Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Garden Spoils

This is the pumpkin! I totally forgot to weigh it in the end, but it was so nice to cut open and see that lovely orangey-yellow shining out. Mum took a quarter for the Easter family lunch, and I gave wedges away to our neighbours. It even smelt nice when we were cutting it. What shop bought pumpkin smells nice when it's raw? 

I was watering the bed of sweet potato plants wondering how soon it would be until we saw some actual sweet potatoes, when I noticed something pushing out of the soil. Thinking some random animal had been digging up in the bed at night (I've heard stories from the neighbours about some tricky possums in the area), I had a poke around and found that enormous sweet potato you see below.

I quickly followed the vine and found a few more as well. The girls were delighted to see them coming out of the soil. We haven't had sweet potatoes from the garden since last August, so it was really exciting to know stuff is still growing there, especially since the plant has been transplanted twice in that time.

I remarked to Steve that even if it's not at all cost efficient to grow your own veggies, when you take into consideration the water, soil, mulch, etc., not to mention the time it takes to look after said garden, the feeling you get from actually having edible food that you grew yourself is amazing. Totally worth it.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Easter Dresses

With Sally the Sewing Machine being out last week, and school holidays still in progress, I have been able to make another couple of dresses for the girls, just in time for Easter. I didn't really have Easter in mind when I was making them, but after they were finished, they were so bright and colourful, that they just yelled at me to celebrate new life - which is what Easter is all about, right?

These dresses were really fun because I let the girls choose some of the fabric themselves as a treat at the store. They turned out way more matchy than I was anticipating though, because I used the same pattern and material layout, which is a bit of a bummer, but I guess it's not the end of the world. People assured me that they didn't look matchy in the slightest when the girls wore them, so maybe it's just me anyway.

I used the Sally Dress pattern, from Very Shannon. I've used it before here, Sophie's first birthday, and here, just before Rachel was born, but I haven't sewn it in ages (nearly three years!) so I had a few problems getting it together. Somehow I mixed up the bodice construction, and then couldn't be bothered to unpick it, so I did some creative sewing to get those armholes done. It was a bit frustrating, but again, not the end of the world.

The girls love the pockets. So totally perfect for Easter egg hunts!

Sophie and Rachel also took turns helping me to sew things - pushing the reverse button, lifting and dropping the presser foot, being in charge of the pins, which they love. It was nice. On Sophie's the pockets are lined with the butterfly material that is on the hem.

Rachel's has just the blue as lining, but I found that cool old (vintage?) trim in my sewing cabinet that matched rather perfectly. Mum recognised it when she saw it, so I guess it must have come from her stash at some stage and I'm glad I got to use it up.

Rachel was not a happy camper for these photos because we couldn't find Rachel Bunny to go in her pockets and she had to be content with the sheep. Sophie, on the other hand, was too excited to sit still, and all the good shots I have are from her not looking at the camera. Oh well, they show off the dresses nicely.

Happy Easter everyone!

Thursday, April 13, 2017

I Cannot Celebrate Yet

Last week I handed in my final workbook for Tafe. It's official people, I have no more deadlines hanging over my head. But I can't celebrate yet, because even though the workbooks are in, they still need to be assessed, and some of those assessors are incredibly picky. So I'm expecting to have to do some kind of resubmitting before I can officially say that I'm done.

But man does it feel good to be nearly there. I quickly celebrated with a lull in most activity and then surge of sewing. It's so nice to sew. I looked back at the blog history, and I haven't sewn anything since December last year. Before Christmas. That's over three months of sewing hiatus. Too long.

I used a free pattern from The Sewing Rabbit, for these two dresses. It's really easy because there are no closures - no buttons or zips! Hooray! It uses a bit more fabric, but it's worth it for the easiness of the sewing. I had the fabric on hand anyhow. I did leave out two of the ties on each dress - you put them on the sides of the skirt to carry the ties/knot theme through, but I couldn't be bothered.

