Monday, December 13, 2010

12 Days of Christmas Activities

One thing I've recently noticed about myself, is how much I look forward to events and social activities, with Christmas being no exception. Since I'm married to an introvert and a man who works physically hard for a living, I don't participate in nearly as many social gatherings/activities as I'd like to. I know for me, I'm a happier and more spirited (and less panic attack prone) person when I have something fun to look forward to.

I then had the realisation *insert lightbulb moment here* that I could essentially 'create' my own events to look forward to. This would help make every moment, even the little ones, become an exciting event that I can prepare for, involve my kids with, countdown towards and ultimately enjoy the buzz that comes with celebrating the big day.

It was perfect timing then for me to read the Super Organiser Mum's latest blog entry: Our 12 Days of Christmas. As I read through it, I knew this was exactly the kind of thing I wanted to do with my kids. Spending quality time with the kids? Check. Keeping them entertained through the holidays? Check. Having fun? Check. Creating a new Christmas tradition we could all enjoy? Check.

To elaborate a little further on the Super Organiser Mum's 12 Days of Christmas blog, I've broken the process down and added some further hints to help you create your own fantastic Christmas activity list.

1. Write a list of 12 activities - Most of my activities (see below) were copied from the Super Organiser Mum's blog, but I did add a few new ones to fit in with our schedule. Some alternative activity ideas include: Make your own egg nog, Do a Christmas jigsaw puzzle, Make a gingerbread house, Make your own Christmas wreath, Work on a Holiday Scrapbook, Make your own Christmas cards, Do some Christmas crafts, Host a Christmas Themed Morning Tea and much more!

Here are my completed Christmas activities.

2. Mark your calendar - To make this idea work for you, it helps to co-ordinate your 12 activities with local events and your current schedule. We have several birthdays and parties to attend during this period, so I had to make some of our activities work around this.

First of all, I would suggest numbering each day on your calender with 1 to 12 (shown above). Writing in any set events like Carols by Candlelight on the appropiate day. I also matched up some of our activities to work in with the kid's last days of preschool and swimming lessons so we could present their teachers with a small homemade gift. I then added a little activity abbreviation for each day before finalising our list.

If you start your 12 days of Christmas activities today, it will end neatly on the 25th. You may want to start a day earlier (ending on Christmas eve) for future Christmases, but it's up to you. 

3. Get decorating - Once you've got your activities written down and matched up for each day, it's time to make them pretty! I wrote my numbers and activities out in Publisher, found a nice font and printed them off. Then I cut them out and glued them onto some spare scrapbooking paper.

4. Make an accompanying To Do List - This is your special mummy list to write down any additional notes or instructions for each of your planned activities. Mine includes addresses of Christmas lights to look at, supplies I need to buy beforehand and any prep work I might need to do the night before.

As an extra daily activity for my children, I've also printed off a colouring in page for each day. My daughter wants to send today's colouring in picture with her letter to Santa, but our other pictures will be proudly stuck up around the house. You could also use these pictures as part of your Holiday scrapbook, incorporate them into your gift wrapping, or frame them to make re-usable Christmas decorations.

If all of this appeals to you, but you need some time to plan, simply start today with Writing a Letter to Santa. You'll find a link above for the Australia Post website with Santa's address and letterheads you can print off. If you send your letter before the 17th, you'll get a reply from Santa! Alternatively, try these Loo Roll Christmas Fairies as a quick and easy Christmas craft to get you started.

Some of the fairies we created yesterday.  Gotta love no-mess crafts!

All credit for this fantastic idea (and many others) goes straight to Jade aka Super Organiser Mum. Please check out her blog for some terrific decorating and organising ideas suitable for all mums.

P.S. Have you got a fun Christmas activity to add? Or a cool craft idea? Let me know.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Tis The Season (For Tomatoes and Berries)

A new subject that holds a lot of interest for me, is seasonal eating. Among the growing list of things we can easily do to reduce our environmental impact (and be healthier people) is eat fruits and vegetables that are currently in season.

Walk into any supermarket and you're likely to see the same varieties of fruits and vegetables on display all year long. We've grown so accustomed to seeing items like broccoli, bananas and potatoes available all the time, that most of us don't even question how they got there or whether they should even be there!

There's a number of reasons why eating seasonally makes a lot of sense:
1. In-season produce has a higher nutritional value - Produce that is out-of-season has either had to travel incredibly long distances (mainly being imported from overseas) or has been picked prior to being ripe (meaning it will only retain its pre-ripeness nutritional level). Either way, this produce has generally lost most of its nutritional content during transit since B vitamins and vitamin C break down very quickly.

2. It tastes better - Since seasonal produce doesn't need to travel as far, it arrives to its final destination (and ultimately your mouth) in a much better and much fresher condition. Put simply, fresher produce = better flavour. There's no denying that eating something that is perfectly ripe, grown in the right season, during peak weather conditions is going to taste several times better than an imported or artificially ripened version.

3. It saves you money - In-season produce naturally grows more abundantly, meaning you pay less money at the checkout. As someone who has previously shopped at the supermarket and is now a farmers market convert, I can personally vouch for the markets being more affordable and offering a better quality product. Since I'm also paying in cash at each stall, I give each purchase careful thought about IF and HOW it will get eaten before buying. This also means reduced food wastage at home.

4. It's better for the environment - Since in-season fruits and vegies require less resources (including heating/cooling/lighting/pumped water/chemicals) to flourish, they have a remarkably reduced impact on our environment. Local food also uses less fuel, transport and refrigeration energy.

5. It may prompt weight loss - Eating seasonally means you'll be eating foods that mother nature intended you to eat during that particular season. Fruits and vegetables produced in one season can often have significantly different nutritional values than those produced in the opposite or even following season. This could suggest, for example, that eating winter vegetables designed to help your body store fat more effectively can encourage weight gain when eaten in summer and other seasons since you'll be storing fat all year long. There's also the issue of taste. If in-season produce tastes better, you'll naturally be more inclined to eat healthier.

