Monday, July 26, 2010

Breaking free...

In response to my post about the Children's First holiday program we did at Centacare recently, here are some photos from graduation day.
For those who came in late, I eschewed thoughts of theme park visits and playdates for a week-long psychologist-led program for the children of separated parents.
The idea was for kids to talk with other kids who are going through similar situations and experiencing similar feelings. And psychogists/carers would be in board in case anyone got too upset, or needed help putting names to their feelings or learning how to express them in a safe and/or helpful way.
As usual I suffered a truck load of Mother Guilt as I tried to reconcile holiday fun with the idea of therapy or 'work', but I needn't have worried.
The program was play-based and the kids bonded really well and couldn't wait to return each day. And actually complained when the week was over!
At the end of the week, there was a graduation ceremony, where the kids were told what was special about them and given certificates and a care package to take home. Miss H. was praised for her kind-heartedness and giving nature.
Mr C. was praised for joining in enthusiastically, and having a fun sense of humour. (Sorry for blurry photo, C. kept moving!)
Breaking free ceremony - the kids put their worries in a bottle of bubbles, then watched them blow away!
Missy's turn now ...
And again...
One more!
There was a pirate theme and the kids all adopted pirate names for the week
C. was Pirate No-Eyes
H. was Pirate Happy Face
Readers, how did you celebrate the school holidays?

Friday, July 23, 2010

Picnics and pussies ...

So the other day, we'd just arrived home after a busy morning doing crap like shopping and paying bills, when Miss 7 announced she'd love a picnic lunch.
Now, I didn't feel like packing up kids, blankies and food and driving somewhere when we'd just landed home.
But she did her sweet pouty face, and so I compromised.
We had a picnic at the parkland at the bottom of our street.
It was easy, as we already had all the fixings at home, and the excited kids were happy to help me pack it up and carry it down the road. And hey, if eating outdoors meant they would eat well, I was all for it. And the bonus? Very little washing/cleaning up.
A couple of the neighbourhood kids spontaneously joined us, and a fun afternoon was had by all.
Being mindful, the kids and I lay back for a bit and studied the clouds as they moved across the sky. We felt the breeze sofly carressing our bodies, and relished the firmness of the ground beneath us. And for a few minutes, everyone was peaceful and happy.
I am sure the neighbours think I'm some hippy psycho mumma, but it works for us.
It's a cliche, but the simple things in life are often the best ...and create wonderful memories.
Impromptu picnic princess

Home-made pizza from the night before ...
Missy plays Mumma and lays out the goodies
You've got to have something yummy to drink

And because so many of you have been requesting photos of my pussy ... knock yourself out! This is Hannah our very pampered kitty.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Mini-Masterchefs

Dag alert: I love Masterchef.
Now, I know it has its faults, is probably rigged, and there really should be a female judge on there, but it's still addictive.
I got into it living in New Zealand, when although it was months behind the Aussie screening (and therefore I already knew who had won), it was played at a kid-friendly time.
Gradually, I warmed to it. A. Because it was on at a time when the kids and I could chill out; B. It was watchable, and C. It was one of those few shows we could watch together.
No swearing, no sex (well, apart from the lascivious looks George, Matt and co throw longingly towards certain foods), and lots of stuff we could try at home. (Minus the lascivious looks obviously).
In Australia, it's televised a bit late for my kids to watch on a school night, but we often catch up on school holidays and/or the weekends.
I knew we'd watched too much telly when the kids announced one holiday morning:
"Mumma! We're doing a Masterchef Invention Test and you get to pick the winner!"
Now, I'm a fairly chilled-out mother. I'm pretty happy when my kids want to eat any breakfast at all, so for them to want to cook it? Awesome! (With me keeping an eye on things obviously. Clearly, I didn't want the house to burn down in the process.)
So I made them a deal: They could cook, if they promised to help me eat the results.
And we were on.
Miss 7, bless her heart, made dried-out scrambled eggs on toast. It didn't taste great. (Shhh, don't tell her!) But she'd made it to her taste, and managed to scoff the lot. I'd call that a win.
Master 9 went all out and did an omelette/scrambled egg mix which included: Eggs, milk, philly garlic and chive cheese, sour cream, ham and tasty cheese.
He wouldn't touch it (wise choice I thought ...) but I managed to down enough to keep him happy.
They also made me a coffee, which sadly, tasted and looked like dishwashing water. (Shh ... don't tell them! I managed to throw it in a grateful plant when they weren't looking.)
Despite dishwasher coffee and calorie-laden and/or dried out eggs, I love that my kids express their love for me by wanting to feed me.
Readers, do your kids cook, and what are their favourite recipes? 
C's ham, egg, cheese, sour cream and Philly Cheese omelette

My kitchen after the 'invention test'. Yeah, thanks Masterchef. Thanks a lot ...
Miss 7 eating MY eggs (thankfully...)

