Saturday, 25 October 2014

CSI Toverland

Remember that trip I told you about, the one we gave our children for their birthdays instead of presents? Well, it took place this past week, during autumn break.  The weatherman kept telling us to expect wind and rain, and he wasn't wrong: in fact, it didn't rain, it POURED and the wind howled incessantly. Thankfully this wasn't a problem, since half of theme park Toverland's rides and fun things to do are situated indoors, in two giant hangar-like locations. 
 

Before I get into some of the specifics, let me tell you up front that we all had a great time. So no need to think otherwise no matter what I am about to tell you, since what I am about to tell is you is completely tainted by my fear of speed, velocity, heights, and anything else that removes me from solid ground. Okay. Where to start. Well, you know those huge Alice in Wonderland cup things you can sit in? The ones that spin around but seem harmless enough? Well, M and the children convinced me to join them for a ride. No problem, I thought, since I had seen them in motion and had approvingly observed that it was a rather slow ride. Or so I thought. As it turns out, I had seen the cups towards the end of the ride, but had been too late to witness the bit in middle. The fast bit. The bit that makes your stomach turn, the bit that makes you almost lose your lunch but not quite. As our adorable cup continued to speed up, M looked at me, a little pale, and shouted: "I think we're getting too old for this crap!" (This from the bloke who used to go skydiving, bungee-jumping, and off-piste skiing).

M and I were glad the ride was over. The kids were rearing to go.

Next: a ghastly rollercoaster called Boomerang. You couldn't pay me to get into a rollercoaster, so M went with the kids whilst I sat on a bench in great internal stress, scenes of rollercoaster disasters torturing my mind. Brrr. The less said about that the better.

Then there was a lift bench of sorts. You know, the kind you sit on with a few others, in a row, and the bench is suspended meters above the ground. I still can't believe I went along with the whole thing. A momentary lapse of sanity perhaps. Or maybe I wanted to show my kids I was tough and brave. In any case, I got onto that bench, felt a wave of panic as the lap bar was fastened, then went up, up, up into the air until I felt such panic that I thought I would pass out (just writing about it now is making my palms sweaty). Thankfully, the ride was over very quickly. Or so I assumed. Hence I was puzzled by the angry looks shot at me by the other children on our ride and the mildly embarrased glances from my own.  Turns out the operator had cut the ride short for my benefit. "I could see you turning green," he said, "so I thought I'd better step in." Oh. I thanked him from the bottom of my heart and couldn't wait to never see him again, that's how ashamed I was. 

Now the following is more my kind of thing. A caterpillar for the littlies. Later S admitted he felt slightly weird about me coming along since I was the only adult, but all I can say is: FINALLY a ride with my name all over it. And the only photo which is vaguely presentable. There I am, in the middle, sitting behind S and N.


Onto something outside, despite weather conditions. Some kind of ghastly contraption called the Backstroke (the name is enough to put me off), which I again refused to get into. You can see it on the fuzzy photo below. Note the look of sheer terror on son S's face as the boat is catapulted into the depths of the unknown - would you believe he said it was the highlight of his day?!?


At the end of the day we drove to our hotel, enjoyed a relaxing dinner in the hotel restaurant and went to bed early, quite exhausted.  The room housed two huge beds: one for us and one for the kids. Then the weirdest thing happened. We were all just drifting off to sleep when N suddenly broke the dark silence by stating matter-of-factly that her little toe was bleeding. We told her not to worry, she was probably imagining things, little toes don't just start bleeding out of the blue etc - in other words, we said all the things parents say when they're sure nothing is wrong and don't feel like getting up. A few minutes later, however, she said that she needed to go to the toilet, and would papa (not mama - yes!) like to help her please. M got up and took her to the bathroom, only to exclaim: "Oh no, your toe really IS bleeding !"  Of course I shot out of bed and lo and behold, N had a tiny cut in her toe, one of those tiny cuts which take ages to stop bleeding. Apparently S had accidentally done the damage with his toenail ("You should cut them more often, mama - they're like blades!") whilst they were snuggling up in bed. Which brings me to the subject of the bed...... why ON EARTH could this not have happened at home? At home, where the sheets have cartoon figures all over them and are not the pristine WHITE of a hotel bed.  M and I stared at the sheets in shock. Oh my. Let me just say the bed resembled something straight from an episode of CSI. 

Of course I immediately went down to report the accident to the hotel boss, who, to my surprise (and relief) remained totally unaffected. "I can tell you now it won't be the worst thing we've ever found in a bed," he said.  Gulp. What's that supposed to mean?! I shudder to think.


