Thursday, 22 December 2011

Chai Spice Nut Butter

Drooool……this was amazingly good. I got the idea from this blog   http://edibleperspective.com/2011/12/chai-spice/ and thought I’d have a go at making my own nut butter as the peanut butter I currently buy is made with palm oil and I am trying avoid that because I don’t think it is good for the environment as the destruction of the rainforest and the displacing of orang-utans is often linked with palm oil harvesting and production. It is surprisingly easy to make your own nut butter, but be warned: it is LOUD. You have to run your food processor for ages and for those sensitive to noise like my Spiderman--best make it when they are not home.

The blog I copied it from made almond butter--which I bet would *heavenly* but was too expensive for right now as I am waiting for almonds to go on sale. I decided to make peanut butter as peanuts were cheaper--2 cups roasted, unsalted nuts were £1.07. 2 cups almonds would cost me about £5.

To make your nut butter:
Put 2 cups nuts (toast them yourself or cheat like I did and buy roasted nuts) in your food processor and run for what seems like  fecking forever, stopping every once in a while to scrape down the sides.  Fecking forever might be an exaggeration--it is really only about 8-12 minutes. Feels like longer, I assure you--but totally worth it.

It will be all crumbly, then like a big ball of dough and then will finally smooth out into a creamy spreadable butter.  I found it helped to add a few TB of rapeseed oil (canola) to help make it not so crumbly. I probably should have let it go longer but my machine was making a slight burned rubber smell as it does when I run it too long.  Despite that,  it tastes fab even if it is not as spreadable as the commercial kind--which makes me wonder how much palm oil is there to make it so smooth? It tastes particularly nice straight out of the machine where the blades have warmed it. Mmmmmm…warm peanut butter.

But what about the chai part you ask? Well I’m glad you did. First mix up this chai spice mix (thanks to the Edible Perspective blog for this idea)

Chai Spice Mix
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp cardamom
1 tsp ground cloves (not gloves as I had previously typed--thanks Mum for pointing that out)
¼ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp allspice (I added more like a ½ tsp as I really like allspice)

Mix all together in a small jar. That’s it!

Now to pimp your peanut butter:
 Put your freshly made nut butter in a bowl and add:
  1 TB liquid sweetener--she used honey, I used agave, but you could use maple syrup as well.
2.5-3 tsp chai spice mix
1 tsp vanilla essence
¼-½ tsp sea salt (smoked sea salt if you can get it--yum!)

Stir it all together and spoon into a sterilized jar. A salsa jar was perfect for mine. I sterilized by filling it with boiling water and then wiping it dry. Store in the fridge.

I didn’t take a photo of the final product as it looks a bit crumbly in the jar and not very photogenic, but let me assure you it tasted DIVINE. It was really good stirred into hot oatmeal. Or on a spoon. If I made it again I might add a bit more oil or try to blend for longer (maybe if I had earplugs) as it was a wee on the crumbly side--which did not affect the taste only the appearance.

Have a go at making your own nut butter (especially with the chai) and you will not be sorry. Deaf maybe, but not sorry.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Heaven and Hell

What a day we had in London. But I guess if we are to do it in its proper order it was Hell and the Heaven. What? Oh sit down, shut up and listen.

We went to the Tate Britain in the morning to see the John Martin exhibit. Who you may ask? It is such a simple name, easily forgotten—but the impact of his paintings has stayed with us for 20 years. I can recall with clarity the day in 1990 when we, as humble exchange students merely dreaming of one day settling in this great country, saw this painting entitled The Great Day of His Wrath.
 from wikipedia
It was like a disaster film and Biblical epic all rolled into one with angry burning red sky and a whole city swooped up and dashed to the ground. Click on the picture to enlarge it and look on the right—the city is nearly upside down.  It was mesmerizing and terrifying. I recall writing a lengthy description of it in my journal and trying to draw a diagram of the curve of the city being destroyed.

We were really excited to see there was a retrospective of John Martin’s work as we remember the feeling it gave us. Here is another we saw at the exhibit. The Destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum.
File:Destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum.jpg
from wikipedia

Here's Sodom and Gomorrah being destroyed.
File:John Martin - Sodom and Gomorrah.jpg
from wikipedia

Do you see a trend? But these images do not do justice to the scale and detail of the paintings—the red is so well painted it feels as though you burn with the painting as you gaze upon it. John Martin’s work has been hugely influential to many film makers of disaster film and Ray Harryhausen said that he modeled several sets from Clash of the Titans on Martin’s works. And if Ray Harryhausen says that, it must be brilliant


Well that was the morning in Hell then we went out to lunch at Tibits (which had expanded their gluten free menu with quinoa potato cakes that were delish!) and then pottered around in a foreign language bookshop looking at familiar children’s books translated into French and I even found a copy of Tistou Les Pouces Verts which was a chapter book about a boy with a green thumb that my mum brought me back from France when I was just a munchkin. Do you recall that Mum? Then we hung out at GOSH comics for a bit and then tubed into Islington to the Little Angel Puppet Theatre to see a play of A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings. This is the Heaven bit.
 
from the Guardian
from a youngertheatre.com

The play was based on a short story by author Gabriel Garcia Marquez   that you can read here http://salvoblue.homestead.com/wings.html It was beautifully and sensitively rendered and heartbreakingly sad as the angel is held captive.


It was a lovely day and it reminded me how lucky we are to have followed our dreams and how blessed we are to be able to afford to have days out like this.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Spooky (but not in the Scooby Doo way)





We love Chris Priestly’s Uncle Montague’s Tales of Terror series. Fact. Some of that is because he our mate but most of it is because they are really good short stories, all twined together in a sinister way and told with elegance and style and will make you shiver in that pleasurable way that only well written horror fiction can. Last night we ventured into London to see a play version that was AWESOME and CREEPY and ATMOSPHERIC and WOW. It was in the Old Vic tunnels (in a slightly dodgy part of town) but the tunnels really are tunnels—these old underground caverns where the sound of ghostly trains rumbles over your head. The chilly, dank walls remind me of something straight out of Poe.

www.oldvictunnels.com says this:

Uncle Montague’s Stories from the Shadows

If you are sitting comfortably, then I will begin…
Based on Chris Priestley’s best selling book Uncle Montague’s Tales of Terror this new stage adaptation lurks in The Old Vic Tunnels this December.  Join Edgar as he set off through the woods to hear his uncle’s frightening stories.  But stories can’t hurt you because they are not true… definitely NOT true, right?  
Suitable for 8-13 year olds (brave 6&7 years olds welcome but you have been warned)
Sussex based OnO Theatre have been making theatre for young audiences for 10 years.  Their award winning work has been seen in schools and theatres across the country.  After this tour the show will tour schools in the southeast as part of a project improving boy literacy engagement at Key Stage 2. 