A casualty in the breakfast invention test

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

School holidays awesomeness

What did you do with the kids these school holidays?
Organise a plethora of play dates? Trips to the zoo and/or museum? Allowed hours of unprecendented time on TV/DVD/DS or other normally naughty activities?
Me? I took my kids to a workshop for kids from separated families. Because I am all kinds of awesome when it comes to school holiday activities!
It was particularly difficult, as the first week, my kids holidayed on Bribie Island with my Ex and his partner and her family. How could I possibly hope to compete with that?
However, the course had been highly recommended to us by the childrens' school psychologist as well as my own shrink, and it just happened to be held during "my" week. And so it was that we put the trips to Dreamworld and the museum to one side, and headed into the city each morning for the course.
All my fears that the kids would resent the holiday program disappeared on day one, when they headed off happily with the other kids and their carers, and played pirates and shipwrecks. (You've got to love the shipwreck analogy of a broken marriage, don't you?)
For the first time they were able to talk to other adults and most importantly kids about the positives and negatives of their parents' break-up. (Sadly in our case it was mostly negatives ... but at least they got it out of their systems). For the first time, they were able to talk to kids who understood exactly what they were going through. (Most of their school buddies and family are all from "intact" families).
For the first time, Mr 9, who has Aspergers, was able to put a name to some of his feelings and to cry for everything he had lost. And he did this with other kids, including older boys. There was some serious male bonding going on.
Miss 7 also felt comforted, as older girls in the group, took her under their 'wings' and made her feel safe.
Both H. and C. wanted the course to continue forever, but of course, life isn't like that, and this week they had to go back to school.
As for me - I have counselling to do with my own grief and loss, and didn't learn anything new. However, it was comforting to know that the kids were able to talk to someone other than me about their loss ... and to be accepted by their peers who understood their feelings. And it was lovely for me, to meet a few other parents, who were as keen as I am to help their kids through this massive change in their lives.
As for my worries, that a week in counselling could not compete with heated pools and Australia Zoo, after the first visit the kids wanted to go back every day. And at the week's end, there were tears, because they wanted to continue. It doesn't get much better than that!
And you know what? They actually found a few good things have resulted from our separation. The Tooth Fairy and Easter Bunny always come twice, and apparently Santa will too!
The program also reinforced the knowledge that although their Dad and I have broken up, we still love them very much, and we will always be there for them.
When I eventually find the cable for my camera to connect to the computer, I'll have a few photos to share, but in the meantime: What are your hints to help kids deal with break-ups in the family?

If you go:
Children First, offered by Centacare Catholic Family and Community Services has helped at least 700 children and their families through the changes that occur in everyday family living when parents separate and divorce.
For details go to http://www.centacarebrisbane.net.au/

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Five Things A Day

It's no secret that I've had a pretty crappy year so far.
A marriage break-up, kiddie problems, battle with depression and anxiety, not to mention a run of bad luck with things like phones, computers and cars, mean the first half of 2010 has been a struggle.
I've been doing a lot of work on myself, including a course in Mindfulness, which is all about embracing life - the good and the bad.
And it's helped a lot.
I've met some awesome people, and made some wonderful, life-long friends. I'm enjoying being single, despite fiercely missing the kids whenever they are at their Dad's.
As part of my recovery, I take time to find five things to love about every single day. It gives me a chance to take a step back from life for a moment, and find the beauty and the good that's in my life, even when the world seems to be falling down around me.
Sometimes, finding five can be a challenge, but today I've clocked up my five things before midday:
- Sleeping in and waking up when I'm ready rather than leaping up to the sound of the alarm.
- Waking up warm and cosy in my bed, with my purring kitty beside me, and taking a few moments to enjoy the closeness.
- A long, hot bubble bath and a magazine, relishing the feel of the warm water seeping into my aching bones and joints.
- A cold chocolate skim milk drink for breakfast, because I felt like something comforting. My kids aren't here so I don't have to set a good example by eating a proper meal!
- Logging onto my computer and finding lots of messages of love, support, and fun from my incredible friends and family. Thanks so much.

Sometimes I just take time to fin the funny things in life, like this sculpture of a bum at Ipswich's Queen's Park. The kids cracked up so much, they had me laughing as well.
"My bum is sitting on this bum"
"My turn now!"
"Seriously, dude, that's an arse in the middle of the park ..."
Readers, what do you love about your lives?

