Category Archives: children

Weekend Kids’ Games Roundup

As the weather gets worse and the weekends get rainier, it’s good to have some games to fill our time. We managed three – really four – separate gaming sessions this weekend, which is a bit of a record. Especially as two featured children’s games.

Saturday morning, my brother brought my niece and nephew round for kidgameapalooza. Nephew is a bit young for games yet, but Niece is just getting interested. We lent them Picco Popolino (The animal bottom game) and The Kids of Catan (which Fraser picked up in his massive game buying spree last year and was still in shrink) a few weeks ago and they have really loved them. Auntie Lissa’s Game Library appears to be a bit of a drawcard at the moment.

We started with Nelly (by Andreas, Ueli and Lukas Frei). The hippopotamus dexterity game from Queen, that is. Players were me, Otto (9), Brother (with help from Nephew) and Niece (5). And it was delightful!

As with so many of our things, I have a special story about this game. In 2009, when we were at Essen, we saw the posters for this game and – for a special private reason that those of you who know us in person will recognise – desperately wanted one. As the fair was closing – technically, after it had closed on the last day – we were making our way to the doors and went past the Queen games stand. And there, supervising pack-up, was Rajive Gupta, the company’s CEO/President, who I had met very briefly earlier in the fair. I wandered over and asked whether it might be possible to get a poster for the game. And when I explained why, he reached over and took not the used poster I was asking for but a brand-new in-shrink copy of the game from the pile and presented it, with a flourish, to Otto. Not to be outdone, he took another new game and gave it to the Bigster.

We tell that story whenever we play the game. I should probably write it inside the box, which is gamer heresy but is also a thing we like to do. Because our games are not just an activity, they’re a whole lot of memories too.

And we all had a wonderful time. It’s a beautiful game which I’d not played because I (wrongly) thought it would be long & complex. Instead, it’s quick (under 15 minutes although the very first game has some setup overhead) and especially great for mixed-age groups. And there was cheering.

Next up was Dweebies (Tim Roedinger), a very quick card-game from Gamewright. This was probably a bit old for Niece, although she was excited and proud to score one long row. Nephew wanted to place cards too, so I found our copy of Koffer Packen and he played happily with those very sturdy tile-like cards.

Third and final game with this group of visitors was Beep! Beep! (Reinhard Staupe) – a Blink-style game from Valley Games in Canada. This game is still a favourite with the Bigster and her friends because of its speed and its adorable artwork (not to mention the squeezy car). Nephew particularly enjoyed the squeezy car. Niece was far too well-mannered to cope with a free-for-all speed-based game; she wanted to take turns.

The second session was on Sunday afternoon. A colleague had asked for kids’ game recommendations and had – at my suggestion – bought Make ‘n’ Break (Andrew & Jack Lawson) and Halli Galli (Haim Shafir). Now she was keen to try some more. She brought her daughters (who are 6 and 8, I think) over to see what we had. This session wasn’t so much about trying newer games as introducing some of the real classics (is it pretentious to call them “modern classics”?). I don’t think they will ever want to be a Gamer Family as such, but I could see them enjoying games like Carcassonne in the future, as well as party games like Time’s Up. And a wider range of kids’ games, of course.

Catch the Match (Reinhard Staupe) was a good choice to get them looking. One of the girls thought she had seen this at her primary school in prep. This is one of my favourite ‘small’ games for younger kids – not least because it is both a game and a solo activity. (As an aside: I was excited to read that Catch the Match Duo is coming out later this year).

Apples to Apples Kids (Matthew Kirby & Mark Alan Osterhaus) is another great game which they seemed to enjoy and then asked to borrow.

and … wow … I’m a bit stuck. All the games blur a bit. I know that I showed them Sherlock (Reinhard Staupe) and Viva Topo! (Manfred Ludwig) because they borrowed both. Sherlock is another of my go-to kids’ games (although I usually only lay out 6 cards instead of 8 when I am demoing it) and Viva Topo! won Best Children’s Game in the Boardgames Australia awards, and hits that “bit more complicated, lot more beautiful” spot.

They left with a bag of 5 loaner games and big smiles.

Otto was annoyed that we hadn’t got to Lego Harry Potter: Hogwarts (Cephas Howard & Henk van der Does) so she and I had a quick game of that. My sneaky Slytherins snuck in a glorious victory. This is a really excellent spatial game in the spirit of the classic Ravensburger aMAZEing Labyrinth games. But with LEGO, which makes everything more awesome.

