Monday, November 5, 2012

3 weeks, 3 cakes

So I failed to share with you Archie's birthday a couple of weeks ago.  My first-born is now 14, a proper teenager who, while apparently not growing much in height, is starting to look very different physically.  My 14th birthday always sticks out in my memory as my worst birthday ever and I wanted to make sure that his wasn't.  Mine was that way all due to my own teenage, hormonal grumpiness but all my main memories and influences came from that time.  My early teens are when I became 'me' and so I want so much for these to be happy, positive, exciting and challenging times for him.  So far he's doing great.  There was a moment on the Sunday before his birthday when I suggested that if the nonsense continued I'd be happy to 'postpone' his birthday, but it was all over and done with pretty quickly!

The child loves comic books, has just acted as a research assistant (acknowledged in the footnotes) for John in a paper on The Avengers that will be published in a book on Joss Whedon and Religion in 2013, and is Batman obsessed.  Recently John and his PhD students were having a lively debate about the recent Batman movies, when John recounted to Archie what they had said, he replied "You're all wrong" and proceeded to point out something very inciteful that they had all missed!  Anyway, the cake had to be Batman themed.

I used my old faithful vanilla cake recipe, and decided to try and make it a bit grey.  I added a few drops of paste to achieve this

 It was only when I was trimming the finished cakes that I realised how intense the colour was!  I bought some black fondant from Cupids and trawled google for inspiration.  I wanted to keep it simple so just went for a black bat then used a lustre and a damp brush to paint the edges.  I also used my finger to smudge the lustre across the silhouette.  I managed to spill some if it and tried to blow it off which gave a rather nice effect, so spilt some more!

He was very pleased with it.

6 days later we had a bit of a party with some of John's students and their familes to celebrate a significant birthday, and to say goodbye to one of "the boys" who is off back to Canada to complete writing up his PhD thesis.  It was lovely to have him and his wife here for a while but it's now back to supervisions and chats via skype.

Such a celebration would not be complete without cake.  Hanlie had ordered cake for Ashley but I was fairly confident she wouldn't have got one for herself!  Lisa and I decided on a rainbow cake which turned out just right, although next time I think I will only tint 3 layers and leave one as is.

I was glad that after the disaster of the butter icing on Archie's rainbow cake last year, it worked perfectly this time!

Then on Saturday some good friends came for dinner.  They had just moved house on Tuesday, Rachel is 7 1/2 months pregnant, and in the middle she had had her birthday!  We thought they might be glad to have a break from unpacking and unfamiliar ovens, so I had great intentions.  As it happened I got as far as baking the cake, then we spent so much time chatting that the cake ended up being very simple.  

Pale pink buttercream with sprinkles and candles did the trick!  Enough cake for 11 of us and leftovers for breakfast!!

I think that's it for cakes for a while now.  I don't bother with Christmas cakes here as it's too hot to have the oven on for ages and no one except me eats it anyway!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Elijah's Elephant

John's sister, Nic, had her first baby recently.  My lot were delighted to have a cousin and began thinking about what we could give as a "Welcome to the Family" present.  After I made my Scottie Dog, Robert suggested making an elephant which, knowing how much Nic likes elephants, I thought was a great idea.

So we used the same blanket and method.  I took lots of pics in case any one might be interested in having a go themselves.  Hopefully they are pretty self-explanatory.  

Draw your choice of animal onto large paper, remember it will be a bit smaller once you take your margins into account.  Cut out and trace onto old blanket, don't forget to cut out ear shapes if you want flappy ears!

I blanket stitched around the ears...

Stitched the eyes...

Everything in the right place...

I sewed the ears on so that they flapped over his eyes, then ironed them back into place and topstitched, catching in all the ends of the blanket stitch.

His tail is just a length of a foundation chain.  All stitched up I realized his trunk got a bit skinny, will need rectify that next time I make one...

We also made some bunting for his room.  Hopefully it will be the right colours...

