Sunday, March 30, 2008

ode to a wrap

This is my wrap.

It is a 4.6 meter long piece of fabric, bought used on's For Sale or Trade forums. I use it, origami style, to create Toddle-carrying structures. And it was my lifeline on the way home from Australia.

I've written before about babywearing (here and here and elsewhere), doubtless with enthusiasm enough to make people inch away from the computer. Come away from the fanatic, honey. Just step backwards. That's it, yes, now another step...there you go.
Babywearing is something that I fell into out of a combination of necessity (pickup at preschool with a wheat-allergic kid? with pretzels lying in corners? ai yai yai) and convenience (two hands free = one hand holding a latte). Because of their width and lack of design, wraps distribute the child's weight beautifully, customizing to the person wearing them, the layers that person has on that day, etc, etc, etc. The comfort of the width has actually made them into the next new thing in diaper bags, and I'm surprised it's taken this long. I carry my wrap with me on trips, to doctors' visits and especially on airplanes, where I most often to use it as a blanket, but occasionally...well.

When we left Melbourne, we somehow managed to forget the stroller. No worries, you'd think, we're about to sit on airplanes. Lots and lots of airplanes. But first we had to check in, and then stand patiently on more lines to go through passport control, then customs, then security. Then, in LA, we had to do it all over again. And did I mention the six hour layover? Oh, yes. The layover.

In between, the Toddles fell asleep, ran for doors with exciting vehicles behind them, giggled at the idea of standing on a line and whisked behind desks brimming with fascinating equipment. When we arrived at the Melbourne airport to begin this process, QG and I unloaded duffel bags, four big carry on bags (diaper, fun, food and medical), and watched the Toddles try and escape into a carelessly unguarded taxicab. Clearly, we told each other silently, some sort of child containment device was in order.

With the stroller 45 minutes away and the airplane waiting impatiently, I whipped out the wrap. I looped it into a slipknot, and slid the loop under the Toddles' arms. Let's go, little puppy, I told him. He grinned, barked cheerfully, and pattered on all fours to the check-in counter.

He was a puppy for check-in, a tree frog during passport control, and a kitten during security. I'm not sure what he was for customs, but he did growl a lot and the official let us by pretty quickly.

When he fell asleep shortly before landing, he was a bundle on my front, legs dangling comfortably while I hoisted bags and chivvied the Eldest. He stayed a bundle as we went through US passport control, and the passport guy was surprised to realize that the tuft of red curls under my chin belonged to a person. When he finally woke up after baggage retrieval and customs, he stayed happily snuggled against me while American Airlines cancelled flights and rebooked angry passengers. It took us two hours to check in for our LAX-Boston flight, and the wrap held a pleasant, musical toddler. We sang our silliest songs with enthusiasm, and our fellow travellers were not entirely unamused.

Asleep again shortly before landing, the Toddles was a content lump under the wrap as we hauled ourselves, finally, off the airplane. He woke up in time to see the Man, and I coiled away my wrap while the boys got reacquainted. 4.6 meters of sanity and invention - don't leave the country without it, eh?


The fruits of almost-spring (and their sad cousins): compote

What's in my pot tonight?
3 stalks of rhubarb, cut into chunks
5 slightly abused pears, cut into big chunks
3 apples that banged around in my diaper bag, also chunked
2 plums that cannot possibly live up to their name
6 or 7 frozen strawberries, exiled from the nearly kosher for passover freezer
.5 cups sugar
1.75 cups water

The proportions change, but I generally toss in anything that will turn soupy. Apples, pears, peaches, berries - even cranberries - will all melt into a sweet-tangy yumminess. I never peel them, I just wash the skins with a teensy bit of dishsoap* and chop them into a few pieces. Some folks would add a couple of cloves, a slice of ginger, maybe a cardamom pod or two, maybe a star anise or hunk of cinnamon. I never bother - the changing flavors of what's sad in my fruit drawer is usually enough to keep me interested.

Let simmer until it cooks down (about 20-30 minutes, depending on your fruit:liquid ratio), stirring occasionally. You can taste and decide if you want to add extra sugar - I never do, but I like tartness in my life.

You shouldn't need to puree. Serve warm, cold or room temperature with yogurt, granola, plain or with a really splendid vanilla ice cream. The boys, I should add, like theirs warm with cookies to dip into it, and I think that a nice, zinging ginger cookie would work well here.

