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Meet ScarlettIf I were having this conversation with you in person I would say ‘Do you want to hear the long story or the short story?’ If you requested the short story I would say: “We received a giant burrowing cockroach as a gift and named her Scarlett.”

If you would like to hear the long story, then please read on:

My brother (a great animal lover) colluded with my husband (also a great animal lover) to obtain consent to give my son (another great animal lover) a native giant burrowing cockroach as a Christmas gift. Myself (a little ‘meh’ when it comes to animals) hastened to put a very quick and resounding stop to any talk involving cockroaches.

After much negotiation, my brother acquired the cockroach on the compromise that the roach would live with him and my son could visit it whenever we visited our family interstate. Consequently the little brown critter was placed into a plastic travel tank complete with dirt and gum leaves, wrapped in undignified Santa paper and presented to my son on Christmas day. My son took one look at the roach, his eyes filled with love and he announced to all his cousins that her name was Scarlett. From that point on the matter was pretty much settled. For the duration of our interstate holiday Scarlett sat in her little tank in the kitchen and we had time to get to know one another. She would burrow her head into the dirt and lazily surface for pieces of vegetable and gum leaves as the need arose. She didn’t move much, or do anything really, so I nic-named her pudding. When the time came to leave there was no doubt our new pet was coming with us…on our 1,400km road trip back to Sydney. The absurdity of the situation dawned on me a few times during the trip as Scarlett + tank would join us in cafes and roadhouses, but she really was such an agreeable travel companion that I couldn’t complain.

When we arrived home, we acquired a much larger glass tank and created a more suitable habitat for her. Scarlett spends most of her days sitting like a little pudding buried snugly into the dirt, surfacing only to eat, drink and be patted and poked by admiring children. Did you know that if you google ‘Giant Burrowing Cockroach’ you will come up with websites that describe these creatures as the ‘perfect pet’. I’m almost half-inclined to agree.

How to create an ideal habitat for a giant burrowing cockroach

Step1

1. Get a large glass tank and fill with a mixture of sand and peat moss. We purchased sand from an aquarium store and peat moss from our local hardware store.

Step22. Add some paperbark for shelter and privacy.

Step33. Sprinkle liberally with a variety of small dry leaves.

Step44. Add some larger brown gum leaves.

Step55. Squirt the tank with a fine mist of water to provide good moisture coverage. You can see the size of the water droplets on the leaves here.

Step66. Provide a very small, shallow dish of water. These critters nibble on dry gum leaves but also love small pieces of sweet potato and cucumber.

Now you’re free to sit back and enjoy the show. Unfortunately they spend most of their time completely buried. Amen to the world’s most low maintenance pet.

Watching Scarlett

And who says girls like playing with Barbie dolls.

Posing with Scarlett


 

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Surviving Road Trips with KidsBack in the day we did a lot of road trips across this beautiful, big continent. Australia is a large place and our Corolla has seen a lot of it. When the babies arrived, we started flying for most of our trips and experienced all the ups and downs associated with that! This past Christmas we agreed that the kids, aged 3 and 5, were the right age to undertake their first big car trip from Sydney to Adelaide and return. That’s approximately 3,000 kms there and back or 28 hours driving in total. We spent some time planning the trip, took our time and had a really enjoyable experience. Road trips are not for everyone, but if you’re considering a big journey with little kids I would love to offer these 10 tips:

1) Pack plenty of snacks

Pack SnacksMy children seem to be perpetually grazing. Pack a variety of healthy (and some not so healthy) snacks in advance. Have the esky accessible and distribute these as the need arises. With a little planning there’s no need to rely on petrol stations and roadhouses for your food fix.

2) Prepare meals in advance

Planning MealsOn the road we usually have lunch at a cafe and prepare the evening meals in advance. Pre-cook your meals at home, freeze them and then let them slowly defrost in the car esky on the way to your destination. This way I know that we’ll have at least one decent healthy meal a day and it also helps to maintain your regular night-time routine. Good meals to freeze are those that are sauce based eg bolognaise, curry etc. You can take the dry rice or pasta with you to cook fresh on the stove top, but most of the grunt work has already been done.

3) Stay in Caravan Parks

Caravan Park FunFor the same price as a motel, you can stay in a fully self-contained two bedroom cabin…usually with a playground and swimming pool at your doorstep. Unlike a motel room, you can put the children to bed early in their own bedroom and still enjoy your own time in the living area. We’ve stayed at many Big 4 Caravan Parks over the past five years (if only they offered loyalty cards!) and they’re renowned for being child-friendly. I can’t recommend them enough.

4) Prepare car activities

Car ActivitiesPrepare activities to be introduced at strategic points on the journey. These days there are so many little art/craft activities you can by at dollar stores which include all the items you need such as stickers/pencils/paper/glitter/glue etc. Buy some little portable clipboards that double as lap desks and make an event of it. Activities include colouring in, drawing, join the dots, mazes, crafts etc.

