How to get down off a mountain in record time

So, we climbed this mountain recently. Okay, maybe I exaggerate. In reality it was more hillish, but try telling that to my quads. It was a steep kilometre of nothing but stairs, which took at least twenty minutes, and to my aching legs it felt like Mt Everest.

The reason we subjected ourselves to this torment—in searing heat too, mind you—was to see the lovely views from the top.


And they really were worth the climb. I know it looks a little hazy in the photo, but that’s because I’d accidently knocked my camera’s setting off “Automatic” onto something called “Effects”. Naturally I didn’t notice this till the next day, so all my hard-won photos of the view look like they were taken through a lens smeared with vaseline. In fact it was a brilliant clear day, but you’ll just have to take my word for that.

Anyways, back to the getting down in record time thing: so we finally arrive at the top of Mt Quad-buster, and there are gorgeous 360˚ views. It’s quite a large area at the top, with trees and boulders scattered around, so you have to move around to see all the views.

Did I mention it was stinking hot? We were all dripping by the time we got to the top. One particular viewing platform caught the sea breeze, and we spent quite some time there cooling off.

Then I announced my intention of going to the other viewing platform, to look at the view back the other way. My beloved decided to join me.


Pretty, isn’t it?

The two youngest ducklings decided that they’d rather stay where they were and enjoy the breeze. We told them we’d come back for them before heading back down the trail. (I bet you can guess where this is going already, can’t you?)

While we were admiring the other view, the oldest and most sensible duckling joined us. We chatted, I took photos, then we went back to collect the other two …

… who were no longer enjoying the sea breeze where we’d left them. A quick search of the area made it clear they were no longer anywhere on the top of Mt Quad-buster.

“They must have thought we’d gone without them,” said the Carnivore. “I bet they’re rushing down, trying to catch up with us.”

It seemed hard to believe. I mean, Demon Duck is fourteen, and usually quite sensible. We’d told them we’d come back for them, and we’re really not the kind of parents that would absent-mindedly wander off and abandon their offspring on the top of a mountain anyway—if indeed anyone is that type of parent.

Being the worrying type, I briefly considered they might have both somehow fallen off the (well-fenced) lookout and crashed to their deaths on the rocks far below—without anyone noticing—but even for me that was a bit of a stretch. So I had to agree, ridiculous as it seemed, that they’d both suddenly decided they had the starring roles in Hansel and Gretel, and had rushed off to find us.

Which brings me, of course, to the “how to get down off a mountain in record time” part. We practically fell down that mountain in a mad attempt to catch up with the stupid children who were dashing down in a mad attempt to catch up with us. We were lucky we didn’t break our ankles.

It took us twenty minutes to get to the top. It took perhaps three to get back down. But they were a very tense three minutes! The whole way down, all I could think was: what the hell do we do if we get to the bottom and they’re not there? I sure wasn’t climbing back up again!

Fortunately our story has a happy ending. We found Hansel and Gretel at the bottom, walking back up to meet us, pale, stressed, and very apologetic. There were some tears of relief and grateful cuddles.

So yes, a very quick method of descending a mountain. Not really one I’d recommend, however!

3 ways to liven up your next dinner conversation

We are big believers in sitting down every night together for dinner and chatting. The ducklings are old enough now to be amusing dinner companions, and we have some good conversations, despite Baby Duck’s occasional derailments into Minecraft or Lego territory.

However, Baby Duck can sometimes take a loooooong time to eat dinner, and even the best conversations tend to trail off, leaving us all staring resentfully at him, waiting for him to finish. When that happens we have to get a little creative, and we have three tried-and-true methods for getting the party started.


An oldie but a goodie. Maybe it’s corny, but it sure can be fun and even quite young kids can join in. I have rarely laughed so much as watching the Carnivore try to get us to guess “The Bourne Identity”. What he was doing looked illegal in at least forty-three states.

