Saturday, 25 August 2018

Canadian Leg of Croatian Vacation

I am the first to admit that I'm not great with geography, but even I know that Croatia is not right beside Canada.

But!  That didn't stop us from taking an incredible opportunity (and advantage of Grandpa's generosity) to visit Huff House West (in Edmonton) and a Whole Bunch of Other Assorted Huffs (in Red Deer). 


We left Split at about 2:30 pm on a Saturday, and flew to Heathrow, then Pearson (quick stop at Tim Hortons for tea and timbits!), then Edmonton International Airport, arriving at 1:30 am on Sunday (which included -- and this is just an estimate here -- 85 hours of travel time and a scorching case of jet lag for all), to be welcomed by Uncle Rob (whose airport pickup skills are second-to-none), two Giant Dogs and one Little Fluffy Dog.  We somewhat-quickly got everyone sorted into beds (I found a piece of chocolate cake on the way), and fell asleep for, frankly, not long enough.


In the morning, we had a joyful reunion with Grandma, whom we hadn't seen for far too long, then hopped into the rental minivan for the (respectively) short drive to Red Deer.

Well.

I know/knew/totally understood that in Canada we have a lot of space:  open fields, big skies, large stretches of highways with nothing around... but seeing it again after spending a year in London made me realize again how lucky we are to have such a beautiful country.  The fresh air!  The green things!  The Tim Hortons!

The purpose for our visit was to celebrate Chris' uncle's 60th wedding anniversary, and boy, did we. The bride and groom were gorgeous, the kids had a group of second- and third- cousins to romp around with, and we enjoyed amazing hospitality and a level of event planning that I can only hope to aspire to.  Grandpa was there with us, and we all checked into a hotel for a few nights to stretch out the Red Deer experience. 


We went tubing down the Red Deer River, ate at A&W (Amburgers and Woot Beer!), and were treated to a guided tour of All the Places That Chris Lived in Middle- and High School, for which we were rewarded with a drive through the DQ drive-thru.

Grandpa then proceeded to buy us all cowboy boots (we protested, then thanked him effusively), and we returned to Edmonton for another two days of Canadiana, which in this context means Steak and Uncle Rob's Legendary Wine Cellar.  We hugged (and were hugged by) Grandpa, Uncle Rob, Uncle Ryan, and Grandma, gave the Ridiculously Big Dogs a final pat, and the Tiny Puffball a final cuddle, and that was it.

All told, it was a wonderful -- yet far too short -- visit "home".  I say "home" because the kids and I have never lived in Edmonton or Red Deer (just Medicine Hat), and does the entire, giant, green, fresh-aired country really count as "home"? 

Well, people say hello.  They smile at you, and say "excuse me" and "sorry".  They hold the door for you and stop their cars to wave you across the street.  The lineup at the airport, for our short flight between Edmonton and Calgary, was full of friendly strangers.  People looked us in the eyes.  They smiled.  So, yes, it is home.  As much as I hate mushy patriotism, I can't help but wax poetic (again) about what a wonderful place our home is. 

When Good Form Fails

Published on Medium.com.


Monday, 20 August 2018

Our Croatian Vacation (What a Sensation!)

Swimming in Darko's Cove

In the interest of taking as much advantage of our next three years' proximity to many, many other countries (instead of just the one), we have been gadding about quite a bit.  This will slow down soon, because I'm pretty sure we have now visited every country in Europe (really, how many could there be?), and also we "may" have to sell one or more of our children to start financing these trips.

In February, for (yet another) school break, we had driven to Pettneu, Austria (via France and Switzerland - which totally counts as 3 countries, right?), then Chris and I flew to Nice (France again, but with more actual Frenching... no, that's not right...) in April.  So, when the opportunity came up to rent a nice little condo in Trogir, I was the first to say, "Never heard of it.  Where is it?"

Trogir is here:




It doesn't matter where it is.  Because it's so beautiful.  Or would have been if it wasn't so freaking hot, but since it was only a short 7-minute stagger down the mountain to the clear turquoise sea, we managed.  The walk back up the hill was much longer and harder, of course, but we had air conditioning and Croatian wine* to look forward to!


The local soft drink:  Pipi.  Hilarity ensued at every meal.


Trogir is not a well-kept secret, as evidenced by the swarms of tourists and the many, many giant yachts moored all around.  I firmly believe that said yachts have had a troubling effect on the local economy, in that a meal for the five of us regularly cost us the same as a meal out in London, something that we try to avoid having.  But!  Despite that, we did ok by keeping a stock of groceries and cereal in the flat, and trying to always have water bottles and snacks in a backpack.

