Friday, 17 April 2015

Welcome to the world, beautiful!

Today we excitedly waited for news of your arrival.  We knew you were coming today.

You were born at 11:21am, weighing 3.31kgs (7lb 5oz), and measuring 53cms.  And you were just as beautiful as we all expected, with your gorgeous little mouth, perfect little nose, and wise, deep eyes.

You came into the world to an amazing mother.  She is strong, creative, enterprising, and she will love you more than anyone else in the world ever can.  Even though you'll be incredibly angry with her some days, she is your constant rock.  She will never, ever give up on you!

Your daddy is a fantastic dad!  You will spend hours in his arms and it will be a safe place for you.  He will cherish you like no other man can, and he will show you what you can expect in your future husband.  He helps your mum in so many ways, will teach you all kinds of interesting things, and show an incredible patience that is rare in a man.  You will probably wrap your dad around your finger within the first few seconds of your life!  And he will defend you to his dying breath.  He is a good, honorable man, and you are incredibly lucky to have him!

Don't get me started on your brothers!!!!  Your oldest brother is intelligent and kind and will care for you with his gentle, tender way.  Your youngest brother is tough and cheeky and will probably fight with you a fair bit.  But he will be your most ardent supporter.  These guys will get you in and out of trouble many times, and while they will drive you crazy some days, they are the only other people in the world who understand your family's particular variety of bonkers.

You are incredibly lucky to have your Gran around, too!  She is a tough, loving, practical woman and I hope you get the opportunity to spend a lot of time with her.  Her hugs are brilliant and she can teach you so much.

Your grandparents will dote on you, especially because you are the only granddaughter so far!  They will love and support you in every possible way.  The love of a grandparent is especially precious, dear girl, so let them into your life as often as you can.

And all of us Aunties and Uncles, well we get the privilege of spoiling you rotten and having an understanding ear when mum and dad are being unfair.  Remember, we grew up with them, so we know how annoying they can be!  We will be here any time you need us, even though we live so far away (how lucky you are to live in this age of technological communication!).

I wonder what you will be like as you grow.  Will you be interested in all things pretty, pink and princess-y?  Or will you be a tomboy.  I suspect you'll be a beautiful balance of both, actually - much like your Mum.

I know you will have lovely manners, just like your brothers, because that's the way your parents will train you.  And I think you will do well at school - there is a lot of intelligence in your heritage.  Oh!  We can't forget music!  There's plenty of that in your heritage too!

I hope you will know your value, and that we will all love you and support you as you grow and discover the world and yourself.

Welcome to the world, beautiful!

Friday, 10 April 2015

Changing seasons

The weather has suddenly changed as we move from HOT summer to mild winter.  The nights have cooled down so that we don't require the fans for the whole night, but the days are still warm and lovely.

This is my favourite season here in Central Queensland.  It's not so hot that you have to semi-hiberate in the air-conditioning, but it's still warm enough to wear short sleeves.  It's just comfortable!

And it's the best time of year to be doing things, especially outside!

The Big Fella has been getting into the garden and it's looking fantastic!  He's enthusiastic about a couple of little (hmmmmm, possibly not so little!) projects, which are going to make our yard more useful and beautiful.

The change in weather has encouraged my creative side too.  I've decided on a couple of little projects that I want to tackle over winter -
learn to ice a cake with fondant,
learn a little about watercolour painting (thanks to my friend, Annette, for this inspiration),
attempt to finish quilting the quilt I started before I got married(!),
and paint the outside Christmas decorations while the weather is gorgeous (rather than leaving it until Spring when it gets way too hot and the bugs get into the paint).

I've noticed that my Little Big Fella is suddenly more grown up!  We went to the park one afternoon this week and he has changed.
He tries things that used to scare him on his scooter.
He can reach and play on one of the park toys that used to be SO big for him.
He can finally swing on a swing all by himself!!!!

Another evening this week, as we were eating dinner, he suddenly told us a knock knock joke.  Good old interrupting cow.  I remember my sister C and I telling that one when we were kids.  The funniest thing was that the Little Big Fella couldn't get the timing right, so the interrupting cow wasn't interrupting.

We've all noticed this year that we don't get to spend as much time together as we used to.  (I know, it's been nearly a year that I've been working full-time and it's taken us this long to feel the difference???)  So the Big Fella has started turning down overtime on the weekends.  And while we don't necessarily do anything special on the days we're all home together, just sharing the same space, and being able to share thoughts as they occur has been really good.

I love how a change of seasons gives you new perspective on your life, and presents new opportunities.

Monday, 6 April 2015

A new Easter tradition

The Big Fella and I have been married for 13 years (please, hold your applause).

