Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Our changing shape!

We've become increasingly health conscious since moving to the country, so I was delighted to be invited to become one of the Soup Mamas/Heart Foundation's official bloggers for the Mums United project.
The project is all about bettering the health of Aussies one small step at a time.
So rather than making a big deal about diet and exercise, it's about incorporating small changes into our lives that are quick and easy for everyone to try - no matter how fit (or unfit) they may be feeling.
Although we all know that diet and exercise are important, the Heart Foundation's current focus is to point out that it's not necessary to spend a lot of time, effort, money and stressing about diet and exercise to make a difference to our heath, fitness and shape. There are simple changes we can all make to our lifestyles and menus - and even our shopping habits - to firm up our bodies and the way we feel about ourselves and our lives.
And that's what Mums United is all about.
Sharing the knowledge and the love and even the recipes that help make those changes easier.
For us, the first step was taking a closer look at choosing Heart Foundation Tick approved products when shopping. And I was amazed at how many there are. (Some 2000 of them!).
Cereal, flavoured milk, oils, pasta, frozen pizza, and even ready meals are among those that get the tick. To be honest, there are some items on there that I'm not sure should get the tick! But then, I'm not a nutritionist, so it's not up to me to judge. I'm just surprised is all! Could it be that easy? That forgiving?
Where are the celery sticks and prunes? We could eat yummy, delicious meals and be healthy and heart-friendly too!
The other thing easy thing we did was to make what we could at home from scratch, which is something I always try to do anyway.
Recently, we visited one of my best friends at his family farm, where we were encouraged to help ourselves to their produce-laden trees. Limes, lemons, avocados, and mandarins, were all ripe for the picking, not to mention eggs from their happy chooks.
We came home relaxed from a get-together with friends, a walk on a farm, and a drive in the country. We used the lemons to make home-made lemonade, the mandarins went in the school lunch boxes every day that week, the avocados were used in salads and on sandwiches, and the limes have freshened our water and tea daily.
If you don't have a farm nearby to raid, there are usually farmer's markets in most towns and cities around Australia. We've been enjoying the tastiest potatoes, pumpkins, carrots and cauliflower
which we purchased from a local market that same weekend.  They've been cooked and served in all sorts of ways and inspired from all sorts of cultures. You really can taste the difference that comes from the produce being so fresh and knowing where it comes from, and I find the kids gobble up their veggies without complaint.
Mr 12 has been enjoying baking bread from scratch, and Miss 10 has loved making school lunchbox snacks like muffins and biscuits rather than buying mass-produced muesli bars and so-called fruit snacks. (And I don't know if home-made muffins and biscuits get the heart-foundation tick, but they should, because we make them with love and with natural ingredients like honey and oats, and we know everything that is in them, and they have to be better than things that sit on the shelves for weeks or months. So there.)
We've also swapped driving, for walking, riding or scootering, wherever possible. Having a dog helps, even though our dog is tiny. (She has loads of energy).
"I think we're a healthier family these days," said Miss 10 the other day.
And I think she's right.
Readers, do you have a simple tip to live healthier?

This is my idea of a vegie patch!

Fresh limes

Peach blossoms ...

Happy chooks - and egg collector 

Stay tuned for more teensy, tiny ways we are making our lives healthier - and happier!  

Friday, July 26, 2013

An epic week!

We finally paid a visit to our local cinemas recently, the recently reopened and refurbished Kingaroy Satellite Cinemas.

I was wondering if the kids would be disappointed in our town's small-scale cinema, in comparison to the shiny city multiplexes they are used to.

Kingaroy Satellite Cinemas are in the same building as the town squash courts, and at the moment, there are only two actual cinemas. One has 75 seats and the other has 42.

But the kids loved the country-style cinema, where we got a park right outside, didn't have to queue, and were able to choose where we sat.

"It's not so noisy and busy," says Mr 12. "And you can see where your friends are sitting," adds Miss 10.

The candy bar prices were reasonable too. Drinks started at $3, and a large popcorn which fed three children (we took a friend) set us back $4.

The cinema has only recently reopened after floods during the Australia Day weekend closed the establishment for the first time in 19 years.

Movie fans impatiently waited nine weeks for the complex to reopen, and it's now business as usual.

Owners Sandra and Terry Greenslade saw the need for a cinema complex in the South Burnett when the drive-in closed down more than 19 years ago.

They were already running the squash courts and decided to think outside the box.

"There was a resurgence in cinemas. Kingaroy didn't have a cinema and we had a building - it made sense," Terry says.

Apart from the prices, there's another advantage to smaller, independent cinemas - they tend to screen only the best movies.

