Reading to a 4-year old

March 23, 2015

Here are three books that I’ve been reading to our four-year old recently. They are actually pretty good, apart from the princess pop-up book. Oh boy, do I get sick of those princess stories!

c&l_sizzles_300 dr xargle sleeping beauty pop up

Leah is going through a toilet-humour phase at the moment so I’m seriously considering investing in one of the Captain Underpants books. Yesterday we sang the “Diarrhea song” and managed about 12 verses. It is terribly silly and also quite addictive. Google if you don’t know it – or rather don’t since it may become an ear-worm!

Any other book recommendations for this age group? I downloaded an audio version of Charlotte’s Web but I think she’s too young for that.

As for Tessie, she just wants to rip out the flaps in all her books. I wish she would direct her energy towards something useful such as crawling!

Here’s a pic of the two of them this week. Tessie was not feeling great but she’s still a cute bunny.

Two bunnies

Holiday catch-up

January 28, 2015

tidal pool smallWe’re into the second week of school and I’m slowly adjusting after six weeks off. Sounds idyllic but actually it was pretty hard work with two small ones. A baby who woke up at 5am on the dot (before the blinds – now we get to sleep for an extra 45 minutes) and then the monotony of looking after an 8-month old and a 3-year old. There’s only a certain number of times you can watch The Little Mermaid, print Ariel colouring-in pages and change nappies before you go a little dilly.

We did get down to Betty’s Bay for a couple of days and then to Hermanus. I love being at Betty’s Bay — even when the time is short and we have two little ones to look after. Our trip to Hermanus was a little too eventful for my liking, however. I packed the car – no small feat involving spatial reorganisation and tough decisions about what to leave behind — and then we were all set to go. Children strapped in, house alarm on and the food in cooler bags.  Of course the car which was working perfectly well 10 minutes before now wouldn’t start at all Jump leads? Nothing. Call the AA and prepare to wait for 2 hours. And then in desperation telephone my father-in-law who knows about cars. He says something about the solenoid, tells me to put the car in 2nd gear and try it again. Voila! I haven’t been so relieved since my previous car broke down in a dodgy area on the way to Betty’s Bay.

And then Hermanus. Hot, windy, crowded. But still lovely. Some of my favourite things: early morning walks with the little one in the pram; lunch at a child-friendly wine farm near Stanford with a superb play area for children; and then swimming in the tidal pool near the Marine Hotel.

Leah loved it. There were starfish! And the pool was the perfect temperature even for a cold-blooded creature like me.

We still had a couple of weeks of childcare, home maintenance etc. but at least we were refreshed by our time by the sea.

Today was my first day of taking Leah to her new pre-school. But that’s a story for another day.

Thank goodness …

November 21, 2014
  • it’s Friday
  • for children (the pics are of Tessie with her maracas and Leah as a dalmatian puppy)
  • for audiobooks (currently listening to Expo 58 by Jonathan Coe)
  • for tax rebates
  • for tuna toasties (recipe here)
  • for gardens and irrigation (this is our front bed).

I know I complain a lot but today I’m slowing down, taking a pause and being grateful. I’ll worry again tomorrow :-)

maracas nov 2014 dalmatians

front garden nov 2014 small


How to have an awful marriage

November 17, 2014

When a couple has had the same argument 1400 million times, they can follow it without effort like a train follows a railroad track. Many elderly couples sit side by side in wheelchairs, and even if they don’t have the strength to hit each other they need only say one code word to be able to reminisce and have all previous bad feelings without having to carry out the quarrel. They still have their memories and imagination, even if they hardly have the strength to argue. (Jay Healey, How to have an awful marriage).

I found this article while tidying up (more reading and the occasional recycling than actual good filing) and it brought a wry chuckle. Healey describes the ingredients required to have a really bad marriage. The first two: marry the wrong person for the wrong reason. Add in family tension, the difficulties attached to parenting, some money woes and you’re well on track. Of course children can also bring joy so it takes some expertise to keep the misery going.

Healey describes how an old couple can have an argument in three words. (This? No! Yes! Wife takes product and puts it back on the shelf.) I loved the economy of this and it also makes a refreshing change from some of the self-help books which I read partly for work and partly for myself.

One self-help book which I’m still trying to read is The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. This is an excellent book and I’ve found parts of it really useful. But I have a definite aversion to self-help books and will find any reason to avoid reading them. Maybe it’s the air of authority or the preachy tone. There’s also the smugness of the Author, PhD. I’m sure John Gottman isn’t like that but I would much rather be told an interesting story than to be given Seven Principles which I need to try and remember.

Let me just clarify that our marriage is certainly not awful. It has its moments (which relationship doesn’t) and this weekend we were exhausted and a little grumpy, which was certainly not helped by having a vomiting 3-year old. Leah is fine now but we’re still recovering.

Somewhere in the exhaustion of this weekend L found the strength to make a delicious chocolate cheesecake (see below). Once we’d got past the guilt, it was seriously good. And it also served as a good reward to my in-laws for help with home maintenance.

choc cheesecakeWe also watched a couple more episodes of Stella (funny but this series is creaking slightly).

One thing that I am trying this week is the Gretchen Rubin philosophy (from The Happiness Project)  of lessening the critical comments. L and I tend to go round and round on this (criticising each other for being critical) and someone has to exit the roundabout. I’ll let you know how that pans out.

Tales from childhood

October 25, 2014

“Tell me a story when you were little,” demands Leah, looking expectantly at L or me.

This has become one of her stock forms of entertainment when she has some time to kill. She is often sitting on the loo when she asks and this generally works well since she has a captive audience (or in this case storyteller).

