Saturday, October 25, 2014

Happy half birthday

Our littlest love, you turned 6 months old 12 days ago. You have learned so much in the past month or so. Whilst we were on holiday in Dunsborough (on Daddy's birthday in fact) you figured out the back-to-front roll and almost instantly could do several in a row. Now, a couple of weeks later, and you are well beyond staying where you are put, and can expertly traverse from one side of the rug to another, stopping only when you get half stuck under the couch, at which point you let us know all about the problem in no uncertain terms. Yesterday I took a photo of you sitting on the picnic rug outside - the first time you have done a steady unsupported sit for longer than a second or two.

We first gave you some solid food at 22 weeks but then paused because I was convinced it was disrupting your sleep. I can now discern no pattern whatsoever - a few nights ago you managed to cram most of a chickpea and vegie fritter from your fat fist into your lovely little mouth, following which you slept from 6.30pm to 4.30am. Well, you can be sure I hoped it was as easy as serving up the same dinner the next night, but alas - the miracle was not to be repeated. Incidentally, I had primarily made the fritters for your big sister, not considering that a baby barely six months old could manage them, but as soon as you saw what she was having, you wanted some too. You just want to join in what everyone else is doing - whilst on holiday you begged pizza crust from us in the same fashion and have also scored strips of fillet steak and asparagus spears, food I would never dreamed of giving E at this age. You seem to like anything you can stuff in your mouth on your own and are distinctly less impressed by things that come off a spoon. Your clear favourites so far are the pizza crust, chunks of stewed pear, and honeydew melon.

Speaking of your big sister, she is as enraptured with you as we are. Since you have been eating more real food you have needed more regular baths and this week I have mainly put the two of you in the tub together. E thinks this is fantastic and I suspect you agree - there is lots of fist waving and leg kicking and splashing. You are a brave girl and unperturbed by E yanking on your legs, dumping water on your head and splashing in your face. Her biggest treat is to be allowed to hold you, something she thinks needs to happen at least once a day and if I say no when she begs "Mummy, can I have a hold of C" she will whinge right back "but I haven't he-eld her yet today!" - obviously as her big sister it is her right to man-handle you as she pleases. You seem not to need most of my attempts to protect you from her four-year-old enthusiasm - I have a lovely image stored away of her leaning right over you on the rug, rocking you from side to side, and the two of you laughing gleefully in each other's faces.

You are generally a very happy little soul - I love to sing silly little songs to you and you will give me big, nose wrinkling, shining eyed grins right back. There will probably come a day when you will refuse to be held by anyone but me, but right now anyone who talks to you will get a moment of contemplation and then a sweet, happy smile. You will also chat away to anyone who will listen - right now your favourite sound is "brugh! brugh!" The last two days you have been somewhat grumpy but that is only because of the emergence of a horrid little tooth at the bottom of your mouth.

Sleep is still a bit of a variable issue - dear little second baby, if I had the leisure to give you some real consistency I think you would find it easier, but even sticking to the minimum routine for E involves you being dragged around a fair bit and your schedule depends on the of the week. I would love for you to figure out how to fall asleep in bed, but as things are you sing yourself to sleep on our shoulders before we try to sneak you into your cot. Your going to sleep song is so funny, it is an "ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah" that is somewhere between an angry cat and a struggling car battery. The tireder you are the louder you get. We have nights where you are only up once, but other nights I'm up with you two and sometimes three times. It would also be very nice if you would figure out how to take day naps longer than 45 minutes - your refusal to do so means you are still sleeping three and sometimes four times during the day.

Given the emergence of the nasty tooth I am going to take myself to bed as I suspect tonight may not be one of your better nights. Even though I would love some uninterrupted hours, I know that when you get me up I will be unable to resent it, I will hug you to my chest and smell your soft, floaty hair and know that I would not trade the last six months for all the sleep in the world.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Letters to asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru

When I was a young lawyer with more time on my hands than I have presently I started volunteering on the weekends for an organisation called CASE for Refugees. At the time, it was possible for asylum seekers who arrived by boat who were granted refugee status to receive a temporary protection visa (TPV) which enabled them to live in the community. Prior to the expiry of their TPV they could apply for a permanent protection visa (PPV) which would allow them to stay here permanently.  CASE helped TPV holders prepare the forms and accompanying statements and documents necessary to apply for a PPV. Later, CASE helped PPV holders apply for visas for family members who had been left behind (often in refugee camps in countries like Pakistan) to come to Australia too. Whilst helping TPV and PPV holders write statements about the reasons they left their homes and families I heard the most horrific stories of beatings, torture, murder, rape and forced conscription. I felt (and feel) that Australia is a large, rich country and that our refugee policy could be much more generous than it currently is.

