Friday, 21 February 2014

International trauma!

The very first thing that I bought overseas... was coffee.

Last year, Husband and I went to America to celebrate out 10 year anniversary. Arrival in Los Angeles, we finally made it to our hotel in Santa Monica to find our room not-ready-yet. We wandered to the 3rd St Prominade, and found ourselves at Starbucks (probably because they had free wi-fi).

The few weeks prior to our trip involved things like finalising passports, packing our bags, confirming that my in-laws were still happy to have our children (and dog) for 3 weeks, packing their bags, changing bed sheets, having the house in OK order to come home to...

And, most importantly, trading in our Australian dollars for American money.

When we arrived in Los Angeles, we were excited... Well, I was excited - Husband just wanted to go to our hotel room and sleep. But at 10:30 in the morning (which in Sydney was actually dinner-time the same day but we'd missed a whole night's sleep), there was only a few things on my mind - and none of them were sleep! Most of them related to coffee.

As we decided to stop at Starbucks, I lined up and ordered some drinks, pretending to fit in. We were still getting used to the American accent, but at least I knew how to say "skim latte" and not be confused. The time came to hand over money (pretty much as soon as I'd ordered), and the confidence then became a slight facade, because I had no idea if I was handed back the correct change! I pretty much smiled and trusted that the Starbucks chick knew her maths!

Which leads me into the whole point of this post.

My children struggle with maths. We've recently signed up to SumDog, and both Ben & Tamara have been enjoying learning on it. At the moment, the computer must think that we're American, so all the money-related questions use American money.

Questions like:

You have 2 dimes but spend 4c. What do you have left?
How many cents do you need to equal 3 nickels?
You have 5 pennies and a dime. How much money do you have?

Obviously, when children need help with something, they naturally call out "Muuuuuuum!" But even I was struggling to help them with these questions!

So, for their sanity (and mine!) until SumDog realises that we live in Australia, I've created a chart with what each American coin is called, and what each is worth. It may not be new, but it's certainly been helpful for us all when it comes to knowing how to answer their questions!

This is what it is:

Since making this (and having it open on the computer whenever the kids play the game), they've both been getting more and more answers correct. It warms my heart when I know I've made something useful :)

It's also allowed me to finally figure out how much left-over change we have from our American holiday:

3 pennies, 1 dime, and one 10 dollar note (given away by the giant "10" in the corner).

= $10.08

Apparently the same amount equals:

6 British pounds
7 Euros
11 Australian dollars
620 Indian Rupee.

I'm rich*!

* In India.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Creative multiplication...

Teacher, n.
A person who helps you solve problems you'd never have without them.

When your kids reach a certain age, they come home eager to pull out an exercise book, draw up some lines resembling a table, and play maths games with themselves... Well, at least my 10 year old has been doing this week.

I put it down to either the enjoyment of being in Year 5... or the fact that the more correct maths answers he gets in class, the more chances he has to earn himself an ice cream. His teacher has certainly got it right for my Ben.

Ben's been going pretty well with maths because of this game that is played in class (which is apparently called "Quick Draw"), with a different set of multiples learned each week. There's the challenge to beat other- and older- students, there's the triumph of actually answering correctly, there's the adrenaline to think and spurt out the answer as quickly as possible...

And, there's ice cream on offer!!

Basically, I wanted to write about the way I learned the 9 times tables. I can't remember how I was taught, but it has stuck with me throughout my life, and I've recently begun to share this insight with my kids.

It is a fantastic feeling to see the light in their eyes suddenly switch on when they finally "get it". By no means has this motivated me to enrol in a teaching degree so I can see more of these little light bulbs switch on each day, as I do not possess the gift of patience that is necessary to allow myself to be in an entire room full of 10 year olds for many hours at a time, which does make me admire those who do have the strength (and patience) to manage that each day, and coming out the other end with their hair still intact.

Pretty please excuse my pathetic job on the imagery (unlike Husband, I am not a Photoshop genius), but I've done the best to try and explain what I'm trying to say.