6. You'll reduce your chemical exposure - Locally grown, seasonal produce doesn’t require any genetic altering to make it withstand long journeys, needs little to no pesticides, no artificial growth hormones, no artificial ripening, has less exposure to exhaust fumes (from transport) or any other chemicals that can adversely affect our health. Plants grown in season are growing ‘naturally’ and will automatically require less chemicals and fertilisers.

Eating seasonally really doesn't require much extra work. This handy Seasonal Food Calendar gives you a comprehensive guide to what fruits and vegetables are in season for each month. I personally keep a copy of this calender on my fridge and take it along with me when I go shopping for further reference.

To start eating seasonally, make your menu a seasonal one. Plan meals that utilise in-season produce or use the internet to help you find delicious recipes based on the fresh, in-season produce you've just brought home.

The best place to find in-season produce is your local farmer's market or road side stalls. To find a local farmer's market near you, check out this website. Buying locally also supports your local economy rather than big, international companies, and is generally farmed under much kinder conditions by farmers who value their product (and can personally vouch for it). If you must buy your produce at the supermarket, take your seasonal food calender with you to assist in buying seasonally and look for items that specify 'Product of Australia'.

As you can see buying seasonally is a big step towards a healthier, greener lifestyle. Although it's more effort for me, I do my fruit and vegetable shopping with two toddlers in tow because I want to show them yet another example of eating ethically and also expose them to lots of yummy, natural, unprocessed foods. And a fresh punnet of locally grown blueberries is a delicious and healthy way to end our shopping expedition!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Getting Organised with a Christmas Planner

First up, sorry for the delay in posts. With a trip to Fiji, my (very) big birthday bash, my cousin's wedding and the usual busy-ness (if that's a word) that is being a mumma to two toddlers, things have been a little ker-azy around here.

But, I digress.

I really want to talk to you about Christmas and more importantly, planning for Christmas since it is now officially just over 4ish weeks away.

Confession time: I've never planned Christmas before. Never even thought to actually plan Christmas before. While the basic info gets worked out months in advance, all the other crap stuff usually gets nutted out on a more last-minute kind of basis (much to our friends and family's disgust).

I really don't like enduring Christmas this way, but it's hard to stay motivated and organised when ALL of the Christmas planning responsibilites land in my lap. Needless to say, most of our Christmases end up with a very stressed me.

But not this year. Things are gonna change. And I'm determined to bring back some of the magic and excitement that is Christmas with a little bit of planning.

To get your own Christmas planner started, here's a few simple steps:

1. Grab a folder - You can use a folder, a photo album, a notebook or even a large envelope to keep all your lists in one, neat spot. Jazz up the outside... or not (I personally don't have the time nor patience for any scrapbooking/arty crafty projects). But do mark your folder with the words 'Christmas Planner'!

2. Create some dividers - Using dividers for your planner will help keep your notes a little more organised. Some dividers (and mine will) include: Gifts, Budget, Receipts, Calender, To Do, Cards, Parties & Entertaining, Decor, Traditions & Celebrations, Craft, and Meals, Menus & Recipes.

2. Print Your Lists - There are some great sites out there for free Christmas planner printables. Check out Life... your way for their comprehensive free e-book and printable lists. Organized Christmas is another great site that has probably one of the most extensive collection of Christmas planning lists you will ever need. You could seriously waste some time on here if you're an organising wanna be like me. Although I'm a little behind, I've joined up for their 6 week Christmas organising challenge, which includes daily messages and reminders (or join their Facebook page for updates). 

3. Compile your planner - Now, put it all together! File your lists under their appropiate divider and get to work. It's worth noting, you may want to keep this planner for several years. Make sure you leave room for changes or updates as needed for any future Christmas planning.

I am still kicking myself for not creating a Christmas Planner years ago. They certainly make a lot of sense if you want to create a happier, more memorable and more enjoyable Christmas with your loved ones.

And, if you're feeling particularly crafty and/or generous, why not create a gorgeous Christmas Planner for a friend or family member's gift? Granted it'll be no good for this year, but it will definately come in handy when Christmas 2011 comes rocking around in approximately one year and 4ish weeks away.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Conversation Starters... For Kids

This is one of the cutest and cleverest ideas I've seen in a while (as seen on the Quirky Momma blog). What am I talking about? A conversation starter jar for the family!

One of my basic house rules is 'We eat dinner together as a family'. I love this time because this is usually my one chance (except for weekends) to have my whole beautiful family sitting down together. It's a great time to connect with my hubby, but inbetween "eat your dinner" and "don't wipe your hands on the chair" there's not always a whole lot of dialogue going on with the kids.

This conversation starter jar changes that. With questions like "If you could make three wishes, what would they be"?, this idea encourages those innocent, wacky and funny little statements all kids come up with!

This link will take you to a page with 99 conversation starter questions listed. Simply print as is or copy them into a document and jazz them up a little before printing. Store them in a jar (like below) or other decorative vase on the dinner table and drag them out when you need a little conversation kick start. Here's some adult questions to check out for older audiences. Great for dinner parties!

P.S. Let me know what funny responses you get from your kids!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Home Learning Activities To Try

I've been spending a lot of time lately checking out all sorts of wonderful homeschooling and toddler related blogs. My quick picks are: What do you do all day (has loads of good crafty, hands on ideas for toddlers) and Confessions of a Homeschooling Mom (lots of educational, fun activities to do with your kids. Almost makes me wanna homeschool. Almost).

But whether you want to homeschool your kids or are just looking for constructive, educational ways to spend time with your kids, these kinds of blogs and other websites are a minefield of lesson ideas.

To help you out, here is a list of 5 suggested activities you can try this week with your littlies. Remember, preparation is the key. Spend a little time (while kids are in bed) to print, laminate and have all your materials ready so you can get stuck into the fun stuff during the day with your kids.

