Gift Guide for Ages 3-6ish

I loooove buying presents for my kids. As in, I’ll cheerfully buy presents in June (like budget experts tell you to), and then continue buying presents for the entire rest of the year (which budget experts do not recommend). Having said that, we don’t do stocking presents in our house, and likely never will. I hate the idea of a pile of low-quality gifts. And I assure you that my kids have plenty of full-blown present-opening frenzies made up entirely of quality gifts (generally around $20 each, although often there’s one gift that is much more expensive).

We also have three Christmases every year: One for my side of the family (usually mid-December, since my Mum runs church services on Christmas Day), one for Chris’ side of the family (usually Christmas Day), and our own private small & special Christmas Eve. We light candles and open 1 or 2 gifts each (usually 1, but of course the kids want to give their gifts to each other and I try not to refuse generous impulses).

You may have heard of the Four-Gift Rule. There’s a few variations, but the idea is that parents can restrict themselves to four gifts. For example:

  1. Something you want
  2. Something you need
  3. Something to wear
  4. Something to read

 

Or:

  1. Something to play with
  2. Something to wear
  3. Something to read
  4. Something to share

 

I disagree with “something to wear” because clothes are only exciting if you only ever get one new outfit a year. Since there is more than one season in a year, my kids often get new clothes. (You’ll be shocked at the knowledge that I love buying them clothes and I’m certainly not going to only buy them clothes in December. That reminds me… Louisette definitely needs a new pirate outfit…)

But enough prologue. Here’s some awesome loot:

  1. Water. Always a winner, in virtually any form. I like a water table because then I can choose to believe that the kids won’t need their swimmers (until proven otherwise). We’ve had a water table before (which was also fun for collecting ice in winter) but after a couple of years outside it was so brittle it fell to bits. Which means I got to buy another one! A BETTER one!

This particular model was $40 from Woolies. But pretty much any one will do. The kids will love seeing the enormous box under (…next to…) the tree, too. The orange handles on the side turn wheels that make the water flow around the circle. How cool is that!

 

2. Books! It ain’t Christmas without books (for myself, Chris, and the kids). There are a million fantastic books for kids, so it’s well worth having a bit of a google, both for the stuff your kid likes, and for lists saying the best books—then you can click through for a better look at the ones that appeal. And of course this is a great time to go and support your local bookshop, too!

I noticed around this time last year that Louisette has a bent toward engineering, so I bought her books that were specifically geared (heh) to encourage girls to picture themselves in STEM careers (Science, Tech, Engineering, and Maths). Googling “STEM” in combination with “Books” and any other relevant words (age 5, girls, etc) will get you a lot of suggestions.

This particular book emphasises that things don’t work perfectly the first time. It also rhymes.

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This is also the book that inspired Louisette’s House-Car-Plane project, which won her an award.

The same authors have two other books. One is ADA TWIST, SCIENTIST and the other is IGGY PECK, ARCHITECT. They’re all in the same school, I believe.

ROSIE REVERE and ADA TWIST also have follow-up “project” books. Louisette is going to looooove hers!

For TJ, his grand obsession is puzzles (more on that later). For his books, I googled and then clicked on this list. Easy! Out of those, I chose:

 

A sleep time book (parents can fantasise that it makes bedtime easier), a singing book, and a book about kindness. As you may have guessed, TJ loves vehicles. Also dinosaurs and superheroes.

3. Pets

I dream of one day producing a suspiciously mobile box with air-holes in the lid and a puppy inside. One day. Not sure if it’s plausible. We’d need to have real grass in our backyard first, for one thing.

In the meantime, we recently bought some fish. They’re actually a terrible Christmas gift because the set up and cycling takes about a week (if it doesn’t, you’re likely to have mass extinction—ask me how I know), and it’s such a busy time that it’s hard to get good advice from your pet shop when you need it most. But it could work for a birthday, keeping in mind pets are a huge deal (and fish don’t cuddle, so it’s noticeable that Louisette quite likes the fish but TJ doesn’t care much).

Cats are awesome, of course. In my opinion, they’re easier than fish. You need to think about where they’ll poo (kitty litter? Your yard? The neighbour’s organic vegie patch?) and how much you care about native birds (something like 80% of cats kill at least one native bird and don’t tell their owners).

Pets are always super expensive and higher maintenance than expected. Mice and birds tend to stink. A five-year old can potentially do a small amount of pet-related jobs, but will never be reliable. You’re also taking a risk of experiencing death (although that’s technically an advantage, because it helps kids to understand death a bit better when they lose a human they really love).

4. Building kits.

We have loads of duplo and about five sets’ worth of wooden train set (which has a near-infinite number of possible permutations). But I wanted something a bit older for Louisette (and I fear the dreaded Underfoot Lego—Louisette has some lego, but she has to bring it out and put it away in one session at a time). Then I stumbled across this amazing thing:

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That’s right. It’s a building toy designed for six-year old girls THAT HAS A MOTOR. It’s made by a company called Roominate. This set has three permutations (helicopter, submarine and plane), and it also fits with their various other sets (which, disappointingly, do not seem to have a motor—although you can buy it separately).

I’m buying another set from the same range for Louisette’s birthday, so she can combine sets in unique ways. When I tried it out for myself, the motor was great but the pieces were a little hard to put together. Still, I like the curves and colours.

And it’s under $30. I really like that it has a person (particularly a girl, particularly a non-Caucasian girl—she is Hawaiian) and a rabbit. Not just because it encourages imaginative play, but because engineers SHOULD be thinking about what their machines are actually FOR. Are they big enough for people? Are they comfortable? Are they safe? Can she see out the window while she’s flying? Etc.

I also bought this Melissa & Doug building set for $40 on ebay:

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I look forward to seeing Louisette do weird and wonderful stuff with it. (Following instructions to build a specific shape is also a fantastic skill set that’s well worth developing.)

It’s a little silly to buy two different building sets for one Christmas, but here we are.

5. Speaking of personal obsessions… TJ and puzzles. He does puzzles every day, over and over again. He is very good at puzzles. Although he’s three (and a half), he is well above average when it comes to puzzles.

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Given that he’s just discovered (and begun obsessing over) WHERE’S WALLY? this was the obvious choice. It has 35 pieces, which is challenging but possible for TJ—and then he can amuse himself finding every single one of the items in the border. It’s $25 here.

That particular website gives free postage for non-bulky orders over $100 (I found them because they sell Roominate stuff). This was not a difficult task (although I have several very kind relatives who I tend to source gifts for, that they pay for and then give to my kids—I get to “buy” more presents, and my relatives save a bunch of time and brain effort).

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This is a simpler puzzle (also a floor puzzle, which is great for younger kids). It’s $27 and out of stock (apparently I bought the last one) here (same online store as the above). The genius thing about this is that TJ will learn his continents and several animals while doing this puzzle (over and over again). There are LOADS of puzzles that educate kids about various things (letters, numbers, maps, animals, even spelling).

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This is a 30-piece puzzle that is trickier than it looks. There are holes in the back that TJ will LOVE using to poke out the pieces (also solving a classic issue with new puzzles—pieces that don’t come out!) Every piece is a slightly different shape so it’s hopefully developing a slightly different part of TJ’s brain. It’s $14 here.

6. Trains. Wooden trains are seriously awesome (except for the crawling around on the ground part—we’re WAY past tables here). Pretty much all wooden sets will fit together in lots of different ways. Other than a $30 set that popped up at Aldi this year, they are super expensive. This tunnel is cool (the dinosaur on the top is a separate piece, which will be handy for attacking the trains below), but that one thing cost $20 (here), which is pretty standard.

