Saturday, June 26, 2010

Preschool Pain and Baby Ballet.

Ivy has been having a hard time at pre-school for the last few weeks. A couple of little girls have told her 'We don't like you. You're not our friend.'

*cue the sound of a mothers heart breaking*

Ivy didn't tell me; another Mum did. Ivy just went quiet and became very clingy with the teachers. Some little friends of hers have formed an intense twosome, and they're learning how to manage their desire to just be with each other. Nobody's fault. One of those lessons in life and relationships, right? A necessary rite of passage? I hope so. It hurts. These things might roll off some kiddos, but not Ivy. Sensitive Ivy has taken it hard. Eventually I got her to talk about what happened. 'It's bad news when somebody doesn't like you, Mama, ' she said. I'm talking, story-telling, hugging; but she's struggling to move past 'I don't know how to make friends, Mummy.'

*cue another chunk of my heart breaking off*

Keith is upset too. When I told him, we looked at each other and shouted 'Homeschool! Homeschool!'

I've decide to try and inject a bit more socialisey fun into her life, so today I took her off to her first ballet class. She dressed herself in the black tutu from the dress-up box, her much-loved 'Bring Back Warnie' t-shirt and a skull bandanna. 'This is who I am, people.'

It was pretty adorable watching a room of tiny toddlers pointing and skipping, and I really enjoyed the theatre of sourpuss stage mums in their natural habitat. 'Tamara! Pull up your sleeve or we are leaving!' But overall, baby ballet wasn't Ivy's scene. On the way home, Ivy said 'That was fun, Mum but we shouldn't do ballet anymore. ' I pictured my little punk princess, surrounded by pink leotards and frilly socks, and remembered the moment she stretched her arms high and revealed a belly covered in temporary skull-and-crossbones tattoos.

"OK, Ivy-Cakes,' I said.'Next week we'll check out the circus class.'

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Iron Carrot

I'm back from computer-exile. Looking forward to catching up on all your doings. Keith arrives home today, but not quite to the country he left.

There's been a estroegen epiphany! A bosomy blindside! A vag for victory, if you will. (I will if you will...)

Kevin Rudd was still hanging on when Keith left; polling lower than a cane toad, it's true, but surely not expected the kind of brutal, late-night, slug-to-the-back-of-the-neck farewell he got this week. Anybody else find his final press conference excruciating to watch? His teary wife standing by, unable to help. His stoic, shocked teenage son. Kevin's final attempts at lame dad-jokes. Even worse was his demeanor at Question Time yesterday afternoon. Sitting up the back, shoulders slumped and lip quivering, he looked like a boy who'd gone four rounds and lost to the school bully. An incredible little sound grab on the radio caught Kevin coming out of the party room yesterday and asking quietly 'Whaddya reckon just happened?'

I think we all feel a bit like that.

Today I've been settling into home; shopping, washing, sweeping and catching up on some interesting analysis. This radio national podcast paints a fascinating picture of what was happening in Parliament House the night it all went down. The whole thing is a bit scary to me in its Machiavellian, back-room style. If this is the future of politics, what can we expect next?

But I'm a big Gillard fan, and the feminist in me is fist-punchingly excited that we have a woman leading our country. And points to the first pundit who maps her cycle and works out which week she's making her snappiest, most narky comebacks to Kerry O'Brien...

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Later, Alligators

Keith is off tonight to Hawaii for a gathering of the eggheads. I'm taking the kiddos to Mums for a few days to get me a dose of sister, eat good food and talk into the night. Ivy is VERY excited that Nanna plans to pull out the pasta machine for some foodie-craft (she's all about Masterchef right now.)

I'm going to catch up with some beloved buddies and stay off the computer for a few days.

I hope you all have a wonderful few days full of warm tuggles and jazz hands.


Friday, June 18, 2010

The Double Drop-Off

July Column for Practical Parenting Magazine

There is a secret language spoken only by parents. We start learning it as soon as that little wee-stick shows two blue lines, and it contains strange phrases like ‘mucous plug’ and ‘stomach-muscle-separation’ and ‘perineal massage.’ After the birth, it adds concepts like ‘trampoline-induced-incontinence.’ And once our little people are old enough to spend time in the company of others, the phrase ‘double drop-off’ enters our vocabulary.

