28 January 2009

Box Battle: The Coolest Party For Boys...


Dash's friend Oscar turned seven recently, and the party was just SO FANTASTIC I hung around taking photos so I could share it all here with you...

Oscar's Mum and Dad (Linda and James, our round-the-corner neighbours) are a bit party mad like us. So when the invitation came for Prince Oscar's Birthday Battle, we knew we were in for a good one.

The idea was very simple - the guests were instructed to make some armour out of cardboard and come dressed ready to do battle.

Linda and James had prepared flags (banners) for each army, and bendy swords to match (which were the take-home gift).


Armies were chosen randomly by pulling coloured swords out of a bucket (somehow all the bigger boys ended up on the same side, so halfway through sides were evened up).

The armies marched to battle to the park at the end of the street where they constructed forts out of packing boxes around their Flag. The idea was to destroy the other army's fort and steal their flag while protecting your own. The first army to have two flags planted was declared the winner.

There were a few rematches, some tears, a few minor injuries... but it was highly entertaining. The dads were itching to get involved (and of course Mr G just couldn't help himself; I think he wants a Box Battle for his next birthday!)


There was also a fantastic Castle cake, jewelled goblets and a real-live sword demonstration by Oscar's grandad (Sir Ratty). The boys all loved it. It was crazy, it was mad, it was a boy's dream come true...

Hats off to Linda and James! An absolutely fantastic Party!

(Visit the website http://www.boxwars.net/ for how to make box armour and have your own box battle)
25 January 2009

Sangria for Young and Old...

This recipe is my version of traditional Sangria. It's very delicious and I always get major compliments when I serve this up at a party or BBQ...

I also make a kids version so the sproggies don't feel left out...

Sangria for Grown Ups

In a glass Jug put...
  • 1 sliced up lemon
  • 1 sliced up orange
  • a handful of frozen berries
  • a dessertspoon of sugar
  • a splash of Rum (or Malibu)

Then pour in some Ginger Ale until the fruit is just covered.

Get a wooden spoon and mash the fruit a little bit to release the flavours... then allow to sit in the fridge for at least half an hour (or as long as it takes your hubby to run to the shop for some red wine).

Add a bottle of cheap red wine (or up to half the jug) then top up with soda water.

Serve outside on a balmy summers evening to some good friends...
(or have a Spanish Theme dinner)

Sangria for Kids

In a colourful jug put:
  • 2 handfuls of frozen berries
  • 1 cup of lemonade
  • then top with sparkling pink grape juice...
Mix and serve in plastic wine glasses to kids with nice manners who will happily go off and play while you chat to your good friends on the balmy summers evening... :)

Mama’s Losin’ It
21 January 2009

A Camping We Will Go...

It's been four years since we attempted tent camping. The last time, we went to Kai Iwi Lakes when Dash was 2 and Princess was 5 months. We had to construct a perimeter fence around our campsite to stop Dash from (a) dashing off into strangers' tents (b) dashing off into the lake and (c) dashing off in the path of oncoming vehicles.

It also took til 10pm each night to get the kids to sleep. And then we got SOOooooo rained out. We woke up one morning to find that our tent floor had turned into a water bed - a new Kai Iwi Lake had formed under our tent as we slept. To put it simply, it was a nightmare.

Ahhh the difference four years makes! Six and Four are SUCH better ages for camping!

And Martins Bay (near Warkworth) is so beautiful. We had a beachfront site; you wake up in the morning, step out of your tent and there is the vista of pohutukawa trees stretching along a wide sandy beach. We were there with two other families who had kids of a similar age. There was no fighting, just lots of swimming and boogie boarding and digging, with a bit of tree climbing thrown in.

Of course nothing is without some challenges... like how the kids went through nearly all their clean clothes on the first day, and how it took them a while to get in the habit of slip slop slap. Or how tents are so un-soundproof, which can make it difficult to get the baby to sleep when the family in the tent next door are having a birthday party... but all minor stuff!

Dash taught himself to ride his two-wheeler while we were setting up the tent (what a thrill to see him zipping proudly all over the place - he did it all himself!) His bike is kinda funny, just wee bit small for him... he did somehow resemble those clowns in the circus, but hey - he's riding on his own. Who cares? There was also the thrill for him of going in a kayak, catching some crabs and fishing off a boat.

