Thursday, October 29, 2009

Sarah Murdoch's unairbrushed Women's Weekly cover

Just a quick note to say head over to Julie Parker's blog, Beautiful You by Julie, to see pictures from the current issue of Australian Women's Weekly and an intriguing story behind them.

The cover story on model and TV personality Sarah Murdoch includes the usual array of photos of her, and she looks lovely, but the pictures have not been airbrushed or re-touched in any way, at her insistence. She 37 and looks her age - which is a refreshing change.

Sarah has been involved in the National Body Image Advisory Group, hence her interest in appearing natural in the media.

It is a toe in the water for the editors, who are waiting to see if their readers can handle the sight of a wrinkle or two on a woman over 25 in the pages of their favourite magazine.

Julie reports that the editor made this reserved comment: "it's a very competitive industry and I'm at this stage just taking a little baby step and seeing how this goes for now."

I'll probably buy a copy just to show my support for the baby step.

PS. the above photo is of one of my short-fingered, wrinkly, fingernail-chewed, hands. I like them. I'm hoping that the concept of celebrating actual, real bodies in the media (ie. ones belonging to actual people), really takes off.

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Friday, October 2, 2009

Young children and horror movie posters?


I'm thinking they don't, or at least shouldn't, mix.

I saw a poster for a remake of the horror movie The Last House on the Left last week. Normally that would have been no big deal. But I've been feeling a little more sensitive lately about my kids seeing images suggesting sex or violence.

The poster for the R rated movie which they had chosen to put up and the position they chose for it - well it really got me thinking about how much and what kinds of things I'm willing to put up with without voicing an objection.

I wanted to link to the image from here but I could only find tamer versions of it on the Net ie. without a bloodied female body in the foreground.

I wrote about it in my most recently published column.

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Lunchtime meditation

I had a few minutes today by myself while sitting on the back door steps to eat my lunch.

I watched the breeze ruffle the sheets on the washing line, and that often gives me such a quiet sense of contentment. I noticed my own breathing, which felt one with the movement of the wind.

Then I followed the breeze over the neighbours' backyards, along train lines and through little creeks. I tugged on racy knickers and horses' manes and nudged empty trolleys in shopping centre carparks and kicked up some dirt off someone's newly dug grave and then I blew into the city and out to sea.

I thought of ships sailing on far-off seas, flurries of snow whirling over distant glaciers on the other side of the world, and me, held in the breath of the world. Then the kids found me.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

What kids see

My daughter rushed up while I was sweeping the leaves from the front porch today, and I tried to shoo her away, thinking she was going to mess up my neat little pile. "No, mum," she said excitedly, "look, it's a heart!".
I don't know why these leaves are falling in spring. But I'm just so glad that warmer weather is here. Today was a balmy 31 degrees, and it ended with a thunderstorm. Instead of watching a DVD, the children watched for ages the rain and lightening from the living room window.
We spent last weekend entertaining friends, both Saturday night and Sunday. At the moment I'm in a nice state of having days which are fully occupied but which allow me to go at a reasonable pace.
I'm feeding and playing and reading with the children, taking care of the household needs; I don't have much work on, just finishing off a newsletter for L'Arche, keeping up with my weekly column and chasing up outstanding invoices. I have a few friends coming over on Thursday. I think I should be feeling relaxed but I actually feel restless.
Last week I reread the biography of Fr Chris Riley, the founder and head of Youth Off The Streets. He has devoted his life to helping street kids and other disadvantaged children, has the support of political, corporate and other leaders, and has been nominated for the Australian of the Year more than once.
His is an inspiring story, but basically it's a story about a person wanting to give their whole life for others, wanting to love people who otherwise would not be loved. Well, isn't family life like that too? Isn't that what marrying someone and then being a mother or a father to someone is all about?
Motherhood is not glamourous or particularly exciting most of the time, but I hope to keep seeing the heart of what I do every day. Especially when I have a broom in hand (which is often).

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Friday, September 11, 2009

Taking a break from the world

My life was pretty hectic last month and I felt that I just needed to go off the radar for a while in order to get back to the basics.

It was like a mental health day, I guess, except that it was extended for a couple of weeks!

I stopped work, apart from one job where I had a deadline (a perk of being self-employed). I had just joined twitter, but I had to drop it; I stopped going online on a daily basis. I didn't watch tv, read the paper, or listen to the radio.

I started going to bed before 11pm.

I played with the kids, instead of just throwing them into the backyard and leaving them to it.

I read books and made up additional silly stories for my daughters at bedtime. I sat with them until they fell asleep, instead of calling out from in front of the computer, "Go to sleep!".

I cooked a simple, tasty dinner every night, baked a chocolate cake, took my eldest daughter for a long walk, connected with my husband, and read a book.

I discovered a new periodical (new to me anyway) which is not as 'too-intellectual' for me as I had always thought.

I organised play dates for the kids, and invited some neighbours over for the first time, for afternoon tea. I spent time with one of my goddaughters.

I decluttered the house and got the car washed. (I know it was washed during the last 18 months, because I've done it since we've been in this house, I just don't know when exactly. Maybe 18 months ago!)

I've been trying to live in the moment. And I've been thinking. A lot of the time I assume that I am thinking, when what I am really doing is either fretting or fantasising.

I've been reflecting and praying for the wisdom to see what is really important in my life; what just needs a little re-jigging, and what might need a complete paradigm-shift.

I realised that I've just been adding lots of little things, and big things (ie. three gorgeous children, with my husband) to my life, in a fairly haphazard way.

With all the additions I'd lost sight of the beautiful and simple vision of life that my husband and I had when we married seven years ago; a happy family life, a warm, welcoming home where there are book-lined walls, and music, and great conversation. And a bit of overseas travel from time to time, some great furniture, an art collection. See? I keep slipping into fantasy again!

I've also been trying to do the supermum/career and family balance thing with little day-to-day help apart from my husband (who has his own demanding full time job). I have kept trying, even though I know, I know, that it just does not work. At least, not without someone losing out.

So in taking time to reflecting on all this, cutting out a lot of mental clutter in order to do so, I feel that I've gone some way to getting my house in order (literally and metaphysically).

I've still a lot to do, but I'm going to try to take my time and not feel that I have to 'get it right' all at once.

Now, enough about me for a while. I'm looking for people to interview on this blog. If you know of anyone with similar interests in simple living, living mindfully, or balancing family and personal aspirations (work/art/whatever), or if you would like to put your own hand up, please drop me a line.

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Thursday, September 3, 2009


Picture: Noel Zia Lee
I realised I couldn't spring clean until I got rid of some of the stuff that was covering all the surfaces that have to be cleaned.

It's not too hard to declutter our house. Still, it took me three days.I started on Monday afternoon, going through the house looking for anything broken that I wasn't going to fix - broken crayons, pens, toys, earrings without partners, cheap costume jewellery. In 15 mins I had about 30 objects to throw out.

Then I started looking for things in good condition that we hadn't used for ages, or just didn't want. That took ages for me to get around to every wardrobe, cupboard, storage box, bookshelf, and under beds and sofas.
I was pretty ruthless.
I finished today after taking half a car load of stuff to the Salvation Army. And I've got a box of winter clothes for the garage and a box of baby stuff to keep at my mum's. Just in case :)

It makes me feel so good to have done this. It takes time, but I reckon if I didn't have the kids around I could have done it in a day.
My next step is to sort out our paperwork and all our money stuff. Next week's job.

And in the meantime I'm working on decluttering my mind as well - but that needs a whole blog post of its own (at least!).

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Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Spring cleaning


At last.

I'm spring cleaning. I'm starting with decluttering; my house, my mind, my heart and my time.

