Happy Australia Day!

A very happy Australia Day from Hong Kong! We are still battling sickness in our house, and right now I’ve reached my favourite time of day – the kids are watching a bit of TV, dinner is prepped, the house is tidy and I’m sitting down to my computer with a cup of tea. Bliss! 4pm-ish in our house is always the calm before the storm – you know, the dinner-bath-bed witching hour(s).

While I have been battling homesickness for a few weeks now it was particularly acute today, Australia Day. I agree with a lot of the sentiment I’ve read that we should really choose a better day to celebrate it (instead of the anniversary of European invasion/Indigenous displacement) but I still think it is a country worth celebrating. Australia offers a lifestyle that just isn’t possible anywhere else in the world – a progressive democracy, a first world nation that also has incredible weather and natural beauty. I think another thing that makes it truly unique is its relative youth combined with its multicultural population; there aren’t any archaic social conventions, any cultural rules to abide by. You just have to be laid back, mate.

Sure, it has its downfalls – I don’t think Australians are as tolerant of diversity as they should be. If you’re asked how you’re goin’ and  the answer isn’t “good”, no one really wants to know about it. And there is a nasty undercurrent of drinking and violence that I notice more now that I’m living overseas. But I love, love, love Australia and many of its inhabitants!

To celebrate today I would have loved to be out having a beer at one of the many Aussie-run restaurants, but as I am instead at home being an earth mother (read: covered in spat out cough medicine) I thought we’d try to bake some Aussie lamingtons! If you’ve never tried lamingtons before, you are seriously missing out and should get on it ASAP. I would have loved to have made this recipe which I’ve made before and is amazing, but we were sadly out of eggs…which led to me making these egg-free allergy friendly lamingtons from Queen Bee Allergy Free.

I have to admit I thought this cake turned out a little weird at first, which was probably my own fault as I didn’t follow the recipe properly. I wouldn’t call myself a great baker but I have developed some skill at it over many years of practice, and one thing I’ve come to appreciate is the exact science of baking. There are certain elements you just can’t muck around with. Anyway, instead of keeping this recipe dairy-free I used whole milk and butter, which made the final product very buttery but still delicious! It has a lot of sugar too. But if you need an allergy friendly version then this will definitely do the trick – once iced and rolled in coconut the lamingtons were DELICIOUS and allowed me to have a little Australian moment on this cold Hong Kong day.

It was nice to get the kids involved in the kitchen too. My kids love to cook and “help” in general. As long as I take a deep breath and embrace the mess I usually enjoy it too!

Australia Day Lamingtons

Vanilla Sponge
240ml rice or soy milk (I used whole cows milk)
1 tbsp white or apple cider vinegar
150g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarb soda
1/4 tsp salt
120g dairy-free margarine (Nuttelex) (I used butter but think this is where I went wrong)
150g sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups dessicated coconut

Chocolate Icing
2 cups sifted icing sugar
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/4 cup rice or soy milk
1/4 cup boiling water

Preheat oven to 180 C. Whisk milk and vinegar and set aside.

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Sift flours and mix together. Cream margarine, sugar and vanilla until pale and fluffy. Add the milk and flours in alternate batches until combined well. Pour batter into greased and lined 20cm square cake pan for approx 25 mins (a lamington pan is too big for this mixture, and since it doesn’t rise too much, the square will condense it nicely).

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Turn out and cool on wire rack. Cut into squares (makes about 16).

To make the icing, mix icing sugar, cocoa powder, milk and then add boiling water and mix well until combined. Set aside another bowl for the coconut.

Dip cake pieces into chocolate by using two forks, then roll in coconut before setting aside on wire rack to set.

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Yum! Wish I could say it was Bushells tea too…

Z x

 

What I’m Buying

We are in the middle of the coldest Hong Kong weather in 60 years, which is only fitting when we apparently arrived here during the hottest summer ever. Yesterday there was a maximum of 5 degrees, and while I know you Europeans will scoff at that it felt pretty bloody cold! Like in Aus, HK just isn’t equipped for the cold – poor heating, cement walls. So while it was kind of funny and very Hong Kong, it wasn’t surprising when we found out that all schools are closed today.

On top of that, our little guy is battling a pretty nasty case of Hand, Foot & Mouth. For those who haven’t heard of it it’s basically a virus that manifests in lots of little blisters on the hands, feet, insides of mouth and bottom. It makes kids miserable and is highly contagious which means the dreaded quarantine. Both my kids seem to have had particularly bad cases, maybe because they have eczema as well? But it’s basically a full body outbreak and an extremely grumpy little boy sleeping beside me as I write.

