Saturday, December 31, 2011

Our family's holiday traditions and reflections on 2011

As our family grows and changes together, we find our holiday traditions evolving as well.

This year, I added the tradition of new summer solstice pajamas to mark the longest day. I hope to have an annual tradition of new season pjs on summer and winter solstice each year (and a fun bonfire for winter solstice). The girls loved this first go!

We're still working out present opening for Christmas. Markus's family opens all presents on Christmas Eve; mine does one on Christmas Eve and the rest on Christmas morning. This year, we made a hybrid version and opened all on Christmas Eve but eagerly awaited one present each from Santa on Christmas morning.

Today is the last day of 2011. We have a nicely established New Year's Day tradition of enjoying Neujahrsbrezel for breakfast in the morning, but we haven't been marking the last day of the year. Spurred on by some reflection questions I found on a blog, I mentioned the idea of sitting together and talking about the year together. Ellie hopped on board with gusto, mentioning it again before breakfast and again before lunch. For instant gratification, I downloaded the pdf of the questions I found and we sat and answered them together as a family. It was a lovely exercise, one I hope to carry forward in years to come.

What was the single best thing that happened this past year?
M: My mom moving to her house in Hannover
J: Spending time with both grandparents on my last US visit
E: New Zealand because I like the long plane ride and I like the museum

What was the single most challenging thing that happened?
M: Maintaining good work morale
J: The international moving limbo began
E: Trying to catch Figaro with Papa
(Figaro is our canary. We often let him out to fly around the house, but he doesn't care for being recaptured each time.)

What was an unexpected joy this past year?
M: Being able to go on so many vacations (Albany, New Zealand, Bali, Rottnest, Bali)
J: Watching Ellie thrive in Middle Primary and her reading take off like a rocket
E: I wasn't expecting to go to my art class because I didn't know because you didn't tell me.
(and she really liked that art class)

What was an unexpected obstacle?
M: Not being able to participate in the October job round.
J: Ditto.
E: When I couldn't really ride the pushbike yet, I could go straight and around the curves but I tried to ride around the table and I couldn't.

Pick three words to describe 2011.
M: Exhausting. Brilliant family.
J: Full. Challenging. Changes!
E: Middle Primary. Reading. (Mama gave these words as samples and she wanted to use them)

Pick three words your spouse would use to describe your 2011 (don't ask them; guess based on how you think your spouse sees you).
M: Stressed, stressed, stressed.
J: Knitting, yoga, scooter. (joking!)

Pick three words your spouse would use to describe their 2011 (again, without asking).
M: Thankful. Fun times.
J: Stressed. Holiday. Stressed.

What were the best books you read this year?
M: The Life of Pi. I Heard The Owl Call My Name. (rereads)
J: Buddhism for Mothers series. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.
E: Hush, Little One. Disney Princess books. Poems. (these were sitting next to her chair when we answered questions today. Her big favorites not mentioned have been the Charlie and Lola books, Conni books in German, the Lost and Found picture books and the Rainbow Fairies series.)
S: Lost and Found books. Edward the Emu. Room on the Broom.

What was your biggest personal change from January to December of this past year?
M: Work strain aged me by more than a year.
J: Stephanie started school and I had time alone during the day for the first time in more than six years (it was a harder adjustment than I thought it would be).
E: I went to Middle Primary and started reading.

In what way(s) did you grow emotionally?
M: Learning not to let others upset me.
J: Reading about Buddhist practices helped me to be more even, less reactive.

In what way(s) did you grow physically?
M: Midline expansion.
J: More frequent yoga was fantastic.
E: I can do handstands and cartwheels. I lost six baby teeth!

In what way(s) did you grow in your relationships with others?
M: Letting my sister deal with certain things in her own way rather than trying to dictate
J: Spending time with my grandparents felt invaluable. I know I need to give the more, at least in terms of communication.