1. Letter of the Week - As the name suggests you study a different letter of the alphabet each week. There is lots of things to do under this program! To save myself some time and effort, I downloaded the Letter of the Week Curriculum from Confessions of a Homeschooling Mom for $10. This is money well spent since there are loads of activities, printables and more available to you.

2. Weather Tracker - I created my very own last night (before I decided I would purchase the LOTW curriculum with one included)! In any case, a weather tracker is an interactive way to teach your kids about the different weather conditions. My weather tracker looks like this:

I laminated it (in my laminator, which I LOVE!) and made little weather cards like this:
Obviously there are more weather options than just these two! If you are interested in my set of weather conditions plus extras, just ask :)

My temperature cards and season cards also look something like this:

The fun part was watching the kids look out the window this morning (and we even went outside through the day to check our chart was correct) and determining what weather conditions to stick on our chart (using blu tac). I also stapled a zip loc bag to the chart to keep all the cards neatly in one spot. You could use this weather tracker to expand onto other discussions and craft regarding the seasons, rainbows, etc.  

3. Passport - I'm using this activity in conjunction with the Letter of the Week program. Basically this entails looking at 2 or 3 countries beginning with a certain letter and learning a little about them. A sample page of mine will look something like this:

To make this a little more interactive, I'll get the kids to help me mark off the country's location on the big map and have a bunch of flags prepared for the kids to choose the right one based on my clues (e.g. It's got light blue stripes with a white strip in the middle and a little picture of a sun in the middle). You could also have pictures of animals with the name of the country they belong to (see below), to help with word recognition. 

You could also try making a dish that is well known to that country and put together a colouring in page with items related to that country, like this: 

4. All About Me - Aptly named because this lesson focuses on your little ones! You can help your child learn their name and how to write/spell it:

FYI - This website has worksheets on how to write each letter using the dot method shown (not the technical term). I simply copied the image and cropped it so I had the letters I needed. Also in this topic you could explore emotions and discuss appropiate ways to deal with anger or sadness.

Expanding on the 'All About Me' theme, you could create a family tree, do up a list of their favourite things and/or learn about your address. As a craft, you could create a little people's 'license'. Have their name, their photo (or a face they colour in), their address and phone numbers listed. (This is also a good chance to teach your child about where they live, in case of an emergency). A really sweet idea in this theme is making a list of all the nice things about your child. I love seeing my kid's faces light up when I tell them how much I love their sparkly eyes, their smile, their beautiful manners, their cuddles and so on. Use a small art book or exercise book to journal all this info and store related artworks.

5. Good Health - Teaching my children about good health is one of my priorities. Again, I would tie these lessons in with the letter of the week idea. Look at healthy foods beginning with that letter. When I made the mini flash cards this morning with words beginning with A, I also included pictures of different fruits & vegies. I will reuse these in my Good Health lesson where the kids will match up my clues with the right picture (see below).

Use these Good Health lessons as a way to try new fruits and vegies. Bake with them, have tasting parties or use them in your craft projects. You could also discuss body parts and exercises beginning with the letter of the week.

There you have it. Just a small sample of what I have in place for my kids in the coming weeks! Don't forget to have fun while you're doing it. Kids love learning (I know mine do) and they love spending time with their mumma (and me with them). A win win for everyone. 

P.S What great preschool learning blogs or websites can you recommend? Got a cool learning activity or craft idea you wanna share? Comment below :)

Monday, October 11, 2010

Healthy Milkshakes

After a recent meltdown about my kids fussy eating habits, I came up with a plan of attack. I did a little research regarding my kid's dietary needs and discovered (among other things) that my children only required one serving of fruit a day, minimum.

I was pretty relieved. One serving of fruit a day seems doable. My next battle? How to please two children at once, since they both have pretty different tastes.

And so yesterday I discovered the hidden potential of milkshakes. This recipe ticks all of my boxes. It includes the whole fruit (so the fibre stays in), low in sugar (unlike fruit juices), low in fat, packs a nutritional punch and there's nothing artificial.

Healthy Fruit Milkshakes:
  • 1/2 - 1 cup of fruit
  • 2 cups of milk
  • Yogurt (optional)
  • Honey (optional)
  1. Remove any skin, leaves or other blemishes from your chosen fruit.
  2. In a blender or using a bamix, puree your fruit to a runny liquid. Add 1 tablespoon of honey, if desired.
  3. Add the milk and blend together to mix well. 
  4. Add 2 tablespoons of yogurt and blend.
  5. Serve!

  • You can use soy milk instead to make a dairy free version.
  • You can use whatever fresh or frozen fruit you have on hand. Just blend til the fruit is pureed.
  • Feel free to leave the honey out or use a different sweetener, if desired. Some fruits are sweet enough without needing to add anything. 
  • The yogurt is optional and may be used in place of the honey to sweeten the milkshake. Leave out for a dairy free version.
  • These quantities are just a rough guide. Simply use whatever amount of fruit you have on hand and add enough milk to make a small drink for each child. 
  • You could add a little LSA to boost the nutritional content on this recipe. 

There you have it. Simple, delicious and nutritious. Have this milkshake as a snack between meals or as part of your breakfast. I also have a really good pancake recipe that'll I be sure to share with you another day :)

P.S. I love to hear your comments. What healthy snacks do your kids love?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Eating Less Meat

I am now heading into 7 weeks of not eating meat (although I had been eating lots of vegetarian meals before going cold turkey). Do I miss eating meat? A little, but not enough that I want to eat it anytime soon. To me, the idea of eating a vegetable based diet is still far more appealing.

I am happy to report that I am in a much better state with my stomach, which was my main reason for not eating meat in the first place. Who knew I just had to spend a small fortune on vitamins and supplements to feel better?

