Friday, 11 August 2017

Bad Mummy

We took the kids to the British Museum today, and "may" have triggered an existential crisis in our youngest, by mistake.

First off, it's a beautiful, giant, impressive place, the staff are fantastic, the restaurant was incredible (I had pea-and-mint tortellini for lunch - wow), and the kids were excited to choose two "trails" to follow:  the Ancient Egypt (in line to get in, Tamsin had asked if there would be mummies!) and Ancient Britain (Vaughn wanted to see stuff from the Saxons, because he knows more British history than I do), for which they got little guidebooks with items to find and activities to do.  So, great!

We walked through the mummy room -- which, let's face it, is the most interesting part of/main reason for an Egyptian exhibit -- on the way to the starting point, and they all seemed fine, but after about 20 minutes of searching and finding, we wound our way back to that same room.

COOL mummies.

Fantastic treasures.

So many sarcophagi (sp?) and embalmed people, including Cleopatra!  Not THE Cleopatra, apparently, but her exhibit was very interesting, so we stood there for a few minutes.

My little girl was standing beside me, the brim of her Paw Patrol cap hiding her face, her voice too quiet to hear, so I crouched down (painfully - knees are black and blue and swollen from yesterday's tumble) and had to ask her a few times to repeat herself before I understood.

"I don't want to die."

Oh.  Dear.

She was all quiet and white and teary.  At four and a half years old, she suddenly came face-to-face with mortality -- when does it usually happen? -- and did not take it well.  Over the next ten minutes or so, she had countless hugs, and bravely wiped away tears from eyes suddenly wiser and sadder.

She also doesn't want me to die (which is nice), and didn't really go for the Circle of Life explanation that had worked for the passing of our fish and Chewie, our hamster.  She kept repeating, "I don't want to die."

I told her that ...well, it doesn't matter what I told her.  She rallied after a quick trip to the bathroom, but I haven't yet.  How do you explain to a kid that it's ok, that at a certain point, it can be nice to and let the next generations do their thing, but that it wouldn't be ok if it happened too soon?  And what's too soon?  And if I promise her that she's not going anywhere for a long time yet, and neither am I, but if I do, does that make me a liar?


Before lunch, she told me that she hoped she didn't dream about this tonight.  We tried to give her enough other, good things to think about that she'll have more than enough dreams to choose from.

Now, let's hope that I can have one of those dreams, too.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Beauty is as beauty does

Just a few photos to brag about how really, really ridiculously good-looking the Hufflings are.

Who needs teeth to be gorgeous?
Ailsa shows off her fancy theatre hairstyle and her new dress.

Tamsin in her own fine feathers.
(Yesterday's kitty nose is mostly faded.)
She can only hold in the personality for a few seconds at a time.

That's better, but handsome is as handsome duuuuuhs.
Handsome boy in need of a haircut and an UNtuck.

Week one: done!

Well, we have started checking off items on our To Do in London list.
  • Buckingham Palace - check!
  • Rode on the Tube and Returned Home With As Many Children As I Started With - check, check and check!
  • London Zoo - check!
  • Free Museums - check, War Museum!
  • Live Theatre - check, The Hunting of the Snark!
  • Noticing More and More Super-Weird Things About England - ongoing

The Zoo is walking distance from our flat - sure, it's a long walk, but our "walking legs" are getting stronger by the day.  We checked it out on Saturday.

Fun British Fact:  English zoos don't just have protected and endangered species, but extinct ones, too!  There is actually a time-travel portal, which takes you back to the time of the dinosaurs...hey, I was skeptical too, but they were very friendly and rideable.


Although these pictures, I suppose, only show that the zoo has statues of animals, there were also real, live animals, all very active and healthy-looking.  It started off slowly, though - we went to a "Lunch with Otters" presentation, and they decided to stay in their little cave, snoozing, instead of participating with the zookeeper.  She did a fairly entertaining talk anyway, and the crawfish that she was going to feed to the otters became the stars of the show - they kept escaping from the bowl and menacing the children with their wee little claws.  

