Category Archives: Family

Nature as Art Teacher – building resilience and lasting memories

During the summer holidays my son (9) spent a week with his Grandmama at a Victorian beach where I spent much of my childhood. He had, in his words, “the most sick and excellent time.” He had Grandma pretty much to himself which meant he could eat whatever he wanted, go to bed late and sleep curled up next to her each night with sand from the beach between his toes and in his hair.

He spent his days walking by himself to the milk-bar to buy frothy milkshakes & packets of whiz-fizz. Then it was always off to the beach. There was beach-combing, swimming with stingrays & schools of sparkling fish, sun-baking and jumping off the end of a very long pier – over and over and over again. He got a sun-kissed, “Coppertone” tan and his eyes are still shining – so full of happiness and contentment. Of particular joy to me, was his new found sense of independence, maturity and resilience. A small example of this? He was given $50 to spend during his holiday. I was certain he’d buy $50 worth of lollies, but instead he chose a book that captured the essence of his holiday.

Coming home was also a new experience as he got to fly by himself on a airplane for the very first time. So very grown-up. As I greeted him at the airport, he was tongue-tied with excitement; wanting to share all the wonderful experiences he had had and the beautiful things he had found outdoors. He thrust a large bag of his bounty into my hand, announcing, “we need to do something with these.” There were conkers, seed pods, feathers and a mass of shells. And oh, what shells! There were pippies, exquisitely spiralled nautilus, cat’s eyes, luminescent oysters and large perfectly formed scallop shells.

So we have now set about making a collage which will eventually be mounted on the wall in his bedroom. My hope is that not only will it serve as a reminder of a near-perfect summer holiday; it will, each time he looks at it, remind him of the beauty and diversity of nature, the environment and his place within it.



Filed under Art and Craft, Australia, Books and reading, Family, Health, Imagination, Kids, Outdoors, Play

Outdoors, books and connection…

When I was a very young girl, I wanted to be like my mother. I wanted her hair (she is blonde, I am brunette), I wanted her voice, her clothes, her intelligence, her warmth, her knowledge, her sense of humour and her beautiful eyes (they are green, mine are blue) – I wanted her very essence …

But most of all I coveted her imagination. Each night as we snuggled down to read; she would transport me to the very heart of whatever book it was that she had chosen. I would close my eyes and press my ear to her chest to feel her warmth and listen to the reverberation of her voice – a low, methodical purr. She always smelt so lovely too. I loved, in equal measure, not only to the story, but also the regular ka-thunk of her heart and the gurgling, circulatory sounds of her body. These sounds, smells and sights combined in such a mesmerising and comforting fashion, they have become a much-treasured memory and reading remains an abiding passion.

The two books that remain with me from that time are The Wishing Chair by Enid Blyton and The Magic Pudding by Norman Lindsay. I would disappear into the ‘other worlds’ of these books for hours on end.

The Magic Pudding is a nonsensical yet charming tale of a (talking and walking) Christmas pudding who finds himself somewhat reluctantly thrust into the company of some lovable rogues in the Australian bush. Each day they eat him and each evening he re-grows. As I read, I could smell the bush, hear the cranky voice of the pudding chiding his mates, the cockatoos screeching and call of a distant dingo. I fervently wanted to participate in their antics, so I would invariably create a few of my own. I wanted to wake up carefree like them every morning, able to roam about the bush not giving two hoots about having to go to school. It is a crazy, unlikely narrative and I just adored it.

The Wishing Chair took me to wherever I wanted to be. I added hundreds of destinations and adventures to the simple ones contained in the book. I could virtually feel the chair upon which I was sitting, gently lifting, waiting to transport me to my imagined places of adventure, intrigue and play.

The great outdoors is the perfect place to foster this creativity. Outdoors is where imagination and discovery collide in the most spectacular fashion. Mother Nature’s secrets are just begging to be discovered and what’s more, she is a brilliant patient teacher and your child a willing student. Everything about outdoors is pure magic and that includes, of course, kicking back under the shade of a tree with good book.

