Preparing for the cooler weather

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The cool weather has finally arrived here in Melbourne.  The jackets are out, jumpers in drawers and lots of citrus fruits are now in our diet as we try combat the sniffles that usually accompany such change.

I have been meaning to try essential oils in our household for a while now, as I have heard of its many benefits.  I heard Lavender helps with sleeping, Peppermint and Eucalyptus assists with cough and colds and Frankincense can positively affect moods.  Since I wanted to try the oils on the children, I researched which method was best for their use.  While carrier oils were often suggested (where you use 10ml of a carrier oil to dilute with a few drops of essential oils), diffusers seemed very popular.

We were excited when Piping Rock offered to let us try their Essential Oils Starter Kit and Mist Vapor Diffuser.  The Starter Kit not only contains Lavender, Frankincense, Peppermint and Eucalyptus, but also Tea Tree and Cedarwood.  The Piping Rock website simply explains how each oil is extracted, the aroma, which part of the plant is used, benefits, history and what other oils it blends with.  I also appreciated the honest reviews each product contained, all from Piping Rock customers, since I was new to the essential oils world!

The Essential Oils Starter Kit contains six 15ml essential oil bottles, each with a dropper top for easy use.  A summary of the each oil’s benefits can be found below:

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We started off using Lavender and Eucalyptus with the children and have not stopped using these oils ever since we received them, especially when runny noses seemed to appear.  The Mist Vapor Diffuser was a hit not only because of its compact size but also because it turned out to be the perfect night light.  The kids take in turns choosing what colour the light is each night (you can even choose an option where the colours slowly change).  One limitation of this diffuser, however, due to its size, is that the steam only lasts 5 hours and not the entire night.  However, the children still love having it on each night.

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The other pleasant surprise with Piping Rock was despite being an American company, their prices are very affordable and shipping to Australia reasonable.  Shipping did take a while but if for the quality of product and price, I’m sure you wouldn’t mind waiting a bit either!

We’ll do anything to get a longer night sleep so it’s always great to find something that does help!

Thank you, Piping Rock for sponsoring this post.  Collaboration supported by Shopping Links
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Our current baking list

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We have been baking up a storm lately.  Now that Easter has passed, we will not have as many Hot Cross Buns or Easter cookies in rotation but there is still a solid list we go through on a regular basis.

Many of the recipes below are ‘all in one’ cakes, where we just chuck all the ingredients in before mixing it now that Xavier is quite the avid baker.  He always wants to help put the ingredients in the bowl (which has also helped with his numbers recognition as we use a Thermomix and thus go by weight) and of course, assist with ‘cleaning’ the bowl by eating the remaining batter stuck to the blades and sides.  It’s really cute to see how proud he is when he does most of the baking himself (it does get messy and I do help out when the containers are full) and to see him happily announce to his Dad and sister that their morning tea for the next day is courtesy of him does make my heart melt!

We have made a few variations to the below recipes (usually reducing the sugar amount, replacing raw sugar with coconut sugar, making it dairy free, etc.) so I’ve added links and our little variations for those who are interested.

Banana and chocolate chip muffins

Recipe found here.  We are constantly baking these babies and now that I’m trying to get rid of all the Easter chocolate in our house, I usually throw in a handful of Easter eggs before we start the recipe, get thermie to chop them up for me then add the chocolate chunks when required.  Other changes we make is using nuttlex and rice milk (I buy the 1kg tubs of Nuttlex from Costco since we bake so much) and do the mixing all at once i.e. don’t move ingredients into separate bowls after mixing.

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Apple Cake

Recipe found here.    We like having other fruit cakes on our list and this one is a winner.  We don’t bother with the cinnamon topping, rather, add 2tsp cinnamon to the cake batter.  We half the sugar and use coconut sugar, nuttlex and rice milk.  Finally, we don’t always use apples in this recipe – we have used pear and it’s just as tasty.

Chocolate crackle

Recipe found here.  Sometimes I crave something sweet and crunchy and this seems to hit the spot.  We just use a mixing bowl then mix all the ingredients altogether.

Chocolate chip cookies

I’ll be making more of these cookies to get rid of leftover Easter eggs (seriously… we didn’t buy many this year but we have so many in the house!).  It’s our own recipe (found here on the blog) and the cookies always a hit during kinder morning teas.