But even with my healthier digestive system, I'd like to continue with my vegetarian ways for a little longer since eating meat still doesn't feel right for me. Seeing that I know quite a few friends of mine are also curious about eating more vegetarian meals, I decided I would put together a list of helpful hints to help others eat less meat.

  1. Start Small - Cutting out meat in one go can be overwhelming, particularly when we've been engrained to eat meat our whole lives. Start by having one meat free day a week or by quitting one meat type at a time. Then work towards one meat free week a month.
  2. Plan Your Meals - If you're not meal planning, now's the time to start. Organise your weekly menu to include more vegetarian based meals. A little preparation means vegetarian cooking won't seem so daunting and you'll be less likely to resort to those last minute meat based meals.
  3. Know Your Nutritional Needs - Simply cutting meat out from your normal menu is not only boring, but you may be missing out on essential vitamins and nutrients that your body needs. This handy food pyramid for vegetarians will outline how many servings of each food group you need and what non meat foods you can eat for iron and protein, etc.
  4. Build Your Recipe Base - Search through your cookbooks for any good vego meals. Alternatively, the internet is a great resource for finding delicious vegetarian recipes the whole family will enjoy. 
  5. Keep it Simple - Vegetarian food doesn't need to be difficult and it doesn't require rare herbs only grown in the shades of Africa to taste good either. I personally like vegie soups and pastas since they're easy to cook, they're nutritious and my kids eat them!
  6. Love your Lentils - Lentils are one of my favourite things to cook with and eat. They're a great source of iron and can easily replace mince in most dishes like bolognaise, cottage pie,  lasagne and more. To substitute, use a 400 gram can of lentils per 250 gram of mince required. Alternatively, use 1/4 cup of dried lentils per 100 grams of mince.
  7. Get Creative - Your traditional meat based meals can be handy for providing inspiration. Try sliced eggplant instead of veal for your snitzels, use vegetable patties in burgers, use tofu in stirfries, use vegetarian sausages in casserole dishes or bake a nut loaf in place of your traditional Sunday roast.
  8. Choose Carefully - Opt for pasta sauces and filled pastas that don't have meat in them. Choose vegetarian cheeses that don't use animal based rennet. Look for vegetable based stocks (like Massels) and other food items that don't have bacon or meat in them. Or try ordering a vegetarian meal next time you're dining out. 
  9. Think of Your Health - Vegetarians typically have a longer life expectency due to a reduced risk of heart disease, a better immune system, a lower risk of cancer, better diabetes prevention, lower blood pressure, improved digestion and healthier cholestrol levels.
  10. Think of the Animals - Truth be told, I'm a big softie and a highly emotional person too. Eating a chicken, but not my dog seemed hypocritical to me and the thought of an animal sacrifising its life for me was a sharp realisation. And get this: You could save 100 animals a year with a meat free diet.

I'm no dietician or claiming to be any kind of vegetarian expert. I am just a mum who has a keen interest in nutrition, wants to lessen my impact on this earth, respect all living beings and provide my family with healthy,
nutritious meals. For further reading on going vegetarian, check out this Vegetarian Starter Kit.

P.S I love to hear your comments. Have you thought about going vegetarian? What's stopped you? Let me know!

    Friday, October 8, 2010

    Creating a School Yearbook

    If you like the idea of capturing your child's journey through their schooling years, but feel scrapbooking falls into the 'too hard/too fiddly/not creative enough/don't have enough time' basket, then you will love the idea of creating a simple School Yearbook for your kids.

    My motivation to post about this subject was given to me by the Super Organiser Mum blog. She always has the most gorgeous organisation ideas and when I saw the School Yearbook she made for her little boy, I was instantly hooked on the idea.

    Now is a great time to get your child's school yearbook set up for the beginning of the new year (while you're not flat out with the silly season). I'm also thinking these School Yearbooks would make an inexpensive, unique & simple Christmas gift idea for any mummy friends or family with school age children.

    After gathering advice from the Super Organiser Mum and Becky Higgins, below are my steps to help you construct your child's very own School Yearbook.

    1. Creating the Yearbook - Grab a sturdy A4 sized folder. The prettier, the better! If you have a plain folder, decorate the front with your child's name. Or print your own labels explaining what the folder is all about (see below) and stick them on the front. (Tip: You may need a few labels since the folder will probably hold quite a few years of schooling memories in them).

    2. Title Pages - You will need to start off with a title page for each year. Design your own, leaving room to record your child's name, the date, their grade, their teacher's name and other vital details. (FYI - Becky Higgins provides a free title page download, just print and fill it out). Don't forget to leave room for a photo of your child on their first day. Why not make your own sign (see below) to photograph with your child? (Tip: Grabbing your child's 'signature' is a cute touch, so you can see the changes in their handwriting skills over the years. I'm also inclined to leave room to record their height as well as a handprint).

    3. The Big Day - To make the most of your child's yearbook, remember you're telling a story here. Allow yourself time and room in the yearbook to photograph the little details such as your child's school belongings like stationery, backpack, uniform. Do all of this preferably before the 'big day'. Capture the moment your child wakes up, them eating breakfast, getting dressed and on the way their way to school. Note: Not all photos need to be taken on the day. Give yourself the time to comfort and support your child and take additional classroom shots another day. (Tip: Look for photos that capture your child's likes and interests at that point in time, e.g. backpack styles)!

    From this:
    To this?
    4. Throughout the Year - Designate a special occasion, theme or activity for each month. Discuss these with your child's teacher and allow yourself 2 days a month to come in and photograph your child at work and play in the classroom, the library, on stage or on the sports field. Any school photos, report cards, certificates, noteworthy newsletters and other letters can also be displayed in your child's yearbook, so be sure to hang onto them. (Tip: Write down your child's friends, their favourite subjects and any other details regarding your child's interests and hobbies at school).

    5. Bringing It All Together - Where possible, print your photos off on a regular basis so you can keep up to date with the yearbook throughout the year. Alternatively, store your photos and other documents in envelopes with the subject e.g. First excursion, clearly written on the front. (Tip: Consider finishing the year off with an autograph page or with well wishes from your child's friends and class mates).

