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I found a box of healthy crackers that was about to go out of date in the cupboard, so that's why these appear in this lunchbox.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. 

Thursday, February 02, 2017

A Plethora of Lunches

Sophie started kindy this year and in preparation for it, she got a cool new lunchbox for Christmas. Actually, all the kids did, which as been quite handy. Now I've got nice shiny lunchboxes to make cool bento in, which is pretty awesome. 

I feel there is something so nice about all the different colours and sections, that I really can't help but take a photo, so this post is a bit lunch-box photo overload, but I hope it inspires. I know I sometimes look back at the old bento I've done and get new ideas. 

Anyway, here we go! Crackers, cheese stars, cherry tomatoes, carrot and cucumber sticks, capsicum, olives, ham and a bit of dip. 

Cheese sandwiches, fruit bun, broccoli and carrots (leftover from last night's dinner), celery and cucumber sticks, cherry tomatoes, ham and dip.

Raspberries, blueberries, grape tomatoes, carrot and cucumber sticks, avocado dip, ham and cheese sandwiches and orange. I used a fish cutter to press into the sandwiches, but it didn't really work. Meh.

Sophie's first day of kindy lunch! Actually, this is Rachel's, but Sophie's was pretty much identical, except apple instead of kiwi fruit. Avocado and egg sushi, fruit, grape tomatoes, flower cucumbers. Rachel had ginger too.

Mini quiches! I made a stack of these and froze them (that's why they look a little icy here) for lunches. Great in theory, but not so much in practice because the girls didn't really like them at all and it was like pulling teeth to get them eaten. Oh well. They were super healthy, grated carrots and zucchini, bacon, peas, corn and cheese. Beans and carrot sticks, apple, cheese and tomatoes, bear egg and strawberry yogurt.

Cheese, soy chips, mini quiche, grape tomatoes, cucumber sticks, dried cranberries and pepitas, and grapes. For the record, these lunches feed the girls morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea, not just lunch. Sometimes (if they are feeling rather slack about eating) they also eat it for dinner, but that might be because I'm a crazy mum who doesn't want to waste perfectly good food.

Grape tomatoes (what am I going to do when they are out of season? They are a serious staple in these lunchboxes!), sultanas and pepitas, pizza scroll - made a stack and froze ahead of time (much more successful than the mini quiches), Greek youghurt, grapes and some pear and chocolate cake.

Garlic bread (leftover from bible study), apple, boring egg, honey sandwiches, peach, cherry tomatoes (from dad's garden) and grape tomatoes, cucumber sticks.

I got so excited about about making the girls lunches that occasionally I make a lunch for myself as well. Here is a photo of that!