Thursday, August 21, 2014

Surprise Thursdays

Just before the last school holidays, we spontaneously started a new weekly tradition: Surprise Thursdays. Basically, it is exactly what it says - a surprise that occurs on a Thursday afternoon after school (during term; any time of day in the holidays). It can be anything from a milkshake in a cafe or being let loose in a lolly shop with $5 each to exploring a place we've never been before or paying a visit to family or friends. It's become something I wasn't sure would last, but the kids LOVE it and have not forgotten at all - they don't even allow their friends over or invite themselves to their friend's house on Thursdays because they know they'll miss out! The downside is now being tied to coming up with something different every week! Luckily, there is the fall back of a great park or McDonald's McFlurry if I get really desperate!

It all started one Thursday when I was driving past a train station. Immy noticed the stairs on the overpass and wondered what was at the top and what could you see. I told her maybe one day we could find out, so when we picked the bigger kids up from school that afternoon, I just drove straight there without telling them anything. They were pretty chuffed (to walk up and down stairs at a train station - my kids are obviously easily amused!) about the surprise and we looked out over the water, counted the steps up and down, found some recognisable landmarks and then headed over to the park we spotted from the top. Around the corner from the park was a little reserve and the kids just had so much fun climbing in the trees, helping Zak out of the mud, messing up a very neat pile of autumn leaves someone had obviously raked up and just running around in the cool afternoon air having fun and being children. So, together with my desire to see more of my own area, I figured we'd continue it every week.

Some of the other things we've done is ...
- Explored the local mangroves and found a tyre swing
- A treasure hunt and gather at Pearl Beach
- Due to everyone being sick and then the death of my Nana, the kids missed out on their cousin catch-up during the holidays so one Thursday I drove past the school and took them down to Sydney to my sister's house where they got to meet their new baby cousin Harry for the first time and hang out with their Oma (my mum), aunties and cousins. I don't usually let them take days off for no reason, but this was thoroughly enjoyed by all - especially my mum who needed the cheering up and cuddles.
- A party afternoon tea at home complete with balloons, party poppers and cake. I'd planned for all their friends to also come, but I wasn't feeling very well so postponed them for another day. The good thing about cancelling a playdate that the kids didn't know about is NO WHINING! Hopefully we'll get to do that complete with party games in the next few weeks.

And today, we visited a really old cemetery at Point Frederick (below). Called Pioneer Park, it's the resting place of 497 people buried between 1840 and 1953 - and what a resting place! Surrounded by the beautiful Brisbane Water. We didn't stay long because of the rain, but we admired the beautiful craftsmanship of the tombstones, looked for the oldest stone (1843 was the earliest we saw) and felt sad at the grave of a little girl Zak's age. We looked for flowers to pick and place on the stones, but the rain forced us back to the car before we could really explore or check out the paths that led Time Team....
down to the water. I imagine it'd be an eerily beautiful place in Spring and apparently is a popular picnic spot (?). But I guess that's nothing compared to what Layla suggested we do when she found out we were checking out a place filled with passed people: "Can we dig them up?" My kids watch too much 

I love the council's commitment to preserving this site. Many of the tombstones are no longer readable, so little plaques have been placed in front of them with the details for when the stones' inscriptions are no more...

So that is our new tradition! At the risk of running out of ideas, I'm going to get the kids to come up with a bunch of suggestions themselves and I'll put them into a hat and draw one out whenever I get stuck. That way, it's still a surprise of sorts. Or maybe I'll surprise them with NO surprise! But then I'd never hear the end of it! As tricky as it may turn out to be, I'm going to keep at it - they really look forward to their Surprise Thursdays - Layla even spoke about it at her public speaking competition. So if you ever want a bribe for your kids, try it yourself! Or if you have any great suggestions for a surprise, please let me know. x

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Book week: clone trooper and alice in wonderland + fruit critters

It was somewhere between soldiering on, sewing an apron despite my 30-odd-year-old sewing machine smoking and crackling (from dust, apparently) and paper mache-ing a Clone Trooper helmet that I realised something: I've become THAT mother. The over-the-top over-achiever. Ooops. The kids' Book Week parade was today and we went all out! 

A few weeks ago they told me what they wanted to be: Alice in Wonderland and a Clone Trooper from Star Wars. Layla was relatively easy - I just made a circle skirt and apron (both very ill-fitting - I'm not a great sewer; I basically just sew costumes so they're only ever designed to stay together for one day!) and stuck a black velvet ribbon onto a headband - she had the rest of the items. But I did forget to puff up the sleeves of the blue shirt and it bugged me all day! 

