Monday, 31 October 2011

Confronting an emo?

We've just got back from the playground. A fabulous playground with a flying fox, a big spider web, rubber toadstools, and the usual swings, slide, sandpit etc.

A playground for children.

Not for 18-year-olds. And certainly not for selfish, downright rude, chalky-faced, black-eyed, chain-smoking 18-year-olds.

The boys and I were the only ones there when these three girls sat bouncing on the climbing frame with fags in their mouths. Two of them were quite heavy to say the least. I could see the whole frame collapsing underneath them. I bit my lip.

Luca had enough of the flying fox and wanted a go on the slide. We walked around the playground and they moved onto the smaller equipment. The chubbier one started swinging madly on the baby swing (I guess she felt the bigger child's swing was a bit beyond her) and the other two were straddling the grasshopper rocker clutching their packets of cigarettes. Both of them on the one small rocker. Both.of.them.

I was angry now, so I just approached them. And just blurted out the first thing that came to my head.

Me: "Have you guys not anything better to do than play in a playground designed for 3-year-olds?".

Sour-faced emo: "You can't tell me what to do."

Me: "I'm not telling you what to do. I'm telling you what you can't do especially when you'll end up breaking something and ruining it for my children and others."

Sour-faced and very defensive emo: "We're not breaking anything."

Angrier me: "You WILL end up breaking something, because that is a baby swing, for BABIES, and there's two of you on that thing. Oh, and by the way, last time I checked you can't smoke around playgrounds."

Sour-faced, very defensive and cocky emo waving her packet of fags: "Can you see me smoking?"

And it continued. I pointed out to her that she was smoking before around play equipment, and so I could have the last word, I asked her if she'd like to continue arguing with me or would she prefer I call the council ranger. She dared me.

So I sat down with Luca who wanted his snack by now. A moment later they had climbed back into their car and driven off.

Good riddance.

Then, as if someone somewhere was winding me up, four adults (at least a decade past their teenage years) stepped out of their 4x4 with their St Bernard, sat down on one of the benches by the slide and started puffing away. I checked to see if they'd accidentally left a kid in the car. Nop. Just them and the hound.

One confrontation was enough for one day and besides they weren't selfishly looking to wreck anything. So I said nothing.

But when did children's playgrounds become cool hangouts for goths and childless adults? And more to the point, why the attitude when I confronted them?

What would you have done?


Thursday, 27 October 2011

Finding friends

I'm feeling positive today. And so I don't forget how it's come about (I forget everything at the moment  – unless it's happened in the last ten minutes), I must write it here.

Nothing major has happened, just a combination of a few special moments to give me a nice warm glow. On Sunday morning, Graeme came home with five beautiful fish. He was very happy. And I suddenly realised as I pushed the trolley past the fish counter this week that I can't remember the last time I bought any fish.

That put a big smile on my face. Graeme's getting enough that we've got fillets in the freezer now. It's a big reason for moving out here, and it's working.

We popped over to the Avoca Beachside markets that same morning and Luca headed straight for the bouncy slide. He had a little kerfuffle with another boy and after that they were best friends. Inseparable actually. Holding hands, cuddling eachother, sliding down together.

It was lovely to see. Of course it's always nice for any parent to see their child make a friend so easily, but with Luca it's very special. He left his little friends behind when we left the UK and then grew very frustrated through lack of hearing from severe glue ear (we have since discovered), which then led to speech problems.

As we've moved around so much in the last two years, he's seen people come and go. Children he may have played with once and never again. Friends he made in Sydney are no longer part of his life, and up until recently he really didn't have anyone to play with.

It's been tricky to get playdates organised, so I don't get to see him play with other kids, which I miss.

I could have watched him for hours play with this little boy on Sunday. I suddenly yearned for our friends back home and those close bonds.

They wouldn't let go of eachother's hands. It occurred to me that maybe this was a sign that I was supposed to do something. This little boy obviously had something that Luca was drawn to and so it seemed odd to say goodbye and bring it to an end.