* I knew an environmental scientist once, years ago. He and his wife had a pair of twins, and I watched him one day swiping his finger over the dishsoap bottle, collecting a smear of soap that he then used to wash the twins' apples. He caught me looking and explained, 'If you knew the chemicals that get used on produce, you'd do the same...' I don't know, but I do regardless.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Australia Eight: checking in

It’s time to check the Grump-O-Meter.

Our last trip to Australia rated high on the G.O.M., between financial worries and general stress. This time, while I'll admit to some financial concern (all of those spiffed up places here on Phillip Island are much more expensive than the makeshift joys of my childhood), I had preemptively removed Super Mama some time ago, and banished her for the duration of the trip. Super Mama does not bring QG, she can levitate all four carry ons (food, diapers, medical and entertainment bags) while delighting two small children during long layovers. She can go without sleep for hours during amazingly long flights and in the wee a.m.s when small jetlagged people want to play. And she smiles the whole time, bless her. I leave all of that for her to manage – I have QG as backup, instead.

So, with QG behind me, I can shrug off the endless cooking (Super Mama also doesn’t have sausages and rice twice a week), the housework, the grandmaternal caregivers who understand nothing (NOTHING) about food allergies and who leave crumbs, milky coffee and sesame seeds everywhere (insert shriek here), and wave pumpkin seeds (of all things!) over my food (OVER MY FOOD) when I’m cooking it. Or, let’s kick this down a notch and consider my silly insistence on mishloach manot (we’re here, and it’s such an opportunity…to fiddle with something extra on a Friday). Yep, the million of mosquito bites are fine, the Eldest’s small wrist bleed was laughable. I can deal with it all, oddly enough.

I can deal with the planning, the getting out the door late every day, the endless packing and repacking of clothes, snacks and diaper bags and the thirtieth reiteration of Muuu-um, I’m hungry in a single day. I can deal with small, Man-less children who miss their father amazingly. Although I admit to not quite being able to manage the Toddles’ current habit of running away from me, as fast as his little legs can carry him.

Last night, he nearly made it into traffic. Scared to the point of incoherence (translation: shitless), I applied a furious maternal hand to his bum. To, let me clarify, a soggily diapered bum. The Toddles noted my fury and barely noted the hand, while I started self-flagellating on the spot. Bad, bad mama for bopping the kid’s tush. Immediate expulsion from the attachment parenting club for you. Nope, can’t deal with that. Especially when he tries an encore and nearly tosses himself off a boardwalk and onto a Nobbie. Nope. But I have the Ergo carrier, and an elegant wrap-shawl thing that I found at the Nobbie-shop, of all places, and the Toddles and I are getting reaquainted with babywearing. So maybe we can deal with this, too.

I am, however, just hanging in there where the dust mites are concerned. With skin testing on the 2nd of April, the boys had to stop taking Zyrtec on the 18th of March. From that point on, sleep began to fade as the Toddles’ nightly congestion resumed, and the Eldest started waking up to scratch again. I’d hear him scratching, his skin so eczema-ed that it sounded like he was scraping rough paper. Scraaaape. Scraaaape. Scraaaape scraaaape scraaape. He'd sit up and arrange himself for best scraping potential. Go to sleep, said the mama. Whaa? said the Eldest, not fully awake. Aargh, suggested the mama. And so it would go. Just got to make it for three more days, when we return to a beautifully noncarpeted house, now featuring brand new wooden floors in the boys’ bedroom, not to mention other grandparentally funded antidustmitings (or is it anti-dustmite smitings?). Huzzah!

And honey, if you read this, good luck with the child lock for the windows. I’m sure the giant Babies R Us out on Rt 16 has one, and the boys are excited to have extra playing space in their room. Me, I’m just excited to see you at the airport. And don’t forget the food…the tired travelers will probably want some fresh fruit! Oh, and hugs. Lots and lots of oh but I missed you so hugs.

Because we really did miss you, love. Oh, but we missed you.

Note to the Reader: haven't forgotten why we came. I'm just refusing to think about it. My grandmother is a touchstone to my extended family, whose connection to me is so strong that for years I wandered around the US, uncertain if I actually belonged there. She represents that bond, and I simply cannot imagine a life without her.

And, being an ocean away is unlikely to discourage my denial. I haven't fully accepted my grandfather's death - and we named the Toddles for him - and I'm still uncertain about my uncle's death. Although that one's taking a beating, as I've got his old cell phone for use on this trip, and there's some text messages to him, wishing him a speedy recovery. And oh, but that hurts.

