Tuesday, January 22, 2019

1 Easy Step to Mucking up the School Holidays

Even though it is currently summer school holidays here, my youngest daughter has been doing homework almost daily for the past month. It’s safe to say, it hasn’t been the ‘funnest’ holiday ever for her, but with her diagnosis of severe functional dyslexia being confirmed days after school ending last year, everyone (above the age of 40) agreed that she couldn’t afford to miss 7 weeks of schooling.

So I get to play teacher. Yay.

Some days start with tears and end with shouting. Sometimes we mix it up, and start with shouting and end with tears. ‘Why did I have to get the broken brain?’ she’d mumble after crawling into my lap for a hug. Every session ends with a collective sigh of relief – and I can’t tell whose are louder – hers or mine. But every day she amazes me with her persistence and tenacity.

Today I gave her an activity that she enjoys because she gets to use a packet of brightly coloured alphabet stamps. Hell, even I like brightly coloured alphabet stamps.

I gave her a page that had the following:

B E _

_ R I P

_ A M P

W _ G

_ E N T

She uses her stamps to make ‘real’ words (such as bed and red, drip and trip). It can be rather hit and miss, but it’s good for her to swap sounds and see how they affect words.

But little did I realise that the letter stamps were alive, all with unique personalities.

‘I want to go first’, she squeaked waving the letter M around. She hopped the letter over to the first word. ‘B-E-M’ she sounded out. ‘BEM.’ She sighed heavily. ‘Too bad M, back in the box.’

‘I’m scared,’ she whispered, waving the T around. She glanced sideways at me. ‘T is just a baby.’ She said by way of explanation. ‘Go T’ she cried in encouragement. ‘You got this!’

Having established that indeed BET was a real word, she turned to me – ‘I’m on fire!’ she said.

We made our way through the words. Very. Slowly. She’s very fair-minded and wanted to give all the letters a chance.

‘I want a turn’ the orange letter C cried.

‘Can I bring a friend?’ asked green S.

‘I’m X and I like being crazy!’ whooped the purple X.

‘Ladies first!’ huffed the pink J.

Soon, all the pink letters were lined up with a respective blue ‘boyfriend’ and were about to start a conga line. I was tempted to tell them all off, but the thing is – she was actually enjoying herself and she was making the words she needed.

‘Off you go D,’ she said encouragingly to a pink stamp as she bounced it towards _ AMP.

‘I have a good feeling about this,’ she whispered to me.

‘DAMP! Yes!’ she cried.

The next word was W_G and after a few false starts involving unpopular letters Z and Y, I told her she would need vowels to make it into a word.

‘Right then,’ she cried to the box of stamps. ‘I want all the vowels please. Line up! Come on O where are you? Don’t be shy,’ she pleaded.

Having made wig and wag, she moved onto the last word which was _ENT. She lined all the vowels up again to have another go.

‘You won’t need the vowels for this one,’ I explained. ‘It already has one.’

She cupped her hands around the stamps. ‘Shhhh Mum, you’re making them sad.’

Slowly she marched them all back to the box, whispering gently to them not to feel bad, and they’d get another chance.

And even though dyslexia will be a hard slog for both of us, I cannot but feel hearted by the fact that she has a love for letters and words. And maybe one day, with lots of work – the feeling will be mutual.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

The Shocking Day I Realised How the World Appears to My Daughter

My youngest daughter is severely dyslexic. We noticed a difference between her and her peers a couple of years ago, and the older she gets, the more marked it is. Diagnosing her dyslexia was a costly and time-consuming process, and despite intensive intervention at school and at home, progress is painfully slow. 
Having a child with reading and writing difficulties is extra strange considering I spend my life reading and writing. It’s my chosen career, and for the most part find it blissfully easy. So it’s been hard for me to take a step back and comprehend how the world might be for her.

Until I was sitting on the toilet recently. 

I know that sounds strange, but we have an Auslan finger spelling poster in the toilet that I often find myself staring at.

I pride myself on being able to rattle through the hand signs for the alphabet pretty quickly, just like my daughter now is (almost) able to recite the alphabet. We are both pretty good when asked to go from start to finish.

But if you ask either of us to read (or sign) one of the ‘trickier’ letters – for her it might be H and F, for me it would be signing H or G, we will pause, no longer certain, without the context of the surrounding letters.

