Sunday, 14 April 2019

Family Road Trip Survival Guide

DammitKaren: Family Road Trip Survival Guide.
(Photo by Anthony Ginsbrook on Unsplash)

DammitKaren: Family Road Trip Survival Guide We move on from the Easter Break Survival Guide to this week's more-specific road trip portion.

True, we're only going 2 1/2 hours away, but we will have a full boot*, three kids under the age of eleven, and a dog.  We'll also have a cranky driver.

Fis will be driving, and I will only have the comparatively light responsibilities of navigator, deejay, snack-provider and backseat referree (light, compared, that is, to our trip to Normandy in October, in which I was all these as well as driver and...oh dear, who knows?  I was out of my mind with fever, so I assume I was also the unicorn-wrangler and camel-flyer), so this will be a breeze.  It will be a short drive, relatively (life in Canada is not conducive to road trips of under four hours) (and life in London means that a drive can only be short in distance, not in time, due to traffic), but it is still a road trip.

One must be prepared, so prepared I will be.


The Number One Most Important aspect that makes or breaks any road trip is snacks.  Savoury, sweet, fruit, vegetable, trail mix, chocolate, candy, jerky... all snack food groups must be covered for whims at a whim.  Water bottles and travel mugs must be at the ready for all family members, or else.


Again?  So important.  Seriously.  Write this down.


I remember packing a suitcase with three library books for each member of the family for a trip to Croatia last summer.  "Do we really need fifteen books?" asked Fis.  Silly Fis!

Music and audiobooks

The third line of defence (after snacks and books) is a fantastic playlist that doesn't have songs that you have to turn down at strategic moments to avoid hearing the F-word on what would otherwise be completely delightful and family-friendly.  (Yes, Cake, I'm talking about you.)  But what's even better than a family singalong?  A family listening quietly to How to Train Your Dragon or The Swiss Family Robinson**, that's what.  A compelling audiobook honestly (honestly!) quells the backseat's increasingly obnoxious demands for tablet time and/or further snacks.

Mad Libs

Fun? Check!  Educational?  Check!  Inappropriate?  Check! Especially when one of the children chooses "anus" as a noun nine times out of ten.  It's a classic road trip staple.

Family dog

Although it's counterintuitive, having a dog (even a tiny one) in the backseat with the savages actually ensures a more zen (zen-ner?) experience.  Think of all those studies about people stroking dogs for the benefit of their blood pressure.  Yeah, just like that.

Stuffies and blankies

In the slim chance that anyone quiets down or wants to fall asleep (ha!), these are essential.  Most likely, they'll just get covered with dirt, grime and goldfish crumbs, but again, one must be prepared.

Headphones and yes, tablets

Ok, fine.  The idyllic roadtrip of my youth no longer exists.  You remember, the ones where your thighs stuck to the vinyl seats because there was no air conditioning and Dad cracked his window an inch to let the cigarette smoke out? And there was nothing to do for the entire 18-hour drive to Grandma's except joke about sneaking him some ex-lax so that he'd stop for a break?

No?  Just me?

Right.  So, our kids do have tablets***, and we (I) really like to restrict their access and usage, especially on short trips or in scenic areas. But sometimes, we do what we have to do.


Just...the more the better, ok?  Trust me on this one.


Fun British Translation Guide
* boot = trunk

** Fun fact: the 1970s Swiss Family Robinson series was Canadian!  Why?

** but not iPads.  Ain't nobody getting an iPad until Mommy gets one first.

Friday, 12 April 2019

The Domestic Goddess Bakes a Potato

DammitKaren: The Domestic Goddess Bakes a Potato The Domestic Goddess has been quiet for a while.  The DG still (sometimes) cooks lots of delicious food, and, in fact, made lasagna for Fis for the First Time Ever last week.  She just hasn't been bragging about it.

About the lasagna: it's been a bit of a sore point for him for the last, oh, fourteen years or so, as I often tell the story about the time a coworker actually got down on one knee and proposed to me after having a bite of the lasagna I had made for myself. In 1998. We've had lasagna often, though -- every time it went on sale for less than $12 at the grocery store -- even though it wasn't made by me.  But yeah, we'll have been married for twelve years next week, and I had never made lasagna, though he proposed to me anyway.  (Two separate boxes of increasingly-heirloom lasagna noodles have moved with us four times, however.)  

So, last Friday, it was time.

I made lasagna; it was good.  Not quite proposal-good, but good enough to quiet him down for another fourteen years or so.

But that's not what this is about.

Tonight, I made baked potatoes -- nay, jacket potatoes -- properly, for the first time in my life.  And they were AMAZING.
The only thing missing from this photo by Lars Blankers on Unsplash is
me, rolling around in the potatoes with a stick of butter in my teeth.

