Weighted blanket


Frances is not what I would call a gifted sleeper, even though she is now over three and a half, an age at which I think children really should get the hang of sleeping on their own for long periods. It feels good! Why don’t they want to feel good! What apparently makes Frances feel good is lying on top of me on her stomach, her head pressed uncomfortably right up under my chin. She’s like a weighted blanket, if weighted blankets had limbs and tried to pinch the skin of your upper arms and sniffed loudly trying to clear their congested nose. Both the kids have had one of those mild yet irritating “runny nose for weeks” things. I’ve had so much more sleep since weaning Frances, but in the absence of breastfeeding it seems she’s just come up with any number of annoying “going to sleep” habits.

She finds pinching the skin of my upper arms soothing. I would personally love to know why she has chosen one of the most irritating fucking things in the world to do in order to feel soothed. She slowly and sneakily moves her fingers to the skin of my upper arms as she starts to fall asleep (to “roll” the skin, not pinch, she claims – “I’m just rolling it!”, like who could possibly object to that), and in response I clamp her hand underneath my arm and snarl “don’t touch my arm”, my version of a calming lullaby.

I roll her off me once she’s fallen asleep and sneak out of her room. Then later, if the moon is waxing and the wind is blowing from the east (that is, for any number of completely inconceivable reasons) she finds it hard to sleep, and she cries until I come into her room, and then occasionally wakes during the rest of the night to clamber on top of me in order to drop off to sleep again. This is, as you can imagine, not very conducive to a deep sleep on my part.

I recently went away and slept the entire night without interruption, which was just so gloriously restful. It eased my concern that the children had entirely broken my ability to sleep an entire 8 hours without waking up multiple times. I write this because I know that in several years, in my wonderful future full of nights of long deep sleeps, I will read it back and enjoy the feeling of marveling at my rotten daughter and her bedtime battles. “I’m just rolling it!”

A few weeks after writing this – Frances actually slept through the night a couple of nights ago. I am tamping down my near-hysterical joy at this development and hoping she does it again soon.

Lemon Drizzle Birthday Cake

Lemon drizzle birthday cake

This is a bit of a mash-up of recipes for lemon drizzle cake and a Swiss buttercream icing recipe from Smitten Kitchen that makes a wonderfully decadent layered birthday cake. The cake is intensely tangy and lemony, and the icing is rich and creamy without being overly sweet (and pipes on beautifully if you’re going for more decorative icing).

This is baked in two 20cm/8 inch square tins, but the same amount of batter will make one larger tray cake in a 30 x 23cm pan – just bake for an extra 5-10 minutes, and forget the icing for more of an afternoon tea style cake.


for the cake –
225g (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
225g (1 cup) caster sugar
4 eggs
zest of 2 lemons
225g (1 1/2 cups) self-raising flour (or 225g plain flour plus 3tsp baking powder)

for the drizzle –
juice of 2 lemons
75g (1/3 cup) caster sugar

for filling and Swiss buttercream icing –
jar of good lemon curd
170g (3/4 cup) caster sugar
3 large egg whites
275g (approx 1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 160C/140C fan forced. Grease and line two 20cm/8 inch square tins.

Cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time until well incorporated, then add the lemon zest. With a spatula, fold in the flour. Split the mixture evenly between the two tins – it should be just over 2 cups of batter for each tin. Smooth the surface and bake for 30 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean and the edges are just coming away from the side. Leave to cool in the tins for a few minutes, then turn onto a cooling rack.

When you’ve put the cakes in the oven, mix together the lemon juice and sugar for the drizzle in a small bowl. Stir well a few times while the cakes are cooking. When the cakes are cooked, the sugar should have dissolved into the lemon juice.

When the cakes have cooled a little but are still warm, gradually spoon the lemon juice mixture evenly over the tops of the cakes. If the drizzle runs through the cakes, wait for them to cool a bit more before trying again. When the drizzle has been completely spooned on, leave the cakes to cool completely.

When you’re ready to fill and ice the cake, make the buttercream. Put some water into a small saucepan to simmer. Whisk the egg whites and sugar together into a big metal bowl over the saucepan of water. and place the bowl over a small saucepan of simmering water. Whisk until the sugar has completely dissolved – test by rubbing a little of the mixture between your fingers to see if you can feel sugar granules.

Using hand beaters (or having transferred the mixture to the bowl of a mixer), beat or whip until it turns white and approximately doubles in size. Add the vanilla essence. Add the butter a large chunk at a time, beating continuously as you do so. When you’ve finished adding the butter, continue beating until the icing is a thick, smooth, pipeable consistency.

Spread a thick layer of lemon curd on one of the cakes, then cover with a thick layer of buttercream. Place the other cake on top, then ice the whole cake with the remaining buttercream. If you want a precise finish, it may be easier to do a thin crumb layer, then refrigerate the cake for half an hour before covering it with a final layer of icing and any piping.

