Best Mum?

I thought my kids might be getting too old for me to post little anecdotes about the funny things they say. I haven’t done it in a long time! But I had to share this one. It’s perfect!

Conversation with Ethan (age 13) last night.

Me: “Do you love me?”

Ethan: “Yep!”

Me: “Am I the best Mum in the world?”

Ethan: “Hmm, I’m not sure. I don’t really know that many Mums.”

Me: “Well, am I the best Mum you know?”

Ethan: “Definitely.” (gives me a hug)

Ethan: “Although … my friends’ Mums are all really nice to me.”

Me: “You mean, you only see your friends’ Mums on their best behaviour.”

Ethan: “Yeah. They don’t yell or anything when I’m around. You are a good Mum, but sometimes you get mad and stuff.”

Me: “Your friends’ Mums might yell and get mad when you’re not there.”

Ethan: “Yeah.”

Me: “But I’m really nice to your friends, aren’t I?”

Ethan: “Of course!”

Me: “So I probably AM the best Mum you know. I’ll take that.”

:-)

Kids Can Cook!

A few weeks ago we started a new Thing at home. Ethan and Tyler are now in charge of cooking dinner once a week. Tyler cooks every Monday and Ethan cooks every Thursday.

At the moment they still need a bit of help/advice from us, but we basically let them do everything by themselves. All the chopping and dicing, the measuring and mixing, the actual cooking. Everything except draining boiling water or lifting really hot dishes out of the microwave (above head height for both of them).

So far things have been going great! Tyler made bacon & egg pie on his first night, while Ethan did a stir-fry (his favourite meal). The following week Tyler cooked fish and Ethan made lasagne. This week Tyler cooked chicken drumsticks with couscous, and tonight Ethan’s making a Thai red curry.

I’m really impressed with how well they are both doing. Tyler has always had more of an affinity for baking and cooking, while Ethan has been less interested. But it has always been important to me that my boys learn how to cook and clean and wash clothes and grocery shop and pay bills. I want them to be prepared for the real world (you know, the one where your Mum doesn’t cook your dinner and wash your dirty socks).

I don’t want my sons to be useless guys who can’t cook when they leave home, expecting their flatmates to do the cooking (or even worse, having flatmates who can’t cook and having to live on takeaways and 2-minute noodles). I don’t want them to get married and expect their wives to do the cooking. Put it this way: I’m raising husbands. My future daughters-in-law will thank me one day. I’m grateful to MY mother-in-law for teaching Rob how to cook!

The boys are learning a lot by taking this on. Not only do they have to cook on a certain night, they also have to choose what they want to make and plan ahead, ensuring that any items they require are either in the fridge/freezer/pantry (and marked as ‘reserved’ if not needed for a few days) or are added to the shopping list BEFORE grocery shopping day. They need to fit cooking around homework, part-time jobs, sports practices and other extra-curricular activities. And if they forget to organise things properly, they had better be prepared to spend $30-40 of their own money on takeaways for the family! :-)

What about you? Do your kids cook on a regular basis? If not, I encourage you to get them doing it!

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Cross Country

Tyler had his cross country last week – his last one at primary school, ever!

Last year he came 6th, which was his best result. His goal for this year was to beat last year’s placing, and he did it! He came 5th! Unfortunately it’s only the top 4 who go through to interschools, but he was still really happy with himself and proud that he achieved his goal. He ran most of the way with his friend Finn, who ended up coming 4th. Tyler said he knew he couldn’t go any faster during the final (of 3) lap, so about halfway through that last leg, he told Finn to “take it”. So gracious!

It’s a 3km course and it is M.U.D.D.Y. … especially when it has poured with rain for 2 hours prior to the race starting! There is even an actual mudslide as part of the course. At the end, all the kids are brown. It’s totally awesome.

Really proud of my boy for giving it his best and for training hard to achieve what he wanted. He had the best attitude on the day and I’m so glad his very last primary school cross country event was such a positive, fun, messy, rewarding experience! The college one seems much more tame and nowhere near as much fun. This was a great way to finish!