Learning 9 times tables, with just your hands.

If you hold your hands out in front of you (assuming that you see 10 fingers), you can learn your 9 times tables. With each finger acting as a multiple of 9, when you turn them down one at a time, you divide your fingers into two sections: "groups of 10" & "groups of 1". The fingers before the one turned down: groups of 10; and the ones after: groups of 1.

Like this:
And this:
Does that makes sense!? Try it.

It thought I had blown my childrens' minds when I held up my hands like this and walked them through the procedure. Sure, I had to repeat myself a few times, but from the corner of my eye, I did spot them trying to do it by themselves...

When I showed them the pictures that I made for this blog post, Ben (the 10 year old), was convinced that it was a picture of someone who's fingers had been cut off, and could not contain his laughter. Like, at all. It was both frustrating and depressing, as I had no idea how I could make it any better.

If what you've just read hasn't been helpful at all, then perhaps this will be:

Happy learning/parenting/teaching!! :)

Friday, 14 February 2014

Love is the feeling that you feel.


Meatloaf would do anything for it.
Phil Collins says it can't be rushed.
Mariah Carey says it takes time.
Leona Lewis is bleeding it.
Beyonce is crazy in it.
Def Leppard thinks it bites.
Jennifer Lopez's doesn't cost a thing.
Ne-Yo is so sick of songs about it; and
The Black Eyed Peas don't know where it's gone.

It's Valentine's Day today. I know people who sit at both extremes on such a day (for and against), but many remain somewhere in the middle, like myself. Husband and I don't usually 'do' anything for Valentine's Day, because we celebrate our wedding anniversary the very next day (which happens to be our 11th tomorrow).

We do enjoy clearance chocolates and flowers, though ;)

I don't know about you, but I had romance planned for today. This plan included surprising Husband at work (on the other side of the city) with baked goods and a gift, arriving just in time to take him out to lunch. Why would the woman do this for her man, you may ask? Isn't Valentine's Day supposed to be about the man showering gifts onto his wife/girlfriend, leaving hundreds of lovely rose petals for her in a moment of passion, not thinking about who's going to clean them up afterwards??

Well, from the 11 years (technically tomorrow) I've been married, I know for certain that Husband is a gift person. When I'm asked what I would like, responses usually include: a sleep-in, a day off, getting my hair cut, someone else to clean my house for me, etc. Once you realise someone's Love Language, it becomes easier to love them. I am an Acts of Service person... Or, perhaps because I'm a stay-at-home, I jump at the thought of someone else doing my housework for me!?

Well, I'd like to announce that I succeeded in surprising Husband today! It was so much of a surprise showing up at lunch time, that he had already left the building and was in the next suburb ready to bite into the chicken burger he'd ordered...

Clearly, I need to re-think how I 'plan' these romantic gestures into the future.

I quickly caught up to him, and we did manage to eat part of lunch together. We then wandered the streets and ate gelato. It was lovely, and I was glad to have surprised him in yet another day of hectic chaos at work.

I was also (well, I thought I was) sneaky enough to leave a gift on his desk for him to have a second surprise when he returned from lunch with me. Straight from the delightfully local store, Chok Art:

The baked goods that I'd brought for his colleagues were made with love in mind. No matter where you sit on the Valentine's Day spectrum, how can you say "No" to shortbread biscuits? :)

Apart from having a similar sad/madness (which was also just as unnecessary) about the icing not being RED red, I pulled my emotional self together and wrapped them up:

Of course, it's important to remember that when you have that much royal icing on top of a biscuit (there was a lot), you need to wait until the icing is set before you put it into the cellophane bags! Otherwise, well, this happens (which led to sad/madness #2):

Perhaps these were an excuse to practice for an upcoming wedding I've been asked to make heart-shaped biscuit bonbonniere's for, BUT, I still made them with love in mind!