    I am definately not happy with the idea of my children going off to school (insert sad face). Two days of preschool is one thing. Parting with my children for five days a week seems almost unbearable. While I still have one more year before my daughter officially starts 'big school', I am looking forward to the kids having one year of preschool together next year and knowing I am now going to be better prepared to document their journey from this point on!

    Ideally, this project should be fun. Don't stress about capturing every single schooling moment. Keep it lighthearted and full of love so you and your children will appreciate it more in years to come. 

    Monday, October 4, 2010

    Rain, Rain, Go Away

    Rain, rain and more rain. This is pretty much what the weather has done all weekend here on the Mid North Coast.


    Now, I don't mind a little rain. A little rain. But a constant downpour and drizzle is another story. Why?
    1. Most of us worry another flash flood is on its way (once bitten, twice shy) and 2. Cabin fever.

    Keeping my two little ones entertained during this kind of weather is hard work, but it can be fun. Continuing on from my previous post about Entertaining the Kids (read it here), a little preparation can go along way to keeping the kids entertained and your sanity intact.

    Below are some of my affordable and easy ideas for keeping your little ones busy in the wet weather. I suggest having a box put away especially for rainy days or those 'i can't think of anything else to do' kind of days.
    • Make a list of indoor playgrounds and head there. Check out your local Bunnings stores and McDonalds who both usually have undercover playgrounds to play on.
    • Have a stash of board games that ONLY come out in the wet weather. My kids enjoy puzzles, but other easy games like Snakes & Ladders, Trouble and Connect Four will also provide entertainment for the whole family (P.S. This adorable Hungry Caterpillar board game is going on my short list for the kids this Christmas). 
    • Make some playdough. This is the easy, peasy recipe I use. An extra tip: Make multi coloured playdough and entwine them together. Once your child mixes two colours together (like blue and yellow), they'll learn that a new colour is made (green). Educational and fun. Jackpot. 
    • Have a dance party. If you've got energy to burn, put some tunes on and start dancing! You'll not only wear the kids out (or not), but it's one way to get some cardio exercise done for the day. Keep it upbeat to make up for the miserable weather.
    • Head to the library, if they're open. Read some books there or borrow them out. Either way, library books are way more exciting than the ones you have at home. 
    • Fill the kitchen sink up with water and bubbles. Add some food colouring and a whole lot of jugs, measuring cups and other utensils. Warning: Place a towel on the floor and have spare, dry clothes on standby. 
    • Get baking! We normally eat pretty well in our house and if you're the same, consider making rainy days your 'triple choc brownies' kind of baking day. For something different, make cookies and stick in paddle pop sticks to make cookie lollipops.
    • Beading. Grab some twine, tie a knot in one end and bead on some Fruit Loops (or Cheerios for a healthier choice). Tie it around your child's wrist and you've got a portable, ready to go snack. 
    • Do an indoor treasure hunt. Hide yourself, hide the kids or hide some fun things around the house and get the kids to search for them. Use the old 'getting colder/warmer' method to help younger kids on their hunts. 
    • Have a family movie session. We have a spare mattress that gets placed in front of the TV and we all snuggle in with our pillows and doona. Put on a movie the whole family will enjoy, have your popcorn ready and relax.
    • Make an indoor cubby in the lounge room. Simply drape a sheet over your strategically placed dining chairs to make a quick indoor tent. Read some stories in here, have a tea party, colour in or play Barbies all in your special little fort.
    • Do a toy box clean up. Nothing gets my kids interested in their toys like mummy on a cleaning rampage. Empty the toy boxes out and watch your kids come over to 'help'. 
    • Do some art and craft. My daughter goes nuts for crafts, so have a box full of craft items and get creative. Cut out strips of coloured paper or magazine and staple, glue or tape them into circles to form a chain. You'll find plenty of other craft ideas online. Or simply do some drawing or colouring in. 
    • Deck your kids out in some gum boots and a rain coat and let them go outside! Remember: rain is only water. It will dry. Let the kids have fun and explore your garden in the rain. We find lots of worms and puddles in our backyard, which the kids are fascinated by. Have towels ready or a nice, warm bath or shower ready for them to warm up when they're done. 

    If you need to get out and have some extra coin, here's some extra ideas to keep the family occupied. 
      • Go indoor bowling. We did this yesterday and the kids had a ball. Don't forget to ring and book in advance since they can get pretty busy in the wet weather.
      • Head to the movies. Find a kids movie that's showing and go along as a family. Alternatively, just take your older child/ren and leave the youngens at home with dad.
      • Find an indoor play centre. My kids love these places, so head along, grab a hot chocolate and a magazine and chill out while the kids play!
      • Go to a cafe. Milkshakes and babycinos are popular in our family, so make a date with your kids and have a treat. 
       Having your rainy day supplies ready and some ideas up your sleeve is half the battle. That's why I suggest having a Rainy Day Box that has the ideas I've mentioned above written down and any equipment you'll need readily available. Put the box somewhere you'll remember, but not in a place where the kids can access it everyday otherwise the excitement will wear off much quicker.

      Most of all, don't forget to look on the bright side. Rainy days can be just as exciting and enjoyable as a warm, sunny day and time spent together as a family is never a bad thing :)

      Thursday, September 30, 2010

      Entertaining the Kids

      It goes without saying, I love my kids. I love being with my kids. I love hanging out with my kids. But, dare I say it? It can get boring.

      Some days I take the easy way out and I'm guilty of letting my kids watch too much TV. Yes, these times are handy for getting a bit of cleaning done, dinner prepared, writing finished or just taking a breather, but I would much rather be spending quality, one on one time with the kids doing something that we ALL enjoy.

