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So, my 10-year-old has started drinking coffee.

9 Apr

I can think of worse things to give him.

Philip drinking coffee

My children have always been curious about coffee. To them, it is a magical drink that makes me instantly happy. They’ve grown accustomed to me gasping, “I need coffee”, like a hung-over-twenty-something. Except I’m not hung over. I’m tired and overwhelmed. Coffee has always been about comfort and community to me.

They’ve all tried it and it was pretty funny watching them spit it out and dramatically gag, as though they’d just had a mouthful of vinegar. I’ve been the only regular coffee drinker in my home for as long as I can remember (my husband only drinks it occasionally) and I’ve been pretty happy with that state of affairs.

Philip is ten and he has been a tea drinker for years. After I put the little ones to bed each night, Philip and I have a cup of tea (a weak one for him) and chat or play Scrabble for half an hour before he too goes to bed. He took me by surprise this week when he asked for coffee instead of tea.

“It smells nice to me now. I think I’ll like it.”

So we had the ‘coffee chat’, about how it keeps you awake and a couple a day is enough, preferably before lunchtime.

“Can I have coffee tomorrow morning then?”

“Okay, but just a weak one,” I said. He is turning 11 in a week. #growing too fast.

Coffee fixes everything

The next morning we were running late for Tennis Camp so we didn’t get a chance to even have breakfast let alone make coffee but after Tennis Camp I suggested we go to a cafe for a snack.

“And can I have coffee,” he asked.

“Sure.” I mean, why not? To me, coffee for kids is much better than, say, Fanta or Coke In fact coffee has been proven to have health benefits – as long as it isn’t covered in whipped cream and caramel sauce – and I’ve been drinking it all my life. Coming from an Italian background I was always free to have a sip of wine or a bit of milky coffee.

I ordered him a weak cappuccino and a skim one for myself. He really really enjoyed it.

Now, my 10-almost-11-year-old is a coffee drinker and I’m okay with that. I never really had a problem with him having a bit of coffee here and there. I think my momentary struggle with it had more to do with how fast he is growing up, how mature he is and how I can now say to him, “Want to grab a coffee?” like I do with my grown up friends.

I’m preparing myself for some startled looks when I order him a coffee from our local cafe. They are used to kids requesting hot chocolates, which in my view are way more unhealthy than coffee.

Do your kids drink coffee? Would you let them if they asked?

5 things to do with leftover Easter egg chocolate.

6 Apr

Because there’s no such thing as too much chocolate.

Caterina banana chocolate muffin

We have a RIDICULOUS amount of Easter egg chocolate in our house and it is awesome. There is so much we can do with it, post-gorge. Yep, we are O-V-E-R actually eating it straight up. Now, the real fun begins.

I let my children eat as much chocolate as they like on Easter Day. The next day, I collect it all and sort it all out. The really fancy ones, like the Darrell Lea variety, gets cut up and bagged into little bags for my husband and I to enjoy for the next couple of weeks with our afternoon coffee. The rest go to good use.

Here’s  things you can do with leftover Easter egg chocolate. Enjoy.

1. Dip

Getting kids to eat fruit is a constant challenge in my house. Two out of three of my children have a handful of fruit they are happy to tuck into, and the third? Well, let’s just say, he sometimes eats bananas. Very reluctantly.

Leftover Easter egg chocolate is the perfect way to entice children to try new fruits. Let’s face it…when foods are dipped in chocolate they are suddenly more appealing to children, and their parents (hey, I’m human).

To melt chocolate, place in a microwave-proof bowl. Heat for 60 seconds, stir, and then heat for a further 30 seconds. Stir once again. If the chocolate isn’t yet melted, place in for a remaining 30 seconds. Then, get dipping.

You can dip strawberries, bananas, kiwi fruit that has been peeled and quartered, raspberries, apple slices, pineapple, and then serve it up.

