Everything is Awesome

We visited Legoland Billund with my sister last week. This is the first photo we took DSCN0026 It pretty much sums up M’s reaction.

Summer finally arrived the day we left. Unfortunately we were slightly unprepared in terms of summer clothing, and even worse we had lost M’s much-loved sunglasses. Luckily I’m a paranoid traveller, and we arrived at the train station much earlier than we needed to. Early enough to pop into the large supermarket nearby and buy the only pair of sunglasses in his size: pink Hello Kitty glasses that he was absolutely thrilled with. Also early enough to buy a coffee for the train trip. Not early enough to compensate for the panic of trying to board a packed carriage with four kids, three suitcases, and two prams, before realising it was the wrong carriage and having to get off and start again. But after one train ride, and one sweltering bus ride we arrived.

We stayed in the Legoland Holiday Villiage, where they took the name ‘Pirate Cabins’ very seriously. Skull and crossbones shower curtain, a lego parrot, and a treasure chest full of duplo to play with. DSCN0136 Once there everything is made from Lego. Everything. Even the animals. 0245

0246And (I can’t believe I don’t have a photo) even the chips are shaped like blocks.

Considering Legoland is free for under-threes, I was a little worried there might not be enough geared towards M to justify the trip. It turned out to be the most magical place for him. He enjoyed minitown, in particular the airport, and these whales, that revolved in the water and spouted water as they breached. DSCN0133 He got to ‘drive’ cars, and trains. He also got to steer a boat, for real, albeit on a rather restricted track. It took R a moment to realise why they were bumping into the walls, as in every other ride the controls were fake.

He rode in a monorail

DSCN0105And a ferris wheel, DSCN0118Great for a boy who is currently obsessed with photos of the London Eye (nope, he’s never been to London).

I have a sneaking suspicion his favourite was flying these planes. It was so amazing he was too excited to get in the queue, he had to stop walking to watch the planes flying. DSCN0080

The low points (pre-schooler meltdowns aside): the aquarium had a three minute long intro film. Did I say three minutes? Because it felt like forever. It wasn’t helped by the fact every line was spoken in three different languages. M was completely baffled, even though he speaks two of those three languages. Also I had mistakenly called the aquarium a ride, so he spent the three minutes asking when we were going to go ‘ride a fish’. He did enjoy the aquarium once we were finally allowed in.

0247We also watched a show full of physical comedy to appeal to a multilingual audience. Sorry, did I say physical comedy? I meant people shouting ‘oh ho’ before falling over, in a tedious, repetitive, unoriginal show that my sister and I sat through for the sake of her oldest because it had a princess in it. (Note to A, skip the princess thing please).

We were pleasantly surprised at the food options. There was even fruit on sale. But we had ice-cream instead.

0248Little A was pretty oblivious to it all. Now I know what my Mum meant when she said she breastfed her way around Disneyland with me. She did go on one ride though, this revolving tower (no it doesn’t drop!). DSCN0064I’m not so great with heights or enclosed spaces, so I felt pretty brave going on it. The views over Legoland were good. DSCN0075

Unsurprisingly, M is keen to go back. I’m not sure we’ll manage, not unless we stay longer than currently planned. It was a fabulous two days, seeing our little boy so excited made it pretty special.

I’m counting the steps to the door of your heart

Today is a big day for my family. It is my son’s last day at his daycare before he starts børnehave (pre-school), and my father and my sister’s family arrive in Aarhus for a weeks holiday. It is also one year since my mother died. One year since I kissed her good-bye and said ‘see you tomorrow’, imagining that I would. This day seemed impossibly far away this time last year, and so much has changed it is bewildering. I can’t help thinking how pleased Mum would have been with it all.

We’ve welcomed a new baby into our family; a girl at the end of April. ‘A’ is gorgeous, and we are all delighted to have her. As much as I wish my mother could have met her, the joy I know she would have felt helps. She would be so proud of how well my son has coped with the challenging year we’ve had. And she would have enjoyed listening to him singing danish children’s songs. Though she would have understood even less of it than his parents do.

She’d have enjoyed the activities we’ve got planned for the next week. OK, maybe legoland will be a bit of a challenge for us all. But the photos, and the reminiscing afterwards, while we laugh about the inevitable pre-schooler dramas, that she would have enjoyed.

And she would’ve enjoyed the family dinner we’ll have tonight. Our first night together in Denmark, although we are without one sister’s family still. A nice dinner; steak, roast potatoes, fish fingers for the kids. Because let’s face it, whose kids like steak. And a nice glass of wine, or two. For dessert I finally decided on drømmekage, so-called because it tastes like a dream.