Throughout that time I've shared many of my family traditions with him.  He's been... nonplussed about tradition.  It's not that he dislikes any of them, he just doesn't really see the point.

But this year he mentioned something that his mum apparently did every Easter when he was growing up.  I think he's mentioned it before but I never really picked up on it.

Each Easter, the Big Fella and his sister would wake up to a large marshmallow bunny, homemade by his mum.

I assume they had chocolate as well, but this obviously stood out to him, because the way he said it suggested that it was special to him.

So, despite the fact that I've never made marshmallow, and despite the fact that it requires gelatine, which I've never used and am somewhat scared of, I decided to make my wonderful husband some marshmallow this year.

Problem number 1, I didn't have any gelatine.

Problem number 2, our supermarket was closed except for Saturday and I knew it would be chaos there.  That, and I really didn't want to go there.

Okay, so we decided to do the shopping on Sunday at the closest big town, and I added the gelatine to the list.  But by the time we got back, it was kind of late and I was too tired to try something new.

So given that tomorrow I'm going back to work, I decided to give it a go today.

My fear of gelatine seemed quite rational when I had to mix it into the cold water with a fork.  It lumped up all over the place!!!!  Thankfully a little patience and focused fork-action pretty much sorted it out.

Then when I was beating the mix to make it thick and marshmallow-y, it just didn't seem thick enough.  A little more time and patience and it looked a bit better.

We had some friends over throughout the day (kids here, then there, then everyone here) so they got to trial the marshmallow when it seemed to be ready.

It was very... soft.  But tasted pretty good.  And it was very sticky!  Trying to get the little ones out of the moulds was really tricky!!!

I had also made a large slab, so I left that to set for a while longer.

This evening I cut it up and rolled it in coloured coconut.  It's set!!!!  Want to see it?

So I guess this is going to be a new Easter tradition in our household.  Hopefully next year I can even get it together enough to produce them for Easter Sunday morning!  And maybe even find a large bunny mould, just to make the Big Fella's Easter complete.

Yeah, I think I can do that :-)

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Laughter and Learning

Happy Easter everyone!  I hope you've had the opportunity to take a break this weekend and spend time with those you love.

Since his party, the Little Big Fella has had money burning a hole in his pocket!  He was given money by a couple of friends, and some came in the mail from family (thanks family!).  He'd also earned some by doing his chores every day every week during the first term of the year.  So he had lots of money burning a hole in his pocket.

The Big Fella was home today (an unusual occurrence for a weekend!) so we decided to go to our closest big town and do the food shopping, and allow the Little Big Fella to spend said money.

He was SO excited!

He ended up buying the Skylanders Trap Team start up set and a few more Skylanders figures, as well as a bag of lollies.

And because his running shoes are very quickly wearing out, the Big Fella decided to get him a new pair while we were over there.  The shop happened to have a "2nd pair half price" sale on, so he also bought a pair of soccer shoes.

Add the excitement of a new game, new figures and new shoes to a morning full of Easter chocolate, and he was practically bouncing off the walls!!!

On the way home, the Big Fella decided to call his parents to discuss a couple of things about our visit in a few weeks.  They hardly had the chance to talk at all because our young man in the back seat was busting out of his pants to tell them all about his new purchases.

Poor Grandpa!  He had to listen to a non-stop, 10 minute monologue about the new game and the figures and how you play it and who he's played it with before and how much better it is than Skylanders Swap Force and I swear he didn't take a breath for the whole 10 minutes!!!!

I was sitting in the front seat in tears, listening to poor Grandpa trying to have a conversation, but being completely ignored while he heard all about something he doesn't give two hoots for!  When the required breath finally came, he neatly handballed the phone to Grandma, who got to hear all about it for the next 5 minutes.

You know how sometimes things just hit your funny bone at the right moment and you end up crying with laughter and your cheeks and sides start to hurt?  That was me today.

Sorry for laughing at your expense, Grandma and Grandpa, but thanks!  I needed it :-)


Yesterday I was reading a post by Ruth at Living Well, Spending Less about painless ways to save money.  The part that caught my attention was the free courses from MIT and Codecademy.

I quite enjoy learning and there are a lot of things I'm interested in.  So today I had a little browse and started learning about HTML from Codecademy.  It turns out that this kind of stuff makes sense to me!

So tomorrow I'm going to learn a little about CSS, and then I think I'll learn something about the programming of apps, then maybe I'll switch to some Psychology from MIT, maybe a little Planetary Science, perhaps some Economics... the possibilities are endless!!!!s

Thursday, 2 April 2015

An old-fashioned, fun, simple, backyard birthday party

Sometimes us mums get a little competitive about birthday parties.  I think part of it is just plain old competition and one-up-man-ship.  But there's also the old, "I want my child to have things that I didn't have" train of thought too.