I love potatoes.  I have always loved them, and really should be at least twice my weight, considering how much I love them.  I love them steamed, boiled, roasted, mashed, smashed... I do my Irish heritage proud.  I don't skimp on the butter-and-milk part of mashed potatoes, and when I fully load my baked potato, it is Fully Loaded.  When Fis buys "light" butter and "low fat" sour cream, I just put twice as much on.

So, tonight, with three starving kids coming home from sports camp (and no vegetables in the house except for a sad-looking courgette*), I decided to make sausages and jacket potatoes, hoping that they'd be delicious enough to compensate for something green on the plate.

Usually/often, we have baked potatoes... well, nuked potatoes.  You know, you wash them, wrap them loosely in paper towel, and either stab them with a fork (if Fis is watching) or don't (if you're staging a passive-aggressive campaign against Fis), and pop them in the microwave for 5-7 minutes.  But tonight, oh, tonight was different.

Extraordinary Jacket Potatoes Extraordinaire 

(so good, it needs saying twice)

First, I preheated the oven to 200 degrees Celsius**.  I washed five "British jacket potatoes" and patted them dry with kitchen towel.***  Next, I rubbed them with olive oil and sea salt, and popped them into the oven.  Twenty minutes later, I lowered the oven temperature to 170 and let them bake for another full hour, then turned off the oven while I cooked the sausages.

Oh.  My.

Crispy skin, soft and fluffy interior.  So flavourful, so perfect.  We added (full fat) butter, (full fat) sour cream, grated mature cheddar, and "homemade" spring onions**** -- aha! Something Green! -- and man, were they amazing.

The DG tonight proved that simple can be good, and that vegetables are not even missed, even when the kids have had them as part of their meals every single day for their entire lives (humble brag!). If there's anything else you take away from this post, it's this: if I can't have hummus as my desert island food, it would be potatoes, jacket potatoes, from the recipe I've recorded here.

SO good.

Glossary of Terms/Fun British Facts for those not in Britain

* courgette = zucchini
** everything here is in Celsius, grams, and mL for baking.  Body weight is in kilograms.  It's all very metric, except for distances, which are measured in miles.  It is pretty much the opposite of Canada, which I think they're doing on purpose.
*** kitchen towel = paper towel
**** spring onions = green onions, which we grow in our windowsill herb garden, alongside (as the song goes) parsley, sage and the withered corpses of so many basil and cilantro ("coriander") plants.

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

Easter Break Survival Tips

DammitKaren: Easter Break Survival Tips.

It's Easter break, and the kids are home.

A week or two (or in this case, 17 freaking days) off school can be relaxing for kids.  They have been learning their little brains off in both languages, and just need time to be kids.


My kids are smart, and know that they outnumber me three to one.  My lofty plans for museum visits and cultural inoculation are often eaten up by the greater will of three kids that just really, really want screen time.  Or, they want me to feed them up to six times a day, or get out craft supplies or set up playdates.  They want me to entertain them continuously and also do laundry and clean up after them constantly. They want to make sure that, during their waking hours, I have no time to myself at all.

They are now, as a unit, bigger, stronger and heavier than me.  And they know this. Also, it's usually raining, and I don't look good wet, so I'm less likely to leave the house in the rain.  I'm weak.

Rule 1:  Don't be outnumbered

(Ok, maybe you have no control over rule #1 and it's not a very good rule.)

Rule 1 (revised):  Be in charge anyway

These are the same children that we have to drag, kicking and whining, out of bed at 7 am every school day.  But weekends (and vacations), they are up at the crack of six, saying, "It's morning!" and singing our good morning song (which is still pretty cute, even at 6 am).

So, in the interest of more sleep (for us) and more responsibility (for them), we've made them a deal. If they stay in bed quietly till 8 am, AND make themselves breakfast (milk, banana, and cereal or toast) AND all three take the dog for his morning walk around the block,  they can watch one precious half hour of TV.  If they want a second (30-minute) show, it has to be in French.

We, the parents, have to clean up a little mess (cereal) or a big one (toast with peanut butter) when we get up, but the kids are actively learning what mornings are for me as a mom and helping with the dog that they so desperately wanted.  And, they're learning the ever-important skill of delayed gratification, or work-first-play-later.

Screen time allowances on holiday are necessarily more lax than in Real Life, and with this arrangement, we all feel like we're putting one over the other.  But, in the words of David Mamet, "Old age and treachery will always beat youth and exuberance."

Rule 2:  Just because they're on vacation doesn't mean that they have no responsibilities 

Living in London, we seem to have an excess of school breaksAll of these take me by surprise, despite the fact that they pop up every five weeks or so.  But, this time around, I am prepared.

I've made a list of fun-and-stimulating activities for the kids to do over these two weeks.  These are things that they can do if they're bored, or if they're (again) bargaining for more screen time (again).  I wrote them on our white board, and went through each item with the kids.  They all agreed that they were reasonable, somewhat important, and possibly fun things to do.

