Friday, August 31, 2012

Bad blogger

Blogger has been eating some of your comments.  Bad blogger!  Rest assured I've glared and humpfed firmly in its direction.  Hopefully we'll have no more of this.  But my apologies if your comments disappeared.

Thank God it's Friday

I know that “Thank God it’s Friday’ is usually said in absence of any kind of thankfulness towards the Almighty, but I’d like to do my bit to remedy that.

Today I’m thankful for the flurry of excitement over my coming high school reunion.  As a result, I rediscovered my long-lost best friend from high school after about 20 years of losing contact with one another.   Wow!  Made my week and then some.

You got anything you’re thankful for today? Join in! Let’s count our blessings for a bit.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Fathers' Day rocks

Two piles of rocks.

One is from under my clothesline and the other is delicious!

The boys at our church's boys' club made fudge for Fathers' Day this week.  Not just any fudge - cookies 'n' cream fudge rocks.  

The original idea and recipe came from this post at Hungry Happenings. But just so you don't have to think too hard about quantity conversions, here's what I did.

For one batch, you'll need about 650g of white chocolate, 1 tin of sweetened condensed milk, a pinch of salt and half a packet of chocolate ripple cookies.  Optional: red food dye and cocoa powder.

Crush all the cookies until they are crumbs but not entirely dust.  In a saucepan, on a gentle heat, melt together the condensed milk and the white chocolate.

Stir in 1/4 cup of biscuit crumbs. 

The rocks look more authentic if there is a bit of variation in their colour. So divide your mixture into 3 or 4 bowls.  Leave one batch untouched.  To another add about another 1/4 cup of the biscuit crumbs.  To the next one add one drop of red food dye and a bit more of the biscuit mixture.  And to the final batch, add a teaspoon of cocoa powder.  Once you've stirred that all in, cover each of your mixtures with some gladwrap and leave it to sit for at least half an hour.  Then you can mould it up into rocks.

I'm told by the wonders of Google that fudge will keep at room temperature for several days if you seal it well in an airtight container.  The fudge that the boys used was pre-made by me several hours in advance of the night and it was still flexible enough to mould.  Apparently, fudge does not like the fridge - dries out and gets crusty - but is quite happy being frozen for a couple of months.

And then package it all up appropriately!

10 things I forget

1. To charge my mobile phone. Hopeless. And I can’t for the life of me remember my mobile phone number. I have had to print it out on a label and stuck it to back of my phone.

2. That the garlic bread is in the oven. Which usually explains the burning smell half way through dessert.  And if I'm serving you salad, it's worth asking me if I intended to put pine nuts on top because I probably did and they are probably turning into little nuggets of charcoal under the griller.

3. To check pockets before I put stuff in the wash. Actually, I’ve just given up on that altogether.

4. To take photos of the kids. Now that they are no longer babies, the camera doesn’t get pulled out often enough. This might be because it's easier to get a child to stay still if they are strapped into a highchair.

5. My anniversary. Almost every year. I’m hopeless with dates.

6. To dust. Is that forgetting or deliberate ignoring?

7. Which of my friends have sugar in their tea. And I always guess wrong.

8. The order of the books in the Old Testament after Psalms. I’m just randomly flipping if it’s any book between Proverbs and Matthew.

9. That grumbling and complaining just make the job harder. Wish I could remember this more often.

10. That I’m on Jesus’ team and not the reverse.

How about you? Do you have something you are terrible at remembering?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Welcome class of '92

School reunions in the era of Facebook take a different path.  Seems the invitation going out has shaken us all out of the woodwork and there's quite a cyber-reunion going on.  So if you've come over here from Facebook to say hi, welcome!

Flash mob

I know flash mobs are so 2009, but I do love 'em.  Secretly, you know you love them too.  My all-time favourite is the Sound of Music mix performed at Antwerp central station.  Here it is  - an oldie but a goodie.

Would you ever be in a flash mob if you were asked?  Do you have a favourite flash mob?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The birds and the bees

Sooner or later, every parent has to decide how they are going to explain the big questions of life.  And they don't get much bigger than, "Where do babies come from?"  Or at least it feels like that when you are confronted with the question on the spur of the moment.

I don't know about you, but my parents managed to dodge the question almost entirely. They said nothing, I asked nothing, and by the time the "human development" unit of Year 7 science was over I guess they figured I knew it all and they were off the hook.  

But we've opted for a more proactive approach with our kids.  There's a saying kicking around that goes, "If you wait till 8, it'll be too late."  The theory being that kids are finding out the basics in the school playground by the age of 8 so if you want to be the one to tell them you'd better get yourself organized before then.  Eight?!  Are you serious? Well, I don't think by age 8 they need to know everything in detail, but I do agree that if you've said nothing at all by then you've left your run a bit late.  Discussing gender and sexuality needs to start from the time kids first work out that some of them are girls and some are boys.  And it shouldn't be one talk.  It should be lots of little talks all along the years which slowly develop their understanding of their own bodies and then of the role of sex in human life.

I think the best place to start is about age 2.  Around that age they are learning the names of the parts of their body.  We chose to use the correct anatomical names for their private parts.  I figure every kid ought to know what the bits of their own body are called.  It seems strange to me to withhold that information from them.  I know some families prefer to use nicknames for various bits and that seems fine too but at some point I would also say, "We call that  ... in our family but it's proper name is actually ....," just so they know.

Then at some point around 2 or 3, we've read this book to our kids.   Everybody's got a bottom is published by Family Planning Queensland.  It's not an easy book to get hold of but you can order it directly from FPQ or Family Planning NSW or Family Planning Vic.  It's a picture storybook about a family which includes information about the difference between girls' and boys' bodies and some really helpful ideas about privacy and self-protection.  The big message of the book is repeated as a refrain on several pages: from my head to my toes, I can say what goes.  It's a gentle way to help children to understand the concept that they are responsible for caring for their bodies and that they have the right to say no if someone wants to invade their privacy in some way.  I don't think I could have a talked with my children about not letting anyone touch them inappropriately without it coming across as very scary but this book does it brilliantly.  Bottoms are nothing to be embarrassed about but we also need to remember to wear clothes and respect each other's privacy.  If you've never used the correct names for body parts with your kids, you'll find reading it aloud a bit confronting.  But start early and hopefully you won't be blushing quite so much when you get to the talks later on.  It's not a book we keep out with our book collection.  Rather, it's a special book I bring out about once a year to sit and read together.

