Tales from childhood

October 25, 2014

“Tell me a story when you were little,” demands Leah, looking expectantly at L or me.

This has become one of her stock forms of entertainment when she has some time to kill. She is often sitting on the loo when she asks and this generally works well since she has a captive audience (or in this case storyteller).

So either L or I sit down on the bathroom step and tell her some story from our childhoods.

  • The time I rode my bike around the pool when it was still being built and I fell in (just enough water to break my fall and not enough to drown me).
  • The time L was climbing up the ladder separating their garden from that of her best friend and found a large German shepherd coming up the other side. She got a big fright, ran inside and locked the door – leaving her mother and scared younger sister locked outside with the big dog. (Her mom was not pleased that she refused to open the door!)
  • The time that I saw a “foxy eating Pronutro”. My parents were on an outing to a game park with the four of us children and my older brother and sisters could all identify interesting wildlife while I could identify nothing. So I invented the “foxy eating Pronutro”.
  • The time that I broke a cup and saucer and expected my mother to be really angry and she surprised me with “Oh well, accidents happen. At least you were honest about it.”
  • The time my sister and I went on a holiday with my Granny to the seaside by train. We stayed right next to the beach, played bat and ball, swam, went for walks etc. I also lost one of the tennisette racquets and my gran bought the exact replicas so that my mom needn’t find out.
  • The time that L and her sister went to stay with Nanna and Pops and the twins were born. L and her sister both got a beautiful baby brother to “look after”.
  • Lying in bed listening to my father read me bedtime stories (with my brother listening through the door from the next room). My father read probably the whole of Roald Dahl and most of Arthur Ransome.

Perhaps inevitably I remember stories from my childhood which wouldn’t make for such good storytelling. The time that I was accidentally burned with scalding water in the bath when I was 7 or 8 years old. Sitting on the stairs listening to parents arguing. The time I wanted to kill my brother with a putt-putt stick (I had enough of his teasing).

Leah is a delightfully curious little girl and I can see she appreciates these tales from childhood. If I don’t tell them right she will often suggest some detail that she wants to hear more about. The polite but demanding “When you were little … what?” is mostly too good to resist.

She is also quite impossibly talkative at times (I still wonder if it’s normal for someone to talk non-stop for hours on end).

But I can see that I will need to work on my repertoire of stories from when I was little. Perhaps I can start to invent some interesting stories courtesy of my favourite childhood authors. :-)


October 23, 2014


‘Do you like the race so far?’

I looked at her, trying to find sarcasm, but she was serious; she really wanted to know. And I thought of how to answer her.

I had gotten lost, been run over by a moose, watched a dog get killed, seen a man cry, dragged over a third of the teams off on the wrong trail, and been absolutely hammered by beauty while all this was happening. (It was, I would find later, essentially a normal Iditarod day — perhaps a bit calmer than most.) I opened my mouth.

‘I …’

Nothing came. She patted my arm and nodded. ‘I understand. It’s so early in the race. There’ll be more later to talk about …’

And she left me before I could tell her that I thought my whole life had changed, that my basic understanding of values had changed, that I wasn’t sure if I would ever recover, that I had seen god and he was a dog-man and that nothing, ever, would be the same for me again, and it was only the first true checkpoint of the race.

I had come just one hundred miles.

Gary Paulsen is an award-winning writer of adventure stories for children and young adults and Winterdance is a wonderful account of his experiences on the world’s greatest dog-sledding race, the Iditarod.

I absolutely loved this book and it made me want to run the Iditarod for myself. I appreciate that there is controversy about how some of the dogs are treated (over 140 dogs have died since the race’s start in 1973) but if Paulsen’s account is anything approaching a typical experience then the majority of the dogs are treated extremely well. Part of this is pure survival – your life literally depends on these dogs.

Two of the things I loved about this book was the bond between man and dog as well as Paulsen’s prose style. Paulsen describes in wonderful detail the change that he undergoes as he lives with the dogs all the time and really gets to know them (including the aptly-named crazy Canadian Eskimo dog Devil) in preparation for the race. The second part describes the race itself – from the ‘phony start’ in downtown Anchorage to the treacherous descents of Rainy Pass, the bone-chilling cold of the Yukon and the starkly beautiful Norton Sound.

This is an adrenalin-filled, funny, life-affirming account of a 43-year old Minnesota man’s journey with 15 dogs on the ultimate dog-sledding race. Easily one of the best books I’ve read this year.


I would also recommend watching a clip of the type of sledding that the mushers experience on the Iditarod. Having read Paulsen’s book, I was expecting  a hair-raising crash-filled dash with larger-than-life dog-wolves. The reality is a lot more sedate – until they get to the downhill part. And bear in mind that this clip is taken by one of the experts, a four-time Iditarod winner.

Empathy Tuesday

September 23, 2014

A shout-out for Empathy today. Great short clip by RSA shorts and Brené Brown.

I’m also interested in looking at the roots of empathy in childhood. Two clips which I sometimes show my students are the “Still Face Experiment” and the “Emotional Baby”. In the “Still Face Experiment”, a mother initially reacts to her baby’s distress with a non-responsive face. She then comes alive again in the interaction and it’s a moving example of disruption and repair. The “Emotional Baby” video shows a baby crying in response to the emotion of the mother’s voice singing a moving song.