That's one reason I haven't written on this blog, or read anyone else's, for a while. The other reason is that I wrote what basically amounts to half a book in just two weeks, in preparation for leading a Catholic Engaged Encounter weekend.

I don't think I've ever worked so hard for that length of time before! It's our own fault of course (my husband's and mine), for leaving it all to the last two weeks.

So, back to the decluttering. We all have such limited hours in the day. I'm trying to revise how best to use mine, so that my time is offered in a way which is life-giving for me and for the people I love.

I'm not really sure if this blog will stay or go. I suspect it will stay, but it was interesting having almost two weeks' enforced break from the internet.

I suspect I had become addicted to having the damn thing there to look at all day long, whenever I passed the computer, which is a lot. After a bit of withdrawal, I am feeling a lot better.

So I am really keen to go very, very carefully. Perhaps there will be less blog posts but (hopefully) they will be greater quality. In the meantime, my house, my kids and my marriage need me more (not in that order of course!).

For my blog friends, I've caught up on your blogs tonight, don't have time to comment, but want to say 'hi!'

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Monday, August 24, 2009

Our spring plans for beaches, barbies and Floriade

Spring is here! Not officially for a few more days of course, but there's no ignoring that it's here nonetheless.
The mornings are warmer, wattle trees are blooming their fuzzy little pom poms of colour, and the August winds hurry delicious scents of jasmine and sweet peas along the streets from people's front gardens.

The temperature is in the 20s today, and it's glorious! (Out of the wind that is).

I feel as though I'm coming alive again. I found the last couple of weeks in this last month of winter quite hard for a couple of reasons.

We feel as though we've been constantly working, and we basically have, including evenings and weekends on a project (that I'll blog about next week) which is nearly over.

Added to that the unrelenting cold has been getting to me, my lack of a fabulous coat has really been getting to me, and my increasingly annoying PMS last week topped it all off nicely.

But now just around the corner, we see time for rest, for playing with the kids at the beach, for having friends over for barbeques, and even for going on a holiday.

My husband has a work conference in Canberra and it happens to coincide with the Spring school holidays and the annual Floriade exhibition, so we figure, cheap holiday, why not?

So much of the pleasure of a holiday, even a little one like the one we hope to take, is in planning and looking forward to it.

A few days of freedom from work and other responsibilites, picnicking among the gardens at the floral showcase which is Floriade, catching up with friends, taking a boat ride on Lake Burley Griffin, visiting Black Tower.

Ah, it's going to be great.

Any tips for the three-hour car ride with three kids under six though? Must we succumb to getting a portable DVD player?

Because I know they're useful on long drives and we could borrow one, no problem, but I'd rather not get in the habit of relying on one.

On the other hand neither do I want to play 500 rounds of 'I Spy'!

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Friday, August 21, 2009

My dinner with L'Arche

I was invited to dinner at one of the L'Arche homes in Sydney last night.

L'Arche ('the ark' in French), is a vision of community where people live together in small groups and support each other in daily life.

They include people with developmental disabilities, people of vastly different ages, religious and cultural backgrounds, and people from all over the world.

One of the women I met last night, Jemma, said that she still finds it amazing how all the house members are so different from each other, but their life together still just 'works'.

From my time there just last night, I got a couple of ideas that I would like to use in my own home. For instance, just a small thing, they had the word 'peace' to welcome visitors at the front door. And I must get their quiche recipe...

L'Arche is present in various places around the world, and supports its homes through donations. It's an extraordinary movement, founded by Jean Vanier; a man whom many people claim to be a living saint.

I'll be writing a couple of articles about L'Arche and will post links when they are up.

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Is PMS worse after having children?

Sorry guys, this is a women-only post. You wouldn't be interested, trust me.

I have been wondering if there was any evidence that PMS symptoms can worsen once you've had a few children. I've done a little research on symptoms and treatments, and summarised the best I found here.

In my case, ever since my cycle resumed after baby number three, that time of the month has been starkly evident - much more than ever before.

Before I had this gorgeous boy of mine I noticed almost nothing. But since having him, this is what I've had:

  • Lots of bloating - to the point that my dad, with one look at me, asked if I was pregnant again! (Tact is not one of his strong points, but at least you can count on him to tell it like he sees it.)
  • Moodiness - more like full-on depression and edgyness lasting around three days. I was feeling awful the last few days and fighting back tears most of yesterday, and today, guess what?
  • Pain - not so much this time, but two whole days (!) of abdominal cramps the two previous months.
The black mood is the worst. The rest I can handle, no worries at all.
But this horrible, heavy, woe-is-me, can't-be-bothered to wash a dish or pick up the phone to call a friend-mood is the awfulest of awful.

I tell myself that there is no reason to feel this way; nothing particularly bad has happened, it is probably the hormones. It makes little difference.

I had to fight back the urge to call my husband and beg him to come home by four o'clock in the afternoon.
It even crossed my mind to wonder if post-natal depression can come 16 months after the event!
Three days of that is bad enough. To anyone who lives with this all the time - my heart goes out to you.
Today, all the colour is back in the world for me. And I had a thought; what if I'm thinking of it the wrong way?
What if my PMS has always been the same; it's just that I'm a lot happier with my lot in life than ever before, so the difference is a lot more marked?
Any suggestions? Anecdotal evidence that PMS, or the experience of it, is better or worse after having kids?

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Surrounded by pink today

These two pics are from the magnolia tree I pass twice a day.

For months it was an intriguing canopy of closely woven, intersecting branches. Stark bare and knobbled twigs that looked like lace against a cold blue sky.

Now the lace has disappeared; exploded into this mauve and white brilliance.

Magnolia trees are in flower all over our neighbourhood at the moment. This one is easily the best one I've ever seen.

Some of the other trees are already sprouting bright leaves which will last through spring and summer. But this brief late-winter window where there is just this floral show, no leaves, is just glorious.

But a feast for the eyes does nothing for hunger. When we got back home I got my two youngest to work in the kitchen on that block of chocolate which has been calling to me from the cupboard for ages.

I figured making cupcakes with it was better than just eating it all by myself.

For a change.

My all-pink-clad three-year old daughter wanted pink icing on them. I used an easy friand recipe by Bill Granger and they are divine.

I used about half the recommended sugar and they are still very sweet, chocolatey, fudgy and extremely moreish. I must triple the recipe next time.

I wish I could say the icing is messy because my daughter did that bit - but I can't!

Bill Granger's easy baby chocolate cakes (published in the Aug 17 Woman's Day)

225 unsalted butter
180g dark chocolate
1+1/3 cup caster sugar
2/3 cup plain flour
2 tbls cornflour
pinch salt
4 eggs, lightly beaten

1. Preheat oven to 180 celcius and grease the friand moulds.

2. Melt butter gently in small saucepan over medium heat. Place chocolate in a large bowl and pour hot butter over it. Stir until chocolate is melted and smooth.

3. Sift flour, cornflour and salt together, add sugar and add to melted chocolate in two batches, stirring until just combined.

4. Add eggs gradually, beat until smooth.

5. Divide mixture into moulds and bake 15-20 mins until skewer inserted into centre comes out clean.

6. All to cool, turn out onto wire rack, and add icing or drizzle with melted chocolate.

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Monday, August 17, 2009

Who gave you a helping hand today?

Photo credit: D Sharon Pruitt

My 16-month old son offered me a glass of water today, which he had poured from his beaker into my glass, and carried all the way to the living room where I was.

I was surprised and impressed that he'd thought of doing it and could actually execute it. So touched. It was just what I wanted too, and I didn't even have to ask for it.

Who has given you a helping hand recently? And who have you helped?

