Wow February already?

Ah it seems life has taken over and the Christenson Chronicles have taken a back seat. Our Christmas Day was a quiet affair after having Christmas Eve at our Super Neighbour's house. On Boxing Day, we had Nikki (my Sis :) and Matt over with their lovely children and Nikki's parents. There was a LOT of champagne and laughter and we all had a lovely time just hanging out.  Below are the six children together - Lily and Eli at the back (doesn't Eli look like Henry!) then little Edie and Zoe (Edi's smile melts everyone's heart!) and Henry and Luca (another brother for Henry!) on the lower stairs.

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Over the holidays Zoe decided that she really can read and now I find her with her feet up somewhere enjoying chapter books. Ok they are mostly the inane Pony Pals but hey, she loves to read them and while I find them quite boring, Zoe enjoys them. The next step is to have her read more to her siblings because they LOVE being read to by anyone! After watching Zoe for a few days, Lily decided that she was also going to read too but her attention span is not quite long enough to get through an entire page without frustration at her own pace. I am not worried though. She will get the hang of it. 

We managed to get out quite a bit on the holidays and the children wanted me to take their photos wherever we went. The one on the left above is when Henry laid an egg at Garden City. They all took turns to lay and egg (some awesome sculpture in the middle of the centre) and I had to drag them away from their new game so we could do the shopping. Henry and Lily still remain the best of friends and have even more time alone together when Zoe is off reading something on her own.  Henry also discovered that I can make the BEST okonomiyaki in the world. He loves it and can eat almost as much as Heath! I make it pretty similar to the recipe in the above link, though I also add whatever leftovers I have in the fridge too. That way we are reducing our food waste and eating an awesome meal. Try it yourself. Unless you live in Japan then you can just go outside and enjoy some awesome street food.  HELLO to all our wonderful Japanese homestay students! If you can take a photo of your next okonomiyaki meal, please post it here. I would love to compare mine to an authentic pancake pizza!

Edited to add - these great photos from Saki. They are authentic OKONOMYAKI from Osaka, where the dish originates. Thanks Saki! I love how there are thinks painted on them out of kewpie mayonnaise :)

Recently, there has been a Mr Whippy van driving our streets and we made the terrible mistake of letting the children know what the tune was all about instead of just saying it was a travelling musical van or something else that doesn't involve forking over a handful of cash in exchange for a cone filled with goodness knows what. Except that we know there is no goodness in there! You can see Lily hanging off our back deck listening for the Mr Whippy van (who is actually a woman so she is Mrs Whippy here).  Personally, I have never seen soft serve cones so large that they defy gravity. How can Mrs Whippy even dip cones with a soft serve top bigger than an average sized child's head,  in chocolate sauce or sherbert? I even watched her do it and it is still a mystery. I am not exaggerating - look above at what Lily and Zoe are holding. 
After a few Sundays of spoiling the children then fending off MOMP (Meltdowns Of Mammoth Proportions) for the rest of the day, usually from poor Lily, we have decided to cut down then cut out sugar from our diet. It has had some interesting effects on the family dynamics and the children's understanding of just how much processed sugar is in our lives. Last year my Sis and I went to see That Sugar Film and everything I learned has stayed with me, though only now am I making big changes in our diet. 
The transition has actually been quite good and Lily especially has a better understanding of what hidden chemicals and sugars in our foods can do to her emotional state. We went an entire week with no obvious processed sugar and very little hidden processed sugar. Every meal they had was made at home from scratch, which wasn't much of a change but it made me realise how lazy I had become about cooking lately. I have noticed over the last two years especially, takeaways such as McDonalds and KFC had been creeping into our diets every couple of weeks. There is no need for us to eat it at all and fast food completely kills the food budget - seriously, who can afford to spend $70 on one meal for five people? We can totally live without that kind of 'not food'. Instead, the children have been checking out the nutrition labels on every package in the house. They have learned to look at the column at the far right of the panel that states how much per 100gms/mls to work out a percentage. 
Sugar granules of any kind was the first thing to go and we replaced it with honey for their vita brits or porridge in the mornings. They understand it is still sugar, though a natural sugar, and don't need very much of it. More importantly it is not hidden so we can watch how much is being consumed. Next we looked at the different kinds of natural sugars such as those in fruit (fructose) and milk (lactose) and how much their bodies actually need. We even found a great sugar free recipe for a ginger bread house. I had awesome fun creating some templates to build a little house. Unfortunately they do need a bit of tweaking before we have a finished, self supported structure. The children all loved the cookies though and marveled at how they didn't really notice that there was no sugar in the mix.
 Check out the different names for sugar in processed foods.  I have also cut down on ready made pasta sauces that contain quite a bit of sugar. It is much nicer to make them from fresh ingredients anyway. The children are learning, as am I, that any processed product with more than about 4% sugar is probably not going to be that beneficial to our bodies. They now ask when we are shopping, 'How much sugar is in this?' After one week I relented and bought them some fresh hot cross buns from Coles. BAD idea. Lily was beside herself after an hour or so, completely out of emotional control and unable to listen to reason or calm down. Zoe only had half a bun and didn't seem affected except for being a little tired a few hours later. Henry was a little more tetchy that usually as well. The only thing different - the sugar in the buns. It was an excellent lesson for all of us and I find all of the children are asking less and less for packaged food and reaching more for the fruit bowl for their sweet fix. Oh and Zoe was very quick to point out that Coke (my horrible guilty treat that I was having most days) is FULL of nasty sugar and chemicals! Also wine and beer are off limits for me. Though while the children sleep they know not what is in my glass ;)
Stay tuned to see how this very low sugar lifestyle is working out over the long term. That Vitamin Guy says 'Whatever is ailing you, sugar WILL make it worse'. I am beginning to see how right he is... 

