we’re more than half-way through the Dadvent Calendar

My husband has been overseas, for work, for nigh on a month. It’s been a busy month, which has been good in some ways – fun, sunny, summery, celebratory – but bad in others, ie : with 3 children in my sole care, each of whom has a packed-out end-of-term calendar, I am exhausted.

To give our children some concept of the time for which he was going to be away, we made what I christened a “Dadvent Calendar” – a series of numbered, decorated envelopes hung with pegs on a string along the length of our hallway. Every evening, the children write on a slip of coloured paper a line or two about what they’ve been up to that day. We kill many birds this way – they get the discipline of regular, journal-style writing, their dad gets a series of off-beat snippets to read when he gets back, so that hopefully he won’t feel that he’s missed out on quite so much and, crucially, I don’t have to answer endless questions of the “When will Daddy be home?” nature, as they are more than capable of counting the un-stuffed envelopes themselves.

Anyway, as I say. We’re on the home stretch. Sorry, did I mention that I was exhausted?

photo

we live in the world today

I haven’t posted in a while. Busy, yes. But also not all that happy. There’s been stuff, pretty rubbish stuff, questioning relationships with friends and relatives, and having to make decisions of a ‘moving on’ nature. Bah. Yuk.

Maybe I should change the name of this blog to “Today I smiled because…” Even when I’m not happy, there’s always something that makes me smile. Like the dad at the fair today, proudly bouncing his toddler daughter on the edge of the bouncy castle, gazing Pimmsily around at all and sundry, oblivious to the fact that her poo-filled pull-up had slipped down her legs and was bouncing, revoltingly, hilariously, by her ankles.

But there was a thing last weekend that’s brought a smile to my face every time I’ve thought about it. My daughter and I had some time together in the afternoon and went to meet the boys and my husband later, where they were playing football with two of my eldest son’s classmates and their dads. As we walked across the Rye to them, I was suddenly struck by the fact that, of the three dads, one (the one I’m married to) was (boringly) hetero and married. One, Muslim and unmarried, but cohabiting/ defacto/ whatever the acceptable term is. And the other, gay, in a relationship that’s about to hit the 20-year mark, and married in a civil ceremony 4 years ago.

I have clear memories of the problems I encountered as the child of a mixed race marriage in the 70s. The world is by no means perfect now, but I love that my children are growing up to question some things while accepting others without a flicker. And, of course, that they are growing up with a dad who’s brilliant, and would be, regardless of colour, race or creed.

she ran with me

We had some of our favouritest friends coming over yesterday afternoon. They’ve got three children too, so, with a total of six children to consider, you sort of want to have all of the food prep in hand before they arrive; even if the kids don’t require your undivided attention, it’s nice to just be able swig on a drink and chat, without wielding a chopping knife in one of your hands.

So. I’d made Nigel Slater’s chocolate & beetroot cake the previous day, thus using up some beetroots that were languishing, near death, in the fridge, before we go away on holiday (I am fanatical about ‘using up before going away’, perhaps the more so because of the time that we returned from France to discover the aftermath of a power cut in the fridge. Mon Dieu, the smell…) Since preparation is everything, I was also canny enough to make the cake exactly as Mr Slater decrees, ie no paleo tweaks to make it even vaguely edible for me. Like I said, we are going on holiday. There will be the wearing of swimming costumes.

pureed beetroot, ready to be folded into the chocolatey mixture

pureed beetroot, ready to be folded into the chocolatey mixture

We decided on pulled pork on soft floury baps with coleslaw: again, all easy to do before anyone arrived (and all stuff that I’d not even countenance eating. Do I need to I remind you? Holiday. Sun. Fewer clothes.) So, once the pork was doused in cider and slow cooking in the oven, and the cabbage and carrot were shredded and resting, there was little to do except deal with the children asking “When will they be here? When are they coming?!”