Sometimes when I've been feeling overwhelmed by that amount of work I have to do I suddenly realise that the reason I'm so exhausted is not that I've got a marriage, three kids, a business and a house to look after.

It's because I try to do it all on my own. Even my husband and I together can't manage to do everything we think needs to be done.
Why do we assume we need to do so much by ourselves? Why are so many of us (I include myself here) such masochists and martyrs?

The best thing that happened to me last Christmas was actually a few days before, when I was feeling stressed about all the things I had to do before the 25th. I was sleep-deprived and feeling so blah that everything was out of proportion in my mind.

I was telling a friend that I couldn't do anything useful as I was stuck at home with a clingy baby glued to my hip.

"I haven't done my shopping, the tree's still in the box, the house is a tip, there are cobwebs over the windows," I went on.

She turned up with super strength insect spray and got to work with a bucket and broom and sponges. That got me so motivated. I turned up the music and we both worked like maniacs for three hours.

When she left, the whole house, including the windows, were gleaming and I was feeling much more hopeful about all the other things that had been bothering me.

It wasn't really a clean house I needed. I needed to be reminded that I had friends who would drop everything and help me clean my house if that's what it took to make me feel better.

We all need a helping hand sometimes. And we all need to extend a hand to others at times as well.

It's so much nicer doing life together.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Writing for the web

Have you got a blog, or another personal or business website?

I recently attended a one day workshop on writing and editing for the web with the Society for Editors in NSW. I can highly recommend reading on the subject, if you can't get to a similar course.

From the first exercise Simon Hillier (one of the guys behind the popular travel websites and got us to do, my head was buzzing with ideas to use on the soon-to-be-launched website for my business, The Write Device.

I really liked his insistence on plain English and his balanced approach to SEO.

Simon said that you can stuff your webpages with key words and do all sorts of little tricks, but getting a high ranking on Google is pointless if the content doesn't draw people in and give them what they want quickly.

This was a refresher for me; I covered this stuff at uni in my journalism course. But that was a while ago now. So it was great to get some new knowledge, ideas and inspiration.

I'm sure it will help me in my own business and also add value to my clients.

I could say more, but I've got to finish writing my website copy!

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A bit of nature makes city-dwellers happier, healthier

Picture credit: druss101

A new study has proved that people are better off when they have contact with nature.

Benefits come from being in private gardens and public green spaces and even just looking at photos of them.

The study by the University of Newcastle in Australia found that people exposed to natural environments:

  • report higher satisfaction with life

  • are healthier

  • cope better with stress

  • recover faster from illness or injury, and

  • have improved concentration and productivity.

Picture credit: jimmydavao

Picture credit: Chris Gin

Ah, I feel better. How about you?

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Sunday, August 9, 2009

Running in the City to Surf wasn't so hard after all

Especially when you don't do an awful lot of running. We did a bit of jogging, before a sore knee (not mine), slowed us down.

The last time I was in a such a sea of people was last July, during World Youth Day. It is truly amazing to be part of a mass of humanity which stretches out in front of you and behind you as far as you can see in both directions.

And everyone was happy. Even the lady I saw carried off on a stretcher near the finish line was smiling.

We were among a sea of 70,000 people pouring through the streets of Kings Cross down to Vaucluse and Rose Bay, across to Maroubra and down to the gorgeous Bondi Beach.

It feels good to be able to cross something else of my list of things I wanted to achieve this year.

I didn't want to be encumbered with a camera. It turns out I could have brought it after all.

There were so many fantastic photo opportunities today. One picture I would have taken was of the piles of empty plastic cups that had been tossed down at the sides of the road at every drinks station.

I'd been under the impression that the drinks stations were places where people could refill their bottles, not contribute to tons of plastic unnecessarily going to landfill.

Anyway, there are some photos from the day up already on the Sydney Morning Herald's photo gallery. Enjoy, and get inspired for next year!

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Thursday, August 6, 2009

My interview with Julie Goodwin, the first Australian MasterChef

I jumped at the chance to interview Julie Goodwin and her family for the Broken Bay News, an Australian Catholic diocesan newspaper and website.

Julie was the popular winner of MasterChef, which was the most successful reality show on Australian TV this year so far.

So I was more than interested in the chance to meet and speak with her. Better still, as we tried to find a time that was mutually convenient for us to meet, it seemed as though I might even land at her place at around dinner time.

But although that wasn't to be, I still enjoyed chatting with Julie and her husband Michael about what it was like to participate in the show, how they feel about the win, and about their Catholic faith and church-based community which sustains them.

Their young boys are very proud of their mum and are coming to grips with their sudden fame, but I found that there was a quote or two which I judged a bit too personal to include in the story.

Children just aren't as guarded as adults, they don't filter their answers as we do. They don't know how the media works. So I feel that in order to be fair sometimes it's appropriate to be a bit conservative, if the opportunity allows, when it comes to reporting what children say.

The other extreme is when you have to interview kids who will only speak in monosyllables, or say 'I don't know'.

Ah kids, what can you do?

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Monday, August 3, 2009

People watching at the zoo

Photo credit: jennifrog

I love Taronga Zoo. I took my two youngest children there last week.

It’s like a little piece of Australian bush in the city except that you can also find zebras, lions, giraffes and elephants, turkey and hawks and hundreds of other wonderful creatures there which you can't find in the bush or the outback. Hopefully not anyway.

You get spectacular and unique views of our gorgeous harbour and cityscape. The Concert Garden is always beautiful.

And there is Luk Chai, a new, playful little elephant calf there, the first born in Australia. And cheeky chimps. And sleek, muscular snakes, possums and wombats and little monkeys that dangle from the trees almost over people’s heads.
(I could go on but I’m reminded here of the fantastic zoo description in The Life of Pi, and so I’d better stop before I embarrass myself any more.)

Neither of the littlies had ever been before. And it was the two of them, more than the zoo's residents, I watched and was entertained by.

I was pretty confident Hannah would love it (you can never be too sure with kids) but my big surprise was that I didn’t’ expect little Joey would enjoy himself as much as he did.

He wasn’t content to stay in his stroller when I lifted his sister to peer over the enclosure rails; he really wanted to see all the animals too.

He exclaimed over the peaceful giraffes and the new baby elephant, he cooed at the rabbits and guinea pigs, and he ran his eager hands along the rugged stone walls which graced some of the pathways.

Most of the larger animals are in enclosures which are designed to approximate their natural environment as much as possible.

But we got to see many up close. In some parts, such as the Wild Australia section there are really large enclosures for people to walk through and get up close to animals such as wallabies, kangaroos and a huge variety of birds from humble budgerigars to huge emus.
Hannah was keen to see kangaroos, koalas and rabbits, and so I made sure we saw them at the end so she was content go home. We spent two and half hours there, walking up and down inclines for much of it.

"My legs are getting sore, mummy!" She cheerfully exclaimed a couple of times as she stamped up particularly steep bits. She is such a little trooper.

I had left my camera at home, and in the excitement about getting Hannah to see the animals, after a long drive and queuing to get in, I didn’t even think of ducking into the souvenir shop near the entrance to get a disposable camera.

So I have to commit to memory the one image I really want to remember – her expression when she got her first glimpse of the first large animals, the giraffes, up close.

At least it's not so hard to engrave that little, dreamily expectant, shiny-eyed half smile on my heart.

A trip to the zoo is obviously a learning experience much as a fun one. But then any outing with my children is learning experience, for them and for me.

I usually find that they are capable of doing much more than I have given them credit for or expected them to be able to cope with.

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Friday, July 31, 2009

Better organisation = more savings and more fun. Don't let freebies go to waste!

Photo credit: mape_s

Organisation is a big key to living simply and frugally while still having fun.

