Friday, September 30, 2011

Things I Know: School Holidays edition

With school holidays in full swing, I know a few things this week.

- I know that spending the first weekday of the holidays relaxing at the park and at home sets the mood just right for a happy week.

- I know that my children, who have never been camping or built / seen a campfire love nothing better than pretending to camp and build pretend campfires.

- I know that when the storms hit later in the week, you'll be glad you squeezed every ounce of outdoor play from that fine and sunny Monday!

- I know that I'm really glad my older kids can get to spend a couple of days & nights each holidays with their grandparents, who live too far away to make regular termtime visits feasible.

- I know that I'm really, really glad that my Mum was amenable to taking the girls to see the Smurfs movie while they were on their grandparent holiday, as I did not want to see it at all, and the kids were desperate to.

- I know that the Melbourne Museum is a source of pleasure and treasure for kids of all ages (38 included ;-)

- I know that even though the new Museum is bright and shiny and well-planned and inviting and interactive and fun, a part of me is nostalgic for the musty, dusty, blind-corner and hidden-mysteries charm of the old Museum, which I remember fondly from childhood.

- I know that holidays, like life, are all about balance - a quiet first day, three busy and active days, now a quiet day again, with just shopping, morning tea with friends, TV, books, and crafts at home to fill the hours.

- And I know - like I always know in school holidays - that a big part of me wishes I could home educate, and have them here all the time.

For other things that people know, check out Yay for Home!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Cooking Gluten Free for a Family: Spinach & Black Olive Soup

I am a Coeliac mother cooking for a family of mostly-normals, but with three children who are quite green-vegetable-averse (the toddler eats peas, the big kids eat broccoli, but other than that, green vegetable consumption can be a struggle). I'm always looking for recipes that are gluten free (or can be made so), nutritious, tart and salty-tasting, because those are the tastes that most appeal to our family palate - barring a shared dedication to chocolate, we're none of us particularly sweet-toothed.

When I find a recipe that is gluten-free by ingredient, yummy, salty-tasting without being actually very salty, and has a green vegetable base, AND THE FAMILY EATS IT, I quietly high-five myself for weeks.

This spinach & olive soup is one such recipe. Cut from a magazine column years ago and hidden in the back of my recipe file for ages, I unearthed it last year and started making it again. It's really easy, really delicious, and really nutritious. And it's greeeeeeeen!

(It isn't, I'll concede, particularly pretty - it tastes better than it looks by several orders of magnitude :-)

Olive oil
1 onion, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
500g potatoes, peeled & diced
1 litre chicken or veg stock
1 large lemon, juiced
500g English spinach, stems removed, washed & chopped
¼ cup sour cream
1 cup Kalamata olives, pitted
Salt & pepper to taste

Fry the onion & garlic in olive oil on low heat until onion is soft but not changing colour. Then add the stock & potatoes and bring to the boil, simmering it until potatoes are cooked. Remove from heat.

Add the lemon juice, spinach, sour cream & olives. Puree in a blender til smooth (you might have to do it in batches). Season to taste.

To serve, gently reheat. I garnish it with a teaspoon of sour cream and a few chopped olives.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

On grief after the passage of time

I think I see her. out of the corner of my eye
or from the side, her face turned away
an acute angle of vision.

Often, at the shops, it happens. coming and going
from the fruiterer we used to share, meeting
with wry smiles among the sweet smells of kiwi fruit and mango
both of us marshalling multiple small people away from destruction

and she would say: Why do they leave the grapes just where little kids can get them?
and laugh
And I'd say: Ty before you buy...
and we'd stop for coffee
the kids sipping milkshakes and eating sugared donuts

sometimes I expect to see her there still. sometimes
I think I do.
a face
half-caught in the sunlight
with a look of her. a woman
walking with a stick, limping
as she did, before
she could not.

I am always surprised
how much it hurts
when my mind catches up to the error
and reminds me
that I will never see her again.

that she is gone from the earth. gone
into whatever lies beyond,
if anything.

it doesn't seem any more possible
even now,
even now.

there is no justice in this. there never was
death does not play fair.
or fate, or random blind luck, or what-have-you
that which decrees
that this one will live to dotage, and that one, oh,
consign her body to the flames
before she's 40.

knowing this
understanding this
does not make me miss her less.

- Kathy, 28/9/11

Monday, September 26, 2011

Name That Object!

My kids love to visit $2 shops. With pocket money, chores money, and tooth fairy money, they've quickly worked out that the haul of junky but funky objects they can acquire is exponentially greater at these emporiums of the flotsam of capitalism than if we go somewhere like Target.

I myself find $2 shops oddly fascinating as well as vaguely repellant. They often smell odd - musty, mouldy, overscented with cheap soaps and knock-off deodorants - and they're usually stuffed to the gills with the most eclectic assortment of objects imaginable. I walked out of one local place recently with a photo frame, a canvas dog bed, coloured pencils, a plastic tiara, paper plates, a firelighter, a packet of scrubbing sponges and some spray hair colour, and that was by no means an exhaustive sample of what this shop had to offer.

