Monday 30 December 2013

Belated Christmas post

I've left it a bit late to do a detailed Christmas post so I thought I would summarise some of the highlights through pictures.

We had a marvellous time. It was a bit of a food fest stretching over several days, kicking off with a dinner on Christmas eve. In all the excitement, I forgot to take pictures of the entire spread but on the dinner table was: roast lamb, honey and soy chicken wings, cider ham with a cranberry glaze, roasted vegetables, honey and fig damper, mushroom gravy, onion gravy, and my vegan contributions, walnut and lentil balls (courtesy of Oh She Glows) and pumpkin and spinach croquettes (based on vegiehead's recipe). As usual, I ate way too much but it was all worth it!
Croquettes and lentil ball goodness
Dessert consisted of many yummy things, but one of the highlights for me were these delicious dairy-free, gluten-free vanilla cupcakes my friend brought. AMAZING! (and just quietly, also delicious for Boxing Day breakfast....)

Christmas Day itself was full of presents and family time. This year Ellie discovered the joy of ripping paper, so she opened ALL the presents. It was lovely to see her face light up with it all, and I can safely say she had a marvellous time. She was also extremely spoilt, not by Mr Fork and I who stuck to our Ellie gift manifesto) but by friends and family who assure me they couldn't help it. This is her, dressed in Christmas finery heading to lunch with the family.

Those sunglasses! I die!
In our family, we do a secret santa for the adults and mine was sneakily also addressed to Ellie. This is what I got (ok, along with a gorgeous door hook thing), because every little girl needs a pink tennis dress right?! I don't even feel ripped off that Ellie got my present, so it must be love. Isn't it adorable!?

Pink tennis dress cuteness overload
Those pineapples I've been growing? Yeah, I cut those up. I don't want to toot my own horn but they were the best pineapples I've ever tasted (since the last one I grew anyway). Tiny, but so sweet and no acid in them at all. Ellie pretty much ate the lion share of them but I did get a morsel. I've saved the tops, so hopefully I can increase production!

Nothing beats home grown produce!
Christmas in QLD is hot, hot, hot, so we're also getting a lot of mileage out of the blow up pool, especially on Boxing Day. My little water dragon is such a water baby. This photo says it all. Mr Fork was filling up the pool with the hose and she insisted he spray her so she could dance in it. Look at that joyful expression!

Loves the water, just loves it
Speaking of dragon babies, I couldn't resist showing off this cool shirt the1337mum gave me as a present. Yes, it's a geeky Game of Thrones shirt, but it's also a nod to my little girl, who was born in the year of the dragon. Appropriate, no? I paired it with my Black Milk year of the snake leggings to keep with the theme. Eagle eyed readers have also made comments about my bean necklace. That was a Christmas present from Ellie to me (it makes me feel better about buying it when I say that). When I was pregnant, I always called her my little bean, and when we knew she was a girl and we'd decided her name, she was my Ellie bean. What better way to commemorate that than with a bean necklace? I love it!

Dragon, snake, bean
Hope you had a merry, happy Christmas!

Saturday 21 December 2013

J for Juggling

Sometimes I think that motherhood is one intricate juggling act. It's a delicate balance of making sure there is enough of you to go around while being a super mum, a loving wife, a strong career woman, a good friend and trying to get a little personal time in there as well. But can we really have it all? And if we can, is it even worth it?

Before baby, I worked as an IT consultant. I did, and still do love my job. I worked long hours. When clients said jump, I said how high, and worked the time needed to deliver exceptional results. I would travel all the time, and happily live out of a suitcase and eat hotel meals for months. And then I got pregnant. And I had Ellie. Suddenly my priorities changed. We never had titles where I work. We fill whatever role needed, whether that was a manager, a tester, an analyst or something else. Now, as I tell everyone, the title that gives me the most pride and joy is "mama".

Coming back to work was a huge adjustment. A spot at daycare came up when Ellie was seven months old and I took it, because everyone knows you don't turn down your daycare of choice. I'm not going to lie, there were tears from her, and lots from me too. It was really hard to leave her with someone else after I'd spent the last seven months living and breathing her. It was really hard to come back to work while I was still breastfeeding and deal with everything that involved, from logistics through to clothing. It was excruciating not being able to see my mother's group whenever I wanted, as we splintered into the 'mamas who work' and 'mamas who don't' groups. It was just a frame of reference as those who hadn't gone back to work didn't really understand what it meant. It was hard to hear about what the mamas at home were doing when I was at work away from my baby.

