30 November 2008

Easy Christmas Cookies

125g butter, softened {online measurement converter}
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
1 egg

2 cups plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder

  • Cream the butter, sugar and vanilla together until light and fluffy (use an electric beater to make it really quick). 
  • Add the egg and beat well. 
  • Sift flour and baking powder together and mix into creamed mixture.
  • Use your hands to combine and knead into a ball of dough. You may need to add extra flour if the mixture is too sticky.

  • Break into smaller pieces and roll out; cut out shapes with cookie cutters and place on an oven tray lined with baking paper. (This is the part the kids love to do)
  • Keep rolling the dough and cutting until there is no mixture left. (Or keep half the mixture back, wrap in plastic wrap and keep in the fridge for another day)
  • Bake at 190°C for 12 minutes or until pale golden.

Allow to cool and then ice with red or white icing and decorate with silver cachous (our christmas elf chose "red", but I prefer simple white, myself).
Share the cookies with the people you love. Merry Christmas!

Trimming the Tree... and all that

Actually, we did it last week! I just haven't had a chance to do any blogging, so these photos have had to wait.

It was Dash's actual birthday and Mr G was at the hospital visiting his dad, who is very ill. On a whim I decided to put up the Tree, to cheer daddy up when he got home. Turns out to have worked well; Daddy was very cheered by the Christmasy feel.

Dash and Princess were very excited to get out their special Christmas boxes, and hang up their own collection of decorations.

Last year we started the tradition of getting them a new decoration each year. We had to "catch up" as we hadn't started when they were born; Dash ended up with five decorations and Princess had three.
This year's decorations have yet to be purchased... but in the meantime they had great fun deciding where they wanted their ornaments to hang on the tree.

Dash lost interest after 10 minutes and went back to watching the rugby(surprise suprise) , but Princess was my faithful assistant, handing me decorations and hanging things up by herself when my back was turned.
We have had to put the Tree up on a high table, as Scraggy looks like he may begin crawling very soon.

He is absolutely fascinated with the lights on the tree and reaches out to try and grab them; it's going to be lovely with him having his first Christmas. We will start his own ornament collection and get his stocking... all these things to look forward to in the next three weeks(!)

Eek! Where has the time gone? The Christmas Party is next week!

This weekend was spectacular weather-wise. The kids were swimming and today we got out the water-slide for some backyard fun. The Santa Parade was on in town, but the thought of standing in jostling crowds with two impatient kiddies and a crying baby... nope, no thanks.

We came home instead and got the sprinkler out and had a sort-of BBQ, relaxing and enjoying the lovely day and our lovely garden. Then later we strung up some of the outdoor lights in readiness for the party.
So this week it's all guns blazing for the Christmas Party. (In a quiet, enjoyable, relaxed fashion, of course!)
24 November 2008

Sports Party Menu

Jell-O Orange Quarters


5-6 medium sized oranges
2 packets of jelly crystals*
500ml boiling water (2 cups)

Slice the oranges in half from top to bottom (not across the middle); Use a sharp knife to loosen the flesh, then scoop it out with a spoon. (Set it to one side, squeeze it and reward yourself with a glass of fresh orange juice when you're done!)

Arrange the orange-skin halves on two plates.

Mix two packets of jelly crystals with 2 cup (500ml) of boiling water. This makes a very firm jelly once set.
Pour the jelly carefully into each orange skin. Leave to cool and then place in fridge until set.

The next day, use a sharp knife to slice each jelly orange in half again - giving you very clever little jelly segments.
    For the Sports theme I used orange jelly to resemble actual orange quarters that soccer and rugby players have at matches. You can alternatively use other colours and turn the jelly oranges into little boats, as we did for the Deep Blue Sea (pirate) party. The sails are made from triangles of white paper threaded onto toothpicks.