Gingerbread Biscuits


These are lovely spiced slightly crunchy gingerbread biscuits, adapted from a classic recipe in The Joy of Cooking. They’re great to make with children – the dough is easy to mix up, it involves melting butter in a saucepan (a big plus according to my four year old), they can press shapes out of the dough, and then decorate the resulting biscuits.

1/2 cup (115g) butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup golden syrup or molasses
2 1/2 cup plain flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tblsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
decorations if desired – chocolate bits, sultanas, icing, etc

In a small saucepan, melt together the butter, sugar and golden syrup or molasses until the sugar is just dissolved. Remove from the heat to cool until just warm.

In a bowl, stir together 2 1/4 cups of the flour, the baking soda, salt, and spices. Make a well in the centre, and pour in the melted butter mixture. Stir vigorously to blend together. Gradually add in the remaining 1/4 cup of flour. The mixture should now be a ball of smooth dough, pulling away from the sides of the bowl.

Remove the dough from the bowl and knead it a few times, before flattening it into a thick disc and wrapping it in plastic wrap. Put it in the fridge to cool down for 20 minutes or so, so that it’s easier to roll out. You can also leave the dough in the fridge at this stage for up to four days, returning it to room temperature before you roll it out. (You could presumably also freeze it and then defrost before use, but I haven’t tried that).

Preheat the oven to 180C, and roll out the dough to around half a centimetre thick. (Yes, I did actually get out a ruler and check this, although I never manage to roll out dough evenly anyway. Mine always end up being varying thicknesses, which doesn’t seem to matter all that much). Cut out your biscuits in whatever shape you desire (and if you’re cooking with a four year old, let them artistically place chocolate bits where appropriate). Depending on the shape you’ve chosen, this amount of dough should make between two to three trays of biscuits. They don’t spread much at all, so you can place them close together.

Bake the biscuits for about 8 minutes, until they’re just starting to brown on the edges. They’ll firm up as they cool down, and they’re easy to overcook (although that just makes them extra crunchy).

When cooled, they can be decorated with icing, but it’s not necessary. They taste great plain, and keep very well in a sealed container for at least a week.




When Frances was three months old I wrote blithely that I was enjoying the fact that she was better at sleeping than her brother, and I could do magical things like put her down when she was drowsy and she would fall asleep. How sweetly innocent I was. Frances is now almost six months old and is what I would classify as “a bloody terrible sleeper”. Her brother started off awful at sleeping and gradually got better, with occasional months-long reversions. She started off quite decently, and has gradually become worse and worse. I didn’t think babies were supposed to work like that. I am quite affronted.

At the moment during the night she usually sleeps for a couple of two hour stretches (or on special occasions, longer), and then wakes up hourly the rest of the time. “Maybe you should try co-sleeping,” said a well-meaning helpful person. Ha ha, helpful person, she sleeps like that while I am co-sleeping. And I am mostly getting enough sleep. I’m functioning, I’m getting things done, I’m mostly keeping my temper with the inevitable frustrations of parenting a four-year-old. I’m still enjoying being at home with a baby. But god, I miss long stretches of sleep and sleeping in my own bed. I try not to think about how much I miss it because it makes me irritable. Like geez, is it really so hard to sleep that you have to wake up every hour to have a small comforting snack? I know you can sleep for longer because you used to.

For daytime naps I put her to sleep in a baby carrier so that she sleeps for longer. As I type this she is strapped to my front, snoozing restlessly, her warm sweaty head making my shirt damp. It was quite snuggly and pleasant wearing her in the cooler months, but the weather very swiftly changed from “barely winter” to “fuck spring, we’re moving directly to summer” and now she sleeps and sweats. I need to stop wearing her at some point before the end of the year, because she will start at a family daycare in January when I return to work. I don’t want “strange exotic napping in a cot” to be another thing for her to adjust to when she starts – but every day when I think “I should really start putting her down in the cot to nap”, I am too reluctant to lose those precious moments of productive time I get with putting her in the carrier.

The one benefit of having your second child sleep like crap is that you don’t dwell on it in the same obsessive way that you do with your first. I spent a lot of pointless hours trying to come up with reasons for why Edward slept badly and worrying that he would never improve. While I do record Frances’ sleeping patterns I don’t spend my time mentally gnawing on the problem in the same way I did with Edward. (Yes, I know I have now written several detailed paragraphs about it which may suggest that I don’t entirely let it go. This, incidentally, is why it’s hard to answer “so what have you been up to?” queries from people who aren’t currently taking care of young kids. “Oh, you know, thinking in vast and boring detail about my child’s sleeping habits and writing down how many times I get woken up each night.” They tend to smile at you in a rather fixed manner, I can’t imagine why.)

