Thursday, 30 October 2008

Mashed Potato Magic

Granny is gone. She left us last night. I am so glad she’s no longer in pain. So comforted that she’s resting now. But I miss her fiercely. Terribly. The world is a dimmer place without her in it.

She never knew a stranger. She befriended the unfriendly. She took in and took care of everyone and everyone’s plants. Take her a squashed, withered stump of a plant and she’d soon have it healthy and hearty and gracing her jumbled menagerie. I suppose she was much the same with the crazy menagerie of people who came into and out of her life. She patched them up and sent them on their way with a smile on their face and their head held a little higher.

She held every job you can imagine. If a job needed done she was certainly the one for it. It gave one the impression that she knew everything. Wise and sagacious but in a down-home, street smarts kind of a way. The ultimate go-to gal. The world’s greatest ‘domestic engineer.’ I hear the term ‘earth mama’ these days and I think of Gran. She was a foremother to the Earth Mama. Knew every home remedy in the book and passed on the cures and fixes to anyone in need.

She could always laugh at herself, but boy-howdy you knew she was in charge. You didn’t mess with Gran. She’d threaten to ‘slap and ice cream cone out of ya!’ and you’d lay-off whatever you were doing. You’d laugh though. You’d be laughing. She never seemed to dole out shame with her admonishments. Never.

She had an old softie in her too though! I remember my own mama getting after Ellie one afternoon. Ellie was a little less than two and sitting smack-dab in the middle of Granny’s kitchen table with her fist in a lemon meringue pie and half of it already down her front. Granny in classic style said something like, “Let that child alone! I told her she could have it! Tackiest mess you ever saw! I'm glad she's eatin' it!” Granny couldn’t have been more pleased than to watch her beautiful, delicious pie be completely destroyed and thoroughly enjoyed by a happy toddler gobbling it up with her hands.

She always had some project going. As if feeding the brood around her and taking care of Grandpa before he passed away wasn’t enough! Nah. If it wasn’t crocheting it was quilting or whatever other new thing took her fancy. As usual we were all the blessed recipients of her hard work. My Christmas Quilt is one of my most prized possessions and is proudly displayed each year in her honor. Of course it’s not just for display. I love the photos of me with my babies snuggled up under that quilt. Beautiful and practical. Isn’t that just like her.

I remember Granny always with a Styrofoam cup of instant iced tea with Sweet & Low set down nearby. Bleh! Sounds so terrible to me right now. It sure tasted good when Granny made it though. Never wanted to drink anything but at her place. Anything she made was unbelievably yummy. For crying out loud the woman could even make a bologna sandwich taste delicious! Peach cobbler. Apple pie. Divinity. Fruit cake. “Granny’s Goop” with zucchini and peppers and tomatoes. Don’t even get me started about the fried chicken!

It’s funny. I’m halfway across the world. In arguably one of the most delicious countries in the world. All kinds of gourmet delicacies at my fingertips. Somehow though, all I want is a plate of Granny’s fried chicken piled high on the plate with her amazing mashed potatoes and cream gravy. That’s the kind of food that cures what ails you.

Thanks, Gran. For all you’ve given. For the light you shined. For the love you freely gave. For how wanted you always made me feel. For the sloppy kisses. For magical mashed potatoes that made it all alright. You were an amazing, incredible woman. I love you so much, and I miss you like crazy.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Lost In Translation

We’re in Paris. So fun! So exciting! Such a blessing! To get to take Caid to ‘Frances’! He’s only been talking about it since he was big enough to recognize a photo of the Eiffel Tower. So why on earth were we sitting on a park bench wanting to strangle said child and send him home on the next train!?!? It could have been the fact that he’d almost knocked a woman in 3 inch heels and a fur coat down because he’d pulled his beanie down almost over his eyes—after we’d asked him not to about 800 times—and then wasn’t paying attention where he was going—after about 800 hundred lectures illustrating why paying attention is such a practical and useful skill. It could also have been the fact that he’d wet the front of his jeans because (you guessed it!) he wasn’t paying attention whilst using the toilet. Was it the whining? The grabbing? Punching his brother in the face? Maybe. Or maybe just a series of rookie parenting mistakes.

Somehow ‘travel-parenting’ is different than your regular ol’ ‘home-parenting.’ Now, I’m not going to lie to you. The Love & Logic basics that have served so well in the past have slipped a little at Chez Anderberg. Call it stress. Call it culture shock. Parenting-school-going-children-for-the-first-time shock. Or you know, lazy. Whichever way you slice it you really feel the lack of it when you’re out of your normal routine. A few too many lectures. A few too many warnings. More yelling/less empathy. A whole lot of entitlement and anger on both sides of the equation. Anyway…I’m sad it’s lagged. Cause this morning I was starting to feel like ‘Gay Paris!’ was anything but.

