Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Motherly Advice...The Rich Tapestry of Life...

Sometimes the Rich Tapestry of Life is just a bit too rich for me. Like a meal of a creamy bisque, a pork belly roast, and a crème brulee`, it sort of sits in the stomach and weighs you down. Let's face it, sometimes we all wish the Rich Tapestry of Life would nick off and enrich someone elses life, right?
It's times like these, that I guess many folk suffer with depression and anxiety. Heck, I know I've felt depressed and anxious on many occasions in recent years. But I'd fall short of describing myself as Depressed or Anxious in a clinical sense. If I thought that were an issue, I wouldn't hesitate to visit my friendly GP for some advice.
We're just talking regular run-of-the-mill stuff, where life just throws you a few curve balls in a row. And dang those curve balls smart if they hit you! I've had a few of those nasties leave a welt on my psyche lately!
But here's what I like to do.
I go for long walks in the sunshine.
I eat well, and include fruit, veges, fibre and lots of water in my diet.
I keep hands and mind busy and occupied, usually by baking or sewing or embroidering or indulging in any one of a number of crafts.

I switch the TV off and avoid social media.
I plant flowers in my garden or in pots.
I pick lavender from my garden and put it in vases and on my pillow.
I use lots of positive self-talk, and remove myself from the company of negative or critical people.
I give myself a manicure.
I pat my dog.
I visit my son who has the disability of Cerebral Palsy and who is always upbeat and cheerful, not matter what.
I ring my sister.
I have coffee with a friend.
I look at old photos and remind myself that life is good.

I revisit an old favourite embroidery book and pick up my fanciwork.

 I prepare for Christmas and other celebrations and remind myself that there is much to look forward to.

 And I definitely tell the Rich Tapestry of Life to nick off and enrich someone elses life. Actually what I say is a lot more colourful, and not usually part of a ladies vocabulary.
But it does get rid of some of that angst!
What are your strategies for coping with too much of the Rich Tapestry of Life?
I might be able to use some of them!

Monday, September 11, 2017

Insourcing....a week of craft, cooking, and chaos...

This week was the leadup to my daughters final Dance Night at high school. As she has danced for 15 years, 5 of those at school, and has been both Junior and Senior Dance Captain, this was a highly anticipated event. Sadly for her, her recent Appendectomy meant that she could not actually dance. However, she copped that on the chin, and contributed as much as she was able.
I helped with costuming and props as I always have. Above you see a mask I painted for a Fairy Tale Villains routine. Never one to shy away from a challenge, I purchased the blank mask, found a suitable image to copy, and off I went. I added a few embellishments along the way, and I'm pleased with the way it turned out.
Black garbage bags were wound and scrunched and stapled to an inexpensive mirror frame, the mask was added, and Voila. Evil Magic Mirror.
A Day of the Dead routine was on the cards as well. Far from being morbid, this is a Mexican tradition of honouring the dearly departed, and features vivid costumes, floral headbands, and celebrations for the lives moved on from this existence to the next.
Corsets were embellished with ribs, red velvet hearts and satin roses. Tulle skirts were made (thanks to some wonderful helpers!) using fluorescent tulle strips and the no-sew method.
Headbands were made using hand embellished Halloween skulls and vivid silk flowers, hot glued to inexpensive headbands.

 Each headband slightly different...

And being my daughters last year, the teacher felt moved to reward my thousands of hours of crafting and sewing as a volunteer, with a pair of Angel wings. A beautiful gesture on her part.
So of course, with all this happening, and hot on the heels of an Appendectomy, simple meals were the order of the day.
Pizza Mushrooms one night...
...followed by walnut and ginger brownies for a couple of days...

A fresh batch of home made Ricotta for me to enjoy with Corn Thins to offset the pizza mushrooms and

A pork belly roast enjoyed for Fathers Day...

Served on a bed of vegetables roasted till soft, then mashed with a splash of sparkling wine, if you please...yummy...

...the leftovers served for dinner for a couple of days complaints!

A hectic few weeks for sure. I'm hoping like blazes that things settle down for a bit. Too much excitement for lil ole me I'm afraid!
Money saved, daughter happy, husband spoilt for Fathers Day, one step closer to the end of my years as a school and dance Mum.
Just 39 school days left in the school calendar. What will I do with myself?
So many!
How was your week?

