Sunday, 29 May 2011

Birthday Month confession

The odd-looking Mickey Mouse cake from 2010

From mid-May to the end of June is Birthday Month at our house. My calendar has no less than eighteen birthdays within this relatively short space of time.

My sister-in-law and hubby kick off Birthday Month and our 2 big kids have their birthdays in June. There are lots of other family birthdays in the mix, as well as friends' and friends' childrens' birthdays.

Every year for the last 7 years, I have put my birthday-party-planning hat on the day after my hubby's birthday. I make lists of ingredients for cakes and party food; lists for what will go into the lolly bags; lists of people invited and people who have replied. Being winter birthdays, I also have lists of what housework needs to be done to bring the house up presentably enough to host said parties, without being too spotlessly clean that I spend the whole day trying to work out the difference between how long it took me to clean and how long it has taken for the party guests to make a mess of...not that I tend to over-think things. Much.

The precariously balanced fire truck cake from 2010
Last year, there were clear themes for each birthday - Mickey Mouse and....well, pretty much anything fire truck/firefighter related.

So here is my confession. I love to hold themed parties. I sit the big kids down during May and get them to go through our 4 birthday cake books - 3 of these are the wonderful Womens Weekly birthday cake books and the odd-one-out is one I had to buy because of the inclusion of the fire truck. I don't try to influence the choice of cake and I'm often thrilled at what catches their eye - although after last year's Mickey Mouse effort, I have sworn off any cake involving sprinkles. I will spread icing, cut up liquorice and decorate with lollies, but I will never again attempt to stick sprinkles to the sides of a cake. Never ever. I don't always get the cakes up to showroom standard (that Mickey Mouse cake is barely recognisable!) but the kids love the finished results and that's all that really matters.

Once the cakes have been chosen, we (because the big kids love helping too) start hunting down matching cups, plates, napkins, novelty party toys, lolly bags, candles, even presents...anything we can find to fit the theme either in the shops or, more often than not, on ebay. Ebay is my friend during Birthday Month. I can search for almost anything and it will deliver results. With the added bonus of not having to drive around with 3 children in the car and trudge in and out of shops in search of what I need. And of course, there are lots of bargains - because the only thing better than a themed birthday party is a themed birthday party that involves bargains.

I can't wait to celebrate my little girl's 4th birthday in six more sleeps. Or my big boy's 7th birthday in nineteen more sleeps. And I know they will love this year's birthday themes. Because they chose them.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Menu planning - Week 1

Tuesday night's Mince & Macaroni, with vegetables.
 I recently purchased Nicole Avery's book, 'Planning With Kids'. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that it has changed my life. Nicole also has a blog by the same name - here's the link.

I have been feeling a bit out of control lately. My house is a mess (no surprise there, for those who know me!); it was getting to 5 o'clock every afternoon and I would dread having to think of something for dinner, going from the fridge to the pantry and back again on the hunt for ingredients to throw together, invariably cooking up a quick pasta dish. Again.

The constant state of disarray was doing my head in. I was becoming one very grumpy mummy.

Enter 'Planning With Kids'. The release of this book couldn't have been more perfect. It came out just as I was throwing my hands in the air and crying "something has got to give!!". The purchase was done online. The delivery was the very next day. The day after that, I'd finished reading it. I felt hope. An enormous amount of hope. Here was a plan that I could use. I wasn't being preached at and told I was a horrible person for being out of control, I was being shown how planning certain aspects of my day - such as meals and housework and all those other repetitive tasks - would leave me with more time and energy to focus on the fun parts of being a mum.

As my first step, I put together a menu plan. You can find a template on Nicole's blog, here. I took certain aspects of Nicole's plan and added my own little things - I have included the regular activities for each day, plus extra activities that might be on, as well as my husband's roster (he does shift work). I decided it would be no good planning a roast if we were out all day and a night shift was on the cards. I needed it all out in front of me, so I could then plan that night's meal. I ended up doing a plan for 4 weeks - both my daughter (nearly 4) and my bub (8 months) fell asleep while I was working on the spreadsheet for week 1, so I figured I may as well keep going! In future, I will do 2 weeks at a time - I was running out of ideas by the end of the 4th week.