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Posted by on May 8, 2012 in children, games


One of these things is not like the other one.

For those who do not follow my every word on Twitter: I have news. Not great news either.

After she’d been sick (lethargic and achy and generally blah) for a week, I took the Bigster to our family doctor yesterday.

I have two words for you: Glandular Fever. Or, for those in the US, I have one. Mono. Suspected, at least. She had blood tests done yesterday.

And this is where Fraser’s and my reactions diverge.

Because this was my reaction:

  • OMG
  • Glandular Fever!
  • Kissing jokes!
  • OMG!
  • Crap.
  • Who do I need to notify?
  • When will we get blood test results? Will they even tell us anything?
  • Is she contagious? (NO)
  • Need to think about work schedules if she does have it. Can’t just leave her home all the time.
  • Ring school to notify that she won’t be back until AT LEAST the end of next week.
  • Tweet to notify THE WORLD.
  • Ring Fraser to tell him.
  • Think of some more kissing jokes. Explain why she is going to have to get used to them EVEN THOUGH THEY ARE VILE AND DISGUSTING AND OMG MUM SO INAPPROPRIATE.
  • Look up Glandular Fever on Better Health Channel. It’s fairly benign. Give it to her to read.
  • Go to school so she can pick up the textbooks from her locker.
  • Go to Kmart so she can buy some books even though she can’t concentrate to read them.
  • Go to Safeway and tell her to pick ANYTHING ANYTHING SHE LIKES to eat. She chooses, among other things, chocolate-coated popping candy. I buy it.
  • Text work to warn them that I might be around less in the next weeks and certainly next week.
  • Get her to ring my mum. Listen to her trying to reassure her grandmother.

And here is Fraser’s:

  • Agree to work from home one day next week.
  • We shouldn’t talk about anything beyond that because we don’t have final results.

There is a balance there somewhere.

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Posted by on May 5, 2012 in children, health, parenting


Parent-Teacher night wrapup

In no particular order:

  • The later you are there, the messier it gets. Everyone was running early at 5:30.
  • Teachers really do say different things to different people.
  • I was owned by a Geography teacher. She took us through Bigster’s progress and the syllabus in under two minutes then thanked us for coming and sat back. We trotted off meekly.
  • Lots of teachers already angling for Year 10 and VCE students. We only had one last year but this year there were several.
  • Fraser can do awesome Cousin It impersonations. I need to get a photo before he cuts his hair.
  • Lots of people don’t take their kid. This might be an interesting thing to try although I think we might have missed our chance. Next PT night will have some serious subject choice overtones.
  • Otto took Shapes rather than crackers and probably ate the whole bag.
  • We took jelly snakes for that special buzz. Otto ate half a bag or so while we spoke with the Health & Sport teacher. Timing is everything.
  • Teachers think Bigster is well-organised. Either my fears are wrong or she fakes it better than most. Probably a bit of both.
  • When you let the 9 year old have the timetable and room plan, you should make sure that she understands she should wait for the rest of the family before running down a flight of stairs and disappearing.

And I forgot to use the “surprising” question. I feel such a fool.


Posted by on April 24, 2012 in children, parenting, school


Parent-teacher night: The re-think

Having accepted in advance that I wasn’t going to have much luck Impressing Teachers, I did some serious practical planning. Which is usually my forte. We would have around an hour and a half to see twelve teachers – one of whom does not even TEACH the Bigster (long story).

No need for calculations – we get five minutes with each teacher. The hour and a half might be an understatement.

Five fingers five minutes

FIVE. This is how many minutes we have to talk about our kid. Twelve times.

There are lots of guidelines for parent-teacher interviews on the Internet. Like this one which suggests that we ask “Are there things he does that surprise you?”. I think I’ll add that to my repertoire. It may be surprising for the teachers, given that my child is not a he at all.

Other sites suggest that you pre-prepare notes on what you want to ask and take a notebook to record answers. Is it just me or is that a little confrontational? Perhaps I should borrow a digital voice recorder from work and fiddle with it all through the interviews? “This parent-teacher meeting may be recorded for quality assurance purposes. Anything you say can and will be used against you.” At least it would let me distract the teachers so Fraser can do something useful and perve at their mark books.


