Finding The Happy

Looking for joy in all the right places



For Arddun’s first birthday, I had bought her a toy garage – with the ramps and the car wash and parking and the petrol station. A couple years later, Tony handed her a small box of his childhood treasures – cars, buses, trucks, and even a wooden cowboy gun.

She plays with Tony’s toys still, and Atticus loves them literally to pieces. But then one day, he came across the toy garage and it was like a light came on inside him. Ah hah, he seemed to think as he put two and two together.

For the past 2 days, he would retreat into the library or the rumpus room and play with the garage and the cars for at least half an hour on his own. He is smitten.

{Monday Me} Face grab

For today’s portrait, I had actually bothered to set up the tripod. The idea was to take a picture with Atticus, using the timer function in my camera.

Let’s just say… a lot can happen in 2 seconds.

Atticus grabbing my face
Ever since Atticus started eating solids, everything seems fair game.

We’ll do better next week.

Arddun’s vintage birthday tea party

Question: How does one organise a children’s party at home in winter, while alone with two children?

Answer: Very, very slowly.

Arddun’s 4th birthday party has been and gone, but we are still stretching things out by opening a new present a day. June has turned into birthday MONTH, as far as I’m concerned. I started thinking about Arddun’s birthday party the week after Tony’s 40th party finished. And then it was all about incrementally putting it together.

It was like watching snails mate, it was that slow.

It had been very tempting to lump it all with professional party people, and indeed I had sourced a few quotes. But perhaps it’s been all my casual Pinteresting of late that’s imbued me with this false sense of, “Yeah! I can definitely do that!” What I failed to remember, of course, was how different my life is now. I no longer have long stretches of time in the day with which to plan and execute lavish parties. Even when I was working stupid hours in Corporate Land, I still had more time and headspace to event-manage 50-pax Chinese New Year house parties annually than I do now. For shizz.

Motherhood, in reality, only allows you to think and execute anything in 5-minute bursts. Try putting a strategic plan across that level of chronic interruption. It ain’t easy, even with the best household routine in place. Which is why I needed about a 20-day lead time to pull together a 2-hour party for 7 girls and their mothers.

I had decided on a Vintage Tea Party theme, because lunch was too daunting and I wanted something fun and feminine, but not attached to any Disney franchise (*cough* Frozen *cough*). Thanks to Alice in Wonderland, Arddun has a superficial understanding of what an afternoon tea with friends could look like, but doing it Vintage-style allowed me enough poetic license to go hodge-podge with décor and — more importantly — borrow party gear from friends.

Here’s a peek at the Vintage Tea Party-planning.

Arddun, putting together goodie bags for her friends. Loot includes chocolate chip teddy bears, colourful beads to make jewellery, temporary tattoos, and stationery.
Arddun, putting together goodie bags for her friends. Loot includes chocolate chip teddy bears, colourful beads to make jewellery, temporary tattoos, and stationery.


Party bags for friends
Special bags for special friends


Pouring milk while making cupcakes
Part of the day’s fun includes cupcake decorating. For that, we first need to make some nekkid cupcakes.


Arddun being silly with Atticus while baking
What fun is baking if you can’t make your baby brother wear a funny hat, hmm?


Montage of Arddun and Atticus
I must be near the oven, ‘cos my heart is melting. These kids!


Edible teacups
Made these in the middle of the night. Let’s just say that icing sugar ain’t no superglue.


Edible teacups close up
First saw these at my baby shower when Arddun was still in utero. Seems rather poetic that I’m making them now. Also featuring my mother’s colourful chicken plate.


Passing the parcel forfeit
Apparently, Passing the Parcel nowadays means each child wins a present every time the music stops and they tear open the package. True to the vintage theme, we went old-school with ours and each layer peeled meant a small “forfeit” with only a single prize at the end. Nothing too traumatic, and all in good fun. I hope.


Passing the parcel Hokey Pokey forfeit
The final “forfeit” before the prize.


Dress up corner
Dress-up corner with a chest of vintage clothes (half procured from Salvation Army shop), and jewellery box filled with gloves, lace, pearls and bling. I had no idea how vintage-inspired my bling collection was until I put this together! Borrowed mirror from Fam.


Tea party table
Pom-poms and netting put together by daddy. The idea is for the girls to sit at their tea party table and dabble with make-up after having a rummage through the dress-up box. Half expecting drag-queen results. Camera on the ready.


