Saturday, 23 November 2013

Our 2013 Advent Calendar {a tutorial}

I’ve just finished making our advent calendar for this year.

Instead of having chocolate or lolly treats inside, this year I’ve decided to make it activity-based, and each day, inside our advent calendar is a little Christmassy activity, to get us into the spirit (not that we really need help with that, we may or may not have had our tree up for a week already, and been listening to Christmas music for at least twice that long!).

I trawled Pinterest adding ideas to my advent calendar board, included the various Christmas parties and events that were already scheduled, and soon enough, I had 24 fun activities ready to go!

Here is our list of Advent Calendar Activities:

  1. Make our advent wreath (this year we are going to follow the advent candle liturgy at home, as well as at our church).
  2. Make Christmas cards (Lincraft had 50% off their Christmas stock – already! – and I grabbed a bunch of Christmas craft kits, including star-shaped Christmas cards, with lots of stickers and embellishments)
  3. Trip to Little Monkeys (Our local indoor play centre. We’ve been intending to go all year and it just hasn’t happened. I want to do it before the school holidays starts, so that there will be fewer kids there).
  4. Playgroup Christmas Party.
  5. Make a paper chain decoration for our house (we did this last year and Mayana loved it. Incidentally, did you know that Peter is not allowed to make paper chains with his kids at Kindy because it symbolises oppression? Sheesh!)
  6. Have a Christmas dance party! (Anyone who’s met Mayana will know that she loves a good dance party!)
  7. Watch a Christmas movie.
  8. Read some Christmas books! (These will be special gifts, too)
  9. Make woven bauble decorations (another 50% off Lincraft kit)
  10. Make and play with Christmas playdough. (I will probably make it green, and maybe flavour it with mint to make it multi-sensory. We’ll cut Christmas tree shapes and decorate them with sequins and beads etc.)
  11. Make Christmas angels. (Another craft kit that I picked up for $2 at Kmart a few months ago)
  12. Make presents for some friends. (I bought small papier-mâché gift boxes from Aldi a few months ago.. we’ll decorate/paint them as gifts)
  13. Go looking at Christmas lights.
  14. Watch a Christmas movie.
  15. Read some Christmas books.
  16. Choose some toys to give away (Our very small playroom is pretty much as full of toys as it can handle, so we are going to prepare for the inevitable onslaught by giving some of them away and making room. I actually can’t WAIT for this day!)
  17. Go Christmas shopping for Papa.
  18. Make some wrapping paper (and wrap Papa’s present).
  19. Make Christmas tree biscuits.
  20. Decorate the biscuits. (This has been a tradition of ours for the past two years) 
  21. Christmas with the Friends (our Christmas with Pete’s side of the family)
  22. Tonight’s your Christmas Show! (The kids at our Church are putting on a show. Mayana is playing Mary!)
  23. Make our gingerbread nativity. (Another tradition of ours. in 2011 we made a traditional gingerbread house, last year we made an Aussie Homestead version, and this year we are going to try our hands at a nativity scene)
  24. Read the Christmas story in the Bible. (This is a tradition too… a before-bed thing on Christmas Eve, snuggled together on the couch)

So, list done! Next thing was to decide how to make the advent calendar. I wanted to do something that would double as a Christmas decoration. There are stacks of ideas on Pinterest (I pinned some of my favourites) and I sort of combined a few ideas for ours. I used this idea last year too, but just had a lolly and a decoration (which I’ll explain in a minute) in them.

So I popped all my activities in  a fancy font in a Publisher document and cut them into strips.


Next up, I needed toilet rolls. We certainly go through enough of them in our house, and there is a special basket in our making room full of them. They come in handy for heaps of arts and crafts! For this advent calendar, you’ll need eight of them, each cut into three pieces. You’ll also need some pretty Christmassy paper, and some sticky tape.


Last year, I found this fabulous wooden Christmas tree at Big W for $10. I haven’t really looked to see if they’re there this year. The coolest thing about them is that they come with 25 tiny decorations – 24 hanging decorations and a star. These are what I used in my calendar last year, and Mayana was keen to use them again! I put one in each tube, and the star goes in with the final decoration on Christmas Eve.


Next, it’s just a matter of wrapping each piece of cardboard tube in your Christmas paper, and popping in one decoration, and that day’s activity. Don’t forget to write a date on each tube!!