Saturday was, amazingly, the first real rainy day we've had, but of course I didn't check the weather ahead of time.  Chris did, and brought an umbrella along, but the kids only had baseball caps on (their t-shirts dried quickly), and I just got frizzier.  It was a nice day at the zoo, actually - not too warm or cold, just sort of drizzly in spots.  At some point, Chris' umbrella fell out of my bag.  Whoops.

Side note:   Since we're still living out of our suitcases, I couldn't remove the old, chipped polish from my fingers or toes.   Knowing that my nail polish remover would be arriving within the next few weeks (oh please oh please oh please), I found a Groupon for a mani/pedi in a  
Now, SOME people might waste their money on buying another $3 bottle of nail polish remover, but I decided to be less wasteful (don't even try to make me understand the math).  Anyhoo, by happy accident, my fingers and toes match the Tube exactly.  

The kids had their first English Play Date on Monday with kids they had met at the park -- a boy Vaughn's age and a girl right between Ailsa and Tamsin -- and went over to their new friends' house, just a few blocks away.  It's a tiny little house, slightly smaller than our old one, but with a tiny little garden -- I'm so envious!  We joined them on Tuesday, as well, at the War Museum.  The kids had a great time, but it will be an uphill slog to get them to fully adopt Proper British Decorum.  

I expect, in fact, to die trying.

Today was even rainier than Saturday, so it was good luck that the day's adventure was to go to the Theatre!  Chris is off for the next two weeks, to help unpack and set up our flat (would be more helpful if we had anything to unpack or set getting tired of the same clothes), so we looked up deals, found a fun one for the kids (we were inspired by the book Aunt Tracey gave to Vaughn for Christmas last year!), and were taken on a musical romp to Snark Island.  It was hilarious (for me), and I will be humming the songs from now on...and telling the jokes (to the kids' chagrine - they have an excellent awareness of what "funny" is, and I, very often, fall short on purpose, just to get The Look from Ailsa*).

The curtain is about to go up, and everyone is dressed and ready with snacks!

Fun British Fact:  Hot beverages, like coffee or tea, are not allowed in the theatre, but you can buy drinks, candy and crisps to bring in with you.  

Aside:  I would like to point out to Grandma and Grandpa that we made it two full weeks without taking the Hufflings to McDonald's.  Personally, I think we can go much longer (what with no pesky grandparents about to take them to The Bad Place), but we were in a rush as we left the theatre, and needed to get to an appointment at the bank, so popped in for some Happy Meals.  Ailsa ordered chicken McNuggets, which came with dipping sauce, of course.  BUT WAIT!

Yep, you can dip your chips in curry sauce, even at McDonalds.  IT IS AWESOME!

She stuck with the Sweet and Sour sauce, but come on!

We bought Fis a replacement umbrella (thus turning him back into Chris... at least for a few minutes), and bought one for Tamsin, too.  At dinner, she enthusiastically exclaimed, "This is the best day ever!  I got my own umbrella!"

She and Ailsa were so good about sharing.

DG note:  Dinner tonight was chicken drumsticks with garlic stuffed under the skin, sprinkled with salt and pepper and mixed herbs, frozen peas, and some kind of microwave rice thing.  The chicken was a hit, anyway!

* The teenage years are being foreshadowed already.  So far, they're hilarious.

Friday, 4 August 2017


To quote Maya Angelou, I know why the caged house bird wife sings drinks.

Pardon me to anyone who has children, and (for some reason) chooses to watch them herself.  And apologies to Miss Kat, Mme Zakia, Whitney, Pri, Amanda, and Ruby -- the wonderful people who, over the years, have watched our children when I was working.  (I should probably apologize to Maya Angelou, too.)  In my defense, though, I'm both 1) unskilled and b) doing this for free, but honestly there is no amount of money and/or training that could make spending this much time with my children ok.

I will perhaps feel better after (another) glass of wine.

True, we are new to a city, we are still jet-lagged (but I think this is the last day to coast on that one), none of our stuff has arrived, so we are essentially squatting in what is basically a large hotel suite with a kitchen, and our indoor time is limited to reading books, colouring, and playing snap and Spot It.  But I feel that we have been spending so much time outside that they should be starting to appear as regular children, instead of as rabid werewolves.  Who are jet-lagged.  And who get up multiple times a night with nightmares and to pee.

