Saturday, July 25, 2015

School Holidays - BLT Style

As quickly as they came, the school holidays went. It is unbelievable how quickly time can race when you're having a blast, and how slowly it can drag when you're not!  We had loads of fun this holiday. But it didn't start out that way.....

The challenge for me this holiday was to include fun activities for my BLT while increasing body strength and also sticking to the "rules" of Dr Aron - no swimming (easy because it's freezing cold here) no playing on grass and sweating was to be kept to a minimum. Also the rationing of colourants, preservatives and junk food was not an easy task for a 9 year old, but we try. I started off by drawing up a "wish list" (as us A-types like to do) of potential holiday activities. When I asked B, L and T what they wanted to do the most, they all agreed that going to the rides and playing the arcade games at our local entertainment complex, was the definite winner. I wasn't too keen because that would include almost no activity, but I wrote it down, begrudgingly.

For the first week the girls attended a holiday club arranged by one of the local churches. This was a bit of an eye-opener because I have such fond memories of going to clubs like this when I was growing up, but boy have they changed and not for the better! Each day was making a craft (how lovely - wrong!) the craft was a weapon for battle of their soul against Satan. These crafts ranged from making armour to swords and my personal favourite the "death by cross-bow" craft! The girls were petrified the first day when they were put into a room, the lights were turned off and they were told that they were in a dungeon. The idea apparently was to "come out of the dark" and find "the light of God." Hmmm well this had the quite the opposite effect with my two and I spent a lot of time explaining that they were born from love not evil (as they had been told at the club.) I also had to explain that it was not true that if they didn't "give themselves to God" they were going "straight to hell!" Needless to say we won't be going back there! I'm not sure what the church was trying to achieve with this method, but I honestly think biscuits, Oros, a few fun parables, bible stories and signing Kumbaya, would have gleaned more positive results.

On one of the first afternoons of the holiday, our home was like a mad house. Plumbers were busy replacing our geyser thermostat and I was deflecting an excited 3 year old away from the ladder that led up to the unexplored darkness in the ceiling. I sent him outside to play while I started making lunch (without water as it had been turned off while the plumbers worked). I asked Tomato for the umpteenth time to clean Peanut (her cockatiel's) cage. Usually we just slip out the tray and replace the paper but it needed a more thorough cleaning and she was loathe to comply. She was grumpy and stomping around wailing that nobody was helping her, when Lettuce arrived inside covered in paint from head to toe. I quickly stripped him and sent him upstairs to change, and started boiling the kettle to get hot water to rinse the paint off as. This proved to a worthless effort as the paint wouldn't budge. I then went in search of the source - the paint! I found a litre tin that was left behind by some contractors that we had used a few weeks before. It never occurred to me that they would leave any paint behind. #epicfail. I picked up the can of paint and quickly stashed it into the deep outside basin, out of reach of inquisitive little hands and went back to the boiling kettle and the half-made lunch. Tomato was continuing her rant. She hadn't been able to get the tap on outside and was sobbing that she was so tired and that her life was so horrible. I shouted calmly encouraged her to take the base of the cage outside and soak it for a bit so that all the gunk would get soft and easy to remove and I would help her when I was done. Off she went in a huff while I went upstairs to retrieve Lettuce who was of course on top of the ladder, naked!

We then heard "thud" and a strange high-pitched scream from Tomato! We all rushed to see what was wrong. While taking the paint can out of the basin to make place for her bird-cage soak, she grumpily decided to just throw it down on the cobbles to get it out of her way instead of putting it down nicely. When she did this of course, it burst open sending paint flying in all directions. The scream was due more to the horror of her anticipated punishment than what had actually happened. I actually became so calm that it was scary (even to me). I instantly dished out her punishment of no TV for the entire holiday, as I started to hose down the paint. Tomatoe ran sobbing inside. No such luck for her! I called her to get a wire broom and start scrubbing. We continued for over an hour until most of the paint had been washed away, taking turns to scrub and brush the floor and walls where it had splashed. So a light activity birdcage change that shouldn't have taken more than 10 minutes became almost 2 hours of hard labour. I pictured the 3 weeks of holiday looming in front of me like a prison sentence and dreaded what was to come. On the bright side, the activity had been strength-building and Hubby also had a good workout scrubbing with us!

