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Thursday, 9 August 2012

It's My Party And I'll Cry If I Want To!

Ah, the amazing things that our children do for us.  Sometimes it’s teaching us something completely new about ourselves, sometimes it’s allowing us to remember something about ourselves that we had forgotten, sometimes it’s freeing us to try something we would never have tried before, and sometimes it’s letting us embrace an aspect of ourselves that we didn’t realise we hadn’t understood or appreciated before.

I am a complete and utter blubberer.  Always have been, always will be.  I cry when I’m happy, cry when I’m sad, cry when I’m angry, cry when I’m grateful.  I cry at movies, I cry at weddings and funerals, I cry at TV advertisements, I cry when children completely unrelated to me are upset.  I cry at others’ misfortune, and I cry at others’ good fortune.

My blubbering was not an aspect of myself that was embraced by my family – I have a very vivid recollection of being told to “stop your bawling” at quite a young age, which kind of says it all.  This being despite, or perhaps because, I think that both my parents are repressed blubberers.

Thankfully, this blubberiness of mine would not be repressed, and I have continued to blub freely throughout my life – not always happily, not always appropriately, often to the rolling of eyes from my husband of so many years, but more and more with my own acceptance of this aspect of myself.

Quite recently, my 5 year old has revealed herself to be a bearer of the blubber gene.  This is over and above the normal childhood tears and lack of inhibition about them; this is a definite fellow of the free- to-blubber society.  First revealed while we were reading a story about the guys in London in the 1970s who bought a lion cub from Harrods, raised it, released it in Africa, and then went back to experience an amazing reunion – very cool (true) story if you haven’t come across it before.  I suddenly realised that there were a few sneaky tears sliding down my daughter’s face – oddly enough coinciding with a lump in my own throat, as it was really very moving.  This could have been a one-off event, perhaps a consequence of tiredness, but a recent school holiday viewing of Puss in Boots at the Dome also elicited some sneaky tears and a few sobs, so the deal is clinched – I have a fellow blubberer in the house.

I felt amazingly elated that I now get to share my life with a kindred spirit, someone else who will smile through tears during cheesy movies or soppy TV ads, someone with whom I can share a tissue box with at weddings and funerals, someone with whom I can celebrate the power of a good blub.  I am so proud of my super-blubberer, and teaching her to enjoy being a blubberer too.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Gracious, Grateful and Grey

In recent times, we have been focussing in our house on being gracious and grateful – and, naturally, you know who’s going grey. 

Somehow this notion of graciousness took my fancy as an overall concept that might provide a nice framework for the sort of behaviour that I would like my girls to demonstrate now and as adults.  Graciousness feels like something that my grandmother was – kind, generous, polite, understanding, intelligent, elegant, not stooping to the uncouth and always rising above the lowest common denominator.  It feels light to me, floating above the trivialities of life.

It’s quite a complex and nebulous concept really yet seemingly quite easily grasped by these children of mine, and it has provided a neat way of defining acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. Of course the most fabulous facet of parenting is the way that your parenting challenges always result in the mirror being turned on yourself, and it’s a nice little test of my own behaviour – does my response to the adult equivalent of not getting the biscuit I want for lunch measure up to the graciousness test – would my grandmother be proud?  Not always easy to face the test in the heat of the moment, but worth working on, and I am often found wanting. 

As for gratefulness, that came from some reading I did a while ago and one thing this particular author mentioned really stuck with me – that one of the most powerful things that we can do to ensure our children’s happiness is to teach them the concept of gratefulness.  And it’s so true – we can all think of people who are truly content, regardless of their circumstances and whatever the world throws at them, while we know others who seem to attract or create drama and are never happy, no matter what they achieve or attain.  I had never thought of it in that light at all, but there is nothing surer than that the path to unhappiness is the constant striving for something that we don’t currently have, and it certainly makes sense that the converse is true.  If we can be content with what we have, and grateful that we have it, then whatever else may come our way will truly be a bonus.  I finish every day with a little visit to my slumbering beauties, and since I came across that pearl of wisdom I also remind myself that no-one could want for more than I have. 

