Friday, 22 January 2016

Captain Giggles is home for the weekend, and my heart is whole



Travis has had nicknames aplenty over the years. On this blog, he’s our Lionheart. But his dad has called him ‘Sausage’ since the day he was born. And when we snuggle, I call Travis my ‘Bear-Bear’. Have you seen his thatch of thick, brown hair? It’s very Beatles. Very Yellow Submarine.

Now Travis goes by the moniker Captain Giggles, because his shy and merry laugh is the birdsong I wake up to when he’s home. It’s the sweetest sound. God, I miss you when you’re not here, my son.

After we placed Travis in residential care in July last year, I found it helped if I thought of his absence in boarding school terms. I’d give myself little pep talks and think: “You’re actually fortunate, Stacey, because most boarding school moms only get to see their kids for school holidays. You get to see Travis every second weekend. And that’s actually every 10 days. So suck it up.”

It worked for a while.

Then Travis started losing weight. A lot of weight.

He’s also shot up in height, to be fair – I am sure you’ve noticed when I share photos of our Lionheart on Instagram. It’s just unlucky for me that Travis went through that fabled eat-an-entire-box-of-Pronutro-for-breakfast growth spurt that young boys have, at the exact moment I packed off my eight-year-old away to live in a care home for special needs kids.

Now he’s tall and skinny after years of being short and tubby. When we sit together on the couch like we did last night, Travis is all knobbly knees and elbows. Spidery, like a Daddy Long Legs.

I almost expect to find a shadow of peach fuzz growing on his upper lip; but Travis is just eight. It’s a reminder that puberty is approaching, and with it will come a whole new set of challenges.

Nobody writes about it, you know: what it’s like to raise a mentally challenged boy as he grows into manhood. Because it’s awkward and squirmy and uncomfortable. I wonder when the time comes, if I’ll be able to share it with you as openly as I have shared Trav’s early years?

But that’s a chapter still to be written.


For now, I’ll just bask in the sunshine of those early morning giggles just outside my bedroom door, when Travis comes to investigate if his mom and dad are awake yet.
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Monday, 18 January 2016

Looks like we're going the private school route

This private school thing really wasn't part of the plan... or the budget.

Ryan will be going to Grade R next year, so last week I applied for him at the new private school opening in our neighbourhood. It's a good group of schools with a good reputation. He would be in the class of 2017. Good for me, getting a jump on the paperwork early.

Whether they are trying to boost their numbers, or they speak the truth - they told me he'd be put on a rather lengthy waiting list for next year, but.... they do Still Have Space for him in this year's class.

Um, okay.

Cue me running around like a crazy person all weekend, buying uniforms, ordering stationery, getting haircuts, and selling a kidney to afford the ridiculous placement fee. I'm not joking about the placement fee - it's almost equal to a bond payment on our home. What the hell do they do with the money from the placement fees anyway?

I haven't really had time to examine my feelings about this whole public versus private school debacle. I was fine with my sons attending government school, and I know we have some very good ones in my area.

In fact, I know that many families are choosing to take their children out of private schools and put them back in public schools.

(I was also looking forward to spending R1000 less in school fees every month after Ryan leaves nursery school, but now I am spending about R1000 more. Looks like I will just have to work even harder this year. But in all fairness, this is one of the big advantages of being self-employed: you don't have to ask for a raise, but you DO have to earn it. And earn it you shall, in long hours and extra belly fat from sitting behind a laptop all day.)

The bit that I was dreading was sleeping on a pavement overnight to secure my son a spot in one of these excellent government schools. It's not an urban legend in our neighbourhood, it really does happen and all of our friends have gone through it. The camaraderie of camp chairs, cooler boxes and application forms on the school grounds on a cold winter's night.

So when Ryan was suddenly accepted at this private school, we thought, "You know what, let's do this. Let's just bite the bullet, pay the fees, and get him in. Then we're sorted for the next few years."

And mom can start a side business where she dances on tables for a living. I am sure there is a niche where 30-something moms with saggy boobs and C-section scars are a fetish.