If I wasn't so impatient getting them wrapped (before Husband came home from work yesterday so that he wouldn't figure out the surprise I was planning), I may have added a little white arrow underneath the "xoxo" on the heart... But, I was impatient, so there's no point dwelling on what I could have changed.

If you're eager to know more about what Husband is like, he's recently started up his own comedic murder mystery blog. I doubt there'll be anything about gorilla toys and love biscuits in it, but there is something about cheese. And blood, which is red...

What is love like?

Happy Valentine's Day :)

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Fun with fruit!

Fruit salad? Yummy yummy!

"Take all the fruit that you want to eat,
It's gonna be a fruit salad treat!"
- The Wiggles.

I think fruit (in general) might just be the most delicious food group on earth. Next to chocolate and coffee.

My kids also love eating fruit, and I enjoy creating pretty presentations with it, which makes for a win-win situation :)

I like that you can be as wild or as tame as you'd like with fruit salad. And have as many or few varieties of fruit, too. I've seen many fruit presentations that are absolutely incredible! Watermelon baby carriages, Christmas trees, dinosaur heads, bouquets etc. You name it, Google can find it.

But fruit platters don't need to be that complicated to look and taste good, because it doesn't take much to make fruit appealing (or perhaps that's just me, because I like fruit). Today, I simply lined up various pieces of cut up fruit onto a platter and served it like that (and everyone loved it!):

It was fun to do, and of little inconvenience making it happen, though you'll need to remember to add lemon juice to the apples & bananas to stop them from browning if you weren't serving it straight away (or if your children/guests will pick and choose from it for a longer period of time).

Speaking of having fun with fruit, here's a poem from Cameron Semmens, who's also been creative with fruit:

O Melanie Berry
I had my eyes peeled for you
and my search for you was fruitful;
for you are my apple
and I pine apple.

You're the apple of my eye;
the pumpkin of my pupil;
the raspberry of my retina;
the West Samoan banana passion fruit of my optic nerve
and life's peachy when I'm with you!

When I saw you in the lime light,
you were a star fruit
and you gave me goose-berry bumps all over!

O my peachy little pumpkin,
we make a pair!
But you say as a pair
we're a lemon - a dud, a fizzer!
But I say that as a pair
we are a passionfruit -
rich, ripe and juicy!

I say "Woman, stay!"
But you say "Man, go!"
Look, I may not be rich rich,
but I'm also now poor poor!
If you leave me you'll make me 'ave a cardo!

O Melanie Berry,
may I call you Berry?
Without you my soul is black Berry,
and I'd be blue Berry!
I have a pistol strapped to my ankle -
if you don't love me I'll use my low gun Berry!
But death is the last straw Berry!

O Melanie, I with we could just runaway
and get married... but we can't elope!

O Melanie Berry you have appeal!
And it's no quincedence I picked you -
you keep me regular!

Yet I know that we may never be together as one,
for you are a Chinese gooseberry
but I don't speak Mandarin!

Have you ever been creative with 'presenting' fruit to your children (or at a party/event)? How do you think my/your kids would react if they were offered a [colourful] platter of vegetables?? ;)

Sunday, 9 February 2014


"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."
- Franklin Roosevelt

Husband and I recently went to Wet 'n' Wild without our children. It was intended for us to finally go on some big rides together, as our 3-year-old doesn't yet meet the minimum height requirements, and I always happily volunteer myself to stay in the little-kids section with him, where I'm comfortable and safe because the water level barely goes past my knees.

We hadn't been on a ride or water slide together since we were in America 10 months ago. And before that, it had been years since I'd been on a ride full stop!

Of course, Husband was eager to go on the 360 Rush first. I, however, wanted to go on something a bit less terrifying! He suggested the racers, which honestly didn't look that bad (from the ground!)... We collected our mats and made our way up the stairs.

But on our way to the stairs, I began feeling concerned with the fact that we were about to go on a ride head first. Perhaps I'm a traditionalist - I believe in going down slippery dips the regular, comfortable, safe way. Not on my feet, not on my stomach, not on a scooter, and certainly not head first! Maybe I've just gotten boring in my old age.