So, although the grey hairs are sprouting thick and fast, and the man with whom I share my life stopped yanking them out for me when I turned 40, despite global recessions, lousy summers, gloomy winters, tantrums and tonsillitis, as often as I can I try to turn my mind to what an absolute delight it is to be living this life and sharing its   ups and downs with my wonderful family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances.  They are the ones that make this daily dance of life truly graceful.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Not so Fantastic Plastic

Every now and then, there is a realisation that you are not as enlightened as you think. The lights go on and somehow the world looks entirely different from the way it used to.

I had one of those moments recently while searching for something to watch on TV. As unappealing as a serious doco initially seemed, TVNZ’s Oceans of Plastic had us riveted, and has changed the world for me. If you haven’t seen it, you really should. I used to think that I was reasonably green — we recycle and compost diligently, we sigh and roll our eyes at the thought of fracking, we buy clothes made from natural fibres and we embrace the idea of cycling as an alternative to fossil fuel consumption.  

Although worthy, how trite this all seems in the face of my new demon — plastic. No longer do those shiny colourful plastic things with which we surround ourselves seem cheerful and bright — in the space of a week these products, this packaging, these play things have turned into a garish and menacing threat.

I don’t mean to over-dramatise, but the facts are stark:
• There are vast areas of ocean where huge seas of plastic spread over many kilometres, and as the plastic matter breaks down, plastic particles enter the environment and the food chain.
• Plastic in the environment harms wildlife
• Plastic is sourced from petroleum, so the environment suffers in its production as well as in its disposal
• Plastic particles become part of the environment, as well as absorbing toxins from the environment, and break down themselves, releasing their own toxins
• As marine animals consume the plastic particles, they enter the food chain, ultimately affecting humans
• Plastic-sourced toxins have been shown to have frightening effects on human health

I grew up with milk in glass bottles, preserved fruit in glass jars, and when a boiled egg was considered convenience food. 

What do we really know about the long term effects of all this plastic packaging on human health?  Relatively recently, we have found out that BPA is carcinogenic and that children and pregnant woman probably shouldn’t drink water in PET bottles — what other unknown hazards will be discovered and what does this mean for our children?

So what to do? Every little bit counts, I reckon — Gizzy’s own Go Bamboo are putting it out there with toothbrushes, pegs and other consumable items made from beautiful biodegradable bamboo. Fewer plastic toothbrushes and pegs in the landfills and waterways has got to be a good thing — and that’s only the start for them, I’m sure.  The internet of course is rich with resources – is a great place to start. 
Why can’t we go back to bottled milk and more products in glass jars, paper bags, and the good old days where there was money in recycling glass? Is it really cheaper to ditch most of the plastic in the environment and send a bit over to India to be cleaned and recycled where labour is cheap, or are we just not putting a price on the real cost?

In our family, I can see, this is going to be a very slow and incremental process. On my first day on the “reduce plastic” mission, I managed to accumulate no less than 12 plastic bags, without even going to the supermarket.  We need to get into new habits and that will take time.  But I am going to take some advice from my favourite Dr Seuss book, The Lorax — “UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”  

So I will plant my Truffula Tree, and treat it with care.  And if enough of us do, maybe the Lorax and all of his friends will come back.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Choosing to Chill!

8.30 am Saturday morning. A meltdown occurs.
Younger child has snuck into older child’s stash
of jelly beans from a birthday party the previous
weekend, and eaten one. She would have got
away with it completely had she not chosen to
flaunt this small victory. “Look Mum” – jaws open
wide. “Gosh, look at all those teeth”. “No, look!”
“Jellybean!” Older child inconsolable as stolen
jelly bean was the last pink one. Mother feels dark
fog creeping over brain as she tries to think of a
peaceful solution. It had been a long, busy couple
of weeks in our household, culminating in a very
long and busy Friday, and Thursday and Friday
nights had been too late for 3 and 5 year olds.

