Thursday, May 28, 2009

Update on the switch to cloth nappies

It's been two and a half months since we made the switch to cloth nappies, so I thought I'd update those of you who are interested on how that is going. All in all, I'm very pleased! I still cannot comment as to how green the switch is (jury is still out on landfill v laundry), but I do appreciate how much less I am throwing away and how less stinky our trash has become. It seemed to me that we were always filling our trash to the brim when using disposables, and now that's definitely not the case. I find it pretty easy to toss a load of that day's diapers in the washing machine after the girls go to bed. They are ready to air-dry by the time we go to bed, and most of the time they are dry by the next morning (now that it's gotten so cool in the house, they do better to dry in the sunshine). Once a week, I run a hot wash with baking soda and no clothing to clean out the washing machine and avoid any poo residue that might be lurking. The particular brand of nappies we bought hasn't given us much trouble. You know I couldn't resist one of every color, and that has made it easy to remember which ones have started to leak (3 out of 14). I'm pretty disappointed about that development, given it has only been less than 3 months of use. I am going to contact the company and see what they say (I'll let you know).

Also on the green front, I am embarrassed to admit I haven't pursued composting any further. I keep meaning to, and I keep forgetting. Rather poor form on my part! I will remedy that this weekend. I have a feeling I will do bokashi instead of worms, because I am afraid it will be too cold for the worms soon and I don't want to do worm composting in the house. Baby Stephanie loves playing in the dirt almost as much as she loves playing in water, and I can just picture her toddling down the hall with fistfuls of composting worms. No thank you.

Another project on the pile

I have too many interests. On my creative to-do list alone, there are at least 10 started-yet-unfinished projects, and knitting has added a whole new dimension to my madness. The possibility of creating something beautiful and wearable with my own two hands...well, it has led to a yarn buying spree of ridiculous proportions. Although Australia is the world's biggest producer of wool, it actually processes very little of it, meaning most yarns are imported and quantities are small and irregular. If I find a yarn I love or a project I want to try, no one can tell me if the yarn will be available in a few months' time or if that color will still be around. Once a supply runs out, they don't reorder, and that has given me justification for my ever-growing stash. Of course, back in reality, I am a NEW knitter, which means I'm very slow. I know I have the skill, so I am all enthusiasm about every project I see, but they take me ages to finish. I have four projects on needles right now, the latest of which I just began yesterday. Check it out:

The two yarn colors are so different that I didn't know how it might work, but I am amazed at the color array this far. This is going to be one colorful piece! Assuming I ever get it far, I average 4 rows every 30 minutes, which isn't looking very promising in the completion department. At least I'm enjoying myself!

Ellie was sitting with me, coloring, as I cast on. When I came to a stopping place, she asked me to spread it out so she could see. She gave it a thorough examination and pronounced, "I like the colors! Maybe you should make one for you too!"


This morning, I hosted a Biggest Morning Tea to raise money for the Cancer Council of Australia. I invited about 20 people (most of them were moms from Ellie's class), about half of whom were able to make it. Ever the DIY hostess, I let everyone serve themselves tea (obviously), spiced coffee cake, white batter bread with butter and jam, fruit salad (kindly prepared by my gorgeous redhead girlfriend), and the other goodies that trickled in with attendees. One of the mums from Ellie's school runs an online eco-clothing site, so she set up shop in our living room to add to the enticement. My bedroom became an impromptu dressing room, and I think she did a pretty mean trade this morning! Nearly everyone left with fabulous new goodies, and everyone seemed to have a great time...all for a wonderful cause! Cancer is a nasty beast, and it seems to be affecting just about everyone I know, either within their families or among friends. As you know, my dad died of colon cancer at 54. My dear girlfriend's husband was diagnosed with leukemia at age 28 and had a stem cell transplant just short of his 30th birthday; today he is doing well and building on a new life with his family. Research is well worth supporting! We raised $145 this morning, and I'll be proud to send that in.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Long weekend away (and a long post about it)

Warning: I am making no attempt to keep the post to a reasonable length, so skim as you will and remember there are more pictures in the flickr sidebar if you're interested.