Another thing that always astounds me about $2 shops is their casual approach to a) pricing and b) labelling of their merchandise. It's like haggling at a market in Hanoi sometimes; I've often gone in with a specific amount of money, say $15, and gathered up what I needed, then negotiated the price to match the available cash.

Every $2 shop I've ever been into also sports a hefty selection of Mystery Merchandise - objects, without packaging or labelling, whose purpose is obscure and in some cases intriguing. I've asked, on occasion, what a specified object might be, only to be met with a fine shrug from the staff. I get the sense that they themselves don't always know what the odder items in their stock are, or what they're for. This both puzzles and delights me.

On our last visit to the $2 shop, my 2.5 year old came racing up the aisles with a packet clutched in her hand.

"I wan' THIS!" she declared, pushing it into my hand.

I looked down at a clear plastic envelop containing 6 iterations of ...

"What ARE they?" I asked my husband in bemusement.

He examined them. He hmmmmed. "Stuffed if I know," he eventually replied.

We found the spot on the shelf that C had trawled her treasure from. It was full of unnamed objects in clear plastic packages. Some of them were obviously kitchen objects - a set of measuring cups, a sieve, a set of plastic spatulas. Some were bathroom objects - soap dishes in various lurid shades, toothbrush holders, toilet brushes. And some of them were just mysterious, their purpose unclear, left to the imagination.

C really, really wanted her "fing", and it was $1 for the packet of 6 Fings, so we bought it for her. She plays with them in her plastic-food kitchen, sitting them on her wooden stove, stuffing them with tissues to sit toy eggs inside. She loves them, but we still have absolutely no idea what they ARE.

So I present it to you:

Do you know what it is? Can you make a guess? (Funneh ideas welcome ;-)

There's no prize on offer here, just the satisfaction of knowing you can put me out of my curious misery.

I have a plethora of other $2 shop mystery objects hanging about, so until I run out (or get bored with it), I'm going to post a Monday Name That Object! for a few weeks. Hopefully some people will be able to resolve conundrums for me :-)

Friday, September 23, 2011

Things I Know

There are some things I know today.

I know that 8 year old girls can find life confusing and overwhelming sometimes, and that this can make them act like hormonal teenagers years before their time.

I know that managing sibling conflict is one of the most unrelenting and wearisome parts of having more than one child.

I know that when I am off my game, whether it's due to illness, or stress, or tiredness, or whatever really, that this disproportionately impacts the whole family dynamic.

I know that I find that a bit frightening sometimes.


I also know that while my children fight, they always make up, with each other and with me and with the world.

I know that my girls are learning to use an emotional vocabulary that is making it easier for them to express their feelings non-aggressively.

I know that love-notes from children are beyond sweet, especially when they are also apology notes for spouting-off that the child herself has recognised as hurtful.

I know that I love them all immensely, even when they are hurting me or each other, and that the difficult times are teaching me things about the unconditionality of love that I could not learn any other way.

I know they are beautiful people, each one of them, and that I'm privileged to be a part of their lives.

For other things that people know, check out the links at Yay for Home!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Scene from a kitchen, after a long illness

(This is a vignette from late last week, when toddler had entered the highly querulous phase of her recovery from a severe flu).

Toddler, who has been grizzling and shouting alternately for past hour: "I wanna choc'lut! I wanna cuppa miiiiiiilk! I wanna yolly!"

Me, after deep breath, calmly, "No, C."

She, doing a frustrated little dance on the spot, bellows "I wanna APPLE then! APPLE! APPLE! AAAAAAAPPPPPLLLLLE!!!!!!"

Me, with sigh: "If I give you an apple, will you stop whining for 10 minutes?"

She, tipping her head to one side in contemplation: "I not sure. We 'ave to see. Won't we, Mummy?"

Me, smiling in spite of myself: "I guess we will, C."

She takes one bite of her apple, pulls a dreadful face, and shrieks: "It's YUKKY! I wanna STAWBEWWY! I wanna BIT A CHEESE! Muuuuuummmmmmeeeeee...."

Thursday, September 15, 2011

I am. But are you?

Today is RU OK? Day. It's a day about connections and the difference that they can make to a person who's struggling. It's about taking the time to ask, to really ask, someone if they are OK, and to be prepared to hear the answer properly, to supportively listen.

I am one of the fortunate ones. Even though I'm recovering from flu, even though I'm still battling a kidney infection, even though I have toddler tantrums and money worries and a hideously overgrown garden and a filthy house and fractious older kids to deal with, I also have no black dog on my back making it all unbearable. I get sad, mad and dangerous sometimes, life stresses me out and I crack open for a while, but it passes quickly, lightly, ultimately harmlessly. This is because I am not now depressed.

