February 22, 2011

painting the blackboard

Inspired as I always am by Jean Van't Hul, and feeling a little uninspired by our usual art activities, I gave Ollie a bowl of water, some paint brushes and suggested we go and paint the black board out on the front deck. Lately Ollie's been less interested in crayons (which is probably just as well as Max is more keen to chew on them than anything else) but he's been bringing home the most gorgeous paintings.  He loves to splodge his paintbrush and tell me what colours he's using but we don't do much painting at home.

So, this was a total success.  Low set up effort, low mess and it kept going and going.  Every time the board dried (with or without Ollie's diligent use of kitchen roll), he got to start again, make different patterns, add some chalk, then some water, then a bit more chalk... and then after he'd forgotten about it and spent some time with his beloved cars and his book of the moment, back out he went for some more 'painting on the blackboard'.  When Max woke from his nap with his funny looking emu hair, he joined in too, grabbing a paintbrush and slapping it around on the floor, the board, the table.  The first time I have ever seen Max with a paintbrush in his hand and probably the first activity we have set up that both Ollie and Max have been able to enjoy together.  Cute.

February 13, 2011

in time

My last post about Ollie was a difficult one to write.  I am torn between posting my innermost heartfelt feelings but also doing it in a balanced way to reflect what that is truly representative of what is happening in our lives, rather than letting the feelings of one day or even one moment become my focus.

But I did write it, and I'm glad I did, because it did articulate how I have been feeling about my little boy and the worries I have about him and since then I've had the opportunity to talk to a few friends about whether his behaviour and our interaction warrants another opinion, a professional one, to determine whether he is just the way he is, or whether I need to worry about something bigger.

So, what's the verdict?  Well... there isn't one.  Will and I have done some serious thinking and talking about what we want to do.  In the same way that I was on the verge of getting a speech pathologist involved when Ollie suddenly started talking, the last few days have been quite extraordinary.  I have had some of the most positive interaction with Ollie that I've ever had, conversations rather than words, he's asked me for cuddles rather than the other way round and he's been way more engaged with whatever it is we are doing.  And the reason for the change?  I'm not sure, but I do think our conscious effort to let Ollie lead (within reason) has made a big difference to how much he is enjoying himself, and that in turn has led to his interaction with us being more positive, rather than negative.  We are making an effort not to start every sentence with 'no' or 'stop' or 'don't' and trying instead to use positive language to persuade him to think about what he's doing.  We have, of course, been doing this for a while now, but it hasn't really worked, and for that I blame Ollie's complete stubbornness to do things his way, something which I actually think is a positive and will, I hope, manifest itself into dogged determination when he's older.

One of the big issues for us is that we're doing this parenting thing with little support from the outside world.  Most families have a network of grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins but we don't, and that's because of the choices we have made, so it's not that I am complaining about it, but I am acknowledging that we've made things tougher than they need to be.  We're lucky to have a good system of day care for Ollie and that gives us and him a break and much needed change of scene, but it can still be difficult when we don't have the luxury of an afternoon off when the kids might be with their grandparents.

Anyway, I digress.  The point of this post is... well there is no point, but suffice to say that we are hoping we might have turned a corner, and I'm looking forward to writing about Ollie again, be it about the challenges or the joy.  It's almost as though he knows the next move and he's keeping a step ahead of us. but if that's what it takes for us to continually question the way we are doing things in order to do them better, then so be it.


One of my treats is a proper coffee, from a coffee shop, made with frothy steamed milk in one of those takeaway paper coffee cups.  It's something I'm enjoying more regularly now that I'm not breastfeeding and back in corporate world, surrounded by coffee shop after coffee shop of busy baristas and that sweet, sweet smell of motivation!  Last week, I treated myself to one of those coffees and in a momentary lapse of judgement, paid $4.50 for the tiniest slice of a muesli bar too.  It was actually delicious, but so teeny, and so overpriced that I could have bought almost two more coffees for the price of that tiny morsel.

Anyway, I did enjoy it, it was perfect with my steaming, hot and foamy cappuccino, so I resolved to make my own, based on the myriad of recipes available on the inter-web. 

250g butter
4 tablespoons golden syrup (about 100g)
200g brown sugar
150g raisins
350g oats

Melt the butter, syrup and sugar together, stir in the oats and raisins, tip into a greased tray, bake for 40 mins at 150c.

I should say that the result was delicious, but I would make some changes. Add more fruit:  apricots cranberries and maybe even dates would work well.  Add less butter and sugar - maybe a bit of maple syrup instead of some of the golden syrup.  Some pumpkin seeds would be good, some chopped walnuts, maybe even sesame seeds.  Bake for a little less time, about 30 minutes would have been enough.  But when all is said and done, this recipe turned out a flapjack that was buttery, sugary, oaty and satisfying - with or without that coffee.  A pretty good lunchbox treat.

it's nice!

We have been tracking the progress of our strawberry plant with Ollie for the last few weeks.  The little white blossoms, which turned into little green berries, then white have slowly been turning pink and then red and then finally, a couple of days ago, it was time to eat our first strawberry.

Ollie took a tiny nibble, thought about it for a moment, then looked up and proclaimed 'it's nice!' and then gave his mama, his papa and his little brother a teensy bite too.  And it was nice.

I love to see things grow with Ollie, he really gets into the process and although it doesn't always feel that way, he does seem to listen to what we are saying and teaching him.  The difference is amazing when it's something he's interested in.  I will write again about all things Ollie related, especially after my last post, but at the moment, we are feeling positive, and I think he's responding to that positivity in a very good way.

February 12, 2011

green pancakes

At the risk of becoming a blog advertisement for Yotam Ottolenghi, here is another tried (twice) and enjoyed offering from the man who has inspired most of our new dinnertime offerings over the last couple of months, something which I make no apology for.

