Who I am, and why I’m here…take 2

Well, this is my second attempt at Blogging 101, and this time I’m hoping I’ll be able to stick with it. Last month I started Blogging 101 with my photo blog, but I went away in the middle of the month and the wheels fell off there with my laptop not being able to get sufficient internet access where we were staying. I’ve also decided to go with a broader range of topics as my eldest son, Noah, started high school (year 7) here in Australia, and I know there will be a learning curve with this new stage in his education, and I hope to share some thoughts, insights, difficulties and hopefully some fun stories from his time starting to learn new things and grew as a young man.

So, what should you expect from this blog? A bit of a wide range of things – photography, cooking, fitness, tennis, technology, education, technology in education, music (guitar and bass predominantly), anecdotes on studying with kids  in the house, and perhaps a bit of theology, Oh, and my wife and I are expecting our 4th (and last!) child, our third son, in June, so I’m sure, down the track a few months, there will be stories.

I have an extra layer of motivation to stick with Blogging 101 this time, and that comes from the 30 Days of Hustle booklet, written by Jon Acuff, so there might be a bit of stuff about motivation coming from this booklet and elsewhere.

Thanks for stopping by, and please, leave a comment and we can keep in touch!

Hour of Code

So our boys have become hooked on coding in just one afternoon. Code.org have been promoting the ‘hour of code’ so we got the boys to do it this afternoon and they knocked it out of the park. We played some basketball after they’d finished and they spent the whole time talking about what programs they’re going to write next!

Definitely recommend code.org as they are brilliant! They have well known programmers such as Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg giving instructions in bite sized pieces (videos that are usually no more than 2 minutes long), and then let you create code using Angry Birds or Plants vs Zombies.


Things don’t always go how you plan them…

So I am resurrecting this blog which has been dormant for some time now as our ‘plans’ were somewhat turned on their head sometime in April this year. My job in Sydney, I found out, was coming to an end with the school I was working out closing.

So now, in December, I find myself (and the family!) back in Canberra, ACT – the nation’s capital. So far we are loving the lifestyle change so much. We live close to the boys’ school – they can walk (the themselves!) to and from school. We finally have a backyard and a place for the boys to ride bikes/scooters/play basketball/cricket/football/etc.

And we now also have a new car. We said goodbye to our faithful car we bought the year we were married. The car in which we brought each of our children home from hospital in when they were born. It’s been replaced with a Chrysler Grand Voyager, which was made the year we were married. So it’s not really a new car. It has less KMs on it, and more seats in it, and so it works well for us!

So with our new lifestyles comes a bunch of changed longer term goals. We don’t have any plans in the near future to homeschool the boys. We are happy with the school, and are happy with taking charge in ‘extra curricular’ learning for the boys, which is working quite well so far, and will be developed further and blogged about here.

Some things to look out for on this blog in the near future include:

  • learning and teaching guitar (particularly using ‘Rocksmith 2014’ which we just acquired.
  • touch typing
  • and other educational technology discoveries and ideas.

Looking forward to making a new start on this blog!

Earth Day 2013

April 22 marks ‘Earth Day‘, and so I thought I’d do a quick  blog on one way we’re trying to help reduce our impact on the environment.

Last year I watch a TED talk by Graham Hill called ‘Why I’m a weekday vegetarian‘. Sometimes referred to as ‘flexitarian’, it’s actually a really simple concept – instead of becoming a full-on vegetarian, you just go without meat Monday-Friday, which is easy enough. We try to keep to that, but often aim at 5 days a week regardless of the day it falls on. I think it’s a great idea because there are so many people out there (and I think I’m one of them!) who say they could never become a vegetarian, but that doesn’t mean you can’t cut down on your meat intake, which is better for the environment AND your health.

We have come up with a few good recipes that the kids love, and so as a whole family we are buying a lot less meat than we used to, and hopefully setting a good example for our kids to follow in as they grow up and impact the enviroment less, and benefit from better health.

If you have any cool ways you’ve tried to reduce your impact on the environment, comment below!

Thoughts on Boston

I assume my reaction to hearing the news of the explosions at the finish line of the Boston Marathon was like so many other people’s when this type of senseless act of violence occurs – “why?”. It took a bit of time to get my head around it. First I knew that something bad must have happened in Boston as I saw tweets/status updates saying ‘Thoughts are with Boston’. Then I went to a news site and saw that the tragedy was linked directly to the marathon I just couldn’t comprehend it.