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7. Active stuff. Any list of four gifts should include “Something Physical”. Some things are super expensive, like a trampoline or bike. Some not so much. This is very much billed as a Summer toy (it floats) but I thought it was a great toy for cold or rainy days when the kids need to do something silly and active… and inside. Even the rings are inflatable.

It’s $35 here. (I bought it when it was on sale.)

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8. Bath letters. Cheap, awesome, and educational. I guarantee Louisette will use these to teach TJ more of his letters. He can already count up to 12 and recognise ten or so numbers and letters—because he worships Louisette, and she loves teaching (which of course also helps her own knowledge). When wet, they stick to tiles. How fun is that!?!

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These were $4 on ebay, and I bet they’re a favourite on Christmas morning.

9. Tradition.

We have a special Christmas tradition in my family. Each year, I buy a small conifer to be our live Christmas tree. I take a picture with it and the children, so that as they grow they can compare their size to that harbinger of Christmas Day.

And every year, it dies. Before Christmas even comes.

I’m really not that good with… keeping things alive.

This year I found this. With postage, it was about $40 from ebay, which is quite a lot—but we can use it every year. There are loads of fun chocolate advent calendars out there, and loads of beautiful reusable ones (often with little drawers to put 24 small gifts in). I don’t want to make over-eating or buying-24-crappy-junk-gifts part of our tradition, so I was excited to find this. Each bauble has a different design, and is magnetised. Then there’s a star for Christmas Day. I think the kids will love it (so long as no one tells them about the chocolate variety), and I’m almost certain I can’t kill it. Although wooden toys DO burn really well…

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10. Something that definitely isn’t useful.

At the steampunk fair, flush with the knowledge that my pirate trilogy would soon be published, I saw someone with a half-goggle. Genius! And only a few bucks to get my own steampunk pirate patch on ebay.

So I guess this is more a present for me than for the kids. I can live with that. In my defence, Louisette specifically asked me for goggles after the fair.

11. Tech

A good friend of ours bought Louisette this talking (and programmable) toy dog for her first birthday. Since then we bought the other one for TJ (“from” Louisette). They’re called Scout and Violet.

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You can choose your child’s name from a list when you program it, and the dog will say things like, “I love you… Louise” (since “Louisette” is not common enough to be on the list). You can also choose volume, and switch it off at any time by squeezing the “off” foot. One of the paws plays “Bedtime music” which is a very useful feature.

These dogs have been a consistent favourite toy for a long time (although if it wasn’t for her computer Louisette would be over hers, I think).

Which brings us to… computers. For children.

I thought the entire concept of computers for children was madness—until I saw a four-year old drawing with her finger on an ipad screen. There was no mess, no stains on clothes, no eating crayons, no sharpening pencils, and no dropping fifty-seven textas on the floor and then wandering away. It blew my mind. Since then I’ve seen a bunch of fantastic, innovative games that make the world better. In my opinion, computer skills are vital, and it’s worthwhile to get kids started early. Plus, of course, when you need the kid to be quiet and still in a public place, a computer + earplugs is magic.

I did a bunch of research and then bought Louisette a LeapPad 3. That was back in 2014, so I think there are new models since then (and I imagine that the Leappad 3 will become obsolete at some point).

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It comes in either green or purply-pink (and so do the gel frames, as pictured). It costs somewhere between $100 and $200, plus $25ish for the gel frame (which protects it from breaking when it’s dropped).

The good: It’s designed for age 3 and up, so a lot of it is set out with pictures that make navigation easy for non-readers. (Louisette was often frustrated and not too fond of it for the first six months after she got it on her 3rd birthday; TJ took to it immediately when he received his on his own 3rd birthday.)

It has camera and video, which kids LOVE. (Caveat: Images can’t be taken off the computer, so it’s impossible to save or share them.)

It has a white-listed internet (which can be switched off and on via the parental settings), meaning that everything the kids can access (and there’s a lot) has been watched and approved in advance.

It has really excellent, educational games, that are tailored to the main user’s age and skill level. (But they usually cost around $20 each.) We’ve only bought a few games (and a book that “reads” to the kid as they touch the words) in almost three years. Plus, each new game (and switching the internet on) is a fantastic gift on its own.

When you have two LeapPads, the kids can actually message each other (using pre-written messages—so bullying is impossible—and a bunch of animated emoticons). It is hilarious to see my two kids with their heads together, screaming in laughter as they say, “I sent you a message!” “I got it!”

It has a lot of branded stuff—Disney and so on—which the kids adore.

The bad: It has an inbuilt game that is literally poker (spinning pictures which reward the user when they match, and can then be spent on features)

It also has an entire section that just advertises LeapPad games, and can’t be removed.

It doesn’t connect to other devices in any way (except, of course, LeapPad devices—it even has games featuring Scout and Violet).


 

Bonus points

Are you buying a gift for a child who’s not your own? You’d ideally check with the parents if you buy something on this list (I’m NOT aiming this at anyone specific, by the way! Please don’t think my kids dislike anything they’ve ever been given):

*Alive (including plants. Parents are very, very tired and even a plant can be too much to care for. The kid is definitely not going to look after it properly.)

*Larger than your head (or the kid’s head, if yours is unusually large). Kids have a lot of toys, and their parents probably don’t have enough places to put them all.

*Involving work for the parents eg craft or science projects.

*Messy, such as paint or play-dough (yes, play-dough is messy).

*Noisy or annoying (electric toys or certain high-pitched TV shows).

*Junk food. (And check for food intolerances if you’re bringing food that kids are likely to eat—food intolerances are on the rise, and some are deadly. Parents are not making this up for attention, I assure you. Peanuts in particular can kill, even if the allergic kid never directly touches the food item.)

If you buy soft toys, you’ll get a great reaction on the day—but by the age of 3 every child has at least twenty soft toys, and probably more like fifty. However, certain toys will be VERY beloved (especially those linked to a TV character the child already adores). So think carefully and talk to the parents. Kids are amazingly specific about their brands, even for intellectual properties they have never watched (such as Star Wars or Superheroes).

However!

Toys that get used up, such as textas (there are washable ones), coloured paper, colouring books, etc are good for homes that really don’t have much space.

When someone has a set of something—duplo, lego, building sets, train sets—you can buy a new set or part that goes with it. That’s brilliant for both kids and parents.

Pretty much everyone loves books (although probably not enormously long ones, which leads to trouble at bed time).

Kids and parents will both most likely adore you for taking the kids for some kind of outing.  Zoos, Questacon (if you’re in Canberra), and those trampoline places are all fun for everyone. Or you can simply take them to a playground they haven’t been to before (or even that they have). They will love you forever.

Also fantastic as gifts that don’t take up space—removable wall stickers. (If your friend lives in a rental, definitely query first; they may not be as removable as one hopes.) There are some gorgeous quirky designs here (I met the artist yesterday, so I’m a little excited).

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You do NOT need to spend a bundle on kids!

So here’s my Four-Gift Rule:

  1. Something to read.
  2. Something creative.
  3. Something educational.
  4. Something physical (fitness and/or coordination)
  5. Something silly.
  6. Something that interacts with an existing toy (lego is almost always a safe bet; duplo for younger kids).

Okay, that’s six. That’s what relatives are for. Or siblings. Or, if all else fails, an inability to accurately count to four. Or you can combine them in various ways.

It’s also vitally important (and easy) to get kids involved in the fun of giving gifts to others. My kids LOVE discussing, buying, wrapping, and giving presents to all their relatives, especially each other. They also love Christmas Shoeboxes and TEAR’s Really Useful Gift Shop (both of which are specifically Christian, which may or may not work for you), which are a nice tangible way of giving to others and being aware of the rest of the world.

