Monday, January 16, 2017

Bringing some favourite books to life

Looking past the not so fantastic moments from last year, one definitely VERY fantastic thing that happened was kicking-off our reading of chapter books together.

So far we’ve finished reading Enid Blyton’s ‘The Wishing Chair’ and ‘The Wishing Chair Again’, and a little bit of ‘The Magic Faraway Tree’… Roald Dahl’s ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ and ‘The BFG’… and we are about halfway through C.S. Lewis’s ‘The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe’.

I managed to score some extra time off over the school holidays. So I decided to indulge in a bit of bookish fun by bringing some the books we read to life.

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We set our own ‘Willy Wonka Factory’ making our own Wonka bars, everlasting gobstoppers, non-melting ice creams and other confectionery creations. I made some gingerbread ‘bars’ for the kids to decorate and create their own versions of wonka bars, edible play dough for them to mould and shape into various sweet treats, and handfuls of mini M&Ms, Nerds candy and chocolate chips for them to embellish their creations with.

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After that, we sat down to illustrate and write out our own secret recipe books for all the various confectionery creations we came up with. We put the booklets together ourselves in the same way we did with our previous book writing activities.

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Following ‘The BFG’ we concocted our own dream jars by mixing together some small glow sticks, glitter with a sugar syrup mixture (you can also use glycerin which allows the glitter to float slowly around in the jar rather than sinking too quickly to the bottom of the jar).


P.S. Can’t wait to read the other books on this list with the kids. Plus four terrific and very touching children’s books worth reading with your little ones.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

One last hard knock before moving on to 2017

It seems every year we always need to take one really hard knock before we can move on to the next year. This year’s share of hard knocks was probably more than others.

It was kind of a year of just buckling down and weathering through the storm…

We were down to a single income family this year (me being the primary breadwinner).

I dropped my phone, cracking the screen and had to pay out my existing phone contract to get a new one.

With the current bleak economic situation looming over everything, we got stuck between a rock and hard place with a number of our investments.

Hubs and I had to weather through a lot of ‘tough’ discussions throughout the year.

Then someone rear-ended me in my car and we had to navigate through the whole insurance game.

Towards the end of the year we were beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Right after Christmas I finally thought we were over the worst of it and could breathe easy. We were home free!

And then tragedy struck.

While we were out of the shops on boxing day, I let down my guard for less than a minute and ended up being a the victim of a merciless snatch thief.

My entire bag, with my phone, wallet, credit cards, cash… everything.

Just like that. My entire day (and my entire life at that moment) was utterly ruined.

The worst thing was the violation.

The feeling of vulnerability.

Helplessness.

Feeling naked and exposed.

Defeated.

The world felt so evil.

Bad guys won.

Good guys lost.

hplyrikz: “Clear your mind here ” Words:

After a long, mortifying day of endless phonecalls. Canceling cards. Lodging reports. Driving around to see if there was any trace of the bag or remaining contents being tossed aside…

I lay in my bed. Unable to sleep.

A million thoughts and scenes and what-ifs replaying in my head again and again.

Could there be anything worse?

And then I remembered…

How I almost lost something infinitely more precious than this ‘stuff’.

Not once.

But five times this year.

Five times I let my guard down.

And almost lost this baby.

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Five unforgivable crimes.

I never thought I would confess them here.

The incidents still sit on a very raw edge in my memory. All I can tell you is that they involve a couple of near drowning incidents, one involving a car seat, and two at the shops. You can probably infer the rough details from those bare facts. Perhaps one day I can recall and tell the stories freely without pain. But for now they serve to imprint in my heart the weight and value of one little life.

As I told my chicks:

If I lost you, I would cry every single day, forever.

But as for ‘stuff’.

I think I should be able to let them go.

It feels terrible to lose.

But as hubs said, all I need is one little ‘win’ to help me get past this loss.

I hope I will see more wins beyond the horizon.

For now, as long as I have these…

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I am still winning.

 

There are of course other little wins scored along the way…

Like winning at the ukulele.

Finding work-life balance; and

Being able to spend more one-on-one time with this munchkin.

Sharing my booky-love with the kids.

New special family rituals.

Summer beach plays.

Discovering some local hidden gems.

And being good at my job.

 

Anyway after swimming through that whole potluck of the good, bad and ugly, I’m just so done with 2016.

Bring on 2017!

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

And Here Comes Six!