Anyway, I stopped volunteering at CASE when I was pregnant with E because I was too sick and tired to devote my weekends to anything much but sleeping. I was pleased to read recently that Victorian lawyer, Julian Burnside QC, has initiated a way for ordinary Australians to support asylum seekers in detention on Manus Island and Nauru. It's not time consuming, won't cost an individual much, and can be done from your own home. The idea is that you write a letter (initially to a non-specific asylum seeker) and send it to Julian, and a self-addressed envelope. He will arrange for it to be sent to Nauru or Mauns Island and given to a particular asylum seeker, who can write back to you if they want to. There are specific instructions on what to do on Julian Burnside's website - click here.

According to recent posts on Julian Burnside's Facebook page, thousands of people have sent him letters which he has forwarded, and they have been received and greatly appreciated by asylum seekers. It is not clear whether the asylum seekers have been prevented from writing replies, or whether the replies have been blocked by detention centre staff or the Immigration Department. However, that's not a reason to stop writing. He also recently said that whilst it is difficult for asylum seekers to access post offices they do get one hour of email access a week, so it might be an idea to include your email address if you want them to write back.

A letter to a stranger who has escaped things most of us can't imagine is not an easy thing to write. Julian's website suggests:

"Write a letter, but not directed to a specific person.  Say who you are, so the recipient will not wonder whether you are acting for the government. Tell them something about yourself.  Let them know that not all Australians are hostile to them.  Be sensitive to their circumstances.  Encourage them to write back to you."

Here is my letter in case anyone else would like an idea of what you might say:

"Dear Friend

My name is M and I am 33 years old. I live in {suburb} which is a suburb of Perth. I have two young daughters named E and C - E is 4 years old and C is 6 months old. Right now I do not do paid work because I stay at home with the girls. My husband's name is D.

I am writing to let you know that I am very sorry our government has locked you up. Australia is a big country and I wish you could live here too. Not all Australians agree with the way our government treats refugees.

If you would like to write back to me I would love to hear from you. Please tell me anything you would like about yourself - where you come from, what it is like in your country, whether your family is with you, how you are managing in detention. I will keep writing to you if you would like that. If it is easier for you to email me than post a letter my email address is: {email address}. I have also included an envelope with my address and some paper and an International Reply Coupon that you can exchange for stamps.

With best wishes from..."

Who else will join me in writing a letter to give a little hope and distraction to someone in a horrible situation?


Monday, October 20, 2014

Tough love parenting

It's been a tough week of parenting 'round these parts. We spent the second week of the school holidays in Dunsborough with my parents, and the girls (and we) were spoilt by the ease that two more pairs of hands and sets of attention bring to the taking-care-of-small-folk gig. We came home last Sunday and the next day was staff development day so E was at home with C and I instead of at kindy. We had a really lovely day - E seemed happy with the return to normality and was pleased to be pottering around the house playing with stuff she hadn't seen for a week and there was minimal ignoring and grumpiness on her part and consequently minimal shoutiness on mine. 

The next day E went happily back to kindy and afterwards I agreed to her request for her friend A to come over and play for an hour afterwards. I sat in an armchair in the playroom where I could hold a sleeping C and watch the two big girls on the trampoline. I spent some of the time googling child proof gate latches on my phone and emailing my Dad asking his view on which one would be suitable for our gate. When A's mum arrived I didn't get up to see them out and say goodbye as C was still asleep on my lap. I did get up a few minutes later when I heard E messing about by the front gate where she had lingered to wave goodbye and asked her to bring inside the toys she had dragged out to the trampoline. She brought inside one lot of toys and I sent her back out for another. A few minutes passed, she didn't come back in, but I thought she had just wandered off in the garden. I was cross because she had promised (promised! because from a four year old promises mean so much!) she would pack up if I let them take toys outside. 

I plopped C on the rug and started wandering around looking and calling for E. She wasn't inside. I did a lap of the garden. She wasn't outside. Starting to panic I thought "I bet she's followed A out the gate." E has only been able to reach the gate latch for a little while, and knows she is never supposed to go out it by herself (and less than an hour earlier I had been researching what to replace the latch with!) but I had one of those strong, sense of doom feelings that she had done so this time. We live on a busy road. A really really busy main road. I raced out the gate, gambled that she had turned right rather than left as that is the direction of A's house and hooned about 20 metres down the street. And, thank goodness, saw A, A's Mum and E walking back towards our house. Their neighbour had found E in her front garden. She had made it all the way down our street to the traffic lights, turned the corner, walked another hundred metres or so and turned another corner onto A's street and got as far as the next door house.

