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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