For example, we're sometimes given free movie passes or vouchers as gifts and although we appreciate getting them and fully intend to use them, the last few have ended up expiring or we've given them away.

We just didn't get around to organising baby sitting, or an evening for my husband to get off work a little earlier. And sometimes the pass has just been forgotten, only rediscovered months later under a pile of papers on a bookshelf, or within the pages of a book read long ago.

So last Wednesday afternoon, when I finally took notice of a piece of card which has been in the car for ages and noticed it was a free pass to the city's zoo expiring on Friday, I wasn't going to let the opportunity get away.

I love Taronga Zoo but Friday wasn't an option and I had some work to do. So I shuffled some things around and took my younger two children for their very first zoo visit on Thursday. I packed picnic lunches and the whole day cost me $16, which was for the parking and two lollipops. It was a fantastic day.

I'm chagrined to think that if the pass had slipped down the side of the car seat into a black hole, as much of the paper that gets into our car seems to do, a trip for me and my one year old and three year old would have cost $57. Theoretically, as we just wouldn't have gone any time soon.

So the take home lesson for me was to take control of all the bits of paper that come into our house and car. Taking my cue from dozens of more organised people than me, including Fly Lady and Rhonda, I now have a home management folder with a section that holds freebies and discount coupons.

Now we don't get deluged with freebies, but that one saved me $41, and over a year a small handful of opportunites like that can add up to a lot of savings. So long as they don't go to waste through a lack of organisation.

I'm convinced that my husband and I don't have to work two jobs each and spend lots of money in order to enjoy the best our city has to offer and give our children varied and memorable experiences.

All it takes is a bit of creative thinking, and a lot more planning and organisation than we had got used to having to do before we had children.

Other strategies to get treats for free or on the cheap:

  • Strategic entering of competitions (i.e. when you have a reasonable chance of winning something)

  • Writing book, movie or restaurant reviews for your local paper or magazines

  • Purchasing The Entertainment Book or similar

  • Reading city guides such as Time Out to find out where and when last-minute discounts on tickets to shows or concerts are made available
  • Getting together with friends and family to make use of group discounts
Any freebies or cheapies you got to enjoy recently? Or any organisation tip to share which saves you money? Leave a comment and tell us about it.

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Tips to blast away writers' block

My husband gets writers' block every time he has to write a greeting card.

The minute we were married, he considered himself relieved of the job of writing personal messages on cards to his mother, sister and aunties.

And whenever I do my ritual purges of cupboards and drawers, I come across long overdue birthday and anniversary cards for 'my darling wife' and 'mummy' which are still blank inside.

I think his is a special case.

Most of the time people stall on their writing tasks because they are anxious, distracted, don't have all the information they need or aren't clear on the nature of the task or their audience. So the remedies vary depending on what the issue is that has you staring at a an empty screen or a blank piece of paper.

Life is too short to let writers' block hold you up.

These are my best 10 tips for writers' block and getting on with the job.

  1. Take a break from writing. Go for a walk, call up a friend, have a shower. Anything totally different to give your mind a chance to untie itself of all the anxious knots it's got into.

  2. Do another writing task. Write an email to that friend living overseas, blog post, or some other piece of writing which needs to be done.

  3. Treat yourself. Put on some music which inspires or relaxes you, and keep your favourite little snack nearby. I find that music, art or poetry inspire me and get me in the mood for writing again.

  4. Distracted because there's something else you'd rather be doing? Or you had an argument with someone yesterday and now you can't concentrate? Do what you need to do and get it out of your system. Then make sure you come back to the desk again.

  5. Don't try and be perfect on the first draft. Don't worry it seems not good enough, you get to edit and perfect it later.

  6. Try brainstorming. Just write down the ideas which present themselves yourself to you, then flesh out the outline later.

  7. For bigger jobs decide to write a set number of words every time you sit down to write. When I have a 800 word article to write, I like to write 1000 words fast and then take my time trimming and tightening it up.

  8. Do something else on your to do list. If you can't write anything, you can at least get something else done which will free up some time later for when you're able to write again.

  9. Be clear in your mind what it is you want to write about, who will read it, and how you want them to feel.

  10. Talk to someone who can help you think it through out loud, like your academic supervisor, co-worker or fellow writer.

This is not on the list, because it's risky, but it works for some people and some kinds of writing tasks: Leave it until the last minute. A deadline is a terrific motivator.

What do you to get yourself going again when you've stalled on a writing task?

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Monday, July 27, 2009

From running scared to running for fun in six weeks

There are two weeks to go until the City2Surf fun run, and I can't believe it's come up so fast.

My fundraising tally has reached $200 so far, money that will go to Caritas aid and development projects here or overseas.

I used be positively afraid of running. What was I afraid of? Plenty. Being tired, hurting, and looking silly for starters.

What made it possible for me to contemplate running was finding this gentle, easy eight-week training program for people with no running experience:

And using these five stretches after each session:

Well, now I've done it. But I honestly don't know if I'll continue jogging every day after the City2Surf is over.

I'm glad to be a part of a great community event, and especially grateful for the opportunity to help raise money for Caritas Australia. I'm glad I've fulfilled a little dream - which was to run, not walk, in the City2Surf.

But I don't think running is really my 'thing', if you know what I mean.

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Saturday, July 25, 2009

About this blog

Ever since my chubby little hand could form words on a piece of paper I have got enormous, heart-widening pleasure out of expressing and creating realities out of writing.

But noisy, persistent, surprising Life kept getting in the way of the book I always wanted to write. Some could say it was laziness. I say it was Life!

In particular, it sent me this guy who seemed convinced that we should be married. He turned out to be right about that. Then came a few babies, and economic necessities, a business relating to writing and communication, and a lot more besides.

So I thought I'd better stop waving Life away, appreciate its charms, get stuck into it and write about it later.

The fact is that we all have a book within us that wants to be told. We're all narrators of our lives. So I'm trying to live a life worth writing about.

Live First, Write later covers parenting, faith, food, freelance writing, art and books. Welcome.

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Friday, July 24, 2009

Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree

We had a special visitor today!

We've been hearing some kookaburras around lately, with their distinctive cackling laughter. But we haven't spotted any until I walked outside and saw this one, not in a gum tree, but our old lemon tree, a couple of metres from our back door.

He seemed very interested in watching me take photos of him.

It's not often we get to see them in our suburb, being so far from any national park. So this is a special treat. But I won't hold my breath waiting for a koala or a wombat to turn up on our doorstep.

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Why I choose a simple life

I've always believed that the less things you have the less you have to worry about.

I don't want to live life more widely. Variety is nice, but it's not what I need. My deepest desire and one real need is to live life more deeply.

I know some people are amazing at balancing sucess with family life, but I'm the kind of person who would be so exhausted by a two-house, two-career, two-car, mega-socialising, jet-setting lifestyle that I'd have nothing left to give to my marriage or my children. Or, ultimately, myself.

We sacrifice a lot to have a slower, simpler lifestyle, including the ability to own our own home. Because my income has been variable, we've relied mainly on my husband's income, which until recently has just been enough to cover our bills. We rarely get to have things we simply want.

Sometimes we feel jealous as we see most of our friends and siblings are materially better off than we are, and are buying and paying off their homes, going on overseas holidays, and dining out whenever they feel like it.

But we always come back to this: We've chosen a path which is right for us. We have three children under six years old, and I feel happy that their dad's job allows him to get home long before their bedtime.

I can drop everything and take them to the park if the weather is good. I can read them 10 books before bedtime if they want me to, and I could drink in the way my son's long lashes brushed his peach soft cheeks slower and softer as he fell asleep in my lap in the middle of the afternoon.

I have time to do some volunteer work, along with a little paid writing and editing work which I love doing.

