Saturday, September 21, 2013

So, I've been a bit busy...

Yes, I know it has been ages since I have written anything for this blog - almost 3 months! I thought it was high time to check back in and catch you up on what I have been up to (and maybe this will be the start of more regular blog posts! Although that is what I thought last time...)

The main reason I haven't posted anything here in a while is because I am working 3 (yes, THREE) jobs outside the home. Since January, I have been working three days a week as a secretary in a music department in a school here in Sydney. Then, in July, I was asked to teach a class in music and philosophy at one of the universities - for the term that started at the end of July! I am a "casual academic" (the Australian term for adjunct), and I have one lecture and lead three tutorials (the Australian version of recitation/labs/discussion sections) - and this all happens in one day (yes, it is a long day). But I LOVE it - I have 75 students and things have been going really well. A couple weeks after I started teaching, I was hired to be a research assistant (official title: "Research Officer" - it sounds like a carry a badge!) for one of the professors at this same university. So I have been doing that as well. And of course this is on top of being a mama and doing things "normal" mama things.

So, yes, I guess you could say that I've been busy.

But since knitting/crocheting is my "outlet," I have managed to find time to continue doing that as well. And it helps that I have a long commute (1 hour and 15 min one way) to my teaching gig. So, here are some of my more recent projects...

I have made two versions of this snake for birthday presents for two of Vincent's preschool friends. This is the BEST snake pattern and is adapted from this pattern from The Purl Bee (there are so many amazing patterns on this website - all for free! Check out this octopus, these hedgehogs, and this adorable sheep pillow)

I made this cute owl lovey for a co-worker who is having a baby in a few weeks. It is from this pattern from Stitch 11 (I really like her patterns, too. You may remember the crown I made for Vincent. I have also made her flower pattern as gifts for Mother's Day.)

This year, daycare is putting together a team for our local Relay for Life. Last year, I made these koalas for the fund raising raffle. This year, I asked Vincent to help me pick out something to make. He picked this monster and also picked out the colors. Meet "Cecil, the Computer Monster" from Rebecca Danger's Big Book of Knitted Monsters. I have made three or four monsters from this book - pretty mindless knitting, but the end result is so cute!

And I made this snake for Desmond's second birthday. It is from Susan B. Anderson's Itty Bitty Toys. This is my main "go-to" toy pattern book - I have made several of the toys in this book (koala, wrap-me up puppies, lion/elephant, doll, plus a couple other ones I don't have links for). This snake was easy and used up some leftover sock yarn I had lying around. Desmond seems to really like it as well!

I'm not sure what to work on next. I have started working on my Christmas presents list. But I was also thinking of maybe making something for myself (gasp!) But for course, as soon as I get started on something for myself, I'm sure Vincent will come to me and say, "Mama, can you please make me a [fill in the blank]." It will likely be something like this or this or this.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Two Cute Toys

I know I haven't posted anything for a while. I have been meaning to post some photos of our "new" house, but I haven't had an opportunity to sit and write. Things have been busy with work - and goodness knows that the boys always keep me busy! But I have been knitting - on the train, during my lunch break and in the evenings. Since it is winter here, I have been busy knitting fingerless gloves for Paul, the boys, and my nieces (as birthday gifts). I have also been "commissioned" to make a few gifts for my sister to give to her friends who are having children. I made two pairs of booties, a hat, and two cute toys. And those two toys turned out so adorable, I just had to share them

First up, Susan B. Anderson's "Ribbit." Not only is this frog simply adorable, it is also very fun - because inside his body is a bouncy rubber ball. So he hops like a frog!

Second, using the same yarn as the frog, I made the caterpillar from Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

I followed this pattern but made my own adjustments to more closely match Eric Carle's caterpillar: I made the antennae purple and added feet (because, as Vincent pointed out, the caterpillar in the book has 6 feet). I also crocheted the eyes and nose rather than cutting them out of felt. I think the result is a very close resemblance to Carle's famous caterpillar. (And if you are a fan of the book, there are several adorable patters for toys and baby clothes based on this book - have a look here and here and here.)

