Monday, June 27, 2011

Happy holidays

It's school holiday time, and you know what that means ...

Loads of lazy sleep-ins, late breakfasts watching morning kiddie telly, picnics in the park, outings, playdates, and quality family time. That's the plan anyway. Whether or not our health and the moods of the kids go along with the plan are another thing entirely.

We kicked off with a trip to the cinema yesterday to see Mr Popper's Penguins.

It's a really cute movie, for kids as well as their parents, and I didn't nod off to sleep once. (I didn't know whether to be proud or peeved about that. I usually find a darkened cinema the perfect spot to catch a few zzzzs.)

Mr 10 said: 'It was a bit boring at the start, but then it got better. My favourite part was when the kid kicked the ball and it hit his Dad in the nuts."

(He has rather a wicked sense of humour).

Miss 8: "I loved the penguins, especially when the main one pooed in the man's face."

It's a sweet movie, though as a single Mum there was an aspect to the storyline I didn't like. (I won't spoil it for you, I think you'll guess it when you see the movie. Let's just say it's sending an unrealistic message to kids of separated parents. But like the rest of the movie is totes realistic; I know).

Anyway, we gave it a combined 8 out of 10, so go and see for yourself.

In the meantime, here are a few photos from our holidays so far...

Pampering pets ...

Long, lazy sleep-ins. Can you spot the odd one out?

Mmmm, cuddled up in bed need to get up for school

A little exploration of our own backyard ...

Catching up with friends ...

Readers, what are your school holiday plans?

Meantime, the winner of the Stress Overload competition is Amanda (@MadCowsDiary), who, among other problems, had an overly-excessive To Do List and rapidly emptying vodka bottle.

Amanda, you're not alone, and I hope Dr Street's stress relief advice works for you.

Life Overload: Immediate Life-Saving Strategies From A Stress Expert by Dr Helen Street, Finch Publishing, $29.95

Saturday, June 25, 2011

It's official: I am challenged!

I love it when my online life crosses over into real life.

Like arriving home to find this waiting for me:

And inside ...

Two bags full of Danone Activia yoghurt!

Yes, it seems my propensity to overshare with posts about colonoscopies, bums, and the Boombah Battle, have rewarded me with the dubious honour of being among the first women in Australia to try Danone Activia.

Without sounding too much like an ad, Danone Activia is a yummy type of yoghurt already eaten in more than 68 countries.

But it is new here, which is why they've chosen some well-known gluttons foodies around the country to taste it first.

You see, Danone Activia is the only yoghurt in Australia to contain the probiotic Bifidus Activ Regularis. What the hell is that, you ask?

Basically, it's an active culture that is scientficially proven to improve digestion. The promise is that with each pot of yoghurtie goodness that you eat, billions of good bacteria will travel down to the large intestine where they will stay alive and active for 10 days.

Not only do they work their magic by improving digestion and relieving the enemy of women everywhere, bloating (yay), these busy bacteria mingle and encourage more good bacteria to grow.

That's what the advertising says, anyway.

And I've signed on for a four-week challenge to try Danone Activia, to see if lives up to the hype.

Oh yes, dear reader, there are no ends your fearless MIA will go to, to discover the truth. All in the name of research and giving back, of course!

Anyway, that means I'll be eating two tubs of Danone Activia a day, for at least four weeks. Which sounds a lot, but the tubs are only 125 g each, which makes them perfect for snacks and lunch boxes. And to stave off boredom, I've got a nice mix of flavours: berries, vanilla, strawberry, and pear. Apparently, there's an apple-kiwi flavour as well.

Let me just say, that the Danone Activia couldn't have arrived at a better time.

I'm on strong antibiotics as I recover from pneumonia, and we all know what antibiotics do to a girl, don't we ladies? (Men: Close your eyes for a second if you don't want to know. That's right: Thrush!)

Now, (OVERSHARE ALERT) despite taking a Caneston anti-thrush pill at the same time I started my antibiotics, I'm still a bit delicate in the Lady Part region. So I'm hoping the bacteria will get down into my large intestine and kick some bad bacteria butt. And soon.

I was going to VLOG tomorrow, when I'll have the kids to help me make my Vlogging Debut, but I couldn't wait to break into my stash.

