Tuesday, September 30, 2014

30:09:14 "Oooh, that's cute!"

What is your eye drawn to in this photo? 

It is the clearance table in my local Trade Secrets store. A mecca for bargain products that are normally significantly dearer elsewhere. 

One of my (not to name or shame her) teenage daughters was with me as we passed the table.

"Oooh, that's cute!" she said, pointing at the white ceramic squirrel.
"Oooh, that's cute!" I said, my eye being drawn to the heart shaped cookie tray.
"Oooh, that's cute!" she said, her eye being drawn to the right....

Monday, September 29, 2014

29:09:14 Me time!

My kids will be mad when they read this blog post! 

This morning the family car was booked in for a service. The garage is within walking distance of a shopping centre. It was an early booking and I offered the kids to get dressed and come with me or stay home and "veg" Can you guess what they chose?

Fast forward on an hour. The car was booked in and I had done a couple of small errands and still had some time to pass. Then I spotted this little box of Lily O'Brien chocolates! They are made in Ireland and I felt it was my duty as an Irish mother to buy them and support this amazing Irish company. I sat in a cafe and sipped a cappuccino in peaceful serenity while slowly savouring each and every one of these cute chocolates. It was a stolen half hour of pure "Me time" which I enjoyed every minute of.

The rest of the day was not as calm as this lovely start suggests. It involved bills, supermarket shopping, cleaning and a car who's low tire pressure safety alarms kept sounding as I drove home, requiring me to pull onto the hard shoulder and phone through to the garage for assistance. But you don't want to know all that and I don't want to remember that part of the day. I just want to remember my little piece of heaven...

Lily O'Brien's Chocolates started life as the brainchild of Mary Ann O'Brien who, having recovered from a debilitating illness in the early 1990s, discovered her true passion for all things chocolate. Embarking on a journey of discovery, Mary Ann honed her chocolate-making skills among world class chefs and chocolatiers in both South Africa and Europe before starting her own mini enterprise from her Kildare kitchen in 1992. With little more than two saucepans, a wooden spoon and her then toddler, Lily, acting as production manager Mary Ann began to create high quality chocolate recipes for friends and family.

Not satisfied with the scale of her enterprise she soon expanded in the hope of positioning excellent Irish chocolate on the world map. Naming the company after her daughter Lily seemed like the most natural thing to do at the time and since then Lily O'Brien's chocolates has established itself as one of Ireland's best-loved chocolatiers.

With Mary Ann still at the helm of the business, the passion that first inspired her chocolate honeycomb hedgehogs is still present in every aspect of the business and family values remain at the very core of Lily O'Brien's. Based in the heart of Co. Kildare, Mary Ann and her team continue to develop mouth-watering chocolate creations using the finest quality ingredients.

"Each and every chocolates has been created from the passion and pleasure we all share - we hope you enjoy tasting them as much as we enjoy making them for you!"

Mary Ann

Sunday, September 28, 2014

28:09:14 Sunset gum trees

I really dislike working weekends. The weekend to me is a precious family time where we can spend time together. Weekend work pays more highly than weekend shifts but there is a price to pay. A trade off between money and family time. 

As a family we are lucky that both Byron and myself work mid week and weekends can be a time for relaxing. Occasionally though a big bill will come our way and then I am grateful for the chance to work an extra shift or two. This month I have worked three Sundays in succession. Today was the last and for that I am very grateful. 

I returned home late this afternoon having spent the day in air conditioned sterility. I was grateful for the chance to stand outside and breathe deep. To smell the air with the hint of eucalyptus, to hear the rustle of the dry leaves above my head and to look up and see the setting sun reflect off the bark. A good way to let go of the busy day and be glad to have a calm evening ahead with my family. 

Saturday, September 27, 2014

27:09:14 Smoothie

I love weekends. The pace slows down. There is time to enjoy different foods that the midweek rush often prevents.

Berry smoothies. Banana, apple juice, frozen raspberries and chia seeds.

Time to sit and sip while leafing through cookbooks for menu ideas for the coming week.  

Friday, September 26, 2014

26:09:14 Afternoon tea

What better way to snap out of work mode and back to family mode than a phone call planning a visit from my nephews and niece. 

I got home from the hospital with just enough time to bake afternoon tea before our house exploded into noisy chaos. Laughter, hugs, board games, duplo and play food picnics on the kitchen floor. A perfect end to our day. 

