Friday, 9 February 2018


We recently moved house (see here) and cooking has become one of those chores I'm too tired to do properly, even though I know I should. So I have been experimenting with ways to make quick, nutritious meals that don't cost much and are simple to make.

We are making an effort to eat more -non-meat or vegetarian meals too. Our daughter likes them and so do I. Hubby - erm, not so sure, but he dutifully tries everything and SOMETIMES gives it the thumbs up. Hooray!

So here is my latest effort. These vegie sausages were purchased from the supermarket.

You will also need:
  •  soft wraps, 
  • your favourite sauce, 
  • cooked onion, 
  • fresh tomato, 
  • lettuce, 
  • grated carrot 
  • a little mayonaise
  • and cheese. 

Soooooo good! and sooooo easy! And all the family loved this one, so I'm happy too.

Monday, 27 November 2017

Moving house this christmas? It doesn't have to send your kids mad

Leading up to the end of the year some of us find ourselves having to move house. As renters, we often had to suddenly move at the end of the year, right at Christmas time!

Kids and moving - why is it such an upheaval?
I was always an anxious kid and we moved a LOT. I attended 11 schools in 12 years. For the 'average' child who doesn't suffer overtly and consistently with anxiety, moving this much would be a bit of a trial, but they would settle into the new environment and make friends pretty quickly. But some of us weren't that lucky. As a child, my anxiety manifested in different ways. Sometimes I got angry at the lack of control over my life. At other times I was so overwhelmed I hid in my room for hours or wandered around in the bush for hours, alone with my thoughts, and the dog. At other times I'd burst into tears suddenly or weep privately at night in my bed, struggling to get to sleep.

Anxious kids are all different in their little quirky ways but they all have one thing in common - circumstances, for whatever reason, become overwhelming and they aren't equipped emotionally to deal with it in a practical, sensible, calm manner.

So how do we help?
Routines are so important to anxious kids. Not that you want your child totally dependent upon having things run smoothly and predictably all the time. But you can make their life so much easier by making what is able to be managed stay pretty much the same, most of the time. Have mealtimes and bedtime at the same time each day. Expect your child to get up at the same time each morning and be ready for school at the appropriate time. Your child should also have the same chores each day. Responsibility and predictability go hand in hand. A child soon learns that the dog/cat/chickens need breakfast too. Make sure you continue to read a story to them at night, even when you're dog tired from packing and organising.

The rest of the time your child needs to learn to adapt to the situation and be flexible in their thinking. We can make lots of plans, trying to think of every possible outcome and put contingencies in place for perceived disasters, but in the end, we all must find ways to cope, because life isn't orderly. Its chaotic and unpredictable.

The talk
Just saying this to your child won't work. You need examples. So before you have the conversation, jot down some family stories, or your own experiences or preferably your child's experiences, to help get the message across. For instance, I asked my daughter if she thought a friend's three year old would understand the things she, at ten years, would. Of course she replied emphatically, 'NO!' and looked at me like I had gone mad, right there in front of her. And so I was able to explain that my life experience meant I understood things she wasn't able to understand yet.

A visual chart - properly displayed
In our house we use the calendar a lot. I photocopy two months, the current one and the next, and put them up on the fridge. This way we all know what is happening. Everyone fills in the relevant information about events, appointments etc. This way we all know what is coming up and can be prepared for it, practically and emotionally. So a visual chart of some kind is very helpful.

So what's this got to do with moving house?
Moving, relocating, is a huge upheaval in your family life. Just close your eyes and imagine all the boxes you will have to pack, the junk you have accumulated all these years,the cost of the moving van etc. Feeling panicky? So keep it organised and teach your child how to organise themselves. Lists are great. My daughter now writes her own whenever she is going somewhere like a sleepover, day trip or school camp. Having a list takes the anxiety down by many notches. Start writing the moving house list weeks before the moving day so your child can add items to it as they go. They are less likely to forget something this way!

