31 December 2011

A "Dog's gone" World


Hi. It’s me, CARIB.

Who am I? I am the four-legged member of this family. I get mentioned in the subtitle—the “ opinionated” dog. And yet, I have been reading this here blog and I've not seen any mention of me to date. I have therefore decided to take matters into my own paws. Besides, I have a few things to get off my coat- namely my life PBO (Post Baby Ouisie).

I think before I start though, I need to share a bit of background on me.

THE GOOD OLD DAYS

January 2004, Nevis, West Indies, Caribbean
I am born a bastard pup and left to fend for myself just days old. Full of fleas and worms the odds were not in my favour until a gal rescued our litter determined to find us all good homes.

I’ll never forget the day I first met dad. He smelt delicious! A perfect combination of steak tartare, grilled lobster and mango relish. I did not want to seem too eager so ignored his first advances to scratch my ears. Turns out, my arrogance is what won him over. Next thing I knew, I was riding in the back of his  Jeep snuggled in a box that was lined with the most beautifully scented white jackets.

Mom and dad were newlyweds. Dad worked long hours at the Resort and mom was in need of a pal. That’s where I stepped in. Paradise lost was soon found. Life on the island was great—daily beach walks, chasing lizards and monkeys and eating fresh coconuts right off the tree.

As dog food was scarce and very expensive for the crap you found in the tin, dad starting making me a weekly stew. Pigs feet were a regular gastro treat. Yum! I can still taste those chubby toes even now... 


Dad is still making my food. Any leftovers- in the pot. The table scraps at home ain't too shabby either. In my nearly eight years, I have eaten some culinary delights that other hounds only dream of: Côte de Boeuf,  lamb shank, Osso Bucco,  fine French cheeses... oh—and foie gras.

Life in England has been even better.  Cooler temps, miles of forest floor to sniff and explore, squirrels to tree, rabbits to chase into their warrens,  grazing cattle to harass in the back fields and a private garden all to myself.

During the warmer months you will find me out relaxing under my favorite Oak  tree. In the winter, I am nestled inside our cottage beside the chimney.  If mom is in the right mood, I manage to get permission to snuggle up on the leather couch.  I am a pretty good judge of her character. But even some days, I get that wrong.

OUISIE ARRIVES

January 2011, Hampshire, England
I had been suspecting for several months that something was changing with mom. For starters, she was clearing her plate at every meal. My treasured treat at the end of their meals ended. 

The second clue was that mom’s sense of smell was better than mine. Unfortunately for me, my odour was not one that she fancied which often lead to two baths a week.  I may be an island dog, but I hate the water. Hate being wet. Just mention the word “bath” and my tail will snake between my hind legs. 

Then one day, mom came home after being away for several days with a flatter tummy and Ouisie in her arms. 
OUISIE CRAWLS

The first 10-months with Ouisie were great. She stayed put. Then last month, she started to move. Since then, there has been no stopping her. Her designated play area expands daily. Mine diminishes hourly. My favourite sleeping nook by the radiator-- gone. My bed is now in the doorway with a biting draft. The other day, mom moved my bed completely out of the family room. An hour of barking and whining finally got me moved back in as the doorstop.
OUISIE PULLS
I do not understand Ouisie’s fascination with my tail. Personally, I do not know why I have it myself.  But let it be known, it hurts when yanked. For that matter, the pulling of my fur, my ears and any other part of me needs to stop. She has a basket full of stuffed animals-- pull on their ears for a change! As for the whiskers around my nose... having those pulled can bring even the strongest of us canines to our knees and elbows.

OUISIE EATS SOLIDS


Snack time! Sitting underneath Ouisie’s high chair is a shower of treats--- Cheerios! Chicken! Spaghetti!  Snack time three times a day! Of late though, mom has been kicking me out of the kitchen during feeding  as I am “distracting”- 

I do not know what that means other than it results in the kitchen door being shut on my snout. I am not sure what the fuss is about as Ouisie just wants to share- and I am happy to oblige. 

When mom is in the right mood and I get to stay in the kitchen during meal time; I am made to sit and stay at the far end of the room until Ouisie has finished. Feedings take forever. 

I do not understand time- but some days in Nevis, mom kept saying how the days felt like eternity. I think I finally understand eternity. Watching Ouisie's unsteady fingers trying to pick up one rice grain at a time takes an  ETERNITY! I try desperately to keep my mind focused on other things to avoid a puddle of drool gathering at my paws. And just when I am at the brink of moving, the command arrives-- "Clean up." All dogs do go to heaven! Off I go to do my little part in helping keep mom's floors clean. 
OUISIE PLAYS 
  
I would like to set the records straight. I really do not like to play. Never have. My parents have tried over the years with countless toys, sticks, balls, empty plastic bottles—you name it. It boils down to the simple fact that I really hate to fetch. What a pointless game! From time to time I will chase a ball or a fallen apple from the tree around the garden a couple of times just to bemuse my owners. But after two goes- I’m bored.