Anyway. Here’s what we are taking in the Bag Of Tricks:

School work. We made the Bigster bring ALL HER WORKBOOKS to last year’s parent teacher night. And we carried her interim reports too, so we could refer to them if we needed. Actually this was not a stupid idea. Doing it again. She hates it. A win for us.

Timetable. We have the most amazing interview timetable. It’s created using this automatic online tool where you say which teachers you want to meet (um all of them?) and then what time you want to arrive and then get this incredibly complicated timetable that has you trotting from level 1 to level 3 with 5 minutes between interviews. With a fractured rib (have I mentioned that lately?). So you arrive panting and red-faced and terrified that OMG I HAVE MISSED MY SPOT and then you try to suss out whether the other people in the room are waiting for YOUR teacher and who got there first and whose turn is it really and you really don’t want to look like you’re listening in on other interviews but OMG that poor teacher and those poor parents and that poor kid and yeeeesh. And then you work on the relaxed-but-responsible face and worry that you’ve ended up at smug and then just look stressed and frazzled which is OK because most of the other parents are wearing that face too (the others stopped at smug).

Anyway. Timetable. I have it on my iPhone. That way I can pretend that it is something we will follow. I also have a printout. Or I will if the work printer is working tomorrow.

Map. This is useful. If you are completely defective in the navigation department that is. There are three levels in the school building. Rooms that start with “1” are on the ground floor. Rooms that start with “2” are on the middle floor. And rooms that start with “3” – you got it – are on the top floor. And there are little flags that stick out with room numbers on them. The timetable allegedly gives room numbers but it is not always exactly perfect. So there are lists stuck to the walls which show teacher names and their rooms. WHY IS THIS SYSTEM SO HARD FOR PEOPLE TO UNDERSTAND?

Of course, having written that, I will surely get hopelessly lost or confused. Except that I have my kid with me and she goes to that school so probably knows where the rooms are.

Little sister. It’s all about the student. So you should only have them with them. Not have a little sister trotting along behind. Except when you are already paying a babysitter one night that week and your family have other commitments and she’s really too young and sporadically evil to be left at home alone. Amazing how one child who hates to speak to adults suddenly LOVES it when they are her sister’s teachers. Because heaven forbid that they not NOTICE HER!!! Oops. Better pack a bag with activities for her. Also earbuds.

Dr Who encyclopedia iPad app

Dr Who encyclopedia. Should be good for the first hour at least. Image source

Food. Given the aforementioned Little Sister especially. We’ll be out through a meal time and my kids never seem to eat their lunches anyway. We might stop for dinner on the way home (I frame it as a reward for the Bigster but actually it’s about me being TOTALLY AND COMPLETELY KNACKERED) but in the meantime it’s good to have something nutritious and healthy that they can snack on between interviews. If you have time to prepare it – which I don’t. A bag of rice crackers and half a dozen cans of diet coke it is. And a fairy bread chaser if Otto behaves.

Meanwhile it’s back to the Internet for some last-minute tips. has an excellent guide to interpreting what the teacher is saying. My personal favourite: “I would like to see Omaha do more reading at home : It’s about time you did a bit of parenting.” (ouch).

And I wonder whether I should pass on this site with recommendations for schools. They suggest that the school should “Consider offering soft music and sweets as well as tea and coffee.”. Personally I am quite keen on the idea of sugar and caffeine-fuelled meditation sessions. Also beer.

As long as we remember the jelly snakes, we’re good.


Posted by on April 23, 2012 in children, parenting, school


Parent-teacher night

Last Thursday I was chatting on Twitter with the Bigster’s French teacher. She was preparing for the first parent-teacher night of the year by watching Die Antwoord videos on YouTube and eating peanut butter with a spoon. I suggested that some parents *coughnotmeofcoursecough* prepare by drinking go-go juice & red cordial and eating jelly snakes, and she challenged me to a Montage of getting-ready-for-parent-teacher-night-shots.

Now, she was preparing on Thursday for the A to L interviews, but as proud representatives of the second half of the alphabet our interviews will be held this coming week. That makes today Getting Ready For Parent Teacher Night Day.