I have always admired the expectations that the British hold for their children, in books, at least.  They are expected to be cheeky and impudent on command, and politely quiet to the point of being subdued the rest of the time.  British literature has led me to believe that joyful shouts come from brisk exercise on the moors, and that otherwise, children generally are exceedingly well-behaved yet rosy-cheeked, or dying of consumption with a stiff upper lip; those that are petulant have a reason:  they're dying of consumption.

It doesn't help that literally EVERY CHILD we have seen out and about, both walking and at various parks, is polite, respectful, and kind, but jolly.  I saw an 11-year-old boy leaving a park, saying, "Thanks Mum!  I quite enjoyed that!", and a 10-year-old boy today called out to Ailsa, who was (of course) climbing a tree, that she "ought not to climb so high, because she might worry her mum". Note, these were both boys.

Hufflings and assorted cherubic playmates in tree, circa 2017

I suppose the kids we've played with are only a small subsection of "British Children", but overall, they are exactly what I want my kids to be:  active and cheerful, but when a smaller child joins the game or steps onto the equipment, they slow down to include them.  In contrast, mine just seem loud, bossy, screamy, loud, undisciplined, loud...  I'm extremely worried that the other parents will just assume that they are -- gasp! -- American.

This seems awful to write, I know, but the answer is simple.  All I need is a governess.  In return, I will... hmmm.  Ok, I can't pay someone until I have a job myself, but maybe they can do it as community service?  All I need, then, is a Feloness.  Apply here!

All this aside, we had a not-too-bad day today.  We started at a park, met up with some kids they had played with yesterday, and traded info for a playdate - this is a Big Deal, the first step towards making friends.  We came back home for an early lunch of my famous scrambled eggs, toast, and salsa, jam and "sandwich pickle"* as condiments, then headed out to our first foray on the tube.

I didn't need to bring my map of London with me, because I had my cell phone!  No problem!  GPS works so well!  ... until you're in a tube station, or on a tube, and you don't know which stop to get off at, and you can't get any cellphone service, and also you're an idiot.  We were debating going to London Bridge instead, because the stop is actually named, "London Bridge", but luckily, we were going to a popular destination, and the friendly announcer announced it in a friendly way (as friendly announcers are wont to do):  "Green Park.  This stop also for Buckingham Palace."

Buckingham Palace is just across Green Park.  First, we had to find our way out of the tube station and into Green Park, which was a lot more complicated than it seemed, mostly because the person holding the cell phone was still an idiot.  After walking one block the wrong way, turning around, walking two blocks the other way, crossing the street, and walking one block back (now standing exactly across the street from the tube station we had come out of, only twelve minutes before), we saw the entrance to Green Park, and in we went.

We saw police horsies!  Not quite as handsome as our police horsies, but still quite handsome.
It was yet another beautiful park, which, quite frankly, are getting rather tiresome.  But yes, it's green, it's lovely, it has trails and paths and beautiful old trees, neat little lawnchairs you can sit in for only 1.60 pounds sterling per hour**, and at the very end of it you could see majestic wrought-iron gates topped with gold.  In any other place, I would assume that it's just gold paint, but I'm pretty sure that wouldn't be fancy enough.

Here we are in front of the gates, and the Queen herself is inside!  I'm sure she would have come out to say hello had she known that we were there.  Also, somebody please teach me a better angle for selfies.

The Union Jack was flying, which, as Tamsin explained to me (again), it means the Queen is inside.  It was surprisingly exciting for all of us!  We're going to try to take a tour of the palace on another day, to see the inside, but the outside was very impressive.

The giant Victoria monument was spectacular.  Every angle was beautiful, and I had fun trying to explain what "allegorical" meant to a 7-year-old.***
What good is a beautiful, gold-topped monument if you can't scale it?

We walked back through the park, stopped to climb another tree, and stopped for a snack (Starbucks #3!) before we ventured back underground.  The trip back seemed faster than the trip out, and we headed home for some big glasses of wine water.