The kids now feel like they have control over what they choose from the list, and when, and I've made a contract, in kind, to interact with them, to be hands on, to let them watch TV, and to encourage the arts over the break.

Rule 3:  Make a list, but let them make their own choices

Our list:

  • Read a French book
  • Draw a picture of a scene from a book you're reading
  • Write a letter to a grandparent (in cursive) 
  • Learn and perform a new song (instrument or voice)
  • Write a poem
  • Work out with Mommy
  • Play darts
  • Try a new craft:  knitting, crocheting** or Fimo
  • Play cards (we are just taking up Rummoli)
  • Playdate with a friend (one each)
  • Bake AND cook***
  • Mornings:  Breakfast, Dog, then TV

What is YOUR plan to survive the break?


* three sets of grandparents / three kids - all bases are covered
** please, oh please, let them pick Fimo
*** helping me or Fis****
**** Ok, just me, because Fis can't handle it

Thursday, 4 April 2019

Easter: A Huffstory of Deceit

DammitKaren: Easter, A Huffstory of Deceit

Warning:  Completely disillusioning and probably blasphemous.

Following on the Easter Candy post, I thought I'd break down our annual Easter festivities for those that want to live vicariously through me the morbidly curious.

Wait...WHO's not real?

Every spring, we try to recreate the magic of Christianity by channelling a giant, mythical bunny that breaks into our house and leaves behind chocolate for all children great and small, without even requiring good behaviour.  (This was a huge oversight from Marketing, btw.)

Easter of Years Past

Easter used to be a... if not simpler, then healthier process in our home. On Easter Eve, I sit down with a giant box of reusable plastic eggs (the kind that are hollow and pop apart) and put some Corn Pops in some, and Froot Loops in others, and maybe two or three filled with a few Smarties or jelly beans.  On Easter morning, the children wander through the house, so very excited to find these filled eggs on windowsills and bookshelves.  They dump the contents into their little baskets, munching away happily -- because Froot Loops!!! -- and the plastic eggs quietly disappear over the next few days.

April 2011: simpler times, when I only had a two-year-old and a 10-month old at home.  (yikes)

Of course, we'd tell the kids the Bible story, too, but as they get older, the questions got so much harder to answer. A few years ago, I bought a copy of Jesus Christ Superstar, which, although it's amazing and wonderful (oh, his voice!), brings up even more questions that I am utterly ill-equipped to answer.

The traditional foods of Easter

We do a simple breakfast (hardboiled eggs that we paint then place in egg cups, with hot cross buns.  Then Chef Encraque prepares a feast resplendent with ham and potatoes, while I prepare our Easter salad.

Enough of that.  Back to the candy.

Over the years, my large assistant man-Bunny has tried to help out by acquiring the egg fillings.  Always Froot Loops, of course, but more recently, more chocolate and more candies.  And last year, it was only chocolate:  Eggies, M&Ms, chocolate eggs... You know that I'd have to be fairly desperate if I begged for jelly beans to add "balance" to Easter.

Another year, not long enough ago, Chris was away.  I was hard at work filling the eggs, but because of the Eggstreme Eggcitement of Easter Eve, the Vaughnster, who was probably 7 at the time, couldn't sleep.  He kept coming down the stairs in a panic every 15 minutes or so and telling me to go to bed, because if I didn't, the Bunny wouldn't come.  Each time I had to stop what I was doing and hide the evidence.

This started at 7:35, and continued until 11 pm, with increasing degrees of hysteria on both sides.

It is to my everlasting credit that I didn't break down and scream back at the angry, frantic, sobbing kid, "The Easter Bunny can't come yet.  And if I go to bed, he won't come at all, BECAUSE I AM THE F@#$%ING EASTER BUNNY!"

In fact, I dedicate this "Mother of the Century" award to that superhuman restraint.*

(Also, it may be time to sit the now-ten-year-old down and give him some hard truths about giant rabbits.)

But I digress.

But anyway, a few weeks ago, the whole family was out together at Costco, stocking up on canned goods and bottled water in preparation for the inevitable post-Brexit apocalypse. (kaff) And then we saw them:  giant Cadbury eggs.  Giant Cadbury Fruit & Nut eggs.  The top of the Costco warehouse opened up, a beam of light shone on the display, and a choir started singing somewhere.

Right.  We obviously couldn't buy one, because the kids were with us, and it would be tantamount to announcing that we had lied to them about the Easter Bunny for their whole lives...which would probably open up a giant can of worms that contains not only canned worms but Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy.  And tears and therapy.

So I said I'd go back and buy him one another day.

And I did, Monday.  But!  The next display over had giant Kinder Surprise eggs.**  For £13.99 each.  Now, I haven't lived in London so long that I've completely lost my mind (completely), but £14 is approximately $25 to me.  And we have three kids, who each would absolutely love a giant Kinder Surprise egg for Easter.

