Sunday, November 29, 2009

Family photos

In addition to securing the door prize for "Person Who Traveled Furthest To Attend Thanksgiving Dinner" (I so had that in the bag!), it was my job to take family photos. A few years ago, my grandfather and his wife hired a professional photographer for guaranteed-to-be-amazing family photos that...weren't. By all accounts, they were awful. Among the (many) flaws was the overly-heavy use of flash that whited everyone out and cast shadows all over creation. Fast forward a few years to now and me, with my extreme aversion to flash in general, taking family photos indoors, late evening, on a cold, foggy night. Flash was required, and I had the gear...but the pressure was on! The good news is the family photo came out great! You can see it in the Thanksgiving day blog post. Everyone is looking at the camera, everyone is smiling, everyone looks fabulous. Hooray! But I also have an aversion to posed photos, so as much as I like the big family photograph, I like these even more:

This is my sister, who always knows what she wants to do when the camera is pointed her way. She spent the evening giving tips to the other ladies on how to achieve the best angle, the slimmest line, the least-pronounced-double-chin...but she could also give lessons on hamming it up. Seriously. She and the dog have the same expression (I also like my grandfather's amusement in the background).

My mom assures me that this is the same look she has been seeing on my sister's face since she was a little girl every time she got something she wanted: "A new My Little Pony!", "Jewelry!", and in this case, "A cute husband!"

Another shot of that cute husband of hers:

My sister is also responsible for the expressions captured in this photo of my mom with her kids. For reasons that escape me now, she settled on a bootylicious pose that my cousin (the photographer at this point) was quick enough to capture. This is the aftermath:

That ridiculously tall guy on the left is my little brother. Yes, I still call him my little brother. He may have me on height, but I tower over him intellectually.

Take a look at these gorgeous girls. They are my cousins. They are 16. They are bee-you-ti-ful! And they don't even know it (part of being 16, methinks). My grandfather asked them to say the blessing, and they chose to split a reading by Ralph Waldo Emerson.

This lovely young lady is my cousin, Shannon. She will start university next year. I remember chasing her around the house, trying to prevent her running outside in nought but her diaper on a snowy winter day many years ago. I also tried to teach her to fake snore on Christmas Eve when she was two and a half. I was spending the night in her room, and she was way too excited to sleep. And just look at her now:

Although most of these are posed, I still love all these captured little moments too:

And, as he loves to remind us, it was all started by this guy. My grandfather celebrated his 90th birthday on Friday. I was so blessed and lucky to be able to be there to celebrate with him.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

I hadn't planned to blog while stateside, but I couldn't resist on this day, Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday. America is the only country that celebrates Thanksgiving, though the sentiment and ritual could easily be universal. It is a day to acknowledge all of one's blessings and to enjoy a truly special meal with those near and dear to your heart. My life is filled with blessings innumerable, and my heart is full on this day when I will join my mom's side of the family in celebrating my grandfather's 90th birthday.

And, in the interest of being honest, it's also about the food (you know me...isn't it always about the food?).
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Fun with Qantas

I am less than 24 hours away from my flight now, so I just attempted to do online check-in...which did not work. The fun with Qantas begins. After waiting on hold for over 20 minutes (charged by the minute), I reached a (surprisingly friendly) woman who informed me that somehow my ticket processed without my title (Mrs.), so it's in their computer is "Jennifer Select [last name]". I don't put my last name on the blog, but they did have that right. The problem, as you can see, was the "Select" part. Not in my name. Doesn't match my passport. Will prevent me from boarding. No worries, she says, you just need a ticket reissue...with a processing fee of $80. I could risk it and not reissue the ticket, but then Qantas has no obligation to compensate me if I am denied boarding or entry to the US for a ticket name that does not match. Since I booked online, it's my responsibility. I pointed out that it's their online form that caused the problem, but she dismissed that as nonsense. So...$80 poorer, I am waiting to receive my reissued ticket. LESS THAN 24 HOURS FROM MY FLIGHT. Am not amused.