2. Crack

Crack some of the good quality chocolate eggs and place them in a container in the fridge for snacking. Placing it in the fridge keeps it fresh and crunchy and by cracking it all up into pieces it prevents anyone trying to eat an entire giant egg themselves. Then crack a few more pieces up into smaller pieces and use them as ice cream and yoghurt toppings.

3. Gift

A family friend donates left over Easter eggs to a retirement home in her area. She visits the centre over the long weekend and spends some time with the residents, handing out Easter eggs to anyone who is still allowed to eat chocolate. She says the really enjoy the company and the chocolate. Ring ahead to make sure you are allowed to do this. You might even visit a local hospital children’s ward and do the same. It’s a wonderful way to spend an afternoon.

4. Store

Any Easter eggs that haven’t been removed from their original packaging can be stored for next year. Yes, they do last that long. All you need to do is keep them in a cool, dry place that is protected from children, animals, insects and the elements. I store mine in a high cupboard in my wardrobe. They keep really well. Trust me, supermarkets often do the exact same thing.

5. Bake

This is my favourite thing to do with left over Easter egg chocolate. All you do is melt down some chocolate and stir it into your favourite, healthy muffin recipe or even chocolate cake recipe. If you bake them into muffins or cupcakes you can eat some now and freeze the rest. Then, when you want to eat them, just put them on the bench to thaw in time for afternoon tea. Here is my favourite recipe.

BANANA CHOCOLATE MUFFINS

Chocolate banana muffins

Ingredients

4-6 ripe bananas

Approximately two cups of melted Easter egg chocolate

3 cups self-raising flour

1 cup oatmeal

2 tbsp baking powder

Pinch salt

1/4 cup olive oil (NOT EXTRA VIRGIN)

1/2 cup cocoa powder

1/2 cup brown sugar

2 tbsp vanilla essence

3 cups milk

Method

1. Pre-heat oven to 200 degrees.

2. Line muffin tin with muffin cases.

3. Mash bananas and place in a mixing bowl. Add all ingredients except for the melted chocolate and stir with a fork until combined.

4. Pour in the melted chocolate and stir briefly.

5. Separate into muffin cases and bake for approximately 25 minutes, or until they spring back when lightly touched.

What do you do with your left over Easter egg chocolate?

How Facebook helped me to re-enter ‘the world’ after becoming a parent.

30 Mar Jo on Facebook use

Jo on Facebook use

As startling as becoming a parent was – you mean I get to bring the baby home?!? – I was more than happy to say ‘goodbye’ to my old life and completely sink into full-time motherhood. Call it an escape, call it hiding, call it what you will, I was in self-imposed heaven, delighting on finally being able to complain about what I saw as ‘real’ problems like lack of sleep, breastfeeding, child rearing and finding the best highchair money could buy. As parenting goes, I was nailing it. That is until my children became older and I suddenly had to face a grim reality.

They needed me less. And I wasn’t one to sit down and twiddle my thumbs.

Knowing that re-entry is one of the most dangerous parts of space travel, but feeling like the analogy worked quite well for how it felt to be facing a new life post-motherhood, I decided to procrastinate for a while in front of the TV, going as far as to carry my old and dusty laptop onto the coffee table and placing there, front and centre next to my coffee cup, wondering WHERE ON EARTH I would begin.

Then one day, I opened it up.

Like all media-savvy ex-media employees such as myself, I had obligingly set up a Facebook page when it was first in it’s infancy and I’d even posted some incredibly boring information about my food consumption, my moods, my marital status and my thoughts on television shows post Oprah’s retirement, but I’d never really been serious about it. Imagine my surprise when I realised that Facebook had also been fed and nurtured and had grown into a fully-fledged people connector. Without even having to leave the house or brush my hair or fit into my old jeans I could connect with my old life and try and figure out a new one.

All my old people were there, waiting for me.

