Category Archives: Parenting

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.

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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

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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.

TASTE

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.

SIGHT

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.

SMELL

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…

TOUCH

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.

SOUND

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.

Enjoy….

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

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.

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Filed under Family, Kids, Outdoors, Parenting, Pets

How to do nothing and enjoy it…

A rerun of a post I wrote in December last year. Still as accurate this year…..

In Australia, for many, December means celebrating Christmas, hot days, gifts, reconnection and relaxation, family, more hot days and approximately 9 weeks of school holidays. We’re a month into summer and the heat can be oppressive. If you’re lucky and have access to a pool, beach or outback dam, the summer break invariably means much time spent cooling off in the water, perfecting the ultimate ‘bomb’ or dive, hunting for sea creatures in the sparkling depths of rockpools and seaweed forests, or catching yabbies in a muddy dam using nothing other than a bit of string and some pongy meat.

However, unless you shut out all forms of media during December, it can be frustrating to have the festive period defined by mainly European and North American media viewpoints of what the season is. Reindeer, snow (and the associated activities the white stuff brings), hot baked dinners, holly and mistletoe, mulled wine and egg nog all abound, to name just a few. Here in Sydney, these Christmas “markers” repeated in our mainstream media just seem plain silly (and lazy on behalf of the Australian media). Every now and then I’ll see a token picture of Father Christmas on a surfboard but that’s about it.

So I thought I’d share what the summer break means to me and my family. Firstly, school has finished for the year and will not return until some time in February. There’s no homework for up to 9 weeks (a personal favourite of mine); endless stretches of warm days, sea breezes and late nights spent attempting to avoid manic and hungry mosquitoes, whilst watching reruns of ridiculous, yet highly entertaining B-grade movies.

It’s spending most of the day in our bathers eating a vast range of summer fruits such as peaches, nectarines, mangoes, lychees, rambutans, strawberries and raspberries and then washing the sticky juice off your arms and legs whilst running under the sprinkler in the nud. (regardless of age). The rules are relaxed on who sleeps where and at what time one goes to bed. I often wake in the gentle, quiet hours of early morning to find my children sleeping on the couch or verandah with our puppies – it’s a delightful amorphous mass of arms, paws, the occasional snort, whiskers, twitches and general loveliness.

It’s getting up early before the day becomes too warm to walk the puppies but forgetting to change out of your PJ bottoms. And then the flooding sense of relief as you meet other people on the harbour track who’ve done exactly the same thing. It’s the daily opportunity to head to the beach, and later that evening curl up in bed with the salt still scratching your skin; waking the next morning with salt-encrusted bed-head. (This is another favourite of mine as I’m CERTAIN it has to be good for you).

There’s a BBQ to be had every other day, entertaining friends who casually drop in clutching a fine bottle of chilled wine whilst shaking the sand from their toes. There’s fresh seafood to eat, books to read, summer quizzes to ponder in a newspaper that offers little else at this time of the year.

It’s watching with delight as my children take the “shortcut” and scale the backyard fence to go play with their mates. Summer break means that beach cricket will be played, Lilos will be burst, Aloe vera will be applied to “Coppertone” bums and bathroom scales will be pushed under the vanity until January 1st.

And whilst my family doesn’t observe any particular religion, this time of year will inevitably find us lying under a Moreton Bay Fig in Sydney’s iconic Botanic Gardens listening to Christmas Carols whilst flying foxes screech overhead.

What I like best of all though? Sydney’s summer break affords me the perfect opportunity to remind my children of how to do “nothing” and actually enjoy it. Without the distraction of school or work, the likelihood of over-structured time or prescriptive play is reduced tenfold. With no formal learning, no rushing here or there, we find ample opportunity to unplug, reconnect with each other and spend way too much time outside in the sun enjoying all that playing outdoors has to offer. I am convinced that this is the best Christmas gift I can give my children.

