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The Secret Garden

Major milestone unlocked: The Sleepover.

In this day and age, sleepovers can be a bit of a taboo subject. Especially with all the paedophilia horror stories running rampant in the media. However, having enjoyed sleepovers so immensely in my own childhood, I would feel a bit hypocritical to have a blanket rule of no sleepovers. As with everything, there needs to be a certain amount of caution on the parents’ part, of course, but I also trust Iris’s own instincts. Since she started toddling, I’ve noticed she has a pretty good sense of self-preservation. Whenever we went to a playground, my then 18-month-old would suss out the situation before launching herself in. She observed which rough-housers to avoid and which older kids would likely be helpful. If anything started to get a bit out of hand, she would extricate herself.

Before she turned seven, we had a few invites to sleepovers but she categorically said “no” and I believe it was because she knew she wouldn’t be able to handle it. This time it was a jumping up and down yes.

So she went and she didn’t sleep much and practically nodded off at dinner the next day, but she was happy and she had a good experience. This makes me happy because I feel I’ve accomplished something as well.

It took us three months to read Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden because of the great childhood skill of dawdling. I’m fairly sure every single parent knows exactly what I’m talking about. Dinner, which used to take her as a toddler 10 minutes to eat, now takes 45 minutes because she’s too busy telling us how to make the shape of bat wings with her fingers and how those bat wings can be turned into cool spectacles. Then on the way to her bedroom, she finds a piece of fluff she has to use to play with one of our cats with. In the meantime, she has forgot what she is meant to do and meanders into her room and starts writing a novel. After asking relatively calming five times for her to come to the bathroom, I end up yelling a lecture and she huffs in saying she “was just doing something. Seriously Mama.” Cue internal brain implosion.

Anyhoo, we finally finished it at the beginning of April. I’ve read The Secret Garden at least three times in my life, but the last time was at least two decades ago. *ahem* So. With all my bedtime reading, I like to try out different accents. My best so far being, IMO, a country American cowboy-ish twang. Cue husband EBR (eyeball roll). Well. The Secret Garden is set in YORKSHIRE. Yep, ye gowt that riawt. Ok so I think my written Yorkshire is slightly worse than my spoken Yorkshire. I did extensive research (watched two YouTube videos) and tried to channel Jon Snow (played by a London-born actor). Therefore I am supremely glad my only audience has been my very accepting seven-year-old. Of course you can read this book without adopting any accents whatsoever, but where would be the fun in that?

For those who have never read it, it is not just a girl’s book, thank you very much. Although the main protagonist is a girl, I feel boys can and should get into it too. It’s about overcoming your inner brat through losing your parents who neglected you and left you to be spoiled by servants and being plonked on a dead relative’s spouse who is also a neglectful parent. One brat tells another brat off and they both find happiness, health and their life values in nursing a neglected garden back to health with the help of the lower class servants and people they once disdained. As you can see an overall heartwarming story, especially for parents as it also tells you tantrums will kill you or make you hunchbacked.

Dodgy morals aside, this has always been a story about children doing something amazing for themselves, whether it’s adapting to extreme change; discovering an old garden and bringing it back to life; overcoming their own prejudices about themselves and others; or just becoming better people. This is what makes it a classic worth rereading over and over.

Now, how to con husband into buying me that $400 special edition of The Secret Garden?

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The Final Countdown

Don’t know if anybody else shares my dilemma but my end of year reading selections tend to lean towards the quick reads. This is because I’m trying to bump up my annual number of books read in a last sprint to the finish so to speak. This year, I’ve actually engaged in a public online reading challenge so the pressure is on to finish those last 7 books. Yet I also want them to be holiday-themed. Gosh #firstworldproblems eh?

Well after several days of faffing, I’ve finally narrowed it down and am pretty happy with it. First up, Murder on the Orient Express because of the movie and it’ll be my third reread of the year (see previous post on justifying massive book collection). However, I will read it after the movie only so I can imagine Johnny in his role as I read. #yum

Under the Net because it’s red (Christmassy) and I’ve not read a Murdoch in awhile. Instructions for A Heatwave because we live in WA. The Age of Magic, again Christmassy and has been on my TBR pile for ages. The Snow Child and The Christmas Story obvious.

It’s the last one that excites me the most though. Peter Pan is one of the few children’s classics I have not read though I’ve watched many film adaptations and it is totally my kind of storyline and genre.

I bought this copy as a present to myself last year and was going to read it with Iris in anticipation of watching the WA Ballet’s production of Peter Pan. Though we’ve decided to go to Cirque du Soleil’s Toruk instead, I’m still going to read this with her during the holidays.

Review and (hopefully) more blog posts soon!

Giving Thanks

So I think everyone can agree that 2016 has pretty much sucked. Starting right off with the deaths of major artistic talents, through to Brexit and Trump. For our family, we’ve also had the death of a beloved cat, who’s been there right from Iris’ birth and the passing of my 103-year-old grandmother. While we were sad at the passing of my grandmother, she was 103/4/5. She lived such a full life, I still feel bad every time I sit down for a cuppa or complain about how much housework/childcare/family administration I have to do. Here’s a VERY brief snippet of what she did: she had ten children to look after pretty much on her own, ran three sewing classes a day to supplement the family income and fed, not just her family, but the several workers in my grandfather’s tailor shop. All this while being very active in at least two churches.