I am now finishing up the fingerless gloves for my youngest niece, who will be turning 9 in July. I also am going to make something for the raffle for the Relay for Life at our daycare. And maybe it is because of the cool and rainy winter weather we have been having here, I am really yearning to make a colorful afghan. I have been so inspired by Lucy at Attic 24 and am thinking that I might try to make an afghan similar to this one or maybe this one next. I also have been working on a pile of granny squares for a blanket - and granny squares make a great project to work on during my commute and over my lunch break at work. So I think I might take a break from short projects like toys and fingerless gloves and work on some longer-term projects for a least until Vincent and Desmond ask me to make another toy animal for them to add to their collection (like this crocodile or this snake or this lobster or even Captain Barnacles from the Octonauts!)

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Manta Rays

Vincent is very interested in ocean stuff. I'm not really sure how it started - when we lived in Minnesota, we had annual passes to the Minnesota Zoo. He used to love the aquarium wing and the coral reef section of the tropics. He loves to watch documentaries about underwater creatures. He gets very excited about visits to the Sydney Aquarium and Manly Sealife Sanctuary - in fact, since we got our annual pass about a month ago that gives us unlimited entry to these two attractions and 9 other places, we have already been to the aquarium twice and the sanctuary once (and are planning a second visit on Monday!)

Vincent LOVES going to the Sydney Aquarium!

Wales, sharks, and rays are his favourite - he knows all of the different types of these animals and is always asking questions to learn more. We hunt out the shark and whale books at the library to bring home. I also printed out some fact sheets and photos of sharks and whales and had them laminated.

And he likes to do this pretend-play activity that he made up call "playing oceans." He assigns each of us an animal (all of the fun is in the planning - we never actually play anything....) It goes something like this:

Vincent: "Let's play oceans. Daddy, you can be the tiger shark. Mama, what do you want to be? You can be a dugong. And Desmond can be the baby tiger shark. And I'll be the big brother tiger shark."

Less than five minutes later, we are all different animals...minke whales, lemon sharks, sting rays, manta rays, blue whales, northern right whales...the list goes on and on and on.

For his birthday in April, I made him a shark pencil case from this great pattern from (by the way - I LOVE this site for free crochet patters. Plus, she lives in Iowa!) He loves it. So I decided that I needed to make him another underwater animal, and I came across this very cute pattern for a manta ray. And, I have learned that if I make something for Vincent, I need to make one for Desmond as well. So I made two manta rays.

Desmond's manta ray is purple and Vincent's is black.

The pattern is pretty quick to crochet. Plus the safety eyes add a extra-cuteness to the animal. And it has this really great feature of using pipe cleaners in the tail and across the fins so that you can bend the ray in different ways. Of course, the pipe cleaners in my boys' rays snapped after a few twists of the tail. But they are still cute! Both boys loves their manta rays!

(That green sweater that Vincent is wearing was made by my grandma for me to wear when I was his age!)

I am now moving on to some other projects - baby gifts and birthday gifts and a granny square project that will be donated to the fund-raising raffle for the Relay for Life at the boys' daycare. But I am hoping that I might have some time in the next few months to attempt this amazing humpback whale for Vincent.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter in Australia

Hot cross buns.
Hot cross buns.
One a penny, two a penny --
Hot cross buns.

I remember singing this song as a kid growing up in Iowa. I had no idea what hot cross buns were. I thought they were just some sort of made up thing. I mean, who would put a hot cross on a bun? Or why would the buns be hot and cross - did they not like steamy weather? And why sing about pennies?

Then, when I first moved to Australia ten years ago, Paul introduced me to a delicious Easter tradition: hot cross buns. He was amazed that I had never eaten one. I told him that I thought they were only something from a children's nursery rhyme. Then I had a revelation -- hot cross buns are a yummy baked item that make their annual appearance at Easter. They are hot. They have a cross on the top (a nod to the Christian origins of the Easter holiday). They usually have small bits of fruit in side (like raisins). And they are delicious - especially with a nice scrapping of butter on them. In the weeks leading up to Easter, these sweet rolls start showing up on the shelves of bakeries. In fact, I bought a half-dozen of them on Saturday - baked fresh (and they did not cost "one a penny" or "two a penny" - rather, they were six for $3.)