But don't think Terry and Sandra get to sit back and enjoy them! "We wouldn't see 10 per cent of them," Terry laughs.

It's a bit like working in a chocolate shop - they're too busy working to sample the merchandise.

Prices are $11.50 adults, $10 pensioners, and $8 for children. Wednesdays are $8 for everyone.

So what did we see at the movies? Let's just say it was epic.

No really. It was epic.

This is a really cute kids' movie loosely based on William Joyce's book The Leaf Men And The Brave Good Bugs.

Starring the voices of Amanda Seyfried, Colin Farrell, Josh Hutcherson and Beyonce Knowles, the storyline involves a land occupied by tiny people, the forces of good and evil, a wise-talking slug, forest queen,  shrinking teenager and one-eyed, three-legged dog. Oh and a love story between the afore-mentioned teenager and a tiny man.

Yeah, it sounds all kinds of crazy, and the kids loved it. It passed my sleep test (didn't feel the urge to nod off once), and I even laughed along with them.

The verdict was that epic was awesome!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

A kids club with a French twist

Do you look for a kids' club when you travel?

I try to.

Because it's just the kids and I most of the time, it's good for them to make friends quickly and easily. (Remember the Jerry Seinfield quote? 'You like ice-cream? I like ice-cream! Let's be best friends.'
That kind of thing.)

And if it's a good club, they get to do things they might otherwise not be able to do - like collecting coconuts and making ships out of them, as they did in Fiji a few years ago. Or dehusking coconuts on a very dangerous-looking spike in Samoa. At one resort in Fiji, we even looked after an orphaned bird the kid's had rescued during a kids' club walk ... in our five-star room. I can't imagine that happening anywhere else.

But I digress.

Now my kids are older - 12 and 10 - most Aussie kids' clubs are too young for them. They would much rather hang out by the pool with me, which is fine.

But I was bemused when a release from a Parisian hotel came into my email inbox recently.

If ever we three make it to Paris as a family, we'll be making a bee-line for Le Royal Monceau - Raffles Paris.

Here, workshops to be held by celebrated artists, will be conducted in French and English. Dubbed Le Peitit Royal, the workshops are linked to major cultural events in the city and give children and teenagers the chance to participate in treasure hunts through the Louvre's Egyptian galleries, pirate boat trips down the Seine, or follow in the footsteps of a prima ballerina for the day.

Artistic kids can study the work of pioneering cubist Georges Braque (linked to a major exhibition at the Grand Palais), pop artist Roy Lichenstein (marking the start of a major exhibition at the Centre Pompidou), and Pablo Picasso, when the Picasso Museum reopens in November.

Teens can learn to be a DJ with music mixing lessons at the hotel's mobile recording studio, or make pizzas with the chefs of the Michelin-starred Italian restaurant Il Carpaccio.

Kind of puts jelly-eating competitions and boat-races in the shade doesn't it?

To be honest, if we were in Paris, I'd want to be dragging my kids around the sights, but I'm sure there might be a few hours where I might indulge in a little retail therapy, knowing they were being happily entertained ...

And when you're a single parent, a good kids' club - or entertainment program for children and teens - is gold. When you're a single parent, there's no one to mind the children while you do some child-free shopping, have a massage, lie by the pool, or just read a book for five minutes. A good kids program means the kids are happy, and Mum or Dad gets a little break too. Yeah, a holiday. Like it's meant to be.

The kids aren't bored while you are off looking at another cathedral, shopping for clothes or having your chakras realigned, and everyone is happy when you meet up a couple of hours later. It's perfect.

What do your kids like to do when they are on holiday?

Pizza-making at  Le Royal Monceau - Raffles Paris. Oh to be a kid again! 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

I don't like it

I have a confession to make: There is one thing that I don't like about Kingaroy.

There. It's out in the open.

My new home town has a failing.

It's the cold. My goodness it gets freaking cold here! Without any of the fun of snow and skiing!

In the years that have passed since I graduated year 12 at Kingaroy State High School, and despite regularly returning to the South Burnett to visit family in Wondai, I seem to have forgotten that.

I had forgotten the freezing mornings where it takes ages to work up the courage to jump out of bed and dash for the shower, all the better to minimise the period of feeling cold in-between. Of shivering whilst getting changed. Of wearing socks, or even slippers - gasp! - in the house, because the floor is cold.

These days, I live in trackies, leggings and jeans, and relish making nourishing meals for us at night.

And how comfortable are tracksuits? I only have a matching pair of tracky daks and jacket but I'm on the lookout for another. If not, I'm considering buying a onesie, and actually wearing it out in public. Look out kids, consider this fair warning!

