In other news

Well, it’s been what, ten days? So obviously we’re all used to the new world order now and we’ll stop whining because our guy (girl) didn’t win and we’ll just go home quietly and go about our business.

Or we’ll keep calling our representatives and writing postcards and planning marches and keeping the channels of actual facts (not alternative ones) open, but we’ll also talk about the same old stuff because that’s the new normal and we’ll be here for as long as it takes.

So in other news that its not fake, Mabel and I took a trip to the county animal shelter last Saturday. We’d been down to the local shelter a few times since announcing the big cat decision, but while they have several adult cats and four (four!) bunnies right now, they don’t have any kittens. I know that the kitten stage is very brief compared to the cat stage, but I think we should get to have it. And I feel like they’ll be more ours if they start out with us. So off we went to the bigger shelter that’s about half an hour away instead of just down the road, and lo, they did in fact have kittens.

The place was buzzing with visitors, and one of the three littermate kittens we found there already had two applications, so I will admit that I did feel a little under pressure to act swiftly lest we lose out; but on the other hand, here were two perfectly dotey kittens and what else was I waiting for? We filled out an application and left it in the lap of the gods. (That is, the well-organized office system, I suppose.)

Have you ever stopped to appreciate the smoothness of your gums? I bet you haven’t. But if you ever have occasion to spend two weeks with stitches in your gums, you’ll really enjoy the feeling of unfettered tongue-running-over when they’re removed. Just by the by.

So then on Tuesday after school we went out there again for Dash to meet the kittens (a requirement of the adoption process is that all the kids in the house interact with the animals) and today they called me to say we can pick them up on Saturday. We have a big dog crate all ready for them so that they can be safely confined in the living space and get used to the environment before they get free rein. (This was a suggestion in the cat book I got from the library – it seemed like a better idea than shutting them into the spare room where nobody ever goes or the basement that’s full of junk.)

The kids fought over who got to clean the base of the borrowed crate once we set it up, and then they argued again over who would get to clean out the litter box first. I think I should have recorded that one. They are really, really excited about this.

 

Diversions

It’s very hard to sort out summer camps when Donald Trump is stopping legal residents of the USA from entering the country to come back to their homes and families and pets and belongings.

It’s difficult to concentrate on what we might need for new kittens when the president has barely been in office a wet week and he already seems mired in a bunch of power plays that might end in war.

It’s tricky to think about school re-enrollment forms when people are about to lose their health insurance, their ability to medicate chronic illness and keep their children alive because the ACA has been repealed with no replacement.

It’s confusing to wonder how I’m going to attend my best friend’s wedding in Italy this summer when people are being indefinitely detained at airports in spite of the stay on the order.

It’s hard to make pancakes for breakfast when I keep stopping to wonder if Trump has enough support in the armed forces to be a military dictator.

It’s hard to remember to print out Mabel’s passport photos and arrange to get her Irish passport application witnessed while noting that actual Nazi Steve Bannon was slipped onto the National Security Council as chief strategist while we were all busy watching the airports yesterday.

It’s going to get worse before it gets better.

Still confused


I spent Saturday feeling guilty for not marching and watching the photos of all my friends who were at the march, happy and pink-hatted, brandishing clever signs, many bringing their kids to be part of history.

On Sunday I told myself to stop whining to myself and just promise I’d go to the next one.

Today’s Monday and things are confusing again, because the march had too many white women who like pumpkin spice and not enough intersectionality and I made a couple of political posts on Facebook and I probably said the wrong thing and it’s naive to wish we could all just get along and see each other as a person instead of a cog in the giant wheel of their group/race/culture/class/religion/gender/sexuality.

For someone who prides herself on her words and her diplomacy, I have a long history of saying the wrong thing to a response of resounding silence. When I was twelve we were all painting pretend graffiti at summer camp. I added “IRA”, because that’s the sort of thing you saw in graffiti. I didn’t mean I supported the IRA. Obviously. But it went down the wrong way entirely. I still have conversations in my head where I try to justify that.

Any time I try to talk about racism or politics I probably say the wrong thing too. Please understand that I’m trying to do better and I want you to tell me when I say something that drops with the sound of a million clashing discordant cymbals.

This is what I know. My two children spent their most formative years understanding that it was normal and good and right for a man with a big smile and brown skin and tight curly black hair to be President of the United States – a man who looked more like a lot of their schoolmates than like them. Now they are learning the hard truth that the person in charge of the country you live in is not always someone you are happy to look up to, and not always someone smarter and kinder and wiser and better than everyone else.

I think they already know very well that it doesn’t always make sense to choose the person who looks more like them – as a friend or in an election. We choose people for better reasons than that.

