Accidents and Chocolate Cake

Before getting a little emotional on Friday before my last school pick-up for a long time (as my postgrad acting course at GFCA starts tomorrow – eeek!) I made sure to enjoy my last free day alone with both boys at school. I slept in, took a long walk in the sun and had a late lunch and prosecco.

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I got a little emotional thinking that I won’t be able to pick the boys up from school myself now until December, their last week of term, when my term has finished. But then, I get to drop them off, and I remembered why I’m doing this and that I’ve been at their beck and call pretty much for six years, so I think it’s time!

I really wanted to make the most of this last chilled weekend, though before the madness starts, so we had a lie-in on Saturday and I took them to the amazing Sheriff Centre Hullaballoo soft-play in West Hampstead. It’s the most amazing place, with soft play for under 2s (£2) and over 2s (£4). They get to stay in for ages, if it’s not busy I don’t think they ever kick you out! It is a huge converted church (actually still used in part as a church) but with a post office inside, sofas, free books and games to borrow, so you can sit and enjoy yourself while still keeping an eye on the kids and the café not only does coffee and nice food but also WINE and beer!! Plus the people there are lovely. In other words, it’s just heaven to a knackered parent like me. I would literally live there all the time if it were possible. They serve their tea in proper vintage, mismatched china and before my wine I had lovely porridge with cinnamon and honey.

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Unfortunately, two hours killing themselves in the soft-play is not enough to tire out my insane kids, so I put them in the garden to play and regretted it after both of them fell off the garden wall, one after the other. Luci first, nosedived headfirst off the wall, god knows how, and yelled in that way that even the most lazy, unsympathetic parent (me) uncharacteristically bombs it down the stairs immediately to see what’s wrong. He had a huge shiner on his forehead but 10 minutes of icepack and a cuddle later he was perfectly happy to sit in bed and watch Team Umizoomi. So I started dinner… 5 minutes later, Gabs runs in and falls dramatically on the floor, bent double. “Go to the toilet!” I cried, misreading his bending double. Then I noticed his weird breathing and crying: “I’m injured! You have to call an ambulance!” he cried, dramatically. I’m not inclined to panic but I did get a bit shaky when I noticed the colour drain from his face and his lips start to turn blue. He had scraped the whole side of his body and was clearly in shock. I panicked and got Remus out of his teaching room, when he started to say, “I’m tired” and go all floppy, I was starting to think I should set off the to hospital, but then we tried the magic, “How Serious Is It?” litmus test. We offered him his Samsung tablet to play some minecraft in bed. It works every time. If he wants the tablet, he’s fine and it’s a non-emergency. If he says no, it’s super-serious. So we gave him some calpol and water and checked on him and eventually he got some colour back and Mummy had a medicinal brandy (yucky cheap stuff I use for baking, but needs must!)

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Today, Sunday, I had to teach and say goodbye to some lovely violin students who I won’t have time for anymore but who I have grown very attached to. 😦 Curiously, absolutely everyone today needed work on something major on either hand and I ended up photographing everyone’s progress so they can refer back as they practise. I am keeping my smallest pupils on, who I will teach at 8:30 on a Sunday morning for as long as I can manage it. I so love my pupils. Teaching will always be something I want to do.

I also taught my Gabs, trying to help him get used to his new 1/4 size violin, which he’s finding a bit traumatic – Aspies don’t like change! I also cleaned the kitchen floor, made popcorn and a chocolate cake and a risotto and got Gabs to complete his homework. I was on fire today!

My crowning achievement was definitely the chocolate cake made as a treat for my amazing boys to say thank you for supporting me in pursuing my dreams and my new acting course! G for Gabs, R for Remus, L for Luci…

In the absence of letter cutters, I had to make templates with greaseproof paper. It didn’t work particularly well. If anyone is reading this and wants to buy me R, G & L and heart-shaped cookie cutters for Christmas I wouldn’t turn them down.

Gabs helped me decorate.