I have never understood those dogs at the park that run for miles chasing a tennis ball or dragging a mile long branch along on their walks.  Why run around with a rubber ball or piece of bark in your mouth when instead you could enjoy smelling the base of a beautiful tree, chasing a squirrel or chewing on some fresh grass sprinkled in morning dew?

Ouisie loves toys. She has toys spread from one end of the room to the next that sing, light up, spin and get thrown in every direction. I have two toys. They are my bears. They aren’t really toys- they never leave my bed.  Despite Ouisie having toys in every room of the house, she insists on crawling to my bed to take my bears. I really wish Ouisie would not touch my bears. After all, they are not toys. 

The truth be said, life PBO (Post Baby Ouisie) is not worse. In truth, it is better. Sure, I get pinched and tugged- but it is kinda nice to have the extra attention. And now, I have three owners to love. I just need to train Ouisie to understand that my tail is not a toy, my bears are to be left on my bed, and to continue throwing food over the table of her highchair.


I think I hear mom coming back downstairs. Gotta wrap this up and get off the couch before being caught.  Better yet... perhaps tonight I will press my luck to see if I can catch some zzz’s from this comfy spot...

Licks,

CARIB

29 December 2011

Four Seasons Hotel Prague: Prah(a)-cise Care


This holiday season, my husband and I exchanged traditional turkey and gravy for pork and pickled cabbage in Prague. For years, we had been wanting to visit some of Europe's festive Christmas markets, and decided what better time than now-- with our 10-month old daughter in tow.

Our daughter has already established that she is a born traveller. This is a good thing as both mom and dad ensure above all else, our passports never pass their expiry date and that the wheels of our suitcases are well oiled and ready to roll when the travel bug starts to itch.

While mapping out our European Christmas Market tour we ensured Prague, and for that matter, Four Seasons Hotel Prague, was on the list. We began in Prague with four nights at Four Seasons Hotel Prague.

An on-time departure from London's Heathrow airport was met by a prolonged and tedious queue at Prague's immigration. My husband and I took turns singing songs and bribing our daughter with cheerios through the seemingly endless and disorganised lines.

Immediately after exiting customs we were welcomed to Praha by our driver, arranged in advance with Concierge, who relieved us of all our luggage. A warmed Mercedes 'S' Class fitted with a secured car seat for our daughter soothed our frazzled nerves and offered a most comfortable transfer to the Hotel. As I fastened her in the seat, I whispered "happy holidays baby girl."



The Hotel staff greeted us by name and extended a satellite check-in allowing us to take our wearied infant directly to our room to relax and play while we registered in the comfort of our private space.

While we did not have a car to valet, the bellmen whisked our 4-wheel pram away to be carefully stored and available upon on request. This service removed the hassle of shuffling the buggy to and from the room and kept the street mud and muck out of our guest room.

A corner of our beautiful Renaissance room was converted into a mini nursery for our daughter complete with changing amenities, musical mobile, nappy bin, play mat, duvet and non-slip mat for the bath tub. 




Local cartoon celebrity, Krteček (little mole), welcomed our sweet pea who found its big eyes and floppy arms all to funny and amusing. Renowned for their comfortable beds, I can also now rate Four Seasons' baby beds as our restless sleeper peacefully snoozed straight through the night. (Note to reader: Baby is refusing to sleep as I write this blog and its now 11pm). 

Aside from catching the sights of the city, our daughter caught a nasty cold that climaxed over our weekend stay. Concierge kindly phoned the Hotel doctor for suitable medication we could purchase without prescription. While most pharmacies were closed, the Staff located one open and offered to collect the medicine on our behalf. When we declined this offer, they insisted to call in advance to ensure the medicine was available. Once the medicine was in her system, our little traveller was back on track.



We were in Prague for the opening of the Christmas Market. What better way to get into the Christmas spirit than with the lighting of the square's Christmas tree and the scent of Svařák (mulled wine) in the air?



Four Seasons Hotel Prague is perfectly positioned with the Charles Bridge just a stone's throw away and the Old City on your doorstep. We left Prague full of Christmas cheer and with our new Czech friend, Krteček in tow for the rest of our Christmas market tour. 



20 December 2011

Marches de Noel

For years, I have been hounding my husband about taking a holiday to some of Europe's wonderful Christmas markets..  This year, the pretty pleases paid off.