Zak's costume wasn't quite as easy!  I'd been collecting cereal boxes and other small snacky boxes for a while - they're the perfect thickness for making sharp folds the armour needs. Last week I started putting it altogether. I found a good pic on Google images and just started making some pieces. Elastic stapled or tied to the cardboard meant he could slip them on and off easily and they'd stay put. The chest plate and belt were made of a thicker cardboard box, hot glue gunned together and then everything was painted white. I did plan to spray paint it white but chose the cheapest paint in the shop (who wants to use the good stuff on a costume?). That was a waste - the cardboard soaked up all the paint; it was quite the vanishing trick! So I ended up using the remnants of our bathroom paint and hand painted it on - it didn't take long at all to do and it dried really quickly near the heater.

The helmet was another story - I blew up a balloon, sat it inside a strip of cardboard stapled into a circle and papier mached the whole thing. When it was dry, I popped the balloon (and prayed it fit Zak's head as it was done while he was asleep!) Then I had to add to it to create the "bill" at the front - it was really just trial and error and I just kept adding folded up or rolled up bits of newspaper soaked in papier mache glue to build up the sides. I did a few layers at a time, then would blow dry or leave it to dry overnight or in the sun (this was obviously over a few days!) Finally, I painted it, cut out the eye hole (cut it too high, hence the black strip of cardboard covering it at the top a bit!) and drew on a few markings with a Sharpie. Done! Here are some in-progress pics!

To top it off, I spray painted a water pistol we had black and he was all done! He looked so great - yes, it was a lot of work but Zak is pretty funny about dress-ups - he's not that keen normally and often pulls out at the last minute joining in the parade. But he kept on and on about this costume SO MUCH that I couldn't disappoint him. You should have seen how excited he got with each new piece I made - he'd try it on and act out the part. So cute. He also hates having his photo taken, but this morning didn't complain once when I picked up the camera - he was quite the little actor!! So to see him so chuffed was worth every second of working on it! Plus, the helmet looks cool in his room and I have no doubt the costume will be worn again and again until it falls apart!

The torrential rain this morning had we worried he would "melt" before we even got to school, but the rain stopped and the sun came out just long enough for them to get to class, then poured down again, and stopped for the parade - thanks Mother Nature! Here is one more, with Immy, who is ... herself! 

 The school also held a fruit and vegetable creation competition recently. Despite it being a bit of a waste of food (although you could take it back if you wished; or it went to the chickens), we gave it a go using what we had at home already and kept it minimal.

Layla's stage had to make a critter and she wanted to do a ladybug, so I suggested an apple body with sultana spots - she came up with seeds for eyes and the cherry stalks as antennae. I cut the apple for her and she put the rest of it together - sticking the eyes on with Vegemite (of course!). She came third place for her efforts - a pretty darn good job considering some of the other entries. But I was told later she was chosen because it was obvious she had created it herself - clearly some of the other entries hadn't even been touched by a child! It's also a great little afternoon snack with a difference!

Zak's year had to create a monster and he came up with this guy all by himself - I just cut the mouth. The teeth and fingers are the inside of beans and the eyes and hands are cherry tomatoes with peas as eyes. He's pretty cute and looks like he wants a hug! Ha!

I'm proud of their creativity and involvement in school activities. And I'm so grateful I'm able to go to these things - I remember my own book parades and Easter Hat parades and working with mum on my hats and costumes. And I remember how much fun I had - I hope my kids remember too!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

A (very exciting) renovation update (with unexciting pictures)

Guess what I did this week? I had a builder come out to chat to me about extending our house! And a  draftsman to talk about plans! And I couldn't be happier about it! Being the crap home-reno blogger that I've been, I haven't exactly documented this house's transformation properly have I? But between not wanting to blog, a new baby and a few unfinished renovation projects, an exhaustive amount of posts on our indecisiveness would have hurt your head as much as the indecisiveness has hurt mine. So here's the thing. We bought this house for its location (and price, obviously. Got a great deal there!). Certainly not its good looks. Because they aren't good looks. They are hideous - notice I never posted an image of the exterior? That's because it looked like this (below). 