“Three True Things”

I don’t know what this is really called, but I call it “three true things”. Everyone has to take it in turns to say three things that happened to them that day. Two of them must be true and one should be a lie. Everyone else then picks which thing they think is the lie.

The kids love this one! The trick is to make the lie believable enough that no one identifies it – or else pick a true thing that seems outrageous. The family gets quite creative trying to outsmart each other, but it’s also a good way to get some details of your children’s days, particularly if they’re the sort that says “all right” when you ask how school was.

The Sentence Game

I read about this on Joshilyn Jackson’s blog recently. You need a sheet of paper and a pen. The first player writes a sentence at the top of the page – the more oddball the better. Then they fold that sentence out of sight and pass the paper to the next player, who reads it then attempts to draw a picture representing the sentence. This gets passed to the next player, who can only see the drawing, not the original sentence. They then have to write a sentence that represents the drawing, and pass it to the next player who draws their sentence and so on.

So with our family of five, we get sentence-drawing-sentence-drawing-sentence. Depending on whose turn it is to draw, the final sentence can closely resemble the first one, or have nothing at all to do with it.

Let me give you an example.

Demon Duck wrote: “The Neanderthal came alive out of the painting” and passed it to Baby Duck.

He did a real cracker of a drawing, with lots of careful details:

So the sentence I wrote was quite close to the original: “The caveman jumped out of the painting and came to life.”

Then we came unstuck. It was the Carnivore’s turn to draw:

 Not too bad, but he lost Drama Duck completely. Her sentence?

“The cave painting of the goat and the sheep(?) and the early human sent an arrow of super powers to the caveman nearby.”

Okay, now it’s your turn. Baby Duck gave me a sentence and this is what I drew. What sentence would you write to describe this drawing?


Dragons of New Motherhood and Sleep Deprivation

I’ve been a big fan of dragons for as long as I can remember. Sure, I wouldn’t want to meet one in a dark alley, but in books, movies and art I find these overgrown lizards endlessly fascinating. Years ago I started collecting dragon statues. I thought I might share a few with you, and the stories behind them.

First up, meet the dragons of New Motherhood and Sleep Deprivation.

These were a gift from the Carnivore, our first Christmas as new parents. Drama Duck was about eight weeks old at the time, and we’d just spent probably the longest six weeks of our lives coming to grips with this new little person in our lives.

This new little person who categorically refused to sleep.

It turned out the poor little mite had silent reflux, so every time we laid her down to sleep her gastric juices rose up and burned her oesophagus. But because there were no outward signs (hence the “silent” part of silent reflux) we had no idea and were at our wits’ end. The Carnivore spent hours every night rocking with her in the rocking chair and reciting accounting principles in the hope of boring her to sleep. (She now says this is the root of her dislike of maths!)

I remember one horrendous day when she cried for nearly twelve hours straight, only stopping for feeds. I was beside myself. My mother-in-law arrived after a teary phone call to find me sobbing on my bed. She took the baby so I could eat and reassured me that things would get better.

I found it hard to believe at the time! But at the six-week check-up with the paediatrician, he diagnosed the problem and things rapidly improved.

But I’ll never forget that feeling: hormones running rampant, consumed with worry and overwhelmed by being responsible for a helpless beloved baby – and trying to function on about three hours’ (broken) sleep a night. New motherhood can certainly be challenging, particularly with your first. You have no idea what you’re doing, and can hardly believe they let such an unqualified person leave the hospital with this precious but perplexing little creature.

But by the time Christmas rolled around we’d started to get the hang of this whole parenting thing, and I was thrilled to receive this gorgeous dragon mum and her new hatchling. They came from a glass blower in The Rocks in Sydney, so they’re one of a kind, and a lovely reminder of a special time in our lives. Becoming a mother for the first time is a shock no amount of preparation can ready you for – but it also brings a joy you could never imagine.

