Sunday, December 14, 2014

Happy Birthday Wren

Wren did not want a birthday party this year so we had a brunch for friends and family and went out to sushi for dinner.

Wren had a great time.

He had asked for a giant donut as his birthday cake.  We had to innovate as Mighty-O does not make giant donuts.  Instead, we bought two dozen and Frost and I learned to spin sugar (at 9am).  It was messy but great fun.    Here is the final cake.  We made the beeswax candles before Thanksgiving and Josh says it gave the cake a Seussical quality.

Wren was thrilled to receive $50 in Christmas money from his great-granny and granny.  Unfortunately, he wanted to spend it on in-game pack purchases for PVZ Garden Warfare on the PS4.  We told him that $20 was the limit for virtual toys.  He is now sulking and making strong moral arguments about a child's right to spend his birthday money on whatever he sees fit.

What do you think?

Friday, December 12, 2014

A Holiday Party and The Issue of Camembert

Yesterday was a bit crazy.   It started with the usual rushing to get the kids lunches in time for Frost to catch the bus in the dark.  There was not much in the pantry so he ended up with two granola bars and some sliced apple.  If he would eat tomatoes, we would have been in better shape.  Wren had the above + tomatoes.

Work was busy, as usual.  My morning of meetings was interrupted by numerous texts from Josh (who was working from home and waiting for the gas-fireplace-installation guy to arrive.  We had been told 9.30-10am and that it would take 6 hours.  The timing was significant because we were hosting Josh's work Holiday Party at our home at 5pm.

Here is the unfolding drama:

Fireplace ppl not here. We've reached the time where if it takes 6 hours it's awkward because our party starts
Wed, 10:58 AM
Can you call them?
Wed, 11:01 AM
what time did they say they would be here?
Wed, 11:02 AM
or 10-10.30 (earlier call)
Wed, 11:03 AM
He's 5 minutes out
Wed, 11:06 AM
Okay, tell him about party time. 
Wed, 11:06 AM
"5 minutes" haha. so predictable
Wed, 11:19 AM
there is much despondency about how to connect the gas
As always, the sales guy is much more optimistic than the person who actually has to do it
my idea of going through the column is more likely than fishing it through the wall, but he isn't confident about that either
Wed, 11:43 AM
Perhaps we should reschedule?
He was supposed to come and investigate the gas line issue before the install date but did not.
Wed, 11:48 AM
he's checking through the attic
he's also concerned that he doesn't have a long enough flex line to go up and back down
Wed, 11:57 AM
So, today is investigation day
Wed, 11:58 AM
Yeah, he was already concerned about the 5 deadline. And the investigation is taking a while
Wed, 12:02 PM
The pipe is being run through the column. Still planning on being home at 3? I need to do some shopping
Wed, 2:37 PM
Wed, 2:45 PM

I got home late.   The fireplace was completed around 7pm so we had the party in the kitchen.  However, it is lovely.   The nice thing is that this photo was taken this morning.  Wren loves to click the fire ON and watch iPad and then click it OFF.    He likes to adjust the flame height to TALL.   We now need new fire-centric lounging furniture.  This is the outside couch chair.

We also have a tree in the living room so we are doing pretty well.  All that is needed now are some gifts, spiced apple cider and snow.  Speaking of holiday cliches.  I thought you were supposed to serve camembert at parties.  Turns out it is BRIE.  Brie is mild and nutty.  I served camembert which Josh described as tasting like "stinky wet socks" according to his weak American palate.  I didn't even age the poor camembert.  It was still firm!  He hasn't seen me eat the kind where the insides drool out of the shell.  Sadly, my dairy-weak stomach does not plan to eat the remaining camembert alone.  I need help.  Others apparently shared Josh's derision of the camembert as it was the only food left behind - other than raw broccoli and raw cauliflower which are those dumb things stores use to fill out the veggie platter but nobody ever eats.

Frost wearing the holiday hat I made 2 years ago. 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Good news at Cardiology

Today, Wren had his 6 monthly cardiology appointment at Children's.   We arrived for our usual 3 hour appointment and I promptly lost the green plastic registration form with Wren's stickers which caused us to be late.  We and the nurses looked everywhere but it had vanished!