Where Do Babies Come From?: For Girls Ages 7-9 and ParentsAfter this stage, we've been using the Learning about Sex series from Concordia Publishing.  This series comes as a set of books that gradually builds up a child's understanding of sex through age-appropriate stages.  The first book, which comes in a girls' and a boys' version, is Why boys & girls are different and is aimed at ages 4 - 6.  Then comes Where do babies come from? for ages 7 - 9 and How you are changing for 10-12 year olds.  It very much aims to introduce the basic concepts of family, sex and gender in the context of a Christian worldview.

This series has some pluses and minuses:

* The picture-story book presentation makes it easier to read with young kids than a bunch of facts.  Reading it aloud to your children at this stage means that you are talking about sexuality together from the outset and not just leaving them to read a book on their own later down the track.  Hopefully, this will set a pattern of being able to discuss questions together as time goes on.
* Information about bodies and sex is set in the larger context of what it means to be in a family and to love each other.  Family is a huge emphasis is both of the first two books.
* Our differences and our sexuality are celebrated as part of God's creation and something for which we should be thankful not ashamed.
* The book clearly celebrates more than one type of family - adoptive families, single parent families and families with multiple generations are all included.
* The detail given steps up gently.  I think most parents know what information needs to be conveyed overall but just not how much at what stage.  A series like this takes the pressure off deciding what to say now and what to keep for a bit later on.  That said, if a kid is asking for more information I would happily discuss it with them.

* I felt there was too much padding around the main points at times and the facts did get a bit "buried" in the story.  We dealt with this by going over anything we thought might not have been clear and encouraging the kids to ask us if they wanted to know anything else or have it explained again.
* Sometimes I think they tried to include too much context.  Yes, we are part of a church family but it's not an essential idea in relation to the information parents are wanting to convey right at that moment.
* The illustrations are a bit dated and daggy in parts.  It felt a bit sugary-sweet at times too.  But that might just be my personal taste.

I am not sure if we'll stick with the series all the way to the end, but for the present it's been really helpful.  I think there are quite a number of books on the market that deal with the information around puberty but less options if you want information for younger children who might not be ready for great detail but who do want to understand some things.  I know some people like to tell their kids the full facts from the outset.  And if you live on a farm, your kids are probably going to have it figured out pretty quickly anyway.  Either way - gradual or full confession - it's better that they get the right information from you than piece it together themselves from the gossip in the playground.  And besides, I don't want my kids to get the idea that sex is something we don't ever mention.  Firstly, because I know that will make it difficult for them to find out what they need to know about their own bodies.  Secondly, because it might make it difficult for them to come and get help if someone is treating them inappropriately.  And finally because sex is not shameful but a good gift.

So, what have you done about sex ed with your kids?  Did your parents have "the talk" with you or did they duck the issue?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Memory lane

It must the week for trips down memory lane.  Just received an invitation to my high school class' 20th year reunion.  Should I go?  Have you?  Would you?

The minister's kid and Mr Bailey's daughter

I was interviewed in church yesterday morning.  You know the kind of thing: where did you grow up, how did you come to be a Christian.. etc.  As I thought over the interview later in the day, I did some reminiscing about my minister's-kid childhood.  Hmmmmm.  There's definitely some positives and negatives to that.  Reminded me of this song.  I especially relate to the "largest gathering of elderly ladies ever to act upon their moral obligation to report everything I ever said or did".  Oh yeah.

And I've often rapped to myself:

From the hearts of beggars to the hearts of kings,
The heart's the greatest of deceitful things.
Expose what's wicked in the hearts of men,
You can count to twenty and it's back again.


Find your place in the games we play,
No one's safe when it's safe to say,
The perfect motive has another ulterior,
Check yours twice when you're feeling superior.

Now I know you are a little disturbed at the idea of me rapping anything.  Quite frankly a worry.  But enjoy the song anyway.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Which Jane Austen character are you?

A burning question for all of us, I'm sure.  I mentioned doing one of these quizzes last night at Poker Night and was encouraged to post the links here for all to do and enjoy.

From my first quiz here I was Elinor Dashwood.  In my second quiz here I was Elizabeth Bennet with Elinor a close second. If you know me well, however, you will know I'm Elinor and not the gorgeous Lizzy, but I am quite pleased to be declared a little bit like Elizabeth as well.

Blokes do not fear, the second quiz includes all the male characters as well.  Hope you don't turn out to be Mr Collins!  Go and do the quizzes and then tell us who you are if you dare.

Four ways to write to your child

If you sponsor a child, you have several options when it comes to writing to them. If you don’t, well… maybe you can read on and get inspired. Hint, hint. Cheeky aren’t I?

What I’m going to say is specific to Compassion but you may find similar options exist with World Vision etc.

1. Online. Not quite email but almost the same. If you go to the Compassion website you can quickly create your own account. When you log in, not only will you have all the records of your financial contributions and so on, you’ll also have the option to use their online letter writing tool. All your child’s details will be pre-entered and you just have to type! Just as easy as email and you can even upload a couple of photos to the letter if you wish. This doesn’t get to your child any faster (it still has to be processed through translation etc) but it does make it very simple to get that long-put-off letter written and sent on its way.

2. Postcard or greeting card. It doesn’t always have to be a letter. Send a quick note of encouragement in a card or postcard. “Thought you would enjoy this picture. We hope you are well and we are praying for you.” Just make sure you clearly write your child’s name and number and your sponsor number on the top of the card. If it’s a postcard, you’ll need to put it in an envelope to send so that the second half of the card can be left blank for translation.  If you are wanting to send a birthday card, you need to allow 2 - 3 months for it to reach your child.  I try to go through my new diary each year and leave myself a note 2 months before each kids' birthday to remind me to get their card in the post.