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Motherly thoughts...

I am taken by this beautiful piece of art, depicting a family scene. I love that it captures a moment where not all is perfect. The kite needs repair and the boy and his father or grandfather are trying to remedy this situation. The father/grandfather has obviously been working away at his whetstone, perhaps sharpening the tools with which he works his garden plot, seen just behind the fence. There's a watering can there too, as well as a rake, so obviously he's been at toil. The girl looks as if she's been working too, or at least helping, and has either collected the honey from a hive not depicted, or is offering a cool drink, mug of tea, or other refreshment to help Father/Grandpa with his musings. Under her arm is some needlework or mending, and she is wearing an apron, so she's obviously been doing something useful. We see behind her too, that a third sibling, is being disciplined by Mother/Grandma for sins to which we are not privy, so it's probably a more honest depiction of family life than many antique artworks!
Why do I love this painting? I guess it's because unlike many typical scenes, it shows a family at work. A family where each is helping the other. Yes even the son being disciplined is being shown that whatever his misdemeanour may have been, it was unacceptable in this family home, and he must mend his wicked ways. There are tools of labour scattered about, and a harmonious feeling of co-operation is evident. The dog looks well loved and well fed. The garden behind the fence is thriving. There is a pot of herbs on the windowsill, so clearly the garden and kitchen are connected. Everyones clothing, though worn in places, is neat, and suggests a family well loved and cared-for. The male figure cares about the children and is wondering how best to repair the kite, thus teaching the children valuable skills. The female figure is acting disciplinarian, but the child to whom the discipline is being metered out, looks well fed and clothed, and only slightly alarmed. Perhaps he ate the cheese meant for dinner. I certainly don't think his misdemeanour was anything more serious.
I confess that I have old school ideas on parenting. I have always imagined that parenting was about providing love, a safe home, clothing, nutrition, education, discipline, support, and spiritual guidance.
I'm a tad confused these days, because parenting methods seem to be either incredibly lassez-faire (a policy of letting things take their own course rather than intervening to influence the outcome), or one that invites the world at large to comment, give a thumbs up, or inspire millions of views in order to create an income stream for parents.
I have personally experienced through nearly 40 years of my own childrens schooling and extra-curricular activities, an increasing attitude of 'I'll pay someone else to do it' or just 'someone else will do it' or just 'I can't be bothered...isn't that the schools job?'. This applies to everything from organising a first birthday party, to teaching children right from wrong.
As a good friend of mine so eloquently put it 'Do you pay someone else to have sex with your husband because you can't be bothered too?'
Somewhere along the way, if you've chosen to have children, you have to inconvenience yourself for them. Whether that means 3am wakeup calls to someone who has a funny tummy, a 4am alarm to get to a far flung destination for a sports match, trimming the entertainment budget to allow an artistic child to enjoy longed for music or dance lessons, or telling your 16 year old that no, that they (and perhaps you too) cannot go to that party this weekend, because chores and school assignments have to be completed's got to happen.
Kids who are left to make their own choices too often and too early, can usually be depended upon to make poor choices sooner or later. That might be as simple as poor dietary choices, poor choices of friends, or other choices that are far more life altering and dangerous.
I've always preferred a more proactive approach to parenting. My Mum did too. We turned out okay, so I figured that I'd pretty much follow her example.
We were allowed to have friends over to our home as much as we wanted. The friends had to respect the rules of the home, but they were welcome to stay as often as they liked and for as long as they wished, providing their own parents knew where they were and approved. I did the same for my sons and have done so for my daughter as well. As a consequence, we did not feel the need to socialise away from home much, if ever. My sons and daughter were also happy to socialise at home. I knew where they were, friends parents knew where their children were. Win-win. Yes it meant some late nights with sons playing computer games, or daughter and friends giggling and eating popcorn. But if that's the worst of it, I'll take it every day.
Mum made it clear to us that we were expected to do our best at school to prepare us for the real world. She didn't expect us all to be straight A students, unless we were capable of straight As of course, but trying your best was a given. If you hadn't done your homework, or completed your assignments, you didn't get to watch TV, go out, or have friends over. She knew, because she remained informed about our educational commitments. She knew, because she'd not only ask if work was in progress, she'd ask to see it for herself. There were a few occasions as a teen, when I was made to stay home while everyone else went out and did fun stuff, because my work wasn't as well progressed as she thought it should be. She was involved. I enforced this with my sons with varying degrees of success (I'm not perfect either!), and my daughter has been expected to follow suit. It worked for us. Yes, sometimes it meant that we as a family, stayed home from a social event, to support the student who needed supporting or supervision, as the case may have been. So be it. There were plenty of other social occasions. A missed one here and there is not the end of the world. For any of us. Education is important. Mum always said 'Do well at school and you'll do well in life. Fail at school and life will be so much harder'. She was right.
