Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Happy Birthday to Mama!

On Sunday, Mama turned 34!
On Saturday night, I let Markus know that he was henceforth responsible for baking my birthday cake. Every year, I bake my own, and it's just not the same. Of course, he had never baked anything before...so it was interesting. And wonderful! I thought a simple coffee cake would be a good start, so he invited the girls to help him first thing in the morning.

I stood by to watch, photograph and provide a bit of quality control (salted butter was put away, flour was scaled back from a tightly packed-down measure...). The girls had a blast, and I loved it too! Just watching the three of them felt like a birthday present right there. This will definitely be part of future Mama birthdays!

When the cake was ready, they brought me their homemade card and a present.

Afterwards, we all enjoyed playing in the backyard for a good while. Stephanie stayed in the swing for ages! I set up a lounge chair in the sun and knitted. Ellie ran amok while Papa blew bubbles (and pushed Stephanie in the swing). It was fabulous! Simple, good, family fun and a very relaxing birthday.

Late in the morning, we piled into the car and drove out to the Millbrook Winery in Jarrahdale for lunch. Alas, they scaled back their outdoors menu quite a bit, so Mama was left cranky with low blood sugar. Oh well. We made the most of the trip by walking a while on a nature trail in Jarrahdale. The girls really enjoyed themselves until they hit their done mark, and then we trekked back to the car and drove on home.

All in all, it was a very nice day. A low-key day was called for given all the mayhem we've had lately, but next year, there needs to be a party! I missed celebrating with friends and family, though as ever am I so thankful for and blessed by my own little family here. Happy Birthday to me!

Family kayaking

Perth is the greatest outdoors location we've lived in yet (and it's hard to imagine beating it elsewhere)! Between the river and the sea, the parks and the playgrounds, we have countless options for outdoor fun (as long as we are sun smart). Almost as soon as we arrived, we purchased our sit-on-top kayak for simple paddling around in the river. Eventually, we added the fancy pants Hobie adventure islander to it. Then, for Markus's 40th, we bought the Hobie cat. We have three boats for four people, two of whom are five and under. Hm. It tends to mean we don't get out nearly as often as we'd like and certainly no where close to as often as Papa would like. For months now, he's had a vision of all of us out on the river together. Yesterday, we finally made it happen!

We had a fabulous time! Granted, it took far longer to set up and put away the kayaks than we spent paddling, but in my book, it was totally worth it! The girls really enjoyed the trial run, which means they'll be happy to go again. Next time, we hope to last longer. Maybe we'll take a picnic and paddle to a picnic spot and back again.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

And now chapter books!

For many months, I've been trying to convert Ellie to reading chapter books (with me; she doesn't yet read confidently on her own). If you know Ellie at all (and as a reader of this blog, you do!), you know that anything that is MY idea is NOT HER idea. She was having none of it. Every attempt down the line has been met with resistance. Not even Charlotte's Web (she loves both movie versions!) passed the test. There was no way. I surrendered.

This week, we visited the fancy-pants new library in Peppermint Grove. My girls made a beeline for the children's room, where three little children had managed to commandeer and control all comfortable seating and interesting furniture. Ellie dissolved into tears, and I redirected my two to the non-fiction juniors section where I interested Ellie in craft books while Stephanie happily absorbed farm book after farm book. After a good while, Ellie's attention wandered to the shelf behind us and a whole pile of FAIRY CHAPTER BOOKS! They are beginning readers. Nothing fancy. Not canon literature by any stretch. BUT they are chapter books that she selected, and she cannot get enough of them.

I only took one home that day as a test. She was so upset that we didn't read the entire thing that night! She was really into it! We finished the next day, and she has "read" and reread it to herself, her sister, her dolls... Today, we returned to get more (there's a lengthy series), and alas, almost all were checked out. We managed to find two put away in random spots, and we brought those home. We're already four chapters in to one of them.

So there you go. Chapter books. Her idea. Voila.

Monday, September 20, 2010


I know I said I'd post Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and then I skipped last Friday. I had to. Last Friday was AWFUL. The kids were terrorizing me and each other, and I responded by being a short-tempered, harsh mama for most of the afternoon and evening. They went to bed just fine, but I cried myself to sleep feeling awful and guilty. This parenting gig (especially single parenting) is not for wimps. The good news is I vowed not to let any other day be like that, and it hasn't been. We enjoyed a fantastic weekend together. I know they felt happy and loved, and so did I. This is just a case of really bad timing. Markus is away for longer than he's ever been away just after some pretty big changes (which always throw them for a loop) AND it's the last week of school term (which always makes Ellie's behavior a nightmare). It's hard for me because I never sleep well in Markus's absence (true even before we had children), and sleep deprivation compounds the challenge. BUT. It's hard for them too, and I'm working very vigilantly to be mindful of that.

I did spoil them quite a bit over the weekend. Yesterday, we drove out to the "bunny farm" so they could enjoy the springtime baby animals. Stephanie was thrilled to take a pony ride. Ellie was thrilled to cuddle the baby animals, particularly the tiny rabbit babies. We ate a big picnic lunch in the back of the car and then continued at the bunny farm for another half hour or so after that, making it our longest visit yet. They loved it! When we came home, we made cookies together and then took them across the street to enjoy afternoon tea and a play with our kind neighbors. Thank you again, Rosemarie, for inviting us over when you already have three boy mayhem of your own to manage! We appreciate it! And that glass of wine Alan offered me after the tea was well-received too.