So either L or I sit down on the bathroom step and tell her some story from our childhoods.

  • The time I rode my bike around the pool when it was still being built and I fell in (just enough water to break my fall and not enough to drown me).
  • The time L was climbing up the ladder separating their garden from that of her best friend and found a large German shepherd coming up the other side. She got a big fright, ran inside and locked the door – leaving her mother and scared younger sister locked outside with the big dog. (Her mom was not pleased that she refused to open the door!)
  • The time that I saw a “foxy eating Pronutro”. My parents were on an outing to a game park with the four of us children and my older brother and sisters could all identify interesting wildlife while I could identify nothing. So I invented the “foxy eating Pronutro”.
  • The time that I broke a cup and saucer and expected my mother to be really angry and she surprised me with “Oh well, accidents happen. At least you were honest about it.”
  • The time my sister and I went on a holiday with my Granny to the seaside by train. We stayed right next to the beach, played bat and ball, swam, went for walks etc. I also lost one of the tennisette racquets and my gran bought the exact replicas so that my mom needn’t find out.
  • The time that L and her sister went to stay with Nanna and Pops and the twins were born. L and her sister both got a beautiful baby brother to “look after”.
  • Lying in bed listening to my father read me bedtime stories (with my brother listening through the door from the next room). My father read probably the whole of Roald Dahl and most of Arthur Ransome.

Perhaps inevitably I remember stories from my childhood which wouldn’t make for such good storytelling. The time that I was accidentally burned with scalding water in the bath when I was 7 or 8 years old. Sitting on the stairs listening to parents arguing. The time I wanted to kill my brother with a putt-putt stick (I had enough of his teasing).

Leah is a delightfully curious little girl and I can see she appreciates these tales from childhood. If I don’t tell them right she will often suggest some detail that she wants to hear more about. The polite but demanding “When you were little … what?” is mostly too good to resist.

She is also quite impossibly talkative at times (I still wonder if it’s normal for someone to talk non-stop for hours on end).

But I can see that I will need to work on my repertoire of stories from when I was little. Perhaps I can start to invent some interesting stories courtesy of my favourite childhood authors. :-)


October 23, 2014


‘Do you like the race so far?’

I looked at her, trying to find sarcasm, but she was serious; she really wanted to know. And I thought of how to answer her.

I had gotten lost, been run over by a moose, watched a dog get killed, seen a man cry, dragged over a third of the teams off on the wrong trail, and been absolutely hammered by beauty while all this was happening. (It was, I would find later, essentially a normal Iditarod day — perhaps a bit calmer than most.) I opened my mouth.

‘I …’

Nothing came. She patted my arm and nodded. ‘I understand. It’s so early in the race. There’ll be more later to talk about …’

And she left me before I could tell her that I thought my whole life had changed, that my basic understanding of values had changed, that I wasn’t sure if I would ever recover, that I had seen god and he was a dog-man and that nothing, ever, would be the same for me again, and it was only the first true checkpoint of the race.

I had come just one hundred miles.

Gary Paulsen is an award-winning writer of adventure stories for children and young adults and Winterdance is a wonderful account of his experiences on the world’s greatest dog-sledding race, the Iditarod.

I absolutely loved this book and it made me want to run the Iditarod for myself. I appreciate that there is controversy about how some of the dogs are treated (over 140 dogs have died since the race’s start in 1973) but if Paulsen’s account is anything approaching a typical experience then the majority of the dogs are treated extremely well. Part of this is pure survival – your life literally depends on these dogs.

Two of the things I loved about this book was the bond between man and dog as well as Paulsen’s prose style. Paulsen describes in wonderful detail the change that he undergoes as he lives with the dogs all the time and really gets to know them (including the aptly-named crazy Canadian Eskimo dog Devil) in preparation for the race. The second part describes the race itself – from the ‘phony start’ in downtown Anchorage to the treacherous descents of Rainy Pass, the bone-chilling cold of the Yukon and the starkly beautiful Norton Sound.

This is an adrenalin-filled, funny, life-affirming account of a 43-year old Minnesota man’s journey with 15 dogs on the ultimate dog-sledding race. Easily one of the best books I’ve read this year.


I would also recommend watching a clip of the type of sledding that the mushers experience on the Iditarod. Having read Paulsen’s book, I was expecting  a hair-raising crash-filled dash with larger-than-life dog-wolves. The reality is a lot more sedate – until they get to the downhill part. And bear in mind that this clip is taken by one of the experts, a four-time Iditarod winner.

Empathy Tuesday

September 23, 2014

A shout-out for Empathy today. Great short clip by RSA shorts and Brené Brown.

I’m also interested in looking at the roots of empathy in childhood. Two clips which I sometimes show my students are the “Still Face Experiment” and the “Emotional Baby”. In the “Still Face Experiment”, a mother initially reacts to her baby’s distress with a non-responsive face. She then comes alive again in the interaction and it’s a moving example of disruption and repair. The “Emotional Baby” video shows a baby crying in response to the emotion of the mother’s voice singing a moving song.

Our own ‘baby experiment’ is ongoing. Tessie is almost five months old now and is doing well. Both L and I are doing less well and are suffering from sleep-deprivation. Those night-time feeds are a killer (for L – I get to change a nappy and go back to bed). Tonight will be the first time I get to feed Tessie in the middle of the night (if she wakes up, which has become her norm now). I’m really not looking forward to that, but if it means that L gets some sleep then it will be worth it.

I suppose it does help that Tessie is a cute baby (aren’t all babies?) When she gives me one of those smiles then I can get over my need for sleep (at least for a while).


Which brings me round to this. If you don’t see me around the blog – commenting, reading, posting – then this is why. We’re hanging on.



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