Suddenly the Saturday plan of ballet, groceries, a friend’s
birthday party just seems way too busy for the degree of
exhaustion wafting over our household.
The thing that I dreaded most about being a school-going
family, and the thing that still wears us out the most, is the rush
factor. Rush in the morning to get ready for school, rush in
the evening to cram in afternoon tea, play, homework, dinner,
bath bed. Ugh. For this reason I have stuck to my plan of
only one extra-curricular activity - that being Saturday ballet.
Theoretically this should leave us pretty chilled out over the
weekend - ballet is at 11.45 am so how much of a rush can
that be? Somehow however it still seems like a mad panic
- we cruise for the first part of the morning and then end up
in a flap - where are the ballet shoes, get the drink bottles
organised, find some snacks for before and after. Then we
do ballet and decide that while we’re in town we will do the
groceries and some other jobs, and before you know it we’re
rushing home at four in the afternoon in a mad panic getting
dinner ready and the whole things just feels like another day
spent racing around like the proverbial headless chook.
Not for us this weekend! After 30 seconds reflection, I pulled
the pin immediately and we spent the entire weekend at home.
Friends visited, we spent lots of time at the beach, we did a
few outstanding domestic jobs and we did some cooking. We
read books, did art, watched DVDs, and had an early night.
By Sunday night it just felt like we were a human family again,
rather than a family of out of control aliens lurching from one
engagment to the next.
How easy it is to end up feeling over-committed despite your
best intentions, and how hard to make that decision to put on
the brakes - but how great does it feel. I just need to remember
to step back and take a chill out spell more often - before the
wheels fall off and we skid to a halt!


This is really great recipe for a Sunday night, or
one of those evenings when you don’t really have
a plan! For variety you can add spicy sausage.

  • A handful of cooked potatoes or kumara
  • Cooked seasonal veges
  • Feta cheese, grated parmesan or tasty cheese
  • 1 red pepper, sliced
  • 5 - 6 free range eggs
  • Fresh herbs and garlic, to taste

Beat the eggs and mix in the other ingredients
except the red pepper and the fresh herbs. Gently
fry the garlic and the red pepper, then pour in all
the other ingredients. Cook over low heat for 7 - 8
minutes, then finish under a pre-heated grill for 5
- 6 minutes until browned and set. Rest for a few
minutes before serving.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Gotta Love That Learning.......

As clichéd as it is, I reckon that one of the many amazing things about parenthood is how much we learn from our children, mostly when we’re trying to teach them stuff.  Sometimes it’s a gradual feeling like a fog clearing, other times it’s like being slapped in the face with a wet flannel, but I know that I’m a much bigger and better person than I was before I had kids .  We recently had a holiday which included a visit to the snow.  We had intended to make snowmen, maybe hire a tobggan, and just generally have a fun hour or two in the snow, with a bonus being if one or other of us could sneak off for a run or two on the snowboard.  Our last visit to the snow had been with a 6 week old baby and a two-year old - I won’t go into it but many hopes were dashed that day.  This visit was quite different.

On arrival at the mountain our five-year old announced that she would like to ski, followed of course by an echo from our three-year old that she was going to ski too.  There was no dissuading them, so lift passes and equipment were obtained.  And wouldn’t you know it, away they went.  

Miss Five took a little longer to warm up due to a technical incident involving her mother cutting the circulation to her feet by doing the boots up too tight (too many memories of days as a wanna-be ski racer) and there was a grim period over lunch with an almost unrecoverable melt-down from Miss Three due to mis-timing of the provision of food.  At this point the father did comment that it looked as though it would be several years before we would be doing this again.  

However, the afternoon was magic.  They were both away, which was just amazing to watch, and were so keen on the whole thing that we went back again the next day.  I was surprised to find myself not in the slightest bit disappointed that the only contact I had had with my snowboard was to lug it from the car to the snow and back again - it was just such a buzz to watch and help the girls get the hang of it.  Miss Three did struggle with the fact that she could not actually do every single possible part of the whole game on her own.  The fact that you couldn’t actually ski uphill was difficult to accept, and we spent quite some time sitting adjacent to the lift queue, watching it gradually pass us by, while she refused all help to actually enter the queue.  

