Monday, April 29, 2013

One Mother, Spread Thin.

Alert the glue factory! Kids are going down like flies around here.

This session of sickness with the kids has been a marathon of attention-splitting. George and Ted both spent the first few days sick and miserable in tandem, and I felt so sorry for my middle child. Georgie, cranky, irritable and unable to express her feelings, clung like a barnacle to any adult she could find. I have spent hours this week in the rocking chair, patting and shushing my angry baby, and periodically being vomited on for my trouble.

Poor Ted, sadly old enough to understand 'you're next, I promise',  was left to curl, alone and miserable,  on his own corner of the couch. Sometimes I put Georgie down to cry while I cuddled Ted and read him a book, or did some washing, or got the dinner on, but mostly I wore the baby like a grumpy jumper and gave Ted lots of sympathetic pats on the head. Every once in a while he  tried to climb onto my lap too. Sometimes I was able to balance them both, but his need to burrow in meant these periods always ended in Georgette wailing and Ted being banished again.

My heart hurt when Ted tucked into a little space on the floor and then threw up on himself.

He needed me too, and there just wasn't enough of me.

It was the baby's turn to cry as she sat in her high chair while I cleaned Ted and the floor and the cushions and put another load of washing on.

This juggle went on for a few days. The baby, the boy, the washing. The baby, the boy, the washing. Every once in a while I tried to throw some eyeballs on the poor big girl who missed out, as each day passed, on another school holiday plan. Ivy went down with the pox a couple of days ago too, just possible psychosomatically induced by the need to get some of that sweet attention she was missing out on.  She's been clutching a bowl ever since.

We've been watching Nim's Island and Beethoven and Hi Five and Famous Five and classic Buster Keaton.
We've been reading The Magic Faraway Tree and lots of Mr Men books. We've been grating apples and dispensing flat lemonade and crackers. The champion little old washing machine has been in constant motion.

Keith finishes work in the cowshed and heads up to the house every lunchtime and evening to take on his dad duty. Cuddling, cooking, carrying to bed. There's not much attention left for each other this week, but we'll get to that when we can. He's such a a good egg, that man.

The two smallest have been much perkier today. Not a chuck between them, so far. All alimentary fluids remaining internal. Just the big girl to get back to health now. About three more chapters of the Faraway Tree, I think, and some intensive cuddle therapy, and possible a little Mr Bean on YouTube, and she might be all better.

On Wednesday, they go back back to school, pre-school and Georgies day care day, if they are all healthy, and then I can turn my attention to some other aspects of life. Sick kids just distil all the parenting down to its simplest method. The circle of arms that hold you when you feel awful. I haven't had enough arms this week, but we have made it through anyway.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Oh Dear, There Is Vomit In My Hair.

I'm back from my technology-holiday. It's been wonderful. But I can't write about it yet. I'm too tired.

Georgie and Ted have come down with some sort of vomiting virus, and the thing with babies is that they are new at everything, including good puking technique. They have not learned to run to the bathroom, hand clapped to mouth. They haven't figured out how to look wildly around for any nearby receptacle or pot plant. They don't even turn their head to one side, these babies.

They just open their mouth, wherever they are, and they let the rivers run. So I've been wearing one, and sometimes two, kids as handbags, and I've been decorated with sudden, unexpected stink bombs for three days now. I'm tired and I'm smelly, and I'm back to real life. Spew in my hair, mountains of laundry, and a poor sick little baby just trying to catch a patch of sunshine.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Screens In The Shed.

OK, I'm signing out for a chunk of screen-free laptop, no TV, no phone. All the chirping and flashing and squealing devices in our house are going into hibernation for four days. (Except for the baby.)

On the agenda instead:  puzzles, books, road trips, craft, campfires and singalongs. Just some good old-feshoned family fun.
Have a wonderful weekend my friends.

Friday, April 19, 2013

My Favourite Cooking Blog

I used to share an office with  a girl called Tori. We worked on sexual and reproductive public health campaigns, which is as much fun as it sounds. In our office cupboard there were banana penises for use in  condom demonstrations.  And one project on my list was called 'Safer Sex Beliefs and Practices of Multi-Partnered Heterosexuals', which researched how swingers negotiated safe sex in order to use the information to design better safe sex campaigns for the general population.

Rock and roll!

I remember once at work, when I was pregnant with Ivy, we decided to do that trick where you swing a wedding band over your big belly to determine the sex of the baby. If it swings in circles, it's a boy. If it goes back and forth, its a girl.The problem was we couldn't find a wedding ring on any of the two floors and clinic next door. It was that kind of office. Eventually we used somebody's lesbian commitment band, I think.