The acting was good and the use of props stellar. I love suggested props—a collapsible mesh basket with a wooly scarf attached—a puppet of a dog. A wooden trunk turned on its side—a tree that is forbidden to climb. An empty frame—a mirror of the soul. Antlers held aloft by an actor—sinister trees that seem to reach towards you in the darkness.

It was a cracking good show and a great adaptation of Chris’ work. I realize that it says Suitable for 8-13 year olds (brave 6&7 years olds welcome but you have been warned) but it was well suited to two 42 year olds who love intimate theatre (and this was—you were right there in the action so close you could have touched the actors.)  I’d love to see them get the funding to come to schools. *shiver*

Saturday, 17 December 2011

The Bleak Old Shop of Stuff

from Metro.co.uk
I am thoroughly looking forward to this programme this Christmas for several reasons:

1. We loved it when it was a radio series called Bleak Expectations.  

2. The young girl playing Victoria (in the above photo) is one of my drama  students Ambra Lily Keegan!!!!! We are so proud of Ambra getting a part in this show as it stars probably EVERY favourite funny actor in England that we adore. Seriously, the cast is huge. I know it will be a riot when it shows over Christmas and luckily Ambra tells me more episodes have been commissioned so something to look forward to in the new year!!!  

But what is it you ask? Well a very funny, very loving homage to all things Dickens as we celebrate the 200th anniversary of the great man’s birth.

The BBC says:
The Bleak Old Shop Of Stuff is a new four-part comedy adventure set in the Dickensian world of Jedrington Secret-Past, the up-standing family man and owner of The Old Shop of Stuff, Victorian London's most successful purveyor of miscellaneous odd things.

There are characters such as the evil lawyer Malifax Skulkingworm, Judge Harshmore Grimstone, the Aunts Chastity, Sobriety and Goodspelling, the Artful Codger, Mrs Christmasham, Fearshiver, Servegood and Miss Tightclench just to name a few.
 
from suite101.com

If you live in the UK please watch this as you will not regret it. If you live in the US, sorry mates! It might come to BBC America if you’re lucky.
Happy Christmas!

Friday, 16 December 2011

Merry Christmas to all, ‘til I saw you some mo’! (plink plink plink)

What’s that about you ask? It doesn’t even make sense I hear you cry. Well, snuggle up by the fire and let Auntie Spidergrrl tell you the tale.

Yesterday I had just about the *best* day ever. I was asked by one class to read The Cajun Night Before Christmas and then have a sing song with the ukulele on the Twelve days of Christmas as I’ve been teaching myself to play. That sounded exciting enough, but when I arrived in school, book and uke in hand I was asked by 4 other teachers to come round and have a bit of Christmas fun as well! I am not fooling myself into thinking it started off as anything more than a teacher thinking “They are mad as hatters and hyper as a goose on tartrazine and the less sit down work we have to do the better. Let‘s just do some fun activities--particularly if those activities mean I don‘t have to teach.”   But they did turn into something quite different.
 
I can confidently read a book with expression with little to no prep but playing music in front of others is really difficult as I am still learning and often make mistakes. It was a huge leap for me to be brave enough to play Ruth in front of anyone. I hardly even play in front of Spiderman--I do all my practicing before he gets home from work.  I explained to the children that I was still learning and please be kind if I make mistakes. Each performance started off a bit shaky until about “3 French hens” and then I got into the groove and really played well. And year 4 sang the song with such gusto we had a proper knees up. Their gentle Christmas carol at the concert was like a rousing football anthem sung by hooligans. All the classes were so supportive and friendly and said how much they enjoyed it and how cool they thought it was that I play an instrument. And I thought, Yeah, I feel cool playing a ukulele.  I watched my dad (who desperately wanted to be musical) struggle for ages to play Tom Dooley on the guitar so playing Ruth the uke makes me feel close to him. He would be so proud of the way I have taught myself and can play songs with increasing confidence.  As Dr Who might say Ukuleles are cool (along with bow ties and fezzes)
 
The Cajun Night Before Christmas is a great story that probably all Louisiana chirren know, but it is a novelty over in merry old England. The language is quite reminiscent of the patois of Afro Caribbean speakers. We had a great time trying to decipher the words and studying the pictures and every class had a go at saying the words aloud. We passed a good time, cher.

How I got a copy of the book is a strange and interesting tale. I had a copy as child as did Spiderman (I think in the 1970s it was mandatory) but when we moved overseas and could only take the 200 books we could not live without, it made the cut. But last year one of teachers found a copy in the second hand book sale at David’s Bookshop in Letchworth for £2! How in the world did a copy get there I’ll never know, but she saw it was about Louisiana and bought it for me as a pressie. Thanks Mel!

It was a great day for me and a huge confidence builder playing the ukulele in front of others and sometimes it did go wrong, but I just carried on and we were fine. My dad would have been so proud. 

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

What Chrimbo looks like at our place

There are 2 types of people in the world--those who want their Christmas decorations to be all colour coordinated and those who have a hotch potch of sentimental, well loved, tatty stuff (or a hodge podge if you are American.) I fall into the latter category as I am hugely sentimental (even more at Christmas) and have many ornaments that were made by me (rather sloppily) from when I was a child. Plus loads of ratty tatty old favourites that are missing bits, but I can’t bear throw away. I still have the stocking hand made by my Aunt Jane for me when I was just a wee’un.

We have the tradition that every year we pick out an ornament together and date it as well as write a message to each other in a card to save and re-read every year. This year marks our 20th married Christmas and so there are 20 cards and 20 ornaments. We also light an advent candle every night and read a bit of Christmas/winter poetry.

Here’s our Charlie Brown Christmas tree. Yesterday I got a wild hair up my ass and decided to sew stockings for the spiders which you can see hanging behind the tree. There is also real mistletoe I bought at the deli that sells local produce from people’s gardens. Mistletoe is a parasitic plant (as is Spanish moss) so many people are keen to get rid of it. I just realized the mistletoe is out of shot. but it is hanging above the tree, I swear.

Spiderman has taken to keeping a log of things I am likely to say every year such as “Soon we’ll have to get a 4 foot tall tree” (been saying that for years) or “I love this poem. It’s one of my favourites!” Which is true 98% of the time as I chose the poems for advent. When we decorate the tree I am guaranteed to say, “I loved when I worked with the 3rd graders at Prompt Succor School!” when I hang the ornament they gave me or “I can‘t recall who made this for me when I was a girl--was it my Aunt Addeline?” when I hang the decoupaged egg or “I loved this when I was girl because she had brown hair like me but I hated that her eyes were blue as mine were brown” when I unwrap the china statue of a December angel.  Yup, every year. The man has the patience of a saint and the memory of an elephant.