As modeled by Elijah's biggest cousin!

We had a lot of fun thinking and making, hope Elijah enjoys his welcome to the family!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

To dye or not to dye...

My Mother has been white haired for as long as I can remember.  She is a very sensible woman who used to give me advice about buying good shoes, always making sure you wear a well-fitted bra and moisturising your neck.  And then she talked about growing old gracefully, all of which I absorbed as a teenager.  It was only relatively recently that she said "I wish I'd dyed my hair years ago".  Well, I nearly fell off my chair and felt my whole world had been turned upside down!  Here was this woman that I had listened to (she might fall off her own chair at that revelation...!) suddenly wishing she'd done things differently.  I was all prepared to do the "growing old gracefully" thing when it happened but then I started to wonder if I would have regrets in years to come too? I've only started to get some greys in the last couple of years (I used to pluck them but I think the whole "pluck them and they come back with 10 of their mates" thing might have some truth to it, so I have given up!) and have begun to wonder if I should start down the road of dyeing my hair...

When we first came to Australia I found the magazine I'd spent years looking for.  Notebook was a mag for grown ups who like a bit of this and a bit of that, not too many glossy ads, lots of helpful hints and tips.  Sadly it is no longer published.  But in Feb 2010 there was a great article by Susan Johnson about grey hair and how it affects women.  The opening paragraph reads "When day begins to turn to night on our heads, our most common response is to run for cover.  Instinctively we recognise the first grey hairs indicate the light within us is slowly fading".  I'm not sure I feel that strongly but certainly I am learning to accept that I am no longer 18, or even in my twenties, or thirties for that matter!  I'm not sure it really bothers me all that much, in fact I think I might be more bothered about having to fit in regular appointments with a colourist and the amount of money it will cost.

A friend, and local 'journo', wrote this great article recently and I managed to find it today.  I have been very impressed with how she went from almost black to grey, and she looks fantastic.  I too have had conversations with the kids about whether or not I should dye my hair and I was very surprised by the responses.  It was a unanimous NO.  The main reason given being that if I did it would mean that I was too concerned about my appearance...  Hmmm.  I wasn't entirely sure how to take that one, I'm not a total scarecrow!  Apparently it was meant in a nice way and the kids like that (unlike Dad - heehee!) I'm not always preening and fussing in front of the mirror.  I asked if they thought it would make me look old, to which they replied "You are."  Nice.

I have enquired about doing something when I got my hair cut a couple of weeks ago (another emergency appointment after attempting to cut it myself again, I never learn), the lovely hairdresser had some helpful and reasonably priced suggestions, but I'm still not entirely sure I want to go down that route.

What do you do?  Any tips, sage advice, funny stories?

Monday, October 1, 2012


Now I know all you expert seamstresses do this all the time and are thinking "Yeah, so what?" but for me this is a big deal!  The last time I made a skirt was 1987, from a rectangle of fabric with a piece of elastic through the waistband, no pattern and lots of help from my 'bestie' (the lovely Helen) who was very proficient.   I bought this pattern over a year ago and have been too chicken to try it out until now.  It's the McCall's 5430 which seems to have flikr and web pages devoted to it.  It claims to be a 1 hr pattern but I managed to make it over the space of 3 days.  Bearing in mind there are 5 children at home on holiday, I think that is pretty good going.

I hadn't intended to buy fabric but those crafty types in Spotlight ( see what I did there?) had cunningly placed this right at the entrance in full view.  I couldn't resist, didn't really try very hard, if I'm honest.   I figure it will make a fun skirt for Spring and Summer when it's too warm for trousers and shorts just won't cut it.  I went for option C, never one for frills and flounces.

I am delighted to say that I made no mistakes!  No cutting disasters (just as well, as I guessed how much fabric was required and guessed wrong...), no unpicking, no sewing upside down - thank goodness for the tip on someone's blog!  It is a little snug, but with Summer on it's way I will be dropping some of my hibernation weight so should be perfect.

