Dear Leo: 20 months

Dear Leo,

A few days ago you turned 20 months, putting you solidly closer to 2 than to 1. Just yesterday I took a photo of you at the park and bam! you were a little boy. Life is often funny like that. You’re going about your business just like every other day and then you look up to realize that everything has changed.

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Last night you were up between 3:30-4:30 because you have another cold so this letter might be short. So now without further ado, in no particular order, and without an overarching theme except for “write it down, quick! before he wakes up from his nap!” are a few things that we have noticed about you, at 20 months:

***Probably because I wrote about your independence last time and you secretly read this blog and want to mess with my head, since I last wrote you have been going through a clingy phase (at home, mostly). What I mean is this: if we are happily playing “fire truck” in the living room and I tell you that I am going to leave the room to pee, it is as if I am suggesting we don’t see each other any more. Ever. You fling yourself at me, and the door if I have been successful at making a quick exit. You throw yourself to the floor, weeping. You give me your best puppy dog eyes, while your lip quivers through plaintive “mama, mama, mama’s.” It is hard. We are in the middle of learning that people come and go. Grandma and Grandpa went home on a “pane” a few weeks ago and now when you see their photo you say “bye bye.” Yesterday “Dado” left for three days on a trip to Strasbourg. He wasn’t here this morning. People come and go. People will always come and go. It sucks. Sometimes this makes me feel like flinging myself to the floor and weeping, too. What I am trying to teach you these days is that coming and going is a part of life. That I will leave you. That Dado will leave you. And that we will always come back. Whether we are separated by a 2 min trip to the toilet or thousands of kilometers (when you no doubt one day leave us to live in some far away place), we will always come back.

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Sneak Attack Raisins

<<This post has absolutely nothing to do with Chiswick, feral animals or Leo. Oh happy day! Sad face! No matter how that makes you feel, you’ve been warned. Plus, it doesn’t have photos because I ain’t got no time for that today.>>

You know that strange thing that happens when you learn a new word that you’ve never seen before and then immediately see that word everywhere? Well, that’s what happened to me this week with sneak attack raisins. My story about sneak attack raisins involves a podcast I’m loving, a book I am almost finished reading, and a fabulous little cafe/wine bar called Fernandez & Wells. Ok, so it doesn’t really have to involve those things, but this is my blog, and I’ll include them if I want to.

This weekend I discovered that dishes and podcasts go together like peanut butter and jam. A few years ago I went on a little NPR Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me and This American Life podcast bender, but for whatever reason (laziness? hatred of having to listen to things with ear buds? perceived lack of time?) I never got on the podcast train for good. And then this weekend I remembered that my friend Molly* had a podcast called Spilled Milk. You guys. I can’t stop listening to it! Our dishes have never been cleaner. The whole idea behind Spilled Milk is that Matthew and Molly talk about a different food each week, sample various versions of said food, and generally are hilarious and informative and off topic. They make me giggle so hard. Anyways, on Sunday I listened to their episode on Raisins.

The thing with raisins – they so rightly point out – is that there is nothing worse than a sneak attack raisin. If you have never experienced the horror that is biting into a chocolate chip oatmeal cookie only to discover that it is a RAISIN oatmeal cookie, you are a lucky person. It’s not really the fact that the raisin is in there, it is that you didn’t expect it to be there. This said, I get that oatmeal raisin cookies can be delicious. My dad is actually the strange sort of person who prefers oatmeal raisin cookies over chocolate chip oatmeal cookies. I prefer cinnamon buns with raisins, too, actually. I guess what I’m saying is that I’m not a raisin hater, but I do like a bit of warning.