Here are the Snowman from Raymond Brigg‘s classic tale of the same name which is a real blub-fest for me. He is riding Max the dog from the Grinch. The Snowman shows over here on telly just as the Grinch does in the US.  We have scores of Chrimbo dvds so we watch a different festive something every night.


Here’s Huntarian the stuffed jerboa wearing his jaunty Christmas hat as well as our stockings. Look at the one on the right--my Auntie Jane made it and I treasure every tiny stitch.

Lastly, here is our newest addition to the cuddly spider collection--Pinky Tuscadero turning spider silk into tinsel (they really do that you know.)  Spiderman was heard to say “I don’t know what is worse, that you suggested that as a name or that I understand what it is referring to.”  For those who are scratching their heads and saying, “Quoi?” Pinky Tuscadero was the sister of all round cool rock chick Leather Tuscadero (played by Suzy Quatro) on Happy Days.

So that’s how we look for the holidays. Lots of homemade stuff. Lots of sentimental favourites. Lots of silliness. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Where we went and what we saw

This is part 2 of my post about my spectacular birthday doings. The last post was all about my pressies so read that if you missed out and then snuggle up to read travel-y bits.

It has been a whirlwind of a weekend. We got up early yesterday and trained into London. First stop: the Flemish Gallery to see a retrospective of children’s illustrator John Burningham. From their website:
This retrospective exhibition celebrates the rich and varied career of one of Britain’s most distinguished and best-loved illustrators and includes illustrations for his children and adult books as well as those for Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang by Ian Fleming, working drawings and previously unseen archive material.
Burningham’s first attempt at writing and illustrating a children's book was Borka: The Adventures of a Goose With No Feathers in 1963. Tom Maschler, a forward-thinking editor at Jonathan Cape , agreed to publish the book. In the early 1960s there was a shift in attitude towards children’s books and Burningham’s fresh and imaginative stories combined with his bold and original illustrations helped change the genre forever. Borka was awarded the Kate Greenaway Medal for illustration and Burningham never looked back; he is still inventing and illustrating stories to the delight of readers of all ages.
It was delightful and chock full of art and artifacts from his life.
Stop number two: Tibits restaurant to eat a glorious vegan meal. My favourite place for fresh, delicious, healthy, animal free food.

Stop number three: The British Library. This place rocks my socks. They hold all sorts of interesting events for dirt cheap. Tickets were £7.50 each and we went to see A Christmas Carol, and the Conjuror which was writer and BBC radio broadcaster Brian Sibley doing a dramatic reading of a slightly abridged version of Dickens’  A Christmas Carol acting it out and doing all the voices. He used Dickens’ own cutting of the work and tried to copy the suggestions Dickens recorded for when to gesture and what words to emphasize. Plus there was David Weeks of The Magic Circle presenting interludes of bewildering bafflement out of the Victorian conjuror's box of tricks. I am a sucker for magic tricks and so easily bewitched by their trickiness ever since BoBo the magician graced my primary school and really pulled his thumb off (he really did, you know!) It was a glorious day with lots of oooos and ahhhhhs. But wait, there’s more!
This morning we set out bright an early back to London with a bottle of claret and a homemade card and headed to Chris Beetles gallery to hang out with Britain’s greatest children’s illustrator Quentin Blake. It is his birthday soon, hence the card and the claret. He was having a book signing and a display of some of his art for sale and there was a band called the Jelly Rollers who play old stuff from the 1920s on the tuba, banjo and fiddle whist dressed in period costume. The banjo player let me beep his hooter and I was so excited that I actually leapt up in the air! Alright, get your mind out of the gutter—beeping his hooter is not a euphemism for something obscene—it means honked his horn. In that great classic The Wind in the Willows, Mr Toad’s motor car has a hooter that when you beep it goes, “Poop Poop!” Seriously. That’s the noise hooters make here. Not beep beep but poop poop.
We had a lovely chat with Quentin Blake who is just a charming old bloke in his worn out wooly jumper and white plimsoles.  We looked at art that we would love to be able to afford (and one day may but not now) and then trained home for the rest of my birthday celebration.
Always every year on my birthday we put up the Christmas tree, eat leek and potato soup and watch the Muppet’s Christmas Carol. I’ve got an idea on how to bake some gluten free gingerbread as well so we’ll be tucking into that for pudding.
Hoorah and tally ho!

I am the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything

Ring out the bells! I am 42 years old! And as all we good geeks know (if they’ve read their Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) that 42 is the answer to life, the universe and everything. When my mum turned 40 the summer after my 8th grade year she insisted that all her former students make her a 40th birthday card as she went into the nursing home because as we all know—40 is OLD. One of her cards read:
Oh Mrs Tisdale
Don’t be blue.
40 is better than 42.
She laughed heartily at the time and then cried 2 years later when she actually became 42. In fact, she’s been 47 for well over a decade.

But here I am—old lady Tisdale—and we know I’m old because I recently had to get variofocals (that’s bifocals without the line) so it must be true. But despite by decrepit state I am still in the bloom of youth having been blessed with good genes. Either that or I am draining the life and youth out of poor Spiderman who grows grayer every day.

I have had the most marvelous weekend—thanks to the Amazing Spiderman and the fact that we live in jolly olde England.  I was treated with 3 special pressies. The first being a replica key made by Skelton Crew from the graphic novel Locke and Key that we adore. Yes we are comic book nerds—and you would be too if you read this mind blowing work. He bought me the head key as that is my favourite. You plug the key into the back of your neck and can open your head with it. You can remove any unhappy memories by simply plucking them out. Kinsey removed both her fear and her tears with nearly dire consequences. But the key can also be used on others to remove any memory as well—great if you have something to hide. Take a look at the detail on that!  I copied this photo from the Skelton Crew website.
Then he bought me the complete Jeeves and Wooster by PG Wodehouse on dvd—those 1930’s adventures of the upper class twit Bertie Wooster and his wise and clever (and slightly manipulative)  butler Jeeves. The period detail is fascinating and the stories clever and funny brought to life by Stephen Fry as Jeeves and Hugh Laurie (at his foppish best) as Wooster.
 
Lastly I got an out of print copy of Who’s Who in Oz by Jack Snow (who tried his hand at 2 Oz books post Baum’s death) This was a huge success as I am obsessed with OZ.
 