Think of me tomorrow while I am at Orientation Day, trying not to look wild-eyed and uncomfortable. I am deeply insecure about these kinds of things. You know, anything to do with connotations of money and social standing. The "private school" label comes with plenty of those, and trust me, we don't have that much of either. Having three kids and all. (People are always so quick to say "why did you have some many kids" but it's not like you can return them to the baby factory for a refund after they're born - you just do the best you can by them.)

Anyway, I wasn't expecting to do the whole proud-mom-sobbing-as-she-takes-photos-of-her-kid-wearing-a-school-uniform-for-the-first-time routine this year, but it turns out that's what the universe has in store for me.

Did I mention we are also moving house in a few weeks?

Fun times!

3 ideas for healthy lunch box snacks from Raising Superheroes

One of the most interesting blogger drops I received last year was a signed copy of Raising SuperheroesI've never had a children's recipe book in my collection at home, and I'm not sure what I was expecting. Well, I was pleasantly surprised!

My boys have spent hours with me paging through the recipes in the book, and we turn to Raising Superheroes for inspiration for healthy family meals. The photography is just so luscious, and the recipes are easy and packed with flavour!

I asked the Raising Superheroes team if I could share one of my favourite recipes with you - the cheese and herb muffins - because they are so great for lunch boxes. If you are feeling particularly adventurous, give the tabbouleh and the aubergine wraps a try as well. Bon appétit!

Image courtesy of Raising Superheroes 

CHEESE AND HERB MUFFINS

Makes 12 muffins

1 1/2 cups almond flour
1/2 cup coconut flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs (like parsley, basil, thyme or chives)
11/2-2 cups grated cheddar
2 spring onions, sliced
3 eggs
3/4 cup Greek yoghurt
1/3 cup melted butter

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C.
  2. Line a muffin pan with 12 paper muffin cups.
  3. Sieve the almond flour, coconut flour and baking powder into a bowl and stir in the herbs, cheese and spring onions.
  4. In a separate bowl whisk together the eggs, yoghurt and melted butter.
  5. Mix the wet and dry ingredients together.
  6. Spoon the mixture into the muffin cups and bake for 30 minutes until cooked.
These muffins will freeze like a dream, so serve what you need and freeze the rest.

QUICK CAULI TABBOULEH

Makes 2 portions

1 cup cauliflower, blitzed in the food processor
1/4 cucumber, diced
a handful of cherry tomatoes, halved
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
juice and zest of 1 lemon
a drizzle of olive oil
salt and pepper

Method

  1. Mix together all the ingredients and season with salt and pepper.
  2. Add a little leftover chicken, if you have, or whatever else your kids might fancy.
  3. Pop it all in a Tupperware, and don’t forget to pack a fork.

GRILLED AUBERGINE, TOMATO, BASIL AND MOZZARELLA ROLL-UPS

Makes 6 rolls

1 large aubergine sliced lengthways into 6 pieces
a drizzle of olive oil
salt and pepper
6 slices mozzarella
2 tomatoes, thinly sliced
a few basil leaves

Method

  1. Heat a griddle pan until smoking hot and grill the aubergine slices until they have grill lines on both sides.
  2. Take out of the pan, drizzle with a little olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Roll up each aubergine slice with the mozzarella, tomato and basil inside.
  4. Secure with a skewer or toothpick.

A great tip is a flavoured bottle of water: so anything from cucumber and mint to lemon and ginger to berries makes for a refreshing lunchtime drink in the schoolyard.

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

How cute is this Mr. Men and Little Miss range from Cotton On KIDS?

Can we just pause for a moment to appreciate this cute range of Cotton On KIDS gear inspired by the Mr. Men Little Miss characters? I had so many of these books as a child! Apparenty there are now 86 characters and one Mr. Men and Little Miss book is sold every 2.5 seconds.










The range includes Mr. Men Little Miss clothes for babies and kids, sleepwear, accessories and stationery, and you can get it at Cotton On stores all through January.  Prices start at R49 for a Mr. Men Little Miss Knot Messy Hair Brush through to the long-sleeve pyjama set for R299.

Monday, 11 January 2016

The kiss of life

When you are raising a disabled child, you get used to living on rations. Those rare moments when you experience joy.