Up...up...up... back out of the tube station.  The kids suss out the theatre posters.
I decided to trade 45 minutes of television for the kids if I could have 34 quiet minutes of yoga for me.  During their 45 minutes, I made another alsational German Shepherd's Pie from scratch, using just salt and pepper as seasoning as we have nothing else.  After browning it, I slow-simmered the meat with the carrots and onion for about 30 minutes, adding some of the water from the potatoes as a thickener.  I put it in the oven at -- who knows, it's in Celsius, and it hurts my brain -- for about an hour and twenty minutes, to further let the flavours deepen.  Aside from having to spend time with my children, I'm rocking this Domestic Goddess thing.

But back to that bargain I made for yoga:  during my time, guess how many minutes I got?

Two.  I got two measly minutes of peace and quiet before Ailsa hurt her foot on the wall of her bedroom - when I followed her in, More Stressed and Less Relaxed than I had been just two short minutes ago, Vaughn was standing on a couch, and Tamsin was in the middle of throwing stuffed animals off her bunkbed.

Seriously, interviews for Felonesses start tomorrow.  I'll even feed you!

* Good God, London!  "Sandwich pickle", indeed.  What fresh hell is this?

** There were about 30 chairs, only one of which was occupied - everyone else was sitting on the grass around the chairs.  I can't make this up.  I assume that they are carefully monitored and that you get a withering glance if you sit in a chair for free.  It is so freaking civilized here, I could pee myself!

***I suppose it would help if I knew what it meant myself.  Oh well.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Neighbourhood exploration continues: Two Starbuckses Found

We're slowly trying to get our bodies and minds on London time.  Although we haven't officially left our neighbourhood yet, we've been hoofing it all around to different (amazing) parks until we ("we") are mentally able to handle the thought of taking the tube with three wild animals.  

(Chris has been going to work since Monday, so he's already a pro, but he has left me with three Crankipus Hufflingius Jetlaggii.  Today, I took the extra precaution of containing them (and a small furry decoy) as iconically as possible, for the greater good.)

"Let us out!  It's stinky in here!"

"Come on... we promise we'll be good.... pleeeeeease?"

About four blocks one way, there is a beautiful church garden/park/playground, full of nature, cool climbing equipment and really old graves.  They have an Outdoor Gym that the kids want to use every day to, and I quote, "get fitter".  They do all the stations, and the number of reps to beat, so far, is 16.  The playground is always full of cheeky English cherubs, who sound delightful as they crow things like "Brilliant!" and "Flipping hell!".  

There is another, larger space, about a 20-minute walk in the other direction, just past a Starbucks (yay!), with running trails and fitness stations, several off-leash dog areas (Ziggy was in heaven, and made tons of friends, human and canine alike!), and another outdoor gym.  There was a personal trainer at one of the stations, and a Very Serious Strollercise group in a gazebo... I will be spending a lot of time there once the kids are safely ensconced in school.*

On our street, between our flat and a Starbucks (yay!), is a public library, for which we got cards yesterday.  The summer reading challenge requires that they each read six books by the end of August.  Vaughn told the librarian that he could do it by Friday, but she didn't believe him.  Ha!  She will learn.  We popped in for a mask-making workshop after our groceries were indeed delivered (success!).  Vaughn created a gold monkey mask with giant claws.  Ailsa's was a dog mask, with long eyelashes and a gold hat.  Tamsin's mask was a dog wearing a mask - very meta.  Mine started out as a lion but ended up looking like David Bowie if you squint. 

Regarding the groceries, it seems that doing a "full shop" is very different if you already have staples.  I bought a full load of groceries, making sure to cover off every food group and healthfully, too!  SO, last night, the Domestic Goddess made our very first home-cooked meal in our new home.  It was a traditional house-warming meal of pan-seared chicken finished off in a cream-of-chicken-and-leftover-shashuka sauce, with a hint of Laughing Cow cheese thrown in for that je ne sais quoi, served over wilted spinach, a quick tomato-and-cucumber salad (tossed with lemon juice, salt and pepper), and wee little charlotte potatoes, which, it turns out, are wee little potatoes.  I learned that 1) I apparently depend on spices and condiments -- which won't arrive for at least another two weeks -- to make good food - who knew? and 2) despite having to improvise wildly and having no idea how to use the wall oven-slash-microwave, I still rocked it.  Ba-BAM!  And self-high-five, besides.  