Some tips for other rookies on the ‘travel-parenting’ front:
  • Feed your children before noon. A healthy, hearty breakfast is every traveler’s best friend. Low blood sugar? Let’s just say it doesn’t make for cheerful children—or parents for that matter.
  • Check the menu outside the restaurant you plan to finally feed them at BEFORE you enter. That way you’ll know that there’s nothing in said restaurant you can afford except a cup of coffee. Sure, it was a damn good cup of café, but 7,60 Euros is maybe a little much for one tiny cup.
  • Note that old churches with cobblestone courtyards are perfect places to wait while one parent runs an errand because they can be transformed into a wonderland where imaginations run wild! You never know who might show up! Narnians, time travelers, and of course quite a lot of cool weaponry (can you tell I have boys?)!
  • While it is thoughtful and important to make certain your children do not run in to any passers-by while playing in their imagined land…simply ignore the woman who crosses herself dramatically and makes the sign that she will pray for you and your miscreant children who are rolling on the cobblestones happy as clams (Yes, this really did happen). Focus instead the man who nearly laughs out loud when your five year old emphatically insists that while there is quite a lot of cool weaponry there are most certainly no guns in Narnia.
  • Agree to be a Dryad or other varied and wild creature or character as often as possible. You can’t believe how fun an old cathedral becomes when you move secretively around it looking for jewels and captured comrades. (Plus it’s cool when you find out your four year old knows enough about wood spirits to be sure he guards your ‘tree.’)
  • Acknowledge that this is their vacation too. Going back at a reasonable hour (see next tip) to the apartment to play UNO might just end up the best part of the day. So it isn’t even a French game. They picked it. They had a blast playing it. They were pumped to finally have a say in what we did next and it showed all over their cheerful faces!
  • Keep reasonable, child-friendly hours. One of my favorite things about Paris is how life practically doesn’t even get rolling around here until 9 PM. Shops still open. Crowds beginning to gather. The gorgeous ‘City of Lights’ and people everywhere! Bring on the 10 o’clock dinner reservations! Bridger and Caid, however…they have a 7:30 bedtime these days. Let’s just say we’re going to try out this tip ourselves tomorrow. I’ll let you know how it goes.
After a rocky start the day turned out well. We regrouped, ate 3 big huge sandwiches between us, apologized, and then went to ‘Jardin du Luxembourg.’ Which is the ultimate kid’s park. Boats to push along with a rented stick in a pool at the base of a fountain. Wide gravel paths to run on so you don’t have to get after your children for playing on the grass (yeah…apparently that’s a no-no in Paris). An old-school carousel ride with a ‘capture the rings’ game. A puppet theatre that we unfortunately didn’t get to see.

The piece de resistance however is most certainly the playground. Great structures. A sandbox. A circular zip-line thingy. The boys had a blast. I spent the better part of two hours deciding that I did not, in fact, want Caid to go anywhere. Watching he and Bridger play was such a blast.

Caid had no idea that the other children did not speak English as their first language. He’d ask them over and over again, “Do you want me to stop it?” “Do you want me to push it?” “Could you stop it for a sec?” “Do you want to climb up here?” “Can we go faster?” Never mind that they didn’t ever really answer. He never even seemed to notice. Scott died laughing when I interpreted what the French kids were saying to one another. An exchange that went basically, “What’s that kid saying?” “I have no idea, but I think he’s speaking English.” They clearly didn’t mind. They were speaking the universal language of play.

The same basic group of children, ages roughly between four and eleven, played together without close supervision or help for nearly an hour. They took turns pushing and stopping and riding the merry-go-round. After a while a couple of the older ones began saying ‘STOP!’ instead of the French ‘arêtes!’ I presume because Caid had become their friend. They wanted him to be included and to be able to understand.

I came to Paris with lofty goals. Albeit unrealistic. Rookie mistakes indeed. I’ve decided to refocus. I don’t want the time to be perfect. I don’t need it to be a rich, cultural experience with little boys who stay clean and don’t run into people and ask nicely and act the perfect gentleman. I’ve decided to take my cue from the kids. They so often get it before we adults, do they not? Nah…new goal. I want Caid and Bridger to be included and to understand.

Monday, 13 October 2008

A Pumpkin is a Pumpkin is a Pumpkin...

…but there’s nothing like a holiday to remind one you are a foreigner in a foreign land.