I would love to go to exotic places, and sometimes I do. In my imagination. We have lots of trees at our place, and on windy days it might look like I'm hanging out the washing, but in my mind I'm on the edge of a dramatic cliff with the wild wind off the ocean rushing past my ears.

Even when our children are older, I know I will always be happier with a simpler life, focusing on relationships, community and on trying to live closer to the earth.

It's the only way I know I can experience a connection with my deepest self, with other people most genuinely, with nature, and with the divine.

With a nod to Rhonda at for her recent post reminding me why I choose a simple life.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Bicentennial Park and the Royal Botanic Gardens

We took the kids to a big local park yesterday to meet up with friends and have a picnic. It was a gorgeously sunny mid-winter's day.

Bicentennial Park was created in Homebush, a western suburb of Sydney only 30 years ago, when Australia celebrated its bicentenary in 1988. It's a natural heritage site, and a large part of its 100 hectares is a protected wetland ecosystem.

It also has a little lake, some modern water features, a memorial tower you can climb to look over the park and see the city views, 8kms of pathways for walkers and cyclists, tranquil gardens, a cafe and two children's playgrounds. It's popular with cyclists and families and our kids could spend all day there and not tire of it.

We watched the ducks, cranes, sea gulls, pelicans and swans around the lake, then we noticed several enormous, sinuous, finely spotted eels, gliding between the water grasses right in front of us.

They would have been a good 15cms in width, and around a full metre long. They must be used to being fed by park visitors, because they kept swimming close to where we stood on the wooden platform, their little 'noses' nearly breaking the water's surface just below our feet.

Today was even hotter, and we packed up our picnic lunches again. This time we went to the Royal Botanic Gardens in the middle of the city, and met another friend.

He didn't tell us his name, but he seemed to want us to look at something interesting over the other side of Elizabeth St.

The only notable wildlife we saw today were hundreds of grey-headed flying foxes. Although they are in plague proportions and are destroying parts of the magnificent 200-year old gardens, they are a protected native species and can't be culled. Last summer they estimated that 22,000 of them were living in the heritage-listed gardens.

The Botanic Gardens Trust wants to use noise disturbance (basically playing loud music at key times of the day) to make the bats relocate from the gardens to less sensitive parts of Sydney. Apparently a similar program in Melbourne has been successful.

Can't say I'll miss them. I'm used to seeing the little fellas, but when they are hanging upside down in clumps of hundreds in every tree you pass under, it is slightly creepy.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

I need a MasterChef for my writing life

If you live in Australia then the words Julie and MasterChef probably mean something to you.

Julie, a 38 year old wife and mother of three young boys, who runs an IT business with her husband, out-cooked and out-lasted 19 other promising amateur chefs on this popular reality TV show for the title of the country's first MasterChef.

I'm not a reality TV fan ordinarily. I only started watching this show a week before the finale, because my half-sister was having a sleep over at our place and she didn't want to miss it.

Then I was hooked, and when Julie won and described her dream (soon to be reality) of opening a warm little restaurant on the NSW central coast, where she lives, I had tears in my eyes. The result was so perfect, so tug-on-the-heartstrings that allegations immediately twittered about that it was rigged.

It's perfect because she was the oldest woman among the finalists, and she is an everywoman. She represents those mothers who have for so long put their own girlish dreams on hold in order to raise their families and pay the bills that they have nearly forgotten them altogether, or remember them without any hope of fulfilling them.

But she put her hand up for this show, got selected, spent three months in an intense learning environment with some of the country's top chefs under the critical gaze of a third of the country's population, and her natural talent was allowed to flourish. She excelled.

It inspires me, and a lot of other mothers, judging from the reactions of my friends. I think, well, if Julie can do it, I can make my dreams come true too.

I could write that book that millions of people will actually read. Then I could spend the rest of my life showering money on my favourite charities and causes and travelling the world; pray along the Camino de Santiago, sip sweet milky coffee in Vientiane, and throw my second coin in the Fontana di Trevi.

But which of us has the time, the three or four hours a day over a long period that it takes to perfect a skill, to bring out the full potential of our talents? How many of us have the guidance of mentors who are at the top of their field?

Maybe not too many. But stories like Julie's, or anyone who has pursued a dream and succeeded later in life, give me enough hope and inspiration to try a little harder. And that's all I need to be a winner.

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Monday, July 20, 2009

A conference on happiness

Next year Australia will again host a Happiness and Its Causes Conference.

The conference website says it will be focused on "the key issues of the mind and its potential, happiness, wellness and the care of others. Attendees will be drawn from professional groups such as psychotherapy, mental health, counselling, coaching and human resource management."

I'm intrigued by this conference. I was last time too, when it was held in Sydney in 2007, but I couldn't afford to go then, either. At first I wondered at the cost of attending the two-day happy-fest, $800 or $1300 this time, plus dinner and workshops.

I wondered how many of the people we would naturally expect to be unhappy could afford to go - people with chronic illness, or substandard housing, literacy or employment for example. I wondered if it was targeting, and appealed primarily to, the worried well.

What's making me think that it may be worthwhile is the list of sponsors on the website. They include organisations working in the areas of mental health and other health care and related issues, including the Ted Noffs Foundation, Beyond Blue, the Black Dog Institute, the Mental Health Associations of NSW and Queensland, the Australian College of Mental Health Nurses, the Australian General Practice Network, and Relationships Australia.

So maybe it's not so much about achieving personal happiness, as increasing the wellbeing and potential for happiness in people who face significantly greater disadvantages than the majority of the population? If so, I would support that.

The Dalai Lama was a keynote speaker last time, in 2007. His said the secret to being happy is getting eight hours of solid sleep every night.

The main drawcards this time around include feminist author and social justice activist, Naomi Wolf; Benedictine monk and director of The World Community for Christian Meditation, Fr Laurence Freeman; and Harvard University neuroscientist and meditation researcher, Dr Sara Lazar.

I'm intrigued to hear what these three people have to say. I'm intrigued about who will go to listen to them speak. Maybe I can volunteer to be an usher or something.

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Rediscovering The Secret Garden

Last night I reread The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett for the first time since I was about 10 years old. I had largely forgotten it. It's so passionate!

There's innocence, sensuality, hatred, awe and reverence, malevolence, love. It's great stuff even though it does have a wussy ending, but hey, it's a children's novel from last century after all. It's no Harry Potter. All the characters who die, do so in the first pages and you don't really care about them.

No wonder I loved Wuthering Heights when I was 17 and 18. I had been prepped for it in a way, seven years before.

There are so many great bits in it, including the passionately fierce battle of wills between Mary and Colin which ends in quiet intimacy and release (told you, it as everything). And I also love this:

'Oh, Dickon! Dickon!' she cried out. "How could you get here so early! How could you! The sun has only just got up!'

He got up himself, laughing and glowing, and tousled; his eyes like a bit of the sky.

'Eh!' he said. 'I was up long before him. How could I have stayed abed! Th' world's all fair begun again this morning', it has. An' it's workin' an' hummin' an' hummin' an' scratch' an' pipin' an' nest-building' an' breathin' out scents, till you've got to be out on it 'stead o' lyin' on your back. When th' sun did jump up, th' moor went mad for joy, an' I was in the midst of th' heather, an' I run like mad myself, shoutin' an' singin'. An' I come straight here. I couldn't have stayed away. Why, th' garden was lyin' here waitin'!

Mary put her hands on her chest, panting, as if she had been running herself.

'Oh, Dickon! Dickon!' she said. 'I'm so happy I can scarcely breathe!'

Ah! Guess I'm still a big fat Romantic after all.
Tell me, does anyone still write like this for children?