His parents were very friendly and the four of us were chatting quite effortlessly, so I bit the bullet and asked if they'd like to meet up for a playdate.

Am I that desperate that I'm asking people we've known for barely five minutes to come and play with us?

My suggestion was met with delight. Phew.

Luca's been asking all week about his friend and finally this morning we drove to their beautiful home.

I've been here a hundred times in the last two years: meeting a new family in the hope you'll have lots in common and forge a great friendship, putting so much effort into getting to know them.... and then for one reason or another it all fizzles out.

Sometimes the kids don't get on and sometimes, I suppose, we just don't hit it off as well as we'd hoped.

It leaves you feeling very empty after a while and you do get to a stage where you feel too drained to bother anymore. I wait for the next wave of enthusiasm to hit me and I start again.

And that's what I did this morning. As I sat there sipping tea with my two playing happily with her two (well, amid screams and the normal snatching and shoving), I wondered if this will be a one-off or should I try and remember the names of her family members and where they live.

I hoped that it wouldn't be a one-off. I had a nice time and Luca had a blast. A pair of sulfur-crested cockatoos flew onto their balcony at one point along with some lorikeets. The children fed them bowls of seed and giggled for ages.

I really missed this. Enjoying my children's company in the company of others. It hasn't happened very much since we left England.

Graeme reminds me constantly that it won't always be like this. He's right, I know.

It was a good morning, and though Kian made sure I had next to no sleep last night, I felt energised enough from our playdate to take the boys and Sydney to the beach this afternoon.

And I managed to snip a small handful of basil leaves from my garden for our chicken cacciatore dinner this evening. It feels more like home every day.


Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Creating our garden

Last weekend was busy, busy, busy. Graeme finished building the second frame for our vegetable garden.

We had the bales of hay, cow manure, organic chicken pellets and compost delivered the day before, so I was itching to get our gardens built, especially as I was planning on buying the plants at the markets the following day.

I have to add here that, in Graeme's words, we are winging it. Oddly enough for us, we haven't read and researched it to death like we do everything else. The boys have done this to us, which could be a good thing; we're just getting on with it with the little information we've gleaned and hoping it's not all a big flop.

If you grow your own and haven't heard about Esther Dean, it's definitely worth looking into. Here's a factsheet on ABC Gardening Australia that will help shed some light.

I still don't really understand the ins and outs, but we've basically layered the lucerne hay, the two types of fertiliser (cow and chicken poo) and compost. Luca was such a great help. He was back and forth filling his bucket with Graeme, and then helped me loosen the pads of hay. He was in his element.

Kian, on the other hand, wasn't as easy to keep happy. Anything cooler than bathwater isn't his idea of fun, apparently.

But we did it, and on Sunday I bought luscious pots of basil, mint, parsley, coriander, dill and tarragon, plus strawberries, black kale (or cavolo nero), tomatoes, cucumber, spinach and a few different lettuces.

Luca and I have nearly finished planting them and once we have, I'll post some more pictures (including the scorched lettuces from Monday).

I'll see how much room I have left in the beds and if I can fit in some beetroot. The boys love roasted beetroot so I serve it often, wincing though I do at the thought of the pink-hued clothes, walls and floors that always follow.

Next on the list are marigolds, mainly for their pest-repelling properties, but also for a splash of colour. I happened to mention to Luca that we can eat certain flowers, so he's itching to know which ones he can pick and eat. So might have to put nasturtiums in too, despite them taking over our garden in Beckenham a few years back.

I'm going to be very hot on the trail of any pests in my garden. I've already given the plants a strong caffeine hit with an early evening cold coffee spray and my mum has suggested broken-up egg shells. Luca, meanwhile, knows it's his job to 'relocate' any snails he sees around the garden, but if he doesn't get them all, I may have to give them a beer bath.


Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Four seasons in two days

It was 32 degrees yesterday. My lettuces that I planted the day before burnt to a crisp. After the boys and I got in from an appointment in the morning, I did what my mum used to do in Egypt when we were kids: close all the windows and draw the curtains.

