January 23, 2011

little big day out

We just got back from a morning of chaos, balloons, jumping castles, tv heroes (well, for the other kids anyway, Ollie was none the wiser), ill fitting wigs, bad singing and overpriced hot chips at the IGA Rhymes festival.

I knew it would be this way so I didn't expect too much from it.  I guess the point was to get out and do something a bit different and we actually had a reasonably nice time, but probably no nicer than we would have had if we'd just headed out to the pool for the day.   I can't say anything very positive about the acts, the singing, the dancing and the format of the event, so I won't, but Ollie had a good time wandering around, spending most of his time on a jumping castle and touching the St John Ambulance.  Max looked a little bewildered but he seemed to take it in his stride.  We'd planned to meet with friends of ours but in the madness of a million people and a trillion kids and a few too many flouro outfits (just like Big Day Out), it didn't happen, so we ended up doing our own aimless thing, which consisted of avoiding most of the acts and letting Ollie lead the way.

I must remember next time someone asks me if I want tickets to this type of thing that we'll be better off at the park with a picnic and our friends, but I suppose it's trying these things that makes us wiser.

Another weekend is nearly over.

January 19, 2011

a new bed and new trouble

I think it all started with the new bed.  Well, not so much new as it is new to Ollie.  We finally decided to take the side down from Ollie's cot and convert it into a junior bed.  It was something we have been considering doing for some time now.  His friends all did it a long time ago but we didn't think it was the right time and we were put off by the probability of random mid night wanderings and bed time becoming a long chore of guiding Ollie back to bed as he would no doubt try to tire of the novelty of being able to get up and out of his room whenever he felt like it.

But, we had to adjust Max's cot (now that he's pulling himself up to standing) and so we took the plunge with Ollie's too.  The first night was nerve wracking but he went to bed and slept all night, and had a look of complete delight on his face when he got out of bed at 7am the following morning and let himself out of his own room.  (It's only a matter of time before he works out how to get to the Cheerios and find the cartoons.)

His first day time sleep didn't go quite so smoothly and he left his room a couple of times, but he did go to sleep when he realised we weren't going to let him leave his room without a rest.  Hoping this was a one off situation, we gave him the benefit of the doubt but... it isn't getting any easier.  It's been two weeks and he's decided to fight his day time nap with more determination than I've ever seen.  Now, I know he needs a rest - he sleeps for over two hours at day care (and without a peep I should add, but it is in a cot), and while it isn't the end of the world if he doesn't sleep, it doesn't make the afternoon any easier .  I should be grateful that night time sleep seems to be ok - he gets up a couple of times but soon gets the idea that he needs to go to bed, but boy oh boy, day time sleep is not happening.  Today he slept, but only after a good old fashioned yelling, and a not very impressed mum dragging him back to bed oh about twenty times.  20.  It took 90 minutes, by which time Max was awake and I was in a very, very bad mood.

I love that kid.  I love them both.  They are growing up and doing things that I knew they'd do, but all too soon.  Each phase passes and another begins, just as it feels like we are settling into a rhythm.  It's a cliche but until you've been there, parenthood is nothing like you imagined and nothing like the movie.  A few days ago I asked Will what he thought things would be like in five years time but I don't think I want to know, do I?  And we just can't say.  It's all been such a discovery so far, it's best not to think about it.

January 16, 2011

floods and people

The rain.  All that rain brought chaos and carnage to Brisbane.  I can't really begin to summarise what the last few days felt like, it's all been rather surreal and, I suppose, ironic that after so many years of drought, Queensland is now flood ravaged.

If we had been a metre lower, or I should say if the river had peaked the way they had originally predicted, we would probably be waiting for power to be reconnected and cleaning up what would feel like an impossible mess.  Instead, we saw the water peak to only 60m from our house, which is apparently where the river peaked in the famous 1974 floods.  As we became an island, we saw our neighbours' houses completely submerged, roads turned into lakes and landmarks and favourite spots drowned but we have remained safe and dry, albeit without power.

