Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Little things...

My older daughter seems to know more about recycling than me these days. Every classroom in her school has recycling boxes, and they are encouraged to bring food in containers not disposable bags. My 4 year old in kinder told me about collecting old phones to save the gorillas (I'm still not sure how that works).

At home we recycle, but I have noticed (as I'm the one constantly restocking them) that we go through packets and packets of paper napkins. My six year old is fastidious about having a clean face and my two year old is, well, a two year old, constantly spilling and dripping food all around her which we are hastily wiping up with a ready paper napkin.

So after reading this post on Soulemama, I knew it was time for a change...time for cloth napkins.

And, another reason to browse Etsy...till I found these and these. These beautiful hand crocheted napkin rings are made in Portugal, not too pricey and easy to use for little hands (that I continually request to set our table, mood permitting), colourful and appealing. I will try them with some neutral linen napkins. I think they'll add some more colour and vibrancy to our table.

PS. I played this game with the girls this afternoon at dinner. Each card had the beginning of a sentence which we had to complete, in turn. Eating with a tired, sometimes cranky team of girls aged 2, 4 and 6 years old can be a tad hectic with occasionaly meltdowns. I'm always trying little things to distract them and create a pleasant time at the table...and this was a little fun today. Questions like 'My mum/dad is good at.....' - Yasmin responded, 'My mum is good during reading time' and 'I like when my family' - Layla 'hug and play with me' put smiles on my dial.


Monday, April 26, 2010

Top 5 Australian kids books

I've written before about our love for books in this house - the reading nook is still being used daily, and we continue to frequent our local library every few weeks.

One of the best presents I received when I had my first baby was a bundle of books. Among all the tiny jumpsuits and baby blankets, knowing my tiny baby would grow to be a 'kid' and read books gave me some light at the end of that intense, overwhelming newborn stage. And, what a wonderful idea to help start a baby's book collection from birth.

With now three girls in our brood, our love of books is evenly spread. The older one reading to us, the middle one choosing her own books for me to read to her, and the little one reading (in her special way) to anyone that cares to listen.

So, in honour of Anzac Day, here's a round up of our tried and tested, sure-to-be-a-hit, homegrown Australian kids books.

1. Where is the Green Sheep, by Mem Fox. Each of my girls, turn by turn, has loved this book. You will find it in kinders and schools across Australia. Simple and charming.

2.Window, by Jeannie Baker. Beautifully and meticulously illustrated through collage, this book (part of a series with the same message) shows how over time, the same view from a window changes through environmental degradation. This book has no words, so you can have a nice chat with your child as you are turning the pages. We also have Where the Forest Meets the Sea.

3. The Potato People, by Pamela Allen. This author also writes the Mr McGee series which my girls also love. Less words and big pictures create an easy to follow, but funny, story that toddlers and older kids will like.

4. Chatterbox, by Margaret Niland. Little Daisy wouldn't talk even though her mum, dad, brother and nan coaxed her all day long. Cute, whimsical illustrations and adorable story.

5. Hairy MacLary, by Lynley Dodd. Again, the rhyming words and sweet stories with various animals are loved by kids. While I can't claim this book as Australian (the author is from New Zealand), it's also popular here and there about a dozen books in the series.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Travelling with little people

We've done our fair share of travelling with our kids; planes, car trips, multi destinations, Asia, Middle East, Australia. I've learnt some tricks (and lessons too) and some must haves. I normally start preparing a week before we go. Here are my tried and tested tips.

1. I pack everyone's clothes into separate small bags. I use those cloth supermarket bags for each person. Easier to pack and unpack, and clothes don't get mixed up. For the kids, I've created little tags to tie on with their name or a picture so they can recognise their things.

2. For kids that may be fussy about their clothes, I show them what we are taking. I explain we need clothes for 'playing' not fancy clothes when we travel. The less you take, the less arguments.

3. Take spare socks instead of slippers or uggies for the mornings/evenings.

4. Pack layers in case of cooler weather.

5. If your bedtime routine includes books at home, take books with you. Mr Men's are good because they are small and light. You will also need books for reading on the plane.