Having run in the Sydney Running Festival last year (2012), and in the last month or so entered into the half marathon again this year, and the City2Surf (the world’s biggest running event), I just couldn’t imagine this sort of thing happening at an event like this. So many people train for years for the chance to run the Boston Marathon (it’s on my ‘pipe dream’ bucket list) and approaching the finishing line any type of senselessness such as this would be the furthest thing from anyone’s mind – both competitors and spectators.

I remember the faces and cheers of spectators when I was coming into the last 500 metres of the half marathon. People who didn’t know me cheering me on, encouraging me. I’d spent a number of months leading into the run in serious training and had put time, effort, and even money into being there, but still counted it a privilege to be able to take part in this event, and felt a sense of gratitude towards these spectators who cheered me on without knowing who I was – but appreciating the effort I’d put in to be there.

And many of the people injured in this horrific scene would have been there for similar reasons as all of us were last year, and as we are at any of these running events. Most of us don’t do it for the glory of the spotlight or for the money, but simply because we love to run, and we can see the effort people put in and encourage them for it. A running event such as the Boston Marathon is about so many positive things. It brings a city together as it has been a part of the city for well over 100 years. The third Monday in April – Patriot’s Day – is known as Maraton Day in Boston. So many athletes – and it’s not easy to qualify for the Boston Marathon – train for years for this experience. And to have all this taken away at what is the highlight of many people’s years, or even lives, is just unimaginable.

So with America, and with the running community, my thoughts are with the athletes, the spectators, the victims, the families of those injured or killed, and with the entire city of Boston. Something was taken away from this event on April 15, 2013, but terrorists (be they ‘local’ or ‘international’) can not take away our resolve to keep on running – it’s something they don’t understand. If they did, this wouldn’t have happened.

Coconut Ice

Ever since I saw these choc-mint trees in a Coles Christmas magazine a few years ago, coconut ice has become something we make every Christmas time.

Traditional coconut ice uses pink food coloring and vanilla, but in this holiday version, we used green food coloring and peppermint essence, and drizzled melted dark chocolate over the top. I find cutting shapes out of the coconut ice with cookie cutters a real hassle, so we tend to just slice it into squares, like you would with traditional coconut ice.

This is a no-bake recipe and is ideal to make with kids. It’s easy to clean up afterwards, too, as it only uses one bowl.

We hope you enjoy it just as much as we do!


First, measure out 2 1/2 cups (200g) of desiccated or shredded coconut into a large bowl. Do NOT use sweetened coconut as the mixture will not set.


On top of that, add 3 1/2 cups (560g) of sifted icing sugar.


Mix these together until well combined.


Next, add a teaspoon of peppermint essence to a 12.5 oz (395g) can of sweetened condensed milk.


Pour this into the coconut-icing sugar mixture and stir until all the icing sugar is absorbed.


Spoon half of your mixture into a rectangular pan or plastic container, preferably one that has been lined with baking paper as it makes it easier to turn out later (I forgot and it was a bear to get out). Spread evenly and press firmly into your dish.


Next, add a few drops of food colouring to the remaining mixture in the bowl.


Mix until well combined.


Spread this evenly over the top of the white layer, pressing firmly with the back of a spoon.


Cover your pan or plastic container and refrigerate for 3 hours, or until the coconut ice is set.


Turn out of the pan or plastic container and cut into squares. Melt some dark chocolate in a ziplock bag. Cut the corner off and drizzle over the squares. Refrigerate for 5-10 minutes until chocolate has set. Enjoy!

Half marathon…done!

After about 12 weeks of training, the last 1/3 of which was hampered by a stupid niggling injury, I ran in the Sydney Running Festival Half Marathon and finished it!


About 6 weeks into my initial training (as previously blogged) I switched training programs, and a few weeks into the new program I was stupid and didn’t stretch/warm up for long enough before doing some hill run reps, and pulled my right calf muscle, which was niggling ever since that leading right up to, and during, the half marathon.

The excitement leading up to the half marathon was quite amazing. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be nervous or anxious or really what to expect, but the nerves never really kicked in, and the only real concern I had in the few days before and morning of the half marathon was actually getting to it on time, using public transport. The Harbour Bridge, and much of the city, is essentially closed for the morning of the running festival, and so public transport is the only way to get to a number of places, especially from the part of Sydney in which we live, and when I showed up at the train station at about 5am (the race started at 6:20am) there was no train listed for the time that I’d confirmed online the night before.

