April 2012

As of this moment…

I am thankful for my husband, who cooks for me every night. Every time I sit down to a meal that he’s cooked, I feel deeply loved.

I am thinking of our friend from church, whose husband did die on Wednesday night as we had feared. The loneliness, and the emptiness…. my heart just aches for her.

I am typing away at the desk in our family room. Rick is in his study, working. The boys are upstairs, quiet and asleep. Such is the lull of our Saturday nights.

I feel so refreshed from our family time together yesterday. We went on a spontaneous road trip: we headed first to Church Point, where we stopped for coffee, sultana buns and a walk down to the wharf. From there, we drove to the West Head lookout where we saw the most spectacular views. Rick and I were literally breathless at the beauty that stretched before us. In the evening, we went to Dee Why to catch the sunset and watch the waves roll in.

I am learning to switch off and just be ‘present’ with the boys when I’m spending time with them. In fact, this week, I began putting my phone away so that I’m not tempted to check Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. There is still a long way to go, but baby steps are being made.

I am still in disbelief that the boys all ate their dinner tonight – happily and willingly. Three cheers for chicken and spiral pasta! Three cheers for daddy who cooks!

I am looking forward to dinner tomorrow night with my friends.

I am sipping cappuccino from a sachet, because we’re out of milk.

I am eager to get on with my scrapbooking!

I am missing my parents, who are still in Hong Kong.

I am shivering from the cold. Whatever happened to autumn?

I am tired.

I can’t believe it’s almost May.

I wish time would slow down.

I wish the boys didn’t grow up so fast.

I wish I could ease my friend’s pain. But I know I can’t. So instead, I shall weep with her, and grieve with her.

I shall cherish Rick all the more.

On the kiddo table

Lately I’ve been inspired by the amazing Miss James from Bleubird Vintage to try and think more creatively about what we serve the boys for dinner. So these last couple of weeks, Rick and I have been brainstorming ideas and attempting to coax our boys to consume dinner more eagerly (and efficiently) by serving up meals which we thought they would be interested in eating. Well, the results are in and here they are:

Preparation time:

Approximately 40 minutes

Components:

Meat balls, bok choy, pumpkin and mushroom

Response from Angus (3 year old):

Consumed two kebabs by himself. Told us that he liked “the funny things on a stick.”

Response from Pete (2 year old):

Refused bok choy. Refused pumpkin. Refused mushroom. Finally accepted two meatballs. Accepted yoghurt with great delight.

Response from Jamie (1 year old):

Picked up meatball, and ate it. Picked up pumpkin, and ate it. Picked up mushroom and ate it. Picked up bok choy and attempted to chew it. Discarded bok choy. Picked up the remaining meatball, pumpkin and mushroom and polished it all off. Consumed one entire kebab (minus bok choy remnants) happily and willingly.

Our conclusion:

2 out of 3 liked the kebabs. Success!

Addendum:

Sadly, when we tried the same kebabs again a few days later, 0 out of 3 liked the kebabs.

Preparation time:

Approximately 30 minutes

Components:

Veal schnitzel, beans, peas and cherry tomatoes

Response from Angus (3 year old):

Consumed schnitzel with much persuasion. Consumed cherry tomatoes. Consumed 1 bean. Rejected all peas.

Response from Pete (2 year old):

Ate 2 pieces of schnitzel under great duress. Rejected all greens. Did not even look at the small red things. Instead, ate Jamie’s ‘Organic Only’ fruit muesli (read: baby food) from a jar. And a banana.

Response from Jamie (1 year old):

Allowed schnitzel bites to be put into his mouth. Tasted schnitzel bites. Spat out schnitzel bites. Accepted my offer of porridge, which we had as back up.

Our conclusion:

Try again when all three are over the age of five.

Addendum:

Mummy polished off the schnitzel bites.

Preparation time:

Unknown, because these were made by Nan (on Pa’s birthday)!

Components:

Chicken nuggets, potato fries

Response from Angus (3 year old):

Finished most of the food on his plate, along with a few tomatoes from the grown-up’s salad.

Response from Pete (2 year old):

Climbed on and off the chair about five times. Ignored nuggets. Ignored chips. Ignored mummy’s look of immense exasperation. Accepted six mouthfuls of porridge.

Response from Jamie (1 year old):

Ate grapes. And maybe five mouthfuls of porridge.

Our conclusion:

Invest in the shares of a company that produce rolled oats.

Addendum:

Mummy ate the nuggets. Mummy ate the chips. And then mummy had lasagne. And pie.

