My top tips for an easy traditional Christmas lunch + a giveaway

brought to you by ALDI

Not long to go until the big day of Christmas arrives and if you’re hosting a Christmas lunch or dinner then your thoughts are probably turning to the menu. What to eat? Maybe you’re like me and host Christmas every year. I love it and have been hosting since before I was married. How else do you think I’ve mastered my rum balls or fruit mince pies.

Are you a traditional hot Christmas lunch family or more of an aussie seafood? We are an aussie cold lunch kind of family with a few hot traditionals thrown in over the years if we’ve been living overseas or at Grandma Jill’s house. And I love that if you type in ‘Aussie Christmas’ into pinterest it will bring up this photo from one of my Christmas lunches. Well actually that was boxing day as we usually have more than one Christmas lunch to do to make sure we see most of the family. According to a recent survey run by ALDI, we’re all doing Christmas entertaining for longer these days with parties, functions and carols before the big day and all involving a lot of food.

an aussie christmas feast  by retro mummy, via Flickr

Now I’ve done some of the hard work for you this year by putting together a simple traditional Christmas menu as well as my top tips for hosting a Christmas lunch because I’ve been hosting for many years and love to share a tip or two. So how do you like the sound of champagne cocktails served with some extra large Australian tiger prawns?. Then we’ll move on to a delicious three bird roast (the americans call this Turducken) with stuffing, homemade gravy served with roasted baby potatoes and pumpkin. And for dessert we’ll finish with luxury champagne Christmas pudding and homemade brandy custard.

And the best bit is that everything came from ALDI. I have to confess that when I think of ALDI I don’t think french champagne, king prawns and luxury Christmas pudding. Nope. I think more nappies and budget groceries. But ALDI have gone all out with luxury items for your Christmas menu at great prices with their ‘Specially Selected’ range. You can have a beautiful Christmas lunch without spending a fortune. Look at the delicious hamper they sent me full of delicious goodies. Try keeping this unopened with the kids on school holidays.

OK I’ll admit it. We photographed the fruit cake and chocolates and ate them the same day! deliciously gourmet and gobbled up. I think the cake lasted 2 days and the tin is perfect to keep your cake fresh if it lasts longer than the 2 days that it did here. A beautifully rich fruit cake that even the kids enjoyed and they aren’t really fruit cake people. It would make a lovely gift if you are visiting someone over the Christmas holidays too.

And so here are some of my favourite tips to help you host a traditional but simple Christmas lunch

have a couple of drink choices on offer for your guests

Let’s start with champagne cocktails. ALDI have an award winning premier cuvee champagne from France for $29.99 a bottle. I love to do a few things with Champagne. An easy one is just a drop of a nice spirit in the bottom of a flute before you pour in the champagne. Cointreau or Creme de Cassis are lovely choices. Or for a traditional champagne cocktail try a sugar cube, a few drops of angostura bitters and pour your champagne over the top.

And for the non alcoholics just put lemonade in a champagne flute instead of champagne. Plenty a non alcoholic Christmas for me over the years. Another great tip is to ask one of your guests to bring a bag of ice with them as no doubt your fridge will be full and drinks can be kept cold in an esky full of ice.

have all of your platters, dishes and cutlery out the day before 

I empty my buffet of the good china and big platters and get it all out the night before. And don’t forget the bowls for the prawns bits which you’ll need. We love prawns at Christmas time. My dad always organises them and we just serve them with a dipping sauce and some lemon wedges and you peel them yourself on your plate.Have the bowls out on the table before everyone gets to your house because I can tell you that in all of the rush it’s the last thing that you think of. The kids loved these prawns from ALDI and you’ll find them in the freezer section for $36.99 for 1.5kgs. No queing up for your seafood on Christmas eve if you have these stored in your freezer at home beforehand. They were delicious and tasted fresh. Just defrost them in your fridge the night before you want to serve them.

for the love of turkey defrost your turkey

Yep. I made a rookie mistake of not defrosting my turkey the day before I wanted to cook it for this post. So my tip is write a post it note to yourself, stick it on the fridge and work out the day you need the turkey (or prawns or whatever is frozen that needs to be defrosted) and then you won’t forget. 2 days and 1 night later my three bird roast was ready for the oven. It’s almost like out of a Christmas movie when someone forgets to defrost the turkey.

The great thing about this roast was that it was 2 hours in the oven and I popped the vegies in the oven for the last hour. No need to spend hours and hours checking if your turkey is read or freak out at the thought of cooking turkey. We followed the time on the packet and it was perfectly cooked. I left the meat to rest for about 10 minutes on the counter before removing the string and it was just delicious. I also had to keep my big boy from eating the leftovers so that daddy got some when he got home. ALDI has a fresh Three-Bird-Roast will also have a fresh at $16.99 per kg. Big thumbs up from us and  definitely buying this again.

you don’t have to make everything from scratch

it’s easy to plan a big full on menu with all the trimmings and homemade cranberry sauce and stuffing and then you spend all of your precious day in the kitchen and not with family. I love the taste of homemade crandberry sauce but I know that on the day that there is no time. So I like to buy sauces already made and store them in the pantry until the big day. This delicious sauce from Aldi was perfect with the turkey roast and will also be great on cold meat sandwiches the next day. $1.99 from ALDI.

 keep your sides simple

I just love roasted veggies or a simple potato salad. Just keep it simple. For this menu I grabbed 2 small bags of washed baby potatoes and half a butternut pumpkin from ALDI and all up it was easily less than $10. Cut the pumpkin into pieces, chucked it all in a roasting dish with olive oil, salt, pepper, dried oregano and rosemary and rolled it all around. Baked for the last hour or so that the roast was in and we had beautifully cooked vegies.