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Friday, July 17, 2009

Almond, honey and walnut toasted museli

I finally found a breakfast cereal I want to eat, a lovely, toasty, nutty, cinnamony museli I've been smothering with yoghurt and a bit of honey, and it's one of the most expensive cereals in the supermarket.

I went through a couple of boxes of it in as many weeks, and I just couldn't justify the expense. Not for breakfast time, when toast and jam has been doing me just fine for so many years. So finally got around to making up my own, with a recipe from as a guide but using what I already had in my kitchen cupboards.

It's so easy, you couldn't call this cooking. And the smell of honey-toasted nuts and oats was very comforting.

It's strengthened my resolve to find more ways of being creative with our resources so we can enjoy the good things in life (and good food is right up there in my reckoning) without being wasteful.

Hannah, my three year old, mixed together the sultanas, coconut, cinnamon, chopped blanched almonds and walnuts. I drizzled honey over and we both dotted the whole lot with butter cubes.

Five minutes in the oven at 180 celsius and the honey and butter had melted and become frothy. I mixed in seven cups of wholegrain oats and popped it back into the oven.

After 25 mins of watching, and stirring it now and then with a wooden spoon, this is the result...

Something to look forward to tomorrow morning. It's supposed to keep in an airtight container for a couple of months, but I doubt it will last that long.

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Creative recycling - Reverse Garbage

I made a trip to Reverse Garbage yesterday. It's a wonderful community resource which accepts industrial discards and sells them very cheaply to the public for creative use.

It's all about sustainability, creativity and recycling what would otherwise go to landfill.

There are two sections to the big warehouse, the bag section and an indivually priced section. You can stuff a cloth shopping bag for $5 and the bag itself is free.

I'm not especially crafty, but even I was tempted to go nuts and fill up my bag with all sorts of goodies - scraps of fabric, cardboard cones, gilt-edged plastic cylinders, spools of ribbon and cotton, cleaning wipes, posters, silver card, folders, empty CD cases, Christmas tinsel and novelty toys, and wood off-cuts.

My favourite things on offer in the individually priced section were lovely antique glass bottles for $2 each, and beautiful leadlight glass windows that had been rescued from demolition sites.

In the end I picked out a couple of folders, some CD cases and the little cones (I thought the girls might make doll's party hats out of them), and some other odds and ends and it all came to $3.

The place was buzzing. There were lots of people choosing all sorts of miscellaneous things from the large bins and there was a terrific creative vibe to the place.

As I lined up to make my purchase I overhead the volunteer salesperson say that someone had bought the "all the plastic bums" to go into an art installation. The mind boggles!

I visited the small art gallery and shop, MAD (Making A Difference), which is on the same site, and I almost bought a silver, classic-looking clutch purse fashioned from recycled drink boxes. But my sensible self reminded me of all the bags and purses I have already!

Everything on display at MAD has been created by artists and at least 75% made of materials from the Reverse Garbage co-op. The current exhibition is of modern artworks by an indigenous artist, priced from $100 to around $1000. I'd love to have any one of them on my wall.

All in all, it's well worth a visit, and if you're not in Sydney look out for similar initiatives in your area.

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Doing what I love vs loving what I do

For two days everyone has been sick with the flu at our place, except for me. Monday was great, the house was quiet because everyone was sleeping, and I could do what I love doing when I'm at home on my own.

I did a little cleaning (loving the fact that I could do it uninterrupted and things stayed clean), I did a lot of reading, a little writing, and I called up some friends for a chat and to postpone this week's school holiday plans until next week. Pretty much a perfect day at home.

But today, though they are still sick, they are all just that little bit better. Better enough to want hot honey and lemon drinks made, heat packs warmed up, meals brought, DVDs played, stories read, cuddles given, and trips made to the chemist for more paracetamol.

So I couldn't do whatever I pleased today. But I loved what I did.

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Monday, July 13, 2009

My first fun run - the City to Surf 2009

Since having my first child more than five years ago, I have admired those mothers who seem to do amazing things as well as raising their families.

Fiona Wood is one of these. She is a mother of six, a world-renowned plastic surgeon, business woman and inventor of a special spray-on skin for burns victims.

I don't have Dr Wood's kind of talent, but I have been envious of her energy and ability to make her dreams come true.

I have nurtured dreams too, but when I had two children under two, then three children under five, I couldn't forsee a future in which I had time to write an email or grate a carrot, much less write a best-selling book or master choux pastry.

Things are getting easier though as the children get older and I no longer have a babe-in-arms. One beautifully sunny day I was taking a walk down by the bay near my house, being passed by young joggers with perky ponytails and older joggers with lean frames and leathery skin. And I recalled a long-forgotten dream. When I was much younger, a teenager, I wanted to run in the City2Surf.
The City2Surf is a famous Sydney fun run and the world's largest timed one. Every year in August, in a huge community event, around 70,000 people run or walk the 14kms from Hyde Park, in the city centre, to Bondi Beach.

I've never done it before, in fact I haven't been in any kind of fun run since my school days and I had to buy a pair of joggers because I didn't have any!

But now I'm registered and I've been training for a few weeks already.

I've elected to devote my run to raising money for Caritas Australia. Caritas is an international aid and development agency that does amazing work for the poorest of the poor long after their country's crises have left the news headlines. They focus on ethical and sustainable development all over the world.

Because I only just realised I could do this, I've only set a target of $500. That's $10 each from 50 people, or $20 from 25 right? If I can raise more than that, all the better. It's so much easier to get moving on these cold winter days when I know all my effort's going to a good cause!

Please visit the Caritas website and learn about their amazing work, donate to them directly or sponsor me in the Sun-Herald City2Surf by clicking on the widget in the side bar.

And wish me luck!

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Saturday, July 11, 2009

Holiday fun with little ones - 10 simple ideas that give everyone a break

It's 10am and I'm still in my dressing gown and pyjamas, my second cup of coffee in hand. The breakfast bowls and glasses are shining in the dishrack, and I'm listening to my children talking and giggling together in the next room.

I haven't raised my voice once. The words "hurry" and "move" haven't even entered my mind and there is nothing we have to do today, the first day of the school holidays.

Ok, it's Saturday, so our two-week winter school break doesn't officially start until Monday, but it can't start soon enough for me.

Naomi, our kindergartener, has been looking forward to the break. So have I. I need a break from shepherding her through the unrelenting school term routines. I need a slower pace for a while, some white space in my days, and some time to try something new, go somewhere different.

I work from home, so for the next two weeks I'll probably have some late evenings after the kids are in bed, but I'm going to enjoy my days. I need some time with my big girl. Do nothing time, do something time, it doesn't matter, so long as it's not rushed time, squeeze-everything-that-needs-to-be-done-before-x-time.

There's a terrific conversation going on at Down to Earth about simple holiday ideas for five year olds (or thereabouts) that are fun, free, and don't involve a TV.

Naomi has made a short list of things that she wants to do: bake a chocolate cake, visit a preschool friend, and go to our local Vietnamese restaurant. All fine choices.

These are my top 10 ideas for entertaining little ones which will save you money and time, are environmentally friendly, and allow you to enjoy each others' company. You won't find a McDonald's or overpriced indoor play gym here.

Holiday fun with little ones - 10 simple ideas

1. Mess up the kitchen

Pancakes, waffles, schnitzel, pizza, cakes - many meals are easy and fun for young children to help prepare. Do something a bit different that you've been meaning to try, to make it more interesting for yourself as well. Pick flowers for the table or light candles, and do it when you've got plenty of time to spare. Washing up can be a novelty too.

2. Look at the local newspaper or your local library or community centre

These are all great sources of information about free or inexpensive events, workshops or shows for children.