One of the best things that has evolved in Markus's absence is a big scale-back on sugar consumption. While we are pretty good at not letting them overindulge on a grand scale, adding up little bits here and there throughout the day (Nutella with peanut butter or almond spread on bread, chocolate sprinkles in the natural plain yogurt, one big sugar snack in the afternoon...) was resulting in a fairly hefty sugar intake. I realized that I was far more vigilant about making sure they had balanced diets when they were infants than I have been doing in the past year or so. I guess all the mealtime battles had worn me down so much that I didn't even know how lax I'd gotten. Since I'm the only one doling out food right now, I have been able to take total command of consumption and greatly reduce their sugar intake. AND HERE'S THE AMAZING PART: Ellie is eating more! I always suspected (and have even outright said more than once) that she is waiting out our healthy food options and holding out for sweets. She rejects food and rejects food until we finally give up and offer her something we see as a compromise, like a bowl of yogurt with strawberries and sprinkles. This week, I've ensured they've only had sugar access ONCE per day and I've even kept that minimal, and it is already showing a pay-off. The most obvious to me example was tonight for dinner. The afternoon was very hard (Ellie started whining at high pitch the second I picked her up from school, typical of the last week of term), we stayed out too long and I ran out of time to make dinner. I put on peas and corn on the cob, and then I picked up cheese pizza from down the street. We have often resorted to pizza dinners in a pinch, but then we haven't required anything other than pizza be eaten. Tonight, I told them firmly that they could have the pizza if they ate their veggies too, and Ellie cleaned her plate! I could hardly believe it! Two slices of pizza, a whole corn on the cob, a big bowl of peas, and two glasses of milk! Wow. I can't remember the last time she ate that much dinner, and I certainly can't remember her eating that much without complaining. And yesterday afternoon, she made her own snack, something we call a "roly sandwich" (tortilla with peanut butter and a small amount of Nutella), which Stephanie could happily eat daily but Ellie has never before eaten voluntarily. All I did was open the jars and offer her the knife to do it herself, and off she went! Holy cats.

The other big change I've implemented has been chores. While I've always believed in fostering their independence, I haven't required much contribution around the house. I've been reading a (great!) new parenting book, and one of the many assertions in that is kids need chores (without compensation) to feel that they are valued and valuable members of the household. If you do everything for them, they are not needed, which isn't a nice feeling for anyone. I haven't implemented chores military-style or anything. I've put it to them (particularly Ellie) in terms of needing help. I need your help. We can't eat if the table is covered in drawings and toys. Please work together to clear the table and set it for dinner. I've talked them through the steps (first we put the toys and whatnot away where it belongs, no not there please but where it belongs...now we need placemats, napkins, plates...) Although it took ages longer than it would have if I'd just done it, it was a good process for all of us and in the end, Ellie was spotting what was needed without my prompting. By the time I was serving dinner, she had independently fetched the milk from the fridge and carefully poured for herself and Stephanie. Amazing.

I have been completely drained at the end of each and every day of Markus's trip. The girls really struggle at bedtime, when our normal routine is one parent per child. Stephanie takes ages to settle. I don't get dinner until the whole process is over. It's quite exhausting. I feel like he's been gone for over a month rather than a week. The days are hard, but we are all doing as well as we can be. And I'm really proud of these girls.

I'll take and post some new pictures soon, but in case you haven't already visited there, I uploaded a lot of recent pics to our flickr pool. I haven't made the time to comment on them yet, but they are all there if you'd like to see the girls in recent action.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

From the weekend

I returned from two nights in Sydney to find a new game: "Haircuts"

Apparently, the girls spent a lot of time "cutting" each other's hair with chopsticks. Stephanie in particular loves this game. Given her proclivity for mischief, I am waiting until I find the chopsticks have been replaced with scissors... At the same time, I am very thankful that she usually asks before she tries something she thinks will be off limits. A "no" answer doesn't necessarily stop her, but she does usually ask first.

On Sunday, we sucked up the family time. We laughed and played all day! Love it! In the afternoon, we decided to go for a trail walk in Perry Lakes. We couldn't have been more than 100 feet from the car before Ellie was whining that her legs hurt and she couldn't walk, she needed to be carried. Oh, the drama. Stephanie, of course, needed to be carried too. Thankfully, they got into the spirit about halfway through the walk, and by the end, they were running ahead and bounding around and generally having a blast!

Later at home, Stephanie's impish side was still in full swing!