It was such a safe beach; we could relax and let the kids off the leash a bit. At night they played til it got dark while we chilled out with our friends.
One day the dads took the kids on a trek up the big hill where they played commandos while the mummies went for coffee at Morris & James in Matakana (mmmm lovely).

On the last night we BBQ'd on the beach, and sat around cuddling the kids on our knees as the stars came out. There a glow stick for each of the kids, which they thought was simply magical.

We snuggled into our sleeping bags in the tent, when they could hardly keep their eyes open any more; the tent glowed pink and blue glow from the glowsticks.

We have booked our spot for the same time next year. You just can't beat a kiwi camping holiday in summer. Magic!

20 January 2009

We did it! (With help from my Fairy Godmother)

If you have read some of my earlier posts, you may recall me bemoaning the rough nights and broken sleep with our baby, Scrag... particularly since we took him to Mauritius in October.

It seems it was a bit much for his little system, all that travelling and time-zone changing; then came teething and bad habits were cemented with shushing and rocking and cuddling and feeding to sleep... everyone was walking on eggshells when it was nap-time... nope sorry, eggshells are just TOO NOISY - you'll wake the baby! Walk on pins and needles instead!

It's been pretty crappy. Of course in the middle of all this we've had birthdays and funerals and Christmas and holiday road trips...

At my wits end (literally) I was on my way to the Doctor to get a new prescription for anti-depressants less than two weeks ago. I haven't had to go back on them since Scrag was born, but that's how bad things had gotten; I was starting to crack.

Some kind friends had offered to take Dash swimming that morning, and I was just getting in my car as they arrived to pick him up. They were also the lovely family we recently went camping with... I told them where I was headed and why; and the hubby said, "my mum's a retired sleep specialist; she worked for Plunkett for years and she's amazing... shall I get her to phone you?"

YES PLEASE! I was so desperate.
Well... this lovely woman phoned me that evening. She asked for lots of details about Scraggy's patterns, and said, "Don't worry I will put together a plan for you."

The problem? He couldn't self-settle PLUS... he wasn't getting enough solid food to eat :(

Too much of the old "breast is best" and not enough of the protein and chewable stuff.

She emailed me through a detailed plan the next morning. And I put it into practise straightaway. Religiously. And would you know... it works??? (See below for her Sleep Plan)

Turns out this lovely lady is something of a legend in our parts; I call her my Fairy Godmother.

We went camping for three nights with her son and daughter-in-law; they can testify that Scraggy did pretty jolly well. He learnt to self-settle very quickly. I just pop him in his bed, and he sometimes grizzles, but often just goes off happily to sleep. By the third night on the programme he was no longer being fed at night. He would wake and cry for a little bit but then go back to sleep.

Then last night, first time ever... 12 hours!! Without waking, he slept through the night.
And the good thing is, I know it's not a fluke. It's the start of new things. Yippee, thankyou Jesus for sending me such a wonderful Fairy Godmother.


She sent me the following email, which changed my life...

When I used to work at this stuff I would go and see a family and spend several hours with them asking questions and explaining things and then giving out the plan. Obviously you and I have significantly shortcut the question time but I still feel confident enough to know that we are looking at a behaviour issue and not a health problem and even the teething issue is minimal in the greater picture.

