Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Home Cooked Meals

There’s a special ring to that phrase – “home cooked meals”. It conjures up images of a family setting, fresh foods, warmth, love, healthy eating and comfort.

What is a home cooked meal, though?

Does the phrase only refer to meals that are made from scratch, all sauces and dishes made in the home kitchen? Or does it include meals made at home using some pre-prepared items?

In a perfect world, we would all be having nutritious, balanced meals every time we sit down at a table. The ingredients would be fresh and no preservatives or additives would be considered, and the flavours would make our mouths water.

The reality is that not many of us have the time or energy to cook like that everyday.

It is also true that there are alternatives that are also healthy, fill empty tummies and take less time. And some of them even taste pretty good, too!

Busy Mums can do a good job of feeding their families even if they don’t cook gourmet, or even balanced meals every night. Accepting that we have busy lives and need to make things quicker sometimes is a useful step in reducing stress in our lives.

The overall diet and lifestyle is more important than any individual meal. So having boiled eggs and toast tonight is fine, as long as you’ve had some fruit during the day or have a big serve of vegetables tomorrow night.

Quick meals can be the saviour during the busy week, but a full home cooked meal over the weekend is a good way to balance things out and ensure some quality family time. Why not get various family members to actually help prepare a great meal each weekend?

If you feel uncomfortable not cooking from scratch most nights, the other option is to cook a lot each time and put meal portions into containers in the fridge or freezer. This will give your family good meals without costing you as much time each day, and it doesn’t take much longer to make a huge pot of soup or bolognaise sauce compared to a small one.

Tash Hughes is a Melbourne mother of two. She is the owner of Word Constructions and assists businesses in preparing all written documentation and web site content. Tash also writes articles for magazines, newsletter and websites.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Even Busy Mums Can Exercise

Once you have children, fitting in a quick trip to the gym or an evening stroll becomes more difficult. Regardless of your motivation to exercise, you have to work it in around the needs of your children as well.

That’s not to say parents should give up on exercising whilst their children are young, quite the contrary in fact. Parents need to exercise at least as much as other adults because

  • They need to be fit enough to keep up with and chase their children!
  • It is a great way of getting some child free time
  • It teaches children the value of exercise
  • Parents need to be healthy to best care for their children
  • It can be a great release for frustration, instead of taking it out on the children
  • It builds self esteem

Formalised exercise may be much harder to fit into your life as a parent, but there are many other ways to exercise than going to a gym.

  • Go for a walk. Babies and toddlers love being pushed in a pram, and it’s a great way to settle them when crying. Older children will walk with you – it may be slower but its fun and still counts as exercise if you do enough of it.
  • Put on some music and dance! Kids love music and will love you dancing with them. You can swap between kids’ music and your own boppy choices. Fifteen or twenty minutes a day is a great workout for you whilst also building relationships with your children.
  • Lift some weights. Grab some tins of food from the cupboard and lift them! A simple activity you can do when watching TV, talking on the phone or even surfing the net. It all helps you to move your body.
  • Play active games with the children. Games of chasey, cricket, footy, leap frog and ring-a-ring-a-rosie are just a few examples of fun family exercise. Or why not try the hokey pokey?
  • Walk instead of driving. Many people get in the car and drive out of habit. Sometimes, leave a little earlier and walk to the health centre, the milk bar, the kinder, the school or the park.
  • Play in the park. So many times in the park parents will sit and watch the kids play. Just for a change, why don’t you have a play, too? Swinging is great exercise when you get going, or you can just run around with the kids and scramble up ladders and climbing bars.
  • Walk and watch. Go for a walk or jog around the playground whilst your children play. Try giving your child a push on the swing, lapping the equipment and giving the next push. Toddlers love seeing you walk past and waving as they play!
  • Exercise together. A baby can lie on your tummy or legs as you exercise on the floor each day, and become the weights for arm exercises. Older children will mimic you doing exercises or yoga, which is fun to watch. Be creative and make your exercises fun – don’t do squats, walk around as a monster.
  • Ignore the ads. During the ads on TV, get up and move around the room, do some stretches or maybe some sit ups instead of sitting on the couch being bored. It will freshen you up and the ad breaks are long enough now you can fit a lot of movement into each one hour show!
  • Help out. Whether its tuckshop duty at school, going on excursions, helping at working bees or kinder duty, you will be moving around as well as contributing to your child’s life.
  • Move during classes. When the kids have classes and activities, do something yourself. For instance, swim some laps during their swimming class, walk laps of the footy oval during training (watch out for the embarrassed “Oh, MUM!” though,) walk around the block where the dance school is, go up and down the stairs or wheel (bike, skate, skateboard, etc) around the nearby park.
  • Go on bike rides. By yourself, with kids alongside or kids on your bike, riding is great exercise that can be shared with the family.
  • Stand up to do some tasks – it requires more work than sitting! Maybe check your emails, watch the news, flick through the junk mail, talk on the phone and write your shopping list without sitting down.
  • Have fun with the housework by dancing as you vacuum, racing the children to hang up clothes from the washing or balancing on one foot to dust. You’ll get the kids keener to help this way, too!