On the Plane/Car Trips
1. Food, snacks and emergency lollypops. Things in small packets are good; crackers, sultanas, biscuits etc. When the kids start to get crazy (and the seat belt button is on), I've been known to hand out the treats. Chewing gum is good too for older kids.

2. Take your own drink bottles. Everyone gets thirsty on planes (and the food tends to be saltier) so bring your own.

3. Bring some spare clothes (for you too) in case of accidents/spillages. I learnt this after Zahara threw up all over my husband at 6 weeks of age on a flight to Queensland. And so on. Take baby wipes with you AT ALL TIMES. Same for disenfecting hand lotion and disposable baby change mats.

4. Keeping the kids occupied will be your greatest challenge. My rule on the plane - you can watch as much TV as you want. Bringing a portable DVD player with some favourites will make your life a whole lot easier.

5. Suggested activities - stickers, playdough, colouring in, colouring books, making a travel journal (older kids), some sticking activities (use a glue stick, not runny glue), beading etc. You can make the kids a little backpack or small bag with made up activities ready. Print out colouring pages from the internet (see this post).

6. Be prepared. Print out everything! Hotel confirmations, itineraries, websites of places you are going to visit, copies of passports etc.

7. Bring some games/activities for rainy day moments too. Depending on your kids ages, games like Uno or board games are great to kill boredom.

8. It will be tiring, but you can still have enjoyable moments. Try to keep your cool. Remember you are pushing your kids out of their comfort zone so cut them some slack if they meltdown. Kids still need plenty of fresh air and running around so make sure you build this in to your daily routine as well.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Letters for colouring in

I came across these beautiful letters for colouring in. I will often print out various colouring pages from the web before a trip, and the girls always love it. We've done Mr Men, Charlie & Lola and now, I've discovered these. And of course, what's better than colouring the first letter of your name? When you're six? Not much.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Meatless Monday

Today's menu was simple. Tomato soup with rice and crackers and goat's cheese. Followed by snacking on dips and cut up vegies while doing some art. Followed by strawberries and cream (whipped with some vanilla essence and a little brown sugar).

Tomato soup
1. Prepare full tray of halved tomatoes, drizzle with olive oil and salt and pepper.
2. Roast for 45mins at 180 degrees celsius.
3. While tomatoes are roasting, grate two carrots.
4. Pick leaves of basil stalk. Finely chop basil stalk.
5. Lightly saute carrot and basil stalk in olive oil.
6. Remove tomatoes from oven. Preferably let cool slightly and remove tomato skin.
7. Add to pot with carrot and basil stalk, add stock and bring to boil.
8. Add tomato puree (or called passata), salt and pepper and sprinkle of brown sugar.
9. Simmer for 30-40 mins
10. Add handful of white rice and simmer till rice is nice and soft.
11. Garnish with basil leaves and enjoy.

We ate ours with goats cheese and crackers. While my head was turned, Zahara decided to moisturise her hands with the goats cheese. Awesome.

Dinner was followed by more party preparation. This time, painting some cut out pigs. These will be strung on fishing wire and hung up to decorate Zahara's little farm party. The two older girls also continued making paper chains. Pink for Layla, and multi coloured for Zahara.

We make as many of the decorations as we can. This gives the girls a sense of purpose leading up to the party and hopefully a feeling of pride when we put all our decorations up the night before the party.

In this way, preparing for birthday celebrations also becomes a shared family project and hopefully, encourage everyone to share the excitement and anticipation of a birthday.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Happy Sunday

I'm never sure which is more tiring, the Monday to Friday school, pick ups and afternoons routine, or the relentless, intense family time together on the weekends. The weekends are definitely less lonely of course, with a partner to share the load, but still nonstop. I tend to spend more time with my older girls and let my toddler spend some fun time with her Daddy.