  • Your son is a natural fighter of sleep. This does NOT mean he cannot learn how to sleep better but that we, on his behalf, need to monitor his body signals more since he (the personality part of him) can more easily fight off tired signs even though the body part of him still needs sleep and reacts badly when it doesn’t get enough. Overtiredness often looks like ‘something is wrong’ and indeed to some extent this is true since none of us function well when significantly overtired. I often find that all kinds of so-called ‘pain’ problems disappear once the tiredness factor has been dealt with. Anyway, ‘fighters and ‘stayers’ definitely need to be ‘managed’ more since they feel they will miss out on the world if they close their eyes for too long! We will help him learn to self settle. Some of the reason he is waking at night is because he has not learnt how to always self settle and hence, when he reaches REM sleep he stirs and cannot get himself back to sleep without waking the household. For him, breastfeeding is a cue to sleep... hooks you in big time. Also affects how much he eats in the day... no wonder breakfast is off the timetable.
  • It sounds as if you have been either given the wrong information or maybe misinterpreted what has been said about what is needed at this age regarding food requirements. This business of ‘breast is best’ has led many mothers (you are not alone in this) to see ‘food’ as some kind of inferior product to be put off as long as possible. In reality, while breast is indeed great if you can give it as much as possible till 6mths (not all mothers can and their babies do just fine!), AFTER 6mths they need to not only start solids but get onto a reasonably full range of foods relatively quickly (by nine months their range of food should be quite extensive). Not only are the infants' stored iron supplies diminishing but also their body size is demanding more calories and by nine months they should be able to handle a variety of textures as well. So I’ll change the meal pattern as well.
  • This is a busy household with a lot going on. No surprise that you sometimes get busy and attention to detail goes. Attention to the task at hand also decreases when YOU are tired, which undoubtedly you are with months of not sleeping properly. So, over the next few days be as ‘routine’ as you can be (you still need to live a life) but just be aware when routines are seriously out of kilter and draw yourself back a little.
  • Lastly, it sounds to me as if you might be ‘making life easier’ for everyone else in the household except yourself?? I say this rather cheekily, but your comment about not wanting to let baby cry because it might wake everyone else means not only that you think they can’t handle it for a couple of nights while you sort it out (they CAN) but also that you might think he will cry and disturb the household for ages to come... not so, he WILL change quite quickly for you once he is set clear signals as to what you want. And he won’t hate you for it (me being cheeky again) and he will be MUCH happier with a lot more sleep and eat better for you.

READY? Here goes with what I want you to do. The MOST important thing is to follow through consistently with the plan till the desired change takes place. The ONLY way baby can learn is by consistency... and time (remember, it will only take 3-5 days to make a significant difference once you start the program, but those days can be tough).


Day 1:

Start with the evening. Use a sleeping bag (best at this age because it means you can feel secure that he is warm enough and safe enough to leave. At this age many babies are quite mobile in bed and we can’t keep them covered. No need to wrap...well past that now). To adjust for a warm versus a cool night just adjust the amount he wears.

Bedtime: Feed him at the 6.30pm breast as usual, but make an effort to have him awake (or at least not fully asleep) when he goes to bed. Leave him to self-settle. Leave him UNATTENDED for as long as it takes him to go to sleep. He MUST fall asleep by himself please. Naturally you can go and check on him once you are SURE he is asleep, but that is more for you than necessity.
During the Night: When he wakes in the night (whenever that might be... do not wake him and don’t worry if he wakes at times which are different from usual)... feed him (do not change him unless you are sure he has had a poo). Do not talk to him, avoid eye contact, firm hands, deliberately feed him less than you usually would (You will be reducing the feeds over a couple of nights). As best you can, make sure he is not fully asleep when put back to bed. Leave him again....same as before...he must self settle no matter how long it takes.
Continue through the night till he wakes at approx the usual time. He can have a small breast feed but at about 7-7.30am; give him breakfast... solids and the remainder of the breast feed to follow (as much as he wants now).
Morning Sleep: When he is put to bed for the morning sleep, give a small breastfeed but definitely he needs to go to bed awake this time (sleeping bag) and once again he needs to be left to self settle) no matter how long it takes or how much noise he makes etc. Do not worry as to how long he sleeps for... as long as he has had SOME sleep get him up when he wakes and give lunch at about 11.30 am... solids first then breast (as much as he wants).
Afternoon Nap: For the afternoon nap he can have a small breast feed but once again must go to bed awake and must fall asleep by himself.
Dinner needs to be about 4.30pm... solids and breast, then bath then final breast feed (as much as he wants).
Into bed awake (definitely) and leave him as before. Now, in the night when he wakes I want him to have only one small breastfeed (same conditions as before) and ANY other wakings he is to be left to self settle unattended. You can choose which feed to give but probably best to give the 10-30pm feed. Do note however, that once we start to change things their usual routine starts to disintegrate (it’s meant to!) so waking times may vary).

Day 2:
When he wakes in the morning he can have a very small breast feed but breakfast is to be about 7-7.30am (from now on). Same as yesterday.

Morning Nap: For going to bed (for his morning sleep) NO breastfeed... just into bed and leave to self settle etc. However, IF he is still awake at about 9am you can give him some early morning tea... finger foods and water, before going to bed. But otherwise it won’t matter if he has it or not at this stage. Likewise, if he wakes early he can have finger foods and water on waking and lunch can be about 12 md instead of 11-30am. Make a judgement call.