Annoying. So: bikes in the back of the car and off to the park we went. I run pretty much every day: it’s vital to my state of mind. But when you have a family, you have to tailor your runs to whatever else is going on; I can’t, in all fairness, be off on a long run on a weekend when my husband’s been working all week and the kids are desperate for us to ‘all be together’ – even less so when there’s a shoulder of pork on the go in the oven.

I wore my running kit anyway; what the heck, the kids are bike-competent enough now that I’d be able to at least jog, if not run, as they rode. It was better than nothing. And, you know, there’s that holiday thing next week.

We got to Dulwich Park and whaddaya know, a fair was in residence. As fairs go, it didn’t look too bad; certainly not along the lines of the ones that my poor friend Steph was subjected to this weekend but, FFS, I did not go to the park so that my kids could spunk their college funds on rides and hot dogs: I went so that they could get fresh air and exercise, goddamit. I went so that they could bike-ride and I could run! I went so that they’d stop bugging me (When will they be here?) – not bug me more! (Can we go on a ride? can we? can we? CAN WE???!!)

Pushy mother, moi? Well, yes. But I am Australian. So it’s okay, right? Besides, it’s an Ashes year. My competitive juices are already rising.

Compromise: once around the park on bikes and then Daddy will take you to the fair while Mummy runs.

When I got back to them, there was dissatisfaction in the ranks (of course!) They wanted another ride (of course!!) on the Ferris Wheel but it was 3 people per carriage and at least one adult to accompany children required. So they couldn’t go on it without me.

full

But then my husband discovered that he’d already pretty much ploughed through the college fund spare change already, and could only afford three of the £2.50 (!!) seats.

Suddenly, my daughter piped up. “I don’t want to go on the ride. I want to run with Mummy.”

Truly, I know it’s a fine line: inflicting my own issues surrounding food, physique and exercise on my daughter on the one hand, and guiding her, joyfully, in the love of health, nutrition and exercise on the other. I am not about to buy her running kit or get her out of bed to do sixty sit-ups before school. She is beautiful and perfect, but I shy away from harping on this because I don’t ever want her to feel that she’ll be unloved when her beauty and perfection starts, as it inevitably will, to change. I tell her she is healthy, she is strong, she is lovely. I tell her she sparkles. She does.

But I was delighted that she wanted to run with me; and that she wanted to do so more than she wanted to ride on the sodding poxy Ferris Wheel.

So, we ran. Or jogged. Whatever. It was a peach of a day, and there was no need to hurry: just me and my girl sucking up the sunshine and the blazing rhododendrons and wondering whether the boys and Daddy could see us from the top of the Ferris Wheel? And still the joy and expectation of friends, and pork, and cake, to look forward to in the afternoon.

Dulwich Park rhododendrons

Dulwich Park rhododendrons

100111 007 (Small) (2)

I went to bed against a lightening sky

4am. Can’t remember the last time that happened.

4am sky

4am sky

It was a brilliant night. We had a Eurovision party at our place, and although we had the contest showing on two screens, I’m not convinced that anyone actually watched it.

The children had drawn a country for each person from a hat a few weeks ago, and the idea was that you had to bring some food that was vaguely representative of that country. There were waffles from Belgium, Serbian squid salad, Italian tiramisu, Irish soda bread, German meats and French cheeses. There was Hungarian apple cake, Icelandic prawns, Armenian Turlu, Norwegian gravadlax, Greek dolmades and an Ottolenghi cake for Israel. There was so much food that there were scarcely enough surfaces on which to put it; the effort everyone had gone to was sensational.

photo

The 26 finalists were written on slips of paper and placed inside a Babushka doll for drawing, but no one had brought money for a sweepstake so we decided to make it that the winner – Denmark, as it happened – had to sing the Bonnie Tyler entry on the Playstation Singstar karaoke; an event that spiralled into full Back-to-the-80s silliness with Human League and Spandau Ballet renditions.

