Grandma Connellan’s Sponge

During this her 102nd birthday week, I thought I would share Grandma Connellan’s sponge cake recipe.
I remember spending Saturday’s sifting the flour mixtures (4 times!) and preparing cakes and biscuits for the family afternoon tea each Sunday.

Sift the following together 4 times!
¾ cup Custard Powder
¼ cup cornflour
1 level teaspoon cream of tartar
¼ teaspoon of bi-carb soda

Beat 4 egg whites until stiff.
Gradually add ½ cup of sugar then the egg yolks (1 at a time)
Gently fold through the flour mix.

Makes 2 x sponges (make sure you line the tins!)
Bake for 23 min at 180 degrees.

Enjoy!

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2

A Visit from and Old Friend

This post has nothing to do with music, but everything to do with becoming a parent.

This week I had a visit from an old friend.

There are not many old friends guaranteed to make me cry, but this one does every time!

Best $700 I ever spent!

Medela Double Pump-Best $700 I ever spent

For those of you who don’t recognize my old friend, this is my Medela double pump (the stylish back pack version ….ideal if you are heading back to work but still want to breast feed), also known around our house as ‘the machine.’

I had feeding issues with both of my babies so this pump allowed me to feed them breast milk, despite the difficulties.  Baby One worked out how to feed naturally after 10 weeks (yes, that’s about 500 hours of working at it…not such a quick study!) but Baby Two just did not get it. At all.

In fact, Baby Two was 8 months old the first time I saw her open her mouth wide (seriously), and even with solid food we had to trowel it on between months 6 and 8.

It really was most peculiar and had to be seen to be believed.

Despite this I managed, with the help of the machine, to feed Baby Two naturally until she was 7 months old.

Yes, this officially makes me a super hero.

But the story of ‘the machine’ does not end there.

Since my babies, the machine has gone on to feed a myriad of other babies whose mothers had a variety of circumstances to deal with (including twins, cleft palates, low birth weight, latching issues…) that required them to need ‘the machine.’

So here’s cheers to babies Alice, Eva, Felix, Elvie, Henry, Hannah, Josephine, Evie, Zoe and Eve and their incredible mothers, whose desire to give them the best start in life meant battling with the machine…and winning!

6

Who is Piano Mama?

For years I have thought of myself as a “failed musician” because I studied Classical Tuba (yes, really) at university, but no longer play professionally.

However, recently I have started thinking about how all my musical achievements have helped shape Piano Mama and I’ve been looking back with joy and pride.

So, in a very self indulgent post, here are some highlights from my professional playing career:

Itchy Feet Pep Band – A comedy marching band

In the late 90s it was not unusual for my three flat mates to arrive home from their office jobs on a Friday night to find me ironing my cape and getting ready to head out to a corporate gig in the city.

It’s thanks to the Pep band that I even have a passport! We were asked to send a small delegate to Hong Kong to play for 10 mins (yes, seriously) at a press conference for an event the whole band was returning for the following month.

The band also played at Royal Shows across Australia, festivals and private parties and contributed to a large portion of my income during my years at university and a few years afterwards.

Triangles Brass Trio – A Tuba, French horn and Trombone combo that I formed with two of my best friends from Uni.

I recently found a recording we made for a CD that the National Gallery produced whilst we were at Uni. I remember that during the recording I started laughing so much that I could not play and we had to stop production (actually I remember that the sound engineer and our supervising lecturer were not so impressed by my antics…)

Oxo Cubans – a brass, percussion and vocal band once described as “A five piece groove machine”

I was completely obsessed with the Oxo Cubans when I first discovered them; I had never heard anything like it. So naturally I was ridiculously excited when they asked me to join them for a regional tour of Victoria. I got to play the Tim Tam Slam, Roofrack, Letter L, U Can’t and a stack of other favourites. It was super fun, awesome to play with some of my musical hero’s and a great end to my professional playing career!

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra – Sure, it was only a two day call and I didn’t actually play very many notes – thus is the unique problem for Tuba players – you need to practice for 8 hours a day to get the job in an orchestra, then you actually don’t get to play very much! But, I was chuffed to be asked, and during the two days we were recording the soundtrack for Babe Pig in the City, so I’ll always have the movie!

Total Fire Band – Banjo, Clarinet, Sousaphone – Trad Jazz Trio…they wore red braces!

I’ve loved jazz since my sister gave me an Ella and Louis tape when I was about 9. I had never really considered playing jazz until I met a Tuba player who was doing just that. On a few occasions when he was not available I got to play with the trio, including at a winery in the Yarra Valley on New Year’s Eve, 1998.