I know, I know. It looks like I apologized for not posting last week...and then I didn't post again. What the hey?! My excuse is this: we weren't here! When Markus returned from KL, we realized how badly we wanted some time away from Perth as a family. We hadn't gone anywhere since we arrived over 8 months ago, and if you've been following this blog for a while, you will know how unusual that amount of time in one spot really is for us! Frankly, we've been so happy not to get on a plane or pack a bag because everything we needed for the kids is right here at our doorsteps...but it was time for a change of scene. Perth is the most isolated capital city on the planet, and it was starting to feel that way. Markus took a day and a half off work to make our own long weekend, and we headed down south on Thursday afternoon for a weekend in Margaret River.

Margaret River is the famous wine region of Western Australia. Nearby Swan Valley (where the Cuddly Animal Farm is) also produces lots of wine, but Margaret River wines are held to be world class. The drive takes about 4 hours of non-highway driving. We hadn't been before now because it's the place EVERYONE from here seems to go when there is a holiday, and it's always packed at those times. We wanted our first visit to be off-season, and we managed it big style: our trip coincided with the first winter storm. Cold cold gale-force winds, driving rain in on-off! Can we pick 'em or what? Oh well. To be honest, we didn't really mind. Our goal was to get away and see/do something new, and we did that. The weather was the same here as it was there, so at least we weren't trapped in the house. Despite the nasty weather, we did manage one big fun thing each day, and we all enjoyed ourselves the whole weekend! Hooray!

So...what did we do?
First off, we booked a self-catering villa at Clearwater Retreat in Dunsborough for the weekend. Being off-season, we got a great deal! It was clean, in great condition, and the place was perfect for our needs (if a little big). Three bedrooms, two baths (one of which had a big bathtub for our thrilled girls; we have no tub at home), kitchen, laundry room, huge living area with TV/DVD and lots of space to run around inside (which was very useful considering the weather). It is in walking distance to the beach, and we did take a stroll on day 3 when the rain eased. We arrived at dinnertime Thursday night, so we just made a trip to the grocery store and cooked dinner ourselves, watched a movie, and headed to bed.

Thursday's nasty cold gale-force winds and rain continued on Friday, so we decided to keep out of the weather by touring a cave (lots of them in the area). Ngili Cave was the closest to us, and it was a great choice! The tour is partially self-guided, which means a guide is inside to answer questions but there is no tour per se. The route was mildly challenging and some of the passages were a bit too narrow for my liking (I'm claustrophobic), but being the only people there made it great! We could go at our own pace and enjoy. The climate in the cave was a welcome retreat: 20 degrees Celsius (around 70 F) and humid, obviously no wind or rain. At first, Ellie was very nervous and wanted to be carried, but she soon eased into the fun of exploration and did the rest on her own (baby Stephanie was strapped snugly to my back). Ellie really enjoyed looking at the crystals the guide had on display, and she keeps talking about how much fun she had in the cave, telling everyone that the cave had "lots of pointy things" (stalactites, stalagmites).

By Saturday, the storm had eased a great deal, and though it was cold and windy, it wasn't nearly so rough outside. We made a visit to the Yallingup Shearing Shed, a working sheep farm with a demonstration of the sheep dogs as well as the shearing. The girls seemed stunned into silence by such busy, active dogs...and so many sheep! Of course, there was a Border Collie to bring the sheep in from the pasture, but then his work was done and the Australian Kelpie took over. The farmer simplified it for us: a black & white dog brings sheep to you, a brown on brown dog runs on sheep. That he did! He got those sheep where he wanted them to go by running on them. That was a new sight for us!

