It takes a Village

This is a still from a film Brooks worked on recently called Cold Hands.

It’s written and directed by Mac Carr, shot in beautiful Falmouth, Cornwall. 

Brooks’ portrayal in the film really is stunning, and I hope you get a chance to see it. I’m a little biased, of course, but it really is a fantastic film. 

Being cast in films and TV projects means that sometimes he has to be away filming for lengths of time – either in the UK or abroad.

His jobs are often fun, sometimes crazy and intense, at times weird and unexpected. 

He can tell you all about that time he arrived in the Ukraine on a grey winter’s day to film an advert and he was picked up at the airport by a proper James Bond caricature villain. 

This man was huge. A good 2 meters and 2m wide. (Okay. No. But he was huge) 

He was standing in the arrivals foyer with a note that said Brooks in large letters. Brooks walked up to him and said cheerfully that he was Brooks. The man didn’t respond, but rather looked at him in complete silence. Then he simply gestured for Brooks to start walking. 

The James Bond villain walked him, in silence, to the car park where he gestured for Brooks to get in the back of a huge black Mercedes (- villain). 

There was a bullet proofed window between him and the driver (- villain) and the man drove him, in silence, all the way to the centre of the town to a manicure salon (er… – villain?) and then later the hotel.  (- villain).  Again, all in silence. 

Brooks rang me so many times that night. To make sure the kids and I were okay of course. 

Although we’re obviously overjoyed when he gets a job, because it’s his passion in life and he works so hard, it’s tough when he goes away, not only from a logistical point of view. 

Anyone with kids will tell you that it’s not an easy feat to look after kids on your own and three of them? 

Well, let me tell you – it’s a completely different ball game altogether. 

It’s the Big League people. 

This house runs a military camp. 

Everything is ready and set out the night before. 

The kids know the drill. When daddy is away, they must help mummy more at home.  When daddy is away, mummy turns into a drill sergeant. 

The food for the week is prepped and ready. The school bags are ready for school, their water bottles, packed lunches done, books, after school and club stuff sorted, tennis lessons, guitar and piano lessons, Taekwondo, football and swimming and Lord knows what else – all of it has to be ready and organised.  Mine and the kids’ clothes are ready and laid out ready for the week. We arrange play dates, we head to the library and go to the park after school.

Sounds fun yes, but it’s exhausting. 

If you’re on your own you don’t really get a break either. My kids have never been great sleepers and so they tend to be up a few times every night. 

I also sometimes get a bit scared. It’s a big house and I’m forever grateful for my dog’s presence – just in case. 

Gorgeous Friends

It also reminds me how lucky I am to have the best of friends.  My friends will offer to give the kids a ride to and back from school, have them over for play dates – you name it. 

Especially if you’re an immigrant like myself and my family are miles and miles away. My in laws are incredibly supportive as well, and will always help when Brooks is away. 

There’s a saying isn’t there. It takes a village and never was a truer word spoken. 

Separation Anxiety and Why We Need More Coffee

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I can see the light…

I can still hear him. It’s almost inaudible, but there.  He’s softly humming to himself. 

I hold my breath. I can feel sweat running down my brow. I exhale slowly and try ignore it. 

I extend my foot. Very slowly I set the foot down on the floor. 

A floorboard creaks loudly and I freeze to the spot.

The humming has stopped. 

He is listening. 

I shift my weight somewhat and press my body next to the wall. If I can just move out of the room fast enough he won’t detect me. 

I take another step and there’s no sound. I exhale slowly.  I can see the light coming from the other room. Two more steps and I’ll be out of here. 

I take another step and suddenly my knees croak. It sounds like someone just broke off a branch off an old Oak tree.  Thank you Age. 

Suddenly I see a dummy flung across the room. This is not a good sign. I peek around the corner.

Night lamp

He is definitely awake. He is listening and he is NOT happy. 

I know what must be done. I don’t like it as the risk of getting spotted are extremely high. I lie down flat on the floor and army crawl over to the dummy. With the dummy safely in my hand, I crawl over to the cot and deposit the dummy inside the cot.  I look up tentatively. He’s taken the bait. 

It seems he has settled back. There is hope yet.  For now. 

