Tag Archives: health

Middle-aged hair goes through a crisis too.

19 May

Not that I’m having a mid-life crisis or anything…

Jo Abi dark red hair

We spend our twenties experimenting with our hair. We try different colours, different styles and different cuts. Our hair is probably the craziest and most ‘done’ it will ever be. Then we enter our thirties and it becomes tamer. If we’ve gotten married and had kids we’ll normally cut it, or put it in a ponytail more often than we’d like.

Then, after thirty-five, if we aren’t struggling to hide greys, we’re struggling to hide thinning. Yep, it happens. It’s one of those middle-aged hair stages nobody tells us about.

So many of my friends and I are dealing with thinning hair. I didn’t notice that my hair was thinning until my brother pointed it out, in a really sensitive way.

“What’s that?!? You’re, like, bald there now.”

Thanks bro.

Thirty-seven minutes later and I’m still examining it in my bathroom mirror. He’s right. My hair has thinned around the temple on both sides.

I might have sworn a few times. What to do, what to do.

Hair clip-ins aren’t going to do much for the hair around my temples and when I speak to my friends about their middle-aged hair loss they are experiencing it and noticing it up top as well. Many have started dying it in different colours in an attempt to disguise it. My hairdresser says the best colours for making hair look fuller are highlights to contrast with your natural block colour. It’s not enough to hide the greys. She also says cutting a fringe and making the overall length shorter helps.

Fibrology ad

I’m more gentle with my hair as well. I don’t tease it as much and I don’t ever ever brush it when it is wet. In fact, I hardly ever brush it. Just a finger comb. I’ve also stocked up on L’Oreal Fibralogy shampoo, conditioner and serum and I’ve given some to my sister and my best friend, who are also suffering from minor yet noticeable-to-them hair loss. And I’m taking a hair, skin and nail vitamin, just in case. When it comes to my hair, I feel a multi-pronged attack is best.

I can pin point the times that I lost hair and they are after each pregnancy (three) and then after I turned 36. I’m 39 now so I am trying to keep the hair I have and make what’s left look as full as possible. It’s so great that there are so many tricks I can use to do this. That leaves me free to concentrate on the remainder of my early-onset midlife crisis.

I remember my mum at this age, and how she dreaded turning 40. I’d always planned to do it more happily, and I’m trying, I really am. I thought I would age gracefully and accept the corresponding changes to my appearance, but I’m finding that I’m not. I don’t want to look younger, it’s not about that. I want to look like the healthiest, best version of 40 as I can.

I’m not 40 yet, by the way. Another 256 days to go.

So I’ve reduced the amount of beautifying I do because it was expensive and time-consuming and mostly completely ineffective. Now I save my money for the services I know will work. I do less to my hair but what I do is more effective. I do a lot of grooming at home while watching Real Housewives (of whichever franchise is on at the time). I don’t wax anymore because life is too short for such incredible pain but I am considering having my underarms lasered. And maybe my eyebrows and upper lip. Although I love plucking my own eyebrows. I really enjoy it. Is that strange?

I exercise but not for as long as I used to and with more toning work and less cardio. I have to nurture my joints, after all.

Sleep is a priority for me now and if I don’t have anything on I’ll go to be just minutes after the kids do. I’ve just remembered another hair trick I use. I sleep with my hair in a high ponytail so when I take it out the next day it is nice and full.

I’m trying to age well and if I’m eighty per cent successful, with good hair, I’ll be really really happy.

How are you tweaking your beauty routines as you get older? Is there something you used to do when you were younger that you would never do now?

8 things I learned while under quarantine with my kids.

9 May

Whooping cough put my family and I under house arrest for five, incredible days.

Me and the kids

For the past five days my children and I have been under self-imposed quarantine at home, due to whooping cough. My eldest son Philip tested positive to the disease. He contracted it from a friend at school who probably contracted it from another friend, and they from someone else. The alarmingly low rate of vaccination in what is an affluent Sydney suburb means illnesses like whooping cough are more common than ever.

