Wednesday, 22 May 2013

My Clever Kid

Mayana loves to learn. She has loved books basically since she’s been alive. She will ask me at least twenty times each day to read her something. She can count to 20 and knows her abc’s almost it seems by osmosis.

Her most recent request has been to learn some Dutch words, and after acquiring a fabulous app she hasn’t looked back. She now will only use the words ‘banan’ for banana, ‘drie’ for three, ‘vier’ for four. She will sit for an hour at a time going through the app, and copying words back to it in Dutch, running to me occasionally to tell me, “Mama! Did you know that blauw is blue?”

Mayana starts prep next year (*insert heart palpitations here*) and I am working hard to find the balance between encouraging her love of and absolute desire to learn, and not letting her go far enough that she will be bored next year. I have no doubt that if she and I worked together she would be reading quite fluently by the time she hits school. As a student who was an early reader and placed in the ‘gifted and talented’ basket early in my school career, I have vivid memories of being bored out of my brains for half of my primary school life. I had a handful of teachers who were able to stretch and challenge me, but many others I’m not sure quite knew what to do with me, and mostly set me a whole lot of ‘busy work’. As a teacher I realise that my teachers had 25-30 other kids, many of whom were struggling, to focus on, and it’s easy to pay less attention to the ones that ‘get it’. As a teacher I’m sooo mindful of those kids in my class, but not all teachers are. I don’t want Mayana bored. By the same token, I don’t want to hold her back, either. And I DO want her to keep loving learning.

I have had many conversations this year with other mothers of children who will be heading to school next year, about what they do or don’t do at home, and even what they’ll be expecting their child to do next year. As  someone who has written and administered an entire Prep distance education curriculum, I have a pretty good idea of what to expect, and I know that some of these parents are going to be shocked. I personally believe that while play most certainly has its place in early-years learning, many people grossly underestimate exactly what our young people are capable of when we heighten our expectations of them. It is so exciting to me to see children soaking up learning like sponges, and I truly believe that it is imperative to hook them… engage them in learning now while they’re ready and interested and in Mayana’s case, asking for it.

So this year, at home, we’re easing into things. We’re dabbling in early reading skills, and boy does she blow me away with how quickly she can pick things up. One of the things we do each week is work on our Alphabet Book. We are loosely following the Letterland program, and we’re up to the letter ‘N’. Mayana somehow has picked up most of her letters already though. I did a test that I used on my beginning Year One students last year with her last week, and she was able to not only tell me the names of all 26 letters, but also the sounds that all but 4 make. I was actually quite shocked! If I give her a word, she can easily tell me what letter it begins with, and then will give you a list of other words that start with that letter too. She is becoming proficient in forming most of the letters, and one of her favourite things to do is writing, where she asks me to spell out long words and writes down the letters as I give them.

Here is an example of what we do in our ‘learning time’:


Last week we learned the letter M. Of course, being the beginning of her name this is Mayana’s favourite letter and she already knew quite a lot about it. I allocate four pages for each letter. On the first page I write the upper and lower case forms of the letters in bubble writing. She writes inside of it, and then has a go at forming the letter independently on the page around it. Sometimes (but less often lately) she asks me to ‘do the dots’ for her to trace. We have a memory verse for each letter which we stick on this page. I found them at this website, and I have been so impressed at how well she is able to remember scripture! Next, we brainstorm a bunch of words that start with our letter. When we first started doing this we would look through catalogues or magazines and cut out pictures which started with the letter, but lately Mayana has been more interested in writing the words she thinks of by herself. You can see on this one that I wrote a few of the words for her, but she is getting so good at forming her letters! I try to do little illustrations next to each word to help her remember what they say when she shows her book to her Papa later. Next, I do a ‘find the letter’ activity. I usually have 10 letters of the week for her to find (5 uppercase and 5 lowercase) all mixed in with every letter of the alphabet. I’m going to have to find something more challenging to replace this soon, because she does this activity in about a minute flat. Lastly we do some kind of art activity. I look for inspiration on Pinterest (I compile my ideas on this board) and in teaching resource books that I have. This week she has been bugging me to draw patterns and shapes for her to practice cutting out, so I figured I’d incorporate that interest into this week’s activity, and had her cut out the very tricky and angular M. The Letterland character for M is Munching Mike, a monster, so she turned her M into a monster of course! Once we have done this we use the Australian app ‘Eggy Letters’ on the iPad for some more practice. She selects the letter of the week and completes all of the activities which accompany it. Most of them are to do with forming the letter, and then there are two activities where you have to indicate whether a given word starts with the letter. She loves doing Eggy Letters, and it’s a nice way to finish off our little learning time.