Table setting for tea party
Tea party spread shaping up! Gorgeous teacups and teapots borrowed from lovely sisters in Christ who were brave, slightly insane but generous enough to trust seven 4-year-olds with such precious crockery.


Teapot and teacups
Arddun and I went shopping a few weeks back and did some tea-tasting at T2. Finally settled on Fruitalicious – a lovely uncaffeinated fruit tea that is suitably pink, like Dorothy the Dinosaur’s.


Colourful meringues
Wasn’t insane enough to hand-make everything. These meringues were store-bought purely because they were pretty, and they turned out very yum.


Cucumber sandwiches
I’m under the strong impression that very English tea parties require cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches, so I cheerfully obliged.

As for the party itself, it never quite turns out like how you envision it… but the end result was still deeply satisfying.

Emma dressing up
You mean, I get to try out all the clothes in this chest? You’re kidding!


Ivy in dapper hat
Not really into the girly dresses, but this hat is pretty dapper on me!


Charlotte in pearls and dress up
That’s LADY Charlotte to you, thankyouverymuch.


Emma dressing Tracey up
Look what I found you!


Zahra at make up table
Eyebrows always require deep concentration


Birthday girl putting on make-up
I think that’s how Mummy does it.


Leila putting on blue make up
That fine line between Make-up and Face-painting.


Ivy and passing the parcel
Passing the Parcel forfeit: make a silly face at the Birthday Girl. Ivy shows us how it’s done.


Arddun in corner collecting herself
Sometimes, all that attention can just get too much. Introverted birthday girl takes some time to collect herself.


Cupcake decorating
Cupcake decorating time!


Charlotte with finished cupcake
Almost too pretty to eat.


Birthday ice cream cake
The candle says it all. You are officially four!


Happy birthday song
A rousing Happy Birthday song


So much love put in to the day.
So much love put in to the day.


Birthday present line-up
Thanks for coming, everyone! We definitely feel very loved.

There were a few other moments I wished I could have captured. The moment when they all had their first sip of grown-up tea in grown-up china teacups, for instance. My hands were full with having to feed Atticus by then, but it was so precious to watch a tableful of little girls reverently holding their teacups in both hands and sipping solemnly.

Thankfully, there were other mums taking lots of photos too. Can’t wait to see their snapshots! :-)

In the end, I think Arddun enjoyed herself, on balance. And it turned out to be a lot of fun for me, too. Although the pics don’t include them, Tony and Atticus were also at the party, quietly enjoying the festivities in the background. I’m glad we ended up doing it this way, even if it had taken some effort. It’s probably the last birthday party we’ll have in this house before we move, and Arddun’s just old enough now to start keeping memories. I hope she remembers this home.

Not sure what we’ll end up doing next year, but my mind’s already churning. :-)

Monday Me

A wonderful Mommy photographer I just stumbled upon on Pinterest had put up a post to encourage mothers with cameras to get in front of them once in a while. I really needed that boost. For one thing, I’m never satisfied with how I photograph; I don’t have a symmetrical anything — even my eyebrows are different — so seeing a mirror image of what I look like in the mirror throws me all the time. And of course, I always think I’m looking fatter with each photo — and maybe I am. But that really shouldn’t matter, if the bottomline is about documenting my family life for my family. Because if I should get hit by a bus tomorrow, I want to leave my children and husband something a little more lasting than a hazy memory of a Chinese woman with a DSLR where her face ought to be. It’s not just about me… even if it’s all about photographing me. So yes, here’s another Good Blogging Intention that I will no doubt end up breaking, like my Thursday’s Three Thankfuls. I should start by not promising that this will be a weekly thing. But I’m going to try and get in front of my camera more often when photographing family moments. Here was my very deliberate start; after going trigger happy at Ivy’s party, I handed the very lovely and obliging Sara my camera, and asked her to take a photo of Arddun with her bestie Leila, and Leila’s mummy, Fam — one of the sweetest, most thoughtful women I’ve ever had the pleasure of getting to know. :-)

Fam, Leila, Arddun and me at Ivy's 4th birthday party
Enjoying Ivy’s 4th birthday party. Arddun, struggling with the harsh idea that the Lollies After Lunch rule still applies at parties.

