generally or specifically...or by shooting.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Short and bookish

As one of the dork persuasion, I am contractually obligated to love books. My mum read The Lord of the Rings to my sister and I when we were very young. I can only assume that she had an entire universe of lozenges to hand. Perhaps this is why I currently sport an Orc-like hairstyle.  
One moon to rule them all. 
I am chronically short of lozenges, so my daughters are treated to some less hefty evening reads. Here are some our favourites, as per a lovely suggestion from Kate Takes 5 and MummySquared :

  1. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. About the night that Max donned his wolf suit and sailed off into the stubborn wilderness of childhood. A manifesto on how to face down parents and monsters alike with awesome belligerence.  
  2. What Was I Scared Of? by Dr Seuss. A tale of spooky green pants, er trousers, with nobody inside them. Featuring pecks of snide, doubt-trout, and being nice to scary things.
  3. The Snail and the Whale by Julia Donaldson. An apology for snails with an itchy feet, or as per the infinite wisdom of Tanta: the best way to explain wanderlust to the under-fives. 
  4. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. If you can read this bittersweet tale of a tree who loved a boy without weeping, then you need to get new tear ducts installed.
  5. Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown. The classic American goodnight book. Our copy, gifted by the lovely Auntie S, only retains structural integrity by a duct-tape thread. I consider I Took the Moon For a Walk by Carolyn Curtis to be the imaginative soul-mate of Goodnight Moon - complete with weeping grass, moon-shoes, and ghosts in the belfry.  
There is a pale bearded man who haunts these parts. He might be Santa or Odin, but he is lanky, chain-smokes, and doesn't appear to own a raven. He pilots a vast mobile library around on tiny pot-holey roads; he knows everything about any book under the sun, and hands out Bookstart packs like they are pure, magical gold. I reckon his RV is actually some sort of spaceship from another dimension.   

My favourite grown-up book, Something Wicked this Way Comes by Ray Bradbury, features one library, two boys, and a flock of carnival bad guys. Naturally, the boys run to the library when they need to escape from evil. 

Libraries are wonderful places - especially in painfully-quiet neighborhoods like mine. I'm no expert - heck, I'm hardly even awake to be honest - but closing down libraries does seem a bit like binning cats to save on cat food to me. 

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Potty-taping and other innovations

This is my first Post of the Week, as hosted by the wonderful Notes from Home (thank you Ella, a lovely idea).

I've been smiling ever since reading I am the perfect mother, learn from me by the marvelous Northern Mum with Southern Children. It is an expert discussion on how to 'coordinate at a senior (almost impossible) level' of motherhood by taping children to potties and surreptitiously bottle-feeding them lemonade - two activities that synergize nicely as it happens.

Although I may never hope to coordinate at such a senior level as this (maternally ambitious - yes- but a promotion to mother of three might prove fatal in my case), I felt so inspired by these tips, that I immediately tottered off to polish up my motherhood CV and lobby The Boss for a raise.

In other news, Mañana Mama made an appearance on the BMB blog over the weekend, which has left all the staff here at Chaos HQ feeling more giddy than Steve Martin in The Jerk when he gets his name in the phone book:

Now if you'll excuse me now, I'm off to work on my potty-training skills. First I need to buy some tape and lemonade...

Friday, 4 March 2011

Flashback to the future

I go on a weekend journey with my best friend every year, always to somewhere different. Nothing too fancy - just a place away from home.
Mama, BC.
Upon arrival, we climb to the top of some metaphorical mountain and survey the symbolic landscape of our past year together. We imagine what lies over the horizon. We never predict the coming season correctly, but we climb down from the mental mountain feeling brave enough to face it.

Metaphorical molehill. 
Way back towards the beginning of this tradition, we spent a wonderful anniversary weekend in Taos. We got hitched before digital was cool, and spent several years too broke to be digitally cool after that. So these pictures were taken in black and white 35mm on my old SLR Pentax - a wonderful tank of a camera. Come nuclear winter it will be cockroaches, twinkies and my old Pentax running the earth (with the help of WALL-E of course).