I’m not sure if they liked it…

This may be the last blog I have time to write until Christmas… I don’t know. Maybe I will have time to write a bit about the course but I wouldn’t bank on it. Any post will be a bonus! So have a wonderful Autumn, all and see you in December, if not before!

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Coco & Gabs in Paris! … Day Two

The Pullman Paris Tour Eiffel is a very business-class, modern style hotel so not for you if you’re looking for boutiquey Parisian romance, but it was perfect for us for it’s amazing proximity to it’s namesake landmark. It was a little run down in some places, (like if you looked up to the balcony above – but why would you?!) but Gabs loved it and I have to say this: The bed was AMAZING! I had an unbelievably good night’s sleep and only struggled to get out of it the next day because we had overdone it the day before. I really wanted to make the most of every minute before our train back to London for Gabi’s sake, so had set my alarm for 07:30 (06:30 GMT) so we could go out early. Ha! Fat chance. And although Gabs got himself up at 8am and, unbelievably for him, dressed himself! I quickly realised I wasn’t the only one who was feeling it, as you can see from his face! …

 I was going to take the boy out to a café for croissants and chocolate milk but he had got the idea stuck in his head that he had to have breakfast in the hotel, so down we went and it was actually really great. He stuffed himself with mini-pain au chocolats until he couldn’t move and I had sausage and scrambled eggs, a bucket of cappuccino and a lot of very good, freshly-squeezed orange juice. Like that helps you climb 704 steps…

When weIMG_0179 first looked out on our balcony, the top of the tower was completely shrouded in fog! It had never occurred to me that could happen and we were both delighted with how creepy cool it looked, though it had mostly cleared by the time we got there.

Having done the trip to the top by lift in the night time, our plan (devised by Gabs) was to take the stairs to levels one and two in the daylight. First, we walked round the park to get a really good view of the whole thing and I was so happy to see Gabs just as excited about it as the day before and talking all the time about how amazing it was. Then we climbed the 704 steps to the second floor, which for a little boy with hyper-mobility issues who usually whinges about pains in his legs when walking, he scampered up remarkably quickly! There is a staggering amount of steel inside the tower and Gabi was fascinated by the fact that it all comes from Romania (where his Daddy’s from) and pondered how they got it all over here without the ship sinking…

The view of Paris was a little foggy and Gabs wasn’t that bothered by it anyway, he loved being inside the stairwell the best so we went down to the first floor which is all redone since I was there last. Gabs was really disappointed the ice-rink is only there at Christmas time as he liked the sound of trying it out, but 30 seconds later he was distracted by the gift shop where we got gifts for Daddy and Luci. The great thing about the new first floor is the transparent floor, which made me dizzy but didn’t bother Gabs at all who was just fascinated by seeing people like ants on the ground below. Apparently it was even scarier when they first put in completely clear glass and people were getting freaked out by vertigo so now they have tiny little dots in it so you can kind of tell you’re standing on something.

Skipping back down the steps Gabi saw two young, friendly-faced Japanese boys, maybe 20-25 yrs old, one of whom wore a bright-red jumper. Don’t know what possessed him but he stared the guy straight in the face and said in a loud voice, “Hel-lo, ‘Mr Tomato’!” The guys looked taken aback but laughed and then a few steps later, still in their ear-shot, Gabi noticing the “600 steps” mark on the steel cries out, “600 steps to go??! NO! That is just an INSULT!!!” I tried not to laugh and said that if anything is was an insult it was probably the “Mr. Tomato” comment. If you like travelling incognito and doing your sightseeing without attracting too much attention, Gabi’s probably not the person to go with…

So Gabi said his goodbyes to the tower and we pootled off down the very pretty Avenue de Suffren back to our new favourite place where we’d had dinner the night before. The same smiley waiter greeted us and I was really proud of Gabs who is – mystifyingly for a half-Romanian – massively resistant to speaking any foreign languages at all, for managing to say, “Je voudrais un chocolat chaud s’il-vous-plait” (and it was one bad-ass Parisian hot chocolate the like of which I never tasted in my life) before falling asleep – again! – under my coat, to the bemusement of our waiter who remembered us from the night before. At lunch time ‘Saffren’ is full of well-dressed native Parisiens and business people sharing a bottle of wine (why am I only person holding up my end of that convention in London?!) over giant platters of glazed spare-ribs, lobster-and-oysters or steak frites. It was nice to be surrounded by natively-spoken French and you know you’ve found a good-‘en when the locals eat there.