We are home. Dang, but it's cold! I looked at my previous post and I'm laughing. High summer? Heh. It'll be a long, long wait here in New England for that salad. Still, I've come home with an armful of gluten-free recipes (Australia beats the pants off the US for gluten-free living), and have already set up a week's menu full of new ideas.

Australia Seven: of Nobbies and penguins

There are some places that make me intensely happy inside (see above for what they do for the Eldest). Wilson’s Promontory, with it’s wonderful trees, wildlife, birdsong and blue, blue waters does that. Phillip Island, born of the same flora and fauna, the same wonderful blue waters and rocky coasts, does it too, if on a smaller (and more shiny touristy) scale. This is eco-tourism, proclaims the P.I. brochures, and I, on a reminiscient visit, am surprised. But if this is eco-tourism, it sure is purty.

As a child, we’d come here for a holiday, and I have a distinct memory of climbing over rocks to reach a Nobbie, a tall outpost of rock, a sort of knob sticking up out of the water. We could reach the Nobbie (there are three of them) during low tide, when there were enough exposed rocks to climb on. We hopped from rock to rock until we reached the Nobbie, at which point my dad noticed that the tide had turned. We scrambled for shore, and I remember being really alarmed at the idea of getting stuck for the night.

Today, we left a swooping, techno-elegant vistor’s center and walked along an extravagant length of boardwalk, admiring the various views of the Nobbies. Big signs forbade the scramble of my childhood – which is just as well, really. We took photos, oohed over every crash of the waves (the surf is so white! the rocks are so black! the lichen the seals the oooh ooh oooh Mu-um, I’m hungry).

The Blow-Hole, a 13 meter? deep hole carved by the water into the cliff, was less thrilling than I remember. As a kid, I watched the waves crash into the Blow-Hole, the water quieting and then whooosh! out came white spray. It was like having rock spit furiously at the ocean – I loved it. Now, the spit and spray is quieter, less intense. Or maybe that’s just me?

One lunch and a dripping refrigerator later, we’re off to see the famous Phillip Island fairy penguins. We sat on concrete blocks while the sun set behind us, the moon rose over the ocean in front of us and lightning flashed above us. Meanwhile, concerned mostly by a poor arrangement in camouflage - apparently, penguins are well adapted for water, but exactly wrong for crossing sand - a few hundred or so fairy penguins waddled past us. We watched penguins chasing each other (slow down, dude – I’ve got a bellyful of fish here) and peeping to each other (hi, honey, I’m home!), and standing in apparently random spots to groom themselves (he hates it when I come home smelling like sardines, you know). They were so tiny that we estimated about 3.5 penguins per Toddle height, but they were superbly cute.

It was only by sheer force of personality that I prevented QG from taking a few home. But then, I had to exert that same dictatorial mama tone on her about the wallabies. And the kangaroos. And the platypus. And, come to think on it, the pigeons for sale at Victoria Market. For heavens sake, someone get this woman a pet already, hey?

In case you were worried about what we are eating Down in the Under, here is this - a smoked trout salad, courtesy of my uncle, a man with a genius for salads. I added kalamata olives and was very happy. Just make sure your nectarines and cherry tomatoes actually smell like something other than the refrigerator...or wait until high summer.

Australia Six: same continent, different island

We’re here. We’ve packed enough food for seventeen allergic people, hugged my grandmother, and driven out to Phillip Island, home to the fairy penguins.

Last night, I told a story of two boys who were too excited to sleep, and consequently slept through most of the day. The Eldest was so horrified by this that he wailed, stopping only when he was assured that his story might have a different ending.

And so it shall.

A side note which should really be a central one: the boys began the trip a little afraid of my grandmother, whose slurred, post-stroke speech wasn’t in their dialect, and whose slow movements didn’t inspire delight in the pair of jackrabbits that are my children. I’m not useful, explained my grandmother (a.k.a. Bom, for mysterious grandchildish reasons), and they expect grownups to do things with them, or for them. I just sit here.

A mother to four, she knows such things. And she waited, patiently, until the Eldest hugged her, and the Toddles kissed her, and generally chatted with her. By shabbat, the Toddles had realized the joys of the patient, stationary adult and was bringing her a ball to toss. He’d praise the toss, and run after the ball. Then, puppylike, he’d bring it back to her for another throw. Good job, Bom, he’d tell her. Good frow!

The useless adult smiled at him, and tossed it again.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Australia Five: I don’t care if he’s nocturnal, I’m here now

On Wednesday, after a deliciously damp start to the week, we laced up our sneakers and headed off on the trail of tradition.