    Fruit Kebabs


    Bamboo skewers, cut in half
    3-4 bananas, chopped 1.5 cm sections
    dessicated coconut
    lemon juice
    strawberries (cut in half across the middle)
    and/or other chopped up fruit, such as pineapple

    Dip the banana pieces into the lemon juice then roll in the dessicated coconut. The lemon Juice prevents browning and also helps stick the coconut on. The mix of flavours is divine!

    Thread banana onto the skewer, then add a piece of strawberry (or pineapple), a marshmallow and a grape.

    Keep going until you run out of ingredients. A colourful fun way to get fruit into kids at parties. (Yummy too!)

    Mud 'n Grass Icecream Sundaes


    Goody Gum drop Icecream
    (or other green Icecream flavour e.g. Lime or Mint Chop Chip)
    Cookies'n'Cream Icecream
    (or chocolate)
    Chocolate sauce
    Dairy Whip
    Rainbow Sprinkles

    In clear disposable cups, put one scoop of green icecream and one scoop of brown; then pour on some chocolate sauce; top with a squirt of Dairy Whip and sprinkles.

    If you are really keen, make little flags like I did: Use a sheet of flag stickers and some toothpicks. Stick a flag on top!

    One Egg Chocolate Cake

    This is the easiest no creaming, no-fail recipe.
    I use it for all my birthday cakes.
    Double or triple it depending on the size of the cake tin you need to fill.

    50g butter
    1 Tablespoon Golden Syrup
    1 egg
    1/2 Cup Sugar
    2 Tablespoons Cocoa powder
    1 Cup plain flour
    1 teaspoon baking powder
    3/4 Cup Milk
    1 teaspoon Baking Soda

    • Melt the butter and syrup in a microwaveable bowl.
    • Add egg and sugar and beat well.
    • Sift cocoa, flour and baking powder together and add into egg mixture.
    • Dissolve the baking soda in the milk. Fold gradually into the mixture.
    • Pour into a lined (or greased) baking tin. Bake at 190oC for 30 minutes or until cake springs back when lightly touched.
    Allow longer cooking times if you have doubled or tripled the mixture!

    For a roasting-dish-sized cake, I tripled this recipe.

    Sports Party

    With a Sports Mad son like Dash, the only logical theme for his 6th birthday party was Sports.

    Usually I prefer to have our kids' parties at home, but for this one, we decided on hiring the YMCA gym - we've had weather scares before at this time of the year, and there's just no way you can do a Sports Party for rowdy 6-year-old boys in your lounge if it turns to rain!

    The plan was very simple: Lots of activity, competition and fun, followed by an easy-peasy afternoon tea and a Prizegiving (of course).

    Dash had a vision for the party, and was involved every step of the way with its planning. He wanted teams and organised team challenges. There had to be a soccer game. He wanted some of his friends' dads to be "Coaches" and Daddy to be The Ref.

    The birthday boy made a list organising his friends into two teams, and was very fair-minded, making sure that he spread the "best" players evenly. He even added his sister into his own team. He named his teams "England" (RED) and "New Zealand" (BLUE); complete with flags, mascots and headbands. We went shopping together at Geoffs Emporium and got some stretchy material to cut up into strips for the headbands. We got cool mini-Nike sipper bottles from an outlet store and stuck on sticky letters to name each one.

    I made a special "Move It Music" compilation CD for background music and a score sheet for each team to record their points tally (click here for downloadable spreadsheets with details of the programme).

    The kids all had a great time. To show how fair the teams were spread, Dash's team came second! There were no dramas though, because my son has been working on becoming a good sport. He was also pretty satisfied with a 4-4 draw in the soccer game: two goals scored by him, one from halfway down the pitch over everyone's heads into the top corner! Very impressive.

    The food was simple and could all be prepared ahead of time: Fruit kebabs (red and white), jelly orange triangles, red and purple cocktail sausages, cheese balls, popcorn, watermelon and stunning Sports ball Cupcakes (kindly made by my good friend Gail); then finish off with some Mud'n'Grass Icecream sundaes.

