The Magic of Faraway Screens

“Nothing like having a bucket of water flung over you to make you see things as they really are.” – Enid Blyton.

Say the B word in front of my mother, and if I wasn’t fast enough to slippery-slip out the back door into the vast expanse of Enchanted Eucalypt-Wood that surrounded our diary farm, then my “Bored” self would be loaded up with a pile of dirty jobs to rival Dame Washalot on a heavy duty day!

Unless you’ve had your head in the clouds, then every Joe (Bessie), Dick and Fanny knows that too much time spent peering into an interactive device window is not good for our children’s bodies and brains and can send even the most angelic pixie into a raging fit. However, despite the litany of public health campaigns – surfeit of popular psychology texts, damning documentaries and overtly published longitudinal studies – detailing the insidious nature of excessive interactive (in particular) screen usage, the default mode for many families is to whack a device in front of little Silky the moment she shows even a fairy dust sized hint of being bored. Why?…

Because in this modern world of time poor parenting, it’s easy. And everyone else is doing it too!

Since catapulting my own kids out of the house on a rather mundane weekend…post-school afternoon…school holiday period…(you get the idea) would likely land them underneath a hotted up (probably stolen!) urban speed racer or see them being used as a guinea pig in a rather dubious neighbours’ crystal meth lab, Scott and I have had to get creative in how we teach our kids to occupy their spare time. For those keen to garner some secrets from nearly a decade of low-screen-time-living life, I present to you our compiled works of The Magic of Faraway Screens:

Topsy-Turvy Land: from years of having to survive on a tight, single-income budget, we’ve turned the concept of a toy on it’s head. Litter-ally. From egg-carton walls and tin-can tunnels to junk box kingdoms and up-cycled wooden block garages, if there is a creation to be made then no recycling bin is safe.

Land of Spells: when it comes to keeping ourselves sane during those long-haul car trips to our rellies’ houses, we tend to cast our in-cabin-activity wand wide. When the traditional car games – number plate cricket, eye-spy, phonetic alphabet, rhyming words etc. – die a supernatural death, there is always a plethora of music, audio-books, colouring activities and good ol’ fashioned window watching to disappear the hours.

Land of Dreams: kids need sleep. And lot’s of it. One of the easiest ways we have found to ensure our little angels get their full 10-13 hour complement of shut eye, starting at 7.30pm, is to run them ragged. Plenty or reading, open-ended playtime, reading,  commuting by bike (scooter, foot and skateboard)…oh…and did I mention reading… are great ways to burn up that excess fuel.

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Land of Do-As-You-Please: giving kids plenty of opportunities to learn new skills not only keeps their minds and bodies active, it also provides a more resilient scaffold from which to weather social bumps and self-confidence knocks during those raging-hormone teenage years. Many of the extra-curricular clubs we are a part of are relatively inexpensive as they are community run: there is a strong volunteer base. When we do choose to spend up big, such as for music lessons and private tennis coaching, we have one rule: they must stick with it!

Land of Toys: thanks to a well stocked, local Toy Library I can count on just one hand the number of times I have actually ponied up the dough for a new toy. When we do unleash our purchasing powers upon a nearby retailer, we pay top dollar for an open ended toy (such as Lego, model cars and plastic animals) or a family game that spans a wide range of age groups and that can easily be be re-homed when we are done.

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Land of Magic Medicines: sometimes the only way to enjoy that enspiriting potion of coffee with a friend, is to take the kiddies along too. Preparing a small busy bag – replete with match box cars, colouring pencils and paper, read-it-yourself-books, activity fun packs and playdough – to the cafe, yields magical results. I am able to drink my cuppa and relish in some much needed, uninterupted adult time too.

Land of Tempers: I would love to say that removing interactive screens from your children’s home life is a cure all for those unsolicited tantrums…but then I’d be shipped off to Dame Slaps’ school for telling lies. When, however, that mega-wobbly does come our way a short five to ten minute session in the bedroom with some engaging, quiet time activities – puzzle, picture book, solo-board game, drawing materials – is all that is needed to trip the fuse on that overloaded brain circuit.