      This is where a weekly plan will come in handy. I suspect most of my boredom is the result of not having a plan. It can be hard to be exciting and creative when put on the spot. I certainly would want (or need) a lesson plan if I was a teacher, shouldn't I have something similar with my own children?

      It doesn't need to be anything too complex, too educational or too strict. My weekly plan will have a simple mission: To help me be a better, more attentive & hands on mummy. I'll start by focusing on which 'lessons' I want my children to learn. I want to foster a love for reading, I want to encourage them to continually learn, I want them to learn nutrition, I want them to be polite, but most of all I want them to be happy and have fun. 

      So, this will be one (among many) of my missions to complete in the coming days: To create a Weekly 'Lesson' plan for my children with the goals I mentioned above included. This schedule will be pretty comprehensive once household chores, appointments and even meal times will all be taken into consideration, but as the Manager of Household Operations, I want my 'workplace' to run more efficiently.
      I want these short years before my children start school to be as stress free as possible and I want to look back on these as some of the best years of my life.

      For some extra tips on managing your household, check out this site:

      And I'll hopefully be sharing my plan with you soon!

      Tuesday, September 21, 2010

      Dealing with Stressful Situations

      More of a personal one for me. This week has been a wee bit more stressful than usual. Yesterday marked the nineth anniversary of my grandfather's death (who I love and miss dearly), which was on top of a crappy weekend. You know the kind. Where nothing goes to plan, recipes fail, kids are sick, the washing doesn't get done and things break. Sometimes because they are thrown in anger and sometimes because it's just one of 'those' weekends.

      Straight up. I'm not good in stressful situations. I panic, I cry and I cannot see past that immediate moment. I criticise myself and fall straight back into the arms of depression.

      Why is it that I'm a much better friend to others than I am to myself? I would never call my friends an idiot. I would never ask why they even bothered trying in the first place. I wouldn't call my loved ones a failure. Yet I don't seem to hesitate in dishing out the insults to myself.

      So, how does one become a calmer person? How do I re-train myself to be less emotional when something doesn't go right? More importantly, how do I not sweat the small stuff?

      Here's a collection of tips that I'll be taking on board to handle tricky situations with a little more tact:
      * Before I react, before I can let a few expletives out, just take a moment to breathe. Take some nice deep breaths, keep the oxygen flowing and keep a level head.
      * Count to ten. Assuming no one is in any immediate danger, close your eyes and count. Then assess the situation and make your move.
      * Ask yourself: Will this matter in one year? One month? Or even next week? Granted that running around for 45 minutes trying to fix a deflated pram tyre so I could take my son for an early morning walk was frustrating. But after I asked myself the question of 'does it matter?' and realised the answer was a definate 'NO', I quickly appreciated that I had quite happily spent the last 45 minutes hanging out with my little man regardless of whether our adventures had been fruitful or not.
      * Realising that ultimately, the way I react and behave is a choice I make. I can choose to throw a tanty that rivals my two year olds or I can accept the situation and deal with it. My call.
      * Give yourself a brief moment to have a pity party. Yes, life can be unfair. Allow yourself a quick cry or foot stomp, then move on.
      * Focus on the solution and not the problem. How can the problem be resolved as quickly and effectively as possible? Get a plan of attack happening and take back some of the power.
      * Call a friend and vent. Sometimes just being heard is enough to make you feel better. If not, you might just receive some solid words of advice instead.
      * Remind yourself what you are grateful for. For example, a big electricity bill is never welcome, but that's what comes with having a roof over your head and being able to enjoy some creature comforts. Things could always be worse.

      Dealing with my anger and being a calmer person is a high priority for me. Seeing my own children's quick tempers when things don't go their own way is a nasty reminder of how easily they pick up our habits. While daddy may be the cool, calm and collected one, they'll invariably learn quicker from the parent they spend the most time with. Me.

      Monday, September 20, 2010

      Finding Time to Exercise

      Ask most mothers about their fitness routine and they'll tell you it's non-existant (unless you count running after the kids as exercise).

      Previously, I had some good excuses for not exercising. I had the kids with me through the day, dinner needs to be started when hubby gets home and well, I'm just too bloody tired once the kids are in bed. Excuses. If you wanted one, I'd find one.

      I knew that I could no longer rely on my youth and fast metabolism to keep my weight in check. Eating well is a great start, but there's no denying our bodies need physical movement for a healthy heart, increased flexibility and strong bones.

      If you need a little help finding time to exercise, here's some tips to get you started.

      * Have your workout clothes and joggers ready to go. This way, you can simply wake up, get dressed and get going.
      * Do as much incidental exercise as you can. Find a car park a little further away. Take the stairs. Carry a shopping basket instead of pushing a trolley. Look for ways to burn the calories.
      * Include the kids. Go for a walk. Put bubs in the pram or baby carrier or use your growing toddler as your weights. Raise them above your head or do some leg curls. The kids will have a ball, they'll learn another healthy habit from you and is a great way to hang out together.
      * Come up with a plan of attack in your very own Health Journal. Define your workout goals and work out the steps you'll take to get there. Your goals should be specific, realistic and measurable. Write down why exercise is important to you. Keep all this information in a little book to track your progress, record your food intake and log your exercise time. Include your own before shot and if it'll help, include some images of people with a healthy body image to keep you inspired.
      * Try doing bursts of exercise. Haven't got 30 minutes or an hour to spare? Try breaking the workout into 10 minute lots. Do what you can, move on and come back for more later.
      * Join a team sports or organise a meet up with friends. If you don't want to let people down, working out with other people is a great way to stick to your exercise appointments.
      * Re-evaluate your daily schedule. I found by going to bed at a decent time, I could wake earlier and do any exercise before the kids got up. It's also a great mood lifter to know my workout has already been done for the day.
      * Find what exercise appeals to you. Love stretching? Then look into Yoga or Pilates. Love team sports? Then call your local sports club and sign up.
      * Workout at home. Do some star jumps, grab a skipping rope, do some lunges, run up and down your stairs, do some sit ups, dance. Whatever you can, whenever you can.
      * Trade exercise time with your partner, a neighbour or a friend. One looks after the kids, the other does their thing and then the next time, you swap. Simple.

