30 March 2009

Last Days of Summer

Grandma has arrived, hip hooray. So we take her on an adventure, over the hills and far away. Off to the Coromandel.

Friday morning, packing again. Six in the car this time, so keep it light. Off we go - oh no! Forgot the tokens! Dammit! Hope for the best.

Three hours, curly roads, hills with twists and turns; I shut my eyes and hang on tight. When we arrive it's all worth it.

A classic Kiwi bach at Simpsons Beach, kindly lent by a friend. Across the road from the beach, we hear the crash of waves. We dump our bags, gobble fish and chips and head off for a walk on the beach.

Treasure hunt in the sand, beach-combing, shell-finding. We come back with pockets full of treasure. Kids are tucked up in bed, we sit on the deck with Baileys as the day fades and the mozzies start to nibble. We dream of adventures to come.

The day starts early, as always, but I am glued to the bed. It seems as if the mattress has become a giant magnet and I am iron shavings. All my thoughts of energy-filled adventures have been sucked out of me with a giant syringe during the night.

I resort to old habits and send the others off to the beach while I give the baby his nap and flop on a deckchair with a book I find. A nagging feeling of guilt tugs at me... I try to dredge up some remnants of energy, but no. "You go and I'll watch the baby..."

The others spend the day in and out of the waves, returning happily with sandy toes, salty lips and more treasures.

By evening I have had enough; the book just isn't that good and the sunset beckons. Did I mention this is where we spent our honeymoon?

Kids in bed, Grandma watching over them, Mr G and I head out.

The sky glows soft pink, with a firey smudge where the sun used to be. I breathe in and wriggle my toes in the sand. Mr G spots a special shell and pockets it for our collection. There's a bowl back home with shells from every beach we have walked on. Souvenirs of happy days.

The next morning, the bed magnet tries again to hold me down - but I resist and drag myself free.

Daddy has headed for a morning swim. "Come on kids, lets go!" I say. I am determined to swim.

We have the beach to ourselves. The tide is in, we jump over the waves, holding hands - me and my kids. They squeal with delight and declare loudly, "This is the best fun ever!"

Daddy joins us and we go out deeper. The water makes me gasp at first but then we are surrounded by watery tranquility. Little bodies cling on tight, we bob over the waves together. They have had enough, but I could stay here forever. I float on my back, enjoying the stillness and the perfect blueness of the sky overhead.

Reluctantly I return to shore; reluctantly we return home, rich with memories and sandy treasures.
26 March 2009

A Yummy Tea

I was so impressed with myself tonight. I cooked a meal that I really enjoyed! I mean, most of the time I just go with the quick and familiar (my 4.55pm panic) but tonight, my more creative side seemed to take over!

I thought I'd share my (invented) recipe with you cause it was so delicious and so easy. It's one of those you can chuck in the oven and leave, then come back when it's done, 40 minutes later.

The kids (including a playdate friend) all gobbled it up, and Grandma was very impressed. So here goes...

Quick Baked Chicken and Veges

Before you start, heat the oven to 180oC.

Washed potatoes, choped into medium sized chunks (leave skin on)
Peeled Kumara (sweet potato), cut into chunks
  • Place in a roasting dish in a single layer. Pour over some olive oil and sprinkle with cracked black pepper and rock salt. Bake in oven for 40-45 minutes, turn once, at around the halfway point.
Baked Chicken with Bacon and Plum
Chicken pieces (1-2 per person), plum chutney, 4 middle bacon rashers, sliced in half lengthways.
  • Line a roasting dish with baking paper, place thawed chicken pieces in a single layer, then smear with plum chutney. Bake for approx 30 minutes, then top with bacon rashers and return to the oven for a further 20 minutes.
  • Check the chicken pieces are cooked by piercing with a sharp knife and making sure the juices run clear. (My cooking times are for a fan-forced oven).


Remove chicken from the roasting dish, leaving the juices behind. Slide the baking paper out and discard. Add 1 1/2 cups of water, a sprinkle of flour, cracked black pepper and a teaspoon of chicken stock powder. Bring to the boil on the stove top and stir until thickened and smooth. Tip into a Jug and serve with the chicken and veges. So delicious!