After a short while, Nurse Julie came in and did an EKG and blood pressures.  The blood pressures are taken on Wren's feet and wrists and evaluated to see whether there is a significant difference.  A difference means that there is some kind of blockage in the aortic arch.

There was none!

Wren is growing well and the EKG was his usual abnormal pattern but nothing unusually abnormal.

Dr L decided Wren did not need an echo.  He explained that Wren had been stable in his moderate regurg on the mitral valve for 3 appointments and that even if there was an increase it was very unlikely to be enough to warrant intervention (intervention means surgery of some kind).

Wren is growing well, feels well and has had few headaches.  He is officially "Doing Well".

We go back in 6 months.  Hooray.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Sunday at Home

Seattle is well into Fall.  The trees are losing their leaves and the street-scape is a palette of golds and orange.   Mushrooms are poking up everywhere.  While a few weeks ago, it was still dry but now the mushrooms are along the roadsides, in yards and under almost every tree.  Here is a patch we saw on a walk in the neighborhood.  These are edibles but I was not hungry enough to regret that they were through the fence.

This morning I asked Wren to make pancakes.  He was not keen at this responsibility and cried and yelled a little bit.  Calming down, we read the pancake box and he mixed the batter without incident.  He is a very literal kid, concerned about doing things right.  He found the instructions on the mixture unhelpfully vague.  For example, it said "Mix until blended".  He complained that he didn't know what blended looked like.  It said "Batter will have some lumps" but he didn't know how many was correct.  Thankfully I was there to guide him to ignore these questions and just DO it.  

The Batter sitting for 2 minutes
Wren expected me to take over after the batter was done, but I set him up by the stove to poor batter.  He was very alarmed by the heat of the gas range and complained about the danger and how unfair it was for me to expect this of him.  After three pancakes he changed his mind and said "This is actually quite fun."

He pours the batter into the butter.  I explained that this pan was too hot because
the butter was browning too much.

My Pancake. I ate it in the style of my South African family.  With cheddar and honey
(I did not have Lyles' Golden Syrup)
The pancake Flipping took practice.  It was easy at first when
there was only on pancake in the pan, but more difficult
when they had company.

Wren burnt himself once, slightly on a finger.  After that he was much more careful to keep his hands back from the stove.

As if we do not have enough wild mushrooms, we also have two kits growing in the pantry.  These were from our mushroom weekend at Breitenbush.  The one on the left is yellow pleurotus and the one of the right is grey (I harvested them).  I have been amazed at how quickly they grow.

After breakfast, we did house-things (computer games, cooking, dog-lounging and watching football) and then went off to Bellevue Square to buy a Baymax stuffed toy for Wren. He was very happy to get one and enjoyed a pizza lunch at Zeeks as a final season closer for his soccer team.  

Since I have not yet posted a Halloween 2014 photo on the blog, I had to re-use one from 3 years ago.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Day 5 at New School(s)

Wren says:  "School is getting a tiny bit better.  I am getting more used to lunch and I know more.  I am still worried at lunch but I know that every single time in lunch my teacher always comes eventually even if he is the second to last teacher to come.  Yesterday, the third graders were already in the room which was stressful for me, really really stressful! BUT eventually he came."

"Today is probably going to be worse because I am going to ride the bus to school and it might be late or lost or you (Mum) might not find the bus and I might not see you when we arrive."

Although Wren reports dire things, he is doing well.  We had a fabulous pick up time yesterday.  Wren was happy, said he had a great day, went to recess and back with no problem.  He was very happy because Mr Burke came to his classroom and helped them out to recess and stayed there.  I had asked the counselor to keep an eye on Wren today and Wren really appreciated that he was there.

After school, Wren said he has 4 friends.  He asked to stay at school and play with R and I met R's dad, Mr Z. Mr Z is an ex-Marine who was in the middle-east.  He is a badass bike rider and his wife is a computer engineer with a masters in Math and they lived in a Japan for a few years so they like... well... Japanese things.

Anyway, Wren and R are now FRIENDS.

