Thursday, February 28, 2013

Birthday Cakes

This post was first published in Practical Parenting Magazine, January 2012

I have a theory that the ‘birthday cake’ segment of a kid’s brain is highly developed. Overly developed, in fact. So much so that a snapshot of a pre-schoolers brain at any point in time would break down something like this: 10% thinking about toast, 10% thinking about Peppa Pig and 80% thinking about their next birthday cake.

We're just emerging from the tail end of high season at our place, where four family members have birthdays over a couple of months. Parties are exciting, presents are fantastic, but the cake, for my crew, is the pinnacle of the whole celebratory mountain of riches.

We have a copy of the classic Women’s Weekly Birthday Cakes book that has been mended with so much sticky tape that it is twice its original size. My eldest kid only just turned six, so it hasn't been trashed through cooking.  Rather, it has been pored over, dissected and explored so many times by the kids that they have almost loved it to death, in their quest to find the cakes with the greatest lolly-to-sponge ratio.  

Both big kids can reel off all the cakes they have ever had in their short lives. Each one is a historic record, a snapshot in time that captures their interests and passions from that year, like the beach-scene cake made when T-Bone was two. It featured dogs made of dates and so much lurid blue icing that the grown-ups could barely eat it.  At three, both big kids were mad-in-love with The Wiggles, so their cakes had cardboard Jeff’s and Murray’s stuck wonkily onto paddle-pop sticks, leaping out of the top and grinning like maniacs.

At four, Peanut was both jolly and morbid. She loved skulls, anatomy, blood and dinosaurs, and liked to dress up as a character she called the Black Ghost.  Her T-Rex cake featured a plastic pig covered in raspberry jam and dangling from the dinosaur’s jaws. (Served with apologies to the vegans at the party.) Not long after, Peanut left her emo hobbies behind and leapt with gusto into the land of fairies and princesses. Her little brother, always wanting to be just like his big sister, followed suit, and so on his fourth birthday he requested a pink castle cake covered in glinting jewel lollies. This year Peanut turned six and swapped fairy princesses for Indiana Jones. (“Mum,’ she confided yesterday, ‘If I met Dr. Jones, I would kiss him!” I gave her a hi-five. ‘You and me both, Peanut!’ I said.) Her birthday cake was a treasure chest, overflowing with plastic jewels (and lollies, of course.)

Baby Pudding’s first birthday cake last month was a little bit of a disaster. It didn’t rise, I whipped the cream into butter and it was all a bit flat and dense, much like I was feeling. It was, perhaps, some kind of psychic detective cake, all a bit indicative of my state of mind through this first tough year of raising three kids under six. I feel a bit whipped into butter myself. But I feel my mojo returning. By Puddings second birthday, I think I’ll be back in the swing of family life, and Pudding’s personality will be really starting to flower. I can’t wait to watch this baby of mine develop, to find what makes her heart sing, to see who she is. And once I see what she loves, I will put it on a plate, stick two candles in it and celebrate it. 

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Que Sera Sera

A lot of travelling this week,  physically and emotionally. A couple of important doctor visits on the cards.
Yesterday I went in to the Children's Hospital to check up on Georgie's progress. This baby, so bright and happy that we forget she ever had an accident, is nonetheless, still under the care of the brilliant and empathetic doctors at the Brain Injuries Unit. She will be checked again in six months time.

I am grateful for our health system, but these hospital appointments are very emotional times for me. As the day approaches for the visit I find myself worrying and watching, and the memory of the accident itself flashes, horribly and suddenly, into my mind. 

Oh, I am glad that Georgie is our third baby. If she was our first, I think I would have been consumed with anxiety about her developement. As it is, we are too busy to think about it, and so little George goes happily about the process of growing up - chatting, babbling, climbing, shrieking, reading books and being adorable.  
Tomorrow, I have an appointment to see a neurosurgeon to discuss my spine and its zany idiosyncracies. I have been gathering MRI and X-ray information to prepare for this appointment, and my x-ray report reads, in part: 'Query possible screw disruption at L2'. This is the spot where my spine has been popping out a golf-ball sized lump at unexpected moments over the last year. I am both pleased to be a step closer to solving the mystery, and terrified about what the solution might be.
In the end, it will all unfold as it will  and we will muddle on through.
As for the good news, tonight: pork belly and ice cream (not on the same plate.)

Monday, February 25, 2013

Cupboard Love

Bit by bit. my kitchen is slowly coming together. I spend so much time in this space. Half my life, it feels like. Luckily, I love to cook, to feed, to plan a menu, to dress a table, to create a meal. Perhaps it is my Irish ancestry that makes my heart feel so happy when I look upon a full pantry. That potato famine really sucked apparently. 

This turquoise pantry has been without handles for weeks. I got so used to losing the top pads of my fingers prising open the drawers, that now every time I pull on a handle, I get a thrill at how fabulously easy it is to open . (Just one of the benefits of the lazy approach.)