I often will do a numbers activity through the week with Mayana too. She is a good counter, and can count through to 21 with one-to-one correspondence. I think that she could probably go further, but lately that’s as far as she’ll go as my sister just turned 21. We have a few little pre-school math books with simple addition and subtraction, and lots of practice forming numerals. Any kind of learning that’s made available to her, she’ll take it!

Given that I have written Prep curriculum, I’ve had lots of people asking me (and assuming) lately whether I will home school Mayana using the program I wrote. I asked her what she thought of the idea and she looked at me ever so patiently and said, “Mum. I have to go to school.” When I asked her why, she replied, “Because I need to learn to read!” I told her that I could teach her to read and she jumped off the bed and ran out of the room. I asked her what she was doing and she called back, “I’m grabbing some books so you can teach me right now!” The answer for us is no though. As much as it freaks me the heck out that I am sending my baby off to school next year, I know that it will be the right fit for her. She is so incredibly excited about it, and I couldn’t hold that back from her.

So for now, we’ll do our little bits of learning at home, I’ll encourage her in her interests, and challenge and teach her the best I know how. And pray that next year she gets a teacher who will continue to do the same. And that my beautiful and ever-so-clever girl always has the love for learning that she does at four years old.

Do you believe in doing any kind of formal learning at home, or are you happy to leave that for school? Does it make you want to cry when you think about your baby going to school or is that just me!?

party like it’s the 1920’s

May is a big month in our family. With a bazillion birthdays AND mother’s day we are usually well and truly broke by the end of it. It was actually quite a kindness that Reuben decided to arrive a few weeks before his May due date!

This year was particularly special, as my dad and sister (whose birthdays are 5 days apart) both had big ones: a 50th and a 21st! It was decided that they would combine celebrations and before we knew it a great big 21st/50th 1920’s themed birthday bash was in the works!


The party was on Saturday night, and such a great time. It’s truly wonderful when you have a themed party and pretty much everyone joins in the fun and dresses up! And the 1920’s is a great era for dressing up.


We hired a gorgeous hall built in the early 1900’s, and which has been well maintained but not changed, and was the perfect character for our party. We decorated tastefully and simply with buntings and pompoms and strings of balloons, and a gorgeous dessert table.


The table decorations were strips of hessian with candles and flowers and looked so cute! We played fabulous swing music and ate delicious food and danced and had speeches and caught up with so many wonderful friends and family, old and new. It was a beautiful party, a lovely celebration of two of my favourite people. We even had four surprise visitors from WA arrive the night before the party, which made the whole thing even more special.

Most unfortunate was the fact that when we pulled out our DSLR to take photos, we discovered that the batteries were flat! Thank the Lord for smart phones eh? I don’t feel like we took nearly enough photos of the night – isn’t that always the way when you’re having a fabulous time? – but here are some of the ones we did manage to take:



One of the awesome features of the hall was the old ticket booth. We didn’t need to sell tickets but we sure had fun using the space as a photo booth! Such fun.


Even Reuben got dressed up! I made him the cute little bowtie, and the headpieces for Mayana and myself. Aside from my gloves, everything else we already had in our wardrobe!


My lovely Aunty/Godmother was one of our surprise Perth visitors. Our hall was in the country, and it was quite cool but our long gloves and faux fur and dancing helped to keep us warm. Oh, and the wine of course.


Mayana’s Godparents and our very dear friends Daniel and Katherine (and baby Max!) also came from Brisbane to party with us.


I think this photo of Daniel and Peter has to be one of my favourites from the night!


My Perth uncle and my brother Jordan look very dapper, don’t you think?



