Emma’s 4th birthday: no such thing as too many rainbows!

A few months ago when Emma started to talk about her birthday party (yes, I know), we agreed on a rainbow theme. She tried to change it a few times but by then I’d checked out Pinterest and discovered a world of not-that-hard rainbow party ideas, so I shot down all subsequent requests. This was also the year Emma discovered Pinterest so we had lots of fun times looking through pictures on my phone together and saving 99% of them.

First up was invitations. My friend Tamar is super talented and has always done my invitations in the past but she’s still on maternity leave so instead we ordered these. There’s loads of cute rainbow themed birthday invites on Etsy and it was hard for Emma to choose but we were super happy with them.

Then there was the matter of Emma’s party dress. On her 1st birthday I started a tradition of buying her a new dress as part of her birthday present. Of course she’s now old enough to choose herself (kind of a bugger for me), but we managed to agree on another Etsy purchase (no longer available by the looks of it).

If I’d been more organised and rich I would have put some effort into clothes for the rest of us. In particular I found a lot of Pride-related stuff online, way too late to be ordered. Emma obviously didn’t choose a rainbow theme as a political statement but given the current (awful) climate around LGBTQ rights I found all the rainbows very pleasing and it would have been nice to support an organisation by wearing their merchandise. Never mind.

We decided to have the party at home, our first time of doing so. I’m a big fan of parties in the park for all the reasons but every year I stress about the weather. And even though it’s always fine in the end, given we have a bigger space now I wanted to save myself the last minute stress. Lucky I did because the day before we got three months worth of rain in one go. It cleared up on the Saturday but everything was still pretty soggy so I was happy we could just set up inside and not worry about it.

The food was easy because you just need things that use lots of different colours, like fairy bread, fruit kebabs, coloured popcorn, veggie trays, and lollies. In particular Di did an awesome job with this delicious salsa (highly recommended – made for a great nachos topping and was still good the next day) and also some rainbow cupcakes which looked fab.

Di usually does the birthday cake and from now on I will keep up that tradition. I did it this year because it needed six layers and I’m the one with the enormous oven, but making six layer cakes that don’t look melted on one side is not my forte. Still, it was fun especially the night before when Finn was asleep and the three of us stayed up making the layers. This is a good tutorial which I discovered a bit late. Also two days before I learnt about piñata cakes and ended up deciding I really really had to do that too

I was pretty proud of it in the end. And the whole thing, really. Emma had a great time with her friends and it was all around good fun. Now for the photos.

Baking six cakes takes a village

Organising the popcorn

I think they call this a tablescape in the party planning biz.

Fairy bread, lollies, rainbow cupcakes, oh my.

I was way too proud of the rainbow jellies.

The cake looks great from a distance.

Surprise!

I loved how Finn looked like he was ready to go to Mardi Gras. He was the life of the party, once he woke up from his nap.

Emma’s actual birthday was the day after – also Father’s Day and a fun run day. I thought she’d be annoyed Toby was getting stuff on her birthday, but she thought it was neat. And the fun run was an excellent morning activity since it involved a jumping castle and face painting. In the afternoon we went to the toy shop so she could spend some birthday money, followed by a trip to the park and then dinner at Grill’d since no one felt like cooking after that weekend.

Emma asked for a robot for her birthday and Toby was more than happy to oblige. Meet Kibo.

Seriously. She’s 4. How did that happen?

Toby bought her creaming soda as a special birthday treat, and this is what she thought of it.

Finn tried his first burger and he was a massive fan.

Happy birthday to our gorgeous clever sparkle of a girl. We love you more than words.