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You may recall I've been experimenting with coconut flour. This because it is low-carb, high-fibre, nutrient-dense, and gluten free; and, since I'm a sweet tooth, I'm always on the lookout for ways to make bakes healthier. Hence I am delighted with The Healthy Coconut Flour Cookbook, by Erica Kerwien, which I bought a week or two ago and I'm very excited (yes, I get excited about these things) about a recipe for banana bread I found in there. Simple, and probably the best I've ever tasted. I would especially like to point out that it has very few ingredients, no fat, and hardly any sugar. Without any compromise on taste. We took half a loaf with us to Toverland, so as not to be tempted to buy the usual sugary goods. May I just add that coconut flour does not necessarily give baked goods a coconut taste and that the photo at the bottom is of Chocolate Banana Bread and taken from the book.





Banana Bread
adapted from The Healthy Coconut Flour Cookbook, by Erica Kerwien

3 ripe bananas, mashed
2 tablespoons palm sugar (or cane sugar)
4 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
0,5 teaspoon salt
55g coconut flour, sifted

  •  preaheat the oven 180 degrees Celsius
  • line a loaf pan with parchment paper or grease generously
  • put bananas, sugar, eggs, and vanilla into a large bowl and mix well
  • add baking soda, salt, and coconut flour to the wet ingredients  and mix well
  • let batter rest of 5 minutes or so (this gives the coconut flour time to absorb the liquids)
  • pour the batter into the loaf pan 
  • bake for 55 minutes; check whether it's done at 50 minutes by inserting a skewer or toothpick  - if it comes out clean the loaf is ready







Monday, 20 October 2014

Changing his mind

It's been very busy around here. For one thing, last week's test week at school has left me with a pile of marking to do this week. This week is also Autumn break (yip, lots of marking during the holidays, a phenomenon I think most teachers are unpleasantly familiar with) and the kids are home expecting to do nice things. Thankfully, I am not one to let a pile of marking get in the way of that. 

On Saturday, whilst daughter N spent a nice day out and about with M, I took son S to The Hague to see a Scandinavian children's art house film called Beyond, Beyond (Dutch: Johan en de Verenkoning), about a little rabbit who loses his mother to an unnamed illness and has to descend into the Underworld to find her. Though it is a somewhat dark film, there is enough humour to stop it becoming scary or depressing. 

High point of my day, though, was something S said during the ride home. You may recall his sudden preoccupation with his appearance, particularly his hair. Well now, as we were bumping and swaying along in the tram, he suddenly became very pensive. When I gave him a little nudge to see if he was okay (he had, after all, just witnessed a cute little bunny lose his mother to the Grim Reaper), he replied that he was fine. More than fine, in fact. He looked at me thoughtfully and said, "You know, mama, I've changed my mind about something." I lowered my face close to his, waiting for him to go on. "You know how I said I wanted to be cool, how cool was the most important thing," he continued, "well, I don't believe that to be true anymore. From now on I just want to be myself, I just want to be me. Without gel in my hair, because I don't really like gel." To be honest, I was totally gobsmacked by this announcement. What a wise little guy. And he wasn't being flippant either; he hasn't been near the aforementioned pot of gel since.

Yesterday afternoon all four of us spent time clearing up the jungle we call a garden. There was lots of pruning to do. And weeding. And mowing. I can tell you we were quite ecstatic  when the work was done. The garden felt huge and spacious. Decluttered. A place in which one can breathe.


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In my last post I mentioned I'd been experimenting with coconut flour with some lovely results. I'd like to start by sharing the following recipe with you. It is gluten free. And, might I mention, deliciously light and fluffy.



Grain Free Blueberry Scones
adapted from supergluemom.com

150g almond flour
3 tablespoons coconut flour, sifted
60ml maple syrup
1 egg
3 tablespoons milk (any kind you like)
50g butter, melted
1 teaspoon lemon zest
0,5 teaspoon baking soda
good pinch of fine sea salt
60g blueberries, rinsed and dried 
yields about 12 scones

  • preheat the oven 175 degrees Celsius
  • line a baking tray with baking paper
  • place almond and coconut flours in a large bowl, whisk together
  • add maple syrup, milk, butter, lemon zest, baking soda, and salt
  • mix briefly with a hand mixer until a loose dough forms
  • gently fold in blueberries
  • make about 12 balls with your hands, then shape the balls into scone-like shapes
  • bake for 18-20 minutes until golden brown



Though I haven't written any replies of late, each and every one of your comments is always thoughtfully read and appreciated.  Thank you. xxx

 

Sunday, 12 October 2014

The child in me

This past week I have felt the effect of too many late nights like a blow to the head with a blunt object. Now I must admit it doesn't take a lot to bring me off balance - just a couple of evenings to bed around midnight will do the trick. The result is always the same: nervousness, emotional imbalance, and something akin to melancholy. A general feeling that something is 'off' and that even the smallest chores are mountains to climb. I also don't fare well in crowds; too much input, too much stimuli, resulting in sensory overload.  I have suffered from this my whole life, but find it is increasing as I grow older. The good news, however, is that I have grown to accept this part of myself: I have a sensitive nervous system and sensitive nervous systems need to retreat and rest. 