There are a couple of other things I've forgotten over the years too. Like the smell of peanuts roasting that often permeates the town. Maddeningly delicious. How could I forget that?

And the line of trees that separates the public high school from the primary school.

How I managed to survive Kingaroy winters dressed in my summer school uniform with only a jumper and stockings for warmth, is beyond me. (Oh I had warmer clothes. But I thought my winter 'slacks' looked daggy, and an extra jacket or worse, the spencers Mum was always trying to push on me, were even more heinous. Don't judge me. I was a teenager.)

Despite the brrr factor, the days are generally warm, and we are loving weekend sleep-ins swaddled under cosy doonas. The kids actually enjoy the cool - it reminds them of the time they lived in Auckland, where they experienced their first real seasonal weather.

However, scratch beneath the surface and the kids have found one thing each they don't like about Kingaroy too. Miss 10 fervently wishes there was a Muffin Break, and Mr 12 longs for a Boost. Not that we went to either of these outlets regularly, but they were an option for a treat.

Oh well, nobody - and no town - is perfect!

A South Burnett winter might be cold for me, but Miss 12 finds the days are still warm enough for a picnic with Lucy dog, and her bunny ...

Kit Kat enjoys the backyard too

On the weekends it's nice to stay tucked up in bed ...

Readers, is there something you wished was different about your home town?

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Shadow Year - and a giveaway!

She's the Sydney-based author of last year's fiction debut hit Secrets of the Tides. Now her follow-up novel The Shadow Year is making waves too. The lovely Hannah Richell takes time out from her busy schedule to talk writing with MIA. 

Your first novel got rave reviews. How hard was it to write your second?
    It did prove hard, but I think that was down more to my own sense of expectation and self-doubt than from any external pressures. To receive good reviews and reader feedback for Secrets of the Tides was incredibly encouraging, but I took a wrong turn with my second novel – I spent a long time on the first draft of a very different story – and it took me 100,000 words to realize that I was writing the wrong book. Ditching it was a very hard and painful process, but I knew deep down it was the right thing to do.

·        What was your inspiration for The Shadow Year?
        I find it really hard to answer this question. Inspiration for a story comes from so many sources, some conscious and some totally unconscious. The starting point for this book was the image of a young woman wandering around a derelict cottage. It came to me in a moment of absolute clarity and wouldn’t leave me alone; I found myself thinking about the woman and the cottage until I knew I had to write their story.

·        Did you go back to the UK for research purposes, or do you write from memory?
        I wrote my first book, Secrets of the Tides, using childhood memories as a reference point. The novel was set in Dorset, an area I knew well from visiting my grandparents as a young girl, so it was fun to revisit that time in my head and weave echoes of memories into my writing. The Shadow Year, however, was a very different experience. I knew I needed to set the novel in a remote and wild landscape but when I settled on the Peak District, I’d only ever spent one hazy weekend there, several years ago. I had to do a fair bit of geographical research, and also investigate the practicalities for a group of friends to live of the land and eat seasonally. It was great fun, exploring the opportunity for foraging and living self-sufficiently and it offered me the chance to ‘live the dream’ for a little while, if only in my head (which let’s face it, is probably far more comfortable than doing all that hard work!)

·        Where do you write? And with young children, how do you find the time?
   I used to write in snatched moments at the kitchen table, but now that it’s become my job, I try to devote five days a week to it. I’ve rented a studio a short walk from the house. It’s nothing glamorous – just a room, with a window, a door and a desk, but it’s all mine and it’s wonderful to have that space to myself.

·        What advice do you have for people who want to write?
  Read a lot. Write a lot. Delete a lot. Write the story you are itching to tell and write it for the love of writing – not for a market, or an agent, or a publisher, or a hot new trend … because those things are always shifting and moving faster than any writer can keep up with. You can worry about the pitch and the positioning and the agents and the market when you have a manuscript that you believe truly shines.

·        What are you working on now?
        I’m just finishing promotion for The Shadow Year in Australia and the UK, and mulling ideas for my third novel. It’s exciting and terrifying to be contemplating that leap out into another big idea.

·        Tell us a little about yourself ...
  I’m the middle child of a relatively ‘normal’ family and very close to my parents and siblings. After graduating from university I spent ten years working in the book publishing industry, marketing books and authors until I emigrated to Australia at the end of 2005. After a stint working in the film industry in Sydney, I left to have my first child and that’s when I began writing. I’m a bit of a homebody: I love good food, friends, wine, books and film. I’m terrible at walking in heels and I have a fear of karaoke – I have been known to hide in toilet cubicles to escape it. I can laugh until I cry. Marrying my husband and having my two children are the best things I’ve ever done.