It could be the joy of something small, like when Travis accidentally verbalised the word "mom". I knew I would never hear that word bubble from his lips again. Those lips remain as silent of vowels and consonants today, as they've always been. I'm okay with that.

It could be the joy of something colossal, like his first steps, that awkward shuffle-shuffle-shuffle at the age of six.

But small or big, you store the memory of these joys. Carefully halved and quartered, and cut into eighths. You savour them, pressing the tip of your finger to a happy crumb left on your plate. It keeps you going when times are tough.

Like when you miss your boy immensely. Travis has been in residential care for six months now, and it doesn't get easier, the heartache of it. The guilt weighs heavier, and the gulf between he and I yawns wider.

We only spend every second weekend together. Four nights a month.

It makes what happened on Saturday even more precious.

Travis kissed me. Well, my arm to be exact. We were sitting together on the couch while his brothers played outside, and he had his face buried in my arm. He loves my squishy bits. Chicken wings.

He kneaded my arms with those spidery fingers, and giggled, and shnuffled, and... gave my arm a big kiss. And another. And another. And he laughed and he kissed my arm and laughed and laughed and laughed.

You'll remember, the last time that Travis gave me a kiss was, well, five whole years ago. Kissing is just not on the menu of things that my Lionheart can do. Oh, I kiss him on the lips and the face and the top of the head all the time (love-bombing), but I know not to expect any kisses back.

Consider my rations topped up! I think I will file this under bright red buoy moments.

Friday, 8 January 2016

I took my kids to Sci Bono, and it was the best R65 I've ever spent

If you are reading this article, it's probably because the headline caught your eye. R65, yup - that's how much it cost to take my boys to Sci-Bono Discovery Centre in Newtown a couple of weeks ago, and it's one of the cheapest family outings in the city (you can see their rates here).

The boys were mesmerised by this jet suspended from the ceiling in the entrance foyer.

Moms and dads who grew up in Johannesburg know that Sci-Bono is housed inside the old Electric Workshop, one of the most historical buildings in the Newtown area, and also (ahem) the site of many a rave back in the 90s.

It's kind of surreal taking your kids there for a respectable family outing when you were doing helicopters with your glowsticks on the exact same spot 20 years ago. Damn, I feel old - but also kind of thrilling to see my city evolve before my eyes!  

You can find this build-it pit right next to the canteen; it'll keep the kids busy while you're waiting for a toasted cheese.

There is just such a huge variety of things to do at Sci-Bono, so no matter what brand of fun your family is into, there is bound to be something you find interesting. It's all very hands-on, and it's a great way to introduce kids of any age to the sciences.

What's a science exhibit withou a Tesla coil?

There are about a hundred or more interactive exhibits, with people standing by to demonstrate how they work. Plenty of corporates have jumped on board to sponsor exhibits. Most are still in excellent working condition, but there are a handful that could do with a little TLC, not that the kids noticed.

There were many exhibits that demostrate principles of electricty. Sponsored by Eskom, of course.

Hellooooooooo!

My boys are aged 2 and 4, so they are a bit too young to understand the science behind some of the experiments, but that didn't stop them from getting stuck in and trying out absolutely everything!

Tip: when you find this T-Rex - push the button! He has quite a roar!

A career in construction has never looked so enticing.

The Murray & Robert construction site was WOW. I would have paid R65 just so that my boys could play with this one exhibit all morning. Each kid gets a hard hat and apron, and literally builds a house. There are pulleys and conveyor belts and scaffolding.


So many puzzles!

Another tip: don't order food and drink before you start exploring; you can't take it with you into the exhibits section. The menu is simple, which was fine with me!

This was also a hit - generating static electricty.
I took my boys on a lot of family outings last year, and Sci-Bono was definitely one of the best value for money. It is also one of those places where I'll be taking the boys again and again, because there is always something new.

I know they have an exhibition on by the Planetarium at the moment, and during the holidays Sci-Bono has all kinds of programmes where you can build your own robots and rockets. I can't wait for my boys to get a bit older so we can try one of those! I wonder if they'll let mom build a robot, too?

Thursday, 7 January 2016

If you like piña coladas, then this is for you!

