Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Richness of Tradition

Well friends, Christmas is just around the corner and what a special time of year it is. I love the carols, the storefront displays, the crisp feeling of excitement in the air and the smell of Christmas baking in our homes.

For our family, we have a number of traditions that we have either adopted or established ourselves. One of those traditions is our Tree Decorating Night. This is always done on the first Friday in December and it’s a night that we all look forward to. Friends and family know about this night in our home and they know that our door is always open.

On this night, we all take part. Philip is the lighting and music man, Sophia is head designer, Gabriel is creative consult and wee Ella is a very able assistant to all. My role is catering, dance co-ordinator and accident control (baubles breaking, decorations falling apart). We all hold very specific and important roles and we take our responsibilities very seriously.

As we work, we talk about the decorations, where they have come from and the stories that go with them (just another little tradition, we buy a Christmas decoration when we travel so that our tree truly has a global theme). We laugh, we eat whatever it is we have all agreed upon prior to the night, we talk and we simply enjoy coming together, relaxing, reflecting on the year and being in the moment as family. In addition to the laughter, there is always music, carols are ringing throughout the house and we push the chairs aside and we dance.

This year, I taught the kids how to polka. There is one album that is played in our home from December 1 through to January 2 and it happens to be one of my favourites. The kids don’t love this album (yet), but have come to know that it is part of our tradition. It’s the Kenny & Dolly Once Upon a Christmas album. I love it. I play it loud and I play it proud. So, if you find yourself anywhere near the Sohn home during the holidays, just know that Kenny and Dolly will be right here with us.

I believe that tradition is part of the fibre that keeps our families strong and rich. Tradition is part of the root system of a family and it’s a necessary ingredient. Friends, celebrate your traditions, don’t let them go by the wayside because you’re busy, tired or just don’t see the point. When we look at a tree or a beautiful flower, we don’t get the opportunity to see the root system below, rather we just marvel at the beauty in front of us. Family is like that. I would suggest that the strong families you see have traditions that they hold tight.

I know that as my children grow and as they eventually leave the nest, our Tree Decorating Night will be one that they will miss. I know that on the first Friday of December, if they are near, they will be at home, if they are far, I know our phone will ring and their hearts will be in our living room. I also know that as the years progress, it will be them requesting Kenny and Dolly. I know that this is only a night, however through this one night, we are giving them stability, strength for the journey and a confidence that is deep within their being.

What are your family traditions? I’ve shared just one of ours with you and there are many more. As I said, some we have adopted from our families and some we have established on our own. I encourage you to create in your home a strong root system through tradition. Create something that is unique to your family and know that you are building a great foundation. Whether you are a young family, further along the journey or a new, blended family, carve out tradition and watch the richness unfold.

For my Mum and Auntie Myrna know that where ever we are for Christmas, there is always red and green jello on the table – a great a tradition we have adopted and so have many of our cousins. Thanks for being such great women of tradition and passing so much on to all of us. You are greatly appreciated and loved.


Thursday, December 11, 2008

Go Take A Walk

I once asked a lean, mountain goat of a cyclist if there was a secret to staying in shape during the off-season. He crossed his skinny arms and told me the answer was to exercise moderately during the day and make sure you went to bed feeling hungry. I thought that was just great news. Personally, I’d prefer to stick toothpicks into my eyeballs than try to sleep counting sheep that I would actually rather be eating. So, going to bed hungry is not the answer. The answer is to wake up feeling hungry. There is a significant difference.

I remember that as a teenager, whilst growing up, I watched my dad eat mountains of rice for lunch. He would easily consume more than the rest of us put together. At the same time, my mum would eat a piece of toast with some broccoli and a bit of spinach, then wash it down with a weak mixture of some sort of diet milkshake. I thought it was odd that she ate less than our pet hamster and yet struggled to become lean, whilst papa bear over there ate enough to feed the five thousand and still looked pretty good.

Being bipedal, my dad, like most of us, walked on two legs. If he were still alive, he’d still be doing what the rest of us humans were meant to be doing in terms of locomotion. He walked a lot. A foot note (sorry about the pun) – he did a lot of walking until he retired and discovered bicycles, it all changed then and he didn’t walk enough, preferring instead to cycle, but that’s another story. Anyway, where was I? Walking. OK, so he walked a lot ... This did a few things. It saved on bus fares, wore out his shoes and increased his basic metabolic rate.

Your basic metabolic rate has nothing to do with tax cuts or bank bail-outs. Your basic metabolic rate (BMR) is the amount of energy your body requires for doing nothing. It is the amount of energy you need to breathe, stay awake and watch daytime television. Exercise has a knack of raising this basic metabolic rate. This is good.

If you exercise, and yes, walking is certainly a form of exercise, you require energy to do so. You are also likely to raise your BMR. At tick-over my dad’s BMR was higher than my mother’s, whose BMR was closer to that of algae. To make matters worse, she had been consuming so few calories for months on end that her body was geared up for a low calorie diet. It had, in fact, become very efficient at holding onto and storing any fat that came along.

When my mum could not resist a bit of trifle, or the odd chocolate bar, her calorie-deprived body would think: “Oh wonderful, I’m hanging on to that, tomorrow we’ll be back to dry toast and rabbit food.” At the same time, it turned down her metabolic tick-over to the lowest possible setting in an effort to conserve energy. Where dad’s metaphorical metabolic fire was stoked and roaring away, mum’s was on super-economy mode. This, of course, is bad news for weight loss.
My advice to all of you out there who are considering cutting down on heaps and heaps of calories in an effort to lose weight – don’t be over-zealous. Try first to increase your daily amount of light exercise. Take the dog for a walk or, better yet, encourage someone else to come with you. Take the kids along, walk to the post office instead of driving. Think about ways you can all walk instead of driving and you’ll be amazed at just how many short car journeys you will cut out.

This bit is important. Walking. Most people walk far too slowly to receive any benefit at all. You need to walk quickly. Here’s a tip. Try this. Go outside and walk and while walking, count your footsteps per minute. Try increasing the pace to the point where it feels uncomfortable. Where it begins to feel odd, ridiculous even. Just before that point is your ultimate cruising pace. Cross that line and you’ll feel like you need to jog. Scale back the speed 10 or 15 steps per minute. That is the pace you need to maintain on a fitness walk. Got it? If you’re still not sure, It’s the speed that you would walk at if you were really late for a movie. You’re not about to run, but you can’t saunter. If you saw someone else walking this fast, you’d notice it as they came past. Not all jiggle-hipped or anything, just a “hmm, that person is in a big hurry” kind of way.

Enough talking about walking – just get out there and do it! And go easy on the pecan pie. Let me know how you get on. And if anyone finds a nice recipe that involves broccoli, spinach and toast, don’t send it to me – my mum has tried it!

Monday, December 08, 2008

The Reality of Christmas

Well friends, the festive season is in front of us. The baking has started, the parties are underway, well-wrapped gifts are finding their way under the tree and that sense of wonder and excitement is in the air.

Christmas is that one time of the year when somehow we all find it within ourselves to lay aside external pressures and simply relax and enjoy. This year is no exception. With the economy in turmoil and (in Canada) our political situation unstable, the celebration of the birth of one child is able to still our hearts, cause us to reflect and show gratitude and love in a way that we, for whatever reason, reserve for this one season every year.

I was thinking about Christmas and the family side of the holidays. Sadly, family can be the cause of some of the strongest pain we experience. Unresolved issues, unforgiveness and hurt can take the place of joy, happiness and great memories. It has been said that when you have been hurt or wronged by someone close, walking through the pain can feel almost impossible. This, coupled with the cheery, celebratory side of Christmas, can turn what should be a happy time into something dreaded.

Bearing this in mind, together with my ever-hopeful disposition, I have a suggestion. This Christmas, why not make the decision to give a gift that will last a lifetime. That is the gift of choosing the relationship rather than the offence, the pain or the hurt. The relationship is much more valuable than holding onto and keeping track of the other stuff. Give the gift of forgiveness. It might be the most costly gift but it is one that will last a lifetime and it is a gift that only you can give.