Early on in life, my mother and aunt took me under their wings and introduced me to the wonderful world of collecting and decorating. I thereby hold them responsible for my infatuation with antiquing, Christopher Radko,  textiles and arts n' crafts. 


It is with good reason why Cyrille was (and should be) leery of accompanying me to the markets while possessed by the spirit of the Season and engulfed by tempting treasures at every turn. The hook  finally came this year by an invitation to meet up with his great uncle and other family members in Colmar, France for their annual Christmas market spree. 


I was finally booked on my Polar Express,




Prague, Czech Republic


Ah, Prague...What a stunning city. The Paris of Eastern Europe. And once you've been there- you see why. Cafes, beautiful architecture, castles, cathedrals and the infamous Charles Bridge which crosses over the Vltava River. That bridge has supported passengers on it since 1357.  Until the early 19th century, this bridge was the only means of crossing over from Prague Castle to the Old City. 

Today it is one of the main attractions in the city. During the winter months you can actually see the bridge and surrounding views that are missed during the peak summer tourism. Cyrille and I enjoyed a gorgeous first walk across the bridge at dusk. Just enough light left in the sky to capture some stunning shots like the one above.

We enjoyed four-nights in Prague. A great amount of time to explore the city, sample the local beers and cuisine-- pork, pork, pork! --- and hit the Christmas market! 


We were in the city the night the Christmas market officially opened. The square was packed with people. It was like being at Rockefeller Center--- well, not quite. But the streets were heaving. 

I had my treasure nose switched on, but try as I might, I could not find any local craft that appealed. The Czech make some stunning glassware- but, personally, I could not be bothered with travelling the next ten days with fragile glassware along with  a 10-month old baby.


What I did discover though is the sensational trdelník. The magic behind the dough is the open fire over which it is slowly cooked. Similar to a perfectly roasted smore, you want your trdelnik to be slightly scorched. Rolled in sugar and crushed walnuts, you are handed the warm pastry in a napkin ready to be pealed and enjoyed layer by layer. A warm cup of   Svařák (mulled wine) is the perfect complement to this sweetie. 

Nuremberg, Germany



Standards are set by this queen of markets. On the whole, Germany is alive with the festive spirit with Christmas markets in most cities on, and off, the beaten tourist path. Nuremberg is one of the more recognised markets attracting eager shoppers and admirers from around the globe. 

You cannot imagine my husband's incredible trepidation when I suggested we should go to Nuremberg. Two things he does not do well with--- big crowds and Christmas. I negotiated two nights out of him...and hoped the market would live up to its expectation.

And did it ever! I glowed when Cyrille thanked me after our first walk through the stands for bringing him to Nuremberg. Before allowing a chance for him to change his mind, I quickly refilled his  glühwein  and handed him another sausage roll. 

What makes Nuremberg stand out are two things: the beautiful Germanic wood craft and the gorgeous stall displays.  The show stopper stand for me was found in Nuremberg at a sweet stand decorated with the most delightful collection of tins and antique toys. Two of my favourite things under one roof. Sugar and tin. Hands down: I award this stand the overall best in show, blue ribbon winner of 2011. 

One thing we loved at the Christmas Markets in both Germany and France was their green initiatives for the parched shoppers. On purchasing your first glass of  glühwein or vin chaud you pay a deposit for mugs. These mugs are yours to be filled and refilled with mulled wine until your heart's content. 

At the end of your visit, you decide: keep the mug as a souvenir or return back to any stand and get your deposit back. Brillant! Mulled wine taste better in a mug and you feel you are doing your part to naturally keep warm and save space in the landfill. 

Second love- adults, kids and babies can enjoy the magic of Christmas at the markets. 

Ouisie could not have asked for more stimulation! Lights, smells, sights and doggies everywhere! Both Nuremberg and Colmar had delightful markets designated for children with rides, toy stands, petting zoos and tempting treats. 


We,too, loved being kids again ourselves with rides on the carousel and gawking over the live nativities. Admit it--- we all have that repressed inner child begging to be released.


Colmar, France

Just when you think France could not possibly have another beautiful region, you arrive in Alsace. We rented a car in Nuremberg and drove four hours to Colmar.

Once part of Germany, we were not sure when we actually crossed the border as towns and streets still bear their Germanic namesakes.  Even the food is more German than French. But one heavenly thing that is different...the regional beverage. We two wine-os were very happy to trade in our steins for stemware. 