This is not to be confused with the southward journey knockers can take after breastfeeding, but to the preschool/daycare/big school loop we must start driving once the children come of age. Ivy is spending Thursdays and Fridays at pre-school this year and Teddy, on Fridays, is entering the world of family day-care with Wayne (whom I like to call his manny.)

The actual dropping-off part of the process is painful, even when I can hear the crying stop before I reach the door. As I drive away alone, a little part of me (OK, a big one) is shouting ‘Free at last! Thank God Almighty, I am free at last!’, and yet, that first solo latte is tainted just slightly by the acid bile of guilt eating away at my stomach lining, no matter how many times I compulsively check my mobile. If my phone does ring my heart stops and my brain says ‘Appendicitis! Head injury! Random pre-school shooting!’ And then I pick up and my mother says ‘Your father is doing my head in with this EBay business.’

Our new weekly rhythm is an adjustment. The babies must get along without Mum, and I have to re-learn that when alone in public, grown women don’t usually talk out loud: ‘Ooh! Look at that mans hat!’ or sing a rundown of what’s next on the daily agenda to the tune of ‘Do You Know the Way to San Jose.’ Most importantly, I can’t grab and kiss the sweet fat legs next to me every time I feel a surge of love. Ladies don’t like that in Bi-Lo, I’ve found.

In practical terms, I must start preparations the night before because I am enthusiastic, rather than organized, and it takes me a long time to infuse all my love and affection into lunch and morning tea. Mummy can’t be here, kiddos, I want these little packages to say, but she loves you very much and she made you a blueberry muffin with special powers to dry tears and repel bullies. Bag-packing is more layered and potentially disastrous than a Middle East peace summit. Hats. Sunscreen. Spare clothes. Lunch. Morning tea. Water bottles. Special toys. Dummies. Nappies. Forms and letters. (A deep breath. Two aspirin. A nice lie-down.)

Once I’m on top of the bag-packing, the last step is learning the new social rules. To be honest, I’m a little off in that area so far. When saying hello to a new mother on the path last week I accidentally sneezed and farted at the same time. But it got worse. Just this morning, I was bent over into the car, strapping Teddy into his seat, when my fisherman’s pants undid themselves and slid to the ground. Other mothers may handle this aspect of parenting with poise and glamour but for me, it seems, the double drop-off equals twice the chance to do the mothers walk of shame.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Grasshopper Island.

We happed upon a wonderful DVD at the library last week. It's called Grasshopper Island, made in 1971, and tells the tale of three boys who run away to live on an uninhabited island. (The Island Without Grown-Ups - one of the best genres of all, I think.)

Tim Brooke Taylor plays the Voices of Authority, and the whole thing has this slightly Sergeant Pepperish, whimsical sensibility. Dead-pan Veddy Bliddish narration. Lots of Goodies-style speeded-up silly running. Costumey hats. It's really gorgeous, and now I want to hunt out the book.

So we've been acting as the boys all week: Smarty (who knows a lot), Toughy (who wants to be a soldier) and Mouse (who likes cheese.) In one episode, they map the island, so we decided to make a map. It started off just the way I had it in my head:

But these kids just cannot keep the paint on the page and off the booty.

First, hands.

Then legs. We see what you're thinking, Ted. And Ivy, I'm sure you didn't start this session wearing pink stockings.

Then faces. This is where I pulled the plug.

Ivy and I cut and pasted the map together while Teddy slept, and then we taped it above her bed, just like the real Smarty does.

I'm happy to be Toughy. At least, it's better than having to be Daddy, which is the other character imposed on me this week. Ivy misses her Dad when he's away. I do understand. But still, 'Mummy, I wish you could be Daddy for the rest of my life' is taking things a bit too far.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Grasshopper Soup.

Saucepan + water + dirt buys just enough time for Mum to hang out the clothes on the terrace above the action. Chilly, cloudy day = terrible laundry-drying weather, but really pretty camera light.

And in moving pictures:

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Cold-Pressed Lemon-Scented Soap

I've been planning to try my hand at soap-making for the longest time. Keith even bought me a swanky candy thermometer last Christmas. This weekend, I finally got around to it.

I followed Rhonda's cold-pressed soap-making tutorial over at Down To Earth. She describes the benefits of hand-made soap well.

Often commercial soap is made with tallow (animal fat) and contains synthetic fragrance and dye and retains almost no glycerin. Glycerin is a natural emollient that helps with the lather and moisturises the skin. The makers of commercial soaps extract the glycerin and sell it as a separate product as it's more valuable than the soap. Then they add chemicals to make the soap lather.