I don’t know how dragons feel about it, but that mum looks pretty pleased with her little one. Maybe baby dragons are good sleepers?

What about you? Do you collect anything? Stamps, buttons, tea cups? Anything unusual? (You can tell me, I promise to keep it a secret!)

Or do you have any “new baby” stories to share? If you’re a new mum, congratulations … and I hope your little one is a good sleeper!

Drama Duck gets the chop

Hair is a big deal for a teenage girl. They spend a lot of time fiddling with it, twirling it, styling it, colouring it, sucking the ends of it – and the longer the better. I think they all have a secret longing to be Rapunzel.
When Drama Duck was in Year 7 and she brought home her school photos, she had pictures of 210 girls in her year. Only one of them had short hair. It really brought home to me what a huge part of their self-image long hair is for most girls.
So when Drama Duck announced her intention to shave her beautiful hair off in support of the Leukaemia Foundation as part of the World’s Greatest Shave this year, I was a little alarmed. I’d watched her spend fifteen minutes in the bathroom every morning styling it just so. I knew how long (how very long!) it had taken her to achieve its current length. And you can’t exactly change your mind if you don’t like how it looks once you’ve shaved it off.
She had such pretty hair too!
I asked her so many times if she was really sure she wanted to do it she thought I didn’t approve. It wasn’t that at all. It’s a great cause, and if she really wanted to do it, well, it’s her hair, right? Who am I to say no? But I wanted her to be absolutely certain before taking such a big step. I was worried she’d regret it. Like any mother, I was trying to protect my baby from pain.
Well – as so often happens – I was worrying for nothing. She loves her new short hair, and it really suits her. She has such a pretty, delicate-featured face, which really shines now that mass of hair is no longer overshadowing it. Before, her hair was her defining feature; now you can really see her.
As for the fundraising? She did a great job – over $1200 raised for the Leukaemia Foundation.
And that makes her short hair even more beautiful.

Sugar-free Easter egg hunt

If you were an alien observing Western culture, you could be forgiven for thinking Easter is a celebration of chocolate. I guess the chocoholics among us could argue that good chocolate is like a religious experience, but wow – does there have to be quite so much of it? My kids are inundated with enough to last for months by family members eager to spoil them.
You may recall a few years ago I decided to give up sugar. (Sadly a lot has crept back into my diet, but that’s another story.) When Easter rolled around, this posed a troubling dilemma – since they were little, I’d always done an egg hunt with them on Easter Sunday morning. They used to make and decorate their own baskets for collecting eggs, and look forward to it for weeks.
But now it felt like offering them poison – yet I loved the egg hunts as much as they did, and didn’t want to give it up. There’s something so fun about finding tricky places to hide little treasures and watching the kids run around like headless chooks looking for them.
What to do?
Enter plastic eggs from the $2 shop: a little more challenging to organise, but even more fun for the egg hunters, because they get lots of little surprises.
Buy the biggest ones you can find! These are plastic eggs Mark II; the first year I had much smaller ones, and it was a struggle to find anything small enough to fit inside them.
The other good thing about plastic eggs is you can customise each child’s little gifts by assigning them their own colour eggs to hunt for, so your son doesn’t accidentally pick up the necklace meant for your daughter, for example.
These are a good size, and it’s surprising what you can fit in them: mini torches, novelty erasers, jewellery:
A Lego minifigure! (See if you can guess which duckling that was for …)
Loom bands for Demon Duck’s latest craze:
Even a $2 coin (even the big kids like to get money).

So it does cost more than just chucking a bunch of chocolate eggs around the yard. But hey, they don’t melt in the sun, and you don’t have to try to stop the dog eating them before the hunt starts!

Baby Duck’s art show

Every year Baby Duck’s school puts on an art show. It’s very low-key – no champagne opening  night or sales! Just a couple of afternoons after school when you can wander around the school hall and see what the kids have been up to. Each class has a display, but every year until now they’ve been pretty similar. Oh look, kindergarten’s been doing self-portraits. Year 4’s obviously been learning about collage. Display board after display board full of individual drawings/paintings, of little interest unless it’s your child’s work.