I wonder what the life Mum imagined we would be having now looked like. I know it looked different, but in the essentials she would have been right. Our families, spread out across the globe, but with bonds as strong as ever. The tomorrows that kept coming, bringing tears, and love and laughter.

Sweet Dreams everyone.

Nu er det Jul igen

It has been an effort to prepare for Christmas this year. Well, Christmas usually takes a lot of work, it is just this year I have struggled to motivate myself, and feel the Christmas spirit. Not that that’s surprising. We will be having a winter Christmas, just the three of us. And it is my first Christmas since Mum died. And I’m pregnant so I can’t even drink, or eat fancy cheese. For much of the last couple of months it has felt easier to bury my hand in the sand and pretend it would just be an ordinary winter day.

Then Christmas lights started to appear, on shopping streets, and in neighbourhood windows and balconies. My son loved them. Then they had a Christmas party at his daycare, with a tree and Julemand (Santa). Sure, I’d picked up a few things thinking we’d give him some presents. I hadn’t planned to skip Christmas entirely, I just sort of hoped it would come and go of its own accord. Now it became clear that M had some idea that ‘Christmas’ existed. What exactly he thinks it is we don’t know, but what I did realise was that while he is young, Christmas will be what we make it.

So this year I’m giving him Christmas.

We’ve bought a tree and decorated it together. The first Christmas tree R and I have ever had (pot plants don’t count). Mum loved decorating the tree every year. It was bittersweet, enjoying M’s delight over the process, knowing how much Mum would have loved seeing it. M loves to switch the tree lights on in the morning, and when he gets home from vuggestue. And to pull decorations off, and put them back on again.

Last Friday I finally baked a Christmas cake. I’ve bought a leg of lamb, and sweet potato, even though I know it won’t be anything like proper kumara. I’ll make pavlova, stuffing and gravy. And just to prove I’m not doing things by halves, I’ve even made an attempt at the traditional Danish rice pudding, risalamande. M and I will make cheese straws for nibbles. Lunch will be late and M will be overtired and hungry by the time I get a roast on the table. I’ll drive R mad by playing terrible music; it’s not Christmas without Boney M.

I know this year I’ll miss Mum terribly. We all will. Although he is only little, too little to really grasp events, this last year has been tough on M too. He is going to have a great Christmas day, and then we’ll do it again next year, and the year after. Because traditions, and celebrations aren’t something that just magically happen. My parents made them happen, even when times were tough. Now it’s our turn.

Happy Christmas everyone.

You’re my water, you’re my wine/ You’re my whiskey from time to time.

I’ve wondered for a long time whether I should write this post or not. I enjoyed starting this blog, as a way to share my life with family and friends so far away. Without having a wide readership you all know how my life has changed in the last few months. And yet, it felt impossible to come back to writing without acknowledging events; that, at the end of June, my mother died. Perhaps some people will read it who didn’t know, perhaps not. But I’ve realised that the worst thing for me would be to pretend this hadn’t happened. To allow my mother to disappear quietly. My Mum is not an awkward topic. She was my Mum, and I want to talk about her, and about our loss.

Mum had cancer, for a time we thought she was in remission, but that turned out to not be the case. We knew for 23 months that there would be no remission this time. Mum would not get better, and that cancer would be the cause of her death. 23 months. Long enough for Mum to see my son grow from a spewy, cuddly newborn into a boisterous, chatty toddler. To see two more grandchildren arrive, and even both take their first steps. Two more birthdays. Two more Christmases. 23 months of intravenous chemotherapy, radiotherapy, daily chemo pills, bone strengthening drugs, surgery, scans. Mum hated the word ‘battle’. I understand why; battle implies winners and losers. When people declare they won the battle with cancer what does that say about those for whom there can be no victory? The truth is Mum worked for every day she got.

After we moved to Denmark Mum was given the go-ahead by her doctors to travel to Europe with Dad. We were so much looking forward to seeing her here, and showing her where we lived. They started in the warmer south of Europe, visiting Rome where they lived for four years. They only got as far as Nice before it became clear that Mum wasn’t going to be able to continue her travel. Flights were rebooked, but they couldn’t get flights immediately. So the three of us hopped on a plane and joined them in France. I’m pleased to say we had a fabulous time. Mum was so determined to enjoy her time with us. Dad was hard at work pushing her wheelchair over bumpy cobblestones, while Mum tried not to complain. We wandered on the promenade. Ate some lovely food. Saw the Chagall museum. My son loved the wheelchair, occasionally he got rides on Gran’s lap, but best of all was to sit in his pram behind her shouting ‘whoo, whoo’ circulating his arms like wheels.