Well that’s the pressies sorted. But wait—there’s more! Next post: where we went and what we saw.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Keep your mince pies open

Mince pies are Cockney Rhyming Slang for eyes, in case you didn't know. If you have no idea what I'm on about when I say Cockney Rhyming Slang then go here and educate yourself. http://www.woodlands-junior.kent.sch.uk/customs/questions/cockney.htm

Mince pies are totally my favourite type of Christmas pudding. I never had eaten them before we moved to the UK, but they are as traditional as Christmas crackers or going to the Panto (other British things I adore.) Mincemeat was traditionally made with dried fruits soaked in booze, sugar, spices and suet (made from either beef or mutton fat) to bind it. Hence the term mincemeat. Nowadays, you can get mincemeat with vegetable suet--which is nearly always gluten free because it is made from oil and rice flour. Bonus!

picture from http://www.dearloveblog.com/

Mincemeat tastes lovely and warm and sweet and scrummy and makes you feel all Christmas-y inside. When I was just a vegan (rather than the wheat free vegan I am now) it was easy to buy mince pies in a shop. Just look for the cheapest ones--because the posh ones had an all butter crust and the cheaper ones used margerine. But now also having to avoid wheat things can be a bit trickier. I found several FREE FROM mince pies but all contained egg. then I finally found Sainsbury had some gluten free vegan mince pies. I was chuffed until I saw that each pie was over 200 calories and contained a HUGE amount of fat and a list of ingredients a kilometre long. That put a damper on things for a moment until I began to reflect about that fact what I really loved was the filling. Sod the fat laden pastry crust. So I devised a plan.

I bought a jar of Luxury "Taste the difference" mincemeat that had both apple and apricot puree and as well as brandy soaked dried fruits, spices and gluten free veggie suet. I paid less than £2 that will serve me every day until after Christmas (and the box of 4 GF vegan pies would have set me back nearly £4.) I then bought some Nairn's Scottish Oatcakes for less than £1--which contain oats, oil, sea salt and sodium bicarbonate and are only 43 calories per oatcake. They have a nice nutty oat crust flavour and a topped with a tsp of mincemeat means I can have a calorie controlled treat with is low in fat. Plus at that rate I can have 2 for a treat or 3 if I am feeling festive.

One of my favourite stories as a child involved a mincemeat pie and I recall reading it and having no idea what mince was still really liking the tale. A farmer's wife made 2 pies--one apple, one mince. So she could tell them apart she labeled them IA for Is Apple and IA for Isn't Apple. You can see how the story goes as now she can't tell which is which until a crafty fox eats one and says "The one that is left is mince." Genius.

I will leave you with a joke worthy of a Christmas cracker:
Q: Who works secretly for the government but only at Christmas?
A: a mince spy
Boom Boom!

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Look what I can do!!!!!!

Look what I just learned how to do in ICT!!!! The class I was working in was on this website http://www.picnik.com/ and you can add all sorts of fun stuff to photographs!!! Take a look at this:
Isn't that a scream?????? Happy Christmas from us and all the spiderbabes!

Monday, 5 December 2011

For those who are left behind

Today is the day of our school Christmas concert. We hold it at the local Medieval church in the evening, but the morning entails walking the entire school down in a big crocodile (that’s about 200 children)  to the church for a dress rehearsal.  There are always some who aren’t participating because their families can’t be arsed to get them there in the evenings which is sad as those are the ones who generally really want to participate. One year a tiny 7 year old appeared at the church door in tears having arrived by taxi and said, “My mum said just send me home by taxi when this rubbish is finished.” How heartbreaking is that? But at least he got to go. Last year some teachers arranged to pick up students who wanted to attend, but had  parents who couldn’t be bothered. At EVERY house the mum was dressed in her disco dolly best and ready for a night out at the pubs. That is the worst because those children who can’t come in the evening have been practicing their singing and poetry reciting and so are allowed to go for the dress rehearsal so they can at least see the show.

We also tend to have a large group of children who cannot participate in the Christmas show as they are not Christian--primarily Muslim,  but also a few Sikh and Hindu. Although some children from other faiths still take part in the Christmas show. For Muslims, Jesus is revered as a Prophet and so there is a connection with Christianity (although it is interesting to note that Christians don’t have the same reverence for Mohammad) so some less orthodox families allow their children to take part in Christian activities.  This year we had 18 children who were abstaining for religious reasons and so we made the decision to keep them at school and do alternate activities. Because I work with EAL and many of these children are under my care I volunteered to stay behind.

We ended up with a few extra--one boy terrified of churches (he thinks they are haunted because of the graveyards) who would not stop sobbing as they tried to leave and one latecomer who had been to the doctors but for the most part they were Asian Muslim children.

We spent the first hour in the ICT suite playing computer games. I let them log on to anything “educational” so most did art on Colour Magic or went to CBBC (children’s BBC website that has tie ins to children’s shows as well as learning games) but a few girls asked me if they could play some Islamic games and took me to a website that had stories about Mohammad and matching games in Arabic. They were so keen I did not want to stop them because I remember what it was like be a child discovering my faith. Others watched videos of historical events from a children’s history programme--I had an interesting talk with a child about Jessie Owens.  Lastly a group of girls all played hangman in French! They found a French games website and played trying to guess words from French we are learning in school.

Then we all went outside for a run around in the *freezing* cold to get some fresh air and eat our snacks. Then back into the hall to play some games. We did a relay race where you had to run to the other end of the hall, put on a coat, hat, scarf and gloves then run back, strip it all off and the next person has to put it all on before they can run down the other end and take it off for the next person to wear. That warmed up us! We also did some drama where they mimed various activities (playing football, dancing, riding a horse, skiing, playing tennis etc) and then played a game called “What are you doing?“ where the suggestion you make is the one the next person has to act out. Much hilarity ensued when boys were asked to dance like a ballerina. Next we played Spider Says--much like Simon Says only with my favourite animal in the title.  

By this time I was glancing at the clock--it was 11:30 and the rest of the school wasn’t back yet and I was running out of ideas. There were lots of suggestions but no one could agree so I divided all the kids into 3 groups and one played Spider Says on the stage, another played “I went to the shops and I bought…” which is a cumulative memory game and the third group played the “What are you doing” game followed by “I’m giving you” which is passing imaginary objects (something heavy/soft/sharp/hot etc) and the person has to react appropriately as they are given the gift.

Then *thankfully* our head dinner lady came in and said they could all go to lunch early so out they toddled and I went in to enjoy my lunch. About 5 minutes later the rest of the school retuned and the teachers all came back frazzled looking--as usual no one has bothered to time this so the show runs way longer than an hour. But I  had the pleasantest morning with the kids I stayed with. There were many complaints among staff that Christian children are allowed to visit the Mosque and Gurdwara  (Sikh temple) but other religions cannot participate in Christian activities. I don’t know how I feel about this--I love living in a country where many religions live and work side by side in harmony. And I think a person needs to be free to worship as they want without being hassled--but I also know that most of our Muslim/Sikh/Hindu children have an active religious life and will do seasonal and holiday activities with their own faiths. They will celebrate Eid or Diwali at other times of the year and so get the experience of celebration and joy. It is the white “Christian” children who have parents that can’t be bothered who really miss out because they will not have any other religious activities to experience and celebrate.