Choose the relationship over the pain and the offence. I say this because I have chosen this year to make right what was once wrong in one of my family relationships. I took a risk and a step in the right direction; I humbled myself and extended my hand. A decision and a choice I am not regretting. I chose relationship over the past and stuff that had happened. You too can do it and Christmas opens the door for all of us to extend more than a well-wrapped gift. An extended hand of forgiveness and kindness – showing that the past is the past – is a gift worth giving and one that won’t empty your wallet.

As you make your Christmas preparations, consider your relationships and do whatever it takes to make right that which needs attention. Choose the relationship! Remember to drink some eggnog, enjoy your Christmas goodies, laugh lots and celebrate Christmas in the fullness of family, friends and faith this year.


Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Thoughts on travel … and sponsoring children

I have just returned from a week in Vietnam, and have come back with a new sponsor child and a renewed appreciation for fresh milk, the English language and clean water.

The other thing that has stayed with me is the fact that no matter where we live or who we are, we all value the same things. As clichéd as it has become, we all hold dear dreams for our children’s future and the intimacy of family.

I often think that if everyone found the opportunity to travel, not just overseas but even to a different suburb or a particular multicultural part of our own cities, then our tolerance of each other would be greater. We would appreciate diversity instead of fearing and stereotyping each other.

Underneath it all, we are the same.

My travels have also shown me how people so often thrive in adversity, whilst those of us in comfortable societies often complain about our abundance.

It was so lovely to observe people in villages just living their day together, loving each other’s children and preparing meals. One village we visited had recently been hooked up to a clean water supply and, as a result, water-borne diseases had been eradicated. Such simple lives, but so much to be grateful for.

I saw much heartache and need and wondered why it didn’t really touch me, until I met Vinh, my new sponsor child, and his mother. I am such an advocate for child sponsorship! After our meeting, I watched them ride off on their bike before I dissolved into a blubbering mess! I can’t make a huge dent in the enormity of poverty, but I can dramatically change the life of a few children around the globe.

I was so moved that I brought home photos and details of five other children who need sponsorship in Vinh’s village. Just AUD$38 a month can make such a significant difference, and I was humbled by the opportunity to be a part of that.

Anyone interested in finding out more about these other five kids, please let me know.

Meanwhile, if you can’t go to another country, visit Chinatown if your city has one, or even a restaurant that serves food you don’t normally eat. Placing value our differences may just change the world.

Lv Jane

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

What’s in a manual?

For those of you who have husbands who travel with work, you will appreciate this story. For those of you who don’t, but have found yourself figuring out something on your own, you too will enjoy.

In the early years of our marriage and before children, both my husband and I travelled extensively with our jobs. Now 15 plus years into our marriage and three children later, it is he who has continued the frequent work travel and I am now able to pick and choose which trips I will take. Most of mine now surround thefamilyroom and the work we do.

When my husband is away, I like to refer to myself as a ‘low-maintenance wife’. Simply meaning, I’m able to handle the home front (mostly with ease) and I can manage the curve balls that are thrown my way. The children and I slip into our routine, we have lots of fun and we release Daddy to do what he needs to do whilst away. In saying that, there have been a few teary calls over the years, children missing him at bedtime, a toilet that has overflowed or a math equation that needs explaining – and mum has just had it!! Dad to the rescue and all is well. Secretly, I know he loves knowing that he is needed.

Recently, we were mid-way through a 10-day trip for Philip (my husband). One thing I’m not used to handling is the automotive department in our home. I leave that to Philip and he leaves it to the experts … probably a good idea. This particular week, however, my window washer light came on, indicating it needed a top-up. I ignored it for two days and finally decided that this was just one more task I could handle. After much thought, I decided it was time to get the job done. I did what any girl with car trouble knows to do ... I phoned my dad. I asked what I needed to buy and where I would find the location point for the fluid. Of course, I knew it was under the hood but where? My dad explained and I made like I knew exactly what to do.

Another day passed and the washer fluid I’d bought was still swinging around in the back of the car at every turn, serving as a constant reminder of the task at hand. But I still wasn’t quite sure where I needed to put the fluid. I hadn’t even opened the hood, being unable to locate the hood release anywhere in the car (who would have thought it would be hidden on the side wall beside the foot brake)!

Later in the day, on the phone to my cousin, Angela, I shared my washer fluid woes, asking if she knew where it went. “Maybe check the manual, it should tell you,” she replied. At this point, I began to laugh hysterically. I was laughing at the fact that we truly are those girls (and I know there are men out there too with the same problem) who just plug things in, set them up by ‘eye’ and our own understanding, whilst ignoring the manual that is usually sitting right beside us.

So, after a read of the index and a few flips through the pages, I successfully filled my car with windscreen wiper fluid. No more warning lights flashing insistently and no more bottles sliding around on the back seat. Rather, you can see me coming a mile off because I have the cleanest windscreen on the road. It’ll probably need filling again soon, I’m using so much of it. My reward.

So, what’s in a manual? Everything you need to know!!! I FINALLY discovered that.


Monday, November 24, 2008

The Gift of Time

You've read articles I've written discussing time and the age old question of quality vs quantity. I remain convinced that it isn't one or the other, rather it's a combination of both that gives richness to relationships.

The other night, my eldest daughter was at dance, my youngest daughter, Ella, had fallen asleep in the car, which left my seven-year-old son, Gabriel, and I with 1.5 hours on our hands. We decided to let Ella continue sleeping in her stroller while we enjoyed an early dinner together, just the two of us. A good decision indeed.

The occasional interruption from the waitress was my only distraction. Gabriel had my attention 100%. I was fascinated to learn about what was truly was going on in his little life. He shared about the fun stuff, the not so fun, the questions, a few confessions of a little harmless mischief and his overall excitement about life. I was gobbling up every moment and loved listening to him. My husband and I make it a priority to spend one-on-one time with all three of our children. This gives us the opportunity to really hear them and to let them know they are being heard. I think it's important to give each child regular, undivided attention. It's the only way to get a full understanding of what's really going on in their lives.

Our conversation moved from school to friends, to sport, to family and then bounced to the bigger picture of life. Remember, my son is only seven years old. He's well travelled for a young man, he enjoys reading and he loves to explore and has an adventurous spirit. As he was sharing his life hopes and curiosities, he asked me: "Mummy, what do you think I was born to be?"

His question caught me by surprise. I looked at him and wondered what must be going on in that mind of his. I marvelled at his question. He wasn't wondering what he would do, rather he was wondering who he would BE in this world. Before I could answer, he continued by saying: "I wonder what God wants of me." You can imagine the fullness in my heart as I listened intently to my child asking questions beyond his years.

I responded by saying: "Gabriel, if I know one thing, I know that there is a plan and purpose for your life. I know that you were born to do something amazing on this planet my son. Listen with your heart, be moved by compassion, love deeply and stay true to the things you know are right."

Did my answer suffice? I'm not sure. Was it a bigger answer than expected? Probably, but the door for further conversation has now been opened. I didn't miss the moment. We were enjoying both quality and quantity time together, allowing us to connect on a deeper level than the day-to-day rush we all experience.

We continued chatting and devouring the yummy food we had ordered. We began to talk about places we would like to go and things we would like do. I asked him where he would go if he could choose to go anywhere. I was expecting Disney World or somewhere in search of anything Star Wars related. Instead his response: "Heaven. I'd like to introduce myself to God. I know he already knows me, but I'd just like to let him know I'm here and happy to be here. It's just somewhere I'd like to visit and then come back. I just want to see."

My breath was once again taken away and, again, before I could respond, he said: "I'd also like to go to Holland, my friend told me about a cheese festival they have and it sounds really neat." I laughed and said: "Both sound great." The mind of a seven-year-old boy can never be underestimated.

Our children are thinking about things beyond their years. They are exposed to things earlier than we ever were and, more than ever, they need our guidance. They need our listening ear and they are desperate for understanding. Know that if we don't listen, they will find someone else who will. I don't know about you, but I'm not prepared to take that risk and allow someone else access into my children's lives. This job is solely for my husband and I and we choose to make quality and quantity time available to them.

Enjoy your children whatever age they are, and know that they need you even when (at times) they push you away.


Thursday, November 20, 2008

Grow your dreams

After reading Jane’s blog about holding on to our dreams, I’ve found myself encouraged and challenged by where I currently am in life.

As a young adult, I look at my life and can't help but feel content. I'm married to an incredible man; not only is he my best friend, but he has been so almost since the day we met in grade 10 (I don't have any problem (YET) saying that that was more than seven years ago).