Our own ‘baby experiment’ is ongoing. Tessie is almost five months old now and is doing well. Both L and I are doing less well and are suffering from sleep-deprivation. Those night-time feeds are a killer (for L – I get to change a nappy and go back to bed). Tonight will be the first time I get to feed Tessie in the middle of the night (if she wakes up, which has become her norm now). I’m really not looking forward to that, but if it means that L gets some sleep then it will be worth it.

I suppose it does help that Tessie is a cute baby (aren’t all babies?) When she gives me one of those smiles then I can get over my need for sleep (at least for a while).


Which brings me round to this. If you don’t see me around the blog – commenting, reading, posting – then this is why. We’re hanging on.


Words and Music

August 25, 2014

Three good discoveries for me on the music front – two recommendations from authors I’m currently reading and the third from a therapy client.

 John Green, author of The Fault in our Stars (see my Goodreads review), recommends Mountain Goats. Here they sing “This Year”. This is the sort of song that grows on me – and it recreates the life of a 17-year old really well.

 Haruki Marukami, author of the running memoir What I talk about when I talk about running, recommends The Lovin Spoonful. Here they sing “You didn’t have to be so nice”. Marukami often listens to them on his long-distance runs.


And then the last band, something of a welcome surprise from a client struggling with depression, is My Chemical Romance. He actually listed one of their songs “The End” as the song he would choose for his funeral! I prefer “The Black Parade”.


Any band recommendations from authors that you enjoy?




Dear neighbour

August 15, 2014

neighbours2Thank you for the anonymous cardboard note in big black letters that you left in our postbox on Tuesday. We understand that you were extremely annoyed by our alarm going off for over 90 minutes and we’re very sorry for the nuisance that this caused.

However, contrary to what you believe, we are well aware of the problem and are trying our best to sort it out. Our alarm guy has been back at least three times to adjust it and we’re really hoping that he’s now fixed the problem.

On Tuesday, Pete was unfortunately stuck at work without a car and so, when the security company called, he was unable to rush back and reset the alarm. L was on a very rare trip to the shops since most days she is stuck at home with a baby and a demanding 3-year old.

We can also honestly say that our alarm certainly doesn’t go off “most days”. Our domestic worker is here three days a week and L is on maternity leave and so hardly leaves the house. Unfortunately we have had to be very security-conscious since we had two break-ins during the renovations.

It would have been nice if you had left your name so we could address your concerns in person. But no matter – the electricity guy kindly pointed out your house to us a few doors away. Might I just add that I can’t help noticing that your house is maybe not as nice as ours. Perhaps you’re a bit envious that we seem to be able to afford extensive renovations? Please be assured that we can’t actually afford them and will be paying off the work over the next 20 years!

Kind regards

Ten posts I could have written

June 13, 2014

1. Renovations? You must be mad and rich

2. Leaks, snags, lots of dirt (and NOISE)

3. Debt, debt and more debt

4. On not sleeping and trying to watch the World Cup

5. The impossibility of sex

6. Losing my Kindle (again)

7. Parenting can be really boring

8. Perspective and how to get it back

9. Goodbye friends, see you whenever

10. On gratitude

Then there are the positives. Kitchen before and after. And two daughters who drive me crazy sometimes but also make be profoundly grateful. (Pictures are below).




Baby in the rubble

May 3, 2014

Dear blogging friends

A quick blog post to share with you a picture of our new bundle of joy. Tessa May, born this past Sunday (27th April, Freedom Day).


Both mom and baby are doing fine, although baby was born five weeks premature and so is still being kept in NICU. That’s where L is today. We just had a delicious hot chocolate at the little restaurant across the road from the hospital and I’ve come home to feed Leah and watch yet another viewing of Frozen. (Had a smile at Courtney’s post “The Cold Never Bothered Me Anyway” since her daughter loves this movie too). Leah tries to sing along and it’s only this week that Frozen has knocked Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music out of the top spots. As I write this, Leah is trying to imitate Ilse in “Let it Go” although mostly that involves trying to spin her dress around and sing whatever words she can remember. Too sweet. :-)

As for Tessie Two, here’s a quick summary. Things have been a bit overwhelming in the last couple of weeks with all the details of the renovations, a couple of break-ins at the renovations and the normal exhaustion of an advanced pregnancy. L was due to give a talk at a conference on Sunday 27th at 12h00 and I think the combination of all the different stressors finally took its toll and Tessie wanted to come out. Of course it could have been the baby shower a few days before. At one point, Leah held up a pair of cute baby shoes towards L’s tummy and said, “Look Tessie!” L’s gynae said that perhaps she couldn’t resist a good pair of shoes!

On the Saturday night, L was in considerable discomfort, which turned out to be labour. So early on Sunday it was off to the hospital and at 12h02, baby Tess made her appearance. A good thing L handed over her conference talk to a colleague on the Saturday since she was scheduled to give her presentation at 12h00. That would have been a dramatic delivery.

We’re very grateful that mom and baby are both fine. And a little overwhelmed at the prospect of nursing a prem baby to full babyhood. One day at a time, right?

Lastly, here’s a pic of the renovations from a few weeks ago with our builder on the left, a pregnant L and a curious Leah. Our new kitchen and family room are to the right with the remains of the back lawn in picture. My office / study / man cave is at the back.



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