So, some tips:
  • with your child, make a list of clothes and toys no longer wanted to be donated to charity
  • a list of items definitely needed immediately on moving day (PJs, toothbrush, clothes for the next few days, favourite toys, books, pillow and bedding, etc)
  • a calendar to show how many days left
  • a special treat that happens the night before
  • a new responsibility, to show they are ready, grown up a little more, have your confidence, such as helping you pack the laundry stuff, getting things from cupboards etc.
  • show your child HOW to pack a box properly. Let them pack their own stuff.
  • discussions about what is scary about moving and what is super fun about moving
  • if possible, driving to look at new house, or on google maps and satellite photos
  • google the new school and look at photos of it, learn the name of the principal and deputy
  • google local attractions such as the pool, library, skate park, shops etc.
  • write letters/cards to best friends giving them the new address details
  • choose something new for the new place, such as a colour to paint the bedroom or a new school bag or lunch box or some item of clothing they need
  • encourage your child to keep a journal and write down their thoughts. They may need some help getting started
  • take photos of everything they love about the old place and put it in a special book or album to take with them and treasure. Take photos of friends too. 
  • on moving day, let them play in spare boxes 
  • have an emergency moving day package, with coloured pencils, books, audio stories to sit and listen to (or just use its free!) a yummy HEALTHY snack, etc.
  • start a new reading book the first night at the new place
I'm sure you could come up with loads more ideas too! The main thing is to treat this new chapter like an adventure that is manageable, not too exciting, not overwhelming. Be prepared for tears and outbursts. Its normal for any child to be afraid of the unknown. They will need you even more than usual, so be patient.

My book, 12 Annoying Monsters - Self Talk for Kids with Anxiety is packed with practical and easy ideas for kids and parents to make anxiety manageable. We want our kids to be resilient, to survive out in the world on their own some day and be confident adults fulfilling their potential. It all begins with the simple things we do in times of change in their lives.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

DUMB movies make your kid stupid, selfish, sexist and boring

You can feel a rant coming on, can't you?

I recently began watching The Shanara Chronicles  on netflix. Terry Pratchett's story has so much potential, interesting premise and characters, even good actors, but what made me press 'stop' and never go back was the skinny, under-dressed, big-eyed, pathetic lead character - Amberle. A princess warrior (apparently) who wears skin-tight leather trousers and a bustier when supposedly wielding a sword and only manage to get a few cuts on her bare arms.

I'm sick and tired of these flat chested, anorexic bimbos telling my young daughter what to be!

Over time we've seen the portrayal of women in adventure movies shift from impossibly big-breasted/narrow-waisted/wide-hipped sex symbols to 'warriors' clad in scanty leather armour, to wearing nothing more than body paint and now to looking like teenage boys. (So who's casting that look?) It makes me seriously worried about the future for my young daughter. Let alone what boys actually think of these portrayals of their friends as they grow up. What are the expectations of girls in relationships? If girls can't even dress seriously for a job, how can they expect equal pay? Why should a man be more appropriately (and safely) dressed than a woman? Why do we need to see her 'sexy bits' anyway? Isn't it her skill and intelligence that will get her out of trouble?

Add to this the yawning chasm of decent material in kids films generally, modelling a narrow field of career suggestions such as:
  1. princess
  2. dancer
  3. singer
  4. model
Where are the engineers, the scientists, the writers, the mechanics, the biologists, the veterinaries, the animal wranglers, the hair dressers, the occupational therapists, the physios,  the speech therapists, the martial arts professionals, the teachers, the horticulturalists, the editors, the plumbers, the electricians, the soldiers, the pilots, the captains, architects, the garden designers, the skippers, the racing car drivers, the police officers, the doctors and nurses, the chefs, the surgeons, the waiters... I could go on and on and on....

Real Lives, Real Excitement
So I decided I would put aside a few minutes and come up with scenarios for books/films that are actually interesting and give kids a wider view of the sorts of careers they could have. Exciting lives they could lead, interesting situations they could find themselves, which don't involve a high school musical/dance/singing competition.