don’t forget the serviettes and Christmas crackers

who doesn’t love a beautifully set table for Christmas with festive serviettes and some crackers. It wouldn’t be Christmas if we didn’t wear our silly hats and pop crackers together. ALDI have luxury Christmas crackers for $10.99 a box with lovely silver items in them that will really make your table look beautiful.They matched the tablecloth perfectly.

keep some extra basics like potatoes, bread rolls, chips and cracker biscuits

There is always someone extra or a last minute invite so fill out your meal with extra veggies or hot rolls to make sure you have enough food for everyone and to avoid the shops of Christmas eve

Put people to work

kids love setting the table, my dad gets put on seafood or carving duties, retro daddy is on drinks and grandma betty watches the little ones. Spread the work between people and chat as you go with a drink of something lovely nearby.

time plan your day

I love a good time plan and to make sure that you don’t eat lunch at 3pm make a plan and try to follow it. It also helps you remember all the food that needs to go out!

gravy is so easy 

simply pour the juices from your roasted meat tray when your meat is done into a small saucepan, whisk in a tablespoon of flour and a few tablespoons of water from the tap, stir over a low heat until thickened. You can pour it through a sieve or serve as it is. Delicious and easy.

make a dessert platter

everyone is usually too full for dessert on Christmas day but that’s my favourite part of the meal! So why not slice up some pudding, put the custard in a pouring jug, cut up some Christmas cake, put out some rum balls, chocolate, some fruit and serve up a dessert platter. You take it to where everyone is sitting with some tea and coffee and just watch everyone who said they were too full now eating up your delicious platter. Works every time. Go on try it. I’ve been doing it for years.

simple Christmas fabric makes a lovely tablecloth

don’t spend a fortune on a festive tablecloth that you’ll use a few times a year. 2 metres of gold fabric from the craft store cost me $15 and made our table look special.

send people home with doggy bags

too much food? Take a bit of time and load up some of your guests with leftovers. they’ll have dinner that night and you’ll have less food to think about ‘eating’ in the fridge when you don’t feel like eating again until next Christmas.

And that was our delicious Christmas lunch thanks to ALDI. The food was all so delicious and tasty and you’ll find more food and gift ideas at your nearest ALDI store and on their Christmas website here. And I’ll let you in on a little secret. We ate all of this delicious food at about 2.25pm on  a friday afternoon in the school holidays while daddy was out at work. There was lots of excitement that I needed to contain, one person came to eat the food in just their nappy and a t-shirt but we had lots of fun….and I had lots of cleaning up so saved my dessert for after the clean up.

And now for a giveaway, thanks to ALDI I have a $200 gift voucher to spend at ALDI. All you need to do is tell me your top tip for Christmas entertaining. The best answer will win the voucher.

{ Giveaway is open to Australian residents, entries close 23 December 2014, one entry per person and full terms of my giveaways can be found here}

easy + fun rudolph biscuits for Christmas

With the school holidays here and all the little ones now finished preschool and school we have some time on our hands. We try to keep the tv watching to a minimum, try being the key word here but with everything that has been going on we definitely had the news and main stations off all day and night yesterday. So we got a few ingredients together and had a go at these rudolph biscuits. I’ve seen them done before in a magazine somewhere and thought they looked cute. But then I saw a big platter of them made for the preschool concert and the kids were mesmerised by them especially my little guy.

So we had a go at them with milk arrowroots and they are lots of fun, make a huge mess and are worth the effort. Here we go.

What you’ll need

1 packet of milk arrowroots

1 bag big marshmallows (we’re just using the white ones so you can enjoy the pink ones)

red m&m’s or smarties

200g block milk cooking chocolate

bag of pretzels

bag of mini dots or a black icing pen

How to make

Gather everything together and have a few bowls and plates for the kids to sort out the white marshmallows, red m&ms and break pretzels in half. This is lots of fun and a great thing for the kids to do. Go and make a cup of coffee or tea……you’ll need it!

Half the marshmallows and place on a plate/bowl. Now we did start using mini marshmallows for the eyes but it was getting so messy that we stuck to the choc dots and they looked so much better. You can do little marshmallows cut in half for the eyes with a dot of black or chocolate icing in the centre.

Now melt the chocolate in a bowl. I do mine for about 2 1/2 minutes on medium in the microwave, stirring a few times.

Dip the underside of the milk arrowroot into the chocolate so that you cover the entire side. Let the excess chocolate drip off.

Now lay on a plate that you’ll use for working on and not presentation/serving. Place the pretzel ears on as reindeer antlers.

2 dots or mini marshmallow halves as eyes, a big marshmallow half as the nose and then dip one side of the m&m or smartie in the chocolate and press onto the marshmallow for the rudolph nose.

Transfer to a plate for serving and then repeat. I found it easy to do the first two and then pass it over to the kids….this is where they stop eating the pretzels and marshmallows and get stuck in.

Once you’ve made them all up just pop them in the fridge until you need them.

Then enjoy! Great for playdates or keeping the kids busy!

and here is the aftermath!

 

just sad

I don’t have much to write about as everything was just going along normally until I heard about the siege yesterday morning. And I followed it all day, and night, then woke up about 3ish to check my phone and woke up again so heavy hearted to watch the morning tv before any of the kids woke up. It’s just so heartbreaking and for Sydneysiders it’s just so close to home. I used to work in Martin Place, always so busy but always so safe. We all have friends and family working in the city. Never could we have imagined that this could happen. And who hasn’t been to the Lindt cafe. We were there a week ago when I did the post about our day out. Who could have imagined the horror that could have happened.

And then you see the faces of the innocent  people who lost their lives and their bravery. You just know that they lost their lives because they weren’t going to leave others behind. So selfless. You hear about their loved ones and the children (I can’t stop thinking about the impact on them). The people who escaped and the sheer terror that they have endured. It just makes everything in my little world seem so trivial. We have the news, computer and radio all off today to protect the little ones. If we find it hard to understand as adults then it’s even harder for little children and my thoughts again turn to the three young children who lost their mother too soon.