With all this time indoors, plus a move and a Thailand holiday in the very near future, there’s only been one thing for it – lots of online shopping while drinking hot milo. J joked that the weather is sending him broke which earnt him an epic death stare but there may be some truth to it. We definitely need all this stuff though…

Bride & Wolfe Heart Shelf

I have been eyeing off this shelf for YEARS ever since I first glimpsed it at Kido Store in Sydney, and now that we are officially maxing out on crystals and shells (and Heiks even has a little rainbow just like the one in the picture, a Waldorf toy from Grimms) I decided it’s time. The shelf is on the pricey side but I think the white colour will last her a long time and it’s just SO cute. I have seen it used in so many different adaptations on pinterest and it always looks amazing. They ship internationally and express for urgent orders.

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Kip & Co Beanbag

What do you buy for the two-year-old boy who has everything?! I decided to get Walt a cute little beanbag for his upcoming birthday, which is both something he actually needs and something he will like, as he can run and catapult himself onto it multiple times per day. A friend recommended Kip & Co’s beanbags and they just have the CUTEST designs – the one I got has sold out (nabbed it for 50% off) but I think they are all awesome!

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Country Road Sneakers & Dress

Those who know me well are well versed in my Country Road addiction obsession. I never leave a Spend & Save unspent (I know. Am I crying for help?). Anyway because I can’t buy shoes in Hong Kong (their biggest size is 39!) I’m always on the lookout for shoes and was taken with these, also thought they were well priced at $99.95…?

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While I was there I couldn’t go past this sweet little dress for Miss Heike, who upon being questioned said she would actually definitely wear it. Which is the only criteria I look for when buying things for her, as she actually definitely wears almost nothing I buy her. Could it be any cuter? Hello Thailand! By the way, CR delivers free to HK.

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Camilla & Marc Bikini

Now speaking of Thailand, it must be known that I am in no way “bikini body ready” for our holiday next week. We can blame a few factors but I’d say it’s mostly down to the “online shopping while drinking hot milo” that I have been partaking in. That said, I optimistically decided at some point that it’s nothing a new bikini can’t fix. I fear we are past that point, but who can resist a Camilla & Marc sale – they still have some AMAZING styles available at great prices, but in limited sizes. Shipping to HK reasonable from Aus.

*model estimated to be wearing a size 6, while the writer purchased a 14.

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Finally, I need to tell my Hong Kong readers about a store that I actually discovered by leaving my apartment. I know, it was a crazy day. I’d heard about Mirth from a friend but managed to pay them a visit when I was visiting J at his office in Wong Chuk Hang last week. It’s basically my new happy place and definitely my go-to for any little home decoration needs. Here are some pics of their showroom that I found on their Facebook page:

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I mean, seriously! Just go there for a little hit of happiness!

Meanwhile I had a brain snap during my visit and came home with a giant silver floor cushion, which is equal parts amazing and redundant. What can I say, I love shiny things. It has had a lot of positive feedback though…

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Anyway, that is my budget for three months about done – I should probably go and do some paid work to cover some of these purchases.

If you have an online shopping addiction you need to talk about…I’m here!

Z

Nice People

Why are some people so nice? And why are others such massive arseholes?! They’re questions I often ask myself. Before I had kids of course I came up against my fair share of nasty people at work and socially and sometimes, jarringly, just in the street or while driving my car. You know, people who ruin your day with one horrible comment or unnecessarily mean action. But I always just got on with my life and it never bothered me too much.

Since having my kids, I’ve come to realise the value of nice people even more. Because when you’re out with your kids and people are nice to you – kind, helpful, generous – it can have an absolutely huge impact on your day. It can make your week. And nasty, unhelpful comments or observations from strangers can play on your mind for months, even years.

I haven’t had too many strangers pass judgement on my parenting, although I’ve definitely been on the receiving end of some down-the-nose looks in the supermarket. I also copped a lot of dirty looks during Heike’s toddler hitting/pushing/bullying phase, thank god that’s over. In Hong Kong I get comments and advice ALL the time but it’s different, more of a cultural thing. You have to just adopt the smile and nod approach.

Still, I’ve witnessed a few doozies. One that stands out in my memory is when we were still living in Australia and there was a pregnant Mum trying to wrangle two unruly boys into a shopping trolley (it’s always in the bloody supermarket! What choice do us Mums have?! You need to be really organised to online shop okay!). Her face was red. You could tell she was at breaking point, and I gave her a sympathetic smile as I walked past.