E's explanation was "I was going on an adventure." What do you say to that?? I said all the obvious things about it being dangerous and naughty and that she was never to do it again. I took all of the good behaviour stones she had earned out of her jar in one go. I put her in her bedroom and told her she could stay there until dinner time. She started carrying on about being hungry and I told her that being hungry until dinner might help her remember not to do it again. A few minutes later she snuck out of her room, filched an apple from the fridge and tried to sneak back into her room. Like a crazy lady I wrestled the apple away from her, screeching, and shoved her back in her room. This was apparently more upsetting than the original punishment and she stayed in her room, sobbing. I stood at the bench, trying to make dinner, with C grizzling on the rug, wondering if I got to cry too or if my job was just to make dinner. I left E in her room until dinner was ready, which was about half an hour, and by far the longest we have ever made her stay in her room as punishment. Later we also decided she is on a three week play-date ban as we wanted there to be a more lasting reminder of the lesson.

Since then we decided that we have been overlooking too many instances of E ignoring us. Either she just pretends not to hear and carries on with what she is doing, or laughs whilst deliberately doing things she knows are naughty. She will sometimes appear sorry later and promise not to do it again, but really doesn't understand the significance of promises. So, since the great escape, every time she ignores us or doesn't do what she is told, we have been putting her in her room. Suffice to say, she has been spending quite a lot of time there. On Saturday we went to my parents' place after lunch, following a particularly gruesome morning behaviour wise. The performance continued once we  got there. I can't even remember what I had asked her to do, but given it was on top of a morning full of not listening, I sent E for time out in the laundry. She wouldn't stay put, and ran out about five or six times, culminating in D threatening to take her home if she didn't stay put for the five minutes we had originally told her. She did it again, and D said "that's it, Mummy and C will stay here and have a nice time with Granny and Grandad but you and I are going home." She immediately shrieked "no, I'll be good, don't take me home!" but D was resolute and wrestled her out to the car. I say "wrestled" because she fought it every step of the way, howling and shrieking at the top of her lungs all the way down the path and across the street. Once in the car it was another wrestling match to get her to sit still long enough to get her seatbelt on. But we managed it and they left, whilst C and I stayed for our "nice time" which mainly involved me feeling shaky and guilty about how physical we had had to be, but nervously determined that it was the right thing to do.

Since then things have been perhaps marginally better (although when D was putting her to bed that night and told E that we hadn't had a very good day but we would all try to have a better day tomorrow, E apparently looked astounded and said "but why didn't we have a good day?!") At least we have been resting slightly easier about the gate as we now have a new child proof gate latch, complete with lock.

Does anyone have experience parenting the small and wilful sort? I do want to raise strong and independent girls, but at the same time well mannered ones who listen to adults and who can at least follow instructions enough to ensure their own safety!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

In the garden - October

In the garden, in September, there were tomatoes, broad beans and rainbow chard! Lots of each! E has been eating cherry tomatoes like they are lollies and we are picking a full handful every day or two. We haven't done anything more adventurous with the broad beans this year than eat them straight from the bush, or in salad, but there are plenty for both.

The blueberries are still laden but with only a few ripe ones so far.

I thought about building some sort of fruit-fly preventing structure out of poly piping and big sheets of netting to protect the apricot tree but time got away from me so I went with what we had and dragged out the mesh sleeves and paper bags from the shed. I also couldn't quite figure out how I would deal with the fact that the tree is grafted and one half always flowers/fruits well before the other - so far one half has big enough fruit that it needed bagging, and the other half is still mainly flowering with only a few tiny fruit.

And the roses are back, and glorious.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The smells of childhood

It is Sunday afternoon and my kitchen smells like childhood. Specifically, like chicken soup and rice pudding. I only realised as an adult how spoilt we were food-wise (and in plenty of other ways) growing up - both my Mum and Grandma and excellent cooks and Mum always went to considerable effort to make sure we had fresh, healthy, delicious food available to us.

Growing up, chicken soup was a regular feature on our winter dinner table, and it reliably featured whenever anyone was sick with a cold or upset tummy. When I was newly home from the hospital with baby C, it was a big pot of chicken soup that Mum brought over. I was pleased to be able to make it recently for my FIL during his recovery from surgery. It's good convalescent food but can definitely be enjoyed by those in good health too! E still refuses to eat soup of any kind, but now when I make this I use at least some chicken legs, and then extract a plain one for her to have with salad whilst D and I have soup. I am looking forward to baby C being big enough soon to eat some of it blended. And despite having cooked this recipe a number of times I have only just nailed the dumplings. It's good on its own but it's even better with dumplings!

