Tips for creating your family budget

If you do not control your family finances, they usually do not “behave” well. Having them studied and well organized becomes necessary, especially when we have some debts to pay off or our income is not as satisfying as we would like it to be.

You will need a few hours and clear mind enabling you to focus on this one certain thing for some time. There is no sense to create the family budget only to feel that we at least have done something. We need to make an effective plan which will help our finances be back on track. Here we suggest how it can be done in steps:

  1. Find a goal. It can be paying off the debt, increasing your credit score, or organizing money for college. You need a goal to know where you want to get to.
  2. Decide how you want to work on it. You can sit with a pen, some paper and a calculator and do it all “traditionally”. If you like to use new technologies, there is good news: you can find a budgeting software like com and have it done much easier and faster.
  3. Sum up both income and expenditure. Divide your money for two categories – income and expenses – and find a total for both. If the outgoing part is bigger than the income, do not get nervous – you are going to control this.
  4. Look closer at the expenses. You should analyze this category and divide it into subcategories like utilities, secured and unsecured debts, other spending (eating out, clothes, books etc.)Next, focus on the Other spending It contains the most changeable items (for instance, you can decide to stop spending money on eating out).
  5. Use the Ledger, Spreadsheet or Budget Software. Add the totals and categories to the ledger, electronic spreadsheet or a budget software. In this step, you will see the shape of your budget. Now, your task is to make your expenses lower than the income.
  6. Stay in control. When your budget becomes visible and realistic, it will be much easier to gain control over it. Focus mainly on reducing expenses in Other spending category – it is the most flexible one. Our tip is to keep money that you are going to spend, in cash – it makes you aware of how much you are spending and helps avoid overspending.
  7. Pay off the debt. Debts are the main problems of many families. Try to get rid of it as quickly as it is possible. Make at least minimum payments, but if there is a possibility pay even more than the minimum. Apart from having the debt out of the way, paying more than the minimum sometimes can mean that you will pay less interest. But you need to ask your creditor about your certain case.

There are free budgeting tools which can help you create a realistic budget for your family.

Why not to use them and gain the control over your finances?

In case you still have problems with your debts and finances, you can also use a help of a free credit counseling service.

Do not give up, create goals and meet them!

Read this before your baby arrives

When you are pregnant with your first baby and have not much experience with little children, it is just going to be a surprise pack. No matter how many classes you have attended and how many friends with children you have talked to. You will end up surprised and confused in this totally new situation. Here are some things you must know in advance.

  1. Babies sleep a lot, but… wake up very often. Babies are different, some of them sleep longer, some sleep shorter, there is no rule actually. You will see what type your child is. Generally, you must be prepared for frequent (every 2-4 hours) wake-ups including nights in the beginning. Later (after 3-4 months), you may be lucky and your baby may regulate his or her sleep at night.
  2. You will be sleepy and exhausted. Yes, this sounds demotivating, but do not worry, parents can cope with this. Lack of enough sleep can really make you tired and frustrated, that is why, you must sleep whenever it is possible. So, no cleaning, no cooking while your baby is sleeping – go to bed too. Try to take turns at nights or take the baby to your bed. You must survive the most difficult beginning, sooner or later, situation improves.
  3. Breastfeeding is hard. We think that it is so natural and simple that nothing bad can happen. Wrong. Both you and your child have to learn it first, and this is not as easy as it seems. So as to avoid unnecessary stress and problems find a good lactation consultant as soon as possible.
  4. Be prepared for lots of advice. Children cry, sometimes even more than they sleep. It is very complicated for fresh parents to guess what the problem of their little cutie is. And here come the whole family and neighborhood with help. You will hear a whole range of conflicting advice and sometimes even accusations – do not really care about it. You need to “learn your baby”. Thank for the useful advice and forget the rest.
  5. Organize support. The first three months are going to be the most difficult. Newborn babies have to learn their “new life” outside the safe womb and your body comes back from the pregnancy mode. It is hard for both of you, thus, it would be a good idea to have some help.
  6. It will be an exam for you as a couple. It is even better than a survival camp. You may be more nervous, focused on having at least a five minute of sleep – where is the romance? Do not worry, it will not last forever. Treat this situation as an adventure. But you will need some time for you as a couple, not parents. If you cannot count for a babysitter, organize a date at home when baby is sleeping.
  7. Children grow really fast. You can be so confused in this whole new chaos that you may miss this fact. Try to enjoy the moments with your newborn, these are unrepeatable.
  8. Do not buy too many gadgets. Babies do not need much. It is a better idea to save money for the future, you will be surely needing them later.
  9. You will be a great mom. You do not have to know everything, you can ask, have doubts. You will learn everything with time and you will become an expert of your child.