    Click here for details on how to make...

    There wasn't much time to decorate, as we could only get access to the room 15 minutes before the party started, so I settled for green plastic tablecloths and special plates that looked like soccer balls. There was also meant to be a bunch of six Red, White & Blue helium balloons in the middle of the table, but in the rush to get everything set up, three of them floated away when Mr G opened the car door!

    The Cake was pretty easy - I baked a triple sized 1-egg chocolate sponge in a roasting dish; iced it with green butter icing and then used rolled strips of royal icing to mark out a soccer pitch. Then I sprinkled shaved coconut (dyed green with food colouring) for grass and a rolled up (oversized) soccer ball made of icing, also painted with food colouring.

    After the food we had a "Prizegiving". Each "Coach" chose a person for Outstanding Effort, Fantastic Attitude and MVP from their team. Then Mr G chose two people for the Ref's All-Rounder Award, and we gave everyone their party bags, containing a medal and sweets.

    The party bags were brown paper sacks; I made some labels with a soccer ball and added the words "Thanks for coming to my party"; then stuck them on with a glue stick, and sealed the bags with a NZ Flag Sticker. They looked great and cost next to nothing.

    Altogether, lots of fun - a great theme for energetic boys!

    Click here for my FREE Printable Sports Party Invitation

    Happy Birthday to Us!

    It's been birthday week here at our house - that's why there's been no blogging for a while! Yep, it was my 39th birthday on Wednesday - gasp!

    Every year my mum reminds me of her horrific 36 hour labour and how we both nearly died; how dad wasn't allowed in the delivery room with her and how I was taken away while they stitched her up and she didn't see me for 24 hours! I can't imagine how awful that would have been; so here's a big shout out to my lovely mum, for going through so much to bring me into the world!
    Funny how you gain such a new appreciation for your mum when you become one yourself. The picture (right) is of me and mum when I was pregnant with Dash. She came to keep vigil with me; the photo was taken on my birthday - 4 days before Dash was born. He was overdue and even though I was desperate for him to be born, on the 19th of November I said, "Baby, don't come today! I want my own birthday thanks. You can come any day but today." Somehow I knew that if Dash and I shared a birthday I wouldn't get a look-in.

    Mr G made it a rule that Dash wasn't allowed to talk about his party on my special day. The kids made me cards and surprised me with flowers and little gifts when I woke up; Princess made me a special necklace (which I wore proudly all day).

    Mr G did kid-duty, making the lunches, getting breakfast and taking them to school, then we spent the morning together poking round an Antique shop and having coffee before going to the pet shop and ordering the Fish Tank for The Boy. I have a great husband, I have to say; he always makes sure I have a special day, and do no work, on my birthday.

    Dashy's birthday was spread over 2 days; his party was on Saturday (a Sports Party, click here for that) so we let him have his special present from England (a combined affort from Grandma and daddy - the Coolest Newcastle Football Strip Ever. Dash got to wear it to his party; I must say he looked so very handsome, and such a big boy.

    On Sunday he woke up to find his fishtank set up on his desk. He had been begging for a pet for so long. One day a month ago, he said to me: "Mum I am so sad that Zane died..." ????

    Huh?? Who the heck is Zane?

    "My pet sea snail, ZANE, mum! Remember??"

    A light went on: he had found a sea snail at the beach one day and brought it home to be a pet but it didn't survive. Dash, an animal lover from way back, has always longed for a pet, and was still mourning a dead snail!

    I said to Mr G, "We just have to get that kid a fish!" So we finally have pets in our house. They are called Dory and Nemo (so original!); Dash spent some birthday money from Great-grandad flashing up the tank. Oh dear. The water is looking a little murky already. What have we done??!
    16 November 2008

    Glimpsing the Gold

    It's a week until my Dash turns six. Six Years Old. Unbelievable. November 2002: his entry into the world changed my life forever.