What did we do?

The local beach:  worth a 7-minute downhill stroll.

Everything and nothing.  It's very touristy, but with the beach at the bottom of the hill (and a fancier one over the hill), we spent a lot of time lolling about by the sea.  It took me only 5 minutes before I demanded that we shell out the equivalent of $10 for a beach umbrella rental, because, well, ginger, but the kids played like splashy ducks in their sun suits and hats (the only kids on the beach covered up for sun safety)(also the whitest), and we reapplied sunscreen often, and nobody got a burn, not even me!!!  Just for that, the vacation was a success.  When it got too hot, or when one of them needed rescuing,** we joined them in the pleasantly cold, clear aqua water till we cooled down enough to feel human again, and it was just really nice.

Super fun aqua bouncy castle thingy

Beach days aside, there was a huge market a short walk away, with food and gelato everywhere.  (Daily ice cream is important when it's that hot.)  I found some super-cute vacation dresses for the girls, but my efforts to haggle the price down were thwarted by Vaughn suddenly pitching forward and throwing up a LOT, right in front of her stall.  For the not-low-enough price of 90 kuna, we apologized profusely, took the dresses, helped the poor vendor mop up, and dashed back to the condo so Vaughn could rest in the lovely, lovely air-conditioning.  (And, full disclosure, I was feeling barfy myself...Tamsin had vomited copiously the night before we left, and we each got it in turn.)

Street urchins have lunch in Split.

Our host, who lived above our apartment, took us out in his boat the next day (we had both recovered), and we spent a day on his little boat, going around islands and swimming in coves and lagoons whenever he stopped.  The water was so bright blue and clear, and it looked about 3 feet deep, but he told us that it was 6 metres or more.  The kids fell in love with snorkelling and saw lots of fish (that's when I got out of the water), and the salt water buoyancy really improved their confidence to swim away from the boat.



We took a day trip to Split, as well, and marvelled at the oldness of the old city.  We wandered around Diocletian's Palace and saw ancient Roman monuments that were humbling and beautiful and mind-blowing and super cool, despite it being punishingly hot.  In short, I don't have the right words to describe its amazingness, and also, heatstroke.

Whole fam damily selfie (ussie?) in Split with Very Old Tower.

As we drove back to the airport, our host told us that we were leaving just in time:  a heat wave was on its way.  "Isn't this a heat wave?" I asked.  "No," he laughed.  "This is just summer.  Next week is going to be really hot."  Luckily, we were headed for home, with a short trip to Edmonton and Red Deer first...





* Note:  Croatian wine isn't a thing.  Do not drink it. 'Tis far better to drink Pipi.  Or peepee, really.

** This happened far too often.  At least twice a day, I got to sprint to the water and swim out to where one of my little idiots was drifting away on the current, then got to swim them back against the current.  I counted it as cardio (and impressed the kids) so I didn't mind too much.

Thursday, 9 August 2018

So, I Didn't "Get" Yoga



My first experience with yoga was scarring.

I was running a corporate wellness centre, where weary IT employees would go to work up some good, clean, nerd sweat. I had been teaching all sorts of fitness classes, from step to cardio box to low impact aerobics, and even funk (because it was the late 90s, that’s why!). I had hired a yoga instructor to come in to teach weekly classes for a while, without participating myself, but decided that I should add it to my skillset, in case — god forbid — the funk thing was only a fad.

I chose a three-hour workshop as my starting point, a “yoga for fitness” certification. It was a terrible idea, I realized as soon as we started; I’d never tried the activity before, so why not destroy my soul by doing it for three hours straight? (It’s like the “box set” mentality: “I’ve never owned anything by this band. I think I want to own everything by this band!”)

It was agony, of course. The instructor “helped” me “go deeper” into various completely-unnatural positions, and talked about the meditation that is at the heart of yoga. Meditation? I gasped as my muscles and tendons screamed. How could I “meditate” when all I could hear over and over in my mind was, “How long do I have to hold this pose?” and “Why am I doing this?” These were, I suppose, a sort of mantra, but, I suspect, not the kind I was supposed to have.

As for the latter mantra, the answer to that arrived (eventually) in the form of the Best Part of Yoga, a.k.a. The Only Real Reason for Doing Yoga: corpse pose. Almost every yoga class has a five-minute nap built into the end. I’ve been told (repeatedly) that it’s not a nap, and I’m not supposed to fall asleep, but what am I, made of stone? They strain my body and mind for 60–90 minutes, then put me in a supine position to listen to soothing music. Ergo, I nap.
Image from DoYouYoga.com

But, back to the meditation/mindful bit. Some of my instructors have started classes with inspirational quotes, or suggested a focus for the class, like “strength” or “peace”. Some have even pulled out The Big Om, asking us to sing/drone a nasal, atonal song together. After the first few nervous times, I now enjoy that bit, even as I find it uncomfortable. It’s the bringing together of different voices and tones into a single (ish) tone that is, well, symbolic. Yoga, after all, means union.