(99% of charities benefit from cash more than physical gifts. Physical gifts are mainly useful for kids to get into the habit of giving, rather than for the charity itself. I really like TEAR’s Really Useful Gift Shop because it IS a cash gift, that the charity interprets in practical ways.)

PS This site did a very comprehensive review of nerf guns. Enjoy!

Books, Food, and the Dangers of Combining the Two

I’ve hurt my back (again) so for the last two days I haven’t been able to do much. I wasn’t even sure I was okay to drive, so yesterday my partner Chris worked from home, and today my father-in-law brought the kids home after school.

Today was a whole lot better than yesterday, pain-wise, and I even did a teensy bit of cautious cleaning (on the level of kicking dirty washing from the hallway into the laundry).

As my father-in-law left, I noticed a book Louisette (5) had brought home from school. One of those kids’ cook books. My heart sank.

 

Louisette brought it out of her bag (dangit, she remembered she had it) with smiles and requests to read it, and “make everything in it”. I had a look through (approving of the simplicity of the recipes) and said I’d think about maybe making something in it. She wandered off, and I had a look through.

It had ten recipes (not, as the cover proclaims, FIFTY*)

We had too many kiwifruit, which was worrying me (I have many fruit-related anxieties**), so I thought, “Let’s make that kiwifruit smoothie” (but, ya know, in the thermomix and with some frozen raspberries in it too). Kiwifruit is soft enough that I had the kids cutting it up—Louisette cut off the skin (along with two-thirds of each fruit…. well, we DID have too many…) and then TJ cut the remainder into smaller pieces.

This was a grand success, and I rode the high and proclaimed we’d make popcorn too. Louisette has a thing for popcorn and I’d secretly bought some microwavable stuff, so THAT was easy.

I’d already said we could maybe make the tart things for dinner (my own plan was frozen nuggets and chips…. bad back, remember?) since I knew we had a single sheet of ancient puff pastry in the freezer, and I’d also discovered some Chris-made pumpkin soup from a month or so ago, so I thought maybe that’d already count as one of the recipes too. So I took a photo: two happy kids in aprons with smoothie (in a jug to save for Chris), bowls of popcorn, and a freezer container of pumpkin soup.

They’re looking sideways due to watching TV. Mum is boring.

 

One thing led to another and thoughts happened in my head along the lines of, “Hey, we have to cook dinner anyway!” and “I can re-use trays” and “If I start now, I can…”

So naturally I decided to do all eleven recipes… using healthy versions where available, and using only what was already in the house.

  1. Smoothie (specifically, kiwi and raspberry, sweetened with maple syrup). Kid involvement: chopping kiwifruit together. Taste: Excellent. Healthiness: Pretty good. Kid response: Delighted. Mum cheat: thermomix.
  2. Popcorn. Kid involvement: Listening to popping (what else is there?) Taste: Excellent. Healthiness: Pretty good. Kid response: Delighted. Mum cheat: Microwave popcorn.
  3. Vegetable Art. Kid involvement: chopping various things. Taste: Vegetables and cheese. Healthiness: Excellent. Kid response: Delighted. They even ate most of what they made. Mum cheat: Using only a few ingredients (carrot, cucumber, cheese, mini crackers, and 2-minute noodles). I made a hill at sunrise; Louisette made a racing car (it looks like a train to me), and TJ proudly proclaimed that he had made “A Mess!” This also kept them entertained quite well while I prepped various other things (bread dough a la thermomix, roast vegetables for soup, stuff for “Pasta and Sauce”).

 

 

 

4. Pasta and Sauce. Louisette begged me not to cook this at all (not a fan of tomatoes) but it was far too late for moderation now. Kid involvement: I forced Louisette to stir the sauce for ten seconds so I could take a picture. Taste: Very tomato-y but actually rather nice. Healthiness: Excellent. Kid response: Begging for the sweet release of death. Mum cheat: I reverse cheated on this one: I actually added zucchini (pulverised with butter and onion in the thermomix) and fresh tomato. With grated mozzarella on top (we keep grated mozzarella in the freezer).

 

5. Bread. Thermomix bread is pretty easy (and we have dried yeast on hand) so I used the thermomix ‘basic bread’ recipe, made a small loaf out of most of it and let the kids make fun shapes from the rest (which I knew would also cook quickly, being smaller). Top tip: Don’t let kids knead bread. They’re terrible at it, and it always ends up really heavy. But they love it.

6. Soup.

At some stage I remembered we had a pumpkin in the fridge and lost my mind completely. I did a fast-and-dirty roast of pumpkin, carrot, sweet potato, onion, zucchini, and potato and then basically shoved it all in the thermomix. The next pic is Louisette modelling for me….. Louisette doesn’t like soup.

Kid involvement: Posing for photo, under protest. Taste: Pumpkin-y. Pretty good, especially considering I forgot to add stock (I added thermomix-and-butter-fried garlic before the rest, and had sprinkled herbs on the roasting vegies along with sprayed oil). Healthiness: Excellent. Kid response: NOOOO WHYYYYYY/Yum (TJ finished his). Mum cheat: Thermomix rather than saucepan (and I know from experience that you should always roast the vegies rather than cooking them any other way – and cover the pumpkin with foil so it doesn’t burn).

 

7. Tarts/Flans: I made savoury cheese flans plus two jam tarts (both just pastry with stuff inside).

Kid involvement: Louisette broke eggs into the bowl (twice, since the first time she did she added water “because I wanted to make it more healthy”), and both kids helped use the circular pastry cutter, then added scrap bits of pastry to the top of the tarts. Taste: Exquisite. Seriously. I think using the same containers brought in some delicious features from other dishes that did something wonderful to what should have been an omelette with pretensions. Healthiness: Pretty good. Kid response: All the nope, which luckily meant Chris and I got to eat more. Mum cheat: Frozen (and badly freezer-burned) puff pastry instead of shortcrust. I also added ham and avocado because they’re yummy and healthy.

[darn it, I’ve run out of free wordpress image space.]

[picture of muffin tin with tarts/flans because kids were no longer interested in this weird obsession.]

So for dinner we had tarts/flans, fresh bread, fresh home-made pumpkin soup, and pasta with home-made sauce.

Meanwhile, fairy cakes and upside-down puddings were cooking (precisely the same batter, even in the book) were cooking.

8. Upside-down pudding.

Basic cake mixture, in a muffin tin with tinned pineapple, sultanas, and desiccated coconut placed into the pan first. Served upside down (so the fruit is on the top). Kid involvement: Placing pineapple slices inside. Taste: Soap. I have no idea why. Possibly I didn’t clean the tin real well after the tarts. Possibly my body was trying to tell me something. Healthiness: Could be worse. Kid response: Meh. Mum cheat: Cooking fairy cakes at the same time. Genius. Also I’d long since run out of proper flour so I used cornflour. Taste was no longer a factor. The end was nigh.

[Picture of TJ eating his upside-down pudding. I think he actually ate it all, presumably because he was thrown into confusion at this stage of the evening—generally our kids respond to cupcakes with enthusiasm, then eat the top and abandon the rest.]

9. Fairy Cakes.

Same as above, but with paper patty pans instead of fruit. Then flavoured & coloured icing, with all the toppings I could find (desiccated coconut, white choc chips, sprinkles). Kid involvement: Decoration! Much cheering! Also, choosing colour and flavour of the icing (with heavy hints along the lines of “We have lemon flavouring and peppermint flavouring”). Taste: Mmm… artificial flavouring. Healthiness: Nope. Kid response: Delighted with the decorating process, yet strangely unenthusiastic about their ninth course. So this is their dessert-stomach threshold. Good to know. Mum cheat: Dad supervised the brightly-coloured horror of decoration while I did other things (far too hyper myself to panic over the small fingers and food colouring, which would normally be a huge deal).