Sleep deprivation is cruel, inhumane and degrading (exhibit A: sleep training diary)

It’s hard to understand before your baby arrives, when you are still the perfect parent, just how important sleep is going to become. And not just the fact that you aren’t going to get any for a really long time. But your obsession with someone else’s sleep. I’m talking apps, graphs, watching the clock, desperately keeping track of minutes spent awake, putting baby in the sleeping bag and turning on the white noise and giving the dummy and singing the same song every time like a superstitious athlete with the same routine before every game lest you put one foot wrong and THE BABY DOESN’T SLEEP. Or the baby does sleep, miraculously, and you try to figure out why, even though it’s like workshopping the meaning of life, ultimately futile because you are a mere mortal who will never understand such magic. Was it just the right temperature? The level of light? Was it because there was more protein at dinner? Less TV today? A more pleasing lullaby? Seriously. People without kids think I’m joking, but I’m not. This is why new parents do not just look sleep deprived, but genuinely crazed.

 Yes, parenting is hard. Sleeping is really hard. If you are deep in the trenches of it, and desperate to fix it, don’t let anyone tell you it will sort itself out and just to go with the flow. Unless that makes you feel better! It works for some (very patient) people, but it’s not for everyone. Definitely not for me. Sleep deprivation is a form of torture. We are not allowed to do it to prisoners. So why anyone expects parents to just put up with it indefinitely, affecting their mental and physical health, marriages, parenting of other children, ability to drive and form a coherent sentence and so on, is beyond me. Anyone who doesn’t understand how you can be so tired you forget there is a baby in the back seat of the car has never had a baby. There’s lots of things you can try to stop the torture, noting none are easy nor guaranteed, no matter what the internet says. Start with the top experts (your mums group) then the other experts (MACH nurses, sleep consultants, books). Find something that sounds bearable to you and give it a go. 

Finn has not been as good a sleeper as Emma and I won’t bore you with what that means except to say that when he was 8 months old I reached my limits and declared it was time to sleep train. We used the Gift of Sleep that had worked for some of my friends. Like a good blogger I kept a diary to show the world what the books don’t tell you about sleep training. Which is that it is also a form of torture, but short lived and with a happy ending. Hopefully!
Friday night

​6.40pm into bed, sans dummy as per the book

Crying

Set microwave timer

Pour wine

Have a slice of pizza

Knocking, retucking

Still crying, same level

More wine 

More pizza

Then calming down? Extend by two minutes, but no.

Knocking, retucking.

Still crying. Maybe worse?

Calming down

7pm

Give it 2 more minutes

No love

Knocking, resettling. Seems to make the crying worse

Pizza all gone. Wine nearly gone. Distract with washing up. Can’t put TV on as need to hear. Loving life.

But your husband thinks the world of you and loved you to bits (Toby made me write that)

Knocking, resettling.

Now up to the 30 minutes the book says it will take most babies. Still going strong.

And yet getting much quieter by the end of this 5 minute block. More stop and start.

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Really getting into it now. Did not think this kid loved his dummy so much.

Knock and resettle

Back to the washing up. 45 minutes and counting. Lucky Emma is a heavy sleeper and our walls are double brick

Getting quieter so I extend by 2 minutes. Having to listen now during the pauses

And then … Silence! 50 minutes and he’s out. I finish the washing up and pour more wine to celebrate.

I do feel the sense of accomplishment the book promised! I do feel like I’ve given my son the gift of sleep. An even better gift that Toby draws my attention to – Netflix has released new episodes of Vikings! Friday night is looking up.

9pm all is quiet. I’m going to bed, apprehensive but OK.

2am woke up, settled himself apparently

2.55am woke up, crying

Knocking, resettling

Waiting, still crying.

Toby takes over because he is the best husband ever (also, he was already out of bed unable to sleep because a bureaucrat’s work is never done)

3.45am I can still hear crying and knocking but it did sound like it’s calming down. I fall asleep.

6.55am I’m awoken by Finn waking up. We made it!!! 

He’s happy, not at all traumatised. Still loves us.

Toby tells me it took over an hour of resettling until he finally gave him a cuddle which then calmed him down enough.

He ate a big breakfast!

Went down for his nap at 10am without any help and slept solid for 2 hours – we had to wake him up.