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So dear Mister Six has entered the scene.

You might wonder, what has the space between five and six been like?

Well, to sum up, it’s been all about…

LEGO.
Transformers.
Star Wars.
Elephant and Piggie books.
Books about LEGO.
Reading Roald Dahl and Enid Blyton books together.
Learning sight words.
Toe holes in socks.
Knee holes on pants.
Second (sometimes third) helpings at dinner.
Writing and drawing pictures about LEGO.
Sweaty hugs after school.
First visits from the tooth fairy.
Holdings hands to cross the road (most of the time, still).
Silly jokes at little sister’s expense.
Hugs and sorry to little sister afterwards.
I want to play by myself.
I want to play with sister.
I want to play by myself again.
You listen to me because I am bigger.
Okay, I’ll read you a story, little sister.
Yes, I’ll help you mummy.
No problem, I’ll take care of it, mummy.
Can I do it later, mummy?
More LEGO.
I love babies.
I like to play with babies.
I like to play with big boys.
I played that piece on the piano all my myself!
This song is too hard.
I don’t like piano.
I want to play the cello.
I want to play the trombone.
I just want to play LEGO.
Give me lots of hugs and kisses goodnight, mummy.
What’s for breakfast tomorrow, mummy?

Mister Six requested a Lego Ninjago birthday party.

Ninjago??? I thought you said you wanted a Star Wars party? And before that you said you wanted a Transformers party?

Please, mummy… I promise I will not change my mind again.

Well…

And Iit’s not going to be a big party. Just a little one. With only my best friends.

The rest is history.

Here are some photo highlights from the ‘little’ bash we had.

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If you’re interested in the nuts and bolts of some of the key elements in the party, here are some notes and links you might find useful…

  • Decorations: Balloons + Ninjago Eyes Printable
  • Goodie/party bags: DIY Paper Bags + Ninjago Eyes Printable
  • Table settings: Coloured Plates/Cups + Ninjago Eyes Printable
  • Ninjago Cheese: Baybel Cheese + Sultanas

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The birthday cake was the result of combining these two ingredients with this Pinterest idea…

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Party activities comprised of:

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I printed out some clues for the team of little Ninjas to track down each golden weapon hidden around our backyard. I kept the clues fairly simple as I figured that it was already a bit of a challenge for five and six year olds to read the words by themselves in order to decipher where each weapon was hidden. But by the end of the hunt, they were all “Easy peasy-Lemon squeezy!”. All right then. I’ll be sure to add a trickier twist next time round!

Victory shot of the Golden Spinjitzu Weapon Treasure Hunters

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The biggest thing I learnt from this whole experience was that birthday bashes do not necessarily have to be big. In fact it was Nathan who nudged me in this direction. Initially when I first started planning and thinking through the party, I kept prompting Nathan to tell me names of who to invite. He kept circling back to the same few names of close friends. I was tempted to start reading out names from his class list or scrolling through my phone list of friends with children. But I held myself back and decided to listen and follow Nathan’s cue instead. He reiterated that he would be happy with just a little party. As it turns out, planning a small scale party was so much fun.

The thing is, with the typical party of even say around ten children on the guest list, you will then have to consider including parents and siblings in the headcount. Which will then translate into planning food not only for the children but adults as well. During the party itself, you not only have to manage children’s activities but also mingle around and ensure the adult guests are taken care of as well. The logistics for planning a party of this scale can sometimes get out of hand, unless you decide to splurge and outsource the whole thing to an external party.

Since we ended up doing Nathan’s birthday party at much smaller scale, I was able to do a drop-off/pick-up later kind of party. So the sole focus celebration could be all about just the kids (a.k.a. Ninjagos). We were able to personalise the activities and ensure everyone was included and had a role in every activity. We could customise goodie bags for each individual guest to make it really special and meaningful for everyone.

I think this small scale style of partying might become our new favourite way of celebrating birthdays!

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Thursday, December 22, 2016

Monthly play roundup: November & December

And so finally we come to the last installment of my monthly play roundup series for the year. I’ve decided to combine November and December into one post as the second half of December usually runs into the holiday season with things starting to wind down. But I’ll do a separate post on some of the end-of-year celebrations and holiday highlights. But for now, here’s a roundup of the activities we’ve been busy with over these last couple of months…

‘I Need a Hug’
A recent favourite book we picked up from the library last month that we’ve read together umpteen times is ‘I Need a Hug’ by Aaron Blabey. The story is about a sad (and cute) little porcupine who really needs a hug. But then who would be willing to hug a porcupine. We made good use of our leftover playdough with some toothpicks and googly eyes to make our own little porcupines. The children adored their little porcupines and hugged them (gently) all day. We also gathered a few other animal toys to play out the story together.