I stay lying down for what seems like hours. I can’t hear a thing apart from my own heartbeat.  

I crawl back to the door and slowly get up to my knees first, then to standing. 

I decide to risk it and take another step. I’m so close, I’m in the light, I’m standing at the opening. 

The new episode of Bodyguard is lined up and ready on catch up downstairs. 

That’s when it starts. First, a kind of anxious and low key sound that progressively moves into full blown screaming… 

The baby is up and the baby wants Mama. 

Recognise the scenario? 

Separation anxiety in children is a BEAST. They never tell you that in your NCT classes do they?

SLEEP THIEF

My youngest is 11 months and have for the past month or so been going through a tough phase of separation anxiety. No one but Mum will do.

I can leave him for a few minutes with someone else, but after a while he will look around for Mum and cry. Nighttime is a real killer.

I know it’s anxiety, rather than say hunger or thirst, as he will stop crying as soon as I pick him up or soothe him.

So what do you do? You ride it out. 

There’s nothing for it. Cuddle baby, soothe and comfort baby. Soon she/he will understand that Mum (or Dad) has to go away for a little while but they always come back.  

I know the books that say “let baby cry out” and all that. If that’s how you want to approach it then by no means do so. No judgement.  But it’s not for me. I’ve found with all my kids that patience and perseverance do the trick. 

It doesn’t mean it’s an easy ride though. My brain feel like porridge. I’m tired and short tempered. I feel about 200 years old. My god, I’m so, so tired. 

How long can you actually function on zero sleep but huge quantities of tea and coffee? Has there been a study on this? If not, there should be. 

But the truth is – these days fly by so fast. Blink your eyes and they’ll be teenagers begging you to stay out of their room. 

Babies be like.

My oldest is 9 and he doesn’t need me in the same way anymore. Although I welcome the maturity and independence in him, I do also miss hearing those little feet tiptoeing into our room and snuggling up to us in bed. 

So for now, I’ll have to keep my Ninja moves nimble and ready for action and up my coffee consumption. 

Richard Madden will have to wait.

How to make a Swedish Sandwich Cake

Any Swedish birthday party, christening or work do would not be the same without a luscious tasty smörgåstårta – the much loved sandwich cake.

Layers of bread with gorgeous filling in between each layer. Finished off with a savoury icing and decorations on top. (Yes. You can probably tell I like smörgåstårta.)

My husband and I met at Uni. We had not been going out for long and it was his birthday coming up. I wanted to surprise him and make him something really special for his birthday. Awesome girlfriend points and all that.

He came over to my house and I sang happy birthday and presented him with the cake. He looked confused:

“- Aw thank you… You’ve made me a… Er… Mega club sandwich?

⁃ No! Well, I guess it might look like a club sandwich to you… It’s a sandwich cake. A Swedish specialty.

⁃ Ah…. You said you made me a birthday cake?

⁃ Yes. This. Is. A. Cake. Ta da!

⁃ But… cakes are sweet. This is savoury? It’s a sandwich –

⁃ …Cake! See?”

He tried the cake, he loved it and married me.

I realise that the sound of a savoury cake might seem a bit strange. You know, a bit like Peter Kay and the Garlic Bread… (If you’ve not seen the clip I’m referring to then look it up – it’s hilarious!)

For my Swedish friends, however, smörgåstårta is as normal and traditional as meatballs and lingonsylt, IKEA and rain on Midsummer Night’s eve.

I’ve made a few of these through the years and they’re always very popular. For birthdays, school graduations and for our children’s christenings.

There are hundreds of recipes out there. You can use so many different fillings – tuna, bacon, ham, pate, egg, prawns and salmon – whatever takes your fancy.

My absolute favourite is the tuna mayo and prawn variety. I have a recipe I’ve used over the years. I’ve adapted it somewhat to suit my British family’s palates and I thought I’d share it with you here:

Jessica’s Swedish Sandwich Cake

(This cake will feed about 15 – 20 people)

A big tray covered with foil

Spatula

Chopping board

3 mixing bowls

Ingredients:

2 loaves of white (toast) bread (about 45 pieces). This depends on the size of the tray of course.