Granted, discipline is a bit of a minefield these days. Discipline in the form of removal of privileges, is the norm and that too can be a battlefield, but there are ways, and the obvious one is isolating your children from their techno devices. A reluctance to limit the entire families access to technology, is no excuse. Like I said, maybe if the situation warrants, you have to inconvenience yourself too. Pull the plug, literally. Unplug the computer and put it in the garage. Confiscate hand held devices and phones. And yes, tell your teen that no, they cannot go to that party this weekend, unless schoolwork and chores are completed. They won't like it. They'll sulk and pout and likely yell a lot. I've had a few yelling matches in my lifetime, both as a teen, and as a parent parenting a teen. I survived. So did my teens. Watch them get their schoolwork done when there's no Facebook for 24 hours. You'll be amazed.
Saying No and meaning it
I know, I know. Saying no to your children can be really hard. But that IS part of parenting. The learning to say no, and really meaning it, sets boundaries. And believe it or not, kids can and do, thrive with boundaries. Not in the short term, admittedly. The weathering of the inevitable shouting and cussing when you finally put your foot down can be harrowing. Although the sooner you do it, the less shouting and cussing there will be. But boundaries, and rules, are part of life. Yes, they'll learn this at school. But teaching your children that rules and boundaries are important, is your role, as much as it is the schools.
You are the Parent. You are NOT the Friend. I don't know what's with this 'oh but my child is my best buddy'. That's not it. You can be best buddies when they grow up into responsible adults with a good heart, a valuable education, and a great work ethic. Being friends with your growing child is a lovely idea in books, but doesn't necessarily work well in real life. As my Mum used to say 'Yes I know you don't like me right now, but you will thank me for it later. I make the rules and enforce them because I love you'. I didn't understand it then. I do now.
Making compromises for the Greater Good
We were expected to make compromises and sacrifices for the greater good of the family sometimes too. That meant NOT always getting your own way, and often experiencing yourself, the satisfaction in delayed gratification and the genuine appreciation that it brings.
I remember one of the funniest conversations I ever had with my teenaged sons, was when my disabled son Mr A, had the opportunity to attend a course that would help him develop his speech and control of his body, skills denied to him due to his diagnosis of Cerebral Palsy. The course was going to cost thousands, and I had no idea how, as a single parent, I was going to come up with that money. My middle son wanted a new pair of Michael Jordan Air basketball boots. He wanted them very desperately. As desperately as only a person of 14 can want something.
I said to him 'what's more important...your basketball boots or your brother having the chance to walk?'. His response? 'But James (the older, able bodied brother), can already walk!'. It was a smart alec throwaway comment that was part hilarious and part infuriating at the time, but at least he and we, saw the humour in it and had a good laugh. Mr A got to go to the course thanks to the generosity of some unknown benefactors, and Mr Middle Son did indeed get his Michael Jordan Air basketball boots, so clearly the Universe was looking out for us! My point is, that Middle Son appreciated his basketball boots all the more, knowing that I had made special concessions to acquire them for him. It wasn't just a case of 'I want, so I get', that seems the norm these days thanks to easy credit and payday loans. Delayed gratification is a good thing. Use it to your own and your childrens, ultimate advantage.
Don't make excuses for your kids
 One of the most valuable lessons my Mum taught us, was that she would fight tooth and nail for us as long as we did the right thing. But heaven forbid. If we did the wrong thing, we would wear the consequences. She wouldn't abandon us, and wouldn't hesitate to accompany us to whatever disciplinary action was necessary, for our schoolyard indiscretions. But never ever, did she try to blame somebody else, when she knew we were out of line. Consequently, we grew into adult life, accepting responsibility for our actions, but knowing to stand our ground if we were in the right. That has stood us all in good stead.
 Share your knowledge
 Mum taught us so many things I don't know where Mums teaching ends, and my formal education begins. She taught us financial responsibility, how to be a good worker and a good boss, how to grow things, mend things, make do, and make hay while the sun shines. She taught us to weather the tough times and celebrate the good times, always keeping an eye on what might be around the corner, be it good, bad or indifferent. She set our expectations for future relationships and made sure that we valued our loved ones above financial gain. We learned that trying to impress people is a fools game and that the only people that you need to impress, are your family. She showed us by her example that people are important, not possessions.
Be Glad
Glad: adjective
meaning: happy, pleased, grateful, delighted, thrilled, gleeful
Glad is such an old fashioned word, isn't it? It means so many little emotions all at once. It seems odd for kids, but we learned to appreciate the small things in life. We didn't demand too many material things. Mum took us on an annual beach holiday, where we were glad we could swim and have an icy pole from the refrigerator of the houses in which we stayed when we got home all hot and sweaty from our walk back from the beach. We were glad when we had new swimsuits and a new beachtowel for our holiday. We were glad when she'd surprise us with a whole packet of lollies to ourselves instead of having to share one with our siblings. We were glad to have friends come on holiday with us. We were glad that we lived in a loving, peaceful family home where Mum knew how to keep seven kids and their friends happy with next to nothing. Teach your children to value the little things. Teach them to Be Glad.
I was not, and still am not, a perfect parent. My kids have their faults. I have always tried though, to make them behave like decent human beings. Ultimately that is the measure I think.
What do you think? What are your most valuable parenting tips?