It’s not very often I get to have both of my beautiful grandmothers together! Don’t they look so lovely?


Oh so much fun in the ‘photobooth’!


1920’s is SUCH a fun theme for dressing up!

Did you do something fun on the weekend? We’re planning a pirate party for Pete’s 30th next month… what’s your favourite dress-up theme for a party?

Friday, 17 May 2013

I Quit Sugar

For real. It’s been about four months now and we just aren’t going back. We started out with an intention to experiment, and I have to say, it’s been a raging success.

I honestly do not miss sugar at all, and on the handful of occasions when I’ve allowed myself to eat it I haven’t enjoyed it. Anything with sugar tastes so sickly sweet, and quite literally makes me feel ill. That I think has been the biggest surprise: how much my tastes have changed. For instance, at a church dinner the other night, I had one of those shortbread cream biscuits (you know the ones in the Arnotts multi-pack?). I could only stomach half of it. It tasted gross. And I LOVED those things. Seriously, Pete and I have been known to wolf down a packet between us on the drive home to Noosa. Oh gosh how shameful! Even Peter, my sweet-toothed husband, is finding that his taste buds and preferences have significantly changed. The man who used to be able to comfortably eat a family sized block of chocolate can now barely get down more than two squares. Neither of us enjoy sweets in the same way that we used to.

The biggest benefit to us I think is that being aware of the sugar content in our foods has made us more aware of what we are actually eating. We actually look at labels (not in an obsessed calorie-counting way, we definitely don’t count those!!) but just out of interest to see what is actually in our food, and are making more informed choices about what we do and don’t want in our (and our kid’s) bodies. Our rule of thumb these days is that we don’t touch anything that has more than 6g of sugar per 100g. It’s incredibly surprising to find which foods have higher numbers than that. For instance, tomato sauce is nearly 50% sugar, and barbeque is even higher! There are even a lot of savoury foods that have significant amounts of sugar added to them, and I’m coming across more and more that have specifically added fructose. As a result of all this, we very rarely buy anything processed or that comes in a package. I’m making so much food from scratch, including sauces and condiments. And I’m still baking. We didn’t bake or eat much sweet food at all during the 8 week quit plan, but now that we are no longer addicted to sugar and more in control of the quantities we consume, I have begun to experiment more with sugar-free baking. I mainly use rice malt syrup as a sweetener, and have also been converting some of our old favourite recipes using dextrose to replace sugar. You can read a really great explanation about dextrose here if you are interested. I find it best to taste the uncooked batter of recipes I’m converting, as often if I use the suggested amounts of sweetener we find it far too sweet.

Mayana has picked up on the fact that we aren’t using sugar anymore, and asks questions about foods that she is unsure of. I am honest with her that we are trying not to eat too much sugar anymore because it’s not very good for us. I tell her that it’s okay for a treat and don’t push it any more than that. I don’t want to be militant about it and I don’t want her to feel like she’s ‘naughty’ if she does happen to have something containing sugar. She is aware of foods that are sweet and will ask if things are sugar free, and even refuses juice if it’s offered to her when we’re out.

I feel good. Great actually. I am still losing weight.. I’m up to about 9kg now and about 6kg off my goal weight. It’s so exciting, and incredibly motivating. I am doing Zumba once a week, but other than that no significant exercise – though this is something I’m looking to change. I love feeling good about how I look, putting on clothes that used to be tight and that are now too big, buying clothes a size smaller than what I’m used to buying. It is such a boost to my self-confidence, and I’m enjoying feeling healthy. I feel like I am in control of my appetite. I can listen to my body better, and tell the difference between wanting and needing to eat. My taste-buds don’t control me anymore. I don’t feel deprived, and I still eat because I enjoy food. Pete and I consider ourselves to be foodies, and love to cook and eat and try new recipes, and we can still do all that.

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I love seeing myself in photos and thinking, I actually look okay! Good even!  Like this dress, on the left a photo of me wearing it at my brother’s formal in 2010, very intentionally hiding myself behind my gorgeous daughter, and wearing it again a couple of weeks ago. I can’t tell you how proud I feel looking at this. And a little horrified of the first picture to be honest. My whole face has changed! I just want to keep going!  Anyway. Quitting sugar seems to have kick-started my previously non-existent metabolism, and I am so, so happy about that.