I tried the berry flavour first and it was delicious. Cool, creamy (but not too creamy), sweet (but not too sweet), and crammed with berries. It's too yummy to be good for me surely, I think?

We shall see.

Disclosure: Danone Activia are providing four weeks' worth of Danone Activia, plus 10 pots to share. They've also given me a Flip Video so I can film my participation in the challenge. (Look out people).

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Adventures in Chinatown

During my recent escape to Sydney for the launch of the Kidspot Top 50 Bloggers Campaign, I found myself with a few hours of free time.

All to myself.

To be honest, the freedom was all too much for a while there. Well, a few minutes anyway.

My head spun with the possibilities.

Should I sleep? Shop? Have a bubble bath? Go out for lunch? Play tourist?

In the end I decided to do all the above, except for the sleeping part. (That came later).

My hotel, the Breakfree on George is a hidden gem, right in the heart of Sydney. Chinatown, Darling Harbour, transport, the Entertainment Centre, and shops are on its doorstep, but at a decent price. It's not fancy, but it's clean, safe and spacious; and the location is ace! I'd definitely stay there again.

When I first travelled to Asia, many years ago, I felt instantly like I'd come home. Maybe I lived there in a previous life, if you believe in that kind of thing.

So I was instantly comfortable in Chinatown, though I wished I had Food and Travel Blogger Extraordinaire Lorraine from Not Quite Nigella to guide me through some of the restaurants and their selections.

I'd spent a few minutes with my nose pressed up against the window of this restaurant the day before, drooling, watching dozens of happy patrons enjoying yum cha. I was saving myself for the Kidspot/New Ford Territory launch though, so reluctantly walked on by ...

So the next day, I deliberately skipped breakfast so I could sample it myself.
The only problem? You really need more than one person for yum cha, so you can taste test more goodies. My tummy filled up way too quickly.

Nice supermarket opposite the hotel

I got a laugh out of this one. Years ago, when I lived in London, I worked at a magazine with an office near Covent Garden. To my pride, even my bank's home branch was Covent Garden, and I worked out at the then-trendy Sanctuary Gym in my lunch hours. Oh those were happy times for a young Aussie, who grew up dreaming of London. 

Anyway, back to Sydney ... 

Heehee, seen in a Chinatown Food Court

I really wanted to get some souvenirs from this cute little corner shop. But a movie crew was the in the way. (Apparently a Hong Kong popstar was the star, so there was a huge crowd!).

Luckily, the crowd had cleared by the time I came back. The Oriental Joint is a great shop for gifts and trinkets, and just like in Asia, the lovely lady serving me gave a special price just for me. Aren't I lucky?

I wanted to check with The Master, but unfortunately, he wasn't in. Pity, I thought he would have known I was coming...) 

I agonised over dinner, because there was so much choice. Finally I chose a bowl of duck soup with noodles from a food court place that promised 'Sydney's Best Duck.' All for the princely price of $8.30.

Tummy full, it was back to enjoy the crisp sheets in the bed that I had all to myself. All to myself, do you hear me? It was the best sleep I'd had in ages.

Readers, what are the best kept secrets of your home/favourite city?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

You drew WHAT?

So, Miss 8's class is currently doing a food drive for poor people in the community. (That would include us then. I'm kidding. I know we're a lot better off than others).

Anyway, in a bid to encourage other students to donate cans of long-life goodies for the cause, Miss 8 and her friends have been busy making posters.

Imagine my delight when my little darling showed me hers:

Isn't it lovely?

Notice the attention to detail, the colours, and the, erm, ...

Baked Beans!

Phew, I was seriously worried for a minute there that I'd be hauled in before the principal to explain our baked bean shopping habits.

Readers, have your childrens' artwork ever given you cause for alarm? Or giggles?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Stress overload!

Ever feel like your mind is running around in circles at one thousand miles an hour?

Lie awake, exhausted but sleepless, worrying about whatever you've forgotten to do?

Always focussing on what you're not achieving, not all the awesome things you're doing every single day?

If so, you're not alone.

I'm Bronnie, and like you, I know how hard it is to avoid from the occasional episode of Life Overload. (I sound just like the dude on the Centrum ad, right? Couldn't resist!)

About one in three Australians suffer from moderate to extreme stress. Quite simply, they're so busy doing and achieving, that they don't have time to enjoy their lives.