Friday, July 2, 2010

My famous lasagne

I don’t really follow recipes.

Or I vaguely follow them, but substitute ingredients depending on:
A. What I have in my cupboard/freezer
B. What diet I am following; and
C. Whether the kids are dining with me or not.

Now, let’s be honest. Sometimes this approach works, and sometimes, it ends in tears. (With my kids proclaiming they hate my cooking, and why didn’t I cook it like their Dad does? Or can’t we just eat out all the time, like they do with Dad? Sigh).

But lasagne is one of the first dishes I began cooking when still in primary school. And it’s one dish, their Dad has yet to master.
Growing up in a small country town, there were no restaurants, no fast food outlets, and only one takeaway, which specialised in greasy potato scallops and frozen, tasteless fish.
So to try the foreign foods I longed for, I had to make them myself.
Scouring Mum’s recipe books and cutting out recipes from magazines and pasting carefully into an exercise book became my obsession. In fact, I was probably something of a Junior Masterchef.

Weekends and school holidays were times to experiment with making chocolate mousse, éclairs, sweet and sour pork, and other delicacies (like lasagne), for my long-suffering meat-and-three-veg, no-garlic, no-fancy-stuff family. Mum was always pleased to get a night off, though not always happy with the results! (Too much garlic and/or chilli was a constant complaint...)

Anyway, over the years, I’ve honed my lasagne-making, so that whatever I do to it, it works. (Disclaimer: Unless I use chicken mince. The kids hate it with chicken mince.)

So recently, my lovely twitter friend @Motorbikes_Lady wanted me to share my recipe.
Now I admit, once upon a time, I would have delighted in handing over the recipe, but leaving one key ingredient out. (Nothing worse than when people steal your recipe, then make it even better than you do. Remember that Desperate Housewives episode?
But these days, I equate food with love. And if sharing a recipe means even more people get fed (with food, and love), I’m all for it!
Anyway, this is the lasagne that the kids and I, and any visiting kids, love. In fact, I try not to mention ahead of time that I’m making lasagne, because it generally means that half the neighbourhood drops by for dinner!

The recipe does change, depending on when and where I make it, and the reasons mentioned above, but if you follow this it should work. The kids actually claim that NZ meat made better lasagne, but I think perhaps that’s more a wish to return to NZ than anything else.
Anyway, without further ado, I give you:
Bronnie’s As-You-Like-It-Lasagne

Fry one chopped-up onion in oil until just translucent, add mushrooms and garlic to taste.

Add about 500 gm of beef mince. If your kids are as picky as mine, don’t try to substitute with chicken or turkey: They will notice.

Brown.

Add one grated carrot, one grated zucchini, and chopped up spinach, if  you have it. (I like to hide vegies when I cook for the kids. Even though they are quite good where eating is concerned, I like to add enough vegies so that my lasagne can be a stand-alone dish if we don’t have salad and/or garlic bread.)
Add a can of chopped-up tomatoes (or a couple of real ones), a jar of ready-made pasta sauce (I like Four Brothers Romano Cheese, or the Aldi brand), some stock (you can use stock powder at a pinch), and allow to simmer. If I’ve got any red wine, I usually add a splash of it into the mix, but it’s okay if I don’t.

While this is simmering, get another pan and throw some butter or margarine into it. Add some plain flour and make a roux. (Basically mix the flour and butter together, and cook for a minute or so.)

If you like a lot of creamy béchamel sauce, cook a huge roux, but reduce it if you don’t.
Add some milk – I use low-fat/skim milk – until you get a nice, creamy sauce to add to the lasagne, along with the meat.
When it bubbles, turn off the heat, and add grated cheese – tasty or mozzarella. Add enough or as little, as you like. I usually sprinkle in some pepper about now.
Finally, assemble the lasagne.
You can make or buy fresh lasagne sheets, but I’ve never had any problems using the instant lasagne sheets you buy at the supermarket. I buy whatever is on special, and the brands seem to work equally well, as long as you have enough time and liquid to soften them.
Put a thin layer of meat sauce on the bottom of the dish. Add lasagne sheets, more meat sauce, then béchamel sauce, then more lasagne sheets. Keep going as you need to.
Finish with a layer of lasagne sheets, meat sauce, and a mix of mozzarella, tasty, and parmesan sauce.
Bake until bubbling and enjoy! (I usually find about 45 minutes at about 180 degrees does the trick).
Does anyone else have a fail-safe family recipe they want to share?