Tuesday.

The sun came out today for the first time since the Obama administration, which was nice and all, but was not reflected in any metaphorical way by the new president being any less awful or doing anything less terrible than all those things we were afraid he’d do, and a few more to boot.

But it was nice to see the sun, I suppose.

dinosaur and dollhouse mom at a desk together

I don’t have a picture of the sun so let’s let this represent the education secretary nomination and the EPA.

How does it feel?

The new president was sworn in a couple of hours ago. I didn’t watch. I didn’t listen. I don’t like the sound of his voice or the look of his face and I certainly don’t like hearing any of the words that come out of his mouth.

Mabel and I ended up playing Monopoly this morning, since she’s off school and still in her pyjamas. It was delightfully retro, but it also felt a little like preparing for the new world order. There was a slight hysteria about buying hotels and snapping up property. Well, maybe just for me.

How does it feel right now? It feels confusing. In spite of my lofty aims to stay off Facebook, I’m on Facebook. I’m not looking for news, but sometimes it comes at me. The climate change page has disappeared from the White House website. So has the LGBT rights page. Are they just preparing to replace them with something even better? Something the same with the new name on it? Are they hoping we’ll forget?

Remember in Back to the Future when the guy in the 1955 diner says “Ronald Reagan? The actor?” when Marty tells him who’s president in the future? I feel like that guy, except I’ve been here the whole time. It’s still utterly surreal that someone could show up, decide to run for president, win nomination, win the electoral colleges, become president – with no experience in politics, no knowledge of how a country is run, no human decency, no integrity at all. How can that happen? How did that just happen? He said “You can do anything you want when you’re rich,” and apparently it was true.

I’ve been blogging for so long that I can tell you exactly how I felt when Dubya was re-elected. I was sorely disappointed, but then I shrugged and said that the world keeps turning.

This is different. This is not normal. This is not business as usual. The world is still turning, Obama said it’s never the end of the world until the end of the world; but it’s all wrong.

Frankenstein

I’m cradling a cup of tea in my hands (in between typing) but I’m afraid to drink it. I think I have to wait until it’s lukewarm, and I hate lukewarm tea. I’m looking at a sheet of instructions that tell me “do NOT spit, floss, rinse, chew hard food, sticky food, consume hot food or drink, drink through a straw…” and wondering how this is meant to work.

I’ve taken a sip. It’s not too hot but it’s a little warmer than lukewarm. I think it’ll be okay.

The inside of my mouth looks like Frankenstein’s monster. I got home at 11:00 but it took me two hours to look in the mirror because I didn’t want to see it. I had a periodontal procedure. If you don’t want to know any more, skip the next paragraph, where I will describe it at your peril.

I had a gum graft, which means they take some tissue from the roof of your mouth and sew it on to the bottom of your teeth where you should have gum but you don’t because your gums and or teeth are stupid and useless. They did it on four bottom teeth in a row, because for some reason that may or may not be related to my orthodontic work as a teenager, the gum there was eroding badly.

It was a “simple” procedure that took an hour in the chair and only a few more injections than your basic filling. It didn’t hurt, really, but it was awkward and uncomfortable and icky and I’m glad it’s over. Now I have three different sets of pills (anti-inflammatories, painkillers, and antibiotics) and a follow-up for next week, and I’ll be getting a fancy night guard so that I don’t push my teeth out of alignment again. I’m hoping this lasts until I’m 90 so I don’t have to worry about it again. Maybe 100.

Anyway, I’m sure you didn’t want to know that, but that’s what’s on my mind so that’s what you got.

Another thing on my mind is Saturday’s march. I really don’t give a crap about Friday’s inauguration, since it’s happening and I can’t stop it so I’m just going to ignore it. La la laaaaa. Don’t feed the troll by paying attention to him. That’s what he thrives on. But the next day there’s this big march you may have heard of planned for downtown DC. A lot of people are planning to go. Even people who don’t live here are moving heaven and earth to be there.

I’m a woman. I live within spitting distance of Washington DC. I certainly disagree with Trump’s presidency and all he stands for. But I don’t want to go.

That’s my gut reaction. I’m not usually overly crowd-phobic, but the idea of all those throngs of people just sets off my internal alarm bells. And someone on the radio this morning helped me figure out why else it is that I have the don’ wannas about this: it’s not the end. It’s as if many people have focused on this march as an end in itself: but for one thing, its aims are sort of fuzzy and nonspecific – to show Donald just how many people will show up to let him know they don’t like him; way more than will have shown up the day before to say they do – and for another, January 21st is not the end. It’s the beginning. Maybe I think I should save my energy for the four years to come. Maybe I think I should do something more concrete than going out and walking around to show my displeasure.