Since first living in Sydney more than a decade ago and then marrying an Australian, I have come to realize that even though Australian culture and society is in many ways similar to my experiences in the USA, there are lots of differences - often in ways that I would never imagine. Variations in Easter traditions serve as excellent examples of these unexpected differences. And hot cross buns are at the top of the list.

First, it is probably worth while to give a bit of perspective of where I am coming from. I was raised Catholic, and each year Mom, Dad, Laura and I celebrated Easter with my grandma and grandpa (and small extended family) in LaCrosse, Wisconsin. As a young girl, in the weeks leading up to the holiday, my grandma would take my sister and me shopping for an Easter dress and Easter hat.

On the day before Easter (and this is a tradition that my family in the States continues to do), we would all gather at my grandparents' house and sit around the kitchen table (protectively covered in a textured light tan paddled plastic tablecloth) and color dozens and dozens of hard-boiled eggs (of course, my grandmother never called them "hard-boiled" - they were "cooked" eggs). My grandparents had a collection of large wide-mouthed jars, white and pink waxy crayons, and a mess of those little wire egg dippers used to dip the eggs into the dye - all kept in an appropriately labelled cardboard box secured with a string. Each wide-mouth jar would get two color tablets from the Paas egg-dying kit (hopefully two tablets of the same color), vinegar and water. Then the coloring would begin.

There were (and still are) a few important rules. First, everybody in the family gets an egg with his or her name on it. So, using the waxy crayon, and saying something to the effect of "I've got [name's] egg," we would write a name on the egg and dip it into the dye. Some people, like my mom and dad, often ended up with two eggs - one with "Mom" or "Dad" on it and one with their actual name. And somebody, usually my dad, would make an egg for Frank - and there is no Frank in the family. When Paul joined the family and when the boys each had their first Easter, everybody made a big deal to ensure that each got their own personalized egg.

The second rule was that everybody have a turn at coloring eggs, even if it was just one or two eggs. This was something for everybody to do - a tradition for the whole family.

Laura was always the most creative - she would use layers of crayon and colors to get beautiful designs. And she always ended up with beautifully colored paper towels as well (we would dab off the excess color on paper towels). I am pretty sure that she saved several of those paper towels and used them in later projects. My aunt Barb, who has Down's Syndrome, tends to write lyrics from country music songs or narratives from past experiences on to her eggs. My dad's eggs were usually a bit silly or witty. And the rest of us just tried to make pretty eggs.

Easter dinner was usually Saturday night. I have vivid, mouth-watering memories of baked ham, scalloped potatoes, green beans, crusty bread and real butter in a glass butter dish. Grandpa at the head of the table, Grandma on the side of the table closet to the kitchen so she could pop up if something was needed, the rest of us spread around the table. I always took for granted the fact that my grandmother could get all of the food on the table at the same time and all of it be nice and hot. Today, I am amazed by this feat.

When we went to bed on Saturday night at my grandparents' house, we always put our shoes out at the foot of our bed. Then, when we were woken up early the next morning (we always went to early Mass on Easter Sunday), the egg with our name on it miraculously appeared in one of the shoes. The Easter Bunny had visited during the night!

After getting dressed in our Easter clothes, we would race downstairs. First on the agenda: find our Easter baskets. My sister and I each had these lovely wicker baskets that we used year after year. Usually, the Easter Bunny hid the baskets behind one of the easy chairs in my grandparents' living room. Inside the baskets were small wrapped presents and some chocolate eggs. Then, the Easter egg hunt would begin in earnest. During the night, the Easter Bunny had hid all of the eggs throughout the downstairs of the house. And we had to find all of the eggs before leaving for church. There were some standard hiding spots - in the eagle wall hanging in the TV room, in the pot plants, inside Grandpa's desk, in the china cabinet. And to fuel us on our egg finding mission was a large plate of jelly beans, small chocolate eggs, and the most amazing egg-shaped truffle-like candies (inside were cream fillings flavored with maple, vanilla, chocolate, etc.) I always managed to sneak a few jelly beans - my personal favorite - each time I walked through the dinning room where Grandma had set the plate on the sideboard.

As we found each egg, we would put them in our baskets. As our baskets got full, Mom emptied them out into the empty egg cartons, slowly counting down how many eggs we had left to find before church. Most years, we found all of the eggs before piling in to two cars for the short ride to Blessed Sacrament. Some years, we had to find the last couple after we got home.