Anyway apparently the old lady behind me was less sympathetic and stopped to have a go at her! I didn’t hear exactly what she said but I DID hear the Mum’s reaction which was basically to break down and scream “I just need milk and bread! I can’t do this anymore!” It was really horrific. The Mum kind of stormed off and about two minutes later I found her  sobbing in the chilled section of Woolworths. And she was talking to herself or her boys or anyone just saying please, I can’t do this. So I approached her and asked if she was okay and said I understand, I have small kids too, it’s really hard some days (I didn’t bring up the times when my kids had started smashing eggs on the ground in the very same Woolworths…). She smiled but I could tell she was embarrassed and just wanted to get out of there. Still I hoped I had helped her a little bit. I hoped maybe by one person being nice to her it was a less shit experience.

Yesterday I took Walter with me to the supermarket, and I didn’t take a pram because I am optimistic/stupid like that. He’s a pretty cruisy guy and definitely the only kind of two year old you can actually take to a supermarket successfully, generally compliant and easily satisfied with food. But of course once I had two giant heavy bags of groceries and realised I didn’t have cash for a taxi home my stress levels started to rise. I sloooooowly coaxed him to the ATM and had to rely on him to stand by me while I got money out, and of course he ran away. And not only did he run away, he managed to lodge himself between a wall and a little glass barrier thing, you know, a space big enough for a two year old but not big enough for his Mum to crawl in and get him. I looked at the time and internally freaked that we had to leave to get Heike off the bus. So I took a deep breath and started negotiations.

After about thirty seconds my patience was exhausted (I was not feeling very patient) and I started getting a bit desperate. “WALTER! Please. Get out. Or you will be in big trouble.” I know, I was really not on my game. I was tired. I didn’t have the energy. I could feel the heat rising into my face and the stress tears coming into my eyes (I cry in television ads so it’s a problem for me).

And then a nice woman in her mid 50s, also known as my hero, came over and called out “Walter! Come and look at the red taxis darling! They’re very fast, you might miss them, quick!” And of course Walter giggled and happily emerged from his hiding place.

It was that simple. It was ten seconds of her time. She reminded me of my Mum or one of her friends, all of whom are also nice people and would do a similar thing for a young stressed out Mum. It’s a seemingly small act that made a massive difference to my day and I’m sure I’ll always remember it, even when I’m a Grandma myself and see a Mum my age out with toddlers at the supermarket.

So, maybe that’s why nasty people are nasty? Maybe no one has ever been nice to them? Or maybe they’re just nasty. Either way, I am so grateful for the nice people in the world. It’s the little everyday acts that make such a big difference to peoples lives.

And hey, if you see a Mum with tantrumming kids out, anywhere, I promise you – as much as you might think she does – she does not need your advice! She needs you to ignore it, or help.

Z

Being Healthy-er

I am always one to jump on a bandwagon, if never quite wholeheartedly. I think it’s my up-for-anything nature combined with my very laid back personality. So if there’s a new craze I’m always one of the first on board but will quickly become distracted and fall back into my own habits with barely more than a “Meh” to show for it.

It was the same with the health craze trends when they started, around five years ago now? Initially I decided to be a vegetarian which lasted for about 10 days. I am now able to recognise that I will NEVER be a vegetarian and while that’s sad for animals it’s just the way it is. Then I got really into Sarah Wilson and the whole I Quit Sugar thing but found that banning myself completely from sugar would just result in me eventually  binging on more sugar (the process was useful though in cutting down a lot on sugar – I think I would eat a lot more sugar today had I not “quit” for, oh, three weeks).

Now obviously we have the gluten free, dairy free, refined sugar free movement sometimes known as paleo although I feel like that word has lost some of its magic in the last year. And actually I think it’s great, because certainly people as a whole are eating way too much processed food. Drawing attention to that is a great thing. We have films coming out like That Sugar Film which is confronting and terrifying and also necessary.

BUT, for me at least, turning from the me of my entire life into a religious health nut is just not possible. I do try. I have my moments. I throw out all the flour from my pantry (which is just insane because I am renowned for my love of baking!) and spend hundreds of dollars buying weird flours and molasses and 500 packets of medjool dates and I have the absolute best intentions. But after around six days, sometimes five which are usually Monday-Friday, I just really want a Mars Bar. And I’m like, I deserve this Mars Bar. I have been eating like a freak for five, six days. While I’m at it, I might as well eat an entire box of Arnott’s pizza shapes. And I’m ordering pizza for dinner damn it!