That's an awful lot of petty arguments, cranky school runs, road rage, office politics. Not to mention, overwhelming urges to punch someone the next time they send you a snarky email, walk really slowly in front of you when you're in a rush, or hold you up in 12 items or less aisle.

So what are you going to do about it? Not everyone has time to take up yoga, study Mindfulness meditation, or spend hours in therapy. (Though trust me, they all work).

Medication helps too, in the right circumstances, but it's not suitable for everyone.

And while we'd all like to quit our jobs and move to Tuscany, that's probably not going to happen anytime soon either.

Here's the thing: You need to deal with what's stressing you the hell out. And the sooner, the better.

Which is where psychologist Dr Helen Street is here to help.

She's an associate professor in behavioural science at the University of Western Australia, who specialises in helping people deal with work, relationship, and life overload.

Thanks to the lovely people at Finch Publishing, who have been wonderful supporters of MIA, I have a copy of Dr Street's book Life Overload (Immediate life-saving strategies from a stress expert) to give away.

To enter, just check you're following my blog, then leave a comment below telling me what really ticks you off.

The winner will be drawn next on Friday, June 24. That leaves you plenty of time to enter ... after all, I don't want you to get too stressed about getting your entry in!

Life Overload: Immediate Life-Saving Strategies From A Stress Expert by Dr Helen Street, Finch Publishing, $29.95

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Magic money, and other stories

It's been a mixed mood at Chez MIA recently.

Just last weekend, we were living it up on the Sunshine Coast, thanks to the lovely peeps at Atlantis Marcoola Resort, who put us up in a very swish, super comfortable apartment overlooking the ocean.

For a couple of moments there, I forgot I was broke, and occasionally threw caution to the wind.

Pizza for dinner? Why not! Hiring a tinny for a couple of hours? I don't mind if I do.

It was when I was trying to phone the boat hire place to let them know we were stuck in the middle of the Maroochy River, that I realised my financial situation was more dire than I had thought.

Not enough credit on my mobile. Fine, I'd recharge it. Except that both my credit card, and my debit card, were declined.


Luckily, the boat hire dude spotted us floating helplessly in the water (turns out neither Mr 10 nor I had enough muscles to pull the anchor up. D'oh), and we were towed back to shore. Just a little embarassing.

On the way home, two exhausted but happy kids slept, while I puzzled how my bank account had diminished so dramatically.

Having the kids full-time but only being paid maintenance for part-time care didn't help. (I did ask their father to consider allowing me access to money we have in the bank - it's two to sign - but I won't tell you what he said. Yes, I know I can go through the CSA for help, and I will, but I'd hoped to avoid all that).

Shelling out for new school uniforms and winter clothes wasn't cheap, even though we shop at op shops and chain stores wherever we can.

Then we had all been sick, which meant doctor's visits and medications, some of which aren't on the PBS. (Thank goodness our GP bulkbills the kids).

And let's see, there's rent, car rego and insurance all due.

Oh, and did I mention the electricity and water? Yeah that's gonna hurt.

And so it was that there was no money left in my purse or in my bank account. And there wouldn't be until Thursday.

(I was not even going to think about how that would barely cover the groceries, let alone the bills, I just focused on getting from A to B.)

Miss 10 desperately needed a new pair of school shoes. I scrounged together $10 in the ash try in the car - magic money, a bonus! And thanks to the magic of K-Mart we walked out with a new pair of comfy school shoes. Thank God for K-Mart!

Another $8 or so was in coins at the bottom of my handbag. That bought bread and milk.

Luckily, we'd been to the markets a few days earlier, so had stocked up on fruit and vegies then.

Then I hit the pantry and freezer. Luckily, I usually buy staples when they're on special. It's an affliction I get form my Dad, but this time, it served me well.

There was meat - and more bread - in the freezer, plus some leftover Japanese Curry and lasagne I'd frozen a few weeks early.

In the pantry, we had apple juice, tinned fruit, tinned spaghetti, pasta and noodles.

It's all pretty much been used up now. Which makes me feel good, because there's nothing getting wasted in the cupboards, but yes, the knowledge is there that I'll have to replace at least some of it.