Maybe I’m just lazy; that’s always an option. Since I’m right here beside DC, I practically feel like I’m as good as there whether I go or not. I feel guilty about not wanting to go, but I’m not going to go just to stop myself feeling guilty.

Anyway, that’s where I am. And where I’m not. Pass the ice cream.

Capprehension

Because we were travelling this Christmas, we did our official family present ceremony the weekend before, when Mabel got her big huge Playmobil thing and Dash got his scooter and B and I exchanged some things that were partly almost identical (but complementary). So on Christmas morning itself the kids weren’t expecting anything beyond their stockings until the big dinner with cousins later in the day. So, the stockings were ransacked, the oranges discarded, the chocolate eaten before breakfast, the small items admired or ignored… and that was it. Except we did have one more thing: an announcement.

No, I’m not pregnant. Don’t be silly.

The announcement was that when we got back home we would commence looking for a kitten. They were pretty excited about that. Mabel spent much of the rest of the trip saying “kitten kitten kitten kitten” at us for days at a time and saying we shouldn’t have told her because now she would obsess about it until we stepped off the plane. I cautioned that we would not be dashing straight to the kitten shop and getting a kitten the moment we got home; that this was simply the beginning of being open to finding a kitten.

And so it has been, because the animal shelter doesn’t have any kittens right now. (Yes, the irony. When we visited in the summer they had baskets of kittens, more than anyone needed; but it seemed that everyone had been adopted for Christmas. There were hardly any animals there at all.) We’ve taken a couple of books about cat care out of the library, I’ve nosed around PetSmart to see what there is in the way of litter trays and cat carriers, we’ve agreed that the ideal would be, in fact, two sibling kittens, to keep each other company and spread the love a bit. There were even two sibs at PetSmart (which offers adoptions, they don’t sell bred kittens), but they cost twice as much as the shelter and I didn’t fall instantly in love with them and the next time I looked one of them had gone so that was that.

It’s possible that I’m overthinking this. But even if we go to the big county shelter (on my list for next weekend … maybe) and they have bushels of kittens, how do you choose? These animals are going to be part of our family for years to come; can we just grab any two that look cute? Or the only two they have, if it’s like that? Perversely, I don’t want to get two more grown up cats whose personalities are already established, because they’re someone else’s cats already, not ours.

So, in short, I want some choice but not too much. I want a kitten (and its sibling) to choose us, so that we know we’ve chosen the right ones. I want a sign from the Cat God. (Is that Bast? I think it’s Bast. Dash would know, because he’s read Rick Riordan’s Egyptian series. He says they’re not as good as the others.)

But anyway, look out for some cute kitten photos on a blog near you, coming soon. I hope.

Girl sitting on a log wearing a sweater with a kitten faces print.

Mabel’s new top has kittens all over it. This was a coincidence, I promise.

Lagging

New Year’s Day
I feel vaguely as if I’m coming down with something but I think it’s probably just the jet lag, or the time displacement, or whatever you want to call it when you’ve had enough sleep but you’re five hours out of kilter. Yesterday we went to a kids’ New Year’s Eve party, which is a lovely tradition we seem to have become caught up in, and was just the ticket for us, because we got to count down and release the balloons and sing Auld Lang Syne at about 7:15, and we were home by 8:30. Whereupon three of us went swiftly to bed and one decided he was going to stay up and stick it out no matter what. Around 2am I heard noises downstairs and investigated to find a morose ten-year-old who had unaccountably been unable to keep his eyes open after 10:45 and had missed the whole thing. Since midnight here was 5am in Ireland, where we were until two days ago, I’m quite surprised he managed to stay up that long.

I have a 2000-piece jigsaw on the go and mostly I’d have liked to spend all day staring at it but instead we went out to a New Year’s Day party this afternoon, which was probably the best thing to do because there’s nothing like being in a room full of friends and watching your kids running around in a pack with all the other kids they know to remind you that it’s not so bad to live in a place you don’t come from, if the place you get to live in is this one.

There’s always that touch of the blues that comes with the return journey for me, that makes me wonder why we do it, why we leave what’s so right and familiar and is part of our bones and our souls – the sea and the sky and the stones and the trees – to come to this other place that has all our stuff but none of our history. Except it has all the history of our children’s childhoods now, and as our lives are entwined with theirs, so our futures and our pasts must be too.

Mabel just asked me why we can’t have someone deliver the pizza, instead of going out to get it. I made noises about it being quicker, and it being hotter that way, and because we can, but really it’s because if we got the pizza delivered, America would have won and stolen our souls. (Never mind the fact that people in Ireland also get pizza delivered.)