The landscape is rolling hills and mountains blanketed in vineyards. Beautiful in winter and must be breathtaking at the hight of the harvest season. The part that stood out the most in Alsace were all the beautiful surrounding villages. It was refreshing to find their high streets alive and thriving. So many of the quaint villages in the UK are diminishing as store owners can no longer afford the high street rental fees and consumers are shopping at the commercial brands. 


All of Alsace was decorated for Christmas and each village took great pride in decorating their high street and store fronts for the season. The village of Ribeauvillé and Kaysersberg are both classified as " la plus belle ville du monde" and for sound reason.  They look as though they have been cut right out of a Brothers Grimm fairy tale! 


Colmar's market rivals Nuremberg in size and splendour. The upside of Colmar's market is that its five markets are dispersed allowing you to explore and meander the whole city rather than just one central location. Take the market away and Colmar, on its own, is a delight. Listed buildings from the 14th and 15th century are still in use today by boutiques and restaurants.  The contrast of modern and old architecture live side by side and evolve together. If anyone needs another reason to love France.... go to Alsace. 





While I did not find the local craft as appealing as that in Nuremberg, the local savouries and sweets made up for the lack of knicknacks. Here I rediscovered my affection for pain d’épices. 

Alsace is definitely a place we would go back to again and again. It is quaint, timeless, and delicious.



Ouisie was a star traveller. Not even a nasty cold held her back from having fun and taking in the sites. Planes, trains and automobiles.... four countries.... in eleven days.... all at ten months of age. Not bad for a first Christmas, I'd say? Alas, every girl has her limit. And ours definitely shopped 'til she dropped.



Merry Christmas!









23 October 2011

Balancing Act

Menu du jour


Trio of Clams* Linguini

Ingredients: Simply stemed with white wine, chilli,and garlic. Clams tossed with linguini, own liquor, tomatoes, oregano and saffron.

Thought: Harmony-The delicacy of this dish was unreal... all of the flavours blended perfectly but could equally be distinguished on the palete... 


* Trio of clams to include: Scottish razor and little neck clams, French palourdes


A tip off the Chopping Block


If a sunless summer gives you green tomatoes...Make chutney!

Cyrille made two different green tomato and apple chutneys with the stubborn fruits who opted out of ripening this summer. 

Recipe? Well... Cyrille is infamous for NEVER writing down any recipes--- so, in honour of the blog-- he wrote them down. 


The recipe should now follow--- but after searching all afternoon for the coveted pieces of paper--- they are not to be found. From the Queen of Organisation-- this is a painful defeat.


If you have spare green tomatoes just laying about... and wish to make some chutney-- I'll coax him into reciting the 100s of ingredients...


The lighter green chutney pairs well with poultry or ham while the darker is great with wild game terrine or strong cheddar. As much as I love sweet summer tomatoes, I secretly hope each season that some protest and stay green-- just so our stash of chutney can be replenished. It is a lot of work... but once jarred, they can last for years... and make great gifts!


###


The past few weeks have presented my mind, body and soul some new endurance tests. 


BODY BALANCE
A Bikram Yoga studio opened in the neighbouring village. You could not, not notice it. Bright three-foot yellow lettering "BIKRAM YOGA" chanted at me each time I sheepishly drove past.


I enjoy yoga-- I am far from a yogi-- but do enjoy feeling invincible in warrior pose and hanging out in plow pose. Bikram Yoga has always alluded and intimated me. First of all- I am not one for extreme temperatures. So the idea of willingly subjecting myself to 105˚F temperature for 90 minutes just seemed a bit dramatic if not traumatic. 


With the desire to get back in pre-maternity shape,  I had been scouting cardio options to coincide with my husband's day off for watching our daughter. As fate would have it-the only class to fit his day off led me straight into the inferno. 


And so, last week, I found myself inside the daunting "BIKRAM YOGA" studio being coaxed into signing up for a 30-day intro offer to experience as much heat as I could take.


First class- Sunday, 10 am. Outside temp- 64˚F. Inside- 105˚F. 
The website advises you to bring two towels, a litre of water and to arrive no less than 15-minutes before the start of class. With my gear in hand, I made my way into the studio to warm up.  


The heat greeted me like a bad hangover. My skin started to glisten with the little effort used to put down my mat and towel overlay. My eyes instinctively hunted down the wall clock, sending panic waves to my brain "You will not be able to sustain this heat," advised my brain. " You did not have a good night's rest (again) and you really should not over do it....you just had a baby" (ummm...8+ months ago...think that card is played).


Heat. Sweat. Light headed. 14 minutes until class starts. Parched. 
I laid down. Mistake. I stood up. Dizzy. I sat and tried to fake a serene meditative stare at my flushed cheeks in the mirror. Who was I kidding? Why I am here again? 