3. Write or type your own letter on your own paper. I often just type my own letter on computer, making sure I have the child’s name and number, and my supporter name and number, clearly printed across the top.  I leave the bottom half of each page blank for the translators to write in. It’s so much fun to add my own borders or pictures to the letter. I’ve found it really helpful when I’ve been able to include a clip art or photo to explain something strange in my letter like frost on our grass or hot cross buns. I also found some cheap A4 soccer-themed paper at the $2 shop which I use a lot with our soccer mad boys from Africa and South America.

4. And lastly, you can go the traditional route and use the official stationary they send out with your child’s letters. It’s all barcoded up for quick processing so you can write your letter and pop it right back in the post. Of course, when you write back straight away, you are a little more inspired and it’s easier than trying to “get around to it” sometime down the track. You can also send along some goodies with your letter – maybe a sticker sheet, a photo of you or a colouring-in sheet that you’ve printed off. Make sure any extras you include have your child’s name and number written on them in case they get separated from your letter.

It doesn’t matter how you write – just make sure you do!

And an update on our lad in the Philippines: we’ve not heard anything more from Compassion and he has not been listed as one of the affected children so I think it’s safe to say he’s okay. Phew!

And if you are interested in sponsoring a child in extreme poverty who needs encouragement and a helping hand up, check out Compassion Australia if you are in Australia, Compassion International for US readers or Compassion UK for readers in the United Kingdom. For information about what child sponsorship involves click here or about Compassion's financial integrity click here.

Friday, August 24, 2012

On doing things

For many months now I have this quote from Nicole Starling on my bathroom wall:

"...I need to remember that I am finite, not infinite, and God doesn't necessarily will that every good thing that could theoretically be done is something that is going to get done by me."

From this post on 168hours. The quote is from Nicole's response to a question in the comments section.

Thank God its Friday

I know that “Thank God it’s Friday’ is usually said in absence of any kind of thankfulness towards the Almighty, but I’d like to do my bit to remedy that.

Today I’m thankful for homework.  Well, I'm trying to be thankful for it.  I'm thankful for kids well enough to do homework and learn and progress, even though the doing of those things is sometimes painful to supervise.  Really, I am glad they are healthy and strong and doing homework.

You got anything you’re thankful for today? Join in! Let’s count our blessings for a bit.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Book Week journey of love continues

My finger is healing nicely and I can finally type with it again.  However, Book Week preparations have had some twists and turns today.

Firstly, my daughter announces that all "evil" characters have been banned by her teacher.  Now, I could argue about this but I know from experience that if "her teacher" says something no amount of breath on my part to clarify, question or suggest otherwise will help.  So I simply said, "Right oh!  What can we do instead?"  So the White Witch of Narnia's silver dress is now Queen Lucy of Narnia's silver dress and I've spent the evening quickly making a small silver dagger and a vial of healing cordial to be attached with a red belt.

Good news on the Big Bad Wolf front because I managed to get his black nose stuck on without another horrible hot glue burn.  I celebrated this victory by donning the costume and heading in to show the boys who had just been tucked in for the night.  Oh dear.  Turns out my wolf snout is jolly realistic in dim light, not to mention my enthusiastic growling, and my youngest son erupted into howling of his own which brought his father running to rescue him.  I sheepishly (oh the storybook irony!) headed out of the room and promised not to terrify my children any further.

But the big bump in the road came when I popped into work this afternoon to check my instructions for tomorrow. I was reminded that I needed a Book Week costume too!  Ugh.  Ahhhhh.  Panic!!!  That had completely escaped me.  I don't think my year level used to do Book Week dress-ups in days gone by, or maybe the kids did but the staff didn't.  Either way, they now do, and I need a costume.

So I'm going as the pussy cat from 'The Owl and the Pussy Cat'.  I shall pin a small toy owl to my jacket along with some cut out pictures of honey, money, a guitar and a ring.  And of course I shall wear my cat ears.  My cat ears are rather embarrassingly famous but that's a story for another post.  I'll possible add some whimsical whiskers in the morning but we'll see how I'm feeling.  After all, I do have to maintain some level of authority and respect in the classroom.  That's why I decided not to follow my son's suggestion to go as the Muddleheaded Wombat even though we have a very good costume for that.  I'm sure you understand.

So I'm not feeling the love for Book Week just now.


Last year I put this handy little notice on my mail box.

This lead to some confusion however over the term "junk".  So being towards the end of August, I've added this important notice for the next few weeks.

There.  That should clear up any misunderstandings.

Incidentally, should you ever decide to take photos of your own mailbox, try to time it so you aren't in the middle of it when your postie arrives on his motorbike.  He will be concerned that something is wrong with the mailbox.  You will try desperately to explain why you are taking close-up shots of your mailbox without using the word "blog" (because you are worried that this will make you seem very weird - even weirder than a person who randomly takes photos of their mailbox) and it won't go well and you'll be profoundly embarrassed (and you will have ended up seeming weirder than a person who writes a blog).

If you want to comment but you don't know how's not too hard.  Click on where it says "5 Comment" or "No comments" or "21 Comments" at the end of the blog post.  It will take you to another page with everyone's comments on it and down the bottom will be a space for you in a white box saying "Post a Comment". Write your comment and then choose who you will "Comment as".  Don't be daunted by the fact that you don't have a Google account or a URL (sounds like a nasty condition, doesn't it?).  The simplest way is to choose "Anonymous" but to write your first name (or your initial or whatever you want to be identified as, Mum) at the end of your comment.  See, that's what J towards the end of this group of comments.  You can then hit publish and your comment will be up for all to see.

Easy really.  Give it a whirl.

Later, when you want to be really swish, you can open a Google account and upload a photo to make your posts look all clever and official.  But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Book Week trauma

Burnt my finger with the hot glue gun this afternoon trying to finish off one of the kids' Book Week costumes.  Not feeling the Book Week love.  Don't condemn me as a parent, but I'm not a fan of school dress-up days.

Just don't

Last year 4 couples in our circle of friends and acquaintances split. In each case, the fall-out was heartbreaking to watch and there were children involved.

That’s the prelude to what I’m about to say. I recognise that as a result of last year’s events, I might be a bit hypersensitive around marriages. But I don’t care. I just don’t care if I come across as the crazy lady. Watching the pain that inevitably comes when a marriage is smashed is just too horrible. So here goes.