Her tutorial is an excellent resource, but it had a few holes that threw me along the way. I thought I'd outline some of my problems and resolutions in case any of you are planning to attempt this project.

I found this tutorial was much more specific and you should definitely read through it first, even if you follow Rhonda's photo-guidelines as you make your soap.

There's a lot of equipment to gather, and the amount of oil you need is surprisingly high- I guessed that a bottle of each would be fine, but I had to do some maths and substitute extra oils for the ones I ran out of, so stock up. Or, you know, um, read the recipe properly.

Choose a mould carefully. Rhonda doesn't go into much detail, except to advise choosing plastic or Pyrex over metals. I used a size-appropriate cake tin, but I really struggled to get my finished soap out. Make sure yours has no ridges. Next round, I think I'll line the mould with baking paper.

Find a cute 3 year-old under-chemist to help you grease your mould.

Working with the caustic soda, or lye, is the hairy part of the process, and also the area where I needed to search past Rhonda's tutorial. She's clear on the safety aspects: wear goggles and gloves, don't breathe the fumes - but hazy on the details of the actual process.

You need to add the caustic soda to water in one container, while separately, your saucepan of oils is heating on the stove. Once the lye meets the water, the chemical reaction immediately begins to heat the solution. You're supposed to get the water/lye mix to 50 degrees before adding it to your oils, which must also be at 50 degrees. Tricky.

Be prepared for how fast the lye mix heats - it's unexpectedly swift and according to later reading, it can get to 200 degrees quickly. It's just scary enough to be exciting. By the end of the saponification (soapmaking) process, the caustic soda is neutralised, so your soap will be totally gentle, you can take your goggles off in the shower and you will have learned a new five-dollar word into the bargain.

OK, now channel your inner Sexy Chemist.

It's supposed to take twenty minutes of stirring to reach 'trace', when the soap is stable enough to pour into your mould. I stirred gently, trying not to splash, while chatting to Keith about issues big and small. Mostly small. But the tutorial is a bit off here too.

At twenty minutes, nothing was happening, so I did a little net- searching. Turns out it can take up to an hour to reach trace while hand-stirring, and you need to get some good elbow grease in there to activate things, so it's much better to use a stick blender. As soon as I got the machinery happening, I reached trace in a couple of minutes.

At this stage I added about twenty drops of pure lemon essential oil.

Then it's just a matter of pouring into a mould and wrapping - according to another source- in lots of towels to keep the soap insulated for as long as possible - overnight is best. Hours later, the package still felt like a hot-water bottle under it's layers. What an amazing process.

This morning, it was cool, and smelled lovely.

I unmoulded it- with difficulty, and cut the soap into bars.

It needs to sit to harden and cure for about six weeks now, turned around once a day, before it's ready to use.
I think this batch of soap will last us a long time, and next time, I'll do a better job. The possibilities for soap-related projects are endless: liquid soap, dishwashing liquid, kids shampoo... All up, a totally satisfying Saturday project.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Puppy Love.

Ivy and Teddy have decided they both want to be dogs called Pudding. There's a lot of crawling and barking going on.

They are allowed to eat bowls of muesli like this.

On the condition that when they're finished, they do this.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Old Men Dancing. Hip Ray!

Okay, enough of the depressing moral quandaries! None of us will ever eat again. But thank you for all your interesting comments. My, what a marvellous, intelligent and wildly attractive bunch you are.

But, collectively, we also forgot about the bastard duopoly that runs the supermarkets in Australia, and also about the palm oil plantations desecrating the orangutan habitat in Borneo (potentially to extinction.) It's close to impossible to avoid palm oil products, but you can download a PDF of the Palm Oil Scorecard which can help to navigate through this confusing issue (originally posted at Towards Sustainability.)

Let's stop worriting our pretty heads for ten minutes and look back to a sweeter, more innocent time, when instead of making the food shop into an ethical minefield, old men just kicked up their arthritic heels and danced their flat little bottoms off.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Ethical Eating Hurts My Head.

I'm really keen to go and see the new film Food, Inc; but I'm scared.

Already, ethical eating creates a bit of a death match challenge for me. It's a juggle between the environment, our health, and the budget, and when one wins, another usually loses.

