Christmas at Kew (As reviewed by a 4-year-old)

This year we did ALL THE LIGHTS.  It just sort of happened.  We’d already planned a trip to Waddesdon Manor as part of our visit to the Buckinghamshire Railway Centre (Thomas the Tank Engine comes there twice a year), and Kew I booked in the summer when there was a sale on the cost of tickets.  When the weather looked good for Boxing Day we decided to book Blenheim, which was doing their first ever Christmas Lights event.

Kew, I thought, would be a fitting end to the festive season.  A proper, large-scale farewell to the sparkle before in true English fashion they pack everything away for 2-3 months so we can sit in the dark until Easter comes. (I don’t know why English people do this, but they do.  Toughens us up I think.)

I booked a full package and included parking so I wouldn’t have to hunt.  What we later found out is that parking is a bit mental, but once you get your head wrapped around the fact that driving in a small gap between two buildings constitutes a road everything pans out nicely.  (Plus, OMG I would not want to try to park in the surrounding neighbourhoods in all the madness!) The kiddo, now not a one but two-festive-light-trip veteran, came into this with a plan.  And, in his plan, this meant fairground rides.

All the fairground rides.

As Kew is slightly more than an hour from Oxford I booked the earliest start time so that even though we’d get home late we’d get home reasonably.  The trail was a little over a mile long and had food and drink stops along the way.  Our parking was in the middle of the trail.

Next to the fairground rides.

I realised if we hit the fairground rides before we went out we’d have to hit them again on the way back, thus emptying my wallet.  As such I had a devious plan of going on a Pokémon hunt (Kew is good for the Pokémon) and seeing the lights first, before riding the rides.  This last for all of 5 seconds, as my child throws his Pokémon balls out with reckless abandon.

Thus, I present my kiddo’s review of Christmas at Kew:

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Him, “Not the rides.”

Me, “Is this a Pokéstop?”

Checks phone, notices it is.

“Oh yeah!”

Occupied for 2 minutes.

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Him, “I am out of Pokéballs.  Is this the rides?”

Me, “No, look at the lights!”

Him, “I want to ride the rides.”

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Him, “Marshmallows are suitable.”

Me, “Holy cow, kid.  These are AMAZING.  This isn’t your run-of-the-mill…”

Him, “I’m done.  Can we ride the rides now?”

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Him, “This is neat.”

Me, “Yes, you see that glass house?  It’s huge!  Remember we once climbed to the second floor and…”

Him, “Are the rides near here?”

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Me, “This is a special installation for the year called The Hive.  Isn’t it pretty?”

Him, “Bees are dangerous, Mommy.”

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Him, “The garden is on fire.”

Me, “Yes, it’s representing five of the twelve days of Christmas.”

Him, “Is there a fire alarm in case the fire gets out?”

Me, “Well, no.  They have people looking after the fire.”

Him, “I want to look after the fire.”

Me, “Maybe when you are older.”

Him, (Pause.) “Can we ride the rides?”

After many, many conversations about how far we were from the rides, how many steps we would need to take before we got to the rides and if the phone would hold out long enough for him to catch another Christmas Pikachu we made it to the rides.  I was concerned he would want to ride absolutely everything 300 times over but, as a fairground veteran, he understood how many tokens there were and how many rides that equalled.

He even let me ride two rides with him.

We left happy, content, and with several Christmas Pikachu.  As for Christmas at Kew?  Go, definitely go.  It’s a full-scale production spread over a mile.  Tonnes of food and drink.  Toast a marshmallow, you won’t regret it. Piles of shopping (if you are into it).  And, in kiddo’s view – a very good fairground.

And, as I heard for a mile long walk, the rides are all that matter.

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Happy New Year (Cinnamon Rolls)

january01_cinnamonrolls

I woke up this morning with all intents and purposes to commence making elaborate cinnamon rolls for the family in order to herald in 2017.   Instead I managed to sleep through not one but two alarms and, due to my lateness, commenced making cinnamon rolls with a 4-year-old running on stream of conscious next to me as I tried to figure out whether or not my dough was elastic or not.

“Mummy,” he asks in his adorable British-kid voice, “What would happen if there is a fire?” (He is currently convinced that at any given moment the house will burst into flames.)

“We’d get the pets and get out of the house.  Kneading should take 5 minutes, approximately.”  I go to set the timer and then get in trouble with said 4-year-old because he wanted to set the timer first.  Reset timer so kiddo can set timer.