Ellie wasn't so sure about the shearing process. We constantly narrated the process, reminding her it was just a haircut for the sheep. It was pretty funny to watch the sheep be dragged limply out of the pen and passively accept his shearing. He didn't seem to mind one bit. The farmer sheared him in one piece and spread the wool out for us to see. All his sheep are merinos, and the wool was beautifully soft. He let the kids touch it and they each took home a little piece. Ellie's absolute favorite part was a surprise ending: the farmer opened a little gate and let in several lambs, and he handed out bottles for us to feed them. It was really sweet!

We stopped for lunch at Swings&Roundabouts Winery since they'd billed themselves as family-friendly and offered wood-fired pizzas at lunchtime. I did a wine tasting there with a rather testy pourer, and we didn't get a very friendly feeling. After the pizzas were gone, we skedaddled. Saturday afternoon, we took a drive down the length of the cape instead of returning to the villa for naptime. It made the evening a bit hairy, but the drive was nice. We went far enough south that the vegetation changed to more forest than field, which was beautiful to see. The Cape Leeuwin lighthouse is the tallest lighthouse in Australia, so we checked that site off the tourist list, though we weren't allowed up with kids under 4. We explored the beach area around it instead until the wind drove us back to the shelter of the car.

Sunday dawned bright and clear (of course, since it was our last day, and a half-day at that!). We drove to the playground at Yallingup Beach so the girls could run around outside.

Before heading home, we stopped in at Cullen Winery, the only stop that was key on my list. We had missed it the other days due to weather or timing, so we decided to make it our last Margaret River experience of this trip. What a great choice! Cullen Winery is completely organic and biodynamic, so their food is amazing and the wines are outstanding. I did a tasting there, and there wasn't a single wine I didn't like. I am no connoisseur, but those wines are beautiful. I don't know how easily you can find them outside of WA (their bottlings are small due to the high production standards), but I highly recommend you bring home a bottle if you find one! We bought three different wines and took home an order form for more. The vineyard itself is lovely. The setting couldn't have been nicer for our lunch, and the staff were incredibly friendly to us and the girls. Cullen has a homestead available for holiday rentals, so we hope to snag that on some future visit. It was definitely a high point on our trip and sold us on Margaret River for good!

All in all, we had a fantastic weekend, much-appreciated time away despite the crappy weather. We are so happy we visited during off-season and we already have plans to go back sometime this winter. Just not during another storm. Brrrrrr!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Castledare Miniature Railways

We apologize for the absence, Meghan! Thanks for the kick in the pants! I'm finding it increasingly challenging to have computer time these days. For the record, I'm posting this close to midnight, well past my bedtime. I got a second wind by staying up just late enough (two hours ago) that now I can't sleep. The good news is there is a new post at last! Without further ado...

This past Saturday, we attended a birthday party for Ellie's classmates. Because Montessori classes are mixed-age, two siblings are in the class, and they have birthdays close together. Their parents decided to go all out and reserve a day at Castledare Miniature Railways, and they generously invited whole families to attend. There were well over a hundred people, which made introverted Markus and me a bit queasy until we found out the hidden story: they're Greek. Enough said! Greeks are so famous for their generous hospitality that no wonder the party was huge! And don't you know the hosts made everyone feel so welcome and important, taking time to talk to each person, making sure everyone had everything he/she needed! I am in awe of wonderful hosting skills. I'm more of a buffet-style DIY hostess myself. It leaves a bit to be desired. But I digress.

The party!
Ellie had SUCH a good time! We all did. The trains are really cool. My dad would have loved them! They are big and strong enough to tow around a few dozen people (adults included), but everything about them is mini. The land they are on is reserved for a park, and it felt like we were back in the South. Marsh all around! A huge white pelican flew over. It was lovely! More photos of the day will be in the flickr account if you want to see. We rode the train twice. The party was really all about the junk food. The tables were so low that they were the perfect height for baby Stephanie to scavenge all that was abandoned by other kids in a sugar-induced frenzy.

