March 22, 2013
country life, daily life, photography, seasons, snow
A few days ago, temperatures rose above freezing and the garden began to thaw. Outside on our terrace, the snow melted and long icicles defrosted allowing me the chance to take a macro shot of the arrival of Spring.
Not so. A week later and temperatures dropped again to -5C and the snow storms hit. Yesterday evening I was planning to drive home from the office, but instead chose to jump on the train and asked my very understanding wife to pick me up from the station at the other end. The roads were covered and it would have taken me at least 2 hours to get home. The snow continued through the night and we awoke this morning to this:
The 22nd of March and I had to dig the car out of my drive.
We were discussing this morning whilst driving to the station how as humans we crave the change of seasons. Already we are looking forward to the freshness and warmth of Spring, but 4 months ago, a morning like today would have made us smile and happily clamber around outside in our winter boots. Living in California sounds ideal, but seeing the same weather day in, day out must get mundane. We are looking forward to seeing the annual rejuvenation of our garden and spending time in it nurturing the plants and trees until life flows through them once again.
The beauty of Poland is that the seasons change overnight. There is no gradual blending, just a few days of transformation from one season to the other. Hold that thought, because April is just around the corner!
March 3, 2013
extreme occupations, fitness, foreign travel, fun & games, interesting places, snow, sport
After a break of two years, a group of us decided it was time to reach for the snowboards again for a weekend in Chopok, Slovakia. This was my first time in Slovakia, and after snowboarding in Korbielow and Zakopane in Poland a few years back, I was expecting something very similar with regards to infrastructure on the slopes. So I was pleasantly surprised by the gondolas and chairlifts that we found and the carefully groomed pistes. There has obviously been considerable investment here and we will definately be returning.
It felt really good to get back on the board and into the high altitude fresh air again. Since my last boarding week in Austria, I have lost a little weight and have been visiting the gym regularly which clearly paid off through my lack of aches and pains after 2 1/2 days of continuous activity. I shall keep this up now that I have experienced the difference it makes!
The weather was fantastic on the first day and the views clear from the top. After this, unfortunately the top became a howling snowstorm for the remaining two days which proved interesting when leaving the shelter of the gondola station! Being blown down the slope before getting a chance to get your snowboard attached is a very disconcerting feeling! Still, it boosted the belief that we were ‘hardcore’ boarders, even if we were all terrified for the first few hundred metres down the piste. Needless to say, once a day at the top was sufficient. I’m glad we made it to the top when the skies were clear on the first day – the views were spectacular…
Temperatures dropped to -10C yesterday which was fine, but it did numb the face somewhat after 20 minutes of fast downhill boarding. The only reasonable way to warm up at the bottom was with a varené víno – a glass of hot wine. The downside was that too many of these, and either you became too courageous on the slopes, or started to lose concentration and ended up face-planting on the ice. The latter happened to two of our party who came home with very sore ribs!
We stayed at the Via Jasna Apartments about 9km from the ski lifts. The hotel was very nice with a spa on the -1 level which had a variety of saunas and steam rooms, as well as a large 8 person jacuzzi. Perfect after a full day of fresh air and exercise. If you don’t mind the drive and leaving early (around 07:50) to get a parking place, I can recommend this as a base. We rented an 8 person apartment for ca. €350 for 3 nights incl. breakfast. Here is a map of the main ski area to give you some idea of the variety of slopes – not the Alps, but ideal for a boys weekend away!
February 28, 2013
daily life, family, kids
As the boys are at that age where the tooth fairy is visiting their bedrooms at night regularly and they are profiting nicely from losing their baby teeth, it seems that there are others out there taking full advantage of this free money-making scheme. A conversation I had earlier with my eldest went something like this:
Me: “How was school today, Alex?”
Me: “What did you do?”
A: “I lost a tooth”.
Me: “Great! Can I see it?”
A: “No. Someone stole it.”
Me: “Why would someone steal your tooth?!”
A: “I don’t know!”
Me: “Maybe it was the Bone Collector”
Me: “Well, are you going to try and get it back?”
Me: “How much was it worth?”
A: “5 zloty”
Apparently he wrapped it in a tissue after showing his friends and put it on his desk. He went to the toilet and when he got back, it was gone. So whilst one his ‘friends’ is putting Alex’s tooth under their pillow tonight, we are having to explain to Alex that he shouldn’t worry because the tooth fairy only brings money to the person from where the tooth originated.
It’s a puzzling world out there for a 7-year old.
February 27, 2013
daily life, family, food & drink, kids, recipes
People often ask me what makes a great Dad. In my book, there’s really only one way to become a REALLY great Dad, and that’s to master the complex art of cooking ‘Eggy Bread’. This was past down a generation by my father when he was a scout leader and, from memory, was only ever superseded by his ‘Baked Beans and Tapioca Breakfast Pudding’. For some reason, the latter was never allowed in the house and was only ever cooked over a camping stove which probably added to the flavour. Frankly it needed it. Anyway, I diverge…
Bread. Soaked in egg.
1 slice of brown bread
A small dribble of milk
A sprinkling of basil
…and a frying pan.
Method: Beat the eggs, milk and basil in a bowl. Soak the bread for a few seconds whilst the oil is heating in the pan. Once hot, place the bread in the pan and fry until brown on either side. Serve with lashings of ketchup.
