30 April 2009

My Mum and Me

Just a little post about my mum, since Mothers Day is coming up soon.
Me and my mum haven't always been close. I used to feel hard-done-by and sorry for myself, thinking she liked my brother more than me and my sisters and that she wasn't that bothered about my kids (a hard pill to swallow when you're a mum).

Every time I saw her I would come away angry and disappointed, having set myself up with unrealistic expectations of how I hoped things would go.

Two years ago around Mothers Day I had the inspiration (I now totally think it was a whisper from God) to make her a Mix CD of all my favourite songs. This seed of an idea grew into a big project where I made a booklet with all the lyrics and why the songs were special to me; I filled it with photos of me and mum through the years, and the making of it was healing for me. It was like I started to see her with new eyes, and appreciate her for who she is. By the time I sent it off to her I had such a warm fuzzy glow it wouldn't have mattered whether she acknowledged it or not.

But she did. She rang me as soon as she got her tears under control, half an hour after receiving it. (Her love language is gifts). She was moved, blown away, gob-smacked.

We talked and talked, cried and phone-hugged (she lives 6 hours away).

Since then, I have found that we are closer than ever before in my whole life. We regularly talk on the phone for ages, I no longer feel like she doesn't care much about my kids. It's been two years and I can honestly say that I love and appreciate my mum for who she is.

We are friends.

So this year I made her a photobook* full of pictures of me, her, the kids. Just a reminder that we love her and think she's great. I'm looking forward to that phone call!
(BTW You can click here and see my photobook; I'm kinda proud of it)

What do you do on Mothers' Day?
29 April 2009

Good Sport

It all begins again on Saturday: Dash's Soccer Season. Wahoooo! I'm telling you, this kid is absolutely soccer-mad. I have never met a kid like him.

I mean, he's only six years old, and he memorises soccer stats, knows the names and positions of tons of players, and is forever writing lists of his favourite teams (great for practising his writing and spelling!)
He endlessly kicks anything that will roll (if he can't find a ball), spends every school break playing soccer, then comes home from his soccer training and says to his dad: "Will you come and play soccer with me???"
When he can't play actual soccer he plays table soccer (Sabbuteo) and names all the players; live soccer games and football DVDs are his viewing preference - Dash basically can't get enough of that round-ball sport.

Did I also mention that he is good?

I mean, he can score goals with both feet. He practises curving the ball (like Beckham); he takes on players much bigger than him and gives them a run for their money, often taking the ball from one end of the feild to the other and scoring. He has a shelf full of trophys already: "Most Valuable Player", "Outstanding Player of the Year" etc etc.

Last year his team scored 63 goals in total. 32 of them were scored by Dash.

Ask him what he wants to be when he grows up: "A soccer player, for Newcastle United and England" is his unwavering answer.

Ahhh, but small problem. With all this passion comes intensity. He can get himself so worked up, that if things come unstuck (Newcastle loses, Dash doesn't score, he gets a bad tackle, his team doesn't play well) he can fall apart. I'm talking, curling up in a ball and sobbing like the world is ending.

Last year, Mr G and I knew that helping Dash become a Good Sport was (and is) our most important challenge.

We focussed on it, majored on it, explained it, talked about it, praised him and rewarded him when he did well at being a Good Sport.

That meant: getting up quickly if he got knocked down and not crying or running off the pitch; not crying and making a fuss if he didn't score or his team lost. Playing his best and having a good attitude, whatever the result. Big Ask!
We gave him opportunities to practise losing gracefully by playing games together as a family where sometimes another member of the family would win(!)

We encouraged him to congratulate others' successes when he played games with other kids (shaking hands, saying, "Well done!" or "hey, good goal"). We whispered encouragment to him to let other kids score when he's playing for fun at home (he is great at this now).
We praised his efforts on the pitch and rewarded them with a family Breakfast at McD's after a game, if he had a good attitude, did his best and didn't cry if they lost.

Whew. After a year I have to say we have come a long way. But it's still a work in progress!
We still sometimes get dramatics if Princess wins at Jungle Buzz, or Daddy beats him at Subbuteo. But at least those incidents are getting further apart.

And at least now Dash has a very good idea of what a Good Sport is. It's not just about having the skills, it's about having a great attitude, doing your best and being a graceful winner or loser.
That's what separates a good player from a Champion. And we totally believe our Dash is a Champion in the making.