Hannah Richell

About The Shadow Year

The Shadow Year is a compelling novel about family, friendship, love and loss.
On a sultry summer s day in 1980, five friends stumble upon an abandoned lakeside cottage hidden deep in the English countryside. For Kat and her friends, it offers an escape; a chance to drop out for a while, with lazy summer days by the lake and intimate winter evenings around the fire. But as the seasons change, tensions begin to rise and when an unexpected visitor appears at their door, nothing will be the same again ...
Three decades later, Lila arrives at the same cottage. With her marriage in crisis, she finds solace in renovating the tumbledown house. Little by little she wonders about the previous inhabitants. How did they manage in such isolation? Why did they leave in such a hurry? Most disturbing of all, why can t she shake the feeling that someone might be watching her?
Who could have suspected that one lost year could cast such a long shadow?
To win a copy of Hannah's second novel, The Shadow Year, simply leave a comment below about what you'd do if you could hide away for a year. Thanks to Hannah's publisher Hachette Australia for the giveaway. The Shadow Year retails for $29.99 at all good bookstores. Competition ends at 5 pm on July 19. 

The competition has ended, and the winner is Kim Maxwell. Congratulations! Kim, please contact me with your snail mail address so I can organise for your prize to be delivered. 

Monday, July 8, 2013

Holiday highlights

So the kids came home from holidays this weekend, and oh my goodness, I was thrilled to see them.

Of course, we're regularly separated from each other - such is the reality of divorce - but this was the first time they've spent the entire school holidays away from me.

But now their Dad lives in Darwin, and we live in country Queensland, it made sense for them to spend more time with him in the Northern Territory, making the most of the expensive airfares Dad paid for, and seeing as much of the part of Australia he calls home now as possible.

And the kids had a ball.

They even flew there on their own - supervised by a Qantas employee each way - and I was so proud of the way they handled that. How they are growing up!

But while Chase and Harmonie were fishing, looking for crocodiles, and swimming underneath waterfalls, I was missing them terribly!

Before I became a mother, I never imagined just how much a person could miss their children. Clearly, I knew I'd love them and miss them when they weren't around, but I wasn't aware just how intense that invisible bond would be; that physical yearning to be with them when we were apart. Even though there is a lot to be said for 'me' time, not to mention sleeping in, there is always that feeling that something is missing when I am separated from those two small humans I helped to create.

(I can only imagine how hard it was for my own parents when I took off and gallivanted around the world without a care when I was younger.)

And so, as the countdown began for me to drive back to Brisbane to pick the kids up and bring them home, I felt myself getting ridiculously excited.

Remember that photo of the late Princess Diana rushing to meet her then young son William with her arms open wide and a huge smile on her face when they were reunited after an absence? That's how I felt. It was all I could do not to throw myself into their arms.

Instead, I tried to act cool and we remarked on all the changes we noticed about each other.

I swore they were both taller, and they both noticed I'd coloured my hair and had new glasses.

The three-hour drive home flew by as we chatted about their adventures and what I'd been up to while they had been away.

They had gone camping at the beautiful Litchfield National Park, and went swimming with freshwater crocs and huge barramundi. Lucy our chihauhua-pomeranian puppy had her stitches out. They went swimming at a wave pool. Hannah the prodigal cat had been found in Brisbane and brought home safely.

Unfortunately, the next morning meant back to school, but they seemed content enough to go back.

I missed our usual school holiday activities but I'm really glad the kids had a wonderful holiday just the same.

Readers, what do you do during the holidays?

Darwin-bound (Lucy stayed home ...)

Bye-bye for now

While the kids were away, Hannah cat came back to stay 

Friday, July 5, 2013

A change is a good as a holiday ...

Have you ever changed your stripes?

Tiger Airways did this week, with a major rebrand of the airline as Tigerair.

Gone is the leaping tiger of old, and in is a funky new logo which CEO Rob Sharp says represents Tiger's 'warm, passionate and genuine' personality.

“Our goal is to provide Australians with the opportunity to explore new destinations,
escape the daily grind, catch their favourite team in action and re-connect with
friends and family more often, because our fares enable it," says Rob.

"If you like, we’re a real airline for real people but we do understand that we need to put the customer at the
forefront of our approach to ensure they choose to fly Tigerair."

He admits Tigerair has some way to go to win back consumer confidence. 

While the airline's prices are right, their times and service has come under fire time and again since they began operating in Australia in late 2007.

The rebranding is part of a bid to show the public a new face and commitment, which will be reflected across the board.

Personally, I liked the tiger, but I'm for anything that gets people travelling more.

What do you think?

Image: James Morgan

Would a logo change the way you fly?