Today, however, my cold has enworsened, I've lost my voice, and I am barely upright (we don't have cold medication, so I am having another glass of wine, which was also delivered yesterday morning, thank-you-very-much), so we had takeaway curry, and confirmed what we already thought:  "fairly hot" in Ottawa is child's play compared to "fairly hot" in England.  Despite watching both of her parents and both her siblings scream in agony, then chug water and raita after a tiny mouthful, Ailsa decided to slowly chew up a green pepper from her Gosht Kaila.  Silly, silly girl.  Even before she started, I said, "That will be so hot it will make you cry."  And Chris said, "You'll literally burn your face off."  Yet, like someone else we know, she decided to find out for herself.

Silly girl.

Update:  Chris found a capsule of Tylenol Cold PM mixed in with his vitamins, which I have washed down with wine.**

*At the park, not at strollercise!  Please!

Monday, 31 July 2017

London Derriere

(Alternate title:  Jetlag makes everything funny)

Well, we -- and more importantly, London -- survived our first Full Day of Being in Britain.

Things I've noticed:  

1.  Everything here is weird.

To be fully inclusive, "everything" of course includes us.  However, stuff here is so weird.  Like, we went to the "express" Tesco's (grocery store), because they don't have big grocery stores in the city. The express version is like a large convenience store, designed for popping round to buy washing up liquid, and maybe grab an apple or two, some prawn-flavoured crisps, more McVities, and some meatballs in sauce for lunch.  Normally, you just order your groceries online and they get delivered to you.  

Let me break that down.

  • "Washing up liquid", which we in Canada call "dish soap", is actually labeled "washing up liquid".  Viv, I apologize. 
  • "Prawn" is apparently not only an acceptable, but a popular flavour for chips, which I now have to remember to call "crisps".  Used in a sentence:  "No, I would not like any prawn crisps."
  • "McVities" - good call, Jolene! - were in our welcome basket, and since we had already finished the Goodbye McVities, they were welcome indeed!  They are chocolate-covered digestive biscuits (cookies - why does everything need to be different???)
  • "Meatballs in sauce" comes in a can, of course.  And, according to said can, you can either heat it up in the microwave, or on the "hob".  Luckily, there was a picture of a pot, which I presumed was for cooking; without that, I would still be looking for a hob.  But, yes, a hob seems to be what they call a stovetop around here for no apparent reason.  (Day 1 Win:  I didn't burn down my flat when I used the so-called hob.  Also, "No, I would not like to eat canned meatballs in sauce ever again.")
  • This afternoon, I may have ordered my groceries online (will find out tomorrow between 8 and 12).  It started out as a lot more fun than real grocery shopping, but quickly became frustrating because everything has a weird name.  Courgettes and aubergines, my fanny!  

2.  Everyone does too have an accent.

Despite telling the kids over and over that it is now WE* who have the accent, I still can't believe that there will be a time that we not only understand what the locals are saying, but may not even notice how insufferable they sound.  (Viv, I apologize again.  I blame jet lag!  Also, your husband broke my door and made me spill my wine, so...) 

3.  Abbey Road is both more and less inspiring than expected.

Well, there were no British accents hanging round the Abbey Road zebra crossing, that's for sure.  And, when it comes down to it, it's just a crosswalk surrounded by tourists.**  But the vast number of them, for a Monday afternoon, and the variety of languages and cultures represented really struck me.  Of course, everyone tried to take their own version of the iconic photo (ours involves three kids going the wrong direction, dragging a very small dog behind), but it's still a Place, and it touches people from all over the world, no matter what language or age (qualify:  older than 4, judging by my smallest associate).  It's like Mat said that time, and he sure hit it on the head:  "The Beatles were a really good band."

More adventures to come, and maybe photos too!  (But maybe not - see #1.)  Also, I expect that everything will look better with wine (which I also ordered online from the grocery store!  I really hope I did it right!!!)

*Still sounds wrong, Captain!