Since I stayed with those who were left behind I will need to go tonight to see the concert for myself. Luckily, we live right next door to the Medieval church so I can pop over to watch. It will be filled with sweet carol singing, badly chanted poems and lots of fidgeting of angelic children with crooked halos. Spiderman would say this precisely the reason to stay away, but for me it is exactly the reason to go.   

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Countdown

I puffy heart the countdown to Chrimbo. I love ticking off the days until my birthday and then Christmas with an advent calendar of some sort, an advent candle that you burn a wee bit off every day and a Christmas reading of a seasonal poem. I adore watching our vast collection of Christmas DVDs--like How the Grinch Stole Christmas, A Charlie Brown Christmas, The Snowman, Robbie the Reindeer and my favourite The Muppet's Christmas Carol which we watch every year on my birthday after we decorate the tree.

Last year I made an advent tree out of paper chains that I cut off each day. It was fun, but after a few snips it looked less like a Christmas tree and more like a blob. This year I was trying to think of something different but that would count down till the big day and I found this today at Poundland for £1.
Isn't it adorable? It actually is a wooden chalkboard that you write the day on and then rub it out, but as chalk is practically an endangered species (I mean...where do you find chalk these days in a world of dry erase pens?) and chalk makes me wheeze I decided to do something different.Besides,  I can't afford to get more chesty as I still am fighting the bronchial issues from my cold last week. I keep coughing away like a consumptive match girl and Spiderman has taken to calling me "Plague Girl." Thanks, honey.

But I also saw these cutie-pataootie Santa playing cards for £1 and so I bought a pack and because they were cheap cards they were more cardboard paper than laminated slicky paper I was able to write numbers on them with my trusty sharpie marker. Then I stuck them on with a blob of blue-tack and the countdown can commence. I liked this because despite being from Poundland it is relatively well made and will last for years to come!

How do you count down to Christmas?

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Sergeant Peppermill

We had a fab time in London yesterday seeing an art exhibit and going to a concert--and I will write more in depth about them soon--but I wanted to show you my newest favourite thing:

The Sergeant Peppermill!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I saw this in a catalogue and have really pined for it--could not stop thinking about--I know we already have a peppermill, but this one looked like a Beatle! So when we were in London we saw it in a shop and I as squeaking and bouncing up and down and Spiderman was sighing and rolling his eyes, but he forked over a tenner so I could have it and then helped me fill it with peppercorns. What a guy!

Isn't it cute???? And it is functional cos you can really grind pepper with it as the name implies. And we do use loads of pepper. But now it will be even more fun because you twist his head and pepper comes out his butt!!!

So let me introduce to you
the one and only Billy Shears!
Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band!

Thursday, 24 November 2011

I would love to have a Chihuahua but I don’t speak Spanish

My grandmother’s friend actually said this once after seeing those Taco Bell adverts with the talking dog. Seriously, I am not making that up. Since we have come home form the Voyage of the Damned I have been craving tacos. This is probably because we ate tacos 3 times whilst in the US--twice at Taco Bell. I know what you’re thinking. Spidergrrl, how can a GLUTEN FREE VEGAN eat at TACO HELL? Well, you’d be surprised.  

Ÿ         If you get the crunchy taco shells--bang! That’s gluten free.
Ÿ         If you ask for beans instead of beef you get refried beans in your taco.
Ÿ         Ask for fresco style and you get fresh salsa instead of cheese. It is a fat saving measure to provide low-calorie food on the menu, but it makes it vegan.    

Sure, it’s probably not health food, but in a pinch it works and was cheap. In the airport we ate at a place called Salsarita or something like that. It was kinda like a Subway but with tacos. There were all sorts of cool salad-y fixing’s to put on top and you could get either black beans and rice or refried beans. I was so hungry at the airport that I actually went back and ordered another one it was so delicious. Sadly, it was not so cheap as we were paying airport prices, but it got me thinking about making some tacos at home.

Here are some we ate last week. Twice even--as a box of 12 crunchy shells feeds us for 2 meals (3 at each meal) I am not a huge fan of refried beans (despite having even them 3 times recently) as they can be a bit too gloopy for my liking. So I cooked some millet in some marmite stock to give it a savoury “beefy” flavour and then added a 200g tin of chopped tomatoes and half a packet of fajita spices and a tin of red beans. This was served hot in my crunchy shells.

I also heated the shells as per the directions which was nice when we added the cool fixings.

The fixings were some Greek style soy yoghurt with a squeeze of lemon to make sour cream, some sharp cashew “cheeze” sauce  and some “vine ripened tomato and chipotle salsa” that I got on a mark down as it was close to the sell by date.

I also made some Pico de Gallo type salad with fresh tomatoes, cucumber, spring onions, red bell pepper, sweet corn and lime juice and some red pepper flakes.

We served it all up with warm millet/red bean stuffing topped with salsa, “cheeze”, lettuce, Pico de Gallo, black olives and dollop of sour cream. Then more lettuce and Pico on the side. Plus some roasted broccoli I had hanging out that needed to get used up. Broccoli goes with everything, right? After the photo we had the brilliant idea to drizzle some “cheeze” on it. Mmmmm.

It was a glorious mess (it is a good thing there wasn’t anyone to see me licking my fingers and smacking my lips--Spiderman gave up and made his more into a taco salad)  that tasted amazing and fresh. Plus the millet/red beans made enough for 2 meals so on the next day I just heated that up whist I heated the rest of the shells and pulled out the leftover “cheeze” and sour cream and olives. All I had to remake was another batch of Pico de Gallo.

Easy peasy lemon squeezy. 

Reverse the polarity

The saga of my backwards cold continues. I am to the unexpected sneezing stage where a sneeze rises up out of nowhere and without warning--no ah, ah, ah before the choo --and projectile snot is flung unceremoniously at whatever object is in front of me.  All this violent expulsion of snot at 90mph has caused my nasal passages to swell which kept me up half the night. I cannot breathe through my mouth when I sleep--I know it’s psychological--of course I can breathe but I get the distinct feeling I am drowning or suffocating and the sensation is so claustrophobic that I rise up gasping for air and get really pissed in the bargain. Because the moment I rise my nasal passages unswell and I can breathe through my nose.  But the moment I get the least bit horizontal BAM! They slam shut again. Which leaves me huffing like a hippo, muttering and swearing trying not to (but always succeeding) in waking Spiderman who pats my arm and mutters sleepily worlds like Poor pussycat before rolling over and falling back to sleep.  Must be nice. I have resorted to taking a decongestant in the hope it will dry up my projectile snottery but then discovered the reason the box said NON DROWSY FORMULA was that it contained caffeine. Shit. Could this be the other reason I cant sleep? 