Me and the kids

Facebook had gotten serious. Was there anything you couldn’t do on it these days? I think not. I scrolled madly down my neglected feed and was told all about grocery delivery services, sleep training techniques (four years too late to help me) and all the information I could want about my friends, family and colleagues and where life had taken them.

I dove right in and before I knew it, I felt…found. Funny that. I hadn’t even realised I was lost.

Facebook became the conduit through which I discovered and designed my new life. Now it has become my constant, my portal through which I send and consume information about everyone and everything, both serious and not so much.

It got me thinking…I know the role Facebook played in my parenting life. It ‘found’ me, it informed me, it fed me and gave me company and gossiped about my friends and work colleagues. Facebook was my friend, family, job agency, news feed, dietician, pediatrician, counselor, confidante…and if had quickly become so important to me, how important a role did it play in the lives of other parents.

photo-5

And for those who became parents well after Facebook found it’s calling to be everything to everyone, how has this shape the role it plays for parents today?

Also, what role does it now play for me?

And that, my friends, is how I arrived at my beloved thesis subject. “What role does Facebook play for parents”, or something like that. Every time I sit down with my thesis supervisor we come up with a million variations. I’m thinking of putting them all into a hat and picking one at random, in order to decide.

My thesis is just the first step. That’s this year. Next year I embark on my PhD which I have been assured will take me WAY LONGER than the allotted three years. It could be four, it could be five. By then, Facebook would have gone through so many rapid-fire changes that it will be a completely different beast? The roles it could be playing for parents by then will be endless.

Have you ever stepped back long enough to examine the reasons behind your Facebook use, the choices you make while using it and the role it fulfills for you, or is Facebook so established these days that to step back and analyse your own use of it is similar to pondering your heart’s ability to beat, or your lung’s ability to breath?

Has Facebook become that ingrained in parenting yet, or is this the future I imagine for it? Over the next four or five years, I plan to explore it in all it’s glory.

I’ll keep you updated on my findings. I’m pretty excited to get stuck in, to be honest.

Let the thesis commence…wish me luck.

x

It’s never too late to change EVERYTHING.

13 Mar Mummy and Caterina grad

You are in control of your life. You just forgot that you were.

My first university experience was fresh out of high school. I had no idea who I was or what I wanted to be. I had a rough idea in my own head of the kind of path I wanted to take. Also my parents (my dad) had bashed me over the head with his expectation. “You should be a financial journalist”, he would say to me. However something I’ve always been good at is knowing my limitations. I loved high school Commerce and Economics but was in know way smart enough ‘that way’ to write about it everyday.

So my career went something line this:

Grocery store

Toy store

Bar tender/waitress

Radio announcer

Author

Traffic reporter

Journalist

Not too shabby, right?

It wasn’t an easy ride. I could write a book about each and every one. But it’s mostly the transition from traffic reporter to journalist that I want to talk about, that I am asked about and that I am the most proud of.

I was sitting at home a few years ago with a son in school, a toddler and a baby, feeling like my life was over. I felt like my best and most productive career years were way behind me and I didn’t have what it took to be a full time working mum. I have always understood and accepted my limitations and handling stress is not one of my strengths.

So I started dabbling in writing from home. Then I went to Google and started looking at writing courses.

I had always dreamed of going back to university and actually studying my first choice field and my first choice university. For me that was writing at Macquarie University.

Filling out the application form/s was an exercise itself. It felt like a cruel and grueling test which I thankfully endured and I got in. Then I actually managed to do okay at it and graduate.

Now I am back there again studying something new. I have more plans after that.

Here comes the lesson: It’s never to late to completely change your life.

Ever since I posted my graduation photo on Facebook last November I have been inundated with friends and acquaintances asking for advice on pursuing their dreams. I know countless reality TV contestants have said, “Follow your dreams no matter what” but it can be scary, and impractical.

I had to consider my children, my husband’s schedule and sadly, money. I kept fiddling around and snooping around until I found a way to do it that worked for me. There is always a way, if you want it badly enough.