Here they are:

The Apprentice Zookeeper
David's dad has been taken prisoner by the gorillas in their enclosure. Does David know enough about these magnificent, dangerous creatures to get Dad back alive?

Five Steps
Jordan lives on Mars, where five steps outside can kill you. When his little brother goes outside in a sandstorm, can he find him?

Ride Like the Wind
In Mongolia the horse is king and growing up is dangerous. Can Sika prove herself worthy to ride with her father?

Training with the enemy
 Allie's parents hate football. They hate the Hampton Howlers even more. Allie wants to go to the Olympics but how can she get there without the right coach?

Freak Island
Working with his biologist father, Alex has discovered a ferocious new species. Can he capture it?

Children of the Dust
In Africa friendship can be dangerous, especially if your friend is a child soldier.

The Moon Pool
Sallie lives at the bottom of the ocean in a research lab where the pets are rather unusual.

Big Feet
Charlie has a new pet that no one wants to cuddle.

School and other Pains
Cassie lives in the outback where her classmates meet only once a year.

Silver Shoes
Re-training abused horses takes patience and skill, but Sarah's choice is un-trainable.

The Colour of Love
Sometimes all you have left is the will to survive. Julie's parents are struggling to protect the last pride of lions on Earth.


Saturday, 4 February 2017

Movies and books which won't send your kid off the deep end

I don't know if you've noticed, but a LOT of kids' movies these days are very loud and obnoxious, resulting in similar behaviours in my child. Immediately after watching she's hyperactive, irritable and eventually (after arguing about everything) explodes into tears and has to be sent to her room for some quiet time to recuperate. Sassy American TV shows are particularly galling. We're trying to instill in my daughter respect for others, especially the adults who are charged with protecting and educating her. It doesn't matter how you cut it, adults and children are not equal. As adults we have experience and wisdom that only comes with age and making lots of mistakes. There is no fast track to knowledge. Kids must learn in stages, and listen to their elders. Some movies and TV shows do nothing to teach kids respect for themselves or anyone else.

So, in our house we've gone back to 'the good old days'. She loves The Sound of Music, and classic TV show Little House on the Prairie and a more recent offering based upon Flora Thompson's autobiography of life in the late 1800's Lark Rise to Candleford.  I know what you're thinking - these are so OLD FASHIONED! But not only are the stories interesting and exciting, she is learning a  lot about history and culturally relevant information that helps her make sense of who she is and who we are as a family.

In addition, I have just ordered a whole bunch of DVDs which I will put in the birthday and christmas box, to be given during the year, (not all at once!) Perhaps on a really rainy day when all craft/storynory/reading/board game options have been exhausted, I can whip out one of these DVDs.

Nostaglic? Of course I am! I was brought up in the seventies. In Australia we had a lot of TV shows from the fifties that did me no harm. This list of movies involves some (wait for it) old fashioned values. So if you're a wildly enthusiastic bra burning feminist, click away now before you get angry at my choices. I make NO APOLOGY for being a traditionalist. I believe very strongly in the traditional family and traditional values. If you don't agree, that's fine. But it's my choice and I have very good reasons for upholding these values.

Most of these movies are based on classic children's books by the best writers in the world. A couple are for sheer fun and silliness.

Anyway, enough of that. Here is the list!

We've read the books, (Heidi, Heidi grows up and Heidi's children). This is the story of a little girl without close family who goes to live in a totally different world and finds herself very much attached to her fierce looking grandfather. The lifestyle is completely different to what she is used to (milking goats, homemade cheese and bread, living high up in the alps) but she makes friends and is cherished by all who come to know her. A story of resilience, if ever there was one.

Little Women
We're reading this at the moment. The book does take some skill to read out, as the language is antiquated, but she is nevertheless enjoying getting to know the characters.

The Secret of Moonacre
We loved the book. Can't wait to see what the movie adaptation will be like.

A Little Princess
Don't know this story. Should be fun to find out!

The Secret Garden
What an amazing story of children's courage! We loved the book.