I love the change in routine that school holidays bring!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

25:09:14 Wet walk

I probably should have checked the weather forecast before going on my lunchtime walk today. 30 minute breaks for us nurses. Not a minute less. Not a minute more. At 14 minutes as I went to turn and start the return leg the heavens opened. The rain fell in heavy huge drops as thunder rolled above me in the darks storm clouds that seemed to appear from nowhere.

I returned to the ward soaking wet but refreshed and clear headed and ready to face the final part of my nursing shift. It didn't take long to dry off as I returned to the fast pace of our ward. I may have been on the receiving end of a few giggles. Next time I think I'll check the radar before my lunch break! 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

24:09:14 Vinyl

Sian bought a record player this week and Byron unearthed his teenage vinyl collection. We spent an evening listening to records bought over 30 years ago. A nostalgic mix of teenage fun across the generation gap! 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

23:09:14 I have an onion and I'm not afraid to chop it!

I never knew I needed them until I saw a pair in my my Sister-in-law's kitchen. 

Onion goggles!!!

The half sunglasses, half swimming goggles that prevent those nasty onion fumes from making you turn into a snivelling mess while making dinner. When I cut onions I don't just cry, I sob! I have scared my kids when they were younger, now they just laugh at their mother preparing dinner and crying like she's a crazy banshee

But no more! Because my wonderful Sister-in-law has given me my very own pair for my birthday! Yippee! Now to find something to make for tea... 

French onion soup perhaps...?!

Monday, September 22, 2014

22:09:14 Murph Morph!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

21:09:14 Flowers

I worked today. It's hard dragging yourself out of bed before 6am on a Sunday morning but it was a good shift and I enjoyed the calmer weekend atmosphere on the ward and interacting with patients families as they visited. 

When I got home I found a cup of tea waiting for me and some freshly picked flowers. It's good to come home to my family. It keeps my priorities right. Every now and again extra money is needed to help with bigger bills but family comes first. No amount of money in my pay-slip would make me trade time with my husband and kids on a regular basis.

I know we are very lucky as a family to be in a position where we can spend our weekends together. That we have this great balance between work and home life. Sometimes it just takes something as simple as some wild flowers and grasses collected on a walk to make me feel content and loved. 

Saturday, September 20, 2014

20:09:14 Chilli

Some windowsill gardening today. 

Chilli seeds planted in an egg box and sat in the sunshine next to the kitchen window. 

I'm impatient now, hoping to see some seedlings sprout. Watch this space!

Friday, September 19, 2014

19:09:14 Art show.

Gareth's school ran an Art show this week. We went to the show after I collected the girls from school. A gold coin entry allowed us to walk around the school hall filled with creative projects made from kindy kids to the senior Year 6's. Classical music and cheese platters added to the atmosphere. 

We were able to buy a red dot for a gold coin and stick it on Gareths name plate. His masterpiece then stayed for the duration of the exhibition and later came home in his school bag! 

An extra bonus was that the raffle tickets we bought won us second prize in the draw! A wonderful hamper of art and craft goodies that made Rhiannon's face light up!
A very successful evening and one I'm sure the school will run again. 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

18:09:14 Twins!

A friend of mine is expecting twins! Tonight she thinks we are just having a normal Old Ducks bookclub but we are not! The only book we will be reading is the one that arrived on my doorstep today (phew, good timing Amazon!)

All us girls in bookclub have decided to surprise our friend with a few baby treats and nice nibbles to celebrate her pregnancy and help her have a few supplies to put by for the babies arrival.

We don't know if the babies are boys or girls? Or maybe one of each?! I can't wait to get there tonight and put my things together with the rest of the Old Ducks and see the mum-to-be's face as she works out what is going on.

I have set this blog post to publish after the start of bookclub just in case I accidentally give the game away!

So, so, so excited!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

17:09:14 Everything I know about 5:2!

Since Sundays tv program on the 5:2 diet I have had so many people contact me asking me about the 5:2 way of life. Can I tell them what books I bought? What recipes I would recommend? What tips I can tell them? I feel as though a lot of my friends are craving information exactly as I was almost two years ago when I first heard about 5:2 from my good friend Cathy in the UK.

I can only talk about my experiences, my tips that worked, my good days and my not-so-good ones. Everyones journey will be different. I thought it might be helpful to write a blog post summarising my journey so if you want to read more you have all the links in one easy place.

The first thing I did was watched the Dr Michael Mosley documentary "Eat, Fast, Live Longer" which you can watch online if you click here.

Then I went to the official UK 5:2 Fast Diet website here and read loads of great facts.