I'll be honest though. It wasn't all doom and gloom. At work, I get to mentally stretch myself. I get to eat my lunch without sharing, and I get to go to the toilet whenever I want without someone trying to unroll all the toilet paper. I can leave the room and no one screams in outrage and demands to be carried. However, I don't really travel now, although I have done a couple of short trips for a few nights. In those cases, I Facetime with Mr Fork so I can talk to Ellie when she wakes and before bed. I don't work the long hours anymore, and I don't go to as many functions as quite frankly, I'd rather be home spending quality time with my family. So life has changed. Obviously for the better!

Mr Fork and the hounds are very understanding, as a change in my routine inevitably means a change in theirs. We have all had to make adjustments and take extra responsibility to make it happen. At the beginning we were all so exhausted that we would practically fall asleep in our dinner (which we all would eat at separate times anyway). Now, we have it down pat. I will get Ellie going for the day and we will eat breakfast together while Mr Fork works out and then gets ready for work. He will dress Ellie and help brush her teeth while I get ready. When I'm ready, I will pack her daycare bag and he will go to work. Ellie and I play at home and then we're out the door by 7:15. Mr Fork picks her up at 4:30, empties her dirty nappy bucket and gives her a bath. If he gets time, he will start dinner based on our meal plan or I do it when I get home around 5:30 on a good day. Somehow everyone is fed in the storm of evening activity, and Ellie is in bed by 7. Then we have a chat and catch up on our day. Rinse and repeat each day.

I am back at work 3 days a week, and I resent it when someone says I only work three days. No, actually, I work full time, seven days a week. I only get paid for three of them. I know which days are my favourite ones though.

Life is very busy now, in ways I never expected. People think that on my days off, I can swan off to the hairdressers and just get things done. I can't. My day works around Ellie's routine. Let me tell you, my 14 month old wouldn't sit still long enough to let me get my hair dressed. I can't take her lots of places for the same reason. My days not at work are spent playing with Ellie, because that's her job and because I enjoy watching her discover new things. There is no *me* time and some days, I breathe a sigh of pure relief when Mr Fork comes home. Some days I wonder where all the time went because it just speeds by. 

Look at that face! Why would I want to miss moments like this?
Weekends we have swimming lessons and then commitments vary. This time of year is very busy with lots of social gatherings bus usually weekend days are a little more relaxed. I sometimes even get to spend a few extra minutes in bed while Mr Fork entertains Ellie and brings me a coffee. Those few minutes help me keep sane and remember that I am more than a wife and a mother and an employee. It reminds me to take a few moments and just focus on me. And, it's lovely. But nowhere near as lovely as cuddles from my husband, child and furbabies. Life might be busy, and it might be a big juggling act, but I wouldn't swap it for anything.

How do you juggle everything that needs to happen in your life? Do you have help?

Wednesday 18 December 2013

A reversible drawstring Santa sack

So the next time I say, "I can make that!" followed by "wouldn't it be neat to make that reversible!", somebody remind me of this Santa sack. Especially if I shun a pattern and say "how hard can it be?" thinking I'd just do it myself. Somebody remind me of this Santa sack!

I thought that I would be crafty, and make Ellie a Santa sack.

Aside: I was gleefully showing Mr Fork the end result feeling really proud of myself until he asked me what on earth it was. So for those who don't know, the Santa sack gets left at the foot of the bed on Christmas eve for Santa to put the loot in. Mr Fork said he didn't get Santa as a child... which makes me sad. However, he did perk up when I mentioned Santa gets some milk and cookies left out. He suggested "Santa" might prefer rum instead. Right. 

I also thought it would be really neat if I used opposing fabrics and switched the top panels. You know, for a bit of a challenge... WHY DID I THINK THAT?!?! Why did I shun the pre-printed Spotlight material that just had to be cut out, given a seam and a drawstring?

Anyway, it took me a long time (much longer than I think it should have) to figure out how to do it all. I was going to do a tutorial, but I didn't take pictures along the way and I don't have it left in me to make another. Maybe next year.