The day after I listened to the Raisin episode Leo and I made our way downtown to the Science Museum, or more precisely, the basement of the Science Museum where there is the kids’ play area of your dreams. Why is it the play area of your dreams? Because it is free. It is fun. It is interactive. It has a water table. AND IT IS ENCLOSED. Parenting made easy. After an hour or so of mayhem, Leo was tired and I had the brilliant realization that if I played my cards right, I could read my book at my favorite cafe on Exhibition Road. (Yes, this is the part about my book). The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson, is one of the best non-fiction books that I’ve read in a while. It chronicles the story (stories) of 6 million black Americans who migrated from their homes in the South to the cities of the North and West between 1915 and 1970. From the Goodreads review,

With stunning historical detail, Wilkerson tells this story through the lives of three unique individuals: Ida Mae Gladney, who in 1937 left sharecropping and prejudice in Mississippi for Chicago, where she achieved quiet blue-collar success and, in old age, voted for Barack Obama when he ran for an Illinois Senate seat; sharp and quick-tempered George Starling, who in 1945 fled Florida for Harlem, where he endangered his job fighting for civil rights, saw his family fall, and finally found peace in God; and Robert Foster, who left Louisiana in 1953 to pursue a medical career, the personal physician to Ray Charles as part of a glitteringly successful medical career, which allowed him to purchase a grand home where he often threw exuberant parties.

This book is beautifully written and bold in scope. It is heartbreaking and warm. I think you will find that this is an important work, a book about American history, Jim Crow laws, the civil rights movement, and racism historical and present, but it is the sort of book that stays with you because of the tiny details in the ordinary extraordinary lives of these three protagonists. I don’t think you’ll regret reading it. Anyways…I was almost at the end of the book, my kid was sleepy and I was within a stone’s throw of Fernandez & Wells, the cafe part of this story.

After a short walk to make the stroller nap a sure thing (during which we lost Foxy in front of Harrods and had to go back  to retrieve him!), I made my way into the cafe, ordered my coffee and then stood in front of the pastry case, trying to figure out what to order. The barista asked me whether I would like to try a bit of the brownie, “because it is so delicious.” I am not one to turn down a taster, so I happily said yes and stuffed the taster into my mouth. It was so! delicious! BUT YOU GUYS. There were raisins in it! I was so surprised, I immediately said, “Um, are there bits of dried fruit in here?” Just wanting to make sure they weren’t a mistake. The barista answered, nonplussed, “Yes, there are…what do you call them….dried grapes?” (He was from…Spain? Italy? I’m terrible with accents.)

Raisins in a brownie! RAISINS IN A BROWNIE. I don’t even know whether there could be a time when raisins were more sneak attacky. And yet. The brownie was delicious. I ordered a whole slice. I ordered a whole slice and meant to save half for J, except it was so good that I ate it all! I have no idea why the raisins were so good in the brownie except to say that they somehow provided a nice little bit of chewiness? Or that the brownie itself was the underbaked cake verging on ganache kind of brownie and was aided by the textural interest the raisins provided? I don’t know. All I can say is that sneak attack raisins happened in the most unlikely of places a day after I listened to the Raisin episode of Spilled Milk and instead of recoiling in horror I ordered a massive slice.

The moral of this story is that you should listen to Spilled Milk, read The Warmth of Other Suns, and leave a small corner in your heart for the possibility that sneak attack raisins can sometimes be a good thing.

xox

L

*Molly and I are not actually friends. She writes the award winning food blog called Orangette, and is the author of A Homemade Life and Delancy. I like to call her my friend because I have been loving her writing for almost 8 years, but we have never actually met.

Oh the Places You’ll Go! – The New Forest

Before we can talk about the New Forest itself, I have to let you know a horrible fact. There are no wild horses. Bono may have sung, “Who’s going to ride your wild horses?” to stadiums full of people swaying under lighters in the night, but that doesn’t make wild horses a thing. They don’t really exist.

I know this because as we were driving through the New Forest on our way to Bournemouth for the first time in mid January, I told my beloved that it was my dream to see the wild ponies of the New Forest. He replied with exasperation, “There are no wild horses.” Dream killer.

We had had this conversation before, probably twice. It’s just that I didn’t want to believe it. Horses were just too useful for their own good. Wild horses make up the species called Equus ferus, with subspecies divided into domesticated horses (Equus ferus caballus) and undomesticated horses (Tarpans, Equus ferus ferus, and Przewalski’s Horse, Equus ferus przewalski). The Tarpan became extinct in the 19th century. In 1945, only nine Przewalski’s Horses remained alive, all of them in captivity. Today there are small numbers of Przewalski’s horses in nature reserves in Mongolia, China, Russia and Hungary thanks to the success of an in-captivity breeding program carried out by the Zoological Society of London, in conjunction with Mongolian and Chinese researchers.

