Wednesday, July 29, 2009

My "can't live without them" kitchen appliances

I think all of us have houses full of gadgets and appliances, many of which rarely, if ever, get used (my waffle iron springs to mind!!). But there are some kitchen appliances that make my life so much easier, they are used on an almost daily basis. These are my "can't live without them" kitchen appliances:Slow cooker/crock pot

  • I love, love, love my slow cooker. In winter, it means I can have stews and soups and pot roasts ready without slaving by the stove, and in summer we can have cooked meals without heating up the kitchen. The best thing of all, though, is the ability to be cooking dinner while I am busy doing other things. Tuesdays used to be a nightmare for me; I don't get home until after 5.30 and getting dinner on the table was always a struggle. Since using the slowcooker, I simply prep the meal in the morning, switch it on, and then come home to a ready cooked meal.

Rice cooker
  • We love rice, and eat it at least 3-4 times a week, but I always found cooking it messy and a pain. I invested in a rice cooker with a timer, and just like the slow cooker, this gives me great flexibility. Again, I can prep in the morning, set the timer, and the rice is taken care off. It takes longer to cook (about 50 minutes for brown rice) but given that I don't have to watch over it, and it has a keep warm function for 5 hours, I don't care! The pot is nonstick so a quick wash is all that is needed after dinner. You can also use your rice cooker to make soup and porridge as well.


Sandwich press/grill
  • This is great for so many things. It makes wonderful grilled cheese sandwiches and toasted paninis for a quick dinner or lunch, and cooks steak or chops in half the time it takes in a regular grill. I line the grill with baking paper, which makes clean up a breeze.


Stick blender
  • This was invaluable when making me own baby food, but I still use this on a daily basis. This makes light work of pureeing soups (no extra blender to clean) and, of course, is necessary to make my daily green smoothie. I can use it with its attachment as a mini food processor, to crush nuts, and to chop herbs.
Yoghurt maker
  • I now have TWO yoghurt makers - one that makes 7 individual pots and one that makes a litre. We eat a lot of yogurt and home made is much more economical. It is great on its own, added to smoothies, or turned into yoghurt cheese. See this post for how to make yoghurt.

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Monday, July 20, 2009

There were four in the bed...adventures in co-sleeping!


Stephen has been co-sleeping with us since he was about 3 months old. When he was first born, we had him sleeping next to us in a bassinet, but once he grew out of it and we moved him to his cot at the end of the bed, he would hardly get any sleep. We tried controlled crying for all of about 5 minutes, then discovered attachment parenting and the works of Dr Sears. So that we could all get some sleep, we chose to co-sleep and we never looked back!

Irini, on the other hand, was a different story. I had planned to have her co-sleeping with us once she outgrew the bassinet, even planning to buy an Arm's Reach Co-Sleeper, but she made it very clear from early on that she did not want to sleep in our bed. After nursing her, instead of drifting off to sleep like other babies, she would start tossing and turning until I would return her to her bassinet (and then cot), where she would promptly fall fast asleep. So for the past 15 months, Irini has been happily sleeping in her cot in the room next to ours with no problems.

A month ago, Irini finally woke up to the fact that the other three of us had a nice cozy arrangement, and that she was being left out in the cold, literally! So instead of her regular peaceful dozing off to sleep, we were confronted with screaming, and leaning out of the cot with arms outstretched, crying "Mummy, Mummy" and when that wasn't working, "Baba, Baba (Daddy, Daddy)". Can you imaging anything more heart rending than going to bed and snuggling with your son, while listening to your daughter crying for you? So, of course, into bed she came.

While co-sleeping with three is generally comfortable, co-sleeping with four was anything but. We tried all different arrangements over the course of a week, and all I could think of was the line from the song "there were four in the bed and the little one said, 'roll over, roll over'...". We even had "the one fell out" when Stephen, trying to escape the squeeze, had wriggled to the edge of the bed and then promptly feel off. We tried Irini on one edge, then me, Stephen in the middle, and Nick on the far end, but I couldn't sleep, terrified that I would let go of Irini who would then fall off. Since Irini wasn't a baby anymore, we tried having both of the kids in the middle, but they kept waking each other up as sleepy arms and legs and heads moved around into other sleepy arms and legs and heads. After this experiment, Stephen tried his own variation by moving his pillow to the opposite end of the bed and sleeping with his feet to Irini's feet. This worked well space-wise and we did this for a few days, however, it meant that Stephen was sleeping on top of the blankets, and kept kicking off the extra blanket; after catching a chill, we quickly put an end to that sleeping arrangement.