And so, after a series of social and school-related obligations in the evening hours, it was time to step up and do something radical. For two nights in a row, I went to bed at the same time as the children. Yep, at 7.30 p.m. And boy did it do wonders.  I had expected to feel groggy the next morning, but this wasn't even remotely the case. For the first time in ages I felt well-rested. No mind buzzing or pulse racing. Just tranquil. And ready to deal quite happily with the stuff life is made of. I felt so relaxed that I even joined the kids in the afternoon for a spot of children's television, particularly enjoying Rudi het racevarken (Rudy, the Racing Pig) a series about an adorable pink piglet living with a multi-cultural German family. Grown up television couldn't possibly equal that feel-good factor.

In keeping with my new child-like lifestyle, I also tossed aside adult literature and read a beautiful book by Sonya Hartnett called The Silver Donkey. It is set during WWI and about two young French sisters who find a blind English soldier in a nearby wood. Perfect sparse prose shaped into a deeply moving story. This leads me to think there must be a plethora of gems out there aimed at children and young adults I am not yet aware of. Time to dive into the school library a little deeper, I guess.

But more has been happening around here. Son S has suddenly started caring about his appearance. For one thing, his hair needs to be styled with gel so that he will go to school looking cool. "Your hair looks very nice," I said when I'd finished sculpting it Friday morning. "But does it also look cool," he answered impatiently, "because cool is the MOST important thing."

Oh. I see.

And there were more new things to get used to this week. Daughter N dropped a bombshell on us by announcing that she had got married. To a boy in her class. I of course immediately suggested he come over and play so I could get to know my new son-in-law a little better (he's a darling, it turns out). When son S heard about this whole marriage business, he frowned and said to his sister, "But I thought you were going to marry me." N wasn't in the least bit fazed and matter-of-factly answered, "Well, sure. I can still marry you too, if you like; no need to make a fuss."

No need to make a fuss indeed.

Anyway. There were also snack boxes to fill this week and I did so using Dutch Apple Flaps, along with the usual fruit.

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Dutch Apple Flaps

3 apples,  rinsed, cored, and cubed
A handful of raisins (optional)
1 tablespoon of raw cane sugar (really no more is needed)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4-6 squares of  ready-made puff pastry
 
  • preheat the oven 220 degrees Celsius (or according to instructions on pastry packet)
  • lay the squares of puff pastry on an oven tray lined with baking paper
  • in a bowl, stir together the cubed apples, cinnamon, and sugar
  • now place a small amount of the filling onto the middle of the squares and fold the pastry into triangles, using your fingers to keep the filling in. Press the edges gently with a fork to seal. This is very important - if the Flap isn't sealed properly, the filling will spill out. You probably won't need all of the mixture, but that shouldn't be a problem; there's bound to be someone there willing to polish those spiced apples off in no time
  • you could brush the flaps with a beaten egg to give them a nicer colour - I didn't this time, but then I was feeling lazy
  • bake for 20 minutes until puffed up and coloured




 

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Grounding

The past couple of weeks have been strange. Not strange in the sense that anything in this household is wrong or off, but more in the sense that there is something - many things in fact - wrong or off in the world at large. I have found that watching too much news causes my head to buzz with incessant thinking and my body to jitter with unrelenting adrenaline. The day before yesterday I realised it was imperative to calm down. Immediately. To that end I decided to stop watching more than one news bulletin a day, and, especially, to stop looking up news items on the internet. This has nothing to do, I think, with burying my head in the sand, but more to do with protecting myself and my immediate environment. For what use am I to my children and other people in my life if I am highly-strung and emotionally unavailable?

For a while there, I felt swept away by the collective fear of unsafety that seems to have our society in its grip; and although I believe the situation in various parts of the world to be dire, I had forgotten the part of me that feels we also need to Keep Calm And Carry On. Being present in our own lives is the only way to create a better world; being scared of the 'ifs' and 'could happens' will only serve to make things worse and more people unhappy. It helps to remind myself that what I focus on, grows.

Yesterday the children were free and the weather was warm and glorious. The perfect circumstances for a bit of serious grounding, I reckoned. We started the day by going to the tennis club for a fierce match between son S and I. Daughter N collected the balls, a task she loves and takes very seriously. We were gently encouraged in our game by the sun smiling through the trees, warming our backs and faces on the court as we enjoyed whacking the ball back and forth.



Afterwards we strolled through the fields and I gratefully welcomed back a surge of joy I realised I hadn't felt for a while. The grass, the trees, the goats, the cows, the vastness of the sky - everything seemed right, everything seemed real. After weeks stuck in the crazy world of the media and its tales of global misery, I was back. I was home.