If someone proficient in Auslan sign language came up to me and started spelling ‘Hello, my name is Sam’ I would probably panic. I’d have to ask them to go very slowly, one letter at a time, translating the hand shapes to sounds, and trying to hold them in my head while I concentrate on ‘reading’ the next sign.

In an ideal world,  when reading H-E-L-L-O, you're still meant to remember the ‘H’ by the time you get to ‘O’. 

But if I was watching someone sign the letters to me, I would probably be concentrating so much on recognising the ‘O’, that the ‘H’ would be long gone. The word I had just 'spelled' would be an incomplete collection of sounds and make no sense. I then imagined how hard it would be to keep an entire sentence in my head.

My heart sank.
That’s when I realised that's what it must be like for my daughter every time we ask her to read. 

And while I don’t have to learn the Auslan finger signs, she HAS to learn how to read and write English. There is no avoiding it. For her, it is a mountain that must be scaled. Every day for the rest of her life.

For her, reading is excruciating and labour intense, and without any certainly that sounding the individual letters will actually makes any sense once she’s done.

Despite the difficulties she has, she is determined to persist. She blows the rest of us out of the water when it comes to working hard. We are developing little rules that help her remember each letter shape and sound. What is automatic and easy for most of us, involves a number of laboured steps for her.

Funnily enough, one thing she can write with no issue is the phrase ‘I love you’. She writes it a lot. On cards and pictures, on scraps of paper, on the shopping lists, on post-it notes that she leaves next to my bed. 

Yet the other week, when she had to read ‘YES’ it took about 10 steps.
First I wrote the phrase ‘I love you’ next to her word list. Then I circled the ‘Y’ in Yes and the ‘Y’ in You and joined them together, and then I waited. I watched her eyes dart from one phrase to the next, as she mouthed the sounds to herself. ‘I love you’ she whispered under her breath, ‘You’ and then she got to ‘Y’. Then she looked back at the word YES and started ‘Y-E-S’. She turned to be with a big grin ‘YES’ she shouted.

To which there was only one appropriate response: ‘I love YOU’ I replied.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Diary of a Wannabe Dieter [Bodytrim review]

I receive an email from a company asking if I’d like to write a blog post about losing weight with Bodytrim. My first instinct is to write back and say ‘no thanks, I’m too busy to lose weight.’ Then, just as I am about to hit ‘send’, I reconsider. 

I know I never do things like this on Relentless, but it's relevant for me right now and I am willing to give this a try – what have I got to lose? Just weight! I've got plenty of that.

Day 1:
Bodytrim is essentially a high-protein, low-carb meal-replacement plan. They provide both shakes and various snacks, and you sign up for a free 12-week program that offers guidance and support. It instantly sounds appealing because you don’t really have to do anything.

I admit that I had a peek at the program when I first received the email, and because of what I saw I delayed the start of my trial to begin after the kids went back to school. I believe they should learn about healthy eating, but I am reluctant to ‘diet’ in front of them, and besides – I knew they’d all want to have shakes for breakfast as well and I’m not too good at sharing.

There are three stages of the Bodytrim 12-week program. Basically you start with 3 meal-replacement shakes in the first few days, gradually dropping to two, then one shake per day. You are supposed to have learned by this point, to fill the rest of your day with healthy snacks, balanced meals and plenty of water. You never replace dinner, so there’s no problem with watching everyone else tuck into a roast dinner while you sip on a shake.

This is nothing new. I know how to lose weight. My problem is that I don’t like exercise and I really enjoy eating. I like baking with my kids. I like going out with my friends for dinner. I love a glass of wine or two. I’m a typical mum – I am busy busy busy with my kids and my work and my life and very, very neglectful when it comes to myself. And sometimes losing weight just seems like such hard work.

My first day is a mixed success. The shakes aren’t substantial enough to replace one of my normal meals, so I eat a bowl of raw veggies over the day. I’m also well behaved and skip my wine, but I scoff a piece of cake when no one is looking and still go to bed hungry.

Day 2:
I’ve never been terribly fussed about the numbers on the scale. I have always been heavy, even when I am at my slimmest. I like to think I have a skeleton made of lead, or rather a heart of gold. This is why I prefer looking at my measurements – and losing centimetres from my tummy and butt rather than kilos. You can’t see kilos!

I like it when my skirts zip up. I don’t like it when I have to leave them unzipped and hope that my top covers the big triangle of undies hanging out at the back. It’s good motivation.