Then I got thinking about the list we had drawn up..... the most exciting thing is to play games and go on rides..... these games and rides take tokens..... so my idea was born. They were going to earn their treat. Good behaviour = 1 token. The better they behaved, the more games and rides they could go on. First I got them to decorate their own glass jar with as much bling as they could smear onto it. Once the jars were complete, they were given the task of making tokens in any shape or form. That night we had a family meeting around the dining room table (so cute!) Hubby and I explained that they could earn tokens and they loved the idea!
  • Get up, dressed, make bed, brush teeth and hair and have breakfast, leaving the kitchen tidy = 1 token 
  • Bathing when asked and tidying their room, packing away clothes etc = 1 token 
  • Eating dinner nicely, clearing up afterwards and going to bed without drama = 1 token
Then during the day they could earn extra tokens by:
  • Being kind
  • Helping when asked
  • Helping without being asked
  • Getting along with their siblings and not fighting
After explaining the token idea, we went on to discuss the shouting in the family and how we were tired of having to shout so much because they don't listen to us and how we are forced to shout to be heard. They agreed, they didn't like the shouting. We discussed how it makes us all feel sad. I introduced the "no shouting" idea which has been a game-changer! We will ask twice and then, instead of asking a third time and shouting, we would gently (actually very noisily, for effect) remove a token from their jar! They looked shocked, but they agreed, no more shouting. Well our lives became blissful overnight! If there was any trouble, I just mentioned the tokens and they stepped right back into line, helping and being kind to their siblings. Dinner dishes and pots and pans were whisked away and put in the scullery as we finished eating. We were continually asked if we needed help with anything and if there was any misbehaviour they would, amongst themselves, remind each other that they could lose a token. I wish I'd started this years ago! Star charts have nothing on tokens! Later I needed to tweak the rules a bit and add that they couldn't ask for tokens (that became annoying) and if they played with their tokens without permission, they were all taken away! I have only taken away 3 tokens, that's how well-behaved they were.

Ice skating
So the ground rules were laid and we were ready for some fun. Bacon, Tomato and myself were invited to an ice-skating party. PERFECT! No matter how fast you skate, you cannot sweat because the rink is freeeeeezing cold. I duct-taped my skates onto my RA-swollen ankles and hit the ice. No I'm not kidding about the duct tape! I did think that if my bag was checked and a roll of duct tape found, that I may be accused of being a potential kidnapper, but nobody noticed and the girls thought it was hilarious that my boots were taped on. We had a ball and the girls were skating quite nicely by the end of the party. They enjoyed it so much that we went twice during the holidays. It was great exercise for all of us. The second time I hobbled for a few days afterwards, but they were having so much fun and were so excited with their new-found skating skills, so as all parents do, we suck up the pain and enjoy their joy. Another fun activity was going to a beach volleyball party where Tomato was very nervous, but soon found that she enjoyed the game and left on a high, wanting to go back there too. She also had a date with daddy which is always a hit! Thereafter we went to a soccer party for Lettuce, so B, L and T were moving and shaking every day of the holiday, no lazing about for us.

Pandaleen sleeping on a cereal box
At home, they almost wore out the bottom of our trampoline, they jumped so much, and Bacon's newly acquired bear Fudgey was flung from one sibling to the next, along with the other fluffies in the different games. Needless to say that once school began, the injured fluffies were sent off to the Granny hospital for rest and repair. We also had numerous picnics and games in the garden. B, L and T even spring-cleaned their wendy house without me asking! I loved all the activities. We also picnicked at our park where we played soccer and made "dinner" from freshly scooped river ingredients. The long pieces of algae were the salad, sticks were located and packed together for the make-believe fire and I was handed a long stick. My "job" was to sit in the sun on a rock and fish. Dinner was algae salad and my imaginary catch-of-the-day! It was a lovely day apart from Bacon falling in at the end *snort* that was funny but I wasn't allowed to laugh. I purposefully left my phone at home to avoid distractions but that meant I also left my camera at home, so no pics. Keeping with the water theme we took the kids into the country to a farm stall that sells delicious pies, bobotie and homemade goodies. We bought lunch there and ate it at the pond, watching the ducks. B, L and T then made boats out of anything they could find, twigs, leaves, sticks and bark and had boat races across the dam. They made better and better boats as they learned what worked and what didn't. Tomato had a HUGE piece of bark with leaves as sails, so her last boat was very sturdy. Then on the way home we stopped at the local small airport and watched planes taking off and landing. This was hugely exciting!
Spring cleaning in winter
Making boats
Playing in the dam
When we got home from watching planes and playing in the dam, I decided to wash my car. I was about to offer tokens as a reward for washing both mine and hubby's cars, when I realised that they were DELIGHTED to wash our cars! We always have our cars washed at a car wash, so BLT had never experienced washing a car in their own driveway. It was a treat and one of their favourite activities of the day! Who knew? Lettuce was on wheel duty and did a really good job! Tomato was on window duty and Bacon the painted areas. Mommy was in charge of the hosepipe ha ha *evil laugh.*  We were all drenched by the end of the washing escapade and raced to bath when we were done to warm up.