A couple of other runners were at the train station, and then a voice came over the PA system to inform us that there was no train in the next little while, and that a bus would be able to take us from our station to the next station down, which would have a train. We all went to the bus station, but there was almost no life there at all, and the now 6 of us runners decided to get into taxis down to the next station.

We made it to the train station, and onto the train, with only a couple of minutes to spare, and all breathed a sigh of relief. We had to transfer trains, and walked straight onto another train and arrived at Milson’s Point Station – the station right at the starting line – with about 40 or so minutes to spare.

The excitement of having to run to catch the train meant I was in need of some water, which they provided at the starting area, so I got some of that into me, and then started mentally preparing for the race, as well as taking a picture or two.


As promised, the race started at 6:20am, with former Australian cricketer Glenn McGrath firing the starter’s gun (and also running in the event!), and about 10 minutes after the start group ‘C’, of which I was a part, started moving towards the start line. Oddly enough (to me) people were running before the start line. Our number bibs had integrated timing chips, so each runner gets an official time as well as a ‘net’ time, the latter of which starts when you cross the start line, so you don’t have the 10 minutes or so that it takes you to actually get to the start line counted against you.

I put in a nice even pace for the first few kms, taking in the scenery and the experience of getting to run across the internationally recognised Sydney Harbour Bridge, and then through the streets of Sydney, often feeling quite strange and expecting to have to look for traffic!

The drinks stations were very interesting – hundreds, no, probably thousands, of cups of water and/or Powerade to keep all us runners hydrated. At the first drinks station I made the rookie mistake of thinking it’d be a good idea to try some Powerade for the first time since starting training for this race. The Powerade was after the water in the drinks station, and so I’d finished my water, then started slurping down my Powerade which was way too sugary for my liking, and I ended up with it on my fingers and in my throat and had to hold out until the next drink station – probably 3 or 4 kms down the track – to wash my hands and rinse out my mouth.

Through the first 14 kms I was maintaining a pace of about 7 mins/km, which is what I was aiming for, but as the race wore on the right calf muscle was starting to hurt more and more, and my right hip, due to my adjusted running style to relieve the calf muscle, was starting to ache as well.

At about the 16km mark there started to be a few climbs – less than the climbs we’d already gone through – but climbs none-the-less, and my right leg was really giving me grief up them, so I decided that, if I was going to be able to finish this race, I needed to walk up the hills. So in the last 5 or 6 kms of the race I walked up the hills to rest the right leg, and it seemed to work well. I kept a goodish pace still walking, and picked up running again for about the last km or so, and crossed the finish line with an average pace of about 7:40/km, which I was happy with given how my leg was feeling.


Post-race I had to catch the train home, and there seemed to be more stairs than ever getting to the train station, and then within the train station, and the legs by this stage were quite tired. Still, I managed to get the right trains to our closest station, got in the car and drove home, and spent much of the next two days very slowly going up and down our stairs at home as required. Luckily I’d organised ahead of time to take the Monday off afterwards, and I really needed to.

All-in-all it was an amazing event, and I can’t wait to do another half marathon – this time possibly in Canberra next April. This first one initially I was aiming at completing it in 2:15, but I’d kissed this goal goodbye when the calf injury really set my training back. I’ll re-institute this goal for the Canberra half marathon, and will look at getting that figure to below 2hrs possibly for the Sydney half marathon next year.

I’ve realised since this event that I really need to lose a few pounds before starting training for the next half marathon, and also to develop a deeper training base – long, slow runs – before I’ll be able to realise my goal of the sub-2 hour half marathon, but I love running, so don’t see this as a bad thing in any way.

Vegetarian week

The last two years we’ve partaken in Vegetarian Week, which is usually the first week of October, and we are again this year, only we’re going to turn it into ‘Weekday Vegetarians’, a concept I came across from watching a TED talk by Graham Hill of TreeHugger.com. After trying unsuccessfully to become a vegetarian, Graham came up with a ‘third’ alternative (besides non-vegetarian and fully vegetarian) that would greatly reduce his carbon footprint, but still allow him to eat meat on weekends.

We think it’s a great idea, and certainly a lot more realistic for us than becoming completely vegetarian, so we decided that we’d give it a go, starting Vegetarian Week, with the aim that, for next year’s Vegetarian Week, we’ll be Vegans for the week.