Most of the horses we consider “wild,” are actually herds of feral horses descended from domesticated ancestors – the Mustang in the United States, the Brumby of Australia and the Wild Ponies of the New Forest. But you know what? The New Forest Ponies are wild enough for me. And anyways, who wants to sing along to, “Who’s going to ride your feral horses?” It’s just not the same.

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Oh the Places You’ll Go – Oxford

One of the great things about living in London is its proximity to all sorts of legendary places. If you have the time, the inclination and a vehicle, you can literally wake up and think to yourself, “Hmm, what about Oxford?” and be there in less than two hours. (It only takes an hour of driving, but there’s always coffee to be made and snacks to pack).

This brings us to a sunny Saturday a while back when we decided to head for Oxford with absolutely no plan or agenda. I’d been researching Cambridge all week, but at the last minute a shorter trip seemed like a good idea** so we turned the car around and headed west.

You probably don’t need me to tell you that Oxford is home to a bunch of beautiful colleges and churches, weathered spires, dramatic stone figures, secret gated gardens, antiquities (the Ashmoleum is free, amazing, and the world’s first university museum), art collections, and that kind of thing. IMG_6386

When you are in Oxford, you don’t even have to do anything to feel special. Just walk about! You might stop to put on your raincoat at the very same place that Stephen Hawking came up with the Theory of Everything. I know! You can spend the whole day going: Lawrence of Arabia probably walked here! Gertrude Bell probably started her badassery here! (a seriously remarkable woman, read her Wikipedia page) Aldous Huxley probably wee’d here! C. S. Lewis probably ate here! Hugh Grant probably … well ….yes. Hugh Grant!

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Oxford is also home to amazing statues of old white (mostly) men who did  a large number of interesting things.  Or oppressed a lot of people. You can look it up. This fellow stood rather sassily in front of the Bodeleian Library courtyard. He was my favorite. I will always appreciate a jaunty hip and a bold mustache on someone not my husband. Ha.

There are two things, though, that your guide books may not tell you about Oxford that I feel warrant a  mention before I move on to our trip to Cambridge. It will surprise no one that both involve food, and more specifically, foods made with fat.

First, Pieminister. Pies are ubiquitous here in the UK, and these pies – so far – are my favourite. Although we discovered them in Oxford, their pies seem to be popping up everywhere – including one of our local pubs – so keep your eyes peeled. Although my love for the Pieminister pies may have something to do with the fact that we ate ours hot and steaming from little paper bags in the gorgeous square outside the Museum of the History of Science….it doesn’t hurt that the name is a pun, the pastry is perfect or that the fillings are divine. Wild mushrooms, asparagus and white wine! Wild venison, smoked bacon and red wine! The classic steak and kidney and….wine! They are all so so good.

The second thing I have to mention is Aston’s Bakehouse. Their pop-up shop in the covered market was the find of the day. The staff were friendly, their tasting board extensive (so many things to try) and the lardy cake was exceptional. You guys, it was so good. Like, SO SO GOOD. Obviously lardy cake has lots of things going for it, what with the lard and the light dusting of spice, and the currants. But this lardy cake was beyond. The edges behaved like the edges of a perfect apple fritter, all crisp chewiness. The lard flavor was there, but because it was fried expertly, it was all “oh hiya, just popping in” not “HI HI HI IT’S ME HOW ARE YOU I’M DOING WELL.” Plus, I’ve always been in favour of a slightly caramelized currant. Aston’s Bakehouse was also selling slices of a poppyseed coffeecake the day we were there and I have regretted not purchasing a slice ever since. You know a place is good when you think about a food you didn’t even try absentmindedly weeks and weeks after seeing it. The point is, you should go there. You will not be disappointed.

Leo is awake from his nap so I won’t have a chance to talk about the Oxford comma like I was dying to do in this – probably my first and last – post about Oxford. You’ve been spared. Thank Leo later. Or discuss your thoughts in the comments section. Grammar can be fun! Anyways.

xo

Me

** One word: Teething.

Feral Parakeets!

It’s not my fault if this blog is reduced to posts about my kid, things made with butter, or wild animals. I am surrounded. (I am really not joking. You should come visit.)