For a bit of perspective, this is what the 360 Rush looks like:

We arrived at the top and it was our turn. With my heart beating fast, I was about to chicken out, but instead forced Husband at the last possible second to switch slides with me because I was scared by the look of the pink one. He agreed, the light turned green, and we both made it to the end of the ride unharmed. It was then declared that next was the 360 Rush.

I was hesitant. I was anxious. I was uncomfortable. Or at least that's the way I saw it. Apparently Husband bribed me with chocolate, but still had to drag me to the line.

It meant a lot to Husband that I agreed to go on this horrendous type of ride, because we "went on a nice one first". I disagreed that having water constantly shot into my face, in the dark on the racers, and not being able to see where I was going was "nice", but comparatively, I s'pose he was right.

Fear and anxiety hold me back from being adventurous like Husband (and consequently, our children, who seem to be afraid of nothing except boredom). I know that like I know the colour of my undies today is blue... I think. I never like not knowing what to expect, and have refused to go on the big rides with my kids before I knew what they were like, much to their disappointed acceptance.

In this state of hesitation, I was reminded that while Husband and I were in America last year, I plunged 120 feet down the Summit Plummet, and lived to tell the tale. It took me 20 minutes once I was at the top, and I almost vomited a few times, but still, I (eventually) conquered that ride. He reminded me how proud he was that I did something crazy like that!

I'd obviously quickly forgotten this great accomplishment when faced with the pressure of tackling this next fear. It wasn't as tall, but, it was a completely different experience, and certainly (to me) just as scary!

We weren't even on the stairs when the nausea kicked in. I really wanted to be brave, I really, really did. But my heart wouldn't stop racing. I'd had plenty of time in the line to settle down, but then as we were approaching the top, the screams of people dropping into the ride became clearer and louder.

Once we had reached the front of the line, I had stepped forward, with some others, to get a better view of what happens in the ride. Was I trying to convince myself that the more I knew, the better I'd be able to handle it??

What I could see was that you had to stand upright on a clear piece of plastic, inside a capsule, with a 40 feet drop in clear view beneath you. The attendant then presses a button, the sound a the trap-door releases, screams begin, and the unsuspecting rider disappears quickly down the brightly coloured tube of terror.

I don't know what it was exactly that I hated about this particular ride. Could I have been the one to make the plastic break?? If it did break, would I accidentally go backwards (and head first!) down the 6-storey high slide, with water gushing all around? Would I also not make it around the loop, like two other people didn't, just minutes before it was our turn??

No sooner than these thoughts crowded my mind, our time was up. Dozens of people stood waiting in line, waiting for me to stop being a chicken and go down the damn ride so that they could also have their turn.

I climbed in. The sounds of rushing water encompassed me. I grabbed tightly to the side of the slide, refusing to let go, even though I knew I had to. It was like my brain and my body disconnected for what seemed like endless minutes. Strangers were worried about me. I didn't think I could do it. I tried to remember the Summit Plummet, but all I could remember was the exact thing happening right before I went on the ride. I was just too scared to complete the mission and make Husband proud.

Maybe I just wasn't ready yet... "One more person" I declared to Husband, who was strapped into the slide next to me, and ready to go! He was going to go without me! "I'll meet you at the bottom" he says. "One more person! And then I'll go!". He grudgingly got out to wait with me. I think it was the waiting that terrified me the most. Waiting, ever so still on that clear piece of plastic. Waiting for the sound of the trap-door. Waiting to free fall into the tube of terror.

He waited with me. And then it was time to step in. I slowly crossed my legs, as the attendant had told me to do. I closed my eyes tight, and would not open them. The capsule encased around me. The speaker began it's countdown. This was it. I held onto my boogie-board backpack so tight it was pinching my palms. Did I care? Has it finished? I just wanted to do this, and then pack up our towels and move to the slow and comfortable river ride, like Husband had promised.