[Picture of strangely re-invogorated children smeared with chocolate and icing.]

10. Moon rocks (basically lumpy choc chip cookies, but mine turned utterly flat). Kid involvement: Pouring in choc chips. Taste: Cardboard. Healthiness: Fail. Kid response: Glazed. Mum cheat: I had reached a zen-like level of existence where any ingredient vaguely the same colour was a fine substitute, and measuring anything was too hard.

[picture of pancake-like “rocks” melded together.]

11. Chocolate cake.

Yep, for reals. Big finish. Luckily this was a biscuit base with a pure chocolate top. Hello again, thermomix!

Kid involvement: Licking the bowl (Louisette)/showing no interest whatsoever (poor over-fed TJ). Taste: Chocolate. What’s not to like? Okay fine; I haven’t actually eaten any yet. I’m just about to, honest. Healthiness: Hah, lol. Kid response: Too tired to care. Literally zero interest. Mum cheat: THERMOMIX SMASH. Also, Chris does the dishes.

[picture of cake]

I published this post, then went back and tried the chocolate cake. It was excellent. Butter, biscuits, chocolate, then chocolate on top. Rather rich, but easy and fabulous. I shall try to hide it from the kids tomorrow.

 

Chris came home from work to find me wild-eyed and bustling, with the children poring over vegetable art and things bubbling, roasting, and mixing all over the kitchen. After a little while, he came to me and said, “Hmm… might you be having a manic episode?”

Why yes, I am!

 

*While writing this post I tried to come up with fifty “interpretations” of the ten recipes. Some were fairly legit (four different types of smoothie, sure), some were moderately legit (you can make jam tarts by putting jam in the pastry, or cheesy tarts by using this egg-and-cheese mixture), and some were literally a list of “foods that can be eaten from a pot”. I managed to nearly reach thirty recipes by including a list of “other types of tarts that also use pastry” but fifty? Not a chance.

**This is actually true. Weird textures and slight variations in flavour cause me much pain. Don’t get me started on under-ripe/over-ripe fruit.

 

2011 Top Ten Awesomenesses

Hot air balloon

World Map of Food

Horseriding

Zombie Walk 

Steam Train

6. Beach (for our second honeymoon/pre-emptive babymoon) and sandcastle

Skyfire

Young Symphonists

Get pregnant

Getting rescued by firemen was cool too.

2011 was somewhat dominated by pregnancy and pregnancy-related illness, but there were a few other really cool things going on: I wrote and edited a steampunk novel; CJ’s brother got engaged (CJ and Louisette and I will all be visiting Hong Kong and Beijing next year for the wedding – and blogging about it, naturally); and my sister and her family told me they’ll be living in Canberra (for at least a year) from June 2012. We had dramas with disappearing cats, a ceiling collapse, and nearly going to court over a paperwork issue – but it all worked out in the end.

Christmas on the interwebs

Christmas and New Year’s Day are two of the slowest and dullest days on the internet each year, so I’ve prepared three special blog entries just for you.

Christmas Eve: Something special from the watery depths (tentacles most definitely included).

Christmas Day: Top ten awesomenesses of 2011 (it turns out my year wasn’t nearly as dull as I remember).

New Year’s Day: Sarcastic Christmas letter.

You’re welcome, internet! You deserve love after giving us this:

Top Ten FREE Awesomenesses

It’s finally here! The ultimate awesomenesses for my poverty-striken peeps. I’ve marked with an asterisk those I think are worth clicking on (either for stylish writing or for pictures). And without further ado. . .

10. Feed ducks

9. Blob/No Plans

8. Join the Library and Read Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan trilogy*

7. Lord of the Rings Movie Marathon*

6. Sculpture Garden or The National Carillon or whatever’s free in your area*

5. Kidnap your date (or a friend)

4. Light a Fire

3. Steal Flowers*

2. Bubbles!*

1. Frolic in a Fountain*

This is it. . . the youtube clip that’ll soon reach 13,000 views. I can only conclude that the internet was expecting something else.

I have a special treat for next Monday. You’ll never guess what it is, but here’s some random clues all the same:

1. It involves a visitor from China (who is not Chinese).

2. Americans should find it especially entertaining/horrifying/insulting, depending on their personality (but it’s not at all mean in any way).

3. It is, allegedly, educational.

4. It is very, very funny.

Top Ten Awesome Pics

Here they are, the pictures that in my opinion are the most peculiar/troublesome/unique/spectacular from the year of Daily Awesomeness. A few also appear in the other top ten lists. I’ve marked with an asterisk those that are attached to well-written or interesting blog articles, and pointed out for your benefit when the awesomeness in question has several excellent pictures for your enjoyment.

10. Skyfire 2011

9. Tattoo a baby

8. Macabre expression of love*

7. Sarcastic Christmas Letter (this photo is from the Great Wall)*

6. Wedding photos (plenty more beautiful/funny pictures)

5. Play with a cat

4. World map of food (all of which are listed in the article)

3. Hot air balloon ride (more beautiful pictures in the article, naturally)

2. Bubbles! (lots of beautiful pictures if you click through)

1. Octopus in an unexpected place (so many awesome pictures it was hard to pick this one – if you like it, click through for the rest)

Special thanks to my mum for the use of her bird bath.

Next week: The top ten FREE awesomenesses, including a surprising number of my personal favourites (and featuring the youtube video I made that now has over 12,000 hits).

Top Ten Awesomenesses

I’ve now sorted ALL 365 awesomenesses into three top tens – the top ten that cost money, the top ten that are free, and the top ten pictures from the year.

Here’s the first list, leading up to my personal favourite.

10. Home Made Lemonade – with SCIENCE!

Cost: Perhaps $10 for lemons, sugar, and the secret ingredient.

Deliciousness: Yes.

Feeling: A mix of home-cooking pride, childhood nostalgia, and mad science.

Danger: Er. . . not getting scurvy?

9. Home-Delivered Meal

Cost: $20-$50

Deliciousness: Yes.

Feeling: All the luxury of a restaurant – but you can do it in your pajamas. Win.

Danger: Minimal.

8. A Whole Meal of One Colour

Cost: Perhaps a dollar or two more than the meal would already cost.

Deliciousness: Medium.

Feeling: You get the benefit of messing with the head of whoever you live with, plus the surreal joy of a meal that Just Looks Wrong.

Danger: Minimal. Increased slightly if you don’t tell your housemates what you’re doing in advance.

7. Cake and Chopsticks (the more participants the merrier)

Cost: Maybe $20.

Deliciousness: Sure.

Feeling: Chaos – as you gleefully play with your food AND make a huge mess. Also, chopstick battles.

Danger: Splinters.

6. Go Mad in a Lolly Shop

Cost: $20-$50

Deliciousness: Absolutely.

Feeling: The best parts of being an adult combined. You can buy AS MUCH AS YOU WANT and then you can eat AS MUCH AS YOU WANT. And then you can feel AS SICK AS YOU WANT and YOUR MOTHER WILL NEVER KNOW.

Danger: Nausea, diabetes, heart disease. Mother showing up unexpectedly and looking askanse at you.

5. Go to the Beach and Eat Fish and Chips There.

Cost: $20 + travel (and possibly accommodation)

Deliciousness: Mmm. . . salty laaaarrrrrdddd. . .

Feeling: All the sunshine and freedom and beauty of the best holiday you’ve ever been on – because here in the antipodes, “holiday” is a synonym for “go to the beach”.

Danger: Sharks, jellyfish, coral. Lard.