We're lucky to have air con, so on that went and then I stripped the boys.

Once they had cooled off (their tempers too), I hosed poor Sydney who was hot and bothered outside. Later that evening, the boys went to bed in nothing more than undies and a nappy.

Fast forward to the morning and the blue skies have turned to grey. It's wet, windy and, erm, fresh!

Fresh enough that when it was time for Sydney's walk, we had to dress for the occasion. I even regretted only wearing a cardigan over my t-shirt.
Luca was thrilled to have an excuse to take his umbrella out

Luca kept on at me to put my umbrella up (how exactly I was supposed to hold onto an umbrella, the buggy, Sydney's lead AND his hand, I don't know), but I loved the rain spitting on my face today.

All while Luca sang pitter patter rain is falling down.

I wonder what tomorrow will be like.


P.S. What do you think of my blog's new look? I'd love to know. Even if there's something you don't like, let me know!

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Digger land

Normally, you wouldn't welcome the road you live on to be dug up and closed to traffic for days on end. But when you have kids who like nothing more than to rush out after breakfast and watch the diggers in action, well... maybe it's not so bad after all.

Our road is great fun at the moment: diggers, rollers, dump trucks, graders (now there's a name I didn't know) and some other giant contraption that spits out gravel from a great height (reminds me of a dinosaur).

I've never watched roadworks like I do now. Funny how you see things differently through your children's eyes...


P.S. I wonder if it's called Tar-mac-a-saurus?

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Our 'green' day out

I'd been looking forward to it for weeks... and weeks.

Graeme's mum and dad drove down from Hervey Bay (15 hours north) to spend a few days with their three grandchildren – the boys' baby cousin was coming to visit from WA.

Luca and Kian were going to spend a lovely Saturday with Nan and Opa, while we were going to spend an even lovelier time... on our own.

I booked us on an organic gardening and cooking course, so it was half date, half a day of learning.

Gardening???? Me?

Well, I can't go on spending good money on rubbish fruit and veg from the shops – watery bland potatoes, plastic tomatoes, boring salad greens, giant root vegetables bred for size not flavour, not to mention the invisible layers of chemical sprays that they come with – nor can we afford to buy everything from our box scheme, so the answer is to grow our own.

We've had a lot of success in the past in our different houses in the UK, or shall I say Graeme has. Truth is, I've never been mad on getting my hands dirty. I hate bending down, I get a sore back. I don't like the fiddly jobs of pricking and thinning out seedlings (I once scattered an entire packet of sweet pea seeds in the ground because I didn't have the patience to do it properly). And don't get me started on weeding.

I'm an instant gratification kind of girl. Until now, I would have been blissfully happy for someone else to sow, dig and get dirty. And for that someone to come rushing in from my garden laden with beautiful bunches of herbs, juicy warm tomatoes, delicate courgette flowers and sweet carrots for me to use in the kitchen... All right, all right, they wouldn't have to pick it too.

When I say 'until now', I don't mean I've suddenly gone all green-fingered. It's just that with Luca madly keen on spending time with his snail and worm friends, I know this is something he'll love to take part in.

For me, cooking with kids and teaching them about good food and ingredients somehow falls short when you're piling cheap, mass-produced food into the supermarket trolley. Growing your own is just an extension of what happens in the kitchen. And when you have some space (we have very little), it's silly not to.

Anyhoo, the course was incredibly useful and very inspiring on the gardening front.

Adam McCall of Adam's Garden showed us how to create a garden bed using the 'no-dig' method that Sydney gardener Esther Dean came up with in the 1970s.

No digging. Now we're talking. This is my kind of gardening.

I'll do a separate post on no-dig gardening a bit later. The other really important thing Adam talked about, and rather obvious actually, is the soil. It's all in the soil.
We spent time pottering in Adam's garden picking whatever took our fancy and tasting as we went. Graeme and I probably asked far too many questions, but Adam's enthusiasm was infectious. His garden was an abundant mix of salads, brassicas, rhubarb, onions, herbs, potatoes, asparagus and even a banana tree. All growing in amongst each other as is the case with companion planting (something else we were taught).

