Facing Fear with Fear

We are two weeks away from moving into our brand new house. Those in the know will be aware of the arduous nature of this particular journey. From the moment we chose a builder, it has been THREE years in the making. Rather than go into vent-mode, I have chosen to look forward and am allowing excitement to overtake my bitterness at the wait. So while we are in the throes of packing and readying ourselves for the move, I have had to pack away most of Iris’ books. The library has therefore become even more invaluable than before.

In fact, we’ve joined another council’s library, giving us access to four other libraries. Since Iris started full-time school, we’ve been going to the library a lot less so it’s been really lovely rediscovering the joys of borrowing books. We’ve also, thanks to a friend’s tip, started borrowing jigsaw puzzles and Iris is now able to listen to audio books. She is currently enjoying The Enchanted Tree, which is brilliant for us when she wakes up at 6am. More on that in another post.

In our last library haul was this absolute gem. I was, of course, drawn to the amazing painting-style illustrations but reading it has been equally enjoyable. In The Almost Fearless Hamilton Squidlegger, Timothy Basil Ering, uses imagination to combat the greatest enemy of childhood sleep – the imagination. Squidlegger_cover

Hamilton is a frog who loves pretend play, especially of the swashbuckling bent. However, this causes problems at bedtime when his overactive imagination makes him run to his parents’.

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We all know co-sleeping is really no-sleeping for parents.

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So his father employs two methods of dispensing of these nighttime terrors – reward and psychology.

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The casual way he planted that nugget of inception was utterly brilliant and inspirational. So young Hamilton’s fears are turned on their head and he learns that the monsters he fights in the day and that terrify him at night can also be playmates. Well done Dad.

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I also love Ering’s classic adventure-style prose.

 

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Lost in Wonderland

This is quite possibly the most exciting gift I have ever received, by proxy that is. Thanks to Iris’ most wonderful and almost psychic godmother, we now have one of the most beautiful books ever in our library. I was at least ten times more excited than Iris when she was presented the book.

Robert Sabuda is THE leading children’s pop-up book artist and paper engineer. Seriously, is there a more awesome job than doing cut and paste for a living?! Among his repertoire of absolutely, jaw-dropping gorgeous creations, Alice in Wonderland is one of his best. This is one post where words are basically useless and I have gone crazy with my phone camera. I still have the most ridiculous grin whenever I see it.

Disclaimer: DO NOT, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, LET ANYONE WHO WOULD CAUSE THIS BOOK ANY HARM TOUCH IT BECAUSE IF ANY OF THIS BREAKS YOU WILL CRY. Or at least I will.

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Home Alone

Now that Iris is in full time school, six hours a day, five days a week, I thought I’d have free time coming out my ears. Nope. In fact, I feel more busy than I was last year when she was in school a lot less. So let me just say for the record, especially to everyone who has ever even insinuated that stay-at-home-mums sit around on our arses all day long, WE DO NOT. In fact, speaking as a mum who has both worked full time with a child and is now staying at home, I am FAR busier now than I was when I was working. I do not want to go into a long argument but because I’m at home and I don’t feel entitled to pamper myself since we only have one income, I end up doing a lot more STUFF for the family and the house. Just look at how long it’s taken me to find time to write a blog since my last post. As a result, I am actually trying to find a job so I can, perhaps, actually sit on my arse for half a day.

So anyway, Iris is in pre-primary now. She really enjoys school and has all her bffs in her class again. Sometimes I look at her and think how big she’s grown and how much more independent she is. Then I’ll look at her and think, no she’s still so tiny and I just want to smother her with protectiveness. Yet I have to remind myself that she needs to be allowed to grow and do her own thing. I am reminded of this particularly when I notice her try and boss her father around. She even tried bossing me around but that didn’t last very long. Heh.

Ingenious Jean by Susan Chandler and Kate Leake was another op-shop find th    at I’ve grown to love. It encourages creativity, perseverance, resilience (to sarcasm) and individuality.