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Salted Chocolate and Caramel Brownie Tart

So the guy in the middle turned 42 on the weekend:

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“What’s with the beard?” you may be asking. Yeah, I’m not really sure. He knows I HATE it, but he continues to grow it. I have been promised that it will definitely be gone before summer (i.e. 1st December) so I’ve resigned myself to the fact that it will probably be sticking around for the next 4 months! Sigh!

Anyway, I made a really nice cake for Rob’s birthday and thought I’d share the recipe here. He’s really into salted caramel at the moment, so I knew I wanted to do something with salted caramel. This recipe is one I found online, but I made a few small changes to it. Here’s my version!

Salted Chocolate and Caramel Brownie Tart

Base:
1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup ground almonds
2T cocoa, sifted
150g butter
100g Whittakers 50% Dark chocolate

Caramel:
395g can sweetened condensed milk
75g butter
4T golden syrup
1/2 tsp salt

Brownie:
150g butter
1/2 cup cocoa, sifted
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

Ganache:
1/3 cup cream
125g Whittakers Creamy Milk chocolate
flaky sea salt, to serve

Preheat the oven to 170°C, and grease the base and sides of a 23cm springform cake tin. Line the bottom, but not the sides, with cooking paper.
For the base, combine the flour, sugar, almonds and cocoa in a bowl. Melt the butter then stir in the chocolate until smooth. Pour the melted mix into the dry ingredients and mix well.
Tip the mixture into the prepared tin, pressing it firmly into the base and up the sides to a height of about 6cm. Bake for 12 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the caramel. Put the condensed milk, butter, syrup and salt in a saucepan over low heat. Stir until the butter has melted. Bring to a simmer, stirring constantly, then simmer for 2-3 minutes or until slightly thickened.
Pour the caramel onto the hot base and return to the oven for 7 minutes or until the caramel is golden brown and bubbling on top.
For the brownie, melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat, then whisk in the cocoa and sugar until smooth. Remove from the heat and whisk in the eggs and vanilla until combined. Fold in the flour, baking powder and salt.
Spoon the brownie mix over the hot cooked caramel and spread out. Return to the oven and cook for 20 minutes, or until set on top.
Remove from the oven and place the tin on a wire rack to cool to room temperature.
To make the ganache, heat the cream in a small saucepan until almost simmering. Add the chocolate and stir until smooth.
Pour the ganache over the cooled tart and spread it out. Sprinkle with flaky sea salt. Refrigerate, uncovered, for 1-2 hours or until set. Remove from the fridge 15 minutes before serving. Store, covered, in the fridge for up to three days.

P.S. It’s even better the next day!!

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Game Day!

I have to share these photos of the awesome “Game Day” my sister Leah organised for my boys during the school holidays. With one of them recovering from a serious injury (see last post), both of them getting over colds and the weather decidedly ‘iffy’ at this time of year, she needed to plan something that they could do inside, that wasn’t too physical or tiring, but was still heaps of fun. Here’s what she came up with!

Leah snuck over to our place the night before (when the kids were asleep) to decorate our living room with a USA “Game Day” theme. Rob & I helped a little to hang some of the balloons and streamers but she pretty much did it all herself.

Game Day 1

The boys saw this when they woke up, and Leah turned up wearing a full referee’s outfit, complete with whistle! She made the rules and enforced the rules! She even got them doing stretching exercises before things kicked off.

Game Day 2

The day was made up of 8 different games, with ‘breaks’ in between each one while Leah got things ready for the next game. During the breaks the boys were free to go outside, play on their devices, etc. When the whistle blew, they knew it was time to head back into the living room for the next game.

Each game was revealed through the very clever use of food. Leah presented the food and the boys had to guess what the game was going to be. She did such cool and creative things to represent each game! Some of them they were able to guess, but others had them a bit stumped.