The material for Sophie's is from mum, I think she got it in Japan before Sophie was born (or when she was very young). It's gorgeous. I used some hand me down scraps from a lady from church for the lining which matched really well. The skirt part is really twirly, because there is heaps of fabric allowed for it. You could totally get away with using less, but I had enough, and I know Sophie does love to dance in twirly dresses.

This is the first time I've made this dress, and it's pretty big, which works really well because we are coming into winter, so the girls can keep wearing them with shirts underneath for warmth. Rachel's was so big on her littleness that I ended up putting a tuck in the back to stop it gaping, but it looks so cute and she loves it. Her dress is made out of a cot sheet I got from a friend.

You can kind of tell because I used the feature of the sheet as a part of the skirt front, but it could also just be extra design, so it passes. I did leave the tag on the inside though, just for authenticity. Rachel really likes her's, but I had problems because the moment Sophie saw it, she wanted to know why she didn't get stars. Despite the fact that only moments ago she was completely in love with her bear dress.

Sunday, April 09, 2017

From Whim to Wepons

Our girls love to play with swords. They like to pretend to be heroes rescuing things from dreadful monsters. Steve loves to teach them good weapons practice and proper sword play. We have a lot of swords for a house with only daughters.

We were packing up said swords last weekend and Steve asked where they usually lived. In a box in the laundry, as it turned out, so he suggested making a weapons rack for proper sword storage. I agreed. I mean, who wouldn't take the opportunity to get out the cardboard and hot glue gun? And make storage?! It's like a dream. :D

This post has an incredibly rare action shot of me actually doing some crafting, because Steve was there to document things. The girls were in charge of important things like getting the cardboard toilet rolls out and counting them to make sure we had enough.

Anyway, we used two cardboard toilet paper rolls per sword. Cut them in half, glued them back together (to make a larger roll). Then I hot glue gunned that onto a strip of cardboard and taped it for reinforcement. Finally, we used the 3M sticky things to stick the completed weapons racks to the doors of the girls rooms, so their swords are easy to access.

Not sure where that other cutlass is gone, but Rachel Bunny also fits well in the rack. Handy.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Pumpkin Pride

This is the pumpkin from the garden. The first pumpkin. I've also got some Kent Pumpkins growing (one of them is squashing the basil). 

I tried to weigh it, but the only scales we have are kitchen scales that only go up to 5kg. And this pumpkin weighs more than that.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

March in Summary

As the end of March draws near, I am more and more aware that I haven't posted this month at all. What's been happening? Has nothing been going on, thus reflected in the low (or should I say, non-existent?) post count? Or is the reality far more positive; I've been doing so much that I haven't had time to post. Not just "doing so much" but rather, "living so much". So I guess it's a good thing if I haven't posted, for that second reason, that is. And in this case, I feel it is true.

March started with four wonderful days away at the coast. Our annual sojourn to the northern beaches, where we enjoyed the sand, sun and splashing in the waves. We visited the Queensland Air Museum, we read books, we played with the kids. So often I just lay and looked up at the sky and thought: "How lucky we are to be alive right now." Thank you God for this rest, and the beauty of the world you have made for us.

Not only that, but to be there with friends, who's kids get to grow up with our girls, is just priceless. We are inexplicably blessed by these guys, and the memories we make every year as our kids grow is indescribable.

Photo credit to Wade.
I've been slogging away on my through my TAFE work and I'm happy to say that the end is near! 160 pages of prac journal plus supporting documents and four hours with Corinne who is an absolute gift from God, and I'm ready to submit that bad boy. Only two supplementary workbooks to go. The goal is to get them done before my parents take off for their next trip around the world, but hopefully I'll knock them over in the holidays. The end is near, I tell you, the end is near!

We have just come back from our church camp. For those playing along at home, we have officially changed churches and now attend St Lucia Bible Church. I was actually moved to tears at the camp to see the people from three different congregations (morning, afternoon and evening) mixing together and, more than that, to see people from all generations having a great time. From old to young. Even now I'm feeling a tightness in my throat as I remember it. This is what God's kingdom is supposed to look like, and I just had a glimpse of it.