“Mummy,” he looks up with angelic eyes, “I don’t like oranges.  They are yucky.”

“You drank the juice of an orange this morning,” commence kneading dough.

“I want to help you!”

Stop kneading dough and get kitchen steps out.  Timer goes off.  Have kiddo reset timer.  Kiddo pats dough two times and looks up at me, “Where are we going today?”

“Nowhere, everything is closed.”

“Are the Pokémon sleeping?”

“Yes.”

Take dough, start kneading dough.  Get in argument about how I’m kneading all the dough and we need to share because sharing is a rainbow choice.  Timer goes off.  Have kiddo reset timer. Give kid small piece of dough to pat lightly while kneading larger piece of dough.  Timer goes off.  Put dough with small, lightly padded piece of dough in well-oiled bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap.  Cover with towel.  Tell kiddo to set timer for one hour.

Painfully count to sixty with small child.

“I’m hungry.”

Make toast for child to carry into living room where he proceeds not to touch it.  Go back into kitchen to make topping and filling for cinnamon rolls.

From living room, “Where’s my water?”

Stop work.  Come out to living room to point to his Spiderman water bottle sitting right next to him.  Return to kitchen to make topping only to realise after spreading the topping out I used the wrong level of brown sugar.  Shrug it off after realising there’s nothing wrong with too much sugar.

Make tea and cereal for me.

“I want cereal.”

“We can share.  It’s a rainbow choice.”

Share cereal with child which involves him eating all the cereal and me eating his stale toast.  Timer goes off.  Through some miracle the small one declares, “I have to poo!” (Saying the word ‘poo’ is his second favourite thing to do besides calculating the moment when the house will be engulfed in an inferno.) Child trots upstairs.  I’m allowed to finish the cinnamon rolls in peace.

Prep cinnamon rolls for second rise.

Sit down and realise I should document this as kiddo may one day have a kiddo.  He may one day call in anguish about how he’s always arguing with his smaller self about everything.  Then I will point him to this blog and tell him history is repeating itself.

Happy New Year.

 

 

Why you need to visit the National Space Centre

OMG it’s not a running blurg!

As part of my 2016 promise I fully intend to bring you my 22 utterly devoted readers occasional blogs in which I don’t tell you how much (insert part of body here) is hurting because of training for the London Marathon.  In fact, I could even turn this into a fundraising event.  Donate to my campaign and for every £50 I raise until February 29th I will write about things other than running!  So 1 blog of rambling on things like the fact that as a child I didn’t understand why Easter cards had daffodils all over them and then moved to England and was all like, “OOOOOOOOooooohhh,” for every £50 taken in.

I promise you, those blogs will underwhelm like nobody’s business.

This past weekend I went to Leicester, which the English pronounce as “Lester.”  This is an interesting phenomena of England in that, at some point in history, they decided they were too lazy to pronounce all the vowels of a city but kept all the vowels in the written city name.  I’m assuming this is all just some horrible thing they do so that children never learn how to spell.

Any way, I went to Leicester because:

  1. I am a space nut.  I’ve been to Cape Canaveral, Huntsville, and Mission Control.  Plus, I thought Space Camp the Movie was totally real as a small child.
  2. I have been completely converted into a Doctor Who fan.

So, what better thing to do than attend a Doctor Who Convention at the National Space Centre.

It was amazing.

First, because the National Space Centre really thought itself out.  It’s literally packed with interesting information, exhibits, and in the case of having an almost-four-year-old son: BUTTONS.

Lots and lots and lots of buttons to push and you don’t get in trouble.

My thought is they looked to buttons as a gateway drug.  First, you go to the National Space Centre and get to push all these flashing buttons.  Then, you start learning about why you are pushing those buttons.  Pretty soon you’re at MIT securing your double PhD in aerospace engineering and biomedical sciences and applying for the astronaut programme at NASA… it’s a vicious cycle I tell you.

Buttons aside they have floors and floors interesting information coupled with simulations and models and all sorts.  If I wasn’t so busy admiring the suits of the (reformed to non-assimilation) 15th Cyber Legion I could have spent all day driving around their model Mars Rover.

In terms of “Cons” this Doctor Who event was my second overall, and by far the crowd was way more dedicated to the Cosplay.  Every Doctor imaginable in male and female form was wandering the place and taking to task their sonic screwdriver on model planets and singing Daleks.