In the meantime, this is what I've been making! One gloriously festive, pillow case sized, multi panel, reversible, drawstring Santa sack. I'm pretty proud of it too, if I do say so myself!

Santa sack, in all its glory

What have you been making lately?

Monday 16 December 2013

I for Intuition

When I was small, I thought that my mother was magic. If I was hurt, she could make it all better with a kiss and she seemed to have eyes in the back of her head… she just knew when I was up to no good! Now that I'm a mother myself, I realise that my mother was probably just as scared as I was half the time. That she couldn't magically make things better but the simple act of her acknowledging my hurt usually took most of the sting away. That I wasn't half as good as lying to her as I thought I was and she didn't even need a second set of eyes to catch me out.

Ellie often thinks she is being discrete when she does something, but discretion couldn't be further from the truth. I'm teaching her to play hide and seek at the moment, and sometimes her idea of hiding is to turn her back on me. I guess the old "if she can't see me, I can't see her" trick!

Anyway, the point of this post is intuition. Strange as it may seem, mamas just have it. I don't know when it turns up, probably about the same time as the hormones. When I was still pregnant, I just knew I was having a girl. Mr Fork was certain it was a boy, but I knew my Ellie bean was in there.

When she was just a few days old, we had been home from hospital for two days. I still didn't have the feeding down yet, and she was so new that she didn't have a routine, so nothing stood out, but I just knew something wasn't right. We ended up in hospital. She had very bad jaundice and they ended up having to intubate her and feed her through her nose. It was heartbreaking to see her looking so tiny and helpless and attached to machines under that blue light. We spent several nights back in the children's hospital but I'm so glad I followed my gut and took her there. She's been to hospital since then, but that first time was especially wrenching.

Mr Fork and I have a fairly relaxed parenting style. We basically follow Ellie's cues – if she's hungry, thirsty, tired, wants affection or help, she lets us know. Some things though, she can't cue us into, because she doesn't understand yet. And that's also where the intuition kicks in. Maybe it's because she and I shared a body for 9 months that it happens. When she was small, I just knew when she needed feeding, or comfort. If she was about to wake up, often I could be there just as she was wriggling around to look for me. Mr Fork sometimes says I'm coddling her, but I don't think of it like that. I think of it as giving her support until she's confident to do things her own way.

Sometimes, I think parents can get into the mindset that doctors, daycare people, teachers and other people know best because they deal with children all the time/had children before/speak loudest. I say, no one knows your baby better than you do. Especially when they can't talk yet, we need to listen to them (however they communicate) as well as to our intuition.

I'm happy for people to give me advice, but I will choose which of that advice I listen to. The person who counts, the person who knows best, is Ellie. She tells me what she needs to be a cheerful, thriving and confident person. I think she's doing it fabulously!

Do you trust your intuition?

Wednesday 11 December 2013

Men with beards are scary

I had my work Christmas party recently. The company goes to a lot of effort to make it a family day, I guess to recognise that as a consultant, long hours happen, so let's reward the partners and families and recognise it takes effort from them too. Anyway, they pick a venue where there is plenty of room and make sure there is appropriate entertainment. This year there was a live band, a giant slide, a jumping castle and a face painter.

The band was a bit of a hit. Ellie was toddling around and walked in front of them and just started dancing. It was all kinds of cute really. We also tried out the face painter. I had to bribe Ellie to stay still with a biscuit but we got there in the end. I think she looks adorable!

Unfortunately it didn't stay put for long, and to stop her looking like some sort of swamp monster with smeared colours everywhere, I relented and wiped it all off again. Mr Fork took her on the jumping castle, but I don't think she really enjoyed it with all the bigger kids making it very unsteady for her. We didn't even attempt the slide. It really was one of those giant ones you slide down on hessian sacks, and even the bigger kids were getting huge amounts of speed on it. Neither Mr Fork nor I could be convinced to give it a go.

After the lunch, Santa came out. A few months back, Ellie went through a phase of being afraid of men. I don't know why, but it was especially apparent at day care where she would scream as soon as a male walked into the nursery. Which was annoying as I'd specifically chosen her centre because they had males on the staff. It also happened when going to people she knew, even my dad, which he found hurtful. She has mostly moved past that stage, but we did a lot of work with respecting boundaries and not forcing her to go to people she didn't like. There is still a lingering fear of men with facial hair.