10:01. Finally. The instructor enters.
And then begins the first of 26 Hatha yoga postures and 2 breathing exercises. Each posture you complete two sets- so you are actually doing 52 postures and 4 breathing exercise (I did this math half way through the series).


After the first breathing exercise, sweat is dripping off me. I am self concious thinking I must be in terrible shape- until I hear little drips around me and realise we all are sweaty hogs together. 


The heat is an obstacle. Playing with your brain, testing your strength. Trying to break you down. Half of my brain begs me to get out while the other half wants to push through. You draw strength from your breath and your entire focus is on the air entering and leaving your nose. Nothing else. Your breath gives you balance for holding the pose, and with each exhale you push deeper into the stretch.  


As I focus on the instructor's voice, my breath steadies, my heartbeat surges and sweat streams down my limbs. Is it time for meditation and cool down? 45-more minutes to go....


 "Push, push, push-- and change." 90-minutes. And then I echo the instructor-- "Namaste."  
I have finished my first class. I look at myself in the mirror. My cheeks are not flushed- they are deeper shade of plum. The towel covering my mat is soaked through, and I am drenched in my own sweat. I feel exhausted but, strangely, more energetic than when I arrived. I am not sure if I have loved or hated the class. This was the hardest test since labour that I have endured in the past 8 months. Not physically--- but mentally.


WORK BALANCE
Last week I started back to work on a fixed 8-week contract job. An ideal transition allowing me to dabble back into work two days, bring home the bacon (even if just some scraps) and have the rest of my week for my favourite job- Mummy. 


Monday morning- 5:45 am
Going back to work sounded so easy- until Monday morning. I gave Ouisie her early morning feed, got her back to bed and I started to get myself ready for work. All was fine until I watched my husband cuddling her in his arms as I stood in the hallway dressed in my suit about to leave. The reversed roles made a lump rise in my throat that was hard to swallow. But swallow I did. 


8:20-- Arrived to work. 
I introduced myself to my new desk which seemed so cold and unfamiliar. My stomach, a roller coaster of nerves, like the first day on the job. Except- familiar faces welcomed me back and with their sincere smiles and good wishes the nerves calmed. I am back in the saddle. As before, I showed up on time. But now- you can bet your bottom dollar- I also clocked out on time.

My head stayed down for the full 8-hours. No lingering at the water cooler with colleagues as those minutes are now treasured at home in the evening with Ouisie.

16:00-- one hour 'til quitting time. Watching the minutes tick by...
The end of the day. I switched off the computer and clocked out. I arrived home to a slobbery toothless grin and my heart melted. We made it through the first day with no tears and her smile reconfirmed that we are going to be okay.


Since then, I have returned to the inferno for a 2nd  (and 3rd) class and clocked out (on time) for day two at work. The 90-minutes in the Bikram Studio and the two days at the office have been rejuvenating. While my "Mummy hat" is always on, I feel that I am finding a healthy balance which will allow me to be a better spouse, mum and breadwinner all the while not forgetting about my own self.  


On that note, it's time to get to bed-- work in the morning. Bring it on week two!



































06 October 2011

Anything your baby can do... my baby will eventually do (better)

Menu du jour
Rustic Lamb Stew 

Ingredients: Leg of lamb, barley, celeriac, cavolo nero cabbage, kale, and leek slowly cooked in a red and white wine jus with garlic, shallots and chili. 

Thought: This stew was amazing! The recent heatwave  in England did bring sunshine, but also a nasty cold leaving me feeling less than stellar. The above stew was enjoyed last night by both me and my ailing throat and is credited for my cold being on the mend today. 

Cyrille had previously marinated and sous-vide cooked the leg of lamb for several days. The flavour and tenderness of the meat permeated the stew and the red and white wine enhanced its spices even more. We chopped any veggies we had on hand (any root vegetable would be a hit with this dish). The barley was a great touch to the overall rustic character of the stew. Cyrille garnished the soup with finely grated Comté cheese.
BBQ'd Bramley Apples 

Stew was served with toasted rye sourdough bread and wonderful French butter (Le Gall, Beurre de Baratte- au lait cru). I've had some good French butter in my lifetime... this one wins the blue ribbon to date. 

** An apple a day... Apples are coming into the prime of their season right now. Before you store away the BBQ for the colder months ahead- try this! Cyrille took some apples from the garden and placed them whole on the barbecue over cooling coals and left to slowly cook overnight. 

How beautiful do they look? Ready to be used to feed our daughter, add to dishes or just scoop into a bowl with a dollop of crème fraiche on top!




