Wednesday, 31 July 2013

The Parenting Files: The Reward Dilemma

We're working on Mr Busy's attitude towards homework and getting his grades up to where he is capable of achieving.  If you have boys you know most of them would rather be 'doing' something rather than sitting in front of books, but this is our education system and the books are here to stay for a while.  So Dh has been working on spelling with Mr Busy.  A few weeks back when we were helping him practise for his weekly spelling test he wanted to know what he would get if he got 100% (15 words on the list).  I flippantly said "you'll get dinner that night" and he got 100% along with a delicious meal and lots of praise.

Tonight, after working hard and practising every day he came home with 14 out of 15 correct.  Did you know "annually" has two n's?  Mr Busy forgot that.  When I jokingly told him I wouldn't be able to give him dinner - roast chicken - he laughed, hugged me and said "let's not tell Dad".  Well of course we'll tell Dad and he'll get fed and all will be well.  Don't worry - my children remind me often it is illegal not to feed them, and it hasn't happened by my hand even one time in all their lives.  Occasionally they have tried the "Yuck, I'm not eating that" and decided that particular choice was....unwise.  But it begs the question: how do you encourage your children to do their best when they would rather just not do the work?

I know some people pay their kids.  I feel really uncomfortable about that.  There are lots of situations in life where you will be required to do stuff without any apparent tangible reward.  Sometimes you just have to do stuff because it's the right thing to do not because you'll get something out of it.  It's a lesson easier that I think is easier to learn in your youth than as an adult.  The girls have always been brilliant about trying hard and getting their homework done and handing things in on time.  What can I say, they are quite stereotypical in this regard - they will sit in front of their homework and keep going even when they feel cranky about it.  Mr Busy informed me he has decided he wants to do a degree in IT when he finishes school.  And for now that is my leverage.  In order to get into Uni, in Australia, you are awarded an ATAR (Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank) score based on your Yr12 results and declares your worthiness of University entrance.  Uni's set the scores for entrance and it varies depending on course, university and campus within a university.  Complex stuff.  For now I am encouraging Mr Busy to aim for the goal = getting into Uni to study computers.

If you can't run around then you may as well play with computers.  Cantankerous things!

Friday, 26 July 2013

In Which Mr Busy Learns to Cook


Tuesday night was a momentous day in life on this side of our picket fence.  Mr Busy has officially begun the journey to independent cooking.  He has been baking on his own for quite some time now, and he's been pestering incessantly about cooking a meal.  Well, he's 13 and this is the prescribed year in our Program of Gradual Release.  I decided pasta bolognese is pretty tough to butcher so that's the meal he will master.  I was with him the whole time and instructed him in every step, which he then completed himself.  The only thing that stumped him was chopping onions.  I did  one half to demonstrate and then insisted he would only learn to be independent if he did it himself.  And he did a pretty fine job for a novice.

At some point this week I will type and laminate the recipe and instructions - all of which reside in my head at present.  And then he will be all set to have a go with me sitting on the other side of the bench to engage in some relaxed and more distant supervision.

The verdict?  A very fine meal.  No one would have known a novice had produced it had they not been told and the event celebrated with exuberance and praise.

Sorry there is no spiffy, artistic looking photograph to go with this - I only remembered to take a photo as Mr Busy was putting the leftovers away!

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

More Cleaning.....

My Enjo bathroom cloths arrived.  There is nothing to inspire a girl more than brand new fluffy cleaning gloves!  After spending over an hour cleaning the kids bathroom on Sunday I am now armed to keep it that way.  This week my new routine is still going well.  When I don't have to be at work until 9am.  I'm sure it'll be more of a challenge when I have to be there at 8am next week.

This afternoon I had about half an hour between getting home and picking up Miss Mischief so I decided to "spend five minutes" cleaning the kids' toilet.  Fifteen minutes later I think I had managed to clean every little nook and cranny there was to clean, including the skirting boards.  Did you know kids don't really clean toilets after all?  Even big kids who are perfectly capable?  I keep asking them to do it and I hear all the right noises but the evidence suggests they really don't know what the task entails.