4. Diet Coke and Mentos Rocket.

Cost: $10

Deliciousness: No! No, you moron, stop trying to drink that!

Feeling: ROCKET! Aieeeee!

Danger: Bruising, blindness, death. Disappointment (the rocket thing was a fluke – the wild spraying, however, is entirely reliable).

3. Adopt a Pet 

Cost: $50-$300 (goldfish versus the colourful ones) – lots more for fluffy animals.

Deliciousnes: How could you say such a thing? What kind of a monster are you?

Feeling: This is the other good side to being an adult – the feeling that you have somehow evolved to be able to take care of others as well as yourself. Also, pets are entertaining and good-looking. I hear some are also affectionate.

Danger: Death (the pet, not you – but it’s devastating).

2. Become an Aeronaut.

Cost: About $250 per person.

Deliciousness: Do not eat the balloon.

Feeling: Exactly like flying should feel. Also, gorgeous views. Sheer serenity. I definitely recommend ballooning in your own town rather than elsewhere.

Danger: Crashing into the sea or elsewhere – but that possibility is extremely low.

1. Horseriding.

Cost: $50 per person.

Deliciousness: Not permitted unless you are caught up in medieval battle, then have to make an epic journey of some kind. And you’re all out of serfs.

Feeling: Like very uncomfortable flying, but also a wonderful sense of attempting communication with a highly intelligent creature – and of course learning the skills of two hundred years ago.

Danger: Falling.

And here’s a repeat of the top awesomenesses music video – because I can. (Some of these are represented here, and some elsewhere.)

S#12: Healing Stones

My mission today was to go to “one of those hippy shops” and buy “something weird.” I bought a pack of “Mystic East” Frangipani incense sticks that apparently “improves the concentration of the mind for meditation and prayer”.

I decided, by way of experiment, to see if burning fangipani incense helped me remember more details from the history book I’m currently reading. Unfortunately, although I can’t say it didn’t improve my concentration, it did give me a headache so quickly that I didn’t have time to crack open the book. Result: Inconclusive, but definitely non-helpful.

I moved the burning sticks on their improvised stand into the laundry – home of cat food, CJ’s bike, and cat litter – to see if it could dissipate the peculiar smell that has lingered in that room since the octopus incident.

I can’t tell for certain if the smell is gone or not, but when I went inside to test the air (and check I hadn’t just burned down our rental home), I got a surprise: Ana was hanging out happily on the floor. Neither cat has EVER just lolled about in the laundry before – it’s their toilet, after all.

So it seems I’m mildly allergic to incense, but my cat really likes it.

Weird.

There are very few items left on the steffmetal.com list of awesomeness. Here’s what I’ve promised to do before the end of next month:

#79: Karaoke (and yep, I’m gonna sing – even if it kills me and every other person in the room – and video it)

#86: Starry Night (at an observatory)

#94: Pay off debt (it’s gonna be a tight squeeze, but I hope we can pay back my parents in the next four weeks).

#89: Dinner and a movie (all by myself – that’s the condition)

#32: Break from technology (four days down, three to go)

#8: Ich bin ein stern (glow in the dark stars)

#28: To the theatre (we plan to see the one-man Lord of the Rings! Awesome!)

and the most expensive exciting. . .

#76: Up in the air (hot air balloon ride!)

On THIS sunday, I’ll be writing about the epic international feast.

#252: Tattoo War

Ever woken up on New Year’s day with a champagne headache and half a dozen pirate tattoos?

I know I have.

It started off so civilised. I put a pretty thing on my sister’s ankle.

I put another on the arm of She Who Must Not Be Named*.

CJ “volunteered” for a pirate flag.

And then I picked what I wanted, and CJ and I had a long conversation about Are You Sure, No Really I’m Being Serious About This, You Want To Do This? and, You Do Remember That We’ll Be Going To Church For Your Niece’s Dedication, Right? and, Okay Just Remember That I Asked.

My sister graciously helped me with it, which meant the cloth we used was extremely wet. It was rather a lot like standing under a waterfall, with my head held in a vice.

Worth it!

Also, I discovered I could make it dance.

At that point we still had heaps of tattoos, so I did the only logical thing: I slapped a treasure map on my sister’s leg.

She retaliated by putting the remainder of that sheet on my chest.

I struck back with a pirate ship on her neck (making sure plenty of cold water dripped down her shirt).

She gave me upside down skull drool.

And then, finally, the battle was over and it was time for dinner.

It was the slowest, wettest war ever.

As promised, here is my real tattoo which I had done on my belly to mark the year I gave up my dream of moving to Indonesia permanently (where tattoos are more difficult for Upstanding Folk to deal with).

It’s quite high up on my belly, in hopes that future pregnancy won’t utterly mangle it. If I remember (in however many years’ time), I’ll post another photo of it after I’ve had a kid or two.

It didn’t hurt all that much – the difficult part was lying on my back and thinking more and more about how the whole reason I was there was so the nice man could cut into my flesh. And then when I was finished, they put some cling wrap over it to catch the blood that kept running for the next hour or so.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but cling wrap doesn’t actually cling to skin.

But it’s all fine now, and fun whenever I wear a bikini top.

Today is 1/1/11, which is cool. It also means less than three months remain of my Daily Awesomeness experiment (not that I expect to stop being awesome anytime soon). Here’s the few remaining items from my SteffMetal.com list:

10: Trim (aka clothing attack)

8: Glow in the dark stars on a friend’s ceiling

19: Bells around my ankles

32: Seven days without TV or internet (two down. . .)

94: Pay off debt

89: Dinner and a movie. . . by myself

93: Collect something interesting

86: Starry night at an observatory

79: Karaoke (uh oh)

80: Sparklers

99: Mmm. . . sprinkles

28: To the theatre

12: Healing Stones

2: Sushi

95: Paddle pool

39: Learn Braille

4: Share the cookie wuv

73: Get away from it all (ie, go on holiday with CJ)

77: Go to a deserted beach (ditto 🙂  )

76: Up in the air (hot air balloon ride!)

And naturally, there are plenty of the infamous Ben suggestions coming up.

As always, feel free to make your own suggestions and I will almost certainly do them (especially if they’re free).

*That is, my mum. She’s a priest at a nursing home, so she was Concerned About Her Reputation and asked me to be sure to cut off her head. Which I did.

#248: Heifer, anyone?

For today’s awesomeness, I joined literary-stuff blogger  http://blog.nathanbransford.com/ who is pledging $1 for every comment on his blog, giving it to the charity http://www.heifer.org/. Any charity that gives people a goat* is one I like.

I’ll be giving $1 for every blog comment from this instant until Christmas Eve (up to $500, to be paid in January, when CJ and I are back to buying groceries and such again).

And I haven’t forgotten I promised to review Scott Westerfeld’s “Leviathan” and “Behemoth” YA steampunk books, either.

On Christmas Eve, I’ll be posting my sarcastic Christmas letter – with pictures this time.

And I fully intend to climb a tree this week, for “Secret Squirrel”. Wish me luck. . .

*or a cow. Or a camel. etc

S#36: Metal Green Thumb

My mission was to get a weird plant – “a deadly nightshade or venus flytrap or sarracenia or nepenthes”. I got this:

Look, I admit it. The plant is downright pretty. I’m not very good at this heavy metal thing (despite my pirate credentials). But let’s take a closer look.

I’ve repotted it and put it with my other plants, and it definitely isn’t dressed like the in crowd (all of whom are wearing the new black*). It’s a begonia, which sounds a bit like a drunken lout yelling, “Begone, ya *#%@!” Also, if you squint real hard, it looks like it might just be DRENCHED IN BLOOD.

If that’s not br00tal, I don’t know what is.