The kids love it and its a quick and easy alternative to cereal or toast. Ah, my cooking skills are endless…
February 24, 2013
birthdays, family, fun & games, homemaking, kids, model making, toys
Do you remember being a cantankerous 5 year old? Moods, manipulation and general monkeying around with the aim of rubbing your parent’s nerves raw? Yes we were all there once (although our memories may not reach that far back now), and we all took enjoyment from it. Well we have, or rather ‘had’, one of those in our darling Benji earlier this month just before his 6th birthday. We had to think of a way to make him understand his own behaviour and the resultant plan created was this…
With 19 days remaining, the boy had a few choices to make. The game was simple. For every day remaining until his birthday, he was asked to do a few good deeds, each one earning a happy face which was added to the chart. If he achieved this, he would earn the lego model of his dreams – the Lego Chima Cragger Command Ship – a picture of which was cut out and stuck to the chart as a friendly daily reminder. This was the theory, and with a little help from his semi-artistic father making the cartoons interesting and ninja-like, Benji entered into the challenge. At the end of each day, we asked him to name 4 things that he had done to help around the house, or which he had done without voicing his usual objections, and once into the mindset, his attitude changed for the better and made him a much nicer little boy to have around!
19 days later, some cartoon creativity and a lot of effort from Benji, and Mum and Dad proudly purchased his prize.
At over 600 pieces, this is the largest set from the Chima range and took several hours to build. Benji got stuck in and his concentration didn’t waver once. Because he actually enjoyed the build-up, I think he has realised that it’s much easier for everyone if he cooperates and we work together as a family. Sometimes you just need to work on their level and the end result makes everyone happy.
If you’re interested, my personal favourite was the Star Wars Angry Birds themed Darth Vader (bottom left on the chart) with the caption “I am your Father!”. That one amused me!
February 23, 2013
daily life, family, fitness, football, kids, sport
In keeping with my most recent sport-related posts, this one is about someone else. As a person who deals with people as part of my daily routine in a sales related role, it is unsurprising that in the evenings and weekends, I like a little peace and quiet time with the family. This is more ‘me’, which sometimes has its disadvantages – living in a foreign country does not always help. However, I am very conscious that my kids need to grow up knowing how to interact socially and be accepted in a group of peers. This is something they will need to develop themselves, but encouragement and example are needed.
So to my pleasant surprise, following a slightly late pick-up from school yesterday, my eldest asked to join the local junior football club for their weekly practice. As we had no other plans (but against my usual judgement for this time of day), I asked the coach if he could join for this week to try it out which he kindly agreed to. Watching the excited look on his face (my son, not the coach), it was a pleasure watching him join his young mates on the ‘pitch’ to kick a ball around. The team was training for their first match this Sunday, so the atmosphere was semi-serious, but a good starting point for Alex to learn the basics. After already having spent an hour at his karate lesson, an additional hour on the pitch was pretty demanding for a Friday night after school, but he fared well and stayed in the game admirably.
It’s tough to judge your own son’s level of sportiness. Is it inherited? Are they really a mini carbon copy of their parents with all the same skill sets? As I watched him run with the ball (shouting motivational encouragement such as “GET IN THERE, SON! BE AGGRESSIVE!”), he was happy and keen to show he was involved in the game. As we know, this is part of it of course, but the other part is feeling that competitive spirit and the need to win. Can that be taught? I’ve always enjoyed sport, but more the partaking than the actual winning – probably positive in some ways, but it’s the ‘finishing’ part which I really want to see in the eyes of my children when they are on the field. Again, it probably can’t be taught, and I’m certainly not going to knock their confidence to the degree where they feel the inherent need to prove something to themselves and others. If there’s any psychologists out there, this is where a little advice would be useful. Messed up kids that do well in life, or kids that have fun and are content just to take part? Tough one.
The main point is that he wants to try again next week. Which is good! I just need to learn to let him play and have fun, and supress the need for me to live my life through him. Hey, what do you know, this post is about me! Just a slightly younger version.
February 22, 2013
country life, poetry, running, snow, sport
Serene white powder reflects bright
moonlight bathing in tranquil silence.
Profiles easily identified by day require a second glance;
an unconscious urge to pacify overactive imaginations.
The golden ambient warmth of street lights
illuminate the gently drifting, swirling flakes.
The resulting landscape, nature’s way
of turning frigid objects into marbled sculptures.
Dogs growl protectively from behind locked gates,
and warmed felines observe from windowsills
with an evolved predatory awareness of the night.
Both watch as the preoccupied mind glides by.
Dark street shadows hide definition and form;
prying eyes glimpse only freezing air animating hot breath.
Suspended, but quickly dissipated by forced progress,
the darkness envelops and the snow resumes its steady flow.
On the track, a repetitive pace creates hypnotic patterns,
cadence is key; a mind focused on balance and rhythm.
The snow crunches and the heart pounds as
arms pump to increase efficiency and stride.
Oblivious to the watchful surroundings,
adrenaline courses through the runner’s body as
sweat trickles and muscles burn;
imposing a calm, solitary concentration.
Efficiency takes practice.
Clearing the mind by absorbing the trail,
and a welcome respite from the mundane and lethargic.