Despite everything, we shall keep trying. Round 2 here we come. Brace yourselves, boys.

p.s. I am also over at Johanna’s blog today, sharing the big and small things that make life with three little boys easier and extra special. Head over there for a few peeks into our home!

Today…

Today is ANZAC Day. The day we remember the Australian soldiers who fought for our country. For us. “They shall not grow old, as we that are left behind grow old. Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn them.”

Today we found out that one of our parishioners will most likely die in the next 24 hours. We visited him in hospital and I witnessed with my own eyes how age and cancer have indeed wearied him and condemned him.

Today I am weeping for his family, especially his wife and his daughter. I think of my own Rick, and how empty and heart-wrenching life would be without him. I cannot even fathom it.

Today I feel helpless that there is nothing I can do but pray. And wait.

Today I am reminded that death is evil. Death takes our loved ones away. Death rips our hearts open. Death brings pain. And death brings grief.

Today I am reminded that life is a blessing from God. Every waking and breathing moment of it. We are not to take it for granted.

Today is a day of remembrance.

Today is to be cherished – by those of us left behind.

“Lest we forget.”

When Rick and I first got married, we used to go over to his parents’ house for lunch or dinner at least once a week. Sue, Jess and Mark – Rick’s two sisters and brother-in-law – would often be there too. Mary, Rick’s mum, would usually have something roasting in the oven, be it pork, beef or lamb. There would be also be gravy, baked vegetables, salad and apple cider. Sometimes instead of a roast, mum might make a lasagne, which would be equally delicious. Whatever she made, there would almost always be an apple or peach crumble to follow, served with creamy vanilla ice cream and a hot cup of tea. We would chat, laugh, swap stories and some of us would even catch up on a nap now and again (okay, I admit, that was often me).

Though I wasn’t aware of it then, that was a truly special time in our married life. It was through those conversations over the countless meals we shared together that I got to know Rick’s family – my family. I learnt family history, family trees, family stories, family rituals and family jokes (and boy were there many of those). I learnt why Rick is the man that he is – so expressive, so gentle, so loving, so warm and so kind – because that’s what his parents are like. I learnt that in the Mason clan, family comes first, and nothing is too much trouble if it means helping each other out. Words cannot express how blessed I felt to be included and welcomed so unconditionally into such an amazing family.

These days, we don’t often get to enjoy a family meal together at mum and dad’s place like we used to. Everyone lives further away, work commitments are more demanding and for us, having the little ones means that it’s hard to go out at night or at lunchtimes, because that’s when sleeps and naps (theirs, not ours) take place.

On Friday, however, we packed the boys into the Discovery after their nap time and made the trip to Pa and Nan’s place. It was dad’s birthday, and mum had invited us over for a family meal. We arrived to see a meat pie baking the oven, a lasagne on the benchtop ready to go, and homemade chicken nuggets for the boys. Jamie jumped straight into Pa’s arms, while Angus and Pete bustled about emptying the toy cupboard and trying to get Nan’s attention. Being the amazing grandmother that she is, Nan of course managed to keep both boys happy whilst finishing off dinner preparations. Honestly, I aspire to be like her one day.

After dinner, which was admittedly a slightly chaotic affair, we bathed the boys and put them in their PJs. Then, with much excitement, Nan brought out Pa’s birthday cake and one by one the candles were lit while the boys looked on with great anticipation. We sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to Pa, with both Angus and Pete joining in. In fact, as I watched Pete shout “Hurray!” along with everyone else, I was suddenly struck by how much he’d grown up in the last few months. Naturally, the boys devoured the chocolate cake (if only dinner went down as easily) and Pete even asked Nan for a second serving, that cheeky little monkey.

Even though we had to rush off after the cake and had no time for cups of tea, the family time together gave me a beautiful taste of what is to come in the future, when the boys are a bit older and can stay up later. As for now, I shall cherish this wonderfully chaotic stage of life, because this shall surely pass in the twinkling of an eye.

p.s. Happy birthday Pa! We love you to bits.

We are in the car, on our way home one day.

Angus: “When I’m a grown up, I’ll choose a car from the car shop. If I need a motorbike, I’ll get a motorbike.”
Me: “You’re not going to need one.”
Angus: “If I need one, I’ll get one.”
Me: “You won’t need one. Period.”

* * *

Again, in the car:

Angus: “Land Rover Discovery is a very long word.”

* * *

At the dinner table one evening:

Angus: “I wont be a grown up for a long time because I’m still three years old for a long time. How old are you mummy?”
Me: “Thirty-two, darling.”
Angus: “Thirty two is a lot!”