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Chocolate Cake

This recipe yields a very moist cake.  Sometimes we make them in muffin tins (reduces oven time) and other times X man wants to do a cake (he likes to choose which tin we use – square, round or heart shaped.  Let’s just say our heart shaped tin gets a work out).  Again, we use nuttlex, cacao, rice milk and coconut sugar, reducing the sugar amount by two-thirds.

We hope you enjoy these recipes as much as we do!

Our Montessori inspired activity shelf – 3.5 year old

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Now that Grace has commenced school, I have not prepared as many learning activities for her at home since she returns home quite tired and any energy she does have for learning we put towards reading.  Consequently, our Montessori inspired activity shelf now contains  activities predominantly for X man, who is almost 3.5 years old.  That’s not to say that Grace does not do any jobs from the shelf – she goes back to the Lego activity, block shape activity and letter puzzle every now and then.  I try to rotate the jobs on the shelf based on what the children go back to or what their current interests are.  So here are the activities in more detail…

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Hammer and screwdriver set – X man loves to fix stuff so he goes back to this job time and time again

Coloured popsicle stick patterns – I used the free printables from Playdough to plato and the kids replicate the patterns using popsicle sticks.  You may remember this activity on my Instagram page here.

Hanging clothes on line using pegs – I bought the clothes line on eBay, although you can easily make your own using string and a shoe box.  One bowl has pegs and the other has little felt clothes.  This is definitely a favourite job!

Musical instruments – This basket seems to live on this shelf as it always gets played with!

Sandpaper letters – I bought these off Amazon and I rotate between lowercase and uppercase

Make alphabet letters using Lego – I recently took this job out again for Xavier after putting it away once Grace did not play with is but she now goes back to it every so often.  You may remember this activity on my Instagram page here.  This is another great free printable from Playdough to plato

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Spelling puzzle – a great Melissa and Doug puzzle where you spell simple words using wooden letters

Shape halves puzzle – this was a favourite of Grace’s for a long time and now X man tries to do it.  It’s still a bit difficult but he seems to like it!

Block shape patterns activity – There are four level of cards where the child replicates patterns using certain blocks.  I actually bought this for my nephew 6 years ago which he kindly handed down to us when he and his siblings grew out of it!

6-way farm animal cube puzzle – another favourite puzzle the kids constantly go back to!

Beehive puzzle – the aim of the activity is to use the wooden tweezers to put bees in their corresponding hive colour.  It’s too easy for X man but he seems to enjoy it so it has remained on the shelf

Craft copying activity – jeans – we received this activity pack from the children’s childcare educator.  Basically they have to replicate the picture using a piece of material, scissors, glue and a black marker

And there you have it!  Our current Montessori inspired activity shelf for a 3.5 year old!  You can see our previous shelves here and here.

My evolving relationship with Motherhood

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Image by Marie-Luise

I knew being a mother would be one of the hardest yet one of the happiest phases in my life.  I read lots of parenting books while pregnant with my first child, I listened to all sorts of advice the people around me freely gave and I constantly asked the hard questions to try prepare myself for the impeding change a little one brings.  I honestly thought I had prepared as much as I could for the new and exciting role.  Never in my wildest dreams did I think it would pull, prod and stretch me in directions I never knew possible.

We eagerly anticipated Grace’s arrival so when she finally arrived, she brought immense joy into our lives.  The days that followed were difficult, but we knew they would be.  However, the degree of difficulty overwhelmed me.  Sure, there were factors and issues which were beyond our control which didn’t help but I vividly remember sitting in Grace’s nursery fully immersed in an intense emotional roller coaster ride.  One moment I would be crying because all I wanted for my baby girl was to marry an amazing man like her Daddy and to have a beautiful child like herself to hold in her arms so she could feel the joy I was experienced.  The next moment, however, I’d be in tears again because all I wanted to do was put my suit on and go to work because I craved to do something I was familiar with, do something I was good at and have people appreciate my work and give my positive feedback.  The new routine, sleep deprivation, not understanding my baby, absolutely everything was so foreign to me.  I was so ready to go back to work despite advising my employer that I’d be taking 13 months off.  Luckily, I had a caring and understanding husband who lovingly helped and guided me to increase in confidence not only in myself but in my own abilities as a mother.