5) Create your own Spot It game

Spot It GameBefore your trip give some thought to they types of things you are likely to see out the car window such as road signs, animals, wind farms, trucks, roadworks, traffic lights etc. Put these images into an activity sheet that the children can mark off when they see them. My children loved this Spot It activity more than any other activity on the trip. They completed their two sheets on the first half day of driving and next time I will create a series of Spot It activity sheets for each leg of the journey.

6) Keep a travel diary

Travel DiariesGive the children a small scrapbook each so that they can keep a travel diary. Things you include in a travel diary are photographs, thoughts about the trip, drawings of things seen throughout the day, spellings of town names, the craft activities done on the trip etc. At the end of each day, the children can ‘complete’ pages of the diary. Interview them and record their responses.

Here’s what my son saw from his car window on day one:Travel Diary DrawingsThis is what my daughter saw from her car window:

Travel Diary Drawings

7) Travel music and car audio books

MusicPlay music that is fun to listen to, it doesn’t have to be children’s music, it can be Beatles, Abba etc. The sky’s the limit. Sing along and teach the children the lyrics or let the music be a backdrop to watching the world go by. I also discovered that Target stock a whole selection of 10-15 minute children’s audio books. Pop in a CD and the children can follow the storyline in the book and turn the pages when they hear a chime.

8) Create a map for the journey

Sydney to Adelaide MapInvolve your kids with a map of the journey. Maps give children a sense of where they’re going and they can circle or mark off towns that they pass through. Scan a map from your road atlas or download a good online map and put it in a child friendly format. Even if your children can’t read, maps are valuable in helping them appreciate geography and a sense of time and distance covered.

9) Bring an iPad stocked with kids’ programs

Shaun the SheepThis is not necessary but it’s a great tool when everyone needs an hour or two of down time on the road. Load up some good kids movies or programs beforehand. A favourite program in our house is Shaun the Sheep. It’s funny and suitable for all ages.

10) Plan each travel day

Plan It

Let’s face it…spontaneity with small children is overrated. Plan where you will be stopping in advance, research the playgrounds in the towns where you will stop. Prepare some running / stretching games to do on the grass to get them moving in the breaks. The last thing you want the kids to do is sit down during a entire rest stop.

Inside the car we structure the travel day with a mix of activities like this:

  • Looking out the window and watching the world
  • Craft Activities
  • Sleep
  • Snacks
  • Movie on the iPad
  • Music / singalong

In closing…

Happy New Year from Outback NSWI want to say how much fun it was to do this big journey with my children. We live in a great big world with so much to see and do and traversing it by car created some amazing memories and experiences that we would not have had in airports or on an airplane. On the way back home we went off road a little a stayed in a cattle station in the middle of the Hay Plains and saw so many wonderful things such as emus running along next to our car and a sunset to die for. It’s often not practical to travel like this on a regular basis, but it makes something pretty extraordinary out of the ordinary if you do.

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Halloween

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August Babies

August is a special month for me as I celebrate both my babies’ birthdays. It’s hard to believe it’s been a year since we celebrated their last birthdays. It’s been an unexpectedly sad time thinking about my mum who is not with us this year. So we kept it low key, with the exception of a little bit of kitchen bling in the form of my new beverage dispenser. I saw one of these (with watermelon punch) featured on Like Giants and have loved the idea since. I did the lazy mum’s version with Nudie Juice and some sliced fresh fruit.

Beverage Dispenser

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Ten Things

  1. Why those pelvic floor muscle exercises might have come in handy.
  2. Of all the toys you can tread on barefoot in the night, the small die-cast airplane is the most painful.
  3. The extraordinary capacity of a human being to function without sleep.
  4. Supervising small children is a lot like herding cats.
  5. How to hide carrots in anything.
  6. To read the books, but parent with intuition.
  7. Time-out is not just for kids.
  8. Cuddles are like crack for mummies.
  9. Sometimes your kids do strange things. Don’t sweat it, just photograph it.
  10. Parenting is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do, but also the most joyful.

Happy Mothers Day xo

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On Strength

Image

You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have. Unknown

In many years time I might look back on this year as one of the most intense periods of my life. I returned to work part time after my second child, my husband began commuting interstate weekly for a work project and at times I was struggling to manage the children and the household. I was grateful to have my mum fly over from South Australia to help me child-wrangle for a little while. We had some joyful times starting a vegetable garden and have been ironing out all the little creases from moving house, including dealing with a horrible pre-existing cockroach problem.

Then in March the unspeakable happened. My beautiful mum, a healthy and active 56 year old, was diagnosed with Cholangiocarcinoma, an aggressive cancer of the bile duct that had spread to many other organs.

Within two weeks she had passed away.

Through mum’s diagnosis and her passing and funeral service, we have been living out of a suitcase interstate in hospital corridors and cafeterias. I’m grateful that between her six children, she didn’t have to spend a night alone in the hospital. I was able to spend two nights with her sleeping on a chair next to her bedside, and we were all with her, holding her and loving her as she passed away from us.