I don’t know what happened this year but wow! Somebody lit a bomb under the art show. So much imagination on display! Lots of 3D artworks, lots of different artistic influences, from giant African masks to modern sculpture. It was a real pleasure to walk around and see something new and interesting at every turn.

Baby Duck’s class presented a giant underwater scene.

I heard lots of complaints about the endless balls of crepe paper they put into making this but one proud little duckling couldn’t wait to show it off.

Of course he had to point out which fish he did himself.

Why am I not surprised that his fish is back to front? Always likes to stand out from the crowd, that child.

The brown paper turtle was clever.

And I loved the coral:

One of the year 6 classes made a gorgeous spray-painted tree and hung it with wire-and-bead birds. So pretty and creative:

One of the kindy classes had made monsters out of tissue boxes, where the opening for the tissues was the mouth, rimmed with suitably ferocious teeth. I didn’t take a photo, but they were adorable!

Year 1 also had a bird theme. Not as delicate as Year 6’s, but very cute:


And then there were these feathered beauties:


It was a great effort. The teachers and kids should be proud of themselves. I know Baby Duck is!

Depilated Demon Duck

Well, she’s done it. Determination and feverish fundraising have brought her total raised to $150.50. At this rate she may even top $200.

Her school is one of the biggest fundraisers in the state, with their combined total currently standing at over $36,000. Twenty-one girls shaved their hair off in the school hall this week, with many more colouring their hair red, blue or pink.

Today it was her turn. She went from this:

to this:

I’m surprised you didn’t all hear the squeals of glee from wherever you are. To say she was excited to see her new look doesn’t begin to cover it. She bounded off to the nearest mirror like Tigger on speed, and the shrieks of delight echoed through the house. She is not a child who believes in hiding her feelings. Thank goodness she was happy with it, or things could have got ugly!

I have to admit, it does look good. Let’s hope it doesn’t wash out too quickly. The packaging refuses to be pinned down: “colour will last from three to thirty washes”. They couldn’t manage to be just a little more specific? There’s a bit of a difference between three and thirty! Might as well just say “we’ve got no idea how long this stuff lasts – probably not as long as you’d like it to, but we’re not giving you your money back if you’re not happy, so there!”

Fingers crossed she gets to enjoy the reward for all her hard work for at least a few weeks. Myself, I’m quite looking forward to my own reward – I get to stop making friendship bracelets. I’ll hardly know what to do with myself!

Might even have to do something radical like getting back to work on my Nano novel.

D is for Determined

Everything’s relative, isn’t it? If I’m starving to death and you offer me boiled potatoes, I will wolf them down and think them the most delicious thing I’ve ever eaten. But if I’m accustomed to eating at five star restaurants every night, your boiled potato offering might seem plain and uninteresting, even offensive. Same boiled potato, different circumstances.

Demon Duck has many fine qualities, but some of them are definitely boiled potatoes. Take her determination, for instance. It gives her drive, it makes her see projects through – it will probably take her far in life. A great quality to have, yes?

But the other face of determination is stubbornness, and the child will argue till her last breath when she’s set on something. When you are the parent of a determined child, that fine quality can seem like nothing more than a humungous pain in the butt. And when you add high intelligence to the determination, what do you get?

Rat cunning.

I tell you, this kid’s teenage years are going to give me more grey hairs than the other two combined.

She started asking me months ago about getting her hair dyed. I said no, and gave her all the reasons: bad for your hair, have to keep doing it once you start to cover the regrowth, too expensive. She accepted that and didn’t nag, but every now and then she’d mention how much she’d like to dye her hair that really bright fake red.

Meanwhile she pondered ways and means, never letting go of the idea.