As it turns out, London is rife with wild animals. Sure, fine, I was expecting wellies and tea and double decked red buses, and perhaps the odd fox, but thousands of feral ring-necked parakeets? Nope, definitely not.

Anyways, a few weeks ago we ambled south through Chiswick Park and then east along the Thames footpath towards the Hammersmith Bridge, crossing over to the south bank and then working our way back westward along the southside footpath through Barnes, over the railway bridge and back up through the Park to our house. Essentially, we went on a long walk beside the river. It was nice. You can google it if you want.

Just after we’d passed St Paul’s school, educating gifted boys since 1509, I noticed a flash of green in the trees above our heads and heard a distinctive and decidedly brazen screech. After we stopped and investigated further we discovered at least 100 brightly coloured birds perched in the trees. I wondered whether they were escaped pets, and decided that we would henceforth refer to them as the Lost Budgies of Barnes (ok, so I’m not a bird enthusiast).

Fast forward a week or two to last night when I was skimming the news from home and stumbled upon an article about FERAL PARAKEETS TAKING OVER LONDON. According to the article, there are at least 8, 600 breeding pairs of parakeets in London (if my math is correct, that means there are over 17,000 parakeets in the London right now). Apparently the ring-necked parakeet is one of the most successful invasive species in the world, currently the fastest growing bird population in London. Faster than pigeons, you guys. That’s how you know it’s serious.

It gets fun when you start asking where they came from anyways. Some people believe that a pair of parakeets released by Jimi Hendrix in the 1960’s were the ‘Adam and Eve’ of the present parakeet population. Jimi Hendrix! Other think some escaped parakeets from the set of The African Queen, filmed in Isleworth Studies in 1951, are the culprits. Still others wonder whether some parakeets escaped from the London Zoo during the Blitz of 1940/41. The most boring option is the one that I wondered about myself on the banks of the Thames – pets, either “lost” or intentionally freed into the wild.

 

We probably will never find out where the first parakeets came from, and I think that’s ok. They’re here now, and so far they don’t seem to have had the negative effect on local bird species that was once feared. Lost Parakeets of Barnes? Nice to meet you.

xo

 

Dear Leo: 18 Months

Dear Leo,

(EDIT: I meant to post this on February 12th, but instead your dad and I watched The Danish Girl in our quest to watch some of this year’s best picture nominations before the Oscars are actually handed out. So sue me. I can’t do everything.)

Tomorrow morning at 8:59 am PST you will be eighteen months old. When I was pregnant with you – a million years ago – I had this adorable idea that I would write you a letter for each month of your first year. It is now the night before you turn eighteen months old and I am only just sitting down to write something for the very first time.

(Thank you Chiswick Chronicles!)

(Why is it that people think they will somehow spontaneously become better versions of themselves when they have kids? “We will eat more vegetables!” or “We won’t stay up late watching terrible television; we will read books about child development and educational crafts!” or “I’ll start writing monthly letters!”)

(Anyways)

The thing about you – Leo Fox Parker – is that even before you were out and about in the world, we knew you would be a strong and adventurous person. The story of how you arrived in the world is for another time, but in the five days between knowing you were on your way and your actual birth, the one constant thing in our lives was your steady heartbeat. It was like you were already telling us, “I’ve got this. I’ve got this. I’ve got this.” Bump-bump, bump-bump, bump-bump.

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Glamourhood: Poop, there it is.

WARNING – The following post (the first in a series) has absolutely nothing to do with London or travel. It has everything to do with the sometimes awful and almost always hilarious things that are possible when you parent a child.

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On Friday night James and I brought a curry dinner over to our friends’ house after their kids were in bed, successfully putting Leo down in their bedroom so that we could have adult conversation without interruption. We had so much fun that we stayed until nearly midnight, when we rushed a still sleeping child out to the car in the rain and prayed he would fall right back asleep at home. We were willing to pay for* our evening with friends – spent drinking gin and tonics, catching up on 6 years of life, and reading brief excerpts of books out loud to each other. And then guess what happened? Leo slept until 9 am on Saturday morning. More significantly, WE slept until 9 am on Saturday morning. These kinds of things rarely happen.