I spent my first two years out of high school studying at a college in Australia, where I made incredible friendships (including those with The Family Room team!), and really "found myself".

For the past two years, I've been working at my dream job, and often get referred to as a "successful college student", as I am, in fact, working in the field for which I was trained.

I’ve also been hosting a Saturday morning children’s show on a TV station in Canada, where I have the opportunity to speak into the lives of thousands of kids each week.

My husband has a great job which he loves and where he continually sees favour, as he makes advances that are very rare for someone of his age. We're in the final stages of having our first home built and eagerly await our move in date (within the next few weeks!).

If you had told me five years ago that this would be my life after graduating from high school, I would probably have laughed at you. Although I'm essentially living my dream, I never thought it would happen so soon after college. Yet here I am ... but where to now?

The challenge then comes to dream bigger!

Maybe it’s time to stop thinking about what I WANT and rather about what I CAN DO. Thankfully, there's more to my life than what I've achieved to this point. I know there's more in me to give. I know there's untapped potential in my life. And I know that it’s not all about me, it’s about making an impact on the world around me.

And so my dreams have and are expanding ... are yours?

Happy dreaming!
Love CJ

Monday, November 17, 2008

Hold on to your dreams

I grew up in an environment where I was encouraged to dream big and my assumption was that, of course, I would be part of changing the world.

I held on to these dreams through my 20s and into my 30s, and while I have lived and seen things beyond my expectations, there has always been a frustration in the back of my mind and heart that it didn’t quite work out the way I thought it would.

I married young and had my beautiful babies. I kept on going, but the flame died out a little as I couldn’t really imagine doing some of the things I had wanted to do as a young (er) woman, in the midst of nappies and playgroup and paying the bills.

To back up a bit, a great marriage and my children are my first dream. They are the reason I continue to dream about changing the world. However, I think we can, as women, lose sight of the things we once cared about, because we tend to give ourselves so fully to our families. While this is a wonderful thing, I think the world is a better place when we as wives and mums embrace the stretch and are fulfilled in the things we dreamt we would do as children.

I felt very passionately about issues of justice and oppression and came up with lots of ideas. I studied (I’m still studying!) and wrote things down, but it’s only recently, as I approach my 40s, that I feel the pieces of the puzzle are starting to come together.

Maybe my confidence needed to grow, maybe I needed to learn how to live a bigger life, maybe all the planets needed to align!! I don’t know, the seasons of life can take us by surprise sometimes.

So the next 12 months seem set for me to put my hand to some really exciting projects that I’ve wanted to see happen for a long time. The right people, the places, the finance and the timing all seem to be coming together and I wake up each morning with a buzz that helps me navigate the daily stuff that, without a dream, can feel like Groundhog Day!

I say all this by way of encouragement. If you find yourself losing sight of yourself and your dreams in the midst of what may seem like an endless treadmill of same-ness – hold on!
Even in a changing world and tough economic times, and maybe because of this, dreams can flourish.

Hang on to the dreams you had as a young person … write them down, share them with trusted friends and then wrap them up in tissue paper and wait for the right time for them to be opened.

A gift to the world …

Lv Jane

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Economy and Our Future

With the economy in turmoil and the world changing around us, I have found myself lost in my thoughts, wondering what all of this means for us individually. I've listened intently to the bail-out packages. I've made all of this my business more than ever before.

As I consider all that is happening, I find myself extremely positive and hopeful. I'm choosing to look at this economic situation as an opportunity, rather than bowing to the pressure of a ‘crisis'. In saying that, I'm not naive enough to think that this will all blow over, I realise there are hard decisions that need to be made, cuts that have to happen and, for some people, horrific struggles and obstacles to overcome.

Where do I see the opportunity? Well friends, perhaps this is a time for us to live better. How do we do that when everything around us says we're all worse off than a few months ago? Perhaps we need to get back to our roots and draw on the strength of the only solid foundation we have right now. Each other. I'm suggesting that maybe, just maybe, we need to be less dependent on our material resources and more dependent on, or shall I say interested in, each other. I think it's time we retrain ourselves and learn how to find joy and pleasure in other ways. We need to understand that our finances are not our only source of security.

It's time to start making heavier deposits into our families and our communities, then watch as our relationships flourish. We need to stand arm in arm supporting one another through these times. I'm always inspired by stories of pioneers and how together they have birthed nations. I love the thought of ‘Thanks Giving’, where families and communities come together to celebrate, whether the harvest has been good or not. It promotes an understanding of togetherness, where strength can be drawn on when needed.

So, what does your economic future look like? As for me and my house, ours is bright because our security lies in more than a bank account.


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

There's a world outside your window ...

As Christmas once again draws near, in 2008 it is approaching with a bit of a different feel. We find ourselves surrounded by talk of the world changing before our eyes and it is easy to buy into the fear, wondering where we will find ourselves tomorrow and the day after, next month or next year. How will it all work out? Will we be ok? Can we even afford to buy our kids presents this year?

These sorts of questions can take your breath away and as an exercise in removing the focus from me and mine, I have been considering the situation of those who are already disadvantaged, hungry, sick, poor, needy, alone – and for whom this current crisis only increases their plight.

Every Christmas, we support different international organisations in their work specifically so our kids can understand that Christmas morning with a fabulous toy and plenty to eat is not the way most of the world lives.

Even with economic uncertainty and a changing world, we are so fortunate and have so much – more than we need – so much to be grateful for.

Each year, we buy cards from Tear Fund ( ) which we attach to small gifts for the kids in our extended family. These cards represent a gift that has been given in the child’s name, to someone starting school in India who needs supplies or to a family in Ghana who need a goat to generate income.

These gifts help the needy, but also increase awareness for the person receiving the card about the world outside their comfortable four walls.

It’s a great way to remember that candy canes, laughter and family around the table at Christmas lunch are truly things to be thankful for.

I don’t want Christmas to be about stress, frantic gift giving and shopping malls on overdrive (my girlfriend calls them the vortex!), but about the spirit of the season that is the gift of peace and hope in an uncertain world.

Enjoy your Christmas this year … take a deep breath, hug your kids, laugh with them at the Christmas school play and go buy a box of mangoes, or roasted chestnuts as the case may be, and share them around …

Lv Jane

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Common Sense

Common sense – the funny thing about it is that it really isn’t that common at all. Sadly, I think it’s becoming less and less common as time ticks on.

As most of my regular readers know, I am frustrated, no actually I’m outraged, at the over-sexualisation of our children. I think the media has a lot to answer for (of course) but ultimately so do parents.

I read an article today titled Teen Pregnancies Tied to Tastes for Sexy TV Shows. This article referred to a study conducted on 15-year-old children. I won’t go into all the details, but to recap, it basically said that kids watching shows with sexual content will experiment and the pregnancy stats confirmed their research.

The report also said that only 19% of teens have open conversations about sex with a trusted adult. This, coupled with many schools not offering sex education, only means that the media is left to serve as a sex educator. Television shows like Sex in the City, Friends and That 70’s Show have become the voice of reason and understanding.

With no-one to talk to, and television, internet and video games providing guidance instead, teens and in some cases children develop their belief systems based on ill information. The study I refer to states that the end result is obvious. The television, internet and video games indicate that everything is seemingly ‘cool’ and they fail to discuss the downside such as STDs or teen pregnancies. Early sexualisation begins. Children enter a world of which they have no true understanding. I’ve always subscribed to the ‘prevention and education rather than cure’ thinking. What about you?

Back to common sense. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that our teens and children will try and experiment with what they see, and that experimentation coupled with lack of or limited knowledge is never a good combination. We were all young once and some things haven’t changed, especially when it comes to curiosity and pushing boundaries. However, the boundary line is further away than ever.

I encourage you to allow common sense to find its way back into your life. Be very aware of what your teens and children are watching, listening to and who their friends are. Spend time in conversation with your teenager, your tween or your grandchildren and it won’t be long before you learn that innocence sadly, in some cases, has been stolen or lost due to early exposure to certain life experiences. Age appropriateness is something we all need to understand.

Friends, discover common sense and put it into practice. Monitor what your kids are watching, doing online and on their cell phones (if they have one) or what video games they are playing. Stay one step ahead and let common sense find its place in your home.