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‘The Tiger Who Came to Tea’

Another favourite book last month was ‘The Tiger Who Came to Tea’ by Judith Kerr. It was a perfect story to go along with the children’s regular tea party pretend play. We made a tiger mask and took turns being the tiger who greedily ate and drank up everything at the tea table.

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Talking about Shadows

With no shortage of sunny days these past few months, we’ve had plenty of opportunity to notice our shadows. The children had been showing great interest in observing their shadows whenever we headed outside. I picked up two books from the library ‘The Black Rabbit’ by Philippa Leathers and ‘Foggy Foggy Forrest’ by Nick Sharrat. We set up a simple shadow puppet theatre using a bedsheet and a table lamp and had lots of fun playing shadow guessing games and doing some storytelling with various toys and props to create shadows.

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Decorating Christmas Gingerbread Biscuits

With Christmas around the corner, we’ve been baking up lots of goodies and treats in the kitchen. And of course no Christmas is complete without decorating the classic gingerbread biscuits.

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Ninjago Birthday Party

We also had an early celebration for Nathan’s birthday in Ninjago style (by specific request of the birthday boy). I’ll share more about this in a separate post, but here’s a little sneak peak of some of the goodies from the party

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Christmas Presents

I rounded off the year with sewing up a storm of a whole bunch of homemade Christmas gifts for all my kids, including a reversible tote for each of them (which I completely forgot to take a photo of any before giving them all away). But I am especially proud of these travel chalkboard mats I made for a couple of the kids going away on holidays to keep them busy while they’re on the plane.

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Thank you so much for following me on this series. It was often challenging to keep up with the heaps of activities we do every week and distil them down into a few highlights for this monthly roundup. But I hope you have found it interesting to get a glimpse into some of the things that have been keeping me busy throughout the year. Happy holidays and see you in the new year!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Monthly play roundup: October

So loving the warmer weather we’ve been enjoying this past month! It took some time to warm up but we’re definitely enjoying more and more of a springy-summery vibe in the weather. We’ve been heading outdoors a lot more over the past few weeks with lots more free play to shake off the winter chill in our bones. But we still manage to squeeze in plenty of semi-structured activities in between. Here’s a peek at some of them…

~ I Can Spell My Name ~
With a couple of the kids transitioning to kindy next year, I’ve started incorporating more literacy and numeracy activities into our programme. This is the ‘I Can Spell My Name’ activity tray magnetic letters and printed laminated cards of the children’s names. They’ve caught on pretty quickly. I usually leave the tray out in a common area so they can visit it whenever they like throughout the day to have a go at spelling their name.

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~ Jonathan & Martha ~

We revisited one of my favourite children’s books, which I featured in this post some time back. We made some worm puppets using coloured straws. The children practiced their scissor skills by snipping the straws into smaller pieces to use as beads. Then they exercised their fine motor skills by threading the straw beads onto a piece of string to form a long wriggly worm. I helped them to attach two more straws, one at the head and one on the tail, for them to hold to make their puppet wriggle and move.

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~ Egg Carton Worms ~

I’m always hoarding bits and pieces to recycle for art and craft activity. We turned some egg cartons into worms with some paint and googly eyes. We then played out the story of ‘Jonathan & Martha’ together using the straw worm puppets and egg carton worms for the children to practice their story sequencing and verbal skills.

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~ Dog’s Colourful Day ~

Another book we enjoyed reading was ‘Dog’s Colourful Day’. The children used dot markers to decorate printouts of ‘Dog’ with some colourful spots. They then went on to make their own open ended spotty pictures. I then extended the activity into a pre-writing exercise by drawing some outlines of letters and shapes for the children to trace along with the dot markers.

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~ Rectangle and Squares ~

Doing one of our open-ended/journaling sessions, a couple of the children showed interest in drawing trucks and vehicles based on rectangle shapes. I decided to extend on this by setting out some coloured paper squares and rectangles and encouraging the children to create their own pictures with the shapes. Similar to this geometric collage picture activity I did previously.

