Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Australia Day Weekend

We'd been looking forward to the long Australia Day weekend, not only because of the three day weekend, but also because we had two special visitors in town.

On Saturday morning we headed down to Commonwealth Park on the lake where the Australia Day festivities included one of Riker's favorite characters live on stage. It was sweltering but we slathered on the sunblock and waited patiently for Peppa Pig to make her appearance.  Note, Peppa and George figurines in hand.


Families came out in droves to catch the free entertainment and it was fun to be surrounded by parents and toddlers singing along to songs we've heard on the popular kid's show.


After her last performance of the morning, Peppa made a short appearance so that she could meet her fans. Given the heat, she could only be out for twenty minutes and so Brian rushed over to be one of the first in line and kindly waited in the sun for half an hour so that Riker could have his photo taken with her.  Poor thing must have been dripping wet inside that costume!


After the show, I was pleased to bump into a friend I hadn't seen in over two years.  Bec was in my mother's group when our babies were small, but then moved overseas for a while so it was great to see her again.  Best of all, we realized that she lives diagonally across my back fence so hopefully we'll see more of her!

After the meet and greet with Peppa, we had to rush off to the airport to collect our friend Chris who was coming in from Melbourne. On the way there we glanced around our messy car and wondered where we'd put him, but not to worry, we found a spot.


We spent much of our weekend playing outside with the kids or pottering about the house and cooking up tasty food, but on Monday we decided an outing was in order. We settled on the Australian War Memorial as we thought Riker might like to see all the big airplanes.  We moved through the museum very quickly but Riker really enjoyed the chance to sit in a real helicopter and push lots of buttons and then to walk through a real submarine lit up with red lights.

You can't really see the detail in the photo below but the view from the memorial is really nice - looking down ANZAC Parade onto Parliament House.


After we had lunch at the cafe, we stopped to relax by a fountain and let the boys run around a bit before heading home for Ari's nap.  The kids noticed a girl's shoes that had panda bears on them and both got very excited as Riker's favorite soft toy is a small panda gifted to him by Grammy Jan and Grandpa Carl after their trip to China.


The group of girls thought this was pretty funny and took the opportunity to snap what seemed like a million photos of him!


Brian and Chris and I were trying to conceal our laughter at the situation when I realized I really needed to take photos of the Asian tourists taking photos of my blonde and silly children!  Too funny!


After our outing to museum we retired back to our place to enjoy the mango sorbet we'd made the day before.  Turns out adding a splash of sparkling wine to homemade sorbet is a winning combination!


Riker didn't want Chris to leave. He talked about him all the way home from the airport. "Can Chris come back? I don't want Chris to go. I want Chris to stay all the time. Mama, can you please turn around and go get Chris again?"

We always appreciate when our friends come to visit us as it still seems like a major undertaking to plan long trips with the kids. Thanks Chris for the making the journey to see us in Canberra! 

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Crazy Hot

It's been hot here. Really hot. Yesterday was Canberra's hottest January day since records began in 1939 and it was the second hottest day ever on record with a high point of 41.6 degrees C (106.8 F). Sydney also set a new record for temperature with a peak of 45.7 degrees C (114.3 F). It's been so hot that the Bureau of Meteorology had to add a new color to its heat mapping index to represent temperatures above 50C (122 F)!

The fire danger rating for the ACT is at severe and while we're fortunate to have no active fires at the moment, many other parts of the country are facing devastating bushfires.

GetUp Australia put together this great infographic summarizing the most sobering facts about our warming planet and it's worth taking a moment to read.


According to the National Climate Data Centre, nine of the ten hottest years on record have been since 2000 (the other was 1998).  Globally it has now been 27 years since the world experienced a month that was colder than average. The last four months of 2012, globally, were the hottest on record and 2012 was the hottest year the continental US has ever recorded.

Want to read more?  Check out the Climate Commission's short report on climate science and extreme temperatures (pdf).