I bought the official book at its cheapest Australian current price (including delivery) using this website.

I blogged about my experience over the next year...

Getting ready to start: Read here.
Week one: Read here.
Week two: Read here.
Week three: Read here.
Week four: Read here.
Week five: Read here.
Week eight: Read here.
Week fourteen: Read here.
Week nineteen: Read here.
Week forty: Read here.

When I grew a bit tired of the recipes we were using on a regular basis I bought this book which has so many great and varied recipes I have still not run out of ideas a year later!

I also joined the Aussie 5:2 Facebook group. It is a wonderful group of people who share ideas, good days and bad and are amazingly supportive especially on a fast day when my stomach is grumbling and I'm wanting to eat all the contents of the fridge in one go! It is a closed group to prevent spammers and avoid negativity. Due to the massive surge in interest in 5:2 this week it is currently closed to all new members except those nominated by an existing member. If you want me to nominate you just send me a message on Facebook and I'll put your name forward.

I cannot imagine stopping doing 5:2. It has kept both my weight and Byrons stable over the last two years. We are both bang in the middle of our suggested Body Mass Index (BMI) We have both recently had our annual G.P. check up and have been given clean bills of health. Blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose readings are all normal. We get to enjoy our food at the weekends with a healthy mix of wine and treats thrown in. We have found a balance that works for us. 5 days where we do not calorie count, we just live life normally. 2 days with well planned, calorie counted food that we appreciate every single morsel of.

If you are looking for weight loss diet I would encourage you to try it. But knowing that there is also a chance that it will also give you protection from heart attack, stroke, diabetes, dementia and cancer then what have you got to lose?

If the 5:2 health claims cannot be scientifically proven over the coming years then Byron and I have still found an excellent way to stave off the middle age spread around our waistlines. If the health benefits are scientifically proven then we will hopefully be looking at a better quality of life as we grow old together.

And that's worth taking a chance on.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

16:09:14 Chess

Gareth's school has done so many day excursions recently, entering the kids into science and technology competitions and also a "Chess day"

One of the teachers set up a lunchtime chess club over the Winter. Gareth enjoyed it and was one of the kids who got chosen to enter a day-long chess comp in Newcastle. Us mums were the taxi's again (which I love doing as you get to listen to the kids chat together in the back and learn a lot about the dynamics of their friendships!)

The day was incredibly well organised and all the kids really enjoyed it.

There were no winners amongst Gareth's school group but they all had a lot of fun. As with many other excursions this year this day out was another "last" for Gareth as his time at Primary School draws to an end. I am treasuring each and every chance to spend time around my lovely boy as I know High School will bring a lot of change.

I feel like in recent weeks the house has fallen apart and the standard of organisation and cleanliness has dropped way below what I'd like but I am determined to have memories of time with my kids rather than memories of scrubbing bathrooms! Do you agree...?!

Monday, September 15, 2014

15:09:14 Snow

Sian was lucky enough to go on a school trip to the snow this weekend with her friends. They finished their Year 11 exams on Thursday afternoon and then were on a coach at 9pm to drive through the night, arriving at the snow at 5am. 

They had ski lessons and then free time skiing all day Friday, Saturday and Sunday morning before getting back in the coach and heading home. It was a late pick up at school and we were all tucked up in bed just before midnight.

She had a wonderful time. I just love this "selfie" taken by Sian's boyfriend Jack of the two of them at the top of the mountain in Saturday. 

Thanks Jack for looking after Sian and bringing her home in one piece! 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

14:09:14 Silver spoons

Last week I saw a box of little souvenir spoons in our local op-shop (charity shop) Many of them were silver plated and some were clean and boxed while others were battered and discoloured. I chose 6 random ones and brought them home thinking they would be cute to polish up and use with my gradually increasing collection of different cups and saucers.

Rhiannon saw them and asked could she have one. She chose her favourite and brought it away to her room. As I carried clean laundry into her room this week I spotted it on her desk and wanted it back! She had peeled off the rubbery disk on the handle that had said the name of the town the spoon had been bought in. She had then taken to it with her craft and make-up supplies and done something very clever! Immediately I wanted to throw the clean piles of laundry on the floor and race back to the shop to buy up every last spoon they had. Being night-time I had to contain myself and wait.