What was the most enjoyable part of your work (both professionally and at home)?
M: I repaired the Bose dock. (man, did he love repairing the Bose dock)
J: The time I get with my family. Even when my stay-at-home status is trying, I wouldn't trade it for anything.

What was the best way you used your time this past year?
M: Morning sports, motorcycling to work, glorious weekends with my family.
J: More yoga. More reading about Buddhist applications to my life. Taking baby steps towards better balance for self. Having time during the week for errands and home jobs allowed me to relax and enjoy each weekend with family like a mini-holiday.

What was the biggest thing you learned this past year?
M: How to repair the Bose dock.
J: In terms of a skill, I learned basic piano and introductory music reading.

Questions we made up for 2012:

What do you most look forward to for 2012?
M: A new job. Seeing more extended family and friends again.
J: Seeing more extended family and friends again because we'll be closer (heck, almost anywhere will be closer!)

What would you want to do differently?
M: New job. Eat less sugar.
J: Talk less, listen more. Concentrate on what I want to build in my relationships with my children.

What would you like to do more of?
M: Teach my children more.
J: More date time with Markus when we're both awake. More exercise. More deliberate, healthy eating.

What would you like to learn?
M: Improve my sailing and motorcycle skills.
J: I'd like to read more non-fiction books, acquiring new information in that way.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas in the sun

What do you do after opening presents, enjoying a special breakfast, and talking with family on Christmas morning? If you live in Perth, Australia, and want to maximize an absolutely perfect summer morning, you do this:

Afterwards, enjoy a (not really) traditional peanut butter and jelly sandwich as you dry off in the sunshine.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Opening gifts

Thank you all for your generosity!
We love you!
Merry Christmas!

A higher resolution version of this movie can be found here.


I have been very absent from this space this year, leaving you a picture of a girl peeing in the river as your touchstone with us for the past month plus. Oops. The truth is I posted that as a funny and I hadn't remembered to come back and post more of our daily lives since then.

I don't know about you, but I find the year slams into warp speed just before Thanksgiving. We compounded this by taking a little family vacation just then, arriving home the week of Thanksgiving (and five important birthdays, nearly all of which I missed or acknowledged belatedly--again, big oops). Since then, it has been warp speed, Mr. Sulu!

The girls have been out of school since December 9. That has been a very good thing. As much as Ellie loves middle primary, she was ready for a break. Stephanie never happily resettled into school after our holiday, so she was extremely ready for a break. We've been keeping ourselves busy ever since. I find I have no time once again, which is a readjustment from having weekday time while they were both in school. Now I have NO time until they are in bed, but by then, I admit I'm pretty tired and useless. The summer days mean the birds start at 4:30am, the sky is light by 5, and the girls haven't slept past 6. After 6 years of living with these little early risers, I wish I could say I have adjusted to hitting my day with both feet running at such early hours...but I haven't!

Now, Markus will be home with us for the next week plus (hooray!), so we'll have some nice family vacation time at home while Perth empties as its residents head for Bali, Rottnest, Margaret River...and we enjoy all the beauty that life at home has to offer. A Christmas swim in the Indian Ocean, anyone?

Merry Christmas!

Christmas dancer

She has danced around the tree every day in December.

Merry Christmas to you!

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Edging her way in

When she thought no one was watching, she danced along.

Too nervous to join the class outright, she slowly makes her way towards her sister. Notice how carefully she steps in time to the music. Alas, the music stops before she reaches her goal...