And, of course, there is always the exercise you will get from carrying all the kids’ stuff when you go out, picking up their belongings around the house and when you forget the pram!

Tash Hughes is a Mum of two in Melbourne. She is also a writer and owner of Word Constructions. Tash is available to write articles and profiles for any business, as well as doing other business documentation projects. You can see her site and services at

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Wii Game Review: Vacation Isle

My family and I were asked to review Vacation Isle: Beach Party for the Wii. Knowing how much my kids love to play on their Wii, I could not say, “NO”. I am not a big gamer. I play every so often with my five-year-old and sometime my fourteen-year-old will get me to play Smash Bros or Mario Cart. My hubby on the other hand is almost as big of a gamer as my kids are. Well that was until Warner Bros. interactive Entertainment’s Vacation Isle: Beach Party showed up at my house. I cannot stop playing it. Okay, I can, but if I have some down time . . . you will find me in the office playing.

What I love most about this game is it truly is for everyone. My five-year-old can play all the different games just as easy as my fourteen-year-old can. Now you do not have to own a Wii balance board, but I suggest having one. We did not own one at first, but I am here to tell you that after playing a few of the game, which were fun even without the balance board, it only got better once we bought one. It also was a great excuse to use on my hubby.

You can play up to four players where you compete in eight unique vacation-style games, ranging from wakeboarding to surfing. Personally, my family really enjoys the waterskiing event the best. You can even learn to hula or fire dance, another favorite at my house. Players can customize their avatars to take on these get up and get moving sport challenges. Vacation Isle: Beach Part delivers fun engaging land or sea-based activities. If you do not want your kids to be a couch potato and you are looking for games that really do get your kids up and moving, what better way then with Vacation Isle: Beach Party.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Get Moving Family Fitness on the Wii

The Jumpstart franchise continues to bring exciting new ways for families and kids to learn and play together. They recently teamed up with fitness expert, Dancing with the Stars co-host and Champion, and mom Brooke Burke with a new Wii video game, Get Moving: Family Fitness!

Get Moving: Family Fitness is the perfect way for you and your children to stay active while having family fun. The exercises are more like gaming experiences and are designed even for the youngest members of the family. However, do not think you can sit down while playing these games. With over 15 different games, from shooting baskets to pinball, families will find themselves jumping, running, and even doing step aerobics, if you own a Wii balance board.

What I love most about Get Moving: Family Fitness is you do not need all the Wii fit gear; expect for the step aerobics. All the games can be played with just your Wii remote, keeping the cost of fitness low and the fun high. You also get to create your own avatar and personalize exercise routines. You can even track your calories and progress while moving your way through the eight wacky, fun, and immersive destinations like Egyptian pyramids or even shrink yourself down to the land of bugs.