We spent time with Mema, walking along the river she lives on and feeding the ducks, we baked, read bedtime stories and watched concerts with B, L and T as the star performers and had sing-a-longs. The girls went on play dates with their friends and we went to a restaurant with a play area to celebrate Bacon's birthday (again) because we couldn't go out on the night of her birthday due to the weather. We pretended to have load shedding (power blackout) as we don't have them as often as my BLT would like and they LOVE eating dinner by candle light. Yes I'm sure our neighbours think we are stark raving mad, but we don't care!

But always with fun, comes drama and if you've learned anything about my life, we are drama magnets! Each child had their own particular drama. We've discussed the paint incident with Tomato but Bacon (shame) had a mini-drama that made her so sad. I had taken B, L and T for their back-to-school haircuts a week before, to avoid the mayhem of the last minute weekend rush. Their hair all looked lovely and both girls had their hair clipped back with fancy clips. The next day Bacon was in tears because her hair was "funny" and true enough it WAS funny! The one side was much longer than the other and she was so upset. I took her back and a different hairdresser was on duty and said "even a blind man could see this is wrong" which made me laugh but Bacon was mortified! Once her hair had been evened out, she was even more upset because her hair was much shorter than she had wanted and couldn't fit into a ponytail anymore. Nothing that a lollipop, a balloon and a trip to the ice-rink couldn't fix!

Lettuce fast asleep under the bed!
The same night of the haircut, I was making dinner downstairs and B, L and T were upstairs all bathing together under the watchful eye of Dot-the-Domestic. I heard a loud thud and a cry. I listened to hear how bad the cry was. Allow me to interject at this point to explain that this is what I call "Third Child Syndrome." If we only had one child, I would have left the pots boiling over on the stove and raced upstairs before she could take a breath, but you realise, with experience, that the second scream is the true severity-of-injury identifier. The second scream alerted me to the fact that it was very sore but only when I heard Tomato shouting "blood!!" and her and Bacon getting out of the bath at a pace, did I hit the stairs running. I knew that Dot was there and really, I rationalised, how much damage can you do to yourself in the bath? I was not prepared for the scene that met me. Lettuce was standing up and Dot had her hand flat on the side of his head holding the wound and blood was pouring over her hand, down her arm and dripping into the water! The bath water looked like a scene from a horror movie, it was blood-red (excuse the pun.) Without giving it a second thought, I kicked off my shoes and got into the red water to hold my little boy. It took me quite a while to stop the bleeding enough to see if he needed stitches or not - thankfully not. There was about a 3cm gouge out of his head that fortunately wasn't very deep but man oh man did it bleed! Eventually I realised that the bloody water was freaking him out, so I let it out, put in some clean water with a huge dose of Dettol and between Dot and I we managed to wash the wound. He had tried to lie down in the bath (with the girls) and sat up suddenly hitting his head on the corner of the bath spout which is almost flush against the bath. Boys!!

Anyhoo, apart from the paint, hair and head issues, we had an amazing holiday. I see it as a "back to basics" holiday as the TV couldn't have been on for more than 4 hours the entire holiday and we had good, clean, old-school-type fun. Every night they crashed into bed and slept like babies because they were worn out! When we eventually got to spend the tokens, they enjoyed the outing so much more than before, knowing that they had earned their rewards and when we got home they begged to continue the token awards so that they could earn more while at school. I agreed.

This simple reward system has had a fabulously positive effect on our lives and family interactions. Please feel free to copy my idea and bring some peace to your home or a friend who could benefit. I was so sad when the holidays ended. Not only do I have to return to the 5.30am alarm clock, homework, extra murals etc, I really really miss my BLT!