Day 2 and I am still hungry, though I suspect that is the point. The shakes are small, about 1/3 the size of my morning coffee. I get ‘hangry’ while at the shops, but while I would normally chow down on a roast pork and crackling roll, today I buy some healthy sushi, so I guess I should be proud of making a reasonably healthy food choice, even if I am technically breaking the rules.

Day 3:
These are my numbers:
Number of children: 3
Number of pets/husbands: 3 if you include the fish
Number of times I have tried serious dieting: 3
Number of times I lost a heap of weight and gained it back again: 3

I’m beginning to detect a theme…

End of Day 3 and I am still hungry. Although I am technically in the Fast Start section of the 12 week program (3 days of three shakes and only 1 meal) I admit that I am scrounging around in the box of snacks they also sent me. The snacks are all high-protein, low-carb sweet items such as slice, cookies and protein bars. The texture is unusual, but they are definitely filling.

Day 4
I am being sent daily emails from Bodytrim as part of the free 12-week trial. You simply sign up to the website using the code provided on the side of every shake container. There is a lot of good information on the site if you’re willing to read it – plenty of articles and discussions. One of the messages which I really like is that it isn’t selfish to think about yourself and take care of yourself. I think a lot of mums forget this.

End of Day 4 and I have gone totally off-track thanks to a rather delicious bottle of wine. That being said, I have been making smart food choices all day, which is rather unlike me. Could this be evidence of the ‘trim thinking’ you are expected to apply when trying the 12-week plan? Maybe this will work after all.

Day 5
Meal-replacement shakes come in two flavours – chocolate and vanilla. Three scoops of the powder and top it up with water. I quite enjoy the taste although they are quite small. If you follow the instructions and don’t try to sneak an extra scoop in, each tub makes nine shakes. Therefore, if I follow the plan as proscribed by Bodytrim, the three tubs will last 27 days. 

The real question though, is will I last that long?

End of Day 5. I am down to two shakes a day, 1 meal and 2 snacks. I feel this is much better suited to my normal way of eating. I work from home, and am constantly heading off to writing sessions, school, the library or having to drive my kids around. I don’t do well skipping food for long periods of time, and this stage two ‘trimsition’ is much more manageable for me.

Day 6
I have been sent enough Bodytrim shakes to last around 4 weeks, and I think this should be enough time to see how the system works for me in my life. The website recommends 12 weeks, as you need time for your body (and brain) to form new good habits. I might need more than 12 weeks, as I have spent the last 40 years forming bad habits.

One of the other mums at school stopped me today and said I was looking good. She asked if I had lost some weight. I’m actually not sure if I have, but it felt good hearing that anyway. Motivation to go another week.

Day 14
Constant snacking is a hard habit to break, and I’m not a huge fan of the low-carb, high protein snacks they provide. It’s a different texture to normal biscuits and slices, although the flavour is fine, and they definitely fill you up. However, being on the program (or attempting to be on the program) is making me re-think some of my food decisions, some of the time – which is better than me not thinking any of the time. So that’s definitely a win.

I think the amount of weight I have lost is negligible – maybe a kilo or so - but if your heart isn’t fully in it, then the chances of weight magically falling off is as unlikely as winning the lotto – lovely to dream about… but keep on dreaming. Weight loss is also meant to be slow and steady, otherwise it will all just come back again.

My thoughts about the Bodytrim Program? 
It’s not for me. Clearly I am not motivated enough right now. But I think if you’re needing some structure and a clear program to follow then perhaps this might suit you. 

There’s also not a lot of variety in the products – the flavours run the gamut from vanilla to chocolate with a quick detour to mint, and they’re all sweet. That being said, they go in your bag and could easily stop you making that drive-through for the cheeky burger next time you’re hungry. 

Thank you to Bodytrim for letting me try their products. You can find out more about the program here:  https://www.bodytrim.com.au/weight-loss-program-products/ 

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

The Head Girl

Last night my middle daughter, who is halfway through Grade 3, decided that when she is in Grade 6 (her final year of primary school), she wanted to be Head Girl.

This came as rather a shock to me, and everyone who was sitting at the dinner table when she announced her decision, because within the family she has a well-established reputation as being both the laziest and most selfish of all the girls.

My husband, who had been Head Boy of his school when he was in Year 7, and who as an adult is drowning in work said glumly ‘there’s so much extra work you’ll have to do, why bother?’

I shot him a look that said ‘perhaps the wrong message to be sending’ and instead turned to my daughter and queried why she would want to be Head Girl.