Essential Brass Quintet – Two trumpets, trombone, French horn and Tuba

A group formed at Uni that played for weddings, graduation ceremonies and all sorts of events that required a fanfare! We once opened for guitarist Leo Kottke, played for the memorial service for Princess Di and played at the State Funeral for George Fairfax.

My favourite gig with the quintet was playing for a Christmas Carol service each year with the National Boys Choir. There is nothing more spine tingling than playing lush carols in front of a wall of young, powerful voices.

And now…

I can still play the Tuba (and the Piano, Trombone and Trumpet/Flugelhorn) and occasionally dust off my case to play with our local community brass band.

Last month I took a Flugelhorn into kinder and played a game of “guess the song” for the 3 year olds.

At Christmas I join my husband, Super D, and some other neighbourhood friends in a “dusty cases” brass group to play some carols for our street party.

No one pays me to play anymore, but that’s actually OK.

Really.

Freddie, Eli and and some fabulous friends at the piano

There is lots you can do to help your child become interested in learning music – well before formal music lessons start.

1. Listen to lots of music

2. Sing lots around the house

3. Grab a set of Freddie the Frog Books and have fun reading them!

Freddie and his friend Eli live on Treble Clef Island. They have exciting adventures (as a frog and elephant are want to do) and along the way the technical language of music is introduced. These books are a great way to start looking at music and learning some musical terms before formal lessons begin.

The added bonus of the Freddie books is that they come with a CD – GREAT car listening!

Another bonus (for parents of the more technologically advanced variety) is that there is a free Freddie the Frog iPad app and other cool stuff you can download from his site.

We were lucky enough to meet author Sharon Burch a few years ago and she is truly a delightful human being! She gave my girls the very first ever Eli the Elephant toy, who now proudly sits on the piano and watches as we practice!

Eli

1

Slippers

Slippers

These are my favourite slippers.

Great for packing when travelling to colder climates and the Ugg Boots won’t fit in the suitcase.

Great to take when visiting friends houses who have floorboards and a no-shoe policy.

Great to have a spare pair or two on hand here for when friends visit for a day/night on the tiles.

By special request…here is the ‘recipe’ for these slippers – I believe crafty people might call it the pattern.

Needles: Size 6
Wool: Make up to 32 ply (4×8 ply)
Cast on 25 sts
1st Row K8, P1, K7, P1, K8
2nd Row Knit
Repeat these 2 rows until required length.
Then K2 together till 2 sts remain.
Cast off.

Nana Helen does 46 or 48 rows for ladies and about 52 for men.

I hope that makes sense! Sounds about as vague as one of my recipes, if you ask me, but I’m sure all of the crafty people out there will be able to make sense of it!

1

Mystery kiddie music please, Mummy!

About a year ago we bought a new car.

The most exciting thing about this, apart from the obvious benefits of no longer driving a death trap, was that our new car has a CD player!

Yes folks, we had been delighting in the charms of a cassette player up until then.

When the cassette player died a few months before we sold the car we resorted to good old fashioned singing and conversation.

As you can imagine, we are delighted that we are now able to listen to music on long journeys.

Our kids CD collection is extensive.

People often bang on about how “there should be no such thing as children’s music” and “my kids listen to Pink Floyd, ACDC, whatever we want to listen to…” To a point I understand this and agree, but my kids ask questions ALL the time, and after having to explain genetic engineering one day, thanks to a Jamiroquai song, I began to really appreciate the benefits of kids music. Also, call me crazy but there is something a wee bit distasteful about a 3 year old singing “hey, sexy lady.”

While the girls enjoy listening to a wide variety of non-kiddie music: Jamiroquai, Tina Arena, Ella Fitzgerald, The KLF, Michael Jackson, The Beatles, Oscar Peterson, George, ABBA…we all enjoy some great kids music.

Here are our favourite Kids CDs!

The Mighty Buzznicks: A local Melbourne band who ROCK! They sing songs about spiders, giant squid, stinky smells, nose bleeds and they do a rockin’ version of the ABC song.

The Gee Wizz Kids: Another Melbourne band who have more of a country feel. They sing songs about what happens on a farm, animals, a frog who likes to bark and they have a groovin’ cow called Moova who dances at their gigs. Check them out!