While Gabs slept and I had coffee and crème brûlée, the waiter came over to chat and tell me about his son who is studying at a university in London. It was clear that he missed and was proud of him, and it seemed to me that he felt, through talking with us just before we went for our train he was making some sort of energetic contact with his son, through us. Such a look of fatherly love mixed with sadness in his eyes, like he wished with everything he had he could jump on that train in our place. We will go back and find him next time we are back in Paris.

Meanwhile, Gabs played Atlas with his mini Eiffel Tower in the lobby while I charged my phone and then it was time to say goodbye for the last time to his beloved steel monument (even I got a bit emotional, his obsession has rubbed off on me and after so many hours spent with that bloody tower, I started to think of it as a person – what the hell?!). Then a tired boy rode the metro back to Gare du Nord and was, again an angel all the way home. The journey home was as beautiful as the rest, with this sunset appearing as we travelled through the French countryside to the tunnel, and Gabs was good enough that I could sneak off the buffet car for a last glass of bubbles…

At this point, before we make our return to London and real life, I have a confession to make: I never did give much of a crap about Paris, as a concept. I mean, everyone always falls over themselves to get to kiss at the top of the Eiffel Tower, Americans in movies shriek with excitement when they get to go, and I understand it’s atmospheric and beautifully constructed, but I just couldn’t make myself want to go. I don’t know why! Well, I don’t know what Gabs has done to me, or if it was the wine or being at the le tour itself for so many hours and it just grew on me, but first of all it is just a spectacular piece of art and the longer I looked at it the more it fascinated me, and second of all I started to feel at home in Paris and suspect that it might be just a tad friendlier than it dares to let on. Maybe it was just being in such good company and seeing it all through my Gabi’s eyes, but I really started to fall a little bit in love with this city… Paris, we will be back! ❤

And LOOK what was waiting for us at London Kings X-St Pancras!!!

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Nothing Paris has to offer could be more beautiful…

Coco & Gabs à Paris! Day One…

We are in Paris!!! (I am actually writing this on the eurostar home.) Gabi, who has been obsessed with the Eiffel Tower specifically, and with Paris in general for about a year and a half now, has finally achieved his dream of visiting it, IN REAL LIFE!!! For about a year he was constantly talking about it, drawing pictures of it, zooming in on it on Google Earth and asking to go. Then eventually he stopped asking to go but we would find pictures like this lying around:

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(I asked him what the building was next to the tower and he said, “My Hotel”.)

And when nothing happened for a year, he just stopped altogether. Except on the last day of term after we had already, unbeknownst to him, booked the tickets, when he burst into tears and wept all the way to the car, “You promised me a year and a half ago we would go to Paris and we still haven’t been, that means I’m NEVER going to go!!” So he had basically given up on it when we gave him the trip for Christmas in the form of a Paris-themed box of gifts including a miniature Eiffel Tower, a Paris calendar to mark off the days until his trip, passport holder with his new passport in it, and his tickets in a gorgeous little fake-book box with the Eiffel Tower on the front.