                  ##

I have recently started taking our eight month old daughter, Ouisie, to various activity groups to include "Baby Yoga", "Monkey Music" and "Sing and Sign". I waited until she was older as I could not rationalise the point of spending money on an activity when she could barely see, was demanding my boobs round the clock, and was alternating between cat naps and dirty naps every hour. I have avoided baby groups all together- not because I am unsocial- just not my cup of tea- a bit too staged. 

On the whole the classes have been great as it gets us out and about and Ouisie has the opportunity to interact with other babies. Wherever we go, I can't help but observe other mothers and their (self proclaimed) gifted and talented babies. Don't get me wrong, all our children deserve their pedestal and parents' praise. But I am not sure if we should gauge our babies' future success by what age they cut their first tooth or clap their hands. If this is the case, in a few years our daughter might need to repeat kindergarten to catch up. 

At the beginning of each yoga class- you introduce yourself and your baby and tell something about their progress over the past week. At our first class, Ouisie was seven months and two weeks and perfectly content spending her days on her back. She had been teething for the past three months, but still had no hard earned enamel to show for her days of pain and buckets of drool. Around us, babies months younger were sitting up, rolling over, loving tummy time... and showing off their pearly whites. 

After listening to the other mothers praise their future Olympians and Rhodes Scholars, it was our turn for introductions. I propped Ouisie upright and stated our names, daughter's age and her current tricks; namely, squealing at a high pitch frequency. And then, I found myself stating the fact that she arrived three weeks early-- as if this was the reason why she was not yet sitting, hated tummy time and had only rolled over once due to gravitational default. I had used the old "premature" excuse for our daughter's (under) achievements! I blushed inside, feeling ashamed that I had just thrown my own offspring under the special needs bus. 

The next week, Monkey Music. Before class, some of the mothers had gathered to meet for coffee. We arrived a few minutes early and I could not help but overhear the conversation in passing. The mother of a ten month old was telling the group how her daughter had started walking. Another mother mentioned how her five month old was sitting up on her own. The mother of the ten month old was quick to recall how at just four months her prodigy was sitting up and by six months was pulling up on her own. I watched the face of the mother with the five month old show defeat. I gave Ouisie an extra cuddle as we watched the ten month old topple over her feet on the way to the classroom. 

We grabbed a mat and said our hellos. I observed that most of the babies were actively engaged in the class and playing their instruments. And there was my child who cried at the sound of the rainmaker and preferred gazing out at a beautiful Oak Tree in the garden. A lover of nature? A daydreamer like her father? Perhaps she just did not find the lady with the stuffed monkey amusing? I admit, it was a lot of effort getting to the morning class for thirty-minutes of watching a lady shaking instruments and singing unfamiliar songs about a monkey and five little ducks. After week one, Ouisie and I decided to scratch this activity from the list.

Sing and Sign has been the best to date because it is a teaching class rather than just an activity. Ouisie is able to interact with the other babies and I practice the signs with her throughout the week. We are speaking both French and English to her at home, so I hope the sign language helps her in learning the two vocabularies. I have a hunch that the sign for "no" and "more" will backfire in the months ahead. 

What I have found in our initial month of classes is that more than anything, these classes benefit the moms by getting us out of the house and around other adults. It is also good for the babies as they are able to drool and coo with each other. But I have noticed that Ouisie is just as content, if not more, on our walks in the forest listening to the sounds of nature and looking at the trees blowing in the wind. Above all, whether it be an organised activity or signing songs and making funny faces together at home, our time spent together is invaluable. Each day she makes a new discovery about her surroundings and the wondrous mechanics of her body. 

After our first baby yoga class, Ouisie sat on her own for the first time. Do I credit the yoga? Not at all. Just think it was her chosen day to perch unaided on her round tush. When will she decide to scoot, pull up, walk? When she is ready. And that is soon enough for me.

Namaste!

Callie









03 October 2011

Heatwave



Menu du jour

Organic Hampshire Pork Loin
Method: Slow cooked in tequila and ancho chili rub 

Served with: Medley of tomato and courgettes from the garden, jalapeño grits

Thought: Sante Fe, New Mexico
##



75 degrees

Sunshine and blue skies

Baby taking a nap

Mom at computer writing
Lyle Lovett singing the blues...

Life is good.


Our dog, Carib, enjoys day in the garden beneath her favourite Oak Tree
After living in England for four years I have come to have a greater appreciation for some of the smaller gratifications in life: warmth and sunshine. 


One of the best parts about life in England are the seasons. Now the English will bemoan the fact that they really only have three seasons as summer always seems to be a cold wash out. I guess Mother Nature got tired of the whining populous as the past week in England, and most of Europe, we had a second chance at summer. Autumn arrived in July and has been pushed out in October. 