Thursday, November 06, 2008

Welcome Eduardo Dos Remedios to thefamilyroom!

Well everyone, we have an extraordinary treat for you. We have a new contributor to thefamilyroom team and he is someone I know you will enjoy. Eduardo (or Ted as we know him) is a father of two beautiful girls, he is married to Rosie (a personal trainer), currently resides in Spain and, simply put, is just an all around great guy.

Eduardo grew up in Hong Kong and spent much of his early years exploring every nook and cranny the city had to offer. I first met Eduardo through my husband 17 years ago and during that time, I have always been fascinated by his love for cycling, fitness and overall health and wellness.

Most recently, I have been following his journey through his own fitness blog and I am constantly challenged and inspired by his active lifestyle. In addition, I enjoy his writing style and at times I have felt that I am racing through the streets of Barcelona with him, or climbing some unknown hill to capture an incredible sunset.

Through his gift with both written and spoken word, Eduardo takes you there and encourages you to live life healthy and well. He is a philosopher, poet and real explorer of life.

Eduardo has graciously offered to write a regular column for us based on family fitness. Both Eduardo and Rosie understand the need for fitness and are passionate about depositing that love and understanding within their two daughters.

We are going to travel with them as they continue to live strong, confident, healthy lives and, as always, it is thefamilyroom hope that you will be inspired to get off the couch, move a little more and become a shining example in your home of fitness, health and well-being.

Join us on this incredible journey and, trust me, this is not something you will ever regret.

Susan & friends.

Culture Shock

Some years ago, I decided it was time I visited the United States of America. I had travelled extensively throughout Asia and had noticed how much the youth there were influenced by the American way of life. Their exposure to it was limited to that which was portrayed on television.

Given that some of the poorer countries I visited could not afford to pay for the rights to expensive current programmes, the youth were being influenced by old, out-of-date re-runs of shows such as Dallas, Hawaii Five-O, Fantasy Island and Miami Vice.

This of course had a curious impact upon their dress sense. I was thinking about this one day whilst I was stuck for something to do in Hong Kong. I was planning to take six months off work and travel. I thought about a cycling trip to the good old US of A.

Being somewhat ambitious and perhaps slightly mad, I took it upon myself to start my trip in the land of milk and honey and end it in Costa Rica. I would be cycling through Central America, taking in Baja, then nipping across the Sea of Cortes to mainland Mexico, before stitching together a route that avoided bandits in Guatemala and Honduras, whilst still taking on board the Aztec and Mayan ruins. Sort of an Indiana Jones by bike, but without the arrows, booby-traps and guns.

My trip though Central America will be the subject of another blog. I shall do my best to avoid regaling you with tales of my escape from a mad man in Costa Rica, or elaborating upon a chance encounter with a naturalist-loving sailor in Baja who traded lobsters for pornographic movies. No, this post is about the time I went to America. It is about my first impression of the country and why it is relevant to this, my first entry in the Family Fitness Blog.

Back to the point. I had decided to fly to Los Angeles, wander around there for a while, then travel to San Francisco on a Greyhound Bus. Why? Well because a young Thai guy had told me that when he thought of America, an image of a Greyhound bus sprang to mind. That and the city of Los Angeles, closely followed by San Francisco. Oh and New York, but that was on the other side of the country and I wasn’t going there.

The other thing my Thai friend thought of when I mentioned America was McDonalds. So, I left my bags in an apartment in Los Angeles, along with my bike, and took a walk to McDonalds.

I quickly noticed that walking to McDonalds was not the done thing in LA. In fact, walking in general was practically alien. I had no car, so I walked to the drive-in, took a seat and tried to figure out what to eat.

Walking up to the counter, I stood behind a giant of a man, wearing a large cowboy hat. His jeans were held up by a belt with a buckle the size of Bangkok and he wore impressive boots with silver tips. He lacked spurs and, having checked, I can confirm that he had not arrived by horse.

He proceeded to order a family meal. Quite a large family meal, in fact. I looked around but could not see any smaller cowboys or cowgirls in the seating area. He did not appear to be travelling with a large extended family of any sort. I then realised the food was for him. He was alone.

I discreetly made a note of the contents of his trays:

  • Two large quarter pounders with cheese

  • A packet of chicken nuggets

  • A packet of onion rings

  • Three hash browns

  • A large milk shake

  • A large (and I mean ridiculously large) cup of Coke

  • Two large packs of fries

  • A chocolate ice cream

This guy was to put it bluntly, obese. He was not alone. Everyone in that particular McDonalds was what I would consider to be obese. It was shocking. I was by comparison, waif-like in appearance.

I thought back to the young guy in Thailand and hoped that he would not try to emulate the American fast food diet. He could wear white jackets with shoulder pads over the top of black T-shirts if he wanted, but I was sure this food would kill him.

Before I set off for my trip, I watched my Thai friend have lunch. He was eating rice with steamed vegetables, some sort of white fish covered in garlic and spices and was washing it all down with a glass of fresh orange juice. He then had a snack of papaya and mango served on a stick, covered in chilli sauce. After that, he was off to play football before his martial arts lesson. He was a fit and healthy chap who could quote lines from Fantasy Island until the cows came home.

Roll the clock on 20 years and there is much talk about a childhood obesity problem prevalent in North America. It should be noted that this is a problem shared by other developed countries. There are news headlines in the UK voicing concern over the millions of pounds being spent by the National Health Service in tackling obesity-related issues, such as diabetes.

For the past couple of weeks, I have researched the issue of obesity and, in particular, the cause of obesity in children.

There are numerous camps. Those that say obesity is to be blamed upon genetics, those that say it is down to a lack of exercise and those that say it is the result of a poor diet.

To be honest, all of these issues contribute to why a person is obese. However, I should state that the general view is that genetics alone is not an excuse or reason to be obese. Whilst it is true that genetics may mean some people are more disposed to becoming obese, it does not in itself cause obesity.

It would appear that obesity starts with diet. It is closely followed by exercise, or rather a lack thereof. These are both areas that we, as parents, influence in our children’s lives.

I have no doubt that if I fed my daughters a diet of McDonalds, or indeed any other fast food, kept them tied to the couch, drove them to school and back and restricted their exercise to that carried out in video games, they too would be overweight.

Back to Los Angeles. I was walking home from McDonalds when I saw a signboard for a new gym that had opened. It was called something original like ‘Frank’s Gym’. Beneath it was a tag line that said: “Putting the ‘F’ back into Fitness”.

This blog will be about Family Fitness and putting a bit of Fun into it, whilst hopefully doing something to combat the problem of childhood obesity.

It is about motivating parents to take an active part in improving their diets and those of their children. It will be light-hearted in its approach. It will not be full of scary diets that force you to eat raw food which tastes like wallpaper, and is only available in small stores run by people who knit yoghurt, hug trees and wear army fatigues to bed.

It will not insist that you live life like a monk sitting high up on a pole, alone in the wilderness. It is about empowering you to share my thoughts with your friends, to discuss it with other parents, to experiment with healthy meal ideas. Have you found a way to get your child to eat broccoli? Great, comment it in the blog. Let others know. Just please go easy on the hash browns. If you must eat them, please at least walk there and leave the car at home.

Oh and by the way, my young Thai friend went on to become the national judo champion. I do not believe he has ever succumbed to the big 'M'.

Eduardo A dos Remedios

Monday, November 03, 2008

To be or not to be?

During a recent evening with friends, an individual shared with us about a relationship he has with someone from the church he attends. He said it was unlike any of his other relationships because neither of them intends to get anything out of their friendship. Someone else in the group stated that he, on the other hand, doesn’t have any relationships like this, rather all of his relationships seem to have an agenda, whether it’s his or the other person’s.

As this conversation continued, it really got me thinking. How many friendships do we create for the sake of simply “being” and how often do we look at those relationships as a waste of time?

I’ve been told that there are three kinds of relationships we build:
1. Where we expect someone to invest into us (we get something out of it)
2. Where someone expects us to invest into them (they get something out it)
3. Where neither of us gets “anything” out of it necessarily, we just get to “be”

I truly believe that we as humans have been created with a need to be in relationship. Unfortunately, life experiences will often determine how we look at those relationships, and which ones we choose to spend the most time working on, when in fact they’re all so important in our development.