Which, I totally forgot when it came time to take Ellie up to get her present from Santa. I just didn't think and put her on Santa's knee for a photo. He did have a magnificent beard. I think this picture says it all:

Look at that look of abject fear. Santa was also taken aback at the loud and piercing screams she emitted. I had to zoom in on this picture so far to get that expression that it reminds me of a grainy still from Monkey Magic... is it terrible that it makes this picture even funnier to me?

I suppose in some ways, it's a good thing that she is leery of strange men who try to give her presents for no good reason. The girl has smarts! One of my Facebook friends commented that the world is changing and that even Tom Baker's (Dr Who) offers of jellybabies wouldn't fly these days. Makes sense really - we spend all our time trying to teach children stranger danger, but it's ok to sit on a fat man in a red suit's knee and accept presents? Exactly.

How are you coping with the Christmas party season? Any fearful moments for you yet?

Monday 9 December 2013

Nothing says summer like a blow up pool

Ellie has her swimming lessons on Saturday mornings, and she just loves the water. We've had lessons since she was about 3 months old and they're definitely paying off. She is a total water baby... if there is any around, she is right in it. This includes the hose when I water the garden, to splashing in mud puddles, to dashing back and forth from under cover out into the rain. I'm glad for that, because when I was little I was scared of water. My dad is always telling people that I even had to have a special hat for when they washed my hair so that water wouldn't touch my face. I later grew out of that and became a swimming champion for my school - who would have thought?!

I think the lessons are paying off as well, as the girl has no fear of water. We have a large spa bath in our bathroom, which, since it is so large, we don't fill very often. When we do, Ellie demands to go in and out all day. Last time, she slipped and fell in it (under supervision of course), but it didn't panic her at all. She took a breath as she was falling and calmly closed her eyes then found her feet. That's my brave, fearless adventurer!

Now that Summer is here and the days are warming up, Mr Fork has relented and blown up the (rather large) pool that Ellie got for her birthday. She was so excited to see it and wouldn't even wait to get dressed in swimming clothes - she insisted she be put in RIGHT NOW and proceeded to have a grand time splashing around.

I grew up near a beach, so to me, summer always meant water fun - either at the beach, on a backyard slip and slide, or just running in and out of the sprinkler. I think for Ellie, summer is a blow up pool on the balcony.

What says summer to you?

Saturday 7 December 2013

A handbag!

When I was younger, my uncle gave me a collection of the Adrian Mole stories. I thought they were fabulous and hilariously funny. There was a line in one of the books making fun of the Oscar Wilde play, "The Importance of Being Earnest". I've not seen the play so that's my frame of reference when I hear the line about a handbag. Anyway, every time I watch Ellie with her latest obsession, it's the line that runs through my head.

For lately, Ellie is obsessed with handbags. I think it started at daycare, but she brought it home with her. I would often catch her carrying around a shopping bag or dragging my (very heavy) computer bag along the floor. Finally I relented and gave her one of my less used smaller handbags (a very nice red one I might add).

She loves it. She carries it around all the time, draped over one shoulder, or across her body. All the while, she does this very queenly wave. I'm sure that I don't do that myself, but she must have picked it up somewhere! Sidenote, but it's very funny the way babies see the world. For example, Ellie also believes that when people talk on the telephone, the correct location of the phone is at the back of one's neck....

I digress. What I wanted to share is this photo that cracks me up, because it is so Ellie. Here she is, pootling around the house with her favourite red handbag accessory. She is having too much fun to stop and let me take a non-blurry photo. Stuffed into her bag are all of life's essentials. Her toy mobile phone (for talking from the neck back, naturally), a single toddler sized shoe, and a handful of sultanas. Every so often she will run up to me and demand kisses and then resume dashing around, handbag in tow.

I do love her so.

Does your child imitate adult life in amusing ways? I'd love a giggle if you'd like to share.

Friday 6 December 2013

Mango and coconut mini wacky cakes

After the success of my first wacky cake, I thought I'd experiment with a variation. What better excuse than a play date to make some mini cakes?

