Thursday, 28 February 2013

Cheese and whine

A long overdue post. A while back, we went to Van Gaalens. We were in the mood for ploughman's platters, good coffee and tables underneath dazzling green trees. With a play area for Immy of course.

When we arrived, we were seated at our table, next to a contented-looking couple. He was reading
the sunday paper, she was smoking a cigarette and drinking a spritzer. Overall air of relaxation and general well-being. This becomes important later in the story.

Van Gaalen's doesn't have a kiddies menu, so we opted for what looked like the safest thing for Immy: yoghurt, muesli and fresh fruit. She went off to play, and we relaxed. Fast forward 10 minutes, to the arrival of her food. Farm yoghurt? Definitely not. Muesli? No way. She ate a piece of apple at least - and about 4 grapes after I had de-skinned and de-pipped them. That's it. After cajoling, pleading, speaking nicely, and then not-so-nicely: we gave up. She could go hungry (mental arms crossed). She ran off, and we sat quietly drinking our coffee and taking in the morning.

And then we heard it. The contented-looking couple at the next-door table had been joined by two girls, probably around 10 or 11. One was the daughter (we figured) and the other was a friend.
The daughter didn't want to eat her food. The mother had words. The father joined in. The mother shouted (under her breath), the father spoke through clenched teeth -  and the poor friend sat with head bowed, eating one mouthful after the other. The daughter whined ('but I don't want it'), the mother hissed ('you're spoiling it for everyone!'). The table settled into stony silence. Mom and dad's lips in a thin line. The daughter, crying. And the friend, desperately trying to go unnoticed in the midst of the family storm.

Rob and I exchanged a look. That look. The one that says 'at least we're not the only ones.' In that moment, I could have hugged that mom and dad. Because we've all been there. Such high hopes (I call them Great Expectations) for a lovely family day out. Or a perfect afternoon of arts and crafts. Or a Martha Stewart baking tableau. Or a highly-anticipated reaction to something great that you've done for your child.

The one lesson Immy keeps teaching me - and which I need to keep learning over and over - is to just let go. Because whatever it is, however it turns out - it's our story. This litte family - the mostly good, with the sometimes bad and ugly.

And oh. Those falling to love moments.

The one thing I know is that no matter how difficult the day, when I stand next to her bed in the dark and watch her breathing - she's perfect. And parenting is perfect.

At least for the next 8 or so hours.

~ m

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

The Pile #2

At last! Today our delivery arrived: new books for the pile (mine and Immy's), and the best alphabet cards ever.

A Year of Mornings is a book without words. This is a photographic collaboration between two women, who each day (more or less) for a year, posted a single moment from their mornings on to a blog. There was such a huge following, and people were so moved by it, that it became a book. Its beautiful. Not fancy - think photos of eggs in a bowl, a plait in a child's hair, or a misty morning telephone wire. I just get it. And love it. The kind of book you open at a random page, are absorbed (calmed, quieted) for a moment before getting back to the business of living.

Bird by Bird. All I know about this book is what it says on the cover. Sounds good to me.

And for Immy. Zoe and Beans, and the cutest - CUTEST- alphabet cards ever. I searched websites, read countless reviews, scoured Amazon. Yes, I know they are only cards with the ABC's on them. But I had to be sure. So thrilled with these.

We've already read Zoe and Beans 5 times today. 3 times this afternoon, and twice before bed tonight. By torchlight.

To end: a favourite quote. 'The more that you read, the more you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go'.

 By Dr. Seuss, of course. G'nite.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Undomestic Goddess

Today I almost burned the house down.

It all started so well. On Monday afternoons, Immy and I always have tea with my folks. I try to leave at 6pm sharp so that there is still plenty of time to bath her, and for us to sit down to a meal as a family. Today I was on top of things. Arrived home from work, and got the bolognese going for supper. This after I had already picked up my car licence disk on the way home (mental pat on the back).

With the sauce simmering gently on the stove, we dropped Thelma off, and then headed back home to make choc blocs. We got along marvellously, Immy breaking the Marie biscuits and enthusiastically beating the egg. I was thrilled to see that the mixture looked just right - maybe this time my choc blocs would actually set. You know what they say about third time lucky. We were ready - kitchen tidy, Marie biscuit fragments hoovered up off the floor and choc blocs cooling and setting in the fridge.

Now. At this point, I was struck with the thought that leaving the pot simmering on the stove for an hour while we were out was just looking for trouble. So I turned the plate off.