Ingenious Jean

While her brother and sister engage in common kid behaviour, Ingenious Jean loves inventing stuff from things she already has on hand (recycling!). The first three goes are not quite successful as she seems to have invented things that already exist.

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This is very politely and considerately pointed out by her siblings, which is a great lesson for us adults on how to handle our children’s creative output.

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Yet Jean doesn’t give up and is finally awarded inventive success.

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Ingenious Jean

Iris often surprises me with her intelligence and creativity and I give appropriately excited praise. However, I do need to remember to encourage her even when it’s a horse made of corks that has three legs and no head. I don’t believe in indiscriminate praise because I think kids need to know when something is not up to par, particularly when I know she hasn’t put in much effort. So encouragement refers to acknowledging their effort, however small, finding the positive and helping them to see how it could be better. Believe me, this is very hard for me as my default is sarcasm so this is what I’m aiming for, not what I actually do all the time.

Getting All Arty Farty

It’s been about 2.5 months since my last post. We’ve had a pretty major happening in our nuclear family, which I’m still deciding whether to talk about. Also, I have been INSANELY busy. Every morning I wake up feeling hungover without the good part! Then there’s Paris. I am not going to go into that because this is not what this blog is about. It’s about recognising little mercies, artistry and beauty, something the world sorely needs.

Therefore I am going to give a big shout out to art in all its myriad forms, good and bad. Appreciating art is not about being snooty, turtle-neck adorned, squinting know-it-alls who use the words “minimal”, “je ne sais quoi” and “composition”. It’s about being moved. It’s about human expression. It’s about being transported away from and into the depths of what it means to be human and to live on this earth. Before I float away on my cloud of existentialism, let me introduce the inimitable Hervé Tullet’s The Game of Sculpture.

I am a strong believer in instilling a love for the arts from diaper stage. No matter if the child prefers eating the paint than looking at it, or joining in the modern interpretive dance with gusto. We’ve been dragging Iris to museums since she was a few months old; taking her to live performances; and my favourite children’s event of the year in Perth is the Awesome Festival, an arts festival for kids. Being able to appreciate the arts just makes life so much more interesting and filled with loveliness. It really helps to remind all of us, but especially mini people, that human beings are capable of creating beauty and not just of destruction.

Published by the pinnacle of arty farty publishing, Phaidon, The Game of Sculpture is not a book in the traditional sense. It teaches colours, shapes AND physics! All without words so kids can get into it all by themselves! And you know what, I don’t think there’s any shame in us adults, sitting quietly, trying to create something pretty, even if meaningless, from time to time.

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It comes as a long fold out cardboard with pop out pieces and a sleeve.

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Dark colours on one side

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Light colours on the other

And here are just a few examples of what you can do with it! Pieces can be balanced, slotted and angled, hence the physics element. It’s not complicated but if you’re lazy to whip out the paints and dough, this’ll do in a pinch for a good half an hour.

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*NB: Not for kids in the mouthing/destructive phase. The child also needs to have pretty good fine motor skills so probably more for 4 and up, or if you’re prepared to invest the time, you could do it with them.

Op Shops Rock!

Ever since my first Oxfam shop browse, I’ve been well aware of the amazing potential for unearthing once-loved gems among the mountains of kitschy gimcracks. All for a pittance and for a good cause as well! I don’t go in for clothes, shoes or bags so much but I love my vintage tea cups and saucers, furniture, housewares and most of all, books. If there is one thing that people have no qualms about getting second-hand, it’s books. So much more so if they are beautiful editions with hardly any wear. My most prized find? A boxed set of Jane Austen works by the Folio Society, which I got for $10 at a church book sale and that I saw in an antique bookshop for $150. ‘Nuff said.