Yes, Daleks (well, the reformed ones on planet Earth) sing.

Specifically, they sing Bohemian Rhapsody.

Now while the link above goes to another event I’m fairly sure a few of those Daleks were present at the National Space Centre.  Between the buttons, exhibits, and the one table in the cafe that had a big “DO NOT PRESS” button on it (which, if you pressed, resulted in a rocket “taking off” in the middle of said cafe) you can get quite overwhelmed with things to do.  But at the end of the day, right before we were set to go the Daleks slid gracefully into the lobby and sang Bohemian Rhapsody as a farewell to the crowds.

It was magic.  So long as if you consider magic Daleks gleefully singing about exterminating people.  But magic nonetheless.

So, go to the National Space Centre (the ticket currently gives you free admission for almost every day the rest of the year) and… if you can… go during their Doctor Who convention at least once.  It’s worth it for that slim chance that you may hear the grating song of Daleks floating above the rocket ships and capsules into the bright sky above.

 

 

3,658

Hi there to my dedicated group of 16 or so readers.  I realised something this morning that I thought I should share: I’m getting about as bad at blog posting as the seasons of Sherlock are becoming… highly irregular.  Hopefully, like Sherlock, once my posts do come they are complete and well-formed, preferably with no long list of drugs involved.

So, here’s my year in review: I did stuff last year.  Stuff that wasn’t always running stuff.  Went places, did various activities, ate, slept.  Outside of that I attempted to figure out my small child who has a very interesting mind.  Take for instance yesterday.  Yesterday was my birthday and, according to the candles he insisted I buy, I am 3,658 years old.

That’s right people, it’s time to come clean: I am a Time Lord.

Also, yesterday wasn’t actually MY birthday.  It was OUR birthday, I needed to share it with him.  Except, when he was asked, we weren’t sharing, it was his birthday.  Most importantly, he had all rights to the birthday cake… and the orange number 6 of the 3,658 years old that I am.

Funny thing is his actual birthday, in my opinion, falls in a far better time.  Stuff, for instance, is actually open.  If I was a small child in England the number of things closed the moment the holidays end is staggering.  Amusement parks?  Nope.  Some of the local manor houses with awesome playgrounds?  Nope.  All closed up until February or March.  I’m grateful that my younger years were spent in a place with the seasons of “Summer” and “Not Summer.”  And that “Not Summer” is defined as two weeks sometime in January.

So, what’s this year for me, now that I’ve just turned 3,658 years old?  Perhaps I’ll get the parking brake fixed on the TARDIS, but as that’s never been a priority for me.  I’ve got a third marathon to run, which I’ve been properly prepping for and now have to hit the real mileage training.  I’ve been learning to crochet granny squares, which I intend to make into a really long scarf (it’s a Time Lord thing).  I’m working on attempting to be more creative here and there, and keeping up with my active meditation app.  I’m patiently waiting for the new version of the Undress (seriously, if you are female… or male and are totally cool with wearing a dress… and do any form of exercise you need one).

And I’ll probably watch the new movie for Star Wars about 20 or 30 times.  All my Star Trek readers I’m hoping you’ll accept me for who I am as I love you despite our differences.

I’ll do my best not to be so hideous in my blogs.  To be honest, England still fascinates me and I need to share all the crazy wonderfulness with people.

Here’s to the next 2,721 years until my next re-generation.

 

Dear Messrs Scott, Cumberbatch, and Ms Stubbs

Hi.

I’m sure you recall me.  I was located in the middle-back of the auditorium where you gave your speech.  I was the one pretty much writing out your Q&A verbatim to my friends and family on Facebook.

I was photo call number 3,476,128.  You know, the point of the day where you were kept standing through the power of the love of your fans… or will power… or because your legs had locked… any way I was really impressed you were still standing.  And that you were so kind in a situation which would have overwhelmed me.

I was the one who sat across from you.  Well, more like floated.  I could tell instantaneously why you have had such a long and fruitful career.  Thank you for making me feel special.

I would have never placed myself at a “Con.”  Would have never thought in a thousand years I would sit rapt while listening to talks on “thinking”graphics, or wallpaper.  Never did I think I would find myself standing in line for a photo at a door while listening to a group of girls recalling all the hair colours a strangely named actor has dyed his hair over a five year period.

But, then again, I never thought I would live in England.  Or run two marathons (and 14 half marathons).  Or cycle 50 miles a week to and from work.  Or be a Mom.