"3, 2, 1." Then nothing! My eyes were closed tighter than the grip my hands had on the shoulder straps. I did not want to open them to people staring at me! The speaker came on again. "3, 2, 1." Then I dropped. Gravity pulled me down, and water gushed everywhere. I could feel myself slide down and down, and then up, and around. It happened quickly, but also very slowly. The light appeared and water went up my nose. I finally opened my eyes (yes, they were shut for the entire thing!), and Husband came to collect me from the slide, laughing! He pried my hands from the boogie board and took it from my back. I asked if my nose was bleeding and he laughed again. Gee, he certainly knows how to make a woman feel loved.

I don't even remember if I screamed. All I knew was that I did it, and Husband was proud of me once again. We walked onward to the next ride, smiling, and finally laughing together. I was alive!!

But wait. Was my nose bleeding??

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Nutella Day!

Apparently it's World Nutella Day today!

Nutella is a worldwide favourite choc-hazelnut spread, created in the 1940s by a guy called Ferrero. It's popularity has caused it availability to spread over 75 countries, including Australia in 1978, and it is currently the third largest selling branded spread in Australian supermarkets.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who remembers collecting Nutella jars as a child! You know, the glass ones with all the cartoons on them!? Are they still around? Actually, don't answer that. It might just encourage my kids (and myself) to sit around each afternoon and devour jar after jar of Nutella just for the glasses...

Ooh, but I'm so curious now. I'm certain my mother still has the glasses my sisters and I collected as we were growing up... Marketing at it's finest, right!?

Well, becoming aware of World Nutella Day just this morning, I decided that it would be completely unAustralian not to celebrate World Nutella Day. So along with my kids taking Nutella sandwiches for lunch today (which was completely unintentional that it was on World Nutella Day, and it actually happens everyday), I've finally made some of these that, for ages, I kept seeing pop up on Facebook:

The Kidspot recipe (which has a total of 2 ingredients) can be found here. Mine made 5 Tupperware sized popsicles, which happens to be perfect, because there's 5 people in my family!

The verdict:

They were super simple to make (I honestly don't know why I haven't tried these before today), and I especially loved that for starters - it worked! They also turned out as a two-toned ice-cream, which most importantly tasted just like Nutella!

My kids all exclaimed that they were "AMAZING!!" and have asked me to make them again. Which I will, because they were one of the easiest things I have ever made. I just need to remember to slowly pull them out of the holders, or the handles come out without any ice-cream attached.

And just like anything that includes Nutella as an ingredient, within minutes it was spread almost all over Jonathan's face :)

Did you know?

- If all the number of Nutella jars sold in a year were lined up, they would wrap around the moon four times.
- Napolean and Hitler are responsible for the world's Nutella addiction.
(True story!)
- A jar of Nutella is sold every 2.5 seconds!

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

And they lived happily ever after!

"Laughter is timeless, imagination has no age, and dreams are forever."
- Walt Disney

It's hard not to love a Disney movie. And if you're a girl, it's hard not to go through the faze of wanting to be a Disney princess. I'm almost 30 and still want to be one! Or maybe I just want to sing songs all day, have animals to do my housework, fit perfectly into every dress I own, and enjoy flawless hair and skin forever and ever and ever.

Lately, there's been many little girls asking to have princess cupcakes for their birthday. As I think about princesses and royalty, there's one thing that goes beyond the pretty dress, perfect hair, talking animals, and spotless house (or palace/mansion/castle):

A tiara.

Every princess needs a tiara, especially if you're pretending to be one,
which can be so much FUN!

And so, here are some princess tiara cupcakes I've made for a couple of special little girls, in the prime of their imaginative (and princess obsessed) childhoods.

I was once lucky enough to find and buy a packet of white chocolate melts in ALDI that were perfect for melting/piping designs because it set almost straight away. In my experience, Cadbury's white chocolate melts don't set, even when left overnight. It therefore saddens me deeply that I haven't since seen them being sold at ALDI.