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Land of Presents: our family is a great lover of the consumable gift. In lieu of the usual endowment of toys and books, our children have received skills lessons (fishing and mountain biking), yearly passes to favourite attractions, experiences (zoo trips and train rides) and cash. Such legacies have often paid invaluable dividends: many hours of quality memories retold through the mediums of writing, drawing and imaginative play.

The end?

Not quite.

Having laid good foundations for the robust construction of those neural highways to the higher-order-human-brain command centre – the pre-frontal cortex – we now feel slightly more prepared for what we expect to be a rather rugged but adventurous sequel…

The Folklore of the School-Mandated-Technology Tree.

Avast…it’s a paarghty!

Ahoy there parental buccaneers!

Searching for the treasure chest that is an affordable, pirate-themed kids party?

Then it’s time to throw sensibilities to the wind, batten down the winter-garb hatches and climb aboard the cheap-kids-birthday-bash ship for a few hours of rollicking piratical action!

When it comes to coveting those hard earned diamonds and doubloons, there are plenty of play-center venues standing at the ready to purloin a sizable portion of your hard earned booty. Being cut from the traditional, whole-family party (as opposed to the more popular drop and free-babysitting-run variety) cloth, Scott and I have become old salts when it comes to keeping the largess of party going crew on an even keel without going overboard and hence sending the family savings to the bottom of Davy Jones’ Locker.

Here’s how we charmed our chums at K2’s pirate themed birthday bonanza last month:

Set sail for an island destination: since Scott and I got a little sea sick at the idea of having thirty odd, overly exuberant guests descend upon the family home, we opted for an offsite, peninsula setting instead: plenty of free BBQ hot plates and public park equipment to swig that excess energy.

Cast all hands on deck: as Captain at the helm I see it as my duty to assign the hard work to the crew. From designing activities to cake decorating, not a single job was left untouched by my diligent crew of child-sized, dab hands.

Invitations

Raised the Jolly Roger…early: weekend time is precious for many families, so I tend to flag notice of a party atleast three weeks in advance. As for the design…well I’m a hard task master. So as to capitalise on my children’s’ creative drawing minds and hone those fine motor skills, I eschewed the pre-made versions of party invitations and made my children execute the designs instead: a great way to kill a couple of hours on a slow, post school afternoon.

Served plenty of grub: replete with cheese platters (including that infamous Waltsana Matilda bread), Scurvy sCures (vegetable skewers), Prisoner Phalanges (snags) and salads to boot, not a single belly was left rumbling…including the adults.

Donned the pirate garb: you can’t very well have a pirate themed party if you’re not going to get into the privateering mood yourself! So just in case some of our party going parents forgot to read the memo…my clever clogs kiddies planned a crafty activity that saw all attendees decked out in a paper hat and telescope: plenty of up-cycling fun was had by all.

Sea Shanties

Bashed out the sea shanties: no pirate gathering would be complete without a bout of vocal dechorus. Both K1 and K2 put their thinking caps on to come up with bucaneering versions of some traditional nursery rhymes. Namely, Old Captain Pugwash Had a Crew (to the tune of Old Macdonald) and If You’re Happy and You Know it Shout…Arrrgh…Raise your cutlass…Walk the plank…well you get my sea-faring drift!

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Rotted the teeth: and let them eat cake…lots of it. That traditional, Woman’s Weekly Pirate Cake, went down the hatch faster than a cannon ball set upon enemy marauders.

Dolled out the dough: so as to keep in good favour with the piratical peers, K2 ensured all guests were paid well for their services: a family sized cache of hand made, Golden Treasure Cookies.

Hoarded the treasure: in the interests of of avoiding the accumulation of unwanted and often poorly manufactured cheap gifts, K2 requested a bequest of gold coins to be placed in a hand made treasure box instead. The largess of cash was spent on a new puzzle…filling plenty of weekend, quiet-activity-time hours.