So I’ll be saying some prayers tonight, reading the Archbishop’s homily again and holding all those people affected in my heart as I go to sleep. And I know I’m not alone.

The most thoughtful gift you’ve received as a new mum + a giveaway

Brought to you by Virgin Money

Well it’s been nearly 4 months since the latest addition to our family arrived. And I still can’t believe it! Babies really are the best.

And today I’m asking you what is the most thoughtful gift you’ve received when you had a baby. Or perhaps that you’ve given! Yep that’s what I’m asking today. I’ve received so many lovely gifts over the years I wouldn’t know where to begin. And before anyone tells me that the baby is the best gift, yes! Babies are the best gift. That’s a given. That’s why we have 6 and I’ll be working on number 7. So let’s get that out of the way. Babies are the best gift and people love to give you presents when you have a baby because people love babies. Look at that soft little newborn hair………

And so  I’m going to share a funny story…….when we had our first baby I was totally surprised with a georg jensen necklace and pendant. It was perfect and I still wear it now. We had just bought our first house so it was definitely not expected. The twins came along and I came home to a cream Kitchen Aid which I love! And the colour is perfect. Fourth baby and I got a nappy bag. Yep a nappy bag but it was a fancy one and is still going strong and been used for 3 babies so was a good investment. I’ve also taught the kids not to drag it on the ground like a school bag when we walk out to the car.

Fifth baby and the present was the baby. Yep that’s what retro daddy told everyone. No present for the 5th because the baby really is the gift. And then we totally surprised everyone with a 6th baby! So I bought myself a pram as the present. That’s right. Bought it myself, found the best price online and have a lovely red and black little pram and sheepskin liner because just because you’re the 6th baby doesn’t mean you can’t have a new pram.

Virgin Money have a gift for new parents at the moment and I’ve signed up because it was too good not to. This special offer to new parents is free life insurance cover for $50,000. Enough to cover mortgage repayments, bills, expenses if for some terrible reason one of you is to pass away. I don’t even like writing that as who wants to think about that. But I do need to sort out life insurance myself as we have so many dependents. Now the offer from Virgin Money is for a 12 month policy, for Australian residents with a baby up to 12 months of age (when you apply).

This special offer is the first of its kind in Australia and I have to say that when you have a baby you do start to run through the ‘what ifs’ if something were to happen to you. The coverage is free, no obligation, you just need to complete 5 prequalifying questions. Further details can be seen at the bottom of this post and here. The offer ends 31 December 2014 so don’t miss out. You can read FAQs on the policy here.

 

Now for a fun giveaway this Christmas, I have 2 TV’s to giveaway on the blog. All you need to do is let me know in 25 words or less what was the most thoughtful gift you received as a new parent. 

{Full terms of my giveaways can be found here, entries close this Friday 31st December 2014, the prize is a 16 inch Kogan LED TV with personal recording so that you can record shows, 12 month warranty, valued at $100. Two winners will be chosen}

————————————————————————————————-

Further details on the New Parent Life Cover

Free cover of $50,000 for Australian residents with dependent newborns up to 12-months of age at time of application

Free coverage provided without obligation
The policy is available for one parent per eligible child
Coverage is approved upon applicants successfully completing five prequalifying questions.
Coverage exclusion for pre-existing medical conditions, suicide, HIV related illness, genetic illness, dangerous occupations & pastime, criminal activities and drug and alcohol related illness
Coverage expires 12-months after approval

 

go and see Paddington

I often joke that I don’t get out much. And it’s true. But today the pest man was all booked in for 8am which meant that I needed to take everyone out for at least 4 hours. So movies it was. All of us. And a helper. The big kids are great at the movies but the littlest 3…well who knew how that would go. And I could have done with 2 helpers the way it all turned out. But anyway we had a ball and we fell in love with Paddington the movie.

So this isn’t sponsored or anything like that but we just loved it so much and it was nice to watch a movie that was cute, funny, clever and not from hollywood. No offence to my american friends but I know you’ll love this cute little movie. If you’ve seen it did you love it? If you haven’t then make sure you take all the family. I had some great laughs and it definitely sits in the feel good movie category. And it was the first time our little 2 year old visited the movies and he loved it. And it must have been the day for bears as I popped this little bear from Harrods on my bed this morning before we headed out.

and if you loved the movie then we’ve discovered this lovely site Paddington where you can find out more and where I found the image for this post.

gluten free gingerbread biscuits

The Christmas baking has begun! And one of the first things that I wanted to make were some delicious gingerbread biscuits. And gluten free. Although we’re not strictly on the gluten free bandwagon we feel better when eating gluten free and try to. These are a crispy little gingerbread biscuit and so delicious and trust me you will never know that they are gluten free. And just use regular flour if you don’t want them gluten free.

The dough is a little sticky so keep some extra flour on hand to lightly dust each side of your dough before cutting. Another tip is to freeze your dough, defrost slightly and work quickly while dough is half frozen. You will get so many biscuits from this recipe – we did over 4 trays of biscuits and still have more dough in the freezer so it’s a great one to make for gifts, parties or a church morning tea. I hope you enjoy them as much as we did. Plus the house smells so good. You could dust these with icing sugar or a simple royal icing would be lovely to decorate.

