The year of the snake

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Celebrating 11 years of caking making for my kids. We’ve had all kinds of cakes (and sleepless nights) over the years, from the Hobbit, to spideman to animals

My life is full of imperfections and minor disasters but I’m glad and grateful to say that today,  I had a perfect day. I managed to finish the birthday cake the night before Lucas’ birthday party so in the morning I could work on the details of the celebration. Lucas invited 21 friends for the occasion – there was a lot of work to do.

The weather in Sydney has been gorgeous this autumn but on Saturday when I got up and looked out the window the ground was wet. Yes, rain on the horizon. Well, it was more of a strong drizzle, but that couldn’t be happening, not today when we were going to take 22 active boys on a bush walk. Luckily the birthday party fairies were on our side because an hour before the party the sun came out to save the day.

And so off  I went to the bush to hide 22 stuffed animals for the treasure hunt. I climbed up trees and rocks trying to camouflage the toys amongst the leaves and bark. I marked the area with bright ribbons and drew signs on the ground to hint to the kids where to look for the toys.

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I’ve been organising children’s birthday parties for 11 years. It’s always a lot of work. I’m always exhausted by the end of the day. I always promise next year I’ll do less. But then I look at the photos and think of the children’s face and my heart clenches. My eldest will soon be a teenager, he won’t be wanting these types of parties for much longer. So every year I keeping going back for more.

Despite the hard work, it’s so much fun organising the parties with my boys. Weeks before the celebration they come up with a theme, ideas of games, food and friends for the big day. We all cherish these moments and I’m sure these are memories they will return to for the rest of their lives.

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Back to the fine day, we went to an hour’s walk/treasure hunt in the bush down the road. Our march to get there drew the attention of onlookers, probably wondering why the exodus of so many children. My husband was notably stressed though. He thinks I’m crazy for organising these big parties and entertaining so many kids. The children behaved well and I could see some of them were not used to exercise and tree climbing, a few were quite tired by the end of the adventure. When everyone had found their toy we headed home to recharge the energy with  pizza, sushi and of course, treats.

Just before cake we had a Brazilian style piñata, made with a giant inflatable balloon. This is one of my favourite parts of the party, watching the kids going over the candy like ants. I’m glad to report that no one got hurt on the making of this video.

After everyone left we sat on the floor to read the birthday cards and open the gifts. This moment always brings a bit of jealousy on the other sibling but they have been generous enough to donate one of the gifts to the other.

Nothing really extraordinary happened today. Just a family celebrating life with children. And life doesn’t get any more perfect than that.

Do you organise parties for your children? Would love to hear your stories.

The year of the snake

IMG_5453

Celebrating 11 years of caking making for my kids. We’ve had all kinds of cakes (and sleepless nights) over the years, from the Hobbit, to spideman to animals

 

My life is full of imperfections and minor disasters but I’m glad and grateful to say that today,  I had a perfect day. I managed to finish the birthday cake the night before Lucas’ birthday party so in the morning I could work on the details of the celebration. Lucas invited 21 friends for the occasion – there was a lot of work to do.

The weather in Sydney has been gorgeous this autumn but on Saturday when I got up and looked out the window the ground was wet. Yes, rain on the horizon. Well, it was more of a strong drizzle, but that couldn’t be happening, not today when we were going to take 22 active boys on a bush walk. Luckily the birthday party fairies were on our side because an hour before the party the sun came out to save the day.

And so off  I went to the bush to hide 22 stuffed animals for the treasure hunt. I climbed up trees and rocks trying to camouflage the toys amongst the leaves and bark. I marked the area with bright ribbons and drew signs on the ground to hint to the kids where to look for the toys.

IMG_5464

I’ve been organising children’s birthday parties for 11 years. It’s always a lot of work. I’m always exhausted by the end of the day. I always promise next year I’ll do less. But then I look at the photos and think of the children’s face and my heart clenches. My eldest will soon be a teenager, he won’t be wanting these types of parties for much longer. So every year I keeping going back for more.

Despite the hard work, it’s so much fun organising the parties with my boys. Weeks before the celebration they come up with a theme, ideas of games, food and friends for the big day. We all cherish these moments and I’m sure these are memories they will return to for the rest of their lives.