So for Vegetarian Week/Weekday Vegetarianism, we’re going to start with the following menu (and on the weekends we’ll go with any sort of dish, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a non-vegetarian one).

Monday: Black Bean Burgers & sweet potato wedges

Tuesday: Oven Roasted Tofu with roast veggies (potato, sweet potato, zucchini, carrot, onion)

Wednesday: Black Bean & Butternut Squash Burritos (but we’ll use sweet potatoes instead of Butternut squash/pumpkin).

Thursday: Halloumi and spiced cous cous

Friday: Cheese pizza (store bought) and Greek Salad from the AWW Cooking School for Kids.

We have made the Halloumi and spiced cous cous before (in fact, both times we’ve done Vegetarian week), but the other 3 recipes will be brand new, so we’ll let you know how those go throughout the week. We’re also aiming to try out a few easy vegetarian lunch box ideas for the boys to take to school when it starts back next week.

Do you have any favorite vegetarian recipes?

…and we’re back!

September was always going to be quite a busy month for us, and it seems like it was even more so than we expected. There wasn’t too much spare time, so we decided to not do the Daring Kitchen challenges, or any other blogging.

During September I had my half marathon (more on this tomorrow), and we’ve organised most of the details for our trip to the USA in October.

Jen has also made significant progress on her thesis, which is great! We’ve also been enjoying spending extra time with the boys as school holidays has commenced, and welcoming Phoebe into her last month of babyhood.

Depending on how our travels go, we could well be doing the Daring Kitchen challenges from the USA, which would be a great experience!

Looking forward to a great October!

August 2012 Daring Bakers challenge – Choux Swans

Kat of The Bobwhites was our August 2012 Daring Baker hostess who inspired us to have fun in creating pate a choux shapes, filled with crème patisserie or Chantilly cream. We were encouraged to create swans or any shape we wanted and to go crazy with filling flavors allowing our creativity to go wild!

What a great challenge! I hadn’t heard of, or seen, choux swans before, and so it all seemed a little daunting going into this challenge. I have made choux pastry before, but only for profiteroles, and they didn’t necessarily turn out so great!

We had a bit of a look around for different choux recipes, and fillings as well, and Jen found we actually had a recipe for choux swans, with Chantilly cream, as well as a recipe for Paris Brest with chocolate hazelnut creme patissiere. And both these recipes were in the same book – one of our Le Cordon Bleu books Tarts & Pastries (Le Cordon Bleu).

I had gone for a long run (14.5kms, 9 miles) in the morning, and didn’t think I’d feel up for spending a few hours in the kitchen in the evening, but after a power nap in the afternoon, Jen convinced me I could do it, so I set about making a double lot of choux mixture to get the ball rolling.

I don’t remember choux being so easy to make, but it seemed to come along nicely, and I got a good mix on it, with it looking nice and glossy just prior to getting it into the piping bag.

I piped the egg-sized ovals for the swans first…

…and then the rings onto the baking paper that I’d traced 10cm rings onto beforehand (on the underside of the baking paper).

After brushing some egg wash on them, and putting flaked almonds onto the Paris Brest, I popped them in the oven for about 35 minutes.

The next step was the hardest, and it wasn’t actually technically a requirement for the challenge – the chocolate hazelnut creme patissiere for the Paris Brest! Anything with Nutella in it is nice, and this filling was no exception.

After making the creme patissiere, it was time to turn my attention to the Chantilly cream, which really is a walk in the park compared with the previous, optional, filling!

The swans and Paris Brest pastries were finished before I’d finished both fillings, so they cooled on the rack while I piped the swan necks – like question marks – and popped those into the oven. I had quite a bit of dough left over so piped another 4 Paris Brest rings, and 4 more swans, and popped those in the oven at the same time as the necks.

After the necks and additional Paris Brest and swans were cooled and ready to go, it was time to start assembling them. With the extra 4 Paris Brests, we decided to, rather than split the individual rings, put two rings together to make 4 ‘super sized’ rings with the chocolate hazelnut creme patissiere between them.

These turned out GREAT, and we all loved them.

Lastly, it was time to assemble the swans. I sliced the top off the body, scooped out some of the (not quite cooked) pastry, dropped in some Chantilly cream, sliced the top in half to form the wings, popped in the neck and wings, and then topped the cream off with either raspberries or blue berries.

The result was two very elegant and delicious pastries that I am very glad I had the opportunity to create.

The complete instructions for this month’s challenge are available here.

Parenting in the digital world