Monday, September 4, 2017

War on TV Chefs....Keep it Simple...

What is it about TV Chefs and cooking shows that frustrates me so?
And since when does the average family have to eat something that looks like it came out of a five star hotel kitchen, 7 days a week?
What is wrong with good old fashioned meals that are wholesome, healthy and easy to prepare, mostly use one baking dish or pan, and take mere minutes to clean up after?
I know that the last thing I want to do at the end of a long day, is use every pan in the house to cook dinner, thus creating a bench full of washing up. All well and good for the TV Chefs. They've got someone else to do that for them. I might add, that someone else also dices the onions, minces the garlic, measures the stock out into a jug and so forth. It all looks so easy when it's a pinch of this and a cup of that already neatly measured in cute little containers and dollhouse sized bowls. The TV Chefs don't have to go to the pantry and refrigerator, get all of that out, then put it all away again, do they now?
Unless it's a special occasion, I rarely cook anything that requires fancy ingredients or a gazillion dishes. That's a fools game.
In the last fortnight, while my daughter was recovering from an Appendectomy, and my Mother-in-Law was in hospital with multiple health issues, keeping things simple was truly the name of the game. And guess what? We ate well. I would venture to say that we perhaps ate better than we usually would because I had planned my menu and allowed for flexibility to take advantage of bargains and seasonal produce. Using a list I had shopped accordingly, then I'd stored my groceries carefully to avoid waste or spoilage. There's nothing worse than getting to weeks end, and discovering slimy deli meat or half eaten whatever, hiding amongst the Parsley and Pork sausages up the back of the refrigerator. 
Sausage and Vegetable Bake
The evening my daughter The Diva returned home from hospital, I threw this meal together. We were all well and truly knackered, and craving comfort food. Into a baking dish went a sliced eggplant, chopped zucchini, halved cherry and grape tomatoes, onion, carrots and a bulb of garlic, along with a few pork and apple sausages.
I drizzled it with olive oil, sprinkled it generously with Oregano, Rosemary, Thyme and other aromatic stuff, and into the oven it went for about 45 minutes.
It was delicious. One baking dish. Three dinner plates. Three sets of cutlery and a cooking knife. That's it. Ingredients? Six plus some herbs and oil. Time involved? Three minutes to prepare, literally, three minutes. 45 minutes in the oven. Washing up? Three minutes.
One Pan Chicken Roast Dinner
That was such a hit, that I prepped a chicken the same way the next night. I just peeled and halved some carrots lengthwise, laid them on a bed of diced potato, corn and zucchini, and sat the chicken, sprayed with olive oil, stuffed with a lemon, and sprinkled with herbs on top. An hour and 15 minutes later, dinner was ready. One baking dish, three plates, three sets of cutlery and a knife to wash up. Three minutes to prepare (tip...washed potatoes whilst a little more expensive are treated like a convenience food peeling!).
Glazed Meatballs, Five Vegetable Meatloaf
The next night I'd defrosted some mince, so half became meatballs, baked in the oven with some strawberry jam glaze (don't knock it till you've tried it!), steamed rice, roasted cherry tomatoes and steamed baking dish, one microwave safe jug to steam the rice AND the beans...hardly any washing up...
...and the other half became a meatloaf loaded with vegetables that fed all three of us for lunch for 3 days, with just a few walnuts on the side. Everything else was in the meatloaf. When you make rissoles or burger patties, double the ingredients. Add some veges to half, and just plop that into a loaf tin, and bake it for about 45 minutes too. Such an easy meal for another day for no additional effort. Ignore that stuff about baking your meatloaf in a water bath. It's nonsense. I've never done that, and my meatloaf is a firm family favourite.
Honey Drizzled Greek Yoghurt
Dessert if you must, was and is often, home made yoghurt, (find that recipe here) simply served with nuts and berries. A drizzle of honey or maple syrup, if you're a sweet tooth, is a nice bonus.
Ploughmans Platters
Lunches here were equally simple. Variations on a Ploughmans Platter are the lunch du jour, and served with a chilled glass of water garnished with a lemon slice and a couple of strawberry slivers, and eaten in the sunshine, they're hard to beat. Prep time? About a minute. Washing up? One plate each, and a knife maybe to slice the ham and the cheese and tomatoes.