Tried for another nap at 2.45, less successful. Maybe because his sister got the shits and came into the room leading to much gnashing of teeth? Anyway. Slept for 30 minutes.

Saturday night

Decent witching hour tonight, I’m flying solo so read stories to both while finishing off his feed. Then into bed about 6.50pm. Was silent for a couple of minutes, long enough for me to think my god he’s figured it out already. He’s a genius! Of course not, this is why you never celebrate too early!

I set the alarm for 10 minutes (the night 2 maximum) and he keeps crying as I clean the kitchen. But then, when there is still 3 minutes to go… All is quiet. Success.

We watch House of Cards and off to bed before 10. Fingers crossed!!!

3am woken up. He’s not exactly crying – more chatting. Then a bit of a cry but then back to chatting. I get up anyway, ready to do battle. Let him whinge for a little bit then do the knock and resettle. Which kind of seems to make it worse. At least, he cries harder while I’m in there. Lucky this isn’t my first rodeo or that would be heartbreaking. Put the timer on for 10 minutes. Wish I brought my book.

After 10 minutes he is definitely quiet although I get the occasional little noise just in case I was thinking of going back to bed. Decide to wait another 10.

It’s getting worse. Trying to decide if it’s worth going in our not, because that will probably make it worse again before it gets better. Starting to wear me down a bit.

Then it gets better. Start another 10 minute wait. He’s trying so hard bless his cotton socks.

Dog starts barking outside. Grrrr!!!! More crying.

Only make it 6 minutes before I start the knock. He quietens right down but starts again when I stop. I go in. Instead of moving him I just tuck his flat bear under his hand and put my hand on his back and say ssshhhh long and slow. He quietens. Tempting to do this until he falls asleep but the whole point is for him to sleep without props. I leave. Crying starts again. It’s 4.10am.

4.16am there’s still no sign of stopping and it’s getting worse. He almost sounds like he’s saying dada. Time for the cuddle.

But by the time I get to his door, all is quiet. I can hear him tossing and turning so I stay and listen. The crying starts again after a few minutes so I knock and go in. I just put two hands on his back and say ssshhhh. He immediately calms, I can hear his breathing getting slow. One hand off, then the other. I keep sshhhing a few more times then leave. The crying starts, worse than before. It’s 4.30am.

4.37am crying is the worst it’s been so I decide it’s cuddle time. But – he thrashes in my arms, keeps screaming. This is the worst thing of all – I can’t even comfort him. Tears start. Toby arrives and I hand over the wriggling, screaming octopus that is my child and go to the couch to cry.

4.40am Toby emerges. Didn’t want to cuddle him either. We listen to the screams and tell each other we are not terrible parents 

4.46am I do the knocking, the sshhhing. He’s beside himself. I return to the couch where I feel my will to live ebbing out of me.

5am Toby goes in. Still screaming. He must be exhausted and starving after all this activity. It’s so hard to not give in. Silver lining – I might get my run in nice and early?

I decide I will get him up at 5.30 if he’s still crying. He will be due for a nap by then but I don’t think I can do any more than that.

5.07am Toby has gone back to bed. I go in. He quietens right down when I put my hands on his back. I can hear him trying to catch his breath and my heart breaks a little. The screams start again when I leave. Only 20 minutes to go and I can get him up. I’m actually starting to look forward to that now.

5.13am the first quiet moment in nearly an hour. But then we are back into it. I’ve read all the internet by now so start listening to a podcast. He is definitely calming now with long stretches of silence.

5.19am all is quiet except for the neighbour’s rooster. I go to bed, feeling drained and not at all like a good or even half decent parent. Please forgive me, beautiful boy.

5.24am I’m finally in bed when I hear crying coming from his room. “That’s it, I’m getting up!!” Toby grunts his agreement. I get to the bedroom door and all is quiet again. I fall back into bed.

7.05am woken up by the toddler after a series of weird early morning dreams. 

7.10am Finn wakes up

8am I go out for a 9km run, which is the last thing I feel like, but in fact I feel amazing and I’m so glad I did it. Even if I fall at the 2km mark.