Coming soon: playing guitar, hunting up a bargain in a junk market, decorating two Christmas trees in one day (see last entry), and. . . other stuff.

For those interested in my personal dramas, I was so distraught at gaining weight last week that I have a new plan. Today I binge eat and binge write – I’m aiming for 12,000 words (and have done 5,000 so far – it’s 3pm). From tomorrow I go into absolute no-chocolate-no-lollies-no-junk-food mode for three weeks. At the end of three weeks, I weigh less.

One tiny problem (other than the lack of chocolate making me instantly and uncontrollably psychotic): I have five Christmas parties in the next three weeks – and four of them are with family.

Wish me luck, my tr00 peeps.**

*which is to say, green.

**dear metalheads and/or gangsters: please do not kill me for that.

#222: Kidnap Your Date

You know it’s gonna be a good date when you take your partner in the car looking like this:

I took a circuitous path to the secret location, and CJ was soon lost.

My cunning plan was to walk him onto a certain island at just the right time, leaving the blindfold on until a certain sound happened, when he’d suddenly know where he was. Sadly, the route I’d taken was too circuitous, and we were about five minutes late. CJ didn’t mind. He realised where we were the instant I opened the car door.

Yep, the National Carillon. It’s usually playing from 12:30-1:20 on Sundays (pause as Louise casts a subtle eye toward the followers of this blog who have brand new boyfriends*). They played, among other pieces, “Yellow Submarine”, “The Addams Family” and the strangely appropriate “He Had It Coming.”

I’ve written about the Crillon before, sometimes even for money (go on, click the link!)

The island itself is beautiful, and we walked all the way around (something I didn’t dare do by myself, since there’s a strong possibility of stumbling across a pair making out in one of the dozens of semi-secluded spots). Along the way we spotted a Mysterious Rat-Like Creature (sleek, furry, and about a foot long – not including a presumed tail) diving into the water. That was definitely a highlight. Was it an otter? Was it really a rat (it didn’t appear to come back up)? An escaped ferret? A secret governmental water camera?

Inquiring minds want to know (but never will).

I did at least get a photo of this guy, who obligingly posed for about twenty minutes. Sit, Bobo! Stay!

We passed three patches of rose petals. I’m pretty sure that if CSI wanted to, they could analyse the rate of decomposition and work out exactly when the weddings occurred. Then they could analyse the level of sweat on the petals to determine how stressed the bridal party was, and extrapolate that into predicting whether the marriage will succeed or not.

With SCIENCE!!

CJ and I found a nice patch of grass, ate our lunch, and watched pleasure-boats pootle by.

I apologise for the above photo, featuring the High Court building. Lake Burley Griffin is surrounded by beautiful and/or intriguing buildings, and that’s just dead ugly. CJ said it was a product of its time – and that’s certainly true. There was a time when sheer naked concrete was considered special. But this is not that day. THIS IS NOT THAT DAY!!**

I feel a little sorry for those who paid to go on a ferry and meander past all these gorgeous islands without the fun of being able to dig their bare toes into the cool grass.*** Suckers.

Once we’d had lunch, CJ promptly and picturesquely fell asleep.

Tomorrow’s awesomeness is a reader suggestion – “Go entirely barefoot for one day”, which I’m actually still doing today. I’d forgotten that the island of the National Carillon is built entirely on duck poo and prickles.

The things I do for you people. And CJ and I are going out again after dinner.

So tomorrow’s blog will include pics of my death-defying Carillon island tree climb, and a fashion shoot of how dirty my feet end up after all our adventures.

Coming soon: Tomorrow is also when our initial ebay time runs out, and we may or may not (probably not) get money. I’ll let you know. Also coming soon: Archery. ZOMBIE WALK!! Watchwords. Facebook friends. And more.

In completely different news, here is an article on modern piracy (the kind with cellphones, governmental corruption/weakness, and weapons that kill innocent people). Modern piracy costs around $13 billion a year.

http://www.criminaljusticeusa.com/blog/2009/10-shocking-facts-about-modern-day-pirates/

*Two, that I know of.

**And duck poo.

***Ask Aragorn. He knows.

S#26: Swing Low, Sweet Chariot

If the rain in Canberra continues much longer, we’ll all drown. The sky is bleak and the wind is cold. So much for Spring. All my instincts are telling me to get back into bed, avoid all possibility of exercise, and eat nothing but chocolate. But I won’t. The next-best option is sitting on the couch watching “Gilmore Girls” until I have to go to work, which is fundamentally what I’m doing (I already went for a swim, and am now able to VERY CAREFULLY get in and out of the pool without flashing anyone via my velcro fly) – with one exception: Awesomeness must occur.

Today’s awesomeness was to ride on a swing. Brilliant, I thought. It’s free, I can walk to a playground from here, and it’s a little bit like flying. This will be the best “play along at home” ever!

I forgot one tiny thing: I’m too big.

I shoved my bulk into the swing with considerable difficulty, and swung cautiously so I didn’t fall over backwards. The swing I chose is overlooked by a block of flats, with about a hundred windows pointing toward the overweight girl with unbrushed hair and crocs. I’m pretty sure the chains on the sides will cause bruises to flower on my legs over the next few days.

And then I walked home. If I wasn’t newly confident of my journey into the healthy weight range, that would have been horribly depressing.

But it was still worth doing. 99% of awesome activities make me feel happier, regardless of whether they’re successful or not.

If you’re a writer, you’ll know that your main character must be proactive, or the story flops. It’s something hardwired into human nature. Whatever it is that makes us need proactive heroes also makes us feel better after the simplest activities – going for a walk, buying a Christmas present early, or stealing the neighbour’s flowers. Try it, and see if it works for you.

In the meantime, from concurringopinions.com, a semi-realistic pirate:

 

Coming soon: I’m kidnapping CJ and taking him to a secret location on Sunday. Also, hopefully selling some jewellery on ebay on Monday (but it’s not looking good). Archery (hopefully the non-fatal kind). And more.

S#55: Make Music

Imagine the scene: You’re at school camp and have eaten the food, but you and your friends are all still at the table, nursing your orange cordials and wondering how best to mess with the teachers without leaving your chairs. Someone starts tapping out a rhythm on their upturned cup. They teach the person next to them, and so on. Eventually you have dozens of people pounding out a rhythm, passing cups all around the table.

I recreated this with some friends at my house (filmed from underneath the glass table). They described it as “strangely zen”. As you’ll probably observe during the video, there was minimal training involved. The reason I’m giggling is that the person next to me copped a cup in their lap and managed to continue.

It’s a 4-4 rhythm, and it goes something like this:

Start with a cup to your left, upside down. With your right hand, lift it (1) and place it (still upside down) in front of you (2). Hit a brief rhythm on the base (left right left – 3-and-4). Clap (1), pick it up (2) and place it (still upside down) on your right (3, and 4 is a pause). Clap (1), then grasp it sideways with your right hand (twisting your wrist so your thumb is close to the table on the near side of the cup – 2), hit the open end against your left palm (3), the bottom against the table (4), then place the bottom of the cup in your left hand – twisting your wrist a little, and switching hands (1), hit your right palm against the table to your left (2), and the upside down cup on your far right (3, and pause for four). Then repeat but using the cup that has just been placed at your left.

I definitely recommend playing along at home, but not with Mum’s best china (or her second-best glass for that matter – we used plastic cups).

And here, continuing “Killer Robot Cat” month, is my oh-so-sweet Ana killing a yellow smiley face*

*Training. . .

Coming soon: How to annoy your neighbour by accidentally making a diet coke and mentos rocket that shoots over a 2-storey building (DON’T try that at home!)

Bubbles! With your hands!