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Mamas always know

Last night when I did my usual checks on the girls before going up to bed, I paused longer in Ellie's room. We had a powerful heatwave recently that prompted us to change to summer quilts, but cool air has come back at night. I asked Markus if he thought Ellie would be warm enough. He thought she would. A few minutes later, I asked him if he thought I shouldn't give her a warmer blanket. He said he thought she would be fine.
She was in our room at 3:45am, telling us she was too cold.
Why did I ask him twice?
I already knew.
So often, I do this. I know, but I ask, not just Hubby but others as well. I'm not sure why I don't put more faith in my intuition, but from here on, I'm going to give that a try.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Manic Monday

I awoke to the sound of something shattering.
The 4th shattered item in a week.
The carved ostrich egg Kurt had given us.
A sad accident. Buddhist non-attachment is hard when sentiment is strong.
Wildness this morning that nothing could touch.
I cooked waffles, reheated pancakes, baked chocolate cupcakes for the afternoon
And then I ate my own breakfast.
As I sat down, I realized the crazy had somehow stopped, and I enjoyed two girls coloring and singing side, happy and settled at last.
And now it is 8am.

Monday, October 31, 2011

New challenges

Ellie and Stephanie have discovered a new friend--a six year old girl named Leyna--just over our back fence. I should say "through our back fence," because we peeled off two boards so the girls could pass through it rather than precariously clamber over the top. Ellie went over the first time by herself, but Stephanie could not, resulting in tears of heartbreak. Leyna invited them both, so we all walked around the block...but I had to stay because the girls couldn't walk it alone on such a busy road. The fence hole seemed a better idea. Alas, it is hard to regulate. They are through it at a moment's notice, usually without asking us. We've never had immediate access to a friend like this before, so I'm hoping once the novelty wears off a bit, it will be easier for them to follow some ground rules.

Leyna has presented a new parenting challenge for us. She has an older brother and no younger siblings. This is very obvious in how she speaks. She vacillates between being kind and taunting. When I called Ellie to me for taunting Stephanie, she only came after several requests (making me most irritated) and then loudly announced, "I'll come but I won't listen because this is going to be BORING." Ahem. Another time, I overheard Leyna telling Ellie that she didn't have to listen to me, they could just go to her (Leyna's) house and do whatever they want. Stephanie reports they go in Leyna's pantry and get lots of snacks when her mom isn't watching.

While my first instinct is to nip this friendship in the bud (grrr!), I know that is not the answer. I cannot always control who their friends will be, nor should I. Leyna is a nice girl and her parents seem like nice people. I can visualize everything she has done or said to raise my hackles is something she has seen or heard from her older brother and his friends. She is just far more typical of kids this age than any of the friends we already have. By sending our girls to a private, philosophy-based school, the pool of behaviours we witness is significantly altered from the mainstream (typically, parents at our school have chosen to parent off the grid). I think there's also the issue that Ellie is getting older now, and kids this age are less under direct parental influence than they were a year or two ago. Kids this age behave as they believe they should, which is not necessarily how their parents believe they should (philosophy-based or not). I don't want our girls to be unable to socialize with "normal" kids but I don't want them to adopt undesirable behaviours either. Time to break out some parenting books...

The girls spent the bulk of the day playing quite happily with Leyna on Friday, passing frequently through the fence to play in one house or the other. I sewed the morning away and Markus rested as much as he could tolerate (engineers don't idle well). Friday afternoon brought on a host of miserable behaviours (see above paragraphs), so we shifted into family-time mode for the late afternoon. The pattern of Saturday was much the same, so Markus and I agreed Sunday needed to be family-only. We patrolled the hole in the fence like hawks (not very fun) and then went out for the afternoon. Behaviours were markedly more normal. Whew.

Ellie's stress levels seem very high lately, and we've been getting a lot of backtalk, a lot of rudeness. She is throwing whooper tantrums again. She loses her cool with Stephanie. She has taken to sneaking treats from the pantry, getting up extremely early in the morning (around 5am) to do so. I caught her red-handed on Saturday morning (even Markus the early riser was still asleep), and she was so embarrassed she ran back to her room, curled up under her covers and silently cried as I stroked her hair. Poor mite. This is not to say these things happen all the time (though I suspect the treat-sneaking does), but the increase in crazy is noticeable to us. We think this is part of a new phase of her development and behaviours she is being exposed to through other kids, and again it's a reminder that we need to adjust our parenting strategy.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Sick again

Ellie and Markus are once again out of commission. They have caught a random errant bug that leaves them both sniffly and coughing and feeling more than slightly gross. Ellie was home from school on Thursday due to an extreme case of the sniffles that brought on an even more Extreme Case of Drama. Friday is a public holiday in honour of the Queen's birthday (not her real birthday but she's here in Perth right now, so that's just as good!). We'll use this weekend for good times and downtime so they can rest and recoup.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

She loves all creatures

Yesterday after school, Stephanie captured quite a number of snails before we clambered into the car.