Well this is how it looked not long after we moved in. Now it looks... well not a whole lot different, but a little tiny bit better. I couldn't handle the maroon and blue colours so did a lightning fast paint job and painted the whole thing white (not even close to my finest work), spray painted the screen and gutter and house numbers black. We also took off the window cover over the bedroom and ripped down the carport. Now it looks like this:

It's your typical Australian fibro house, but with the worst roofline ever (in my opinion) and no personality whatsoever. But the location is perfect - we have water views, we have easy access to the water where we spend the summer and a good portion of the rest of the year fishing, swimming, kayaking, making sandcastles, chasing crabs and just hanging out making forts from nearby sticks. There is park nearby, a great bike track to zoom up and down on. School and shops are within walking distance. We have a great-sized yard. We have a large self-contained cabin which if we really wanted could become extra income. We have the ability to work some magic on a blank canvas of a house. To quote Dana from House*Tweaking (again), "this house is not our dream house, but the house in which to pursue our dreams". I really love that quote - it sums us up perfectly. What are our dreams? A lifestyle that incorporates all of the above. A family home with a decent sized yard my children can grow up in and have fun in. An environment that is slightly more relaxed and old-school than perhaps living in a city would be. A happy home that we can have totally paid off within a few years rather than a few decades. They are our dreams. And we're well on our way to seeing them come true.

Since first spotting this house for sale while we were still living in Sydney, Steve and I have drawn plan after plan after plan as to how we'd like the layout to be - with a second storey; with bedrooms out to the side over the driveway and a large family room at the back; connected to the cabin; a tunnel-like open-plan living space on one side and just bedrooms along the other side; with a new master suite and family room at the back or two bedrooms at the back and turning Zak's room into an ensuite for us. All the time, there were going to be plans to add a loft to our new roof (a new roof was always on the cards; I hate the style/pitch/colour/everything about the one we have). All seemed great at the time we drew them, but there was always something about them that didn't scream "this is the one!" Finally, we figured it out: one large family room at the back with a staircase leading to a loft with a library/retreat/office area looking down into the extension, then a door leading to our master bedroom/ensuite overlooking the water. We'd also like to have a small balcony off our bedroom to fill in the gap created by the jut-out of one side of the front (our current bedroom). Here is my incredibly professional sketch of how the house might look and our idea for the floorplan.

Of course, we need someone to officially tell us all of this is indeed possible without our house looking like it has a too-big hat on its head - and that it won't cost us any of our children or more than what we bought it for - but that's what we'll find out soon enough, I guess. 

It will also mean no more changes to the current layout - we don't have to turn a bedroom into an ensuite, knock out another wall to go sideways or cram stairs into the living room. We can simply add a large room to the back, reuse the glass doors we just put in at the back (we're going to separate them into two sets of French doors on the back wall with a fireplace in the middle) and change the house's front windows/door set up to something much nicer. The only thing I don't get with this layout is vaulted ceilings over the kitchen - so I might have to look at building something around the top of the pantry area to the ceiling so it doesnt look odd. But I haven't even tiled the splashback yet or painted the ceiling so we're clearly in no rush!

The old "live in a house for at least a year before you make major changes" has a lot of merit. If we had gone ahead with our extension plans this time last year, we'd have a whole different house. And I don't think it would have been right. This time? I think we've got it.

We're also going to inject some fun - a pool table, a bar under the stairs, a dart board, TV with the wii, kids space... It may not be picture perfect with all these things or even close to an interior designer's idea of style but we couldn't care less. WE are the ones who are living in this and we want it to be a fun family home. So super-style is taking a backseat. Not to say I'm not going to do my best to make it look nice, but four kids live here so it's not exactly going to be designer goods everywhere! Besides, the death of my grandmother and Steve's grandfather in the past two months has brought back floods of our own childhood memories and the things that stood out to us were all the family gatherings and fun we had in and around the homes we grew up in or spent a lot of time in. For Steve it was always sport of some kind, any kind; for me it was hanging around and playing pool in my grandparent's billiard room (they had a massive dedicated room off the main living room through glass bi-folds with built-in seating  around the table and french doors opening to the outside - very modern considering it was built by my grandad about 50 years ago), building forts in the backyard, playing in made-with-love cubbies, and making "beautiful" music on the many gigantic organs or pianos. Similar to the fun I try to create with my own kids. And I'm determined this house will be a FAMILY home. With a family room that is an actual family room and not a prissy perfect space that you're scared to sit in in case you move a cushion out of place (have you ever searched "family room" on Pinterest? So not family rooms).

The top image was a sketch Steve whipped up one evening a few months ago of how we envisioned the house to look. It's changed a bit now but you get the gist I'm sure. In other renovation news I have finished painting the bathroom! We only started renovating the bathroom in November last year, so you know, I'm super prompt with our finishing touches.....