Thursday, July 2, 2015

7 Year Old Bacon

As the curtain gently closes on June 2015, I heave a huge sigh of relief. Why the dramatic sigh? Well June is notorious in my family for being "The Birthday Month." Yes there are 11 other unsung months but those pale in comparison to June. You see, in my family we have no fewer than 5 birthdays in this icy month which promises the shortest day and therefore warmer weather - ha! Never happens. Tomato starts off the birthday month, (then Father's Day, we won't go there) then Bacon and we end the month off with my mother, brother and sister all on the last day (yes, my mom had twins on her birthday, many moons ago.)  So even though 2 of these family members no longer reside in the same country, the month is still hectic.

June is usually a busy month without adding birthdays, so perhaps the added birthdays just serve to highlight my busy life, as I am pushed to the extreme. To be honest it is really the kids' birthdays that make me mind-bogglingly busy. Also, it is very strange, but when June rolls around, it is like a work magnet! Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining, far from it, I'm thrilled that I have been given a large chunk of work by my favourite company, but it always coincides with my hectic month. I remember a few years ago, I got a call (from said company) while I was standing in the cake decorating shop, getting supplies for the birthday cakes that year, begging me to get to the office as soon as I could, if at all possible. This was not the first (or the last) time that I had been asked to urgently attend an impromptu meeting, so the reason I remember this specific time and exactly where I was standing? Because it is the first and only time that I have EVER gone into a meeting on site in jeans, takkies and a t-shirt without any makeup and my hair in a high pony tail - not a pretty sight but I'm a sucker for anyone in need.

Anyhoo, I have been putting in a lot of hours, as well as lecturing and marking final exam papers, as well as planning and executing two birthdays and parties. It is interesting to me just how much baking I really have to do in June. Each child needs a birthday cake for their actual birthday, cupcakes for school and a fancy cake for their party. Now my children are generosity personalised and I really do love that side of them except when it impacts ME! I had to send 40 cupcakes to school for each birthday so that they could give to their own class, the friends who are not in their class and teachers and monitors that they like. *sigh* Sometimes I want to slap that big purple dinosaur who jovially taught them that sharing is caring!

The Birthday Wish List
So it was Bacon's turn to get all the attention when we celebrated her turning 7 whole years. She counted down the days and unlike her sister who shouts things from the mountaintops when she gets excited, Bacon is very quiet and reserved, so when I would kiss her goodnight and whisper 5 more sleeps, she would just quietly let out a soft little "eeek." She had her birthday wish list ready ahead of time but the gift that she just had to have, was, a giant teddy bear. The saddest part of her list is that she wanted a bunny for her birthday, not just any bunny, she wanted Fluffy, our pet who died last year - so heartbreaking.

Tomato had her party on the 6th and it felt like a blink of an eye before the cake mixer was moving at high speed towards birthday #2. I was mother-of-the-year as I allowed all 3 children to help sift, mix, break eggs and measure ingredients for the cupcakes, with zen-like calm. Each one of them got a turn to switch the mixer on and off  and each one got something to lick at the end - the bowl, mixing attachment or the spatula. I always imagine baking with my children will be like you see in magazines, with everyone clean and smiling and clean and working together and clean and the kitchen is clean and....... yes I like the picture in my head, and on the magazine page, but reality bites. The kitchen looked like the mixer had exploded when we were done, but it hadn't. Sleeves were caked in batter, hair was stuck together and faces were smeared (including mine), but the zen master (me) resembled the coolness of a cucumber for the entire baking time. We ended up with cupcakes for (what felt like) the entire school and the kids had a ball decorating with their favourite Smarties-Astro combo, but with vermicelli this time for added effect. As usual, more sweets ended up in their mouths than on the cupcakes, but they were having fun.

Bacon didn't really want I didn't suggest a themed party (you see I'm learning here) but Bacon chose Sophia the First invitations which we filled in and gave out to her little friends. She loved the place where Tomato had had her party, but she wanted to do painting with her friends. Simple and easy.  Bacon asked for a bunny cake. On further investigation, I discovered she wanted a family of bunnies - a mom, dad and baby bunny on the grass. Knowing my creativity is SERIOUSLY lacking in the play dough/ plastic icing department, I quickly got on the horn to my sister-in-law who was born to make these things and within 2 minutes (I'm not joking here, it may have been less than 2 minutes) she had sent me a prototype made out of plasticine (which everyone obviously has on hand *not*) to get Bacon's approval before proceeding!! The deal was sealed and viola the decorations were sorted but they needed to go on a cake. That's where I come in. People wonder why my Kenwood mixer becomes a counter-hog because it never gets packed away in June, and this is why.