And not just any Mauritius holiday, a Club Med holiday in Mauritius. Why? Because in 2016, kids under 12 stay free. Consider this a public service announcement.


This means that for a big family like mine, we might actually end up relaxing on the beach in the picture. The Husband always wanted to go to Mauritius; it's something we have wanted to do since we got married. I've been before, about 10 years ago, so I know all about those white sands, pina coladas and fire-dancers after dark. But my husband has never been anywhere tropical.

Why this post? Because last year my business partner Brendah and I attended Club Med's big announcement of the kids under 12 stay free special at their two Mauritius resorts.

It was pretty funny, actually - we kind of bumped into each other there. Bren and I never get invited to the same kinds of events; I get invites to the parenting and tech stuff, and she gets invites to the more glam stuff like wine tastings and restaurant openings. Part of the reason our agency does so well is that Bren and I move in completely different circles, meaning our "It's not what you know, it's who you know" list of friends and acquaintances is pretty colourful.

I actually got to learn something new about my partner that day. Like, she'll still laugh at my jokes when she thinks no one is looking ;)


The theme for the Club Med event was "Childhood Memories" and how the memories we make as children on holiday shape us as adults. 

Now, usually I would never blog about an event I attended, especially not one I was at weeks ago, but what happened while we were there really stuck with me. We had to bring along a photograph of ourselves on holiday when we were kids. This is the one that I shared:


I lived with my grandparents as a young girl, and we used to go to this same stretch of coast on holiday every year, often with my cousins. One of the holiday memories the Club Med team helped me recall was how much I loved the sound of the ocean... and still do. Rock pools, ice-creams dripping on the beach sand, bright coloured towels and a cooler box with cheese sandwiches and boiled eggs.

Now I am all grown up (sigh), and when I take my family on holiday I unconsciously try to recreate my own happy holiday memories for them. And when I am stressed, I find myself longing for the sounds of the waves crashing on the break line.

I also got to listen to some of Brendah's memories of going on holiday as a child; we grew up so differently! (Bren grew up in Zim, and had huge family gatherings where you spent lots of time in the kitchen, and when you dished up you had to have seven colours on your plate. We even watched different TV shows; I watched a lot of Murder She Wrote.)

Long story short, we're going to save some of our salaries this year to take our families on a Club Med holiday in Mauritius. I feel like we have a year to take advantage of this kids under 12 stay free special; I even got up early this morning with a cup of coffee to check out the pricing and do the maths. It is all-inclusive, even your in-between snacks are included, and the very best part is the Kids Clubs to keep your children busy while you sip cocktails at the pool.

You know why they look so relaxed in this picture? Because their kids are at Kids Club.

Here's how this Club Med special works, by the way:

Kids U12 Stay Free in Mauritius will apply to bookings made for travel from May 2016, and the offering will continue regardless of savings periods, such as the Early Booking Bonuses, or Last Minute Savings. Therefore, if a family plans ahead and books at least six months in advance, they will not only get their kids under 12 to stay free, but will also save up to 15% per adult.

You can read more about the the 5-star Club Med La Plantation d’Albion resort and 4-star Club Med La Pointes resort here: www.clubmed.co.za.

PS: not a sponsored post. You can file this one under "life goals" ;) Also, I am craving a piña colada so badly right now.

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

5 things I do every night before I go to sleep



I'm a huge believer in nailing that perfect morning routine, and I was composing a post about mine when I realised the list of bedtime rituals that sort of underpins a great start to the day is just as important. 

Sleep is important. Scheduling time for your brain to power down for a few hours is a smart investment of those precious 24 hours you have each day. So let's park the morning routines for now and talk about how a busy #momboss gets the most out of those night time hours.

Here is my bedtime ritual:

1. Tidy something. Yes, really.
This is weird, but I need to tidy something before going to sleep. I find doing a menial task like washing the dishes, or picking up all the toys lying around the house really soothing. Like a mental decluttering exercise. Just me? (It's also nice to wake up to a semi-neat space, even if it's just your bedroom or the kitchen counter you wiped down.)