Fresh space, fresh start

Yesterday afternoon, I moved a little table and chair into the kitchen to give the girls a designated art spot. Although I set it up as a desk (the table was a very cheap coffee table we've had for ages), it has been sitting in the playroom unused for weeks. The corner where they fit was poorly lit and out of sight of everyone. Now, they are in a spot brightly lit by sunlight during the day in a space we all use all the time. I refreshed the contents of the art box, added a stationery drawer system to hold construction paper, white printer paper, some stencils...and both girls are over the moon. They literally fought over who could use the chair first yesterday, and they used the supplies in their own ways until dinnertime. Ellie was back in place first thing this morning, happily creating. Stephanie gravitated there right after she finished lunch. I love it when we find what works!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Fighting dirty

There are two days left before my flight. I am very excited about seeing my family, and I am trying not to think about leaving the girls. Each morning this week, baby Stephanie has been extra snuggly when she wakes up. When I lift her out of the crib, she doesn't immediately run after Ellie like usual; instead, she pops the schnully back in and snuggles with me in the rocking chair. This morning, she tucked her head under my chin and lay in complete surrender, belly to belly like when she was a newborn, and she stayed like that for almost five minutes. The thought of not having that for TWELVE DAYS nearly broke my heart. We haven't told her I'm going, but already she's fighting dirty.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Serious reflection

Baby Stephanie is standing at the little table in the kitchen, cup in hand but not drinking, as if pausing for serious reflection. Then a little grunt escapes and I notice her face turning red with strain.
"Stephanie, are you making poo-poo?"
Grunt, strain, pause..."No."

Little Aussies

Little by little, our girls are becoming Aussie-fied.

Ellie is picking it up at school from the other kids. One of her best friends sings with a volume and intensity that is unmatched, and Ellie usually sits next to her at song time. This means Ellie learns songs from her friend rather than the teacher. Funnier still is this friend has a child's lisp, so sometimes the versions of songs that come home are quite hysterical. An example that pops to mind is a song they've learned about the months and the seasons. Her version of the chorus sounds something like this (shouted, as her friend does):

The seasons change and evwything.

(the last line is usually mumbled with uncertainty about the words)

Stephanie is more taking on the Aussie style in her outfits. She has an extreme aversion to shoes (many Aussies seem to live barefoot), and she has become quite adept at their removal. Now that it's warmer, she also loves to be naked. She'll whack her little belly and announce, "Wanna get out!" (of the shirt/dress/clothes). Her speech mostly comes from me, so there isn't much Aussie in it yet, though we did have a funny moment Sunday walking back from the train station. A lady passed us on the sidewalk with the usual greeting (hello), which our darling little parrot repeated back to her: "Huh-loy!"

Monday, November 16, 2009

Teacher's pet

When I bought my sewing machine, one of my secret goals was to be one of those moms who sews. I can happily announce that goal has already been achieved. Ellie's teacher greeted me at the classroom door last Thursday with a hungry glint in her eye. "So," she tries to be casual, " sew?" She has been seeing the library bags come in, and she wanted some aprons for the classroom. I told her honestly that library bags were the extent of my expertise at the moment, but I'd be happy to try. On Friday, she had a bag of fabric for me. Given my upcoming trip, I spent the weekend in an apron-creating frenzy to have four beautiful child-size aprons ready for Monday morning. I am so happy with the result! Alas, Ellie refused to model for me.

I used this pattern (found by googling "child apron"). I traced one of Ellie's aprons instead of using the outline provided. The only other modification I made was to sew straight across the elasticized neck strap at the center to prevent the elastic from rolling inside its fabric tube. The pattern is fantastic. The elastic neck and the velcro at the waist make it super-simple for a child to put on without assistance, which makes it far more appealing than the standard tie-back style. Although it was very time-consuming (I'm new at this and quite slow), it was very easy, even for a beginner. I'll definitely be making more. Maybe Ellie's friends are getting aprons for birthdays next year...

When I was in school, I was often the teacher's pet (a status that didn't exactly endear me to my fellow students). Now that I'm a parent, I'm teacher's pet again.