Afternoon Nap: Same for the afternoon nap. NO breast before going to bed but if time permits he can have afternoon tea (finger foods and water) either before or after his sleep depending on when he goes down and how much he sleeps (remember, sleep times may change now).

is the same as yesterday. Now, this time, when he wakes in the night there is to be NO attendance for any waking... he is to be left alone till he definitely falls back to sleep by himself. Naturally you can check him once he has fallen asleep if you want to (no need really but you might feel better) but also don’t try and stay awake especially... you know he is warm and safe because of the bag.

OK... continue like this because this is your new pattern.

For the time being he can keep the small breast feed when he wakes, but DO be wary if breakfast does not seem to be good... milk is very filling and may take away his desire for other foods. You be the judge of what is acceptable, but just remember that breast alone is not OK at this age. Likewise, I remind you that his morning and afternoon breastfeeds he had before going to sleep have been replaced with finger foods and water (morning and afternoon teas) but the timing of these will depend on his sleep pattern. Sometimes they have quite big amounts at these times and sometimes very little. In fact, for ALL meals be they snacks or main meals the secret of good eating is to offer whatever meal you have planned, he either takes it or not (you don’t worry either way) and when he seems to be finished the meal you take him away and do something else till the next scheduled mealtime.

Regarding the other children and the possibility of them waking in the night while there is noise going on, they are both old enough to be able to understand what is going on. Explain to them what you are doing etc, and reassure that they shouldn’t be disturbed but if they do they are to go back to sleep as mummy and daddy are doing etc etc.....be confident about their ability to cope.....you do not need to rescue them in any way......if THEY play up, then go to the ‘ignoring them’ scene as well.....they will soon get the message! And I remind that this will all be behind you in 3-5 days if consistently carried through.

I have to say that putting this plan into action was easier than what I had previously been doing. since then, Scrag has been a great sleeper. When he has been unwell, he may wake through the night, but it only takes a night or two to get back into routine. God bless my Fairy Godmother, Pat. :)

What I do hear is:
19 January 2009

Mamma Mia! It's Abba Singstar...

I have always been an Abba Fan.

It's safe to admit that now, what with the success of "Mamma Mia" and all that. But all through the 80's and 90's when Abba were something of a musical "joke" I was a dedicated (secret) fan.

My signature song is Dancing Queen - it's the one I sing when pressed into karaoke. I know all the words to all the songs (and not just the ones off Abba Gold)...

I've been practising those Abba moves since I was a young schoolgirl of seven, on the seats behind my classroom with my friends at Pt Chev primary. I have dressed up as The Brunette many times (but always wished I could be The Blonde.)

And now, there is Abba Singstar! An Abba fan's dream-come-true. They were sold out at Christmas, but Mr G put a voucher in my stocking, and one day a few weeks ago he came home with the actual Game.

It wasn't long before we roped in our good friends Gail and M, who came over for dinner the other weekend.

We set the kids up with a DVD in the other room and started playing (Gail is also an Abba fan from way back. M said he didn't know any of the songs, but his SCORES tell us otherwise...)

Of course it wasn't 5 minutes before we heard the pitter patter of little feet. "Can we have a turn...?"

"No, go and watch your DVD, this is grownups playtime...!"

Away they went... only to return a few minutes later as... ABBA.

There was Princess (the blonde), Livvy (the Brunette), Dash and T as Bjorn/Benny. Complete with pretend microphones, keyboards, fake guitars, outlandish outfits and an orange highlighter moustache (who else but Dash?)

Then it was just dancing and singing for the rest of the night... playing their pretend instuments - the next generation of Abba Fans. I got some great 21st Video Footage...

A few days later, on our way camping, Princess said to me: "Mummy! Did we remember to bring the Abba Singstar...??"
I explained that there's no TV or video games when you're camping. She looked glum for a minute. Then... "Mummy do you know what kind of party I want when I grow up? Abba Singstar!"

Mamma Mia! Here we go again...

13 January 2009

A Fishy Tale

We returned from holiday with much trepidation... had the fish survived? The pet shop girl said they could go without being fed for 14 days, and we had been away a mere six... but still. We approached the tank with caution... Yes! There they are, still swimming. There's Nemo and Dory (the comets), there's John (the stripey algae eater) ... but where is James??? Oh no! There he is, floating upside down. Oh dear. How on earth will we break the bad news to Dash??

James (a white algae eater) was his favourite. James was hard working, he kept the tank lovely and clean; he sucked algae all day; he was fast. We LOVED James.
The next morning I broke the news as gently as I could.