As we often state at The Family Room, it’s time to bring things back to the kitchen table, to place value on all relationships. Maybe it’s time to take a closer look at your relationships and determine which ones maybe need a bit more work than others. Are you missing out on “being”? Perhaps you spend all of your time investing into others, rather than being invested into yourself. Or maybe you’re quite selfish in your relationships and only think about what you can receive, rather than what you can give.

My challenge to you would be to think about your relationships and try to balance all three forms of friendships in your life. This could potentially mean dropping a few, and making some new ones.

Happy relationship building …

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Costumes, Make-up and Candy

What says Halloween more than costumes, bad make-up and ridiculous amounts of candy? Being back in Canada, I am well aware of Halloween being just around the corner. In Australia it isn't really celebrated or, for that matter, understood. I'm not sure many of us here in Canada actually understand Halloween either, but each year we buy candy in preparation for the laughing children who will present themselves at our front doors. Some decorate their lawns with haunting tales and more RIP tombstones than one can count or shake a stick at. Others simply turn their lights off and pretend they aren't home.

I have always enjoyed costumes and love a good costume party. As a mother, I find myself very involved in the planning of my children's costumes; we spend time thinking, laughing and then pulling all the ideas back to what we think, or hope, we can achieve. We usually try to make our costumes, however there are times (like this year) when the $12 pumpkin suit can't be passed over.

This year, I find myself somewhat troubled by the costumes I see on sale. For my daughter's age (she is 10) many of the costumes have a hint, and at times a full blown message, of sexuality. Let me name a few of the costumes I have discovered this year: the naughty nurse, lovely Lolita and maid purr-fect and luckily (not) they all go from size 5-14. To me, and I hope I'm not alone here, this is wrong. Why do we need to encourage young girls to look and act older than their years? Whatever happened to dressing up like a cowgirl or even a hippy?

Call me old-fashioned and out-of-date if you want, but for my house we will be sporting costumes that are age appropriate. My youngest is going as the pumpkin, my son who is 7 is Batman and my daughter is yet to be decided but it's looking like the mad scientist may win. I know we will run into many pop stars, wrestlers, ghouls and goblins and, if what I've seen in the shops is any indication, sadly there will be a number of inappropriately dressed 10-year-olds and younger ones out there.

Today, I encourage you to not follow the crowd, use common sense and let your kids be kids for as long as they possibly can.


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

What Scares You?

Over the years, I have read a statement that is usually bundled with the kind of encouraging and challenging words often stumbled upon in a Hallmark card or the like. The phrase I'm referring to is Do Something Each Day That Scares You.

Upon first discovering this collection of words, I wasn't sure what it meant. I'm not a big believer in allowing fear to take up residence in my life. I eventually read through the words, between the lines, and I realised this was not referring to a scary movie or standing alone in a forest after dark, instead it was a challenge directed at the core of our being. I have since come to love this statement. It has truly stirred something deep within and has caused me to challenge myself to push my personal limits and boundaries.

Why have I embraced this statement and chosen to do something each day that scares me? I do so simply because I want my life to continue growing and strengthening and I understand that confidence is built through going beyond what is comfortable. I don't want to become complacent and 'ok' with the status quo, rather I want to be pushed, shoved at times (if necessary) and moved to increase, whether that be in my mental capacity, physical ability or spiritual strength. Growth and determination, I believe, are two essential ingredients that we all need to live strong, confident lives.

So today, my challenge to you, and as always to myself, is to do something that scares each one of us. What scares you will look very different from what scares me and that's okay. I suggest you begin small and allow your confidence to build. Starting small may look like taking a course you've thought about, tackling your finances, speaking to someone who may intimidate you, voicing your opinion and involving yourself in decision-making or even applying for a new job. Only you will know what truly scares you and what it is that will challenge you to step beyond your usual limits. Subsequently, only you will know when you have achieved something and seen confidence build. Understand that this could be a total retraining of your current thinking, so give yourself some time and space to see true change and confidence emerge.

What am I doing today that scares me? I'm making phone calls in search of a publisher for a children's book I've written. I'm scared and I'm excited about the possibility and the ‘what-ifs’ in life. Today is a great day.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Budgeting – the kitchen sink method

There's a wonderful phrase my dad liked to use to describe a task approached in a down-to-earth, back-to-basics kind of way. He would call it the kitchen sink method.

It meant rolling up your sleeves and getting the job completed in an unpretentious manner, laying a solid, no-frills foundation.

I'd like to borrow his phrase today to describe my top ten tips for basic budgeting. There's no high finance here, just no-nonsense advice for getting money matters under control. Most have been learned the hard way, through belt-tightening tough times.

You might have heard them all before, but if there's anyone reading who's wondering just how to begin untangling frightening finances in these uncertain times, then this one is for you!

Hope it helps

1. Create a detailed budget which includes all your daily expenses, bills and regular payments. It should be a living document
which you constantly review and update. Be determined to stick to it, but if you do overspend in one area, revise the budget and cut
back somewhere else.

2. Once your budget is in place, work out what you can save each
week or month then move that into a separate savings account as soon as possible. Don't wait to save what's left over at the end of the
month, plan to save from the beginning.

3. Only buy what you can afford. Credit cards get very scary very
quickly and the debts they run up carry a crazy rate of interest.
If yours are heading out of control - cut them up! If you do choose to
use, be sure to pay off the balance at the end of every month,
before the interest kicks in. Be old-fashioned and save up for a big
purchase, only buy it when you have the cash.

4. Avoid temptation and don't go shopping. I often fail to realise just how much I need a particular item until I go into the store and see it. Then I wonder how I ever lived without it! When you shop, take a list and stick to it.

5. Negotiate with your bank. It's surprising how willing they are to
waive or reduce fees and charges when asked. I've even heard of people successfully asking for an interest rate drop on their mortgage.

6. If you spend less than you budgeted and have cash left over - save
it. Don't celebrate with a splurge and don't leave what you've saved
sitting in your purse. Move it to your savings account or stick it in The Pickle Jar (see our Father's Day Family Room article). Spare cash in your handbag has a funny habit of disappearing.

7. Take your lunch to work. I loathe those statistics that state if you
save $8 on lunch every day, you save billions every month and squillions every year, but I grudgingly admit they have a point. However, put what you save in The Pickle Jar or it will just slip through your fingers.

8. Shop around for bargains to make your money go further. Think supermarket specials, home brand for generic goods and discounts for cash or bulk buys. I wouldn't suggest bartering with the Woollies check-out chick, but many retail stores are willing to negotiate.

9. Wait for the sales. Save those big ticket items for the twice-yearly clear-outs then apply all of the above bargaining techniques to drive the price down even further.

10. Consider buying second-hand or even selling your pre-loved goods on eBay. You'd be surprised how much someone out there wants to buy that full-length nylon nightie Auntie Flo bought for you last Christmas.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Where Do Great Stories Come From?

Have you ever found yourself totally captivated by a good story? Do you have people in your life who just seem to ooze great story after great story? Their lives seem to be so full of excitement, hilarity and the unexpected. At times you find yourself quietly living vicariously through their journeys, near misses and outrageous encounters, when even the somewhat ordinary becomes the extraordinary.

If you have answered yes to any portion of the above, I have a secret I want to share with you. This secret will take you from being the listener and the one who is possibly living through the stories of others, to becoming the one exploding with excitement – others hanging off your every word.

Before I share this secret, you must first understand something very important. Once this secret has been revealed to you, it is your responsibility to allow your stories to ignite something within others. Simply put, you need to pay it forward and share the excitement and wonder of your stories with those in your world. You need to help others step beyond their comfort zones.

What is this secret I’m talking about?

Here it is … every great story has been lived by the storyteller. Meaning the storyteller has stepped beyond his or her comfort zone and has lived something that is worth telling about. The clincher is, most times living through the story isn't easy but at the end, after time has passed, these life experiences become the great stories that we all hang on to, that we share and pass on through the generations. These stories become the ones that we never tire of hearing. These stories are usually filled with excitement, anticipation, disappointment, joy, at times pain, the hilarious moments and the lessons that were learned along the way.

So friends, if you are, in fact, one who feels like your life stories are limited then I encourage you to step beyond what feels safe, and truly engage life and what it throws your way. Dare to be different and dare to go where you’ve only dreamed of going. Become one who shares the story, because a great life story always gives another the courage to live a louder, stronger, more explosive life.