I omitted the cocoa and apple puree this time. Instead, I used maybe a quarter cup of shredded coconut and a mango, which I cut into small pieces. I used some coconut oil instead of the vegetable oil and baked it in small muffin moulds. Because the mango was so moist, I also didn't need the full cup of cold water.

I think next time, I'll puree the mango. While it would have been fine in a big cake, the mini moulds weren't very forgiving with space and there were a few that had big chunks of mango at the bottom which meant that they were a bit soggy and didn't hold their shape (I ate those!). 

Apart from that, these were delicious, and a big hit with Ellie and her friend (and the mummies!). Wacky cake - forgiving and delicious.

How has your week been? After my rant, we managed to get our Christmas tree up on the 1st. Just.

Mr Fork and I remembered about an hour before Ellie's bedtime, so we hustled to get the tree, unpack it and get it set up and the lights untangled. At that stage, Ellie was too tired to care, so we finished it all after she went to bed. Every night afterwards though, she's been entranced with those lights. I can't wait to take her around to look at all the decorated houses!

You might also notice that all the decorations are up high. They were spaced beautifully on the tree, until we realised that Ellie was pulling them down and stashing them around the place. We've yet to find them all again, but those that we have are now beyond grabbing range. For the same reason, presents are not under the tree yet. I just don't trust her and the hounds.

How do you child proof your tree? Is it up yet?

Tuesday 3 December 2013

Wacky cake - strange name, great taste

Recently one of my mummy friends put me on to a great recipe: wacky cake. It's egg free, soy free and dairy free and actually, it's not really so much of a recipe, but more of a guideline. You can vary it to suit tastes and I think it's one of those glorious mixtures that is hard to stuff up! Even better, it's not finicky at all, cheap to make and it's child friendly!

Taking approximately 5 minutes to whip up and 25 minutes to bake, this is a winner in my books.

Here's what I did:

  • 1.5 cups plain flour (I used one cup white flour, half a cup of wholemeal)
  • 1/4 cup raw sugar
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • pinch salt
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla essence
  • 5 tbsp vegetable oil *
  • 1 cup cold water
That's the basic recipe. You mix the dry ingredients, then add the wet, mixing gently until just combined. Put into your tin and bake at 175C until it springs back when touched. 

Now, as you can see, mine looks a little different from the ingredients indicated! I switched it up a little (because we know I can't help playing with a recipe to make it 'mine').

I added:
  • 2 tbsp cocoa powder
  • * approx 1/2 cup of apple puree (and then I reduced the oil and water added to compensate)
As with any vegan cake mixture, you need something to bind it instead of egg. As well as moisture, that's what the oil and water are doing in the original recipe. I used apple puree to make it a little healthier, and also reduce the amount of oil needed. As with regular baking, the tip is to mix the dry ingredients, then add the wet. Once that baking soda is wet, it activates and that's what helps your cake to rise so you want to avoid over mixing so you don't end up with baked concrete, and get it into the oven as soon as possible.

So, the verdict?

Delicious! Quick, easy, and a bit of a hit with both the adults and Ellie too. Hurrah! I'm going to add this one to my regular baking rotation and have some fun with it. 

I also think it would be great with some of the following added:
  • cherries
  • shredded coconut
  • pineapple
  • dates
  • berries
  • mashed banana (I have it on good authority from aforementioned friend that 2 bananas makes it a little stodgy so one sounds just right, although I don't care for banana myself)
  • sultanas
  • cacao nibs
  • apple pieces
Do you have a go-to baking recipe? Or one that you use as a basis for adding other flavours to? I'd love to hear about it in the comments!

Sunday 1 December 2013

Garden visitors

I mentioned a few days ago about how my garden grows. Well, as much as possible, I like to sit out on the deck and enjoy the breeze (and check out the plants).

These little guys came for a visit and a chat as Ellie and I were having morning tea. We're also lucky enough to get some lizard visitors and it's not unusual to see skinks sunning themselves (while the hounds are distracted elsewhere naturally).

I love that our garden attracts wildlife. I grew up in a rural area where it was not unusual to have kangaroos in the backyard and to see kookaburras, frill neck lizards and the occasional echidna. Not to mention the snakes and spiders the size of my father's hand.... ugh. While Mr Fork gets to deal with any creepy crawlies we get, I'm so glad Ellie can experience some of the nicer visitors!

What kind of animals visit where you are?


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