I've done a very cool party for my Little Big Fella.  It took weeks of planning and many nights of painting.

Last year we were in Melbourne and took him to the zoo.

So, what to do this year, when I'm working full time and haven't been planning for months???  And, every time I asked the Little Big Fella what kind of party, or even what kind of cake he wanted, he'd say 20 different things in a row.  He just doesn't have a single focus at the moment.

What to do?

What else?  Go back to my roots!

I grew up as the oldest of four kids.  We normally had other people living with us, and regularly had extra people in our home.  We didn't have much money.  My parents were budgeting to the cent every payday.

But we knew how to have a great birthday!

A surprising day
No matter what we didn't have, we always woke to a present and some kind of surprise.  Some balloons, streamers, a hand-made banner... there was always something that said, "today is a special day and we love you".

Apparently this is not the norm for some people.  But it's pretty much an essential for me!  I think if we lost everything, this would be the thing I would try my hardest to keep going.  Even when the surprise and fun of the tooth fairy, Easter Bunny and Santa Claus are gone, the surprise of a birthday remains, along with the love that it represents.

So, once I was sure the Little Big Fella was asleep, I blew up balloons and hung  them in his room and around the house.  I made a streamer door for his bedroom (hung them from a string across the top of the doorway), and piled the presents he'd received from family (and, of course, us!) on the table ready for him to find first thing in the morning.

The stash of pressies, and a pen he looks at EVERY time we go to the post office!

Opening a pressie from his grandparents

As a kid, the thing I loved most about parties was the junk food!  We didn't normally eat junk food, so a party was super exciting!

So for the Little Big Fella's 6th birthday party, we were going to have junk food!  Sausage rolls, party pies, chips, lollies, chocolate.  At the last minute I added a plate of watermelon as well.

Of course, we had to have a birthday cake!

Given the lack of direction from the Little Big Fella, I went with a "6" cake.  I made it a multi-colour butter cake.  He chose white icing, then we added some sprinkle bikkies around the outside, a few balls and stars, and some candles.

Posing with the cake, wearing the shirt Grandma made for him
Of course, we had to have fizzy drinks, given the "old-school" nature of the party, but I also supplied water.  I mean, all that sugar was going to make for some pretty thirsty kids, and I didn't have that many soft drinks!

Although we didn't have big parties as kids, we always had our best friends.  So I asked the Little Big Fella who he wanted to invite.  I was surprised by how few people he chose and realised that he's a lot like his dad in this respect - he has a few close friends, rather than lots of acquaintance-friends.

Because of the activities I had in mind, I encouraged him to invite a few more people as well ("hmmm, what about so and so?  Would you like to invite them too?").  It turns out that was a good idea, because there were a lot of activities planned for that day/weekend, so several people couldn't make it in the end.

When the Big Fella and I first got together, I was helping out in Kid's Church and helping to run a Friday night thing for kids aged about 7 to 11.  Between those and my own childhood memories, I have a seriously awesome backlog of games!  So I suggested a couple of my favourites to the Little Big Fella and we came up with a little list.

I have some great photos of the games, but I haven't asked the other parents if I can put photos of their kids online, so unfortunately I won't be sharing them here.  Hopefully, my descriptions will make decent pictures in your minds!

Once the kids started arriving, they were pretty revved up.  So we started with Captain's Coming.  I would say, "port" and they would run to one side of the yard, "starboard" and they ran to the other side.  "Captain's coming" would mean they stand to attention and give a salute.  "Scrub the decks" saw them crouched down pretending to clean the ground with an imaginary scrubbing brush.  The last instruction was "climb the rigging", where they would pretend to be climbing a rope ladder.

I made them run, get up and down, run some more, get up and down some more... you know, generally wear out a bit of that "just arrived at a party and I'm so excited" feeling!

After wearing them out we started eliminating the slowest to complete the action, then let the winner select something from the prize bowl.

Now that they were a bit worn out, we switched to the mummy game.  We split the kids into a girl's team and a boy's team, with each team getting a roll of toilet paper to wrap one of their members up like a mummy.

(Funnily enough, that required explanation!  Not your Mum-and-Dad "mummy", the Egyptian-version-of-a-zombie "mummy".)

My memory obviously wasn't great because I just gave them each a roll of the toilet paper we normally buy.  It's on the softer side and really didn't hold up to mummy duty!  They kept breaking it!  It turned out a little more frustrating than I remember from previous experience, but they had a laugh, the girls won and got their prize, and my son stood by the food table eating chips most of the time!