My next mission to save up for:  stripping out the bathroom and toilet and completely re-tiling and changing the set up in there.  My tips for bathroom renovators based on this bathroom:

  • Floating floorboards are NOT appropriate wet-area floor coverings.
  • Claw foot baths look pretty but they're a pain in the but to clean under and around
  • Never ever have a 3cm gap between a shower screen and cabinet.  There is no. possible. way. to clean in that gap.
  • Bathrooms should be tiled up the wall instead of having skirting boards.  Skirting boards are dumb in bathrooms - they just collect gunge.
  • Bathrooms should be painted with good-quality paint designed for wet, steamy rooms that does not come off on your cloth when you wipe down the walls.
Are you getting a picture of my frustrations?  Whoever built this house was not wise!

Saturday, 13 July 2013

In Search of Cleaning Routines and Schedules

My final task of the school holidays is to plan for organisation.  Barb left me a very wise and helpful response yesterday - a little bit often, get everyone involved. The kids do all the dishes jobs here and Dh does the laundry.  It's the dusting, floors and bathrooms that seem to escape our attention until visitors are imminent.  And Fly Lady is right.  I want to enjoy a home that is guest-ready all the time, not just when guests are there.

I've set myself a morning and evening routine along with weekly and monthly tasks, having borrowed from my Fly Lady days. I've assigned things so they suit what happens in a normal week here.  Let's be realistic, even though Fly Lady does her 'home blessing' on a Monday I am not going to get to it that day between weekly Uni work being released that day and fortnightly meetings at work.  My 'home blessing' is going to happen over a few days and has been scheduled to suit my days off.

I'm going to trial this routine for a week or three and see how it goes. I haven't included the dishes and laundry because they are done by the rest of the family.  Nor is there a schedule for deep cleaning.  That is just going to have to be a holiday job.  No, this routine is just about keeping our home cleaned in a basic kind of way.

I'll post a copy of the schedule when I am sure it works alright.  In the meantime, I really would love to hear your tips and ideas.  I know there are wiser women out there with lots to share with me...and anyone else who stops by.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Cleaning and Organising

I've been waiting all holidays for the cleaning bug go hit me.  It finally arrived.  My two front rooms have been thoroughly deep cleaned.  I dug out my Enjo cloths to help me with the dusting task.  My septic tank man will be thrilled.  Clean house.  No chemicals.

I have wandered into those two rooms numerous times just to enjoy the fruits of my labour.  Shiny surfaces.  No dust.  Reorganised music book storage.  And I have wondered again how to be more routine about the whole idea of cleaning when life is so crazy throughout the term.  I wish I had the mental wherewithal to sign up to Fly Lady again.  She was so helpful 12 years ago when I first became acquainted with her.

I don't think anyone has come up with a system for full speed life and super-quick house cleaning.  The two don't seem to go together.  Cleaning just takes the time that it takes.

So my question to you for the week is this:  How to keep your house cleaned when you're busier than you would like to be?

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Wrap 'n Roll

Today has been incredibly productive in many, many ways.  It's nice to get to the end of a day and feel that satisfied tired that comes from working hard.

The day began with more sushi, wraps and gluten free sandwiches.  Dh is moving his business premises for the second time in 10 years because he keeps growing out of places.  The newest place is much further away than the previous two, which have been 2 minutes and then 7 minutes from home.  The kids have all gone off to help with moving and cleaning and I offered to bring lunch.  Fortunately Dh has a small staff of five, plus our three kids.  So I wrapped and rolled sushi, rice paper rolls (I ran out of seaweed sheets), sandwich wraps and gluten free sandwiches for myself and one of the staff who also avoids wheat.  It was a long morning!!!!

I abandoned the warehouse to come home and do some cleaning of my own.  My front living room - the more formal of our two living areas - has now not a speck of dust or dirt anywhere.  I dusted and then wet-wiped and dried every surface before vacuuming behind all sorts of things.  All the furniture got moved and the carpets should have not a speck left on them.  I even vacuumed the bricks around the fire place.

And after all that cleaning and because of the septic tank man's frustrations with the cleaning chemicals people use I've ordered a couple of Enjo bathroom mitts so that I'm not using any chemicals.  Good for my sensitive skin and the septic tank!