If you are wanting to do something good for your body, maybe lose some weight and just improve your health and general well-being, I can highly recommend giving up sugar. Just give it a go. And tell me what you think.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

A Sugar-Free First Birthday Party


Reuben’s first birthday party was a hastily-organised do held at a local park. We were very blessed to have plenty of friends and family come to celebrate our beautiful boy’s first year of life. It was a fairly casual affair with a playground and duck-pond to entertain the kids, and plenty of time for catching up and chatting for the grown-ups. Okay so maybe some of the grown-ups made use of the playground too.


The guest of honour spent most of his time enjoying cuddles from favourite people and showing off his newest party trick: walking!


He also shared a clandestine cup of grapes under the table with his betrothed friend, Grace.


I decorated simply, but meaningfully too, with a string of photos and string of handmade bunting.


You remember those weekly photo collages I’ve shared on the blog of Reuben’s life? I had each one printed (all 52 weeks of his life) and laminated, then strung them together. On the back I wrote some highlights of each week. It was like a timeline of Reuben so far. Everyone enjoyed looking at our gorgeous baby’s photos and reading his little stories, and they were a great talking point. I’m really glad I took the time to put it together!

In planning Reuben’s party I made the decision to cater completely sugar-free. I knew I would have to a be a little creative to achieve this for a kid’s party, but (with the exception of one treat of fairy bread) I’m proud to say that I succeeded!


We had ham sandwhiches, nuts, crackers, vegetables and homemade dips, little cups of grapes (in cupcake papers – this was a great idea, very novel for the kids and a good little amount of grapes), almond & coconut fish cakes (fish by shape only, not flavour!), potato chips and fairy bread.

The cake was a sugar-free carrot cake, and there was not a crumb left of it!


Reuben was thoroughly spoilt with loving and gifts and we all felt completely blessed to have the presence of so many people who love him (and us!).

Thanks to everyone who came, we hope you had as much fun as we did!

Dear Reuben {one}

[Can you believe it is actually nearly a month since Reuben turned one! I’ve had this post sitting in my drafts for a month waiting for me to get time to add some photos to it, and here it is. A month late, but here is my letter to Reuben, aged one]


My beautiful boy! I can’t believe that it has been a whole year since that unexpected day when you joined our family. And yet at the same time, I can’t remember a time when you weren’t part of us.


Oh my beautiful boy. One minute you’re our tiny baby, with the sweet smile and the sneezes too big for your body, and now all of a sudden you’re practically a toddler! On the eve of your first birthday your sister came to me sadly and said, “Reuben won’t be our baby anymore tomorrow… when they turn one they become toddlers.”


You’re growing up Reubs. Over the last few weeks you’ve been practising your walking. I wouldn’t call you a walker just yet but it’s definitely not far off. It’s just the cutest thing, watching you take those halting steps with your arms outstretched… completely adorable. When you fall over you often lay with your head on the ground for a few moments, as if to imply that you meant to do that, you just wanted a rest.


You’re very communicative too. ‘Amen’ is your code word for ‘give me food now’, and you can say a fairly respectable ‘hello’, too. You call your sister ‘May-nah-nah’ (yes, you can say that but not our names), and love to yell out to her if you can’t see her in the room. You refer to me as Mama occasionally, but only when you’re upset. I think your most used word is ‘WOW!’ either exclaimed loudly or softly in an awe-filled whisper. If we have something you want you motion at it with your hands with that come here/give it to me action. You play peek-a-boo, and hide things behind your back, and have the cutest giggle of all time.


You love music, and bounce to anything with a decent bass line. You clap your hands and head bang to your favourite tunes. You love little nursery rhymes with actions, especially ones that involve clapping hands or putting your hands on your head. IMG_5743

Reubs you are just too beautiful, and I’m loving getting to know you and watching your personality unfold and develop. I feel genuinely blessed to be your Mama, the one charged with the responsibility of guiding you, teaching you, loving you and holding your hand as you walk the path of life. I love you forever beautiful Sunshine boy.

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Happy birthday.

Love Mama


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