The weeds were put to good use and piled here and there with hay to compost down and serve as another bed – the courgettes seemed very happy on this medium.

By the end of the day, Graeme and I were fired up. We learnt how to build a bed, how to layer the different materials, how to make weeds work for us, and why a worm farm is a marvellous thing.

Gardening aside,  it was a fab day with grown-ups in a lovely setting (let me just add that mums the world over will love and tolerate their children all the more if they are able to spend a little time away from them every now and again!). Beautiful food, all freshly picked of course, and an interesting mix of people.

Best of all, we discovered white mulberries. These creepy crawly-looking fruit give a wonderful burst of juice in the mouth. We had them in a pretty dessert at the end of our lovely meal.

White mulberries

For the first time ever, I feel I understand the basics. And I'm really excited.

I'm excited to be able to show Luca, and eventually Kian, how things grow, and I'm excited about growing food in plenty of sunshine.

We've already bought a worm farm. Luca now has over 1000 worms he 'feeds' every day. And he loves it. I'll post some pictures later of our worm café, as it's also known.

After a quick visit to a recycling yard, we had our hard wood and corrugated iron. Graeme and Luca got straight to work and by the next day, we they had built the first bed.

Next, we need to put all the layers in and then the exciting bit: off to Avoca market on Sunday to buy some seedlings from Michelle's stall (Green Thumb Organics).

Suddenly I'm very thankful for a house full of boys who like to get their hands dirty.

Here is one final picture from our day out. An old wheelbarrow looks the part as an edible garden. Adam's idea of slow food.


Monday, 3 October 2011

The Gruffalo at the Opera House

We'd already seen the Gruffalo's Child at our local Laycock Theatre and loved it. Fabulous cast and Luca and I still sing the music. Next on the list of shows to see was the Gruffalo – this time playing at the Opera House. So off to Sydney for a day out we go.

Aside from a few hiccups (we thought we could entertain them on a train but they were an absolute pain. Note to self: never take public transport with your children when you can easily strap them into the car and just drive! Oh and coming to terms with the fact that two kids have indeed wiped my brain cells when I spent a good few minutes on the train struggling to remember where we lived after someone asked me. And thinking we had enough time to walk from Central station to the Opera house and have lunch before the show, only to madly order and scoff expensive sushi and tempura in the space of 10 minutes. And Kian getting the fright of his life when the Gruffalo made an appearance on stage).... yes aside from a few minor bumps, it was a very good show. Plenty of laughs for grown-ups and lots of songs and cheering for the little ones.

We were straight up to the stage afterwards to get a picture, closely followed by the rest of the Playhouse, before everyone got a thorough telling off from the stewards. Oops.

A quick play in the Botanic Gardens, then home again (not before having to endure another 90 minutes on the train with the troublesome (and very fidgety) twosome.

Here's a corker: Graeme's pushing the double buggy that day and a lady comes up and eyes the boys sitting back quietly. Know what she says next?

'Ah, twins'.

To say anything would have killed the moment. Graeme just smiled politely... then came running to tell me.


Sunday, 2 October 2011

Happy Birthday Grandma

I know we're a long way away, but we wanted to say happy birthday in a special way. Mummy would love us to say happy birthday on skype later, but skype seems to make us very ratty, demanding children with devilish ways (and that's on a good day).

We miss you Grandma. Hope you have a lovely day.

Here are some of our favourite pictures. We need to take a lot more of you and Kian when you come next year as there aren't very many of the two of you.

Lots of love, huggles and kisses,

Luca and Kian

We love your cuddles...

and messing about...

and baking with you... (I love your pastry and how patient you are with me)

P.S. Do you realise Grandma that these are three very different pictures taken at different times on two different holidays? Grandma... do you love that pink top?


and smelling ALL the flowers with you...

and just spending time with you...


P.S. I did find another photo of us cooking without your favourite pink top Grandma!