Now, with two young children of my own, I delight in spending time with them curled up with a book. We have just started reading The Wishing Chair together. I hope they too enjoy listening to the story and the ka-thunk of my heart and that I’m successfully kick-starting their beautiful creative minds and instilling a lasting love of reading just as my mother did so many years ago.


Filed under Australia, Family, Imagination, Kids, Outdoors, Parenting

Beetles, Oreos and Ivory Curls – sharing small joys

Early this morning my daughter and I set off on a walk. Grey clouds and rain loomed but we were determined to a) exhaust our puppies and b) find some funky things to add to our found collection. As we walked, conversation fell to sharing and the different ways in which one can do this. We talked a lot about sharing information (as opposed to a hug or a packet of Oreos). Grace understands that her parents and teachers shares information with her each day but that information exchange is also a constant occurrence in our lives; be it good, sad, joyous, practical or subliminal and so on…

We then decided that during our walk we would find things to share with friends. This is what we found. It’s not much, but it made us feel very happy.

The sound of Kookaburras for Bethe warning us this morning of the impending rain, their unique voice echoing around our streets. This is only because we couldn’t find any squirrels or hear anyone calling for Alan

A gang of Harlequin Beetles, up to some kind of mischief, for Eleanor and Paul because I know they treasure the environment, as much as all my friends do.

A truly beautiful Buckinghamia celsissima or Ivory Curl Tree for Alison. It is one of my favourite Australian plants. Flowering predominantly in late summer the stunning flowers are white to cream and occur in large racemes up to 200 mm long. Their scent is a soft and evocative mix of talcum powder and Yellow Box honey.

Some Gum Nuts for Karen because trees speak to her and also to remind her of what she will see a LOT of come March.

One Hibiscus for Kylee. We know she likes them. What she may not know is that the stamen and stigma (stamenal column) of this beautiful flower makes a perfect broom for fairies.

Why not take a walk around your neighbourhood and see what you can find to share with friends and family. xx


Filed under Australia, Family, Gardening, Health, Imagination, Kids, Outdoors, Parenting, Play

Go play! In the kitchen with kids

I regularly contribute to a great Melbourne radio station, LightFM and this morning I chatted to Luke and Lucy about being in the kitchen with kids and how much fun and educational it can be for everyone. Here’s a little of what we spoke about, including some easy-to-do recipes to inspire your child using the senses as a starting point.

Being in the kitchen can really get the senses of young children buzzing. Think sound, sight, smell, touch, taste. But how do you make it fun for everyone? The greatest tip I can give is to involve your child in as much of the preparation of every meal as possible. Try hard not to underestimate their ability*. I have been guilty of this in the past but now constantly encourage my children to “have a go”. I’m also a firm believer that time in the kitchen with kids needs to be wild, noisy, messy, fun (and just a little rude) and as an adult, you need to give yourself over to an afternoon of mild chaos.


This is my all time favourite. I’m sure it’s how my mother got me to eat and love celery. Grate some carrot and finely chop some celery stalks. Take two pieces of bread. Smother with peanut butter; add a layer of raspberry jam, a layer of grated carrot and a layer of chopped celery. Heaven. A rainbow sandwich! Every child I’ve ever presented this too has loved it. But more so if they are involved in the preparation of it. It’s not the healthiest option, but once a month or so, I don’t think it can hurt and it’s a taste and textural wowsa. If your child has a nut allergy, substitute the peanut butter with hummous or tahini.


Fruit skewers Summer is the perfect time to have fun with fruit. Take some strawberries, watermelon, blueberries, canteloupe, rockmelon, pineapple, some edible flowers such as nasturtium or basil, some mint leaves and thread alternately onto a skewer. Then eat! So pretty and colourful – just like a rainbow. You can dip into yogurt or BBQ them for extra zing.

Smoothies There’s nothing like the pure vibrant colours produced by smoothies. Bright pink for strawberries, “Hare Krishna” orange for mangoes, bright green for kiwi fruit, although strangely bananas don’t translate – they just turn an insipid beige. Kids love making smoothies and they are a healthy option. If your child is lactose intolerant, use ice instead of milk and cream. Still delicious.