On Tuesday when we heard that the CBD was being evacuated, I went out and stocked up as best I could for the coming days, not really knowing what we would need and whether we would be prepared.  We brought the barbecue upstairs, got ice for the esky, cooked up lentils and made sure we had enough of everything to last a week or so.  I washed clothes, moved things from under our (thankfully) raised house up onto our deck so that if the worst happened and the water made it as far as our house, at least we might have minimised the damage.  We debated leaving, and I packed a bag for the kids so that we could do it easily if we needed to, but in the end we stayed and it was the right decision for us, thanks to Will's persistent referral of the town's flood maps and the Council's predictions.  And, his analysis was right - we stayed dry, and for that, I am thankful, as watching and helping those who have not been so lucky has highlighted just how massive a clean up job lies ahead.  Our suburb, one of the worst affected now resembles a favela, debris and mud everywhere, and the army is manning our street, trying to control traffic and assist with the clean up.

Max and Ollie.  Almost oblivious to the chaos.  I have to say, that on reflection, Ollie was most accepting of the fact that he was unable to sleep with the hall light on or listen to his Pooh Bear and Jungle Book cds because there was 'no power, power's gone', and he doesn't watch much tv so I don't think he even noticed that it wasn't working.  I think Ollie liked seeing the water in the streets and his new look neighbourhood (we were waterfront for a day or so there).  Max enjoyed the novelty of having both parents home and doting on his smiley little being and it was a good thing that they both ate what they were given and enjoyed our makeshift cooking and refrigeration methods.  Ollie loves playing with eskies.  Funny kid.

I wonder whether in 20 years' time we will be those people that talk about the 2011 floods the way people talk about the 1974 floods.  I doubt it.  In all honesty, apart from having to be inventive with the barbecue and doing everything by candlelight (it's not as romantic as you would think), for us it has been a pretty boring few days and I wouldn't have wanted it any other way.  Boring is good.  Boring is safe.  We may not have any stories to tell our friends and family but that's a good thing.  My overarching feeling is one of gratitude and well, good fortune to have had so much kindness around us.  We really have felt the love with every single phone call, text message, email and facebook message.  Not to mention the offers of a home away from home which came from all manner of places.  I can't wait for it to happen, but it's going to take a long to time get back to normal in this city we call home, and I guess that will be a story in itself, but for the mean time, it's a blessing we have such love around us.  People are good.

January 10, 2011

this week's new recipe and homage to the aubergine

Risotto with aubergine and lemon (from Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty, again.)

A Sunday success.  I made one adjustment, and that was to score the skin of the aubergine and bake it for about an hour at 180c rather than scorch it like he suggests, and then we peeled it and scooped out the flesh to chop and stir into the risotto.

Max loved it too.  Ollie loved eating the bits of fried aubergine and the parmesan that went on top.  Meltingly oozy, buttery, fragrant, fresh and filling.  (Just one thing, the recipe says serves 4.  Yotam obviously doesn't know what a breastfeeding woman's appetite is like.)

first day

My first day back at work is over.  I came home to my husband and sons, all happy after a successful day of mess making and hanging out on another very rainy day.  Apart from Ollie refusing to sleep at lunch time (more on that later), I think they all had a good day, and it was the first time Will has looked after the boys all day.  Laundry was done, dinner was prepped (definitely more on that later) and the boys weren't that sticky.

Highlights of my day included going to the toilet with the door closed, drinking two cups of tea while they were still hot, actually eating lunch that didn't consist of crusts/left overs/vegemite-something-or-another and enjoying more than a couple of conversations with beloved colleagues that I have missed, that weren't interrupted by me having to rescue a car/truck/toddler.

Highlights of Will's day included teaching Ollie how to sing this song, Ollie giving Max a spontaneous hug (and some banana) and spending some one-on-one time with his sons.