I mis-timed the Saturday opening hours of the shop and arrived as the shutters were being pulled down. I begged the men who were lugging heavy furniture into the loading doors to allow me in. They shrugged and pointed at an open side door and said to take my chances. But be warned, if the ladies had closed off the till they wouldn't serve me. I ran in and straight to the box of spoons. It was almost empty. I took the remaining spoons and added up the cost based on what I had been charged the last time. I heard the money being counted in a backroom. The door had a chain and padlock that allowed it open a crack and no more. I reached my hand in and called out to the lady inside. "I have one last bit of money for you." She barely looked up as she reached out and took my coins. Didn't ask who I was? How I got in? What I was buying? Just took the money and carried on counting!

I ran back out the side door, thanking the men profusely, and headed home again with my stash. I've got out the silver polish and cleaned them all and removed the little sticky disks with place-names I've never been. The spoons are now ready for some Rhiannon magic! I promise to share when she has finished...

Watch this space!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

13:09:14 WE WON!

You'll never guess which table won the Trivia Night?! 

Maybe the title gave it away! 

We won!!!

Not only did we win the quiz but my friend Monica was also the lucky winner of a bottle of Moët & Chandon when her husband won it by throwing dollar coins at the bottle as it sat in the middle of the shiny wooden hall floor! 

What a wonderful night. Full of laughter and fun and a mad mixture of us, young and old, all having a good time. Monica was a good sport posing with the (unopened!) bottle of bubbles for me so we could text it to our big girls who are away on a school trip. With the euphoria of the winning she was good enough to say I could post it here too! 

Here's a toast to good friends!


Friday, September 12, 2014

12:09:14 Food platter

We've bought tickets for a P+F fundraiser evening at the High School. It is a Trivia evening. We've put together two tables, one of parents and one of kids. I am so not a trivia genius. Quick thinking is not my thing. Food is! I decided to contribute this offering of food to compensate for my lack of quick firing brain cells. Wish us luck!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

11:09:14 Coffee jitters

A friend introduced us to the addictive delights of chocolate covered coffee beans. Having tried them I so wanted to find a bag for Byron to give him on Father's Day. Eventually I found a 1 kilo bag in Bibina, the European food import warehouse. That's right ONE KILO! And dark chocolate too! As you might see in the photo we have made our way through 90% of them and have noticed how very addictive they are. They are so moreísh that we keep going back to the jar for "just a few more" and then getting the caffeine jitters and wondering why...? 

I don't think I will be buying any more of these for at least another year. Long enough to go cold turkey and break this crazy cycle of no more, oh just one more handful, no more, oh just one last handful...

*jitter, jitter!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

10:09:14 Science Day

Gareths (amazing/energetic/crazy/wonderful/needs-a-pay-rise) teacher organised for a group of Year 6 kids to attend a Science Day in Newcastle today. I was one of the volunteer parent drivers who drove in convoy from the school to the event carrying some very excited kids ready to work their way through group challenges over the day. 

I didn't realise that I would also be standing behind the canteen hatch furiously squirting barbecue sauce onto hundreds of sausages sandwiches as throngs of hungry kids had outstretched hands eager to fill their bellies and then return to the next event. 

I am so enjoying these last few months of being involved in gareths school before he leaves for High school in January. It's also lovely to share the day with the other mums who I count as my friends. As the kids were immersed in one of their long challenges we snuck off to a cosy cafe to recharge our caffeine levels together. I'm going to miss these days. They go too fast.

And the good news... I am very proud to say that Gareths school won! 

Very proud kids. Very proud teacher. Woo-Hoo!!! 

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

09:09:14 Pandora

I love my Pandora bracelet so I was very excited to get a parcel from my beautiful friend Cathy in Northampton with this gorgeous bead for my birthday. I feel very spoiled. I love how every bead has a special meaning and how they build up over the years to create a story around your wrist! Thank you Cathy!

Monday, September 08, 2014

08:09:14 Government house

Sian had an amazing opportunity today to attended a function at Government House, Sydney.

Twenty Year 11 students from New South Wales were welcomed into the beautiful rooms to a reception hosted by the governor of New South Wales Dame Marie Bashir. She was inspiring to listen to as she encouraged them in their studies of the sciences and wished them well in their forthcoming trip to Canberra and the National Youth Science Forum.

I will explain more about this in a future blog post but for now wanted to share this photo giving a glimpse into just one of the beautiful rooms of this magnificent old building. 

Sunday, September 07, 2014

07:09:14 Happy Fathers Day!