Sculpture Garden

Bad movie night (during which I thought some of my guests might turn violent – and I sympathised)

and, as always, more. . .

#187: What’s in the box? Part 1

Some are born awesome. Some achieve awesome. And some have awesome thrust upon ’em.*

My mum likes to be mysterious. She sent me an email a few days ago saying she’d “had an idea” and I should “drop in so we could talk about it”.

Things are a little crazy at the moment, so I didn’t take the bait right away.

Today, however, I became utterly convinced she’d bought a kitten.** Yes, a kitten. Therefore, I was incapable of waiting any longer. I grabbed CJ and we went over there – just now, at 9pm at night.

Remember how my mum recently had my sister and I take out huge boxes of cr– treasured items — from her attic? Today there was more stuff. This time, it was from the depths of her newly-renovated cupboard.

One of my grandmothers left all – literally all – her jewellery to me when she died. She had a brain tumour at the time, so I interpreted the gift as more of a “caretaker” role and sat down at the time with my family to see what everyone liked. The rest I kept – 99% of it in the back of mum’s cupboard, since I’m not big on jewellery.

As you can see from the picture above, Grandma’s biggest weakness was jewellery. Let’s look a little closer, shall we?

See that box? It’s inscribed – to my great-grandfather, a banker, on his retirement on the 31st of May 1930. It’s silver.

See those rings? There are only two kinds of gemstones I can recognise with certainty: opal and jade. There are four opal rings and a jade ring there, on top. The bracelets are silver – you can tell by how tarnished they are. I dunno what the rest is – glass? plastic? zirconia? Haven’t the faintest! One of the rings in one of the individual boxes was originally bought (twenty years ago) for $250. Another is still in its original box from the jewellery store – so those two aren’t made of glass. It’s perhaps interesting that the other bracelet – the one made of some kind of yellow metal – isn’t tarnished at all. Or perhaps not.

But here’s the thing. See that really BIG box at the back? The one that looks like a pirate’s treasure chest, bound in brass?

Can’t open it.

We’ve collectively lost the key. My parents have tried several keys without success. CJ had a go at it too (with tools).

Still can’t open it.

It’s full, and quite heavy (although to be honest, that’s mostly the box).

So what’s in the box???

I really hope we all find out soon. (And yes, I’ll be paying for a jeweller’s kid to go to college when they value all this.) I hope it drives you as crazy as it’s driving me.

To ease your contemplatory torment, here’s a soothing rainforest pic from flickr.com:

Coming soon: Finding out what’s in that box. Finding out what it’s all worth. Maniacal laughter and cries of, “I’m rich, I tell you, RICH!!” Also, patting a lizard.

. . . and chatting to Charles Darwin. And the final Three-Ingredient Thursday. And I’ll be flying to Melbourne on Friday for a whole lot of high-calibre schmoozing.

*three points if you know who I’m misquoting – be precise.

**I could take you through my train of thought, but it’s way less interesting now I know I’m an idiot.

#175: Was it REALLY that bad?*

My brother is almost two years older than me. I have many childhood memories of sitting around bored, begging him to play “Risk” with me, and then enduring a long and torturous defeat. And then repeating the whole familiar pattern, over and over and over.

There are two curious things about these memories. First is the strange appeal of all those tiny pieces moving about on the pretty pretty board. Second is the sheer debilitating horror of drawn-out defeat.

Sadly, it’s the first part of my memories that stuck with me. So, after begging various people to play with me, CJ caved and said yes.

This is him reading the rules. (Is it fun yet???!!!)

This is him turning to drink (is it fun yet?!?!?!?!) before we actually started (my drink – who else would put a margerita ring of pink sugar on a frangelico and milk cocktail?)

And this is him (blue) conceding defeat to me (yellow). Is it fun NOW?!

No it is not!

Even though I won the game (very possibly for the first time ever; certainly for the first time in almost two decades), I still walked away sick to the stomach with despair.

What is it that’s so awful about Risk?

1. You never gain anything without the other person dying (unlike, say, Setters, in which you mostly just build stuff and say, “Yay”). Also, it’s surprisingly disheartening to lose an entire country and/or continent. Just ask Hitler.

2. Dice are mean. Life is arbitrarily awful enough without games to make us feel helpless to control our own fate.

3. And of course, the thing everyone remembers (even me, if I’m honest): The winner is decided pretty early on, and 90% of every game is spent slowly grinding one’s friend into the barren sands of defeat.

The unique geography of the board is also strangely off-putting.

It’s good to know my horrific memories of this depression-inducing game are 100% on the ball.

In happier news, Sawi has survived yesterday’s boar attack, and is probably looking at a view similar to this one, from Flickr.com:

Coming soon: Alphabet! Three-Ingredient Thursday! Go shopping in an antique shop in a small town! Silliness with a pirate ship! Other stuff!

*yes

#172: Macabre Expression of Love

Cast your minds back, if you will, to the year 2007. It was a gentler time, when global warming was only just invented and Kevin Rudd was super exciting.

It was a time when CJ and Louise fell in love. (Well, CJ did. I was WAY ahead of the times.)

To celebrate the fact that we’d been dating for a WHOLE two months, CJ and I drove down the coast in a car that has since gone to the garage in the sky*.

Along the way, while driving on the King’s Highway between Canberra and Bungendore, CJ delightedly pointed out dozens of teddy bears attached to the trees. Some were nailed on. Others were attached by the neck. Still others were wedged into narrow cracks between branches. All wore fixed expressions of delight.

My newly-awoken heart went pitter-pat. “Ah ha!” I thought quietly to myself. “I will return to this road someday, with this man in tow, and nail our love to this highway in the form of a slowly-disintegrating soft toy! In this fashion our love will endure, like a mutilated bear, and grow like rust forevermore. Our future progeny shall be carried carefully to this spot, and made to look in wonder upon the lasting glory of their parents’ strange love.”

Time passed, and we two were wed.

Last year (one year, one month and one day ago) we gathered in our hands:

our love

a good strong hammer

a bear

a marker

a length of wire

and several large nails.

Gazing rapturously at one another (while also being careful not to nail CJ’s fingers to the tree in a bloody reminder of our special day), we did this:

Today is the 18-month anniversary of our marriage (also roughly three and a half years since my original Notion of Bear). So on our way back from another coast trip, we went on a BEAR HUNT. Thanks to CJ actually having a memory, we found the bear. Our monument of love lives! (In fact, if you like microorganisms, it lives more than ever before.)

That red glow in my eyes is the glow of TRUE LOVE (and. . . um. . . so is the green colour in CJ’s eyes).

Play along at home: Nail a bear to a tree.**

Coming soon: Lighthouse! Waterfall! Alphabet! Food! Etc!

And here’s a picture of where CJ and I will go when we die (it’s from Bookshelfporn.com):

*ie, in Fyshwick

** I do not recommend using a real bear.

#78: New job

This entry is PG for moderately bad swearing (at the end).

One of the best (and worst) things about my day job – private tutoring – is that things are constantly getting shuffled around. I’m about to take on some new students, so I get all the thrills and spills of a new job without losing my old job.

Here in Canberra we divide ourselves into the North Side and the South Side, and my relationship across that divide (with CJ) was considered exotic and strange from the beginning (despite the fact that it takes around thirty minutes to travel that distance). When we married, I said tearful goodbyes to all my Northside family and friends, and moved to CJ’s side of town. I’ve been slooooowly evolving my tutoring schedule ever since, so perhaps in some distant future I won’t have to go through the Glenloch Interchange two to four times every single work day.