Please don’t come and tell me about your spouse’s faults, errors and bad points.

Just don’t.

Don’t make jokes about how hopeless they are. Don’t tell me little tit bits of information about how tense things are at home or how angry you are at them. Don’t “vent” a big long stream of information that tells me how unhappy you are being married to that person. Just don’t.

If you are having a hard time in your marriage and you want to come and talk to me about that so you can get some support and we can pray together and think about solutions, do that. I’ll drop everything and listen. Name your time and I’ll pop the kettle on.

But don’t gossip randomly to me about your spouse. Don’t use me as an opportunity to run the other person down. I don’t want to look at them next time I see them and know more about them than I should. It's not that I don't like you or care about your life.  I just don't want to see you hacking away at your relationship because I care about what happens to you and your family.

If you have a problem with your spouse, talk to them about it. If you can’t resolve it, talk confidentially to someone helpful and wise. But don’t feed your problems by speaking to lots of other people about what’s not right between you.

When you got married, you promised to love them. Loving them is not happening when you are serving up all their faults on a platter to your mates. So stop it. Nothing – nothing - good is going to come of that. Unless your mates happen to have the common sense to point out what you are doing and give you a good talking to.

I understand marriages can be hard. Hard. I don’t want to make you feel rotten if you are struggling. But I am saying that running your spouse down to lots of people doesn’t actually make it easier even if it gives you a momentary release. It’s a breach of trust and it’s not “keeping it real”. It’s spiteful.

Some of you are going to think I’m mean and that I don’t understand that sometimes we need to unload and unburden to others. Yes, we do need to talk about it when our marriage is difficult. But we should be aiming to do that privately and carefully – not randomly – with people whose counsel we trust. If you have to the urge to talk about your spouse in a negative way on the spur of the moment, bottle it. Think it through and make a time to discuss it later. If it isn’t worth making a time to talk it through, it wasn’t worth saying.

Really, think about it. Can you honestly, honestly, tell me talking bad about your spouse to others will improve your marriage? Truly, it’s like repeatedly running into things so you can dent your car on purpose. And that’s just dumb.

And if I start down that path while I’m having coffee with you, will you please stop me? Just tell me to stop. Thanks.

Deadly 60

We are very much enjoying this DVD at the moment. It’s a series that sometimes airs on ABC3. It follows a outdoorish bloke called Steve who is on a mission to find the 60 most deadly creatures around the world. It’s Bindi Irwin meets Bear Grylls aimed at primary (elementary) -aged kids. My kids love it but most adults would enjoy watching alongside too. Lots of interesting facts, good filming, action and adrenaline.

You can check out an episode online at ABC iview - search for it in the A-Z of programs.

Not easily found in store, but JB Hifi sell it online with free delivery for about $15. Because it has to be specially ordered, you need to allow two weeks if you are buying it for a birthday, although it’s sometimes quicker.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Superstar chocolate fudge sauce

When I'm stuck, this is the sauce that saves the day!  You can have a kitchen disaster that results in dessert not happening before the guests arrived and this recipe will make them love you forever.  You will have the ingredients and, provided you can find something to pour it over (icecream, waffles, tinned pears, bananas, weetbix etc), you can whip it up straight after main course and you'll be fine.  And on an ordinary school night, if you pull this recipe out and give it a whirl, your loved ones will be in awe of your niceness and chocolaty love.  Truly, you can't oversell this sauce.

This is The Sauce.

1/4 cup cocoa
1/4 marg or butter
1/4 milk
1 cup sugar
pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Throw all ingredients in a small saucepan, stir and boil for a minute or two.  Pour.  Done.

It will make about 1 cup of sauce and when pouring on ice cream I'd say there's enough for six people, give or take, depending on your generosity.  But don't let the fact that you live alone with a cat put you off making the sauce.  The leftovers will store happily in the fridge for several days and quick fling in the microwave is all that is needed to bring it back to it's liquidy glory.  It's runny when you first pour it on and then it sets a little to become fudgy but not hard.  Ohhhhhhhhhhh, delicious!  I like it with walnuts, banana and icecream.

And I was totally kidding about the weetbix.  Do not pour this on weetbix.

Monday, August 20, 2012

A rant in the key of frypan

Why - WHY - does my non-stick cookware always end up sticky?

And how can I get it unsticky again?

I follow all the rules - don't use metal anything, don't use spray oils, clean thoroughly.  But eventually it sticks.  At the moment it's our expensive Circulon frypan that has me annoyed.  Previously, I've bought el-cheapos.  They eventually peel their coating.  I don't like the peeling.  It makes me very nervous about eating the stuff I've just cooked.  So last time I forked out the big bucks.  Admittedly, it's lasted quite a bit longer than the cheapos and there's been no peeling, but now we are back to sticky cooking.

So does anyone know how to get that annoying layer of sticky off my non-stick surface without ruining the frypan?  And if I can't unstick it, should I buy another expensive pan or just by cheap ones and replace them at will?  What do you use?  What's lasted the longest for you?

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Music doesn't always soothe the savage beast

Two of our children have recently commenced piano lessons with The Concert Pianist.  This has ushered in the era of "music practice" in our house.  Oh, the tears!  After a few weeks, I've noticed a pattern emerging.  Wednesday night - piano lesson.  Thursday night - hideous tantrums and tears during practice.  Friday night - a little better.  And by Monday and Tuesday night - sweet, simple practice done in 15 minutes.  So my kids, like me, don't like trying to do something they can't do well the first time.  Oh, the lessons we are learning.

But I was really helped by this post from No Reading At The Breakfast Table.  Really good advice on music lessons and certified by The Concert Pianist as good stuff.  We will battle on.  Could be worse.  They could be learning the violin.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Thank God it's Friday

I know that “Thank God it’s Friday’ is usually said in absence of any kind of thankfulness towards the Almighty, but I’d like to do my bit to remedy that.

Today I’m thankful for the visit I had this morning with one of the older ladies in our congregation who is home recovering from a stroke.  She was a picture of faith and contentment and concern for others.  And I was suppose to be there to encourage her!  'Beautiful' would be a very fitting word to describe her.