After church, we returned to my grandparents' house and commenced with the "Egg Cracking Championship" over a breakfast of toast, eggs, bacon, and candy. It wasn't until I was in high school that I realized that this tradition was unique to my family (and my extended family in Milwaukee). It goes like this: each person selects an egg that s/he believes will be a "champion." You then choose somebody to compete against. One person holds the egg pointy side up while the other person take the pointy side of her/his egg and taps it against the opponent's egg. One egg cracks. Then, the sides are swapped and the tapper becomes the "tappee" as the rounded sides are tapped against each other. Usually, one person's egg survives this experiences without cracking. That person's egg is declared the "winner" of that round and goes on to compete against the winner of another tapping competition. The "loser" gets to eat her/his egg. And so it continues. Often, an egg might survive 3 or 4 (or more!) rounds before cracking. That egg is declared a "champion."

More recently, since we discovered Vincent's egg allergy, we have changed this tradition a bit. During the last couple Easters (when we were still living in the States), we still colored eggs on Easter Saturday in at my grandpa's house in LaCrosse. But our Easter egg hunt on Sunday morning took place at my parents' house in Decorah. We put jelly beans and small toys in a dozen or so bright colored plastic Easter eggs, and the Easter Bunny (aka: my dad) hid them in the backyard of their house for Vincent to find.

So that, in a nutshell (or eggshell??) is a summary of my Easters growing up. I know it is a rather long and involved description, but I feel that in order for you to better understand my observations of Easter in Australia, you need to understand my experiences with Easter.


The differences between my experiences of Easter in the States and Easter in Australia stem, in general, from a couple of sources. First, much of Australian tradition is strongly rooted in English traditions, both secular and religious. Second, even though Easter is a holiday that celebrates rebirth, renewal, and - by extension - Spring, Easter is an autumn holiday in Australia. So, here is a list - in no particular order -  of differences in how Easter is celebrated in Australia (specifically Sydney) and in the US (specifically the Midwest):

1. Hot cross buns.
2. I don't know anybody here who colors/dyes hard-boiled eggs.
3. Chocolate eggs and chocolate bunnies are the main Easter candy - Paul searched high and low to find me a small bag of jelly beans (and they weren't Brachs...)
4. There are no plastic Easter eggs to be found anywhere.
5. So, when kids do Easter egg hunts here, they are looking for chocolate eggs of all sizes that have been hidden (usually outside) by the Easter bunny.
6. Easter hats/bonnets are very popular for school kids - at daycare this week, the boys both decorated Easter hats and on Thursday they had an Easter Hat Parade, followed by a special afternoon tea.
7. Chocolate eggs and chocolate bunnies are everywhere!
8. Good Friday and Easter Monday are public holidays - no work, no school. And on Good Friday, almost everything was closed - the grocery store, the shopping centre, etc. (I was at the shopping centre on Thursday night pick up a few things and the place was packed - it reminded me of people getting ready for a big snow storm by making one final trip to the store to stock up on everything they might need in case they can't get back for days and days.) In many ways, the Easter long weekend is comparable to the Thanksgiving weekend in the States - the only guaranteed four-day weekend during the year.
9. In the States, ham tends to be the traditional Easter dinner. But I'm not really sure what a "traditional" Easter dinner is. I know a lot of people here eat lamb on Easter and some people eat ham. We are going to a park and having a BBQ (i.e., sausages) with our family.
10. Did I mention the chocolate?? :)

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Bunnies for my boys

When my sister and I were growing up, my grandma bought each of us a bunny figurine for Easter every year. Some of the bunnies were small and other were quite large. Some were life-like while others were more cartoonish. They were made from wood, porcelain, and fabric. I now have an amazing collection of bunny statuettes, thanks to the generosity of my grandmother. And each bunny comes wrapped in the memories of past Easters spent with my lovely grandma.

So, following Grandma's lead, I decided that - starting this year - I am going to knit or crochet bunnies for Vincent and Desmond each Easter. I decided this rather close to Easter this year - so the first bunny in their series needed to be easy and quick. I found the perfect pattern from the green dragonfly. They came together very quickly and I was able to scraps of yarn that I had lying around. I think they turned out pretty well (although the quality of these photos don't do them justice!) I think the grey one will be for Desmond and the brown one will be for Vincent (because it has yellow in it and yellow is his favourite colour).