Uni grad

Is there something you’ve always wanted to do but have never gotten around to? The great thing about life is that we are in control of it. We aren’t just at the mercy of it. It can be so easy to forget that. I never let my children forget it. I constantly tell them, “You can be anything you want to be” but it wasn’t until I started saying that to myself that I really comprehended it.

Parents, partners, bosses, friends and colleagues can’t control our lives. We can let them control our lives if it suits us. We can listen to opinions and advice, accept jobs and factor in peoples feelings. At the end of the day, however, we have to please ourselves.

We are all running our own race, no matter what our circumstances are. So run it well, or change tracks if you’re not happy.

It is never too late and I am an example that it can be done.

Do you think it’s realistic to change careers later in life? How much should you let family pressure influence your dreams?

This is why I don’t want to send my son to school camp.

5 Feb

IMAGE PHILIP FOOD ALLEGIES

My son has school camp next week and I am terrified. This is the first time I am letting him attend a school camp. He’s only gone on one excursion with the school. I’ve been too scared to send him before because of his severe food allergies.

How am I meant to raise a strong, happy, confident child when just one bite of the wrong food can kill him? How am I meant to protect him from a healthy distance so he can develop his own survival skills?

I feel as though every choice I make to try and protect him from his food allergies directly opposes the way I know I should be parenting, but I also feel I have very little choice.

Philip is 10 and yes, he is aware of his allergies and he even has a rough idea of what he can and cannot eat. Being allergic to egg and nuts is complicated. Everyone has heard of nut allergies but egg allergies are more complicated. It’s in almost everything, particularly foods kids enjoy eating, and although he is starting to slowly grow out of it, it’s still deadly to him in large doses.

So I continue to try and protect and educate him in a way that allows him to have some independence from me and remain alive so he can enjoy his new-found independence.

At first I said he couldn’t attend camp and he was distraught. He’d already missed band camp and the excursion during which they cooked and ate fried rice, an allergy mum’s total nightmare. He was sick of missing out. My husband and I made the difficult decision to let him go and since then, I haven’t slept a full night.

I met with the school and they assured me the venue was experienced in child allergies. I contacted the venue and they assured me Philip’s meals would be prepared separately by a qualified chef.

Philip and mum

No, I’m still not comfortable. What keeps popping into my head is the numerous incidents of children who have died at school camps after parents have been assured everything would be okay. The bottom line is that people make mistakes. I’ve made mistakes with Philip and accidentally fed him egg and nuts, but luckily I recognise the symptoms of his allergies which are different every time. How will they know he needs to be treated way before he becomes visibly ill?

So I’ve decided to pack all of his food myself.

The only thing is that he may feel left out of all the food fun at camp, but we have spoken about it and he is happy to do this as long as he still gets to go. Maybe next time we’ll do it differently, but this time, it’s the only way I can let him go.

We sat down and wrote down a two-day menu plan of foods he will be happy to eat and my job this weekend is to prepare it all, write out a menu, email the menu to the school and the venue, and then have a face-to-face conversation with every member of staff attending the camp, making sure they are all aware of his food allergies and my instruction that he is only to eat the foods I have packed.

Philip know he must only eat the foods I have packed and if he does well, then he can go to band camp later in the year.

It’s okay to let kids know you are scared in situations like this, isn’t it? I think so, as long as we discuss our fears and a solution that addresses them. That’s empowerment. That’s educating him to manage his food allergies himself for the rest of his life.

I felt the need to vent and rang my best friend. We had one of those conversations where we lamented the existence of food allergies and expressed frustration at the fact they exist, they are getting worse and that doctors don’t seem to know how they occur or how to treat them.

It’s a work-in-progress, a very slow one and one I hope we manage to solve in my son’s lifetime.

How have children’s food allergies affected you? Do you have to cater to children with food allergies at your children’s food allergies?

I’m too tired for Christmas.