Green pancakes with lime butter.  Pretty darn easy really, very healthy (if you leave out the butter, which I didn't think added too much to the pancakes which were themselves light, flavoursome, earthy and filling).  The first time we made them, Will made the butter, but this time I left it out and had the pancakes with some grilled haloumi and a fried egg, which sounds a lot like breakfast for dinner, something I've always thought was a good idea.  The kids liked them too.

I don't think we are done with you, Yotam.

February 7, 2011

is it me?

I don't want this to be a diary of all things gloomy but lately I've been in complete emotional turmoil.  After the flood (is that a song title?) everything felt surreal, displaced, and it's just added to my chronic homesickness, which I believe isn't homesickness anymore but this feeling that I need to put down roots somewhere, anywhere, but somewhere probably away from Brisbane.  The cumulative tiredness from going back to work and squeezing more than I should into a day doesn't help either.

That aside, my main worry has been Ollie.  At the end of last year, it felt as though we had turned a corner.  2010 was a difficult year for me - challenging I guess.  Ollie's tantrums, bossiness, slow speech development and difficulties dealing with becoming a big brother all took their toll not just on him, but on me and his pa too.  There were times when I felt like packing up and leaving, going home, going anywhere (and sometimes I still feel that way) just to get a break but really, what I want more than anything is for my little guy to be engaged, to look me in the eye, to answer me when I ask him a simple question and to smile when he sees me and say 'hi mama'.  I know he can do it, he just won't.

So is it me?  Is it the way I choose to interact with him?  Or is it him?  His age?  His little brother... now that's a different story.  I just have to make eye contact and he cracks a smile.  He chuckles when he sees me, tries to wave and charges over for a hug on all fours, crawling at a pace you wouldn't imagine a 10 month old could achieve.  What it makes me think is that maybe there is something about Ollie that I don't know.  It pains me as his mother to write that, to think that I don't know everything there is to know about him.  His delayed speech, his tendency to throw prolonged tantrums, his lack of attention but his ability to concentrate on his own task... all of these things overshadow his good days, when he seems to want to be around us, talk to us, show us his toys and books and isn't completely absorbed by music or the spoken word cds that he is so fond of.  Some days he will hug and respond to anyone that walks in the door!

I see so many little people of his age who want to interact and spend time pleasing and imitating their parents and friends, yet I wouldn't say Ollie is one of them.  I understand he's going to throw tantrums and needs to develop his emotional well being, but surely there needs to be a balance to that?

I'm not sure what I want to do about this.  I think a big part of it is my parenting and utter lack of patience but I think there might be something more.  Either way, I need to accept he's not that happy, communicative, bouncy child that I see so many mothers (including many of my closest friends) with.  And, once I've stopped comparing him, I can start proactively doing something about it.

February 4, 2011

asparagus vichyssoise

courtesy of our mate, Yotam Ottolenghi.

We might be run off our feet, but we have to eat, and I'm pleased to say that we have managed at least one new dish a week so far this year, sometimes even two!  This week we've had spinach pancakes and grilled haloumi (delicious and a total hit with the kids too, I will do these again and write about it) and last night I made asparagus vichyssoise**, which is chilling in the fridge as I write this, waiting for warm crusty bread and the rest of last night's red wine, which I am going to enjoy guzzling very, very, VERY much when Will gets home.

Ah Fridays.  I love you.

** only had one leek, so substituted the other with a few spring onions, samphire was never going to be available here, so I left it out. 

the machine

Was my last post really on 23 January?  Actually, that seems about right.  The last fortnight has been so busy.  I'm well and truly back at work, busy, in demand, loving it but feeling like everything at home and work is suddenly way harder than I had envisaged and so exhausting.  

A typical day starts at 6am (not bad for a house with two kids under two and a half), quick shower, blow dry (which I have to say has been pointless these last few humid days so I've practically given up.  It's only taken 8 years for me to accept the humidity and embrace the frizz), get the kids up if they aren't already, do the breakfast chaos, clean up (otherwise we get home to ants and flies, and nobody, especially me likes to come home to a dirty kitchen), get the kids dressed, get my clothes on (this is last minute, you understand) out the door, over to Sue's, drop them off, pray there are no tantrums/tears, rush to the train in the stinking heat, lipstick on the train, do a day's work, get home, by which time Will's picked up the boys and given them dinner, help him bathe the kids, let Ollie watch 10 minutes of tv (The Octonauts) get them to bed, pray they go to sleep without any fuss, get our dinner going, eat it, clean up, do a load of washing/folding, make lunches for the next day, have a cold shower and pass out whilst attempting to watch an episode of The West Wing.

So even though I haven't made it into work on time yet, I think we are doing ok.  There are a few things we are working on with Ollie, and I might write about that later, but for now, we are just trying our best to keep on top of things.  We have to accept we have less time if we are both working, but it's something we can't avoid just now, while we are young, in our first home, trying to get ahead financially and build our experience and a future for the boys.  I'm lucky I only have to work part time.

Still, we are saving a bit of money here and there, it's nice to get some time to myself (Will and I even had lunch together this week) and the boys seem oblivious to the revving machine that is our household and they're taking it all in their stride.  Sue is a godsend.  She knows our boys and loves them.

An extra 3 hours a day would be nice.  But I bet I'd just fill it with chores!

Even when we have no time, we need cake and so last weekend we made mini peach and blueberry muffins.  Absolutely delicious.  I followed this recipe (it's Nigella's), but didn't have enough blueberries, so made up the difference (about 100g) with fresh white peach chunks.  Don't over mix the batter.  They were light, delicious, the kids loved them and so did we.  
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