Finn has a one hour sleep in the morning and two hours in the afternoon. No resettling required. I think it’s safe to say we have successfully weaned the dummy.

Sunday night

6.50pm off to bed. No crying.

He sleeps through! On Monday morning we have a new child, happy and well-rested just like the book promised. It all seems worth it.

Until two weeks later when against all common sense and the book, we go to the coast for a weekend and undo all our good work. And since then his sleep has been very hit and miss, mostly miss. For various reasons we haven’t done the training again but now, finally, at nearly 14 months old, just in the past two weeks, Finn is sleeping through at night. Not every night, but more nights than not. And I have no advice for how to get to this point. I’ve tried everything over the past few months and I can’t say what, if any of it, worked. Like I said to my mums group just this week when discussing sleep, sometimes babies are just a-holes. And that’s all you really need to know.

Twelve months of Finn

So, our little troublemaker turned one a couple of weeks ago. This seems impossible, since Emma is still a baby and I am only 21 myself. And yet, here we are. I’m in my mid-thirties. I have an almost pre-schooler. An almost toddler. It’s been a rough year in many ways, since we like to make our life more difficult by adding house renovations to an already full life, and since two children is more difficult than one no matter what anyone tells you. But it’s been a wonderful year too. Watching Finn grow into the cheeky, busy little boy I knew he’d be during that pregnancy has been marvellous. Watching Emma grow from a toddler into an actual child, learning more about what goes on in her head, seeing her start to find her place in the world, has been amazing. Watching them together makes my heart sing.

We celebrated Finn’s birthday multiple times, because a birth festival is much better than a birth day. There was an early family celebration, where he got a caterpillar cake courtesy of his very clever grandma, some awesome presents, and we all exclaimed over the fact that it had been (nearly) a whole year since he’d been born.

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The Women’s Weekly Children’s Birthday Cake Cookbook continues to bring magic

Then there was his actual birthday, which was a Monday, and there were more presents before breakfast. I wonder how many birthdays it will be before he insists on opening the presents himself with no help from Emma? Not many is my guess.

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We gave him cars, because we have a lot of toys already, but not many cars. He thought they were pretty neat.

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Unfortunately I don’t have any photos from his daytime party, where our lovely mums group gave him cake and presents and made a fuss. I felt very blessed to be surrounded by awesome women who care about my kids so much. It has made a huge difference this year to have them in my life. Even if it’s your second baby I highly recommend finding other people with babies to hang out with, because no one else will want to workshop your various feeding or sleeping issues or have spare nappies in their bag if you forgot to bring yours.

After dinner that night there was more cake, of course, using my current go-to vegan cupcake recipe (Emma chose the pink icing with pink sprinkles, because she loves her brother). And this is how Finn felt about that. (This is classic Finn eating behaviour. He loves his food. Finally, someone to celebrate my cooking.)

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And we basically just high-fived ourselves that we survived our first year as a family of four. This is an achievement deserving of cupcakes for all.

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Unlike with Emma’s first year, I did attempt to document Finn’s first twelve months in typical blogger fashion, by taking a picture on the 27th of each month with the stuffed dinosaur we bought him before he was born. Of course some months we weren’t at home, so there’s just a random picture, and then by the 12th month it’s impossible to actually get him to stay still for more than approximately 0.5 seconds, but in any case, I did it, so here’s the proof.

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And here’s the best picture out of about 50 that we took on his first birthday, where he just thought this is a super fun game of tickles and wrestling with the dinosaur:

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Here’s to Finn. Our funny, clever, super strong, lightning fast, deliciously snuggly, determined, handsome boy. Can’t imagine life without him. (Well okay, it would be quiet and calm and easy, but much less fun and much less interesting, and I wouldn’t live it for quids.) Thank you universe for choosing us for him and him for us.

