Monday, July 23

|| pause ||

Tomorrow morning {Tuesday} I'm heading into hospital to have my gall bladder removed... and about time too! It's been a long time coming. 

I was diagnosed with a grumpy gall bladder last December after upsetting it by losing several kilos. In retaliation, it upset me several times in a row in quite spectacular fashion, and has continued to upset me for the last seven months.  

It doesn't help that I hopped into the longest surgical queue in the universe. I'm sure my surgeon is a lovely fella but, honestly, if he was a checkout chick I'd be asking for a refund on my melted ice cream by now.

So while it would be a HUGE lark to blog my groggy ramblings over the next few days, I'll save us all the agony and just put the blog to bed for a mid-winter nap. Yes, that sounds much better.

I'll see you on the other side folks!

Oh, and if you're one of those blessed souls who has tweeted or texted me with your best wishes or offers of meals and child care then thank you so much. Bren will be looking after me like a boss but it's wonderful to know we have such caring friends. If I could share my post-op happy pills I would, but, y'know. Fussy pharmacists are fussy.

whip-it {lunches}

You've been waiting for it, and now it's here! The final installment in my pantry tracker saga.

First, we looked at how I organise the kids' chores.

And then I explained how we manage their snacks.

So now, for part three, it's all about school lunches!

I don't know about you, but unless I concentrate really, really hard, the kids end up with Vegemite sandwiches with an apple and rice crackers for lunch. Every. Single. Day. The sensible part of my brain says "And? Big deal!" And I quite agree. It's hardly child abuse.

But then the part of me that rather likes lunch says "Honestly woman, it's not like you have anything better to do" and I have to agree with that voice too. I do like cooking and I do have time, so this is how we roll...

At the start of every term the kids and I come up with a menu. It's extremely complicated - a meal for each day of the week, which repeats for the entire term. Not repeats as in reflux, but repeats as in it gets served up again and again. Which doesn't sound much better but you get the picture, right? And then I usually bake a slice or something on a Sunday and divvy it up so they have lunch AND recess and then I whack in a bit of fruit or something to finish it off. Very swish.

If you're interested, here are the menus we've used so far this year...

Term 1
Mon ploughman's lunchbox
Tue rice paper rolls
Wed sushi
Thu hawaiian pizza scrolls
Fri ham & salad sandwiches

Term 2
Mon wraps
Tue zucchini slice
Wed salami frittata
Thu meatballs w/ dipping sauce & salad
Fri ham & salad sandwiches

Term 3
Mon hokkein noodle salad w/ teriyaki sauce
Tue chicken, carrot & sultana salad w/ crackers
Wed pizzas
Thu pasta salad w/ ham
Fri marinated chicken wings with veges

And there we have it! My super dooper pantry organiser. If only it would locate odd socks...

Sunday, July 22

instaweek {22 july}

Well the holidays have drawn to a close here and
the kids are off to school tomorrow.

We had a much quieter week than planned so I really don't have
any exciting school holiday pics to share!

The boys and I explored some parkland near home.

Look out for trolls!

These two old ladies sit next to me every single night.
Best leg warmers ever invented!

Monty is 16 and a half. She knows things.

Another birthday!
I made this chocolate mud cake with rocky road for Bren's dad.
It tasted as bad as it looks...

The boys' eyes. Can you tell which is which?

Playing around with yet another iPhone app!
This is the same photo as the top one (above)
but it's been altered using the Picfx app.

We had a lovely Saturday afternoon with friends at
John Knight Park in Belconnen.
I love wintry sideways sunshine!

My friend, Rox, put me onto this.
Nutella and marshmallows wrapped in puff pastry.
About as awful as the chocolate mud cake.

This was a pic I took for fatmumslim's  #photoadayjuly game.
The prompt was 'upside down'. I took a photo of the kids' swing from a really low angle, then rotated the image on Instagram to turn it upside down.
And then an hour later, Abel sat on this swing and the rope snapped. Oh.

Wednesday, July 18

writing {evidence}

Have you had one of those "yeah... nah" parenting moments lately? 

You know the type. You hear some expert banging on about the latest study from the University of They that scientifically proves your child will be stupid/ugly/fat/homeless/imprisoned if you don't get on board like yesterday. So you start thinking about how you could integrate this pearl of wisdom du jour and you realise it's just not going to fly. Not in your family and not on your watch!

And you feel good about it. You keep on keeping on. Nobody has scurvy and your three-year-old hasn't started experimenting with heavy eyeliner. Exhale.

But then that pesky piece of research pops up again and again. It takes on a life of its own and becomes ingrained in public discourse as an inviolable Law of the Universe.