Filling 1, Tuna:

3 cans of tuna in water

2 dl mayonnaise

3 dl cremefraiche

1 tbl Dijon mustard

1/2 lemon juice

Dill, finely chopped

Salt & pepper to taste

Filling 2, Prawn:

300g peeled prawns

1/2 lemon juice

1 dl dill, finely chopped

2 dl mayonnaise

2 dl creme fraiche

For the “icing”

2 dl whipping cream

3 dl creme fraiche

0.5 dl mayonnaise

1 dl dill, finely chopped

1/2 lemon juice

For decorating the cake:

Hard-boil and peel 5 eggs then finely chop

Prawns (about 300 gr)

Cucumbers, very thinly sliced

Cherry tomatoes

Lemon slices, cut into triangles

Dill

Red or Black roe (optional)

Method:

Keep your fillings in two separate bowls. Drain the water from the tuna. Mix all the ingredients. Season with salt and pepper.

Do the same with your second mixture.

Put the fillings the fridge while you start on your “icing”.

Whip up your cream to just about the soft peak stage.

Fold in the creme fraiche and mix gently. Fold in the mayonnaise, dill and lemon juice and mix gently.

Leave in fridge to cool.

Get your bread ready by cutting off all the hard edges.

Lay the bread down to make an even first layer – 9 in total.

Get your fillings from the fridge.

Gently add some of the tuna filling to the first layer. Leave a little space at the edges or the filling will spill out at the sides.

Add a second layer of 9 bread slices on top of your tuna filling.

Now add your prawn filling and then repeat the process twice. (1 more layer of tuna, 1 more prawn)

You will end up with 2 layers of each filling in total.

Add a final layer of bread.

Get your icing out of the fridge and completely cover your cake with the icing. Use a spatula as it always end up a bit messy.

Once you’re done then wrap the cap carefully with clingfilm and leave in the fridge.

This cake will taste better if made ahead of your party, preferably the night before.

Party Time! Now comes the fun part – decorating the cake.

Add the chopped up egg to all sides of your cake and on top. Make a pretty patter using the prawns, tomatoes, dill and fishroe.

Add the thinly sliced cucumber to all sides of the cake.

Cut the lemon into tiny quarters and add to the top of the cake.

Enjoy!

Travelling with kids – Vimmerby

We spent a week in a beautiful house in the outskirts of Vimmerby in Småland during our Sweden trip this summer.

The house was an old missionary building from the 1800’s. It was beautiful, with lots of antiques and odd furniture and we all loved it!

There were three families in total and we all could fit comfortably. (Although there was only one toilet and shower!!)

We knew we wanted to explore the beautiful countryside. We wanted to go swimming. We had also planned for a day out at Astrid Lindgren’s World (ALV) and a Moose Safari.

The first day we headed to ALV and we all had a brilliant time (-see earlier post for more Info on ALV).

The house we had rented for the week was situated nearby Lönneberga Village – the village were Emil grew up – and so for our second day outing we headed to Katthult farm, Emil’s family farm.

Emil is a fictional character created by Astrid Lindgren. He’s sweet and cheeky little boy, and although he means well, he always somehow ends up in trouble! He lives on a farm with his mum and dad, little sister Ida, the farm hand Alfred and farm maid Lina.

Emil looks up to Alfred and considers him his best friend. He doesn’t care for Lina much, who’s constantly nagging Alfred, trying to get him to marry her. His mother Alma is kind and loving, but his father Anton on the other hand has a short temper – but is generally the one who suffers the most from Emil’s pranks!

This was such a lovely experience! The kids got to pet the horses, the cows, the chickens and the rabbits. The tried to collect water from the well, hide inside the earth cellar and even to walk on stilts!

The buildings were used for the Emil films and it was fascinating for the children to see how people lived at the end of the 1890’s. You can visit Snickerboa’, the little wood shop shed, where Emil used to hide from his father. Most of the Emil films were filmed around the property and so it all felt very familiar!

The Katthult house is a privately own property, and I can’t imagine what it must be like to have a stream of tourists wandering around your land every day! But hey, each to the own.

You have to pay to enter Katthult and there’a a cafe onsite, with buns and coffee/ tea and ice creams. There is also a great gift shop.

We headed further down the nostalgia route and visited Bullerbyn.

Entry to the village is free, you only need to pay for parking.