So, where do great stories come from? They come from lives well spent. In these turbulent times can I (again) suggest that we spend our lives well and allow our existence to make a difference in this world? Let the stories of your life unfold and know that the generations will thank you for stepping beyond your comfort zone.

I can’t wait to hear the stories that will be shared in the days, weeks, months and years to come.


Thursday, October 02, 2008

Tightening Our Belts

This morning, as with most mornings, I woke before everyone in my house. After going for my early walk I sat enjoying my morning coffee in the quiet ~ a favourite part of my day.

Today my thoughts were consumed with the current economic situation in the US. Not only is this crisis affecting the US but also other world markets causing stress and pressure for families and individuals on all sides. Just yesterday I spoke with a girlfriend in Australia and she shared a story with me about a family (we know) who have recently lost their home due to a $600 default on their payments. Thankfully this couple have the determination and strength to rebuild and are already moving in that direction. The effects of this crisis are hitting far too close to home.

Experts are using words like recession, crisis and depression to explain this situation. Some of you reading this understand the meaning of depression. You felt it as your parents lived and negotiated their way through it during the 30’s and 40’s. From what I can understand through conversations and the reading I’ve done most would say that those who lived through the Great Depression never truly recovered. Fear crept in and held lives hostage even when better times arrived.

If we truly are experiencing crisis, recession or the possibility of a depression then my suggestion is that we must all ‘Tighten our Belts’. The uncertainty in the world has reminded us as a family to be mindful of budgeting and as the old adage goes, ‘It’s what you make, not what you save’. Just as companies are watching their bottom lines we too are watching our spending. For us this means watching our dining out, the incidental buying and those ‘everyday treats’ plus making more efficient use of household luxuries. It all makes a difference and our generation is so used to everything being disposable including our incomes. It’s important at times like this, not become overcome by fear but to operate in wisdom.

This brings me to one of thefamilyroom core values, which is coming back to the dining table. As we all ride out this economic confusion let’s not do it alone. Tightening our belts doesn’t mean cutting us off from community rather I believe these are times when community shows it’s wonder. Ride this out together, have people over, eat together (for great recipe ideas visit our blogspot), bring back the games of our childhood like charades, twister, card games and all those fun things we seem to have let go of. Tightening our belts has a way of bringing things and people together so let’s enjoy this season, see it as a time to sow into relationships, to spend time rather than money and enjoy the simpler things in life.

Thanks for checking us out, make sure you come back again and when time permits leave us a quick message (it's super easy!)

Susan xo

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Lentil soup

This is one of the easiest, quickest, yummiest recipes I have come across!

1 onion
4 garlic cloves
1tbs mild curry powder
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1½ cups red lentils
1 tomato
Sour cream and parsley to serve

Chop up and sauté the onion and garlic cloves on medium heat, then add a tablespoon of mild curry powder.

Add four cups of chicken or veggie stock to the pan and 1½ cups of red lentils. I think brown would work too, but the recipe calls for red.

Mix it all around then add another cup of warm water and the chopped tomato.

After about 20 mins it will be smooshy, yummy soup. Add some sour cream, cracked pepper and chopped flat leaf parsley and voila!

Loaded with fibre and B vitamins, perfect for any weather.


Thursday, September 25, 2008

Vinegar and Honey

We all know the difference between vinegar and honey. Vinegar has its own unique taste, but when used in combination with other flavours it changes dramatically. Eaten on its own, it makes all our senses twinge and causes us to pull back. Honey, on the other hand, is always enjoyable, whether it’s found in a cup of tea, in a sauce, dripping off a golden brown piece of toast or simply on its own. Honey is always yummy.

I find this a good analogy for human interaction. Have you ever been in a situation involving others where you are hit with unbelievable frustration? When faced with these circumstances, we are all granted a moment in time to make a choice. We can get bitter, cranky and repel people, like vinegar, or we can take a step back, breathe, relax, become smooth and appealing, like honey.

Lately, I’ve found myself in this situation ~ I needed to make a choice. As most of you know, the Sohn family have been on the move once again. We’ve gone from Australia to LA, LA to Wolseley and now Wolseley to Calgary (our final destination). Moving is listed as one of the top five most stressful things to do in life. After moving a family of five across the globe, I think whoever dreamed up that list is absolutely right … moving is stressful. Thankfully, we have managed to do it with limited stress, much, much laughter and moments of absolute zaniness. I believe, however, that some of the stress experienced, not only in moving but in any situation, comes down to relying on others (human interaction). The main challenges I have faced, as we near the end of our moving journey, are with our movers and securing an arrival time for all of our family possessions. Changes in things that are agreed upon and unmet promises can be extremely disappointing.

Through this, as with any life experience, we need to learn and grow. I, being the family move co-ordinator, have made the choice to operate like honey. Rather than expressing my extreme frustration, I have calmly explained my situation and the frustration I am experiencing. I have allowed the movers room to fix the problem and to grow themselves as service providers. I have been honest with them and have remained calm and sweet through the entire process. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been firm and operated as the client who is paying a handsome fee for their services. I haven’t allowed them to walk over me, rather I have been direct but seasoned with the sweetness honey gives. This approach has allowed conversation to flow continually and I’m confident that I am not the ‘nightmare’ client that we all, at times, have become. Rather, I know that my movers are trying their best to work out a situation that will be mutually beneficial. Of course there is give and take on both sides.

So friends I encourage you this week and beyond, whatever the situation, remember honey tastes better than vinegar, plus you get and attract more and go further with honey.

Remember to keep smiling and you may find that the world and those in it will smile back at you.


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Words for Life

Today, I’d like to write about something that’s been on my mind a lot lately.

Through our work with thefamilyroom, we get the opportunity to be quite involved in families and the dynamics that make up each individual family unit. I’m always fascinated to see and learn how people deal with issues and cope with life. Through our work, we try to help families move from coping and striving to living a family life that is thriving.

Something I have come to know and understand is that within our families (and beyond) we need to start using a few words on a regular basis that will bring healing, forgiveness, peace and so much more. These words have power – power that can diffuse situations, that can change attitudes and that can humble the hardest of hearts and minds. The words of life I’m referring to are I love you and I’m sorry.

Those few words have the ability to evoke emotion within each one of us. Even as we read them in this article, something deep within each one jumped. Imagine what they are able to achieve when spoken out to the appropriate person or situation. Hearing someone tell you that you are loved resonates within your soul. You are reminded that you matter and are cared for. Hearing someone say I’m sorry validates the pain or hurt you may feel, and then stepping from those words into forgiveness does so much more. Not a lot of work, but choices to be made.

These are very powerful and necessary words that need to be used within our families. Through these words, broken or damaged relationships can be restored, however it does require a humbling and softening within to reach a point where you can say them. Let’s be people who want and desire wholeness in our families, let’s be strong and confident, let’s face our fears, deal with our hurts and pain and put it behind us and move forward together in unity.

I hope my words today have challenged and inspired you to make a change for the better. You won’t regret it, but I know you will miss out if you don’t say I love you and I’m sorry more often.

Enjoy this week and remember to keep smiling.


Wednesday, September 03, 2008

For Fathers Everywhere

It's Father's Day in Australia this weekend and, as we at the Family Room are always looking for an excuse to celebrate the important people in our lives, we would like to honour dads everywhere with this beautiful story about a father and his son.


The Pickle Jar

The pickle jar, as far back as I can remember, sat on the floor beside the dresser in my parents' bedroom.

When he got ready f or bed, Dad would empty his pockets and toss his coins into the jar. As a small boy, I was always fascinated at the sounds the coins made as they were dropped into the jar. They landed with a merry jingle when the jar was almost empty. Then the tones gradually muted to a dull thud as the jar was filled.

I used to squat on the floor in front of the jar and admire the copper and silver circles that glinted like a pirate's treasure when the sun poured through the bedroom window. When the jar was filled, Dad would sit at the kitchen table and roll the coins before taking them to the bank.

Taking the coins to the bank was always a big production. Stacked neatly in a small cardboard box, the coins were placed between Dad and me on the seat of his old truck.

Each and every time, as we drove to the bank, Dad would look at me hopefully. “Those coins are going to keep you out of the textile mill, son. You're going to do better than me. This old mill town's not going to hold you back.”