With that in mind, for me, all this tragedy has reinforced the wonderful blessings we still have. In particular, the fact that we’ve FINALLY moved into our new house and while it’s not perfect, it’s felt like home right from the start. Here is THE LIBRARY. At least that’s what I’m calling it. Unfortunately, we ran out of space so Iris’ books are in the “craft room”. However, I’m hoping that there will be enough culling of things-kept-since-1980-by-the-husband, who says “I might need to refer to it” in response to why he’s kept his SECONDARY SCHOOL physics text books and notes, that we’ll be able to move her books over as well.

I decided to let her take the lead and clearly she hasn’t inherited my OCD-ness to quite the same degree as she said “just put them anyhow”. Let it go, let it go.

This is the first time in over 13 years that all my books have been housed together. Some of been culled because they were falling apart or not very good or not pretty enough. Some have been with me for nigh on three decades. Along the way, I decided I would only buy books I was going to keep. Unfortunately, that did not have the effect I intended. When Iris came, I had another reason to acquire more books, to amass a worthy library for her to intellectually sup on as she grew. As it stands, I’m pretty happy with how my collection has come along.

So it is with extreme pride that I unveil another treasure to add, which I absolutely could not resist when I saw it in Dymocks even though I am still on a self-induced book buying ban. Ha!

I’ve raved about Robert Sabuda previously so when I saw his version of The Christmas Story, I hesitated for about 5 seconds before trotting it to the cashier.

So this is the real Christmas story, no faffing with rotund elderly men with a penchant for satisfying children’s desires with merchandise.

Once again, I’m going to let the pictures do the amazing and wish everyone a better, more hopeful 2017!

Another Kind of Resolution

For Christmas 2014, as it would be just us and the gramps (grandparents), I suggested going camping. Yup, you heard right. Of course after everyone got on board I started having second thoughts. I LOVE having my own loo within five metres of my bed, which is in a house with air-conditioning. There was no backing out, however, so I had to suck it in. What we did do, was actually “glamping” because the gramps had their luxury caravan, so we had power and cooking facilities. There were shared toilets and showers, so no digging holes in the ground, and we brought our automated air-bed, quilt and my ultra comfortable contoured pillow. Even so, after 3 nights of having to unzip the tent, walk 25 metres to the toilet and being woken up at 5am by birds having a conference over our heads, I was ready to come home.

On Christmas day we had our first bona fide Aussie Christmas with a trip to the beach in the morning, lunch off the barbe (bbq) and pot luck dinner with the rest of the camp in a large shed. Naturally the person who enjoyed it the most was Iris. She made a new bestie she played with all day everyday, had a family of goats next door and a couple who walked their cat on a lead. I might be persuaded to do it again if we get a darker tent and I bring ear plugs for all of us.

One evening, as I made my way back to our camp-site from a shower, I was literally stopped in my tracks by the sunset.

WA Sunset, Dec 14, Big Valley

Like an awesome sunset, there are children’s books that have the same effect. Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree is one of them and so is Barbara Cooney’s Miss Rumphius.

Alice Rumphius lived by the sea with her grandfather who inspired her with tales of his travels. She wanted to do everything he had – travel and live by the sea. He left her with one more life accomplishment – “do something to make the world more beautiful”.

Grandfather and Alice

So off Alice goes, travelling the world and finally settling down in a cottage by the sea. Then she remembers what her grandfather tasked her to do, but she had no idea what to do.

Travelling to Asia

One summer, she plants her favourite flowers – lupines. She spends the next year or so convalescing. The following spring, on a walk, she finds  a patch of lupines some distance from her cottage. That is her “ah ha” moment.

Ah ha moment

She then spends the summer sowing lupine seeds all around the area. When the fields, hillsides, lane-ways, hollows and stone walls all bloom with the blue, purple and rose-coloured flowers, it appears she has perfectly fulfilled her grandfather’s words.

Lupines, lupines, lupines

I’ve never made a new year’s resolution. Not one. I think it’s nonsense. If you need an impetus to do something worthwhile, the new year is not going to give you enough of one. Take quitting smoking, it needs to be something personal, something that will give you enough will power to overcome your addiction. Likewise with losing weight and all the rest of it, which anyway, if you needed to do, you probably need to do it ALL the time. So not a new year’s resolution, but a life resolution – don’t sweat the small stuff.

Give Me Cake

Iris is turned four on Monday. This, I felt, called for a non-book related post. *Gasp* Back in Singapore, kid’s birthday parties have become yet another aspect of life to compete tooth and hangdog nail at. Parents splash out on venues, entertainment, cakes and photography. Frankly, it’s a little scary, because seriously, what kind of parent are you if you don’t book that playground with a balloon artist, metre-high fondant cake, photographer AND videographer?! But it is really good if you want to start an indoor play gym/outdoor water playground or any kind of kid’s entertainment. The thing I found most ridiculous to spend money on was the cake. Don’t get me wrong, I totally understand why parents, who are 90% of the time, both working their poor butts off, would rather just spend the money for someone else to make a cake. After all, we succumbed to it for Iris’s first birthday. We didn’t get the fancy venue (it was at my parents’ house), entertainment (we rented a foam play structure) or even a photographer (thanks Jay!), so we got one of those cakes.