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~ Room on the Broom ~

And finally, we ended the month of October with a Halloween theme activity based around the story ‘Room on the Broom’ by Julia Donaldson. We made our own mini brooms with some sticks, brown paper bags and string. The children practiced their scissor skills by cutting and snipping ends of paper bags into long strips to form the ‘bristles’ of the broom. They wrapped the bristles around the end of a stick and I helped to secure it on with some string. We played out the story with a doll dressed up as a witch and our plush animals and puppets.

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If you enjoyed this post, you can check out last month’s roundup of activities and more of my other play and learning ideas. Stay tuned for next month’s roundup!

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Real Hobbies: The Art of Hunting for Your Own Food

I hope you enjoyed reading my previous post in my ‘real hobbies’ series. If you did, I’m sure you have been looking forward to this next post in the series. You’ll probably find this one very intriguing as it is totally different from the last one.

So today’s ‘Real Hobbies’ post features: The Art of Hunting for Your Own Food

Joel&SharolynWe first met Joel and Sharolyn earlier this year through our church small group. They were warm and generous people who immediately opened their home up for friends to drop by and hang out.

On one occasion, they invited a group of us over to sample Joel’s fresh homemade sashimi. The salmon sashimi was so melt-in-your mouth tender that we just couldn’t get enough of it.

We started talking about food in general, including the where and how to get the best and freshest ingredients. Joel’s solution was mind-blowingly simple but bizarre--head out into the wild and catch your own ingredients!

That’s when I found out all about Joel’s unusual hobby…

HUNTING!!!

So here are a few interesting and surprising things about hunting and catching wildlife for consumption.


On spearing fish

Joel is not really into line fishing but his preferred method for catching fish is to spear them straight in the water. Anywhere he can find water, he’ll head in to see if he can catch anything. The most common type of fish he usually catches is sea sweep. Joel was initially a little concerned about talking about this as spear fishing is often seen as somewhat controversial compared to line fishing as it supposedly considered more damaging than line fishing. However spearfishers are actually able to be more selective of what they wish to catch which can be considered more environmentally responsible by some parties.

There’s a lot interesting debate around this topic so it was definitely eye opening to learn about the arguments for ad against the different methods of fishing.

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On hunting for pest control
Rabbits, foxes and even kangaroos are considered a pest in many farms in Australia. These animals are considered as pests as they may hunt or prey on farm animals, compete with livestock on grazing pastures, destroy crops and potentially spread disease. So farmers will gladly welcome recreational hunters on their property to help rid them of rabbits. Gun owners can  set up private arrangements with a local farmer to shoot rabbits and other animal pests on their land. Of course you will have to hold a valid license and have all the necessary paperwork for owning and using a gun. Apart from that, you can have free reign to shoot and take home any unwanted rodents and feral animals you come across.

Some birds such as corellas and galah cockatoos are also considered to be pests as they may threaten local native plant and animal species, and destroy farm crops. A number of local councils and communities even work with recreational hunting groups to organise controlled shootings of pest birds when their numbers become overabundant.

Again just like with fishing, there are numerous controversial arguments over the various methods of pest control using guns versus other methods (such as baiting or poisoning, trapping, fencing or using guard animals), however like with any situation one method may not necessarily be effective or sufficient.

IMG_20161108_151255Joel’s four-year-old son with a freshly caught fox

On hunting trips
The best time for hunting animals is at night as most wild animals are nocturnal. So naturally a hunting trip is a pretty involved undertaking, going into ‘the wild’ into remote areas, roughing it out and camping in places with minimal amenities.

Apart from moving stealthily through an area to spot the telltale pair of shining eyes caught in headlights is to use tools like a special fox whistle to call and attract foxes. It almost always works, except perhaps on the most experienced, older foxes who have probably lived through too many such deadly whistle calls.

On owning a gun in Australia
I asked Joel why it was common for hunters to keep more than one gun in their collection. He explained that you need to use different sized guns to ensure different kinds of animals are shot in the most humane way. So for a small animal like a rabbit, it’s best to use the really tiny bullets so you don’t end up blowing them to smithereens, and for large animals it’s best to use large bullets for a swift and instantaneous kill.

There are very strict laws governing the purchase, ownership and use of guns in Australia. Apart from registering and obtaining a firearms license, you also have to undergo safety training courses and provide documentation on the secure storage and safekeeping for your guns and ammunition, which include having a key and combination locked safe which are securely bolted down.