I will attempt to document the process a little better than I have been previously for anyone else who knows nothing about extending but would like to! Have you extended before? Love to hear your experiences - I'm not expecting this to be easy. We know we are in a restrictive zone so there will be battles. I am optimistic it will all be worth it. Eventually!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Annika's DIY flower monogram birth announcement / thank you cards

Annika is four months old today! And she is so cute and funny and filled with personality, just like her three older siblings. Luckily, she has fit in really well and I can happily say despite those want-to-head-butt-the-wall moments (mornings/dinner time/getting out the door any time), life with four kids is pretty darn great. Being a bit of a DIYer, I decided to make her birth announcements (actually, it's so late and her birth has been announced a million times over and she has pretty much met everyone, so let's go with "thank you" cards, because that is really what they are for).

A while back I spotted a flower monogram on Pinterest - someone had opened up a 3D papier mache letter and filled it with flowers. Great for parties or events and I thought a fake-flower one would look great on her wall. But that didn't happen so I had the idea to make one up, stick it on the wall above her in a floral wrap against my black wall for her birth announcement picture. So I sliced the top off a 3D letter, hot-glu-gunned fresh flowers into it and hung it on a tiny nail on the black wall in my dining room. I lay a sleeping, wrapped Annika on a sheepskin on the sideboard and snapped away until she woke up (which wasn't very long. Just like her siblings, she is a cat-napper!) Then I uploaded them in iPhoto, chose one and then played around with some fonts in Finder (I use a Macbook Pro) and came up with these announcements.

 Then it was time to print - my first attempt at Officeworks was a big fat fail as the font I originally used for the info (Mossy) was too thin so it was back to the drawing board. In the end I paired CK Cursive with Pompiere - both freebies - and tried again. Another fail because I had saved it as a PDF and you can't print four PDFs to a page unless you set it up that way which they didn't tell me till I got there, so I went home empty-handed again and re-saved as a jpg. This time I took it to the local printer place where I successfully printed four to an A4 page! It cost me a bit more ($18 for 10 sheets compared to around $10 that Officeworks would have cost me), but honestly, for the time I'd have to waste again and the petrol money, I'd have come out even! I printed on thickish stock - 250 gsm - so it's not photo glossy, but it still came out nicely and I can write on the back easily.

Then I just cut out with a scalpel and ruler and done! I'm pretty happy with the end result - now I just have to finish writing on them all and sending them out!

CK Cursive free font (Annika font)
Pompiere free font (main font)
Black wall paint is Dulux Domino
Ludde sheepskin, Ikea
Vintage Aqua muslin wrap, Toshi
Papier Mache letter, Spotlight
Flowers, picked from my garden, nicked from around the neighbourhood and bought from the supermarket (yes, I am classy like that)
Garden snips, Country Road
Striped pen (my fave thing to write with!), Officeworks

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Hunting and gathering

Another lot of school holidays is over. Bummer! I really enjoyed my sleep-ins and not having routines or the school run. Oh the school run, how I hate it so. The day I get out the door without going back in for something, without yelling, or without being late will... well, it'll probably never come. My kids are incapable of getting ready without constant harassment from me. So our pyjamas-till-midday and lazy brunches and late movie nights are gone for another 10 or so weeks. And I'll have to come up with a whole new bunch of ways to amuse the kiddos. These holidays we had lots of fun exploring nearby spaces - Norah Head Lighthouse, Pearl Beach, nearby parks and reserves as well as hanging out at home baking, painting and toasting marshmallows in our homemade fire pit. 

One of the surprise favourite activities was our hunt and gather last Thursday at Pearl Beach. This beach was perfect as there was a nice little bushy area nearby for extra adventures. I made a few two-sided lists for the kids - one side was "Things to spot" and the other was "Things to collect". I added some obvious ones (spiderweb; Australian animal; autumn leaf; shell) and some not-so-obvious ones (spiderweb with a fly in it; seaglass; pinecone). I kind of thought the kids would enjoy it for a while and then just give it up and build a sandcastle. But nope. They did it for ages and explored the beach and bush together looking for all the items on the list. We met some friends down there and they teamed up, bags in one hand for the things to collect; pen and list in the other for the big tick-off. 

Just before they set off, the ultimate "water creature" appeared in the distance that they were able to tick off - a whale jumping out to wave hello! Of course as soon as my camera came out he vanished (why do they do that? How rude. Don't they know if there is no photographic proof it didn't happen!?!?!). It was a beautiful day and most of both lists were found - several times as Zak and his friend Emma teamed up and Emma's sister Jordan helped Layla and Immy find their things. The walked almost the entire length of the beach to find a red flower (it may have been stolen from someone's front yard in the end) and on the way back, I found a piece of seaglass. I put seaglass on the list because we were at the beach and that's where you'd find seaglass, right? But I certainly wasn't expecting anyone to find any because of all the times I've ever been at the beach, I've never found a piece of seaglass (that I know of; maybe I did as a kid, but it's not etched in my memory.)