What ultimately worked for us was creating our own co-sleeper by taking off the drop-down side of the cot, raising the mattress to the level of the bed, and tying the cot firmly to our bed frame. We pushed the mattress across so that it is pushed firm against ours, and got some firm foam cut to fit the resulting gap on the other side of the cot. This way there are no possible crevices to create a suffocation risk. Here some pics of our created co-sleeper.





Now, we have the perfect co-sleeping arrangement. Stephen still sleeps in between me and Nick and Irini sleeps on the edge of the bed next to the cot. It gives us that little bit of extra room; I am not scared that she is going to fall off; and the kids are not disturbing each other's sleep. I get to snuggle up to both of them, and listen to Stephen's recounting of the day's events (as he does every night for about 15-30 minutes before he goes to sleep) and Irini's little babbles and sweet kisses as she drifts off to sleep. I can wake up in the morning to cute little toddler cuddles and kisses, but best of all, I love watching Stephen and Irini give each other cuddles and kisses. What more could you want?

If you are planning to co-sleep with your child or children, there are a safety issues to keep in mind. The best resource listing these is the Dr Sears article, Sleep Safety.

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Product Review: Uncle Toby's Fruit Fix

A while ago I was sent some boxes of the new Uncle Toby's Fruit Fix snacks to review. According to Uncle Toby's, these new snacks contain 99% fruit ingredients and are equal to one serve of fruit. Stephen has always been a great eater of fruit, and I am a firm believer in fresh over processed whenever possible, so I stashed them in the cupboard, planned to try them, and promptly forgot about them.

However, at the supermarket the other day, Stephen asked me for some Fruit Rollups. Given that I have never given him these (and am not planning on ever giving him any!) I asked him where he had seen them and he said that he had eaten than at Yia Yia's house (my MIL) and that they were really yummy! Hmmm, they might be yummy, and I don't mind him eating them at Yia Yia's, but I won't be buying a rollup of processed sugar, colour and flavours. Then I thought about the Fruit Fix, and gave them a try.

These are not flat like a rollup, but come as three little sticky sticks that pull apart, which Stephen liked. He also really liked the taste, and asked for another one. I tried some, and they tasted kind of similar to a rollup. They were not as sweet, and had more of a gel like texture, rather than a candy texture. Stephen liked all three flavours - Mango, Blackcurrant and Strawberry, but the Blackcurrant was his favourite.

Pros

  • 99% fruit ingredients - depending on the flavour, it is roughly 60% fruit puree and 35% grape juice concentrate, with the other ingredients including fruit fibre, natural flavour, pectin, vitamin C, folic acid and sulphur dioxide.
  • a much better substitute to most other so-called fruit snacks
  • no artificial colours or flavours
  • source of vitamin C, folate and fibre
  • 1 serve of fruit
Cons
  • contains sulphites, which can be a problem for those sensitive to them, especially asthmatics
  • although it is "natural" fruit sugar, this is still very high in sugars, so keep these as treats only
  • while it counts as 1 serve of fruit, you are not getting the full range of fibre, vitamins and nutrients that you would get from a fresh piece of fruit.
Overall, this is a great convenience product that would do well in a lunchbox as a treat. It is an excellent substitute if your children like rollups and other fruit snacks, but I would not use this as a replacement for fresh fruit.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

7 ways to boost antioxidants in your diet


Antioxidants are very important in our diets as they help to balance unstable molecules in our body called free radicals that have been linked to premature aging, heart disease and cancer. While there are many antioxidant supplements on the market, research has consistently demonstrated that antioxidants found naturally in your diet are more effective. Here are 7 easy ways to boost the amount of antioxidants that you are eating:

  1. Add dark coloured berries such as blueberries, blackberries and blackcurrants to your breakfast, smoothies or desserts.
  2. Pick whole grains over refined grains eg wholegrain bread, brown rice, wholegrain cereal
  3. Sprinkle some nuts and seeds on your salad, or have a handful as a snack
  4. Use parsley, oregano and thyme to flavour your food.
  5. Add a tin of lentils or soybeans to your next soup or pasta sauce.
  6. Try to have at least four colours in your salad eg spinach, beetroot, carrot and tomato.
  7. My favourite - indulge in a small square of dark chocolate EVERY DAY!