To all, a happy festive break. Whatever it means to you and however you celebrate, I hope it brings much joy wherever on our beautiful planet you might be.

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

Colour play fun… but in the kitchen?

Colour is everywhere! Grey days, rainbows, autumn leaves, impossibly blue skies, brilliant pink flowers, murky brown mud or an expanse of green lawn. My children and I have had great adventures exploring the concept of colour during our time outside. To be honest though, I’d never really thought about introducing lessons on colour into our kitchen.

Which is why it was utterly delightful last night when my 7 year old made the realisation that her favourite colour (purple) was taking precedence in the evening meal. There was a shimmering deep purple eggplant. An incredibly beautiful home-grown cabbage. Spring asparagus, with a blush of purple at the tips. Squealing with delight, my daughter then raced about pulling together every hue of purple she could find in the house. It was quite the collection: A large purple platter, a beautiful Iris from the garden along with some sprigs of the pretty plant “Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow” (Brunfelsia grandiflora). A couple of books, pens and colouring pencils, a skipping rope, hairbrush, a watch, and on it went. She even reminded me of the picture of her friend on page 122 of my book, Small Fry Outdoors!

We happily chatted together whilst preparing dinner about primary, secondary and tertiary colours and whether Indigo was blue or a deep shade of purple. It was great fun and needless to say, she ate every last scrap of the family meal.

Oh, and the meal? Eggplant and haloumi stacks, grass-fed scotch fillet steak sitting atop blanched purple cabbage with spring asparagus on the side. A squeeze of lime, freshly cracked black pepper and a pinch of sea salt completed a beautiful, healthy meal.

I’d love to hear how you have ‘played’ with the concept of colour in your home or during your time outdoors. x

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Dragon poo, nasturtiums and why we need both…

Yesterday my daughter and I spent most of the day in our small suburban garden, planting, pruning, weeding and watering. For young children, everyday tasks such as these can be ‘teeeedious’ which is why I try to mix a little magic in with the mundane whenever I’m outside with my kids. In doing so, I’ve found that they are far more likely to engage with nature and are then happy to help out with boring garden tasks. With some forward-planning (and a trip to my local nursery), our back garden was turned into a haven for fairies, a hideout for gnomes and the stomping ground of a large but, thankfully, benevolent dragon.

Whilst watering we found a beautiful fairy pond in a nasturtium leaf and picked some of the flowers to add to our salad for lunch. We also harvested some delicious fresh chillies from a plant sown into our garden a month ago. It is now laden with chillies of every colour and has by its very beauty encouraged my daughter to explore spicier flavours.

Not far from this plant we unearthed a cheeky looking Gnome who seemed quite content to hang out amongst some Violets. Gnomes are funny creatures. You either love ’em or hate ’em, but let me give you the tip, when a child discovers one by chance and you hear the resultant squeal of glee and witness the huge smiles radiating from a 6 year old; I guarantee that you’ll tolerate even the most kitsch Gnome face smiling up from the greenery.

When mowing the lawn we found a hole that had obviously been scraped out by a very large creature. We suspected a dragon and our theory was confirmed when not much further along we located some dragon poo (small white pebbles) neatly piled up under a lavender bush. This dragon was obviously trying hard to cover his tracks, but no such luck when you have an eager dragon-hunter hot on your heels.

Probably the highlight of the day was discovering some precious fairy glitter left on my daughter’s tomato plant. We have collected this and will add it to our found collection of nature’s treasures, unless of course, the fairies come asking for it.

The cost of providing the ‘set’ for this outdoor magic was minimal – a bag of white pebbles, one ceramic gnome, one chilli plant, a willingness to dig a hole in my lawn, a pot of gold glitter glue and a cardboard box. The upside is I now have a willing helper who is keen to weed the garden with me when she gets home from school later today.

The 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 outdoors is pure magic. Encourage your child to find the extraordinary in the ordinary, the magic in the mundane, the enchantment in the everyday and the word boring will vanish from your child’s vocabulary…….

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