We really think her true nature is fully captured when wearing this hat (photos from this afternoon):

Markus is away in India for work until the end of next week, so this Mama is flying solo since yesterday afternoon. The girls have been handling it really well, especially considering the numerous big changes that happened all in a row. First, Mimi here for the first time in a long time. Then, Mimi goes and Mama goes with her. Then, Mama comes back and we're all together for a couple of days before Papa goes. It's a lot for them. They need extra love and patience, and I am doing my best to give it to them. These days are quite draining, and I find myself checking the clock for my bedtime by around 8:30pm. When Markus is gone, I sleep very lightly. It's like my body responds to every tiny little noise, just to be sure all is well when I'm solely responsible. I imagine by the end of next week, I'll be too exhausted for this response, but for now, I'd better shift to earlier bedtime to compensate.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Lost in translation

This morning, Ellie popped her head into the bathroom while I was taking a shower and asked my favorite color.
"I like all colors," I replied. Her displeased expression made me add, "But I often choose blue because I really like blue."
"Well, I'm going to choose pink for you because girls like pink."
I nodded my assent, and she returned to the kitchen, where I heard her announce, "She said, 'Pink'!"
Now I know how the press works.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Ellie's birthday party

Although her birthday isn't until tomorrow, yesterday we hosted Ellie's birthday party! She invited five girls from her class. The party went beautifully! The girls all play together at school, and the mums all know each other well. That made everything so easy and fun. The party lasted from 10am until just past noon.

The activities were largely dictated by one of Ellie's favorite books, Conni hat Geburtstag. In it, Conni celebrates her birthday and Ellie wanted hers to go off the same way. She wanted to make her invitations like Conni did. She drew on folded paper, and I wrote the invitation text inside.

Conni and her friends played dress up, as did Ellie and her friends.

Ellie wanted to have a treasure hunt like Conni did. Conni's dad made chalk arrows outside to lead the kids to the treasure, so Markus took care of that. We even made up little treasure bundles just like Conni's (only Conni's were red and Ellie's were pink, naturally). The treasure hunt was a HUGE hit! Ellie loved it so much that she still hasn't opened her little treasure pouch. She did the hunt again on her own while her friends were all happily engaged beading necklaces (the treasure), and she did it at least four more times throughout the afternoon.

Ellie loved the decorate-your-own-cupcakes activity we did last year, so we repeated that with "lollies" (that's Aussie for "candy").

She also really enjoys playing "pass the parcel" at other birthday parties, so we added that game. Small treats are wrapped, one per layer, in a multi-layer parcel, which is passed around the circle of kids to music. When the music stops, whomever is holding the parcel unwraps a layer and keeps the treat inside that layer. It continues until all the kids have found a treat. Not wanting to indulge in too much sugar (mean mama, I know), our treats were tiny vials of "fairy dust" (superfine glitter we use with face paints) and stickers.

The final treat was a book exchange we held in lieu of gifts. Each child was asked to bring a new, wrapped copy of her favorite book. Ellie and Stephanie did likewise. We put all the books in a pile, and each child chose a new book from the pile that she got to take home.

All the girls and the mums were huge fans of this one, and we'll definitely do it again. We really want our girls to grow up thinking more about the celebrating and enjoying with friends rather than the getting stuff usually associated with birthdays. That goal seems to have been well-met yesterday. Ellie really enjoyed her party. We all did! And tomorrow, she will be FIVE YEARS OLD! AMAZING.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Hello again!

Wow, this blog is suffering serious neglect! I just haven't felt that I've had much to say, or when I have, I haven't made the time. I think the only way I'm going to correct this is by setting out a plan. I will blog here on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. I try to post on my public blog every weekday. You can still catch our (but mostly my) antics over there, but this blog is just for private audience, so it will be more specific and personal about the girls. Given that today is Thursday, I'm already starting off schedule, but we'll ignore that and press ahead!

Mimi arrived safe and sound this past Saturday. We are thrilled to have her here! She hasn't seen the girls since Stephanie was five months old and Ellie was the age Stephanie is now (2.5 years old). That's amazing. We all know that our lifestyle takes us far away for long stretches, but you can really mark that time in the children. They are completely different from the little creatures she last saw, and they are all having fun together! They go visit her in her room each morning and at just about any time she's in there throughout the day. Ellie has commented on how much she likes Mimi's sweet, nice voice. The girls have been completely charmed! Needless to say, I've been over the moon to have her here. I may be forced to hide her passport in a week's time. Don't tell her it was me.

Ellie is excitedly gearing up for her birthday party this weekend. Five is so much different from four! She is really her own person in a new way lately. She is so composed, so much older somehow. This is all completely unauthorized, of course, but I do marvel and enjoy it. I'll write a separate post just about her soon.

Her birthday party will be on Saturday. It's hard to get her to narrow down her invitation list. To simplify this, our guideline has been the number of kids is the age of the birthday child. This year, that means five invitees. While three of the names of that list were fixed from day one, the remaining two slots rotated on an almost hourly basis until the invitations were handed out. I worried a little that she would be upset about the omissions, but she was remarkably logical and diplomatic about the process. I wasn't convinced about the remaining two she settled on (she plays with others a bit more frequently), but she assured me that anyone who didn't come this year could come next year or the year after. "Actually," she calmly and matter-of-factly told me ("actually" is very big in the vocab of both girls these days), "next year I can have six, and then seven and then eight...so everyone will get a chance to come to my party sometime." So true (yet remarkable for a child of her age, don't you think?!).