He says that he is also friends with G and Anon (a brutish child whom I took a dislike to because he kept throwing his lunchbox at a small girl during the lunch I visited.  When the principal told him to stop he did, momentarily, and the resume throwing his lunchbox at the smaller girl).

Wren dislikes another boy whom he called "an angry boy" who stamped on a stuffed beanbag unicorn at gym in a fit of rage, twisted it up in his hands and shouted "NO".  It was not his unicorn and the unicorn's owner was sad.  Wren was sad too.   The Angry Boy also came up to wren at break and asked him if he wanted to fight.  Wren says he said "nah" and went another way.  This child is in another classroom.  I told Wren that some kids have trouble at school and some kids have trouble at home and perhaps that kid has trouble at home too.  Wren is planning "to say No to whatever he says and just walk away" if he sees him again.

Anyway, all went well.  Wren is riding the bus today for the first time with the neighbor and I will meet the bus at school to welcome him.  He said he was looking forward to it yesterday, by nightfall he was fearing it and by morning he was planning for various Worst Case Survival Scenarios.

Frost is fine.  He is still doing PE instead of Com Sci or Drama or TA.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

New School Year

This week my Facebook feed was full of photos of backpack-toting children on front steps wearing the required hopeful grimace for the first day of school.  Both Wren and Frost had their first day moments - both were starting at new schools.

Here is Frost on the first day of 8th Grade.  This is the last year of middle school

Frost wearing his "They Lost My Luggage" pants from Cape Town
And here is Wren on his first day at the large public school near us.  Their schools start almost 2 hours apart (Frost at 7.50am and Wren at 9.30am) so they did not go together.

Wren decided to wear Uggs to school "Because they are comfortable"
 Although both boys are starting at new schools, the change for Frost is less dramatic than Wren.  Frost's "highly capable cohort" which works a year or two ahead of standard curriculum was moved from one huge school building to another huge school building. The new building is North of us so it is no longer on the way to work.  This means he has to catch the bus.  Luckily, one of our neighbors also attends the same school and we have been granted a fairly close local stop in the mornings.

Frost missed the bus on the first day so I drove him and dropped him outside in a grid-lock of cars and buses.  The school community is in an uproar because the school is close to a major arterial that has gun shops, medical marijuana dispensaries and topless baristas.  The school is also opposite a high school.  Many families in the 'walk zone' around the school don't want their kids walking across or on this road and found no good public transport alternatives.  This had led to a politicization of school transportation and a honk-by among some parents.  

We sailed through and dropped Frost off without incident.  He did make it to the bus on Day #2.

Frost's First Day Report

Frost said his first day was fine.  The school is a lot smaller and they have these random holes in the wall that look like laundry chutes or vents that connect UP to an unknown destination.  The kids call them "mystery laundry chutes" and are curious about them.

Frost's only complaint is that he has not got into computer science or TA.  He is instead in PE.  He doesn't want me to intervene but has put in a class change green form and feels hopeful.  He has not yet learned that parents are useful when dealing with bureaucracy.  

Frost's new school has a strong focus on community building and have lots of homeroom discussions about moral issues like "when is obedience the right action?" and what expectations there are for citizenship.  Frost told me that he started the classroom discussion on obedience with the opinion that one should obey rules when the cost of obedience (in terms of loss of freedom or experience or consequence) is less than the consequences of disobedience.  Josh's response was "Well, whenever you disobey we are going to kill you."

Frost has had minimal homework and has not found his computer gaming to be much interrupted by schooling.

Wren's First Day Report

Wren was very anxious for his first day.  We arrived early along with the 400+ other kids and families in 2nd Grade.   It was ridiculous.  At KapKa, there were less than 40 kids in the school while at the new program there are 850 kids in the building.   He found his teacher and joined his class and that was the last I saw of him till the afternoon.

Wren goes inside.  He is in front of the child with the orange backpack.

Wren's Wreport

The good things first.  Wren really likes his class-room teacher, art, his own locker and being in his class.  He has a friend who sits at his table with him and is enjoying the work and the class activities, especially read-aloud. He has found the school counselor ("He says he is a teacher for everyone to help kids") and liked him a lot.