Our garden is growing growing growing! Mostly it's pumpkins, but everything else has made it past the obscene heat wave that was January and February and is now thriving as the weather cools off. Herbs, limes, lemons, raspberries, blueberries, mandarins, pumpkins, it's all go! I can't believe this, but we actually have more than one type of pumpkin growing (thanks to the compost), and have pumpkins for the first time! We have had pumpkin vines before but no fruit. Steve is already dreading the amount of pumpkin-flavoured meals that await the not too distant future, but I'm excited.

And we grew it ourselves. That's the best part.

It's not all good news in the garden. I know it sounds like it's all roses, but there are casualties too. Some things have died for no real reason, mostly just plants that don't have any food value, so it's not so heart breaking. The worst is the capsicum plants. After the Great October Garden Makeover of 2016, only one of the two transplanted capsicums survived. The one that has made it, looked like it was going great guns, nice green leaves, new shoots, growing strongly. It even put out loads of little flowers and buds, so many that I even took to plucking some off so the poor plant didn't over do itself.

Alas, though it grew at least ten or twelve capsicums, all of them have rotted on the tree. Not because I didn't pick them in time, but for some other unknown reason. Honestly, I haven't investigated it, so hopefully it's curable. Otherwise I'll just have to start again.

I've been doing other, rather unproductive, things in March too. Like watching Taiwanese dramas. This is not something I would recommend to anyone. Such a waste of time. After the last one, where I watched 40 episodes in 6 days (I was skipping parts, just so you know, and also doing things while I watched (washing up etc), so it's not all bad, just mostly bad) I was glad of the break. I think maybe I'm too task oriented to be trusted with any kind of long term TV series investment.

I've taken the kids to Lone Pine, Rocks Riverside Park, GOMA, the Science Centre (to see the turtles hatch!), the State Library. We have played with cardboard boxes, play dough, coloured in, made pizza's, cooked endless things in the sandpit and kitchen outside. Hugo loves to be a monster and chase the girls around. Sophie loves kindy, and has made a number of friends, including a little girl called Sophia Grace. Their friend Hadley, refers to them as "the Sophs".

I make lunches. Lunches with sushi, sandwiches, cheese, veggies and fruit. Lunches that get eaten and sometimes don't. That's ok, because you can't win them all.

People ask me all time, if I've cut my hair. No. It's just long enough to be annoying now, so I have to put it up. I'm seriously perplexed as to how people look at my hair that has been braided, and think that it's been cut. Maybe it's because they don't have curly hair.... Who knows. On a completely unrelated note, I've seen Beauty and the Beast twice already, and have plans for a third time (contrary to Steve's beliefs, there were lots of people that wanted to go with me). I think it's fabulous.

Now, the holidays draw closer, as does my birthday, and I look to April with excitement. Easter is nearly here! So March, with this one post, thank you. You have been wonderful, and I enjoyed living through you.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Is This All I do?

I look at the weeks and there must be more, but it honestly seems that this is all I do: make lunches. I wonder if that's ok. Probably, though my task-driven productive self longs for something else to prove I've been useful. It's good to know that keeping children alive also counts as something useful, so even though I don't have much to post about, I do have alive children. 

More sushi in this lunch, egg and avocado. I tried to do mini cucumber ones, but I'm not sure they turned out. Soy chips, grapes, grape tomatoes and peach.

Pizza scrolls! Again something you can make ahead and keep in the freezer. These ones are lazy ones, because instead of making the dough myself, I just used puff pastry. Not quite as healthy. Oh well, at least the insides are veggie packed and healthy. It's easy to just make extra spaghetti sauce and then keep it aside for this kind of thing, and I always hide veggies in spaghetti sauce. Dried apricots, grapes, pepitas, popcorn and yogurt.