They don’t really do Halloween here. Folks here tell me that “It’s starting to come over from the States,” but it’s not much of a thing here.

We never make a huge deal of Halloween. There are however a few tried and true traditions that I’ve come to love over the last 8 years or so. I put up harvesty-pumpkinish-type décor around the house in early October. A cornucopia ‘Welcome’ sign here, a pumpkin kitchen towel there. We always go to the pumpkin patch up in Broomfield, CO, with Rob and Breeann. Scott and Rob spend about half an hour driving around the massive farm from field to field. Pulling up alongside each one and scoping them out. Then we finally pull over and they spend an hour or more scouring the chosen field for the ‘perfect’ pumpkin. It’s like mining gold, I swear. They make a little pile of ‘maybes’ and then carefully consult with one another on which one will be best. Bree and I make fun of them and role our eyes but always insist on going with!

Then we all get together a week or so later and carve them and eat chili and drink pumpkin beer. The beer is never all that good, but it’s an important part of the tradition! I make gluten free pumpkin bars and Breeann cooks the pumpkin seeds. It’s a holiday at its finest. Sensory to the max. It smells good, the gooey pumpkin feels good squished between your fingers, the company of about a dozen other folks all crowded around our dining room table is warm and always, always wonderful. On the pumpkins, there are the simple faces, the hilarious attempts, and Rob and Scott trying to out-do one another. Sitting around the table long after everyone else with elaborate and funky designs that remain a secret until they are revealed at the end of the night. Then we pile them all up, light the candles, turn out the lights and take the photos. It’s not—as some English people apparently believe—‘bigger than Christmas,’ but it’s a good time, and I miss it terribly this year.

We went yesterday to the saddest little pumpkin patch you ever did see. Another American fam and the four of us went to a little ‘pick your own’ farm. Apparently the American School is close by so they’ve capitalized on that and planted, mmmmm…about ¼ acre of pumpkins in one of their fields. Ah well. It was fun. Suffice it to say Scott still scoured, but his pile at the end only had four pumpkins that were possibilities. Perhaps it took that little tiny field and the meager options, but I realized that Scott and Rob do always end up with perfect pumpkins.

It was a fun day in spite of the sort of ridiculous comparison to the pumpkin fields we are used to. We ate candy corn at a price that amounted to highway robbery and then spent about the same amount of money on delicious fish & chips for four. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday.

We talked about having a party here. It was pretty funny trying to explain to a bunch of English ladies what a Jack-o-Lantern is and why on earth you’d want to make one. In the end however, we sat out on the back porch on one of the most beautiful days since we arrived about 7 weeks ago and carved three wonderful pumpkins all together. Faces for the boys. A not-as-elaborate-but-very-sentimental Colorado Rockies ‘CR’ for Scott.

As the sun begins to set I have to say it was one of those days that nearly reached perfection. We slept in. We ate chocolate chip cookies for breakfast. Scott went to about a hundred places and finally found me a coffee. We laughed a ton. We listened to great music. We did haircuts in the back garden and no one freaked out or got mad or even looks too bad! We made lego boats. We got sunburned. We drank delicious margaritas with the ‘Stirrings’ mix that I returned triumphantly from Whole Foods with on Friday. And we carved pumpkins. It was gorgeous. The whole thing. It was the beginnings of new traditions I’m sure.

Still though, as I sit here contentedly sipping one last margarita I feel more than a little sad and very, very lonesome. What’s the Joni Mitchell song say? ‘Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone…’ Ain’t that the truth.

So here’s to you guys, Rob and Bree. Nate and Sarah. Dave. Steve-o. Ellie and Rachel and Noey and Jen and Rich and Stace and Jami and all the others that have come and gone at the pumpkin carving over the years. Here’s to traditions—the precious ones of the past and to the new ones both in the here and now and also in the future. May we forge ahead, and may we be together soon. Whether over a pile of squishy pumpkin and a funny-tasting beer or whatever new and foreign thing might take our fancy.

Friday, 10 October 2008

Heaven and Hell

Today I acquired that rarest of all things English—a sunburn. The weather was ridiculously gorgeous. The boys ran around the back yard with their shirts off and I timed them. Timed them running.

We had our usual lunch you see—hummus and avocado sandwiches. Actually, Caid’s ‘usual’ is peanut butter on one piece of bread and hummus on the other with avocado in between. He loves it. Asks me every day, “Can I have mine the way I like it?” Far be it from me to question the culinary tastes of a four year old who eats as diversely as that one!