You got anything you’re thankful for today? Join in! Let’s count our blessings for a bit.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Dishwasher magnet

Ever since I changed to a computer with Vista (don't get me started on Vista) my dear reliable printer has had issues.  Many, many issues.  Yesterday it finally refused to go any further.  It was time.

So on the way to playgroup this morning (oh so multi-tasky) I popped into Officeworks and bought a new printer.  This allowed me to create this:

It's my new dishwasher magnet.  You put it one way for clean, then flip it over the other way for dirty.  Because we all hate stacking three mugs in the top and then realizing we've just dripped hot chocolate all over 19 clean plates.

The design is from here at Sugar and Cloth and you can easily click and create your own.

In the original instructions, you print on to glossy photo paper, place on to adhesive magnetic paper and then put a finishing preserving spray over the top.  Oh please!  Go to Officeworks and buy magnetic paper and just do it one.  You do need a printer that has the guts to take thicker "paper".  My old one - may it rest in peace - couldn't do it without declaring a jam.  But my new best pal did it without blinking a single distress signal.

And of course now I have four spare sheets of magnetic paper.  So many possibilities!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

I don't want to give her back

One of my children had a routine appointment with their paediatrician today.  I always think I'm being calm about these appointments until I get home afterwards and realise in hindsight how worked up I've been.  The paediatrician is beyond wonderful and thoroughly kind and cheery so she's not the problem.  She was the doctor on duty on the day my child was born, prematurely, and it was her that save my daughter's life and got her breathing for the first time.  So every time I go to see her, my mind travels back in time without my permission.  It's so very irrational - because my child is fine and dandy now - but I get the same feeling as I had the day we took her home from the special care nursery, unsure of whether they would really let us "keep her".  I felt like we were taking their baby home, not ours.  And there's this little part of me that is still a bit scared I'm going to rock up for an appointment and someone is going to say, "Are you kidding?  You did what?! You are a total failure as a mother!  You can't keep her!"

So ridiculous.  But there it is.

However, our appointment was fine and all is well.  And they let me take her home again.  Going to go and have a cup of tea now and tell myself to get over it.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Mini bow and arrows


Another of my husband's creative adventures at boys' club.  This is an awesome craft - obviously because it involves bows and arrows - but also because it's simple to set up and very inexpensive.  All credit for the original idea and instructions belongs to this post from The Brooding Hen.  However, there was quite a lot of helpful additional information in the comments section from that post so I'm going to rehash it all together for you to make it simple.

For each person, you'll need a wooden paddle-pop stick, 3-6 cotton-wool buds and some dental floss.  If you are doing this craft with a group, I'd suggest an envelope for each child for taking home their bow and arrows and some textas  for decorating their bow.  For the preparation beforehand, you'll also need a pocketknife, a tall drinking glass or a round container (about the dimensions of a wide mug or glass).

If you are doing this at home, you'll need about an hour for soaking the sticks, 30 mins to dry them into shape and then you are good to go.  If you are doing this for a large group, I'd suggest starting your prep the day before or with at least 5 hours lead time for preparation.


1. First step is to soak the pop sticks for at least an hour or two.  This is to get them bendy enough to flex.

2. Cut notches on both sides of the top and bottom of each stick.  You want to make sure the bow string is going to tuck in nicely and not slip off.  Don't make the notch too deep or you create a weak point at the head of your stick and it might snap off.

3. As soon as you've done the notches, gently bend the stick and fit it into the inside of a wide mug or glass or narrow storage jar or vase.  You will lose some sticks in this process - they will have a fault line somewhere and snap on you.  So have more stick soaking than you think you'll need.  I soaked 20 and lost about 5 in the process.

  You're going to leave the sticks in the mug/glass/vase to dry out into a nice bent shape.

With the kids

4. Get the kids to decorate their special bow with their own tribal design.

5.  They need to pull the cotton wool off just one end of each of their arrows.  You may want them to make their own unique stripes/markings with coloured sharpie markers on the arrows so you know whose is whose.  This is to aid the identification of the guilty later when the leaders end up with arrows in their hair.

6.  Tie a piece of dental floss to one end of your bow, then wrap it around the other end a few times until it is nice and taunt.  Then tie it off.  The string needs to be taunt or the arrows won't fly very far. Younger kids will need help with the knots so you can have an adult helper going along and doing that with the kids individually while they busy decorating their bows.

7.  Fire time!  To use the bow successfully, you must use a pinching action for pulling back the string.

So you pinch the end of the cotton bud horizontally with the bow string in between your thumb and forefinger.  Pull back (aiming away from people's faces) and fire!  You'll want to do a little safety chat if you have... oh, let's say about a dozen ... six-year old boys running wild with bows and arrows.

Monday, August 13, 2012

A good weekend and a worry

Brilliant weekend. Friday night I had dinner with the other teachers (and their spouses) in my department. So much laughter! What a great bunch of people. Then Sunday after church we had lunch for 15 at our house. Eight of those were children so it was a lovely loud rambling kind of lunch.

But then last night I got to thinking about the floods in the Philippines. I have been hearing about it on the news but didn't pay much attention. Suddenly last night I thought to myself, "Hang on! The flooding will be in more cities than just the capital. It was a cyclone after all. What about the city my sponsored child is in?" And, yes, there is severe flooding in his city also. I can't believe that it didn't even occur to me to check until last night!

The Australian Compassion website has started listing affected projects and so far my child's centre number is not listed. But they also say that it is "still too dangerous for Compassion staff members to travel and collect exact information about the situation". Yikes!

Apart from the danger he may have faced in the flooding, and the possible loss of personal possessions and housing, there is a danger of wide-spread disease in the city from water-born illnesses. They are worried about food shortages too. I know he lives near a river and that his house is made of wood. On the other hand, there are frequent floods in the Philippines (our street used to flood every year when I was growing up there) and people tend to know what to do. And cities are big places - you can have one area badly affected by a flood and another area completely fine.

So you can imagine our bedtime prayers were a little more urgent last night. I'll be going back and forth to the Compassion website throughout the day to check for updates. Hopefully they'll list his centre as okay soon and we can stop worrying. In the meantime, I'm thankful that he is sponsored with Compassion because I know they will check on each and every one of their kids to see that they are okay.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Postcards from the past

Two years ago, I inherited my great-grandmother's 100+ year old postcard collection.  Pretty neat, huh?  I love history and these postcards have a physical connection to my family's past so I feel like they are real treasures.