The focus on the ujai breath, an audible nose-to-back-of-throat way of breathing, is another way to stop thinking about the minutiae of your day, and instead to turn breathing — an unconscious, automatic act — into a conscious activity (or, a focus on how irritating the yogi on the next mat is, and how special they must think they are to be able to breathe that loudly).

But I digress again. Meditation. Right.

The poses themselves are meditations. It took me many, many years to understand that. How could it be a meditation when all of my consciousness was tied up in thinking inhale/extend the front leg…lift the chest…exhale…inhale/reach higher….exhale/ground the outside of the back foot…don’t forget that front leg again… Ohhhh. The very nature of a pose’s overwhelming requirement of full concentration on practically every part of my body meant that I was no longer thinking about needing to tidy up the house or book the kids’ afterschool activities, or work in another 45 minutes of cardio somewhere. I was fully immersed in the moment. My mind, despite racing furiously to “achieve” the yoga pose, was completely focused on the now: the shaking muscles, the straining to breathe. The pose is the meditation.

As a fitness nerd admittedly more comfortable with the physical than the mindful, and always wanting to know the expected results and the why of exercise, I offer my professional opinion: should you do yoga? What is it good for: building strength, flexibility, burning fat? Wouldn’t you achieve better results running, lifting weights, and stretching?

Well, as a cross-training option, it’s a very functional workout, and non-impact. The poses require you to lift, move and hold your own body weight through a series of uncomfortable, impractical moves. It’s not a progressive workout, per se, but you will see improvement if you keep it up. For strength, it’s good, but not great. It does strengthen your upper body and core, but other workouts do it better, and the specificity is limited unless your sport or life goal involves being able to wrap yourself into the eagle pose, for example. Flexibility improves with repeated practice, but again, a concentrated regime of progressive stretching is more effective. And as a fat-burning exercise, yes, sustained exercise at moderate intensity burns fat, but there are better workouts out there if this is your goal. 

Mentally, there’s a lot going for yoga. Throughout each session, you are training equanimity, as you force yourself to stay calm in (sometimes intensely) awkward and embarrassing situations (like holding in your giggles when somebody farts… and someone always will) and discomfort. If you have kids, a partner, or a job, equanimity is an important life skill. You also get an entire session of turning your mind off of everything else, which results in a feeling of mental refreshment at the end of the class.

With all that considered, I would recommend, without reservation, yoga practice as part of your fitness program, a cross-training workout that does improve strength and flexibility, burns fat, and leaves you feeling relaxed and floppy, sweaty and peaceful. It’s mentally and physically challenging and intense, while giving your brain a welcome break from the rest of your stressors. And you can do it anywhere.

If you need to ask yourself one more convincing question, might I remind you to ask this:
Wait, and doesn’t this workout also incorporate a nap at the end?

Why, yes. Yes it does.


This article has been cross-posted on Medium.com and kapowfitness.blogspot.com.

Monday, 9 July 2018

It's all downhill from here

Well, it's my own fault.  

Somehow, we had the Best Day Ever on the first (real)* day of summer vacation.


What composition!  I call this one Hufflings, Tree, Small Furry Companion.
  

We had toast for breakfast, then took the kids and dog off to Regent's park with what the locals refer to as a "football".  After sitting by the boating pond for about 45 minutes, eating croissants and quietly watching a family of ducklings follow their mom around, we followed a dusty path to the sports fields to play some two-on-two in the sun.  When it got too hot, we found a nice shady climbing tree, then stopped by the sand-and-rope, Swiss Family Robinson-esque playground on the way home.  Vaughn even said to me, "This is a really fun day."  (Wow.)

After lunch, they had 45 minutes of independent-ish play (I had asked for 60) while I did some work, then off we went on the bus for the first swimming lesson, which went -- so sorry -- swimmingly.  That son'o'mine again came up to me and said, "Thanks for setting up swimming lessons for us!" (Am starting to think he's up to something.)

We ate the Last Box of Cheesy Noodles for dinner (with added peas for nutrition and reduced mom-guilt), then took the blackberry-yogurt "ice lollies" that the junior miss chefs made on the weekend, along for Ziggy's walk around the block after dinner.  