5.0 from 1 reviews
gluten free gingerbread biscuits
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Serves: 42+
What you'll need
  • 200g brown sugar
  • 175g unsalted butter
  • 100g golden syrup
  • 1 egg
  • 120g self raising flour (gluten free)
  • 350g plain flour (gluten free)
  • 2 tsp ginger
Instructions
  1. Melt butter, golden syrup and sugar together. I did this for 2 minutes, 100 degrees and speed 1 in the thermomix. Set aside until cool.
  2. Add in egg and gently combine.
  3. Add in both flours and ginger and mix well. I did this for 1 minute speed 3.
  4. Now tip out the mixture into a large bowl, cover with wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
  5. You could also split your mixture into 2 and freeze half as you get a lot of biscuits out of the dough. To do this just wrap a disc of the dough in cling film and freeze. Remove from freezer about 30 minutes before you want to use it.
  6. Take a portion of dough, flour each side (be sure to use gluten free flour here if you are making the biscuits gluten free), and lightly dust your cutters and have some fun.
  7. Place the cut out biscuits on lined baking trays and bake in an oven that has been preheated to 170 degrees. The cookies are done when they are nice and golden. Cool a few minutes on the tray then lift off the paper to the cookie sheet.
  8. We got over 4 trays of biscuits from this recipe and they were so popular when we took them to a party.

 

school holidays and Christmas gifts sorted with Groupon + a giveaway!

brought to you by Groupon

Well it’s official! My big kids are on school holidays which means almost 2 months of having them home. And mums (and dads) everywhere rejoice when the kids go on holidays – a break from ironing uniforms, packing lunchboxes, doing homework and the school run.  You can stay in your jammies until lunchtime and I get some big helpers (or as I like to call them entertainment co-ordinators) around the house. But it also means that I need a few outings up my sleeve. Thankfully living on a few acres means that I don’t hear I’m bored very often these days but it’s nice to get out and about and do some fun things. And as a reward for good behaviour because I don’t have to tell you that having all the kids at home 24/7 means that fights do happen.

Thanks to Groupon’s deal we had a fun trip into the city to Sydney Tower Eye. I know what you’re thinking. A fun trip into the city with the whole family? Yes, it does require some psyching up, some careful planning, organising prams when you realise the double pram needs a new tyre, snacks and a well stocked nappy bag, getting in early and being organised. But we had the best day and kept saying to ourselves we needed to do it more often.

I do have to confess that I haven’t used Groupon before but it was super easy to use and the tickets were emailed to me. You can print out your tickets or just take your smart phone to the venue and have it scanned. And you can buy some great vouchers and tickets for your school holidays and as Christmas presents. And for a big saving, our tickets for the Sydney Tower Eye were $10 with Groupon each compared to $18.55 full retail price. And see Buzz….this is the last photo we have of our much loved Buzz lightyear toy who was chucked out of the pram somewhere on our day out in the city. I was quite possibly more upset than the other kids. Miss you buzz.

Now we’ve done Sydney Tower Eye twice before but it never gets old taking the big lift way up high into the sky and taking a look out at all of Sydney. And it brings back lots of memories because once upon a time I was a little girl growing up in Sydney and my grandma would take us up Sydney Tower (then called Centrepoint) or we had a school excursion and we’d look at the view from the top. And it’s an educational trip for my ‘know it alls’ who needed to know essential facts like the height and history of the tower and then quiz me on it later.

Things have changed a little since I was a little girl….cough cough…… 30 years have passed and there is now a 4D movie to start your experience. But my guys being the old pros and their 3rd visit decided that they are wanted to skip the movie and go straight upstairs to the view. And it’s pretty special. What a clear morning for our visit. This was 10am on a Sunday morning and I think we beat the crowds which was the best thing ever. Especially since there were times when people were staring at us just a little too long and doing the headcount for us.

And it doesn’t matter whether you’re my 2 year old or 8 year old, noses are pressed to the glass and there is excitement seeing the harbour bridge, opera house, daddy’s work and if you’re game and not afraid of heights looking down at the little people walking down below.

You can also have your photo taken before you go up and since we were in a touristy mode we bought ours…and a snow globe. The photo is hilarious and the kids love it but I’m going to make the most of us still being able to do these things before our big kids grow up to be too cool for it.

After all of that excitement we did some Christmas windows and the big Lego tree display in Pitt Street Mall which you really must do because we did it twice the kids loved it so much! And I think it’s the best time of year to visit Sydney city with the window displays and trees up. The kids are already asking if we can come in again before Christmas.

Now I also purchased a Groupon voucher for the Lindt Cafe to pick our favourite Lindt Ball Flavours and Christmas chocolates. We have a few chocolate monsters in our house but I thought it would make a great gift to make up and take in for the preschool teachers to share! And by using the Groupon voucher it was half price and a great buy. You pay through Groupon when you purchase the voucher and just take in your printed voucher or voucher on your smart phone to redeem in store. And there I was with my voucher at the wrong store. Yep. Let’s call it baby brain that I had selected the wrong store in the city. So daddy picked out the Lindt balls at the correct store during the week and honestly it was probably the safest way that chocolates were going to make it home.

There are lots of great ideas on Groupon to keep you and the kids busy these school holidays or a gift for that hard to buy for person. Just sign up here and start receiving the emails of the latest specials. To find out what is available just pop in your city, an activity or check out the Groupon Christmas shop here or search for the gift experiences here.  Perfect for the hard to buy person. A couple worth mentioning are Thunder Boat riding in Darling Harbour, Waterworld and Trapeze lessons.

And to spread the Christmas love I am offering one of my readers a $100 credit to Groupon to purchase something special for yourself. Just tell me what city you are in and what you’d be interested in – chocolate, a delicious meal out, a massage, a one off experience or perhaps just playing tourist like us in your own city or on holiday. 

{Giveaway is open to Australian residents only, full terms of my giveaways are here and entries close  15 December 2014.}

 

mystery solved

I know it’s been quiet on the blog….it’s been a crazy week of making and bagging up rocky road, making and finishing 2 quilts as teachers gifts and presentation nights and concerts. Phew. Now that we’re on school holidays I’ve done a big grocery shop, started to clean the house and also started to feel excited about some nice long holidays at home. It was also a good day because I  solved a big mystery.