Family mealtimes (saintly). Co-sleeping (possibly dodgy). TV watching (heinous). Reading aloud (miraculous). Smacking (let's not go there).

But are family mealtimes helpful if your other half doesn't get home till 7:26 and your kids are fainting with hunger at 5:47? Is watching TV really going to melt your toddler's brain, particularly if it gives you a precious hour in which to not go completely fruity?

It's frustrating. You concede that Dr Whatsit-Whiteteeth on that breakfast TV show might have a point. But they don't know you and they certainly don't know your kids. You feel guilty for not doing something that might actually be of benefit, but you have neither the time nor the patience to dabble in some woo-woo fix that would rocket your stab-o-meter through the roof.

So it doesn't surprise me that I've heard...

"Where is the actual real scientific evidence
for this load of coddswallop?!

... more than once in the last few years!

One of the advantages (?!) of being a uni student is that I get to do lots of essays. And they require research. And I have to look up actual real scientific evidence. Oh yes I do!

So if you're one of those folks who suspects parenting gurus are conspiring to turn us into mindless hippies with deranged offspring - but you just want to make sure - then you might find this handy...

A Cheat's Guide to Psychology Research

Step One - Choose Your Weapon

Open Google Scholar. No, not just Google - you want the 'Scholar' site. Instead of the usual search that picks up popular links, Google Scholar limits the search to scholarly articles written by universities, think tanks, scientists and the like. Not everything is legit, but it's slightly more cerebral than regular old Google.

Step Two - Name Your Beef

Enter your search terms just like you would in regular Google. For example, if you want to find out whether it's safe for your ten year old to stay home alone for an afternoon you might enter "children home alone safety". If you're keen, look at the left side of the screen and limit your search by date to grab the most recent studies.

Step Three - Prepare To Engage

Scan your results for a likely suspect and click on the link. You'll most probably be catapulted to a busy-looking page belonging to a reputable institution. Check out what that institution is, and if they sound dodgy then go back and pick another link. When you find a legit organisation, locate the 'Abstract' of the study you've selected. It should be fairly prominent on the page.

Step Four - Tear That Sucker Up

An Abstract is a little summary that accompanies every piece of psychology research. It's a snapshot of each section of the study - why they did it, how they did it, what they found, and what they think it all means. They're usually short (less than 300 words) and a well-written Abstract should be enough for a non-psychologist to get the vague gist of the research without having to open the actual report. Some sites will set the Abstract out beautifully while others will just plonk down a paragraph of science-speak. Either way, it'll run like this...

  • Purpose/Objective The researchers outline why they've done this study. This is to summarise what's already known, to identify any gaps in the existing knowledge, and therefore to demonstrate how their study will be of value. Organisations who fund research are fussy creatures and usually object to funding Contiki tours for Captain Obvious.
  • Method This is where the researchers might list how many people took part, their backgrounds (age, gender, ethnicity etc) and what kind of research was undertaken (eg surveys, interviews, observations etc). If the number of participants is very low or from a very narrow demographic then the study might not be useful to your circumstances, so be wary.
  • Results The Results section is all about compiling the facts and statistics from the raw data collected during the research. Thankfully there are gifted people who are great at calculating this stuff! This section is supposed to be completely objective and devoid of interpretation. It's important to look at the Results without jumping to conclusions, as numbers alone can be misleading. It's often these Results sections that have certain 'current affairs' shows rubbing their hands in glee. Apparently balanced information just doesn't rate!
  • Discussion/Conclusion This is where the critical thought comes in. Researchers look at all the stats and try to make heads and tails of it. For example, the Results of a discipline study might show that many adolescents who were smacked as pre-schoolers also (coincidentally?) exhibit symptoms of depression. A researcher could use this data to conclude that smacking has a long-term negative impact on children. However, a more objective researcher would look at other factors and may theorise that parents who smack children tend to have a disorganised parenting style, making them more likely to resort to smacking. It could well be the ineffective parenting that negatively impacts children, and not the physical punishment. A good Discussion or Conclusion will look at the Results from all angles, identify any failings of the research (they might have left something out or introduced bias), and then recommend what future researchers could consider studying.

Step Five - Rinse And Repeat
After your first Abstract reading you might prefer to pull your nose hairs out with chopsticks than continue searching. Or, you might find it handy to read a few more Abstracts to see if other studies came up with similar results. If you feel particularly academic, you might even venture into reading an actual report. If so, I recommend you skim the Introduction, Method and Results and save your eyeballs for the Conclusion, as this is where the nitty gritty will be discussed. In any case, you should be able to get a good picture of what the real actual scientific evidence is for your particular beef!