The leaves are falling off the trees at the same time spring flowers are budding again. Birds don't know if it is time to head south or stay put. Autumn and spring are criss crossed- but I'll take my full serving of it! After all, I think the Brits and we, fellow expats, all deserve a scoop of warm temps. If for no other reason than to expose our pasty skin, break a bit of sweat and then have a moan about how hot it is.


Growing up in Houston I was not exposed to living- or more to the point- eating around the seasons. Take asparagus and strawberries. This beautiful green stalk with its flavourful crown was a regular vegetable at family dinners just as strawberries were contenders at most breakfasts--- even if it was December.  I never saw these as the "odd produce out" or ever realised that they had been imported from Peru  and Israel.  


The English are very proud about their seasonal produce. In recent years, there has been a big push to celebrate the "Best of Britain". And for good reason as each season brings a palate pleaser. 


Case in point: the asparagus. I've learned a lot about these mighty spears such as; it takes a crown of asparagus three years before it is harvestable. And, each crown has a lifespan of around 15 years.  And after all that hard work, the season is super short- starting in late April and finished by end of June. So while the getting is good- I like to have this green gem on my plate most nights! 


This week we bid a final farewell to summer. Our tomatoes have made one last courageous effort to ripen before temperatures drop and the sun is again masked in English grey. And with colder temps in the forecast we await the re-entrance of autumn and all the rich root vegetables she brings. 


Hope the sun is shining in your neck of the world...





06 September 2011

Nap Time

Menu du jour

Roasted wild Scottish grouse
Served with foraged cep mushrooms and Laverstoke Park's black pudding (boudin noir)
Les Ceps, our bountiful treasure trove

Be still my heart. 
This dinner was divine! 

I think it was my first time having grouse. Grouse is mostly found in the moorland counties  of Scotland and Northern England. Due to low numbers it has a very short season. Grouse are a great task even for a very seasoned shooter as they can fly up to 70mph.  

We are blessed by beautiful forests on our doorsteps. The cooler temps, rain/sun and change of the moon all contribute to a bountiful array of prized mushrooms for the picking. The King of the fungi is the cep mushroom. At market- cep mushrooms fetch up to £20 per kg ($33 per 2.2 lbs). We have already found well over 25 lbs and it is only the start of the season! Who needs a 9 to 5 when you can find money growing in your backyard? 

Method: Cyrille wrapped the grouse in smoked bacon allowing the fat and flavour to seep into the bird. He first roasted it in the oven and finished the bird on the stove top. Grouse is best served medium rare.

For this dinner, the cep mushrooms were sautéed with virgin olive oil, butter, salt and pepper- allowing the mushrooms to do the talking.
Autumn 2011 Collection

The combination of the rich grouse, spicy black pudding (boudin noir) and cep mushrooms was a well orchestrated symphony of flavours on the palate! A bottle of Burgundy wine finished off this heavenly meal. 

Thought on foraging mushrooms: Cep Mushrooms are Mother Nature's autumn couture collection... They are the rich sexy fungi of the forest floor.  You get giddy butterflies when you spot them hiding under the dewy moss. You boast to your friends and neighbours of your rich findings but never share where "cep alley" is within the forest.  Unlike some fashion trends, these icons never go out of style-- just season. 
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Ah, an unexpected late afternoon cat nap for the baby. Time for mom to have a moment to herself. Cue the ambient music and begin typing. Quickly typing. For a sleeping baby is only as good as the level of her 'tank', the nappy being dry, and the life of the battery in her swinging chair.

When a baby is awake, it is all about multi tasking: balancing the baby on one hip while holding the phone in the crook of your neck trying to schedule the repair man out to fix the boiler; mashing up bananas with a fork for snack time; and yelling at the dog to stop barking at the post man. A lot of women groan on and on about how hard being pregnant is on the body. Seven months with my little pea this side of the womb, I realise babies take their toll both sides of the uterine wall. 

I could draw a road map between the random bruises on my calves, hips and arms. I think I have the onset of carpel tunnel syndrome from using a manual expresser the first three months of Eloise's life before purchasing an electric pump. And I am pretty sure my neck is slightly ajar and the hips just naturally want to pop out to the side as balance beams. I have written off my lower back. I try to give it some needed TLC by laying in corpse position from time to time. The problem with this- it is so hard to get back up.  

It is for good reason that we carry a baby for nine months. Once you have a 17+ pound baby strapped on your chest in the Baby Bjorn, you give a small "amen" that the weight is bearing down on your shoulders rather than the uterus and bladder.  

I'll be the first to admit-nothing gives a mother greater joy than to cradle their child in their arms. That is, unless that little that ball of energy is sleeping soundly in the crib leaving mom hands-free!