She was so happy waddling along, stuffing small round Cheetos into her mouth. Ellie's style was (as usual) more orderly. She picked one spot and stayed there, consuming Jello after Jello until we cut her off, afraid she'd make herself ill. I think she ate five. She also had a cookie, a cupcake and a lollipop. Model parents, yes, we know! It was a birthday party, okay?! Our favorite (cringe) moment was when she got up and we could clearly see a very distended sugar belly. Oh my, it's a prize winner! (for the record, we cut her off for the rest of the day once we saw that)

Markus later told me that while he was waiting in the hot drink line, he had a "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" flashback as an older woman made her way down the line, pointing her finger and asking everyone in a strong accent, "Are you Greek?" We've been giggling about it ever since.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Stephanie walking

There are few things I find cuter than a new walker. I love love love watching baby Stephanie walk...that wide-legged stance to accommodate the diaper, the waddle, the enthusiasm, the joy of it all! Now, you can watch a bit of it too, even if you aren't nearly as tickled as I am (though I can't imagine how that could be so). I captured this little video of her in our backyard on day 3 of the great walking experiment. I admit that it seems to capture more of her interaction with Ellie than it does her walking, but that's pretty darn cute too. I hope it makes you smile!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Dining in the restaurant

While Markus was away, I moved the kids' table into the kitchen for dinnertime. The girls were hungry while I was trying to wash dishes and clean, and they tend to roam around like mad things while eating unless there is a parent in immediate vicinity...thus, the table move seemed the ideal option. They could not have been happier! We're so lucky to have a kitchen with ample space, so I think the table will stay. Ellie calls it "the restaurant", as in, "Mama, I want to eat breakfast in the restaurant." As if I didn't already feel like a short order cook.

Still, I have to admit that their enjoyment of the new location is so adorable and the nickname so appropriate, that I even eat there too sometimes.
Welcome to The Restaurant!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Mother's Day!

To all you mothers out there, we wish you a very happy Mother's Day! We hope you are being spoiled and treated and appreciated! We know your every day is all about everyone else, so today is all about YOU...unless you live in this house. In this house, Markus has been away this week for work in Kuala Lumpur and just returned yesterday evening. In this house, Mother's Day is all about PAPA! Before you give me courtesy pity, know that I am happy as a clam. I just spent a week gaining a deeper appreciation for the extreme sport that is Single Parenting, and today is my day off. Since the girls want Markus and only Markus, I've taken two naps, ate a big piece of chocolate cake for breakfast because no one was watching, munched a huge bowl of salty popcorn for a late afternoon snack because they were out at the playground...and was treated to a simple cafe lunch in between snacks where I was the only person who ate because poor Markus returned from KL with a stomach bug (thankfully, it's just a digestion thing. If he'd gotten off that plane with a fever, he would have been quarantined as a swine flu risk!). Anyhoo, it's all good Down Under. Happy Mother's Day to you!

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Ellie has always preferred books to toys. In recent months, she has been more and more inclined to read along, and in the past few weeks, she has opted more and more often to "read" on her own. She had been doing that for quite a while to her friends (Lolo and other stuffed animals) in her room while avoiding naps or suffering time-outs, but the new development is her wanting to read to us. Her memory is astounding, and it's lovely to hear her read with inflection and enthusiasm! The last time she read to us from "Are You My Mother?", she asked me to "picture me". With pleasure, this week's video post:

Friday, May 01, 2009

Little Miss Sunshine

Shining through the dark clouds until the dark clouds are no more, here comes Little Miss Sunshine.

After months of teasing attempts and test wobbles, baby Stephanie started walking today.

Stealthy dark clouds

Since about midday, there has been a slowly tightening, clenching grip around my heart. It's squeezing the air out of my lungs and tensing my entire body. I couldn't name it until about 20 minutes ago when I was gazing out the window while washing laundry and suddenly pictured my dad sitting outside our back door in the sun, smoking a pipe and enjoying this gorgeous weather. Tomorrow is the 3rd anniversary of his death. Cancer is a horrible, awful beast, but grief...that sneaky bugger is almost worse.