Can't hold a flashbulb to Ansel Adams. 
There's an old wrecked 1930s-looking car at the bottom of the Rio Grande Gorge in Taos. From the top it looks like no more than a speck, or a gnat. Peering over the suspension bridge, it's a breath-sucking, stomach-cringing eternity of distance to the tumbling river below. When a truck drives over the bridge, it warbles, trembles, and jiggles the feet of anybody brave enough to be walking accross at that moment. It is a terrifying feeling - but also a strangely weightless, invigorating one - and a reminder of the flimsiness of seemingly solid things.

I love that bridge, Taos Pueblo and Taos Mountain. This trip and these dusty old photos sprang to mind instantly when I discovered the Friday Flashback idea over at Cafe Bebe (thank you, a lovely idea).

Home is where you hang your hippie hat.
But this isn't just a look back, it's also a wishful vision of the future. Because when I hit the jackpot I'm moving to Taos. I'm going to take up residence in some sort of hippie adobe. I'm going to dress like a slob on purpose, and intentionally have no hairstyle. I reckon my jackpot winnings will buy some time to write, and when that gets old, I'll learn to paint (which will take a mighty long time to pull off). When that gets boring I'll sit outside and get re-acquainted with the sunshine, the Milky Way and that almighty local army of crickets. Maybe I'll finally figure out how to carry a tune. Seasonally, I'll reconnect my nose/brain apparatus with that magical summer post-rain smell - a scent uncannily similar to that magical new baby smell.
That new rain smell, baby. 
Now I realize that I'm not the first person to notice that Taos is beautiful. And I know I've blathered on about it before. I'll probably do so again - there are good reasons - go there, and you will see.

Old dog, few tricks. 
Funny, how dreams of the future are so often just the re-hashings of the past. Or, as per some old Lutheran bit of wisdom that I just made up: it's all just part of life's rich casserole.

Where grew the tree.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Fairy tales out of school

We tried something different this half term: we didn't try. Instead of elbowing for room at the museum, we caught rain fairies in the backyard with a butterfly net. Ana concocted a pink gauze castle, which also doubled as a spider's web for Ali (courtesy of a long-suffering, half-broken birthday present from Tanta). The weather was rubbish, but we were happy. 
I used to dread half term, because pre school was a survival crutch for me. It was the only thing that made looking after two very different little ones even possible. Ana and Ali used to live in different galaxies, but they are nearly on the same planet now - still not my planet, but we are getting closer. Now they can chase and tackle, and hug and cuddle each other. When Ana gives Ali a kiss, she squeals with delight. It's perfect.

Last week I realized that I miss seeing Ana around in the mornings during term. It was such a pleasure to get a solid week with her, and I am looking forward to next half term already. Somewhere along the way she turned into a little person, with a rich imaginary world running full-tilt in her mind non-stop.
I started blogging back in darker days with two babies underfoot. It was my attempt to piece my tired mind back together. Now I want to record precious, finite days just like this, before they slip through the cracks of my forgetful memory and disappear out into the ether.
Aside from what it may look like, it's not all finger-painting and toy slapstick here at Chaos HQ - I have my troubles too, and some of them aren't even imaginary. But I prefer to focus on the silly stuff and the quotidian moments of pure joy, because that's my means of escapism. I reckon I won't even remember the worries in five years, but I want to remember the nonsense forever.
The first thing I say to my girls every morning is: 'I'm so happy to see you!' And I always mean it, more than they can possibly imagine. 

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Paint the rainy town

I love to finger-paint. I find the messiness, the goopiness and the silliness of the experience very liberating. Thing one and thing two are kind enough to indulge me in this habit. They even go along with the official household line: painting is a great educational activity for the kids, develops their creative side, blah blah blah.
The child is mother of the woman. 
One of my favourite simple pleasures about early motherhood is the opportunity to behave like a little kid myself - an otherwise rare chance in adulthood. I will miss this when they are older. So we'll paint like mad till then.
This little piggy painted her mama's toes. 
A spatter-painted post to hang in The Gallery at Sticky Fingers.