Finally, 50 days and a hell of a lot of red pen later …. IMG_9793 So, yesterday morning, we woke up at 6:30am and Daddy and Luci dropped us at the tube station to go to King’s X-St. Pancras to catch the Eurostar. Both of them were clearly a bit emotional, Daddy because he wasn’t going to see his Gabi’s face when seeing Paris for the first time and Luci because he wouldn’t get “cuddle with Mummy” at bedtime. Luci cried all the way to nursery 😦 But we knew nothing of that, we were off to Paris! IMG_9811

When I originally booked the tickets I did something so stupid; I booked for the wrong week by mistake and had to call in an embarrassed flap saying, “I thought it was half-term, it’s not! Please can we move the booking to real half-term!” And it was lucky I did, because the lady on the phone was so chatty and nice and upon learning about one 5 yr old Asperger boy’s dream trip, made sure we had not only the right time and day of the freaking week but also two forward-facing table seats right next to the buffet car on both legs of the journey.

Consequently, Gabs was an angel for the whole 2 hrs 50 mins, reading, drawing and playing on his Samsung tablet (what the hell would we do without that thing, eh?), being cute and funny and impressing the man opposite with his bizarrely adult vocabulary and amazing knowledge of chemistry (the plus side of Aspergers).

Unfortunately, 2 hrs 50 minutes turns out to be exactly his limit, because the second we hit the ground at Paris Gare du Nord, he immediately turned into a noisy, stimming, fidgeting, flapping nightmare, just as I was trying to figure out le metro map (the other side of Aspergers). After managing to narrowly avert a falling on the tracks disaster by grabbing his hood, we made it on three metro trains from Gare du Nord to Bir-Hakeim without incident and without drawing any more attention to ourselves than Santa Claus might at a BBQ pool party.

We got a thrill when we were trundling along in the metro and suddenly, through the window, this appeared: 

and then, just a few steps around the corner from the station, we saw our hotel… RIGHT next to the Eiffel Tower! Gabs was beside himself when he saw how huge it looked from our balcony!

He loved the novelty of a hotel room and wanted to stay, but we were starving (3:30 Paris time, 2:30 GMT) and had to go out for lunch. More highly AS behaviour followed, I struggled with him knocking things over, repeatedly over-loud voice-level and him being over-emotional and misunderstanding and misinterpreting everything I was saying and crying loudly, basically being impossible to keep calm or still in his seat. I felt like I was having a heartattack from all the stress and teeth-gritting, so after a quick trip round the corner to check out the tower, it was a relief to get him back to the hotel for a nap while I took a shower.

I let him watch TV for a bit until it got dark, as we wanted to catch the lift to the top of the Eiffel Tower after dark to see the lights of Paris! So we queued ‘at dusk’ – I’ve always wanted to use that in a sentence! – in time to see the lights come on. The queue for tickets was all right but it takes forever to get everyone in to the lifts and up to the very top of the tower. People are so very un-British here; when they queue they stand so bollocking close to each other I could probably have lifted both feet off the ground without falling over. It was OK for me, because it kept us all warm in the bitter winds whipping around us, but poor Gabs permanantly had his face in someone’s arse and no amount of me elbowing people made them stop. It made me cross and I was surprised he didn’t have a sensory-overload panic attack but he was just amazing. It helped that I’d dangled the carrot of a large Eiffel-Tower lolly as a prize for getting to the top.

It was painfully, harshly cold at the top because a stinging wind whips around you and you are just so high up with no protection from the elements, but Paris is Oh So Beautiful at night!! I have been up once before and I don’t remember being so impressed. Maybe the company of a little boy who was loving it helped. Gabs was for once quite quiet which means he was taking it all in but you can tell from his face he was a very happy little boy indeed. Dream fulfilled.

 My Gabi ❤

We phoned Daddy to say, “We love you!” from the top, and looked at the view all the way round and then Gabs was very firm that he had had enough and was frozen and wanted to go back down. It took even longer to queue to get down and by the time we reached the bottom we were both exhausted and freezing, but somehow elated and hyper from the blissful feeling of a dream having been realised.