It's time we start having more serious conversations about the realities of climate change and more importantly, find the political will to take decisive action. If not for own comfort, than for the sake of our children's future well-being. 
 

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Big Lessons

This article was originally published as a guest post over at one of my favorite parenting blogs, Code Name: Mama.  It was written when Riker was fifteen months old and since Ari is now fifteen months old, it seems an appropriate time to finally publish the full text of the post on my own blog for posterity. 



My dear sweet baby boy is fifteen months old already. He is no longer a baby really, but a confident, curious, lovable and loving toddler. A lump still wells up in my throat whenever I have a moment to glance at his baby photos or read a snippet of his birth story.

Going into the parenting adventure, my husband and I were about as prepared as we could be. We’d read voraciously on everything from labor and delivery to parenting styles and breastfeeding to vaccines and circumcision.

Looking back now, I see that we were indeed well prepared, but that all the reading in the world is nothing compared to that first year in the trenches. We learned a million little things specific to our baby – the best latch positions, how to interpret his tired signs, and how to distract him from eating the telephone.

But it’s the big lessons I’ve been pondering today.

Don’t try to control.

Like many women who’ve waited to have children until their careers were well underway, I have a desire for organization, schedules and control. Of course, there is nothing wrong with having one’s life in some semblance of order, but babies are not just another task to be managed. Pick up nearly any baby book off the shelf at your local bookstore though, and you’ll be led to believe that babies acting normally (nursing more than every three hours and needing help to fall asleep, for example) are an inconvenience to a parent’s life and with a rigid schedule, these “nasty” habits can be abolished. With this sort of “expert” knowledge flowing so freely around the new parent, it’s difficult to not feel that maybe you should be dictating more about your day and spending less time responding to the needs of an infant. But just as a baby is in no way trying to control or manipulate his or her parent, a parent should avoid manipulating a baby’s behavior simply for convenience. For me, when I stopped feeling resentful about our sleep struggles, I started to feel a lot happier. I tried to internalize the words of Eckhart Tolle, “Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it.” I found that letting go of the notions of how things should be helps me to enjoy things as they are.

Community matters.

Living far from family when starting a family of one’s own is extremely difficult. While there is no substitute for the loving arms of family, finding a community to call on can make a world of difference. I’ve been blessed to have some great friends with young families who support me though the day to day questions regarding the introduction of solids, sleep habits and the best brands of various baby gadgets. But a strong community doesn’t have to be physically present. Much of the support I receive is from online communities of like minded parents. I can confidently say that I am a much better parent because of a whole suite of natural parenting blogs and forums. So find support, ask for help and seek out like minded mamas wherever you can find them.

Trust your gut.

Advice flows freely to the new mother. I’m sure it’s because mothering causes a great swell of emotion to rise up within each of us and when another is struggling, we want to help. Trouble is, not all advice fits within our personal style of parenting. For us, many mainstream parenting philosophies go directly against our gut feeling of what is right for our baby. Crying it out as a means of teaching sleep and scheduled feedings have no place in our toolkit of parenting strategies, yet well meaning friends, strangers and health professionals will often recommend these. While we nearly succumbed to the supposed quick fix of sleep training during a time of desperation, the experience led us to question our beliefs and to solidify our commitment to our parenting principles. So, listen to the advice you receive, but then do your own research and trust your gut in the end.

Ignore baby wisdom.

I hear the funniest things said about babies. “Oh, better not let him sleep with you or you’ll just have to break that habit in the future.” “If he doesn’t learn to self soothe now, he NEVER will.” “A baby over six months of age should be able to sleep twelve hours without nursing or comfort from a parent.” “They say it only takes three days of sleep training to break the baby of his nighttime neediness.” I sometimes wonder if people listen to what they are saying. I can’t stand the word “break” when it’s used for horses, but when it comes to babies it’s simply an unacceptable term. Babies are individuals who deserve our respect, tenderness and compassion (night and day). Question assumptions that you hear about baby’s behavior and ask “who says?” The ubiquitous “they” probably never met your baby so when in doubt, listen to your baby rather than the experts.