Game No. 1 – Connect Four

Game Day 3

Game No. 2 – Go Fish

Game Day 4

Game No. 3 – Tic Tac Toe

Game Day 5

Game No. 4 – Cranium (bananas and blueberries for brain food)

Game Day 6

Halftime called for oranges, of course! And lunch. American hotdogs with red/white/blue drinks! :-)

Game Day 7

Game No. 5 – Jaffa racing down the stairs

Game Day 8

Game No. 6 – Pairs/Memory (need a sharp eye, hence the carrots)

Game Day 9

Game No. 7 – Snakes & Ladders

Game Day 10

Game No. 8 – Yahtzee

Game Day 11

At the end of the day, all the points for wins, sportsmanship (and points taken off for penalties/bad behaviour!) were added up. Bronze, silver and gold medals were awarded to 3rd, 2nd and 1st place (Leah, Ethan and Tyler, respectively). Silver also won a $15 gift card, while Gold won a $20 gift card. So awesome! By this stage I was home and able to take photos of the Medal Ceremony. I guess usually the referee doesn’t participate in the game OR get a placing, but she did this time!

Game Day 12

The boys absolutely LOVED the day. They both said it was one of the best days ever! Leah put so much thought, effort and love into planning a really fun day for them. Different from the usual movies-and-lunch, and something that nobody else would have done. They are lucky boys, as the very next day Rob took them away to the snow for 3 days where they had a total blast snowboarding and adventuring and exploring together. I, meanwhile, was sick at home! All better now though, and happy to look back over these photos and see the special bond my boys have with their Aunty, who loves them so much!

Pray first, pray more

Life has it’s ups and downs, doesn’t it? One moment you’re driving along in the sunshine, windows down, great music playing on the stereo. You’re singing along, looking forward to something-in-particular and feeling grateful to be alive. Nek minit, you’re dealing with a crappy situation, wondering how things changed so fast!

Many times the ‘crappy situation’ is not actually that bad, in the big scheme of things. Often it’s a minor but annoying thing. One of your cars needs repairs (again). You feel totally unappreciated by someone. Your computer packs in the day before somebody needs to print out an assignment. You have a really horrible day at work.

Lately I’ve had so many moments like that. We’ve had so many car troubles this year. Other things have gone wrong. Each incident on its own is not so awful, but when they all pile up it can feel quite overwhelming and frustrating. Last week, as I experienced situation after situation, I found myself sitting in my car waiting for Ethan to finish soccer training. I spent some time in prayer, thanking God. You see, in the middle of all of these annoying situations, I had been experiencing some very awesome answers to prayer. I had prayed about everything, from cars to computers to toilets, and most of my prayers had been answered immediately. I was grateful for those answers to prayer, and I had been thanking God for each one. But there was a bigger message that I hadn’t yet noticed.

As I sat in my car, that bigger message hit me. These things were opportunities to test my faith. Yes, I had prayed about each situation, but God showed me that it had taken me a decent amount of time to actually turn to prayer. I couldn’t help trying to solve the problem by myself first, finally turning to God in exhaustion, pleading with him to ‘fix things’. Which he did. At first, I was a little discouraged. But as I continued to pray, God showed me that I was making progress. With each frustrating situation, I was taking LESS time to bring my problems to Him. There was a really obvious pattern that became so clear to me. It was a real revelation.

Little did I know that I would soon be receiving an even bigger opportunity to test my faith. An even bigger, crappier, overwhelming situation. I reckon God was revealing a very important truth to me in that moment, sitting in my car. Would I come to him in prayer immediately next time? Would I simply hand the situation over to him without attempting to fix it myself? Even just for a second? Right then, right there, I felt confident that I would be able to do that. My faith was getting stronger. I could totally do that. But if I had known what the next situation was going to be, would I have felt so sure?