Dash seemed calm, though sad. I focused on activity, as you do. Let's paint a box for his coffin, make a sign for his grave, and then we'll hold a funeral...

Dash's sign read: "James 4th January 2009. He was good at cleaning the tank"

While we waited for daddy to come and dig the hole so we could have our funeral I read Dash the book my friend Nicole had lent me when Dash's grandad died.

"Beginnings and Endings with Lifetimes in Between." What a beautiful book; it explains the life-cycle so simply. Here are some excepts:

"There is a beginning and an ending for everything that is alive. In between is living...
This is true for all living things. For plants. For people. For birds. For fish. For trees. For animals. Even for the tiniest insect...
Sometimes, living things become ill or they get hurt.
Mostly, of course, they get better again but there are times when they are so badly hurt or they are so ill that they die because they can no longer stay alive.
This can happen when they are young or old or anywhere in between..."

After the story (and lots of questions being asked and answered), we went outside and Daddy dug a hole in a corner of the garden. We placed James in his special box and then into the ground he went. We said a few words about what a great algae eater James was, how clever he was at cleaning the tank, and how we will all miss him... then daddy filled in the hole, and we all walked away... except Dash. Who stood there, rubbing his eyes, and then I realised we was crying.

"Dashy, are you crying, luv?" Duh! State the obvious!

He burst into floods of tears, and ran sobbing to his room. Of course it wasn't just about the fish. It was still a lot about Grandad. He had never actually cried for Grandad. he had been angry, he had gone quiet and needed his space. But he had never let out his sadness.

When I checked on him, he said he just wanted to be by himself for a bit... later we talked. Lots of questions about what happened to Grandad's body; did he smell stinky like the James did? Why was he cremated? Where was his "dust" now?

The next morning, Dash said, "Mum could you come and see James with me?"
"Honey he's buried. We can't dig him up, he'll be really stinky by now..."
"No I mean sit with me, by him..."
We went and sat next to the grave, still and quiet for a while.
Then we picked some flowers.

Dash is doing well now.

...but we remarked to each other that John was NOT the algae-eater James was; the tank was a mess! Then when Mr G cleaned it out, he found John floating upside down, inside a shell. We haven't had the heart to tell Dash. He thinks we released John into the wild...
10 January 2009

Kiwi Summer...

Our short "tiki tour" holiday included stops in Wanganui, Palmy North and Taupo. It was nice to catch up with friends and family around the country and do some swimming and picnic-ing... We saw the New Year in with some fireworks (stashed from Guy Fawks) and champagne - Josh caught the cork, when daddy popped the bottle and has brought it home to put in his memory box.

We stayed with friends, Tarf and Tan and their 3 kiddies in Wanganui; Tarf has made his boys the MOST AMAZING tree house (3 stories high); and the kids had a great time playing in it.

One windy day we went out to the local beach, where Tan had made a scavenger hunt for the kids to do; got some great pics of the wild surf (way too rough to swim).

Another day we visited some other friends (Pat and Bron) who had moved from Auckland to live on a lifestyle block 5 minutes out of town. Talk about the best of both worlds! They have chickens calves and a pig, and live right across the road from the country school, where they have a key to the swimming pool and have rigged up a makeshift tennis court. The parents played tennis while the kids swam, and Dash found some soccer pals (what else??) A great day in the sun.

Our next stop was Nan and Grandad's (my parents) in Palmerston North. By now the weather had turned pretty rubbish, but we still spent some great bonding time with the grandparents...

Princess had a great time helping my Mum cook tea and lay the table; then they spent hours going through Nan's treasures (her memory boxes), and she ended up coming away with a mosquito net to fluffy-up her bedroom.

Meanwhile "the boys (both young and old) played PS2 Soccer. Always a great rainy day favourite, Jungle Buzz, and Buzz Hollywood went down well.

We also got to take mum and dad out for a meal for their 40th Wedding Anniversary - as it turned out we were there right on the Day.

On our way back to Auckland we stopped off at Lake Taupo, where our friends Phil and Nic have just moved. Our kids and theirs have been pals since Dash started kindy years ago. Their new place has a real holiday feel and is 2 mins walk to the Lake. The weather had finally remembered it was meant to summer, so of course, it was an outdoor lunch and a swim in the Lake. What a great place to live!

Part Two of our holiday starts next week with a camping trip to Martins Bay....