Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Mountains, Motherhood and Me

Mountains have always been metaphors for life.
Mountains and problems both loom over us, just begging to be conquered.
Once the mountain is climbed, the view from the top is amazing; the climb, well worth the effort.
Once the problem is surmounted, the victory is deeply satisfying; the struggle is worth every tear shed.
Isn't that true?

We went to the mountains last week. Its kind of a family ritual; go to the snow, freeze your face off and experience deep family bonding 2700m above sea level.

Last year Dash learned to ski. This year Daddy upped the ante. Everybody - EVERY BODY - was going to have a go skiing, including Miss Fab, Scrag... and me.

I haven't skiied in fifteen years, and even then I only attempted it once - maybe twice - but Daddy said it would be good for the kids to see me having a go instead of just taking photos.
Plus it would be good for family bonding.

It's hard to argue with that logic, so I found myself wrestling my nervous feet into shiny ski boots and getting measured up for skis. At this point I was still in denial.

(Not unlike the way I grew a human in my belly for nine months but was blissfully unaware of what was about to hit me once that squawling infant made his debut on the planet. Parenting: Nothing Prepares You For It.)

[On the chairlift: blissfully unaware]
Anyhoo, back to the mountain...
We get on the chairlift clutching our skis, swing out over the abyss... and the chairlift grinds to a halt. Down below us, they are loading an injured skier on. We hang suspended in the air while they strap down her stretcher, then the lift starts up again and the injured lady on her stretcher swings up past us...
At the bottom, the cheerful Englishman who helps us leap clear says breezily, "Don't be alarmed by what you've just seen. It happens every day, but I'm sure you'll do just great..."

(Thanks for that vote of confidence, pal.)

Meanwhile Daddy has forgotten that it's been fifteen years since I clipped into skis. He's under the impression I know what I'm doing (cos he taught me 15 years ago), so he leaves me and Miss Fab in the vicinity of the kids lesson and skis merrily away with the boys.
Miss Fab is joining in with the kids lesson, but where does that leave me? I don't even remember how to put my skis on.
I stand like a deer in the headlights clutching my skis and poles. I don't know where to start. I am clueless.

(Kind of like sometimes as a mum, when one or other of your kids is struggling and you have no clue how to help them. When you feel paralysed, swamped and overwhelmed, and you wish with all your heart somebody handed out instruction manuals with babies).

Feeling like a bit of a dufus, I watch what the kids are doing and I see how they clip into their skis. I watch as the instructor gets them to practise with just one ski on, one ski off.
"I can do that," I think, so I try it; I'm scooting around in a circle on one ski, the biggest dork in Happy Valley.

At last I spot Daddy and screech out his name. He comes over and is perplexed that I am so clueless, helpless. Haven't I done this before? Don't I remember what to do?
Um, apparently not.
Some things just don't come back to you naturally, this is not like riding a bike. We are halfway up a steep mountain, I have long skinny slippery skis stuck on my feet, I've never been known for my athleticism or coordination and gravity has always been out to get me. I'm afraid this could turn ugly.

(Kind of similar to the way the childhood years are sliding away from me in an ever-speeding rush, while I'm still trying to get a handle on how to do this this parenting thing properly. As the teenage years hurtle towards us, things could get rather messy...)

Daddy decides that the best way for me to remember what to do is to copy him. After parking Scrag on the side of the hill (he's had enough already and just wants to go sledding), my hubby begins my ski re-introduction, pulling me down the hill behind him by my ski poles.
The ground races by, my life flashes before my eyes, gravity is poised to strike... but somehow I reach the bottom relatively unscathed, sliding past my hubby and landing a heap; to add insult to injury there's snow down the back of my neck.

I hated every second of it. I want off this mountain. The ski boots are hurting my ankles and I can no longer feel my toes. Skiiing, shmee-ing. Get me outta here.

"I don't want to do this," I tell him. "I CAN'T do this. I'm too old, too unfit, too un-co. Flippin heck, I'm 44 years old! Too old to learn. Can't I just go sledding with Scrag...!?!?"

Daddy is not fazed.
"You're not too old, and you CAN do this. You NEED to do this. Your kids need to see you giving this a go and not giving up. This will be good for you. You have to try. You can't quit cos then they'd think they can quit (plus, I paid all that money to hire your gear after all)..."

I sigh. There's that logic again; there's simply no arguing with it. I have to stick at it.

(Kind of like how some days as a mum you feel like you are simply the worst-equipped person to be these children's mother and how you are completely lacking in the necessary patience, skills and insight and how if someone had told you what you were in for... well... but you can't go there and you can't quit so you just have to suck it up and do the best you can. End of Pity Party.)