 I considered snapping a photo of Joel’s gun collection, but then we decided to think twice to consider the safety considerations and sensitivities on publishing a personal photograph of firearms and weapons on public space.

On the economics of hunting for food
Catching his own dinner was honestly the primary reason why Joel decided to venture into hunting and spearfishing. It definitely makes sense from an economical point of view. Once you factor in the initial investment of obtaining a gun, the cost of each catch ranges from around just 10 cents per bullet for a small animal like rabbits, to two dollars a bullet for larger animals. Definitely beats any price you can get at the shops!

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On cooking and eating the catch
During the busiest hunting times of the year, it’s possible for their family to subsist almost solely on whatever Joel brings home from a hunt. Fish is plentiful especially in summer and rabbits are a fairly common catch throughout the year. Sometimes their freezer will be packed full to the brim with cuts of wild game and fish.

The most unpleasant bit of a hunt is probably the skinning and feathering part of the catch. But for a seasoned hunter, it’s just a routine business, accomplished with fairly minimal fuss with a sharp knife and the right tools. Though that being said, skinning large animals like kangaroos is definitely a big job--sometimes too big a job to be worth the overabundance of meat they provide. Furthermore, strict hunting laws only permit consumption of kangaroo game on the farm land they were hunted on. So if you’re planning to shoot a kangaroo for dinner, it’s a good idea to think through your plan for consuming the meat on the spot.

Joel and Sharolyn’s favourite way to cook their hunting catch is sous-vide. Especially with rabbit. It’s clean, simple and almost always guarantees perfectly tender results every time. Actually they love their sous-vide cooker  so much, they pretty much use it to cook everything and anything--even eggs! (I can personally vouch that their sous-vide soft boiled eggs are simply melt-in-your-mouth divine).

I candidly remarked to Sharolyn once that she was lucky to have a real ‘cave man’ who was going out to hunt and catch real live animals and fish and literally ‘bringing home the bacon’. It’s definitely a bonus to have a hobby that can literally feed your family with.


Thanks so much, Joel and Sharolyn!

If you enjoyed this post, check out my previous post in this real hobbies series

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Monthly play roundup: September

We’ve been having some very strange weather last month which just couldn’t seem to make up it’s mind whether to jump into spring or hold back to winter. But towards the end of the month, I think winter is finally relenting and letting go of it’s chilly grip over us. Anyway here’s a roundup of some of the things we’ve been up to in September…

Steamed Buns
Our favourite cooking activity last month was making these soft, fluffy, white steamed buns with red bean filling. The homemade filling was from the adzuki beans I had used to make snowskin mooncakes earlier that month. We made the dough with pao flour (similar to cake flour) which was very soft and pliable and very nice to work with. The children said it felt just like playdough.

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Pattern and Counting Activity Trays
Extending on some math and numeracy learning we’ve been focusing on recently, I downloaded and printed out a couple of pattern recognition and watermelon seed counting worksheets (here and here) for the children to work on. For the watermelon counting activity, I rolled out some playdough into tiny balls for seeds. For the square pattern recognition activity, I used small coloured wooden craft cubes.

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Cardboard Tube Owls
Following a book we read about an owl, we made these cute owl crafts from carboard tubes, decorated with coloured paper and craft feathers. Books have always been one of my favourite ways to find inspiration for fun and educational activities and learning ideas.

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Threading with Egg Carton Pieces
’Threading’ is one of the ways to build up fine motor skills in little fingers. Apart from threading with beads, you can pretty much turn almost anything into a threading material. I cut up some egg carton boxes, punched some holes in the middle of each piece and threw in a piece of string for the children to thread with.

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Pretend Cooking with Gumnuts
With the weather warming up, we’ve been spending more and more time outdoors. One of the children’s favourite loose parts to play with is our collection of gumnuts. Apparently they taste very good flavoured with freshly picked weeds and wildflowers from the garden.

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Homemade Lavender Sachets
Apart from wildflowers, I sometimes let the children pick the flowers from our lavender bushes which have been blossoming profusely over the past month. On one of the days, we decided to use the lavender to make our own lavender sachets. After sorting through the lavender and removing the stems and other wildflowers, I let the children select their choice of fabric from my scrap fabric stash. I quickly sewed the fabric into little square bags and the children filled them up with lavender blossoms before giving them a final stitch shut.