The little ones are used to fabric deliveries! In fact they’ve been coming in big boxes since before the twins were born and it’s never been a problem. I take the fabric out of the box, put it away and the kids play in the box. After Lawson was born a delivery came in a smallish box. I took out one of each fabric to photograph and then put the box in my craft room. I didn’t take the fabric out. Big mistake. Big. I sold one pack of the fabric and that was fine and when the next order came I couldn’t find the fabric anywhere. I looked everywhere. I even checked the garage. I checked every box, under the couches, all the usual places, under the little boy’s bed who I knew had done it (he loves fabric).  I contacted the supplier to order more and had to explain what happened.

And last night when I was taking out shoes from under the edge of my bed I saw that a few things were behind them…..so I lay  down on my tummy to see what was under the bed….surprise surprise………..3 layer cakes of fabric that had gone walkies!!!!! Mystery solved. Now I know where to look the next time something goes missing……………he had actually crawled under and placed them right in the middle. Cheeky.

my favourite Christmas photo

Remember your baby’s first or second  Christmas. Oh yes you do. All those presents for one little baby. All the excitement that you were a little family and you had to open everything for the baby and were so happy and excited, Meanwhile baby is happy to play with the wrapping and boxes. As the years go by the kids understand Christmas and are more excited about those presents and you are getting day by day updates to the Christmas list. But it can be tough for little ones especially those who have special needs who have no idea why they are going to another lunch or being asked to sit next to Santa and say cheese or why all these people are here at my house sitting around the tree. Last year Christmas just came and went for our little miss. She loved the presents and toys but hid from visitors and there wasn’t any understanding of what was going on.

But this year with a year of preschool under her belt and lots of Christmas craft, songs and activities we are seeing this growing awareness that something special is happening. And so I’ve decided that even if our annual santa photo is a fizzer that at least I have this photo of my cute little miss the year she discovered Christmas.

 

small acts of kindness this Christmas

Sometimes, not always, I really get to listen to a sermon at church and take it on board. I am always trying to listen but there are 6 little people to look after and sometimes my thoughts drift away or I can’t hear the priest properly or I’m sitting outside with someone or I’m giving the death stare to one of my little ones or I’ve just tuned out and can’t get back into it. But the last few weeks I’ve taken a few things away that have meant something to me. And one of them that I have really put into practice is small acts of kindness. And the priest  said it about 6 or more times during his sermon which is probably why I actually remembered it.

The priest told us that in order to be a good person we don’t need to do these grand big acts of charity (of course they are great and wonderful and we need people to do this) but we need to be doing small acts most of the time. And not for reward or recognition but just for the act in itself. And while we’re thinking about charity he told us that we can’t just say ‘oh the poor people, yes it’s terrible’ and then get on with our own life and think that talking about something is doing it. We actually need to do something about it. In our own small way.

And so I’ve been doing these small things that I wouldn’t usually do because I’m a bit busy or preoccupied with kids and it makes you think of more things you can do. One example was when  I was in the feeding room at the shops this week. It was noisy and busy in the shopping centre and it was nice and quiet to feed my little man.  A lady came in looking a bit flustered. I asked had she lost something (she didn’t have a baby) and she said she needed a powerpoint to charge her phone. We had a bit of chit chat about what a pain it is when your phone runs out and she charged her phone and I kept feeding and we were silent. I heard her make a call to a dr about tests and referrals and then she had some phone trouble and it cut out on her. I was packing up the pram and getting ready to leave the shops. Part of me was saying just offer her your phone and stay back a little and the other part of me was saying she might say no and I don’t know her so just go home. Anyway I  said ‘would you like to use my phone to make your call’. Cut a long story short she had smashed her phone and then couldn’t use it to make the call, so I offered again a couple of times but she said thank you but she’d be fine. She didn’t use my phone in the end but I could tell that she was taken aback that a stranger in the baby feeding room was offering her mobile phone to use.

Ironically I dropped my phone on the cement 2 days later and now have a smashed iPhone…..maybe it was a sign!

Christmas is definitely a time where we think of family, gifts and the perfect Christmas day meal. But this Christmas why not try some small acts of kindness for people outside your little circle of family and friends.Doesn’t have to be big, keep it small and do more of them. Maybe it’s taking a card from the giving tree, donating some food or a hamper at church, collecting up coins for your favourite charity, letting someone else have that car park you were waiting for, helping someone do their Christmas shopping, organising a delivery of groceries for someone who isn’t online, letting someone go before you at the supermarket even when you’re busy, taking over some of your delicious Christmas baking to that neighbour you don’t know, taking something delicious to the local police station/fire station/RFS/hospital or local charity with volunteers, stickers and colouring books to the children’s ward at the hospital, take some wool and knitting supplies to the ladies auxiliary or volunteers at the nearest hospital (Westmead Kids have a volunteers shop near the entrance and love your donations of wool!!), drop off some nappies to a new mum or some groceries to a family doing it tough this Christmas. I’m now looking for opportunities to make a small act because I know it will make me a better person, set a good example for the little ones and also stop me from only thinking about my own little world this Christmas.

What is something you can do this Christmas?

and I’m going to start sharing some of my favourite Christmas songs with you

swimmers and stained glass windows at the abbey in annandale

Blogging can be lonely work. A little like parenting. You’re at home a lot of time and there can be hours and hours without any adult face to face conversation. Well that’s how it goes in our house. So when I get the chance to get out for the day I jump at it. Every year my agency The Remarkables get together near Christmas for some training, drinks and dinner. Last year we did dinner and I was hoping no one noticed that I was drinking mocktails because I had just found out I was pregnant. The year before I had a little baby but managed to get out for the night. And this year I had my little man with me and a bag that looked like I was staying for the week as well as my pram.