Farm Birthday Cake

The theme was, obviously, the farm. I had everything in theme, cups, napkins, goody bag treats and even the balloons. The cake, while spectacular looking, like most cakes of its kind was very average in taste. Plus you can’t even keep the figurines. Quite possibly one of the most useless $250 we spent. In fact, I’d go as far as to say if I could do it over, I wouldn’t, at all! She doesn’t remember it, nor did she particularly enjoy it as a significant day. Sure she got lots of presents, but again, she was too young to appreciate them. Take note parents-to-be! Do not bother with first or even second birthdays. Focus on the fourth and beyond and ignore later questions of why there were no photos of first and second birthday parties.

For her second birthday, I decided to make the cake myself, a tradition which continues. I’ve had a mild thing for baking since my mid-teens. This grew into a proper hobby once I moved out and had my own kitchen. My problem, however, was that I had to wait for an occasion to bake cakes (I will not, contrary to popular thought, consume an entire cake on my own). So here was my chance. I even went so far as to practice making the cake twice to get the look and taste right. It was important that I had both. My cake was NOT going to be a bimbo fondant cake.

After three and a half hours’ work the night before, I made a rainbow cake with cream cheese frosting. I lost the pictures of the inside when some #*$& stole my phone but it was a rainbow cake. A proper one with six colours/layers. It was quite humongous, not terribly well frosted and we made the mistake of waiting too long to cut it. Hence we had a lot of leftover cake, but I did receive lots of compliments.

Rainbow Cake

Her third birthday saw my technique improve as well as one of my strokes of genius. The theme was Peppa Pig, because Iris, like almost every other girl child in Australia, England and anywhere showing Peppa Pig, absolutely loves it. It’s amazing how a cartoon with such simple artistry can be so entertaining, even for adults! Big balloon, big balloon, bigger than the moon….Anyway, I copied the design of this cake from Sweetapolita, but instead of slaving away at fondant figures that would have probably looked all wrong and couldn’t be kept/played with, I ordered plastic figurines and stuck them in the top! The chocolate is supposed to look like a muddy puddle, BTW, for those familiar with the show.

3rd birthday cake

It tasted divine because I had found THE CHOCOLATE CAKE recipe. No, I’m not going to share it.

This year, we hired a Shetland pony for the party so that became the theme. It’s always better/easier to have a theme. Incidentally, we thought it would be a simple affair as the kids would be entertained by the pony and the playground and we’d only provide finger food. WE WERE WRONG. Even the simplest of parties can be completely knackering.

For the cake, I took inspiration from one of my favourite food bloggers’, my name is yeh, funfetti and pony cakes.

4th birthday cake

I am still recovering from all this birthday business. I think I might borrow my friend’s idea and only have parties every alternate year. Or maybe not. Think she’ll have outgrown mermaids by then?

Creating Christmas

This has been my most organised Christmas ever. I got my shopping done in November and managed to design and order custom cards and send them off on time! Quite apart from all that, however, is the fact that this year, compared to the last 20, is made fun all over again because of Iris.

I will say it up front, I do believe in God and thus Christmas has always been meaningful. Yet, this year, because there is a little person who enjoys decorations and activities and the whole she-bang, I’ve found myself really getting into the festive mood of the season. So here’s a sampling of the madness: I created a spreadsheet to map out all the activities available this month so we wouldn’t miss anything; I rushed around after her birthday to find a tree (artificial because there aren’t any non-tiny potted ones) and decorate it and the house; I drove 45 minutes to a mall in Rockingham so she could throw fake snow in a life-sized snow globe for two minutes; I went to Spotlight twice to buy buttons to make ornaments, I braved the crowds with Ah Ma and held 13.5kg on my shoulders for half an hour so that Iris could see a Christmas parade. Did I mention the spreadsheet?

Throughout this time I’ve had to keep asking myself, am I doing this just because it’s something my family always did or is this something I want our family to do from now on? It is so easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of Christmas and forget to create a personal Christmas just for the three of us. I’ve enjoyed starting my own collection of tree ornaments and baking up a storm, as well as having an advent candle, which is something I’ve wanted all my adult life but never found the impetus to get until now.

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What makes this Christmas extra special is that it is also our first one in our newly adoptive country. Yvonne Morrison and Kilmeny Niland’s An Aussie Night Before Christmas is a cracking take on the season in all its thong-wearing glory.

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From the beer and lamingtons left out for Christmas, to the kangaroo-drawn ute and bottom baring Santa, it’s a chuckle inducing introduction to everything Aussie. I know what I’m giving out to the kids next year!

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A very blessed Christmas and 2014 to everyone from the Reading Mum!

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