We watched them for a while, and then she gathered them up into a plastic container for the journey home.

I tried to convince her to put them back in the grass, that they wanted to be free, but she firmly replied:

They're tired! They don't want to be free! They want to sleep in their own box!

(As I tried to suppress my smile, she added...)

Can I keep them in my room every night and every day?
Because I don't have a pet and I need pets!

(We did later set them free. She ultimately acknowledged that they failed to appreciate her hospitality and kept trying to escape.)

Friday, October 21, 2011

Practical (un)dress

She said her clothes would get wet otherwise.
Indeed, they would.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Back to school today

And out like a light soon thereafter...

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Rosie was here!

Last night, well after she was supposed to be asleep, I heard Ellie's light flick on. She was up! Why? She finally managed to work loose the tooth she had been wobbling for over a week. The Tooth Fairy was coming! She could hardly contain her excitement! I tried tucking her into bed to sleep, telling her the Tooth Fairy wouldn't come if she was awake, but she had an answer for that (of course). Ellie said on the very first tooth she lost, she was awake when the Tooth Fairy came. Her own Tooth Fairy's name is Rosie. She has a pink dress and pink shoes and a silver wand and yellow plaited hair and she talked to Ellie for a long time that first visit. She could hardly wait for Rosie to come back! And of course, she did! Ellie carried her dollar coin around all day and showed everyone she could.

Ellie is convinced the Tooth Fairy enters our home through a tiny hole cut in the weather-strip of the front door. This morning, she checked for Tooth Fairy dust near the hole and was overjoyed to find some! This time, the fairy dust was white. The first time it was pink. The second time it was blue. She is thinking perhaps Rosie is a rainbow fairy sometimes.

(fairy dust on her hands for all to admire. you can see the hole and her new coin too)

She is so proud...and she's already started trying to wobble one vaguely loose top tooth.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Life is good

No matter how tough the workday seems, coming home is always a gift.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Maybe today is my birthday...

My actual birthday was Monday, but today, both girls were on the mend, someone else cleaned my house AND I received a package in the mail! Today was awesome!
Not that I get to keep the gifts my mom sent. Stephanie decided the gifts were hers (naturally, since the birthday was to be shared).
My mom knit a beautiful scarf, which I love for multiple reasons (she made it just for me, the colours remind me of her, it still smells like her...).
Stephanie loved it too...

Aren't those buns hilarious and adorable? That hairdo was one of many requests today that let me know my wee girl is finally on the mend (another being her telling me her teacher called her and told her she needed to come to school today because she is better).

Thank you, Mimi! You have made two girls very happy!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Happy Birthday to Mama!

With round 2 of illness in the house and much lack of sleep on my and Stephanie's part, this birthday didn't feel quite so "birthday" as I might have intended...but it was pretty darn good nonetheless. We, of course, started the day with a treat (birthday brezel) and Markus sang to me while our girls miraculously slept in until the late morning time of 6:30am (whoa!).

Stephanie was home (sick) with me today, and she was insistent that we have balloons. We each needed our own colors on our own chairs. I was allowed to choose mine and Markus's, and they were supposed to be our favorites. I cheated and chose green for my chair because I liked the color combo. She accepted this.

Still reeling from Ellie's birthday extravaganza, Stephanie insisted today was really both of our birthdays, together. We sang to both of us and she helped me blow out the candles.