Everything possible was made from scratch. I even rustled up honey joys and weetbix slice one morning for the kids, as quick fillers for the lunch box. I know they're sweet, but so are muesli bars, and at least I get some carbs into Mr 10 that way.

There was no money for tuck-shop, but I managed to find a few more coins down the back of the lounge. That gave them .50 cents each for an ice-block one day, and a slush puppy after school on Treat Thursday. (I didn't want the kids to go completely without, and I don't want them worrying about money.)

So that was how we managed to get through the week without money.

In my younger days, I would have found magic money in other handbags or winter coats. I don't really go out much these days, so it wasn't worth even looking.

Now I have kids, it's the car ashtray, the couch, and the bottom of my handbag.

Readers does magic money exist at your place, and where's the best place to look?

(Disclosure: No kids' money boxes were harmed in the making of this post).

A little more of this would have been nice ...but we'll need some more Magic Money for that!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Beached as ...

One of my favourite things about holiday apartments is that they are SO family friendly.

Why stay at a hotel, when for the same price you can have a comfortable apartment?

The Atlantis Marcoola Resort apartment we stayed in had two comfortably-sized bedrooms, two bathrooms, a spacious lounge/dining area, separate laundry, and balcony with outdoor setting.

When you're holidaying, or even mini-breaking with kids, the extra space and the cooking and other facilities of an apartment are invaluable.

We'd decided to order pizza that night, but even in the time-lag between bath/shower time and dinner, we were able to make tea, nibbles, and chicken noodle soup. (The Continental version, no other variety, Mum's Homemade-From-Scratch-Soup included), will do).

It saved endless whining, lest the kids have empty tummies for more than 10 minutes!

Our lovely kitchen

Mr 10 tries to get the intenet connected, while Miss 8 alternates between Chicken Noodle Cuppa Soups.

Pizza, garlic bread, and a movie. It doesn't get better than that for Mini-Man!

The next day dawned sunny and warm. Winter in Queensland - one day sunny, even more perfect the next!

First stop, was the pool. (Where else?)

I'm not sure what these trees, but they are known as 'Doodle Trees' in our household.
Got to love a doodle tree.

Would you believe this is about 8 am in the morning, on the 4th day of winter in Queensland? And still warm enough to swim. I love this state!

Then it was time for fishing on the Maroochy River. H's favourite stuffy Hannah Cat 2 is watching in anticipation of a feed!

Casting a couple of lines...

The Maroochy River at Cotton Tree ... isn't it gorgeous? (Yes, so is Mr 10, but I am biased!)

Come on fish, jump on!

Going back to the resort, empty-handed but happy.

Surfer chick

Mr 10 lets loose in the games room. Proving the claw machine DOES actually work in the right hands ...

Just two of about six soft toys C. won his little sister over the weekend.

The only bad thing about the weekend was coming home!

We still didn't time to play a proper game of tennis or basketball, fish off the beach, play pool, catch up with Sunshine Coast friends, hit the shops, or swim and fish even more! Not to mention the extensive DVD and book library for those rainy winter days ...if they actually exist!

Disclosure: The Atlantis Marcoola Resort provided MIA with a complementary two-bedroom apartment for two nights for the purposes of these reviews. The weather came courtesy of God, Mother Nature, and/or The Universe.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Winter? What winter?

On the third day of winter, 2011, a couple of kids spent hours happily swimming and playing in an outdoor swimming pool and spa.

Only in Queensland, right?

The kids, of course, are mine – Mr 10 and Miss 8 – and we’re at the Atlantis Marcoola Resort at Marcoola Beach on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast.

I love the Sunny Coast.

There is something about pointing the car north that is good for my soul.

By the time we reach the Glasshouse Mountains, when Mr 10 helpfully breaks into a monologue about how they were named by Captain James Cook and why, a feeling of relaxation is slowly sleeping through my bones.

I’m entertained by the constant commentary, and I add my own knowledge about the native Aborigine's Dreamtime stories about the Glasshouse Mountains.

A road trip that is fun AND educational. Who would have thought?

The serenity is clouded by a farting Miss 8, who announces she has ‘bowel problems’ because long drives make her nervous. (Readers, the drive from the southern suburbs of Brisbane to Marcoola Beach is no longer than two hours. It can take up to an hour less if you live in the northern suburbs).