We have now returned to Sydney and back to our ‘normal life’. It is like I have been reborn seeing the world anew wearing ‘cancer goggles’. Most people I speak to seem to know someone dear to them that has been affected by or is affected by this wretched disease. My GP said 30% of people die from cancer. I have also found that losing someone gives you membership to a strange club where you find yourself connected to other people who have experienced loss. I know there’s supposed to be five stages of grief but my stages seem to be flying around all over the place like clothes in a tumble dryer. Flying in and out of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

In such a time of loss I have been grateful for my two beautiful children. Kids have a way of making you get up in the morning. They just keep dragging you into the present when you want to hide in the past. They are big electromagnetic bundles of energy that keep you rooted in the moment. There’s nothing like bathing a wilful 20-month old or wiping Weet-bix from the walls to help keep your perspective.

I truly thought my mum would live to 86.  She was at the birth of my children, the first person I rang in any dilemma or crisis, the person I compared op-shop finds with and got excited about crafting pursuits with. She was the matriarch of the family, a mother of six and grandmother of 11. It’s hard to imagine another Christmas without her mediating the chaos and doting on our children.  I miss her fiercely and it’s near impossible to imagine a future without her. She lived an extraordinary life.

Rest in peace beautiful mother.

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On the weekend we went bush walking…our first bush walk together as a family. The Wolli Creek Regional Park is one of the inner west’s best kept secrets. A little pocket of native vegetation in the middle of suburbia. It’s a special place to us, because it’s where we got married several years ago (in the time I recall fondly as “the before”). It was strange being back with two small children in tow…the incessant chatter and rumble of little toddler feet sending nervous Eastern Water Skinks scurrying for cover. We were amazed at how excited the children were to be in the bush. It’s nature’s playground…with so much to see, hear, smell and touch. Whisper thin dragon flies floating in the air, cockatoos squawking over head, interesting rocks and tree branches to navigate and scented wild flowers fragrancing the air. It was a great afternoon…and much more fun without a white frock on.

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It’s been a busy month in our neck of the woods.

Almost impossible to believe but my two babies turned 1 and 3. As their birthdays are so close together, we had a combined party at the park. In a month of brilliant Sydney sunshine, the party landed squarely on a weekend of rain and record gale-force winds. As children are blissfully immune to bad weather, we grown-ups proceeded bravely outdoors.

At the party we had…

Rugged up children bearing bikes, trikes and scooters and rugged up relatives bearing fruit platters and presents.

A cake-off. The 3-year old’s Nigella Lawson Chocolate Cake versus the 1-year old’s Donna Hay Carrot Cake. In my humble opinion, the hands down winner was Ms Hay. Her carrot cake is so fabulous, it will be the subject of my next blog entry.

Loads of fabric bunting that was double gaffer-taped to poles and flapping madly in the wind (though I managed to get a miraculous ‘still’ shot between gusts).

Little handmade touches that included Where the Wild Things Are invitations:

Duck-food for a bike/scooter trip to the pond:

And take home goodie-bags made with scrapbooking paper and this handy little sticker making machine I found on my op-shop travels:

Oh and what do you do if it’s a Saturday morning and there’s only one table at Sydney’s most popular inner west park? You get an early morning covert operation underway to mind the table, is what you do…(thanks uncle).Until next year kiddos.

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Peak Hour [pēk ou-er]

n.

1. The period of the day during which family activity in the home is at its highest, children are at their neediest and parenting stamina is at its lowest.

Peak hour in our house is usually between the hours of 5pm – 7pm. It’s a period of heightened activity when multiple meals are prepared and served, eating is supervised, food messes are cleaned, baths are run, children are washed, teeth are brushed, protesting bodies are dried, pyjamas are sourced, children are dressed, hair is combed, beds are prepared, books are read and endless negotiation over lights out and sleep.

Each day when the clock ticks over to 5:00pm I have a moment of pre-emptive exhaustion. It is incomprehensible that we will survive the next few hours.

To my ongoing amazement, we always do.

Then after that last protest is heard and silence finally descends upon the house, all the things I have been adding to my ‘after the children are asleep’ mental to-do list throughout the day, just dissipate with exhaustion.

Peak hour is hardcore. It’s for people with nerves of steel.

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We have a lovely neighbour that dotes on our children. She spends time with them in the garden, buys them little presents and sneaks freddo frogs to our son when we’re not looking. She’s their honourary Aunty.

On the weekend she gave this little tea cup to our daughter. She told us that she’d seen it in an antique store years ago and fell in love with it. She bought it just in case she had a daughter. Now with her one boy all grown up, she wanted to give it to someone special. I couldn’t think of a more perfect gift for a little girl, or boy for that matter.

Since my son turned two, we have started having regular ‘tea parties’. We lay his table with a tablecloth, set napkins and serve tea with cake. I think it teaches him table manners and the enjoyable ritual of sharing a cup of tea. He has a groovy United Nations mug his real Aunty bought him back from New York. It will be great when my little girl can join our tea parties too.

And speaking of tea, saw this little find, The Vintage Tea Party Book, at Gleebooks:

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