We spent a lovely hour with Grampy, drinking tea and eating shortbread biscuits and watching the first half of The Incredibles. At 6pm, I rounded Immy up, we said our goodbyes (always a protracted affair with the grandparents) and headed home.

And then. As I approached the back door to unlock it, I got a vile whiff of something. Burning something. I threw open the kitchen door, and was enshrouded in a cloud of thick smoke. I shouted at Immy to stay back (astonishing how an entire house can just fill up with smoke in such a short time).  Judging from the smoke billowing out from under the lid of the pot, I figured I hadn't quite turned the stove completely off. Instead, I had turned the dial all the way to what I thought was OFF, but since 6 is so sneakily positioned right next to 0 on the dial...well. Turns out my casual flick of the wrist stopped just one number short.

The smell in our house looks something like this.

Rob has already made two valiant rounds with the Airoma air freshener. Not even a dent.
The only person not complaining is Immy: I'm sure I saw a gleam in her eye when she saw the bitter end that the Naughty Spoon had come to.

Choc blocs? So fab.

And a special note to the parents: I know you are horrified. But I didn't actually burn it down, just almost. Thanks to that 6pm sharp rule!

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Be my Balentime

I heart Valentine's Day.  I love how the florists are so busy (went into one to buy flowers for Immy's teachers), and the shops are full of cheesy gifts and chocolates and that there is an official day in the calendar for celebrating the people we love.  And the fact that even though Rob and I never discuss ‘official’ Valentine’s plans, we are always secretly both planning something nice for Valentine’s Day. It makes me feel happy - and lucky - that after 10 years of marriage, and 15 years of being together, we both still feel Valentine's Day is worth a celebration. I'll drink to that.

Of course, Valentine’s Day at Immy’s school is also an occasion. I had to dress her in red, and pack a snack for their Valentine’s picnic. Very excited, me. I spent a week cutting out hearts, and painting them, and making a necklace and a matching V-day ring, and bought a V-day hat and everything. Oh, and gifts for the teachers, and a small but special gift for my little Balentime.

I snuck into her room the night before (aah, the hearts garland making it's second appearance). She loves, loves, loves jelly beans - and these ones came in a perfect valentine hue. A cute bottle, some twine and a heart and voila! I figured a flower pinwheel would be so much more fun than an actual flower.

 'Look mama. Its Balentime's Day!'

Ready for school. Lunch box packed, teacher's gifts ready. She was mad about the heart-shaped sandwiches, and we were still good friends. And then came the outside photos.

Immy hates posing for photos. That is why so many of the photos are of bits of her only - I am used to taking what I can get. Normally I am quite sensible and grown-up about this, with an it is what it is attitude to things. Valentine's morning however, my common sense module was elusive and we had a fight. Over nothing. She didn't want to pose in the shade, or the sun, or facing the camera. Or anything. But as we do, we kissed and made up and held hands at the robots on the way to school.

Anyway, these were the pics I managed to get (thanks to the snail she found in the grass).

I like to call this outfit: 50 shades of red. She chose the crocs, because they 'Look mama, they matching!'

Jewellery: models own choice. Although the heart necklace that I had spent an entire evening making was non-negotiable. I do so love having a little girl.

And then it was evening. I had picked up a gorgeous picnic box from Antoinette's, for a romantic at-home dinner. Since the dinner would have been less romantic with our beautiful daughter in attendance, we set up her own little love-themed table outside in the garden. She loved it. Al fresco is her favourite thing.

(yes, I know this chair is amazing. It was a babyshower gift from my one-of-a-kind friend Nathalie. We  use it every day.)

And then the grand finale - dinner a deux. Observe beautiful flowers in vase which were delivered to my office. I hope they were from Rob, because there wasn't a note. As is his way. Also observe third use in two days of hearts garland. Reduce, re-use, recycle.

 I was looking for a nice quote to end this post. But that just wouldn't be us.

Happy Balentime's Day.

Love, the Armstrongs.

It is what it is

I follow quite a few blogs. One in particular inspires me: to be a better mom, better photographer, better person in general. The writer of the blog is a stay-at-home mom. Her photos are amazing: filled with the best light of day - rays slanting through the woods at sunset, morning rays slanting through the massive bay window in her dining room, slanting rays in the children's amazingly-decorated bedroom. Lots of slanting rays.