photo

At the very end of the night there were just a handful of us left in our kitchen, surrounded by loads of empties but just enough full ones, picking olives out of the Greek salad and laughing raucously about inappropriate things. There was, I think, an incident involving the donning of wigs and the ‘theft’ of a piece of wood from a neighbourhood skip; something to do with building a shelf. I feel rough today, but it’s the best kind of rough, and it gave my daughter the chance to play her own version of Freaky Friday with me; as I lay, half-dozing on a beanbag in the garden today, she adopted the role of my mummy and covered me lightly in a blanket, spoon fed my feels-like-the-inside-of-a-birdcage mouth sips of water from a cup and – this bit wasn’t so good – tested me on my spellings. I will hold up my hands – I got 2 wrong – but I swear it was nothing to do with my fuggy head. I mean honestly, since when was finnico a word??!!

I have pterodactyl earrings

It’s Mother’s Day in several places in the world today; admittedly not in this one, but it is in the place where I’m from. So I get a second bite of the cookie, as it were.

First up, a chance to lounge in bed with a coffee and the Sunday papers, followed by the sounds of busy, important feet trotting up the stairs, and bright little faces chorusing “Happy Aussie Mother’s Day Mama!!”

There were lovely cards from local gift shop Emporia, where 1st birthday celebrations this weekend meant that there was cake and a 10% discount into the bargain. There was a huge Lego construction on which they’d collaborated, a kind of pseudo-cake, bright, multi-layered and completely carb-free. And there were pterodactyl earrings, which I adore.

I first spotted them when I was gift shopping at Magi Gifts in Brockley a month or so back. A local designer uses plastic toy animals and makes them into quirky (I hate that word, but you know what I mean) pieces: lugubrious bulldogs as pendants, lizards dangling down, in a friendly way, from your earlobes. I loved every piece of it and kept meaning to go back and ‘treat myself’ at some stage.

However, my lovely family took matters into their own hands and I am now sporting prehistoric winged beasts on my ears. It’s been a sweet day: nothing fancy, but the chance to go for a long, relaxed run this morning, followed by my favourite breakfast of sheep’s yoghurt, raspberries and fresh mint. We’ve planted bee and butterfly-attracting seeds in the garden, been for a bike ride and checked out the new gelateria, Oddono’s in East Dulwich (verdict: “Can we come here every day now that it’s summer, Mama?”)

I’m more than happy to go back (they do great coffee) but summer? Might be too early for such grandiose statements. Today I wore, in honour of the day, the Splendid tank top that my brood bought me from Net-a-Porter a few years ago for Mother’s Day (the English one). My photo doesn’t show the fabulousness of its colour well enough; this Outnet link is far better. I adore it but alas, unfriendly temperatures meant that it was soon concealed by a sweatshirt. But I wore my hair pulled up so that my earrings, at least, were on show.

20130512-211936.jpg

20130512-211959.jpg

20130512-212343.jpg

20130512-212350.jpg

<a

I packed away the winter coats and shoes

Enough’s enough, right? I don’t deny that we might have several a few more chilly days ahead but by Jove, I’ve had my wintry outers up to the wotsits.

So today, I pulled out the storage bags containing my summer stuff, packed away the coats and boots and rediscovered my last-season sandals. It’s sad but true to say that many of them bear more than a passing resemblance to footwear I’ve already, avidly, bought this season but I’m nothing if not consistent; it’s completely in character for me to wander into a store wearing, say, a grey sweater and to walk out clutching a bag containing an almost identical knit. The worst example ever of this was the day that I stood in Cos swooning over a navy wool dress with leather patch pockets before it gradually dawned on me that not only did I already own the dress in question: I was in fact wearing it at that very moment.

Anyway. The only thing that’s better than having summery shoes to wear is having the weather and the occasion for wearing them. Yesterday morning? Not so much: I did an MCC Promotions-organised 10km run on Peckham Rye with two other mums from school, where footwear of a functional, rather than fabulous, nature was the order of the day, especially since a gait assessment at Runners Need revealed my hideous overpronation. My trainers are practically platforms, yes, but running in heels has never felt so good.