Cakes Buy a good quality cake mix or if you have time, bake a cake from scratch. I’ve never met a child under 8 who doesn’t ADORE making a cake. Let them loose with the food dye and cake decorating becomes a rainbow/sight extravaganza.


The smells of the kitchen can be fantastic and intriguing. Spend an afternoon exploring those smells whilst blindfolded. Include some of the yukkier smells such as the garbage bin or dog bowl. It’s great fun, I promise…


You can’t really go past jelly here. It’s just so wobbly and easy for kids to make. Add some chopped up fruit to the cooling jelly for extra fun. There are low fat versions nowadays that taste pretty good.

Making your own playdough is also great fun and the added bonus of making your own (free of chemicals and preservatives) is that you don’t need to worry too much if your kid decides to taste test! There are many recipes around but I think I have the perfect one. If you’re interested, let me know and I’ll email you the recipe.


Kids love noise. Remember that cooking can make great theatre. Very little children can bang the saucepans and spoons together or stack and unstack plastic containers. Fill up some containers with different items and encourage them to shake them to hear the different noises. Older kids will love getting involved in the actual process of cooking and thrill to the loud cacophony of noises produced by grinding, whizzing, pounding or beating.

Pesto pasta Pick some basil (at its best during summer), a large handful of pine nuts, a couple of gloves of garlic, some extra virgin olive oil, a handful of grated parmesan cheese and a squeeze of lemon and a good dash of salt and pepper. Don’t bother chopping any of it. Simply pop it all into a food processor or blender and whizz until it forms a paste. Adjust your quantities until you’ve achieved a consistency and taste to suit. Boil some pasta, spoon into bowls, add a few dollops of your pesto on top and voila! A quick, easy and healthy summer meal. The kids can do every part of making the pesto. They can pick the basil and pull the leaves from the stems (I tend to use the stems too), peel the garlic, pour the oil, chop and squeeze the lemon, grate the cheese and add the salt and pepper. Most enjoyable for them, however, will be controlling the blender!

There’s nothing like the sound of popcorn pinging around the inside of a microwave. Buy a bag of popcorn kernels, some brown paper bags and you’re ready to go. Popcorn, lightly salted is an excellent, healthy addition to any school box.

Mashed potatoes Such a simple thing to do and most kids love mashed spuds. Wash, peel and chop up some potatoes. Add to a saucepan of cold water. Bring to the boil and cook until soft. Drain, add butter and a little milk. Set too with the masher. Have them listen to the squishing pounding noises. Even better if you have a bamix. Again the kids can do every part of this. They can peel and chop the potatoes, pour the cold water into the saucepan and add the potatoes. Probably best you drain the potatoes from the boiling water. Then the kids can add the butter and milk and mash. Even more exciting for children if you have a bamix to hand. Top with some chopped chives, mint or parsley.

* When kids are in the kitchen only their parents and carers truly know their child’s ability or developmental stage. So be guided by this. For example, if little Johnny isn’t yet proficient with a knife, give him a gentler, safer task or a blunt knife…. Giving them their own set of cooking implement, including an apron is a good idea.



Filed under Australia, Cooking, Family, Food, Health, Imagination, Kids, Outdoors, Parenting, Play

Summer joy – king prawn, nectarine and feta salad

With thanks to the Good Weekend supplement of the Sydney Morning Herald and one of their contributing chefs Neil Perry for publishing this on 29 January 2011.

The flavours in this salad combine in a delightfully fresh, summery kind of way. It’s healthy, low fat, and perfect for children. In fact I’d suggest getting the kids involved in the preparation as well as the eating of this salad.

King prawn, nectarine and feta salad

12 large cooked king prawns, peeled and cut in half lengthways
1 baby cos lettuce, washed and dried
2 heads of treviso or red witlof, washed and dried
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
2 ripe nectarines, cut into circular slices
100g good-quality feta
1/2 cup roasted hazelnuts, lightly crushed**


3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp hazelnut oil (optional)
juice of 1 lemon
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a small jar, shake the dressing ingredients together. Check the seasoning and adjust if necessary. In a salad bowl, place the treviso (or witlof), baby cos and red onion and dress with half the dressing. Divide the leaf mix among 4 bowls, laying it out to look attractive. Scatter the prawns and nectarine slices over the leaves, then crumble the feta on top. Sprinkly with the roasted hazelnuts and season with a little sea salt and a good grind of fresh pepper. Drizzle the remaining dresssing over the salads. Serve immediately.