Every time my family (grandparental or nuclear) goes to Melbourne, we happily ignore the other zoos in favor of Healesville Sanctuary. With the Sanctuary a couple of hours outside of Melbourne it’s a real schlep to get there, but we go anyway. I like it because the sanctuary doesn’t trigger any of my anti-zoo issues. Yep. Anti-zoo. And pro-kid. It’s a tough one, but I look at my kids happily romping, and I remember the sad animals of the Bronx Zoo of my childhood, and I don’t care how nice the zoo is now, I still think of those silent, still animals in the too-tiny compound, all prettily painted with the animal’s habitat. Oh, zoos make me sad. But what’s a trip to Oz without a kangaroo? or a koala?

Healesville has a lovely balance between animal and person, with walkways for the people and hiding spots for the animals. Occasionally, an emu or kangaroo will choose to intersect with you, but usually it’s because you are with a park ranger who is about to offer treats to the animals. Unless, of course, you are talking about the koalas.

Koalas are an inevitable disappointment to the tourist, as are wombats. Both are nocturnal, and no matter how hard the boys tried, they just couldn’t get the wombat to wake up and come out of its burrow. And, considering the baking heat, I rather envied the little gal – I wanted a burrow, too. The koalas majestically ignored us, although we certainly made a lot of noise, trying to figure out how they could manage to not fall out of the trees.

So, we admired the kangaroos, and the Eldest actually fed one while the Toddles watched, grumpily (the kangaroos were eating Toddles-unfriendly corn). We exclaimed over the echidna and emu, and adored the platypus. Ibis birds tried to eat our lunch, but I used my sternest mom voice (said the boys) and ordered the pests to shoo. They did.

I would have thought that the highlight of the day would be the wallaby who wandered up to be petted and admired. But in fact, it was the lyre bird. The lyre bird, a mimic whose call includes power tools and extinct birds, happens to be a fascination for QG, and her enthusiasm yanked us all in. We stared at the bird’s tail feathers, we photographed it, we ooohed and ahhed. And then we got back into the baking hot car for a three hour drive home.

Damn that Google Maps. How could they not know about the evils of Hoddle Street?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Australia Four: watering the boys

We’ve had a watery few days over here, which seems sensible in the extraordinary heat (up to 100 F!!). The past few liquid days seem luxurious in Australia’s long drought, and rather improbable given my firm position on bathing suits. I’m agin ‘em. Firmly. Resolutely.

But dammit, it was hot.

On Sunday, one of my cousins (the sweet, lovely one, I told QG. I thought they were all sweet and lovely? she asked. They are, I said smugly) came with wife and children and swept us off to a pool. Except, of course, that there were four pools, two specifically designed for small, and not-quite-swimming children. The boys had a wonderful time, going on water slides, having water poured on them by oddly rounded fish shapes and bobbing in the water with floating tubes and kickboards. I can swim! said the previously hydro-anxious Eldest. Although, he conceded, he still couldn’t float. But who could reflect on the oddities of life, when the Toddles is streaking, fully dressed, for the water? While the Eldest went home pleased and proud, the Toddles grumped over the loss of the wonderful water.

Delighted with ourselves, we went home and collected QG, informing her that the trend must continue. Tomorrow: the Melbourne Aquarium.

The Melbourne Aquarium is amazingly expensive, and quite small. It makes up for this with an astonishing giant tank, with thick, thick plexiglass making a tunnel through which you can walk. We walked it twice, looking at the huge sharks and stingrays swimming over our heads. A helpful sign explained how the curvature of the tunnel’s walls can make the sea-creatures seem up to a third smaller than they really are. I considered the big white shark over my head, and shuddered.

Our heads full of flat fish, big sharky teeth and Japanese spider crabs, we held a family meeting. One by one we all voted: to go back to the pool. And back we went, and the Eldest wrapped himself and the Toddles in a pair of floating tubes, and towed them both around. QG and I pretended to be fishermen and sharks, and chased the laughing kids. I swim like a fish! said the Toddles. And everyone else swim like a shark. It was easy. It was absolutely splendid, and nobody missed lunch as it slid past us. We stopped at a health food store on the way home (Macro, on High Street), and munched our way through fruit and soy-mung bean chips. No, really. Soybean and mung bean chips.

Later, I collected a pair of elderly ladies and an assistant, and swished off to a concert. The Estonian Youth String Orchestras, product of a pair of musical schools, were in town. They’d joined forces with the Melbourne String Ensemble to produce entertainment guaranteed to delight the old and overtired.

