Wednesday, 25 February 2015

The Jozi Wahm's Guide to Family Fitness

I often hear moms complaining that they do not have time for exercise. I know from experience that it can be tough to squeeze in a workout with children and since my children were born, I have given up on the notion of ever getting a chance to hit the gym. 

However, there is plenty of truth to the saying that a healthy body equals a healthy mind and I have learnt that the best way to incorporate exercise is to include the entire family (added bonus... kiddies get tired out and sleep better).

When you have a small baby it is a little trickier to exercise. It may be possible to exercise when your baby is sleeping, but the thought of catching up on sleep is probably more appealing. However, in the unlikely event that you got a good night's sleep, nap time may be a suitable time to sneak in a workout.

If that is not an option, here are some other tried and tested ideas:

  • A good baby carrier or wrap will allow you to go for long walks or possibly light jogs (the motion is also likely to soothe smaller babies to sleep). If you happen to own a jogging stroller, even better. 
  • Smaller babies can also be incorporated into exercises (use baby as a weight on your legs during squats or place baby on your tummy, facing you during sit-ups).
  • You can bounce around on a Pilates ball with baby on your lap (this doubles up as an effective technique for putting colicky babies to sleep). Or roll backwards and forwards on the ball (give baby a turn too once they are a few months old, this works well for tummy time to develop those crawling muscles).

Once kids are a little older,the possibilities are endless- running around, cycling,swimming,creating obstacle courses, dancing, skipping games and much more.

Our family exercise staple for weekday evenings is to put on a good exercise DVD and get the whole family to join in. We used to do this before Squish was born and then stopped for a while, but now that he is mobile we have started again. Our old favourites are Tae Bo, Zumba, Pilates and we have also recently discovered the Insanity range. A and I get in our workouts and the little ones jump around and have a good laugh. 

This works really well if time is limited and you need a quick but effective workout.You might not be able to fit in one long workout but two fifteen minute workouts are better than nothing. 

Free exercise apps on your smart phone can be used to similar effect (try the Caynex and Noom ranges for example).

In short, while having little ones around might make implementing fitness routine a little harder, it can definitely be done with a little planning and imagination. Most importantly, don't give up. There may be days (or weeks) where you are just too exhausted to even try exercising but you can always just start again.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Jozi Wahm's Guide to Getting Kids to Eat their Veggies

Noodle and Squish have both always eaten very well, but recently it has been a bit of a battle to get Noodle to eat healthy foods, especially vegetables. (She always used to love vegetables but her friends have convinced her that they are yucky so I need to reverse this mindset). Fortunately my kids both love fruit so I have no problem convincing them to eat these.

I always thought I was cultivating fairly healthy eating values and awareness of different foods until I discovered last week that Noodle thought that potato chips grew on a chip tree (probably my fault- while I seldom make french fries, when I do they come straight out of a McCain's bag and Noodle has never seen me chop potatoes up for this purpose).

I thought I would share some of the tricks that I use to get my family to eat their veggies (and other good stuff):
  1. Grow your own vegetables and herbs. I have a small herb and vegetable garden outside my kitchen door and while Noodle will usually not eat tomatoes, she will happily pick nibble at the cherry tomatoes that she picks herself from the garden. They take up virtually no space and are easy to grow.
  2.  Salad skewers- because everything tastes better on a stick. (Fruit skewers work just as well).
    Child-sized salad skewer with cucumber, bell pepper, cherry tomato and cheese served with a yoghurt and herb dip
  3. Food art- smiley faced sandwiches or food plated in animal, heart or flower shapes- the internet shows endless possibilities.
  4. Vegetables cut into unusual shapes are more appealing to children than if they are in their usual form.
  5.  Peas, carrots and broccoli can all go unnoticed if pureed and added to pastas, soups or curries.I take all my slightly overripe bananas, peel them and chuck them in a container in the freezer and then offer them as ice lollies once frozen or use them in smoothies. Berries also work well frozen.
  6.  Speaking of smoothies, carrots, cucumber and even spinach can slip unnoticed into these. 
  7. Children will eat anything on a pizza, covered with some cheese. Use wholewheat flour for the base.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Easy No-sew T-shirt Bags

I am sure many of us have old t-shirts that no longer get used and this is a fantastic way to give them a new lease on life.