Rice pudding was another of my favourites growing up. I have never liked milk on its own, but I do like sweet, creamy rice with a brown volcanic crust. You can make it with very little sugar and call it a healthy dessert and if you like, eat it with fruit, fresh or tinned. I like it with fresh or stewed strawberries, or frozen raspberries, or tinned cherries or tinned pineapple. Or it's good on its own. It's also good for breakfast the next day! E is already a convert. C is still not old enough for anything containing sugar and is still stubbornly gagging on the slightest lump but soon I shall make a sugar free version for her.

Anyway, here are the recipes for rice pudding and chicken soup with dumplings. They make a good two course dinner because the soup is not so substantial you're too full for dessert, and it's light enough to justify a carb-heavy second course. I think the rice pudding was originally courtesy of the AWW cookbook and the chicken soup is courtesy of my Grandma.

Chicken soup with semolina dumplings
  1. Put 1kg skin-on chicken pieces (either wings or legs or a combination are best although you can also use a whole chicken chopped into pieces) in a large saucepan, cover with cold water and turn on heat. If using wings then chop each wing into three pieces first.
  2. Meanwhile, in a separate frypan, heat a little olive oil and add a large diced brown onion, two chopped carrots, two sticks of celery (and optional – a handful of mushrooms thinly sliced) – mix until combined, then cover and gently sweat for a few minutes until the vegetables brighten and soften a little.
  3. Then mix two dessert spoons of plain flour with half a teaspoon of sweet Hungarian (not smoky) paprika and stir it into the vegetables. Sweat for another 30 seconds then turn off the heat.
  4. Keep an eye on the chicken pot and using a slotted spoon remove any scummy stuff that comes to the surface.
  5. Take a large tomato, score a cross in the skin, and put it in a bowl covered with boiling water for a few minutes. Then peel away the skin and finely dice the flesh.
  6. When the chicken comes to the boil, add the vegetables from the frypan, the diced tomato and a few more inches of water.
  7. Cook for at least 45 minutes, until the vegetables are soft and the chicken is cooked through. The cooking time will depend on the size of the chicken pieces you are using.
  8. In the last 10 minutes you can add other soft vegetables if you want – Mum sometimes puts in a drained jar of asparagus spears, or a cup of frozen peas, or diced capsicum, or diced green beans.
  9. If you have used chicken wings you can leave the meat on the bone if you want. If you used bigger pieces then take them out, shred the meat from the bones and replace the meat in the pot.
  10. Optional semolina dumplings – per 75gm of egg add 4 tablespoons of semolina, 1/2 tspn salt, a 1/2 a dessert spoon of softened (but not melted) butter and some very finely chopped parsley. Stir hard to blend the butter into the egg and semolina. Put in the fridge for at least 15 minutes so the batter thickens.
  11. Once the soup is cooked, drop small dobs of batter (about half a teaspoon - they will puff up as they cook) into it and simmer for about another 10-15 minutes. You can take one out to test and chop it in half to see if it is done, they need to be soft and cooked all the way through. The dumplings absorb the broth so you might need to add a little extra water if using dumplings.  Alternatively you can cook the dumplings in a separate pot of boiling water and then add them to the soup once cooked.
  12. Serve the soup sprinkled with more chopped parsley, good bread and a dose of nostalgia.
Baked rice pudding
  1. Preheat the oven to about 200C.
  2. Get an oven proof casserole dish and into it stir together:
    a) 1/2 cup of rice - aborio is good but long grain also works
    b) 2.5 cups of milk - if you're feeling particularly indulgent you can substitute some of the milk with cream but we rarely have cream so I almost always use all milk and it works out fine
    c) 1/4 cup of brown sugar (less if you are trying to be healthy)
    d) 1 tspn of vanilla essence or some grated vanilla bean
    e) the finely grated rind of half a lemon
  3. Over the top of the liquid scatter a dessert spoon of butter, broken into little knobs and about 1/2 teaspoon of grated nutmeg.
  4. Cook for about an hour depending on how solid you want it. It's helpful to use a glass dish as you can see how cooked it is. The top should have a brown, puffy crust which will collapse when stabbed with a spoon.
  5. Serve with fresh or tinned fruit.

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