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Evolution of a kitchen: part 1

So everyone who knows me and Toby is nearly as excited as we are about the changes we are making to our house. After nearly 10 years of discussing renovation vs knock down rebuild vs sell, we finally decided on a 4th option. Our friends no longer have to listen to us go round and round in circles about what to do about our old, ordinary house in the fab location. Everybody wins.

The 4th option is a cheap renovation to bring the house up to a standard we can live with for less than 10 years (at which point we will start discussing options again). A bit more storage. A more open kitchen. A bath tub. Fresh paint and floors. Etc.

We did the back of the house late last year, with new wardrobes, new paint and carpet and finally a new bathroom in February. Now we are turning our attention to the front of the house – the kitchen, laundry, living area and media room/study. We are going to install an Ikea kitchen but first wanted to take out a couple of walks to open it up – it’s a classic 1950s kitchen where mum got stuck cooking in a tiny box far away from the rest of the family:

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Please forgive the terrible photo but it does give a pretty realistic look at “living with two children”. There’s the kitchen, that glimpse of aqua in the back.

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My eyes hurt just looking at this.

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Laundry plus fridge. Eek.

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Yep that’s our pantry. Plenty of space. Note the stove top with its single functioning hot plate.

We don’t know any tradies in Canberra and I was on maternity leave so couldn’t ambush people in the office kitchen to ask about their renos so to find someone to knock down the walls I went to the Canberra Mums Facebook page and did a search for builders. I wrote down a bunch that were recommended and called a few. Two came to look; one did a quote, the other declined the job but said the first quote sounded right so that’s how we ended up with the Towner Group.

Last week we packed up and moved into my awesome mother in law Di’s house for a month or so, while she’s gallivanting around South America and Cuba. Meanwhile Dan and Dylan from the Towner Group did this on their first day:

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Note how they not only removed walls and a ceiling but removed our kitchen for us too!!! I am forever impressed by how much good tradies can get done in a day and how nice it must be to really see what you’ve achieved. Bit different to wrangling small children or writing a kick-ass brief for the prime minister no one will ever read, including the prime minister.

Dan and Dylan finished up today (yes they worked the weekend). The electrician will install lights tomorrow and then it’s ready for some Ikea magic.

Here’s what we’ve got to work with now:

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So open! So light! And yes when Toby mentioned maybe putting some shelves in, Dan was like “I’ve got wood left over I’ll just build you some no worries”.

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Fresh paint!  All ready for my beautiful 900mm oven with the fully functional stove top. (I’m just a bit excited about that.)

So I think we can call our first step of the kitchen renos a success. We are so happy with how it looks and our choice of builders. Nothing was too much trouble for those guys (even putting out our bins) and they kept us 100% informed every day. Great experience all round and totally worth the hassle and expense so far.

Next step: finalising the kitchen plan. Will we agree on where to put the wine breakfast bar? Will the cupboards fit? Will we forget to put in a bin? How many Tupperware drawers does one family need, really? We are about to find out.

Reclaiming ordinary

My mum saw a blackboard outside a café once (I think that’s what it was) that made her mad. If it were me, a misplaced or missing apostrophe is what would get my goat. But mum? Mum was mad that the hand written sign was imploring her to live an extraordinary life.

‘What’s wrong with an ordinary life?’ she huffed.

I’ve grown up surrounded by messages to be extraordinary, so I think I’m a bit immune. Is this a recent thing? I feel like once upon a time, there was maybe more value placed on just living an ordinary, good life. Apart from the fact there was no internet to make you think there was something wrong with your life, I suspect most people just couldn’t afford to imagine anything much different to working and raising a family – and that’s if you were lucky. There were also different social norms that came with certain expectations around what was considered “normal”, which was not necessarily a good thing. I might be romanticising the past, of course. Readers older than me (uncle John) please feel free to set me right.