Preparing for the next two chapters of our lives

It’s funny how all of us are now eagerly anticipating – no, expecting – Boy Blob’s arrival any day now, even though we are still 11 days out from the official due date. With Arddun, her early arrival had caught us all by surprise. First babies are notoriously late. And second babies are notoriously earlier than their trail blazers.

Well, it’s starting to look like both kids are determined to flout expectations.

The hospital bag is more or less packed. The rented bassinet is where it needs to be, with fresh batteries inserted so now it can vibrate and/or play music while allowing a small night light to shine on. Christmas shopping is mostly done. I’ve handed over most meal preparation duties to my mother-in-law next week. We are stopping by the Baby & Kids Market tomorrow to see what else we can score, but I think we’re almost ready. Materially ready.

And yet, it doesn’t feel like we’re that close to going into labour after all.


One of the other things I’ve needed to prepare myself for is Arddun’s entrance to preschool early next year. A small deluge of emails have recently swamped our inboxes from the enrolment office, and Arddun has been fitted out for her uniform.

Arddun was not impressed by her new togs. After very reluctantly allowing me to put on her polo T-shirt and sports shorts (that ballooned out enough, as unisex school shorts always do, to more closely resemble badly fitting culottes), she looked me very seriously in the eyes and quietly pronounced,

“Mummy, I don’t want to wear this.”

In the 3 years+ of my dressing her, I have never heard her utter a preference – much less a statement saturated with such obvious distaste. She has never really commented on what I choose for her to wear. And I have never really given her much choice in the matter, such is the peaceful arrangement we have always had.

But put her in shapeless unisex polyester, and suddenly her fashion senses are screaming.

I had a good read of the school website today, and got the heebie jeebies myself. There’s something about the language and tone of school administrators and teachers that take you waaaay back, and can make you feel this small. I think it’s the no-nonsense way rules are spelt out in full. Read our policies. These are our requirements. You will not bring your child in before this hour. You will sit with your child until such a time. If your child is late, go to the office and fill out a late slip. If you are late picking your child up, God help you. And gaudy colours are not permitted.

I felt like I was going back to school again. And I suppose Tony and I will be, in a way. We may not be the ones in front of the interactive whiteboards, but we will certainly feel every bit as assessed as our child.

Still, I’m glad we’re starting Arddun a year early to ease her (and us) in. And I’m glad that still leaves majority of the week for her to enjoy unschooled, uncurriculumed, unprescribed Play.

Arddun blowing bubbles with her eyes closed

TTT – Good weather, good news, good friends

1. Spring time fun in the sun

Winter, and even large parts of Spring, can prove unpleasant weather for little ones to venture out for play. It’s obvious why in Winter, but my idea of a perfect Spring day is the sun, the cool, and no crazy wind. Crazy winds in Canberra Springs usually mean wind chills, and some serious hayfever un-fun. You can practically see fluff flying past your window as you drive some days – like snow, except it ain’t melting and it ain’t a lot of fun up your sinuses.

On Tuesday, after a routine check up with the obstetrician (no gestational diabetes! hurrah!), Arddun and I took a short drive to John Knight park and had the loveliest picnic together.

View of the lake
Our view from our picnic mat
Ducks near picnic mat
Some feathered visitors at the edge of our mat, hoping for bread crumbs.
Arddun close up
Her little grubby, perfect face.
Arddun smiling into camera with hair across face
Sometimes, you take my breath away

Goofy photo montage

Squint and Serious


I’m desperately savouring these alone times with her now, for soon we will no longer be just three, but four. And she will no longer be our only one. It’s the ending of a gorgeous era, and I feel I will miss it as much as she will when it finally dawns on her what my swollen belly means.

2. Friends who welcome new babies

Two friends (different families) welcomed babies this week – one day apart! It’s so heartening to hear of safe and empowering natural deliveries, and I love watching my macho male friends fall ever more in love publicly with their burgeoning family – and especially with their wives. Also heard thrilling news about another one on the way after a special wait… It’s Spring time. It’s wonderful. (I am also chockful of mummy hormones at the moment, and I do realise I’m gushing quite a bit in this post. Sorry.)

3. Arddun’s best friend

Arddun is learning the concept of best friends, at the moment… except I think she struggles with choosing just the one. This week, she has pronounced (on separate occasions) first Tony, then me as her Best Friend, to which we both replied that she is our best friend too… just “after Mummy/Daddy”.