I thought I was better prepared when Xavier came along and in many ways, I was.  But again, after a few weeks following his birth, I felt myself wanting to return to work early, not because I wanted to do something I was familiar with but because his high energy and personality was such a big shift from what I expected after having a gentle, sweet girl. There were many days where I would hide in the toilet, needing just a few moments to myself while a screaming toddler stood outside the locked door.  After 13 months of maternity leave, I had no shame in enjoying the opportunity to eat in peace, pee in peace and even work in peace.  Going to work felt like genuine breaks in my week.  I would look at other full time mothers and wonder in awe at how they could do it 24-7.  I was perfectly aware that my mental capacity to do so was not as strong and I beat myself up for that.

Now I am pregnant with number three, I can honestly say I’m in a good place with my relationship with motherhood.   I definitely experienced joy with my first two but I feel that I don’t have glimpses of happiness anymore – I have many instances where I go to bed at night and look back on my day with such joy.  I really feel at peace with being a mother and most of the time, I love it so much.  When I had this realisation, I was so excited to tell my husband this – that I feel like I’m at a stage in my life where I could do this motherhood gig full time and even he was so surprised.

I’m not saying I won’t return to work.  They treat me incredibly well and I feel that my career defines a part of who I am.  But it has been such a journey for me to reach this point, where I can say even though some days are long and hard, I still find the joy and happiness motherhood brings.  Motherhood means I have two little people who genuinely think I am the funniest person on earth, even if my husband tries to persuade them otherwise.  Motherhood means I have magic kisses which can heal a sore that just moments ago, was incredibly painful.  Motherhood means I have little people who love me so much, and unconditionally.  And I know my relationship with motherhood will continue to change as my children grow up.  But I know one thing will remain constant.  Motherhood is joy.  My children really bring me so much happiness.  I have never experienced so much joy in great intensity as I have as a mother.  I know the tough times motherhood brings only makes the happy moments all that more sweeter.   My relationship with motherhood, at the end of the day, really is joy and I’m so excited to not only fully understand this, but experience it as well.

Learning about different countries with World Bites!

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We have been the lucky recipients of World Bites boxes over the past three months.  The kids were always excited to receive a new World Bites box each month and discover what new treats they could try.

World Bites is monthly subscription where you get to experience different snacks from all over the world, delivered straight to your door (tracked postage is included in your subscription).  We tried the France, Japan and China boxes and loved eating their favourite goodies but we also appreciated the added informative booklet.  As soon as the box was opened, the children would go through each box and package, trying to figure out which one to try first.  We would use the booklet as a guide to each snack (most snacks have a little bio on them e.g. why it is popular in the country and the type of taste) before sampling each one.  The booklet also provides some key phrases in the language, stats on the country as well as some photos of iconic buildings and monuments that make the country unique.

I used the World Bites boxes to help teach the children a bit more about these countries.  It’s easy to show them where Japan is on a map and even photos of Mum and Dad visiting there but it’s a whole new experience to see the written language on packages and to taste what is popular there.  Grace even identified that Chinese snacks are not as sweet as the France ones and Xavier loved looking through my China, France and Japan travel photos, especially the costumes from the streets of Harajuku as I tried to explain more about the culture and different lifestyles to what we have here in Australia.  If you follow me on Insta, you may have remembered us sharing how the kids made sherbet in a toilet from our Japan box, eating a new flavour of Pocky and trying a new type of sweet, Fraise Tagada!

And now here are some photos of us and our World Bites boxes!

::X man was very excited to eat the Pocky from our Japan box::

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::I really loved having these booklets to help teach the children more about the countries::img_0226:::Treats from our France box!::img_9527img_0227

::Our China box!::img_0235

::These double fruit flavoured Oreos were definitely a hit!::

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Thank you to World Bites for allowing us to taste the flavours of France, China and Japan!

How I am reducing clutter in my house

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If you follow me over on Insta, you’ll know that one of my 2017 new year resolutions is to reduce the clutter in my house.  It’s like my nesting phase has come early and I am determined to only have items in my home that we love and need before the new baby comes in May!

The items to be disposed of need to have lived in the house for a while (catalogues, newsletters and the occasional drawings don’t necessarily count unless they have been kept for a long period of time) and they don’t necessarily go in the bin.  We have made countless trips to our local charity bins and many other items have been given to family or friends we know will make good use of them.