I am, as it happens, terrible at concerts of classical music. My brain likes different sorts of interactions, and amuses itself by making up personal histories for the musicians. That one, over there – she’s very heavy, but is wearing skin tight clothes. And if you look at her hair, it’s beautifully cut and streaked in a happy, funky way. I bet she loves her body, and is dressing herself based on what makes her happy, rather than the current skinny aesthetic. Oh, and that one, with the oh-so demure haircut and serious face. She never looks away from the conductor, and nods to herself every time she takes direction from him. Hm. And look at the wee little blond lad there. He can’t be more than eight. Wonder how he got here? What is his relationship like withhis parents? Do they pressure him or is he truly happy? Blah, blah not-shut-upable blah.

Eventually, I realized that the waves of lovely music had actually silenced me. Vaughn Williams, Tchaikovsky, Estonian folk music, and even a little Mozart. I did rebel when presented with something by a Jaan Raats, in which the music tried to lull me while making no sense I could see. Irritated, I made to do lists until the orchestra offered some ragtime to make me smile.

I kept the to-do lists, though. After all, the next day we were off to see kangaroos. I needed to be prepared.
This looks good, not to mention appropriate. We're having some version of it for dinner. With fried tofu and leftover wine and raisins and oooh, yep. There it went, right down a pair of young gullets.

Tomorrow night, herbed burgers. I'll take the wonderful mild ground beef, toss in all available herbs (and my aunt and uncle cherish a small series of herb-containing pots) and broil the dickens out of them. Heh. Down the gullet:the rerun. Or did I just jinx myself with overconfidence?

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Australia Three: of brothers and earthquakes

Thursday morning was overfull even before it began. We woke up to astonishing heat, and immediately wilted. The Eldest, a happy trotting, jogging walker, went for a walk and decided that he’d been hit with a plague of bugs and I went on a strike from bugs, Mum, he told me, folding his arms decisively. I tried not to sigh and hoped like hell we'd be bugless for a while.

When the Toddles had a severe attack of twoness at lunch (noooo! I not want olives! Nooo! I want one olive for me and one for my bruvver!!), we decided that perhaps the boys could all three stay home and relax, while QG and I reveled in the markets. And off we went.

We explored the Allergy Block, a lovely store full of things my children can actually eat. After wandering around open mouthed, I got down to some serious shopping. It was so marvellous that I had to haul QG out of there. I extracted her, protesting, from deep in the absurdly cheap sales bins (where, incidentally, she found some wonderful sunflower butter. We took that with us, too).

We escaped from downtown Melbourne and raced over to Prahran Market, a favorite of mine. We didn't have time to really luxuriate in the market, to price compare the fragrant custard apples here with the just-as-fragrant ones there, to taste and reshape menus and generally feel delighted with a world that has such markets in such a metropolis. Nope, we had a list, a time limit and off we went. Along the way we did stumble over a couple of stalls with gluten-free deliciousness, one of which says it's a carbon neutral business. If you find yourself in the vicinity of the folks at, I suggest you inquire. But definitely buy their produce - they did, indeed, have splendid custard apples.

Laden and overheated, QG and I returned to the boys. But I never got a chance to chatter on about our afternoon, to tell the Man about how I felt that QG and I had really relaxed into each other's company that day, how I felt that Melbourne is such an easy city for the gluten-free and allergic. Because it might be, but that day it wasn't - for the Toddles.

While I was gone, the Man tried to get the boys to rest and failed. He then tried feeding them, and offered a summertime snack of grapefruit, lychees and kiwifruit. The boys, fruitbats as always, descended on the fruit so fast that the Man was left with empty plates and rinds. He settled to the job of cleaning up, and offered the tired - if replete - children a DVD.

Shortly afterwards, the Toddles vomited. The Man sighed, and stopped washing dishes to do laundry. Passing the Toddles shortly afterwards, he noticed to his surprise that the child was drooling. What's that all about? he asked, noticing only then that the Toddles' face seemed somehow distorted. The little fellow tried to answer, but his speech was slurred.

Mental puzzle bits snapped into place.

Vomiting = body trying to get rid of an offending food.
Hives = allergic reaction. Hives spreading from face to trunk = allergic reaction worthy of respect.
Distorted face, slurred speech, drool = swelling of face and mouth and possibly tongue.
A + B with dash of C= anaphylaxis, and anaphylaxis at a time when the Man was alone, in a foreign city, with no car and no phone. What now?