They Might Be Giants: Remember them from the 80s? I am guessing that they became parents at some stage and started writing songs for their children. Their CDs Here Come the ABCs, Here Come the 1,2,3s and Here Comes Science are GOLD! Each CD deals with its particular subject matter in a humorous and highly entertaining fashion and the music is really smart and the styles are varied. Current favourite from Here Comes Science – the Blood Mobile, was used as a pass the parcel tune at a recent birthday!

Coco’s Lunch: Another Melbourne group! 5 women, A cappella, incredible harmonies and great songs like the Wally Wombat Shuffle, Rat Trap Snap, Baby in her Belly, Everybody Let’s Dance and Alien at my Table. Very sophisticated sounds, but very singable for kids and VERY enjoyable for adults.

Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra Including Tubby the Tuba, and the Mother Goose Suite as well as the Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, this is a firm favourite.

Justine Clarke: Yes, from play school. Her music is fun, songs use a great variety of styles and are very singable. Songs about rainbows, swings, birthdays…

Susie Davies-Splitter & Phil Splitter: More Melbourne people. Their music is used a lot in schools, so they tick all the actual educational boxes, as well as having really singingable songs. My girls LOVE the “Biggest Band in all the Land” and we often get our music box (plastic tub of percussion instruments) out and play along. All these casual kind of rhythmic activities have really set Piano Girl and her little sister up for having great internal rhythm – which has really helped Piano Girl this year as she began piano lessons, and it’s also helped with ballet too. One of little sister’s favourites is G’Day My Friends from their Bop in the Bath CD. Highly recommended!

John Feireabend CDs. These ones are perfect for very young children. John has collected a huge range of traditional songs from across England.The singers on his CDs have gentle voices, percussion sounds are gentle and ideal for introducing the idea of singing rounds and call and response songs. The girls loved them when they were very little and they still like them now.

Dance Songs for Kids. You know your life has changed forever when you find yourself at 9pm on New Years Eve dancing the Hokey Pokey and the Macarena with a herd of under 5s. All is not lost though, this CD is actually really fun. Everything from the Boot Scootin’ Baby to the Chicken Dance, The Numbers Rhumba and the Nutbush, You Make Me Feel Like Dancing and the Limbo Rock. A MUST HAVE in every collection for those impromptu dance party moments.

I’d love to hear if anyone else has any recommendations for great kids CDs.

2

The Reading Chair

“I just want to sit in the reading chair with you and read – until our eyes bleed” – my 3 year old, last week.

Reading Chair

Six years ago I had absolutely no idea what to do with a baby.

To be honest, I am not sure I had actually really thought the whole thing through. Sure I had friends who had kids, and in retrospect I remembered asking them ‘what do you DO all day?’ but I never seemed to understand the answer.

One thing I do remember one of my very best friends saying was ‘Read to your baby. Hold them close to you and read. They love hearing your voice. It doesn’t matter what you read (especially when they are brand new) but it is important you spend time snuggling with them. Read anything. Read the Financial Review out loud if you want to – it doesn’t matter what it is, just read’.

So, I read. We read.

I was ridiculously lucky to have my husband at home with me for 5 months when my first baby was born. In the first month he would get up with me every night (seriously!) change the baby, and then read out loud to us as I breast fed. It was just around the time of the last ever Harry Potter being released, so he read the entire book to us!

(Just after I wrote the paragraph above I realised again how amazing my husband, Super D is. He also read the Food of Love aloud to me on our honeymoon in Tuscany, 8 years ago!)

And back to the baby…after the first feed of the morning we would sit in the feeding chair and read books. We had about 50 board books by the time our first baby was 1 month old, so there was a fair bit of variety. Our collection of kids books has since grown to well over 500 titles from gifts, hand-me-downs, op-shop purchases (a great place to discover quirky stories) and new books that we just MUST have in our collection – like our most recent purchases this week: Mr Chicken Goes to Paris and Ruby Red Shoes.

Our reading chair is not especially fancy, but it is super comfortable and the perfect chair for me to sit in for hours as we read enormous stacks of book. Often there will be at least 2 children snuggled up with me in a variety of blankets.

“Read me a story, please” was more often than not the very first thing I would hear in the morning – every day for the last 5 years. Being a fan of lounging around and staying in bed as long as possible, that was completely fine with me. Now that we have to get up each day for school, I look back on those times with great joy! 

I calculated recently that we have been reading aloud to the girls for between one and three hours each day….since they were born.

Obviously we have seen the benefits of all this reading, but I’ve also seen and and read some fascinating things about the proof of benefits of reading to children lately, as well as the power of talking to your baby and the linguistic genius of babies, that I promised to share with people – so here are the links! Enjoy!