For example, a can of organic tomatoes is pretty cheap these days: (win: BUDGET and HEALTH) but they are bottled in Italy (lose: ENVIRONMENT.) Etc, etc, etc....

I try and really limit our processed food. I bake our bread and cook from scratch most of the time. I'd like to make more: the muesli, the mayo, the jam, the pasta... but it doesn't happen enough. I dream of a kitchen garden like Jamie's:


...but growing our own is not an option yet. Apart from the small detail of being a crap gardener, by the end of the day I am happy to have kept the family alive and watered, let alone the vegies too.

We're not vegetarians (lose: ENVIRONMENT), and increasingly I struggle to buy meat that I feel OK about. I worry about factory farming, but organic meat is usually really expensive. So we eat free-range chicken, and when we eat red meat, it's usually lamb (which is more likely to be pasture- raised, I've been told.) Sometimes I buy hormone-free,pasture-fed happy-lamb from a nearby butcher who also stocks preservative-free bacon (win: HEALTH, lose: BUDGET.) Really, I'd like to buy a deep-freeze and purchase half a happy-lamb at a time, but Keith's not keen because of the energy cost of running another big appliance (win: HEALTH, lose: ENVIRONMENT.)

We often get a weekly box of veges from the organic co-op (win: HEALTH), grown ata local community farm (win: ENVIRONMENT) but it is expensive (lose: BUDGET) and the quality isn't that great. I've tried the fruit box (win: HEALTH, lose: BUDGET) ) but I'm not sure how to feed a family of four on seven grapes and half a pomegranate. Plus sometimes I can't be arsed putting together something witty with daikon radish and kale. I just want to watch Masterchef and eat a rissole, dammit! There's a local fruit and veg that is fantastic and so cheap (win: BUDGET, ) but the veges are conventionally grown (lose: ENVIRONMENT and HEALTH.) I feel really worried about pesticides and other interference with our food.

Can you even imagine what future research may discover we are doing to our physiology with the amount of pesticides, chemical-enhancers and GMO technologies used to make our food visually appealing, long-lasting and full o' flavour (TM)? It's only over the last two or so generations that it has become so normal, in the West, for us to eat so much processed, modified and out-of-season food. I hate to put on my crazy hat (it's made of foil and it has flaps) but asthma? autism? peanut allergies? ...could it be...?

Recently, Mamamia printed a useful list of 12 top and 15 worst pesticide-affected vegetables - a good one to print and clip for the wallet, I think, when judging purchases and planning menus.

Chocolate's another one. Personally, I count it as a food group, but can I enjoy it any more? No. It's only bloody grown using child slave labour. There is, luckily, a Fair Trade line from Cadbury that's stocked in the big supermarkets.

Sometimes a little information is a dangerous thing. Looking at a trolley next to me stocked with potato chips and processed cheese, obviously the groceries of a woman without a raised food consciousness, I feel the little voice inside me whisper. It's not judging though. No, it's saying 'Oh, you lucky cow.'

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Yes Rain, You've Made Your Point.

We're old school here at the ranch, in terms of newfangled conveniences like your flushing
tor-lets and your town water. We're tanky-wankers, so when the rain buckets down like it has for the last few weeks, it's happy noise for us.

But come on, torrential downpour! Did you have to arrive during my favourite time of year? The season thats been marked on the calendar for weeks? The happy holiday known as Hard Rubbish, dammit?

It's like the Grouch says:

My scavenging heart has broken while the water has poured down and soaked all the delicious piles of crap by the road. I've only managed to snaffle one thing, but I do like it. I wonder what it welcomed before?

Right now I'm writing while Keith is on baby duty. We are all about swapsies on a lazy weekend day like this, with an hour on, hour off system. During your hour, you're on kid-duty, so you can do whatever you like while managing the smallies. Then we swap. Sometimes we give each other a few minutes extra, just for being good.

In breaks between rain-showers, I've been trying to tame the laundry monster, Keith has been measuring out a raised vegie bed, and Ted and Ivy have been making some excellent mud pies.

The mud is chilly though, so after a good pie-session, I put them to work tramping on a woolly blanket I was soaking in the bath. Once they sat on a warm, soft bath-cushion, there was no getting out again. It rained before I could hang it on the line, so they're sitting on it again tonight. It might be there for weeks, frankly.