3. Garden play

Look for butterflies, lady beetles, or lizards. Write names in lettuce seeds in soft, damp garden bed and in a few days it will start to sprout. Or plant some pretty flower seedlings in pots and line them up somewhere near the front door to welcome visitors.

4. Pack a picnic lunch

Meet up with friends in the park, at the beach or the countryside. Fly kites or blow bubbles, climb trees or run around with a ball.

5. Visit the library

We borrow books, toys, music CDs and DVDs at our library. We recently borrowed a book about magic tricks and taught ourselves a few.

6. Make an album or scrapbook

Print off digital photos from their last holiday or birthday party and let them have fun putting it together. Better still, let them take their own new photos. Or give them some old magazines, toy or clothing catalogues and a pair of scissors and glue for making collages.

7. Make a water fountain

Stack colanders, metal or plastic bowls and plates and then pour water over the top to make a fountain. Experiment with different ordering of objects and heights. You can recycle the water if you build the whole thing in a big tub or bucket. At the end, tip it over your plants.

8. Camp out

For real, or in a sleeping bag under a tent made of sheets or blankets on the living room floor.

9. Host a barbeque or pot-luck meal

Invite friends or family to come over during the day or early in the evening. Everyone brings a dish so it's not a lot of work, and the kids can play while the adults take it easy. Get the kids to make up place cards, fold napkins, put up streamers or balloons and plan some simple games.

10. A 'we'll do whatever you want' day

Set some guidelines eg. it has to be safe, free, and local and then see what they would like you to do with them.

You might spend the day in your pjyamas doing puzzles, make a dance video, or lounging around the pool. You might eat pizza for breakfast and apple pie for dinner. Or teach your child how to knit, play soccer, or surf. Or read 20 story books two times each. Whatever you do, have fun!

Above all, take it easy, you deserve a break too.

I used to find it mentally exhausting trying to entertain the children myself with lots of little activities, one after another. Now I try to blend things we'll all enjoy into the rhythm of the day.

My best tip for getting through those long, counting-down-the-hours, days is this: Get them involved in the preparation and then the packing away, and as much walking or riding to or from activities as possible.

It also helps to break up the day into sections where physically active and quieter activies are balanced, as well as short and lengthy activities. For example, I might take my kids out in the morning and come back at lunchtime.

After that the two older ones are usually happy to amuse themselves quietly for a while as the toddler sleeps and I get a few chores done. Then in the afternoon we'll take their bikes to the park for a while, chat to the neighbours and pick flowers from our garden for the dinner table.

After a couple of busier days, sometimes children don't mind staying home and helping with little jobs around the house or with your at-home business (anything except for tidying their own rooms!). They might help clean the car, wash windows, sweep floors, or stick stamps on envelopes.

What do you enjoy doing with your children, grandchildren, or other young charges?

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Friday, July 10, 2009

Too easy lemon and walnut linguine

I've been trying to add a few new mid-week dinner options to my repertoire.

My conditions are that they have to be very quick and easy to prepare from scratch, require few ingredients, and be tasty, healthy and filling.

This pasta fits the bill. I found the recipe on the pasta packet of all places. Apologies to Stephanie, Bill, Jamie, Donna and Margaret, whose tomes are growing dusty on our bookshelf.

I've thrown the packet away, but it's pretty simple to remember:


Juice of two lemons, and some zest
1 clove of garlic, chopped finely
A couple of handfuls of fresh parsley, chopped
1/2 cup of olive oil
1/2 cup of freshly grated parmesan cheese
4 tablespoons of walnuts, or a little more, roughly chopped


Heat the oil in a pan, add 2 tablespoons of walnuts, and the garlic and half the parsely and cook
for a minute or two. Then take it off the heat.

Add the lemon juice, zest and the rest of the walnuts, and stir them in.

Pour over 500g of cooked pasta, add the rest of the parsley and the parmesan, salt and pepper, and serve with a salad and crusty bread (I toasted some onion and olive bread from the supermarket).

It fed two adults and three children and there was enough left over for lunches the next day.

What's your favourite 'too easy to cook from scratch' dinner?

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Wednesday, July 8, 2009

I Choose Happiness

Meagan Francis has a blog I've been following, The Happiest Mom, which is about how to a large extent we can choose to be happy (at least, that's my reading of it).

Recently she wrote about those times when something happens which makes you angry, and then, after a while, you have a choice to either get over it or feed the negativity.

She says: "I am convinced that a huge percentage of marital discord and parental bitterness comes from people making a choice to stay angry or disappointed or disgusted or resentful."

"I know because I’ve made that choice myself, many many times, especially early in my life as a mom and wife," she continues. "And it has never, not once, made my day better, improved a relationship, or given me any real, lasting satisfaction. Now I go out of my way to make the other decision: the decision not to nurture the annoyance or resentment, to forget about the self-pity."

I've had a choice like that this week.

It's been freezing, rainy weather here. The dampness and darkness in our 80-odd year old rented house is more noticeable during winter as well. On Saturday I found that a couple of boxes in the one built-in cupboard in the house, which is adjacent to the bathroom wall, had grown mouldy. The laundry wall and ceiling is starting to blacken and needs a good scrub down as well.

Now, I have a problem with mould. A big one. You could almost say I have a phobia about it.

The very thought of some black, stinking, rapidly reproducing mould colonies sending out their posionous little spores to be sucked up into our lungs while we eat, and work and relax, and play and sleep, makes me feel sick.

The fact is that our rent is cheap for the relatively well-to-do area we live in and we don't want to spend the money to move right now. We live in quite a humid, damp little pocket of Sydney - a former swamp area in fact, which I didn't know when we moved here.

I should have been tipped off by the fact that almost every tree along our street has patches of furry green bark - because algae and mould grow on them all year round (see picture above).

The nasty cupboard discovery would have been the last straw that sent me in a spiral of alarm, frustration and despair, except for one thing - that's what happened to me last winter, our first winter in this house.

And I will not let my peace be disturbed by those filthy little spore breeders this time.

Psychologists know that a large contributor to people's feelings of happiness is their perception that they have some control over their lives. When, one afternoon last winter during the first spell of rainy days we had in this house, I found that mould had started growing in our kitchen cupboards, under our sofa cushions and on some of my clothes and shoes, I freaked out. I got angry, and then depressed.

What I felt was a lack of control. I felt that we were stuck in an unhealthy house because we couldn't afford a decent rent, because we couldn't manage two incomes and had a bunch of unavoidable extra expenses. I felt frustated thatI hadn't nipped the problem in the bud, because I couldn't keep up with the housework (with a newborn baby and two little children underfoot all day and no day-to-day support apart from my husband).

I was afraid all our stuff would be ruined in a matter of a few more rainy weeks and we couldn't afford to buy new beds, new furniture and clothes. And I obviously couldn't control the unrelentingly wet weather. I felt angry at myself and my husband.

That was not a nice couple of weeks. But I found that we do have some control. We could always move to a cheaper suburb, or rent a newer apartment, instead of an old house.

Or we could stay and fix the problem. Which is what we did. We spent a weekend hauling everything out of the cupboards, washing everything that was musty, and throwing out a few things that we hadn't been using anyway. We ran the fans on humid, still days to improve air flow. We asked the agent to send someone out to check for leaky plumbing. Then we kept on top of the housework with better organisation.

It worked, until this rainy spell. But at least this time I know that it's a containable, and above all, a controllable problem. And I tell myself that there is no reason to allow a couple of mouldy boxes to elicit sinking feelings of personal, professional and financial inadequacy.

Instead, I've decided to see the reappearance of mould in the house as a great excuse to step up our regular cleaning and de-cluttering practices, in readiness for when we do, in the not-to-distant future, get to move into a house of our own, or a better rented one.