I’m talking about messages like: Do one thing each day that scares you. A life lived in fear is a life half lived. Do something you love and never work a day in your life. Every single meme in my Facebook feed. Sunrises and seascapes and triumphant people wearing expensive hiking clothes standing on clifftops with their arms in the air, all encouraging me to be extraordinary, to live my dreams, to hope, to believe. The signs on the walls at Emma’s gymbaroo class, imploring me to feel joy, every moment of every day of my beautiful life. Girls at the gym wearing singlets telling me to run faster, jump higher, dance like nobody’s watching. Entire sections of the bookshop dedicated to living a life less ordinary, to taking the road less travelled, to feeling the fear and doing it anyway. Inspiring articles everywhere I look about people who left the corporate rat race to sell jewellery or make natural cleaning products or grow their own kale. Yoga teachers who spend the meditation telling me I’m amazing and haven’t yet discovered my own potential, when they don’t even know me or my potential. Tony Robbins and all the people like him – an industry that’s popped up encouraging us to want to be extraordinary, a whole industry, an actual job called motivational speaker. I barely notice it anymore. The whole (Western) world is one big pep talk.

But mum’s right, of course, as she almost always is. There’s nothing wrong with an ordinary life, and thank goodness for that, because it’s what most of us end up living. We might have glimpses of the extraordinary – even mum’s been 4WD-ing in East Timor, after all – but wherever we are, whatever we do with our days, whoever we spend them with, most of it is utterly, relatively ordinary. And I think it’s time to reclaim that. To see the dignity and value in it. It’s enough to be good enough, to be a good enough partner and parent and friend and colleague. It’s enough to work – in fact for most of us, “doing what we love” is a privilege we can’t afford or just don’t have. It’s enough to have a hobby that everyone else has (cycling if you’re a man aged over 30) or no one else has (yes I’m still enjoying jazzercise classes), and to spend time with people you like, and to have the occasional holiday. It’s enough to feel sad some days, and joyful other days, and to take your family and health for granted sometimes, and be overcome with gratitude other times. It’s enough to eat good food sometimes, and crap food other times, and watch good TV sometimes, and crap TV other times, and read the books you want to read even though you know they’re also crap. It’s all enough, and we should never feel that it isn’t. Indeed, if this is your life, you are already incredibly privileged and to think there should be any more than that – or else there is something wrong with you, or the life you are living – is almost perverse.

I have friends who live by inspiring Facebook memes and I love those friends. I love how they approach life and I come away from our conversations feeling inspired and interested in everything, which is exactly how friends should make you feel. And I would never want people who naturally gravitate towards this sort of philosophy – or who want to – to rein it in. I want them to keep posting sunsets and cute baby gorillas and inspiring quotes from historical figures in fancy font. All I’m doing – for myself, for my sanity – is reclaiming the word ‘ordinary’. And if your Facebook feed and all the blackboards outside cafes are making you feel like the ordinary life you’re pretty happy with is actually something you should be ashamed of – something that needs fixing – then feel free to join me. Because it’s not. You, in your ordinariness, are perfectly fine. Ordinary is a perfectly valid lifestyle choice if it’s what you want. Even if it will never spawn an aspirational lifestyle website a la Gwyneth or earn you a book deal. I hope to enjoy a long, healthy life as a decent human being and if I can achieve that, that’s extraordinary enough for me.

WTF are you going to do with all those carrots?

I can’t be the only person who says, “Oh, carrots are on sale! A dollar for a kilo! What a bargain!” Then slices up three for dinner and leaves the other seven to rot in the bottom of the fridge.

So, here are some ideas on what to do with the other seven carrots that I’ve found that are delicious and will avoid food wastage. I may not go so far as dumpster diving but I really hate wasting food even if it’s only 70 cents worth of pretty ordinary carrots. The worst bit of cooking with carrots is always the grating, even with a food processor, because that involves cleaning. But once you’ve got a stash of grated or chopped carrot, there’s lots of options. (You can even grate/chop then leave it in the fridge for a day or two while you wait for inspiration to hit.)