Our doctor assured us that we would be okay. We are fully vaccinated, it was a mild case, however because there had been “confirmed exposure” the proper course of action was for all of use to take antibiotic for five days and avoid mixing with others. I took the responsibility serious, and I’ve had the time of my life.

Here’s 18 things I loved about being under quarantine with my kids.

1. We were freed from the unforgiving school schedule.

Being a school parent is incredibly hard. Unlike the relative freedom of preschool, we have to arrive at a set time and it ends at a set time, making it incredibly hard for both parents to focus on their careers. Not to mention all the stuff that is involved. School uniforms, lunch boxes, drink bottles, sports shoes, homework, reading lists, stalls, open days which parents are expected to attend. It is relentless. I haven’t missed any of it.

2. Our mornings are like a dream sequence.

Most mornings I wake up to a series of alarms designed to get me out of bed at 6am at the latest so we make it to school in time or to our Saturday morning soccer games. The kids wake up to my calls to “get up or we’ll be late”. Not having to do that has been bliss. I’ve learned that my natural wake up time is between 8 and 8.30. The kids naturally wake up around an hour earlier. We’ve been getting up, eating a leisurely breakfast in our pyjamas and eventually getting dressed. It’s been heaven.

3. No guilt.

Normally when I don’t leave the house for a day or two I feel incredibly guilty. I should be doing things, helping others, offering to baby sit nieces, nephews and friends. I should be doing more, doing better. However being under quarantine means the onus isn’t on me. It’s not my laziness or desire for a simpler life that is to blame for our staying at home. It’s because of whooping cough. Guilt-free relaxation. I’ve loved every second of it.

4. Career sacrifices.

I love my work as much as the next person but I’m always astounded by how conflicted I feel when torn between work and my children. There’s always a sacrifice and I always feel really hard done by. Where is the choice? If we choose to work in a traditional job, great. If we don’t want to work long hours, why can’t we not? I think it’s a combination of financial stress, obligation and also our own ambition. I have what many feel is an ideal working arrangement as I am able to work mostly from home. I miss the office though. See? Torn. But not this week. This week I haven’t had a choice between work and uni and my children. They are sick. They win.

Dressups

5. Time with my children.

Having three school-aged children is intense. They are always talking at the same time, needing things at the same time. In the morning time is limited so we all try and talk and cuddle and bond in a mad rush before school drop off. After school we are eager to catch up, all at once. It doesn’t work. There are hurt feeling from them and feelings of inadequacy from me. For the past five days my children and I have talked and talked and talked. We’ve snuggled and watched TV. We’ve wandered around our backyard. We’ve pondered life’s bigger questions. We’ve discussed life and love and food preferences. I’ve learned more about them over the past five days than I have in the past year.

6. Everything is set up for mums to fail.

Society is set up in a way that makes it extremely difficult for mums to have the lives they want. We are constantly having to choose between work and kids and relaxing and housework. And it’s 2015 for crying out loud. I work full time hours due to my work and uni, however the responsibility of the laundry and the housework still falls on me. It’s not my husband’s fault. Yes he could help more, but he works incredibly long hours driving a petrol tanker. He alternates between day and night shift. It is incredibly unforgiving. He’d love to be home more to help me. He just doesn’t have anything left over for us. So I’m left to deal with it. I do the juggle. I get through it, but there is a cost. Always a cost.

7. I am a homebody.

More than ever I realise I am a homebody and I hope my children enjoy our relaxing time together at home. When I was little we were always home and hardly went out. I didn’t always enjoy it because our childhood was a little fraught, so I am taking the parts of my childhood I enjoyed and improving on the rest. We have plenty to keep us happy here. We haven’t touched the kid’s homework or sight words or trombone. We have done whatever we’ve wanted.

8. I want things to change.

Our five days are almost up and I’m frantically trying to figure out my new-found knowledge into our real lives. Is it possible to be this happy and relaxed and rested and still live the lives were were living before whooping cough struck? Can I reorganise our days so we can have this time together, free from stress, and still do the things we enjoy? I’m not so sure, but I won’t stop trying.

Do you sometimes wish your life and you children’s lives were different?

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

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

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?

Why I called for swimming pools to be banned

20 Jan

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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