To all the men in our lives:

~To my Dad who helped me grow up to be a strong willed girl who loves to know how to fix things.
~To my Father-in-law Den who raised a good son who knows how to treat his family with respect and care.
~To our Mr B who is the best father our kids could hope for and who loves us all beyond description.
~To Kel who plays an important role in Gareths day to day life and gave him his first pen knife at age 4 (with blunted down blades!)
~To Uncle Joe, who teaches Gareth the value of money and discipline, a typical bloomin' accountant (but we love him anyway!)
~To the wonderful Dads who surround us through our circle of friends, may they always provide a group of safe male role models to help us raise our daughters to know what standards of love they deserve and our sons to be the sort of men that will do us proud as they grow and become the next generation of Dads in our family trees.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

06:09:14 Healthy start

Every now and again I need to shake up my routines and try to get rid of the unhealthy ones and try harder to make good routines a natural part of my day. 

I've found myself nagging the kids to take a daily vitamin as we all seem to have on-going sore throats and sniffles. In nagging them I've realised I'm not following my own advice so this week sees a return to a healthy start every morning. A glass of water and a simple multi-vitamin. 

I know we should ideally get all our nutrients from well balanced meals and that expensive supplements may just be flushed down the toilet as expensive pee but if even only one tiny vitamin or mineral is absorbed into my body and the other 99% isn't needed then I still think it's worth it. 

What are your views on supplements? 

Friday, September 05, 2014

05:09:14 Father's Day sausage sizzle

All around Australia kids are getting ready for Fathers Day weekend. Gareths school does a sausage sizzle breakfast for all males that are a part of our kids lives, Fathers, Grand-fathers, Uncles, family friends.

It's so important to remember the kids that don't have their Dads in their lives. Only this year one of Gareth's classmates had the trauma of his dad dying. I can't imagine how that boy will be going through this weekend. Their teacher took a moment while the boy was out of the classroom to remind the kids to be supportive of their friend and to take care not to be insensitive as they talked about their plans for the weekends celebrations. As a bunch of 11 and 12 year olds this is a hard balance. Even as adults I think we can struggle around friends who have lost a family member but at least we have a bit more life experience to draw from.

So as we celebrate as a family this weekend with the one and only Mr B we will also try to say a little prayer for Gareths friend and anyone else missing their Dad, young or old. 

Thursday, September 04, 2014

04:09:14 Brown bread

Here is a photo of our recent batch of brown bread using yesterdays recipe. We used 4 loaf tins instead of the large oven tray. It made it easier to divide and share amongst friends. 

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

03:09:14 Granny's Recipe

When the girls were young they loved watching Granny make her famous Irish Brown Bread. The recipe was not written down anywhere. It was loosely based around some core ingredients but the quantities were done by eye and by the feel of the dough as Granny kneaded it in her hands on the kitchen bench top. One day Sian decided to watch and write down the quantities so we could make it ourselves at home. This is the piece of paper she wrote on. The writing is childish and the paper has many creases and stains on it but it is a piece of paper I refer back to over and over again as we make our own loaves on the other side of the world. 

For anyone struggling to make out the detail here is my "translation" 

Plain Flour 5 big mugs (1Kg)
Coarse grain flour (Wholemeal) 5 big mugs (1Kg)
Wheat Germ 170g
Salt 1 regular/flat teaspoon
Bread soda (Bicarbonate of soda) 5 heaped teaspoons
Cooking marg 80-100g (We use butter)
2 Litres Butter Milk

Mix ingredients together
Knead it
Pop it on to baking sheet
Cut bread in squares (Use your finger or a knife to score lines in the wet dough to divide a large tray into six equal sized squares to make it easier to divide afterwards)
Pour rest of milk on top of the bread (This gives a nice gloss to the crust)
Then put in oven for 50-70 minutes 160 degrees C.

Have you ever made Irish brown bread or Soda bread as it is often called?

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

02:09:14 Warm and Toasty

So much for the warmth of Spring. Today we woke to rain and wind. A perfect day for staying at home. A day for making crunchy granola to sprinkle on yogurt and fruit. And while the oven is on some mini apple crumble for the kids after tonights tea.

It's a 5:2 fast day for me today (after an abandoned one yesterday due to a migraine) Surprisingly on days I fast I quite like to cook. It's as though the smells wafting under my nose quell the hunger pangs and trick my body into thinking that there is no shortage of food around. 

01:09:14 Spring has Sprung!

Goodbye Winter, Hello Spring!
A beautiful day with balmy temperatures that turned a walk from a chilly, brisk necessity to a slower, lingering stroll. A chance to truly stop and smell the flowers. Tiny bursts of colour to take home with us and remind us that sunny days are approaching. I love Spring!