This particular find is not quite as financially magnificent but definitely above average in awesomeness. A wonderful friend found it and thought of Iris (thank you Aunty J!). I have to say, with my amazingly vast and stupendous experience of books, I have never come across a carousel book. *GASP* Yup, it was the first time for both Iris and me to open the book and find it transformed into a house, ballet studio and theatre stage! And with cardboard dolls to play make believe with. Even though it’s been pre-loved, this copy of Angelina Ballerina’s Pop-up Dancing School by Katharine Holabird and Helen Craig is in really good condition. There are no tears, most of the paper characters are accounted for, with a couple of guest fairies from some other book, and only a little spinal wear.

Angelina Ballerina's Pop-up Dancing School

The second she opened this up, Iris was enraptured. She played for hours, on her own! So parents of pre-schoolers who are into make believe, this could be a God-send for you. The ribbon you see above works also to keep the book open and you’ll see below why it’s called a carousel book. Is this amazing or what?! Where were you when I was left playing village with my mother’s cosmetics bottles?

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The attention to detail in this book is seriously fantastic. In the pic below you’ll see a mirror, stairs and doors leading onto the other two dioramas. 20150401_141445

There are even working bed covers that Iris never fails to use to put her friends to sleep!

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There is a story preceding the pop-out sets but really, you hardly need one. In fact, I’ve only read the Angelina book to Iris once because she hasn’t asked/needed me to!

They are not that easy to find though. I know because naturally I had to go out and find more! I’ve bought another Angelina Ballerina one, which I am saving for her birthday and found Maisy’s Castle by Lucy Cousins. It’s not quite as detailed but still great!

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And you can combine it with other types of make-believe toys. Here you see the lego Disney princesses cavorting with Maisy and her pals.

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Obviously, these are not books for littlies who are still in the mouthing/destructive phases of development.

So what are you waiting for? Go do some op-shop treasure hunting! (Or buy these on Booktopia.com.au, easier but less satisfying.)

The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me and my Love for Roald Dahl

Back when I was in primary school (don’t even think of asking when that was), I was a regular of what I remember as our tiny library. I favoured fantasy and shunned anything based on real life. I found Nancy Drew and The Famous Five irritating in the extreme, which is ironic given my current obsession with police procedurals. I just felt that the language was too dumbed down and I felt patronised. Then at eight, a friend introduced me to the fabulous world of Roald Dahl. It was love at first read. Even after my second foray into children’s writing, I have not found his equal. His special brand of slightly wicked fantastic tales, absolutely brilliant prose and superb imagination combined to give me hours and hours of pleasure, and will again thanks to parenthood.

My own set of Dahl books are pretty worse for wear and stuffed in boxes until our new house is built. We had one copy of James and the Giant Peach, highly illustrated that Iris has only recently begun to enjoy given the amount of words and her goldfish attention span. I was therefore almost hopping for joy when I encountered this copy of The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me at a Salvos (Salvation Army store) for $2.25 and in immaculate condition. And it’s illustrated by the supreme Dahl illustrator, Quentin Blake. I was in Book Heaven.

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Since I began my affair with Dahl when I was already well into reading, I’ve focused more on his novels than the shorter stories like The Enormous Crocodile and The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me. Thus, I admit with shame that I’ve never read the latter. Yet, more’s the better because I get to share that unique pleasure of reading a Roald Dahl for the first time at 37 with my four-year-old.

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It is not a book for the amateur, tired or lackadaisical reader. My husband got told off by Iris for rushing and not reading it right. It has quite a lot of words and those who are familiar with Dahl will know how badly he likes to twist one’s tongue , especially when it comes to confectionery. This is the other reason I love Dahl. He obviously has a sweet tooth like me and he is second to none in making up names for things.

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The story follows Billy who has always dreamt of owning a Grubber, or sweet shop, particularly the abandoned one in his village. Then along comes a window cleaning crew, who take it over and set up shop. This is no ordinary crew……you know what, I’m not going to bother summarising this story because it is Roald Dahl and I think everyone, EVERYONE should read it themselves. Here are a couple pictures though to give a glimpse into his fabulous genius.

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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.