Now I need to sit down for a bit and relax before everyone comes home and wants dinner!

PS.  I have maintained my average of Distinction for the semester, so far.  I have one result to come because my exam papers were returned late.  YAY!!!  Nine subjects left to go!

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Kitchen Night Shift

I awoke this morning to a funny smell.  Given our septic adventures I sniffed a little more to determine what it was.  And then I remembered.  While I had been sleeping somewhat peacefully my crockpot was simmering away with carrot, celery, onion and the bones of the two chooks we've had this week and voila!  This morning we had stock, with almost no effort on my part!  Look how beautiful and golden that stock is.  And it tastes as good as it looks.  I have two ice cube trays plus the two containers of stock.  I am ready for a chicken stock hit in sauces and stock for soups.  I keep looking at the liquid stock containers in the supermarket and balking at the ingredients.  This has no yeast, sugar or maltodextrose - a stock I am happy to use.  I knew those Lilydale free rangers would spoil me and indeed I was correct.  They taste soooo good and there is very little liquid from them while roasting.  I usually buy the most affordable chooks I can find and they are full of extra 'water' which also seem to wash out the flavour.  Darn!

My girls and a friend of Miss Sunshine's have reaped the benefits of my holiday cookfest today.  There were pancakes for breakfast and after a couple of hours of study they were so determined for sushi rolls to be their lunch that they took themselves up the street to buy an avocado and some tuna.  So more slow food.  Simple.  So simple.  But again, one of those time consuming things I tend to avoid when life is on full speed. 

And we have decided what meal Mr Busy will learn to cook independently.  Pasta Bolognese.  We'll begin this week and then he will have lots of opportunities to practise. 

I wonder what will come out of my kitchen tomorrow?  Every day seems to bring some unexpected reason to be in there.  For now I need to clean up before we head out to visit a friend in their newly finished home.  I can't wait to see it.  I'm in love with the library, and I haven't even seen it in its finished form.  Just that there is one quickens my heart!

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Using it Up: Milk

I love a good kitchen challenge of the "use it up" variety.  This week's is to use up 10 litres of milk that had reached is use-by date, which Dh had brought home from work.  So, hot chocolates and baked custard appeared on the menu last night.  I think perhaps homemade mac 'n cheese should keep some children happy at lunch time tomorrow.  And I think Miss Sunshine's friend is coming for breakfast, so perhaps pancakes will fulfill the brief of yummy substantial breakfast upon which to study as well as using up some milk.

I got busy and did some menu planning for the rest of the month as you can see above.  That is quite literally a screen shot of the typed version of my menu plan.  I love that snipping tool!  So I'm all planned up and ready to go for next week when the world begins to spin a little faster.

And the septic tank man came this morning.  The pipes are back to normal!!!  Mr Busy and Dh stood out on the deck right over the tank and watched the man do his job.  They were both entertained for quite a while!  I was eating breakfast - something that should not be combined with observing the intricacies of how to empty a septic tank!  In any case the very nice man gave us a bag of septic tank-friendly goodies like bathroom cleaners and toilet paper when he was done and my kitchen sink is now running smoothly again.  And we have a sticker to tell us when it needs doing again.  The man was not so impressed that it had been left seven years! 

Monday, 8 July 2013

Frugal Winter School Holiday Fun

We came home from church yesterday to brilliant winter sunshine - too nice to stay inside all day.  So I suggested heading into the Queen Victoria Market.  Something I've been wanting to do for a very long time!  We went back and forth about more local markets and the chocolaterie in the Yarra Valley.  Eventually we agreed to the Queen Vic.  YES!  We really just went in and wandered and looked.  We came home with a leather wallet for Mr Busy, strawberries for Miss Mischief, a rocky road treat to eat along the way and a stop at the doughnut van for hot jam doughnuts.  I borrowed the picture above from one of the many available when searching google images.  Some clever person combined the doughtnut AND the van!!!!  This are my weakness and are a treat that I only end up eating once every few years.  That's how often I'm near a doughnut van.  By the time we came home the skies were becoming very dark indeed - the best of both worlds.  I love a good storm.