The day after
Today I feel properly woozy, as if I’m on a boat, or as if I just got off a boat and the world is still rocking. I keep having cups of tea and eating unhealthy things to make it stop, but so far only going back to bed for a while has actually helped. Now the boys have gone off to Rogue One and Mabel and I are watching Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire with a large bowl of popcorn.

My jigsaw met an untimely end, for now – but the good thing about jigsaws is that even when they’re broken they’re not actually broken. I’ll take it out again some time when it’s not the last day before back to school and small tempers aren’t so frazzled.

I’m starting to crave properly healthy food like lemony broccoli and yogurty dressing, but all I could throw together without a trip to the supermarket was roasted sweet potato wedges and chickpeas, with halloumi draped over them. Not bad, but a little dry.

Tomorrow, back to school, back to fresh air and exercise and normality and reality and some writing. It’s going to be good. Here goes, 2017. Don’t fuck it up for us.

Mossy tree beside a small river.

A picture from our walk in Powerscourt three days ago and half a world ago.

Invisible invulnerable invaluable

And then poor George Michael only got one day in the news because of Carrie Fisher. What a crappy year, seriously.

I heard an interview with Carrie Fisher on the radio recently, and she struck me as a woman who is at that point in life where she really has no fucks to give. She tells it how it is and she doesn’t have to be something for anyone else any more. She wasn’t putting on her best self for the Terri Gross interview, she was just there, talking. If we wanted to listen, that was up to us. We should all aspire to such levels of notgivingafuckitude. I feel like she and Hilary Clinton could have run the world so well, but instead we’re left with TinyHands OrangeFace and a fairly vague Han Solo.

(I found it hilarious that from what Carrie said, Harrison Ford didn’t actually have to act at all for Star Wars. That terse, ultra-dry-witted man is exactly who he was/is in real life.)

There’s this thing about how older women are invisible, and how it’s really hard to come to terms with this new phase if you’ve been generally known as a pretty or beautiful woman in your younger days. But older women have such strength – think of Carrie Fisher, Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Hilary Clinton – women who kick ass, take names, and give no fucks. (I hope Hilary is doing yoga, centering herself, drinking red wine, wearing leggings and letting her pores breathe, enjoying not having to give a shit about what she’s projecting to anyone any more. She’s proved herself a million times over.) Who told me that the Dalai Lama said that Western women will save the world? If only the world will let them – but hell, they’re trying so hard.

Women over 50 have walked through the fire of the gaze, the vulnerability, the judgement, for all those years. They’ve held it together, all of it, all at once, probably for everyone else at the same time as for themselves. They’ve done it all and fallen down and got up again and done it all some more, and even if they think they failed they’ve done it anyway. That’s what women do.

And then sometimes some of the best of them have a massive damn heart attack and it’s not fair at all.

Why is it different for women? Because men are never vulnerable. Not until they’re aged and infirm, and even then they’re less vulnerable than old women. (I just heard a story about an old man who confronted a burglar in his house, made him a cup of tea, and saw him out the front door. Admirable; but an old woman can’t do that.) Most young men have no enemies but themselves – if they can avoid getting killed through their own sheer foolhardiness or stupidity, they won’t have to worry about their personal safety for a long time.

Men don’t even know why women move in packs and go to the toilet in pairs and bring a friend to the party – we barely remember ourselves, we think we’re just more social than boys, but the truth is that we don’t go places on our own at night. One of us always has to be the more sober one, the most sensible one, the one who can make sure everyone else gives the right address to the taxi driver and doesn’t throw up in the car. One of us will always rise to the occasion. The boys can just get rat-arsed all they want, because they can probably wander home as slowly and alone-ly and darkly as they like.

Apart from personal safety issues, women have run the gauntlet of each other’s judgement since they were old enough to be told that’s a pretty dress now go and brush your hair. Opining on other women is like breathing. It’s what you do while you’re not doing anything. You look around, you see other people, you think things. Good, bad, pretty, fat, thin, nice shoes, horrible jeans, I wouldn’t do that with my hair. Older than me, younger than me, more friendly than me, quieter than me, shrill, short, bossy, judgmental. Who’s judging me today? Who am I doing this for? Who am I trying to impress? Why is this important?

And eventually you might get past it and stop trying to impress and you start seeing inside people a little better and ignoring their outsides a little more easily.

And then maybe, just maybe, you get to be something near as kick-ass as Carrie Fisher.