Enter the World’s Greatest Shave, a fundraiser for the Leukaemia Foundation. Several girls at school were signing up to shave their heads, raising money for the foundation through sponsorships. But if you didn’t want to shave your head, you could still raise money by pledging to dye your hair a crazy colour, like … oh, I don’t know … bright red.

You can see where this is going, can’t you?

I had to laugh, really, but I wasn’t going to be a pushover. No hitting on her grandparents for ten bucks and calling the job done. I said she could do it if she raised at least $100 (though only with a temporary dye that would wash out after a few washes).

Not being terribly outgoing, she was quietly horrified at the prospect of asking people for donations, so we came up with the idea of making friendship bracelets for her to sell to the girls at school.

Here’s just a few of our creations. We’ve each made about 30, and Drama Duck made a handful too. I’ve spent so much time making friendship bracelets lately it would have been easier to just give her the money, and almost as cheap, considering how much I’ve spent on cotton and beads. But I think it’s a valuable experience for her, having to work to achieve her goal, and she’s certainly put in a lot of effort. So far she’s raised $66, and still going strong.

D is for Determined Demon Duck.

‘Twas the night before Nano

’Twas the night before Nano and all through the house
Every writer was panicked and glued to their mouse
The outlines were dodgy and full of plot holes
And 50k words seemed impossible goals

Okay, so now you know why I write novels and not poetry. But yes, Nanowrimo starts tomorrow, that month of mass insanity where writers all over the world egg each other on to write a 50,000-word novel during November. I’m equal parts excitement and terror. 50,000 words in a month – even though I’ve managed it four times before – is very daunting. Or maybe that should be “because I’ve managed it four times before”. I know exactly what I’m getting myself into!

On the other hand, knowing what’s ahead is also kind of exhilarating and I guess that’s the reason I keep coming back – the excitement when marvellous plot twists come to you seemingly from nowhere, the buzz when the writing’s going well and, above all, the rush of making it to the end. (And maybe the joy of collapsing when it’s all over!)

This year we have four Nano-ers in our house. The girls will be doing it again for the third year, with Drama Duck aiming for 15,000 words and Demon Duck going for 5,000. Baby Duck is joining the fun for the first time, with a goal of 1,000 words. I don’t think he’ll have any trouble. Some of his dinnertime monologues about lego or Skylanders are waaaaay longer than that.

If only he could find a way to write a story using lego bricks he’d be set.

Spot the problem

Hmmm. I think I may have a problem here:

I promised Baby Duck a “bugs in bottles” quilt about two years ago. I made the blocks and then they just sat there, unloved. A few weeks ago I decided I’d better pull the finger out and get on with it, so I laid the blocks out on the floor, settled on an arrangement and started sewing the rows together.

I thought I remembered having made an extra block with a mainly white bottle to use as the quilt label on the back. Apparently my memory was playing tricks on me, since there was no sign of it. It had been so long.

And then, what do you know – I lay the last row back down on the floor and it’s suddenly sprouted an extra bottle. The missing white bottle must have been lurking under another block all the time. No wonder I’d seemed to be short one black strip.

My trusty unpicker soon had the culprit out of there and the row resewn. I’m now nearly done with the quilting and should have a completed quilt to show you any day now. Just as well. The kid’s not getting any younger, and this quilt has a definite use-by date. Some day soon my baby’s not going to be a baby any more, and bugs in bottles will be daggy beyond belief.

We’ll have to come up with another pseudonym for him when that day comes. I’m not sure I can still call him Baby Duck when he’s a hulking creature with facial hair and a baritone growl. He thinks it should start with a “D”, like the girls’. Darling Duck? Ditzy Duck?

His sisters have been known to get out the dictionary in search of annoying adjectives, Demon Duck in particular. (Why am I not surprised?) Some of her suggestions include Desexed Duck (inaccurate but satisfyingly insulting, apparently), Dopey Duck, or Demented Duck.

Actually, that last one could work …