The next situation was a pretty big one, and it happened the very next day. I finished work at 5:30pm, and instead of going straight home, I went to the soccer field where Tyler was training. He was due to finish at 6:30pm, and I arrived 5 minutes early. My phone had rung a couple of times while I was driving, and I hadn’t been able to answer it. I checked it, and found several missed calls from Tyler’s coach and Rob. A text message said “How far away are you? Tyler’s hurt his shoulder.” I didn’t think much of it, but got out of the car and walked over to the pitch. There I saw my boy lying on the ground, covered with jackets and blankets, surrounded by his teammates, other parents and the coach. Tyler had fallen hard on his neck and shoulder, and couldn’t move. He was in horrendous pain. The other boys had heard a ‘pop’. The coach called an ambulance, which took an hour to arrive. As we waited, I comforted my boy and whispered prayers over him constantly. None of the kids or their parents wanted to leave, and we both felt so loved and supported. The ambulance finally arrived at 7:30pm and the paramedics put a cervical collar on Tyler. I went with him to hospital, and we spent the next 7 hours in the paediatric ED. The doctors suspected a broken collarbone and a possible neck fracture. He was in severe pain, and was given a massive cocktail of painkillers: Entonox, paracetamol, morphine, codeine, ibuprofen. We had to do a LOT of waiting. He had 8 x-rays taken of his neck and collarbone. When the results finally came back, we were told that his collarbone was broken, and the images of his neck showed an abnormality. He had to go back for a CT scan to rule out a broken neck. The situation, on paper, was quite scary. But throughout the whole thing, I felt God’s peace. I had to be strong for Tyler, who was also incredibly brave! We both prayed, over and over, pouring our hearts out to God as we asked for his healing and comfort. I have never felt closer to Tyler, it was very special. Our prayers were answered at 1:30am when the doctors came and told us there were no fractures, and the collar could finally come off. His neck is sprained and his collarbone is badly bruised, so he will need to wear a sling for a week or so. My wonderful Mum drove into the hospital to pick us up, since Rob would have had to wake Ethan up to come and get us. When I finally crawled into bed at 3am, tired and hungry, my heart was overflowing with gratitude to God for his presence and protection. It could have ended so very differently.

I never expected that a situation like that would come my way so soon, but in retrospect, it was the perfect opportunity for me to put my money where my mouth was. To walk the talk. Not once did I even try to deal with things in my own strength, because I knew I had none. I was weak, fragile, vulnerable, helpless. I needed God. I couldn’t do it alone. Handing the entire situation over to him from the very beginning gave me immense freedom and a huge amount of comfort. Yes, I was still scared. But I was not alone.

Rick Warren says, “Too often we see prayer as a last resort rather than as our first thought. Prayer is usually something you do way down the line after you’ve tried everything else. People will say, “I guess all we can do now is pray!” like it’s their last option. Prayer should be your first choice, not your last resort. If you want God to help you overcome the odds in any area of your life, you have to turn to him first.”

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Pumpkin Lasagne

Time for a recipe share! We had friends over for dinner at the weekend. Two of them are vegetarian, so I made my very first vegetarian lasagne … it was a big hit, even with the meat-eaters! Even my oldest, who doesn’t really like pumpkin, really enjoyed it. I’ll be making this again for us!

Pumpkin Lasagne

1 small pumpkin (I used a butternut squash)
2 x 250g tubs ricotta cheese
1/2 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup cooked spinach (8 oz uncooked)
2 1/2 cups grated mozzarella cheese
2 garlic cloves, minced
black pepper
3 x fresh egg lasagne sheets
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
1/8 teaspoon each dried basil, thyme, oregano and rosemary
1 teaspoon smoked paprika

Cut pumpkin in half and scoop out seeds. Drizzle pumpkin with olive oil and season with salt & pepper. Place the halves cut side down on a baking tray lined with foil. Roast at 200C for 30 minutes, then allow to cool. The skin will come off easily. Mash (or puree if you want a smoother consistency).
Mix pumpkin with the first tub of ricotta cheese, milk, 1/4 teaspoon salt and nutmeg until well combined.
Mix together spinach, second tub of ricotta cheese, 1 cup of mozzarella, garlic, 1/4 teaspoon salt and black pepper.
Grease a baking dish with olive oil. Spread 1/3 of pumpkin filling on the bottom of the dish. Sprinkle lightly with mozzarella cheese. Top with lasagne sheets (cut these to size, but do not overlap them). Spread half of the spinach filling over the noodles. Top lightly with Mozzarella cheese. Top with lasagne sheets. Spread another layer (1/3) of pumpkin mixture, then sprinkle lightly with Mozzarella cheese. Top with lasagne sheets. Spread the remaining half of the spinach filling over the lasagne sheets. Top lightly with Mozzarella cheese. Top with the final layer of lasagne sheets. Spread the rest of the pumpkin filling over the top, sprinkle with grated Parmesan, 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese, herbs and paprika.
Cover the baking dish with foil and bake at 180C for 30 min. Remove foil and bake for a further 10 minutes.