* * *

During bedtime with the boys:

Angus: “Daddy, you better kneel down so that you don’t squash me.”

Moments later….

“Daddy, in the morning, the sky turns blue when the earth turns towards the sun, and the clouds turn white, and daddy, when the clouds get full of water, we get rain in the morning.”

* * *

In the morning, while Pete is having his nappy changed:

Rick: “Pete has a pink bottom.”
Angus: “Oh no, that will hurt. When people have a pink bottom, that means it hurts.”

* * *

After a tearful dinnertime one evening:

Me: “Do you know why you were crying?”
Angus: “No. Sometimes you just don’t know why. It just happens.”

* * *

In the car, on our way to the beach:

“I see things and I think about them, oh and I also talk about the things I think about, and I do that all the time.”

* * *

And finally, this afternoon during quiet time:

Angus: “Daddy, why are you just wearing a tummy?”

(You can read more of our conversations with Angus here.)

Introducing Project Life

I am so excited to be sharing my very first Project Life spread with you! First up, I have to thank Elise because it was through her amazing blog that I found out about Project Life. In a nutshell, Project Life is a scrapbooking system developed by Becky Higgins that allows you to focus on the memory-keeping rather than being caught up in the stress of the scrapbooking process. I’ve spent so many years fantasising about the ultimate scrapbooking method, and seriously, this is it my friends. This is it.

One of the underlying premises of Project Life is that you capture one week in one spread. This is rather revolutionary for me, because it allows me the freedom of choosing the best moments of the week to capture, rather than feeling like I need to scrapbook every single one. More importantly, the flexibility of the Project Life system is pure genius. Pure genius.

Anyway, I’ll jump right into my first spread, and hopefully as the weeks go by, it’ll become clear to you how amazing this system is! Also, let me encourage you to do a Google image search for Project Life and you’ll see what I mean by how ridiculously flexible it is. (You can click on any of these images to enlarge them.)

This is the entire left hand page for week 14. I’ll go through each most of the sections separately to explain what I did. You need to decide before you begin whether your week begins on a Sunday or Monday. I chose Monday. Also, even though the idea is that there are NO RULES and you can do whatever you want for each week, I have to admit I spent a bit of time working out what I thought my ‘style’ would be, and how I was likely to scrapbook each week. A lot of this depends on what materials you have and how you like to capture memories. In doing my first spread, I learnt that I was more naturally a ‘digital’ scrapbooker rather than a traditional scrapbooker (mainly because I can’t stand my own handwriting). (Sad, but true.).

I decided to put my favourite shot of the week – aka the ‘hero shot’ – as the very first image. This happened to be a photo that I took of all three boys on the Thursday morning, while they were all standing at the front window watching the cars go by. No words needed to explain this shot. Just one of those everyday moments that capture in itself what life with the boys looks like right now. I added the photo’s date to the bottom left hand corner, and you will see that I’ve done this with every other photo as well.

You’ll notice if you look at photos of other people’s Project Life albums, this first photo of the spread is usually the one that intros the week, and almost always has the first and last dates of that particular week on it. I like the way Elise has a Kraft circle dot and the two dates stamped on two lines, but I didn’t think that it would tie in way with the rest of my digital design (I also had some inexplicable difficulty with working my stamp – most likely just lack of co-ordination of my part, but let’s not dwell on that for the purposes of this post.) So I settled on this beige arrow with white text on top – which is admittedly okay but not fantastic. For now, it’s fine, and the best thing about this system is that if I decide to change it down the track, I can always just re-print the photo and re-insert it! Awesome, right?

I took this photo at Dee Why beach on the Thursday evening, on my way back to the car from the cafe having picked up a couple of coffees for Rick and myself. It was just beautiful. I decided to just typeset the words ‘Dusk at Dee Why’ in Rockwell font over the photo. I foresee a lot of these ‘Dusk at Dee Why’ shots throughout the album.

Below the two landscape 4×6 pockets are four portrait 3×4 pockets. In this first pocket is a brief overview of the week, including special highlights (like Jamie starting to cruise!) and events. I designed the card in Adobe InDesign (which is also what I use to add text and arrows and other design elements to all the photos) and will be re-using the template for future weeks. The photo to the right is one of Pete and Jamie at lunchtime on Tuesday, eating cheese. We like our cheese here at Casa Mason.

[click to continue…]

As of this moment…

…I am brimming with unspoken words that fill my head every night.

…I am excited about finishing my first Project Life spread, and can’t wait to share this with you all next week.