We were so lucky to be hosted in the most wonderful house called The Abbey  in Annandale. And as we were sitting in the front room it felt like we were on some english murder mystery, you know where the wife is being asked questions in her fancy drawing room by the local detective. That sort of thing.

image source

image source

And we were lucky enough to hear about the history of the home from Michael the owner. And what a history.  When the previous owner divorced a wife he just put her in a wing of the house and  the next wife  moved in. So that in the end he had his 3 wives and 8 children all in the house together.  Imagine the frosty looks. I just found that fascinating. I’ve never been in a family home as grand or with as many interesting features and it was a very special experience. I was wishing I’d bought my proper camera with me to take lots of photos.

Hanging out together with the other bloggers is lots of fun and there are always old friends and new faces. And there were quite a few new faces. It was so wonderful to meet the lovely Bianca from Wholefood Simply who would have to be right up there with the sweetest bloggers with the hugest following ever and just a sweet lady. And the funny ladies from Paging Fun Mums who are best friends from the Sunshine Coast and hilarious! I’m sure they think I don’t pass out my baby very often as they were busting for baby hugs and I just didn’t want my little guy throwing up on people’s nice dresses! And Dani because I love talking mums who have a big brood too (4 under 9 for her). Although I always get a bit self conscious talking to the health and fitness bloggers.

We did a few sessions, learnt a few things, were treated to a fabulous fashion parade by the lovely Kate of Escargot and I had to wipe away the tears watching one of the little models stealing the show. Thank you to Paging Fun Mums for doing this quick little video.

The swimmers are to die for with ruffles galore and matching hair ties included when you buy some of the swimmers which I think is genius and my girly girls loved. I was lucky enough to come away with a goodie bag with swimmers for each of my little ones and I will do a little post on them as they are so gorgeous and the girls are busting to wear them. Expect a little photo shoot from me and I love the rashies and the fact there is a little hood for the littlest ones to protect little heads. Just perfect.

image source

In fact my little miss is wearing them now around the house because they look like a mini tutu. Kate lives on 200 acres in the country so I was fascinated to hear about her property and we bonded over her snake story. Thankfully no snakes here yet.

A big thank you to our wonderful hosts Ann & Michael who offered us their home and hospitality which was so wonderful and we were made to feel so welcome. Their fabulous son Nick who won over Lawson and was so great to talk to, the very lovely Kate and Craig from Escargot who were so generous with 6 pairs of swimmers and organising the day, my lovely agency The Remarkables for organising as so much work went into the day, the wonderful speakers and of course my lovely friends and fellow bloggers for the company and laughs throughout the day. And especially everyone who helped me with bag and baby carrying.

And I can’t believe I didn’t get a photo of my outfit, I really don’t get the chance to get dressed up very often so I’ll have to grab one later. I went to see a local lady who is a stylist and owns a clothing business she runs from home. Her prices are very reasonable for Australian made and she looks at your body shape and puts an outfit together. All she asks is that you visit her with the shoes you want to wear for the event and a well fitting bra.She put me in this dress which is stretchy with ruffles and looks a lot more expensive than it cost me ($90 because I know you’ll ask), the little white cardigan is country road from my wardrobe, Lady Chatterley’s Affair necklace and the yellow is not a pashmina but a muslin for the baby vomit that I usually wear. If you’d like the details of the shop do let me know as I came away with 2 dresses for under $100 each that fit beautifully, are australian made and suit my post baby shape.

Here I am with the lovely Jenni and Louise from Paging Fun Mums, Kate from Escargot and Kat from Organised Housewife. And in true ‘I don’t get out much’ style I only managed half a champagne that night but still woke up absolutely exhausted and losing my voice so it was clearly a great event!!!!

p.s if you’re after more photos of the beautiful home you can see them here, here and here

p.p.s I didn’t even get many photos on my iphone because I made the rookie mistake of trying to close the boot of the van with my phone in one hand…without a cover! When will I learn so I have one smashed iPhone on my hands as I’d just handed back the one on loan from Apple and was back using my own.

my favourite Christmas ‘bring a plate’ recipes

I am in the middle of my craziest 2 weeks at the moment with christmas concerts, presentation nights, rehearsals, christmas parties, a thank you afternoon tea and regular family life. And so many ‘bring a plate’ events – well 3 – but that’s more than usual so let’s call it ‘so many’. So here are a few of my favourite Christmas bring a plate ideas that are super yummy and that you will love. And if they all look like too much hard work what about a plate of fairy bread made out to look like a Christmas tree like this gem I found on pinterest.

Peppermint Bark 

White chocolate rocky road

Milk or dark chocolate rocky road

Freckle Sundae Rocky Road

Retro Mummy’s rum balls

Little Christmas puddings

Chocolate peanut butter brownies 

(always check the nut policy for the event/venue first!)

Snowballs

coconut snowballs

Cranberry & Pistachio Shortbread

Gingerbread Cupcakes

Fruit & Nut Biscotti

after the 2nd baking

Honey, orange & cinnamon madeleines

Mini fruit cakes

christmas cookie truffles

Sweet potato and feta frittata

I hope that gives you some ideas and I’ve been pinning like a crazy lady lately. Lots of ideas on my I love Christmas board here.

 

what I’ve learnt about being a special needs mum

As we come to the end of the year I think about how far we’ve come with our little miss and how far we still have to go. It’s been about 1 1/2 years since we had the doctors confirm that our little miss has a disability and we’ve been doing different therapies and made progress ever since. We are still doing tests and still seeing doctors but what I have learnt might be of help to someone out there in the same shoes or at the start of their journey. And that’s kind of the best way to describe it. You’re on a journey, a different path in some ways to children who have no additional needs, and it’s a bumpy ride but there are plenty of rewards.  And if you have advice then please leave a comment and let us know………………

grieve first then make peace

Even if you’ve known for a while before you get a diagnosis or report from the drs there is still a sense of shock and grieving. Things will be different, things won’t be easy and you will go through a range of emotions. I blamed myself and yet have nothing to blame myself about but I would still question everything from the pregnancy to delivery to everything. Allow yourself to work through emotions but it’s important to make peace with the situation so that you can move forward. If you need help with this then talk to your dr to talk through how you are feeling.