2. Apply lotions and potions
I am a minimal make-up kind of girl, and the only foundation I wear is Garnier's BB Cream. Yes, still. It has a nice matte finish, but by late afternoon you can see where it's settled into my pores and wrinkles. I only started washing my make-up off at night when I was in my 30s. Shocker, I know. I wish I had started this habit a decade ago. Now I brush my teeth, floss, wash off my make-up, put on a night cream (I am a huge fan of anything that says "serum" on the packaging), put on eye cream, then rub whatever eye cream is left on my fingertips onto the top of my hands, because our hands show our age. Not that I care much about looking younger - I just don't to look 48 when I'm 35!

3. Switch on Do Not Disturb
Most of us charge our phones next to our bed; you can even buy extra-length charging cables so that you can lie under your duvet and scroll through your phone while it's charging at the wall plug. I am too much of a workaholic / control freak / obsessive phone-checker to be practical and charge my phone in the kitchen, or - gasp - switch it off completely. But for the last year or so, I have been using the Do Not Disturb function on my phone. From 8pm to 7am there are no WhatsApps or Facebook notifications or emails.

4. Read a freaking paperback or something
Just don't let that blue glare from a smartphone or your laptop or the TV be the last thing your eyeballs are exposed to before you try and get some shut-eye. Because science says it's bad for you and deep down, you know it is too. Prepare your brain for the great escape that is sleep by reading a book (something not related to work), or crocheting a kimchi doll, or knit, or scrapbook or water the garden in your PJs to give your neighbours something to talk about.

5. Go to bed at the same time as your kids
My kids have to be in bed at 8pm. I try to be in bed within an hour after tucking them in. This is probably the one thing I do a little differently from other moms; I don't use this time to lay out my work clothes for the next day, or make school lunches or pack school bags.

You get the best quality sleep before midnight, so I get as many good hours of sleep before the clock strikes 12, and then set my alarm to be up between 4am and 5am. But, but, but... "After the kids go to bed is my me-time!" Personally, I get better quality me-time in the wee hours of the morning than late at night when I am already tired from a long day of work.

I have a cup of coffee straight after I wake up, maybe watch an episode of Grey's Anatomy without interruptions, have a shower without a kid trying to hop in, do the whole packing of school bags routine, make a To Do List in the Notes on my phone... all before anyone wakes up. I might even go to gym. Okay, who am I kidding, that'll never happen.

Do you have any bedtime rituals? Also, please tell me I'm not the only person who has watered her garden in her undies after dark.

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

I am raising a boy who likes to go fast


When I met my future husband and found out he owned a superbike and a motorcross bike, I didn't really think what this would mean for any future kids.

Even when we named our kid Travis after motorcross champ Travis Pastrana. Even after Travis was born and he had to spend extra time in NICU, and we would zoom through to Parklane in the turbo-charged Audi, I didn't see any chequered flags in our future. Even when Ouma and Oupa came to visit one day with a child-sized yellow quad bike as a surprise present for Travis, I didn't think much other than, "Wow, my in-laws are generous!"

Then a few months later Travis was diagnosed with a brain malformation, and the rest is history. The Husband sold his superbike, so that he could be a more responsible dad to his special needs son. He still did race-timing at motorsports events over the weekend, though.

Me on the other hand, I absolutely hate to go fast.

I am the kind of passenger who clutches the armrest and muffles tiny shrieks when I think we're about to go through an orange light. I have the reflexes of a sloth, and zero confidence in my athletic ability. In primary school they would save a spot for me on the reserve team in the relay race on athletics day, just so that my gran could come and cheer for me. She was in a book club with all the teachers, you see.

I just assumed, you know, having grown every single freaking cell in my children's bodies while they chilled in my belly for nine months, that they would come out with my genetic make-up.

I like to think that if Travis was a ruggle (regular kid), he and I would be the same kind of person. Dark haired, dark-eyed, shy, academic, bookish. He so obviously takes after my side of the family in his looks and disposition.

So when Trav's little brother Ryan the Mighty Squish was born, it was a shock to the core of me when he came out blonde haired, blue-eyed and roaring, literally roaring at all the nurses who yanked him out of me into the theatre lights. He's been roaring through life ever since.