I just can’t stay on the wagon. And I don’t really want to. I want to be able to eat toast if I feel like it. I really like baking cakes! It is excellent for my mental health. I definitely do drink too much wine but we’re only on this planet for a finite amount of time, people!

Anyway, over the past couple of years I have found a few ways of compromising and eating what I think is a really well rounded diet (except, of course, for the wine). Living in Hong Kong we probably do eat out too much, but we eat a lot of great Asian food. If I allow myself to have things like toast with avocado for breakfast (instead of a scrambled egg with a side of rocket) and dark chocolate with my cup of tea, I rarely feel the need to binge. I DO bake a lot (really, it’s bad) but I try to use healthier ingredients. For example I’ll sub white for brown flour, butter for coconut oil and sugar for honey. I don’t always go all out but I do try.

One thing I do struggle with is making sure my kids eat a healthy diet, particularly when one in particular is very fussy. I find a weekly menu plan really helpful for this as it allows you to get an overview of what kids will be eating for the week and also I find stops me from allowing too many “treats”. I WISH I was one of those Mums whose kids ate nothing but brown rice and home made bread but one thing I’ve learned is that it’s easier to embrace who you are and try to be the best version of that person than to try to be someone you’re not. And I don’t even eat home made bread, so it’s not happening.

Anyway, on the theme of being healthier I thought I would share a super delicious chocolate slice recipe that I adapted slightly from an old one of my Mum’s! It calls for Weetbix which is very Australian but I think in the UK they’re call Weet-A-Bix?

Chocolate Slice

1 cup coconut

1 cup wholemeal self raising flour

1 cup crushed weetbix

2-3TBSP Cacao

1/2 cup coconut sugar

4oz coconut oil

  • Heat oven to 180C. Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl, then press mixture into a 20x20cm square tin.
  • Bake for 20-25 mins or until browning slightly.
  • Allow to cool before icing with your choice of a healthy or unhealthy icing! There is an awesome recipe for raw chocolate icing here on the Rawtarian.

So if you must bake, and you don’t have tapioca flour and arrowroot on hand, you can always make your own small changes to much loved recipes (one easy one is to halve the sugar, unless you’re cooking something that depends on the sugar for consistency as will most flourless cakes etc.).

Z

 

Montessori: Our Experience

This week a few people have sent me links to articles about little Prince George starting at Montessori school in the UK (cute!). While I haven’t written much about being a “Montessori Mum” yet, I have mentioned a few times that Heike goes to a Montessori School, and Walt will do the same when the time comes. This is always a discussion point for us as people wonder why and how we came to choose Montessori and what Montessori education actually entails.

The most common question/comment I get, is “Isn’t that chaos?” followed by “My son/daughter could never go there, they wouldn’t do anything!”. And I just have to do an inward eye roll because it so misses the mark – Montessori is actually very structured and has been a lifesaver for us in terms of taming our wild, determined girl while still fostering her independent spirit. It is also becoming quite “trendy” and modern though, so I think it’s important to choose it for the right reasons.

So, first things first, how/why did we choose Montessori? A range of reasons. J went to a Steiner school in Germany and Australia so was very open to the concept of exploring that for our kids or something else “alternative”. I studied teaching and was always drawn to the Montessori approach but had never seen it in action. We also happened to live very close to an excellent and highly competitive Montessori school that offered baby and toddler classes, so thought we’d give those a try – and thus began our journey.

And what is Montessori? The basic premise is a focus on the individual rather than group work, and allowing independent work with teacher’s present as guides. Teachers present activities to the students, which might include mathematics using counting blocks or “writing” using physical letters, and students are free to work on those of their choosing at their own pace. There is some group time and outside play but the major focus is independent learning.

Heike was and is an extremely strong willed and independent person and Montessori proved the perfect balance for her – the chance for self directed learning within a highly structured environment. If you do a tour of your local Montessori school the first thing you will notice is how incredibly quiet the classrooms are – the very furthest thing from chaos you will see. The kids are trusted to choose what they want to work on while knowing there are firm guidelines in place, and the result is generally harmony.

Montessori schools don’t issue homework which is another thing I loved about it. As a teacher I think homework is completely overrated, particularly in the primary years. It’s normally just a sheet that’s photocopied last minute by an overworked teacher and given to every student every year. And it has such a bad effect on family life in the evenings!

Lots of parents think their kids wouldn’t be suited to this environment and it is true that like any classroom there are some kids who will do better than others (that said, I always have to wonder why parents think their kids will do so much better in a traditional classroom? I think sometimes the “norm” just isn’t questioned enough). Montessori is perfect for kids at the extreme ends of the scale – the really loud, boisterous, opinionated kids who would otherwise spend half their life in the naughty corner (me, and my daughter!) and the quiet, lost kids who would otherwise get completely overlooked. Then there is the fairly big group of kids who will do well in ANY environment – the sweet, compliant kids with average to above average intelligence.