Up next:  jammies, teeth, stories, and bed.

All in all, it's been a good day.  Could we be turning a corner?  Or are they just trying to lull me into complacency for the next 8 1/2 weeks of vacationing with my children without a break, and also Chris has to work late for most of it and oh god...

But for now, it's been a good day.  



* technically, the first day of summer vacation was spent with Chris on Friday, while I was on a course.  I wasn't there, so it didn't count.  

Monday, 25 June 2018

We Bought Suitcases For Our Kids!

Alternate title:  And yet, they're still here

We've had a bit of a rough week and weekend around the house.  There was poor behaviour from everyone (myself included), not enough naps (still talking about me), and consequences that had to be adhered to (see also, when you bring three children into the world, you're not allowed to just leave everything behind and walk away into the wilds of London, never looking back).

The Hufflings have Personality! and they have it in spades.  There's the Agitator, the Drama Queen, and the Cuddle Bug.  There's also the Sweetheart, the Irritant, and the Look At Me!-er.  There's the Tattle-tale, the Instigator, and the Bully....and the Helper, the Singer, the Genius, the Victim, the Animal Trainer, the Artist, the Actor and the Scientist.  Overall, there is a lot packed into each one of them, and it's no wonder that, every freaking day from time to time, one's Personality overflows into another's personal space with very loud results. 

As a "responsible parent", I am careful with what they eat and what they do.  I limit their sugar intake (not to a huge degree, but their treats are monitored and doled out appropriately).  They don't get a lot of screen time; it's a lot to me, more than what I'd prefer them to have, but I've come to terms with the idea that maybe an hour, three times a week (maybe four if I really need a break) isn't too much for the 9- and 8- year olds.  (The five-year-old has had a better deal of it than the other two, because she's just piggybacked onto their screen time, instead of starting out with 30 minutes, once a week.) 

Anyhoo, due to a run of overflowing personalities, "poor choices", and possibly periods of too much sugar -- which worked its way up to a frenzy over the last week -- there was no screen time allowed for the whole weekend.  No treats.  Playdates were cancelled.  It was dire.

In an effort to come up with an outing that wasn't supposed to be very fun but used up a lot of time, we ended up spending Sunday at Costco, to the tune of ... frankly, it was so much that I can't even write it down.  And it was in pounds.  I honestly will not say just how much we spent, but try to imagine a shockingly large Costco bill, then multiply it by 1.8 to put it in "real dollars". 

I shudder. 

But, in our defense, part of that giant amount was for three little rolling suitcases. 

So far, on trips to visit family, see Mickey Mouse, or move to England, the kids have just brought along their backpacks as carryons, each stuffed with a blankie, a stuffy, a waterbottle and a book or two, and then shared a large suitcase with their clothing and shoes, usually with me.  But with all the potential for travel in the UK and Europe, and my complaining that I never get a full suitcase to myself while Chris gets three we've been talking about getting them their own. 

So yesterday, instead of just walking past a giant display of American Tourister wheelie bags, suddenly, there were three kids wheeling them along:  a pink, a blue, and a black, happy as little clams.  The amount of delight they showed for walking through the store, then out towards the parking lot, each pulling their own bag, heralded a switch in mood -- and behaviour -- for the better, for all of us. 

Adventures are often just a state of mind, and I know I overuse the word.  But a new suitcase is more than a new suitcase.  It's potential.  It's planning and dreaming and looking at maps and thinking about exploring new places.  I like to think that they (the miscreants) and we (the exhausted, defeated parents) suddenly realized, on some level, that looking ahead to new adventures -- even a sleepover at someone else's house -- is key to leaving a bad week behind.


And maybe, on some level, they saw that they now had the means to pack up and leave home.*



*When I joked about that, Tamsin started crying and said she wanted to stay with me.  I gave in and told her she could stay as long as she wanted, or until she was 18.

Sigh.




Monday, 18 June 2018

On Birthdays and Other Bad Ideas


We have three children.  As people who like to think they're intelligent, we also like to think that we learn from our mistakes.  Yes, yes, despite having three children.

For Vaughn's 8th birthday, a year and a half ago, he had asked for a sleepover party with his four best friends from school (one of which was a girl!).  "How bad could it be?" we thought, and decided to go for it.   We decided to take four extra kids to a hockey game, then back to our place for pizza and cake, followed by a movie and a good night's sleep.