‘Because I want to sit on the chairs at assembly rather than sit on the floor,’ was her first response.

Swallowing my laughter I told her that probably wasn’t a good enough reason and asked why else she wanted to run for Head Girl.

‘Because I don’t want to leave school without having done something big and important.’


That was not what I had expected her to say.

And she meant it.

With her older sister slumping down in her seat, eyes rolling like a bingo machine, my middle daughter fixed me with a look that said ‘take me seriously’ and then proceeded to spill dinner down her chin.

Even though I had a million ideas that automatically came bursting to my brain, I knew that I needed to leave this one entirely in her own hands. She hadn’t asked for help and I suspected part of her little speech might have been a none-too-subtle dig at her sister who had run for Head Girl and not made it. She has a real talent of going straight for the jugular, something that might come in handy one day as an adult.

‘You know,’ I said to her. ‘If you want to do something big and important at the school, you don’t need to wait three years’.

And that would be the end of it, I told myself.

But later that night she surprised me, while I was naked in the shower (naturally), with some ideas she had. She already had written a letter to the Principal and drawn a picture ‘it’s not my best’, she admitted. ‘I just wanted to start.’

She had come to ask if I would help her make an appointment with the Principal.

Gesturing at my nudity I said ‘not now.’

She glanced at me, as though only just realising I was in the shower and completely wet and naked, and told me ‘I’ll wait.’

Indulge me for a moment while I give some back story – our school is running a fete later this year, and I am up to my eyeballs in it. Her class is running a pet stall, and I have been sewing doggie bandanas and we will be baking jars of dog biscuits. Because I have no idea how well these things will sell, I had always told my daughter that anything we don’t sell, we would donate to the local dog shelter so the dogs could look handsome for their new owners.

Her idea is to collect old towels that the shelter is always asking for, to add to the donation. Everyone at the school is already being asked to bring in their pre-loved toys and clothes and books – why not some old towels as well, she said.

It was a pretty good idea, I thought.

This isn’t one of those excruciating mummy-blogs full of humble bragging mind you. This is blatant bragging! I might have raised one of my children correctly. Hallelujah. Especially since she’s the one we thought would grow up and become a mob boss.

So I have told her that I will back her up with anything that needs adult-ing, but otherwise she has to do this on her own. I think she will do this, after all this is the kid who made some embroidery for Queen Elizabeth (and got a reply) and the kid who sent a thank you note to the show-bag sellers at the Royal Show and got sent a huge box of free show bags.

I’ll let you know how she goes.

Anyone want to buy a bandana for their dog?

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Why I was Thinking About Ralph Fiennes late at Night

As the enormous summer holidays loomed before us last year I thought to myself ‘what can we do as a family that keeps us out of the sun and away from our iThingys.’ I decided to go old-school and start reading them a book, and Harry Potter seemed a worthy choice.

For some unfathomable reason, none of the girls had ever read Harry Potter. I think the fact that we had told them that Dad and I bought and read them ‘when we were younger’ instantly made them old-fashioned and embarrassing.

We got off to a great start, with the (then) five year old and (then) seven year snuggled under my arms, and the ten year hovering around in the background pretending she wasn’t interested.

It was going really well, until the local TV station decided to show each of the Harry Potter movies, starting with The Philosopher’s Stone when we were only halfway through the book.

Suddenly it was like we all had a ball to go to. The excitement of watching the first movie was palpable and we all talked about it like there was nothing else going on in our lives (there wasn’t). We even planned some special movie snacks.

The night came, and as the ending drew near, I found myself with a rather frightened seven year old on my lap. [Warning: spoiler alter] When Professor Quirrell took his turban off to reveal Voldemort’s head, well that was it. She was gone like a flash.

I found her playing in her room later, and when I spoke to her, she said she was ok.

Clearly that was a lie.

As the holidays progressed, my best sleeper suddenly didn’t want to go to bed anymore. She insisted on watching me lock the doors, made me turn the alarm on at night and tried to bribe the dog to sleep with her by hiding treats under the sheets.

But still she couldn’t even voice her fears, or put a name to the thing that was scaring her (‘he who shall not be named’ - well played JK).

By the time I figured out what was going on, I was faced with a sweet little girl who was now scared by bedtime, something I could strongly relate to. I was terrified of ET – the extraterrestrial living under my bed until I was about ten years of age, thanks to Mum and Dad taking us to see the movie when I was the tender age of three. They regretted that decision for years!