Fantastic weekend!

We just enjoyed the best weekend together as a family! The weather was lovely, everyone was happy, and times were good! There's nothing like Papa being sick for 2+ weeks to make us appreciate how good we have it when we're all well. Over the weekend, we didn't do anything big or complicated, which is probably what made it so great. Saturday morning we kicked off our day with breakfast at Choux, the French patisserie in Swanbourne. Yes, the owners and chefs are actually French, so it's about as authentic as you can get in WA! The girls are huge fans of their pain au chocolat and Parisian-style macarons. Markus enjoys the chocolate-almond croissant when he can, but usually baby Stephanie mooches it before he can finish. Afterwards, I snuck away for a much-needed haircut while Markus did his best at home to outshine me at my job: he tidied, organized, played with the girls...he's ready! For what, you ask? Sneak down to the last paragraph for more info on this one.

Late Saturday afternoon, we made a trip to the zoo. We have discovered that the last hour the zoo is open is the best hour to visit. The animals are all very active, and the zoo is fairly empty of people. We can really enjoy each animal we visit. Ellie has recently discovered a profound enjoyment of the nocturnal house, which is best when there are no other people to scare the animals into hiding.

We kicked off Sunday morning with my grandma's sweet potato biscuits. Oh my yum. They are oh-so-good and really start the day off right! After breakfast, it was on to King's Park to run and play. Ellie carefully disheveled Papa's hair and served him tea of grass while Stephanie gamboled about and I poked around in the gallery shop. Sunday afternoon, Markus went on his weekly kayaking/sailing excursion (man, does that burn his work stress and replace it with boyish glee!) while we girls caught the train to Fremantle so Ellie could walk in the Fremantle Festival parade with her school.

The theme was "Original Inhabitants of Freo", and Ellie's class was aquatic life. The kids made their own costumes and instruments with parental help during school hours (I made 55 felt jellyfish for this). Though I question the wisdom of asking 3-5 year olds to walk the entire length of a parade, everyone seemed to have a great time. Ellie was very proud, and she loves her costume. She wore it all afternoon and again this morning until it was time to go to school.

This Friday (early early), I'll board a plane for Sydney and then on to LA and DC, where I'll visit my family for 9 days and celebrate my mom's birthday, Thanksgiving, and my grandfather's 90th birthday extravaganza! This is my first trip stateside in 18 months, and I'm really excited! It just seemed too darn far to drag the girls this time. The Sydney trip taught us that although they are good travelers, we should only ask so much. 30 hours from Perth to DC is a bit too much right now, so I'll be going solo. Markus will be stay-at-home dad while I'm gone, and I'm sure the girls will enjoy having him all to themselves!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Thursday, November 12, 2009

One day at a time

Wednesday was rather a horrendous day around here. It was one of those days when just about everything seemed to conspire to make me lose it. I can't remember the last time my blood pressure felt that high for such a prolonged period of time. It was infuriating, exhausting, and all around unpleasant. I logged in to blog about it, and I was relieved to see the auto-posting on that I'd arranged earlier in the week. So much better than my miserable whining and complaining! And really, there were some shining moments mixed in. Let's look at those.

First up were these two outfits of choice, each beautifully reflecting the character of the wearer:

Later, when I realized we all literally needed to cool down, we christened the swimming pool.

The good thing is even bad days end. Thursday was a great day, all day long! One day at a time (or in Wednesday's case, one moment at a time) is the way to go.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Innovation fun

Mary sent me an email forward of "Piano Stairs" from I enjoyed it so much that I followed it back to the original site and found two more videos of fun and fantastic innovative ideas to get people to change their behavior for the better. What great ideas! I know the blog has been movie-heavy this week, but I couldn't resist sharing:

There is a contest for the next big, fun idea with a prize of 2500 Euro. The three videos on the site are simple things. What simple invention could you create that would motivate people change their behavior (whatever small behavior) for the better? Although I'd intended to make the weekly suggestions for Daily Dose of Amazing more artsy, this definitely qualifies! Hooray for innovation!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

And so it goes...