Now where to put them! On one of my walls in our family room I have a bunch of frames with various typography art in them. In the centre of them all is a frame I put together to hang photos in. I bought a huge old frame for about $3.00 from an op-shop – no glass or backing necessary – and tied four lengths of twine across the frame. Usually there are Instagram photos or cute cards or pictures hanging in it, but at this time of year it becomes our advent calendar. So it’s just a matter of clipping each little present into place, and the calendar is complete!



Cute huh! And so cheap to make. This year it really didn’t cost me anything, because I had the wrapping paper from last year and the frame was already up. Today we bought some small baubles from Big W (2 packs of 20 for $3.00 each), and as we take each little gift down, we will put a bauble up, so that we aren’t left with boring looking naked string hanging on our wall… this is, after all, one of our Christmas decorations!


Easy! And so cute!
Do you make your own advent calendar? What are you going to put in it this year?

Monday, 18 November 2013

Thermie Convert

We have had a thermomix in residence in our kitchen for about the last two months. A very generous and kind friend loaned hers to us so that we could see if it would work for our family, and to help make a decision as to whether we could justify buying one. Long story short, we are hoping to buy one of our own in the next few weeks!


This was the first meal I made in the thermomix… all in one, rice meat and veg all at the same time. It took about 25 minutes and there was enough for two dinners for the four of us! I’ve heard people say that they’d be concerned it wouldn’t cook enough for their family, but most meals I make in it feed us for two nights.

Initially the idea was sparked when Reuben was being tested for coeliac’s disease. I knew that if we did have to cook gluten free, having a thermomix would make things a lot easier and cheaper (for instance, you can make your own rice flour using brown rice for less than a dollar a kilo!). Although (thank the Lord!) Reuben’s test came back negative, we have found out in the meantime that a thermomix suits us very well.


Reuben enjoying my sugar free berry sorbet. He calls the thermie ‘Yum Yum’, and is always excited when he hears the beep that means it’s finished cooking!

For starters it makes our sugar free lifestyle a lot easier. I think my favourite thing about it is how much time it saves! I can make a (sugar free, gluten free, dairy free) banana cake in 20 seconds.. the most time consuming part is putting in the ingredients.. and you pretty much only have to break the banana in half, no mashing it with a fork!


My twenty-second gluten free, dairy free, sugar free banana cake!

You can make custard, from scratch (again sugar free) in seven minutes! And no standing over a hot stove stirring stirring stirring.. and perfectly smooth lump-free custard every time! The white sauce in there is amazing. I love that I can put my ingredients in there, walk away, and in no time at all I have a delicious meal ready to eat.  Instead of fighting over that one last mango, I can whiz up a sugar-free mango sorbet for all of us in less than two minutes!


Sugar free rice pudding with blueberries and a drizzle of pure organic maple syrup. My husband’s favourite dessert!

I also love knowing exactly what is in everything. I can make stuff from scratch, barely needing to open a packet or jar. I know that there are no additives or preservatives, no hidden sugars. I  now make my own tomato sauce, sugar free nutella (Pete was well and truly sold after that, vegetable stock paste, and even grind my own cacao power! If I don’t have almond meal, I can pop in a handful of almonds and six seconds later: almond meal! Coconut butter (which has been one of my staples since quitting sugar) comes together in about 20 seconds in the thermomix, when it used to take me anywhere up to 15 minutes to make in my food processor. It’s just so fast and so easy, and being pregnant and with very little cooking mojo, that is a major selling point for me.  I have literally used it every single day that it has been in our home, and most days more than once. Pete uses it to make porridge now… and he made the most incredible pretzels on the weekend! Mayana even made date & cacao balls in it today pretty much all by herself.

The book it comes with has plenty of great recipes to get you started. I’m getting brave with experimenting with it, and easily interchange my sugar substitutes where necessary. I’ve even begun to experiment with using more gluten-free options and I’m learning heaps. The more I use it and understand how it works, and which speeds and temperatures do what, the more I can adapt my old favourite recipes to it, and I’m getting much more confident at just making things up as I go.


Our favourite pikelet recipe from the Lady Flo Bjelke-Petersen cookbook
takes about 10 seconds to whiz up in the thermomix!

A new favourite website that I’ve been using A LOT is Quirky Cooking. Jo is into whole foods, and creates fabulous thermomix recipes that cater for most dietary needs.. so a lot of her recipes are sugar free, gluten free and dairy free, and sometimes egg free, or have options to make them such. Her Chicken & Chashews with Satay Sauce was the very first meal I made in the thermie, and her sugar free (practically healthy) nutella, delicious tomato sauce, and amazing coconut caramel custard have kind of become staples around here. Oh and everyone in our family is obsessed with the raw date and cacao balls, especially Reuben… they are pretty much always in our fridge! There are also a couple of really great thermomix community forums like this one and this one that have tonnes of fabulous recipes and ideas.