Essentially – it’s the three houses from the books and films, a barn for jumping in hay bales, a lovely cafe and a playground. We all had a brilliant time here!

Alla Barn I Bullerbyn is a collection of books written by Astrid Lindgren and is basically based on dad’s upbringing.

The books tells us about the lives of six children and their families living in a tiny village in Småland in the late 1930’s.

The village consists of three houses lined up next to each other with parents, farmhands and housekeepers, lots of barns and farmland.

The book is narrated by one of girls and the kids go on all sorts of adventures. They swim in lakes, jump in hay bales, and celebrate Lucia and Christmas.

We all loved this outing! We had to bribe our children in order to leave the hay bale jumping!

I really recommend the cafe onsite. Hands down, they were the best cinnamon buns I’ve had!

The following days we headed to some fantastic beaches at camping sites nearby Vimmerby.

The wonderful thing about Sweden, particularly if you’re near the coast, is that you’re never far from water – be it the sea, a lake or river.

Most beaches in Sweden will generally have a sandy beach, a water tower to jump from, a playground of some description and toilet facilities.

Sweden was experiencing a heat wave this summer so most beaches were very busy, but even so there was always plenty of space and we always found parking. The beaches are free to visit, though double check before you set off.

Here are the Livermore’s Top Tips:

⁃ Most camping sites will have a cafe onsite but bring packed lunch, just in case they’re closed for any reason. It’s also quite pricey!

⁃ On that note – invest in a food thermos and bring your own hot lunch! We put hot dogs (and added hot water obvs) in our thermos and brought the buns and condiments with us. A nice change from soggy sandwiches!

⁃ If you’re planning to go swimming, then just head online. There are loads of beaches and camping sites nearby and they’re free to visit.

⁃ Have a coffee and bun when you get to Bullerbyn. You’ll talk thank me later.

⁃ Don’t buy your carved Emil gifts at ALV. Save your pennies and get them from Katthult instead!

⁃ Invest in a good beach umbrella. It was SO hot during our visit and it was pretty tough on the little ones. We had a beach tent,which was great, but a good quality umbrella would have helped.

⁃ We are all different. We have different parenting styles, bed times and routines. We have different food tastes and whether your child is allowed on an iPad or not. We travelled with families that we know well and that we’ve been away on holiday with before. This helps immensely. If you’re going away as a group then my number one rule is to be FLEXIBLE. Go with the flow and expect to bend your rules a little bit. Be prepared to compromise and negotiate. You’ll end up having a lovely, stress free time.

Travelling with kids – Vimmerby and Astrid Lindgrens Värld

Give the children love, more love and still more love – and the common sense will come by itself.”

– Astrid Lindgren

I grew up reading Astrid Lindgren’s books. Pippi Longstocking, Emil i Lönneberga, Alla Barn i Bullerbyn to name but a few.

It’s linked with most Swedish kids’ childhoods – it’s happy memories and gorgeous summer holiday days.

I’ve tried to introduce the books to my kids with mild interest. Both kids like Pippi of course. She’s a rebel. She’s a kid who can take care of herself and say what she wants. She’s kind and good hearted and fair. And of course, the strongest girl in the world. My absolute favourite quote from Pippi Longstocking – and there are many to choose from – I think is very relevant today and as a mother of a strong willed, red-headed little girl:

He’s the strongest man in the world.’

‘Man, yes,’ said Pippi, ‘but I am the strongest girl in the world, remember that.

The books are truly wonderful. Astrid Lindgren was such an amazing story teller. Her characters are heroic and complex. Like Ronja – my personal favourite character growing up – the Robbers Daughter who is determined to go her own way and trust her heart.

She believes in what’s wrong or right, so much so that she defies her own father, the Robbers King in order to defend a friend. Then we have sweet Emil, who means so well but always end up in a pickle. The Brothers Lionheart, a story about two brothers that talks about death and grief in such a beautiful way.

We recently visited ALV, Astrid Lindgrens World during our stay in Sweden. Astrid Lindgren World, aka Astrid Lindgrens Värld, aka ALV is a huge theme park, built around all the different stories by the famous Swedish author.

Each show has its own “world” with fantastic sets and props, animals and characters – all making it look authentic and as if you’ve stepped into an Astrid Lindgren book.