I missed my boys though.  I was glad to get home in time for bath time, and I'm still nervous about how things will be over the coming months, especially as we only have the luxury of Will looking after the boys for another couple of days.  I will be busy at work and busy at home, the same as any other working mother out there, but I guess, for now, day one is over and all we can do is look onwards and upwards until that day when I can make a living knitting socks.

January 7, 2011

crumble appreciation society

of which, I am the president.  This post is for the benefit of my sister, who needs to learn that dairy free alternatives cannot possibly replace butter in this, the king of puddings.  And I am not one of those food snobs who suggests crumbles are only for the autumn.  I'd say almost any fruit is crumblable.  Make it with seasonal fruit and it will be delicious all year round.

For the crumble:

1 cup plain flour (150g)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cold and diced (110g)
5-6 tbsp vanilla sugar or Demerara sugar, or preferably a mixture of both (80g)

Whizz the flour and butter and baking powder in a food processor until rubbly (you can also use self raising flour and omit the baking powder). Mix in the sugars.  Take my advice and do up double or even triple this amount, it will keep in the fridge for weeks, appearing at that perfect time when you are craving something sweet and fruity and those overripe peaches are calling you.  Tip over the fruit of your choice, bake at 180c for as long as it takes to cook the fruit and go crunchy golden on top.

(If you are using peaches, cherries, raspberries, strawberries, other sweet, soft fruits, don't worry about cooking them or adding any sugar.  Otherwise cook your fruit with a bit of sugar, water and maybe a knob of butter and cinnamon or lemon etc before tipping into a dish, covering with crumble and watching the oven until it's ready to eat with a big dollop of ice cream, unless you've made your own custard, in which case you are my hero.)

January 6, 2011

going back

I'm going back to work on Monday and I'm feeling rather nervous about it.  I've been in the same line of work for 12 years now and I'm beginning to wonder whether it's time for a change.  There are a few reasons behind this thinking (and it's exacerbated by two long periods away from work on maternity leave) but as much as anything, I don't feel like I'm any good at my job.  I have never enjoyed doing anything I wasn't good at so the thought of going back to something that I haven't have anything to do with for 10 months is daunting.  For a start, I've changed in the last two years.  No longer am I able (or dare I say it) willing to throw myself into work and work long hours when I have two, three (five if you include the hounds) little souls to look after at home.  And the long hours are kind of necessary.  My work is highly technical, bound by tight budgets, time restraints and demanding deadlines.  I used to thrive on this kind of pressure, and because of it I earned a respect at work of being a dependable, hard working member of the team.  Basically, if I want to do it well (which I do), my job takes a lot of time, possibly more than I am willing to give.  And so I'm nervous about how it will affect my professional reputation when I will undoubtedly want and need to put my family first.  I haven't seen it done successfully before, not without nannies, housekeepers and family support, and not for the first time, I'm feeling a little isolated, not just because we're away from family, but because I feel as though I'm going to be one of the first (at least where I work) to try and push the boundaries of what is achievable when babies are thrown into the mix of life.

If I think about what I'd like to do, it involves time with the boys, my sewing machine, gardening gloves and probably a seed catalogue.  But the reality of this is that it wouldn't pay our mortgage, or any mortgage for that matter, and we need to be realistic about what we're trying to achieve and by when.  I guess financial freedom is a big part of being happy in the long run and being able to provide for the boys, but at what cost?  It's causing me to seriously rethink whether I'm in the right profession, not just for me personally, but as a mother and wife.  I am not sure what my role in life is anymore beyond mum to Ollie and Max and I'm hoping the next few months will help me realise it.

And in other news, Christmas is over.  The tree is back in the loft. Happy Epiphany.