I ended up steaming my head with water to try and relax my nasal passages which had decided at midnight to clamp shut even when I was vertical. I have this nifty contraption I bought at the chemist that is a cup with handles on either side--making it rather resemble Mr Rumbold from Are You Being Served--that you fill with boiling water and then snap on the spill proof lid (rather like a sippy cup for toddlers.) Then click a little anatomically shaped mask on top like the ones that you imagine would fall down in case of loss of oxygen on an aeroplane and (you must say this bit in your best stewardess voice) place it over your nose and mouth and breathe normally.  The steamy cup works and feels great on both the nose and any lingering chestiness I have. After about 15 minutes I can breathe completely normally and am feeling a bit drowsy from all the steam so I slither back to bed and enjoy a few hours of sleep until the decongestant wears off and then the whole things starts all over.

The other weird thing besides my nose being able to tell horizontal from vertical is that my nose can tell time. Seriously. All fecking night it wont let me lie down, preferring to make me gasp for air like an old man with emphysema, but in the daylight suddenly horizontal is acceptable. I can lie down and breathe reasonably well without the aid of decongestants or steam. I dont want to sleep all day and stay up all night. I am not a vampire. But having a cold always does this to me. Why is that? My theory is that I have been visited by an MMM (Malevolent Mucus Monster.) One whiff of horizontal during the night and it pinches my nose with a magical clothes peg so I can’t breathe. Then in the morning, mission accomplished, it nips off home for a spot of brekkie and a nice kip leaving my nasal area unobstructed. Laugh if you must, but it is the only plausible explanation I can find.  

The good news is all the throat and chest issues are gone. I sound normal again not like a husky Russian spy and my chest doesnt feel like I am breathing broken glass any more. I do have the occasional cough but it is not agony.  My nose, on the other hand, looks like Rudolph and I am still trying to qualify for the snot Olympics of 2012. Hopefully this stage will pass quickly as we have (long awaited) concert tickets to see the Bad Shepherds in London on Saturday and I am not missing that for the world. Snot or no snot.    

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

A cold in reverse

I have been feeling rather shitty lately. I have this cold thing going on and I feel all blech. I've stayed home from school 2 days on the trot. it is a strange reverse cold and by this I mean it is going UP and not DOWN.

A cold for me usually begins with sneezing and then a clogged nose and sinus issues--the expression here is "my head is full of cold" and then the acid snot drips down my throat causing to me to lose my voice and then migrates to my chest where I end up using my inhaler repeatedly because my chest is tight and I can't breathe. This one started in my chest then moved up to my throat (I sound like I have smoked a pack of fags a day since the age of 7. Spiderman says I should be some Russian femme fatale in a Bond film or chasing "Moose and Squirrel" with Borris Badenoff) and today has moved into my head accompanied by sneezing.  Joy.

But I have done the right thing and stayed home and not spread my germs all over the school (which to be fair is where I probably picked up my germs). I sometimes have trouble resting when ill--in Louisiana you had to be practically on your death bed to be allowed a substitute teacher. Once I had horrible flu and was told there were no subs available and so I went to school in my jim-jams wrapped in a blanket and lay on the floor and showed films all day to my first graders. Maybe it is because I am not a teacher and my absence is not as difficult to cover, but my school is really good about illness. I showed up Tuesday all coughing and a voice like I should be singing Negro spirituals and was sent home by 9:00. They said "Go home and rest. you are clearly poorly."

And so I have. I have rested and drank lots of fluids and some echinacea and zinc and have watched films and tried to feel better. I hope I do soon.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Ah sweet mystery of life, at last I’ve found you

I have never been a tea drinker. My dear ole dad used to say I must be some sort of alien as I had no interest in sweetened iced tea. You can’t live in the American South and not drink an ice cold glass of refreshin’ tea during the sultry months. Well somehow I managed.  Over here, a cuppa with a splash of milk and no sugar tastes revolting. I’m sorry--but for the most part I think tea tastes like dried grass. Or hay. Like you went to a farm and pulled some up from the ground and poured boiling water over it, put it in a mug and presto--it still tastes of dead foliage.

I used to think that until (cue angelic music) I sampled Lebanese Iced Tea when we were visiting the US recently. This, my friend, is the nectar of the Gods. It was a combination of black tea, lemonade and rosewater and it was like licking unicorn sweat. Or what I would imagine unicorn sweat would be like. OK, maybe that’s a crap analogy. How about this: It was like drinking dew with the fairies. Or squeezing a drop of nectar from a honeysuckle flower into your mouth (which is the only one of these I’ve actually done) Suffice it to say it was delicious--precisely because it did not taste of tea. 

I came home on a mission--to locate and replicate a recipe. Thanks to google there are dozens out there. So I went out and bought some black tea. It was Twinings Rose Garden which is actually black tea with dried rose petals in it. I figured the more rose aroma the better. Then I went in search of rosewater. I found 2 types--one really expensive one that contained propylene glycol (which is in anti-freeze!! Um, no thanks) and a cheaper one with just water, rose essence and citric acid to preserve freshness. Guess which one I chose?

Then I tried to make it in various combinations. None were quite right. They were all missing that je ne sais quoi and so I did more research. Some recipes called for jallab syrup which was a type of sweetened molasses. I was told that middle eastern markets would have it. Not having any of those close by I searched on. Then I found it. A recipe that included pomegranate molasses which I happened to have in my larder. If you don’t know pomegranate molasses then seek it out. I buy mine at Planet Organic in London but again a middle eastern market would have it. All it contains is 100% pomegranate juice that has been boiled and reduced to a sticky syrup. It is tangy and sweet and YUM. This was the added extra I was looking for. So this is my recipe:

Lebanese Iced Tea
2 black tea bags (with roses if you can get it)
1 litre of boiling water
Pour the boiling water over the tea bags and let it steep about 15-20 minutes and then remove the bags and let the tea cool. When the tea is cool add:
2 TB pomegranate molasses
2 TB rosewater
Freshly squeezed juice of ½-1 whole lemon (up to about ¼ cup)
Sweetener to taste
I use stevia as my sweetener and it really doesn’t need much as the pomegranate molasses makes it sweet. For my stevia 1/8 of a teaspoon =1teaspoon sugar so I used 1 tsp stevia for the tea (meaning the same as 8 tsp sugar)

Then pour into a jug and chill in the fridge for a refreshing cold drink. If you want to be real authentic then after you pour yourself a glass float a teaspoon of pine nuts on top.