Proves you can’t plot out life.

Sitting in the middle-back of the auditorium (Remember? I was wearing black.) I watched as a woman (There were a lot of women there, weren’t there?) tentatively take a microphone and say, “I’ve got a theatre exam in a few weeks and I have problems with nerves.  Do you have any advice?” to which you replied,

“Well, we’re all going to die any way.  So, just have fun with it.”

The room exploded in laughter.  You said a lot after, and most of it was wonderful and profound and passionate.  But the humour and the truth of those first two sentences rang out.

I was sitting at a convention for Sherlock, one of my most loved television shows.  Why?  Because, well, why not?  We’re all going to kick off this Earth so might as well do something we enjoy.

And I enjoyed listening to you.

And meeting you.

And sitting for a brief moment along side you.

You have each inspired me.  Thank you for being a part of one of the most surreal things I’ve done since boxing up my things and moving to this country.

Sincerely,

Me.

Home.

When you are an ex-pat you wind up creating a sort of makeshift family in your new home so far away from your real ones.  They form out of randomness.  You meet at work, or at a club or group you joined.

Or, in my case: Twitter.

I can think of two people who came into my life because of Twitter.  Two people who unlocked more people who helped me, then so new to the UK, make the UK become home.  One of whom, when I attended his wedding, I got to say proudly after a mess of people talked about how in-depth and long they knew him for that I met by accident via 140-characters. (And I got to go on a group outing that was his second date with his now glorious wife.)

But for the other one, the other one came via food and the love of my homeland.  A random request that my husband responded to.

And it turned into something so beautiful and brilliant.

I got to watch the full ascendance of something. The complete rise of a small idea into a full celebration of that idea.  I got to witness a culture form, a rabid and loving culture to boot.  I got to meet people who shared that vision, who were full of joy about a concept so simple that to lots of people it wouldn’t appear to be rocket science.

Turns out that science needed to be Atomic.

The first time I met him we were sat outside. This was before the picnic tables that now sit silent. He was talking about his trip to America as a child. Of being this “fat little kid in a cowboy hat” wanting everything to do with America. That mane of blonde hair. The smile. The gestures. I see that meeting in my mind, distant but pulsing with energy and delight. His nirvana-like state as he drew up pictures and plans and waxed lyrical about burgers of all things.

Burgers.

I was lucky to link my life with this moment of his.  Of being pregnant and crammed into their restaurant about to open, watching him and his business partner confused about why the attendance for preview night was over capacity.  (Because they are awesome, that is why.) Returning to that restaurant with a newborn and realising, after the fact, that our first family portrait was in front of Han Solo frozen in carbonite.   Of celebrating said newborns 1-year birthday there and receiving (as one should) a baby Yoda outfit and hot sauce as gifts.

Every day I have the privilege of cycling past his Oxford creations. Every day I look into the windows to see the people eating and laughing and I silently cheer at their success. When I knew they were moving their original place I managed to rugby tackle his business partner off my bike and plead to see the space before others, and he generously welcomed me in. And I was home.

Home.

That’s what he was, and what he is. For me, he was home.

This past weekend he left us.

A light, brilliant and glorious, dispersed now. Not gone, no. He’s still here. He will forever be in the eyes of his children, in the heart of his wife. He will walk alongside his business partner and best friend, whispering ideas and encouragement. Telling them to grow, telling them to take risks. Reminding them to not take things too seriously, because who would ever take bacon shakes seriously?

As I sit here, I sit here grateful. I sit here with tears in my eyes but a smile on my face. I was so lucky. So terribly and wonderfully lucky to have known a man like him.

As Dr. Seuss so rightfully said, “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”

Thank you for ‘happening,’ Martin. Thank you so very much.

Toddler Burning Man

While not the official title of the holiday week I’ve just returned from (I’m sure there was copyright infringement on the idea, as well as other such as  Toddlerpaloza, Toddle Fair, and Toddlerbury) I have witnessed my child party himself so hard that, on the last night, he tried with every once of strength to figure out how to sleep in the tub.  I need to note this was a full bath with bubbles and his floating duck.

Welcome to Toddler Burning Man.  Okay, Just for Tots, but the theme of love, peace, and dancing yourself into a hypnotic frenzy still counts.