First things first, he whacked an EpiPen Jr into the child's leg. The Toddles fought him, and yanked the injector out. Then with the Eldest in one hand, the Toddles in the other hand, and the medical bag in a third hand, I went and banged on doors with I don't know what hand until a neighbor answered. And I called for help.

He got help. And the Toddles was fine. By Thursday night, the Toddles would talk to the Man again, and by Friday afternoon had decided to forgive his father for the Epi.

And the other hero of the hour? The Eldest. With the Toddles furious at his father, and generally furious and recalcitrant (no! I'm NOT going to the doctor! NO! I'm NOT going in a car! No! No buckles! Nonononononono!), the Eldest sat down and made the Toddles a book. He wrote Chapter 1 across the top of one page, and wavy lines (I'm not putting words because I don't know what it's about, Mummy, but he'll tell us when he reads it). Then Chapter 2 on another page, and Chapter 3 on another. And Toddles' Book on the cover.

This is for you, he told his brother. It's your story, and you can tell us what it's about.

The Toddles didn't miss a beat. It's about how much you love me and how much I love you, he informed his older sibling.

Clutching his book, the Toddles happily popped into the car. Half an hour later, he hid behind me when the pediatrician walked in. He emerged only when reminded about the book, and then chattered happily about his book and his brother until he was pronounced a lucky boy, and given lots of antihistiamine.

Melbourne is a great place for food allergies and intolerances. But it helps to know what those are. Failing complete knowledge, a loving older brother does come in handy. Not to mention those expandable, innumerable paternal hands.

Australia Two: going green in a drought

There’s something about a good garden.

When I walk into my grandmother’s house, I pass the garden that my grandfather planted. I see his patterns, his aesthetic and his love of things that grow. My uncle and aunt live in my mother’s childhood home, and I remember visiting my grandparents, and playing in that garden, too. It had wonderfully varied bits – the sandy soil here, the mossy bits there, and the camellias as tall as trees. They still are.

Gardens fill so many needs in me, with their fragrant, textured selves inviting you to step outside of the rushed, concrete life and to pause in a place that is quieter, cyclical, instinctive. Growing up in the suburbs of New York, the only park near us was a colossus of concrete. I’d heard rumours about Central Park, but dismissed them as myth – surely green lushness was something found only in manicured lawns, bordered always with azeleas and rhododendrons? Surely.

Now, our home has a garden with no sun in it at all, and I’m happily shaping it into a space of cool stones and surprising greenness. Each year the garden is greener and more textured (this feathery fern, that sturdy hosta, the lichen on this flagstone) than the year before. It’s luxuriously slow, this greening, and the slowness of it would have astonished my grandfather. He never had to wait for his garden to become patterned and complex enough to suit him – he could put in a plant, wait a couple of months to see how it grew and suited its neighbors, then still have enough warm weather to do something else. Many somethings else.

The Royal Botanic Gardens are a marvel to me, especially surrounded by a city with crunchy, dry grass. (The Gardens have been so exemplary in water conservation that apparently, they are excused from the draconian water limitations imposed on everyone else.) Faded and browned only slightly, they are still wonderful. I kept stopping and smelling something delicious. The sun was shining, and the kids loved the new Children’s Garden, exploring tiny paths and splashing in the little stream. We never made it out of the Children’s Garden, and weren’t sorry for it. By the end of the morning, we were wide awake and hungry – and certainly more in tune with the Australian circadian rhythm than we’d been the day before.

Green is good. Color, texture and happy green gardens are better. And happy greens with cool water on a hot day? The best of all.
Green is Good Salad

it’s summer here in Australia, which means bursting-ripe fruit. So, after a happy wander around Prahran Market, I found I had the different pieces of this salad in my bag. Produce - and greenery - is a little expensive here just now, as Australia works through year 38 of drought, and there's sweet stickers of 'save our farmers: buy during the drought!' on cars. So we did.

1 bunch watercress
2 ripe, sweet peaches
1 medium, very flavorful tomato
a judicious amount of sliced red onion
lettuce to taste
Optional: blue cheese, toasted almonds, Belgian endive (more sharp!), garlicky croutons

Slice up your peaches and tomato, and toss with the onion and watercress. Add lettuce until the sharpness of the watercress has been sufficiently diluted to suit you (lettuce=bland, watercress=sharp). Then, sprinkle salad with salt, pepper and toss. Toss again with a good, fruity olive oil. Toss a third time with a wee bit of the vinegar of your choice (I’d use white vinegar or balsamic, or rice vinegar – all three suit me fine).