IMG_5487

Back to the fine day, we went to an hour’s walk/treasure hunt in the bush down the road. Our march to get there drew the attention of onlookers, probably wondering why the exodus of so many children. My husband was notably stressed though. He thinks I’m crazy for organising these big parties and entertaining so many kids. The children behaved well and I could see some of them were not used to exercise and tree climbing, a few were quite tired by the end of the adventure. When everyone had found their toy we headed home to recharge the energy with  pizza, sushi and of course, treats.

Just before cake we had a Brazilian style piñata, made with a giant inflatable balloon. This is one of my favourite parts of the party, watching the kids going over the candy like ants. I’m glad to report that no one got hurt on the making of this video.

After everyone left we sat on the floor to read the birthday cards and open the gifts. This moment always brings a bit of jealousy on the other sibling but they have been generous enough to donate one of the gifts to the other.

Nothing really extraordinary happened today. Just a family celebrating life with children. And life doesn’t get any more perfect than that.

Do you organise parties for your children? Would love to hear your stories.

 

 

 

 

 

Yes, I’m that kind of woman

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My jaw dropped to the floor. I was explaining to the scouts leader that my son couldn’t make to the excursion because I was travelling for work and she hit me with “it’s ok, you are one of those women.” I couldn’t find words to express my surprise but it didn’t matter anyway because whatever I say in these situations I never win. It’s frustrating that mothers are constantly judged for their choices, even by other women. If I’m around career focused women I’m just a part-timer. In stay-at-home mum circles, I’m a type A. It feels like women must be penalised for their freedom to choose.

I often think of my mum and the options she had when she got married and had children. Not many. But thanks to the pioneering women that fought and continue to fight for gender equality we can now celebrate that many of us have choices. We are free to commit to marriage or singlehood, pursue a career, get a degree – with or without children. Our focus, however, shouldn’t be on the choices women make but on enabling all women to be in a position to choose. Once we reach a critical mass of females empowered by choice, we as a society will be less critical of the paths that each of us choose.

So yes Mrs scouts leader, I’m one of those women lucky enough to have been able to decide. A woman with a couple of degrees and two decades of work experience. A woman who believes that females are as capable as males in the workforce and outside and that curbing their enthusiasm to pursue a successful career is a disfavour to the sisterhood.

But I’m also one of those women that are big fans of childhood. A grown up that loves children’s birthday parties. A mum that loves to hate the homework dramas, the school run in the morning, the sibling quibbling, the lego pieces scattered everywhere, the healthy lunch boxes that return home untouched.

I’m one of those women that want both worlds but that derailed her career to focus on the family – for childhood is too short. A woman who believes that there is no right or wrong choice, that we each have our individual motivations and belief systems and should be encouraged to make decisions based on what meets our needs more closely.

Ultimately, I’m a woman who thinks that educated women and men should extend their attention to the women that have little or no choices. As a society we should put our energy on creating the conditions to allow every women to be able to choose. Choice should not be restricted to educated white females that are lucky enough to find supportive employers and partners.

Next time you meet someone that chose a path different to yours try not to judge. Instead, celebrate that given the opportunity, women can be any kind of woman they want to be.

Memories on the roof

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Our laneway was too quiet for a Sunday afternoon. No bikes, skateboards, soccer balls or their owners in sight. As I approached the driveway a voice came from above: “Mum’s home.” I looked up and there they were playing on the roof.

Before I could scream their names and ask them to come down, I had a flashback to the 80s when I too was in the roof of the neighbour’s house, getting my volley ball back. To get there, I had to climb the back wall of our apartment block which was a bit higher than the neighbour’s roof, then  jump down to the roof clearing a meter long divide that separated the buildings. Looking down, I knew the fall could do a lot of damage but I still crossed to the other side. I don’t know if my parents knew what I was up to, but I don’t think they would have been too concerned.

As I pictured my roof climbing adventures I reached for my phone and recorded that moment for posterity. Children in the 21st century still have fun climbing fences, trees, and roofs. If only we let them. But most times we make sure they are safely indoors (and this often involves a screen) or engaged in after school activities.