Here are a few things we try to do on the weekends:
1. Stay home. Let the girls stay in their pyjamas and draw, paint, play Uno or whatever. They seem to love doing this Sunday mornings.
2. Make french toast Sunday morning with left over Challah from Friday night dinner. Yum.
3. Compare milk moustaches and crazy hair during breakfast.
4. Eat nice, homecooked food together. Today I used my Thermomix to whip up some homemade dips. Tzatziki, beetroot dip and smoked trout dip were served with cut up vegies and crackers. Yum. And definitely going on an upcoming family brunch menu.
5. Play in the garden for hours. Play in the sandpit, water the plants and let the girls be as free as they like.
6. Get pizza home delivered on Sunday afternoons and eat in the garden. Enjoy the unseasonal warm autumn weather.
7. And after all that, put the girls to bed by 6.30. I'm pooped!

Hope you had a lovely weekend.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A reading nook

When I was a child, I loved books. And now, as a mother of three young children, it's one of the fundamental things I want to pass on to my kids - a love for reading. We read to our kids every night before bed, to all three girls. It's been a long standing part of our bedtime routine. My eldest likes to fall asleep with a big pile of books on her bed too...she reads them after we have said goodnight till she is sleepy enough to tuck herself into bed.

So everytime I came across a display book corner, like this one on OhDeeDoh, I drooled a little and then I sighed...because we have no available corners in our house.

I've realised things have to be at kids eye level for them to access and use toys, arts and crafts and books. And books that are lined vertically with only spines showing fill our bookcase neatly, but don't entice children to lovingly browse their books.

But, one lonely night on Ebay, I came across an inexpensive canvas book display shelf, and it was perfect. A few days later, this little baby was up and running in our study. My two little ones especially have taken a liking to our new little reading nook. They sit together but mostly read separately, and it's lovely to see. We change the books every few days. It works!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Etsy time to shop

I found some darling prints the other day on Etsy, and am now eagerly awaiting their arrival from the States to our home. I've mentioned my love for Etsy before. Well, I do still love it, even though it can be time consuming to trawl through all the items. But I found these prints and, well....they had me at hello.

I will let you know when these precious little pictures arrive. I'm not sure where they will go yet, but I'm sure we'll find a cosy nook.

Happy Tuesday xxx

Meatless Mondays - Lentil soup

Here is a recipe for a delicious, hearty and nutritious soup I have made many times before. My kids love it and with today's chilly autumn weather, enjoyed a nice warming dinner.

It's from one of my most used cookbooks, The Greek Cook by Rena Salaman. I've had this cookbook for years and it contains some of our favourite recipes that I have made many times over. Today's was lentil soup. Here is my adapted recipe.

Lentil Soup
Bring 275g of brown red lentils to the boil uncovered, and cook for 3-4 mins. Strain and discard water.
Gently fry one sliced onion and one large clove of garlic in some olive oil. When they start to caramelize, add one thinly sliced carrot, two cans of chopped tomatoes, 1/2 teaspoon of dried oregano, 1 tablespoon of tomato paste, 4 cups of hot water. Season and cover, cook for about 30-40mins on a simmer. (I was out of dried oregano and used chopped continental parsley instead. Just as good). We often eat this with goats cheese and crackers.

Today, soup was served with spinach and cheese borekas.

My little one had her first full day of creche today (2 weeks of school holidays might have made both of us ready) so I cooked for about 1.5 hours today. I try to fill the fridge with as many homemade dishes, soups, salads and dips when I can. These are used for school lunches, lunch for Zahara and I at home, lunch for Gill for work and snacks.

I made another favourite today which is great for brunch. Here's the recipe for a delicious egg dip. I often make it when we have brunch with friends or family. A lot of the preparation can be done the night before to make it quicker. I have also made it with Yasmin and Layla and they can make the whole thing (under instruction of course).

There are only a few ingredients, but they are key.

Moran's Egg Dip
Gently and slowly saute one chopped brown onion in one tablespoon of butter. Stir occasionally. You can leave this for 10mins on a very low heat. The onion will caramelise and taste sweet and delicious.
Boil dozen eggs. Plunge straight into a bowl of cold water to cool down.
Peel eggs and slice in egg slicer. I slice them both ways to get them chopped small.
Add about 2-3 tablespoons of American kosher mayonnaise. Using scissors, snip some chive into your egg dip. Season with salt and pepper. Enjoy!