Teddy is really getting some vocabulary going, and it is amazing to watch him communicate his internal world, even if sometimes it hurts ones feelings. Tonight, I served up pasta for dinner. Slaving, hot stove, etc etc. Teddy looked at it and announced 'Dog food, Mama.'

Everyones a critic.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Hip Ray for Domestic Day

We're deep in Domestic Day today, where we don't get in the car, and we try to make a dent in the housework. The kids have been following me around with lemon-oil and white-vinegar soaked cloths and cleaning corners.

I'm picking ticks off little heads.
Making plans to take Keith on a secret date.
Serving hot Milo in the skull cup and frozen blueberries in the cow bowl.
Listening to podcasted Safran and NPR.

I'm still on a bit of a package high from yesterday (a useful phrase for the sex addicts amongst us? No judgement) but the bod is weary.

This morning started at 5.30 when Teddy decided that sleep was for the weak.We've been up and down all through the nights for the last couple of months with both of them, but Ted's new passion is for 'Row, Row, Row Your Boat' at all hours of the night. 'Rowboat!' he demands and 'Hip Ray!' he cries when we wearily accede. 'Hip Ray!' is pretty hilarious as an expression of delight and I like to use it myself whenever I can.

But I think I need a new lullaby:

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

In Which I Come Over Right Mooshy.

I started writing this blog when Ivy was five months old.We'd had just fled the city and moved in amongst the barbarian bobos on the coast. Tearfully, I'd I'd left behind a bunch of beloved buddies, a big clutch of whom had all hit thirty-five and jumped on what my friend Lucy called 'the last train to Babytown.' Even my darling little sister was peachy. It was a tough time to start over. Newly minted into mama-hood, I arrived in town and sourced a mothers group. At our first meeting the baby nurse introduced me. 'This is Rachael, and she's just moved to the area.' 'Yes,' I said and added, Single White Female style 'and I've got no friends!'

In an attempt to keep our crew looped into our changing lives, I googled 'what is blog + lazy technophobe' or something similar. Incredibly; this free template popped up that allowed me to post copy in one hole and pics in another, and there it was, a website, all professional and fancy-looking! (To my shame, I haven't progressed out of the template since.)

I loved writing in this little sort of diary for our far-flung family and friends, but I didn't read any blogs when I started. Slowly I happened on one or two other sites and began to get a sense of this whole new world. This system where if you liked what somebody had written, you could tell them. If the conversation was interesting, you could chip in. The first time somebody I didn't know left a comment on a post I'd written it blew my mind.

I re-hooked up with a few long-lost good friends in the most satisfying way, and I started to feel weirdly connected to people through reading about their lives. I learned stuff. I laughed a lot. My thinker got interested. I started entering the conversations.

Three years on, I'm still living with the bobos and the babies, and my profoundly shifted friendship and social geography has settled into its new shape. I adore my coastal community (and I even retain a couple of friends I didn't scare at that early mothers group.) I see my old friends whenever I can, in intense bursts, and I've come to terms with my radical sisterectomy. But now I have this whole other community too; this blogging gang, this group of fascinating women across the globe, with whom I share a language and a culture, and a history of sorts.

It's freaky, man. Especially when they cross the INVISIBLE WALL into REAL LIFE.

A package arrived today from Georgie Love- you might know her from such classics as Awesome Online Emporium and Gorgeous Store of Gorgeousness. She sent me a gift because I was having a rough time a few weeks ago and she wanted to cheer me up.

But, fellas, this package was so amazing, like a beautifully wrapped Tardis of art that kept offering up more wonders. Bubbles for Ivy and Ted. Chocolates. A beautiful book. A gorgeous top. Hair clips. Lucky dips. An affectionate and charming card. And maybe even more bits that I've forgotten.

In the car, I cried. It was like a shower of love fell onto my lap from the universe.

I've never met Sal from Georgie Love. She lives far away. But I could tell you many, many things about her life, her family, her good days and her bad ones. Funny stuff and thoughtful stuff. She could tell you the same about me, and she's not the only one. She's not even the only one who's sent random mail - the lovely pottymouthmama surprised Ivy with some crazy skull fabric when she was deepest in her skull obsession, and that just made our week too.

Blogging buddies, you are really wonderful. And Georgie Love, you're amazing. I'm touched in my deepest non-lady parts. I'm inspired to some random acts of love now, too, so beware, ladies,and prepare for CRAP IN THE MAIL!