Then, just as we thought we were tired enough to be over the whole thing, this happened…

We walked a long way up and down Rue de Saffren trying to suss out the right place to eat because we had been a bit disappointed at lunch time and wanted ambience and proper French food. I also had three top requirements: champagne for me, steak for me and crêpes for Gabs. I found all those things at a great brasserie restaurant called ‘Saffren’ where all the nicest people seemed to congregate. The smiliest waiter in Paris looked after us and made jokes, a gorgeous Spanish couple loved Gabs and ruffled his hair and the energy in the place was golden.

At 10pm French time, I woke Gabs up to walk home and he started to say he felt homesick, because “at home there are lots of birch trees, and here are spruce trees and birch trees are so nice and spruces not so nice.” So after two minutes to appreciate how very lucky we were to have this view from the hotel (thank you Daddy for pulling out all the stops), we snuggled into bed the very best kind of tired after maybe the most magical day in the life of my boy.

Thank You, Paris! ❤

Our Family Shoot with Schryver Photo

Remus has wanted some proper family photos practically since Lucian grew big enough to stop looking like a tiny alien, so for his Christmas present I organised for us to have a photo shoot with the lovely Helen Schryver of Schryver Photo so he can have one big picture to put on the wall and some smaller ones in frames around the house, and for me, my favourite bit – plastering them all over facebook!

I met Helen at the Mile in Memory of Matilda Mae walk and loved the photos she took of me and the boys and especially of me playing the violin. So I booked her this Summer to capture some pics of my Classical Babies On the Beach concert at JW3.

This December, she came up to our place in NW London and took some photos of us in the living room. She is such a relaxed, friendly energy to have in the house and somehow managed to catch us looking natural right away, even while we were still settling into it.

These are just some of my favourites, in all we have something like 70 great shots to choose from.

Helen was keen to get us outdoors in nature for at least half of the shoot and we are lucky enough to live five minutes walk from one of the most beautiful spaces in London and at this time of year the light is unbelievable (if you’re lucky enough to get a dry day.) So we pulled wellies and coats on and walked round the corner to Golders Hill Park. It was so freaking easy, we forgot she was there, we just walked and talked. We didn’t have to pose or do anything at all.

 Remus’ favourite is the one of us holding the boys so we will probably get this one framed.

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But the ones that made me suddenly feel emotional were these amazing shots of Gabs and his Daddy messing around together. You can see how how similar they are, the energy between them and how much they love each other. Of all the photos I can see us treasuring these ones the most when we are really old and Gabs is a grown man.

I also love this one of Luci and me because he reminds me of me when I was little and I love that we are the same. He was getting a bit tired at this point but it is so him.

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Then we took the kids to this hollowed out tree and fallen tree trunk they used to play in last Summer. They’ve grown too big to both fit in the tree at the same time but she captured gorgeous ones of each individually and the two of them together. They move at the speed of light so I’m not sure how she managed to catch them but she did it! I love these.

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The log was wet and slippery and Luci wouldn’t stand on it unless he was holding Gabs’ hand.

But my favourite ones of all are of Remus and me, looking like we’re out of Hello magazine or Country Living or something! Now I don’t want to suggest that we’re not photogenic, just that we’re not usually both photogenic at the same time:

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So these are like gold-dust:

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The light was really special and the day was as much the present for Remus as the actual photos as we really enjoyed ourselves. It is a really happy memory for us.

If you want to see more of Helen’s work, go to schryverphoto.com. She specialises in family photography and weddings, and she’s so skilled in getting the best out of children and photographing them at their best while they run around and play, but if you look at the photos of my concert on the beach (see link above) you’ll see that she can probably do anything well! I can’t recommend her enough.

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Happy New Year 2015 love from the Azoiteis! Coco, Remus, Gabs & Luci xxx

Alcohol-free Until February!

1st January 2014 – I Go Alcohol-free!