I'm sure that there will be lots of new bunny patterns to choose from next year - but I already have my eye on this one from Susan B. Anderson (I LOVE her patterns and have knit quite a few of her toys from her book Itty Bitty Toys).

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Our "not-so-sunny-not-very-beachy" sun and beach holiday weekend

This past weekend, we went on our first "holiday" weekend since Desmond was born. Together with a group of our good friends, we drove up the coast north of Sydney to Umina, a small beach town on the Central Coast. In January, two of our friends celebrated their 40th birthdays and it was decided that the best way to celebrate was for all of the families (7 families in total - 14 adults and 20 children between the ages of 17 months [Desmond] and 7th grade) to rent holiday cottages at the Ocean Beach Holiday Park.

It was a great plan in theory - we would all have cottages in close proximity to each other. The kids all know each other and really enjoy playing together. The holiday park has a great pool complex and some fun play areas. And the beach is a 2-minute walk away.

Of course, the one thing you can't plan for is the weather.

From Friday afternoon until early Sunday morning, it rained. And not just a sprinkle here or there, but full-on, torrential rain. A "pour down" as I used to call it as a kid. The kind of storm where you start to think that building an ark might not be such a bad idea. And it was windy. We could hear the surf pounding from our cottage. There were short breaks in the storm, but the rain did not clear until Sunday morning.

Having said that, we did try to make the best of a wet situation. We went swimming in the pool in the rain. We went for a drive and played cricket under the cover of a pavilion. The kids watch videos and the grown-ups had a chance to catch up. We went out for a good dinner at the local club. And some of us (or so I am told) stayed up into the wee hours of Sunday morning playing cards and having a good time.

All-in-all, it was a good weekend. Having a holiday weekend away with two small children is always a challenge, but it was a lot fun being with our friends. One of the girls put it best when she said, "This is the best and worst holiday ever!"

Here are some photos of our weekend (click on the image to make it larger):

Our cottage
The rainy view from our cottage
We found a protected spot and enjoyed popsicles!

Vincent wasn't very impressed by all the rain
Desmond all tuckered out 

The surf pounding at Pearl Beach

Playing cricket under a pavilion at Patonga
A view from Umina Beach on Sunday
 morning after the storm had cleared
 (looking east)
Another view from Umina Beach
(looking east)

We had a fun time - maybe we will come back again
 (when it's not raining!) 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

My Knitting & Crocheting Staycation

For the past two weeks, the boys have been in full-time daycare, Paul has been at work, and I have been home - by myself! It has been great - very relaxing, rejuvenating, and relatively productive. It was just the break I needed before I start working 3 days a week this week (and the boys are home with me for the other 2 days). In addition to keep up with regular household chores (i.e., laundry, vacuuming, laundry, cleaning the kitchen, laundry, cleaning out the car, and more laundry), I had lots of time to knit and crochet and watch a bit of "junky" TV - including the start of the new season of Downton Abbey - which, by the way is not "junky" TV. (I also did a bit of work on an article I have been writing, but didn't quite get it finished). It was fantastic!

At the beginning of last week, I discovered two crocheting and knitting blogs: and Both sites have loads of cute, practical and free patterns, as well as links to other cute, practical and free patterns. So, in addition to knitting and crocheting, I also spent time checking out these (and other) great sites and making mental lists of items to make for future birthday and Christmas gifts.

If you follow my blog, you will know that I started this knitting and crocheting marathon with a crown for Vincent as a celebration for his first day of pre-school. He loved it and immediately requested one in blue for Desmond. And then, two days later, he told me, very politely, that the one I made for him was a bit too small and asked if I could make a bigger one. So I did - but it got a bit too big and is more like an ear warmer than a crown. Oh well - he can grow into it!

Desmond's new blue crown.
In addition, I started working on Vincent's birthday gifts (even though his birthday isn't until April). After spending time drooling over the great patterns on and, I chose this cool shark pouch/pencil case and this fun snake puppet. I still have to put the teeth, zipper and eyes on the shark (and I really have an aversion to putting in zippers...) and I still have to start the snake. But I think he will really like both!
Here is the unfinished shark - looking a bit like a beached whale!