Make sure you know what you are eligible for and use it

Funding is all over the place at the moment and there are lots of changes. If you don’t have a ‘tick a box’ diagnosis then you might be struggling to get any funding for therapies and dr appointments. This is where we are at. So you’re going to want to apply for the carers allowance and use that towards your costs. It took me a year before we applied, we were knocked back and we appealed. Don’t let a rejection deter you.

If you’re on a waiting list start doing things today

It was 6 months before we got into early intervention and that only provided a short speech therapy session every 2 weeks that was a total disaster because it always ended in tears. Find special needs playgroups near you, find out what early intervention can offer while you are waiting. If you can afford to find a private therapist whether it’s speech, OT or physio then do some sessions, get lots of advice and do things at home. If you have private health insurance then you should be able to claim the amounts you have paid (up to a maximum per year). You can also claim some expenses through medicare (I think it’s 5 or 6 per year) and you’ll need a referral from your GP for that. Determine what is your child’s greatest need? is it speech, then get some speech sessions under your belt and get out the toys and the books at home and incorporate the tips into your play time. I think the first year of speech was me learning what to do to get little miss talking.

Don’t turn your child into your project

I love this advice from a recent course I did. It’s so easy to try lots of therapies and want results and you can easily go to appointments or therapy sessions all week long and forget that your little one is just that – a little person. He or she wants to play and just be a kid like any other kid so don’t overdo it. I do know that there is a window of time where therapies make such a difference but don’t get so caught up in it all that you forget to just let your child be a child. We stopped going to therapists half way through this year and had everyone come to us or preschool. It costs more but we get more out of it because she is happy and isn’t in office settings and travelling in the car.

Be proactive

I’ve found therapists through word of mouth and the internet. Join facebook groups for your child’s disability, find people who live near you, ask what courses are available through early intervention. One of the best I’ve done is called PACC – parents as case co-ordinators. It was about 4 weeks from memory and is all about putting you in charge to do what is best for your child. At the moment I’m doing a toilet training course run privately but I’m getting so many tips and help that I know will help me toilet train when it’s time.

Take breaks from therapy

A reader told me this one and she was right. We are on a break from physio after great results. We left not being able to jump on two feet but decided to ramp up our swimming instead. We can now jump on two feet and will go back to physio next year to work on some skills for preschool and school. Picking up physio means we’ll  take a break from OT until the second half of the year. So plan things out, talk to your therapists and give little ones a break because often it’s in those breaks where you see the progress.

Focus on the greatest need

If your child isn’t speaking then make communication a priority. We will be doing weekly speech sessions next year which won’t come cheap but we’re seeing great improvements and are going to build on that. Taking photos of simple foods and objects is a great way to start communicating with your little one if they are not talking. PECS, Boardmaker or just your iphone to take photos, a printer and a laminator will have you on your way. Just google for tips and advice.

Don’t be afraid to change doctors or therapists

The hospital recommended a dr to us who kept us waiting up to an hour, wouldn’t give me copies of results and just wasn’t all that interested in helping us. My neighbour told me about a fabulous one and bingo. Someone who took an interest, did tests, was up to date with everything and for the first time told me what we were looking at. I now recommend him to other mums who are looking for a caring paediatrician who makes a difference. We’ve had some wonderful therapists who little miss hits it off with and some disasters. Don’t feel that you are committed to anything and especially when you are paying yourself. Don’t waste time if it’s not working and ask around for advice. If going into therapists offices is freaking out your little one then look at home visits for a while or at preschool or somewhere they are happy. For little ones there should be lots of play and fun to keep them interested and happy.

Incorporate their interests into therapy and playtime

Oh the number of times we’ve sat down to a puzzle with cow noises and other animals and someone is not interested and the body language is saying it all. Then about half way through the year and my little miss really started to love dora, frozen and palace pets. Bingo. We hit the jackpot. By incorporating what they like into therapy you will get the eyes light up and excitement about ‘working’. Because let’s face it they know you are making them work and for most kids it takes a lot of effort to repeat words back or climb up the slide or do what we want them to do. Printables, small figurines, iPad games and books will all help and even though we don’t need a lot of toys we make exceptions for little miss if they can be incorporate into therapy. Thank you Dora!

Live for today and not always worrying about the future

I could lie awake every night if I always worried about the future. Of course it worries me. What does the future hold? What happens when I’m not here any more to care for her? What if…… It’s so important to live in the now and take it day by day. Think about the next year or schools but don’t always worry about the future. It’s a long way away and you’ll forget to enjoy the day and fact that you have a little one with you right now who needs you.

Don’t compare

Thankfully my little ones are all at different stages so I don’t really compare my little one to what they are doing but it’s easy to see a child the same age and then have this moment where you realise that you are so far behind. It’s natural to be upset over it but don’t let it take away from the beautiful little person you are raising. ‘Comparison is the thief of joy’. Commit that to memory every time you catch yourself comparing your special needs child to someone else. Focus on what they are good at – for us she is by far the most empathetic person in the family, has amazing attention to detail and can sit on task for ages. In fact when you see her colouring with the kids you’d never know anything was different. So don’t you be comparing or you’ll just set yourself up for tears and upset.