To me, the improving schedule is terribly exciting. I even have a few students that I teach from home now (something that wasn’t possible pre-marriage, since I lived in a series of underage-drug-addled/surreal/excitingly overcrowded/peeping-tom-prone share houses – when I wasn’t living in a non-bathroomed garage or a fungus-infested hovel without drinkable water).

Tutoring is where the art of scheduling reaches its most adrenalin-fueled highs. That’s right. I said it.

I have a (highly blue-tacked and thus adjustable) schedule in my room, with different regions in different colours. You’d think colourful stationary was enough – you’d be wrong. The REALLY exciting thing about the tutoring schedule is that my ideal workload is three hours a day, and the key tutoring zone is after school but before dinner – which is to say, 4-7pm. Which means that in order for things to actually work, I need to travel instantaneously. Yes, that’s right! The future is here!

Sorta.

My schedule is pretty tight at the moment, but I reckon I have room for two more students. So the game is on to find them. What will happen next? Will someone from the far end of town tempt me out of my new zone of employ with delicious afternoon tea and an angel-faced student with absolutely no grasp of maths? Will I find another young face for my cats to glare at every Thursday afternoon? Will I find a mature-age student I can actually teach during the day? Will my existing families get so annoyed at yet another schedule adjustment that they fire me?

I’ll let you know!

Coming soon:

Guilty pleasure

Write your own alphabet

Three-Ingredient Thursday: Snack

Visit a freakin’ waterfall!

Midnight Snackage (with my sister and bro-in-law, who are visiting, yay!)

. . . and more

As usual for July, here’s a pretty pretty picture tangentially related to “When Good Libraries Go Bad”. This is from http://www.llbbl.com/data/RPG-motivational/images/

#170: Win a blog award

Yesterday I wandered past http://emmylennevald.blogspot.com/ and was delighted to see my own blog on the receiving end of the Versatile Blogger Awards. This award is one bloggers give each other, which makes it a special kind of award (the kind that doesn’t pay, but that’s neither here nor there).

Rule 1: Thank the person who gave you this award.

Thank you Emmy. Next time I’m hoovering in a bear costume, I’ll think of you.

Rule 2Share 7 things about yourself.

1. My biological father is (most likely) in jail (again – he uses his computer skills to steal money, and has done so over and over again since before I existed). When I say “my Dad” you can assume I’m talking about the guy who married my mother and raised me since I was two. I don’t remember the first one, since he left when I was six months old. (Last I heard, my grandmother had spotted his name in a newspaper article saying he’d been arrested again.)

2. My phobias include noses (I don’t even like to type or say that word), weddings, sick animals, and people noticing me. This is why I wear a cloak of invisibility at all times.

3. I like the oxford comma (it’s the optional one just before the “and” in # 2).

4. I once wrote a 50,000 word book in three days. (My little fingers were really sore.)

5. I quite frequently have dreams that I’m attracted to women as well as men (*cough* hi mum. how’s things? breathing okay? good)

6. I am 175cm tall (about five foot nine). This is handy for tripping over things, looking out of place almost anywhere, and upping the national number-of-citizens-who-bashed-their-head-on-something daily average. I have converted this weakness into a strength by mocking short people at every opportunity. (And a shout-out to my oompa looma friends, Ben and Fay*! Here’s to you, kids!)

7. I am currently reading the Caiphas Cain books by Sandy Mitchell. They’re sort of really bad (set in a computer-game world, ugh), but sort of really good (excellent voice). I read several books each week, usually YA speculative fiction.

Rule 3Pass the award along to 7 bloggers who you have recently discovered and who you think are fantastic.

Leaving out those Emmy mentioned, here’s mine (they’re G-rated, as far as I know, unless I say differently):

http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/ very funny

http://steffmetal.com M-rated (some artsy nudity or adult themes, etc) – I am so not into metal, but Steff writes so well I follow her daily – she’s also the source of many of my awesome activities (as indicated by an “s” in the title).

http://donmilleris.com/ PG for overt Christianity. This is a guy with many issues, who mocks himself while mentioning legitimate ways to make the world better. I’m often startled (pleasantly) by his insights. He’s a NY Times bestselling author.

http://ripping-ozzie-reads.com/ – A blog shared by many excellent Aussie writers, with news and advice for writers. What a writing group!

http://www.galadarling.com/ M-rated (some artsy nudity or adult themes) Gala has the opposite personality to me, in every possible good way.

http://cba-ramblings.blogspot.com/ – A Christian literary agent who is extraordinarily kind and informative to her many wannabe-writer followers.

http://www.sarahwilson.com.au/ – you may have seen her in the Sunday paper. Nothing too heavy, but comfy and pleasant.

Rule 4Contact the bloggers you’ve picked and let them know about the award.

I shall.

Coming soon:

Amusing wedding photos

Wear jeans

Unusual anniversary (it’ll be links to every single awesome thing so far, plus my favourite pictures)

Three-Ingredient Thursday: Breakfast (I think; suggestions welcome)

And, naturally, much more!

Here’s today’s library pic. Wear a napkin, bibliophiles. And keep an eye out for C.S. You never know when he’ll attack. . .

Once again, this is a reproduction of Candida Hofer’s Thames&Hudson book of beautiful libraries (pass your mouse over the picture to see which library it is):

Because it’s practically colonial to have just one world globe.

*Please don’t kill me with a baguette

S#29: Write to your idols

In preparation for the writing festival on the weekend, I visited the websites of most of the guest authors, and picked the five books that looked most suited to my taste – “The Ruby Talisman” by Belinda Murrell (about a modern girl who wakes up one morning next to her great-grea-great grandmother just as the French revolution begins), “The Rage of Sheep” by Michelle Collins (about a high schooler working out her life, love and faith in a rather unpleasant 80s small town – the writing was instantly involving and funny throughout), “Mischief Afoot” by Moya Green (a little young for me, but fun and funny to read), “Samurai Kids 1: White Crane” by Sandy Fussell (A bunch of kids train for a samurai contest – but all of the kids are missing limbs or sight or the desire to fight), and “The Starthorn Tree” by Kate Forsyth (about a goat-boy who must flee his home and cross class and species boundaries in order to fulfil a prophecy and depose an evil ruler).

They were all excellent. So which one blew my mind?

“Samurai Kids 1: White Crane” by Sandy Fussell.

A great book needs a great story and great characters. All the above books had that. Sandy’s book also had a sly but gentle humour leaking through every page, and an elegantly unique way of describing the main character’s feelings – through his spirit, the white crane. What is more, although it’s not a moral tale, it has a depth of hope and meaning that is unmistakable – the hero, after all, is a one-legged samurai warrior. So anything’s possible. And there’s the warrior’s code, too (minus the traditional suicide bit – it is mentioned in the book as being “old-fashioned”), which is great for people who are drawn to the idea of honour. And the gradual unfurling of the characters is wonderful. The closeness of the friendships reminds me of “The Fellowship of the Ring”.

But my favourite part was the sly but gentle humour.

Samurais aren’t allowed to handle money.

“A samurai serves because it is his duty. Not because he desires gold coins,” Sensei told us.

“How will he eat then?” Mikko asked.

“With his mouth,” Sensei answered.

I took my chance at the festival to go up to Sandy and say (rather incoherently) how wonderful she was (she was very sweet and genuinely flattered – as she should be, since I read hundreds of books each year, and my taste is impeccable). I’ll also make sure she knows about this entry.

Play along at home: Who’s your favourite living author? Tell them why.

Coming soon:

Love your fear

Friendsday Wednesday (have lunch or dinner with a friend, or just call them). http://www.facebook.com/?sk=events#!/event.php?eid=348494771209 

Three-Ingredient Thursday: Dessert (quasi-healthy this time)

Make hummus

Unusual anniversary

And here’s your cthulhu quota for today: