Wednesday, 31 October 2007

How to confuse your holidays (Happy Halloween)


Australians don't do Halloween.

Growing up, we never dressed up and we never went trick-or-treating (and we wouldn't have been able to eat the spoils if we did – Dad's one-lolly-a-week rule was strictly enforced). But that was ok, because everyone else stayed home on October 31 too.

So when I moved to the States, Halloween – like Thanksgiving – was a new one for me. I loved it the first year because we and all our friends (childless and carefree then) dressed up as the characters from The Big Lebowski and stayed out till 3am.

But times change. This year we'll be taking our little forest fairy for a sedate lolly-gathering effort around the neighbourhood in the early evening, then staying in for the night. It will be her first year trick-or-treating... until June we lived in Washington and it was always too cold to take her outside at night. Hence the little Santa outfit from last Halloween, pictured above – nice and warm, and takes care of two holidays at once. (I didn't care that it was confusing – my practical side wins every time.)

Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Done!


For the seven years I've known Nathan, he's always been taking exams.

Back when I was studying, I attempted fairly regular nervous breakdowns around exam time – and my longest exam was 2.5 hours. The exams for doctors last an entire day. That'd send me completely round the twist, but he never made a big deal about it.

Well, all that ended last week when we found out he passed his Boards. After four years of college, four years of med school and three years of residency, the exams are done. He's board-certified in his specialty and won't have to take another exam for ten whole years.

Like all the other good doctors he'll still read obsessively, keep up on journals, write papers and presentations – you know. But no more day-long exams for ten years is still something to be happy about.

To celebrate, Berry undertook creative embellishing on some of her daddy's notes. A few careful squiggles and hey presto – valvular aortic stenosis has never looked so good.

[PS: a great big (but unnecessary, because she is awesome) good-luck to Pauline, who's about to sit her Boards.]

Sunday, 28 October 2007

If you love Vespas like I love Vespas...


My latest trick: a set of Bella Figura cards for Vespa fans (like me).

I've been wanting to do this for ages... and when a recent trip to New Orleans (home to many covet-worthy Vespas) inspired me to design another Vespa Girl card, the time was right! The new design is front and center in the Vespa Fan Set of 3 greetings (above) and shown in more detail below.

They're all in my Etsy store now, and coming very soon to the Pepperina Press web site.

One day I will hatch a cunning plan to take myself back to Italy for "research purposes". I mean, if I'm going to keep drawing Vespas I need to see at least several hundred of them up close, and get a bit of atmosphere while I'm there. Am I right?

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Ta-daaaaaa!


I've been promising forever that I'll post photos of my new studio once I get it finished and organised. I think my last promise was quite a while ago.

Well, I've realised this is as organised as I'm going to get in the foreseeable future, so here's the guided tour!

First, a reminder of what it looked like when we moved in (on a much sunnier day, as you can see):


And the photo at the top of this post shows what it looks like from the doorway now – mainly my work desk and some storage shelves, and the edge of the block-printing table around the corner. This (below) is the trimming and packing table, which Nathan's dad made at a nice standing height so I don't have to lean awkwardly over to do all that fiddly stuff anymore.


In fact, Nathan's dad is responsible for this entire room. Seriously. He made both the tables, he painted the walls (you do not know how long it takes to tape and undercoat and paint a room with this many angles – it's insane). He mounted the wall shelves. He assembled the floor shelves. He put up the clear memo board and the white noticeboard and he made every single thing fit perfectly. And did I mention he drove down from Dallas to do all this? The man is a saint.


There's even this little corner for when Berry wants to join me (see above... she was working on a sticker-collage that day), with a play mat and amazing hand-stitched cushions from my sister in South Africa. The areas you can't see are the extra shelves by my desk, and the huge and excellent store room full of shelves (to the left of my desk) where all the endless boxes of blank stock and coloured envelopes live.


This place makes me happy every single day.

.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Laziness, eBay and Shopping With Six Kids


I'm a lazy lazy girl who doesn't post often enough on her blog. I do have an excuse... I'm sure it's around here somewhere...

But what better way to make up for my laziness than to present you with something hilarious that someone else has written? Yes!

Below (stay for the read, it's worth it) is the funniest eBay auction listing I have ever, ever read. It's written by a mother of six kids. Being the eldest of five children myself, I can promise you: she is not making this up.

Here's the listing. Read on...

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LOT OF POKEMON CARDS THAT MY KIDS TRIED TO SNEAK BY ME

I'm selling a bunch of Pokemon cards. Why? Because my kids sneaked them into my shopping cart while at the grocery store and I ended up buying them because I didn't notice they were there until we got home. How could I have possibly not noticed they were in my cart, you ask? Let me explain.

You haven’t lived until you’ve gone grocery shopping with six kids in tow. I would rather swim, covered in bait, through the English Channel, be a contestant on Fear Factor when they’re having pig brains for lunch, or do fourth grade math than to take my six kids to the grocery store.

Because I absolutely detest grocery shopping, I tend to put it off as long as possible. There comes a time, however, when you’re peering into your fridge and thinking, ‘Hmmm, what can I make with ketchup, Italian dressing, and half an onion,’ that you decide you cannot avoid going to the grocery store any longer. Before beginning this most treacherous mission, I gather all the kids together and give them "The Lecture".

"The Lecture" goes like this…
MOM: “We have to go to the grocery store.”
KIDS: “Whine whine whine whine whine."
MOM: “Hey, I don’t want to go either, but it’s either that or we’re eating cream of onion-ketchup soup and drinking Italian dressing for dinner tonight.”
KIDS: “Whine whine whine whine whine."
MOM: “Now here are the rules: do not ask me for anything, do not poke the packages of meat in the butcher section, do not test the laws of physics and try to take out the bottom can in the pyramid shaped display, do not play baseball with oranges in the produce section, and most importantly, do not try to leave your brother at the store. Again.”

OK, the kids have been briefed. Time to go.

Once at the store, we grab not one, but two shopping carts. I wear the baby in a sling and the two little children sit in the carts while I push one cart and my oldest son pushes the other one. My oldest daughter is not allowed to push a cart. Ever. Why? Because the last time I let her push the cart, she smashed into my ankles so many times, my feet had to be amputated by the end of our shopping trip. This is not a good thing. You try running after a toddler with no feet sometime.

At this point, a woman looks at our two carts and asks me, “Are they all yours?” I answer good-naturedly, “Yep!
“Oh my, you have your hands full.”
“Yes, I do, but it's fun!” I say smiling.
I’ve heard all this before. In fact, I hear it every time I go anywhere with my brood.

We begin in the produce section where all these wonderfully, artistically arranged pyramids of fruit stand. There is something so irresistibly appealing about the apple on the bottom of the pile, that a child cannot help but try to touch it. Much like a bug to a zapper, the child is drawn to this piece of fruit. I turn around to the sounds of apples cascading down the display and onto the floor. Like Indiana Jones, there stands my son holding the all-consuming treasure that he just HAD to get and gazing at me with this dumbfounded look as if to say, “Did you see that??? Wow! I never thought that would happen!”

I give the offending child an exasperated sigh and say, “Didn’t I tell you, before we left, that I didn’t want you taking stuff from the bottom of the pile???”

“No. You said that you didn’t want us to take a can from the bottom of the pile. You didn’t say anything about apples.”

With superhuman effort, I resist the urge to send my child to the moon and instead focus on the positive – my child actually listened to me and remembered what I said!!! I make a mental note to be a little more specific the next time I give the kids The Grocery Store Lecture.

A little old man looks at all of us and says, “Are all of those your kids?”
Thinking about the apple incident, I reply, “Nope. They just started following me. I’ve never seen them before in my life.”

OK, now onto the bakery section where everything smells so good, I’m tempted to fill my cart with cookies and call it a day. Being on a perpetual diet, I try to hurry past the assortment of pies, cakes, breads, and pastries that have my children drooling. At this point the chorus of “Can we gets” begins.
“Can we get donuts?”
“No.”
“Can we get cupcakes?”
“No.”
“Can we get muffins?”
“No.”
“Can we get pie?”
“No.”

You’d think they’d catch on by this point, but no, they’re just getting started.

In the bakery, they’re giving away free samples of coffee cake and of course, my kids all take one. The toddler decides he doesn’t like it and proceeds to spit it out in my hand. (That’s what moms do. We put our hands in front of our children’s mouths so they can spit stuff into them. We’d rather carry around a handful of chewed up coffee cake, than to have the child spit it out onto the floor. I’m not sure why this is, but ask any mom and she’ll tell you the same.) Of course, there’s no garbage can around, so I continue shopping one-handed while searching for someplace to dispose of the regurgitated mess in my hand.

In the meat department, a mother with one small baby asks me, “Wow! Are all six yours?”
I answer her, “Yes, but I’m thinking of selling a couple of them.”
(Still searching for a garbage can at this point.)

Ok, after the meat department, my kids’ attention spans are spent. They’re done shopping at this point, but we aren’t even halfway through the store. This is about the time they like to start having shopping cart races. And who may I thank for teaching them this fun pastime? My seventh “child”, also known as my husband. While I’m picking out loaves of bread, the kids are running down the aisle behind the carts in an effort to get us kicked out of the store. I put to stop to that just as my son is about to crash head on into a giant cardboard cut-out of a Keebler elf stacked with packages of cookies.

Ah! Yes! I find a small trash can by the coffee machine in the cereal aisle and finally dump out the squishy contents of my hand. After standing in the cereal aisle for an hour and a half while the kids perused the various cereals, comparing the marshmallow and cheap, plastic toy content of each box, I broke down and let them each pick out a box. At any given time, we have twenty open boxes of cereal in my house.

As this is going on, my toddler is playing Houdini and maneuvering his little body out of the seat belt in an attempt to stand up in the cart. I’m amazed the kid made it to his second birthday without suffering a brain damaging head injury. In between trying to flip himself out of the cart, he sucks on the metal bars of the shopping cart. Mmmm, can you say “influenza”?

The shopping trip continues much like this. I break up fights between the kids now and then and stoop down to pick up items that the toddler has flung out of the cart. I desperately try to get everything on my list without adding too many other goodies to the carts.

Somehow I manage to complete my shopping in under four hours and head for the check-outs where my kids start in on a chorus of, “Can we have candy?” What evil minded person decided it would be a good idea to put a display of candy in the check-out lanes, right at a child’s eye level? Obviously someone who has never been shopping with children.

As I unload the carts, I notice many extra items that my kids have sneaked in the carts unbeknownst to me. I remove a box of Twinkies, a package of cupcakes, a bag of candy, and a can of cat food (we don’t even have a cat!). I somehow missed the box of Pokemon cards however and ended up purchasing them unbeknownst to me.

As I pay for my purchases, the clerk looks at me, indicates my kids, and asks, “Are they all yours?”

Frustrated, exhausted from my trip, sick to my stomach from writing out a check for $289.53, dreading unloading all the groceries and putting them away and tired of hearing that question, I look at the clerk and answer her in my most sarcastic voice, “No. They’re not mine. I just go around the neighborhood gathering up kids to take to the grocery store because it’s so much more fun that way.”

So, up for auction is an opened (they ripped open the box on the way home from the store) package of Pokemon cards. There are 44 cards total. They're in perfect condition, as I took them away from the kiddos as soon as we got home from the store. Many of them say "Energy". I tried carrying them around with me, but they didn't work. I definitely didn't have any more energy than usual.

One of them is shiny. There are a few creature-like things on many of them. One is called Pupitar. Hee hee hee Pupitar! (Oh no! My kids' sense of humor is rubbing off on me!) Anyway, I don't think there's anything special about any of these cards, but I'm very much not an authority on Pokemon cards. I just know that I'm not letting my kids keep these as a reward for their sneakiness.

Shipping is FREE on this item. Insurance is optional, but once I drop the package at the post office, it is no longer my responsibility. For example, if my son decides to pour a bottle of glue into the envelope, or my daughter spills a glass of juice on the package, that’s my responsibility and I will fully refund your money. If, however, I take the envelope to the post office and a disgruntled mail carrier sets fire to it, a pack of wild dogs rip into it, or a mail sorting machine shreds it, it’s out of my hands, so you may want to add insurance.

I will leave feedback for you as soon as I’ve received your payment. I will be happy to combine shipping on multiple items won within three days. This comes from a smoke-free, pet-free, child-filled home. Please ask me any questions before placing your bid. Happy bidding! :)


Friday, 19 October 2007

Big treasures in little Sunset


If you ever go to Sunset, Louisiana (if you can ever find Sunset, Louisiana) don't miss this place. It's called Melange and it's a wonderland in the middle of nowhere.

Row after row of antique European doors, huge weathered wrought-iron gates from France, and century-old furniture from eastern Europe. It's amazing.

We spent hours there and I could have spent hours more. We bought a French wrought-iron wall planter and a beautiful old hand-painted keyed chest from Hungary.

We coveted many, many other things. We'll be back.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Amazing


This post is for my brother Jules who, although he lives in Greenwich, managed to miss the whole shebang... and for everyone else too, because this story is just amazing.

If I did this, I would want medals, money and lifelong adulation. But I would never do this. Read on....
____________________________________________________

LONDON (AP) -- He was hit by a car in Colorado, attacked by a crocodile in Australia, detained as a suspected spy in Egypt and survived illness and periods of despair.

On Saturday, British adventurer Jason Lewis finally came home, completing a 13-year, 46,000-mile human-powered circumnavigation of the globe.

The 40-year-old carried his 26-foot yellow pedal craft the last few miles up the River Thames, pushing it across the Meridian Line at Greenwich, where his expedition began in 1994.

"I'm overwhelmed," Lewis told Sky News television after arriving. He struggled for words as he described his feelings at the close of an odyssey that took him around the globe, powered only by his arms and legs - on a bicycle, a pedal boat, a kayak and inline skates.

"It's been my life, for 13 years, I've put everything into this," he said. "To be honest I didn't know it was going to happen. There were many times in the trip where it should have failed."

Lewis was recruited by fellow adventurer Steve Smith, who first dreamed up the idea of going around the world using only human power in 1991. The pair had little experience at sea, but Lewis thought the prospect of hiking and biking across the world was "wildly romantic."

"The three and a half years the expedition was projected to take sounded like an acceptable amount of time to rejuvenate from the wearisome London scene without totally going AWOL," Lewis wrote on the expedition's Web site.

Trouble began early. After two years of planning and fundraising, the pair set out in July 1994 only to get "horribly lost" on their way to the English coastal town of Rye, where their pedal boat was waiting.

After crossing the English Channel to France and then cycling to Portugal, the pair pedaled their boat in shifts across the Atlantic Ocean, reaching Miami in February 1995. Along the way, they survived close encounters with a shrimping trawler, a whale and a giant wave that swept Smith overboard.

By the time they reached America, the two adventurers had been cooped up in a broom closet-sized space for 111 days with little in the way of food, and their relationship had begun to deteriorate. They crossed the U.S. separately, with Lewis strapping on his inline skates for the 3,500-mile trip to San Francisco. It was on this leg of the journey that he was hit by a car in Pueblo, Colo., breaking both legs. He spent nine months recuperating.

Smith and Lewis reunited in San Francisco and eventually pedaled from the Golden Gate Bridge to Hawaii, where the two split for good. Smith went on to write a book, "Pedaling to Hawaii," while Lewis continued on to Australia.

He biked across the Australian outback, dodged supertankers in the Singapore straits and hiked the Himalayas. From Mumbai, India, he pedaled his boat across the Indian Ocean to Djibouti and made his way north by bicycle through Sudan and Egypt.

Accidents and sickness dogged the trip. The collision in Colorado nearly cost Lewis his leg. The trip across the Pacific left him sore, inflamed and depressed. While kayaking across the Barrier Reef off Australia, he was attacked by a crocodile, which bit off a piece of his paddle.

Local authorities were a problem, as well. Lewis logged "interesting experiences" with Alabama police and gun-wielding locals in the United States. He had to cycle through Tibet at night to avoid detection by Chinese roadblocks. And when he crossed into Egypt from Sudan, he was thrown in jail by the military on suspicion of being a spy.

After his release from prison, he biked through the Sinai desert and across Jordan, Syria and Turkey. He then powered through Europe over the summer, arriving in Greenwich, in southeast London, to cheers from family, supporters and the Duke of Gloucester, the expedition's British patron.

Lewis said he hoped to use the expedition to raise funds for humanitarian causes and draw attention to environmental issues. He has already raised $66,000 for causes ranging from an orphanage in East Timor to kindergartens in Bangkok.


[Story: Associated Press. Photo: Lewis Whyld/AP]

Monday, 15 October 2007

Give a girl a bed...


The "big girl bed" we ordered for Berry is due to arrive on October 25.

Do you think the bed company would send it sooner if they saw how the mattress-on-the-floor option is working out for us?

Yes, those are her little legs sticking out there. She's rolled off her mattress, over the stack of pillows, across the quilt, and somehow scooched under our bed.

So sad.



[To avoid further alarm (see comments) I should explain: I took this photo while kneeling on the edge of our bed, looking down at Berry lying on the floor... and half under our bed. She's not standing on her head, I promise! Wouldn't that be a trick...]

Sunday, 14 October 2007

Swings, no roundabouts


Since Mississippi is finally starting to consider autumn, we can at last go and tackle the playgrounds after kindy. Even a couple of weeks ago it was too hot to be sensible, but the temperatures have eased up just enough and the Base has a spectacularly huge playground by the marina. It's perfect.

My question: what child doesn't want to be pushed on the swings? Berry wants to be in the swing, and she wants the swing to be swinging... but every push – even the occasional push – is met with "NO push! Mine!"

I wonder if most mothers sometimes consider their offspring and say, in their heads, "Why are you so strange?"

.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Vespas on the front!


One of my newest cards is on the front page of Etsy today!

It's the Bella Figura Mod Vespa Girl card (lower right in the picture above), sitting pretty in a whole page full of Vespas.

We have a Vespa. It is in many parts in Princeton, Texas, right now. We're lucky for that, actually, because it means that Nathan's dad is fixing it. Otherwise nobody would.

But where was I... yes, front page! Yay!

.

Sunday, 7 October 2007

Dirty Jobs, Cajun style...


"I bet Mike walked here," I said to Nathan as we went down the path to the back of the restaurant.

He just shook his head at me, with what might've been pity. But really, I'm not the first girl to take a shine to Mike Rowe. And he had been right there – we saw it on TV.

We were going to breakfast at Bayou Boudin and Cracklin on Bayou Teche, home of the "Cracklin King" (or, as it's known locally, Rocky and Lisa's) – because what Louisiana Cajun experience would be complete without it?

And yes, Mike Rowe came here to film an episode of Dirty Jobs for Discovery Channel. It's the one where he learns to make boudin sausage and pork cracklins – the one that coined the famous phrase: "Fat is money."


If you're dieting, you don't go to Rocky and Lisa's. (If you're dieting, you've got the wrong idea about health and you're just going to gain weight again – but that's another story). The menu is mainly pork-related, and they're not counting calories.

Berry loves it because there are little pigs everywhere – she loves pigs – and we love it because these people know how to cook. I didn't have the boudin and I didn't have the cracklins, but their seasoned ham was so good it made me selfish – I wouldn't even share it with Berry. What a bad mother.

If you're ever near Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, it's well worth the trip. And if you want to sit where Mike sat – pssssst, head for the back steps leading up to the restaurant.

Enjoy.

Saturday, 6 October 2007

Little pictures from the big day


Poor Skynyrd. The job description never mentioned this kind of nonsense... Australian Blue Heelers are working dogs, not wearing-Dora-party-hat dogs. Sheesh.

But Dora and Elmo and Bob The Builder were the order of the day on Berry's second birthday. Grandma Tine and Grandpa made sure of that. They also made her a very fancy little party that started at 6am (still dark, people!) in the lovely Cajun cottage in Breaux Bridge.


It was just the five of us, and a lot of balloons... and poor Skynyrd. Oh, and a lot of presents. I know the picture below is blurry – but when you can crawl into the gift bag and almost disappear, well, someone should get photographic evidence.

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

A monkey in the house


In the absence of sisters, brothers or next-door neighbours, you can encourage a large monkey to be civilised and have a tea party with you. Berry has established this after extensive post-birthday experiments.

This is A-a', the very agreeable ape sent down from Dallas for Berry's birthday by clever Grandpa Tom. A-a' was named by Berry (if you couldn't guess) and spends his days having tea parties and being pushed around in a small blue trolley.

He's generally very well-behaved, although we occasionally discover him sitting at the table with a serious expression and inappropriate things on his head. Once it was a blue Lacoste cap, turned backwards, and another time it was a small white cat known as Mischief Kitten.

Mischief and monkeys. We should definitely prevent those two from hanging out together.

(ps: I'd like to point out that I do know there's a big difference between monkeys and apes – but I don't care.)