But when it comes to her peer group, there is one who remains peerless.

Arddun and Leila watching iPad
Leila and Arddun. These two girls, born 15 hours apart in the same hospital, are inseparable.
Plaited hair of Arddun and Leila
Plaited hair
Leila's cubby house
Leila’s cubby house
Arddun sitting inside cubby house
Well, hello there!
Eating together in the cubby house
Enjoying a very grown-up lunch alone in Leila’s cubby house
Arddun and Leila playing in cubby house
Then it’s off to new adventures!
Arddun and Leila share binoculars
Good sharers

Leila sliding down from cubby house


The fabulous part is that their mummies get along great, too!

I’m so glad Arddun has made a close friendship so early in life. It’s a delight to see how excited both girls get at the prospect of seeing one another. They both have different personalities, but there is such mutual affection, and giving and taking (most of the time). Just learnt today, for instance, how protective Arddun can be of Leila (a boy had apparently trod on her friend, and she pronounced that a no-no because “That’s MY Leila!”) And Leila’s prone to stopping in the middle of nowhere to give “Huggies” to Arddun. (They are bear hugs, not diapers. And Arddun isn’t into hugs the way Leila is, but will stand there and take it most of the time because it’s Leila.)

Both Fam and I hope this friendship continues for them well into their growing years. It’s a special thing to witness, indeed.


TTT – Water, Family, and the art of asking for permission

(Again, a very late one… but at least not forgotten!)

It’s taken me a little longer to think of my list this week – possibly because I’ve been privately logging my gratitudes daily for almost a month now and feel a little repetitious, and partly because I feel like I need to pick Three Huge Events from the week just passed.

It’s been a lovely week. My quest to cut down on consumerism has yielded a mixed bag of results – I now steer clear of most shops, that’s true. But I’ve also ended up visiting more friends or inviting them over, and therefore buying a lot more food. I’ve decided it’s a net gain, overall. Spending the time to connect with others over nom-noms trumps wandering into malls out of habit… and I’ve learnt to eat more simply during my lunches.

Anyhoo… here’s three things I’ve decided to be thankful for.

1. Clear drinking water

We had Mark’s parents over for morning tea on Thursday last week, which wandered into lunch, and then again into afternoon tea. Spent a lovely day with them at Gold Creek. They’ve just very recently “migrated” from Perth, and so the comparisons between short visitations and actually settling in Canberra naturally came up.

The topic of water came up, and I know it sounds like one of those I’ve-run-out-of-things-to-be-thankful-for moments when I say that I’m grateful for Canberra’s water quality. But it’s true. I’ve drunk water from the tap in many cities and in many countries when it’s deemed safe to drink water from, and Canberra’s water is probably one of the nicest-tasting and cleanest. It was one of those epiphanies I didn’t get until I was reminded of Adelaide’s water – which tastes vile. I mean, it’s considered safe for drinking but it just tastes artificial and wrong. And their water alone is the reason I would never want to move to Adelaide. Seriously.

Canberra drinking water in a glass
Cool, clear Canberra refreshment

2. Family coming down

Plans are finally falling into place for this year-end! Tony’s parents will be staying with us in the last 2 weeks of November (hedging their bets that Boy Blob, like Arddun, will make an early entrance), and my family and their significant others will be making their way down over the course of the first two weeks in December! Nothing like a full house to welcome a new baby. It will be a bit nuts, I suspect – but good nuts.

3. Arddun’s habit of checking first

Something else I’ve grown very thankful for lately is how Arddun thinks to ask Tony or me for permission before she helps herself to food – whether it’s a biscuit for afternoon tea, or an extra slice of cheese with her meal. It’s something we’ve reminded her gently to do over time, and we haven’t always been successful. There was that one recent time she got caught polishing off a bag of lollies she received from a school friend’s birthday party… she had to learn a lesson from that. But lately, she seems to understand that she needs to ask for permission before helping herself to food. And it’s a relief, frankly, especially since she is still reacting to popular “child-friendly” foods like sultanas and other fruits and vegetables.

Probably jinxed it now, and maybe she’ll sneak off something at the next Mother’s Group luncheon… But for now, it’s something I’ve observed that she’s grown good at. And it’s such a win for all of us.

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