The wife one of Paul's co-workers is expecting a baby soon, so I also made a pair of my "go-to" booties from Louisa Harding's Natural Knits for Moms and Babies. These booties are great - they are knit flat and seamed up the back and across the sole. Very quick to knit and use only a small amount of yarn - great for "stash-busting!"

I spent most of the first part of this week working on the Artfully Simple Infinity Scarf from for a friend. I had a few skeins of a highly textured yarn that ended up producing a lovely scarf/cowl/wrap. I was very pleased with the result!

Finally, I have spent the last day or so working on a set of crocheted coasters for my father-in-law's birthday. He is a tough guy to buy for - but I thought that these coasters (also shown here) would be great to keep in their camper-caravan for when he and my mother-in-law go touring around Australia! They are easy to make and the result is beautiful. Before I decided on using this variegated yarn for his set of coasters, I made a "test" coaster in a solid yarn - it is stunning! I think I will be making several sets in bold colours for Christmas gifts later this year! (And in case you are a crocheter and interested in what materials I used for this project, I used an 8-ply or DK weight yarn and an F hook.)

Here is one of the coasters I made for Paul's dad.
Here is the detail of the coaster - it is lovely!

This week was capped off with a night "away" with Paul. We went to North Sydney, had a yummy dinner at an Indian restaurant in McMahons Point, and spent the night in a boutique hotel in North Sydney - Paul's sister and her husband watched the boys for us :-)

It has been a glorious two-week "yarn-tastic" knitting and crocheting staycation. Just what this mama needed!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Vincent, Preschool, and a New Crown

Yesterday was Vincent's first day of preschool. I know it is a bit of a cliche, but it is so hard to believe that he is old enough to be a preschooler! Of course, he didn't think it was any big deal - same daycare (different room), same teacher, same friends. But now, as he proudly told me, he is a Wallaby - no longer a Wombat.

(At our daycare, each of the rooms is named after an Australian animal that, in my opinion, shares qualities with the kids in that room. The babies are Koalas, the toddlers are Platypuses, the two/three-year-olds are Kangaroos, the three/four-year-olds are Wombats, and the preschoolers are Wallabies.)

To celebrate this preschool/Wallaby milestone, I decided to make Vincent a crown from a great pattern I found at Stitch11. (If you are a crocheter, be sure to check out this website - lots of fantastic patterns - I can't wait to make the snake puppet for Vincent's birthday and the monkey hats for both boys!) It was quick and easy - it only took took a couple of hours! The result is adorable, and I would definitely make it again (Vincent has already told me that I need to make one for Desmond in blue). I chose yellow not only because crowns are usually yellow, but because yellow is also Vincent's favourite colour.

He loves it! He wears it at home, in the car, and wanted to wear it to preschool, but we decided that wouldn't be a good idea. But he won't wear it when he plays cricket ("Cricket players don't wear crowns, Mama!") I did take it to daycare with me yesterday afternoon when I picked the boys up so that he could show his teachers. One of them commented that it looked just a bit like the crown that Max wears in Where the Wild Things Are. Maybe a future Halloween costume?

Photo credit:

Friday, January 4, 2013

Holiday Gifts - Part 4

In this final instalment of the gifts I made for Christmas 2012, I feature the presents we gave to our nieces.

For Lucy, aged 11, I chose a simple - yet bold - heart-shaped pillow pattern. I selected a pink and purple variegated yarn in a dk weight and knit the pattern with two strands held together. She was pretty excited about the result (but I'm sure she would have been much more thrilled if I would have incorporated the logo for her favourite band, One Direction...)

Zoe is 8 and loves "little girl" things. I went back to my favourite book for toy patterns (Susan B. Anderson's Itty Bitty Toys) and found a cute pattern called "wrap-me-up puppies." In her description about this pattern, Anderson writes, "All small children like to pretend to put their toys or dolls to bed." My boys don't seem to be into this, but when I mentioned this pattern to Zoe's mum, she told me that Zoe loves to do this sort of thing. So, I made Zoe a "wrap-me-up" puppy. Zoe has named the puppy "Coco."