I love these crazy handles. They might not be Vogue Living...but they are Mogantosh, for better or for worse. And oh god, now I am talking about myself in the third person. Somebody shoot me with the nobby gun. 

Next: to finally paint the cupboards that have been undercoated and awaiting my attention for at least six months.  The clock is ticking! (Very, very slowly.) 

Saturday, February 23, 2013

7+8/52: A Portrait Project

An attempt to capture the spirit of my smallest baby Georgette, by documenting her in a photo every week for a year. See more at Jodie's 52 Project.  

This instalment covers at LEAST 2 weeks worth of portrait George. I couldn't narrow your love of books down to one photo, because every day, you want to read and read and read. 

You read with Nanna. 
 You hang out and read in your room. 

You read while you eat. 

You make Teddy read you the books he knows.  Basically, you climb up on the rocking chair and just yell until a big person joins you with a book. It's an effective strategy. 

You can always squirrel a few out of Ivy. When a book is nearing the end, you climb down and run and grab a new one before the last is over. You're no sucker. 

If everybody is occupied, you read alone. In fact your book piles are getting bigger by the day. 

You read with Dad, and, of course, you read with me. Many, many times a day. I love that you are such a reader George. 
I have been a book-lover all my life, and books have brought me immense joy. In the the blink of an eye George, you will be six, like your  big sister, and going off to bed to read your Indiana Jones book, wearing a baby's bathrobe and comfortably ensconced in a nest you decorated yourself, with your torch tucked away so you can read 'just a bit' longer after Mum turns the lights off.

Happy times. 

Friday, February 22, 2013

Goats Yelling Like People

These goats sound like me trying to get the kids ready for school.

Happy Friday!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Everyone's a Critic, And I Am Barbra.

The other day I made a joyful discovery while tooling around on Spotify for something to play while I houseworked. I found this Barbra Stresiand Broadway album, and when I started blasting it, my deep braincase remembered all the lyrics - I must have had this CD in an earlier time. It really made my -laundry-washing-up-folding-weeping-in-defeat housework routine a lot brighter.

The next morning, while grumpy children were eating toast,  I said 'Do you want to see something?' and then I turned 'Putting it Together' up to eleven, and threw myslef into a super-cheeseball performance. It was word perfect (if I may be so bold), heavy on the jazz hands, and embarassingly expressive in every way.

Ivy stared, open-mouthed, at the whole show. Teddy looked to one side, both pained and ashamed. I finished with a big  jazz flourish and Ivy cried 'Do it again!" "Never do that again,' said Ted.

Everyones a critic.

Here is Babs doing my number. She is pretty good too. I suggest you add her to your housework.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

For Shame.

Georgie is obsessed with dummies. Every time we pluck one out of her mouth, she seems to magic another up out of nowhere. I think she is hiding them around the house like alcoholics hide their stubbies.

Today, I went to do the shopping and as I said my goodbyes, I whipped a dummy our of Georgie's mouth. She wailed in protest but I told her 'We want to hear you talk, George!' (Also, I was leaving, so I didn't have to deal with the fall-out. )

I had no pockets, so on a whim I stuck the dummy in my bra. Now I am not breast-tacularly endowed like some mamas, who can tuck car keys and tissues and pepper spray into their impressive cleavage, ready for any emergency.  I don't know why I suddenly channeled a DD life. I don't know why I do half the things I do, in truth.

I visited several shops before I got home and went to the loo, only to realise  that the front of me looked both terrifying and strange. Basically  the dummy was poking at a  jaunty angle out of the front of one bra cup. It looked like I had either a) a massive, medically significant growth or b) one nipple shaped like a jumbo-sized dog biscuit.

In general, as far as dignity goes, it is all downhill for mothers after childbirth. But I still think I reached... not quite a new low, but perhaps a unexplored avenue of humiliation today.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

5/52: A Portrait Project

This smallest squidlet of mine is not having her toddler-hood documented in these pages like her big brother and sister did. It's been Georgie's blessing and her curse to land in a big busy family.

We are often moving too fast to notice the incremental changes that happen during this magical period of metamorphosis from baby to child, but with every day that passes, Georgie becomes more perfectly, idiosyncratically herself.

In an effort to capture some of these changing moments (and save on future therapy bills) I am joining in with Jodie's portrait project. Here! Here George! Here are your baby pictures! You adorable, cheeky nutcase. We love you.

Here she is, in the mud on the driveway. Just before demanding a bath, and then demanding a book, and then a drink of milk and a biscuit, and then another book, and then more mud....

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Smashed Laptop, Sad Face.

My computer is in the hospital. It's looking terminal. Normal programming to resume soon (ish), I hope. See you round like a rissole. x

Friday, February 8, 2013

Alec Baldwin interviews Lena Dunham? Yes Please.

Did you know that sexy old bastard Alec Baldwin had his own podcast? No matter what he is saying - serious question, ad promo for his ;lawyer sponsors - he always sound as if he is about to crack up laughing at the ridiculousness of life.  This is of my favourite character traits in people, I think.