 

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If you enjoyed this post, you can check out last month’s roundup of activities and more of my other play and learning ideas. Stay tuned for next month’s roundup!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

A new addition to our bedtime routine

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After a final blast of wet weather last month, I think it’s quite safe to say that spring has finally sprung.

We celebrated the new season the first weekend with a relaxed, chilled-out family BBQ at King’s Park. After we had our fill of sausages, we took a slow, leisurely stroll along the familiar stretch of the park looking down on the iconic view of Perth city. I think it was probably the first time we were looking down on that iconic view together as a family. We pointed out various landmarks and marveled over the beauty of our home city together. It felt really special sharing that moment as a family.

I came across this quote which really sums up everything I felt so well about that moment…

A mother discovers with great delight that one does not love one’s children just because
they are one’s children; But because of the friendship formed while raising them.”

Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez
.

We recently finished reading both books in Enid Blyton’s ‘The Wishing Chair’ series. We had such a blast reading them together every night. Nathan’s favourite chapter was the one about Magician Greatheart’s party. If you haven’t read these books in a while, read them again! I had the best fun revisiting all the old familiar stories and characters, especially since I was revisiting them through the eyes of my own children.

I also just started trying out this new thing with Nathan and Grace at bedtime. Instead of our usual bedtime story book, I just pull out a “Did I ever tell you the story about…” from my childhood. And they absolutely love it. Nathan is especially hooked and keeps clamouring for more. “Another one, mummy! Tell me another story about when you were a little girl! PLEEEEEASE!!!”. At bedtime earlier this evening, I told them my famous ‘Bird Story’. He was literally hanging on the edge of his seat listening to every word. And at the end of the story, he had such strong feelings of anger toward my dog Snowball for hurting the bird that he had trouble calming down.

I asked Nathan why he loved hearing these stories of when I was a little girl so much. “Because I’ve never heard these stories before, and I like to know what you were like last time when you were little and what you did and how you were like.”

And then I remembered how I too loved hearing stories like that from my own parents about their childhood. I gather each memory they shared like precious pearls because I knew that these stories are the only link I have to another time and place in history beyond my own tiny imprint on this vast, immense fabric of time.

I remember remarking to my mum one time when I was in my teens “I wonder if I had known you when you were in school or university, would we have been friends?”. It was just one of those random rhetorical questions. I’d like to think we would have been.

I thought about if Nathan were to ask me the same question today. I believe my answer would be a definite and positive “Yes”. Because I’m so loving the person he is right now and is growing into.

How strange and wonderful a thing it is to be best friends with your child.

Though if you think about it, it does make perfect sense after all.

Monday, September 05, 2016

A Mary Poppins epiphany

We’ve been having lots of really wet days last month.

Not your usual light drizzle. But full on stormy, pouring down with rain kind of weather. Too wet to play outside. Too stormy to go out anywhere. For a moment I wished I could wave a magic wand to make all the clouds disappear and bring out the sunshine and blue skies.

Do you remember Mary Poppins?

I absolutely loved watching that movie as a child (and still do). I remember one of my favourite scenes was when the children (and Bert) held hands with Mary Poppins and they magically jumped inside a picture and went off to have some funny little adventure there.

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How wonderful would it be if I could have some magical fairy godmother to whisk me away to some place else exotic and beautiful and WARM… perhaps to Bali or The Maldives. Summer in New York or Paris or London. Maybe Santorini or Nice. Even Singapore or my hometown KK…

Anywhere but this miserable, cold, wet winter in Perth.

I am just so DONE with winter here.

Please be OVER already.

Please. PLEASE… PLEEEEEASE!!!

 

Then one cold, rainy morning I found myself driving a train of chairs filled with children and afterwards sitting cross-legged on a mat sipping on tea and cakes made from air.

“Where we going now aunty Serene???” called out my cherubic passengers behind me.

“Oh, where would you like to go?” I called back.

“To the zoo!!! The zoo!!!” they yelled excitedly.

“Okay, buckle your seatbelts, children! Here we go! Toot, toot!”

“HOORAY!!!”
”There it is! There’s the zoo! I see it!”
”Oh, I can see an elephant!”
”I see a lion!!! ROAR!!!”
”There’s a giraffe!!!”

We got off our ‘train’ and walked around pointing out all sorts of animals and creatures. Somehow a lion ended up escaping from it’s cage. So we all screeched and hurried back to our ‘train’. “Quick! Quick Aunty Serene! Before he eats us!!!”