If this seems time consuming then do as I do--make the tea before bed. Take out the tea bags and let it cool over night. In the morning add the pomegranate molasses, sweetener, lemon and rosewater and put it up to chill. When you get home all hot and tired it is cool and ready and waiting for you. It’s that easy.

This is the best drink ever and completely disguises the taste of tea (which may put you off if you actually enjoy drinking hay) but if you can find the ingredients, give it a go. It is like manna from heaven. Seriously. Slurp. Mmmmm.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Christmas comes early

This really annoys me--Christmas stuff already out in shops and it’s not even Thanksgiving. Yes, I am fully aware that we Brits don’t actually celebrate Thanksgiving (much to the annual surprise of my grandmother) but I hate seeing Christmas tat out before December. There was some  stuff out before Halloween even. Unbelievable.

Yesterday I noticed that the city Christmas lights were already turned on. Christmas lights--in November. November!  Last year I read something that said the city needed to raise £10,000 to pay for the electricity used by the city lights--and this was in addition to donations that paid for some of it. £10,000!!!!!!!!!! Can you imagine what £10,000 could do for feeding the homeless or providing toys for underprivileged kiddies? It boils my blood to see money wasted when there is poverty and emptiness in people’s lives. And maybe if you didn’t start using up electricity in NOVEMBER it wouldn’t cost £10,000. Just saying.

That being said, I really don’t mind getting or giving a Christmas pressie early. Yes, I know, double standard. But it is my double standard and I fully accept any responsibility for it (or any present that may come my way.) Saturday at the market Spiderman and I chanced upon a craft stall with a hand-blown glass red back spider (definitely the Australian red back as it has the red marking on the top side of its round black abdomen rather than the American black widow who has the red hour glass on the underside of the abdomen) on sale for £12. Now we set a limit of £5 each to spend on each other for Christmas and usually try to score something cool second hand--the cheaper the better. Last year I think we both managed to spend £2. The spider was so beautiful and well proportioned that we decided to pool our money and buy her as our joint Christmas gift even though we went £2 over budget. Look what a lovely cutie-patootie she is:

She has the place of honour under the big wooden one Spiderman bought me as a surprise gift a few months ago. 

So just to recap--senseless waste of electricity=BAD
Early gifts=GOOD
Just saying.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

The Search for Spidergrrl

I have had several people email me and inquire whether I was well because I have done such a poor job of posting on the blog since our return from the trip to the U.S. The honest answer is it has been a spectacular combination of jet lag and a big dollop of can’t be arsed. How long can I claim to be jet lagged? I fear that time is over and we are moving swiftly in the lazy arse category. To be fair, we have been occupied with other things--we had a wee bit of a health scare with Spiderman, but he’s been checked out with loads of tests and is now fine. Also I am awaiting my new glasses and am struggling to read/use the computer without sore, tired eyes so I have been purposely avoiding too much reading until Monday when I get my new prescription. So here’s a little something I saw on some other blogs I read, though I originally saw it on Crunchy Chicken‘s blog so I‘ll giver her the credit. It is making the rounds and it has been fun to read about others so here are the ones about me! Enjoy and pass it on!

The A to Z Guide to Me

Age-41--soon to be 42 in a few weeks! But many people have said I look much younger.

Bed Size-King--but I think King in the UK is the same as a Queen in the US. Big enough to scoot away from Spiderman when I'm hot but small enough so I don't go too far away. I also need to sleep with a pillow between my knees to keep my hip aligned and this size bed
means I’m not crowding him out.

Chore I hate-Washing dishes. After I’ve done the meal planning and the shopping and the cooking the last thing I want to do is the washing up. Spiderman says I don’t do it particularly well as I tend to miss spots so he tends to do it these days--and I am forever thankful. 

Dogs-None! Owing to severe allergy. We do have 6 tarantulas, however. So whilst they are hairy they don’t shed all over your furniture and clothes since they don‘t roam your house.

Essential start to my day-A snuggle with Spiderman who wakes up first, has a bath, gives me a cuddle and gentle, slow wake up and then a hot bath. Then whilst I’m bathing and getting dressed he is making the breakfast smoothie and finished off washing the dishes. What a guy! It makes my mornings start so easily.

Favourite colour-deep forest green

Gold or silver-silver. I’m not really a jewellery person but I do wear some small silver earrings.

Height-5'3 on a good day. It used to be closer to the 5’2 end but my posture has improved with pilates so I’m up to the full 5’3 when I stand well. I am, however, taller than my mum!

Instruments-I am teaching myself the ukulele. Plus my voice as an instrument because I sing quite a lot and I am a storyteller.

Job title-teaching assistant. I was a teacher for several years, but suffered from burn out. I now have the best job ever--I work in a school, I get to help and support children with their learning but I have no paperwork or marking or planning to do!

Kids-none. But I am a loving mentor figure who cares about each and every child in school. So in a sense I have hundreds of children! Thousands if you count all those I have helped and loved over the years.

Live-I grew up in Louisiana but now live in England!

Mother's Name-Rebecca, but most folks call her Becky

Nickname-As a child I was known as the Electric Flea. I tend to go by Mrs T or Miz Tiz at school and Princess Pussycat or Hedgehog at home. There are few nicknames too rude to print.

Overnight hospital stays-I had my tonsils out as a wee’un but spent a week in hospital in 2010 having a hysterectomy.

Pet Peeves-People who are perpetually late. People who thoughtlessly bring their pets everywhere--a real health issue for folks like me.

Quote from a movie-"I‘ll get you my pretty and your little dog, too!" Anyone tell me which movie this quote came from?

Right hand or left hand? I always say left handed--but really I am more ambidextrous. I write left handed, but I do much of my craft work like cutting and sticking right handed. I eat with my left, but use a knife with my right. I open jars right handed.

Siblings-I am an only child. I liked it because we were a “triangle family” with just the 3 of us and I was very close to my parents growing up and I think I had more of a say in family issues being 1/3 of every vote.

Time I wake up-On a school day Spiderman gets me up around 6:00 or a wee bit after. Because we don’t have the internet at home if I want computer time I need to get it before school at the library and I have to be at work by 8:30. On a weekend or holiday with no place to be I love to have a lie in.

Underwear-I have never been a girly sort of frilly nonsense type of person. Or a thong person--who wants to floss their crack? I am all about comfort. I’ve always worn comfortable cotton knickers. Since the hysterectomy I have gone to some big ole Bridget Jones’ style massive pants as they don’t rub my scar. And all my knickers are in black as you can wash them with the dark clothes.