    I was spaced out on gas and morphine and whatever they put in epidurals, after a failed induction (like, not even one centimetre dilated) and then an emergency caesarian. In the panic my glasses had been forgotten so all I could see was a big blurry wash of moving shapes. The moment Dash's little blurry shape was held up at the end of the operating table, I burst into floods of tears; I was completely overwhelmed by the emotion that he was in the world.

    I don't think there has ever been a more mind-blowingly emotional moment in my life, before or since. I was now a Parent. I was Through the Looking Glass. I had taken the Red Pill. I would never look at anything the same way again.

    Within a couple of days of being home from hospital, I started to realise what I had been blissfully unaware of just moments prior to Dash being born. Parenthood was a 24-hour-a-day, 7-days-a-week, 365-days a year Job - with no training, no rule book, no get-out clause. Physically I was in a mess after the Caesar, breastfeeding was nightmarish and I was reacting to my pain medication. But I still had to to get up and take care of my baby. There was no one else who could do it.

    And now it's six years and two more babies later. I have adjusted to the weight of responsibility that comes with parenthood, but sometimes, quite regularly, I worry about how well we are doing as parents (as most of us do).
    There's a lot of pressure out there in the world for kids to grow up so quickly. There are 101 activities they could get involved in, which will help them "get ahead" or "become an achiever".

    Of course I want my kids to succeed academically and ultimately in their careers, but more importantly for me, is whether they become good people.

    You know: the kind of people who care about others and are generous; the kind of people who are honest, loyal, trustworthy and fair; people who have a strong character, a "can do" attitude and are able to bounce back from disappointment; people who will leave their world a better place than when they found it.

    Tonight I had a wonderful glimpse that something is getting through, in a conversation I had with Dash.

    He was procrastinating about going to bed, and somehow the conversation came up about Africa. He was looking at some photos on the fridge of some African children, including our sponsored child.

    He asked me why there are so many poor children in Africa. I told him because there have been greedy leaders who haven't helped their people but just looked after themselves instead. He asked, "Have there been any good leaders?"
    I said, "Yes there was a wonderful leader in South Africa called Nelson Mandela..."

    "And who were the bad leaders?" he wanted to know.

    I said, "Well in a country called Uganda there was a very bad leader who hurt lots of people. That's the country where those people from Watoto are helping the poor children who don't have mums and dads, I told him. You know the ones we are working to help with our Christmas Project." 

    He was intrigued.

    So I told him very simply about the man who started Watoto. A man who felt Jesus tell him in his heart to go and l Uganda, just after that bad leader had left. All his friends said, Don't go, you're crazy, It's not safe.
    But he went anyway.

    And then he met a lady who's husband and children had all died of a bad sickness*. She was looking after her grandchildren, and she said to the man from America, "What will happen to these children if I die? They have no one else!"
    The man felt Jesus whisper in his heart that he needed to help that lady and those children, and lots of others just like her.

    Dash was looking at me with big wide eyes, "And did he? Did he help them?" he asked.

    "Yes Dash, he did!" I said. All of a sudden I choked up, remembering seeing for myself those beautiful children from the Watoto choir, standing up and saying, "Once I had no hope, but now I have hope. Once I was alone, but now I have a new family. Once I was forgotten, but Jesus rescued me..."

    And singing, "I am not forgotten, God knows my name..."

    I reminded Dash about those children, real live children, who he had met and spoken to when they visited our church. I said, "Those children have a dream in their heart, that when they grow up they will be leaders who love Jesus and will change their whole country."

    "And what about that man, the leader from America," Dash asked. "Will he die? Will it be a long time? What will happen if he dies - will there be another leader to help the poor children?"

    Honest, that's what he said. The way his mind works! I reassured him that there would be other people to help if that happened. Then he said it.

    "Well one day I want to be a leader like that man and help them."