When I first brought them back home from an old metal trunk that had been living in a dark shed in Western Australia, I had plans to put them up in frames in my lounge.  But then the historian in me began to agonise over whether it was the right thing to do.  Would the light ruin them?  Shouldn't I just keep them safe in an archival box for future generations?  I chewed over the idea for a couple of years.

In the end, I decided I could preserve them better in a box in the top of my wardrobe, but it was just as likely that some upstart grandchild of mine would come in after I was gone and chuck the box in a skip and send it away to landfill.  I figured the postcards had a better chance of being valued if they'd hung on 'Grandma's' wall for a decade or two.  I have however chosen archival quality mounting paper and frames and scanned the back and front of each postcard before framing so that I at least have a digital copy if the worst comes to the worst.  They are on a wall that doesn't get direct sunlight.  I know there will still be some deterioration over time, but there's no joy from leaving them in a box either.

So here they are, all 83 of them.  Lovingly mounted with acid-free photo corners so there's no gluing involved.  I'm very pleased with the final result.  The photo doesn't do it justice because the real treat is when you get up close and see the wonderful snapshots from days gone by and the beautiful pen and ink handwriting.  One of my favourites among the postcards is Flinders Street station in Melbourne with a the usual peak-hour congestion ...only the traffic is predominantly horse and cart.

So do you think I've done the right thing or should I have cared for them properly in a hermetically-sealed box?  And what about you - do you have anything special from your family's past  on your walls?  Or languishing in a box waiting  to come out and be enjoyed?  Oh, and if anyone has some really brilliant ideas on how to do a display of tea cups that wouldn't need frequent dusting, do tell!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Thank God it's Friday

I know that “Thank God it’s Friday’ is usually said in absence of any kind of thankfulness towards the Almighty, but I’d like to do my bit to remedy that.

Today I’m thankful for God graciously giving lots of second chances (and thirds, and fourths... five thousand and fifty-ninths and.....).  Mercy is a wonderful thing.

You got anything you’re thankful for today? Join in! Let’s count our blessings for a bit.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

A morning disaster

I wrote the previous post yesterday and scheduled it to publish this morning.  As if to underline my point, this morning's before school routine was a mess!  It could be subtitled, "She does all things badly."  Uniforms were messed up and lost, shoes misplaced, tears shed, harsh words spat out, feelings hurt, feet stomped and voices raised really loud in anger.  And that was just me!!  The kids weren't that great either.

I really don't do all things well.  I really need grace.  Every. Single. Day.

HT for the music clip to Gospel Grace

Dear Me

I few weeks ago I came across a verse in Luke that struck out at me. I’m sure it’s not the first time I’ve read that verse but it’s certainly the first time it made my mouth drop open.

“And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” Mark 7:37

The part that made my mouth drop open? He has done all things well.

I felt like a cover had suddenly been pulled off the part of my heart that I’ve been keeping very hush-hush. You see, those words were so familiar - so horribly familiar - because they were almost the same as my own.

She has done all things well.

Secretly, that’s what I most want to hear. Those exact words. I just don’t think I knew it till that moment. Like a mirror suddenly casting back a very ugly reflection.

I want to be the gal that everyone says ‘does all things well’. Now, if you know me in person, you most certainly recognise immediately that this is both an outrageous presumption and a complete impossibility. I am so very far from reaching the heights of perfect competency. But that doesn’t stop my self-centred heart from lusting after it.

I’d like my guests to leave my house saying, “Oh, what a great job she did organizing that dinner.” I’d like my employer to say, “Yes, she’s really one of our best teachers.” I’d like the other mothers to say, “Wow. Her kids are so organized and progressing so well. Her behaviour strategies are so clever.” And on and on and on... Not that any of that stuff is really happening, but it is my secret desire. Of course the things I know I’ll never do well in I just relegate to the Not Important Enough To Worry About pile. Like sport and parallel parking.

But when I read those words in Mark 7, I realized they belong to Jesus. To him alone. He is the one whose life people looked at and said, “Wow. He does all things well.” When I hanker after that phrase, I’m hankering after something that doesn’t belong to me. I’m not that someone. But I do owe that someone everything. Seeking after honour that is due to him alone is really brazen rebellion.

Of course Jesus wasn’t being commended for a fabulous dinner party or a set of well-organized school lunches. So why do I particularly wish to be lauded in those areas? Because even though I like to think myself the bees-knees, I’m not stupid enough to think I could really compete with Jesus. So like I do with parallel parking, I just change the goal posts. I change “do all things well” to “do stuff that impresses other people”. I want people to notice. I want to be praised. I want to be the person who does all things well.

I’m not saying it’s wrong to strive for competency or excellence. I’m all for doing things well. However, if I’m trying to do all things well so I can gain the praise of those around me, I’m barking up the wrong tree. Instead, I want to look at the one who truly did all things well and strive to spread the fame of his name not mine.

So for the next time I forget that, I’m writing this post to remind me. He does all things well. Stop with your own ridiculous self-obsession and be “astonished beyond measure” at all that he’s done.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Win or lose, it's how you play the game

Ben wrote this week on the whinging that's been going on about Australia's performance at the Olympics.  It seems to me very unsporting to go around being "devastated" when you don't win gold.  Especially if you do it with a medal handing around your neck at the time.  Come on, Australia.  Surely we can do better than that!  One of the themes of the London games is supposed to be about "inspiring a generation".  I hope our athletes, media and general community aren't planning to leave a legacy of being sore losers.

Maybe a little inspiration from Olympians of old will help.  If you want to see the pinnacle of sportsmanship, try John Landy in Melbourne in 1956.  In the 1500 m finals for the Australian National Championships just before the Games, one of Landy's competitors fell during the race.  What did Landy do?  He stopped running and went back to help him up.  Enough of this self-absorbed "win at all costs or go home a loser" business.  Show some class, Australia.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Naked God - a review

Let’s start with a quick quiz.