      Some movement is better than none and it helps to remember that this is a long term committment. The healthier you are, the happier you are and that can only be a good thing for your whole family.

      Saturday, September 18, 2010

      Toy Box Organisation

      When organisation and de-cluttering king Peter Walsh talks, I most definately listen!

      I recently saw a mini video presented by Peter on the Oprah website outlining three steps to tackling the toy box. You can watch the video here, but I have basically summarised it for you below:

      1. Establish limits on the number of toys your children can have - You may decide to limit this to two baskets or one big tub. This is definately one rule I will be enforcing a little more since we currently have numerous baskets and tubs both in their rooms and their loungeroom.

      2. Teach children where their toys belong - This means helping your children understand that when they're finished playing with their toys, that those toys have their own special 'home' that they must be put away in.

      3. Before they add a new toy, they have to take out a toy - The 'one in, one out' rule is a great idea to ensure you don't end up with the problem of your toys breeding! It's also a nice way to teach your children about giving away to those less fortunate and teaching them responsibilty for their own belongings.

      Here's some extra tips regarding toy box management (courtesy of The Creative Mama):
      • Prior to birthdays and Christmas (or even on a regular basis) sift through your child's toys and remove any toys that are broken, have been outgrown or just aren't played with any more. 
      • Get rid of the traditional bulky toy box. My children rarely play with the toys tucked away in the big tub, probably because it's a little overwhelming for them and they can barely reach all the toys in them. A smaller storage system for toys is probably a better idea and allows kids to find toys more easily and 'try' keep the mess to one basket at a time. 
      Monkeysee also has some great mini videos on organising your children's toys.

      So, in the coming weeks I will be making some major changes to my kid's playroom including (hopefully) a bigger toy storage area. Here's some ideas that I love.

      Friday, September 17, 2010

      Fruit & Vegetable Preparation

      In one of my previous posts regarding the weekly shop (read here), I mentioned how I wash and cut most of my fruits and vegetables before I put them away.

      This not only helps reduce food wastage, it also makes eating healthy easier and for the most part prolongs the life of your fresh produce.

      Below is an A - Z list of the most popular fruits and vegetables that you can cut and store in the fridge ready for eating or cooking.

      A -
      Apples. Most apples will brown fairly quickly when cut, so leave these in their original package. Simply give them a good wash and store wherever you like. (Tip: leave them in a prominent place to encourage you and the kids to eat a healthy, nutritious snack!).
      Avocado. Leave as is, but once open store in an airtight container. (Tip: Include the stone when storing. Not sure how, but it slows down the browning process. You can also add a little lemon juice over the fruit).

      B -
      Bananas. Bananas will brown when peeled, so leave them as is. (Tip - for a delicious banana icecream using ONE ingredient, check this site out!).
      Broccoli. Wash. (Tip: Cut into florets and place in a container ready to be cooked). 
      Berries. Raspberries, blueberries and other berries can be rinsed and stored in a small container.

      C -
      Capsicum. Rinse well. Either leave whole or cut into strips and store in an airtight container. 
      Carrots. I store my carrots in the original bag, in the crisper. However if you enjoy munching on carrot sticks as much as my daughter does, you could peel a couple of carrots, cut into small sticks and store in a sealed container. (Tip: Try dipping in peanut butter. This was a great way to introduce my kids onto carrot sticks).
      Cauliflower. Wash. (Tip: Cut into florets and place in a container ready to be cooked).  
      Celery. Cut off base to seperate stalks. Take each stalk and remove the leaves. Cut into snack size sticks and wash well. Place in an airtight container. (Tip: The moisture from washing the celery will keep them firmer for longer).
      Cherries - Rinse and store in an open container lined with paper towel. 
      Cucumbers. If your fridge is too cold, these will freeze easily. I leave my cucumbers whole to make them last a little longer and keep them crisper.

      G -
      Grapes. Wash well and place in a container lined with paper towel. (Tip: Plucking the grapes from the vine will make an easier snack, but I'm sure they last a tad longer when left on).

      H -
      Herbs. Rinse well and place in an airtight container lined with paper towel. 

      K -
      Kiwifruit. Peel, cut into cubes and store in an airtight container.

      L -
      Leeks. If you know you will be using your leeks in an upcoming soup or casserole, cut the base and remove the tops. Cut the stem lengthways and slice into desired thickness. Make sure you rinse well as leeks can store a lot of dirt between layers.

      M -
      Melons. Cut open and then into bite size cubes with the skin removed. Store in an airtight container.
      Mushrooms. The exception to the rule. Rinsing mushrooms before storing can make them yucky, so simply fold the bag over and store in the fridge not the crisper. Alternatively, store in a glass container and place a tea towel or moist paper towel over the top to allow air circulation.

      O -
      Oranges. Either leave whole in your fruit bowl or cut into small wedges with skin still intact. Store in an airtight container.

      P -
      Pineapple. Cut the top off and the base so that it sits evenly on a bench. Remove the hard outer skin. Lie the pineapple on its side and slice. Cut out the hard inner core and store in an airtight container.

      Pears - Another fruit that will brown once open. Simply wash and store in a spot where they will not be bruised by other fruits. 

      S -
      Strawberries. Rinse and remove leaves. I don't hull until prior to eating to ensure they stay a little fresher. Place in an open container lined with paper towel.
      Stonefruit - Peaches, plums, nectarines and apricots can all be washed and cut into smaller pieces. Store in an airtight container.
      Sprouts - Rinse and store in a container lined with paper towel.
      Spring Onions/Shallots - Rinse and remove any ends or limp bits. Either leave whole or cut to size and store in a container.

