Time to Focus on Family

This week my son turned 20 and in our house he gets to be "Birthday Boy for a Week." That means special dinner with friends followed by charades (oh yes we did!), family dinner, presents (of course), birthday pie for breakfast (he's never been a cake kid), and winding up the week with Sunday beer brunch. 

Family really is everything, so this week we're focusing on feeding the minds, bodies, and souls of those closest to us. In our last Family Edition we included kid-friendly activities...with the kiddos back in school and us having less time to craft or play games, we thought we'd tackle a few more serious family topics, including something a lot of us are struggling with right listening—actually focusing on your loved ones even when you hear them all day long. We've also got some great tips for ordering healthier restaurant meals. Plus not-so-healthy butterscotch bars, homemade lemonade, and a great family movie you probably haven't seen (I hadn't)! Hope you enjoy the issue as much as we liked putting it together for you.
XOXO Paige

No Bull, We're Living for this Movie

Have you watched every Disney movie ever made—three times? Do your kids love Coco (2017) as much as I do? (I loved it so much.)

If you answer "Yes!" check out The Book of Life (2014). This animated film boasts the voices of Diego Luna, Zoe Saldana, Channing Tatum, and was produced by Oscar winner Guillermo del Toro.

Manolo Sánchez, a reluctant bullfighter and his best friend fall for the same girl.
La Muerte, Queen of the Land of the Remembered, makes a wager with Xibalba, Lord of The Forgotten, each favouring one suitor to win the heart of lovely Maria, but gods rarely play fair.

The animation style is truly unique, unlike the Disney style of animation, The Book of Life is not bound by strict realism. Colors are vibrant and the characters are modeled to look almost like marionettes. It's like watching the world's greatest puppet show! I’ve not watched another animated feature done this way. If you’ve haven't seen this film, you should. It’s a visual treat and perfect as we move into Halloween! 

P.S. Don't watch the trailer beforehand—too many spoilers. But if you want a flavor for the film, view this clip of a mariachi rendition of Creep by Radiohead because you need this in your life!

Listening is More than Hearing

by Paige Okun

With the entire family spending more time at home the ongoing chatter and background noise all day long can seem relentless. Some of it involves general daily life admin, some of it is negotiating space or internet time, and some is general white noise due to proximity. But, with all that noise are we are really listening to one another? Have we lost some meaningful conversations and engagements because we are just spending too much time together?
I spoke with Sarah Haas, a psychotherapist based in Singapore about how to reset our listening and focus on those closest to us.

What is active listening?

It’s a way of understanding another person from their perspective. Step into the other’s person’s shoes, give them your full attention and tune into non-verbal cues as well as the words they are saying.
It’s important to understand that hearing is not listening. Hearing is noise, sound waves. Listening is being able to take in information and do something with it.

When is a good time to have a conversation?

We’re all dealing with two huge barriers to listening: screens and external stimuli. Let’s be honest, everyone is multi-tasking—sending a message, looking at a document, cooking a meal, and trying to listen to a spouse or child. We do things on the go rather than dedicating the time to engage and actively listen.
Sarah suggests that you pick a good time during the day to focus on one another and really listen. At first you may need to make a plan and set a specific time to talk. It’s ok to ask permission. Say, “I need you to listen to me for a few minutes.”  Especially now when our workday is bleeding into our home lives, it’s hard to know when it’s a good time to talk. And, if someone approaches you, it’s ok to say, “I can’t focus on you right this minute, can we set a time to talk later.” This signals that both the person and what they are saying is important.

Sarah loves a screen-free family dinner as a check in time. With everyone seated around the table, you can ask specific questions about their day.  
Depending on the age of your kids, bedtime is also a good time to listen. Kids are tired, vulnerable and may be more apt to share feelings in this quieter, calmer time of the day. You’ll both find it easier to engage and focus.
Another good time is in the car where meaningful conversation can happen because you have a captive audience. But, Sarah cautions against using the confined space for nagging or nit-picking as the other person can feel attacked. Sometimes the car works well because eye contact can make people feel uncomfortable. If you’re sitting side-by-side or with a child in the back seat, sometimes that can be easier. You want both sides to feel comfortable enough to have an active conversation.
The bottom line is that you know your family the best and you know when the best time is to engage. Trust yourself.

How do you re-engage to make sure you’re actually listening?

It’s important to listen without prejudice. Pay attention to the person speaking and listen to their perspective. It’s about them and what they have going on.