I am not particularly handy with a sewing machine, but that is not a problem as these t-shirt bags do not require a single stitch. They are washable and eco-friendly. Best of all, they can be made in five minutes or less.

This particular bag is made out of one of Noodle's old dresses that she had outgrown,(one made out of stretchy t-shirt material),but you can use any old t-shirt (or tank top). They can even be made out of old pillowcases, although these will not have the same stretchy effect.

Using a sharp scissors, cut a wide opening at the neck (for the top of the bag, so make it as wide as you would like the opening on top to be). I skipped this step for this bag as the dress had a large neckline already and I thought the red piping detail would add to the aesthetic appeal.

Chop the sleeves off to create handles. Then cut lots of vertical slits all along the bottom, to create tassels about 3 to 5 centimeters long (you can make the tassels chunky or skinny, depending on the look you are going for). Cut the front and the bag simultaneously so that the slits line up.

Then all you do is tie knots all the way along the bag, tying each tassle to the one immediately behind it. You can make a double or triple knot for extra strength and durability. That's it- you're done!

We hung this one on a hanger and use it as a sock holder for Noodle's socks, but they also work well as shopping bags (a larger men's top will work well for this) or as holders for pegs, toilet rolls, toys, or anything else you might fancy.

No Sew T-shirt bag
Tassles tied together at the bottom of the bag

Keep Calm and Make a 'Calm' Bottle

Like every parent, I sometimes battle with controlling the tantrums thrown by the little ones.

I read online about an occupational therapy technique using 'Calm' Bottles as a tool for helping children self regulate those uncontrollable meltdowns. Of course, I decided to try it out, as naughty corners and scoldings are not always effective (plus they look pretty).Best of all, I employed child labour for the task and got Noodle to do most of the work in making the bottle.

I bought two little bottles of Drink-o-pop Kid-O cool drink (the type of thing I typically do not let my kids drink, but I liked the size and shape of the bottle for this task and wanted plastic bottles for this purpose to avoid damage by angry kids). I have seen glass jars used, but would strongly recommend plastic for children. Once the contents of the bottles were decanted, this is how we made it:
  1. We squeezed a few tubes of glitter glue at the bottom of the bottle.
  2. We poured in a full bottle of glitter. I also added some other random sparkly bits.
  3. We added hot, but not boiling water, adding more water or glitter depending on the consistency desired. The difference in viscosity between the water and the glue create a beautiful swirly effect.
  4. We added a few drops of purple food colouring and gave everything a good stir.
  5. I glued the jar lid on with superglue (as we do not want little hands spilling glue and glitter everywhere).
  6. Some ribbons and sparkles were added for good measure.
The idea is that when the little ones throw tantrums they get a time out until the glitter settles to the bottom of the bottle. If they shake it, it will take longer so they have to stay still. In the meantime, the pretty swirly colours will mesmerize them into a mysical trance of calmness. Squish is still a little young for time outs but I have used the technique very successfully with Noodle, who calms down seconds after I hand her the bottle even through the worst tantrums.
The bottle used for the 'Calm' Bottle
The end product (excuse the poor photo quality which does not really capture the full glitter effect).

Monday, 16 February 2015

The Jozi WAHM's Guide to Survival when Eskom Strikes Again

There is no doubt that most South Africans are frustrated and even angered by the current loadshedding situation. However, while the country collectively seeks a solution to the current energy crisis faced, we can all seek the feint silver lining in every cloud. 