      T -
      Tomatoes. Rinse well and store in a fruit bowl. (Tip: I once heard a tomato farmer say the biggest mistake people make with their tomatoes is storing them in the fridge. In my humble opinion, tomatoes taste better and ripen better when left out of the fridge).

      W -
      Watermelon. Slice and cut into triangles or into small cubes. Store in an airtight container.

      As a general rule, I leave my fresh produce to last when putting all the groceries away. Place the various fruits and vegetables in a strainer and rinse as many as you can together.

      While some of the suggestions above will extend the life of your fruits and vegetables, I would still recommend using any cut produce within 3 - 4 days.


      Thursday, September 16, 2010


      If you've ever had difficulties getting your toddlers ready for anything, you'll appreciate the importance of a good routine.

      You've probably seen various routine charts before and available for sale.  These might work for some people, but I wanted something that would be easy to understand and could be personalised for our family.

      I created two routines, one for the morning and one for the evening. Our routine charts use pictures, since my kids can't read... yet.

      Our morning routine is pretty self explanatory. It explains all the activites needed to be done to get out the door or simply ready for the day.  


      Our evening routine basically starts from just before dinner is served and also lets my littlies know what each step is before bed. I made these original charts back in May and some things have changed slightly, so I will be updating both charts soonish.

      These charts live in a plastic sleeve on our fridge.  It simply gets turned around depending on what chart we need to use.

      Here's how to make your own chart:
      1. Write down your morning and evening routines separately on a piece of paper.
      2. Open Publisher or similar program. Type in each step.
      3. Insert a relevant image for each step.
      4. Print and place in a plastic sleeve protector or laminate.
      5. Stick it up for all to see!

      You could create a routine chart for just about anything or use this same idea for a chores chart. Either list any chores you expect your child to complete or use a step by step list on how to clean the bathroom, for example.

      Hope this helps. Now, to get my hands on a laminator and go nuts!

      Wednesday, September 15, 2010

      The Weekly Shop

      I might be a bit odd, but I actually enjoy grocery shopping. Personally, I think it's the thought of eating all that food that excites me the most.

      Doing your weekly shop needn't be an arduous task. With a little planning, you'll not only save yourself time and money, you'll also reduce the amount of food wasted and remove the daily stress of what to cook each night.

      So here are some of my ideas to make the most out of your grocery shopping.

      1. Start the night before with a fridge clean. Remove anything dead, dying or inedible from your fridge. Also use this time to do a little stocktake of what you have available in both your fridge, freezer and pantry.

      2. Write a meal plan. I created a little document (shown below), which I printed off, and I write down all my meals for the week. On the back I have a shopping list (also shown below) to write down all the ingredients I need. Grab your cookbooks, jump online and write down some meal ideas. I plan 6 meals a week with Fridays being 'No Fuss Friday' where we eat something quick and easy. Allow yourself 30 minutes of planning. Concentrate first on your main meals, then work out your side dishes later.

      3. Go shopping. Find a day that suits you and make that your shopping day. I make Wednesdays our shopping day since I only have one child to cart around with me. I break my shopping trip into three parts with the whole process taking 2 hours. This gives me a great chance to hang out with my little boy as well as get him excited about all the healthy food we've just bought (pictured below).

      4. Now put your goodies away. Taking the time to wash, prep and put your groceries away properly is another great way to reduce your food wastage. Give all your fresh produce a good rinse and where you can, cut any fruits or vegetables into ready to eat pieces. Celery gets washed and chopped into snack size sticks, watermelon gets cut into snack size triangles and the strawberries get a wash, leaves plucked and placed in a container all ready to be eaten when hunger strikes. (An extra tip: I store any open packs of crackers and corn chips in the fridge. It will keep them fresher for much longer). In the end, my fridge looks something like this:

      You can't see my top shelf and my vegie crisper is getting a wash, but that's mostly it. And yes, I label my containers. I have a labelmaker and I'm not afraid to use it.
      FYI, the pull out containers on the top shelf there contain my condiments in one and spreads in the other. I got them from Howard's Storage World, but have seen them at Big W for a little cheaper. 

      If you've got a handy tip when doing the groceries, please let us know!

      Tuesday, September 14, 2010

      Reggie Vegie Meals

      Being vegetarian is a health move I've wanted to make for a while. For one, I don't seem to digest meat that well and then there's also the whole eating animals issue. Yep, old age has changed me.

      So it's now been three weeks since I've eaten red meat or chicken. A few experiments with seafood didn't go so well, so it's now been a week since I've eaten any animal and I'm feeling much better again. Phew.

      When I first started my journey to becoming a full time vegetarian I was a little overwhelmed with what I would cook. When you have two toddlers, two fussy toddlers, basing an entire meal each and every day on vegetables is a hard task. But with a little persistance, I have found lots of vegetarian recipes that I'm eager to try.

      Here's an example of this week's meal plan:
      MON - Turkish Tofu Koftas
      TUE - Vegetarian Cottage/Shepherd's Pie
      WED - Zuchini & Ricotta Fritters
      THUR - Spinach & Broccoli Soup
      SAT - Cottage Rolls (vego sausage rolls)
      SUN - Cashew Nut Roast with Apricot Stuffing

      I honestly don't feel like I'm missing out on anything with dishes like these. I've found my transition to a sugar free diet a little harder. I'm currently reading 'The Sweet Poison Quit Plan' by David Gillespie. I'll keep you posted on my sugar free success.

      Sunday, September 12, 2010


      Welcome to the Merry Mummy!

      If you've ever felt overwhelmed, overworked and over life, you're not alone. I've been there. And it's not fun. Crying for no reason, yelling at the kids, snapping at my husband and dealing with anxiety attacks is not how I pictured my life. Something had to give.

      This blog will follow my journey as I go from stressed mama to merry mama. Along the way I'll share hints and tips to making life easier, more enjoyable and a more positive experience in general.

      So join me on my evolution to being a better, healthier & happier me.