You, your smartphone and your kids

Parenting can be a bit monotonous and boring sometimes. Fortunately, someone has invited smartphones and we have work, contact with our friends, entertainment and some break from other occupations in one hand. You play with your kid and check Facebook or read something on the internet? Many of us do this, but have you ever thought that such a habit can have a bad impact on parents’ relationship with children? In fact, the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics has published a study which says that using a smartphone around your kids can increase tension in the house.

Surprisingly, this “window” to the world outside – which is your smartphone, makes you absent as a parent, since mentally you are in more than one place: at work, with friends and in Africa with people suffering from hunger. The study mentioned above has checked how multitasking smartphone use affects caregivers and their family routines. 35 caregivers have been interviewed and what turned out?

Many of them admitted that it has an influence on their family lives and, what is more, they noticed that reading bad news or some work related emails had a bad influence on their mood which resulted in negative responses to their children. Often, when children were disturbing caregivers focused on their phones, they were snapped or yelled at. For the caregivers using smartphones meant some kind of an escape from the stresses and monotony of parenting.

These days, it is difficult to be only here and now. Many parents work from homes and using technology around kids is just inevitable. New technologies have made our lives much easier in many aspects, but simultaneously, it has become much harder to achieve the healthy balance between work and family.

What is significant here, we need to understand that our children benefit from some independence. We do not have to devote our whole day for them to make them happy. In fact, unhappy parent means usually unhappy children. If you need to find yourself present and active in more than one area of your life, you have to make a plan.

Remember that too much disruptions can make you feel overwhelmed and too many tasks at a time cannot be done well. There must be some time during the day when your kids are occupied, maybe it would be a good idea to limit your “other matters” to this time so that you could focus on certain things separately.

Children do feel that their parents are absent, even when they are just next to them. Quality is often more important than quantity when it comes to parenting. Your stress pouring out on a child cannot bring any good. We all need balance in our lives and chaos often ends up with exhaustion and frustration. Why don’t we turn off our smartphone for a while and just be here and now? Later we can check what happened outside “without us”.

43 Simple Ways To Simplify Your Life

Simplicity. How can we make things simpler, more streamlined, or more efficient? Is this all just hype or is there actually something to this simplicity thing?

Reducing complexity in my life has reduced stress, increased free time, and top priorities are actually top priorities. When we simplify as much as we can we are better able to slow down and enjoy each moment as opposed to rushing through it. Here are a few ways you can simplify the various aspects of your life:

1. Turn off your cell phone.

2. Process email only twice a day.

3. Go to bed early.

4. Get rid of (or at least reduce) commitments that you do out of obligation.

5. Create a weekly meal plan.

6. Automate your finances.

7. Purge as much unneeded clutter as possible.

8. Keep your paper shredder on top of your recycling bin.

9. Add items you want to a wish list as you think of them.

10. Get a label maker or write labels out by hand.

11. Set your clothes out for the next day the night before.

12. Make your lunch for the next day the night before.

13. Make time to catch up with an old friend.

14. Just say no.

15. Ask for experiences not things for your birthday and Christmas this year.

16. Tell the truth.

17. Keep your list of addresses and phone numbers up to date.

18. Consolidate debt.

19. Create an organizing system that works for you.

20. Keep a bag for garbage in your car.

21. Cary a notebook and pen with you where ever you go.

22. Unsubscribe from emails, newsletters or RSS feeds that dont provide value anymore.

23. Apologize immediately when you realize youve done wrong.

24. Enjoy the present moment as much as you can.

25. Take time to really see the little things in life.

26. Reduce the amount of TV you watch.

27. Get outside.

28. Create morning, daytime, and evening routines.

29. Ask for help.

30. Do things at home as much as possible (eat, date nights, entertain etc.).

31. Dont get caught up in other peoples drama.

32. Let go of the self-imposed need to be perfect.

33. Focus on a simple, but healthy, eating plan.

34. Share responsibilities.

35. Reduce your wardrobe to a few versatile items.

36. Be positive.

37. Start a gratitude journal.

38. Finish old tasks before taking on new ones.

39. For every new item that enters your home set two free.

40. Want what you have not what you dont.

41. Revisit what you carry with you in your purse or wallet.

42. Focus on one thing at a time.

43. Store new garbage bags at the bottom of your garbage can.

There are countless ways to simplify your life, these are but a few. Id love to know what youve done to move towards a simpler life for yourself. Please share your ideas in the comments.