Very good times.

Tori and I have dropped into different lives now. Tori is based in London, knocked up with her own first child, and writes the wonderful cooking blog eatori. Her first book 'A Suitcase And A Spatula' has just been published.

Where Tori always had glamour, I was always tucking my skirt into my undies on the way back from the toilet. We share a love of food and cooking, but I doubt Tori's fettucine ever turns out like one massive clump of play-doh.

But in many areas of life, I try to make up for lack of skill with enthusiasm. It may take me more lessons than the average bird to get it right, but I have two little sous-chefs at my side, and I'm determined to master the art of pasta -making.

Where I am hit-and-miss, Tori is always on target. Recently she wrote about cooking her pasta in water to which she had added a whole lemon. Brilliance! Here is her recipe for lemon creme fraiche and parmesan pasta. 

So far, I have learned to dry the pasta on floured tea-towels,  rather than over a door, and to leave the rolled sheets to dry for fifteen minutes before cutting them into spaghetti or fettuccine or penis shapes.   I am experimenting with how many eggs are optimal, and whether or not adding olive oil to the dough is good or idiotic.If you have pasta-making hints for me, I would love to hear them.

Kitchen experimenting is always gratifying, especially when you are a feeder who has made the inspired choice of an overgrown seagull for a husband. A good sauce will make up for many ills.

And if, like me, you like to tune out the squabbling of children and listen to podcasts while you cook, here is Nigella Lawson talking about her love for Italy on the Splendid Table podcast.

Bon appetit!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Beautiful Days

Today, I shifted my attention to the making of the mess, rather than the cleaning up afterwards. It was a beautiful thing. When Ivy isn't buried in a book, she's writing an ongoing story on my computer. This tale basically plagiarises the Faraway Tree and puts herself at the centre of the action. 'hi ivy waved the sosspan man I have made pop cakes for you and franny says to come and play with us'.... Ivy is all about the word count. (Perhaps she is a real writer..?)

George is obsessed with drawing and leaves scribbled hieroglyphics everywhere. (I prefer this to her other habit of the moment which is wandering about clutching a handful of forks.) Ted is making a book here from the Hi 5 stencils he scored at the op shop. Soon he will ask me to transcribe his story.

These times are beautiful and precious and they already carry a hint of nostalgia. When I stop long enough to really look at the kids I see how fast they are evolving. All of them seem to learn and grow quicker than I can keep up. These days are tiring, and they are unspeakably messy. But I wouldn't change them for a moment.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

School Holidays (Deep Breath.)

I am trying to embrace the spirit of school holidays:  outings, craft, cooking,  together time. ...

But these 3 children of mine. They cannot exit a room without satisfying themselves that they have successfully completed some sort of mission to destroy. They shed glitter and artwork and outfits and apple cores and half-constructed robots everywhere they go.

Exhibit A.

We visited friends on the weekend. I watched their four year-old daughter play with a puzzle and wander off. Business as usual. Suddenly she stopped and said 'Oops!" Back she hurried to pack it up and put it on the proper shelf.

Friends, I nearly cried. How did they breed this creature?

Exhibit B.

School holidays, for me, is an endless, Sisyphean fortnight of tidying the house until it is ready for the children to destroy it again. 

Monday, April 15, 2013

14 & 15/52: 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.  

Sunday morning, hands in the dirt, happiness. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

What Does The Inside Of Your Fridge Look Like?

What lurks inside the fridges of strangers? Photographer Mark Menjivar will tell you. He spent three years photographing fridges across the USA and his You Are What You Eat series is a fascinating insight into the lives of others. (The following descriptions are Mark's.)

 Owner of Defunct Amusement Park | Alpine, TX | 1-Person Household | Former WW II Prisoner of War

  Short Order Cook | Marathon, TX | 2-Person Household | She can bench press over 300lbs

                      (Note:  keeps snake in freezer. DO NOT send your eggs back to this woman. )

 Bar Tender | San Antonio, TX | 1-Person Household | Goes to sleep at 8AM and wakes up at 4PM daily

(When Mark returned to re-photograph this bartender,  he had lost 100 pounds and completely changed his eating habits.)

 Construction Worker/House Wife | San Angelo, TX | 4-Person Household | Wakes every morning at 4AM to cook breakfast for family

 Engineer | Lower Pottsgrove, PA | 17-Person Household | Italian-Puerto Rican Family Reunion

Food Artist | Brooklyn, NY | 1-Person Household | Runs small vegan bakery from her apartment

(Could this hipster vegan may be sneaking butter into her recipes? For shame! And deliciousness!) 