They got home, Mum was taken straight to hospital. Not long after it became clear her life expectancy was now only months. Then months suddenly became only weeks, and I booked flights for M and I to fly home. Mum died within 36 hours of my arrival in Wellington. She had been ill a long time, but in the end her death was so sudden we were left reeling. I’d absolutely expected when I said good-bye that night to see her in the morning. The loss of that one last day with Mum, in lieu of all the years, has hit all of us hard. But I knew for a long time that however long it was, it would never be enough. I realise, now that the initial shock has dissipated, that even though we knew what was coming, it would always be a shock. That nothing can prepare you for the hard truth of that moment. We’d all grieved a thousand times already, but now we had to begin again.

The last time I spoke to Mum alone, the day before she died, we talked about our holiday in Nice, and how much we all enjoyed ourselves, despite the obvious difficulties. Mum told me that making good memories was what was important in life. I love that M still remembers her, and talks about her. It makes me smile that when he sees a wheelchair he shouts ‘like Gran. Whoo, whoo’. But I know that, at only two, those memories won’t stick around long. So it is important to me, that we talk about her, about who she was, because we are the only way he can know her now.

So here we are. Struggling to get through the day to day in a world without Mum in it. I know that in time it will get easier. It is what Mum would have wanted for us. It doesn’t mean we forget. I know I’ll miss her every day ahead. But Mum raised us well, she taught us to keep going when life was tough. She taught us how to enjoy the small moments, even when life is at its worst. The old clichés are right, the people you love the most never truly leave you. My mother is still with me in ways that are very meaningful to me. And this will give us the strength to do what seems so difficult right now. We’ll make a lifetime’s worth of good memories, even though my mother won’t be there.

Lemon juice and sugar

I’ve been having one of those weeks where I really miss my family and wish I could be closer to them. Many of you readers will understand why. You will also know that we are a family that enjoys food; not so much as a solitary pleasure, but as a communal gathering, cooking and eating together. So I have taken some comfort in making and eating one of my earliest food loves, my Gran Joy’s Lemon Honey.

I used to love going to stay in Auckland, although the long drive from Wellington to Auckland was not so great. I have so many lovely memories of their home. Hot Auckland nights tossing and turning in the back bedroom I shared with my middle sister. Star-gazing on their balcony with my Dad. Hours spent at the beach, and hours spent trying to wash off the sticky sand. The year my sister got roller-blades for Christmas and we rushed outside to try them out on the hills of St Heliers. Gran’s clashing pink and apricot kitchen with its old fashioned bean slicer. Grandad’s bread, Gran’s preserved fruit, meringues, and always, always, jars of lemon honey. I suspect Gran made a big batch in advance of our arrival, as I at least slathered my bread with it.

Tasting the same food I ate all those years ago isn’t just about my memories. It gives me a sense of my place in the world. Lemon honey, Gran Kath’s apricot slice or toasties, my mum’s fish pie, and scones. These aren’t just recipes to me, they are stories. They tell me the story of the women who came before me: the tastes they enjoyed, the ingredients available to them, and the kind of cooking they could do with eyes on whoever was scampering at their feet. Once I was the child coming hungry to the table. Now I am the provider. I watched my son lick the lemon honey off the top of his crumpet and knew the next generation of lemon honey lovers had arrived.

Gran’s recipe is a simple, economical, homely recipe, perfect for someone with an army of kids to feed on a budget. I’ve seen lemon curd recipes in fancy cookbooks, they all use four or five egg yolks. I’m sure they taste delicious, but it’s just more bother. She always made it one jar at a time, straight into the fridge, so no messing around with sterilising equipment either. It’s super simple, as long as you don’t let the temperature get too high and ‘scramble’ the eggs. But it wouldn’t be Gran’s lemon honey if you didn’t find at least one string of egg white somewhere. Lucky you whoever finds it. I always used to love that bit.

Joy’s Lemon Honey
Juice and rind of two lemon
2oz butter
1 teacup sugar (a scant ¾ cup, but I like the old-fashioned name)
1 egg

All ingredients into a double boiler over barely simmering water. Stir over low temperature until it boils and thickens. Pour into clean jar and keep in the fridge.