I also had new seasons' corn on the cob (boiled for about 8 minutes); so sweet and juicy they didn't need anything, no butter or even salt. Just delicious! Scrag even had a munch on one!

This meal fed 3 hungry adults, 3 hungry children, a baby and some leftovers.

A Minor Miracle

8.59am Here is pictorial evidence of a rare occurence - the bottom of my washing basket is visible! The basket is empty! It's a miracle (I have not seen the bottom of this basket since we moved into the house two and a half years ago.)

One hour later: Ahhh yes, that's more like it!
23 March 2009

Bye Bye Comfort Zone

We recently spent a fantastic weekend at Lake Taupo with friends who have moved there recently; their home a mere two-minute walk from the lakefront. The weather was spectacular, the company was superb - but for me the best part was that I finally broke out of my lazy-ass comfort zone.

Usually I am the film-maker and photographer of our family adventures. I record things, standing on the sidelines, cheering the crazier members of my family on. I am the introvert bookworm who makes any excuse to avoid discomfort, masking it all with, "That's OK, I don't mind staying with the baby..."

But not this weekend.

There was boating, biking, swimming and being dragged around on a sea-biscuit. My adventurous friend Nic wouldn't take no for an answer. She is the type of friend a lazy person like myself really needs, to give me a good shove every now and then!

First of all she got me on the boat with the baby instead of sitting on the sidelines as usual. Bliss! It was fabulous. The lake was calm, the day was perfect, the kids' eyes were shining. Nic's hubby Phil even let us help "drive the boat". And to think I could have been hibernating back at the house with a book under the pretext of looking after the baby??!!

Then things cranked up a notch - time for the sea biscuit (an inflatable donut that gets pulled behind the boat at high speed). My husband was most surprised when I said I'd have a go. Nic and I, Mis Fab and her little friend Fia went together. Adrenaline junkie Nic had the first go, showing us how it was done. Then my brave adventurer daughter hopped onto Nic's knee and sped off for her turn. An adventurer thourhg and through, she loved it.

My turn! I squeezed myself into a wetsuit (yes I did - miracles do happen) got in the donut and held on for dear life. Mindful that my daughter was watching I kept smiling even when it hurt and the water sprayed in my face. So proud of myself!

When we got back, Nic dived over the side and swam to shore - and on a whim I followed her! (Mr G couldn't believe his eyes) It was lovely. Why haven't I done this more often?? OK, the whole wearing a swimsuit in public issue, after having three babies... but really, who cares??

Then Nic mentioned going biking along the lakeshore. Er,  this backside on a bike??? I have a major Big Butt Phobia. Nic just said, "Well that does it, Simone! You and me are going for a ride this evening!"

I laughed her off, no way. I'd find a way to get out of it, surely!!?? I haven't been on a bike in years. My poor husband has been trying to get me biking forever; he even bought me a bike, which sits neglected and unused in our garage.

Again, my friend wouldn't take no for an answer. Trying to wriggle out of it, I pleaded putting kids to bed... Nothing doing. The guys can manage, she insisted.

At the last minute our sons decided to come with us. When Nic told Dash it was just the mummies and the boys, my son apparently shouted, "Yay!!!" He couldn't believe he was going riding with his mum.

With much trepidation I started pedalling... and found to my surprise that I remembered how to do it (funny that).

Nic called out, "Simone your ass looks great from here!" Hahaha, whatever, Nic! Kind of you to say so though!

Dash was grinning and racing ahead, showing off his skills. The sun was starting to set and it looked as if the whole sky was on fire.

Words can't really express the feeling of joy, delight, exhilaration to be biking along that gorgeous lake front at sunset with my son. Magic.

So of course the next day, when it was a trip to the thermal pools, did I pike out and sit on the side?? No way. Togs on, in the water, playing with my kids. Something my own mum never did. I don't remember ever seeing her swimming. Ever. She was the observer, the serious one, the person who got things done. My dad was the fun guy. Somehow I had slipped into that pattern.

But no more. I began to recognise the bad habits I'd gotten into the other week when I was unwell and having those mortal thoughts. What would the kids remember about me if I was gone?

I am determined to keep stepping out of my comfort zone; to be more active, have more adventures, stop being just the observer, recorder and sideline cheer-squad.

So watch this space - there will be more swimming, bike riding and adventures for me from now on, I promise!
22 March 2009

On the Road Again

Road trips and kids sometimes just don't mix. I mean, the idea of going away and having a weekend somewhere fun is great, but the reality of kids whingeing and fighting in the back, complaining about how long it's all taking... not much fun!

Last weekend we had a little trip north for Aunty Anna's wedding, and I tried an idea for keeping the kids well behaved, using coloured poker chips (or in my case, Connect Four counters).

It had mixed success, because (sad to say) I am a bit crap at follow-through! So although the kids had earned tokens, they didn't get them redeemed for cash because I hadn't come prepared.

This weekend, we had another trip planned - this time twice as long - to visit friends in Lake Taupo in the middle of the North Island (a four hour trip).

And this time I was determined to be better prepared, so I came loaded up with $1 coins. I waved this glittering stash under the noses of my offspring, and went over the rules again...

  • no fighting or squabbling
  • no whingeing or complaining
  • every 15 minutes of good behaviour you will earn a token (Miss Fab = yellow; Dash = red)
  • when you have 4 tokens you can cash them in for $1
  • Put the money in your wallet and that is your spending money for the trip

Well, what a difference a little bit of hard cash makes (not to mention planning and preparation)!

Every 15 minutes they were good I wordlessly passed them a token. Wow, their shiny eyes when I handed them their first $1 gold coin in exchange for their first four tokens!

True to form, Miss Fab immediately lost $1 somewhere between her hand and her wallet. Dash had a shining moment when he handed her one of his coins! Ohhh... what a kind big brother! (we later found the coin and Dash got it back.)

At the half-way point we stopped for petrol (just a small amount of drama, as the petrol light was on and not a gas station in sight... we prayed we'd make it to a petrol station and coasted in on the smell of an oily rag).

Usually this would be where the kids would start asking for stuff: "Dad can I have...??"

Not this time! They had money of their own! By this time they had earnt $2 each and off they ran to spend it.

They came racing back waving their sweets proudly, "Look what I got!"

I am loving this scheme. Great behaviour all the way, no fighting or whingeing for stuff; teaching the kids the value of money earned.

The final remark has to go to Miss Fab (they had some change plus a couple of $$ more they earned by the time we reached Taupo):

"Mum, when we get to Taupo can I use my money to buy my friend Sofia an icecream??"

Bless her!

Blog Giveaway Winner!

First of all thanks to all my followers! I am a very happy blogger because I now have 27 followers plus another 21 on Facebook.

I managed to find a way to make the draw completely random and impartial thanks to a website I came across called Random.org

I kept a list in Word, as people became followers (so your number is based on when you started following) and then when the Giveaway closed I entered the number range into Random.org and it spat out the number (14) which happened to belong to...

Graham Johnston

(Graham is one of only a few male followers - a rare breed?! Graham also happens to be the only bloke member of the Baby Exchange - good on you Graham!)

Graham got to choose his prize from these great Parenting Books:
  • Raising Your Spirited Child by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka
  • Growing Great Boys by Ian Grant
  • Growing Great Girls by Ian & Mary Grant
  • Of Course I love You Now Go to Your Room by Diane Levy
Graham chose the book "Of Course I Love You Now Go to Your Room" by Diane Levy. Good choice - I hope you enjoy it! Your book is on its way - Congratulations!

The prize book has been kindly donated by my hubby Rory's company RJ Graham Ltd (Personal Assurance Brokers) Thanks Rory!
19 March 2009

We Finally Did it: Christmas Project Complete

Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while will recall our Family Christmas Project, and how it kind of got sidelined with the death of the kids' grandad in December.

The kids did chores and made Christmas cards to sell (among other things) and managed to make a total of $392 for Watoto's Baby Rescue Centre in Uganda.

It has taken until now to finally gather up all the funds we raised and pay a visit to Tear Fund to hand it over. We did it today!

I was super motivated to get it done this week because Grandma is arriving from the UK on Tuesday and she bought lots of our Christmas cards, so she would likely be shocked to know we hadn't given Watoto the money yet.

So today was the day; I rang Tear Fund up to let them know we would be coming in and to remind them about our project. they probably thought we had fallen off the planet!

In my visions of warm fuzzy touching scenes where the children see the fruits of their labour, and get rewarded with "Wow, you kids did all that??" I forgot about a little thing called checking where the office is. Because I thought I knew! We drive past there most weeks, our neighbour works there. Who needs to check???

Ha, well, you guessed it - they'd moved. The street signage was removed, which meant I drove past where it used to be without recognising, turned around on the very busy road, doubled back and saw... the empty office building!!

I could see this warm fuzzy moment rapidly deteriorating into major stress. Eventually I found someone who knew where they had moved to (just up the road), so I turned around again, and drove slowly, looking for the right street number... which wasn't there. So I had to turn around again - across busy traffic.

I had now driven past them three times.

Ahh, just once more for good luck?? Yep, had to reverse (did I mention busy traffic??) and still couldn't see the street number or driveway. What the heck; I parked up in the first carpark spot I could find and decided to leg it. They had to be here somewhere!

Oh, meanwhile in the background Dash was annoyingly changing radio stations and Miss Fab was wailing that her hair-tie was too big and wouldn't go in her hair properly; Scrag was also starting to whinge because - you guessed it - he hadn't had an afternoon sleep!

But this tale of woe and frustration has a happy ending. We got out, we used our legs, we found some helpful road-workers who told us Tear Fund were indeed down this long driveway past the earth moving machinery at the end of a new office block that still looked like a building site.

Glad I persevered. The Tear Fund staff were lovely; they had a special card and certificate ready for the kids. We handed over the money, gave them the card Miss Fab had made with photos of our project in it and exited stage left, with no more drama.

I rewarded us with a trip to the Mall for some icecream - a warm fuzzy moment after all.

Especially when Miss Fab said: "Mum I sure am glad we did all that work to help the poor children!"

Here's a little clip I put together which shows our Christmas Project journey...

Sad, Mad, Bad Cafe

Last night me and Mr G went to the premier of a short film, produced by one of his friends. As it was a short film, we decided to go for coffee afterwards, even though it was Wednesday night.

I mean, how often do we get to go out? Not as much as we'd like to, I can tell you!

So anyways, we trotted off to Kingsland, which used to be a rundown quirky little strip of shops and cafes. Now that the Rugby World Cup is coming in 2011, the place has decided to spruce itself up and turn trendy. Great.

So we manage to find a carpark (amazingly), right outside a very hip and happening Bar populated with lots of beautiful people (I quickly spotted some TV stars in the crowd). Not for me thanks!

We headed to a quiet cafe with an outside table (it was a balmy evening) and ordered a hot chocolate (Mr G) and a Mochaccino (me).

It was all going reasonably well - a fews laughs, some chitchat - and eventually 20 minutes later a waiter brought out the drinks. I took a sip of mine, expecting sweet chocolatey-coffee goodness... and blecchh! Got a mouth full of bitter, burnt-tasting unchocolatey super-strong coffee.

Bad bad bad. No way was that a mocha. They must have mixed up my order?? (Even if it was coffee, it was FOUL).

Rory tasted it and agreed with me; eventually he managed to flag down a pre-occupied waiter, and handed the "mocha" back: "We ordered a Mocha; this isn't a mocha..." he explained.

Within seconds, a very posh-sounding lady (the manager?) emerged to confront us with our obvious ignorance...

"Hmmmm... and what (pray tell) do you think a mocha is????" she demanded, highly affronted that we would DARE to send back that foul brew.

"Coffee and chocolate...?" I said somewhat meekly. Mr G was not cowed.

"That was not a mocha," he insisted. "It tasted terrible."

"And did you stir it???" she demanded. "We make our mochas with real chocolate and two shots of coffee. Perhaps you're not used to that??" (Where you come from in Hicksville)

Eeeeeee! I couldn't believe it. Talk about patronising. At that point I just wanted to leave, forget about the drinks (but they were already paid for, dammit!)

She eventually returned with a (stirred) mocha made with only one shot, for the silly Peasant Girl who had stumbled into the Big City Cafe and expected something that was drinkable - you know, like the ones from McD's or the BP station.

We drank our drinks quick as we could, and left, totally unimpressed.

So if you ever stumble into the bright lights of Kingsland, avoid the well-named Cafe Tabou at all costs unless being insulted, patronised and served bad coffee very slowly is your idea of a pleasant experience. (Go next door to Deve instead).
17 March 2009

Random Things I've Learnt Lately

Ahh, the journey of parenting brings so many learning opportunities! Here's a few of the random life lessons and learning curves that have come my way lately...

  • No matter how well you clean up Lego, there is a law of nature that says there will be at least one piece that will end up in your baby's mouth 

  • There is a scientific equation for opening toilet doors: b x e + d = o (baby multiplied by effort plus determination equals Open)

  • A single packet of pasta will not stretch to feed 8 people. It will feed 7 people (if four of them are children) You won't discover this until you have dished out all the food and you will have to quickly boil another packet to make sure someone doesn't starve.
  • No matter how many playdates your extrovert daughter has, as soon as the last friend has returned home she will be crying that she is bored

  • Just when you think you have your son ready to walk out the door in time to catch the walking school bus, he will have a meltdown about wearing his uniform and will miss said walking bus; so you will have to quickly get dressed and drive him to school - hoping that the petrol will last long enough to get you there and back (because of course the petrol light has been on since yesterday and you were still in your pyjamas because you thought your son was walking!)

Ahhh, yes. The Joys!!
16 March 2009

Wedding Daze

This weekend we had the joy of attending Mr G's sister Anna's wedding up north in Whangarei... a little road trip!

I read somewhere recently about a crazy woman who took 4 children on a 10 hour road trip by herself and pulled it off successfully by using poker chips. She rewarded the kids with a token for every 15 minutes of good behaviour; when they had 4 tokens they could cash them in for $1 (which became their spending money for the trip).

I remembered this cunning plan for minimising fighting and whingeing about 10 minutes before we were due to leave, and quickly grabbed the red and yellow counters out of our Connect Four game (I have no poker chips, sorry).

Hmmm, great idea, seemed to work well at first. But sadly I had not planned well enough. I had no cash on me and the kids kept losing their little collection bags and in the end the whole thing kind of fizzled out. Next time though, I will be better prepared! I will bring some actual coins.

Anyhoo, it was a lovely beach wedding on the Tutukaka Coast, the rain held off and the bride looked stunning (don't you think she could be Kate Hudson's twin??)

I love the frangipani bouquet! Frangipanis are one of my favourite flowers.

Dash and Princess fell asleep in the car on our way out to the beach. Princess emerged bleary-eyed and disoriented halfway through, but Dash could not be woken til it was all over.

We managed to find someone to take a family photo of us, but there sadly are no smiles! The look says it all - "I just woke up - don't bug me!"

There was a bit of whingeing when they realised they were the only kids there - the other kids' parents were much smarter than us and had found babysitters! (There were quite a few moments when we asked ourselves why we hadn't done the same thing?)
Things cheered up after Princess got to kiss the real princess - oh I mean the bride and Dash got to play a bit of beach soccer with daddy (in his wedding suit).

Mr G got to make a speech on behalf of his dad, who passed away in early December last year. He was very nervous, but pulled it off beautifully, with a "love letter" written as if from his Dad to Anna. It was funny and touching, and I think, what his dad would have wanted to say to his daughter on her wedding day. I was very proud of him.

Sarah, Mr G's other sister, had organised two lovely watches engraved with the family motto "N'Oublie" ("do not forget") as a gift from their dad to Anna and Mark. A wonderful thoughtful gesture.

Of course, being close family, we were sitting in the middle near the front, with our scraggy lot, who kept wriggling and whispering throughout the speeches, in spite of all threats, bribes and offers of pens'n'paper.

All in all they were pretty good, considering they were tired and hungry, but boy oh boy, as soon as I had gobbled down my food I packed them off back to the motel to bed, leaving Mr G to boogy down and socialise with all the rellies.
I managed to successfully negotiate unfamiliar streets in the dark and rain - I was very proud of myself! The kids went to bed without too much fuss, thankfully, and I fell asleep in front of the TV.
On the way home the next day (after a lovely family BBQ) Mr G and I agreed that bringing the kids had been the right decision and worth all the whingeing, nagging and tiredness. It is just so valuable for them to spend time with another branch of the family tree, and it was very special for all of us to be part of Aunty Anna's Big Day.