Also, each and every time, as he slid the box of rolled coins across the counter at the bank toward the cashier, he would grin proudly, “These are for my son's college fund. He'll never work at the mill all his life like me.”

We would always celebrate each deposit by stopping for an ice cream cone. I always got chocolate. Dad always got vanilla. When the clerk at the ice cream parlour handed Dad his change, he would show me the few coins nestled in his palm. “When we get home, we'll start filling the jar again.” He always let me drop the first coins into the empty jar. As they rattled around with a brief, happy jingle, we grinned at each other. “You'll get to college on pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters,” he said. “But you'll get there; I'll see to that.”

No matter how rough things got at home, Dad continued to doggedly drop his coins into the jar. Even the summer when Dad got laid off from the mill, and Mama had to serve dried beans several times a week, not a single dime was taken from the jar.

To the contrary, as Dad looked across the table at me, pouring catsup over my beans to make them more palatable, he became more determined than ever to make a way out for me. “When you finish college, Son,” he told me, his eyes glistening, “You'll never have to eat beans again – unless you want to.”

The years passed, and I finished college and took a job in another town. Once, while visiting my parents, I used the phone in their bedroom, and noticed that the pickle jar was gone. It had served its purpose and had been removed.

A lump rose in my throat as I stared at the spot beside the dresser where the jar had always stood. My dad was a man of few words, and never lectured me on the values of determination, perseverance and faith. The pickle jar had taught me all these virtues far more eloquently than the most flowery of words could have done. When I married, I told my wife, Susan, about the significant part the lowly pickle jar had played in my life as a boy. In my mind, it defined, more than anything else, how much my dad had loved me.

The first Christmas after our daughter Jessica was born, we spent the holiday with my parents. After dinner, Mom and Dad sat next to each other on the sofa, taking turns cuddling their first grandchild. Jessica began to whimper softly, and Susan took her from Dad's arms. “She probably needs to be changed,” she said, carrying the baby into my parents' bedroom to diaper her. When Susan came back into the living room, there was a strange mist in her eyes.

She handed Jessica back to Dad before taking my hand and leading me into the room. “Look,” she said softly, her eyes directing me to a spot on the floor beside the dresser. To my amazement, there, as if it had never been removed, stood the old pickle jar, the bottom already covered with coins. I walked over to the pickle jar, dug down into my pocket, and pulled out a fistful of coins. With a gamut of emotions choking me, I dropped the coins into the jar. I looked up and saw that Dad, carrying Jessica, had slipped quietly into the room. Our eyes locked, and I knew he was feeling the same emotions I felt. Neither one of us could speak.

This truly touched my heart. I know it has yours as well. Sometimes we are so busy adding up our troubles that we forget to count our blessings. Never underestimate the power of your actions. With one small gesture you can change a person's life, for better or for worse.

God puts us all in each other's lives to impact one another in some way. Look for good in others.

The best and most beautiful things cannot be seen or touched - they must be felt with the heart ~ Helen Keller

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


I was thinking the other day just how lucky I am to have a wonderful group of friends that I do life with.

The dictionary definition of friend or friendship is: “One attached to another by feelings of affection or personal regard”.

One of my close friends, Annie, who is part of the Family Room, has had a really sick little boy in hospital for the past three weeks. She is amazing in the way she has managed to stay strong and confident whilst being very sleep deprived and worried.

Annie and her family are such givers, always helping others, and it was fantastic to see people coming alongside to do whatever was necessary to help them through this tough time.
Friendship is about standing beside in the time of need, having a cry or a laugh together and just knowing that you have someone you can call on anytime.

I have wonderful friends here in Australia and overseas and I consider myself so blessed, as not everyone can say that.

As you read this blog, can I encourage you that to get friends you need to be a friend? It really works. You start to build a community around you and you get so much out of it, just by giving of yourself.

Friendship is a journey that can take years to travel, but one which can last a lifetime.


Thursday, August 21, 2008

Tips for being organised (Part 2)

We planned it, we scheduled it and now we’re making it happen – the second instalment in our tips for being organised series from special guest writer Julie Venables. This week, she rounds out the top ten with advice for multi-tasking, list-making and prioiritising.
Enjoy and be inspired!

6. Multi-task
When the thing you are doing doesn’t require much attention, then do something else at the same time. For example, if you are on a long train trip, take one of the books you’ve been meaning to read with you. If you are watching TV, then do the ironing at the same time, or bring out the laptop and research what’s on at the movies for when you meet with your friend on Saturday.

7. Keep track of your social calendar
Keep an eye on your diary and be aware of when you are free and when you have things on. This way you can schedule people in if they request the pleasure of your company, and you can feel confident that you won’t be letting anyone down by double-booking. It also makes it easier for scheduling more mundane tasks, like housework, since you know how much time you will be spending at home that week and will know, for instance, that you only have Thursday night to take care of the laundry, and so shouldn’t wait until Saturday, since you will be out all day. If planning an event, choose a date well ahead, so that you maximise the likelihood of a good number of people being available, and then email an invite as soon as you can. About four weeks before the event is good, and send a confirmation email about a week out to those who have RSVP’d.

8. Write lists
Do it because it feels good, and you deserve a treat after all this hard work! Also, it’s good for keeping track of what needs to be done. The best lists have a time limit on them, so that they don’t just sit there and never get done. The major exception to this is the “long-term to-do list”, see point 10.

9. Prioritise
If you’ve got a lot of stuff to take care of, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. So to feel like you are in control and can handle whatever task-load is in front of you, break it down into little parts and schedule everything in your diary. Then you will know that it will all be done, eventually – it’s just a matter of time. This means you can stop thinking about it constantly. Put the most important stuff first so that if you run out of time the other things can wait.

10. Maintain a long-term to-do list
This is for projects which will take longer than just a short amount of time (like putting the photos from a big overseas trip into an album), or can’t be done right now (like preparing your tax return since you are still waiting for paperwork from the bank). Work through each of these projects one at a time, and break them down into smaller tasks as required. For example, call the bank on Thursday to see when their tax statement will be sent.

Happy organising!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Today, the family room would like to welcome our new special guest writer Julie Venables. As one of the most organised people we know, Julie has agreed to share her top 10 tips for taming the chaos of a busy schedule. We’re sure you’ll be challenged and inspired by these first five pearls of wisdom. Be sure to check back next week for part two!

Tips for being organised (Part 1)

1. Just do it
If you think of something that needs to be done, and you are able to do it right there and then, then do it!

For example, I’ve just come home and opened the mail. One of the letters is a bank statement (which I make a habit of filing) so as soon as I’ve finished looking at it, I go to the filing cabinet and put it away immediately. Then it requires no further thought.

2. Just do it
Seriously, you’ll be amazed at how much you can achieve if you just do it now.

3. Schedule it
Ok, so sometimes there are times when it’s just not possible to do it now. Maybe because you’re not in the right place, or with the right person, or you don’t have the resources you need to get the job done right there and then. If that’s the case, then put it in your diary. Think about what is needed, and when is the earliest time you can make it happen, then write it down on the day you can do it. Be specific.

For example, it’s your turn to cook dinner on Monday night, and you decide, while at work on Friday, that you would like to make a soup, which takes a couple of hours to cook. Write in your diary that you need to look up the ingredients that night at 6pm (which is the earliest time you can get home to look at your cookbook), then write that you need to go grocery shopping at 10am on Saturday morning (which is the earliest you can leave the house, since you are expecting a phone call at 9.30am and need to put on a load of laundry before that).

Finally, schedule time to make the soup at 3pm on Sunday afternoon, which is early enough to finish the job before you go out at 6.50pm that night. You can’t cook it on Monday night itself, of course, since you only get home at 5.50pm, the soup takes 2 hours and people will be ready to eat at 6.30pm.

4. Reschedule it
If you genuinely can’t do it when you had planned to (for example, you have run out of time in the day), then reschedule it for another time – again be specific. Think about what day you can do it and at exactly what time.

5. Procrastination - Don’t let yourself get away with it
If you have something that you need to do, and you are feeling a bit tired and would rather leave it for tomorrow… well, too bad! Just do it, anyway. Don’t let yourself get away with not doing what’s on your list of things to do that day, and then indulge in feeling sorry for yourself the next day because you’ve realised that you have too much to do and not enough time. That wouldn’t have happened if you had spread the load a little and done some of it the day before.