Two weeks ago, Markus's office was visited by colleagues from India. One of the visitors was unwell. Last Monday, Markus started feeling under the weather, and by Tuesday morning, he was out of the running. He called in sick for two days, and on the second day when he called in, his boss was out sick were several of his colleagues.
Thank you, colleague from India.
Yesterday, Ellie became teary at odd moments and then was up half the night with the sniffles. She was too under the weather to go to school today. Looks like whatever it is has a one week incubation period.
Again I say, thank you, Indian colleague.

Zähne putzen

The nightly "teeth brushing" song and dance routine...

We haven't yet (d?)evolved to this level.

German lesson for today:
Zaehne/Zähne = teeth
Putzen = brushing/cleaning

Monday, November 09, 2009

Everyone needs a skill

The house is a mess, and really, I'm so tired that you couldn't pay me to deal with it right now. On the other hand, we had from-scratch chicken burgers on homemade buns for dinner. They were some good, lemme tell ya. I may not have this housewife thing down, but at least I can cook.

Little reader, big talker

This morning, baby Stephanie was so quiet for so long that I wasn't quite sure where she'd gone. I peeked into the playroom and found her sitting contently in a chair with a book. Watching her is such a joy, so I grabbed the camera and turned on the movie mode. Usually, the moment she sees the camera, the gig is up...but this time she was more than happy to have someone to tell all about the book. I especially enjoy watching her little feet move in time with her enthusiasm.

Sunday, November 08, 2009


Anytime baby Stephanie is busy (which is almost all the time), she will inform you that she is "making." Drawing or coloring is "making circles." Any other activity, from stacking blocks to rearranging the cabinets (see her favorite reorganization candidates in the image below), is "making."

This weekend was a good one for "making" handmade goodness. Saturday was the first time I was able to meet my knitting peeps since before our Bali trip. The knitting group meets the first and third Saturday of every month, but October had 5 Saturdays, and I missed #3. I won't make the next two either, which means I won't see them again until mid-January. Alas. I really adore those ladies! Truth be told, I hardly knit at all when I'm there. We all order coffees and treats from the nearby cafe, and I watch and learn as they knit like the wind. I learn something new every time, mostly about knitting but also about life. I am, after all, the youngest person there by at least a decade (though in more than one case, the gap is more like 4 decades). They were all heartily enthusiastic about my crazy orange and purple sweater and insist I model it next time. A reasonable goal!

On Sunday, Ellie had another birthday party to attend, which meant I had another library bag to make. Everyone is getting library bags this year! Books are my favorite gifts, and library bags make great reusable wrapping! Markus and I agree that this one is our favorite thus far:

While the sewing machine was set up, I made my first stab at the generous fabric stash Mary gifted us recently (thank you, Mary!). First up were placemats for the cubby house. I started with this:

pinned bias tape in place like so (photo courtesy of Ellie):

and ended up with these reminders of place settings from my childhood:

After all that, it was time to reclaim the dining table for dinner. At some point, I will have a permanent set-up for my sewing space. For now, working here and there suits just fine.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Thanks, I needed that.

It has been a long week. On Sunday, I had a one day cold that left me on Monday to have a week-long (nasty) affair with Markus; it knocked him flat for two days, and now it stalks him at work. He isn't sleeping well or much, so neither am I. The weather has been so weird that it is (adversely) affecting the mood of just about everyone we know. Ellie is experimenting with attitude (think "PMS" to get the scope). Today, her freak-out started while the big hand was still on the 5, which as you probably know by now is against my religion. By 6am, I gave up all hope of a bit more rest and dragged myself to the kitchen for a cuppa. When I opened my email, Meghan had sent me the skinny on NPR Tiny Desk Concerts, along with this link. New, mellow music mixed with the cuppa to remedy today's shaky start. That's much better! Thank you, Meghan!