My next plan is to attempt a semi-circle skirt with some other gorgeous summery fabric, got to make the most of this weather, not sure how much longer we'll be able to enjoy it... ;)

Picking mandarins

And this is how all photo shoots end up in this house.

I won.

Monday, September 24, 2012


I didn't do an awful lot of craft over the Winter, mostly due to the fact that whenever I sat down I fell asleep! However there have been a few things going on.

I have been making some granny square blankets to give to a friend who is off to China shortly to set up an orphanage for babies and children, mostly wee girls and children with physical problems such as cleft palates and hare lips.  She is a star and has already got doctors from Australia lined up to come and do the necessary operations for these wee souls.  I've only got 3 done so far but wanted to keep it up so that as many of the children can have something snuggly of their own.

I've also been working on some more blankets to use up my sale stash from 2 years ago.  It cost me about $24, I have already made and gifted 2 large baby blankets and there's loads left!  This one is a ripple stripe

and this one will be made up from 3 round granny squares, joined with white or cream.

Last week Miss Meg decided to be Isabella from The Invention of Hugo Cabret for Book Week which obviously had to involve a beret.  We didn't have one so she asked me to crochet one.  I googled a few patterns that didn't make a whole lot of sense to me then figured I could have a bash and make it up as I go along.  In the past I have not had success in crocheting circles, but something clicked and it worked!  She likes it so much she was wearing it again today!

Then lastly today I suddenly remembered that the wife of one of John's colleagues had recently had her 5th boy and I hadn't sent a baby gift.  Mum is Tanzanian and Dad is from Aberdeen so I thought something a bit Scottish would go down well.  I'd found a load of old ripped blankets at the Salvos so drew up a pattern, got cutting and sewing and hey presto!  A cute wee Scottie!  Hope Baby likes it!

We have a few more crafty things planned for the holidays, so will let you know how we go...  

Have a great week!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Let Them Be...

In case any of you were interested in the article I wrote for Newcastle's Child, here it is!


Them Be
In these testing times, have
we forgotten about children
being children, asks Sandra

I’m a former high-school teacher, my husband is a university professor, and we have five children spread between three different educational establishments.  So, as you might imagine, we value education.  But more and more I’m troubled by the emphasis placed on testing and exams and how the idea of children being children and having fun seems to be overlooked.  I’m writing this in the wake of NAPLAN (National Assessment Plan – Literacy and Numeracy) tests, half-yearlies and piano exams.  While none of my three who sat NAPLAN this time was overly traumatised, I am concerned about how much time was spent preparing for these tests.  Going over and over some aspect of the curriculum until it clicks may well have it’s place, such as the learning of times tables, but what about the music, drama, history, geography and art neglected in the mean time?

Often the pressure of exams can switch a child off completely and create an unwilling learner.  My oldest son recently sat a piano exam that reduced him to tears of relief when it was over.  He can play beautifully, and was accepted into the accelerated music program at school, but when exams are around the corner he gets tense, which shows in his playing.  Practising becomes a chore and causes arguments.  He has spent the last six months playing the same three pieces he will no doubt never want to hear again.  We’ve decided he will no longer sit exams unless he feels it will help. And will instead play for the love of playing.

This is the boy whose favourite teacher at school is his English teacher, because she always goes off on tangents.  She teaches them the curriculum, but more importantly takes them way beyond it.  She stimulates their imaginations, encourages debate and gives them an enthusiasm for learning that will hopefully last a lifetime.  The best teachers inspire children to learn, to ask questions, to think carefully about their answers and to become independent learners.  They tell stories and encourage their students to do the same.  I don’t think anyone would disagree that formal education is important.  I’m thankful for the opportunities I had because of a formal education, but equally what children learn outside of school from parents, extended family and the wider community is invaluable.  As a wise friend said, “school is one part of education, not the be-all and end-all”.  Education is also about learning values from parents, teachers and peers; developing an awareness of the wider world around us and how our actions affect others; learning the value of physical activity; and expressing ourselves through music, stories, art, acting and dancing. 