28 Nov

Christmas

I haven’t been writing here much lately because I am physically and emotionally depleted. The stress of work, life, family illness and my little boy starting school has left me feeling incredibly drained. Instead of fighting against it and trying to be bloody perky all the time, I’ve gifted myself time to lie on the lounge and binge watch Nurse Jackie, Party Tricks and Entourage.

So far my energy hasn’t returned but I know it will. Maybe sometime after Christmas.

I’m too tired for Christmas this year. It’s almost December and I’m yet to place my Christmas tree order or even start sorting through the Christmas decorations. My children are asking. It’s really surprised them that I haven’t begun fevered preparations yet because I just love this time of the year. But I just can’t seem to get myself moving.

It’s all become a bit too hard.

I know I’ll rally. I’ll do it for my children and I’ll do it for myself because I know that it will make me feel better and I know just how healing this time of the year can be, despite the stress of the school holidays and the financial drain. Because it’s Christmas!!! And family, food and fun is what it’s ALL about.

And Jesus. It’s also about Jesus…or so my children keep solemnly reminding me. They do attend a Catholic school after all. That’s money well spent.

So I plan to go through our boxes of Christmas decorations this weekend and I may even order a Christmas present or two. I may even buy some candy canes and eat them because sugar can only help.

I might line up to see Santa. Caterina has already visited him but the boys haven’t. Giovanni wants to ask for a iPod. Philip just wants a photo sitting on Santa’s lap for a laugh.

“I know you’re Santa Mum,” he reminds me.

So instead of Christmas draining me this year, I’m look for it to restore me into my usual happy self.

So bring on the festivities.

What is your favourite part of the whole Christmas shindig?

Why I called for swimming pools to be banned

20 Jan Swimming public pool

Swimming public poolSince I started blogging full time for iVillage Australia I’ve spent too much time writing stories about parents who have lost children to drowning. This summer has been the worst. To me, drowning is one of the most preventable causes of death in children under 5 in Australia, but as a nation we are so attached to the idea of a backyard pool.

So I wrote a story called, Backyard swimming pools should be banned and was hung, drawn and quartered by social media.

I stand by every word I wrote.

The reaction has been one of complete outrage. I may as well have said “I hate Australia” or “All parents with backyard pools are terrible parents”. I’m saying neither. All I’m saying is that policy makers need to take a step back and stop focusing on pool fences and awareness campaigns. Instead they need to address a very real danger to our children, a danger that exists in their own backyard.

“More children die due to cars. Should we ban cars too?”

This was one of the most popular comments made about my article and to this I say, just because similar bans are even more impractical, doesn’t mean we reject banning backyard pools. We don’t need backyard pools to get to work, to take our children to school, to visit friends, to buy food, but we do need cars. It’s all about minimising risk. Does anyone really need a pool in their backyard?

“Swimming lessons should be compulsory”

A one-year-old isn’t going to be able to save themselves if they fall into a pool, even if they’ve been in the pool since birth. In fact the most vulnerable age group to backyard drowning is those aged between 1 and 3. They are young, they can’t swim properly, they tire easily and they can inhale a large amount of water very quickly.

“Why are you suggesting something that will never happen”

Never say never. I know this is an extreme suggestion but to me, if fireworks have been banned for causing injuries and deaths in children, then why not swimming pools?

“Supervision is key. If parents did a better job of looking after their children drowning wouldn’t happen”

I have covered countless stories in which good parents, vigilant and loving parents have lost children to backyard drowning. Distractions occur, toddlers sneak out during nap time, outdoor furniture is pushed against pool gates to open them, so many things can go wrong. The stats are in. Clearly supervision and other safety measures are failing.

Before you say anything else, consider this. Isn’t it worth letting go of backyard swimming pools to save children’s lives?

If we don’t ban backyard pools, how do you propose we significantly reduce the rate of drowning deaths in Australia?

I appeared on Wake Up on Ten to discuss the article. It was pretty interesting. Check it out:

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