I had a lot of flack thrown at me about Butlins, which was a concept thought up by a fellow named Billy Butlin back in the 1930s about the regular English family being able to go out and afford a holiday.  Things have sort of changed since then, with cheap air travel abundant and the Euro waving at us as a sort of 10% off Europe coupon at all times.  Going to the English seaside is what people call “naff.”  I don’t really know how to translate it other than equate it to the word “icky.”  When I chose Butlins I did so because the idea of traversing a huge distance with a toddler, no matter how low the price, had a very high chance attached to it that I might lose my sanity for the sake of a beach.

SIDEBAR: Toddlers are like living with manic depressives.

Now I do not want to discount mental illness here, but when you have a toddler aggressive mood swings are the norm.  You may be bopping along, singing Old MacDonald for the 5,002 time that day when suddenly, “NO COWS.”  You even hint that there may be a large animal with spots on it and a total screaming, raging, hitting meltdown occurs.  It’s like the old metal bands of the late 80s and 90s smashing guitars onstage and then going on a bender: tipping over your toy fire engine, tossing all your stuffed toys, and then laying face down in a puddle of milk and whimpering for a half hour. (Please note that I’m sure that this is exactly what a metal bender of the 80s and 90s must have been like.)  Then, like a phoenix emerging from crayon shavings they are up and singing about cows again.  Cows were fine, cows were great, cows were… ooh Mr. Tumble is on!  Who is up for a fresh glass of milk and a peanut butter and jam sandwich?

The main thing that drew me to Just for Tots was the idea that I would be surrounded by lots of other families who had ticking time bombs just like my son.  It was sort of like joining an impromptu support group where we would all band together to let our little ones and their 15 minute attention span rule the roost for four glorious days.  It was also my sort of hope that Butlins would harken back to my days of working at Miracle Strip Amusement Park (now being reborn).  As a former resident of the Redneck Rivera the whole idea of going somewhere that may be a bit shabby but had a lot of nice people who genuinely enjoyed their work seemed like a grand plan.

And I’m pleased to say Butlins delivered.

The whole week being catered to tiny people was fabulous, and I was dead right about the impromptu support groups that formed in little pockets as kids rode the same rides a million times over, or needed help up in the soft play or playground.  The ride operators and staff around were kind and helpful (if not fascinated that a clutch of Americans would even visit them).  We had dinner staff who, when witnessing the start of a mood swing rush packed food for my husband and then rang over to the hotel to give him some food vouchers if that wasn’t enough.  We had a maintenance man dash across the promenade to take a photo of us on little motor scooters because he thought we looked lovely together.  And while my son happily smeared chocolate cake over a seat we had a cafe person just smile and wave him on as “we were on holiday.” (P.S. – I did attempt to clean that chair due to their kindness!)

Apparently there were shows and art projects and all sorts of activities, but as my son is more the kind to move over sit still we pretty much bounced between indoor fairground, outdoor fairground, two playgrounds, two play fountains and the hallowed water park, which he referred to simply as “THE BIG FOUNTAIN.”  He let us rent a Dino Bike for a half hour (a four person buggy where two people peddled and one steered) and we whisked ourselves around the site, discovering pieces and parts we didn’t know about and noted things we would do “when we came back.”

For those wanting a bit of the breakdown of what I chose in terms of things I read a million reviews stating The Wave Hotel was the best, so I booked it and haven’t been disappointed.  I also learned, after my son locked himself in the bathroom, that a towel over the door stops that sort of thing and metal spoons can be used to unlock said door.  (Thank you maintenance lady!)  The rooms are funky with the kids room being an underwater theme.  There is piles of storage and we set up a library and toy shelf for his cars as well as stocked the mini fridge with food he would eat if he didn’t like what the restaurant had.

And as for food I didn’t skimp and got the Premium Dining Plan which came with swap vouchers for dinner elsewhere, so we had Turner’s one night and Papa John’s (hey, pizza is a kid food group) another.  Both didn’t disappoint and the main restaurant we ate at had the whole gamut of perfectly healthy to fully fried toast.

Finally I did book a half day spa day at the Ocean Hotel and wasn’t at all disappointed.  They have a big central whirlpool with “bubble loungers,” sauna, steam room, ice room, and two showers encased in mirrors and lights.  There was an outdoor whirlpool facing the fairground and plenty of loungers for people who wanted to read or just sleep.  I ended the day with a should, neck, and back massage and felt it was just enough amount of time.

So if you are considering a holiday that won’t break the bank and will fully appeal to tiny feet – Butlins.  Seriously, Butlins.

I’ve booked to go again next year.