We went on a four-day camping holiday with friends in January, during which there was a total gadget ban – no mp3 players, no smartphones, no tvs. The kids wailed and begged, accused us of child cruelty and said they weren’t coming.  In the end they swam, ran, chased, climbed, played football, played with kites they made themselves, painted each others’ faces, painted glass jam jars and used candles to light up the site at night when we strummed guitars, chatted and played games.  They read books, hunted for crabs and learnt to look after smaller siblings and friends without causing tantrums.  They had a ball.  That’s the kind of education our kids miss out on too often these days.

I hope my tribe does well at school.  The harder they work the better their qualifications and the greater their options in life will be, but I hope this does not come at the expense of their wider education.  I will continue to introduce them to books I think they’ll enjoy, and keep ‘letting’ them beat me at tennis.  My husband will keep showing them “important and significant” films and take them to play and watch football.  We will continue our lively debates on all manner of topics around the dinner table, and subject them to an eclectic mix of music in the car when no-one can escape, and hopefully we will pass on a love of education and learning that will last their lifetimes.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Nature or Nurture?

Husband is currently on the other side of the country for work-related stuff.  Last night he had dinner at the home of a colleague who went out of his way to apologise for his 3 and 5 year olds.  He explained that they can be really naughty and sometimes jump on the furniture.  This is not the first, second or even third time that John has had to stop himself from telling said friends/colleagues that they don't know they're living.

I describe our 5 as "feisty".  Some who have met them, or witnessed their behaviour, might go so far as to call them "feral".  While we discussed this on the phone this morning I said that we have to accept that the gene pool was never going to provide us with calm, quiet, peaceable children.  If I ask one of them to do something, it's as though they see it as a challenge or a dare.  For example I might say "stop jumping on the sofa" the response to which might be the child in question eye-balling me as they jump on it again.  Do they like to be told off?  Nagged?  Shouted at?  I don't know.  Life could be so much quieter.   If I say "No" to some request in the shop, we generally don't get tantrums but there may well be strong requests for me to explain "Why not?" to which I often eventually resort to "Because I said so" or even just "Because" when all my other answers are rejected.

I occasionally look after a lovely friend's kids before school and she always asks if they have behaved.  They rarely speak and are beautifully mannered, I am sure that the same can not be said when she returns the favour with Joseph and Meg who are capable of beautiful manners and being cooperative for others, but never quiet or calm.  Ever since they were tiny we have had to tell them all not to talk to strangers, not in response, but just to leave strangers alone!  This was seen yesterday in Aldi when Robert grilled a poor lady about the contents of her shopping basket, demanding to know if she had a dog "because you have dog treats".   They have, none of them, ever been backwards about coming forwards!

I have to look on the positive side and say that while we may have to put up with a very noisy, sometimes challenging house, our kids will reply when addressed by grown ups and can hold a sensible conversation when necessary.  They have strong opinions, can express themselves articulately and do not feel in the slightest bit swayed by what others in their classes or friendship groups think.  They are mostly confident and are learning to deal with issues of temper and the urge to 'discuss' things at top volume...

Having said that, it would be so lovely to ask children to do something and have them just do it the first time without questions, debate or threats!

Monday, August 20, 2012


To continue in the vein of my last couple of posts...

Want to know what kind of blogger I am?

The kind who sits and reads through all the blogs I follow in my reader, along with others that people link to, as I gulp down my breakfast.  I laugh, nod in agreement, sigh and then race off to deal with children without letting you know I stopped by, or updating my own blog to give you something to read over your breakfast!

It's not "nice manners" as I would tell the children, but I hope any of you who read this will appreciate the pace of life with 5 kids in 3 different educational establishments to despatch in the mornings, never mind the chaos and busyness at other points in the day.  I don't often get back to reading again during the day and am sorry that I don't interact as much as I know many of you do.