So I did what I tend to do when I am unsure, and I talked. And talked.

‘What you have to understand,’ I said ‘is that Voldemort is just a character played by an actor named Ralph Fiennes. And unlike Voldemort, Ralph Fiennes is actually quite handsome. To start with, he has a nose.’

A tiny smile.

‘And in fact when Ralph Fiennes goes out on the street, he doesn’t have people running and screaming in the opposite direction, he has people (mostly mums, I added) running and screaming towards him, because he’s just so handsome, having that nose and all.’

The smile got a little bit bigger.

‘And in fact,’ I went on now acting out my story, ‘if you ever saw Ralph Fiennes, I think you might actually fall in love with him and his nose a little, and you’d be all like ‘Volda-who?’ And you and I would get into a fight over who could ask Ralph to be in a selfie with us.’ (I started pretending I was jostling her, and holding up an imaginary camera).

‘I’d win mum,’ she said.

‘Why on earth would handsome Ralph Fiennes and his handsome nose choose you over me?’ I asked, pretending to be mortally offended.

‘Because I’m cuter than you.’

Maybe she is, but I’m smarter – and she hasn’t had a nightmare ever since.

Ralph – she’s all yours!

thanks to https://celebrities.knoji.com/ralph-fiennes-trivia-13-essantially-fun-facts-about-english-actor-ralph-fiennes/ for this yummy picture

Friday, November 24, 2017

How to Ruin a Secret

Because I am easily susceptible to flattery I found myself saying yes to taking on a special art project for my middle daughter’s class, a split class of six and seven year olds. And the project was: a quilt.

Yes, I agreed to take on a sewing project with 23 beautiful six and seven year olds.

We were making the quilt because our school has a wonderful end of year event where each of the classes make a collaborative art piece which is then auctioned off to raise money for the school. In the past the bidding has gotten a little out of hand, one year reaching at least $900 for a single piece – putting it well out of reach of many families and all the teachers.

So because our teacher is dearly beloved (and because I clearly didn’t have a clue what it would mean to make two quilts simultaneously) I decided I would also sneakily make a second quilt at the same time, which the kids will present to her as a gift at the end of the year.

I’ll skip over the past two months when I was actually helping the kids make the quilt and then sewing fifty individual squares because it would sound like this:



Ooops didn’t mean to do that.

Where are my scissors!

Damn, ran out of thread.

Bugger, back to Spotlight.


Where are my damn scissors!

I don’t want to do this anymore.

F*** back to Spotlight AGAIN!

What in hell is wrong with my machine?

What in hell is wrong with me?

And then –
Mum – I really need your help to finish these damn quilts.

Skipping to this morning when my mum showed up at my house with the finished quilts, I had one of those moments when the angels sings and you realise that your mum is in fact a little piece of heaven bundled up and delivered back to earth in a pair of jeans and sensible shoes.

Leaving the second quilt at home, I carefully bundled up the art quilt to show to the teacher. We laid it out on the table and let everyone have a look. The bell hadn’t rung yet and I still had my youngest daughter with me before I dropped her at the pre-primary. The teacher was appreciating the beauty of the kids’ designs (and my mum’s impeccable binding) and clearly Child Number 3 felt she wasn’t getting enough attention.

‘She has another one, you know,’ piped up my daughter.

Lasers shot out of my eyes and my heart sank. ‘Shhhhh’ I hissed at her.

The teacher was looking at me, shock on her face.

‘There is another one at home. On the table!’

I quite literally tried to kill my daughter with just poisonous looks (didn’t work). I wanted to throw myself across the table at her and wrestle her to the ground.

She had just given away a secret half the school had been keeping for two months and I literally could have cried. However I wasn’t actually prepared for what the teacher did next.

She took a big gasping breath and patted me on the arm.
‘Oh my gosh Shannon, do you know what I immediately thought when she said you had another one?’

I shook my head, miserable that she knew the secret.

‘I thought she meant you were having another baby!’

Wait. What?

I couldn’t quite decide what was worse – having the surprise ruined or being mistaken as pregnant. I packed up the quilt and shuffled away with my youngest who clearly knew she had done something wrong but wasn’t entirely sure what. Poor mite. Something for her to talk to her shrink about when she’s older.

Now with a bit of time (and a muffin or two) under my belt, I can look at this morning’s event with a bit more clarity. I get mistaken for being pregnant all the time so I decided that having the secret blown was definitely the worst thing.

Never trust a five year old.

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