Unknown-33

In the evening, however, we had dinner at The Begging Bowl with some of our friends, and it was bare legs, Sam Edelman Flynn sandals and fantastically flavoursome food. Today, my husband’s uncle and his partner took us out for lunch at Le Querce, for which I wore winged Ancient Greek sandals bought from Net-a-Porter last summer (along with a Zara dress in a good-to-be-alive shade of green)  The monkfish was amazing and the children seated at the next table were fairly hideous, which had an unhappy effect on noise levels and our ability to converse, but a brilliantly positive impact on how we, and the uncles, regarded the behaviour of our three. Now, I don’t know about other mothers out there, but to me this is pretty much the Holy Grail of a day out: eating delicious food, enjoying the company you’re with, feeling proud of your children and not feeling that every stitch you’re wearing has been chosen purely for matters of “I’m with the kids” practicality but also because you a) actually like them and b) the sun is shining after far, far too long of doing anything but that.

Would I be jinxing matters if I booked a pedi for next week, do you think?

Unknown-34image1xl-3zara-green-gathered-dress-product-1-6588709-450961104_large_flex

I ran in the sunshine

I had a bit of a disastrous run a few weeks ago: reached about the 4 mile mark and then, whump! my iffy knee totally gave out. Couldn’t bear my weight at all; tried to keep running through it (“Think of Joe Simpson” I told myself sternly) but to no avail. I hobbled all the way home. Via Brockley Market and a Dark Fluid coffee, mind you, so it wasn’t all bad news.

BHunqECCQAEsyix.jpg-large

Anyway, I’ve been wary of running outdoors since then: at least if I’m at the gym on the treadmill and my knee starts to play up, I’ve got low-impact options on hand so that I can get some form of a workout. Man alive, it’s dull though! Not so bad on the short runs, which are done and dusted within 30 minutes or so, but on the longer ones of 90-100 minutes it’s boooring. Which is why they have TV screens that you can plug your headphones into on the machines, I guess. So again, not all bad news: I’ve been introduced to the larger-than-life engagingness of Guy Fieri, salivated over (and subsequently made – I’ve included the recipe and a photo at the end of this post) his Ahi Poke and have chortled over a re-run of Ugly Betty (Wilhemina: “Well, of course I’m worried, Marc. But when someone gives you chintz, you can do two things: A) whine about the fact that it’s an upholstery fabric, or B) turn it into a fabulous bolero jacket.”)

images-10

My knee has been pretty well-behaved on my last few runs and, having done a long one yesterday, it was only a shortish one on the agenda for today anyway. Plus, need I even mention it, the sun, the sun, the glorious sun! Gym, grim. So I ran in one of my favourite parks. It was ace. Golden light, blossoming trees, dappy dogs, happy people. And my knee didn’t bother me once.

 

photo

 

That’s a photo of my Ahi Poke, and below is the recipe that I used. I upped the amounts on the macadamias and chilli, and served it over rocket/ arugula and ribboned zucchini/ courgette to make it into more of a ‘meal.’ I’m not sure where you’d get Maui onions from in the UK but I gather they are a sweet onion so I used a red onion instead. Ask your fishmonger (I went to the wonderful F.C Soper in Nunhead) for sashimi-grade tuna.

Ingredients
1 pound fresh ahi (yellowfin tuna)
1 teaspoon finely chopped macadamia nuts
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes, optional
Salt
1/4 cup shaved Maui onion
2 tablespoons finely sliced green onions
Freshly cracked black pepper
1/8 cup finely julienned, toasted dried seaweed

Directions
Cut the ahi into 3/4-inch cubes and put in a large mixing bowl. Add the nuts, sesame oil, soy sauce, chili flakes and salt to taste. Lightly toss together. Then add the Maui onions and green onions and lightly toss to combine. Season with additional salt if needed and black pepper to taste. Garnish with the seaweed.