This week our frugal fun would appear not so frugal, but really it is.  Our house is constipated.  The pipes are making funny noises and things are not draining so well.  So we're having the septic tank sucked out and cleaned tomorrow.  Now it does cost a little bit.  But when you only get it done once every seven years the cost is about a quarter of paying sewage fees if you were connected to 'town sewage'.  Now that all sounds pretty disgusting really, but it is very interesting to watch the men do their thing.  They come with a big truck and Mr Busy will sit at the family room window or stand on the deck outside and watch the entire time they're there.  I'm telling you, this is the best entertainment money can buy!

Otherwise, our entertainment will be in the form of already-owned DVD's, iPad games, already owned, baking and I don't know what else.  But not a lot.  Maybe a Star Wars night with my brother?  I'm thinking some Nigella time might do the trick right now.  I need some menu planning and grocery shopping inspiration!

I'm still looking at the cleaning and wishing I felt like digging in.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

More Slow Food in the Midst of the Rush

In Nigella's 'Express' series she has an episode entitled "Quick, Quick, Slow".  Indeed there a chapter in the book so named.  And her theory about a little bit of preparation effort and walking away while the food cooks slowly for a while is quite sound.  With dinner plans turned upside down and my early evening hours spent traipsing after children unexpectedly I needed to rethink when all the cooking I needed to do for today would happen.  I arrived home by 8.15pm and got the above Italian Chicken recipe going.  A recipe of super quick preparation time and then just letting it roast for an hour and a half.  I will take some for lunch today as I have a Uni thing all day.  While that was roasting I made sausage rolls to take to a family event for Mr Busy's class for dinner tonight.  Maggie Beer's sour cream pastry and my trusty filling of sausage mince, carrot, spring onion and egg means it's very simple but satisfyingly tasty.  By the time I went to bed my chook had been dismembered and mixed with the vegetables and the sausage rolls cooled and placed in a baking dish so it can be reheated before leaving tonight.  Today will go much more smoothly with all of that slow kitchen pottering done!

My pre-Costco freezer emptying mission was successful and it is now refilled, though not quite to overflowing.  The best deal I got was $10 off each two-pack of whole chooks.  That meant I paid only $5 for each bird.  Not just any chooks either - Lilydale Free Range.  Ohhhhh yes!  We are in for some good chicken, people! 

Finally, Frances asked about the difference between an American-style hamburger and an Aussie-style one.  I think most Aussies will tell you there's a huge difference.  When I was googling for recipes and ideas I found that most American-style burgers had lettuce, tomato slices, melted cheese and mustard.  An Aussie burger, in comparison would have tomato sauce instead of mustard, and it would be fully decked out with all of those fillings as well as pineapple, egg, beetroot and cooked onion.  In any case the recipe I ended up using for the meat patties was a real winner which surprisingly didn't have any onion in it.  And the kids insisted on pineapple.  Not so American after all I suppose!

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Slow Holiday Cooking....and Happy 4th of July!!

My house was reminiscent of the image above yesterday afternoon.  My clothes horse looks a little different, but I definitely had handmade fettuccine and linguine hanging on mine!  Early on I decided that if I was going to go to all that effort I should double the pasta recipe and invite some friends over to share.  I also christened my new ramekins.  Joolz suggested lemon delicious puddings and she was spot on the money!  I used both the ramekins and some oven-proof mugs to feed two families and everyone agreed they were as delicious as the pasta.  Mine looked very much like the one pictured below.

What struck me about yesterday's meal was that I really do enjoy just puddling about in my kitchen when I have the time to do it.  Handmade pasta is a time-consuming but simple meal that just suits lazy winter days that have you all cosy at home. I spend much of the year running from one end of the day to the other that I had quite forgotten how satisfying slow food is.  Both in the making and the eating.  Don't worry - there was a green salad to satisfy my new goal of including more vegies in my diet!