13 December – O Holy Night

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices;
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

The Puppini Sisters recorded O Holy Night on their Christmas With The Puppini Sisters album. It’s one of my favourite carols, and I love close three-part harmonies, so I think this is a fantastic version. Obligatory information from Wikipedia – the carol is from 1847, and was music composed to the French poem “Minuit, chrétiens”.


While I hung out washing this morning and raked leaves on Sunday morning, the husband built this incinerator from an old drum we got from a friend’s property, and some other scrap metal he picked up somewhere. Our house is surrounded by tall eucalypts that spend all year dropping leaves, twigs and sometimes quite large branches, and the preponderance of this dry material means that large bonfires aren’t a sensible idea. Hence the need for an incinerator.

We burnt a pile of leaves and declared the incinerator a success. I hope that all the washing won’t smell like smoke as a result – I like the smell of fresh wood smoke, but not stale on clothes.

The chooks are much less wary around me when I walk out to Chickendome to deliver potato peelings, wilted lettuce and apple cores – they move away from me when I open the door, but cautiously trot up when I scatter the vegetable scraps on the ground. They haven’t been let out yet – I think I’m going to wait another week, until they’re more comfortable with me and I can be a bit more confident that they’ll make their way back to Chickendome at dusk. My mother has advised me to hand feed them some sesame seeds, which are apparently the equivalent of chocolate cake to chicken-kind and will inspire their eternal love and devotion. And perhaps some eggs.

Book Round-Up for 2010

I only read 71 books in 2010, which is heaps less than previous years (135 books in 2009, 183 in 2008 and 173 in 2007). I think part of the reason for this is I downloaded more things to watch on my iPod, so that commuting time was spent watching things rather than reading. Shocking! Something to rectify this year.

Best Short Story Collection

Well, to be honest I don’t read all that many collections of short stories; I did read a number of short stories prior to Aussie Con 4 so that I could vote for the Hugos, but not that many collections of stories. However, my favourite was definitely Peter Carey’s War Crimes– it was a nice surprise. I hadn’t realised that Peter Carey wrote speculative fiction, and the battered volume of War Stories I borrowed contained so many fantastic and disturbing stories.

Best Newly Discovered Classic

The classics I discover are always as audio books – I find older books much easier to read that way, as I’m not tempted to skim over lengthy descriptive passages. And this year it was Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier’s fabulously chilling gothic tale, with its abrupt and disturbing ending.

Best Non-Fiction

The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, which is hardly a unique choice – but a wonderfully written, confronting and inspirational read all the same. I particularly liked the chapters that discussed Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm, and saw that he spoke in Brisbane last year – there’s a couple of blog posts with summaries about his Australian trip.

Best Dystopia & Best Kick in the Guts Ending

No contest – Feed by Mira Grant. Fast paced political thriller with zombies, it kept me up at nights. And god, that ending.

Best New Author

I bought Karen Healey’s Guardian of the Dead at Aussie Con 4 because I saw her speak and thought she was great, and had previously read her very funny blog. I find that book purchases like that generally turn out very well, and this one did – an urban fantasy steeped in Maori mythology, it was marvellous.

And to look out for in 2011?

Well, I have some presents to read – A S Byatt’s The Children’s Book among them – and I’m looking forward to the publication of Mira Grant’s Deadline, Tansy Rayner Robert’s Shattered City, Karen Healey’s The Shattering, Holly Black’s Red Glove, and Kristin Cashore’s Bitterblue. Among many others I’m sure to discover in the coming months.

Reverb 10 – 7 & 10

December 7 – Community. Where have you discovered community, online or otherwise, in 2010? What community would you like to join, create or more deeply connect with in 2011?

The desire for community is a consistent theme in my life – it exists somewhat uneasily with my other desire to be a hermit.

The husband took some photos of goats recently – in each photo, a different goat is staring suspiciously directly into the camera. I do like goats, and if they weren’t so destructive I would be tempted to get some. There’s a property we drive past each morning that has a big goat herd (for slaughter, I presume, as they don’t seem to have dairy facilities), and they are usually being let out as we’re going past, trotting eagerly down towards their paddock next to the river.

I often think about the idea of living on a large property with a group of other people – some who would work outside the property, and some who would work on the property – growing vegetables and fruit, raising cows and goats and making cheese. Those who work outside make the money for everyone, and the ones who work on the property provide the food – or at least some it. I have this entirely selfish desire to stay in my current job and get provided with home-grown food and be able to hang out with goats, without doing things I dislike, ie. actual farm work.

Unfortunately, I think communes – which this scenario basically is – are a little hard to manage; finding the right mix of people, and dealing with the difficulties of only certain people earning money which they then share with the community. But nevertheless I think it is an idea which will always appeal to me.

December 10 – Wisdom. What was the wisest decision you made this year, and how did it play out?

How on earth can you judge your own decisions as wise? Your decisions are what they are. I don’t think I have ever thought back on a decision and decided it was unwise – what would be the point? And so equally, I don’t see how I can declare my decisions wise.

(For Reverb10)