Stop thinking about what you want to say next and avoid judging what they are saying. Instead, consider what they are trying to get out of the conversation and not your ulterior motives.
While it is difficult to leave your history out of a conversation, especially with children, it’s important to let them form their own experiences and opinions.
Try paraphrasing what the other person said rather than nodding or just saying, “uh-huh,” which Sarah calls quieting with little affirmations. When you summarise the other person they will feel heard, justified and know you are focusing and paying attention.
It’s also ok to ask questions to make sure you are on the same page. But, again, do this without judgement or prejudice. Make it clear you are clarifying so you can understand what they are saying.
She also advocates silence in a conversation. You can let something just sit for a bit. You don’t need to jump in and talk right away.
Finally, she reminds us, there doesn’t always have to be conversation in order for there to be a healthy relationship. Right now, it might be enough to stay away from the nagging, critique and criticism, that arise because we are in each other’s space more than usual.
Sarah is a licensed counsellor and psychotherapist at International Counselling & Psychology Centre in Singapore, Sarah specialises in supporting families, children, adolescents in young adults. In her free time she enjoys travel and exploring other cultures.


Substitutions Rule!
And Other Advice for Dining Out

by Stacey Raza
Whether you want a night off from cooking or are treating your family to a special meal, just because you’re dining out, doesn’t mean you have to leave your healthy habits at home. By keeping a few tips in mind and choosing carefully no cuisine is off limits.
Note: My general tips are sometimes more about the preparation for the meal, rather than the meal itself.
Think ahead! If you are starving before you get to a restaurant—maybe you skipped a meal or thought you would “save up” calories—you are more likely to splurge on high-cal options, even if you didn’t budget for them. When you are starving, willpower and good nutritional sense go out the window. So, eat a small snack ahead of time to curb your hunger before you head out the door. An apple, a little hummus and veggie sticks, a handful of almonds are all enough to stave off hunger and maintain willpower.
Look at the menu online before you get to the restaurant. Decide what you are going to order and don’t even open the menu or listen to the specials when you arrive. Stick with your first choice.
Don’t be shy! Ask for substitutions! If a meal comes with fries, a mayo-based salad like coleslaw, or other unhealthy sides, ask for a side salad or extra steamed veg instead. Yes, the additional $2 or so you may have to pay is annoying…but very worth it!
Just say NO! to the bread basket. Before the waiter even has a chance to set it down, tell the waiter, “no thank you.” Then ask if they have olives or cut veggies instead.
Appetizers are just right! Sometimes main dishes feel big enough to feed a family of four! Ask for an appetizer instead as your main course. There are lots of great choices and the size is right. If you want to try another dish on the menu, order an appetizer and split a main with your dining partner.

Want to know what to order at Mexican, Mediterranean or Italian restaurant?
Read more here.

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Preserved Children

I was going through an old cookbook, The Pioneer Kettle, from my grandmother and came across this gem:

Preserved Children
Take 1 large field, half a dozen children, 2 or 3 small dogs, a pinch of brook and some pebbles. Mix the children and dogs well together; put them on the field stirring constantly. Pour the brook over the pebbles; sprinkle the field with flowers; spread a deep blue sky over all and bake in the sun. When brown, set away to cool in the bathtub. 

Since we don't have a brook or field near my house, I nurtured my nostalgia with my grandmother's Butterscotch Chewy Bars. These dense, caramel treats are delightfully not-too-sweet. My family isn't crazy about nuts, so I swapped out the toasted pecans for a mixture of chocolate and butterscotch chips. YUM!
Get the Recipe

Never Too Many Lemons

We use a lot of lemons in our house...I toss zest into just about every weeknight veggie dish. So, there is an abundance of peeled lemons in my veggie drawer. We juice them and make quick lemonade (simple syrup, juice, water) almost every week. But for special occasions I make slow lemonade. It takes a little longer, but the result is so worth it! And if we're feeling feisty, I will add sparkling water just before serving to make it extra special!

Slow Lemonade


8-10 lemons
1 cup white sugar
1 cup water
Additional still/sparkling water for diluting

Mix It Up!

Peel the skin—yellow part only, you don't want bitter white pith—from 4 lemons using a vegetable peeler. Set aside.

Squeeze 1 cup of lemon juice. Set a side.

Place sugar and water into a medium sized sauce pan. Bring to a boil and stir until sugar dissolves, about 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat. Add lemon peels to the hot mixture. Put a lid on the pot and let the lemon peels steep for about an hour as the mixture cools.

Remove peels from the lemon syrup using a slotted spoon or spatula. Your syrup should be a lovely yellow colour. 

In a large pitcher mix the 1 cup of syrup and the reserved 1 cup of lemon juice. Add still or sparkling water to dilute to your preferred strength. Garnish with a lemon wheel and mint and enjoy!

For more great cocktail and mocktail ideas visit Cocktailing@Home at

Name That Tune! 

We love a musical game! Pick a Music Master (MM). MM plays a few seconds of a song and the rest of the family tries to guess the tune. Bonus point if you can name the artist!

We've queued up six hours of eclectic tunes to get you started. Test your musical knowledge—you may be surprised at how much you know.

For more great tunes, click here.
About me: I'm a writer, obsessive reader, mother, wife and one half of the marketing team known as Chop Chop.  I love to travel and explore new places, but hate to plan trips. I strive to be a good friend and a great home cook. My friends tease me about my germaphobia and being's all good. 
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