In the end I sign up for a lesson. There are three of us, all women, all nervous and equally un-co. We are in good company. Our instructor takes it slowly, and she says something which makes all the difference to me.

When you are scared of falling you pull back, shifting your body weight backwards, which means your centre of gravity is wrong and you lose control of your skis, making you more likely to actually fall.
The boots are designed for you to lean forward. When you lean forward and relax you will have greater control.

Don't pull back in fear (and therefore lose control). Lean forward, relax... and the rest will follow.

(Do I need to spell out the parenting metaphor or do you see it too?)

I got it.
I leaned forward, did my best to relax... and found that I DID NOT DIE (or get stretchered off in a helicopter).
Gravity did not get me. In fact, after I learned to lean forward, I didn't even fall once.

[wonderful to watch brother and sister skiing together]

Not only did I get it, but Miss Fab got it too, confidently swishing down the slope like she was born to it.
And since Dash learned to ski last year, now everyone but Scrag can ski. (He'd had enough after an hour and went sledding; Next year will be his year; he just needs to learn to lean forward. And relax).

At the end of a very long, trying but triumphant day, Daddy couldn't resist asking me, "So aren't you glad you didn't quit?"

Oh yes I am. Glad for so many reasons.
I proved to myself that I could do it.
I showed my kids their mum can learn something new.
I modelled perseverance.
I learnt (again) how to ski.

It was a day on the mountain full of memorable moments and blog-worthy metaphors.

So we celebrated with high tea and hot chocolate at the Chateau...

And next year we'll all be back here on skis, defying gravity.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

School Holiday Fun: The Book Party (with free printables)

Any excuse for a party, I say, and School Holidays is reason enough.
It's become a bit of a habit, throwing an impromptu party-for-no-reason when school is out; a chance to gather friends, and kids-of-friends, eat food and drink coffee. We've had themeless parties-for-no-reason, a Lego party, garden parties and last school holidays, Book Club: Kids Edition.
This led me naturally to the idea of throwing a Book-themed party this time. Invite the kids to dress up, and the mums to bring book-themed food. What could be simpler, right?

I have to admit, I had fun coming up with the ideas, and was pleasantly surprised how fun and easy this theme was. It might be that I went a little overboard...? (No, surely not, Simoney! that doesn't sound like you at all, did I hear you say...)

The Book Party Decor was super easy. I used what I have plenty of,  i.e. books of all shapes and sizes. My best bit of inspiration was trying out the idea of books as bunting. I tied up some strands of (strong) string, hung up a range of small books and VOILA! Book bunting...

For the table, I laid out thin paper-backed picture books and covered them with a $2 white plastic tablecover. Too easy, and cute.

The food was the fun part. To make sure that nobody missed the book-association, I made little labels...

The labels were made ahead of time: black paper stuck onto old business cards, with a mini picture of the relevant book stuck on it. I wrote the food's title with chalk and then sprayed each one with hairpsray, so the chalk didn't smudge. (Mini Book cover printable is at the bottom of this post)

But what you really want to see is the food, right??!

MR HAPPY COOKIES (from Mr Men books): plain packet biscuits topped with circles of rolled out yellow fondant; the face drawn on with chocolate squeeze-tube icing.
TRUFFULA TREES CUPCAKES (from The Lorax): a squirt of green buttercream on a choclate cupcake, topped with a wafer tube and a ball of candy floss (held in with a toothpick)
OREO SPIDERS (from Charlotte's Web): Oreo cookies split in half, with slivers of licorice poked in for legs; the Oreo gets sandwiched back together and squirty tube icing eyes applied
CHEESE TOUCH CHEESE N CRACKERS (from Diary of a Wimpy Kid): cheese and crackers!
MAX'S JELLY BOATS (from Where the Wild Things Are): blueberry jelly set in cups; a mandarin segment spiked through with a toothpick and a paper triangle.
CATERPILLAR GRAPE SKEWERS (from The Very Hungry Caterpillar): green and red grapes, on a skewer
SCRAMBLED SNAKE (from The Gruffalo): Home Brand Sour Worms
RINGS (from Lord of the Rings): Burger Rings! (could also use Cheezels)
EDMUNDS TURKISH DELIGHT (from The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe): Turkish Delight. From a packet.

[books and christmas lights provided a cute background for the food on my hutch dresser]
There were so many bookish food ideas, most of them so simple (and I've always wanted to try making these Truffula cupcakes). I collected all the ideas I found on a Pinterest Board if you need more inspiration...

To drink we had NIGHTLOCK BERRY PUNCH (from The Hunger Games) and LASHINGS OF GINGERBEER (from Famous Five; grab the free printable labels below).