Tip: this is an awful thing to say to folks from our hemisphere, I know, but the key to this salad working is flavor. So find a farmer and buy your peaches and tomatoes from them. I suspect that your purchases will taste as if they'd never even met the versions of themselves sold in supermarkets. They've probably never even passed them in a bar. While drunk. On your birthday.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Australia One: swish, swoop, settle

After fizzing over the preparations for, oh, long enough to set the Man’s teeth on edge, the flight itself was nothing. Security blinked a bit over our medications, our needles and our food, and once again they tried to confiscate our ice packs. Silly people. I smiled our way through, and there we were on another plane.

There were really only about three interminable hours in the whole trip, when we sat and stared at the clock while the kids wriggled and fussed. Otherwise, the kids smiled at their fellow passengers, thanked the airline attendants politely (including the one who worries over her tree-nut allergic nephew, and explained that nut and peanut allergies are the really life-threatening ones), and made friends with the cute kids in the row in front of us.

And then we were here. How could it be Tuesday already? More to the point, how could it have been so easy? We went straight to my grandmother’s home, where she cried a bit to see us, and then cried again whenever I said how happy we are to be here. The kids watched her warily, before deciding the crying wasn’t catching, and that this lovely old lady might just, possibly, be alright. Tomorrow, I’ll show them her cache of games for the great-grandkidlets, and they’ll promptly fall in love with her, all over again.

Melbourne is a treasure trove of health food stores, rich with gluten-free options. We’re breakfasting on an odd loaf of bread, toasted, spread with honeycomb or a buttery avocado. Our apartment offers marvels like an espresso machine, and its friend the milk-foamer. Two espressos later, I can face the children, now cheerfully awake at 4 am.

A creature of my comforts, travel tends to make me think about the array of pleasures that I have set up at home. When I think about my favorite face wash (pineapple scented) and moisturizer (lavender), my beloved teas, the chair I snuggle into to read my books – the list of my comforts makes me feel very pampered. When I travel, I look for ways to recreate my comforts, to to invent new ones. The Man is patient with me, the children amused. But to quote Elizabeth Gilbert, in Eat, Pray, Love (which I hauled onto the airplane, planning to abandon it to the next passenger – but couldn’t), “the appreciation of pleasure can be an anchor of one’s humanity. … You were given life; it is your duty (and also your entitlement..) to find something beautiful within life, no matter how slight.” Gilbert is certain that part of providing yourself with pleasure is respecting yourself and feeling that you deserve pleasure.

Given this, bring on the foamy, fresh espresso. But first, we’re off to Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens.
Note to the reader: while my brain knows that we're here to see my too-fragile grandmother, my heart is in absolute denial. Expect a lot of frothy wordiness on this blog while my brain and heart battle it out. She can't be this fragile. She just can't. But since when did that make a difference?

Saturday, March 08, 2008

disaster preparedness

Note to the Reader:

this is the last post for a few days, as we Imperfects hit the road. We're flying back to Australia on Sunday, again under great-grandmaternal sponsorship, to visit the boys' great-grandmother, my grandmother. Watch this blog for stray koalas, hungry goannas, and the occasional small boy. Upside down!
One of the thing that the Eldest watches me do a lot is plan. I plan for a situation, then for variations on the situation. I plan for back-up, for worst and best case scenarios, and for back-ups to the back-up. I think this is what detail freaks do if they're too stubborn to be worrywarts - or perhaps this is worrywarthood under a different name.

At any rate, I plan. And I involve the Eldest. We talk about how the adults looking after him are trained, and what they know (managing bleeds, using EpiPens, watching for known allergens) and what they don't know (how his body feels, whether there's a hidden allergen in something). And we talk about the safety measures in place, for the things that adults don't know. The Eldest trusts his grown-ups to an astonishing degree, and the impact of that trust is huge.

(pause while I stop to consider for the nth time the extent to which I do not get what it's like to have food be scary, or to have to learn to trust a flawed body. Nope. Still don't quite get it. But I can make some educated guesses.)

At any rate, it turns out that the Eldest himself is a planner. Specifically, for the past two months, he's been part of a flood team [sic], whose job it is to look for floods, and to get everyone ready for when the flood comes. Aha, say I, completely stumped.