I wish my photos could be like that. And as much as I wish that I could take perfect pictures in perfect light streaming through the windows, that's not my life. I work. Yes, not a full day, but a big chunk of each day. And so my photos sometimes have weirdish light, because I have to take them late in the afternoon, or at night - or early in the morning, sans slanting rays.

And that's okay. Because that's when our living happens.

~ m

Monday, 18 February 2013

Birthdays and bunting

We’ve had a lovely week of celebrating and enjoying.  

First up: Rob’s birthday. I baked an epic cake (note to self: always avoid recipes that have the word ‘easy’ in them). Actually, the cake itselt wasn't epic, but the baking of it was. I use the term baking loosely, because many other actions were involved in the construction of this birthday cake: sweating (me, not the cake), sinking, crumbling, patching, under-the-breath cursing and muttering. The cake was in fact baked because I was dead keen on making cake bunting, and frankly I needed a placeholder. Said placeholder was finally finished at midnight, at which point I virtually threw it onto the cake stand and fell into bed.
With all the Valentine's crafting going on, the wrapping and presentation were distinctly love-themed.
 Aaaah. The bunting. Cake drama totally worth it.
Immy was extremely helpful in divesting the presents of their brown-paper wrapping.
Earlier in the week, I took her shopping to choose a present for her daddy. Her own choice, gift bag included. He narrowly avoided a camo-boat with action figure, and a bright pink Happy Birthday! bag with curly silver writing. The final product? A drill, and a bottle of Hello Kitty bubbles. And a perfectly respectable airplane gift bag, in black and white.

The dust hadn't even settled, and there she was, plate at the ready for some 'pupcake'. A hairbrush and some water wouldn't have gone amiss, either.

Rob had to work late. No fancy dinner or lavish home-cooked meal. I couldn't anyway, because post-birthday was also pre-Valentine's, and I had a lot to finish. But our before-work morning celebration was cozy, and happy.

And that cake was delicious. 3 inches of icing-in-the-middle and all.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Bakers Friday

Every 2nd Friday is Bakers Friday at Immy’s lovely little school. One ‘little baker’ per class is nominated, and the idea is that ‘little baker’ and ‘little baker’s mom’ spend some quality time making something yummy for all the kids in the class. On the day, Little Baker gets to wear a special apron and man the cash register – taking a R5 coin from each child, and handing over the ‘goods’  in return. Very cute.  Feeling a bit stressy since we were first up for the term, and I had no idea what to make, I asked the teacher what the parents normally bring. Her reply?  Woolies cupcakes. 

Flashback to when I was a kid - before all the fancy party d├ęcor and 3D cupcakes and jumping castles. In those days, you were lucky if you got a piece of cake, a toothpick with pieces of vienna sandwiched between blocks of cheddar cheese (and one of those green or white or red cocktail onions if you were really, super lucky) and something sweet. Like a clown cone or a Boudoir biscuit racing car. And so my Bakers Friday plan was born. Clown cones it was.

On Thursday afternoon we were ready. Hands washed. Dining room table covered in brown paper. Ingredients ready. Enthusiasm undiminished.

Step 1. Fill the cone with an assortment of sweets. Immy's version: fill the cone with only purple speckled eggs. She fills, I surreptitiously refill.
Step 2: Ice the Marie biscuit. This entails stirring the icing sugar until dissolved, and then licking the brush. Just to check. Then paint the icing sugar onto the Marie biscuit. Then eat the Marie biscuit. Begin Step 2 again.

Repeat steps 1 & 2.

Step 3: Attach jelly tot buttons to the cone. Also make sure to eat defective, siamese-twin jelly tots.

Step 4: Quality assurance.

And there it is! Our first finished cone. After about an hour. Only 24 more cones to go.

Another 2 cones, and my little baker ventured off to pursue other interests.

So Ma Baker carried on until, eventually, I had a sea of faceless clowns. Some with slipping-down jelly tot buttons which I pretended not to notice.

And then it was Rob's turn. As the graphic designer and architect of the family, he is automatically responsible for all things requiring an artistic touch. So clown faces were on him.
He was great. He first practiced on the brown paper with a pen (2 faces). And then on two marshmallows, both sides of each. And then finally began the painstaking job of painting clown faces with a paintbrush and food colouring onto each marshmallow. While the sun set, and the little baker bathed and the supper remained uncooked.

The final product. 25 smiling, slightly creepy, clown cones.
I wish I could have seen my little baker handing out her cones. Apparently, they were a big hit.

Next Bakers Friday? I might just reconsider Woolies cupcakes...