Huck Finn.
I read this at school many years ago. Its a strange and sometimes scary book, but kids love it because Huck is so plucky and somehow manages to get out of trouble. Historically speaking it is interesting too, with issues such as slavery and friendship between people of different ages and races.

Tom's Midnight Garden
A classic timeslip book with an unusual relationship at the heart of it.

The Shaggy Dog
I remember this well! A bit of silliness, magic and mistaken identity.

The Swiss Family Robsinson
I read this as a child. So thrilling! Made me think what it would be like to believing on an island with nothing but your wits and ability to make what you needed. A terrific family saga.

Davy Crockett
There is a harshness about pioneer America that needs to be told. Heroes weren't always so clear cut and people led quite hard lives. Davy tries to do the right thing. I know its glamorised him a bit (the man who boasted he'd shot 100 bears). But that gives us room to chat about such things and the historical context.

The Parent Trap
Always a favourite, no matter which version you see. I'm hoping this one is fun!

The Railway Children
This lovely story about WWII and how children perceived it is brilliant.

Swallows and Amazons
Reminds me of my own childhood, when we roamed the neighbourhood and played in the bush. Our made-up games gave us hours of fun and taught us so much about getting along with others and the importance of creativity and problem solving.

The Absent-minded Professor
Another bit of silliness. Lots of fun. Stokes the imagination!

So there's my current list. You may have other ideas which are just as good or better. The important thing is that these stories are told simply, not with huge, loud amazing special effects. I would add a couple more - The Neverending Story and Fly Away Home.

Friday, 30 December 2016


Easy peasey
This is the easiest summertime lunch for a child of any age. Delicious, nutritious and a sure winner on taste, visual colour and texture. Did you know that the act of chewing helps our brains grow? And in adults,  the act of chewing releases hormones that calm us and make us feel good. So NO VITAMISING YOUR FOOD, PEOPLE!

What do you need?
On my kidlet's plate below you will see small samples of three types of cheeses - Jarlsberg, cheddar and Bocconcini. Also, green grapes, kiwi fruit, carrot sticks and nectarine. YUM! Make your own variations.

Important tips
  • It takes 15 times for a child's palate to get used to new foods, so persist! Don't give into the 'I want a biscuit/MacDonald's/ice cream/toast' whining. 
  • Provide what is nutritious, looks fabulous and tastes great. With no alternative. Eat this or nothing, is my policy. And it works. 
  • Some of this selection could be included in the school lunchbox. 
  • Make the preparation of food part of the fun for your child, teaching them the value of fresh fruit and vegetables as a natural part of the diet. 
  • Each meal, the plate should be 1/4 protein, (dairy, meat, fish, vegetarian soy meats etc), 1/4 grains (bread, rice, pasta etc) and 1/2 fruits or vegetables. Did you get that? ONE HALF of the plate should be fruits and/or vegetables. Our bodies are designed to eat mostly vegetation, not mostly meat. 
  • Enjoy shopping for fabulous fruit and vegies together
  • Enjoy preparing meals, looking through cookbooks together as part of learning and also bonding. We love it.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Good Food for Our Kids - It shouldn't be this hard!

me on a writing retreat near Canberra with Danny the dog
So, I teach in a learning centre, (when I'm not writing and visiting schools as an author) and I see lots of different types of people coming through the doors. I see  caring parents interested and invested in their child's academic progress, which is why they are prepared to spend money on getting extra assistance for their children. They're nice people. They're also very busy people.

As a working mum myself I know how hard it can be. I reach a small panic late in the afternoon - 'what they heck shall I cook for dinner?' I also wrestle with what to put in my daughter's lunchbox every day. I also wrangle the husband to make good choices about food and serve correct portion size, (why do men seem to think a little girl eats the same amount as themselves?) on the nights when I'm working.

The point of this blog post
A while ago I started taking photos of the meals my daughter and I prepared and today I thought, why not share what we've learned?

When I see kids sitting staring at screens, with chubby little legs and arms, a double chin and a glazed look in their eyes I feel sorry for them. They are not getting the right food! So if this can help a few kids by helping their mums and dads make better choices, I will be extremely pleased!