There were no book games or activities (though I did briefly consider a Book Quiz); this is not a birthday party after all. It's a chance for the mummies to get together and drink coffee while the kids rampage through the house with their friends on a rainy day, where they might otherwise be stuck inside, bored.

Can you figure out who they are dressed up as???

So at out school holiday book party we ate book themed food, drank book themed drink, and hung out with our friends while the rain fell and the wind blew. It was loud. It was crazy. It was messy.
But it was so much better than being stuck inside on our own.

Have you ever thrown an impromptu party? You should try it sometime. It's fun.

If you want to host your own Book Party, here are my printables to help you get started...
[Right click to save images to your computer then print, trim and use. Both are set up on an A4 page]

[mini book labels]
["lashings of gingerbeer" Famous Five soda bottle labels]

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

What to Watch on Rainy Days in Your PJs (movie ideas)

We've been watching movies for so long it's getting hard to find new ones to watch, it seems. Thankfully  Fatso keep us supplied so when the school holidays come around, and it's a long wet winter week, we can slob about in our PJs and watch DVDs by the fire.

Here a few of the movies we've been watching (and enjoying) in our PJs lately...

***** Outstanding, Highly recommended
**** Very good, enjoyable, Recommended.
*** OK, decent, but not memorable
** Barely OK, could do better.
* A bomb. Avoid at all costs.

"Little Kid Watchability" is based on children aged 3-6 years. Movies with PG are more suited to older, not-so-sensitive children. Some (M) movies may be suitable for older children if they are clean (no bad language or sexual content) and just contain fight scenes, e.g. Amazing Spiderman, The Hobbit etc. I personally find that when you mute the sound (the forboding music) scenes lose their scariness, so we hit mute when the tension builds too high. Having older children as well as a younger one sometimes we have to push the boat out a little to find something everyone can enjoy. Parental judgement and guidance is always required!


We have watched this one over and over these holidays. It's a new release and so is a welcome addition to our holiday viewing. This movie was an instant favourite when we first saw it at the cinema; the humour and storyline cleverness is AWESOME. In fact "everything is awesome" about this movie. There is some great voice talent (including Liam Neeson and Morgan Freeman) and the message which comes through the story is also fab. It's not just funny, it's also MEANINGFUL. "You are special" "You can do amazing things if you believe you can". I love this movie. the kids love this movie. We'll be watching this one again and again during these rainy school holidays I'm sure.

LITTLE KID WATCHABILITY: This is a (PG) but only the most sensitive kids would find anything worrisome about it. It's LEGO after all.
SCARY BITS: Very sensitive littlies might get upset when Emmett is captured by Lord Business?!
GROWNUP WATCHABILITY: Very watchable, very enjoyable, even on repeat.


We took Dash (age 11.5) to watch this at the cinema when it came out and it was fabulous. When Fatso sent the DVD to us for the holidays we knew where the scary bits were so we played film editor and hit "mute" or "Fast Forward" in the darker bits when we watched it with the other kids. This movie is a bit darker than the first one, but still very clean (no bad language or sexual content) and with a fast trigger finger, it was made suitable for a whole-family movie night. Everyone enjoyed this movie and it has been watched a few times now these holidays. We eagerly await the final instalment at Christmas time!

LITTLE KID WATCHABILITY: Not recommended for younger kids; but if you have a little brother and a fast trigger finger on the remote, you can easily "edit" this movie for the whole family.
SCARY BITS: Lots of fight scenes, a few chase scenes, there's a pretty wicked dragon and the orcs are of course very ugly. You know your kids and whether this would disturb them... or not. (The dragon is not scary, just cool, IMHO)
GROWNUP WATCHABILITY: This grown-up has watched it (and enjoyed it) several times. But then I'm a LOTR/Hobbit fan from way back and so are our kids. Each to their own.

THOR (M) ***

The Marvel movies (with the exception of Iron Man who is a bit of a womaniser) are all very clean in terms of language and sexual content. We've watched and enjoyed the Avengers so I thought we'd give "Thor" a go and it was... fine. What you'd expect from a superhero movie, action, fighting, goodies and baddies; no sex, no swearing just lots of non-gory fighting. This movie is the back story of Thor and how he came to earth, his conflict with his brother Loki and how he became worthy of his hammer. I've given it a three stars because we enjoyed it, it's a decent watch, but nothing to rave about. If you're like us and running out of ideas for movies to watch with your kids cos you've seen so many over the years... you could give this one a go.

LITTLE KID WATCHABILITY: Boys would love this movie. Lots of action. Best for school age. Don't show this to your preschooler!
SCARY BITS: The "Ice Giants" (an alien race) are pretty weird-looking; there's a fight between "the destroyer" and Thor near the end which is pretty full on and a whole town gets smashed to bits. But not scary for kids who like fight scenes.
GROWNUP WATCHABILITY:  Ahhh it's fine. No complaints here. I'm gonna order number two... and Captain America as well, just for fun. These movies are clean and action packed after all.