Now as every parent knows, the most important part of Parent Teacher Night is that it is the teachers’ only opportunity (or first opportunity) to suss out what sort of family the children come from. My godmother used to tell a story of a child standing up for show and tell to announce that “Daddy got a new car in the middle of the night last night and he was up all night repainting it in the garage”. Also there was the time that the Bigster accidentally told her Prep teacher that I was a necrophiliac. Don’t want a repeat of that happening. You have to make the Right Impression (whatever that may be – but it usually has nothing to do with sex and dead people).

Also you occasionally have to be just a little bit scary when appropriate. Which is rarely in my experience (the teachers are MUCH more scary than I am).

Melissa ponders what to do about Parent-Teacher night

Pondering what to do about Parent-Teacher night. And how to look scary.

So. What did I need to do to get ready? It was time to Make a List.

Clothes maketh the man (or woman). I turned to my friend, Google Images, for advice.

Can't describe it. Just think inappropriate.

It's polite to make an effort right? But I'm not sure this is the right kind of effort. Image source:

Blue 1980s power suit

Based on this image, I'm guessing that it should be Fraser not me who means business in the 1980s power suit. Image source:

When Google Images let me down I turned to themed clothing. Surely she’d do well in history if the teachers knew her family were All About Their Subject?

Melissa wearing an Egyptian headdress

The King Tut exhibition shop has quite a lot to answer for.

There was also going to be a photo here of me holding a baguette but you will just have to imagine it.

Then I realised I was going to be coming pretty much straight from work as was Fraser. Scratch the clothes idea. I’ll win if I am reasonably clean, not too smelly, and not wearing the day’s lunch.

OMG! My whole approach had to change!

Where to from here?

Here's what I had to do

Here's what I had to do

It was time to get practical. I needed a rethink.


Posted by on April 22, 2012 in children, parenting, school


The School Lunch Disconnect

Frances sets out her school lunch. This image from

Bread and Jam for Frances is the ultimate School Lunch book.

With the girls headed back to school for Term 2, my thoughts once again are turning to freedom staying in bed all day cleaning their bedrooms school lunches. And all that that entails.

In our family, Fraser makes the school lunches and I criticise provide the constructive support and advice. Or try.

I am, of course, guided by the example of the mother in one of my all-time favourite books, Bread and Jam for Frances. In it, Frances discovers that although bread and jam is her favourite, sometimes it is nice to eat spaghetti and meatballs or a soft-boiled egg or even a string bean.

The next day when the bell rang for lunch, Albert said, “What do you have today?”

“Well,” said Frances, laying a paper doily on her desk and setting a tiny vase of violets in the middle of it, “let me see.” She arranged her lunch on the doily.

“I have a thermos bottle with cream of tomato soup,” she said.

“And a lobster-salad sandwich on thin slices of white bread.

I have celery, carrot sticks, and black olives, and a little cardboard shaker of salt for the celery.

And two plums and a tiny basket of cherries.

And vanilla pudding with chocolate sprinkles and a spoon to eat it with.”

“That’s a good lunch,” said Albert. “I think it’s nice that there are all different kinds of lunches and breakfasts and dinners and snacks. I think eating is nice.”

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Posted by on April 16, 2012 in children, food


BGGcon Day 5 – In Which Melissa is Very Domestic.

Well we have reached Day 5 now without serious calamity. The closest we came was my nearly forgetting to put the bins out. And oops – just realised I have thoroughly forgotten to bring them in again.

Otto made her own school lunch today which was potentially interesting but actually turned out to be very simple – a “turkey, ham and cheese” sandwich (which turned out to be a “turkey ham” ie sliced turkey breast “and cheese” ie and cheese) sandwich, some leftover pasta and an apple.

I finally gave up on our router (turns out that where I have been blaming an unspecified neighbour’s completely hypothetical porn habit I should perhaps have been blaming our rather old router which I think predates the aforementioned turkey ham eater) and bought a new one. I did lots of research, pinned down a model (and price) that I thought would do the trick, and rang the nearest shop. “Is that the white one?” they asked.

Yes. It has lots of fancy stuff, but what is important is its colour. Who knew that my router was really an iPhone?

I hung out with a friend this afternoon, did some housework while we chatted, then picked Otto up from school and headed for the local ice cream shop. This was a good plan today, totally justified by 35 degree heat, but I lose a bit of face when I confess that we go nearly every week regardless of the weather. Wore a new top which I thought was not very me but which both my kids liked. Girl stuff. Also went to a local cafe where my juice was Just Not Cold Enough. Seriously considering moving some of our glasses into the fridge to help on days like this.