Some of the biggest changes at Casa Christenson have been in the back yard. Gone is the cubby house. No, I am not sure either how we didn't have a family mutiny about that but when Demolition Day arrived, the children helped and actually had fun! Oh and we also promised them a trampoline. Well, I am buying a trampoline for myself and they can use it sometimes. After all, what is the point of being a grown up if I can't have things I have wanted since childhood? ;) 
Heath has reused some of the cubby to build a new Cluckingham Palace,  though most of it was beyond recycling. The chickens love their new home and in place of their old Egg-ra-La is NannyO's new bungalow/workshop/studio. It will have an official name soon and NannyO will have a little sanctuary to escape to and create all the wonderful crafts and things she does. Not to mention all the things I get her to make when I come across a new pattern or just a photo of something that looks cool. Oh and the mending of everyone's clothes...she is good like that, aren't you Mum? :)

Over the holidays we caught up with our Super Neighbours a few times and snapped some cute pics! This included a trip to the APT8 and an early morning swim at Southbank. They call themselves the Epic Five. How cute is that? :)

Our lessons have started back this year at a very slow pace. We had a soft start the week before all the schools went back, then a week off when everyone else was at school as per our family homeschool tradition. We went to the movies and we had the cinema to ourselves with no school children about. It is a good week to look forward to and we usually do more like go to the museum before the school excursions start for the year, but Nana fell ill and was in hospital a few times so we prefered to stay close to home. Last week was still a bit of an effort for everyone as Nana was in hospital having surgery  and we were all very anxious and worried. Thank you everyone for your thoughts and prayers. The surgery was a success and Nana was home recovering less than three days after the operation. She is healing well and feeling good and we are all very happy to have her home. 
As none of us really felt like doing much, I found some fun games to do in place of written lessons. The first was a little science experiment where you make goop from corn flour and oil and use a balloon to create static electricity.  I thought this was a wonderful experiment but the children just wanted to make mess. So I let them. Then I let them clean it up! 
The next photo is of a game of battle ship that Zoe and I played. Who needs an expensive board game to play this strategic game? While we played the other two monkeys watched - graphs lesson for maths - TICK! Henry had his own maths lesson learning about greater than, less than and equal to using Lego. In fact I am now doing some research on just how much maths - and possibly other subjects - can be learned through Lego. Check this site out! 
The next game was labeling everything in the house with post it notes. I was able to get a really good idea of the girls' spelling progress as they labeled everything from books to Audrey the Zebra's bottom. Henry got in on the action too writing the first letter of everything instead of the whole word. The photo that looks like a computer in the fish tank is the HTPC (home theatre personal computer) so Henry is correct writing a H. His phonetic progress is quite good but he is balking at writing for the most part. I was getting a little frustrated at this but then I remembered that Lily HATED writing of any kind when she came home from school. Henry is now the same age Lily was she she began home education so I have decided to cut him a bit of slack as I know he will get into writing soon enough.
There is always something going on at Casa Christenson and if you would like to drop in and say hi, just send me a text. Here are some photos of the ever growing monkeys...

Our first photo shoot of the year :)

This was a cow out the front of the Pineapple Hotel where we went for dinner on Australia Day. The children are chanting something about cow patties...

This amazing Christmas card came from Moe, our last Japanese exchange student. The children were fascinated with it and carefully took turns playing with it for days before I could have a turn!

This is what happened to Steve's home.
Poor Steve. Is he ok?
No, he wasn't there then :)

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