Daily Dose of Amazing

If you have an iPhone or an iPod Touch, getting your Daily Dose of Amazing is pretty darn easy. As if the phone and all its gizmos weren't cool enough, now there is a new App that art lovers should download immediately...and I mean now. It's called "Yours, Vincent", and it's the iPhone App created for the recent release of all of Van Gogh's letters (mostly to his brother Theo) and sketches, freshly translated and compiled into a 2,500 word, 6 volume artist autobiography. To celebrate the release, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam will have a special exhibit of their entire permanent collection, as well as over 100 letters on display. I read about the book, website ( and app in the latest issue of The Economist. The App is awesome. I downloaded it today, and once again was floored by the capabilities of the iPhone. Video clips, images of the letters, sketches, translations and readings of the artist's's a serious stunner.
Enjoy the latest Daily Dose of Amazing. I hope to find something new and wonderful to share every week. This App will definitely keep me busy until then. Beautiful!

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Adventures in knitting

With the turn towards warmer weather, I'm working hard not to let knitting go by the wayside. There were several weeks that, for whatever reason, I just couldn't get needles in hands to work. Then, I resumed knitting with a simple scarf project, thinking it would be a safe bet because it was fairly mindless. Turns out it was too mindless, leaving me with even more knitting apathy. There is a Jo Sharp cardigan that has been calling to me for a while now, but I had never attempted such a big project. I kept looking at it online and waffling. After the Bali trip, I visited my yarn shop to give them some pre-ordered Balinese candy (if you go to Crossways, take them Fox's in the purple bag; Margaret must have those!), and a woman was trying to figure out color combinations over the phone for--you guessed it--my cardigan. I took it as a sign, selected a color combo, gathered all the yarn (and boy oh boy is there a lot of it), and I haven't looked back!

I have heard that there are different types of knitters: scarf knitters, hat knitters, blanket knitters, sweater is entirely possible that I am a sweater knitter. Scarves, while lovely, bore me after the pattern emerges (usually less than 20% of the way in). Knitting this sweater is totally different. Creating a garment by hand, stitch by stitch, is enormously satisfying. It turns out that this pattern is really easy and quick to knit. It is knit on fairly large needles (10mm) with two yarns held together. One is alpaca; the other is cotton. Alpaca is really warm, so this will be a winter cardigan. I was drawn to a burnt orange color (a warm and cozy fall color in my mind), and I did my darnedest to match a cotton to it that wouldn't be too blah or too pumpkin/crazy. I settled on a dark purple, and forged ahead without a test run. I am not yet convinced this was entirely sane. There are some lovely colors in the alpaca that I completely ignored in my quest to match the orange. This is a lesson in swatch-making. Buy one ball of each and make a swatch! Of course, I didn't do that. I bought all the yarn I'd need for the cardigan, so there's no turning back. (actually, I think I would have done it anyway. I really like these colors together; I'm just a bit worried about it as an entire sweater)

Last night, I finished the bottom part. Today, I start the sleeves. Once the sleeves are made, I will knit them in with the bottom to form the back and collar as one piece. I promise to be back with photos of the outcome. I hope it won't be too freaky. Certainly, there's nothing like it available in any store, which is part of my goal.

Life Down Under

Yesterday was atypically humid. The air was thick and hot and still. The stillness was almost more strange than the humidity, because we are so rarely without wind or at least a breeze. When I picked up Ellie from school, the sea was so calm that it was almost flat, an observation that I found unnerving. I know this location isn't prone to extreme weather, but habit told me a huge storm or possibly a hurricane must be coming, because the water and the air just weren't right. Thankfully, nothing of that sort has come to pass, though it's still windless and humid. Very odd.
Even more odd is the arrival of Christmas catalogs in the mailbox and Christmas decorations in the stores.
Hot, humid, summer around the corner...and it's Christmas time.
I may never get used to this aspect of Southern Hemisphere living.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Just in case... haven't had your daily dose of amazing, check this out.


I embedded the video to make it easy to find for the less computer savvy, but I found it myself at the bottom of the article linked above (click on the underlined word "this").