Note:  the night before, Fis emerged and told me that we (but mostly I) had been spending too much lately, and we (but mostly I) had to be much more careful with money.

So, I texted him, said that I saw these eggs, but that I wouldn't, in good conscience, spend $75 on Easter eggs.

He told me to do it anyway.  This is the logic of Fis.

I said, no, and stuck by it.  But, I bought him his £7.99 ($12!) Easter egg, and drove over to IKEA for meatballs, because I have to survive a(nother) two-week school break starting tomorrow. For some reason, I reached for meatballs instead of All The Wine.  (This will change as the week progresses, of course.)

In the food section, I found not only the meatballs and "gravy", but lingonberry jam (as one does), and those flat-pack chocolate bunnies!
IKEA, you brilliant bastards!

I didn't have to think.  They were reasonably priced and super fun.  So, I picked up one for each Huffling, and hopped happily out of the store, secure in the knowledge that I could serve very-easy dinners to applause and acclaim, AND put off having to tell one of the kids that they wouldn't get to go to university because I overspent on Easter chocolate.

(Hint:  it's the one(s) that kisses the dog on the mouth.)

Now all I have left to do is pick up some Froot Loops.  And jelly beans. And Creme Eggs.  And Eggies.


* but honestly, it was an honour just to be nominated.

** I was with a friend from Texas, who asked if we had Kinder Surprise in Canada, because they're still banned in the US.  They're considered too dangerous, because a kid once ate the toy inside and choked.  I responded with, "But you all have guns!"  We laughed and laughed.

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

Easter Candy Roundup

DammitKaren: Easter Candy Roundup

What's the Bunny bringing this year?

Alternate title:  A bunnified win for IKEA*

Easter is coming! I thought I'd open a discussion/review of our favourite Easter treats.

On Easter Eve, I sit down with our big box of reusable plastic eggs (the kind that are hollow and pop apart) and a glass of wine.  I fill the eggs, empty the wineglass, then hide both.  (Just kidding! I fill the wineglass again!)

On Easter morning, the children search our flat for their treats.  Once they're all found, we try to moderate the distribution somewhat fairly between them, they dump the contents into their Easter baskets, and the plastic eggs quietly disappear over the next few days.


For younger children, you just can't go wrong with cereals.  They're far less of a choking risk, and the fun is in finding the eggs, after all.

We started out with Cheerios, Corn Pops and Froot Loops, which blew our then-two-year-old's little mind.  We still find it easiest to just buy one of those Variety Packs (so there's less evidence to ... dispose of).

As the kids got older, we added chocolate and candy to the mix. I can't stress enough that you need both.  There was one year when we didn't pay attention and had only chocolate.  We agreed that jelly beans were essential to add "sugar balance" to Easter.

Eggies vs. Mini Eggs:  Always a contentious debate, but always addictively good, whichever way you lean.

M&Ms:  Classic.  Necessary.  Personalizable!

Smarties:  The proper, British and Canadian ones, not those abominations from the US.

Jelly beans:  Because it's all about balance, people.  Brand names not needed.

Don't forget to brush.

Stand-alone treats 

(caution:  may lead to Eggstreme Eggcitement)

This year, we're taking things in a bit of a different direction by adding some bigger treats into the hunt.  Namely:

Giant Cadbury Fruit & Nut Egg Do you remember those chocolate bunnies from when we were kids?  Mr. Solid, Mr. Munchy, Mr. Milky?  Well, we've been on the hunt for the elusive Mr. Fruit & Nut for years.  However, they either stopped making him in our 80s childhood, or they get snapped up first - we don't know which, but they're my husband's absolute bestest favouritest thing ever, so of course I had to pick one up for him at Costco.

Cadbury Chocolate Popping Bunny:  In December of 2005, I went on a quest for "Magic Elves", which were little elf-shaped chocolate treats with popping candy.  I really wanted to give them as stocking stuffers, but nobody had heard of them, so I had to ask at a lot of stores before finally finding them at Walmart.  Fun fact:  every clerk at every store thought I was high.

See?  It's real! This time will be different!

Giant Kinder Surprise Egg:  NOT on this Bunny's menu this year because of the insane price point of £13.99 at Costco.  But I bet they're cool.

Cadbury Creme Egg:  Not big, not new, but essential.  Aside from the whole "resurrection of Jesus" thing, it's the reason for Easter.  (too far?)

Mmmm.... sacrilicious.

And, for the win...

IKEA VÅRKÄNSLA:  A flat-pack chocolate bunny that you assemble yourself.  If the brilliance of this doesn't affect you, then we can't be friends.

Happy (s)Hopping!


SO... which side are you on?  Eggies or Mini Eggs? Comment below!

*bunnified... bona fide...  kaff

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