Here are the Jozi WAHM's guidelines on how to make the most of the dark hours during work and play time:
  •  Plan ahead. Make sure rechargeable lights, torches, candles. matches are in easily accesible spots around the house so you do not need to search for them in the dark. Battery operated touch lamps which can be stuck on the walls next to kiddies beds are a great investment. 
  • Keep a special box of toys ready for evening power cuts. Glow in the dark toys are especially appropriate.
  • During work time, use the opportunity to make physical contact with clients and colleagues. This sometimes goes a long way towards building enduring and meaningful relationships.
  •  For mommies, enjoy the excuse not to cook. Engage in South Africa's favourite pastime (braai, braai and more braai), order takeaways, or make a healthy but simple meal out of salads, bread, cold meats, cheese, fruits etc.
  • By far the best thing about loadshedding is that the big black box goes off. Replace the television time with family time.
  • If it is day time, it is time for the kids to play outside.
  • If it is night time, play games, tell stories or just chat. If the kids are scared of the dark, play games with torches, make shadow puppets, 'camp' indoors or just cuddle in bed.
  • Get out the marshmallows and make smores with the kids (supervised of course).
  • Candlelight = romance. Seize the oppurtunity. 
  • Invest in lots of scented candles and enjoy the aromas wafting through your home.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

The Jozi WAHM's Golden Rules for Working From Home

So far most of my posts have been child-centred. This one is too, in a way, as it focuses on how to get work done from home with children around (especially if the reason you are working from home in the first place is to spend more time with them).
  • If possible, get help, at least part of the time (I am still working on this one as Squish refuses to stay with my nanny/domestic worker most days so I am more productive just working around him). 
  • Have a designated work place reserved only for this purpose and with all the tools of the trade close by. If you have a proper home office, this is fantastic, but if not, have a corner of your home designated for this purpose.
  • Plan your day and what needs to be achieved. Get your most important tasks done at the times when you anticipate the least distractions (for me this is late night or mid-morning when Noodle is at creche and Squish is napping).
  • Have activities pre-planned for the children which will allow you to complete a task. I have toys categorised so that a specific type of toy is easily accessible when required.
  • Maximise your time by working smarter. Shop online to save time. 
  • Multi-task where possible. I reserve simpler tasks which can be completed from my phone or tablet for when supervising the kids playing in the garden etc.

Stretching the Imagination with Loombands- Playing and Upcycling

Remember how a few months ago these colourful bits of elastic were everywhere you looked? My pre-teen nieces and nephews have alerted me to the fact that the loomband fad has officially passed. Nobody has let my four-year-old Noodle know this though and she still loves them. Truth be told, I encourage it as I think they are great for building fine motor skills in younger children. Also, the shops all have them at a steal at the moment.

When Noodle first brought them home, I needed to watch a couple of Youtube vidoes to figure out the basics, since the Chinglish instructions were a bit confusing. Once we got into it, they get rather addictive. We stuck to the basics with Noodle but I have also made one or two of the fancier braided ones for her myself (with her helping by sorting colours for me). We have stuck to straightforward bracelets, rings and pencil grips but the possibilities are endless.

Loomband bracelets made by Noodle and I

The real dilemma at hand... what to do with all these space occupying gremlins once the kids no longer play with them? Now that they are not exactly trending anymore, I am sure there are many households with a surplus of these rainbow monstrosities.  Apparently they are not made of a material that cannot be recycled so once the little have discarded them, re-purposing them is the way to go for green families.

Some upcycling ideas for loombands:

  • They work well as hair ties for fine braided hairstyles (or use a chain of them for larger braids or as a headband).
  •  They can be used to tie stacks of banknotes, business cards etc.
  • They can be used as ties for small plastic packets or in lunchboxes to hold cutlery together.
  •  I have not tried this yet, but would like to try using it to make a squishy toddler bump friendly tablet case.
  • Cut them up and use for cut and paste art activities on cardboard (black for hair, green for grass etc).
  • Remember that game we played way back in the day? England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales? The one where you jump in and out of elastic bands? I have seen it has made a comeback with the older kids in the family and that they have made one extra long round loomband rope for this purpose. They also use the rope for skipping, limbo games and the list goes on. 

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Inside Jozi WAHM's Kitchen- Pizza Night

When I am not working, I try to do as many activities with the kids as possible, some for their educational development and some just for fun. We play in the garden, read story books, ponder life questions (which four year old Noodle has an endless stream of), or do more structured activities.

We also do a lot of tinkering in the kitchen, which kills two birds with one stone as we get food on the table while the children learn and have fun. I am perhaps not the best chef in the world but I do enjoy experimenting in the kitchen and the little ones enjoy getting their hands dirty. I adore kitchen activities for  Noodle especially, as the educational possibilities are endless. Besides creativity and motor skills, there is a lot of opportunity for enhancing mathematical skills (I get her to measure out ingredients, press the right numbers on the microwave or count how many of a certain item we have). For Squish, I try to use cooking time as an opportunity for him to experience new tastes and textures and  learn new words (or just to have fun bang spoons on pots).