And she’s hungry, starving. (Because I am the Wickedest Mother In The World, and never feed my children).

Against my better judgement, we stop at the Ettamoggah Pub.

I’ve never actually stopped here before. It’s based on an iconic larrikin Aussie cartoon, and although it’s possibly aimed at tourists, it’s clearly a must-stop for many Aussie travellers as well.

The pub seems to be populated by men, which is either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how you feel about them.

We don’t see any other kids, and there’s only one woman eating and drinking with the men in the sunshine outside. They look at us with a bit too much interest, as Mr 10 tugs on my skirt and says: ‘Mum, let’s get out of here; it feels weird’.


Toilets used, food consumed, we are finally back on the road to Marcoola Beach and the Atlantis Marcoola Resort.

Here, it is time to put my hand up and admit that the resort’s managers have put us up for the weekend.

But trust me, I honestly will not write anything nice about the place unless it's true.

Which, luckily, is all too easy.

We are welcomed warmly by Gordan, and later, Sue (who had been busy when we checked in, but knew exactly who we were, including the kids who she recognises from Maid In Australia. I’m not sure whether to be pleased about that, or alarmed!)

I loved that Gordan had a big chat to Mr 10, giving him the responsibility of ‘The Key'; telling him how to swipe it to get into the gated car park, and into our apartment; as well as entrusting to him the code to the swimming pool and spa area.

When Mr 10 inquires about the fishing potential of the region, he is quickly assured the going is good, but if any fish are caught, the manager gets a Big One. Mr 10 happily agrees.

The apartment we’re in is on the third floor, and the view over the treetops to the ocean is breathtaking.

The kids ooh and aah as they explore our comfy accommodation, which is almost as big as our house (and much tidier!).

And then there is the view! Blue sky, crashing waves, and a gentle breeze. It takes just seconds sitting at our outside setting on the balcony, to begin absorbing the sights and sounds and feel our bodies relax.

Well, MY body.

I try to help the kids meditate by focussing them on the gentle movement of the waves. The glint of the sunlight, dancing on the water; the crashing of water onto the sand. The sound of it, the feel of the breeze washing gently against us.

Miss 8 is instantly into it ( is it a girl thing?) but Mr 10 is bored.

“I want to go to the games room and the pool,” he says. Well, who can blame him really?

Miss 8 and I negotiate five minutes more, and then we give in. (Our breaks away have to be about compromise, as the kids are like chalk and cheese sometimes).

The pool and spa area is immaculate, and unbelievably, we have the whole place to ourselves.

Above us, the sky is blue and the sun is shining. It feels like summer, not winter! (I don't know the temperature but I'm thinking it's at least in the high 20's celcius.)

Because the pool and spa are heated, and the weather is so warm, the kids aren’t cold at all. I realised halfway through our journey that I had forgotten my own swimmers, or I would have joined them. Which is saying a lot, as conditions have to be perfect for me to enter the water!

Instead, I catch up on some reading and take photos. And I marvel, that just a couple of hours from our Brisbane home, it truly feels like we’re on holiday.

The kids are in their element. And they deserve it, because like me, they've had some crap to deal with recently.

Miss 8 had the foresight to bring her boogie board, but Mr 10, who couldn’t be bothered at the time, is happy to see there are several boards and balls for use of kids at the resort.

Finally, their skin wrinkled like prunes, the kids are ready to go upstairs. Miss 8 indulges in a bubble bath; Mr 10 settles for a shower.

And we all start to think about dinner ...

To be continued...

Disclosure: The kind peeps at Atlantis Marcoola Resort gave us two nights in a lovely two-bedroom apartment so I could review it at Chez MIA. I would happily have paid for the experience and totally hope to spend at least some of the winter holidays there.
Ettamoggah Pub

Our apartment - that's Miss 8 dancing a happy dance on the balcony!

A comfy Queen-sized bed, complete with crisp white sheets. Sigh!
A separate room for the rugrats

The view ...
The lounge. That's Miss 8 dancing another happy dance!

The Atlantis Marcoola pool and spa. Look closely and you'll see Miss 8 and Mr 10 making the most of the weather!

The area at the left is a toddler pool. Or warm little pool for wimpy adults.
My bathing beauty ...

Sunset ...