Our daughter, Ouisie, arrived three weeks early. I have concluded that she was ready to take on life- full throttle. With a packed agenda ahead- she decided from day one that sleep would not be a major requirement. Just a little recharge here and there as time should be spent getting on with living.  

With each passing week as a newborn, my mother assured me not to worry-- "It will get easier"--- "She will get into a routine"-- "You kids napped twice a day"-- "Once she is 11 lbs-- she'll sleep through the night"..."You'll be able to finish that needlepoint project by Christmas"--- Um. Wrong.

I am not a stickler for a daily routine with a baby. This may be based on the fact that our daughter likes to switch up her schedule. Reveille occurs between 5-7. Bounds of energy and play commence until 9-10. And then... mid morning nap. This anticipated break varies in length. It is my daily coin toss. Do I have 30 minutes... push it to 45 minutes... or throw the wild card and score a 1.5 hour break. 

Never knowing what cards Ouisie has dealt- you prioritise. Shower and shave? Shower, shave, wash hair? Skip shower- splash water on face and just brush teeth? I treat it like a game. Scratch off all on the 'to do' list and JACKPOT! Ready, steady... go!
  • get dressed
  • switch laundry
  • load dishwasher
  • brush teeth while plucking unruly eyebrows and chin hairs that have somehow crept onto the visage over the past 24-hours
  • check email while expressing milk
  • make mental grocery list 
  • reheat 1st cup of coffee in microwave for 4th time 
  • reply back to emails that have been sitting patiently in inbox for over a month
  • take 5 minutes to check Twitter headlines to see if outside world is still revolving only if above have been completed and baby is still asleep. Otherwise assume all is well as the sun rose and you saw the neighbour take out the trash. 
Since publishing my blog on Facebook I feel like I have signed a contract to my (four) followers (one of which is my mother). And once I commit to anything- I have to uphold my end of the deal.     

What I did not fully consider was Ouisie's desire. Was she ready to commit a block of time each day to allow mom to compose coherent fluid thoughts that could transcribe into something that someone might (actually) wish to read? Would her playtime be compromised by mom trying to sharpen her writing skills? And above all--- would mom try and coax her into-- not only-- trying new solid foods everyday--- but crafting a schedule whereby she found herself being put back in her crib for TWO naps a day! Ludicrous!   

I recently reviewed my options for returning back to work. In the UK, mothers have job security for up to one year. Mothers receive 80% of their salary for 6-weeks, then receive the government's stipulated pay through six-months (currently about £500 per month). Many that can, opt to take the full year as childcare (like most places) is so expensive. Wages in the UK are lower than the USA so this combined with high childcare costs often weighs favourably for the mother to take a full year.  

When looking at options for going back to work, my husband thought I should look at working from home one or two days per week. It sounds ideal to those sitting at the office in a windowless cubicle. But one thing that going to the office gives a working mother is the one thing working from home does not-- adult interaction. 

As I attempt to write a blog without a pressing deadline and with Ouisie balanced on my lap assisting in typing; I realise that working from home with an infant is just not feasible. For one, babies have impeccable timing on dirty nappies, hunger pains or just need for a good cuddle from mom. None of which is conducive when on a conference call with a client trying to pitch a luxury Hotel for a quiet corporate retreat. Secondly, let's face it- babies are the best time wasters. Hours of the day are spent transfixed observing your little one in anticipation of witnessing her next discovery. 

Maybe moms cannot have it all? If I had been at the office today, I would have missed Ouisie sitting on her own for the first time. But then, by pursuing a career, I become a role model for Ouisie and can contribute to the family income and have a better means for providing her with activities, education and travel experiences. 

And so, with a grateful heart, I notified work that I would finish out my maternity leave and signed Ouisie and me up for a variety of classes in the local community that all start next week. Monkey Music-- be warned! We have been practising the Incy Wincy Spider and The Wheels on the Bus for seven months. And no baby shakes a rattle with such gusto as Ouisie.

While being a stay-at-home mom has its trials; the tribulations make up for the baby brain and lack of personal time. Personal success suddenly is measured in each little milestone that your baby achieves. How proud you feel when your baby discovers her squeal! And how your heart melts when you get your baby from that ten minute power nap (that only allowed time for you to fold the laundry) to find a drooling toothless grin awaiting you. The first seven months have been a whirlwind-- so I hope to slow time down during these next five. 

And on that note... I hear my sweet pea calling me now. Until next time-- may you be productive and find rewarding success in your own 24-hour day. 

Carpe diem (or whatever you choose to seize)!

                                                                  
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