Occasionally you'll come across a report that requires a purchase. You can purchase it (obviously) but you could also try to schmooze a uni student or librarian into locating it through an online journal database. I doubt that's very ethical, but this is warfare, right? You will probably run into some redunkulously big words so try here for some handy definitions. And if you're keen to read a better how-to guide than mine, click over here and get enlightened!

So there you have it!
Yes, I might be just another psychology student trying to justify her very existence. But, on the off chance that this is handy for you, you're welcome ;-)

Is there a particular nugget of "wisdom" that you just can't swallow?
Are you an academic or a psychologist? If so, would you mind correcting my mistakes? Ta!

Tuesday, July 17

adventuring {creek}

I was home with just the boys today so we went for a wander through some parkland near home. There's a cute little creek that flows through it and thanks to some recent rain, it was nicely full. It was one of the warmer days we'd had this winter so it was great to go for an easy stroll!

I took several photos with my iPhone (actually, all my blog photos are taken on my iPhone) but I was using a new app (Camera+) and it turns out the focus function wasn't working as well as it should (or was it just me?).

So sorry for the average pics! But the boys were keen to get them up on here so who am I to say no?!

Relax! They were a good 3 metres from the water!

And that was it.
Home again for afternoon tea and Star Wars...

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adventuring {gu}

So after all that healthy talk yesterday, how about a bit of fun?!

A couple weeks ago, Abi and I found these at Costco...

They're basically like a Mars Bar, but with a golden-syrupy oatmeal base.

Dastardly things.

So, in the best tradition of joining those whom you cannot beat,
Abi and I decided to make our own!

Step one was to take a stroll to the shops to buy copious amounts of chocolate.
We possibly ate some on the way home.

But seeing as the stroll is the part of this post that justifies the 'adventuring' tag
I feel fine about that. Right? Good.

Next stop was to clear the house of boys and turn on a chick flick.
Turns out there was a Barbie movie on the telly... how cool!
Abi might be 10 but she's not above a good princess movie.


We mixed up our oatmeal base.
We adapted a slice that we often make for lunchboxes.
{the recipe will be at the end of this post}

Then we whipped up some caramel and plopped it on top.

We baked it, and sprinkled just a bit of sea salt over it.

Astute observers will have noticed that the morsel of Gu on the package has chocolate down the sides as well as the top. To achieve this, we sliced up the slice (ha!), whacked it into a larger tray, and nicely spaced it out to let the chocolate ooze down the sides.

Oooozy chocolate.
Abi was most impressed at the professional finish on top.

And voila. We left it to set and then chopped it up.
Looks awful, hey?!

And finally, the comparison.
Their Gu is on the left, ours is on the right.

As for taste, we're proud to say we nailed the chocolate and caramel.
If you look carefully though, you'll see that our oatmeal base is a bit more crumbly than theirs. We decided that next time around we need to cut out some flour and pop in a bit more golden syrup.

So here's our very own Gu recipe!

1. Make Oatmeal Base {17 July 2012 version - to be revised later!}
Combine 1 cup SR flour, 1/3 cup caster sugar, and 1 cup rolled oats in a bowl. Melt 125g butter and 1/3 cup golden syrup in a saucepan. Add to dry ingredients with one egg and stir to combine. Bake in a slice tin at 180C for 15 minutes.

2. Make Caramel Centre
Combine 395g condensed milk, 2Tbs golden syrup, and 45g butter in a saucepan over a medium heat, stirring constantly. When the mixture is thick and golden (takes about 15 minutes) spread over the oatmeal base. Bake at 180C for 10 minutes. Sprinkle the top with a pinch of sea salt if you're that way inclined!

3. Prepare for Topping
Cut slice width-ways in 2cm strips. Arrange on baking paper inside a larger baking tray or slice tin.

4. Top with Chocolate
Melt 400g chocolate (dark or milk, whatever you fancy) with a small knob of butter. Spread over the slice, taking care to get the chocolate down into the cracks between the strips of slice. Chill until set. Carve up and enjoy!

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Monday, July 16

whip-it {snacks}

So last week I wrote about my extremely expensive and technical pantry tracker. First up was chores. And this week it's treats...

the short explanation

Each kid has a little post-it tape flag. On Sunday nights we move the tape flags over to their name. And then each time they have a 'sometimes' food, the sticker is moved across to a number. After the third treat for the week, they sit tight until the week is done.

the long explanation

Towards the end of last year Brenden and I had a long, hard look at our family's food intake. We had to admit that although we were all eating enough of the 'right' food, we were also eating a fairly sizable chunk of the, err, 'other' food. Bren and I were both several kilos overweight and we knew we had to set a healthier example for the kids. So the two of us agreed to reduce our portion size, cook healthier meals, and to reduce our snacking. Funnily enough, we both started to lose weight - who knew?!