Carrot cake. I make this in muffin form, using half the amount of honey, and no icing – this makes it what I consider an “everyday” treat as opposed to a special occasion cake. Something Emma and I can have in the afternoon while we watch Sesame Street after her nap. They are gluten free (which agrees with my tummy), refined sugar free (which agrees with my trying to not die of cancer) and dairy free (which agrees with the part of me that would be a vegan if only life was worth living without cheese). I also love that it uses loads of carrots. Some recipes for “carrot cake” only use a single carrot, which defeats the purpose of what we’re trying to do here, which is use up all the carrots in the fridge.

Carrot porridge. I’ve said before I don’t understand how we’re supposed to eat five servings of vegetables a day, but here is one way to get an extra serving. I’ve only made it once this winter, but previous years I’ve made it every week. Since Toby’s not a porridge fan I make a batch on Sunday night, keep it in the fridge and it lasts most of the week. I just reheat and add a bit of milk.

Carrot and zucchini muffins. These do not meet any dietary requirements whatsoever, which means they are delicious. I also make them with just carrot, no zucchini.

Roasted carrot salad. Roasted carrots are not just for the Sunday roast where they naturally get forgotten next to the way-more-delicious potato; they also make a great salad base with a green, a grain and an oomphy dressing (and probably some feta too). This is one created by my very talented aunty Hetty, from her cookbook Community (which is awesome and can be found at your local indie bookshop AND Costco).

Carrot soup. Just the words “carrot soup” fill me with a slight dread – it just sounds so ordinary. But this is anything but ordinary. It was the roasted chick pea garnish that got me interested (LOVE those), but the whole things is one big bowl of deliciousness (even if you don’t bother with any of the garnishes).

You can add carrots to a fruit puree (with apple and/or pear, and some spices) for the baby, or to swirl through your own yoghurt or porridge or smoothie. You can grate it into a pasta sauce. Keep sticks in the fridge next to a pot of humus or salsa so they next time you’ve got the munchies they are so easy you just have to eat them instead of cheese. People who are into juicing would definitely put it in their juice. Okay, that’s all the ideas I have but now I really have no excuse to have rotting carrots in the fridge, and neither do you.

Trying to not die of cancer (or, a DIY muesli recipe)

I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but we’ve abandoned the War on Drugs, admitted defeat. There’s a new war on. The War on Sugar. My dad was recently informed by a colleague that she and her husband had cut out all sugar. “It’s been a month now,” she said with all the solemnity of an AA meeting attendee. There are books and blogs and disciples aplenty. Some people take it to what I consider extremes, especially if they have no medical condition that is improved by cutting out sugar. No fruit?! But then, something kept niggling at me.

Since Emma was born, I am like most parents and terrified of something happening to her. The first night she slept through I woke up convinced she’d died in her sleep. I always check she’s breathing before I go to bed, and I like hearing her cough during the night because it lets me know she’s alive. I’m relaxed enough about activities that could result in a broken bone or tooth or scrapes and bruises but I’m not at all relaxed about potential head injuries. I’m paranoid about gastro and wipe down public high chairs with anti-bacterial wipes before I let her sit in them. I studied YouTube clips of baby CPR when we started solid food. After a while though, and one too many sad newspaper stories or Facebook posts, I developed a new fear.

Something happening to ME.

The world is full of heartbreaking stories of young mothers dying of breast cancer or ovarian cancer or brain tumours or random rare diseases not picked up in time because they were too busy being mums to go to the doctor. I am also nearly 100% convinced I’m going to die in a car accident, but that’s because so many other drivers seem intent on killing me. But mostly, one day it suddenly occurred to me that maybe I might not grow old and be able to watch Emma grow old at the same time.

This is TERRIFYING, obviously. I don’t want to end up a Facebook fundraiser or “super touching” YouTube clip. I don’t want Emma growing up without a mum. I don’t want Toby to have to find a new wife, as if he’d be able to find one as awesome and neurotic as me anyway.

I told my sensible, calm sister Jude of my morbid thoughts, assuming she’d tell me I was being ridiculous and was definitely going to live to be 100. But instead she told me she felt exactly the same way.