Roll on the Football Season!

Wordless Wednesday: "It's Beeping.."

"Mum, I can feel his heart beeping..."
27 April 2009

Facts of Life

I love it when my kids ask me questions about the big stuff of life. Yesterday was a cracker. Miss Fab and I were having breakfast; the conversation went something like this...

Miss Fab: Mum, I know about what you do with rubbish. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!
Me: Wow, that's good!
Miss Fab: Yes, you put it in a machine and then the machine makes it something new and then you give it to somebody...
Me: Wow, you are clever...
Miss Fab: Mum how do you make stuff?
Me: What kind of stuff??
Miss Fab: You know... stuff!
Me: Do you mean houses, cars, trees, animals, people....?
Miss Fab: Yeah, how do you make that kind of stuff?
Me: Well lots of stuff comes from seeds, you know, God puts the life in the seeds and then...
Miss Fab: Oooh, I know about this! We put it in the ground and then we water it and it grows...
Me: Yes and...
Miss Fab: But what about babies? How do you get a baby in your tummy, mum?"
Me (a long pause, thinking thinking... what do I tell her??): Well, babies come from like a seed too...
Miss Fab: No they don't! Babies don't come from seeds!
Me: Well, kind-of seeds, a bit more like a little egg that grows inside the mummy...
Miss Fab: But how do they get there?
Me (oh boy): Um, well the daddies put them there...
Miss Fab (giggling): No they don't, silly! Daddies don't have seeds inside them! And anyway, how do they put them in the mummies??
Me (Veeeryyy long pause, oh boy oh boy): Um they sort of get there when they snuggle...?
Miss Fab (Laughing happily and skipping off): Ohh, thanks mum!

Oh boy, I don't want to be the Queen of Disinformation, but I think the tender age of Four is just a teensy bit young for the bare facts of life! I figure I'll keep it blurry round the edges and add more detail as she gets older. This is uncharted territory! I don't remember asking my parents these kinds of questions this young??!! How about you?

What, when and how do you tell your kids about the Facts of Life?
25 April 2009

Anzac Biscuits

This year I baked my first batch of Anzac Biscuits (thanks PaisleyJade) in memory of the mothers who had to send their sons away. Mothers who heard about the terrible conditions their boys were enduring, the terrible food they were eating. Mothers whose ingenuity produced a healthy, delicious recipe that would journey well to the other side of the world, to sustain their precious boys.

1/2 cup plain flour
1/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup coconut
3/4 cup rolled oats
50g butter {online measurement converter}
1 tablespoon golden syrup
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons boiling water

As I mixed my bikkies I could so imagine that the secret ingredient that went into them was Love. Along with the method, here's what I imagined those WWI mothers were thinking as they mixed their bikkies...

  • Mix together the flour, sugar, oats and coconut... (oh my sweet Jimmy will be getting these biscuits)...

  • Melt the butter and golden syrup... (he will hold these biscuits in his precious hands...)

  • Mix the baking soda with the boiling water... (he'll put these biscuits in his mouth; they'll be inside him...)
  • Stir into the melted butter... (oh I do so pray these will find him well...!)

  • Combine and mix well. Place dessertspoonsful on cold greased trays and bake for 15 minutes at 180oC. (Come back to me Jimmy. Come back in one piece!) 

Ah, well that's what I was imagining anyway. It's the mother in me.
ANZAC stands for Australian New Zealand Army Corps. Anzac Day has been celebrated since 1916; the numbers of people travelling to Gallipoli in Turkey and attending Dawn Services on Anzac Day are steadily climbing. The younger generation has not forgotten.
23 April 2009

Random Thoughts About Stuff

There's stuff kind of bubbling inside me, niggling and nagging at me. Just fragments of thoughts, nothing earth-shattering, or world-stopping, but maybe worth catching hold of and writing down...

Random Thought #1

My body is amazing. I don't mean amazing-looking (I ain't no super-model, but I won't go there). I mean my body is so CLEVER! It has been through so much, and look what it has managed to do???
My clever body has created from scratch three amazing human beings. They grew inside me and emerged from my body into the wide wide world. I have the scars to prove it. I shouldn't feel like I have to apologise for my jelly belly, my stretch-marks, my dodgey pelvis, my saggy boobs.
I heard an inspirational woman say once, "Those are my battle scars! I wear them proudly..." And so should I.

Random Thought #2

I shouldn't need external props to connect with God. I have been finding it tough at church lately because I am super-sensitive to noise and crowds. Our church is very rocky and the volume is super LOUD.
It has been about three months since I have been able to go into a service during the music; I have had to hide out in the parents' room or up at Starbucks until the worship is finished.
I started having panic attacks because of the volume, around the time I started having dizzy spells. So I have been feeling a bit sorry for myself, being unable to connect with God in the worship at church (which is amazing and has always been a big part of my life).
But a thought I had the other day was: I shouldn't have to rely on being in the worship at church to connect with God. I should be able to find other ways and means to connect with Him. Hmmmm... if only I wasn't so lazy!!

Random Thought #3

What message does my life send? Here's a deep one. I heard a preacher say this the other week - what message do people get from me? Am I mostly positive? Encouraging? Kind? Do they see any glimmer of God through me?

Or am I too wrapped up in myself? Negative? Complaining? Self-pitying? Does God show up in my life at all?

Wow, I don't know the answer to that one. It's so hard to take a step back and see yourself honestly as others do. I would hope it's the positive stuff... but oh my, when I am wrapped up in myself I certainly do make for a very small package. (This photo of me was taken by my daughter)

Random Thought #4

Remember the Dream. A dream I had when I was pregnant with Dash came back to my mind recently. It was a scary, sobering, awful dream, but one that I knew had a deeper meaning.

In the dream I was in a big warehouse that was on fire. I had my baby boy with me, but was trying to help other people escape from the building. I gave my baby boy (an olive-skinned, dark-haired baby) to someone else to carry out while I stayed to help others. When everyone was rescued and I was standing outside the building I found the person I had asked to carry my baby... only to realise to my horror that they had left him inside the burning building...

Horrible. But I knew what the dream was warning me about. Helping others at the expense of my own family. Something I had a nasty tendency to do in my younger years (although then I was single, so it was only myself I was neglecting).
The dream came back to me as I was looking at Scrag the other day and realised that he looked uncannily like the baby in the dream, whereas Dash was fair and had gingery hair as a baby. Scary.

In other words, I was reminded that I can still have the tendency to get wrapped up in other things at the expense of my kids. (Here I sit, blogging!) And not just my kids, but also myself, my husband, my marriage... Hmmmm... a timely reminder?
Those are some of my random thoughts lately.
22 April 2009

Readers Giveaway: Send in Your Birthday Cakes!

I'm having another giveaway. There's just so much creative birthday cake-making going on out there, I thought it would be fun to share the ideas and creativity with all my readers.

So I am giving away a (personalised) set of my kids party invitations for your child's next birthday... and there are TWO chances to win...

Here's how the Giveaway will work:

  • Email me photos (and description) of your fabulous kids birthday cakes
  • Each birthday cake sent in is one entry into the draw
  • I will post your photo(s) and description on a special Readers Cake Competition post
  • Leave me a comment on the post to say when your child's next birthday is and which invitation you would like (I can design one specially for you if there's nothing there that suits your theme)


There will be TWO winners:
  • One person drawn randomly from all entries (with help from http://www.random.org/)
  • One cake selected by me as my favourite (most original and clever design)

    The winners will be notified by email and will also be announced here on my blog on May 23rd.

The Prize:

  • Invitations for New Zealand winners come in a pack of 12, printed on 6x4 glossy photographic paper and will be posted to you wherever you live

  • This Giveaway is also open to Overseas Readers; overseas winners will receive a high-res .jpg file which can then be printed off by you. (New Zealand readers can also choose this option if they prefer)

Visit my Kids Party Invitations Website to see the designs I currently have available (new designs being added all the time).

So email me your Birthday Cake Photos! greatfun4kids@live.com

Wordless Wednesday: Loved to Bits

Hi, my name is Birthday Doll. I belong to Princess...

I am only 2 and a half years old. I get snuggled every night and my hair gets twisted and pulled; that's how I have these great dreadlocks. Princess says my hair smells lovely. She can't get to sleep without snuggling and sniffing me.
Before I belonged to Princess I was a PopStar Melody. Grandma didn't recognise me from my younger days (before I was loved and gorgeous), and gave another PopStar Melody to Princess last year. Ha! As long as I have hair on my head, no flashy pink-haired dolly is going to replace me!

20 April 2009

The Teddy Bears Picnic

The weather dawned lovely on the morning of Scraggy's 1st birthday party. Up went the metres and metres of bunting made by my friend Gail (which she kindly lent us for the party); this gave it such a festive feel.

Out came all the toys, borrowed and rediscovered for this special occasion - a wee slide perfect for littlies (hired for $12/week), an old pirate ship ball pit (from Dash's first birthday), giant balls ($3.90 each from our local dollar store), ride-ons and cars borrowed from friends (plus one for Scrag's birthday pressie)... the play house, the swings, the trampoline...

...it wouldn't be a picnic without a few wasps buzzing around (or "wops" as Dash calls them so cutely); thankfully they didn't bother us.
Dash was a great Winnie the Pooh - I actually bought the costume for Scrag ($20 brand-new off TradeMe), but then couldn't find a Teddy Bear costume for Dash to wear. Since he is built like a racehorse we tried it on (it's size 3) and whaddya know, it fit - just!

Everyone was instructed on the invitation to bring their favourite furry friend; we stuck name tags on the bears as they arrived and the teddies had their picnic while we had ours. There was a prize for the oldest teddy (there were a few 30-year olds, but the winner was over 60 years old!)

There was a prize for "best costume", a special Teddy Bears Picnic CD I made for the party with lots of Kids Favourites on it. The winners were the Cat in the Hat, Incey Wincey Spider and Little Red Riding Hood.

The birthday boy had a lovely time, the timing worked well for him between sleeps so he was rested and full of beans, enjoying the freedom of exploring the garden and everything that was going on now that he is a walking boy!

As it was a first birthday party and Scrag is yet to make his own "friends" we invited family friends with kids of similar ages to our lot, plus a few others Scrag will likely be friends with in the future

Altogether there were about 30 people, including 6 littlies around Scrag's age, three 2-year-old boys and a bunch of 4-7 year old big brothers and sisters.

With this wide age range, we had lots of free play; the girls did facepainting (kindly helped by my talented friend Justine), the big boys swung each other on the hammock and created general mayhem, the littlies wandered around playing on the toys and ride-ons.

After the picnic lunch (for adults too), we sang Happy Birthday to Scraggy and he blew out his candles (helped by mummy and daddy) and then we had a couple of very simple dancing games on the lawn (the Chicken Dance and Hokey Pokey)- great fun.

Dash had hidden our collection of bears all around the garden and the children had to go and find them; the older kids were asked to help the littlies and everyone got a prize when they found one. Mr G made sure no-one missed out.

One of the very helpful mums had seen a teddy hiding under the stairs when she arrived and thought someone had dropped their Ted... she wriggled in under the deck to rescue it and popped it down on the blanket with the guests' teddies. When the Teddy Hunt started she realised the teddy wasn't lost after all - just hiding!

We finished off with the kids hunting for Winnie the Pooh, who had hidden himself in the front garden with the party bags. Mr G led them on the hunt, very exciting.

Afterwards it was lovely to hear one of the 2-year-olds return to specially thank Pooh Bear for his party bag. And then I overheard one little kiddie saying to another, "What a lovely party!"

Awwwww... makes it all worth it!

Click here for Planning the Teddy Bears Picnic

Click here for my personalised Teddy Bear's Picnic Party Invitation or here for the FREE Printable version

Teddy Bear Cake

My friend Justine happened to have a Teddy shaped cake tin - so I borrowed it. So easy! I used a triple mixture of my One Egg Chocolate Cake recipe. After some issues with the Great Icing Debacle we eventually got it looking right; simple chocolate buttercream icing, with white piped around the edges.

The eyes are a marshmallow split in half, sticky side up, with half a brown Smartie on each. The tongue is half a red Smartie, the nose, a brown Smartie.

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! Don't use the Fan setting as this will cause the cake to rise unevenly (something I only realised recently!)

Preparing a Teddy Bear's Picnic...

When it comes to parties it's the little things that, for me, make it special.

The thing I loved about preparing for Scrag's first birthday Teddy Bears Picnic, was that the older kids were so keen to help! They stuck stickers on lunch boxes and sippy cups, they dressed teddy bears, chose names for them and Dash wrote out their name tags. They helped me fill party bags and tie on labels.