I found a box of healthy crackers that was about to go out of date in the cupboard, so that's why these appear in this lunchbox. There is cream cheese in the middle for the girls to spread on the crackers. Grapes, grape tomatoes and capsicum, carrot and cucumber sticks. There is also a chocolate biscuit too. Just a little bit of unhealthy for an otherwise very virtuous lunch.

Mini hot dogs! These were so easy and look fabulous. There is sauce and grated cheese under the cheerios. The buns are just dinner rolls. Cucumber and carrot sticks, mini tomatoes, mushroom slices (in Rachel's lunchbox only, because Sophie wouldn't have a bar of them), grapes and pineapple pieces.

In the middle is a little treat that Sophie and I made for Valentines day. I saw a thing on the internet somewhere of heart shaped treats made out of puff pastry with jam in them and hundreds and thousands on the outside. They looked easy and cute. The problem, when Sophie and I went to make them, was that we had no jam or hundreds and thousands. We did have chocolate sprinkles and frozen berries though, so I mixed the frozen berries with icing sugar and used that instead. They turned out like little hearts and tasted good, but don't look anywhere near as appealing as what they were supposed to be.

Do you want to eat a snowman? I know I do! My sister has a Japanese student with her at the moment who showed me a picture of a bento her mum made for her last day of school, including rice balls that looked like Olaf from Frozen. So easy to do, so I did it!

You can see the subtle differences between Sophie and Rachel's lunches here. That mini hot dog that's been cut in half was actually left over from Rachel's lunch box the day before. I cut the grape tomatoes in half and then put them back together like hearts just for fun. Sophie has another of those Valentine's Day puff pastry things while Rachel has some olive dip. Apples, capsicum, cucumber and grapes and it's a yummy lunch.

I don't know why this lunch looks so boring.... it just seems to white. Meh. Rice thins and cream cheese to spread on, carrots (Rachel had capsicum), pepitas and crasins, grape tomatoes, boiled egg, grapes and pineapple pieces.

If the last box looked too white, this box looks too red to me. What's going on!? Rachel's at least (below) looks a little more balanced. Cheerios cut like octopi, cheese sticks, veggi quiche thingy from the freezer (I know they didn't really eat them last time, but I had some left and I needed to fill the lunch box), onigiri with a Pokemon cut out (I got a set from my sister's Japanese student - so cool, though I think a bit wasted on my not-Pokemon-aware children), apples, watermelon and homemade custard (I've nothing against bought custard, but I had lots of eggs and milk, so I thought I'd make my own for fun).

Rachel just has grapes rather than a second octopus, because I know she will be flat out even eating one. To make those cool cheerio octopi, you just cut the bottom half of the cheerio into legs, then "cook" them in hot water and they just magically spread out. If I were really Japanese I would have given them eyes, but I am not, and I couldn't be bothered pretending. 

I have been missing my Japanese family and Japan more than usual lately. In the last three weeks we have had Japanese dinners at least eight times. Maybe making bento is another way I'm just trying to feed my nostalgia.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Recycled Lids

Don't know about other kids, but mine love to try to take lids off things. Usually things that I don't want them to touch. And often it goes badly because they are not very skilled at actually undoing things yet.

So I figured that I'd channel their inquisitive energy into actually undoing things they were allowed to and thus making them more skilled at undoing things while teaching them there are things they are allowed to undo, and things they aren't.

Step One: collect various bottles with different types of caps. The ones I collected were mostly screw on, but a few had other features as well. One had a pump top (shampoo bottle), and a few had snaps.

Step Two: wash said bottles and cut the tops off. I let them sit on the bench for a few weeks as well, but that's not really necessary. That was more disorganisation.

Step Three: glue the bottles onto whatever you have handy. Ideally I would have used some wood, but I didn't really have any handy, but I did have cardboard which works just as well. Possibly better, because it's light enough for the kids to carry around too. I just used a hot glue gun and it worked fine.

Step Four: show the kids how to use it. Seriously, that's pretty much it.