Savor the moment.

Hard as I try to be fully present, the days just keep slipping by with disturbing speed. It seems like only yesterday that the universe shifted to make room for a very special new person. And now here I am, chasing a toddler around and wondering what he did with my keys. Before I know it he’ll be asking for the keys and pushing for a later curfew. This thought always prompts me to both respect my baby’s needs as an individual and to enjoy the moment. How I treat him now will shape the man he becomes. If he is treated respectfully, disciplined gently and loved unconditionally, I will have done what I can to mold a kind and honorable man. And a man he’ll be in just a blink of an eye.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Sneaky Chef

When I was in the US, I bought a cookbook called The Sneaky Chef: Simple Strategies for Hiding Healthy Foods in Kids' Favorite Meals.

It’s a good book for any parent who wishes they could get more vegetables and whole grains into their children’s diet without begging or pleading and without spending hours on healthy meals only to have them rejected for “looking yucky.” The main strategy of the book is to cook up make-ahead healthy purees that can be covertly added to a variety of recipes. The purees are virtually undetectable and offer a concentrated dose of nutrients in a small portion. The author offers a selection of traditional kid friendly recipes that just happen to deliver all sorts of goodies under the radar.

I decided to get started by cooking up three big batches of different hidden veggie purees on three separate days and freezing each one into small portions. The results were so pretty that I couldn’t help photographing them!



Broccoli, spinach and baby peas make an incredibly nutritious puree and anything this color has to be good for you! I’ve snuck this one into pasta sauces and burrito filling.

 

Sweet potatoes and carrots make up this vibrantly colored orange puree. Turns out there’s no need to be sneaky with this one though. Riker ate spoonful after spoonful of the puree straight from the blender! I’ve used it in soups, pasta sauces, curries and muffins.



Cauliflower and zucchini went into this white puree which should be really versatile. It can go into macaroni and cheese, soups and sauces and I’ve even added it to muffins and spread it under the cheese in a quesadilla.

If all that's not good enough, I've discovered a really useful additional benefit of the frozen cubes. I always try to plate the kid's food before ours so that it has a chance to cool off, but by adding one of the frozen cubes to a bowl of hot food, I not only cool the food to an edible temperature instantly, I add a dose of veggies as well. Awesome.  

My kids eat a pretty wide variety of foods, but with a busy schedule it's all too easy to overdo the cereals, breads and pastas. Even though I try to feed them well, I think I can always do better to offer more fruits and vegetables. With a freezer full of rainbow colored purees, I’m now feeling confident that I can do that with almost no extra effort at mealtime. Of course, I’ll continue to offer vegetables in their more recognizable form, but considering neither of my kids will readily gobble up broccoli at the moment, I’m feeling incredibly pleased that they’re getting the benefits anyway. Sneaky? Sure. Gratifying? Absolutely.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Say Cheese

Riker has had his own laptop for some time and technologically savvy kid that he is, he now has his own camera too.

The camera was a gift from his Auntie Heather and Uncle Aaron.  They purchased a number of basic digital cameras to have at their wedding weekend back in September so that guests could take photos during the reception.  After they uploaded the photos, they kindly passed one of the cameras along to Riker.  The timing was perfect as he's been really interested in my camera for some time now and while I'd let him snap a few shots now and then, I hesitated to let him play with it too often because (a) it's a nice camera and I'd like to keep it that way and (b) because if it's out, it's usually because there is something that I want to photograph!

Now that he has his own camera, Riker can be found taking photos of all sorts of things - his toys, his family, his friends, products on the shelf at the store, the ceiling and his feet, for example.

I was happy to find an inexpensive red case when out shopping for one the other day. Occasionally, he even puts it away after use.

Here's a selection of Riker's photography to date. Only the self portrait of Riker and I involved any assistance from me.