Land ahoy! Three hours and a little over $100 dollars later, and it’s was time to reground our jubilant crew of filibusters and send them on their merry way home.

As for my kids consensus on the birthday bash…

X marks the spot!

Pumped Kin? Vote 1: Election Day Curry

Like most archetypal Saturday mornings, the 18th May began with its usual scone fueled, first-day-of-the-weekend table centered banter and excitement. Unlike other ordinary Saturdays however, the conclusion of its natural twenty-four-hour cycle – based on statistics collected by a number of polling companies – was expected to bring with it a change of government: a new leader of our great, sun-burnt land.

Voting is compulsory in Australia – a non-trivial fine being issued to those failing to cast a ballot – and can be achieved in one of three ways: postal voting by mail; pre polling (up to three weeks early) at an official booth; and on Election Day itself. Although the majority of Aussies still come out in droves on the nominated Saturday, over the last twelve years (five elections) the popularity of pre polling has rapidly increased. This election, over 4 million (of the 16.4 million voters) people opted for this method of ballot lodgement. By the early 2020s, the percentage of citizens choosing to pre poll is expected to increase to more than 50% of the voting populous. While formal reasons for the rise in early voting popularity are yet to be examined – this data is not collected at pre-polling booths – anecdotally it would seem that convenience (casually walking past a pre polling booth) and reduced queue times feature highly in voters pre match game plan. This year’s spike in early voting interest saw a number of concerned politicians make a call to the Special Minister, Alex Hawke, to mount an inquiry into early voting with particular attention being placed on the effect it has on campaigning, democratic process and AEC (Australian Electoral Commision) spending on logistics.

In addition to it’s being a chance to exercise ones democratic voting rights as an Australian citizen, Election Day is also a chance to socialise with some like minded compatriots over a sugary treat or snag. Traditionalists might even go as far as to say that it would be unconstitutional to see a polling booth bereft of a cake stall or “Democracy Sausage” sizzle. Henceforth, for many community groups and schools – lesser known parties in the pre polling debate – the decrease in election day numbers comes as an added blow to their already forlorn ledgers. For schools in particular – many of which no longer have the volunteer force to maintain active fundraising P and C (Parents and Citizens) Committees and canteens – Election Day is an easier way to rake in those much needed dolleros to pay for, in my children’s case, playground equipment, chess tutors, library supplies, breakfast clubs and the second hand uniform shop…just to name a few.

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Locked and bike-trailer loaded: Pumped Kin Election Day Dhal and other cake and bric-a-brac stall donations.

Election Day attendance still not receiving your vote of confidence? Well as a last ditch attempt to campaign for the community cause, I present to you a next-election-day teaser: my recipe for an election day cash cow, Pumpkin Dhal…or better know to the hundreds of voting citizens passing by our stall…

Pumped Kin Election Day Dhal

The first incarnation of this dish – using donated sweet potatoes – made its community debut two years ago when I was charged with leading an intimate team of volunteers to Curry Day victory. As a dish to whip up in bulk for a hungry hoard or served alongside other family curry delights, this seasonal pumpkin favourite is sure to warm the hearts and minds of even the most evangelical extremists. As for the seeds…well they can saved, stored and replanted in the spring.

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Seed saving: rinsed and spread out on a paper towel to dry.

1 onion, diced

1 garlic clove, finely diced

1 thumb sized piece of ginger, finely diced

1 ½ tsp grnd turmeric

1 ½ tsp grnd cumin

½ medium sized pumpkin, peeled, deseeded and diced into chunks

600 ml stock

250 g split peas or red lentils

80 g of spinach leaves

1 c frozen peas

salt and pepper

Fry the onion, garlic and ginger together in a large heavy based pot until the onion is transparent. Add the spices and fry till fragrant (about 1 minute). Add the pumpkin and mix thoroughly. Add the split peas and stock and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 20 – 30 minutes or until the split peas are cooked through and slightly mushy. Stir through the spinach and the peas.

Multiply the recipe by four to make a crock pot sized volume to serve to your hungry hoard of election goers. Vote 1: enjoy it dhal!