This is where some serious self-reflection was required by me.  As a child we lived for some time near the mountain, and spent a lot of time skiing.  In those days it was all about maximising run time and minimising queue time.  It took all my willpower to actually sit calmly beside the queue, doing nothing for maybe 20 minutes, until one of my interminttent offers of help was accepted.  And why not?  It was a sunny, warm day, not uncomfortable, quite pleasant in fact.  But a huge challenge to my idea of what skiing was about.  So now I’m thinking more about all those moments when I bite the inside of my cheek wanting to keep things moving along - maybe it’s more important to try to relax and enjoy that moment for what it’s really about. 

Spinach and Blue Cheese Pasta

If you like blue cheese try this on your kids - mine love it and it’s super easy. 

A big bunch spinach
Chopped garlic
A packet of pasta
Blue cheese
Light sour cream
Parmesan cheese to serve
Cook a packet of pasta according to the directions.  While it’s cooking, melt a cup of light sour cream and 100 g of blue cheese (if you want in creamier and less strong use more sour cream) in the microwave.  Saute some chopped spinach and garlic in a frypan.  When the pasta’s cooked mix everything together in a big bowl, then serve topped with grated parmesan cheese.  

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Ideas for When You Absolutely Have to Get Out of the House....

So, if you happened upon my previous article, you will have found me full of chirpy suggestions for making the most of a yucky day indoors.  Well as it turned out, having merrily expounded, on Friday evening, the virtues of entertaining pre-schoolers inside, just a few days later Sunday saw me stuck indoors on a rainy, cold day in the middle of moving house.  Just to keep things really interesting, Miss Nearly-5 had been up all night with a terrible cough, so was in absolutely rotten shape.
No problem, I thought, let’s start the day with pikelets.  Good start, much sifting, stirring and beating was enjoyed by all, along with the fruits of our labours.  The kitchen was not quite cleaned up when some sort of altercation occurred outside involving two pre-schoolers and some chopsticks (I had turned a blind eye to the escapees into the Antarctic conditions in the hope of getting on top of the kitchen mess) so I lured everyone inside with the promise of playdough making.  Fantastic, so two batches of playdough later (one pink, one yellow – shortly to be melded into a highly attractive yink/pillow) all is well at the kitchen table for some time.  Playdough morphs into play school which involves mat time complete with news (which must be presided over by the adult who has to pretend to be the teacher, of course) kai time (didn’t we just have breakfast?) more news, ballet lessons, an attempt at a board game involving some sort of 3-year old melt down, a desperate call for lunch - soooo when the man of the house walked through the door at just after 1 pm I announced that we absolutely had to get out of the house, poked the kids in front of a DVD and slunk off for a shower.  Hence the theme of this article...

Sometimes you just absolutely must view life beyond your own four walls, regardless of what the weather is doing.  Here are some ideas when another coffee date in an over-crowded café just doesn’t appeal to the mind or the wallet.

Rug up and go for a walk  Get all your winter gear on, get out there, get wet and wild and come home, throw everyone in the bath and snuggle up warm.  Whether it’s a trip to the park, a walk on the beach, Gray’s Bush or in the arboretum, sometimes everyone benefits from getting wet and muddy and wind-blown.  There’s something smugness-inducing about getting out there on a yucky day, and nothing better than getting warm afterwards.

Invite yourself to a friend’s for lunch  If you’re craving company, hit the supermarket or the bakery and then head around to a friend’s house for a bit of a BYO lunch.  It’s often easier and cheaper than the café variety, and you all benefit from some company other than your own.