Last week Alec interviewed the smart and unexpected Lena Dunham, Gen X auteur and it-girl.  She is adorable and it's a good listen. While they discuss monogamy, Alec says 'Listen, I'm happy to eat at the same restaurant every night. I just want the hostess to wear different outfits. '

Life: it's been busy! This weekend: soccer, cabaret date-night, pasta-making, lotsa jobs around the house.

Have a good one. x

ps- Alec is also very funny in this episode of  Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee with Jerry Seinfeld.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Pasta Machine Love.

A couple of weeks ago I bought a pasta machine and it has been a winner. Little T-Bone is able to handle the wheel with some help, and he loves to do it. Ivy is big enough to understand the process and I have spent some proud moments watching her work alone,  dusting the rollers with flour, feeding the dough through, changing the settings and finally, turning the cutting wheel. It is a wonderfully gratifying process - so tactile, and with rewardingly simple mechanics. A little work,  and a pile of egg and flour turns into silken threads of spaghetti. 

I loved to see the drying pasta in the kitchen,. It made me feel-a like-a such-an-Italian - mamma! Unfortunately, once the strands dried and I tried to take them down they snapped all over the joint, and my Nigella bubble burst. Again.  I think it needs to dry out on a nice safe tea-towel on the counter.  So much less decorative though. 

 (just prior to back-to-school haircut here! Look at that mane. And I love that the apron Ivy is wearing was sewn by her great-great grandmother, Nana Goodie. )

Of course, once these craft-crazy kids realised you could shred paper through the rollers, they were obsessed. And they hate to pass up a comedic opportunity - so this is how they set the table.  

 Finally, the end result - pasta coma. The family fell on the leftovers like ravenous (Italian) dingoes. It was a feeders dream.

We have made a few batches of pasta now, and it is divine every time, despite our mistakes. For the kids back-to-school feast (they choose the menu), we made two big bowls of our favourites: pesto, and creamy chorizo. You can find a great pesto recipe over at Beth's blog, and here is the tomato and chorizo recipe I love - mama mia, I am hungry just thinking about it.

I think I am going to institute pasta-making as an after school activity. There is something very calming and nurturing about the process. Hands in the food, dinner at the end...a winner all round.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Jazz On A Summers Day

It's been a good weekend, busy and productive, full of cooking and cleaning and resting and reading, all punctuated by about eleven thousand loads of washing.

On Saturday night Keith and I sacked out on the lounge with the Saturday paper, some roasted-beetroot dip and  Jazz On A Summers Day playing on the big screen.

This documentary is about the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival. It is grainy and dark and atmospheric and wonderful. The performers are fabulous-  Louis Armstrong and Chuck Berry and Mahalia Jackson -  but it is the crowd scenes that are transporting to watch.

There are clam-diggers and cats-eye sunglasses and capri pants as far as the eye can see. 

Lots of finger-snapping jazz cats. 

Zoot suits and Panama hats and everybody smoking and eating hot dogs. 

Lots of gorgeous girls and greaser boys with duck-tails and white t-shirts. 

Ballet flats and Marcel waves and Peter Pan collars and headscarves. 

It was an lovely Saturday night; calm and restful and quiet. Just what I needed after last weeks intensity, and a good way to prep for a school week ahead. Plus, I am inspired to add some red lipstick and a headscarf to the school run.

Wishing all you cats a cool week, man.


Friday, February 1, 2013

Three Great Podcasts And A Happy Baby Covered In Sauce

First week of term down, and I am feeling optimistic.

The big two are happy at school, and my first couple of days at home alone with the baby have been lovely. Lots of time to focus on the little nutter, who so often gets lost in the chaos, and mundane though it may be, it has been massively restorative to feel like I am getting on top of the housework.

I've been able to tootle around the house listening to lots of my favourite shows while hanging with the George. So from me to you, here are a few excellent podcasts for your weekend.

Straight, No Chaser - Katy Keiffer is snappy, smart and funny. On this episode she has a fascinating conversation with scientist and public health journalist Maryn McKenna about antibiotic resistance and food production.

The Moth- always a fabulous place to hear great story-telling, this episode features author and performer Satori Shakoor, who made me leak tears, then yelp with laughter, and then stop dead in the middle of the washing up to pay attention.

And finally, this Radiolab podcast on what it feels like to be blind. Two blind men - one who creates mental pictures of the world around him, and one who has made a decision to 'stop picturing.' If I could stop picturing what the inside of my oven looked like, I would. I really would.

Do you have any favourite podcasts? I'd love to hear about them.

Now, two days loom gloriously ahead, unmarked by engagements, fully unfettered. I plan some sleeping, some unhurried laundry folding, some zucchini-flower-stuffing, some satisfying drawer de-cluttering, and lots of pasta-eating.

Happy weekending to you. x