Today I added tomato and ‘rocket’—the Brit’s word for arugula I believe. So of course after lunch I had to go into the back yard and time them. They were practicing the conventional wisdom of ‘you are what you eat’ and it needed to be tested. Tons of fun!

You might ask why we were all home during the day when we ought to have been at school. We were sick. Well, at least everyone thought they were when they woke up this morning. After the last week of insanity I can see why. A week ago we had our first NHS (National Health Service) experience. If that’s not enough to suck the life out of a healthy person I don’t know what is. It only took me about 10 minutes of the 3 ½ hours we were there to long for Partners in Pediatrics and The Life Center. My oh my.

I’ll make a long story short. Caid was sick with that type of cough that often turns to croupe in his little body. I asked the mom’s at school about a local ‘gp’ (General Practitioner) to ‘register’ with. We went to a gorgeous office with a beautiful mural on the wall and a Thomas the Train table and a garden out back. We were told we had to go somewhere else because we didn’t live close enough. Sigh…Frustration…asked around some more. Went to the one that lots of folks recommended. Walked in and had a horrible flash-back memory of the Ponca City, Oklahoma, emergency waiting room circa 1982. I had swallowed a penny and my mother panicked.

It was horrific. The NHS waiting room that is. Sick people everywhere. The phone never stopped ringing. Folks were angry because they got skipped when it should have been their turn. Old folks. Young folks. Pregnant folks. Plus my own personal favorite: The mom with her three little girls—Skye, Mercedes, and Summer. Mercedes spent the 1 ½ hours we waited across from her mother running around, climbing all over other people, and using up the entire industrial sized bottle of hand sanitizer. To which her mother continued to scream (yes, I DO mean scream. LOUD.), “SADIE!!! MER-CE-DES!!!! I SAID STOP!! NO MORE HAND SANITIZER!!! STOP! I SAID STOP!” Mercedes angelic response to this was simply, “No.” Every time. With nary a consequence. Poor Bridger buried his head in the crook of my arm and asked about every 5 minutes if we could PLEASE go home. I wish.

Anyway…that kicked off the last week. We eventually saw a doc who spent about 1.5 minutes with us and sent us on our way with two free prescriptions to be filled and the world’s worst migraine.

Plenty of lessons, thrills, hard news, more bread and jam then any sane person ought to eat and the like in between led up to last night. The weather. It was gorgeous again. So we went to the playground and were soon joined by every other 4-8 year old in a 2 mile radius. Which is a lot of children in the southern suburbs of London. Two little pixies made Bridger cry by making fun of him and then slugged Caid in the back. I ended up having a little run-in with a mom after I reminded the little girl that it’s not nice to hit other children. Apparently I ‘must have misjudged’ because ‘she would NEVER have done that’ and I am a ‘horrible stranger’ who is mean and inappropriate to little children.

The worst part of situations like that are all the things you desperately wish you would have said. I must be growing up somewhat though since I don’t also have a list of things I wish I wouldn’t have said. Sigh…the poise. The grace. The dignity to have remained calm and executed some of my best Love & Logic retorts. Ah well.

All three of us rushed to the bus stop, where the mother quickly marched her little girl behind us and leveled several more hateful remarks at my back. We all cried, fumed, processed, tried at forgiveness and then came home and made a fort. There’s nothing like a blankets-and-bunk-beds fort filled with pillows, good books, and the people you love best. It cures what ails you. I highly recommend it to anyone. Don’t have bunk beds? Any old table will do. I defy you to curl up in a fort and NOT feel better.

Anyway, we all woke up ‘sick.’ I have no doubt both Bridger and Caid were feeling unwell when they woke up. Both slept nearly 45 minutes past the regular time. I felt bad too. All of us had bad tummy aches. I have a pretty good idea why—our old friend Master Gluten. We threw caution to the wind and it didn’t work out. Some cuddling, a few dragon books and a package in the mail from Grammie later and we were all rarin’ to go again. So we made chocolate chip cookies with the booty from Gram and sat outside and got sunburned. Not a one of us every got out of our jammies.

Weather is a funny thing. Fantastic stuff, sunshine. Does one’s spirit good. A lack of sunshine can be well…ask Bridger. A post The Horse and His Boy discussion had us exploring the realities of heaven and hell a couple weeks ago. Bridger said, “It’s dark where Satan is, and it rains ALL the time. But in heaven it’s always sunny.” Apparently we have moved from heaven to hell. It does feel that way sometimes. Then we make a fort. We read some good books. We make ourselves sick on chocolate chip cookies. The sun comes out. And suddenly there is hope on the horizon…