It was great having such willing helpers, and made the preparation much more fun!

Party Bags

I found these mini flax kits for $1 each. I printed up some tags with each child's name and a teddy bear picture, cut them out and punch a hole in one corner. We tied them onto each bag with curling ribbon, colour coded red for boys, pink for girls. Then we filled them with some mini choc bars, lollipops and a little gift: Teddy Bear bubble bath for girls and babies, bubbles for little boys and soccer pens for big boys. The babies had a selection of soft sweets like marshmallows and Smarties. On the party day, Dash (dressed as Pooh Bear) hid in the garden with the basket of party bags and the children had to hunt for him. Great fun!

Sippy Cups
I found these packs of brightly coloured non-spill sippy cups at the Baby Factory (on special, four for $5.99). Dash put each baby's name (and age)on them using letter stickers left over from his Sports Party. That way there were no mix ups. The babies got to take them home.

Food Signs
I made these cute little signs out of recycled card, stuck with double-sided tape onto coloured popsicle sticks left over from another party. I used a black crayon and wrote with my left hand. The buzzy bees and bear paw stickers I got for $1/packet at our local dollar store (cutely called "2Cheap").

Baby Boxes

A friend had some noodle boxes left over from her daughter's party, which she let me have. I got hold of some Pooh Bear stickers and Princess had fun sticking them all over the boxes. I filled each one with a little picnic for the babies... A fruit stick (grapes and blueberries threaded onto cocktail straws), a teddy-shaped sandwich, a baked fruit bar, a packet of tiny teddies, a wafer biscuit and a packet of raisins.

The Menu...

I am firmly of the "keep it simple" persuasion. I am not the world's happiest cook, so whatever I do that is food-related has to be easy, straight-forward and quick.

At this party we had:
  • Cupcakes (3 batches, two of which were made from a packet; see below for The Great Icing Debacle
  • Fairy Bread (bread with crusts cut off, buttered, dipped in 100's & 1000's and cut into triangles) 
  • Carrot & Celery sticks, crackers, chippies and dips 
  • Cut up pineapple, blueberries and Fruit Sticks (see above) 
  • Red cocktail sausages & tomato sauce (heat slowly to avoid splitting) 
  • Bacon & Egg slice (bought from the supermarket) 
  • Sausage rolls (the kind you get frozen in a roll; you just have to cut them up and bake them) 
  • Salad Sandwiches (2 baguettes, split lengthways, filled with ham, mayo, tomato and lettuce, then sliced up into sandwich-sized pieces) 
  • Popcorn (freshly popped in the microwave) 
  • Old-Fashioned Lemonade (click here for the recipe)
Most of this food can be prepared very quickly, either the day before or that morning; meaning that you are not stuck in the kitchen during your child's party, but can be out enjoying it all!
This lot provided enough food for 17 kids and 19 adults, with some left over.

The Great Icing Debacle
After making 3 batches of cupcakes and a triple recipe chocolate Teddy Bear Cake, I was nearly out of butter (oh dear) and still needed to make the buttercream icing. I thought, hey no worries, I will just use my spread instead! I've done it before, no problems??!

Problem! I had bought a different brand of spread this week! Usually I buy Olivio which works fine. But this time I had Olivani... seemingly the same olive-oil based, low-fat spread, but oh-so-different.

I innocently mixed up a giant batch of buttercream using the Olivani, and sectioned some off to start colouring and applying.... when to my horror it started curdling and separating!

Arrghhh! I had 36 cupcakes and a giant teddy bear to ice, and no more icing sugar, just a bowl full of curdled foul-looking mess.

And I had already iced eight cupcakes with this horrible stuff! I disguised the yucky looking icing by making these classic marshmallow flowers (above) which largely covered up what was underneath, thank goodness!
(For petals, slice a marshmallow in half width-ways; this gives the "petals" an oval shape. Use a smartie as the flower centre.)

I had to go back to the shop, get more icing sugar, some real butter and begin again, biffing the whole bowl of yucky goo. I can tell you I was OVER cup cakes by the end of it!
They did turn out cute though (I coloured some marzipan and cut out tiny teddy bears with a cookie cutter; then painted eyes nose and mouth on with black food colouring.)

So be warned - Olivio can be used in icing (and baking), Olivani can't (unless you use gel colours).