We do this because we are good parents. There is danger outside and we have to prepare our children for a very competitive market place – there is no time to muck around with their education or safety.  But the reality is, child abduction in the streets is rare and if we pay less attention to the media and do our own homework, we will see that by over scheduling our kids’ lives, natural fun and spontaneity get squeezed out. I think parents are equally so busy that they don’t even realise that these essentials are being stripped from their children’s everyday life.

I recently came across this research about the role of free play, day dreaming and independent discovery in building emotional maturity, developing cognitive skills, and boost physical health in children. The research reveals a link between unstructured activities and the development of executive function.

Executive function is an umbrella term for mental skills that help us control our attention, impulses and enable us to plan. These skills have long been accepted as a powerful predictor of academic performance and other lifelong benefits such as health and wealth.

My boys are always complaining that they don’t have enough free time and like most parents I don’t always have the courage-energy-time to let my kids just muck around and be kids. But here are a few things that I’m doing to create more opportunities for free play:

  • I’m encouraging my kids to do their homework in the morning before school so they have time to play when we get home
  • Friday and weekends they can play outside until dinner time (sometimes I end up having dinner before them)
  • They can ride their bikes and take the dog for a walk in the neighbourhood without supervision
  • No tablets or eleconics at night so they can read, write, draw or play

Free play, however, has a boundary – they are not allowed to go on the roof. After that incident, I explained why I didn’t want them up there and it looks like their are using their executive function, I haven’t seen them up there since then 🙂

 

 

Run Rosana, Run

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No pain, no gain

What makes one pay $100 to wake at 4:45am on a cold autumn day, go pounding the pavement for 21km to inevitably feel fatigued and experience muscle sureness? A casual observer might conclude that this is a form of self flagellation. My friends for one, think I’m crazy. But 12,000 runners signed up for the Sydney Morning Herald half marathon, which took place today.  We can’t all be crazy or sadists. 

Running has impacted my life in a positive way, and I believe this is true for most runners. That’s why we keep coming back for more and sign up for gruelling races. When I go for a run I feel happier and less stressed – this is because endorphins in the body are released when you are running. Endorphins are hormones that create a sense of euphoria or a feel-good effect. So you may experience a surge of joy – even after running.

But running is not just about a flood of happy hormones. Another great satisfaction I get from the sport is that it pushes me far beyond my usual limits. Every race or training session is an opportunity to try a little harder and to set audacious goals – the impossible becomes plausible and sometimes even doable!

I remember the first time I tried to run, I was out of breath in less than 500 meters. But I persevered and every time I hit the road I set a new goal – soon I was running 5km. Then 10km and later, half marathons. Eventually I even signed up to the mythical 42.2km – a full marathon. Of course this wasn’t a goal that I set overnight. After a few years of consistent running, I started toying with the idea of this less than trivial undertaking.

From my experience I say that your results on race day truly reflect the hours you logged on the road. And to put the hours, you need a good deal of discipline to follow a training program. Rain or sunshine. You need resilience to continue when you aren’t achieving your goals and to overcome injuries. It’s hard work full stop. That’s why most people think that runners must have a few missing screws in their heads (maybe they dropped a few bolts on the road!).

In the age of convenience and instant gratification, I find running quite refreshing. In every run you earn the rewards from your sustained effort. Running is an adventure of conquering our own Mount Everest, of doing your own personal best and overcoming your limits. Not many people have the focus or patience to do it. But those that do, are always winners, no matter what they are racing up against.

I think this quote summarises well why we, runners, voluntarily sign up and even pay to endure a bit if discomfort:  “Every day you may make progress. Every step may be fruitful. Yet there will stretch out before you an ever-lengthening, ever-ascending, ever-improving path. You know you will never get to the end of the journey. But this, so far from discouraging, only adds to the joy and glory of the climb.” Winston Churchill, January 1922

Baked shirts – giving mother Earth a hand on mother’s day

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It’s mother’s day and I woke up in a fever of domestic enthusiasm. I put buttons on school shirts (a project that I’ve procrastinated for months!) and I cut two bags of old clothes into small squares to use as cleaning cloths. We had breakfast out but when we got home I made lunch, homemade pesto with basil from my backyard and baked Anzac biscuits. And as the biscuits were in the oven, why not use the radiant heat to dry the school uniforms (it was drizzling outside)?  I felt like a domestic Goddess, so much was accomplished but the best of all I felt like I was acknowledging the planet that sustains and nurtures us.