 

We wish you a merry coco pops

Christmas Eve

Coco Pops Rocks are not the same as regular Coco Pops. I am now one of those sad people who can’t tell that there is a totally new cereal based on the old cereal but not the same as the old cereal. It’s Christmas Eve and I’m eating Coco Pops Rocks by the handful because (a) nobody else will eat them (b) they’re right here (c) I’m using them to soak up all the prosecco.

The thing about being away at Christmas is that I’m sort of on self-imposed domesticity strike, so other than putting some things in the dishwasher now and keeping on top of the laundry and then I’m basically letting everyone fend for themselves. Shopping involves making sure we have white bread and Nutella (nope, we’re out again) and corn flakes and milk, but beyond those basics I assume we’ll be eating at other people’s houses or out. This is good for my waistline (other than the aforementioned Coco Pops Rocks) but bad for my parenting cred, as somehow my children still expect me to magic up food for them at intervals of, say, seven minutes.

If I was in my own kitchen I could easily whisk up cinnamon buns to proof overnight for tomorrow morning, but here I halfheartedly located some flour, realised it was the wrong sort, despaired of finding yeast, and called it a day. There’ll be chocolate for breakfast. What more do they want?

Stephen’s Day

In 1987 I impressed my Spanish exchange’s big brother by helping him figure out the lyrics to George Michael’s Faith. Remember when you had to wait for the words to the song you liked to be printed in Smash Hits before you could work out what exactly they were saying at that tricky fast bit? Now add the fact that it’s in a language you only know from school – the appearance of a native speaker in your house could up your street cred quite a lot if harnessed for lyric-discovery purposes.

This one, of all the blows of horrible 2016, hits me in the history. Wham! was one of the first groups I liked, George Michael was sexy before I knew that was even what I was thinking, and in 1991 when our class went to the Gaeltacht to immerse ourselves in the Irish language before our oral exams my copy of Listen Without Prejudice was one of the only two tapes our entire household was willing to listen to. (I think the other was The Best of Mary Black. We were an eclectic group.)

So today we’re treating the kids to a George Michael YouTube retrospective, whether they like it or not.

—–

I hope you had a lovely day yesterday. We had an excellent dinner with family, just as it should be.

 

 

The black-bean brownies that keep my kids alive

Brownie on plateI have the noisiest food processor in the world. It only occurred to me a while ago that maybe it’s not supposed to be that loud. But it processes perfectly well, so it would be petty of me to get a new one, even if I court deafness every time I use it.

And it is useful. I remember bugging my parents to get a food processor when they were the new big thing (at least, they seemed to be) so we  could “make coleslaw”. The idea of my voluntarily eating vegetables must have persuaded them in the end, but I don’t think I made the coleslaw more than once or twice. Mostly the new toy sat gathering dust in the back cupboard behind the stand mixer and in front of the good plates inherited from my paternal grandmother.

Nowadays I use my (newer but noisier) processor for making pastry (the recipe here is my favourite for everything), for falafel or carrot salad, but most often for these black-bean brownies, which are probably one of the things that keep my vegetable-averse children alive. They have one of these or a pumpkin muffin in their lunchbox every day, and they fight over getting the “test brownie” when they’re out of the oven. If your kids are used to regular brownies you might want to call these something else in case they’re disappointed, but as far as mine are concerned these are better. And I didn’t have to lie about the beans, either. They proclaim it proudly. Bonus: They’re gluten free.

I found the recipe online years ago, but it comes originally from a book called The Daily Bean by Suzanne Caciola White. I’ve changed the method, though, so I think I’m allowed reproduce my version here.

Ingredients in food processor

Aerial view

Black Bean Brownies

1 cup cooked black beans (the contents of one 15oz / 425g can, drained and rinsed)
2 cups (200g) sugar
1/2 cup (200g) butter, softened a little
6 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 tablespoon instant coffee powder
4 eggs

Optional: 3/4 cup (95g) chopped walnuts

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F (180 C).
  2. Put the drained and rinsed beans and the sugar in your food processor and process until they form a smooth puree.
  3. Add the butter, cocoa, coffee powder, and eggs and blitz again until smooth.
  4. Stir in the walnuts, if using.
  5. Pour mixture into a lined 9×13 pan and bake for 45 to 50 minutes.

If you don’t have a food processor, follow the method in the book, which says to first beat the butter and sugar with the cocoa and coffee. Then mix in the eggs and then the beans, followed by the nuts last of all.

Baked brownies in tin

Out of the oven. I lined the tin with a silicone sheet instead of paper.

If you want to know more about the recipes I love, you should follow me on Pinterest, because that’s where I keep most of them. Or just go directly to Smitten Kitchen because that’s where anything I don’t bother to pin comes from. 🙂