** I couldn’t find hazelnuts so substituted with a mix of pine nuts and walnuts, lightly toasted and gently crushed. I also just made one big salad and let people serve themselves rather than apportioning onto individual plates.



Filed under Australia, Cooking, Family, Food, Health, Kids, Outdoors

Telepathy, guilt and a low care factor…. brava 2011

Each and every year on the 30th of December, I start thinking about the people with whom I feel I’ve been a poor correspondent over the previous 12 months. To my mind this constitutes around 70% of the people with whom I have a relationship and/or with whom I wish to correspond. And each year, I hope to myself that I am exaggerating when I settle on this percentage, although I doubt it. Throughout the year I begin many letters, notes, emails and phone calls with, “sorry for not contacting you before,” mostly concluding with “promise to be in touch soon.” And then the rest of the year happens around me and whenever I think of phoning Great-Aunty Shirl, it is 3 o’clock in the morning or I’m in the car and her number isn’t listed in my iphone. Combined with laziness and forgetfulness, it amounts to disjointed communication and results in my feeling that I am disappointing 50% of the people, 50% of the time.

Today was slightly different. 30 December arrived and as usual, I had begun thinking about all the people I had not contacted during 2010. I then came upon a poem that I had snipped out of a magazine in 2003 when my son started pre-school. At the time, it resonated strongly with me because of the guilt I felt sending him off on his own each day. I must say I rather too quickly got over that. However, the loveliness of the poem has stayed with me.


Today I explained telepathy to you,
and telephone, and television,
on the way to day care,

and I said, sometimes when I’m at work
I’ll think of you,
and if I could send you that thought with my mind,

you’d get it right then,
and maybe you’d smile, stopping a moment at whatever
you were doing, or maybe not

but just going on with it, making a mask out of paper plates
and orange and green cards
with markers and scissors and paste,

or screaming circles in the gym
either being a monster
or being chased by a gang of them, but still you’d get

the picture I was beaming
and you’d brighten inside and flash me something back,
which I’d get, where I was, and smile at.

That’s telepathy, I said
pulling into the parking lot,
looking at you in the mirror.

Michael Dennis Browne

My re-reading of this poem today, 8 years later, had a completely different effect on me. I suddenly realised that the people I care about, know that I care about them. I may not speak with them everyday, in fact I may only speak with them every six months. Regardless of when we communicate or in what format, we pick up where we left off. They never make me feel guilty for my own shortcomings, in fact they tease me and together we laugh and our relationship deepens as a result. We have a kind of telepathy.

Conversely, my care factor for anyone who makes me feel rueful is now low. Although, I’m sure I’ll love them again on January 1.

Happy New Year one and all and may a few telepaths find their way into your world in 2011.


Filed under Family, Outdoors

Three deaths, a small dog and insurmountable Christmas joy.

I promised myself I would never put on paper the story that follows, but the last paragraph has filled me with such joy, I have relented and now wish to share it. I hope you will read this without deeming me too self indulgent but sometimes something so utterly lovely flings itself upon your heart, that you forget (and don’t care) that you might bore everyone rigid and so instantly pick up your pen…

Just on two years ago, my father died. He had been ill for around 7 years, so, whilst I was desperately sad at the thought of no longer being able to talk to, or touch him, my overwhelming emotion was one of relief. I’m certain death was also a relief for him. We all knew that his body had reached the point where total failure was near, and whilst we could make him comfortable, death was inevitable. We offered him our love, constant touch and our tears but no-one resiled from what was approaching, least of all him. When the time was right, he needed to stop breathing. He needed to ‘go’. (In conversation, neither he or I were entirely sure where that ‘going’ would take him, but he was unconcerned, and bless him, tried to convince me not to be afraid for him). He died with surprising ease and calm. If death can be lovely, his was. Some may consider it odd, but I enjoyed holding him after his death. He was peaceful; not bound up, with laboured breathing and a pinched look on his face.