I often wonder how Montessori schools approach children with special needs and I’ve never seen this in action so can’t comment, but I do think when the focus is so heavily on the individual, and the classes are mixed age, it allows for a range of personalities and abilities. I also think Montessori would be a tough environment for the real dreamers and artistic souls (I think these kids would absolutely thrive in Steiner schools!).

At the end of the day your child’s education really comes down to you – teachers can always pick the kids whose parents are really invested, and children who have good relationships with their families are always much better equipped to deal with the complex social situations of primary and especially high school. Most kids will do well in any school if their parents care enough, and of course lots of parents don’t have the means to send their kids to private schools. Luckily, especially in Australia, there are loads of excellent public schools to choose from.

In Hong Kong there are lots of great Montessori Schools and pre-schools to choose from if you are interested in taking a look! At the moment Heike goes to the Woodlands Montessori School in the Mid-Levels, but from later this year will probably go to the International Montessori School.

Sassy Mama (my go-to website for all things Mum related in Hong Kong!) has put together a list of a few of the most popular schools here.

Our main focus is a happy and healthy little girl and I’m pleased to report she is doing great!

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House Hunting

Welcome to the first blog post of 2016! As I said to J yesterday, it’s just another week, another day, so the concept of a “New Year” is really what we make of it. For him, it’s stressing him out – there is so much on at work this year for him and the number “2016” is making his head hurt. For me like with everything I’m approaching it with a shrug of the shoulders and a “what will be will be” attitude, which is of course why he is the successful one and I am the relaxed one! It’s all about balance.

Now that we’re officially back from holidays and our body clocks have somewhat acclimatised, we have to really sit down and face a few issues we’ve had on the back burner for a while. One boring example is working out our helper’s hours to fit in better with my work hours *yawn*. One exciting but also stressful example is the question of whether or not we will be moving in the next few months.

You see, we love our apartment – you probably remember me writing all about it just a few months ago here. We are all very happy here. But J is in the process of renegotiating his contract for a further two years, and the thought of another two summers here isn’t great for us. NO POOL! MIDDLE OF THE CITY!

We had planned to escape to Europe this summer but it’s now not feasible due to work. We also have no facilities in our building – which means nowhere for the kids to play and burn off all that toddler/preschooler energy unless we actually head out somewhere. And sometimes you just don’t have the energy for that! What a luxury to have a pool and a playground and a gym and even, potentially, a grocery store all within your building?!

Also, we would like to live South Side of the Island, which is where we would have chosen to live initially if only J’s office weren’t Kowloon side. Well guess what?! Now he has moved to Aberdeen! SOUTH SIDE. It does seem like everything is aligning signalling us to move.

That said, I seem to have what J has termed “moving bipolar”. I decide that yes, despite the effort involved (packing, unpacking, changing schools, getting a car) I do think we should move. Let’s do this! Yeah!

Then J creates a shortlist of properties for us to look at and I scream “I can’t even look at that right now! This is all happening too fast! I don’t want to move!”

When I eventually/within three hours change my mind again we arrange to look at some properties. We go, with the kids, and love them ALL. How is it possible that we have been living without these facilities all this time? What kind of life have we been missing out on? I can wake up and see the OCEAN?! What even is this country?

Then we get home to our lovely little apartment and J suggests we make an offer on one of the properties and I turn again. “Seriously? That place was GROSS! How could we live there after we’ve lived HERE?! How dare you suggest this?!

Poor J!

I think I am just resisting the change and perhaps being way too picky. We have been really lucky with our place in that we’ve found an apartment with windows on all sides, so it’s incredibly light and airy. There really aren’t too many buildings like it, but there are loads of nice places that are much more practical with kids. So I think I am going to have to start being realistic and maybe think about making some sacrifices for an easier life.

In the meantime I am going to employ our long preferred method of list writing when house hunting – the Must, Should, Could Haves. Basically the place you decide on must tick all the must haves, some of the should haves and at least one of the could haves. J and I have used this method when renting or buying all our homes over the last ten years and I can tell you, straying from the list only leads to regret! We often sacrifice a balcony which is always on the must have list and always rue that decision. Reading J’s “could have” list is always pretty funny – he certainly doesn’t hold back on his dreams!

Anyway, I’m off to write that now in order to maintain my marriage. Any other house hunting tips?

Z