Getting there was super easy. It’s clearly signposted throughout Vimmerby. We had hired a little house for the week near to Vimmerby town so we only had to drive for 15 minutes or so to get there. (More on this in my next blog post!)

There was however a looooong queue for the car park early on but the ALV team worked so fast to get everyone in and parked up that we didn’t actually have to wait very long.

As it was Maggie’s birthday she got to go in for FREE! Happy birthday Maggie!

We got ourselves a mini wagon to pull our picnic along with and for tired little feet at the end of the day. Definitely worth its weight in gold.

We headed to Pippi first as this show is always the most popular. It was jammed packed but we ended up with great seats at the front. In hindsight, with it being around 11am, we would have brought something to shade the baby with. The sun was blazing and it was tough to sit out there for 10 minutes.

The show was super short which was a bit disappointing. I guess they have to get through a lot of the Pippi stories during the day. The whole world is named after her after all.

After and before the show you can meet Pippi (and the supporting cast), Lilla Gubben (the horse), and walk around Pippi’s house.

After the show we walked through Vimmerby City Centre. Basically a replica of the city centre but in miniature – so sweet! Everything was tiny. The kids said that this must be what Giants experience every day.

We stopped by the sweet shop and the kids (and adults!) got their sweet fix.

We headed to Emil after as we knew we wanted to have our picnic by the Barn playground.

The Emil show was really excellent with some fantastic performances all round. Jackson and Maggie loved it and sat through the 20 minutes easily. Again it was jam packed but it didn’t really matter and we had great seats.

We found a great table by the Barn (just behind Lönneberga) and we ate and then the kids could do wild playing for a while.

We went to Ronja’s show – as always – fantastic and emotional. The robbers song is so beautifully and stirring, it just makes me cry every time.

Alfie and Maggie LOVED the miniature street, with houses the kids could play in/with. Maggie made some friends and were making cakes and buns inside the Bakers Shop. We spent a good 30 minutes here, having a coffee and ice cream.

We watched two performances of Brothers Lionheart and this show was by far our favourite. Absolutely fantastic performances, great actors, a great stage and set. Everything was well thought out. Special shout out to the Dragon… Even I got a little shiver down my spine when I saw her on top of the castle wall! Top marks and worth the trip to ALV alone. The show is a bit darker then the rest, but then so is the book. It also brought up some important questions about death and in particular where you go when you die. (In the story the brothers end up in a sort of purgatory to finally end up in heaven..)

Here are the Livermore’s Top Tips:

1. Overall – get to the shows you like to watch EARLY. Study that map and show times like your finals exams. This will guarantee good seats.

2. There is no way you could watch all the shows you like in one day. There isn’t enough time to enjoy it all and soak up the atmosphere, so choose your favourite shows beforehand.

3. Bring a picnic and coffee/tea. The food, although nice tasting is expensive and the queues are very long. The coffee was awful. Definitely one of the worst so bring it with you.

4. Buy a FOOD THERMOS. This was an eye opener for us. From now on, no more soggy sandwiches. Instead gorgeous hot food on the go. Genius. (We got ours from ICA, 129kr)

5. Self explanatory, but remember to bring water and something to block out sun if necessary. Hats are a must have. And brollies. The shows are outside and there is hardly any cover or shade.

6. If you bring a picnic, hire a mini wagon. It’s easy to bring along the park and it’s a godsend at the end of the day when the kids are tired from all the walking.

7. On that note – bring comfy shoes because you’ll be doing a lot of walking.

8. There are “child wristband” stalls before and inside ALV. You write down your name and phone number on wristbands for the kids. This place is so incredibly busy and so it’s easy to get lost. With the wristband, staff can easily get hold of the parents of a lost child. (This did actually happen when we were there. A little girl got separated from her dad. We called dad who was by her side within minutes!)

9. If you can, book two days. If you want to experience all of it, then I suggest you stay over and come back for more. It’s pricey, but it’s definitely worth it for the experience.

10. ENJOY IT. It’s a magical place. I loved it so much this time and so did our kids. They were completely mesmerised by all the stories and characters. And even though it’s all in Swedish, the actors act out the actions so well, so it was pretty clear anyway.