Today's culinary activity was making pizza. I made the dough, cooked some spicy chicken and the tomato sauce, chopped up the desired toppings (mushrooms, peppers and spring onions being today’s selection), grated the cheese (Noodle helped with this part) and then let the minions get decorating. I had to stop Squish from eating the raw dough (although he may have gotten a lick or two in) and a lot of grated cheese was consumed before making it onto the pizza.

They also enjoyed playing with the leftover dough and Noodle made little cocktail rolls with the dough after I showed her how to roll it into balls and then brush these with egg. The rolls turned out beautifully and were perfect for lunchboxes. She also made a tiny marble sized one for her dolly (which she of course ate). 

Monday, 9 February 2015

Sensational Sensory Rice

I was looking for educational activities that would be fun and stimulating for both little ones. This is sometimes a bit difficult as Squish still tends to put things in his mouth, so I required something that was non-toxic and not too much of a choking hazard (under supervision). When I came across the idea of sensory rice, I thought this would be perfect.

Making the rice was fairly simple and I got Noodle to help me with this part. I used about a cup of rice (the cheapest house brand variant I could find rather than the Basmati rice which I typically use for cooking), split it into three Ziploc bags and added about a teaspoon of vinegar and a gloop of gel food colouring to each. I am sure any food colouring will work- I just had gel colour available and quite like the vibrant colours it produces. Noodle selected violet, orange and lime green. It had a bit of a peculiar vinegar smell, so I added different food essences to each one (granadilla, orange and peppermint to the corresponding colours). We gave each a good shake and left it to dry for a couple of hours. Voila, ready to use.

Some things I have used the rice or plan to use it for:
  • Sensory play- letting them feel it, smell it, transfer from one recycled container to another, sift through a funnel, raking with a fork etc;
  • Putting into sealed containers as shakers for Squish;
  • Colour sorting;
  • Adding and subtracting activities with Noodle;
  • Transferring grains with tongs (for Noodle);
  • Using it for art activities (pasting on cardboard, arrange into shapes etc). 
Note: We played with this outdoors on a large plastic tablecloth to minimise the hassle of cleaning up afterwards. The rice is perfectly re-usable and should last indefinitely if stored in a sealed container. 
Children raking the sensory rice with a fork
Rice 'cupcake'
Rainbow rice 'cupcakes'
After the first use, the colours all got jumbled together to form a beautiful rainbow of colour. Noodle used the mini ice trays to make 'cupcakes' out of the rice.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

The Jozi WAHM's Quintessential Guide to Restaurants with Play Areas in Johannesburg

Our family loves food and with two energetic little ones, we do tend to spend some time at the many play areas Johannesburg has to offer. I thought I would put pen to paper on our experiences at some of them. 

Note: I know there are several other play areas around and have only mentioned some of the noteworthy ones that I have physically visited.




This eclectic and whimsical hide is first on the list, as it is my go-to sanctuary. The food is brilliant (I cannot say the same for all the child friendly eating places in Johannesburg). Their iced coffee milkshakes and lemon meringues are some of my favourites.  Most important, there are phenomenal indoor and outdoor play areas for the little ones. 

The outdoor section has an amazing multi-story jungle gym and there is a little role-play area with a child-sized fantasy house and shop, where Noodle is happy to spend hours. There are also lots of toys for babies and younger toddlers, which is lacking at similar establishments.

Indoors, there is sand art (at an additional fee), books, Playstation games and a fabulous oversized Barbie dollhouse- more than enough to keep kids busy on rainy days. They have caring and attentive childminders and the front gate is locked and you need to sign your kids in at the front gate and produce the correct slip to sign them out again. This (together with the free WIFI) makes it the perfect haven for me to catch up on a few emails while the kids are entertained and safe. The down side is that it can get quite busy and being on the main road in Melville, parking can also be a challenge. 