Thank goodness for digital photography - I love that we can give Riker the freedom to experiment with the camera without worrying about "wasting" film. It will be fun to see how his skills improve as he grows and as his hand gets steadier!

Friday, January 04, 2013

Blogworthy

The other day I decided to get on the Instagram boat.  I'd long been admiring friend's photos with vintage finishes and polished looking borders.  I had a number of photos in mind that I thought would benefit from some tweaking and I was hoping that I could use a version of the app on my PC.  I soon realized however, that even though there is an Instagram desktop app, photos can only be uploaded and edited from a mobile device. Since I take almost all of my photos on a camera and edit them on a laptop, it became clear that this program wasn't going to be of much use to me. 

Undaunted, I started poking around to find a program that would allow me to create similar effects on a PC and I came across Pixlr.  I've been using the efficient version which has hundreds of effects, borders and overlays along with all the usual editing tools for cropping, rotating, blurring, fixing red eyes, etc. By far the best feature of using the filters and effects is that I'm able to salvage photos that were otherwise too blurry, grainy, dark or overexposed. Add a vintage effect and a nifty border and voila!

Here are some of the best examples of edited photos that otherwise would not have been blogworthy.  (I can't imagine why spellchecker doesn't like the word blogworthy - it's a regular part of my vocabulary!)

Riker at the The George Harcourt Inn and Pub after a visit to the Dinosaur Museum in Gold Creek. This is my favorite example of a photo transformed from something pretty ordinary into something really striking.

At Rodney's Nursery and Cafe in Piallago

For some reason, the kids have a thing about sitting in this toy box, usually on top of whatever happens to be in it.

Chess at The Pancake Parlor

Spaghetti face

I've been having great fun experimenting with different combinations of effects.  The only downside is that I can now spend even more time than usual editing and trying to find the perfect finish for a particular photo!

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Toddler Activities (Part Two)

Riker and I have been really enjoying the projects and crafts we acquired in the toddler activity bag swap organized by my mother's group a couple weeks ago. 

Riker carefully strings colored pasta tubes onto a shoelace to make a slithering snake.

Since we've been having so much fun with the various activities, I thought I'd make more!  I found the idea for this color matching game when I was searching for ideas for my contribution to the exchange.  This one is great because it's really easy to make and inexpensive.  I couldn't do it for the group exchange however because I'd have had to pilfer an awful lot of paint swatches to replicate this one nine times!  

This color matching game is made from paint swatches and wooden clothes pins.  Riker and I did the cutting and gluing together. He's had fun matching the shades of the various colors but mostly he just wants to play around with the bright red clothes pin.  Imagine that. 

After making the popsicle stick puzzles for the activity bag swap, I had a number of small craft sticks left over and so I decided to make yet another activity.  I cut up little squares of self adhesive velcro and attached hooks to one end and loops to the other so that Riker could experiment with making shapes. 

The best part about all the projects we've acquired is that I can hand one to Riker to work on by himself if I need a few minutes to get something done, but we can also do them together and spend quite a long time talking through the activity.  Now if I could just get Ari to stop eating the popsicle sticks.


Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Hello 2013!

I finished up last night's 2012 blog post just in time to crawl into bed and hear the neighbors countdown to midnight followed by cheers and hullabaloo and fireworks in the distance.  I had no intentions of staying up so late and had I not been writing and sorting photos, I'd have been in bed much earlier.  To cater for all of us parents who can't be bothered to stay up much past the kid's bedtime anymore, our friends Alison and Dan hosted a New Years Day kids party complete with a BBQ, home brew beer, a water castle with a slide and pool, a trampoline and a swing.  Best of all, the party was attended by a good portion of my very favorite women (and their families) in Canberra.

Ariella, Oli and Zac, Dan, Alison and Imogen, Jess and Gideon, Amber and Jasmine, Karin and Nelly, myself and Ari, Freya and Riker

Thanks to Alison and Dan for hosting and for offering us all such a great way to ring in the new year - at a reasonable time of day!