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Thursday, July 9, 2009

Cleaning Your Smoke Alarm

Most of us have added changing the batteries in the smoke alarms to our yearly to-do lists (and if not, add it in NOW!). But do you clean yours at least yearly? Dust and cobwebs can significantly impact the effectiveness of your smoke alarm, so protect your family and give it a thorough vacuum on the outside, and a good spray with compressed air (like you use to clean computer keyboards) on the inside.

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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Quick Tip: Softening Milk Bath

Cleopatra bathed in asses' milk, but you don't need to go that far to have a beautifying bath. Take a tin of powdered milk (instant is best) and drop in about 12-15 drops of essential oils (I love lavender and rose). Close the tin, and shake well to mix. Add one cup of the mix to a warm bath, and relax knowing that the lactic acid in the milk will be helping to exfoliate and soften your skin. Rose petals optional, but wonderful!

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Sunday, July 5, 2009

Winner of the Post-It Recycled Giveaway!

The winner of the Post-It note pack as determined by random.org is comment number 4, Nicole! Congratulations! And commiserations to Kalee, who with half of the comments, still missed out!

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Quick tip: Sleep Easy

Another quick tip for today:

If you are having trouble getting to sleep at night, then scientists at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio, US have found that playing soft and soothing music for 45 minutes before going to bed can slow your breathing and heart rate, helping you get to sleep and stay that way.

Other helpful measures include valerian or chamomile tea, and spraying your sheets with lavender water (make your own by adding 6 - 8 drops of lavender essential oil to a spray bottle filled with distilled water - shake well before use).

Lastly, head to Fitness magazine online for some great stretches designed to help you sleep quicker and better.


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Saturday, July 4, 2009

Toddler Busy Bags

Lately, it has been more and more difficult for us to go out for a meal or a coffee as a family and have a nice relaxing time. Now that my children are no longer babies, but rambunctious toddlers, I really needed something that would keep them occupied. After the recent success of the plane toys, I decided to put together two Toddler Busy Bag's, one for each child, with a range of small toys that would be new and exciting for them as they are only brought out occasionally.

For Stephen (aged 31 months), I started with this wonderful Art Tote (US$20) from Bells and Whistles. Made from a sturdy denim with blocks of bright colour, it is beautifully handmade and fun just to look at. It is the perfect size to fit a standard sized colouring book and a few extras.

On the outside of the bag are little pockets for 8 crayons. Stephen's favourites are Crayola's Mini Twistables as they are the perfect size for his chubby little hands and if they break he can just twist them up. I love that they don't have any paper wrapped around them since Stephen hates the paper on regular crayons and is always asking me to peel the wrappers off. I keep my eye out for ultra cheap coloring books to add to the bag, or I print out coloring pages from the internet.

Stephen loves his Magna Doodle, so when I saw a mini FisherPrice Doodler on sale recently for only a few dollars, I snapped it up. Stephen doesn't really draw on it so much; he just loves to color in the whole screen, and then wipe it clean. He can entertain himself for ages like this!


From his plane travel kit I took the Melissa and Doug Mini Puzzles that he loved so much, and added some pipe cleaners, plastic rings and lacing cards for some manipulative play; some stickers picked up from the dollar store; and lastly, a juice box and a snack in case the meal is taking forever to come.

For Irini (15 months) I bought the Mini Art Tote (US$12) also from Bells and Whistles. I fell in love with the hot pink heavy cotton, and the sweet fruit salad print that also lines the bag. The gingham and ric rac was the icing on the cake! Her toddler busy bag is smaller and simpler.

In the crayon spot are 8 triangular crayons, also from Crayola. Triangular crayons are great for toddlers as they help to develop the correct tripod grip that they will need when they start writing. Stephen started on these when he first started drawing, and he now correctly holds his pencils and crayons. The mini tote is not large enough for a regular coloring book (and to be honest, these are really a waste at Irini's age anyway) so I use small coloring pages from the internet stapled into a mini book. I also have included a few toys that I know can keep her entertained, like a toy mobile phone.

Hopefully, these two bags will make outings much more pleasant for all of us! What items do you recommend for your toddler's busy bags?

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Friday, July 3, 2009

Free Homeschooling Resources

I recently found this wonderful blog, Sunflower Schoolhouse, which has lots of great homeschooling ideas. Honey has an online store attached with a range of educational workbooks and homemaking worksheets etc that she is currently giving away for free. I particularly like the Creative Date Ideas Box - little cards with ideas for different activities that you and your hubbie can do on your date nights.

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