Now, kids need gross games sometimes.  It's a kid thing, and they love it!  So our next game was Chubby Bunnies.  Each of the kids took turns putting a marshmallow in their mouth and saying "chubby bunnies".  Without chewing or swallowing that marshmallow, they'd put in another and say, "chubby bunnies".  They continued adding another marshmallow and saying, "chubby bunnies" until they either couldn't say it anymore, or started gagging and threatening to throw up.

Cue the laughter and the icky, flying marshmallow spit!!!

We moved on to another old favourite of mine, the flour game.  You pack plain flour (a 1kg pack is about right) into a small mixing bowl, packing it down fairly firmly as you go.  Tip the flour-castle out on to a plate then balance a single lolly on top.  The kids then go around the circle cutting the flour-cake with a butter knife.  They have to cut all the way from the top to the bottom.  When someone makes the lolly fall, they have to get the lolly using only their face!

One of the boys thought he knew what the game was about and wanted to knock the lolly down.  When he eventually did (we encouraged him to let the others all have at least one turn to "cut the cake"), he informed us that it "wasn't what he expected", before ending up with a face full of flour!

Next we did some ping pong blowing, where the kids each got a straw and raced to blow their ping pong ball across the table.  We had a couple of heats because the table was so small, then we had a battle of boys versus girls (the boys cheated and won), which was really a rather gross idea because there was not just air coming out of those straws!!!

The hot food was nearly ready so we settled the kids down with the chocolate game.  This is a classic game for me and, after a slow start, the kids all enjoyed it too.

The kids sat in a circle.

In the middle of the circle was a (large) block of chocolate, unwrapped, on a plate.  Next to the chocolate was a hat, jacket, pair of gloves, and a dinner knife and fork.

The kids took turns around the circle, attempting to roll a 6 on a dice.  It turns out that sometimes getting a 6 is impossible!!!  Once someone rolled a 6, they got to put on the hat, gloves and jacket, then use the knife and fork to cut one square of chocolate at a time and eat it.  If someone else rolled a 6, the first person immediately had to stop what they were doing and take off the "accessories" so that the new person could put them on and cut a piece of chocolate at a time.

Half an hour later the chocolate was all gone, the kids were all sticky and the hot food was ready.

We had about half an hour of playing and eating.  The adults noted that the girls disappeared inside to draw and chat, and the boys ran around outside with various weapons.  Nature?  Nurture?  I don't know, but boys and girls and definitely different!

Then it was time to cut the cake, which turned out to be rather tricky because it was quite windy!  Luckily we had a number 6 sparkler, and there was no problem singing happy birthday.

The one thing the Little Big Fella specifically requested was a pinata.  Unfortunately I couldn't find anywhere to buy one locally and I'd left it too late to get one online, so I made one from a balloon and flour paste.  I painted it like a soccer ball at the Little Big Fella's request, and this year I made some adjustments.

Last year I did a Captain America shield, and while it looked great, when it came to hitting it, I discovered that I hadn't reinforced the top well enough and it didn't split and go everywhere like it should.

So this year I found a few websites that recommended putting a circle of thick cardboard in the top of the pinata (from the inside after you cut a little "door" in the side) and poking a coat-hanger-wire hook through that, then through the top of the pinata.  The "door" is also where you fill the pinata.

I put the "door" on the side of this pinata and masking taped it up before painting.  It turned out great!  The "door" was the first part to crack open, but the pinata held together long enough for each kid to have a crack at it.  We then let the birthday boy whack the life out of it before the kids (each with their own popcorn-style box) gathered up the individually wrapped lollies and trinket toys.  This was their party bag to take home.

The Clean Up
We'd put a start and finish time on the invitations, not so that we could kick people out, but so that they'd have an idea of how long we expected it to take.  We ran over by about 15 minutes.  Some people left straight after the pinata, but a few hung about to have a chat while the kids ran off some of the sugar they'd consumed.

We'd had a rubbish bin by the table so most of the stuff had been cleaned up as we went along, so now it was only a matter of collecting all the bits and pieces that needed to go inside, putting a few things in the washing machine, and attempt to get a happy, tired boy showered and in bed!

I really enjoyed doing the games, the Big Fella enjoyed doing the hot food and chatting with the parents, and most of all, the kids (especially the birthday boy) seemed to have a great time.

I hope that when he grows up, the Little Big Fella will remember this birthday (and maybe others like it) with fondness, and remember that a birthday party doesn't have to be fancy or expensive to be great fun.