Tomato sauce, Nutella & raw cacao powder… all in a morning’s work.

The thermomix has replaced more than half of the appliances we own, and I’ve barely even used a saucepan since having it. It mixes, beats, grinds, purees, steams, cooks rice, sautes, stirs, cooks, weighs, whips… it’s like an entire kitchen in one appliance! It even washes itself up! And it is sooooooooooo easy to use. I have never been to a demonstration, my friend who owns one gave me a quick overview of what the buttons all do and that was literally it. I easily figured it out on my own just by reading the book, googling if I needed to, and just experimenting with it (from what I hear they’re pretty much impossible to break, so don’t be scared!!).

I will admit that they are not cheap (they sell for just under $2000), but Peter and I both agree that with the amount of time it will save us, and the health benefits (no preservatives or additives, no more buying things from jars and packets, much more control over what we’re actually eating), it is going to be so worth it for our family. It’s not an appliance where the motor is going to wear out or the blades are going to break, you’re not going to be looking at replacing it in the next five years… in fact I’ve heard people say that they’re an at least 30 year investment! I feel so blessed to have been given the opportunity to have one loaned to me. As much as it was something I’ve always thought would be great, I don’t think I could have imagined just how great it would be for our family.

If you have a thermomix, I’d love to hear your tips and favourite recipes!! I have loved experimenting and learning about it, and I am excited about playing with it more, and learning even more about how it can help me to feed my family healthily, and without me having to spend half my life in the kitchen!

Monday, 11 November 2013

22-ish weeks

This pregnancy with little Tadpole is moving a long fairly uneventfully, which is definitely a good thing! Blood pressure is behaving itself, fundal height is growing at the proper rate, and at the morphology scan every measurement came up right on schedule.

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As you can see, that tummy is definitely steadily growing too! I discovered to my horror the other night that I am developing a few brand new stretch marks (already!)… surely there were enough there to work with already?

Tadpole is very active and the kicks have become quite forceful lately. Peter and Mayana have both enjoyed being able to easily feel kicks and thumps with their hands on my tummy… it is becoming quite normal for my book to go flying off my tummy when I’m reading in bed at night.

Reuben has recently become aware of ‘bubby’s’, and it’s quite funny to see him pointing to other babies when we are out and about who are bigger than him (but quite probably younger) and exclaiming, “Bubby!”. We talk to him about the bubby in mummy’s tummy, and he looks at us like we’re crazy. However when we ask him where the bubby is he will pat my tummy and obligingly blow a raspberry or two. He’s such a boy and loves to wrestle and dive-bomb everyone, and we have been trying to strongly discourage him from doing that to my tummy, because…ouch!!! I don’t know how much he understands about all of this, but I had some hope the other day when I saw him pick up Mayana’s baby doll, Georgie, and lovingly cradle her and kiss her on the head. We won’t talk about the part where he not-so-lovingly threw her down onto the tiles afterwards though.

I am feeling well overall, and adjusting to the tiredness by giving in to nana-naps a couple of afternoons a week while the kids have their rest time. My hips, pelvis and sciatica are still giving me grief, and I’m already dreading how that will develop as we get further into this pregnancy. I got (finally) got my referral to the midwives this week, and I’ll definitely be pushing to get some time with the physio to try and learn something to help manage my discomfort.

I’m starting to get really excited about meeting this little one. It took me longer than I thought it would to adjust to the idea of having a baby that wasn’t on my timeline.. I can’t say it was not planned because we definitely wanted a third (and maybe one day a fourth!) but the ‘when’ part was definitely taken out of my hands. A friend told me the other day that surprise babies are wonderful children (I’m sure my mum would agree, after all my baby brother was a similar story to this one!) so I have great expectations!

I love my little Tadpole, love these months where I get to enjoy all those little movements and feel myself grow as the baby does. I love being pregnant!


Tadpole’s profile shot from the scan is awfully blurry – as are most of the photos! All of my children have not responded well to being prodded by the sonographer’s wand and are certainly less than cooperative during their scans! So this is not a very good profile shot, as the baby quickly moved its head away just as it was being taken. Still pretty gorgeous though!


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