The Bad Things Second. Wren hates, fears, dreads and weeps daily during the half hour of break-lunch.  This period requires him to move (with some of his class) from the safety of his classroom and teacher to either the library or the rear playground.  Here are the two scenarios with their issues as Wren sees them.

1) If he chooses Rear Playground:
This is very noisy and overwhelming.  There are more than 100 children running around.  There are no teachers only playground grown-ups I don't know.  After 15 minutes you have to line up. I didn't listen so I don't know the line-up rules.  They might get cross if I don't line up when they whistle.  I might GET LOST!  You have to line up QUICKLY.   If I cry people will see me and think I am pathetic.  The good thing is that I can just follow the kids to find my lunch box because they take you to the lunch boxes and the cafeteria.  I can't tell anyone I feel overwhelmed or miss my mom.

2)  If he chooses Library:
This is nice and quiet and I can cry without anyone noticing and feeling embarrassed.  I don't actually read.  I just pretend to so I have a place to be quiet and not have people see me crying.  But I am afraid in the library because when its lunch (15 minutes) I don't know how to get to the lunch boxes.  The librarian says she can't take me because she has her work so I will be LOST IN THE SCHOOL!!!    She will be cross with me if she has to take me so I cannot go to the library ever again.  I don't know the way from the library to the lunch boxes because they moved them and the cafeteria has a one-way rule so you can't go IN the door I know.  It has a sign "Exit Only".

 On the second day I went into school with Wren and walked through all the pathways and routes he might have to take during break.  Still, he says he cried 7 times during break / lunch and I noticed he didn't eat much at all.  He says this is because he was worried he would get lost and was overwhelmed.

On Monday, I am going to take an hour or so in the middle of the day and come and walk through the break-lunchtime with Wren.  Josh is going to do it on Wednesday.  Hopefully he will become more comfortable with the process.  I have also asked his teacher and the counsellor for suggestions.

Wren did visit his "talking doctor" this week.  She observed that he seemed extremely happy and proud at how well he was doing at school so I think it is a case of high-intensity.  He feels VERY good at managing in his big place and big class but he feels very scared in the building context.  Joshua has told him that he feels like Harry Potter did when he arrived at Hogwarts.  At first it was very overwhelming but after a few books he knew every place at Hogwarts.  

Wren outside his "Hogwarts"
Wren keeps saying "I hope it becomes my Hogwarts SOON."

Wren happy that he knows where he is going (the Fountain Stairs)

Wren feeling happy at his classroom.

Wren is not riding the bus to school yet because we want him to feel confident during the day before adding on another perceived risk.

This weekend, Wren has his first soccer match of the year and we hope to go on a mushroom-scouting hike tomorrow. 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Cape Town - Dawn

6am Cape Town. 9pm Seattle. It is dawn on the morning after the big family/reunion aka meet-my-brother’s-friends party. I am lying on a foam mattress on the floor under the dark yellow chandelier listening to the distant song of the muezzin calling the devout to prayer. It quavers, rises and falls from the loudspeaker on the mosque a few blocks away in the Malay Quarter. Somewhere, 60 dirty glasses and 20 bottles of bubbly are waiting to be cleaned up but I can’t even make tea because the sound echoes and amplifies in this house of stone and tiel where a snorer, some runners, the children and Mum are sleeping.

Last night we received a text that my luggage has been found and should arrive at CPT from LHR on a 9.55am flight. This is great news as its possible that I will have some clothing choices other than the kundalini harem pants which I have slept in and worn for the past 24 hours (at least until a brief and expensive visit to a local boutique 1 hour before the party. I hope to pass on that bill to British Air).

Frost is complaining because the turquoise skinny jeans I bought him have buttons at the fly and that is not his kind of thing. He is sleeping in them too because he has no underwear or alternatives.

My brother lives like a happy bachelor. His condo (not a condo really but a 100+ year old terrace house overlooking Cape Town) has no washing utilities - no machine, line or anything. There is a kitchen which is minimally equipped (he has just moved in). He takes the laundry out to a service which launders and folds. The stay-down feature on toaster does not work - so you have to stand by it holding down button until it reaches the desired level of toastedness.