Vegetable I hate-Green beans. Blech! I hate them so much we called them GBs when I was a kid. I also don’t really like the aubergine (eggplant to my US peeps)--I like the colour but not the taste. 

What makes me run late
-Having a lie in. Or not being able to find my glasses or my keys.

X-rays-Loads of chest X-rays as I had bronchitis nearly every winter. Plus some from the dentist and the chiropractor. 

Yummy food I make-If you ask me I say everything.  But my black bean brownies are always a hit. And no one knows they are gluten free, vegan and fat free.

Zoo animal- the jerboa. It is a nocturnal creature we saw at the London zoo--it is the size of a mouse but it has little legs like a kangaroo. Like a jumping mouse. We have a  stuffed toy one named Huntarian after our favourite science museum in London.

So that’s me, then. What about you?

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Around the world in 10 days

OK, we didn’t actually go around the world--but we did go half way round. Yes, as you can see, we have returned from the Voyage of the Damned (so named as so many things seemed to be going wrong before we went we wondered if we would actually get there at all) but clearly we did and we returned back to our own nest where we are snuggling down and sleeping off the jet lag.

It was truly wonderful to see everyone. We hadn’t seen family and friends  for several years and so it was lovely to catch up with so many people. I had 3 main worries about going (if you don’t count the bit where I cringe at the thought of spending money. That’s not so much a worry as being a cheap-ass.)
Worry One: Being hungry. We are vegan and I am wheat free and Louisiana is about meat and meat and more meat. It was a very unfriendly place for plant eating people the last time we were there. Plus now the no wheat issue can make choosing food a bit trickier.
Worry Two: My back would hurt. I have some back issues stemming from a twice broken coccyx that  won’t allow me to sit down for too long comfortably and this trip was all about the travel--sitting on an aeroplane for nearly 10 hours as well as numerous car journeys. We flew into New Orleans and needed to get all the way to Monroe. That’s a lot of travel time.
Worry Three: That my allergies would be out of control due to aggressive Louisiana pollen and pet hair. Yes--being severely allergic to animal dander and having EVERY friend and family member be pet owners is a bit awkward to say the least.

It turned out that only one of the three worries really came true. Louisiana has become a much friendlier state about other people’s food choices/needs. There were many varieties of non meat foods out there including some soy yoghurt and gluten free pretzels! I was never hungry. We ate at several restaurants and there was always something to eat. We had lovely grilled courgette and asparagus with a marinated grilled Portobello mushroom the first night we arrived and it only got better from there. In Alexandria, I highly recommend the wee restaurant on Jackson Street called Little Greek.  http://www.littlegreekrestaurant.com/ We ate there twice and both times the wonderful owner made us something special. The first time he whipped up these lemon garlic potatoes with brown rice and the next time he outdid himself by making us a special gluten free pizza with tomatoes, olives, onions, peppers, mushrooms and spinach and topped it with what he called “tofu cheese” which was a bag of soy shreds. I normally don’t go for the fake stuff but this was hands down--the BEST pizza I have ever eaten. And then he used leftover gluten free dough and an apple to make us a little baked apple in cinnamon pastry topped with powdered sugar for pudding!!! What a nice man!!! If we lived there I’d eat there all the time so if you live in Alexandria--go to the Little Greek and meet the nicest people who will cook you amazing food.

Worry two had been my back, but I was able to get up and stretch on the plane and my back was relaxed and loose and pain free until the flight home--and by then I didn’t care as I was going back to my own bed. It was so pain free that I was able to exercise many times taking advantage of the mini-gym in 2 of our hotels. I ran on the treadmill several days and even beat my record for press ups (push ups to my American peeps)--I did 40. Granted they were “girl” press ups--but hey, I did 40. Can you do 40? I think not.

Sadly the one problem that plagued me from beginning to end in varying degrees was allergies. Even Spiderman was suffering from the pollen so I know it was bad. But being a sensitive little flower I was affected by pet hair. My mum and step dad tried so hard and were 90% successful in keeping themselves pet hair free and keeping me from being sick. I love them so much for the amount of energy and money they spent from renting a car so I could breathe freely as well as coughing up money for a hotel room when my allergies couldn’t take the tiny caravan we had planned to borrow. It was fine until we brought out the sheets and blankets. Damn you allergies!!! I didn’t have as much success in Monroe and spent most of the visit with Spiderman’s family trying not to claw my face off or rub my eyes until they bled. I spent a good deal of time being pretty doped up from high levels of anti-histamine. This is precisely how I slept through the Bob Dylan concert all those years ago.  I was taking high levels of anti-histamines and people were smoking dope all around us and I just drifted off to sleep with my head on Spiderman’s shoulder and Bob Dylan looked really small on the stage and the speaker pulsed  like a giant beating heart. Thankfully, there was no dope smoking this visit so with just the anti-histamine to contend with I managed (barely) to stay awake and try to contribute to the conversation.  Despite my allergies, it was good to see everyone.

But there were a few things that I learned.

1. I am still not a petrol head. I am spoiled to the life we lead here with no car and excellent public transportation. I was shocked at how you really did have to drive EVERYWHERE. I feel like with the plane flight and all the driving (well, riding) in cars we did I am personally responsible for the destruction of the ozone layer. Polar bears are dying out there because of me, I just know it.

2. We are loved by so many people. We had family drive quite long distances (all the way from Texas!) to come and have lunch with us. Lots of people really wanted to see us and went out of their way to do so and I felt loved and supported by all. Some friends are the sort that you can pick up right where you left off 10 years ago and we were blessed to have dinner with our dear friend LeCrete who is as mad as a hatter in the best possible way. 

3. I adore Lebanese Iced Tea. I have never been a tea drinker. In the South it’s all about the sweetened iced tea but in England, it’s all about a steaming cuppa with a bickie. I don’t like either but I have discovered Lebanese Iced tea and I am working to replicate the recipe at home. It was sweetened tea, lemonade and rosewater with pine nuts floating on top and so delicious and refreshing I can think of nothing else I’d like to drink in the world ever again. 

4. There is such a thing as a Squirrel Cook Off. Have a favourite squirrel recipe? Then bring it along to the Squirrel Cook Off and you might when a prize. We saw a leaflet advertising this and it was funniest (and grossest) thing I think we saw the whole visit. Thank you Louisiana.

5. There’s no place like home. Or as it says in the book The Best Nest:
I love my house
I love my nest
In all the world
My nest is best.
I was glad to go and see everyone, but returning to a place where I can walk instead of drive, where I can recycle, where I can breathe clearly means everything. Louisiana was once our home but it felt very like a place to visit--it does not belong to us anymore--and I am so glad that we belong to England and England belongs to us.