January 4, 2011


Last night we didn't eat with the kids for once.  They ate salmon and broccoli omelette, fruit and milk and after bed time, and in true January style commitment to my resolution to try a new dish every week, Will and I decided to cook from my new book, Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty.  We happened to have all the ingredients for his soba noodles with mango and aubergine, and it was delicious.  The only adjustment we made was to steep the red onion in lime juice so it wasn't so oniony, but apart from that, we followed the recipe to the letter and it's a keeper.

I love aubergine, and I would even go as far as to say it's my favourite vegetable.  Well, it is today, anyway.

January 1, 2011

reflect and resolve

This isn't as easy as I thought it would be to write.  2010 was a completely crazy year.  We became four when Max arrived in March only 17 months after the first time we became parents, Will started his career after months of unemployment, I took another long break from my own job to be a full time mama and Ollie dealt with more change than he'll probably ever have to cope with as a little man.  I really can't summarise it in a sentence, but suffice to say it was another year of learning, very hard work and true joy.

I often hear people say they're happy to see the end of a year and the start of a new one, but I don't think I've ever felt that way.  Each year that goes by makes me feel a little melancholy; maybe because I missed something or could have done things differently, but mainly I feel a little sad to be saying goodbye to experiences and events that I won't see again.  I'm a creature of habit, and I don't mind change, but it takes a lot of mental and emotional preparation for me to deal with it positively, so past events hold a certain comfort for me, one that slips away when we do something big like welcome in another year.

And so, here we are, it's 2011 and the start of what promises to be another big year.  I go back to work in little over a week, Max will be a whole year old, I will be 25 (that was a genuine typo, I mean 35), it will be 10 years since I met Will and we will have been married for 5 years.  I have no doubt Ollie will continue to challenge and awe us with his retreat from infancy into boyhood and I know that balancing my career with my family, home and creative urges will be demanding to say the least.  But, as I remind myself daily, we for the most part choose our circumstances, and I am grateful for the opportunity to do so.  It's hard work, but what else would I do?

Which brings me to my resolutions.  A new year.  A. New. Year.  I've never written down my resolutions before, but then I don't think I've ever kept them either, so maybe writing them down will mean this year will be different.  I think three resolutions is more than enough for one person, and probably a little ambitious, but I have more than that as I believe that when it comes to personal goals, it helps to aim wide.

  1. To floss more often.  This is a resolution carried forward from the beginning of 2010 which fizzled out shortly after Max was born.  I think every other day is reasonable, but if I can manage it once a week, I think my dentist will be happy.
  2. To try one new recipe every week.  Even though I love the idea of shopping daily at markets for the evening repast, I have, for many years now, planned our meals weekly, but lately I've been getting complacent and adding the same old dishes to the list which has meant the inclination to cook is waning.  I was given this awesome vegetarian cookbook for Christmas which is a good start.
  3. To improve my fitness.  I know everyone has this on their list, but my main aim isn't really to get fit, but to get into a rhythm of exercising more often, be it yoga, walking or cycling on a stationary bike to hardcore techno.  I think I am done with growing babies (it pains me to write that), so my body is my own again.  Time to make it feel that way.
  4. To improve my French.  I have a rudimentary knowledge of this beautiful language, but one day, I want to speak it fluently.  I will have to if we are to retire to our future chalet in the French Alps. 
  5. To stop questioning the meaning of life, and then trying to make it perfect.  It doesn't help me get through the day, and it often stops me from enjoying myself.  We're here, we have stuff to do, fun to have and wine to drink.  Get over it.  

And then, there's the ongoing effort not to let the daily grind take over my life.  I have spent my life so far worrying about what might happen and I don't think it's ever done me any good, except that I'm probably a little more organised and prepared than I might be if I didn't worry.  Never did I imagine I would be mama to two little boys (I imagined it but didn't expect it), but as much as anything else, even when they are draining me of every ounce of energy I have, they are here to remind me that I need somehow to dwell on the highs and not the lows.  Now, if I can remember that instead of a list of unkeepable resolutions, I might be getting somewhere.  
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