…I am adjusting to living further away from our families.

…I am waiting for my cup of tea to steep.

…I am looking at the two small piles of leaves on our back lawn, which Rick and Angus had raked up together yesterday during their ‘gardening’ time.

…I am watching Angus fiddle with their new oven and stove set from my parents. It sounds like he is giving the oven a good clean.

…I am amazed at the things Angus says, and how much he understands and remembers.

…I am stoked that I finally fit into a pair of jeans I bought two years ago. (And they’re comfortable!)

…I am eager to start doing some regular exercise next week. Seriously. For real, this time.

…I am so proud of Pete for falling asleep last night and this afternoon without his dummy.

…I can’t believe that Jamie is cruising around on his own. What happened to my little baby?

…I am so thankful for our boys.

…I am hopeful that we can continue to grow our family.

…I am loving being a mama to our boys.

…I still get cranky and impatient.

…I am working on it.

…I am looking forward to dinner tonight with my husband.

…I can hear Pete and Jamie waking up from their naps.

…I am gearing up for the afternoon and evening ahead.

…I am blessed.

From top to bottom above: Sidewalk cafe in Manly; Dee Why beach at dusk; boys in a row last Sunday morning.

My studio, my office, my study – whatever you want to call it, it’s the one room in the house which is all mine. It’s the room where I work, write, blog, chill, crash and nap (in no particular order). (Okay maybe in reverse order).

My studio was the one room in the house which I had complete creative freedom when it came to decor, furnishings and layout. I could decide what I, and I alone, wanted to do with it (so much power, I know). Plus, Rick’s office had previously inherited my IKEA Billy bookcases and when we moved to this new home, I also gave him my IKEA Gallant desk (generous wife that I am). So yet again, I had a blank canvas to play with.

Ironically though, with so much ‘power’ and freedom, I was stuck for a very long time. I’m sure I went through at least five different ‘drafts’ of what I thought I wanted my studio to look like. I wanted a yellow table, no a white one, or maybe a black one, actually one of those old school industrial tables would be cool, or even just a plank of wood on two sawhorses (something which I would still love to do down the track). It was only after trawling through a gazillion images on the internet that I finally nailed what I thought my ‘true style’ was. And I think I got it right.

Even though there are still a few things I would like to do with my studio, the basics are all in place so why not share it now?

We may as well start with the much-hyped table. This is where I do the first three things I mentioned above: work, write and blog. An insane amount of paperwork also passes through here. As you can see the final table is not yellow, white, black nor industrial. It is, however, solid wood and has the most beautiful turned legs. I bought it on eBay for an awesome bargain, and Rick thereafter spent about a month and a half taking it apart, sanding it back, varnishing it and re-assembling it for me. A true labour of love. It sounds romantic but the reality was increasing frustration on my part that it was taking so long and increasing stress on Rick’s part that he couldn’t get it done as quickly as I wanted. In the end, it turned out beautifully, and I’m so thankful to my wonderful husband that he insisted on sanding it back twice with two separate varnish applications.

There is no art yet above my desk, as I’m still trying to decide whether to cover the wall with a inspiration/mood board, or to go for the more minimalist approach of an inspiration string similar to these beauties made by Bri and Jen.

Also in the picture: Yet another Tolix chair, this time in galvanised silver, and the same Space lamp as the one in the dining room. As you can see, when I’m onto a good thing, I don’t mind repeating it throughout the house.

I don’t even drink Pepsi but I love my vintage Pepsi crates. They are such an easy way to group a number of small items together. You can find them on both Etsy and eBay. As for the cushion on the seat: I’m not tall enough for the table and therefore need extra padding (my own version of a booster seat).

I saw this mid-century jewellery box on Etsy while I was browsing one day and just thought it was gorgeous. I was so pleased when it arrived as it was in almost mint condition and the actual colour and texture were both just lovely. I use it to store bits and pieces for crafting, as well as notes and cards that I’m hoping to include on my inspiration board/string. The letter B is from Freedom.

On the other side of the room, underneath the window, I have this stunning antique couch. This is where I do the latter three things: chill, crash and nap. I hunted this down on eBay two months before I even saw our new home. I knew, though, that I wanted something like that for my new studio and if it really didn’t work or fit, I could always use it in the living area. Despite being an antique, it is in the most beautiful condition, and boy am I glad I won the auction with my ninja-like last-minute auction-bidding skills. The burlap cushion is from The Nest UK, and offers a perfect contrast to the ornate detail of the couch. The quarto sheepskin is from New Zealand, and it is seriously the softest and fluffiest sheepskin my feet have ever stepped on.