In the car. Buckled up tight. Important merchandise.
So we set to work to make our princess feel special on her birthday. First, I went to purchase the giant teddy and we had a few selfies along the way. He is huge and I sat him in the seat in the trolley like a child and I did get a few strange looks, but to be honest I often get strange looks, so it may not have been the bear.... Once in the car I sent this selfie of me and Big Bear to Hubby saying "I have the merchandise, all buckled up and ready to go for tomorrow." He never responded. I then wondered why my client sent me a message saying "I hope I'm invited tomorrow." I thought she'd been drinking! What work meeting had I planned on Bacon's birthday that I had forgotten about and worse, I had forgotten to invite her to her own meeting?? My mind was racing!! But fortunately the blonde in me does this all.the.flipping.time so I quickly understood why Hubby hadn't responded. Eeeek!!! Am I the only one who does this? And what's worse, is that I often send the wrong messages to work colleagues, I hardly ever mess up when it's a friend who would just laugh it off *sigh*. I've sent a message to the owner and MD of one of the biggest speciality stores in the country and one of my biggest clients at the time saying "I've just landed, can't wait to see you!" I had just landed from a trip to Ireland and sent that message to Hubby, but apparently not. I wanted to earth to swallow me whole when he phoned me back. My mom once said "keep your name circulating whether it is good or bad, make sure you're remembered." Well I think I've got that covered! Making friends and influencing people - that's me!
Arriving home

So little Miss Bacon awoke on her birthday to her room filled with huge pink balloons. She got dressed at lightning speed so that she could get to the pressies. Due to the size of Big Bear, he wasn't wrapped, he was hidden under a blanket and a trail of presents led up to and under the blanket to his feet. She was so excited. How do we know? She was letting out controlled little eeeek sounds and hopping up and down, which means she is popping with excitement. After a fun morning opening presents and Nutella on toast for breakfast (sorry teachers) she went, armed with her cupcakes to school. Turns out 40 was too many (really? I'm shocked!) although Tomato managed to dish out her 40 but she likes to give to anyone and everyone whereas Bacon is a bit more reserved. One of the teachers hugged her and wished her Happy Birthday and she was thrilled. Her teacher gave her a birthday card and she got a sweet from the principal, so all was right in her world.

Bunny picnic
Granny and Grandpa did the pick-up and the girls were taken to a toy shop to choose some gifts. Oh boy were they excited and they came home with a fantastic array of gifts. Spaghetti Bolognaise was the dinner request from the birthday girl and desert was left over cupcakes from school. Even with all the sugar, sleep came quickly with Bacon's head firmly planted on Fudgey's tummy for the night. When I kissed her goodnight she hugged me so hard and said "Thank you for Fudgey Mommy, he's the best present ever." #heartmelts

So the birthDAY was over but the party day was not. School broke up, so everyone was excited (especially me not having to wake up at 5.30am for 3 weeks). I set about collecting the decorations and making the cake. Hubby did the delicate icing and we all had fun helping to make a bunny picnic on the cake. ONE.MORE.SLEEP.

Painting is hard work
The next morning 6 little girls ended up on one of the coldest, windiest days of the year, huddled together in a little craft shop, carefully painting their ornaments. There were bunnies, teddies and a dragon chosen and painted. They all loved the cake (nothing beats homemade cake and butter icing - NOTHING!!) The lady who teaches the kids how to do the painting, said she hardly ever gets home made cake with proper icing.  Before we knew it, the 3 hours were up and the parents were arriving to collect their children and we were headed home, armed with beautifully painted bunnies to open more pressies. We had a VERY happy little 7 year old!
More pressies

So the last 3 birthdays were pretty uneventful due to the geographical location of the twins and the disinterest of another birthday from Mema. The Kenwood mixer has now been packed away, together with all the icing paraphernalia, and will only be brought out for the next birthday extravaganza which happens to be for Lettuce in October. I get a bit of rest in between and his party is always a lot warmer than the girls'. Talking about Lettuce, you may wonder why he didn't get to go on the toy shopping trip, shame why was he left out? Well he got a handmade train from Grandpa and boy does he love it!! He packs and unpacks it all day long. What else has he been up to? Well here are a few pics which may give you some idea.

His sisters married him off! Casanova-kiss!
We went to the zoo
Each block hand-crafted by Gramps 

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