Going back to the shirts ‘baking’ by the oven – did you realise that the clothes dryer is one of the largest energy user  in the house? If you asked me that a year ago, I wouldn’t have a clue. I wasn’t an environmentally minded individual but this started to change when I read the book The Great Disruption by writer and sustainability advisor, Paul Gilding. The book argues that human activity is growing beyond Earth’s capacity and that our insatiable consumption and waste is leading us to an ecological crisis.

Since I’ve read the book, I’ve been looking for ways to reduce my family’s carbon footprint. It hasn’t been easy and I haven’t made a lot of progress but there are a few things that I’m doing that I think are a move in the right direction:

  • Not buying a clothes dryer (in fact, I’ve never owned one)
  • Stopped buying individually packed biscuits for the lunchboxes
  • Plastic ziplock snack bags have been banned in my household (still have some as I’ve recycled the last ones I had)
  • Baking more snacks for the lunchboxes (and if raining using the oven heat to dry clothes!)
  • Making the effort to take fabric bags to the supermarket – I used to forget them all the time
  • Not buying winter clothes this year. I’ve just revisited my closet and honestly my jacket is still is good condition, and so are my jumpers
  • Reduced my family’s meat consumption: in addition to animal cruelty, animal farming requires massive amounts of land, food, energy, and water
  • Reducing my consumption in general.

Other things I would like to do and hope to implement shortly: take my own containers to take-away shops, buy more of my groceries in bulk, from local farmers and fair trade  and use my own reusable cup for coffee – Australians throw away 1 billion disposable coffee cups per year!

The way we eat, consume and use energy has a huge impact on the planet so we all have an ethical responsibility to do our bit not to inflict too much ecological damage. Happy mother’s day planet Earth – I hope many of sons and daughters are lightening their load on you.

The night I got changed in the car

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The sun had already set when we arrived at the oval for Lucas’ soccer training. While his session is running, I normally dash to the shops with Thomas to get dinner. But today there was a change of plans. “Mum can we practice for my cross country?” Thomas asked firmly. I wasn’t really in the mood for a run. I had covered 11KM in the morning before work and my gross, sweaty workout clothes stayed in the backpack all day. But how can you say no to a child who spent the whole day at school and after school care?

Our cross country training started with hurdles – where to get changed? I checked the public toilet but the lights were off, so we walked back to the car. I scanned the vicinity to ensure there were no parents around the car park, got in the car and started to unpack. Man, I never realised my own clothes could stink so bad. I quickly put the top on and my body shivered when the wet fabric touched my skin. Yuk! Then the contortionism began to put the sticky running pants on. Eventually I managed to get dressed and nerved myself to action in the track field, hoping I wasn’t going to pass by any parents.

Despite the hygiene situation it was an occasion for celebration – Thomas has never shown any enthusiasm for running, or for any other sport for that matter. “Ready, set, go” he commanded and we started to race. Well… I did. But Thomas started skipping. And jumping, cart wheeling and pretending to fly like superman. He also stopped a few times to climb over the fence. Close to the finish line he went on all fours pretending to be Snoopy. I was trying hard not to laugh of the whole situation. Thomas was clearly having a wonderful time but my poor baby was probably going to come last in the cross country.

“Mum, I’m glad I practiced for the race, I think this year I’ll go really fast,” he said. My heart sank. I was thinking how disappointed he was going to be. Running 2KM with that level of focus he didn’t stand a chance. I’d better say something to prepare him. “Thomas”, I went, “remember, it’s about doing your best, it’s not about winning.” – “I know mum,” he replied, “everyone gets an ice block at the end. Everyone is a winner.” What a gorgeous boy. Yes, Thomas, everyone is a winner. A life lesson right there. Please sweet heart, never ever change.