The Parent Map

I recently read the May issue of “NEXT” magazine, which was a special “Motherhood” issue for Mother’s Day. There was a fabulous article in there called “The Parent Map”, where five experts shared their top parenting tips. Some of the advice was so great, I found myself nodding and hm-hming as I read. I even grabbed a highlighter and got stuck in … and then I decided I would post my favourite tips here, for future reference (there’s no way I’d find the article if I ripped it out and kept it somewhere *safe*).

Jeremy Todd
– Manage your teen’s transition from child to adult. When children are young, we instil boundaries to protect them. As they become teens, too many boundaries can cause resentment, but it’s still important for your teen to know what behaviour is acceptable. Talk to them about what’s key to you and listen to their responses before deciding which issues are non-negotiable and what you can let go. Let them gradually take on more decision-making and control as they prove they can handle it.
– Reinstate the family meal. Teens value family time, and eating together is the ideal way to achieve this. Avoid bringing up issues that might cause conflict, and model the behaviour you want to see in your teen by putting your phone away. A family meal should make everyone at the table feel valued – a core need for teens – so ask about important things they have going on. [I LOVE this one. We always eat dinner together as a family, and we have never, ever allowed phones or devices at the table.]
– Support your teen. They need activity, stimulation, rest and relaxation in equal measure. Many come home late from school, watch TV with one eye, text with the other, eat, then dash out to see friends. Help them get the rest they need by letting them sleep in (within reason) at the weekend. They also need to burn off excess energy, so make exercise something you do as a family.

Lenore Skenazy
– Remember a childhood moment when you felt on top of the world. These don’t tend to involve parents: riding our bikes all day, or running an errand alone. These are memories we relish, and yet fear keeps us from giving these same memories to our kids. Whenever worry is about to stop you from letting your child do something alone, remember the joy and confidence you felt during your favourite childhood moment.

Jessica Chivers
– Adopt a ‘good enough’ mindset. Few of us have time to do everything perfectly. Equally, doing everything to a standard you’re not happy with is unfulfilling. Choose one or two things you want to do to the best of your ability and agree to do everything else to a ‘good enough’ standard – perhaps making three home-cooked meals a week instead of seven, or giving some presentations that aren’t perfect. If you find this idea difficult, imagine the knock-on effects of doing everything to 100%. Is that sustainable?
– Think ‘firm, fair and fun’. This is a good checklist to ensure you and your partner’s parenting is aligned or to stop you ruminating over decisions you’ve made. Firmness is about giving kids boundaries; fairness is about consistency, particularly in how you treat siblings; fun is about ensuring there is enough joy in the house, which could mean dancing with pants on your head or just having a lightness of tone. If you regularly strike this balance, you’ll be doing a good job.
– Be prepared to be persuaded by your child. This isn’t about giving in to nagging, but if your child can give a reasoned argument about why something should be done, like a bedtime changing, give it a go, at least for a trial period. This shows your child you’re a reasonable human being, teaches them negotiation and pitching skills, and demonstrates that rational argument is more likely to get them what they want than screaming and shouting.

Sue Gerhardt
– Don’t take things personally. When your child says or does something that upsets you, ask yourself: what’s really going on? They need you to keep believing in them, and in your mutual affection. As the parent, it’s your job to keep hold of the bigger picture and repair misunderstandings.

Laura Markham
– Accept emotions, limit behaviour. Children who know their feelings are ‘allowed’ are better at managing them. Feelings that are repressed tend to pop out uncontrolled. Once children can manage emotions, they can manage their behaviour. Making it safe for them to express emotions in a civil way teaches assertiveness and shows them that, while they can’t always get what they want, they have something better: a parent who loves them as they are.