Midwife/Middle School Science Teacher | San Antonio, TX | 4-Person Household (including dog) | First week after deciding to eat all local produce

(Almost painful, isn't it, the optimism of 'first week'? Bless )

Writer/Blogger/ Light Domestic Comedy Sphere  | Poorly groomed but optimistic Australia | Husband eats like binge-disordered seagull | Decent cook, slatternly housewife.

You can read a transcript of Mark's interview with Lynn Rosetta Caspar of The Splendid Table here.

Monday, April 8, 2013

A Date With My Boy

I had a great time hanging out with my boy today. He's at school next year. Nearly five!Sometimes it's hard for him squashed between two sisters. The eldest gets the glory, the youngest gets off the hook.. oh, Ted, Mum knows how to sing the middle child's, birth-order blues.  Today, Mum and Dad were kind enough to look after baby George, and I gave Ted my full, undivided attention for a little while. Off we went, into the big city, looking for fun. 

At Darling Harbour, we stumbled on a  film crew filming a Bollywood movie dance scene. A crew member winked at me and pulled us into a background group of extras where we clapped and danced along. A very auspicious start to the day! It just got better when at the IMAX theatre we saw a 3D doco about the Hubble space telescope that blew my tiny mind. Ted loved it too (especially the part where I produced Easter eggs from my handbag).

We found the children's playground at Darling Harbour, and it was amazing - flying foxes, massive climbing stuff, and best of all, a big crazy water fountain splashy zone that had Ted stripping down to his undies in a nanosecond. (Luckily I had spares.)

 Chinatown for lunch, and a brief encounter with a street artist who wrapped Ted in flowers. 

Finally, a long train trip home, and lots of stories to tell over the dinner table. How I love this small son of mine. He is such good company.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Bookshelf: Celebrities! They're Just Like Us! Except Crazy!

Recently I read a book by Kendra Wilkinson, who shot to fame as one of Hugh Hefner's trio of girlfriends in the hit show 'Girls Of The Playboy Mansion', an incisive and searing cultural examination of modern sexual mores. In 'Being Kendra: Cribs, Cocktails and Getting My Sexy Back', she examines 'life after baby'.

Also, she explores being an absolute nut job.

Let me give you 'Kendra in the shower':

'Usually, I'll make toast or an egg sandwich and a coffee and a smoothie and bring it all into the shower with me. I kind of have it all scattered round like a buffet. Some things are on the bath ledge, some things on the sink counter, some stuff on the floor. I'll put my coffee (in a covered to-go mug) on the soap dish and my sandwich right by my razor - close enough for me to grab but still not get wet. Maybe I'll leave my smoothie on the sink and kind of peek out from the curtain and grab a few sips here and there. I'll be shaving with one hand and have a coffee in the other, or have a loofah in one hand with soap suds trying to wash my body while I'm chowing down on an egg sandwich in the other hand...That's something I do almost every time I shower in the morning, and I do it all so quickly and efficiently that it allows me so much more time each week to spend with my family.' .

I am not just mocking Kendra. Well,  I am totally mocking Kendra, but I am also grateful to her for inventing the personal hygiene/breakfast combo, and putting it on the page for me to enjoy. No judgement. Yes, she eats egg sandwiches while she soaps her mammoth bosom. But I transcribed her detailed showering routine, and I published it on the Internet, so I am clearly the bigger idiot.

I can warmly recommend Kendra's masterwork for its wonderful accidental absurdism, but I strongly suggest quickly applying Michael Eugenides The Marriage Plot to your brain afterwards. This wonderful book is even, more, like totally well written then. Hey! Why not take it into the shower with a nice prawn risotto and a Bellini?

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Do As I Say, Not As I Do

This post was first published in Practical Parenting Magazine, February 2013

Sometimes becoming a parent means facing the hard truths about yourself. For me, that means accepting that I am a deeply hypocritical mother. For example, I only let the kids have jam on their toast at the weekend, and yet, most nights after they are in bed I demolish half a block of fruit and nut chocolate in the bath. The kids view Mum’s frequent takeaway coffee stops when we are out and about as normal, but have been indoctrinated to accept that they are only allowed a milkshake on a special occasion. (That occasion is usually my desperate need to bribe them.)