And then I had one of those epiphany type moments.

It was a Mary Poppins moment.

.

.

.

I realised that I  was Mary Poppins.

Using my magic…

We made a train out of chairs and travelled to all sorts of places…
the shops, the library, play group, the park, the swimming pool , the zoo.

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We made a secret fort from blankets to hide out together…

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We used paper to make a familiar old story of the Three Billy Goats Gruff come alive…

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We transformed an ordinary morning tea into a real fruit shop…

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I wonder. Did all those adventures those two children have with Mary Poppins really happen? The adventure inside the chalk picture… the tea party on the ceiling… watching her pull out an endless number of things out of her bottomless carpet bag (sounds a bit like my bag too)…

Who knows?

Perhaps Mary Poppins was actually just a typical, ordinary, old nanny.

But seen through the eyes of those two children, she just seemed to possess a special kind of magic to turn ordinary everyday events into extraordinary adventures.

 


You can check out last month’s roundup of activities at our Family Day Care and more of my other play and learning ideas. Stay tuned for next month’s roundup!

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Four places to check out down south

Over the July school holidays, my folks flew over from Malaysia to visit. It was just a relaxed, chilled out trip with no particular agenda planned. Just spending time together with us and their precious grandchildren.

On one of the weekends, we went on a mini getaway down south (which in Perth-speak refers to the Margaret River region and located about two hours drive south of the Perth metro area).

We usually stop by the usual suspects such as Busselton Jetty or the Margaret River Chocolate Factory. But there are definitely thousands of hidden gems tucked around every corner waiting to be discovered. I don’t think it’s possible for a single person to uncover them all. However I can do my little bit by sharing a couple of our own discoveries with you.

I left most of the photography to my dad and his trusty Olympus DSLR. But I did manage to snap a few photos here and there to give you a little peephole glimpse of some of the places we visited during our trip.

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Happs Wines

I’m not quite sure if this particular ‘gem’ can be considered hidden one as I believe this winery already has quite a sizeable following of loyal customers of which we are one of them. Hubs and I are ardent devotees of their Fuschia range of sweet wines.

Their estate in Dunsborough is a fairly large one but somehow still exudes a warm and inviting ‘homey’ feel to it. As you walk down from the carpark to the main building, the cobblestone steps leading down to a little glass door tucked away under some low hanging vines give a sense of walking into someone’s front yard. Very different from the sprawling, grand entrances at some of the larger wineries.

The staff are gracious with their tastings and I have never received a sniff of superiority from them (unlike some wineries where the staff look at you disdainfully like you’re simply there for a freebie). They even have a bowl of complementary crackers and cheese to nibble on as you sample their selection of wines. They also have very thoughtfully set up a corner with books, blocks and puzzles to keep little ones busy as their parents enjoy their ‘happy hour’ time.

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Goanna Cafe & Gallery

Located just around the corner from Happs estate in Dunsborough is this super family friendly restaurant. They have an amazing outdoor space with a terrific little play area for children. Unfortunately it happened to be pouring with rain that day, so we stayed dry and cosy indoors instead.

They offer a terrific ‘Goanna Platter’ for kids with a toasted cheese sandwich, milk or juice, sultanas, choc button, marshmallow and activity kit. Their Jerusalem artichoke risotto with truffle oil was so incredibly good that it turned me into a risotto convert on the spot (before this I always thought of risotto as glorified rice congee) and their polenta chips were just absoutely yummos!

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Harwood’s Cottage

Our accommodation for our short family getaway was a wonderful little estate called Harwood’s Cottage owned by a lady named Norma. I stumbled across it by chance on Airbnb as I was hunting around for places to stay around the area. It is just the loveliest little place.

The ‘old barn’ we stayed at is a beautifully restored heritage building. It is rather snug but we were happy to stay cosy and warm together inside, especially with the pouring rain outside. Unfortunately it meant that we were not able to take full advantage of exploring the grounds and various historic relics around the estate. But I guess it just means we will just have to make another visit in the future.

There are heaps of gushing reviews from previous guests on Norma’s delicious home baked bread and cookies which she leaves out for her guests together with a dish of her homemade marmalade. We spent a lovely afternoon in front of the wood fire, sipping hot tea and munching on freshly baked bread and marmalade and cookies. This is for sure a place I would recommend to stay at if you are planning a trip down south around the Margaret River region.