We have a teenager in the house!

That’s right, my BABY is now thirteen. THIRTEEN! A teenager. I can’t even …

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Ethan’s birthday was over 2 weeks ago, and I’m only just getting around to downloading photos from my camera onto my computer. So we have had a teenager in our house for a couple of weeks now, and guess what? It’s been great! ;-)

While I wanted to have a huge celebration for his 13th birthday, Ethan wanted to keep things very low key. No party. He compromised a little by going to Jump! with his two best mates (but no cake, no singing). We celebrated a bit more on his actual birthday with our usual family dinner with my parents and sister. My sister’s birthday is the day before Ethan’s, so we often have a joint birthday dinner for her and Ethan. The birthday boy/girl gets to choose what’s for dinner. Leah let Ethan choose the menu, and he picked pork stir fry. Cake was also allowed (phew).

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This nonchalant attitude is pretty typical of Ethan. He’s a no fuss, no frills, low key kinda guy who is a little bit shy and doesn’t really like to be the centre of attention. He’s always had a party of some description for his birthday, but this year he really wanted to fly under the radar. This is despite having about a dozen or more really good mates that he could have invited over for movies! and pizza! and cake! At first I was a bit disappointed that he didn’t want to do much, but then I realised that it doesn’t really matter AS LONG AS HE IS HAPPY. And he was. So I was too. :-)

So, how does it feel to be the mother of a teenager? Pretty surreal, actually. But Ethan is an amazing kid, a real delight. Besides, 13 is just another number that happens to be higher than 12 and lower than 14. Right? I wrote a pretty lengthy message in Ethan’s card, so rather than writing something new for this blog post, I’ll just copy it here:

Ethan,
Sorry – I’m going to write an essay!
Today you are 13 – a teenager – wow! It feels like yesterday that Dad and I were driving you home from the hospital. We had NO IDEA what we were doing! But you were a great baby and a wonderful toddler and a truly delightful child – see the trend here? We need to be able to add “awesome teenager” to that list! :-)
I know there will be a lot of changes over the next few years, especially the big one – me becoming the shortest member of our family! No matter what the teenage years hold, I know that it will be amazing to watch you grow into a young man. I’m so very proud of the person you are, the way you love unconditionally, put family and God first, do your best in everything you do (school, music, sport), make us smile and laugh. I thank God for giving us such an incredible son. I love you much more than you will ever know, and I am proud to be your Mum. Have an amazing birthday, my “Little Guy” (can’t really call you that anymore). You’re so special to me – I love you. Mum xox
Proverbs 3:5-6 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”

It wouldn’t really be a birthday post without some old photos, would it? So here’s a little timeline of Ethan on all his birthdays so far! :-) (You can tell we bought our first digital camera after Ethan turned 2).

ONE
One Year Old

TWO
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THREE
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FOUR
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FIVE
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SIX
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SEVEN
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EIGHT
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NINE
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TEN
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ELEVEN
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TWELVE
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THIRTEEN
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By Tyler …

“Ouch!” I muttered, as I carefully put my feet on the sharp rocks.
It was a Sunday afternoon and the sun was lasering down on me and my family. We strolled towards the quiet lake; we went through the luscious, green grass fields, over gates, across bridges, under trees that skyed above us.
Finally we could hear the lake. We dashed towards the sound of the ripples rippling. The sight of the lake came closer but was hidden by a pile of rocks. Slowly, we climbed up the rocks, and when we got to the top, we all looked out at what could have come out of a holiday brochure.
The sight of glistening diamonds on the water’s edge, it was like a humungous spread of blue butter. I broke into a sprint towards the calm water. It looked like the sun had sprinkled the water with stars. The water beckoned me to splash in its warm embrace. One lonely dinghy floated on the sky blue water.
I dived in, it felt like an elephant spraying me as my body sunk into the water. The sea weed pulled me down to sway with his friends.
After a long day of swimming and laughing the sunset started to shimmer on the water and it was time to go. I sadly got out of the water; now it was just the big walk home. As I walked the trees sadly waved goodbye and the grass tickled my toes, but I knew that we would come back one day!