And there had to be "smash cake" (a chocolate dome like Ellie had), and Stephanie had to help me smash that too.

(and for the record, yes, Ellie was okay with all of this. she wanted to eat the chocolate smash cake so she was over not smashing it herself and she accepted our reasons for the double birthday song with Stephanie)

The girls were tired early, so Markus and I waited our dinner until after they were in bed. We enjoyed a nice date night at home with a very fancy bottle of French wine we cannot read and some gorgeous homemade risotto with peas and prosciutto. Perfect on a cold evening!

And will you just look at this very grown-up birthday cake?

I spent the morning perusing Perfect Cakes and ultimately settled on this, the Chocolate Pecan Caramel Cake. It is really more of a mousse (no flour! 8 eggs! 12 oz of chocolate!), but my oh my...dreamy! We thought it would be rich and dense and perhaps just too much. It is rich but light and heavenly, with a lovely lingering caramel aftertaste. Please come on over and enjoy a slice! Stephanie and I are happy to share our birthday with you!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Illness update

After four days of antibiotics, I can happily report that Ellie is back to herself and happy as a clam! Just in time for Stephanie to succumb...alas. Poor thing is tired, listless, and feverish with a bad cough. Very familiar. We'll watch it for a few days and see if she kicks it or if we'll head back to the doctor for antibiotics again. At least we know what to expect this time, and we can appreciate that it is short-lived and not nearly so awful as these viruses can be.

Stephanie's sleep has been much more disturbed by this than Ellie's was. We've gone through night #4 of broken sleep (fretful and clingy for a couple of hours in the middle of the night). She and I were up a good portion of the night last night, unable to overcome her cough for hours. I spent at least 2 hours with her coughing directly in my face, so we'll see if I'm next!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

And the doctor says...

Ellie got worse over the course of the day today. Not terrible or scary, but noticeably worse. I called the doctor and she had an early afternoon slot available, so we took it. The good news is Ellie's chest is clear, so no worries of bronchitis or pneumonia. No wheeze means no mild asthma. The verdict is a secondary bacteria infection in the wake of a viral infection that seems to be going around. She prescribed antibiotics, which Ellie started tonight at dinnertime. She's exhausted from days of being exhausted, but she went right to sleep without coughing (hello, vaporizer!) so we'll hope she'll have a good night.

Stephanie has been having a terrible time with all of this. First, Ellie had three birthday celebrations and loads of presents (way more than we usually do). Now, Ellie has stayed home three days this week while Stephanie had to go to school. It's all one big heap of not fair. She has been having tantrums to beat the band! It's very unlike her. We know why it's happening. We understand and agree that, from a 3 year old's perspective, it is certainly not fair. But. It has been trying nonetheless.

Markus arranged a while ago to have the day off tomorrow so he and I could have a little pre-birthday date, just the two of us while the girls were in school. Ha ha. Oh well. Such is life. At least we'll have a nice three day weekend together, even if our date plans for Friday are now a bit moot.

Sick kid, round two

Stephanie may have fallen asleep for the night at 4:30pm yesterday, but it's Ellie who is home sick again today. The fever hasn't returned, but she has an awful hacking cough now. Trying to keep her in the bed is proving challenging, but she needs to rest. Tomorrow may well involve a trip to the doctor...

How she really feels

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Round two

Stephanie was in bed fast asleep today by 4:30pm.
Let Round 2 begin...

Monday, September 19, 2011

Sick day

Last night at 1am, I heard Ellie shuffle into our room and stop at Papa's side of the bed. He didn't stir, so I asked her to go back down to her room. Since we all tend to get up before morning light (sigh), it's not uncommon for her to wake in the night and want to get up for the day. She told me she needed someone to put lotion (meaning Vicks) on her chest. Reluctantly, I dragged myself down the stairs, dutifully coated her chest and dragged myself back into bed. Then, I heard her start to cough. And cough. And cough. I went back down, feeling sorry about being so abrupt before, propped her up on some extra pillows and gave her some water. She was soon fast asleep.