Because I am a weird and wonderful person, I decided that I would seize the day and…wait for it…deep clean the bathroom while Leo had his nap. I know, life of the party. I gathered supplies. I swept and wiped down the floor. Occasionally, I popped into Leo’s bedroom to remind him that nap time was for sleeping. But mostly? I thrilled to the idea of a clean bathroom. I was just about ready to wash the bathtub when I caught a whiff of something that shouldn’t be in a British bathroom (where only a bath and sink are usual, toilets being in the ‘toilet’). A whiff of poo.

It only took me a few minutes to realize that I had somehow trodden on one of Leo’s dirty diapers during a dimly lit naptime check-in. (I confess that I sometimes neglect to put a dirty diaper into out trash right away because of….so many things. No longer!). The top portion of my right slipper bore the telltale signs of a fateful misstep: poop. Leo’s poop. Let me be the first to tell you that a poop slipper can really temper one’s seize the day mojo. What will kill it dead, however, is discovering that you’ve left little poo footprints on the floor between Leo’s bedroom and the bathroom.

I spent the next twenty minutes on my hands and knees, using my iPhone flashlight, scrubbing the carpet with disinfectant and cleaner, alternately cursing and giggling about the situation. While it wasn’t exactly the way I’d envisioned spending my Saturday morning naptime freedom, it was kind of funny. I never thought I’d have to worry about stepping in a pile of poo in my own home until just then. And who would. (And yes, before you write to tell me about people who own pets, I know that pets defecate. There just seems to be something far worse about stepping in human feces. Or am I wrong on that?)

Glamourous, parenthood is not. But it is always interesting, and usually quite funny.

Until next time, watch your step! Ha.

xox

*For those of you without children, a translation. “Pay for” – a phrase used by parents to explain the many different ways that children sense you are having/will have/did have a good time and then go to great lengths to restore equilibrium through canny schemes of not sleeping, lying on the floor and screaming in public, etc. You get the idea.

 

Treat Yo’ Self – Skittle Alley

The first thing you need to know about Skittle Alley is that it closes at noon. For whatever reason, this irks me. I know it is a silly thing to be upset about, but what if the only spot of (literal) sunshine in my day occurs in the after noon or my sweet tooth is a late riser? I will always have GAIL’s, but she doesn’t have your cobblestone courtyard and Thames views. Sigh.

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The second thing to know about Skittle Alley is that it is totally worth the noon closing. One morning last week Leo, Emma and I made our way south through Chiswick Park and then east along the Thames until we reached The Black Lion, and it’s cute courtyard comrades- Skittle Alley and Little Lake florist.

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Oh the Places You’ll Go! – Bournemouth

Before we talk about Bournemouth I have to tell you about Postman Pat, our little red van. Postman Pat came with the house, and we are so lucky to have access to him. He is a wheel-chair accessible van, used to transport my dad’s late cousin until her death last year. Along with a cheerful exterior, Postman Pat boasts large windows, one rear seat for Leo’s car seat and ample room for a wheelchair.

With a visit from my sister on the horizon and Postman Pat sitting all eager to please in the driveway, we decided to research the possibility of using a wheelchair as our second rear seat, making Postman Pat capable of transporting four passengers comfortably. A few youtube instruction videos later and we were eager to go for it. It was going to be safe, cheap and perfect for individual guests. Finding a great wheelchair secondhand for thirty pounds was all we needed to seal the deal.

Two thumbs up for creative travel!

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This bring us to last Thursday when we decided to head for the ocean, and my extended family’s flat in Bournemouth.

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Treat Yo’ Self – Gails’s Bakery

Remember how I was going to rescue Monday with good coffee and even better pastry at Skittle Cafe? Well, it never happened. Skittle Alley may be a darling cafe with a reputation for excellent broiche, but it has terrible hours. It closes at noon. Noon. It’s like they haven’t heard of afternoon tea. And it’s in England!

So there we were. Monday morning. 11:30 am. Bleary-eyes, bed head and jammies. We’d survived a terrible night with the dream of a delicious food adventure. What could we do but change our clothes, put on our hats and “head outside for an adventure,” a phrase that always saves the day. We made a beeline for the high road, and a cafe bakery that I’d had my eye on since day one – GAIL’S Bakery.

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