Staying here, we have to negotiate three bunches of keys to various doors, gates and grilles. The garage door has a metal security gate as well and the rear has gates and doors as well. As I listen to the sounds of the pre-dawn dark, there are car sounds interspersed with metal clangs as people leave by their metal gates talking loudly on their cells. These are not the kind of gates and keys we have in Seattle - which are mostly to Yales and deadbolts. They are big chrome keys which go into keyholes you can see through. They turn locks with a satisfying clunk.

Friday, June 27, 2014

At Heathrow

We have made it to Heathrow and checked into an airport hotel.  Frost is asleep (he did not sleep much on the flight) and Wren is perky as a robin. Wren does not like the taste of English tap water. He says that the minerals have gotten in it.  He also feels that the water is bluer here (because the Sofitel water is blue in their a sparkling white tub while at home ours appears yellowish).  

I watched much of The Wolf of Wall Street and enjoyed it but finally fell asleep.  I also watched the first two episodes of the Season 4 of Game of Thrones because I could not resist seeing Joffrey dying.  He was such a prick that it was very satisfying even at 2am at 30 000 feet with a numb butt and Frost's head in my ribs. 

The meal options have not worked out well.  My Vegan meal was okay.  Apparently vegans are uber-healthy as I got no desert except pineapple in juice, water and no crackers.  The main meal was grilled eggplant in pasta sauce with something that looked like tahini on it.   There were many Hindis on the plane and the cabin crew were puzzled that Frost was getting a Hindu meal.  They checked twice.  Unfortunately, I did not know that I had to specifiy Hindu VEGETARIAN so Frost (a vegetarian) had to avoid the chicken and sauce and ate only dal and rice.  He also avoided some strange desert like milk powder cakes floating in milk sauce.   Wren's dinner was meat balls and spaghetti with red-jello which he liked.  I ate Wren's refrigerated bread-roll with synthetic margarine that smelled of petrochemicals.   

The long-haul BA jets we were on was a 777 but it had a much updated in-flight entertainment system compared to others we've flown.  There are many many movie options, a whole menu of international indie films, best of british film festivals and tons of HBO and other 'catch up' TV.  I brought along my Bose noise-cancelling headphones and honestly, I couldn't tell I was on a plane it was so quiet and smooth.

We will head back to T5 within the hour.  Here is Wren's first journal entry:


The next flight is a bit longer but we are feeling fine and hope our in-flight entertainment is as good.

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Trouble with Whole Foods AND the Trouble with Books

Guest Post by Granny Anne.

 I love going to Whole Foods when I am in Seattle. We don’t have anything quite like it in Australia – yet. There are many reasons that visits there are enjoyable. Firstly they arrange fresh food, flowers, wine, cheeses,  - everthing so well. I am sure there is a special department for it that has worked out the aesthetics of presentation. The Carrots are sorted just so – as to blend in with the green capsicums next to them – and so it goes on. There is a feel-good about the whole shopping trip. The meat and fish is graded for sustainable and ethical farming. You almost know the name of the top level of chicken you buy. These lucky chickens are raised with lots of space, with easy access to outside, with nesting material to scratch in and be a natural chicken. When they are killed, they are not moved more than a kilometer or two and they are never held upside down. You only have to know about the life of an average chicken to know that this would be a paradise for a modern chicken. So you can feel good – almost good about eating meat or fish from Whole Foods.

But – there are complications – first you buy too much – too much looks so good and you are sure it will be consumed at home. This leads to waste. I have bought a book on the waste in America – ‘American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half of Its Food’ by J. Blood. I have been trying to get my grandchildren to finish their food. This does not seem to be a problem when there is a cookie there but the main course of ‘good’ food often is a struggle.
Secondly, after you leave WholeFoods with your trolley almost full there are always one or two people begging outside. They stand in the cold and rain with placards detailing their sad situations. Sometimes they offer a poem for you to buy. This is coming down to earth fast.

We have too much food in our fridges and too many books in our houses. I love going to Third Place Books when I am in Seattle.
Vios Café at Third Place on Urbanspoon
Vios at Third Place
The coffee shop, Vios,  is a treat.  The plate of dips is exceptional and the Kopanisti dip is good enough for a special trip.  The kids enjoy the kebabs and they also have delicious seasonal baked goods which they make on site as well as Italian gelati which we enjoy in summer.