There's much to look forward too, and I can certainly look forward to chalking all of this up to experience.

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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Paintings I Love

I came across this artist, Peter Orum, in an article in my local paper. His current exhibition in Sydney is a series of semi-abstract urban landscapes.

He's launched a website for artists, which has more than 40,000 artworks online in what he says is a kind of Flickr for paintings. Artists can exhibit their artworks for people to comment and vote on.

But I what I really like is this, At Kings Canyon, from Peter's own photoblog.

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Monday, July 6, 2009


I didn't realise that my writing on this blog was making any impact on the kids, but it obviously has.

Three months ago, in the last school holidays, I helped my five-year-old daughter Naomi plant up a small pot with miniature jonquil bulbs.
As the weeks passed, she was excited about every little change she noticed in the pot. She counted the little pale green nubs that pushed up from the soil, watched the first slender leaves grow tall and others shoot up, and marvelled when the first flower stems emerged, crowned with clusters of buds tightly wrapped in a tissue paperish sheath.

Next week is the start of the next school holidays, and yesterday she screamed for me from the backyard. It was the first perfect, gorgeously scented, jonquil flower.

"Take a photo for your blog, mum," she said. And she wouldn't move until I went inside to get the camera, took a couple of pictures, and promised to show it off here.

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Sunday, July 5, 2009

NAIDOC week 2009

ULURU AT SUNSET. Photo by bobster855

This coming week, from July 6-12, is NAIDOC week. NAIDOC stands for National Aboriginal and Islander Day Observance Committee.

It's a celebration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and an opportunity to recognise the contributions of Indigenous Australians in various fields.

Ceremonies, seminars, exhibitions, author talks, film screenings and other activities will take place across the nation and all Australians are encouraged to participate.

The theme for NAIDOC Week this year is Honouring Our Elders, Nurturing Our Youth.

When I think of Australia's Indigenous people the cynical, or perhaps the despondent, part of me wonders whether there is all that much to celebrate about the extent and nature of Indigenous participation in our broader society and culture.

Our country has a mixed record when it comes to the way we have interacted with our native peoples, and I would say that most of it is pretty bad.

Reports consistently point to significant, sometimes huge gaps between Indigenous Australians and the rest of the population on most socio-economic measures including health, education, home ownership and rates of incarceration.

Modern Australia has taken on much which is valuable from the cultures of many immigrants over the past 200-odd years. In recent decades, we have enthusiastically embraced elements of culture that has been introduced here from Europe and the Mediterranean, and from Asia.

Lots of kids that I grew up with had parents or grandparents who came from Italy. My dad came by boat from Mauritius and my mum's grandparents came from Wales. My husband's parents came here from India. Our children are growing up with kids whose families hail from all over the world (coincidentally though, mainly from Italy again!). This genuine multiculturalism is a big part of what I love about Australia.

But largely unheard are valuable soundings from the traditional Indigenous ways of life; attitudes around respect for the natural environment, respect for elders, resourcefulness, and a style of life which places pre-eminent importance on community, family, and spirituality.

Many have said, including Pope John Paul II in his historic speech at Alice Springs in 1986, that the key to a coherent and genuine Australian identity lies in the engagement with and acceptance of the ongoing contribution of Indigenous Australians by the broader society.

Here is my list of four events and people who are signs of hope for an integrated Australian identity, one which includes genuine appreciation of our indigenous people, their histories and cultures.

1. Tania Major

Tania, an indigenous youth advocate, was named Young Australian of the Year 2007 for her efforts in addressing the issues involved in the welfare of young indigenous people.

When she was 22 years old she became the youngest person ever elected to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Commission (ATSIC).

She's passionate, driven, and wise beyond her years. She spoke about her advocacy work and her own life story in a TV interview on Enough Rope with Andrew Denton.

2. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's apology to the Stolen Generations
Does it matter what the motive was? Whether it was prompted by self-serving politics, a genuine desire for reconciliation, or a mixture of both, many people who needed to hear words of acknowledgement and apology from the country's leader in order to begin to heal, did so. It was a great day for the country.

3. Indigenous artists such as Bronwyn Bancroft and Matthew Doyle

They are two of many artists whose work spans traditional Indigenous and contemporary cultures.

4. Pope John Paul II's 1986 speech to Indigenous Australians at Alice Springs, which also includes this message:

Your culture, which shows the lasting genius and dignity of
your race, must not be allowed to disappear. Do not think that your gifts are worth so little that you should no longer bother to maintain them.

Share them with each other and teach them to your children. Your songs, your stories, your paintings, your dances, your languages, must never be lost.

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Friday, July 3, 2009

Vincent Van Gogh and me

I know they're not sunflowers, but does this photo of mine make you think of something?

Just a little bit?

What about this?

If you like modern art the Vincent Van Gogh Gallery website is worth checking out because it's just so pretty to look through. It also has info on Van Gogh's life and paintings, and you can purchase prints of his famous and lesser-known works.

I like the section with some quotes of his. I love these two; the first because I think it's so true, and the second, well it's true for me too (sans the pipe, and depending on your definition of a 'fling').

"A good picture is equivalent to a good deed."

"To do good work one must eat well, be well housed, have one's fling from time to time, smoke one's pipe, and drink one's coffee in peace."

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Thursday, July 2, 2009

People you meet

He used to play professional rugby league, he was a surfer and a cricketer, is still a golfer, and before he entered training for the Catholic priesthood he liked a dance with the girls and a beer with the blokes (actually, he still enjoys a beer).

He's funny and hardworking, and Fr Vaughan has seen a large part of Australia's history since colonisation; 90 years out of 211.

During World War II he ran for his life when the Japanese sent submarines to bomb Sydney Harbour. He has made engagement rings and officiated at weddings, visited the sick, consoled the grieving, buried the dead, cuddled babies, bit his tongue, read poetry, and always said his prayers.

See here for my article on Fr Vaughan in the Broken Bay News.

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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Win-win sweet potato and pumpkin soup

This was all that the kids left from last night's dinner. You know when everyone is silent at the dinner table that there's something special going on with the food.

It gives me such a feeling of satisfaction to be able to feed them good, tasty food that they enjoy. And the best thing is that it is so incredibly easy to get such a yummy, smooth, richly coloured result that fills us all up.

It's just a bit of chopping here, drizzling with olive oil there, and sticking in the oven (I always roast the veges for a richer flavour). Later on a few seconds of pouring and stirring. Then just before dinner, a bit of blending, and voila! It's done.

Here's the recipe I used originally. I used to use it as a guide and now I just wing it with a nice pumpkin and sweet potato or two, an onion and a bit of garlic or ginger plus some thyme or rosemary or whatever I have in the garden. It's easier and it means that every time I make it my soup is a little bit different, which I like!

Also, I omit the milk or cream because I usually forget to buy it.

Sweet Potato and Butternut Pumpkin Soup

You need:

500 g chopped sweet potato

500 g chopped butternut pumpkin

4 cups of chicken stock (home made is best)

1 medium onion

50 g butter

400 g of Carnation milk OR 400 Coconut cream (garnish with coriander)

1 teaspoon crushed ginger

1 teaspoon crushed garlic

salt and pepper

Method: In a large saucepan or boiler, melt the butter. Add Chopped onion, garlic and ginger - cook till onion is clear. Add other vegetables, mix, cook a few minutes. Then add chicken stock, salt, pepper, bring to boil. Simmer 20 minutes. Cool (a bit) blend. Add in Carnation OR Coconut cream. Return to heat, bring to nearly boiling.

For more intense flavour roast the pumpkin and sweet potato first. Serve in bowl with crusty bread. Add a good dollop of sour cream (or natural yoghurt) and a garnish.


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