Well, I hope these first five tips have got you thinking and have given you some fresh ideas for getting organised. I'll be back with another five next week.


Thursday, August 07, 2008

What’s Your Age?

I’ve spent the last few weeks listening intently to the conversations surrounding oil prices and how it is affecting markets around the globe and our own back pockets. I have also spent some of my time listening to and reading articles that are discussing health issues and how we are stacking up in terms of our overall wellbeing.

After much reading and discussion, I thought I would share some of my findings with you. Through my research I discovered two websites that both host very quick but extremely informative online tests ~ one is a financial test and the other a health test. These tests draw very distinct lines showing some of the things we all see with our natural eyes. We all know people who are in their 40s but behave financially like they are in their 20s. Similarly we all know people who are in their 20s but look like they are in their 40s.

Recently, I was speaking at my sister’s women’s conference (Shine) and I shared one of these tests with the women there. I know many of them have since taken the test and have learned valuable information about themselves.

The first test I encourage you to take is the health test. It gives you a clear indication of where you are health-wise, and through the findings you are given great tips and ideas of how to increase your overall heath and well-being. This test is the longer of the two, but it’s well worth the minutes it takes to determine whether or not your health is age-appropriate or if there are things you need to address. For those of you who are familiar with the name Dr. Oz (from the Oprah show) this test is from him so you know it will be good. To find the test visit and follow the prompts.

The second test is What is your Financial Age. This test is extremely quick and asks very pointed questions that extract exact information that will determine your financial age. I found this test very interesting as it caused and reminded me to think about certain financial aspects of my life that tend to slip our minds. For the women at my sister’s conference I know this test was a good wake up call for some of them. To take this test simply visit

I know that these tests will provide you, like myself, with amazing information. I discovered that my real age was younger than I am and that my financial age is much older than my current age. All in all I scored pretty well, but as always I know that improvements can be made and I am now more aware than I was a few weeks ago. That is a good thing. Understanding our health and our finances helps us live stronger more confident lives. Who doesn’t want that? Jump online and take the tests and, if you want, drop me a line to let me know if it helped.


Thursday, July 31, 2008

Pregnancy, Oestrogen and Women

Occasionally I find an email forwarded to my inbox that actually catches my attention and I get a giggle. Below is one such forward that I thought I MUST share with all of you. I know most of you will relate and will (probably) have a chuckle or two as well.


Q: Should I have a baby after 35?
A: No, 35 children is enough.

Q: I'm two months pregnant now. When will my baby move?
A: With any luck, right after he finishes college.

Q: What is the most reliable method to determine a baby's sex?
A: Childbirth.

Q: My wife is five months pregnant and so moody that sometimes she's borderline irrational.
A: So what's your question?

Q: My childbirth instructor says it's not pain I'll feel during labour, but pressure. Is she right?
A: Yes, in the same way that a tornado might be called an air current.

Q: When is the best time to get an epidural?
A: Right after you find out you're pregnant.

Q: Is there any reason I have to be in the delivery room while my wife is in labour?
A: Not unless the word 'alimony' means anything to you.

Q: Is there anything I should avoid while recovering from childbirth?
A: Yes, pregnancy.

Q: Do I have to have a baby shower?
A: Not if you change the baby's nappy very quickly.

Q: Our baby was born last week. When will my wife begin to feel and act normal again?A: When the kids are in college.


1. Everyone around you has an attitude problem.

2. You're adding chocolate chips to your cheese omelette.

3. The dryer has shrunk every last pair of your jeans.

4. Your husband is suddenly agreeing to everything you say.

5. You're using your mobile phone to dial up every bumper sticker that says: 'How's my driving-call 0- 800-'.

6. Everyone's head looks like an invitation to batting practice.

7. Everyone seems to have just landed here from outer space.

9. You're sure that everyone is scheming to drive you crazy.

10. The ibuprofen bottle is empty and you only bought it yesterday.


10. Cats' facial expressions.
9. The need for the same style of shoes in different colours.
8. Why beansprouts aren't just weeds.
7. Fat clothes.
6. Taking a car trip without trying to beat your best time.
5. The difference between beige, ecru, cream, off-white and eggshell.
4. Cutting your hair to make it grow.
3. Eyelash curlers.
2. The inaccuracy of every bathroom scale ever made.

AND, the Number One thing only women understand:


Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Society’s safety net

It’s been a tough few weeks for families in Australia.

The news has been filled with heart-breaking stories of young lives blighted and even cut short, and while I’m sorry to sound gloomy, these reports have left me with a heavy heart.

In New South Wales, five children died in what appeared to be extreme cases of domestic distress and we’ve been shocked by police statistics evidencing a crime wave amongst kids still at primary school. In Adelaide, up to 21 neglected children were crammed into one house and in the nation’s capital Canberra, four children were found living in squalor and taken into care.

These are the sensational stories that fill the pages of our newspapers, but they reflect a segment of society where people are lonely, hurting and crying out for help – their desperation hidden behind closed doors.

But amidst the doom and gloom, an email landed in my inbox, bringing a ray of hope. The author spoke about community, urging me to see that in the grand plan of the universe, community was always intended to be the safety net. Society’s way of catching us when we fall, comforting us when we hurt, celebrating our joys and sharing in our grief. As we have retreated further and further behind our front doors, counsellors and psychologists have become our shoulders to cry on, where once we might have relied on a friend or neighbour.

The words in the email struck a chord. We need to sow into our communities and cultivate good relationships not only so that we can be there for others, but so that they can also be there in our tough times.

Over the years, dozens of news stories depicting tragic circumstances have drawn my attention. When some terrible event has hit a community, it’s common practice for newspaper reporters to knock on neighbours’ doors gathering information about the victims. Who were they, what were they like, what did they do? Too often, those neighbours will say: “We didn’t know them. They kept themselves to themselves.”

Let’s make an effort to never be people who keep ourselves to ourselves.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Easy entertaining

I love having people over, my hubby does too, but he doesn't like to do ANY preparation or cleaning up! He would rather meet people for a meal out, or go to their house.

Now in his defence, I should say that this is because we are in a tiny little, albeit very lovely, home at the moment and he thinks it's impractical. Fair enough. But rather than being social hermits, I like to keep things simple and easy with a minimum of fuss while still being able to make guests feel special.

For pizza nights that are simple and easy, I usually make my own but if I'd rather be chatting to friends when they're here, I sometimes get good takeaway and make a big salad, with some french sticks in the oven with crushed garlic and butter (yummm) and a few bottles of cheap, organic Italian wine (favourite!). Because there's not much room, kids have a picnic on the floor and adults squash around the candlelit table and enjoy. Really easy and no pressure but great.

Last time we did this we had a box of Magnum minis and some mini gelato cups which we ate with coffee and it was perfect! Minimal cleaning and big fun. Great music playing or letting the kids and adults go nuts on the Wii is also very entertaining!

I also love having people for afternoon tea. I have a fave lemon cake (see recipe below) which is dead easy and I get out the white tablecloth and matching coffee cups (I do have a little OCD!). This can be so easy with a bunch of flowers in the middle and it's beautiful and special. A little bit of effort goes a long way. The plunger instead of instant, a pot instead of bags, homemade instead of bought, although bakery bought always looks good! Your personal touch and creativity makes people feel welcome and it doesn't have to be a big deal or stress out husbands.

Lv Jane

Fave lemon cake

2 1/4 cups almond meal
3/4 cup caster sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
Grated rind of 1 lemon
1/2 cup yoghurt
4 eggs
1/2 cup sifted plain flour
2 tsp baking powder

Lemon syrup
Juice of 2 lemons
1/3 cup caster sugar
Grated rind of 1 lemon

Cooking instructions
Preheat oven to 180 and line base and sides of a 22cm cake pan with baking paper.
Beat eggs and sugar with an electric beater until pale.
Add yoghurt, oil and rind and beat well.
Fold in almond meal, flour and baking powder.
Pour into prepared pan and bake for 35-40 mins, until a skewer inserted comes out clean.
Turn out onto a platter.

To make the syrup, combine ingredients in a saucepan with a few spoons of water and stir on a low heat, until sugar dissolves.
Increase heat and bring to the boil.
Simmer until syrupy and pour over hot cake.

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