When you come in, offer the Third Place store a chance buy some of your second hand books and they will give you a discount. At least they used to buy lots, but this time they hardly took any. I am sure Amazon is affecting them. Their stocks are high and the second hand books sell so cheaply – most are under $10. I am going home with about 15 new books in my bags.

Shannon gives away books. The latest phenomenon is the Little Free Libraries that have sprung up since I was last here. take a book and leave a book. One is in Shannon’s street and each one is decorated differently. This is a wonderful idea and I hope that it eventually finds its way Down Under - which is where I am going, leaving in two hours.

By Anne Chappel

Monday, March 3, 2014

Seattle’s Winter Games February 2014

I have travelled from the height of Adelaide’s summer to winter time in Seattle. Just before I left Adelaide we had a week of a ‘rolling heat wave’ that broke local records.  One day the temperature reached 46 degrees in Adelaide (114 F). The garden plants that we did not cover with shade cloth were burnt. We have lost gum trees that we had hoped, being ‘native’, would endure.

Now to I have arrived in Seattle. The days are still short, and gentle rain falls most days. The odd sunny day is greeted with enthusiasm by all. The kids rush out to get in a few minutes of leaping on the trampoline. Everyone feels spring is almost here. The early crocuses are budding and the trees show a hint of colour. But its mostly a case of promises at this stage – Shannon says freezing spells are still likely.

Even in winter Seattle life goes on. Soon after arriving Frost went off to his ‘Ultimate Frisbee’ practice and match. This involved an hour of practice and 90 minutes of competition on a sodden grass field at 5pm at night. The cold rain was falling gently and Frost went off in a light shirt to do battle with the Frisbee. I was wearing two layers of wool and a wool coat. While Frost practiced, Shannon and I escaped into the Elliot Bay BookCompany,
which appeared to be a haven for many that winter night. An hour later we went to watch Frost and found that the coach had cancelled due to the continuing rain, short teams, and strong winds. We could take Frost home. Frost was not complaining about the cold. I think that, like Josh, he wears short sleeves throughout the year.

Tonight Frost played another match in the pouring rain. He said afterwards that, 'he had played the best that he could without fingers'. It was so cold he could not feel his fingers. 

Frost and Wren are now into skiing. Its just over an hour to the Summit at Snoqualmie we have been there twice in my time here. The snow is deep now and over two metres thick beside the road. Wren is doing weekly lessons and Shannon has been joining him to allay his anxieties. Wren’s main concerns have been around the chair lift – getting on and off. I think he has too much imagination.

Coming down the mountain on the green slopes – even the blue runs - have been no problem for Wren: he is an excellent snow-plougher and steady on his feet.   

Frost and Wren love board games and Shannon had bought Monopoly Empire. It’s more enjoyable than the classic Monopoly for two main reasons: Games mostly only last a few minutes, and secondly the lead can change hands many times. Wren has particularly enjoyed playing this. I taught Wren and Frost the card game called ‘Scum’ which Sandy Shewell had taught us. It’s a lot of fun – played with up to 8 people. Wren liked being the 'King' but was concerned about moving down to ‘Scum’ as is one’s lot sooner or later.

Wren and Frost love reading. Wren still has reading time before bed time. Josh is reading him Harry Potter: book six: The Half Blood Prince. Wren’s reading-to-himself favourites have been the ‘Practical guide to Fairies’ and the Tashi series.
He has laughed mightily over the Elephant and Piggie booksby Mo Willem.

In Seattle’s winter you have to try to fill inside time without resorting to computer games - which are there to tempt. Frost is very good playing with Wren, who follows him round faithfully. Whatever Frost does, Wren is sure to follow. This morning Wren suggested a game of chess after our morning mushroom crepes and Frost was good to comply. 

Tonight we will be attending an Oscar appreciation party – for tonight the Oscars are being awarded. This is a performance I am usually unaware of in Australia. I have seen two of the films on the short list – Gravity and Captain Phillips. Both I watched on the 12 hour flight from Auckland to San Francisco.

Three more days before I take the long journey home to Adelaide, where we all long for cool days and rain.
by Granny Anne