He walked at the age of eight months. He was riding a peddle bike at the age of three. And now, barely four years old and he is racing his first bike.

You read that right. I have a four-year-old boy who races a motorbike. I am going to be a sandwich-packing, camel-back filling, race gear-scrubbing, probably near-bankrupt track mom.

We took Ryan to the park a few days ago to try out his new motorbike that Santa had left in our shed for him. He climbed on and rode off without any fuss. Like he was born to ride. His feet can't even touch the ground when he sits in that seat. He even fell off a couple of times, and just climbed straight back up and kept going!

Even though my heart was going 200km/h while I watched his son of my loins race through the long grass, The Husband had the widest grin on his face. And it gave me such joy to witness his joy, knowing that he had been robbed of something fundamental to his idea of fatherhood when Travis was diagnosed.

I am raising a boy who likes to go fast.

Me.

Monday, 4 January 2016

Making a New Year's Resolution that actually sticks

Every January I settle on a theme for the year: one for business, and one more personal one.

A couple of years ago my personal theme was "mental toughness" and that was the year (I think it was 2013, I will have to comb through my blog archives) that I learned how to really take the reigns of my thoughts and my emotions. It seems like motivational bullshit, but if you can control how you think, and what you think, and how long you let yourself dwell on things, you can change your whole life pretty fucking dramatically. 

Easier said than done, of course, but if you are sick of who you are on the inside (like I was), tackling the source of the problem - that brain of yours with its self-destructive thinking; the one that nature put in charge of the floodgates of all your feelings - puts you back in the driver's seat of your life.

So, why am I talking about one of my old "resolutions" at the start of a new year. Because my year of mental toughness taught me that a resolution is absolutely the wrong word for change. It doesn't shape your thinking the right way. Instead, now I have themes for the year. It's easier to file my progress under a Theme; when I file it under Resolutions every time I slip up (which is pretty often), it feels like I have failed and I go back to my old habits.

I find it easier to set a theme for my business each year, Work is structured, and you can measure your progress.

So here we go, my themes for 2016, starting with business:


I know, seems an obvious goal when you are self-employed, right? Last year our theme was "go big or go home", and we went big. Really, really big. In January there were four of us and by December we had hired our ninth team member. We had to get bigger offices. We had to buy more desks, chairs and laptops. It felt like success. But as our business coach Spillly reminds: Turnover is vanity; Profit is sanity; Money in the bank is reality. 

This year we have our dream team in the starting blocks, and we're are going to bank that money to grow a strong, healthy, profitable business. So basically, I am giving Content Candy permission to stop dieting and get fat.

It is much, much harder to settle on a personal theme. Last year I was inspired by Melissa Attree's "Be authentic, be humble, be curious". This year I want to break some stereotypes. 

I feel strangled by labels like "mommy blogger" and "special needs mom" and even the agency boss archetype feels like a stone around my neck. 

If you are going to kill it in Agencyland, you need to wear ironic T-shirts and Converse, and speak regularly at all 278 freaking conferences in the digital/creative/tech spaces, while publishing thought leadership pieces to Medium and Instagramming your quirky side-project-slash-hobby.

It took me all year to realise that the problem is actually me. I am the only one who thinks I need to be those things; I hung those labels around my neck all by myself.

Most annoying revelation ever.

This year my personal theme is a picture. This picture:



If I had to put it in words, I guess my theme would be "What would Amy Schumer do?" I love how she isn't any of the things that she is supposed to be. She is a female comedian, so she isn't supposed to be sexy, because God forbid that a funny girl is also a sexy girl. But she is sexy, and on her own terms. She has tummy rolls, FFS. I adore them.

But my goal isn't to be like Amy, it is to be 100% Stacey. It is to be my sweary, navel-gazing, Lionheart-loving, fashion-failing self. Always. At every opportunity. That's my brand, it's not manufactured, it doesn't have to fit into any categories to be taken seriously.

And that's why my personal theme for the next 365 days is just this perfectly imperfect picture. I am going to put it on my desk and look at it often.

What's your theme for 2016? Do you feel like you even have to set a resolution or goal every January?