**And us!  We're not tourists!  We live here!  Ha!

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Pond-hopping Huffs

Well, it’s out there in the public consciousness now, with special thanks to Chris (not Fis-Chris, but Fitness Chris) who announced it with a microphone at the gym a few weeks ago, when I wasn’t there (who does that?), and then I knew I had to tell work: 

We are moving to London.


Naturally, “London, Ontario?” is the first question that anyone asks.


Ummm…London, Ontario… I mean, you’re a nice city and all, but… no.  I was there for the Ontario Provincial Fitness Championships, way back in ’01 and ‘03 (winning in ‘03, thank-you-very-much-please-see-photo-of-when-I-was-awesome) (I had A VEIN ON MY ABS), and it seemed…nice.  I was there at some other time to visit Sean for his birthday (maybe in ’02?).  Great city, sure.

Photo of when I was awesome, circa 2003.  Sigh.

But no, we’re not going anywhere that convenient, close (everything is relative), or safe.


By “safe”, I mean, “what I’m used to” or “a place that I am employable in my comfort zone”.  Like – and I can’t believe I’m saying this – Medicine Hat.


The second question that everyone asks is, “But isn’t this the year that ‘nothing was going to happen’?” 

Yes, yes it was.


Last year, just in the span of four months, we bought a house, Tamsin started school, we got a dog, and I had somebody’s baby.  The years up to that involved scrambling with three babies/toddlers/preschoolers/kids, taking on more responsibility (and prestige!) at work, Chris being away for days/weeks/months at a time, recovering from basement flooding and renovations, having umbilical hernia surgery, and travelling to see family in Las Vegas and Halifax, while playing ball hockey, teaching fitness classes, and trying to remember not only what my husband looked like, but why I was married to him in the first place.  This was supposed to be the year that we just LIVE without having any kind of major change. 


Speaking of segues, the key -- if I may give out unsolicited advice -- is to be very careful and judicious when writing your wedding vows.  These are capital-V Vows, made out loud in front of a whole crowd of people that you know well enough to call you on it later, even if you don’t remember what you said, didn’t mean it, or wish you hadn’t said it.  On top of the ominous echo of “the rest of your life” that looms over every wedding day (can’t you hear it???), I made the grievous mistake bold move of publicly promising to not only love, honour and humour Fis (see?  I was thinking for that part, although I honestly didn’t realize how hard it would be to even humour him, sometimes*), but also to “follow him wherever his ambition takes us”.  Since that one sentence landed me in Medicine Hat, eight months after the wedding, you’d think that I would have asked for a re-do.   


But, 10 years later, here we go. 


The kids are all keen – for the few months before it became official, we talked up Quality Street, Cadbury, and Harry Potter.  We looked at Google Maps and wondered out loud how much we could travel, if only we lived over in Europe (aside:  does England still count as Europe?  Did you know that England is an island?  And do people still call it “England”?), and they were sold.  They even jumped up and down with joy when we told them.  They are already enrolled in a nice little school, and it sounds amazing.


Chris has a great job that is taking us there, and I have… the opportunity to do something new, “whatever I want”.  I will be cleaning my own (damn) house and walking my own (damn) dog.  I will continue to try to turn Ziggy into a well-behaved little mutt (or one of us will die trying).  Who knows, maybe I’ll even style my hair on a regular basis.**  I have certifications in fitness that are, I think, useless in the UK.  I have mad managerial and paralegal skills that are appreciated here in the Federal Government, but possibly/probably don’t translate into the work available at the Embassy… or maybe I don’t want to do that kind of work for a while.  I could write (for whom?  About what?).  Sightseeing, hosting visitors,*** dog-training, and Domestic-Goddessing the crap out of my household might hold me over for a while, but I can’t see me lasting for long without my own thing. 


If only I knew what that was.


So, what would you DO (not just “do”, but “DO”) if you were me?  I am open to any and all suggestions - email me or call me with them, and I'll seriously consider every one.**** 




* Also, he points out that this blog doesn't exactly "honour" him.  Piff.
** Well, probably not, but I could.
*** Guest room/pull-out sofa in living room.  Nuff said, come visit.
**** Submissions so far include "French training" in England, a Master's degree, and "Finishing School".  Humph.