January 2017:  Happy faces all around!
(Nobody panic, but has anyone seen Tamsin?)
Well, that was the plan, anyway.  The girl couldn't come (which was probably a sign of good parenting in her family), and one of the boys could come to the game, but wasn't ready for a sleepover (again, great call, other parents!).  And of course, we didn't really think through how to get three extra kids into our station wagon to go to the game and back.  So, we called my parents.  For the low price of hockey tickets, snacks, and parking, they agreed to shuttle the boys in their minivan, while we chauffeured our girls there.  Mom and Dad sat at the end of the row and tried to ignore the fiasco of boys free from parental oversight, while Chris and I panicked, fetched snacks, cleaned up spills, accompanied bathroom trips, corrected and tried to control seven children.  Thanks, in part, to the loud, raucous venue, it went well.  In hindsight.  The pizza was good, the cake was devoured, the movie was enjoyed (mostly - one kid decided that he didn't want to watch it), and sleep eventually came. 

"Never again!" we said, cheerfully.
Tamsin:  located.
Note to self:  for better future decision-making, start taking photos of angry/frustrated parents, not sugared-up kids.

So, a few weeks ago, another child in our family turned eight.  Of course we knew it would happen one day (see also, We think we're so smart), but it felt a bit sudden.  The birthday parties we've been to lately have been giant, invite-your-entire-grade events, so I foolishly snuck in a suggestion that I thought was self-preserving:  how about a sleepover with four friends?

Ailsa leapt at the opportunity, and Chris and I relaxed.  No planning necessary.  No booking, no organizing, really.  Half-term was two weeks before it, and we had more than enough time to prepare.  Her actual birthday, on a Sunday, saw us celebrate with a breakfast out, her attendance at another child's party, and cupcakes which she made and iced to share with her class the next day.  We still had a week till the party, and everything was cool.

On Monday afternoon, she came home from school with an empty cupcake carrier, a soupcon of green icing around her mouth, a stomachache and a fever.  I kept her home on Tuesday, and she slept most of the day, except when I bundled her into the car to take Ziggy to the dog park (Tuesday is his dog park day), and bundled her into the cart at Costco to pick up staples.*  She looked better on Wednesday morning, so I was surprised (but not really) to get a call at around 11 to go pick her up from school and take her home to bed.  Thursday, she was still burning up.  She rested, but not as much, and when she woke up on Friday, still warm, I called the doctor. 

Much like taking your car to the mechanic, nothing cures a Huffling faster than looking at a doctor.  Dr. Charming (not his real name) checked her quickly, told her she would be fine by nightfall, and then asked me to sit in the hot seat.  Apparently, I look like I'm dying.  He checked my blood pressure (excellent), asked my family history about diabetes (only the relatives who make it to 90 have it), and ordered me to book an appointment for a full round of bloodwork, which I literally just remembered now was supposed to be last Monday.  Will have to rebook.  Whoops.

I digress.

Saturday morning, we kept Ailsa home from gymnastics, because we're not THAT terrible of parents.  I also baked a princess cake, sent Chris to the store for english muffins, "pizza cheese" and icing sugar, and cobbled together four lootbags out of common household items and remnants of lootbags past.  (Hey, I hadn't left the house in a week.)  We told all three kids that they didn't need to have naps,** but if they did, they could stay up past 8 pm.  No pressure.


We prepared for the onslaught.

Oh.  My.  God.

Much like the shock we experienced eight years before, when we added another beautiful-yet-screaming baby into an already-loud household, nothing could have prepared us for four extra eight-year-old girls, giggling, shouting, running, throwing things...  Chris, the sneaky little coward, had gone out for a run at 4:30, so I got to handle the first shift alone.  The Huff House Rules were repeated often in my Calm Voice:  "Do not stand or jump on the couches or beds - do so on the trampoline," "There will be no calling of names, telling people they're stupid, or telling them to shut up", and my personal favourite, "Doors that are open stay open; doors that are closed stay closed."  Despite this, girls were standing on couches, throwing sofa cushions at each other.  They shouted rude things at each other and slammed doors.  And this was all in the first 30 minutes.

Eventually, they all calmed down, made their own mini pizzas, ate cake, watched a movie, and went to bed.

No, of course they didn't.

By about 11 pm, I was sitting on the floor outside the spare bedroom, reading my book with a flashlight, so they'd know I was there.  It eventually worked.  They dropped off, one by one, till I could fling myself onto my own bed at 12:30, exhausted, without wine, to sleep until... oh dear lord, it's 6:18, and they're already up?

And yes, of course Tamsin will get a sleepover for her eighth birthday!  Because we're idiots.





*Not actual staples, but I suppose I could get a LOT of them there, if I needed.  They have EVERYTHING!
**If not naps, then x-treme quiet time, so x-treme that not even the sound of pages turning may be heard.