We are not perfect. I certainly am not. Some of my suggestions you'll think - "Whaaat? No, that won't work for me." But hey, that's fine. It's about sharing the ideas and getting you to think differently. It's about making informed choices, wherever you can, noticing what you're putting in the trolley, putting in the cupboard, putting on the plate, putting into the lunchbox. Change happens slowly. The last thing we need is more pressure!

So I encourage you, come with me on this journey. We will have fun, we'll feel better about ourselves as parents and most importantly, we'll have happier, healthier kids. There will be pages to the right of your screen with suggestions and I welcome your input too. yummy ideas ought to be shared!

Let's go!

Thursday, 31 March 2016

ACTIVITY - Get your kid moving!

Why do we need to move?
There's so many screens now, competing for our child's attention, with x-box, TV, DVD, Cinema, Wii, ipads, phones... Phew! think of all the hours wasted staring at these things! And none of it helps our  mental or physical state. NONE of it, no matter what the manufacturer tells you about their 'wonderful' product that reproduces reality so faithfully. Blargh!

Our bodies are designed to move. Every part of the skeleton has at least one function, for instance, your ribs expand as your lungs inflate with air. They also protect your lungs, heart and stomach from impact. We tend to take our bodies for granted. Until something terrible happens to them.

Movement is a stimulus for the body. Hormones of all different kinds are released when we move. These hormones help the body regulate itself, from how it uses energy, to improving our mood. Just stepping outside, under trees and taking a deep breath has a magical effect.
Movement stimulates our body to heal itself, too. Nowdays, within hours of knee replacement surgery patients are up and walking about, using that new knee! Seems cruel, but doctors and researchers have discovered that the body's immune system is stimulated by movement. Exercise increases the flow of secretions which improve digestion.

So how does this help kids?
Kid's bodies are constantly changing and growing, learning and adapting to their environment. Its an inbuilt response nature has given us in order to survive. its something we are born to do. It stimulates our mind too. That's why climbing trees, running, cycling, skating, kicking a football, dancing etc make kids laugh. They enjoy it, whether its a team sport or by themselves. The thrill of moving their limbs in the space around them, negotiating speed, accurate timing, hand-eye coordination, breathing. There's a lot going on. And it makes kids feel good.

Studies show that depression can be improved with exercise. Anxiety can be reduced. Friendships improved. Coordination improved. School work is positively affected. There is no downside really! It's about finding the right activity for your child.

Changing bad habits isn't easy. Getting your kid away from the telly might provoke some argument, but be firm. This is what parenting is about. Too many people use the TV as a babysitter. You might need to get outside and kick a ball around too. Is that such a bad thing? Here are some simple suggestions that don't cost money:
  1. Walk around the block. Even if you live in an urban area, you can do this.
  2. Find a nearby park. Walk there if possible. Take something to do, whether its ball, frisbee or notepad and pencil for jotting down plants and animals you see.
  3. Walk to the local library. Make it a weekly outing you both enjoy. Sit and read the paper or choose a DVD to watch at night while your child browses the shelves.
  4. Kick a ball in the backyard together.
  5. Tree climbing. The confidence this activity gives a child is quite miraculous. It can include use of ropes for safety and fun.
  6. Yoga stretches on the balcony if you don't have a garden.
  7. Park the car further from school and walk there and back when you do the drop-off and pick-up.
  8. See if there is a nearby bus stop your child can walk to to take the bus to school.
  9. Join a local team sport.
  10. ride your bicycles together 
  11. gardening together - plant a vegie patch, digging over the soil, adding mulch, planting herbs and vegies etc.
  12.  A community garden. If there isn't one, start one!
Other activities include:
  1. backyard trampoline. Invite friends over for afternoon play
  2. bicycle, skate board, scooter park
  3. swimming
  4. karate or other martial arts
  5. soccer/football/basketball/baseball team
  6. Cub scouts club
  7. cricket/horse riding
  8. dress-ups
I'm sure you could think of your own ideas. The main thing is to improve activity. Good luck!