I know it's a tad early for those on the other side of the globe, but Happy 4th of July to those of you who celebrate it.  We don't normally take on the holidays of other countries, but we were in the US on the 4th three years ago and spent the night in Denver, CO to see some spectacular fireworks.  What we really saw was the most amazingly awesome storm.  As well as the fireworks.  I have never seen a sky so black.  It was truly beautiful in a stormy kind of way.  So tonight we're having American-style hamburgers, and we're following that with a trip across the pond and down memory lane with some bread and butter pudding Nigella-style.  I know it's not American but I have some ginger jam and I really want my freezer as sparse as it can be before I head into Costco.  In any case, if Miss Sunshine has her way we'll celebrate the 4th a few times because she really wants deep-fried mozzarella which comes frozen at Costco.  I'm inclined to indulge her just this once as it is the one food thing from that US holiday she has remembered with great fondness!

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Kitchen Toys....errrr....Tools

Yesterday Miss Mischief finally got her long-begged for haircut.  Such as it was.  You know....just barely trim off what is needed to get rid of the dry split ends and a general tidy up.  She opted not to go for a thinning out this time - too much frizz. 

While we were down in the 'burbs we stepped in to 'House' to see what was on offer with such amazing sales being advertised.  And pictured above is what I walked away with.  I now have six little oven-proof ramekins.  Something I've wanted for a very, very long time and have always balked at the price.  These were about half what I expected they would be so I snapped them up.  I'll have to keep checking back for another six.  Because when you have friends over for dinner and they have children you're going to need more than 6!!!

I wonder what should be made in them first.  My gut reaction is gooey chocolate pots.  My healthy, more measured response is mango mousse.

I've been indulging in some Nigella viewing in the past day.  Who knows what will turn up in these cute little pots.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

The Health Files: Rediscovering Wonder Foods

My journey to rediscovery of fruits and vegetables has been ... not as difficult as I thought.  My fruit basket (pictured above) is overflowing with fuji apples, corella pears, mandarins and bananas.  Below is my version of "wonder soup".  Isn't it colourful?! As you can see it's not a soup at all, but rather all the ingredients made into a stir fry (minus the water and tomatoes, of course).  I sprinkled in a little sesame oil and a dab of chilli paste for flavour and I have to say I was much happier eating a bowl full of this than the mac 'n cheese the kids wanted, and got for lunch today.

 A relatively new discovery for us has been pre-seasoned butterflied lamb roasts, which we can get in our local Safeway (no, really, our sign still says Safeway!).  We have a particular thing for the lemon and garlic version, which is beautiful and succulent as a roast and then absolutely stunning sliced thinly on a pumpkin pizza the next day.  The kids aren't so keen on the pumpkin but I'm sure we can figure something out that they will enjoy more.  I have pita bread to use up before our school-holiday trek in to Costco.  I want that freezer emptied!!

You know I said I was using the 7-Day Diet website as my 'guide'?  I think I like Day 3 with a little bit of protein thrown in at dinner time and space for a slice of gluten-free bread around mid-morning.  It feels a little more reasonable, do-able and balanced. 

Monday, 1 July 2013

Holidays and New Starts

Miss Sunshine's holiday homework in progress

Finally.  I have a whole two weeks without Uni and without work.  I can tell you I was just a little bit excited on Friday as that's the day holidays began for me.  The girls, unfortunately, have holiday homework but some of it isn't such a chore.  Miss Sunshine is using acrylic on fabric for this piece and decided the window was the best place to work on it.  I think she's a pretty good artist. 

Us girls began the holidays with a day out to celebrate Miss Sunshine's birthday from back in May.  We took my sister-in-law and had breakfast at a local tea house and then drove in to the city to see the Hollywood Costume exhibition at the Australian Centre for Moving Images (ACMI).

And because we're on holidays and it's cold and miserable outside I've decided to tackle some diet and health goals.  I watched 'Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead' on You Tube the other day and was inspired and challenged in equal portions to include more fruit and vegetables in my diet. Not as juices though - I need to chew!  Despite all my best intentions to the contrary unhelpful things have attempted to become habits in my end-of-term weary mindedness.  A friend of mine recently told me about a 7 Day Diet she's been using and while I think it's a little bit faddish there's nothing wrong with using it as a guide to eating more fruit and vegies before reaching for crackers or bread.....or chocolate.  Or jelly bellies.

So here's to a colourful, restful week in the midst of a grey old wintery week.  One in which we will have a bit of a 4th of July celebration.  Because it's the 3-year anniversary of our trip to the US where we had oh so much fun!
What do you do to celebrate the 4th of July?