Do the supermarket shopping  For me this is a bit like cooking.  To be enjoyed as a parent-child activity, the parent must not be under any time pressure – allow the shopping to be the only thing that you really need to get done and let the kids get involved in choosing things for the trolley and putting things away at home and lo and behold the morning is filled and the shopping is done.  To be fair though, this one can go either way – if it all turns to custard buy a packet of ice-blocks or lollipops and give them one each on the way to the checkout…
If you’re wondering what wholesome family activity we engaged in during our escape from the indoors that memorable Sunday, well we actually went shopping for a new duvet cover for Miss 3 who had finally decided to sleep in her own bed.  And that’s another story…

Banana Cake
•  115g       butter                                •  ½ cups   flour
•  ¾ cup     caster sugar                       •  1 tsp       baking powder
•  1             egg                                  •  1 tsp       baking soda
•  2             ripe bananas                     •  ¼ cup     milk
•  1 tsp       coffee essence
Getting ready: 
Soften the butter and take the egg out of the fridge.  Grease an 18cm square tin with butter, and line the base with baking paper.  Preheat the oven to 180˚C.  Peel the bananas and mash them well with a fork.
Mixing and baking:
Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then beat in the egg, followed by the mashed bananas and the coffee essence.
Sift together the flour and baking powder, and dissolve the  baking soda in the milk.
Fold in the dry ingredients alternately with the milk and baking soda, and combine everything together.  Bake for about 45 min.
When the cake is cooked it will have shrunk slightly away from the sides of the tin and when you press the centre gently with your finger, it will spring back.
Remove from the oven and cool on a rack.   
Ice when cool and store airtight.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Marble Magic

One of the things that I found absolutely terrifying in the months before our eldest daughter started school was the idea that we actually had to be somewhere in particular, by a particular time, that time being 9 am, on five consecutive days a week.  At that time we were seemingly fighting a losing battle to be anywhere much before 10 am, no matter how early we got up, and giving up the luxury of not really having to be anywhere at any particular time seemed quite daunting.

At Easter I met up with a very old friend who has a 5 and a 6 year old.  My friend is a self-confessed “morning hater” so I quizzed her on how she managed to be a non-morning person and get her kids to school on time.  The answer, she told me, was fairly simple.  Her children wake up starving, so they were required to be dressed before breakfast was organised.  Then they had to be all ready to go to school before they began playing with anything.  Hmmm I thought.  My girls are never actually very interested in breakfast, but there was potential in the idea.  So we began working on the idea that there was no getting engrossed in games, puzzles, art projects, or generally any fun stuff until we had had breakfast, cleaned our teeth, got dressed, and packed kindy bags.  This was actually amazingly easy and the girls just seemed to get into it, particularly the youngest, who seems to love these little systems.

Fast-forward a few months and we are now happily into our second term of school.  I am still amazed that we have actually managed to get there on time every day (sometimes very much JUST on time) but nevertheless on time.  We have recently enhanced the system with the addition of marble rewards – a marble can be earned at each end of the day for getting ready for school/kindy/bed with no fuss, plus can be rewards for super-special things, and can be removed for bad behaviour.  We keep the reward/removal action for the extremes as I don’t want to be hassled for marbles every 5 minutes, and the loss of a marble is viewed as an extreme disaster so the crime must be serious enough to warrant the major meltdown that will ensue.  The threat of loss of a marble however is a potent tool that can be used reasonably frequently. 

The marble system also doubles as our pocket-money system.  We were grappling with what to do on that front as it seemed like a good time to introduce pocket money for our 5 year old, but we knew that the 3 year old would want to be in on the action too, so any system needed to be simple enough to apply to both.  This works awesomely as 10 marbles can be cashed in for $1, which must be deposited in the piggy bank, and piggy bank money can be saved for purchases of the earner’s choice.  The girls had a head start as were each given $5 for their birthdays by a family member, so the $2 they have earned since then quickly gave them a reasonable amount, which I’m slightly embarrassed to say, was immediately spent.  They might get a bit of a fright about how hard it will be to save for the next purchase but if it gets too demoralising we can always alter the marble:money ratio.

So, for now, we have found a pretty good system for getting the girls out the door, on time, in reasonably good condition…most of the time!