    Priceless. A golden moment. A treasured conversation. A glimpse of my small son's character: tucked away in there is a heart of compassion who (as well as being a great soccer player for England and The Toon) also thinks about being a leader who helps poor children.

    I wanted to write this down here, so I can look back and remember what we spoke about together. So on days when I am feeling like the worst parent (the yelling-est mother, with the naughtiest children) I can remind myself that some days we get to glimpse the gold that is hidden deep inside each one of our precious kids.
    11 November 2008

    Career Options...

    It always gives me a good laugh listening in to kids' conversations with each other. The things they talk about!

    Last week when I was dropping off Miss Fab at Kindy, a little boy ran up to her and said: "Hey, are you having a party in the Family Corner today? Can I come?"

    Turns out Miss Fab has been hosting parties (like mother like daughter?) She's been "decorating" the family corner, making playdough cakes, and sending out "invitations" to everyone to come to her parties. A possible career in Party Planning?

    She often talks about what she wants to be when she grows up. Sometimes she says, "I just want to be a mum like you mummy..." (I explain to her that I did used to have a job and go out to work, at which point she looks confused)

    I always tell her she can be whatever she wants to be.
    So far her career possibilities have included...

    A Hairdresser... She practised on herself, aided by her good friend Miss O, who had the good sense to decline Miss Fab's offer to cut her hair. She took a big chunk out of her fringe and behind one ear; she found the scissors at a friend's house and came out saying, "Ta-da! look at me mummy!"

    A Doctor... She has been fascinated with Doctors since she broke her arm at 18months old. She used to make me lie on the bed so she could "fix me".

    Something in Fashion... She has a natural funky style, involving unusual combinations which somehow work. As I said in an earlier post, she has always had definite ideas on what she likes to wear.

    A Dancer/something in showbiz... of course all little girls seem to want to be a Dancer at some stage. With Miss Fab I think her flair for the dramatic could see her end up on the stage sometime! She is constantly making us watch her "shows", where she sings and dances, making up the lyrics to songs she doesn't know the words for - and they all rhyme!

    A Politician... Mr G says, "Fab you could be the Prime Minister! I think you have what it takes to run the Country!" She is a natural leader and networker; she is good at including people and also her natural bossiness is somehow tempered by an ability to get others to follow her...

    Miss Fab and Dash have regular conversations about who they will marry...(!) I didn't know kids think about stuff like that so early??

    Miss Fab still says she will marry her blonde kindy friend, "Desley". The mum of her other best boyfriend (we'll call him "Jack") sent me these very cute photos of her son and Miss Fab... Apparently she already married "Jack" one day when she went to his house for a playdate! I guess she is keeping her options open??

    As for Dash, he isn't keeping his options open at all. Ask him what he wants to be when he grows up and his answer is unwaveringly: "A Soccer player. For Newcastle and England. Not for New Zealand." I am going to have to prepare myself for him going to live in England when he gets older.

    And last night he also told me who he will marry. His future bride is a girl from his class who we will call "Shylo". The conversation went like this...

    Dash: "Shylo said I could marry her if I want.

    Me: "And what will you do after you get married?"

    Dash: "Shylo wants to live in London. I want to live in the country but she wants to live in the city.We'll have some children. Shall I tell you how many? Shylo wants to have 4 but I want to have 6 (!) Three boys and three girls."

    Me: "Wow, does Shylo know that?"

    Dash: "Mmmm.... Mum, shall I tell you about my children? Some of them will play soccer; I will show them my tricks. Maybe some of the girls will like soccer too, or maybe they will like dancing better."

    Me: "What will your children's names be?"

    Dash: (Counting them on his fingers) "Um, I think, John... and Tom... and James for the boys. And the Girls names are Angelique, and Isabella... and Rose!"

    Me: "Nice names! And how old will you be when you get married do you think?"

    Dash: "....um, 29? Mum how old will Grandma be then? Cause I want to go and see her in Newcastle!"

    That's a boy who knows what he wants!