Do you think people who claim to follow Jesus are:
a) Delusional
b) Nice people who want something to believe in that makes them feel good
c) Logical decision-makers
d) Brainwashed

Do you think believing that Jesus really existed and died on a cross is:
a) A historical fact
b) Equivalent to still believing in the tooth fairy
c) Not the real point – it’s about getting in touch with your spiritual side
d) Bizarre brainwashing

Those are not the only possible responses to those questions but they are pretty common ones I’m guessing.

You see, I often wonder what my non-Jesus-freak friends think about my faith. When I started writing this blog that’s one of things I had in mind. Religion is still a touchy topic for everyday discussion. But I figure on a blog you can always click over to something else if you want.

So if I was able to state clearly my essential beliefs to my friends, what would they think? Would they be surprised that I take Jesus more seriously than they thought I did? Would it confirm to them that I’d finally taken leave of my senses? Would they want to ask me about it or just run away from the topic altogether?

At uni, I took a course called 'Logic and Rationality'. We had a brilliant lecturer and the tutorials were full of sharp debates. On the day of the final exam, I was wearing my newly purchased Christian Union shirt. As we all stumbled into the tram after the exam, one of the mature-aged students caught sight of my shirt.

“Christian?” she said in amazement, “But...but you’re so logical!” Apparently, the two are irreconcilable.

So does that leave me? Can you still have some logical brains in your head and believe in a real, literal, walked-on-earth Jesus? And if you do, what if you go one step further think he was more than just an inspirational teacher or a great moral guide? What if you think he was God? Can you still claim to be logical or rational?

That’s the central question of Naked God by Martin Ayers.  I’ve just finished reading and I loved it. Ayers was a lawyer before working in Christian ministry and the book is set out just as you’d expect from a lawyer – methodical, organized and logical. My kind of reading. It doesn’t aim to pull at your heart strings or deal with your “issues”. It’s not trying to win you to Christianity through some kind of feel-good ploy. It just aims to present the reasons and the logic behind the belief that there is a God. It’s evidence to be evaluated.

Ayers deals with some of the common issues that people have with Christianity:
  • Hasn’t modern science done away with the need for a belief in God? 
  • There are many different spiritual beliefs but they all point towards the same spiritual core. 
  • Surely the Bible has gone through a series of manipulations over the years. It could hardly be thought to be a reliable document! 
  • Jesus – who knows if he even really existed. Or if he did, how do we know he was anything like the gospel writers say he was? 
  • My life is just fine the way it is thanks. You go your way; I’ll go mine. 
I enjoyed his style – he’s not arrogant or preachy. There are no “thees or thines” or any churchy language. It’s the argument pared down to the basics – hence the title Naked God. And, yeah, it pretty well summed up what I believe.

So, if you’ve never seriously considered that God might be anything more than a myth, get a hold of this book. You might not end up agreeing but at least you’ll be informed. If you know me in person, borrow my copy. If you want to contact me and borrow my copy even if you don’t know me, use my contact details in the “Contact me” tab at the top of my blog page. I’d be happy to post it to you. Otherwise, you’ll find it available through Amazon, Bookdepository, Betterworldbooks and all of the other usual suspects.

Then you can let me know if you still think I could hold my head up in a “Logic and Rationality” tut. And just for the record, Doug Adeney is still my favourite uni lecturer ever.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Please, Mr Postman

In he comes from checking the letter box with a big grin on his face. He’s holding one letter behind his back and he cheekily hands me the rest of the pile with his other hand. His eyes are dancing because he knows he’s got what I want. He hasn’t learnt to read yet but he can pick the envelope with the royal blue edge. He knows it’s a Compassion envelope and that there is a child’s letter inside. While he does a little dodge to keep the letter out of my waiting hand, my mind is racing with who it might be. Could it be…? No, she wrote last month. How about…? No, his letter isn’t due yet either. Oh! I hope it’s … Haven't heard from him in ages. Finally, he hands me the envelope and I declare my delight and pretend to be surprised. Then we sit down on the carpet and rip it open to find out whose precious message has finally arrived.

The checking of the letter box is a pretty big deal in our house but maybe some of you have gotten a lot bit behind in your letter writing. So I’m going to throw out some quick letter writing questions and answers that will hopefully inspire those of you who have sponsored kids to get cracking on your letter writing.

Why write? Isn’t just sponsoring them enough?

Letter writing is not the main event in sponsoring a child. Providing for a child’s needs is the big goal. But letter writing gives you an opportunity to know your child as more than just a face and a name. The encouragement they receive through your letters can have a tremendous impact on their lives as they fight to break the cycle of the poverty around them.

Seriously huge.

Time and time again, former sponsored children have talked about the importance of their sponsors’ letters. For many of these children, there is very little in the way of encouragement in their lives. Hearing from their sponsor and knowing that they are being thought of, and prayed for, can be a lifeline for a struggling child or teenager. Many children keep all their letters as treasured possessions and they read them over and over again. Children who receive letters from their sponsors tend to be more consistent in their attendance at the program and also do better at school (I didn’t make that up – the impact on school performance has been recorded by Compassion staff in a number of countries).

And your audience may be more than just your sponsored child. Often these letters are read by parents and siblings as well. They long to know about the person who is helping their family. You have the opportunity to speak words of hope and encouragement and to go beyond merely sharing financially by sharing your time and your heart as well.

How often should I write?

At least 2 or 3 times a year is fantastic, but more frequently if you can manage it. Once a month is probably a sensible maximum because of the resources involved in translating your letters and also because quite a lot of Compassion centres only have a mail delivery from their regional office once a month anyway. If you write on a regular basis (say every two months or every month) you will find that letters are easier to write than if you just write one formal letter once a year.  If you are only writing once a year, you can't talk in much detail about anything so it just ends up being fairly general and non-specific.

Under the new Compassion guidelines (which will be implemented progressively in various countries between now and the end of 2013), all children will write their sponsors two letters per year, regardless of whether their sponsor has written to them. But every 60 days, if the child has received a letter from you, they will write a letter in return up to a total of 6 letters across the year. So if you write every second month, you’ll probably be getting a letter in return every second month. If you don’t write at all, you’ll still receive two letters from your sponsored child per year.