In those early days we didn't explicitly say anything to the kids about the changes. As far as they knew, meals keep arriving with reassuring regularity. If anything, they liked the lighter meals and snacks better! But after a few weeks of mindful eating, it began to dawn on Bren and I just how many 'extras' the kids were being offered every week. Of course, we were the main culprits. We realised just how often they had an after-school ice cream at McDonalds or chips in front of the TV on a Friday night. 

But we also noticed that the world at large was feeding our children with a ferocious intent. Cupcakes from classmates, lollies from sports coaches, well-done (!) sweets from hairdressers, cakes after church, congratulatory lollies from teachers, and promotional treats at shopping centres. This was on top of the usual round of birthday parties with their attendant lolly bags and seasonal occasions like Easter and Halloween and school fetes and school discos. And don't even get me started on the eat-a-thon that is Christmas!

It felt overwhelming. We knew something had to change. We could (and did) control what we fed the kids at home, but even then they were being offered sugary, fatty food nearly every single day. How do you ask your entire community to rein it in? Each person meant well and were simply trying to put a smile on the kids' faces. But as their parents we were the only ones who could see the big picture, and we felt we were doing our kids a disservice to just let it be.

The more we talked about it, the more we realised it went beyond the simple notion of monitoring  their food intake and refusing treats on their behalf. It occurred to us that the kids were passive recipients of food. They took it as it came (whether at home or not) and they were happy with that. We realised we had to educate and empower the children to make their own decisions about their diet. So we came up with a strategy.

The first thing we did was to start talking to them about food. Obvious, huh? Well, kind of. We wanted to create a framework for what was to come. Over a few weeks we talked about the nutritional components of the food - what carbohydrates, protein and calcium were all about. We talked to them about how nothing is good for us if taken in huge quantities (even water is toxic at some point). And we talked about how God created all food and called it good, even sugar. We told them that it's what we do with that food that determines how well our body will develop. We explained that there's a difference between what our mouth likes to taste, and what our body needs to thrive. If we feed our body first, then our mouth will eventually agree. And if there's any room left at the end, life is short so tuck in!

The last thing we wanted to do was create a mindset whereby some foods became inherently evil while others were cure-all sources of light. As a society, we expect an awful lot of food - we all celebrate, commiserate and medicate with it - so we were loathe for the kids to begin judging their friends and family about what was on offer. It was all about learning how basic foodstuffs interact with our body, and our ability to intelligently discern what we're eating and why.

So after those discussions, we got into the nitty gritty. One afternoon I got out the kitchen scales, the sugar bowl, and a selection of food from the cupboard. The kids and I spent a good hour reading nutritional labels and then weighing out the amount of sugar in the recommended serving sizes. Not only were the kids astounded at the sugar content, but the serving sizes left them flawed too. They realised their idea of portion control was wildly different to the manufacturers!

After this, we started talking about how to revamp their favourite foods to make them healthier. We made over nachos, pancakes, and lunchbox slices. This step was really quite fun - the kids were keen to see how much food they could pack onto their plate with the least amount of sugar, fat and salt. I was very proud!

So then this brings me to the treat tracker that we now have in the pantry. I was curious as to how many 'treat' foods was considered acceptable for children to eat each week. I consulted Dr Google to see what  she thought and the answer surprised me, even considering the work we'd been doing: one. One treat per week at home.  Gulp.

Now I don't know about you, but limiting 'sometimes' foods (lollies, chocolate, biscuits, chips, packaged snacks, fast food, and all drinks other than water and milk) to once a week is nigh on impossible, even in the best circumstances. So I took it to the kids. After all our discussions about nutrition I was hoping they'd be able to bring some ideas to the table. I asked them "how many 'sometimes' foods do you think a kid should eat every week?" and their unanimous answer was "one". Oh, okay.

So then I reminded them of all the activities they did and all the people we knew and all the places we go each week, and I asked them if they'd be able to stick to only one per week. And I got a more realistic "ummm... prolly not."  So we compromised at three. No, not what the nutritionists recommend, but certainly a better deal than the pile they were currently chomping through!

Out came the textas and scissors and up went the chart. The rules were as thus: the kids could have 'sometimes' foods whenever and wherever they liked, to the maximum of three per week. 