Happy Meatless Monday!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Hold on tight it's birthday season!

May is a super busy month in our house. Zahara turns 2 on May 6 and Layla turns 4 on May 14. As well as that, we also have my birthday (but no party for me!) plus Mother's Day.

Over the last few years we have created several birthday traditions which are very meaningful but simple in nature.

On the actual day of the birthday, the birthday girl comes downstairs to a beautifully decorated kitchen table, with a birthday banner, monogrammed birthday crown, and birthday ring. A special breakfast is eaten, a little story is told about the birth of the child through the use of the birthday ring, and presents are exchanged. I also prepare a birthday book which is a photobook of the year leading up to the birthday. This is also laid out on the table (and these are reread often).

The birthday girl gets to choose their party theme but parties are kept on the small (ish) size and several friends are invited, plus cousins. Decorations are made by all the girls in the weeks leading up to the party. Ditto the take home bags (we made homemade glittery playdough for Yasmin's magic and witches party, and decorated the house with cut out, glittered paper bats). Birthday cake decorations are chosen from our trusty Women's Weekly birthday party book.

This year, Layla has asked (again!) for a fairy birthday party and after asking her ever so nicely if perhaps she would prefer something else for a change, we are continuing with this theme. The good news is we already have a lot of the fairy decorations from last year's fairy birthday party.

The invitations became a little project for us. I purchased some fairy stencils a few weeks ago and they've been a hit for Yasmin and Layla as they have traced, coloured and pasted many fairies on their artwork. So, using some Japanese origami paper, as well as scrapbooking paper bought from Ikea, I traced and cut out fairy shapes. These were glued on to pink cardstock, and then I hand wrote the invitation details. For a bit of a surprise factor, I wrapped each invitation in pink tissue and ribbon and off they've gone in the mail.

Lovely. A fairy has been booked and the menu will be simple. Fairy bread of course, birthday cake and sandwiches and fruit. We have lots of ceramic little fairies from various $2 shops to adorn our birthday table.

We are in birthday party mode people.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Emergency Chicken Soup

My girls know that when there is sickness or even a sniffle in the house, Mummy always makes chicken soup. And I know, that while my girls eat a healthy and varied diet, they absolutely devour my chicken soup, often having a second and third helping. It is the most nourishing of foods when you are feeling under the weather, in my opinion.

Here is my loose recipe:
2-3 carrots
1/2 stalk celery
6-8 chicken thighs or drumsticks, skin off
1-2 onions
4-5 cloves garlic
one handful of chopped dill
1 x zucchini
1 x parsnip
1/2 cabbage
1/2 cauliflower

Boil chicken pieces for 30-40 mins, add vegies and gently simmer with lid on for several hours. Skim oil off before serving. Cook egg noodles separately and add into bowl.

All of us here like to add a squeeze of lemon just before eating. It's yum and really brings out the flavour. Inhale and consume.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Back from the brink....I mean, Daylesford

We came home from Daylesford one day early. We had a nice time, but Zahara had fever for days and was thus attached to me like a koala (she is finally better today). We were a little limited in what we could do as we were caring for one sick child, and trying to keep the other two occupied and out of mischief.

Highlights for the girls were definitely visiting the Chocolate Mill (Layla actually told me this before we even went), stumbling on a local market and having a ride on a vintage train, finding a couple of vintage treasures (I will post tomorrow), making it to Lark and a couple of yummy but super quick meals at Cliffy's.

Our accomodation was great, very unique, spacious and practical. Daylesford is a gorgeous town - not too small to feel too remote, and has lots of upmarket vintage stores, great cafes and stores. I would say not exactly designed for kids, but pretty nice all the less. I love the focus on healthy living, fresh farm food, and an apppreciation for lovely vintage objects.

Hope you had a lovely Easter. We are so happy to be home. And for this week....finishing off some invitations for a little girl's fourth birthday party next month. Can you guess what sort of party she has asked for?