I rail at them every day to pick their clothes and toys and CD’s and books up off the floor. And yet, when I look around my bedroom, it is pretty well carpeted with clothes and undies. My six-year-old daughter Peanut has towering piles of ‘collections’ that drive me batty, but my cupboards groan with stuff I can’t throw away.

It’s not just behaviour either. Language can get me into trouble too, especially considering that my husband Keith and I value making each other laugh more highly than being careful what the kids might repeat. For instance, last week we tried to explain to four year-old T-Bone why drinking water was important. ‘Keeps you regular, son,' Keith said, in his blokiest voice. ‘You don’t want to wind up crapping diamonds.’ Our small boy looked thoughtful and we snickered. But yesterday T-Bone called out to me from the bathroom. ‘I need more water, Mum!’ he shouted. ‘I’m crapping diamonds!’

Oh, I thought. That’s not going to play out well at pre-school.

We teach the kids that there is one rule at home, another out in the world. But sometimes worlds collide. When, one rainy afternoon, you help the kids to make up a song called ‘Put Poo on Daddy’s Head’, and then teach them to dance Gangnam Style to it, you can’t always expect that they will know when it’s OK to break that number out at volume (in the lounge room) and when it is not (at BiLo, peak hour. ) Nude gymnastics might be fine with your aunty, but horrifying to your uncle. And on the whole, free and talkative and curious children are wonderful in life, but tough to contain at a dinner party.

I expect the kids to understand how life works to a degree that suits their age, and yet frequently the simplest concepts elude me. The other day I chatted to Keith about the mould in the bathroom. ‘It’s a real mystery,’ I said. ‘I can’t work out where it’s coming from.’ He looked at me with the careful, quizzical expression I have grown used to. ‘All the wet towels on the floor might be connected,’ he said gently. I was honestly confused. ‘Water makes mould,’ he said, like I’d had a traumatic brain injury in the night and was having to re-learn all the practical aspects of life. And a penny dropped for me. Honestly, it did. Mould comes from water! Who knew? I am so sorry; I need to tell the kids. I may have a little problem with some areas of logic and science.  (You can look to your father to answer those questions.) But I have some dazzling interpretive dance moves, and you can thank me for that part of your genetic heritage.  As for the rest, do as I say, I beg of you, and not as I do.  

Monday, April 1, 2013

Overnight Bread

We have been making lots and lots of bread over the last few months.  It's becoming Ivy's speciality in fact. Here's her recipe: 

There are lots of versions of this 'no-knead' bread on the Internet though. (Gourmet Girlfriend is even running a 'bread revolution' if you'd like to take pics of your creations and share them on Instagram. One of those examples of hive mind ideas bubbling up at once.) This no-knead method basically replaces the usual  kneading time with a very long prove on the kitchen counter. This way, the gluten develops through a long, slow fermentation and the bread develops a delicious flavour. Many recipes use a second proving time but we never even bother, and the bread is delicious. 

Here's our recipe, the simplest version of them all: 

  •  3 cups of flour, 1 3/4 tsp of salt and half a teaspoon of yeast. Use your fingers to spread the dry ingredients around the bowl, which helps to start the yeast activating. (We add a little LSA or kibble grain here too.) Then, add the water and mix until it just comes together into a sloppy ball. 
  • Leave it overnight in a bowl covered in plastic wrap. We tend to make it after school, and bake it in the morning. Anywhere between 12 and 24 hours proving time is OK. 
  • In the morning, take a cast iron pot (I use my Le Crueset here), and heat it, lid on, in the oven at 200 for twenty minutes. 
  • Take the sloppy bread mix out of the bowl and drop it in a little flour on the counter. Flip it over and into your pot, and bake it in the oven (lid on) for half and hour, lid off for another fifteen minutes. 
That's it! 

Making bread is a great after-school activity for slightly frazzled, post-institutionalised kids.  Hands in dough, creating, chatting to Mum all the while. Ivy likes to rope Ted in as her soux-chef, talking him through every step with a good amount of big-sisterly condescension. It's a good system , this - we have another loaf to cook at lunchtime the next day. 

Be warned that bread dough is gloopy, messy, sticky stuff. This bread-making caper comes with a significant amount of cleaning up. But it's worth it. 

Sadly, my mother-in-laws old yellow bowl broke a couple of weeks ago. She used it to make bread for Keith and his siblings, and I loved the history of using it to make bread for my family. It slipped out of my hands and smashed. I cried. Now I need a new bowl.

Et voila! Best eaten with butter while while reading an Indiana Jones choose-your-own-adventure book.