To the right of the couch is this white Alex drawer from IKEA, which is incredibly well-designed and makes extremely good use of space. Again, it’s a nice contrast to the couch and table, in terms of colour, texture and design.

The framed artwork is one that I made myself several years ago now for our home in Newtown, using scraps of specialty paper that I’d found at a local art store. It is probably the most inexpensive piece of DIY art I’ve created to date. The frame is none other than the Ribba from IKEA, which comes with the matboard. Usually, I like to keep the space in front of the frame clear, but now and again, I like to make myself a pot of red date tea and drink it throughout the day. I can see myself doing this a lot during the cold months ahead!

On the other side of the couch are these vintage suitcases, which I was originally going to use in the boys’ room. However, when I put them next to the couch as a temporary ‘holding area’ while I worked on the boys’ rooms, I realised that it was actually the perfect place for them. They fill up the empty space nicely, plus I could finally get rid of my tatty old IKEA cardboard container which held the original packaging for all my software since I could now store them in these gorgeous suitcases instead. Inexpensive vintage suitcases can always be found on eBay or Etsy, and you can generally get them in pretty good condition too.

Yes, my studio has a walk-in! It’s awesome, because it is the perfect hideaway for my filing cabinet, and I’ve also managed to put in a narrow Billy bookcase (from IKEA) and a hanging organiser on one of the clothes rail. It’s like my dream storage space come true.

The vintage swivel chair was originally from Explore the Kerb, and the chalkboard sign is the one we made for Jamie’s birthday party. The ‘Make An Impact’ collage is just made up of promotional postcards from K.W.Doggett that I had in my paper stock folder. I had lots more that I could’ve used, but I decided to keep it simple and minimalist until I’d made a decision about the wall above my desk. The metal pail holds rolls of posters and leather, along with paintings that the boys have done at home which I’m planning to use as gift wrapping paper. The eye examination chart is a tea towel from Maia Gifts, which I hung up with bull clips that are stuck to the wall with Blu Tack. Simple, right?

I have a bit of an obsession with vintage signage, and had to limit myself to only three of these vintage petrol number signs from Etsy. Again, the numbers were meant to go in another room (the dining room in fact), but as soon as I put them against the wall on the floor of my walk-in, I knew they had to stay there. Who knows, down the track, I’m sure I’ll have fun swapping things around.

And if you’ve been wondering where on earth I put all my books and folders, here’s your answer: the IKEA Expedit! (Doesn’t everyone have one of these?) I’m still trying to decide what to do with the space on either side of the bookcase. I’ve been toying with the idea of an old wooden ladder, on which I can hang pictures and other keepsakes, but we’ll see. Let me know if you have any ideas or suggestions!

To see my other room tours, go here.

Growing up in a Chinese family, I love my seafood, my noodles, my soups and my hot lunches. So while Rick’s idea of the perfect lunch is a good old sandwich, I’m forever fantasising about some hot noodle dish (sounds funny when you say that out loud) – especially on a cold day. If you have $3 and 8 minutes to spare, you can whip up this prawn and vermicelli dish too!

Soak one serving of rice vermicelli noodles in boiling water for about 4 minutes (or follow the instructions on your packet). While you’re waiting, chop a handful fresh shallots and set aside. Then wash half a dozen fresh prawns, blanch them in boiling water for about one minute or until the flesh looks white, and drain. In the same saucepan, boil about a cup and a half of water and add stock of your choice (I prefer my Asian chicken broth, but you might want to try this with miso soup paste or fish stock).

To assemble, simply place your noodles in a bowl, add prawns (unshelled) on top, pour in your broth, sprinkle shallots on top, and serve with soy sauce. Easy! And healthy. And yum.

And guess what? Another room tour coming on up – this time my studio! Stay tuned.

Every little bit counts

One of the biggest lessons I learnt from losing Cameron is that even in the face of the most traumatic events, sometimes it’s enough to simply let people know that you care, that you are thinking of them. It reminds people that they are not alone, that you are there for them. In those darkest of hours, that can mean the world and make all the difference.

This is something that I shall remember for the rest of my life.

A card, a note, a letter, an email, an SMS, or even a message through Facebook or Twitter – every little effort counts.

This week, we chose to say it with flowers. (And a punnet of strawberries.)

I hope they made a difference, no matter how small.

Anyway, I’ll pop back in over the weekend sometime, but meanwhile, hope you all enjoy a lovely Easter weekend.