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Gnomesville

For our trip back up to Perth, we decided to travel via Fergusson Valley so we could pay homage to the little residents of the famous community of Gnomesville.

So who are the mysterious little residents of this community?

Gnomes. Yes, GNOMES... GNOMES!!! 

The place is literally an ocean of thousands upon thousands of these creatures, stretching on and on, far beyond your eyes can see.

I’m not particularly partial to gnomes. But there is just something exhilarating and magical about being surrounded by these thousands of gnomes that makes me feel like a child all over again. You can’t help but feel excited and energised at the sight of so many of these happy creatures congregated together in one place.

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Trust me. Go visit the place and feel the magic yourselves. As for me and my household, the next time we visit, we’ll pack a picnic lunch to spend a longer stretch of time there to soak up all that gnomish vibe (and possibly bring a little friend to join the gnomey community).

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What hidden gems have you discovered during your travels?

Sunday, August 07, 2016

‘Three’ is just perfect

My baby girl turned three last month.

Three.

THREE.

It seems too big a number to assign to my little baby.

Or maybe I’m just living in denial.

Probably.

Definitely.

We should just stop right here. It’s a very good age to be anyway. Three is just perfect.

We celebrated the occasion with a custom-mummy-made cake, specially requested by her highness. The theme was based on her current favourite animated film--‘Tinkerbell and The Legend of the Neverbeast’. (It should be noted that the mummy was pretty pleased with her own cleverness at putting together the various elements of the cake design all by herself).

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The grandparents indulged her with her very first fashion doll. They chose a Disney Rapunzel one because, in the words of her grandpa: “I think she will find the hair is very nice to comb!”. And as predicted, she has been combing Rapunzel’s hair very diligently almost every day until it’s all hopelessly frayed and tangled. And yet she zealously combs on.

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So what is ‘Three’ looking like for little Gracie?

Well, despite all my efforts to minimise the external girly-influences, she has definitely developed a decidedly girly-girl side to her character. Twirling. Dancing. Butterflies. Princesses. Pretty dresses. Tutu skirts and the lot. Though her favourite colour turns out to be blue (not pink).

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On the flip side, she fits right in with the boys, being an equally ardent fan of superheroes, firefighters, Lego, cars, trains and other boy business. She enjoys watching Transformers and Lego Ninjago just as much as a good princess movie. She’s always game for any superhero or firefighter role play--and not as the damsel in distress.

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She has her very own uniquely-flavoured quirky sense of humour and original ideas. The other day when she was playing with some playdough outside, she smooshed together her own creation and announced, “Look! I made a ‘Pottle’!”… “A bottle?”… “No, a ‘Pottle’!”… “A pottle? What’s a pottle?”… “Here it is! A Pottle!”. Another time she made something in the sandpit and told me it was a ‘Krista Barnum Pie’.

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Food-wise. She is game to try anything. I mean ANYTHING. A couple of weeks ago I was preparing dinner, chopping vegetables, meat etc. Grace came over to sit at the kitchen counter to watch. “Can I try some carrots?” she asked. So I let her have a piece. “What’s that?” she asked pointing to something green. “Sugar snap peas”…. “Can I try sugar nap-pees?”… I let her have a piece of that as well. “What’s that one?” she said again pointing to something white. “Onion”… “Oh! Can I try some?”… “It’s a little bit spicy” I warned… “Okay!” she responded nonchalantly as she chomped up a piece. I then turned around for a minute to heat up the wok to cook the ingredients. When I turned back around, I caught Grace holding a piece of raw chicken halfway to her mouth. I stopped her just in the nick of time.

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One of our friends aptly nicknamed her the little ‘pocket dynamo’. A tiny person who can pack a lot of punch. Size is never a limiting factor for her.“I DO IT MYSELF!” is one of her classic top favourite phrases she often repeats throughout the day. Whatever she sets her mind to do, she will do all she can to make it work. Thanks to this particular trait, her toilet training progressed pretty quickly and she graduated from the potty the big toilet almost overnight once she was on a roll.

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She’s on a roll to race on growing and growing and growing. I can only watch helplessly on the sidelines as she speeds on. What’s the hurry, baby girl? Please don’t grow up just yet. It can wait till tomorrow. And maybe one more tomorrow after that. How many tomorrows can you spare?