(For more movie reviews and theme night ideas, click the TV)

If you haven't tried Fatso Online DVD rental before, check out my post about why I love it
Then click the box above and use the magic code FAMILY45 to get a Month's Free Trial 
on the Super Plan (worth $28.99).

What are your favourite family movies? We're desperate for some more recommendations...
Enjoy the holidays!

Monday, July 7, 2014

A Beautiful Brunch (with a Blog Buddy) *and recipes*

Such a glorious combination: good friends + good food.
There's nothing I like better than hosting a friend (or two), whether it's for coffee, dinner... or brunch.

This weekend a lovely blog friend of mine, Deb (she of the magical hug-giving quilts) made a pilgrimage to Auckland to escape the -2oC temperatures of Christchurch. (We northern softies have been shivering in our ugg boots at our frosty 11oC mornings, but Deb felt her spine un-thaw for the first time in months, when she landed here, apparently).

[Photo by Deb]

Anyhoo, she was here, she had a free morning and she wanted to meet up.
I am on my own with three kids while hubby gads about in TinselTown. I could only imagine the stress of dragging that noisy lot to a civilised cafe and asking them to "sssssshhhhh!!" for long enough so we could have a meaningful conversation. Pigs might sooner fly.

So I did the only thing I could do: I invited her here for brunch, to my at-home cafe.
(There was a thought - briefly - of the kids playing barrista/waiter/waitress but I realised the potential for mess and mayhem in enough time to ditch that plan).

Isn't it nice to be able to welcome friends onto your own space? Show them another slice of who you are? Turn the blog-photos into a 3D animated live set?

(Give yourself motivation to vacuum...?)

I made Deb a two-course brunch. The table looked pretty set with my mix-n-match china plates, a pretty vintage tablecloth, and some blooms from a flowering tree in a little milk bottle. Deb arrived just as I was writing the "menu" on the blackboard...

Omelette with ham and cheese followed by waffles with berries and maple syrup. Plus orange juice and real (nespresso) coffee. Better than any cafe, I reckon.

Sure the waffles are from a packet in the freezer and the juice isn't hand-squeezed, but I made the berry sauce myself and whipped up the omelette while Deb and I chatted. (It's so easy; recipe below)

Deb is a very special person who I have got to know through blogging. This is only the third time I've met her in real life (and the first time we barely exchanged three words) but her kindness has touched my life on a number of occasions. Her generosity of spirit and the words of wisdom she has shared with me have made such a difference; probably far more than she knows. We share a number of similar parenting challenges but she's a little further down the road than I am. I glean so much from talking with her - practical advice, but also that rarest of treasures: hope.

So it was a privilege to sit with my friend in my windowseat, to host her in my home and to serve her up a yummy brunch. Way better than going to a cafe, IMHO. (Plus nobody asked us to leave when the kids started wrestling, which is always a bonus).

Deb blogs at Works in Progress and writes beautifully and honestly, as well as always having amazing quilts and crafty projects on the go and being a full time student (She is well known for her amazing "quilt hugs" - one of which is residing in my lounge, after I received it when I was in hospital last year).

Easy Peasy Whip-it-up-in-a-jiffy Omelette

6 eggs
a splash of low-fat milk
grated mozzarella cheese
shaved diced ham
garlic butter/margarine
salt and pepper to taste
chopped mushrooms (optional)

  • Preheat the oven on "grill"
  • Whisk the eggs together with the milk, salt and pepper
  • In a large frypan, melt the garlic butter on high until sizzling, then reduce heat to medium and pour in eggs
  • Sprinkle over diced ham (mushrooms if you have them) and grated cheese
  • Allow to cook through until beginning to set then move the frypan under the grill to cook the top
  • When golden and bubbling on top remove from the oven and serve on toast with chutney on the side

*(if you are happy to generously share some with your kids because you know there are also waffles on the menu and that way they will not complain and will leave you in peace to talk to your friend)

Berry Topping for Waffles

approximately a cup of frozen mixed berries
the juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon of sugar
a dash of water

Put all ingredients in a small saucepan on a low-medium heat and simmer, stirring occasionally until softened and combined. Serve on waffles - the frozen kind are just fine.

FOR PERFECT FROZEN WAFFLES (that would cost heaps in a Cafe):
Toast your frozen waffles on number 2. Any more than that they will be too dark, bitter and burnt.
When popped, drizzle over maple syrup, then top with berries and a puff of squirty cream.

Yum Yum Yum.

[Photo by Deb]