Don’t think that you aren’t doing enough

you will always hear about so and so who is doing hours and hours of therapy each day or someone else started therapy much earlier than you. We are humans and we are doing things differently. Our little ones need to be kids and we do the best we can. Start with an hour a day of play time, remember that just playing at the park or on a trampoline or reading a book with you is doing something. So don’t forget all the little opportunities you have to teach and be there. I’m starting to take notes of the little things that happen each week, like just last week cutting a piece of paper with the paper in one hand and scissors in the other. A huge achievment and something that we can do at home easily in play time.

Look for special needs activities in your area

This can take a bit of research but did you know there are dance classes, music, gymnastics, horse riding, art, swimming clubs and more for our special little ones. Swimming was a bit hard but we found a school that ran private classes for special needs kids, then we moved into their regular class with 2 teachers and then we got a place at a special needs swimming club called Rainbow Club. Use the internet to find your nearest school, private swimming classes might be your best option. We love where we swim, it’s a special place where you feel normal, it’s $100 a term and I look forward to supporting them more in the future. Get on the waiting list even if they tell you it’s long and make the most of what is available. It’s there for a reason and it’s wonderful to let our kids develop hobbies and interests of their own. You can also look up your local council and most in Sydney produce a booklet/pdf for people with disabilities with lots of information, school options, groups and more. Get on to it. I can’t wait to start gymnastics when we are school age.

Be prepared for people to say the ‘wrong’ thing

Thanks to Leah for reminding me of this one! I forgot! It’s all to do with ‘well meaning’ comments or people who have no idea. I have a big mouth so I know that sometimes I speak before thinking. And of course there are people who really do have no tact and say the wrong thing. Usually a stranger in the supermarket or something along those lines. Get ready for that. You will get looks when someone is having a major meltdown in public but I can tell you that happens with any of my kids. But it is especially hard when we don’t have a sign on our backs saying that a little one has special needs and a bit of compassion wouldn’t go astray. You’ll develop a thick skin, you’ll hear all sorts of things like they’ll grow out of it, don’t worry and my favourite – ‘X didn’t speak till he was 7 and now he’s a big wig at xyz so don’t worry’. Just know that sometimes people think they are saying the right thing or they don’t know what to say or they don’t know what you are going through. Don’t take it personally and don’t dwell on it. Even family won’t always know how to react and it takes time for everyone to understand. Be patient with people, if you have the time say something to them that is helpful and if all else fails end the conversation and move on. I do find that once people know your little one has special needs that it helps make things easier but you’ll always get that one. Or two.

Look after you

It can be exhausting. You are dealing with a child who needs your constant supervision, who might be frustrated that they can’t communicate or move. There might be extra medications to give. There are appointments and doctors visits. The financial strain. The feeling that you are fighting for everything. The slightest temperature or cough isn’t just something they will get over. It is stressful, exhausting, a worry and we put ourselves last. Have something that is yours and make time for it. You don’t even have to leave the house. If I’ve been on my own during the week and hubby asks what I’d like to do I just tell him to give me a few hours in my sewing room. A bit of quiet time to unwind….well so long as I don’t need the unpicker or rethread my overlocker.

And I almost forgot…just love them for being who they are

there have been times that if I was honest with myself when I wished I could make all of the problems go away. Just be normal. But at the end of the day what makes someone different is what makes them who they are. Love them as they are. For all the tantrums, frustrations and bad stuff there is so much good stuff and joy in there. Someone who relies on you for everything and loves you EVEN when they can’t say it. When I got the first ‘ I lah oo’ I could have cried. It still melts my heart. The eyes say it all and the eyes do tell me that I am loved. So of course we love our kids but be sure to love and accept them for who they are and all of their differences as it is what makes them unique.

What are your top tips? I know this isn’t an exhaustive list and I know that many of you are ahead of us in the journey but I really wanted to put a few things down because I receive lovely emails and messages from my readers with questions and thought this might help…………………….

pretty flowers and family life

Honestly these days I don’t have much to say. I sit down at the computer and I’ve got nothing. Nothing. I mean there is plenty going on. And I’m dealing with some late night antics from 2 of my little ones that is taking me right back to life with 3 under 3. My 2 and 4 year old are partners in crime and we’re talking drawing on the walls, running away from me at the shops, dropping things in the toilet, being quiet for just a bit too long, unravelling the whole toilet roll and sneaking out the cat door and coming back in…and going out…and coming back in. And they laugh at each other so much. So life is busy and my diary is filling up with so many school events. And while the house is chaotic the garden is so beautiful and green right now. This is our first spring/summer in the house and I know it’s going to be beautiful. Oh the gardenias! As soon as you walk out the front door you get a good whiff of these beautiful big flowers….and out the back door too. and thanks to retro daddy for fertilising everything for me.

And flowers are such a great way to practise your camera skills….they don’t move like little people

And something not in the garden but still in pots are my all time favourite flower, yep you guessed it. Hydrangeas. Love them

And then for a total contrast in colours when I was picking up milk and bread I spotted peonies at woolies that had to come home with me. I’ve never bought them before and what a beautiful welcome when you opened the front door.

And the next morning they were much paler and made a lovely backdrop as I headed out to a high tea. And then before I knew it  the petals were all falling off and that was that. End of my $20 flowers. I think they lasted friday to tuesday at the most.

Anyway that’s all from me. Sharing pictures of pretty flowers is much more exciting than laundry piles, a broken dishwasher (good thing I’ve got years of practice hand washing dishes) and what I’m having for dinner tonight.

clearing out my store

I’m under strict instructions to clear out my craft room which means clearing out my store before Christmas! So I’ve reduced everything with all cotton charm squares at $12 and layer cakes and jelly rolls at $35 including post in Australia! Snap up a bargain here and here  for your Christmas sewing, quilting or presents and make my husband happy……………

for my wool stash I’ve started on tiKKi’s memory blanket and hoping it might make a dent in the huger than huge stash