Here are some of the tips and benefits I have come across so far:

  • Dispose of 10 items a day: this whole idea was to help me not feel overwhelmed by the daunting task.  I am not limited to 10 items and sometimes if I remove 20 or more things, I count that for the following day.  It has helped me take this challenge in bite sized pieces and to helps me avoid spending hours trying to clean a section with the end result of me leaving a bigger mess once complete.  Sometimes I clean a bathroom drawer while the kids are in the shower, a kitchen cupboard while dinner is cooking or even the a shelf while the kids get ready for bed.  It also ensures our bin isn’t overflowing come bin night!
  • Introduced capsule wardrobes for the children: I have loved having a capsule wardrobe for over 2 years now (my Winter and Autumn wardrobes for 2016 can be found here and here), where I only have about 37 items in my seasonal closet.  I have since done the same for my two children.  They are the grateful recipients of great hand me downs so by going through what they have before the season starts, I know exactly what they need and don’t need.  I have consequently curbed the amount of money I’ve spent on kids’ clothing which means less items in the house.  Win-win!
  • Reduced my shopping habit: Because I am consciously trying to reduce the amount of stuff in our house, I am more reluctant to bring more into it.  Therefore, I am a lot more picky when buying things and when I do, I make sure we need it and I truly love it.
  • Ensure everything has a home: Reading Marie Kondo’s book has really changed the way I live (you can click here to see how she has helped me reorganise my drawers!).  One of her great suggestions is that everything in your house needs a home i.e. a designated space for it to live.  Not only does that mean you will always know where to store it and where to find it, but it also means that it belongs.  Often I have items that I like, don’t really like but for some reason, want to keep.  If I can’t find an appropriate home for it, then I know it’s time to let it go.
  • Re-evaluate the toys and books for my children: I have always wanted to be clever with my storage solutions and was keen to have a living room with toys out of sight.  We got rid of 98% of our DVDs and now use our TV cabinet as toy storage.  Each child has a 40cm x 25cm box filled with a few activity and reading books as well as educational and fun toys that encourage imaginary play.  I did this with my children so they chose what they wanted and removed what they didn’t.  I am yet to do their bedroom but I will use a similar strategy.  I have, however, re-done their Montessori shelf in the spare room which I will share shortly!

I am still learning through this process but I feel so much lighter and happier even though I’ve only done a small percentage of our house.  Because I do things in bite sized pieces, I know exactly which area I want to tackle next and how to do it.  It’s great feeling that you can conquer a challenge you have wanted to do for years… and feel like you can actually achieve it too!

Our approved list of homemade Christmas treats!

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Every year, we try to make some homemade goodies to give to family and friends.  We have made some massive failures over the years but with some practice (like our gingerbread men this year… but our third attempt worked!), we have compiled a list of Christmas treats that are not only easy to make but are always gratefully received by our loved ones:

  1. Salted caramel sauce – I love recipes where I can chuck ingredients into my Thermomix and then walk away.  This is one such recipe where I can just pour the ingredients in and then 12 minutes later, not only do I have delicious sauce to share but I also have my bottles sterilised!  I often get asked for this recipe so here it is!  One tip is to double the batch… I haven’t tried tripling it but doubling it works a treat.
  2. Tomato Chutney – This is a gorgeous chutney.  There is a little more work involved vs the salted caramel sauce, but it is worth it!
  3. Peppermint Chocolate bark – Who doesn’t love to receive chocolate for Christmas?  This recipe is made easier with Thermie too.  The addition of candy canes make it a beautiful Christmas treat.
  4. Salted caramel ice cream – We usually have a Christmas gathering with friends each year and I’m usually asked to make this.  I’d make this more often for myself if it wasn’t so bad for you (but it tastes so goooood!)
  5. Gingerbread men – My kids requested to decorate gingerbread weeks before December so for the past three Sunday mornings, we have made gingerbread!  We gave some away to Xavier’s kinder friends today and two mums came up to me requesting the recipe!  It is a soft gingerbread which my family (and friends) love.

And there you have it!  Our top 5 homemade Christmas gifts tried and tested by our family.  And here are a couple photos of last Sunday morning while having fun with our gingerbread…

::cheekily sneaking in M&M’s::

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We hope you are having a wonderful lead up to Christmas too! xx