I a little bit wish I'd covered the cardboard with some pretty paper or fabric first, just to make it more visually appealing, but it doesn't really matter. The kids love it. Rachel takes all the lids off and puts them into the red container to hide them, but they always come back out.

Just so you know, I used the following bottles: milk, juice, mayonnaise, soy sauce, food colouring, shampoo, soap, another soap, stock, water and a powder bottle. The powder bottle lid doesn't come off, it just turns.

There you go. A perfectly good way to reuse bottles and entertain kids at the same time.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Getting Organised: Morning Routine Prompts

So much changes when one small child begins spending a portion of her time somewhere else. When faced with the challenge of getting three small children out the door in a timely fashion (especially given my strange obsession with never being late), I willingly accepted. And also enlisted the help of some internet ideas. 

The first thing that had to happen was morning routine/organisation. Generally we were pretty laid back in how long it took to get ready (and what order it happened in), because our first thing in a day didn't usually start till about 9:30. I was happy to let the girls get up whenever and stay in their pj's a little longer. Now, I want them to take more ownership of getting ready, and be a little more organised about it. Playing can't happen until everything that needs to happen in the morning to make you ready to walk out the door has happened. 

I also wanted to increase the independence the girls had, so they didn't need me to remind them every moment what should come next (especially since I was now making actual lunches). I'd seen a few ideas online that I'd tucked away, but the week before Kindy started, one of the blogs I follow just happened to post some free printable that were pretty perfect. I probably could have just drawn them myself, but these were free and fun looking. (I honestly can't remember where I got them from now! Sorry!)

I printed two sets because even though I was mostly doing it for Sophie, I knew Rachel would want to be right in on the action too. It all came together rather marvellously, because I just happened to have two cooking trays that I hardly ever use handy, and they both had holes in the top for hanging. The pole came from a clothes stand that was under the house. I did have to buy the hooks, but that was it. 

The cards ended up being a little big after printing and laminating (oh, how I miss laminating from my teaching days. Everything is so much shinier when it's been laminated!), so I couldn't fit the girls names at the tops. No matter, I just put them next to them! I also encourage the girls to use these as their sticker charts, but they haven't really gone for it yet. 

The cards I printed had all sorts of extra things like "do homework" and whatnot, which I don't really need right now, so I just didn't bother laminating those. Sophie's has a "Morning" and "Afternoon" section, because she has to put her lunch box and bag away when she comes home from Kindy, but she (for reasons unknown) does not like the "Morning" and "Afternoon" signs on her board. So I just fill the board up in the morning and then put the afternoon ones on before I go to get her from Kindy.

It only took a day or two for the girls to get the hang of it. I talked them through it the first day, but I don't really need to anymore. Now, they get up and know they have to have a clean board before they can play. They are in charge of "updating the board" as we say, so after breakfast, they put the "eat breakfast" card into the "Done" box (the bottom of a milk bottle) and then move onto the next thing. It's so good that they have a visual prompt of the things they need to do in the morning, so I don't have to keep reminding them. All I have to say is "update your board" and they've got the rest.

I still help them out with things (like brushing hair and making beds), but otherwise, they are learning to be self sufficient and organised. The cards are stuck on the trays with magnets that were leftover from putting our fly screens up after the window renovation. I knew we kept them for something.

If you can't read the cards (because the shiny lamination make them hard to photograph), the things the girls have to do in the morning are: eat breakfast, get dressed, pj's away, make bed, comb hair, brush teeth, shoes on. And Sophie also has pack bag.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Forgotten Birthdays

I was getting organised to do a post about Sophie's 4th birthday (which was last month, yeah yeah, I know, seriously disorganised), when I made the realisation that I hadn't blogged at all about Rachel's 2nd Birthday (which I thought was particularly awesome because of the super cool food that I did) at all, but now that I think about it, I don't know that I've ever blogged about any of the girl's birthdays.

What's going on? I don't know. I think originally I was avoiding the "here is my kids amazing Pintrest-perfect birthday party!" post and subsequent photos because that is really just not me. Nor are any of my parties "Pintrest perfect". And then maybe I was busy. 