I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with this blog.  It started out as one thing but I'm not sure that is what I want it to be anymore.  I hope it is entertaining and maybe makes you feel better about your parenting, in comparison to my slap dash approach, or even just as if you're joining me for a cuppa in real life to catch up with our goings on.  I would like to rant and moan sometimes, but am not entirely sure our 'relationship' is ready for "the Dark Side" yet!  

Anyway, in "real life" I have become a published writer!!  Sort of by accident really, but I gave a friend (who edited a local parenting magazine) something I had written about kids and exams and having fun.  I didn't hear back and assumed it was too awful for consideration, then was flicking through the August edition at pre-school when I spotted my name in the list of contributors!  I very nearly fell over with excitement!  Even more exciting was over-hearing a couple of teachers in a cafe discussing it!  It was all I could do not to introduce myself.   If you live in Newcastle or the Central Coast you might be able to find it in Newcastle's Child magazine in libraries, cafes or clinics.  Unfortunately there is no online link but I will see if I am able to publish here at some point.

I'm away to do some tidying.  Husband is off on a work trip to WA for the rest of the week and I like to show him that we can (just about... sort of...) cope without him so that he doesn't worry.  I'll be popping in to see you all in the morning!

Saturday, August 11, 2012


Want to know what kind of wife I am?

The kind who forgets to wash her husband's football kit...

...and he's the Captain.

It hasn't been a great week for my reputation!

He would like me to point out that he is not the kind of husband that expects his wife to wash his kit, but rather I'm a laundry control freak and won't let him near it.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012


Want to know what kind of mother I am?

The kind who is late to pre-school to pick up her child because she is painting her toenails...

...and then ignores her older children as they come home from school so that she can blog about it.

Edited to add:   I wasn't too late, gave him more time to play, and when the Big Boys come home they only grunt until they have fed themselves!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


Miss Meg was 8 on Saturday.  We were all prepared for a weekend full of football, 3 matches from early Saturday and probably 2 matches on Sunday.  We had discussed when we would manage to fit in birthday presents amid the rushing and chaos and had settled on a day in Sydney during the week (picked according to the weather forecast, as it happens, very well picked!) and presents most likely Friday night.  As it turned out, we had our day out then all football was called off due to waterlogged pitches.  Result!

Our day in Sydney was based around the Narnia Exhibition at the Powerhouse Museum and Meg's request for Yum Cha.  I had asked for recommendations on facebook and was told Marigold on George Street was the answer.  Having never experienced Yum Cha I did some googling so that I knew what was involved.  It was a great, if not slightly scary, experience!

We'd eaten most of it by this point!

We then had a quick dash to Gap and back to the Powerhouse.  The kids all enjoyed Narnia, Robert insisted on a quick whip around the Wiggles again, then the Lego exhibit before heading out to Darling Harbour where we couldn't drag the kids away from the playground.

Darling Harbour appears to be haunted!

On the way back to the car they were all doing their usual jumping about in fountains when 2 of the boys collided and Jonathan went in, we all laughed, then Meg went in!  We laughed again and then Joseph went in!  I couldn't believe it and couldn't speak for crying with laughter!  Thankfully they were also laughing and not too far from the car to get stripped and cosied up!

When Saturday came around she had requested Lego, which, as you can no doubt tell, is the "in thing" in these parts at the moment, and I was very glad indeed that the Target Toy Sale just happened to coincide and meant I could get both things she had mentioned, from us and on behalf of the "rellies".  Thank you Target!

She did some building, then we had a little Mother-Daughter time at Frankies Place, then friends came for dinner and Sand Castle birthday cake in the evening.  Rachel made flags for the cake and decided on a Saltire for Meg's place of birth, a Tricoleur  for Bastille Day and the Australian flag for our current position.  If there had been room, there would have been a Union Jack.  Niamh was a little disturbed that there was no English flag!  Meg declared it to be the "Best birthday EVER!"

"Happy Birthday to you!"