The most fascinating aspect of my father’s death is that it involved two animals. This is interesting only insomuch as he was not at all fond of animals. He accepted that they would always be a part of his life (he married an animal lover), but he only ever tolerated pets. He never really engaged with them, until a slightly overweight King Charles Cavalier Spaniel named Charlie entered his life.

But hold on. Before I tell you about Charlie, I need to talk (just a little) about Molly. Molly was my first dog. She was my first “child”. That looks completely daft when written. When spoken it sounds vaguely acceptable, so try to imagine my voice. She and I were inseparable, even after the birth (and obvious adoration) of my two human children. After their arrival, Molly recognized her inevitable slide in the family pack, but was also wily enough to know that all she need do was crook her head “just so” and I’d melt and let her hop back up onto my bed at night.

5 days before my father died, Molly choked on a bone in the back garden and died.

My children found her by literally tripping over her while playing hide ‘n seek. They came flying to me, screaming “Molly’s dead Mama, Molly’s dead.” And yes she was. Bloody foolish gutso. In her greed, a large bone had gone down whole; the wrong way. There was nothing I could do. I tried kitchen tongs, the Heimlich manoeuvre, violent massage, you name it. Ultimately, what distressed me most about her death is that my children, for the first time, saw me completely undone. I sat for a long time clutching her, rocking back and forth on my knees, my tears splashing onto her fur, while making odd uncontrollable guttural sounds . For someone who shows control at all times, this was a very naked moment. It still makes me feel inexorably sad. It was so unexpected. Horrid, just horrid. Although, I’ve come to think that her death prepared me and my children for the death of my father.

So there we are. Two deaths in under a week. One expected, the other not. The family swung together and made ‘arrangements’. Molly ended up under a lovely hydrangea and a sandstone plinth in the front garden. That was easy. Arranging Dad’s funeral was pretty easy; after all, we’d all talked about what form it would take for some time. The trickiest task was phoning the Priest at the Church in which Dad’s funeral service was to be held to ask, if for the first time ever, an unleashed dog could lead the casket into and out of the church. And so we come to Charlie.

Charlie is a rotund Cavalier Spaniel who lived up the road from my parents. He used to visit every other day, begging for tidbits from my mother’s always overflowing fridge. His owners gave up trying to stop him visiting and he very quickly became a part of our family. Over the years, as my father became seriously ill, Charlie also gave up asking for what might come out of the fridge and instead hopped up onto Dad’s bed and gently laid his head beside my father’s. At first, Dad would feign horror and kick him off. But Charlie persisted and slowly, Dad relented. On the day of his death, Charlie was firmly ensconced by my father’s side which gave both of them great comfort. After Dad had gone, Charlie placed himself in my father’s favourite chair and didn’t move for several days.

On the day of my father’s funeral, Charlie was allowed to lead all of us, ahead of Dad’s casket up the aisle of the church. He sat, head cocked and listened to the service. On leaving, he walked slowly, head low, down the aisle and guided Dad away. It was a very special moment.

And then Charlie disappeared. Vanished. Gone. Mum found this incredibly difficult. We all presumed Charlie had fallen ill, walked into the nearby bush and curled up to die. Mum and Charlie’s original owner posted a $500 reward for anyone who could locate him. Nothing. So, again, we suffered an unexpected, but this time, unexplained death in our family. And again, horrid, just horrid..

And so we come to today, two years on from Dad’s death. This afternoon my mother phoned me in tears to say that Charlie has been found. On Christmas Eve he apparently wandered into the garage of a woman in Liverpool and sat there. She gave him something to eat and next day phoned the local vet. The vet, despite enjoying the last of his Christmas pudding, scanned a slightly dirty little King Charles Cavalier, to discover that his true owner was some 30 kilometres away. Who knows how he ended up there or how he has survived all this time. And quite frankly I couldn’t give a flying fig on the detail. What I do know is that we have all unexpectedly regained a part of our lives that will serve daily to remind us of a father that we still miss very much. A truly special Christmas present.


Filed under Family, Kids, Outdoors, Parenting, Pets