In actual fact, the rules were slightly more elastic. I didn't want the kids to fail at the first hurdle so I relaxed the rules from time to time. Oh don't get me wrong, I'm all for kids failing when failure is earned. But what we didn't want to see was them thinking it was impossible to maintain a well-balanced diet and thereby giving up any pretense of eating healthily. So I'd count birthday parties, for example, as one treat - but still I'd encourage the kids to look for healthy food and to have maybe one cupcake and not five. If they'd been particularly good I'd sometimes give them a bonus (a modest one). And I'd also let them count half-treats if they asked for a very restrained portion of something. In the early days it was all about learning self-control, not complete self-denial.

What happened next was really encouraging. The kids just seemed to 'get it'. For instance,  Abi bought a block of chocolate with her own money, read the nutrition panel to figure out a serving size, broke some off for herself and her brothers, moved their markers on the chart, and put the rest of the chocolate in the cupboard where it stayed untouched for another two weeks. All without prompting from me. On another occasion, Abi bought herself a Magnum after swimming lessons. When she cracked it open in front of her brothers they looked at me like "where's ours?" and I asked them how their chart was tracking. They both stopped, thought, and were like "oh, okay."

I can't pretend that it's all been smooth sailing though! One of the kids is notorious for their lack of impulse control. It's that child who struggles most with this system - they use up all their allowance early in the week on unsatisfying treats just because they can, but then regret it when the weekend rolls around. While it's hard to watch that child struggle, it helps to know that they're learning a valuable lesson in delaying gratification. I help them out by pointing out better quality food when we're out, like having raisin toast instead of a cookie at a cafe. And instead of feeling sorry for them and allowing a bonus every week, I gently remind them that it's in their power to choose, and they must live with the consequences of their choices. Not just with food, but with everything in life. A tough lesson to learn at that age!

And while most of our friends have been supportive - several mums have confessed that they, too, struggle to stem the tide of treats offered to their kids - some have been just baffled. I know some people assume I'm being fanatical or controlling. I see it on their faces when my kids check with me about how many 'sometimes' foods they've used this week. I won't quickly forget how bewildered Abi's netball friends were when she happily refused a lolly bag at the end of the season! I guess I just have to cop it on the chin. Ultimately though, it's Bren and I who have to account for how our children develop. I absolutely believe that kids should be kids, but I cannot argue with the overwhelming evidence regarding the lifelong implications of a poor childhood diet.

So that's my system in a (quite enormous) nutshell. I once heard that all kids eat like birds: some are vultures while others are sparrows... and I seem to have given birth to three vultures!  It's really important to Bren and I that we teach each child that their body is a wonderful gift which deserves to be treated with respect, much like the food that goes into it.

I hope it's been an interesting read, and I'd love your thoughts.

How do you discuss nutrition with your kids?
Do you have vultures or sparrows?!

Sunday, July 15

instaweek {15 july}

We're half way through the school holidays here.

So far we've been to Questacon with some lovely friends
but that's about it, really!

I reckon it's good for the kids to just hang out at home and amuse themselves.
It's character building, no?

So here's our week of nothing...

I dragged out my Grandad's Carlton beanie, circa early 1980s.
Abi loved it. She's serious about her team.

Abel's pj's ripped!
It's hardly surprising given that they were first worn by Sol about 5 years ago.
After this I actually went out and PAID for new pj's for Abel,
probably only the second time in his life!

I dragged the kids to Costco for a wee shop.
I told Abel I'd buy him one slice of pizza for lunch and he began to cry, complaining that one slice wouldn't be enough and
"Don't you know I'll still be hungry Mum?!?!"
He was mildly relieved to see that 'one slice' of pizza
when it made it to the table!

This is us on the couch. I sat down first and they joined me one by one.
LOVE seeing them read!

Marshmallow season!
Lots of hot chocolate being drunk this week.

Abel loves to pull DVDs out and leave them on the floor.
It bothers me.

The kids tried their hand at kite-flying.
The tree won.

This is one of those new pairs of pj's Abel got.
He still fits in my lap!

Abi and I set about re-creating a chocolate bar we both love this weekend
I think we succeeded?
We'll be blogging about it on Tuesday if you're keen!

I cut myself last night and this was the only Band-Aid I could find.
Kind of appropriate, really!

Have a great week.
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Friday, July 13

friday {fake}

so there I was

a regular Thursday

a bit rainy but it's not like the roof's gonna cave in

just minding my own business

trawling through the Lego tub for Millenium Falcon bricks

that's when I spotted them

illegitimate bricks 

not sure how they got there but the jig is up

nothing to see here folks

just go about your business

and let this be a lesson to you
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