Initially, I thought this flood business had something to do with the autumn rains we'd had here. Or his anxiety, which was at a high level for a while. But no and no. His anxiety levels had dropped by the time Flood Watch 2007-08 started, so it wasn't projection from something else. Certainly I heard about it before the kids were studying the Noah story, so that wasn't it - where *had* they gotten the idea? It remains a mystery.

After a couple of months of watching the Eldest eye suspiciously any storm drains, pipes, faucets, rainstorms and other miscellaneous water sources, there was an actual flood - in his school. A pipe burst, water flooded a classroom, and the Eldest (and, I presume, the rest of the flood team) was completely unsurprised. Of course there was a flood, he told me. That's what we were preparing for. Aha again, I said, no wiser than before.

Two days later, he came home bubbling. The flood team has a new mission, he told me. I raised an eyebrow, but kept reading labels (we were in Trader Joe's, shopping haven for the allergic). He was happy to explain. Our new plan is that we're going to stop global warning! I put the canned beans down rather fast. You're going to whatnow? He grinned, having gotten my full attention. Stop. Global. Warning. he said, with careful emphasis. Aha, I said, retreating to my fallback position.

The Eldest warmed to his subject. We just need to figure out how to stop global warming. He thought for a moment. I bet the manager of the store knows! I smiled. The management at this particular Trader Joe's has been very tolerant of my boys, helping me decode allergy risks, letting the boys scan and bag groceries (I was less tolerant of the last), and giving them reams of stickers. Yep, we could ask the manager. But the Eldest, afire with his idea, wasn't going to stop there. No, wait - we could ask everyone in the store how to stop global warming! The kid practically crackled with excitement. Erm, I said. Maybe we could start with the manager? But it was too late.

The Eldest popped up next to a customer and said in his best Polite Kidspeak, excuse me, but do you know how to stop global warming? Behind him, I made energetic 'I had nothing to do with this' gestures. She looked at him, at me, and then back at him, and smiled. Well, she said, I've always liked the idea that you should think globally and act locally. She smiled at me, over the Eldest's head. Good luck, she said sincerely, and made her escape.

I took the musing child home, where he sat thinking while his brother threw Lego at him. Good luck, indeed.
So, what does the world-saving child eat for dinner? Crepes, of course. With refried black beans and guacamole, a quick pineapple salsa and mmm. Now I'm hungry.

Mary's Teff Crepes
makes about 12-15 crepes. Adapted from the world o' gluten by the indomitable Mary Jr, these are quick and easy. And yes, I'd heard how quick and easy crepes are and never believed it, until I saw Mary make these. And then made them myself. They *are* quick and easy.

1 cup chickpea/garbanzo flour
1/2 cup rice flour
1/2 cup teff flour
1 tsp salt
2 Tb olive oil
2 cups warm water
coarsely ground black pepper, to taste
optional: 2 Tb finely chopped fresh herbs, chives

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours and salt. Add liquids and use cake mixer/immersion blender/food processor/blender to thoroughly blend. Stir in herbs, if using. Allow batter to rest for at least 20 minutes, or stick into fridge and leave it until you need it (ok in fridge for 24 hrs).

Spray with cooking spray and heat a 6-7 inch sauteeing pan or crepe pan, preferably nonstick.

A Quick Note on the Nature of Pans: the size of the pan is mostly important because you are going to hoist and swirl it for each crepe. Too big a pan, and your arm will get tired. Too small a pan and there's not room for the crepe batter to spread itself out. I find my crepes are about 6 inches in diameter, on average, but you can figure this one out for yourself. Try a pan that looks handy, and if it doesn't work for you, then it takes a moment to heat up another.

Have a plate ready for the finished crepes, and a thin edged spatula.

Take a deep breath: the next bit happens quickly, and the first two crepes will be a mess. Just press on for the third, and voila! yumminess. Ready? Pour about 1/4-1/3rd cup of batter into the pan. As you pour, lift the pan right off the flame and start tipping the pan in a circular pattern (think of it as kind of swirling your wrist), to allow the batter to spread out, thinly. The batter will, meanwhile, be cooking where it touches the pan, and so thin is the crepe that it will be cooked almost immediately. Gently, flip the crepe over. You'll be able to see the patterns the batter makes as it spreads itself on the pan side of the crepe - it's fascinating. The second side will need no more than a minute to cook.

Respray your pan between every 2-3 crepes (depending, of course, on the stick/nonstick state of your pan). Crepes can be covered in foil and reheated a day later. Or, frozen in an airtight bag with the air pressed out, and then reheated.