I’ve been planning this for a long time, but I forgot to tell anyone save a few close friends and family. For some reason it’s important for me to blog about it before I start and I just have time to sneak a quick post in before 2013 closes, so…

After X no. of months (I’d rather not say how many but it’s more than 1 year) of drinking the obligatory “my kids are nuts, God-help-me!” glass of wine pretty reliably every night… errr, plus a bit, I decided that it’s become a little bit too much of a habit, nay – a  crutch! While I wasn’t concerned that it was an uncontrollable issue – I like my wine and have thus far been happy to indulge myself, but by nature once I’ve decided to do something I can be freakishly tenacious – it struck me that one shouldn’t have to exercise tenacity in order to have a few nights without a drink. If you do, it’s clearly no little luxury, more a way of life.

To be honest, it’s been a way of life that’s worked beautifully for me until now. Two boys less than two years apart was a crazy undertaking! and sometimes that glass of red was the only thing stopping me from blowing a gasket at bed time. But there’s only so many years you can use that excuse! Plus I wake up sooooo tired every morning, it costs a fortune and it’s definitely ageing (I can’t remember the last time I was I.D.’d in Sainsbury’s 😦 ) and actually, really I just got bored of it. It’s not that my wine consumption particularly worried me. Yes, I had that fleeting moment of thinking “God, I drink a lot of wine, maybe I’m an alcoholic!”. But then I realised alcoholics don’t leave a bottle of £16 Barbera to breathe for an hour while cooking, sniffing several times before tasting and skipping around the kitchen in glee…. (No,wine-snobs do – Oh God, that’s worse!) It’s just that I’m not really a fan of routine in any sense (my boys’ erratic schedules are testament to that!) and even pleasure gets boring after a certain amount of time. You can, indeed, have too much of a good thing…

It was, appropriately enough, in Wetherspoons that the idea struck me. The day before, I’d finished up some left over Indian tonic water from Remus’ birthday party to make room in the fridge (for more wine, probably! 😉 ) and the next day I had a ‘Mummy’s day-off haircut/shopping/read-a-magazine day’ all to myself. I rounded it off with a white-wine spritzer. As I sipped it, I felt vaguely disappointed thinking, “This doesn’t taste as nice as the tonic water I had yesterday”… in other words, “Why don’t I just have the spritz and not the wine if it tastes better?!” and boom! the ‘auto’ part of my automatic drinking was blown open.

The other part of my impulse to stop was just that I’m a huge fan of taking stock of my life on a regular basis, from my routines, to my relationships, to belief systems – my own and inherited ones – in other words, leaving as little hidden in my subconscious as possible, living from a place of conscious creation rather than unconscious reaction if that doesn’t sound too “kooky” – and New Year is one of my very favourite times to do this. So an alchohol-free start to 2014 seems like a really good idea and for at least the first two months – with one, and only ONE exception of my sister’s 40th birthday party on 4th Jan – I will not imbibe, inhale or intravenously inject any alcoholic beverages into my system!

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Now, I’m not saying it’s going to be easy. If it was, then I wouldn’t need this Pinterest board of nice non-alcoholic drinks ideas as inspiration, nor would I be making such a meal of it in this extended sympathy/support-garnering blog-post. I just know that I’m going to do it and it’s a great idea! It seems lots of other people think it’s a good idea too as I’ve just been introduced to the idea of Alcohol Concern’s Dry January by a friend who’s joining in and raising money for charity. I’m not joining in with this, partly because this is a mission that’s very personal to me and I don’t quite feel like making it a group  effort this time, also I’m doing it for at least two months not one (after which I’ll introduce alcohol back in on a far less than daily basis!). This for me, isn’t a New Year’s resolution, or something to do every year as a detox. For me, it’s a larger cycle body and mind reset, taking me back to my pre-parenting days when a drink was not a daily ritual but something to have at a party or on a dinner date. Also, I partly don’t feel like asking for sponsorship for this as I have some special fundraising events planned in 2014 (Gradeoneathon for Children in Crossfire and for The Lullaby Trust) and I don’t want people to get bored of me asking them for money before then. But it’s still nice to know I won’t be the only one going alcohol-free in the New Year and I wish everyone doing Dry January lots of luck!

Bring on 1st January. I’m really quite excited!