For one style of cupcakes, I designed a tiara and placed it under baking paper as a guide (like I've done before whenever I use chocolate for cupcakes). I then melted and piped white chocolate onto it, and wrapped them around a roll of wrapping paper - a simple way to make them set round. A small bit of sticky tape helps the paper stay put. Once the chocolate tiaras were set (which was by the time I'd finished piping the last one), I carefully placed them on top of the cupcakes, which had pink buttercream icing swirled onto them.

These next ones also had pink buttercream icing on them, but, without having the awesome ALDI white chocolate melts, I instead rolled out some white fondant, cut them with my mini tiara cutter, and placed them inside my cake pop tray to set slightly rounded.

Once they were set (I left them overnight), I sprayed them with silver mist, and gently placed them on top of the cupcakes, which had also been sprinkled with pink sugar (a.k.a. "princess dust"). If I was to make these ones again, I'd also write something on the tiara. Perhaps the birthday girl's name or age, or a mixture of both.

Finally, if you're really not someone who's interested in happily ever afters, and hates the idea of Disney princess movies continuing to create false hopes and dreams in the young girls of today... Then you will love this video:

"If you've ever wondered why Disney's tales all end in lies,
here's what happened after all their dreams came true."

I wonder if Nala from The Lion King is also classified as a Disney princess...

Hakuna Matata!

Saturday, 1 February 2014

It's over!

"Unless life also hands you sugar and water,
your lemonade is going to suck."

As you may have been aware, one of my "New Year Resolutions" was to survive one month without sugar. For those obviously worried about my sanity, and how I coped with this reckless and out-of-character decision, I tracked how it went.

There was no urge to eat sugar, chocolate, or ice cream. I felt great and think that my decision to quit sugar came at the right time. Husband reminded me that this will be hard, and that I've never been able to survive more than 3 days without sugar before. I was determined to prove him wrong.

DAY 2 - 3 
The days started with headaches, causing me to believe that I may not have prepared for this "detox" in the wisest way, indulging on everything sugar-related for 2 weeks before having to give them up cold turkey.

DAY 4 - 7
I felt sad. All I could see was everything that I couldn't have, and I really missed my dear friend, sugar. I explained to the kids that I was giving up sugar for a month, and they laughed at me.

After spending 10 minutes yelling incoherently to a telemarketer, I concluded that I will not answer the phone anymore. Out of a bazillion recipes I'd found the previous day of things that I could eat, I found and baked two different kinds of Paleo muffins. One was delicious! The other one would have been delicious if it had sugar in it.

DAY 9 - 14
I distracted myself with irrational housework, including scrubbing the floors with baby wipes. I wallowed in sadness because my knees were sore and I still wasn't allowed chocolate yet. I was becoming incredibly bored with eating healthily. There's only so many ways you can cut up a carrot to make it appetising. I hated the taste of almonds, and would be happy not seeing another salad for the rest of the month.

DAY 15
Accidentally ate home-made pancakes for breakfast, and then lied about it being an accident.

DAY 16
As I baked cupcakes and biscuits for friends, a cloud of icing sugar wafted into my face. I don't remember what happened after that, but ended up on the trampoline in a tutu... I don't own a tutu.

DAY 17 - 24
really wanted ice-cream. Instead, I consumed plenty of pizza, chips, KFC, coffee & bacon, leading me to wonder if I was also addicted to fat and salt, and though that perhaps I will also go a month without fat and salt.

DAY 25
Husband allowed me a cheat day and took me out for ice-cream. What a guy. I rewarded him.

DAY 26 - 30
The end was in sight, and I would soon be able to eat lollies again. I bought some in preparation, and sat guarding them making sure no-one else ate them first.

DAY 31
I'd decided that 30 days without sugar was good enough, and ate everything in sight. Fell asleep on the couch in the foetal position holding three Barbie dolls and an empty packet of Starburst babies.