I have been in that place, though. My postpartum struggles after my first and third babies were never diagnosed, probably because I'm really good at masking (I suspect a lot of us are), but the bottom line was, for months after A was born and again after C was born, I was most certainly not OK. And I was sobbing inside for someone to ask me, to really ask me, and to give me permission to open the door to that pain.

Today I asked someone close to me if they were OK. For the first time, with tears in their eyes, this person admitted that they are not. I think it was a relief to them to speak this truth aloud.

So small a question to contain so great a thing. Ask it today.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Things I Know

Today I know that I hate it when my kids are sick and suffering.

I know that when a doctor drops the phrase "glandular fever" into the mix when examining your 2 year old, your heart will turn flipflops.

I know that I worry more than I should, and that I probably lose my nerve too quickly, rushing to doctors and hospitals when bedrest is what's actually indicated.

I know, though, that I'd never forgive myself if I under-reacted, and that led to my child getting a lot sicker.

I know that when I woke this morning with a agonising cough and fever of 39.5, and ascertained that I have not one but TWO very sick kids to care for, I regretted hubs taking a Carer's Day yesterday, because, workplaces being what they are, this made it impossible for him to take another today.

I know that I am upset with myself for making questionable decisions all down the line this week, resulting in my kids probably being sicker than they needed to be, and maybe exposing other children to their lurgies.

I know that I need to get better at making the hard calls, even if it makes my children or my occasional employers unhappy sometimes. The fact that the kids wanted to go to school swimming shouldn't have outweighed my feeling that they weren't well enough to; that the fact that the big kids wanted to go to gymnastics training shouldn't have been allowed to gazump the todler's obvious need to be home in the warm; the fact that I was scheduled to work on Wednesday shouldn't have overriden my uncertainty about whether the toddler was well enough for creche.

I know that I feel like crap, and like a crap parent.

I know that my toddler and 8 year old feel awful too, and that's almost harder to bear.

For more things that people know, head over to Yay for Home!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Winner: Mickey Mouse Clubhouse Super Silly Adventures DVD

The only entrant and WINNER is Megs! Onya, lady ;-)

Let me know an address via gmail and I'll get the prize sent out to you.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Reading Notes - Zoe and Beans: The Magic Hoop!

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book for review purposes courtesy of Pan Macmillan Australia. No financial payment was offered nor accepted for this post. All opinions expressed are purely my own.

Chloe and Mick Inkpen's new picture book in the Zoe and Beans series arrived in our letterbox last week, and it was an instant hit with the toddler, charming her out of an overtired strop almost instantaneously. (I could stop this review *right there* and parents of toddlers would still be motivated to buy it ;-)

We'd come in the door from shopping, C in full cranky mode, me balancing parcels and muddy shoes and plastic bags. As soon as I'd thrown the cold & frozen groceries into their places, I sat C down as we opened the Pan Macmillan parcel, talking it up as I did so. "Look, C! It's a BOOK! A NEW BOOK! For you!"

C, who loves books generally, at first was not having a bar of it. "NOOOOO! I wan' to run around!" But as she caught sight of the appealing cover, with its soft-edged, pastel look, she became interested, and came to sit down with me and listen.

This is our first experience with Zoe and Beans, and we were both charmed. The text is simple enough to engage a toddler but genuinely funny enough to be enjoyable for older children and adults (my 8 year old is particularly tickled by the tiny rabbit poos - so much easier to clean up than doggy poos!)

It's a straightforward tale - Zoe finds a magic hoop, and induces her dog Beans to jump through it by dint of throwing his favorite treat (Choccy Bears) on the other side. The hoop has transformative qualities, as Zoe and Beans quickly discover. The appeal lies in the beautiful artwork and gentle humour - not that I would have expected less of a Mick Inkpen book of Wibbly Pig fame - and in the building to a conclusion that all good children's picture books must accomplish if they are to become regular reads.

This book has been on more-than-daily rotation ever since it arrived, and I've already got the forthcoming Christmas title in the series, Zoe's Christmas List, on my radar as a new holiday title for C. I highly recommend it for children over 2.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Sibling rivalry resolved: A picture book

My 6 year old was set the task of writing a short story in school last week. She decided to go with a thinly-veiled autobiographical them, writing about two sisters called Lilly and A (actually, not A - her sister's real name) who are not getting along so well. It starts off promisingly:

Text: Once upon a time in a little house lived two little girls. There (sic) house was in the woods. One of them was Lilly, the other was A.

Happy faces!

Soon, the story becomes darker and conflictual:

Text: One day they had a fight. A said "You are dumb". Lilly said "No you are".

Sad faces!

But it's all OK, because there's one page left to resolve it:

Text: Mum said "Stop it" and they lived happily ever after. The end.

If only it worked like that in reality :-)

(NB: I asked E's permission to post this story and she gave it enthusiastically).