Once my menu plan was printed (each week a different colour, just to look snazzy) and stuck up on the pantry door, it was time to go grocery shopping. I was absolutely amazed at how little I came home with. I didn't have to grab 6 packets of pasta to allow for that last minute cooking frenzy each night. I didn't need any 'just in case' purchases. For once, I really did only need what was on my list. I bought a lot more fruit and vegetables than usual, knowing they would be used and not end up as alien life-forms in my refrigerator.

And the results? Well....there have been a few hiccoughs. For example:
  • Night one's peanut chicken apparently burnt my daughter's mouth, so she decided not to eat it. We also had complaints about having it with rice instead of pasta. It seems some habits are hard to break.
  • Night two's mince and macaroni, which I assumed would be a huge hit, was met with outrage after I dared to serve it with vegetables.
  • Night three's pumpkin soup was enjoyed by all. Well, my daughter loved it at lunch time. Just not at dinner time, when she decided she hated pumpkin soup.
  • Night four's meatloaf with vegetables was actually eaten and enjoyed by all. Hooray!!
  • Night five was a night off - I went out with my sister and the 2 big kids had a sleep-over at their Nanna and Grandad's. Hubby bought himself Chinese takeaway.
  • Night six was leftovers - the 2 big kids had the meatloaf and hubby and I had pumpkin soup.
  • Night seven's corned beef with vegetables started off shakily, with claims of it not being liked, but ended with every plate empty and every tummy full.
We're already up to night 3 of week 2. I'm loving the feeling of knowing what is expected for that night. My hubby is loving not having a stressed out wife - and avoiding that same conversation every evening of "what do you want for tea? I don't know, what do you want?". Ending in pasta. Again. There is a reason I have planned only one night during the week for pasta.

My next change will be a housework plan. I'll let you know how we go.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011


On Monday, Deb at Science@home wrote about genetics in her post, The family inheritance.

While I am most definitely not scientifically minded, certain science topics intrigue me. Genetics is on top of the list. It defines how I fit into this group of people that is my family.

I think it's fascinating that it's our parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, even great-great-great-grandparents, that influence how we look and behave. I love looking through old photo albums and seeing family resemblances with long-ago relatives and hearing stories about having something in common with a relative I may not have even met. I can remember an outing with my aunty when I was younger, where the shop-keeper thought I was her daughter. I remember feeling thrilled that I had so much in common with another family member.

My favourite aspect of genetics is the recessive gene. It's like the 'surprise' gene, with a certain trait being able to pop up unexpectedly, reminding older generations of certain great-aunts or second-cousins-once-removed.

As a great example of recessive genes popping up unexpectedly, I only have to look at my three children. My husband and I both have brown eyes and dark brown hair. Our eldest boy has light brown hair, the thickest eyelashes you'll ever see...and stunning blue eyes. In everything else, he is the spitting image of my husband. Our daughter has blonde hair and eyes that are a gorgeous green-blue. In looks, she reminds me strongly of my paternal grandmother. She cannot roll her tongue (finally a family member to keep my mum company with that particular gene!). She has my sister's shocking memory. Our baby boy has a distinct tinge of red in his hair and big, bright blue eyes. At this stage, we're still searching for a family member he resembles. He seems to be very much his own person.

Our three blue-eyed children almost blow the mind of one of our friends. He likes to quote percentages and the chances of having a blue-eyed child from two brown-eyed parents. Apparently we should have stopped at one and had the other two with brown eyes. I guess our genes didn't get the memo.

While the above example is a bit of fun, there was an incident with a woman in a supermarket car park when our eldest boy was still a baby. I was told, in no uncertain terms, that it was impossible for two brown-eyed parents to have a blue-eyed child. I was flabbergasted. This woman was someone both my husband and I knew. I stammered something in reply - and it still annoys me, nearly 7 years later, that I didn't think up a better reply.

Now I know. The blue eyes are a recessive gene. Aunts and uncles on both my side and my husband's side of the family have blue eyes. And they suit our children perfectly.

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