One Bowl Salads

One bowl salads are great too, and we enjoyed this particular version on two separate days with different protein added. This one is just a matter of roasting some cherry tomatoes, and tossing them with a tin of any kind of beans (I used Cannellini), some salad leaves, seasoning and olive oil. Really delicious with diced poached chicken, sliced chorizo, or even an egg done your favourite way. Prep time? 3 minutes plus 20 for roasting the tomatoes. Washing up? One oven tray, three bowls, three sporks. They're those things that are fork, spoon and knife all in one handle piece of cutlery. We love them.
Eggs Benedict & Breakfast Tortillas
Lazy breakfasts were truly lazy. Poached eggs with a Cheats Hollandaise (find that recipe in this post here) over muffins as seen below, or a couple of eggs cracked straight into the pan, and scrambled with a fork, cooked omelette style with some diced bacon thrown in, and folded inside a warmed tortilla with some baby spinach, or even eggs cooked inside tomato rings as seen at the top of my post, were delish, and entailed nothing more than one pan, and plates for serving. Prep time 5-8 minutes. Washing up? One pan, three plates.
Vegetarian Noodles

One night, all we wanted was some veges. So into the pan they went, lightly sautéed and served with Pad Thai Noodles tossed with seasonings like garlic salt, pepper, and chilli. Ok, two pans for that as the noodles had to be cooked, but three bowls and 3 sporks and 2 pans is about two minutes worth of washing up or rinsing for the dishwasher. And that was a truly mouthwatering meal.
No Pot Required Noodle Soup
Some days all you want when you're recovering from surgery, is a bowl of soup. So soup it was for The Diva. This is her favourite and it's simply boiling water poured over a handful of Pad Thai noodles, and spiced with a chicken stock cube, a drizzle of sesame oil, a quarter of a teaspoon of minced ginger and garlic, and a dribble of soy sauce. No pan necessary. 2 minutes to prepare and one bowl a fork and a spoon to wash. You could add some carrot slivers and snow peas to this and it would be a great instant meal.
Honestly, plan ahead, shop smart, do a little extra on nights when you can, and you'll eat well with virtually no effort whatsoever. I'm the ultimate lazy cook, and we eat healthfully, with plenty of variety, and rarely more than a single pan and the plates we've eaten from to wash.
Ban TV chefs from your place like I have.
You don't need those silly duffers. They have an army of people to help them.
We, do not.
What's your favourite one pan, one bowl or instant meal?