In addition, do not think you will not feel your workout after an hour of playing these games, because I am here to tell you my arms and shoulders felt the burn. My five year old even started to break a sweat at the end of an hour and half dual with her big brother. As a parent, this is a great way for your kids to play video games and get the exercises they so desperately need. This is one game for the Wii that is sure to get families up and moving!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Ocarina: Easy, Economical Way to Introduce Kids to the Joy of Music

Summer is almost here and parents are looking for ways to keep their kids entertained, engaged and learning. Many families will enroll children in music lessons over the summer, but there are other economical ways to introduce kids to the joy of playing an instrument.

I teach violin at the St. Louis School of music and I know that not all families have the time, resources and or interest to devote to private instruction and buying or renting a violin, cello or piano.

For these families, I have found the ocarina is a great instrument to introduce kids to music. It is small enough to fit in a pocket, inexpensive and easy to play. Even young kids can pick out simple tunes quickly through online lessons or method books.

The ocarina is also small enough for kids to take it with them wherever they go, to the park, pool or on vacation. And it has a pleasant sound, even in the hands of a beginner.

Ocarinas belong to a class of instruments called vessel flutes that developed in various ancient cultures around the world. They are usually made of clay or plastic and played by blowing with various degrees of pressure into the ocarina and changing the pitch by fingering holes in the instrument. These range from four holes for the simplest models to 12 or more for more advanced versions.

In addition to teaching violin, I develop ocarinas and write lesson books that children can use to teach themselves to play. Here are a couple of summer enrichment packages offered by our company, STL Ocarina:

The Art of Ocarina for Young Children: This method book is specially designed for children and those of who are young at heart. Through ten step-by-step lessons, you can learn how to read music and how to play songs on your six-hole ocarina. No prior musical knowledge is required. A demonstration CD is included so you can play along with us! This book also includes: 10 Step-by-step lessons; colorful fingering chart; over 30 well-known songs; tips on how to practice each song; and a free 6-hole plastic ocarina. SRP: $30 Available at

The Art of Ocarina for Older Kids (ages 10+): This method book is designed to help older children and adults learn to play the ocarina. No prior musical knowledge is required. In addition to presenting various rhythms and the fingerings for the notes, our lessons provide instruction on how to read standard musical notation on the ocarina. The repertoire chapter includes 12 famous songs with detailed information on how to practice each song. A demonstration CD of all the songs in the book is provided to help you learn to play beautifully. This method book includes: 12 Step-by-Step lessons; how to play each note; tips on how to practice; breathing techniques; how to play various rhythms; how to play in different keys; scales and exercises for daily practice; over 50 well-known songs; and a demonstration CD. Also included in this custom package is a 12-hole Plastic Tenor Ocarina in C Major. SRP: $39. Available at

The fact that the ocarina is so easy to play is a great confidence booster and can inspire kids to try other instruments. And, students who are more into sports or other pursuits can still get the benefits of music education without the time commitment required by more demanding instruments.

Learning to play music well builds creativity, confidence, persistence problem-solving, and other skills that can help children in schoolwork and in life. Regardless of the instrument, every kid should get the opportunity to experience the joy and sense of accomplishment that comes from learning to play.

About the Author: Laura Yeh is a performer and music educator trained in the Suzuki method of instruction who teaches violin and ocarina at the St. Louis School of Music to children as young as 3 and adults. Laura and her husband Dennis have collaborated with ocarina makers around the world to produce new models of the ocarina, an easy-to-learn wind instrument with ancient roots. They have designed and produced many unique and innovative ocarinas sold by STL Ocarina (


*Stories for Children Publishing, LLC. (SFC) and its divisions do not receive any compensation for product reviews beyond a sample and/or limited access to a paid website. SFC donates all books sent for review to a charitable organization. SFC may do a contest or giveaway of samples we receive.