At around 4am, she was back beside Papa. This time, he took her down, but he was soon back up, asking for the Panadol. She had a fever. He also put cooling wet cloths on her ankles to pull the heat away from her head. Again, she was soon asleep.

I kept her home from school today (obviously). Stephanie surprised me by making only a minimal fuss about being taken to school while Ellie stayed home. Poor Ellie was bright pink in the cheeks and had that eyes-glazed-over look that a fever can give, but otherwise her spirits were good. Her fever wasn't particularly responsive to the Panadol, but again the wet cloths on her ankles seemed to do the trick after a few rounds. She didn't want any breakfast but was excited about, though only picked at, the melted cheese on crackers I brought her for a snack. She happily stayed tucked up in bed most of the morning (again surprise), which I think was largely made possible by her newfound reading ability.

She started getting feverish again at the time we had to pick up Stephanie, but she still wasn't complaining at all. Luckily, we live close to the school now so her time up and about was brief. As soon as we returned home, she quietly moseyed off to her room, where I found her like this:

Sweet girl.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Ellie's art party

Last Saturday, Ellie celebrated her birthday by hosting an art party for her friends along with her co-party girl Danielle. The party was set from 9:30am to 11:30am, and we asked the parents to drop the girls off and pick them up later. There were seven girlies from their class at school plus two sisters and two birthday girls, Danielle's mom (Kaye) and grandma, Markus and myself. Whew! Luckily, all those adults on hand and all those girls who were friends meant everything was smooth and fun from start to finish!

As the girls came in, we helped them make melted bead bowls, which they would later use to hold sweets (if you're curious, I detailed the how-to on my public blog here). They really enjoyed making them, and everyone was happy with the result.

We mostly let the girls run amok and play together as we waited for all guests to arrive.

First up was singing the Happy Birthday song to Ellie and Danielle, and then all the guests decorated their own cupcakes and snacked on fruit, popcorn and fairy bread (white bread smeared with butter and sprinkled generously with 100s and 1000s).

I feel particularly proud of the rainbow cupcakes.

More running amok and playing ensued until all girls were done eating, and then we set them up painting acrylics on canvas boards outside. Some girls rushed through it (Ellie included), while others took their time and were quite detailed.

The other activity we planned was hair clip decorating. Kaye manned the glue gun and helped the girls glue precut felt onto their hairclips. The girls used regular craft glue to attach sequins and pompoms to the felt. There was mixed success with this technique, but they all had fun doing it so that's what counts.

We had initially planned for Markus to take Stephanie out to play during the party (she's still very shy and nervous around large groups or even individuals she doesn't know well), but Danielle's sister Madison came along. They are great friends, so the attempt to take Stephanie out was a big fail. It turned out well, though.

Just before it was time to go home, we brought out the "smash cake" Ellie has been requesting for the past three months leading up to her birthday. I had purchased a copy of Australian Women's Weekly Kids Birthday Cakes for ideas long ago, and Ellie immediately fell in love with the inspiration within. She did extra chores for a week to earn her own copy, and she keeps it in her bedroom for frequent reference. Since day one, her most favorite has been the piƱata cake, which is a chocolate dome covered in Smarties (M&Ms) and filled with sugary treats.

This is it, mid-decoration. I had to melt extra chocolate to glue on the Smarties and mini-M&Ms. I've been nervous about making it almost as long as she's wanted it, wondering how hard it would be to make and hoping to Heaven I wouldn't mess it up and disappoint her dearest request. Luckily for me, it turned out really well without any trouble. And the fun they had whacking it apart with wooden spoons!

Her friends all gave her wonderful gifts, and Ellie did a beautiful job finishing up her thank you notes yesterday. She truly had a wonderful birthday!

Happy Birthday, Eleanor! We love you!