Papachinos has several branches (I know that there are branches in Fourways, Morningside and others), but we frequent the Clearwater one. The outdoor restaurant area is colourful yet sophisticated. It has a lovely large outdoor play area, with an adorable motorbike track. Importantly, their food is great (I even know of friends without children who frequent this restaurant simply for the good food).

The childminders are not as attentive as at Bambanani though, so you do still need to keep an eye on your kids, which is difficult without following them around as the play area is quite big. There is usually someone at the front gate but I know of at least one child (not my own) who escaped alone into the busy parking lot alone.



I usually get lost at the entrance of this centre, as I am drawn to the West Pack shop at the entrance, which sells a huge assortment of inexpensive but good quality storage accessories, toys, home ware, stationary and craft materials (which we love).

I digress. This centre, primarily a nursery, is also cloud nine for children as it also hosts a beautiful large kids play area, with a playground, funfair rides and even pony rides. There are a few good of eating places, the Silver Birch, Primi Piatti (which has its own play area, you do need to book in advance to sit anywhere close to the play area though) and Smooch. You will have to beg the kids to come home from here!



As mentioned earlier, our family eats Halaal. Now, you may be familiar with Fordsburg (or Foodsburg as it has been dubbed), an Indian section of the inner city which has a lot of your standard food franchises but for a large part has been taken over by foreign business owners. Our family loves Fordsburg for its sheer variety of Halaal eating establishments. On the flipside, most of Fordsburg is dirty, parking is lacking and you get attacked by flocks of beggars. Also, most Halaal establishments have not cottoned on to the idea of providing entertainment for the little ones. 

The newly opened Jimmy’s is the exception. The Image Lifestyle venue is actually a wedding venue, so it boasts a beautiful green garden with fountains and delicate arches for taking those quaint wedding photo’s. Nestled within this oasis within the urban jungle, where you will forget that you are in Fordsburg, is the new Jimmy’s, which is wonderful for Alfresco dining and also boasts a large and pleasant play area and jumping castles. Their food also happens to be excellent.



This one obviously needs no introduction to any South African parent and is a standard option when eating out with our extended family. We opt for the Fordsburg, Rosebank or Trade Route Mall branches, due to Halaal dietary requirements (at most of the other places I have listed above we are limited to vegetarian or dessert options).



There are two lovely new outdoor play areas at this centre. One belongs to the Spur at the Centre and the other one next to Smooch is accessible to anybody. This is great for a quick stop for frozen yoghurt while the kids burn off some energy and Smooch has some scooters which the kids can play with. 



This large indoor play area boasts a huge jungle gym, a smaller area for younger kids and lots of soft toys for the younger ones so there is plenty to keep the little ones entertained. Noodle, a bit of an adrenalin junkie, loved the enormous, very fast slide and Squish enjoyed the ball pits. 

Sadly, the restaurant area is uninspired (a bit like a big warehouse), the waitresses inattentive and the food mediocre. The bathroom lights were not working and I had to change a nappy in the dark. Their signage boasts an hourly and a daily rate but they seem to default to whichever works out more. They also have a bizarre rule that children have to wear socks and I had to fork out an additional sum for socks for my sandal-clad offspring. So, while the kids enjoyed it, I feel like there are other good options which are better value for money in the surrounding area.



This one is hidden between all the factory shops. I cannot give a completely impartial view on this one as we did not stay very long, Noodle was cranky after a long day of shopping so I did not end up sampling the food here. It is a bit like Orango Tango, large and warehouse-like and the entrance fee feels a bit steep. The play areas are incredible though, and there are other craft activities for the kids at an additional fee.



I once went to this venue in the south of Johannesburg for a birthday party before Noodle was born and it was fabulous. However, on a more recent visit, the play area had shrunken and most of the entertainment was coin operated rides which you paid for in addition to the entrance fee. That being said, it is still fun for the kids and there is a Mugg and Bean coffee shop for the java deprived adults.



There is nothing exceptional about this one, but for some reason, this remains Noodle’s favourite play area and is slap bang in the middle of the busy shopping centre, offering a welcome break for the children after the tedium of shopping (did I mention that I love shopping?). A new McDonalds has opened right next to the play area so it is easy to watch your kids from there while having a milkshake or ice-cream.