But now, I think about the cakes that I've made and how much each of these girls have enjoyed it, I'm a little sad I didn't do some kind of documenting (past having someone else take photos on the day (seriously, I have almost no photos of Rachel's 2nd birthday at all. I took 4 of the food, and then another good friend took some nice family shots for us. That's it. Sorry Rachel, poor neglected second child. In my defence, I wasn't in the best mental state at that point of time, but I will try much better this year.).)

As I scrounge through the photos that I do have to see what's there, I'm also struck by the serious change in each of the girls. Three-year-old Sophie is just so different to my four-year-old Sophie. I know kids grow and change so fast, but even so, the visual reality is still a shock to the system. I look at her now and think: "She's a big four-year-old", but then there are days where she is simply dwarfed in an engulfing hug from her cousin Cooper and I think "She's so so little!"

What is this fine line that we are always walking? One foot in the land of still young and innocent, and the other in grown and mature. The more I parent (or is it just the older I get?) the more I see this fine line in everything. It's all such a balancing act, or at least, that's how I feel about it. Sigh.

Anyway, here are some photos from birthday parties gone by, because, in the end, I do want to have some memory, somewhere about even these little things.

Rachel gets to go first, because she so rarely does. Here she is at two years with her lady bug birthday cake.

Oh does she love bugs, our Rachel. Always looking for the mini beasts in the garden, always wanting to pick up, look at and then let go again, the smallest or jumpiest of bugs. She had a smorgasbord of bug-themed things at her party. 

Butterfly cupcakes, snail scrolls, spider cupcakes, flower gingerbread with butterflies on them. She also had some mini ladybug cupcakes as the "cake" which were hiding under the table for later. Fruit salad cups and vegi-stick cups with dip also present. Just so you know, under that little paddle-pop-stick-lid is a jar full of live snails that Rachel collected in the garden. She was so excited about them.

These spider cupcakes were really the pièce de résistance of the whole affair. They were a lot of work, but totally worth it. They come from a Good Food cookbook which is my absolute go to when I'm cooking (shout out to Jenna and Nathan who gave it to me for my 25th. Best present ever!). Can't recommend it enough. 

Now to Sophie and her 4th birthday. She was pretty lucky because she really celebrated three times, so I made two of these rather stunning pavlovas (which she helped me decorate (you know how she loves making pavlova from this story here)), and a birthday cake too. 

An example of the morning tea spread. Simple, kind of healthy, and all delicious. 

Her actual birthday party had very similar food to Rachel's. Fruit salad cups, vegi-stick cups with dip; party staples! We also did a small cup of pop corn with a heart shaped fairy bread for each child (I must be mad, but I really liked the portion control of giving each child one cup and one cup only). Then we had a sausage sizzle dinner to fit in with the kind of Australian theme of the party.

What Australian theme? I hear you asking, Well! Sophie had a copy of Josephine Wants to Dance, from some good friends and was just in love with it. It is about a kangaroo, Josephine, who wants to dance in the ballet. Can you see an Australian theme now? 

I have never done so much pink on a cake before. When Sophie said she wanted a Josephine cake I was a little worried that I would have to actually make a cake shaped like a kangaroo. Thankfully, we looked through the Australian Womens Weekly Birthday Cake book and saw one of the cakes with dolls in it that she liked. Similar to a Dolly Varden (I think they are called) cake. 

Luckily, my godmother had given the girls a plastic kangaroo toy each earlier in the year, so I was able to use one of those for the cake. Whew. 

That enormous picture of Josephine you see in the background there was hand drawn by me! I'm rather proud of it. I used some cardboard, looked at a picture from the book and then drew away. Thankfully the style of drawing is quite easy to replicate. The girls painted Josephine grey, and then I did the cream background and the details. We played Pin the Tutu on Josephine with it. Now it's up in Sophie's room. Did you notice she's also wearing her Cinderella Dress? Apparently it was just the right pink to be a tutu like Josephine's. Win.