This did not help.

What did help was Jude’s sensible, calm suggestion that we can only do our best and cross our fingers. Disease might find us anyway, but so might a wayward car, a bolt of lightning or some dodgy seafood. I’m pretty sure that if I lived perfectly and got cancer anyway I’d feel completely ripped off, but at the same time if I don’t look after myself and get cancer or some other horrible thing, I’d always wonder if there was something I could have done to avoid it. So, I’m doing my best to avoid it.

I haven’t given up fruit. Or dairy. Or bread. I like to keep things achievable, and I know myself well enough by now to know what’s not going to work. I decided to focus on looking for sugar-free alternatives to some food, and getting more vegetables into my diet, and Emma’s for that matter. (Toby’s a grown man and can look after himself, obvs.)

Am I the only grown-up who can’t figure out how to get 5 serves of vegies into my day? Okay, I can figure it out, but I can’t figure out how to do it every day of the week. By Thursday the fresh vegies I bought on the weekend are either eaten, or not looking all that fresh anymore. I can’t put fresh spinach in a banana smoothie on Friday unless I do a second shopping trip during the week. Is that the answer? I don’t know, who has time for that? But I’m going to try a few things, like individual packets of frozen vegies for Emma (I know, I know, but sometimes it’s going to be the best I can do), making things like zucchini slice on weekends that I can freeze and use as snacks during the week, and maybe I will slip in a trip to the markets on a lunch break because I do like the markets and probably wouldn’t mind that as a lunch break on a work day.

On the sugar front, the main thing I’ve started doing is making our own muesli. I’ve attempted this in the past but it never lasted. Toby eats a LOT of muesli and it’s hard to keep up, plus with the amount he eats it is cheaper to buy it in bags from Coles than make it myself. But he was getting on the sugar-free bandwagon too and so I took it upon myself to start DIY-ing muesli. I started off using a Michelle Bridges recipe and have ended up with this:

900g rolled oats (seems like a random amount but that’s the size of the bag from Coles)

500g bran (specifically this one)

1.5 cups seeds (combination of pepitas and/or sunflower seeds)

1 cup slivered almonds

2 cups chopped dried fruit

Teaspoon of cinnamon (or a bit more, or none if you’re not a fan, or maybe other spices would be nice?)

This amount lasts over a week and sometimes nearly two, depending on how often I eat it.

It’s a total process of trial and error with getting the ingredients right. One week I did my shopping at Woolies and they didn’t sell a bran that I wanted so I replaced it with puffed rice (the “health food” kind, not the Rice Bubbles kind). BLAH. Another time I didn’t have almonds so I used walnuts. NO. One time I thought it would be an awesome idea to chop the dried fruit in the food processor but I got distracted and let it go so long it was a solid mass of Christmas cake flavoured stuff. On the other hand, last night I didn’t quite have enough rolled oats so I added a cup of shredded coconut which was a total winner. The dried fruit is also tricky – some of them have sugar added or other rubbish so you have to check labels if you’re being careful. They also come in weird textures that don’t necessarily work well – fresh dates tend to stick together and some of the really basic organic ones are really tough and dry. So yeah – trial and error, with even the errors being pretty edible and you only have to put up with it for a week or so until it’s time to make a new batch anyway.

Out of curiosity I googled Paleo muesli, interested to see what a grain free sugar free muesli looked like. I made this and it was divine. But it definitely wasn’t as healthy as my usual mix – how could it be when it’s got coconut oil and maple syrup in it? Therein lies some of the problem with a “sugar free” diet. It’s definitely a once or twice a week kind of muesli, or to be combined with plain rolled oats. But Toby’s not into those sorts of alterations to his breakfast routine (seriously we’ve been together 11 years and the only times I’ve seen him deviate from his usual breakfast is when we go out for breakfast, or he’s sick). So I’m back to a plain, unbaked, perfectly edible muesli and we’re starting off the day feeling oh so virtuous. One more small step towards not dying of cancer, with any luck.