More girl stuff: Realised that I was seriously considering buying a curling iron. To use after I use my hair straightener. When I put it that way, I decided to hold off for a while.

Bigster had friends over after school to make a film about Alice in Wonderland, for their English assignment. We got back to find one of the boys in a red satin frock with facepaint. Why do I have scruples about posting pictures of other people’s children on the internet? Grrrr! Then I made pizza and thought about making ice cream. It didn’t happen.

Otto’s friend and her mum (my friend) came over after ice cream bar. Otto and friend watched German cartoons and then a movie (well, the start of it). But first, they watched the big kids – “it’s like we are watching a MOVIE be made!”. We mums chatted. Facebook tells us we know someone in common. World, small, etc.

And then YouTube made me happy.

All in all, a good day.


Posted by on November 18, 2011 in children, family


Memo to self: Homework is for children, not for parents!

I helped Otto with her homework today.

By that, I mean that I sat there and encouraged her to write, and read questions out to her, and generally cheered her on.

And watched while she got the answers WRONG. Two of them, anyway.

And then I obsessed, because that is what I do, about what the correct etiquette is. I know that her answers are wrong, and I know why they are wrong, and I could explain that to her. But I am not sure that I would use the same language as her teachers … so in the end, I left it. Given that she’s new at the school, I think they are still assessing where she’s at, so that made this an easier decision.

I have heard several friends complain that they were up to 1 or 2am, finishing their child’s science assignment. I have helped the Bigster with layout and presentation on some of her assignments, and have suggested sometimes that she needed to write more, or do more research. But I do draw the line at actually doing the work for them.

I understand the impulse to just fix it up, though!

Fraser does chess homework with Otto, and they play the problems out on a chess board. He prompts her to look for her mistakes, and she generally does – but he wouldn’t give the answers to her. I guess that’s where we draw the line.

Meanwhile, we have some more assessment results in. Like I said earlier, she’s a full year behind in maths, but she’s already catching that up somewhat now that she has a workbook to work through. The bigger concern, to me, is her reading. Which is weird, because her reading level is apparently OK for Year 3. It’s just that it has barely progressed at all since we got back from Germany at the end of 2009. We’re working on that, too, though.


Posted by on August 7, 2011 in children, education, parenting, school


Lucky Thirteen!

The Bigster turns 13 on Saturday.

Which of course leads to lots of conversations of the “We are SO not old enough to have a thirteen year old daughter” variety.

Not this year, though. I read an article last week (yes, back at the Daily Mail … I can’t keep away) about “one of the UK’s youngest grandparents” – grandad is 29 and mum is 30.

Even allowing for a couple of years for a (relatively) late bloomer, that means that one of us (NOT ME!) could technically be a GREAT grandparent.

The horror.

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Posted by on August 5, 2011 in children, parenting


Obsessing about Teeth

How much do we all hate going to the dentist? I am completely useless about it and generally end up curled in a little semi-catatonic ball under the doona afterwards, even when the trip was just to have my teeth cleaned and checked.

My kids mostly don’t hate it, which is great – ever since a cock-up with the Bigster’s teeth when she was 6 or 7, I have taken them to a specialist pediatric dentist. They’re up to an hour’s drive away, which is not so great, but the dentist we see is so lovely and reassuring for the girls that it is worth the hassle.

We had their six-monthly checkup this morning. No fillings required, which is great, especially for the Bigster who has “poor quality enamel” and needs to take special care of her teeth. But Otto has an abscess that is going to require removing an existing filling, treating it and then re-filling it (ugh). And Bigster may need braces.

Now this is weird. We had thought / hoped that the plate she wore for nearly three years would stop her from needing braces. And she does in fact have a lovely smile. All straight and even – the issue is actually at the back of her mouth. When she bites together, her lower teeth are in front of her upper teeth. This means that over time (and we are talking decades), her back teeth will wear at the front rather than at the back. Which is apparently a line-call sort of thing.

We’re getting a referral to an orthodontist who will be able to give us the big picture. Lovely Dentist wasn’t sure that she DID need braces, but she was sure that we need to have the conversation.

If she does get braces, it will apparently mean 6-weekly visits for 18 months or so.

I will not let that influence my decision.

I will not let that influence my decision.

I will not let that influence my decision.

But yeesh.

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Posted by on July 20, 2011 in children, health