Sadly, there are many children who receive no letters at all. Yep. None. Years go by in their sponsorship and their own letters remain unanswered. You don’t want your kid to be the one at the back of the group desperately wishing to hear their name called out just once for a mail delivery.  Make sure you write.

I don’t think my child likes letter writing. Their letters just say the same things all the time and are very impersonal.

For many sponsored children letter writing is not common in their home or culture. It takes a while for letter writing skills to develop. It might take your kid a number of years before they can comfortably write letters. That doesn’t mean they don’t hang off your every word when they receive a letter from you. They are probably basing their letters on writing tips and suggestions from the project staff helping them and that might explain why the letters tend to cover similar topics each time.Think about the children of a similar age that you know in your own community. My own kids are pretty poor letter writers to their grandparents and they’ve had the advantage of a literate home.  So hang in there and give it time.

The best cure for impersonal letters is to become more personal in your own letters.  It’s hard for them to write a letter that conveys a sense of relationship if they are only writing a couple of times a year and hardly ever hearing from you.  Write more often and include more details about your own life and you’ll find your child’s letters will develop a more personal quality too. What is it that you would like to know about your child? They want to know the same things about you!

How does writing letters to me benefit my child?

The letter writing process is an excellent educational activity for building up your child’s literacy. It also provides project staff with an additional opportunity to talk one-on-one with your child and find out how they are going. Very importantly, through their letters your child can tell you what is really on their heart. One of our children last month asked us to pray for his grandfather who has been ill for a long time. I have written previously about one of my children who told us about their dad’s struggle against alcoholism. Their letters give content to my prayers and help me move beyond a quick, “Please bless so-and-so”.

What if I really, really, really don’t want to write letters but I’d like to sponsor a child?

Sponsor a child and ask Compassion to allocate a correspondence sponsor who will write on your behalf. Because I’m such a letter writing freak, I write to two correspondence children at present in addition to our own sponsored children. They have a sponsor who for whatever reason cannot or does not want to write and so I have the pleasure of doing the writing and forming a relationship with those two boys. This sometimes happens if a corporation sponsors a large number of children or if a person has been a Compassion sponsor for a while but can no longer write due to health issues or so on. So even for you non-writers, Compassion has an option.

Coming up soon: a massive list of letter writing topics for the times you have a mental blank and 4 different ways you can write to your sponsored child.

And if you are interested in sponsoring a child in extreme poverty who needs encouragement and a helping hand up, check out Compassion Australia if you are in Australia, Compassion International for US readers or Compassion UK for readers in the United Kingdom. For information about what child sponsorship involves click here or about Compassion's financial integrity click here.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Meet the Superhumans

Kudos for the people behind the making of this ad.  Made me want to stand up and cheer. Gutsy.

Click here for Meet the Superhumans

HT takeyourvitaminz

DIY - whiteboard

Ugly-but-we-can't-live-without-it whiteboard.

Pretty whiteboard dry-erase board.

I'm not much for home decorating (pathetic at it really).  The whiteboard was an unfortunate focal point for our kitchen.  Couldn't do without it but it was looking very sad.  So I bought a white frame from our local cheapo home wares store and 75cm of pretty material.  Press fabric, lay it on the glass, pop the backing on, check it's wrinkle free and then trim off the excess.  Done.  

I might get a white marker next time I'm at the shops because I chose a fairly busy background and the black marker isn't standing out as much as I'd like.  Although, that's a plus because the writing blends in from a distance and when you get close it's readable.  I foresee possible problems with the white frame getting marker all over it.  Not sure how it will work out long-term.  But for now, my kitchen is brighter.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Thank God it's Friday

I know that “Thank God it’s Friday’ is usually said in absence of any kind of thankfulness towards the Almighty, but I’d like to do my bit to remedy that.

Today I’m thankful for a week where the kids seemed more settled and cooperative, that my anger management was a lot better, that one of my friends sponsored a new child and for my husband who helps me lift my load when I get snowed under.  Oh, that's four things.  Well, it's been a really good week (despite losing my diamond).

You got anything you’re thankful for today? Join in! Let’s count our blessings for a bit.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Ultimate pavlova recipe

Anything involving beating egg whites scares me.

But this recipe has restored my faith in whites.  The best bit?  You put all ingredients in at once and mix.  That, my friends, is a good recipe!  It should be noted that this recipe requires four egg whites.  By a happy coincidence my fantastic bacon carbonara recipe requires four egg yolks.  A match made in heaven (and with all that cream I'll probably get there faster).  I give you...

Mrs Dunstone's never-fail pav recipe.  

4 egg whites (approx. 55-60g eggs)
1.5 cups castor sugar
1 teaspoon cornflour
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
4 tablespoons boiling water

1. Place all ingredients into small bowl of electric mixer.
2. Beat on high speed until mixture is very stiff (about 10 minutes).
3. Meanwhile, heat oven to 180C.
4. Shape mixture onto foil tray.  It does flatten slightly but not a great deal so make it pavlova-shaped rather than a high dome.
5. Bake at 180 for 10 mins.
6. Reduce heat to 120 and bake for a further 45 mins.
7. Remove from the oven, cool completely, slide carefully from foil onto plate.  Actually, I often leave it on the foil but that's just me.
8. Decorate with whipped cream and sliced fruit.

So celebrate the Olympics in style with a traditional Aussie desert.  Don't listen to those Kiwis - there's no way the pav is a Kiwi invention.  Oi, oi, oi!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012


This innovative website allows you to use collections of illustrations as inspiration for your own original stories.  Originally aimed at families with primary-aged kids, I think high-schoolers could have some fun with it too. You choose from a collection of pictures that spark your interest and then you are free to develop your own plot and draw on as many of the pictures as you like to illustrate your story.  The really neat thing about it is the ability to invite another person(s) to collaborate with you.  So you can write a few pages and then send an invitation to a friend to join in and take a turn writing.  My daughter and a friend are working on a lovely story about a rabbit at present, taking turns to write the story and choose the pictures.  It would be a fantastic project to work on with a grandparent, aunt or uncle who lived far away.  Or a fun way for parents or siblings to create a shared project.  And I think it might be a great tool for motivating reluctant writers.  Check it out here.