Anyway, they had a ball and are keen to do another one another time. Good clean free fun! You can do this literally anywhere - even in your own backyard, just choose relevant "finds" for them to, well, find. 

Here is the full list if you're keen to try it yourself and are just not in the mood to think too hard! 

Things to spot
Birds nest
Spiderweb with a fly in it
Tree that looks like something
Fallen branch/log
Tree stump
Black and white bird
Australian animal
Gum tree
Signs of a fire
Tyre tracks
Human footprints
Animal footprints
Ants nest
Animal house
Sea/water creature
Rock with oysters

Things to collect
Yellow flower
Pink flower
Purple flower
Blue flower
Red flower
Orange flower
White flower
Stick shaped like a "Y"
Flat stone/pebble
Perfect green leaf
Autumn leaf
Cicada shell
Piece of driftwood
"A find" 
(A find to us is something you find that is kinda random but kinda cool. Zak has a whole jar of them he's collected since we moved into this house, mainly consisting of things he's found in our yard when Steve was working in it - a really old coin, unique bottle top, rusty bolt, springs, dog tag or piece of jewellery. Layla found a golf ball on this hunt, so that was her "find"!)

So it was quite a big list! The only things they didn't find were a tree stump, puddle (darn no rain!), rock with oysters and a cicada shell. Not too bad! And if we'd ventured closer to the beach pool we'd most likely have found a rock with oysters on it. But the wind was whippy and the waves were scary - we weren't getting too close to the water. In fact, we were really sad to hear the very next day a little boy was swept out to sea from that very same beach by a huge wave. I'm glad I trusted my instincts  and kept our distance - those waves made me nervous. And obviously with good reason. That poor family... 

Ugh, I hate ending things on a sad note... So, is this something you'd do? Have you done before? What's something else they could find next time? Or a good place to do a hunt? x

Monday, June 30, 2014

The fun and games of getting a family photo. Part 2

Many moons ago when Immy was just a few weeks old, I attempted to take a photograph of all three kids and myself. It wasn't easy - that old nugget "don't work with kids or animals" was on repeat in my brain as I painfully soldiered on. I finally got a shot and blogged the outtakes here. For Mother's Day this year (yes, I KNOW it was also many moons ago...) I wanted to print out a giant photograph of the kids for my mother and mother-in-law. That meant attempting to get a photograph of ALL FOUR CHILDREN. Sheesh. I figured the easiest thing to do was to have them all lying down on the floor (seeing as that's all Annika could do!) So I dressed them up in some clothes that would go together, lay out my new rug, threw some cushions and throws on the rug and asked them all to lay down. I figured they'd be all cute and talk together and smile and act naturally I could snap away and get the pic no problems. Yeah, not quite. Zak was not keen. Not one bit - didn't want to have a photo taken at all. Not even for his grandmothers. Layla and Immy were fine - at times. And Annika had a small window of happiness and of course during this brief period, the others were having their off moments or were so wriggly it blurred. I snapped 138 photographs (I just checked the folder!). I yelled, I demanded, I commanded, I coaxed and I snapped away. It was all too much and after moving them around a couple of times, even Layla and Immy weren't into it anymore. So I hoped I got at least one shot. In the end, I narrowed it down to the one at the top (which is what we went with) and the one below.

Steve decided on the top one - he thought there was a bit more personality in the picture. I agree. So I took it to Kmart and had it blown up to the biggest I could get instantly (though "instant" still took an hour!) I have no idea what the size was in the end, but pretty big! They were around $11 each and we just placed them inside gigantic cards we made with a single piece of poster cardboard. They were a huge hit! Here is Immy with the end result (and wearing the same shirt!)

And here are some of the "oh-it-would-have-been-perfect-if-only..." outtakes. I'm sure you can imagine the actual real-life moment some of these were taken, complete with whiny voices, giggles and groans, my high-pitched "Comes on!"s and the very, very loud squeals of one tiny baby. Good times!

Oh, you STILL haven't seen enough? Ok here's one more. I actually almost used this one because it pretty much illustrates Imogen EXACTLY. She is such a little class clown. And Zak can be quite serious at times, Layla is always happy... I just didn't want a crying Annika though! How dare she ruin it for me...