Below some extra tips submitted by our readers:

44. Know your credit score.

45. Have a realistic budget

46. Do online grocery shopping as much as possible

47. Get rid of pseudo-friends. Always ask yourself: Would I make friends with that person if I got to know her/him now?

48. Read only one book at a time

49. Keep a list on the fridge for groceries and write them on the list as you realize youre out or getting low

50. Rest on Sunday (or at least one day a week if youre not of a religious persuasion)

51. Cook in bulk and freeze leftovers for future use

52. Work out every morning

53. Go out of your way every day to help someone who isnt expecting it

54. Have automatic reminders for the birthdays of your beloved-ones or at least a paper version somewhere you regularly look at

55. Start a gratitude journal.

56. Finish old tasks before taking on new ones.

57. For every new item that enters your home set two free.

58. Want what you have not what you don’t.

59. Revisit what you carry with you in your purse or wallet.

60. Focus on one thing at a time.

Isn’t there too much stress in your family?

Stress is a part of our lives. We both need it and have too much of it. How to find the happy medium?

Unfortunately, stressed parents “infect” their children with stress as well. Bad atmosphere spreads out very quickly, and home – the place which is supposed to be the oasis of calm and to help family members relieve the whole work or school stress – becomes the field of a battle. It is almost impossible to get rid of stress entirely.

However, what should we do if our family suffers from too much stress which results in health and relationship problems? First, identify the source of stress, then do something to make it less harmful. We have some ideas how to do it.

  1. Take care of a good night sleep. You have probably heard that sleeping well is healthy and helps relieve stress. It is true, and what is more, problems with sleeping are…another stress generators. Make your family go to bed earlier, have some “sleep weekends” and apart from this, find some time during the day to close your eyes and clear your head for a few minutes (or have a nap if it is possible).
  2. Stop yelling. Yelling is almost inevitable if we feel stressed and overwhelmed. But it does not help, it makes even more problems and strain between family members. Showing respect towards each other and talking calmly can help get rid of the strain and build trust. Children rarely listen to yelling parents, they just start yelling themselves.
  3. Have family dinners. Nobody wants to spend time with cranky people, even if these are their parents. Do not expect you children to cheerfully come to the family table if you are angry and depressed. Make this time more appealing and pleasant– for example, you can play a game in which you tell, in turns, something nice about other family member.
  4. Help your children cope with stress by setting a good example. If you manage with stress by eating too much or drinking alcohol, do not expect that your children will learn good habits in this area. You observe that your child is withdrawing? Talk to each other, take him/her for a walk, bike ride or to other place.
  5. Do not burden yourself and your children with too many activities. Running from one extra activity to another can cause a lot of tension. This tension can, in turn, cause many health problems. First of all, think if it is not too much? You can either reduce the amount of activities or just change the attitude and make it less hectic (being punctual is important, but it is not worth your terrible headache afterwards).

Find your own family stress-remover. If you observe that your family is more and more under the weather, have some sleep, stomach or back problems, it is time for all of you to calm down. Chronic stress harms our immune system and influences negatively our whole body. The only way to relieve the stress and unite the whole family at the same time is to find an activity which will enable you to both get rid of stress and spend time together.

“I need to change my life!” – useful tips to reach your goal

To start with, a very well-known truth – we all are different. Something that works for one person can be useless for another. This fact makes the whole process of changing life more difficult and discouraging, because using someone’s experience may not result in our own success. We just need to determine on our own what exactly works for us and what we should devote our time for.

It is hard to start changing your bad habits or forming new ones which are supposed to make you life better. But one thing is necessary – thorough analysis of your life, troubles and qualities. You must know what you start with and what needs some repair. If you already know where the problem is, the next step is forming certain habits which have the power to improve the quality of your life.

Here are some suggestions for useful habits which can improve your life:

  1. Positive thinking. You have probably heard of it many times, but still you have not implemented this in your life for real. And that is a shame. It is not the key to success in itself, but it prepares the ground without which your success will remain far away from you. Start with realizing your negative thinking – you may be surprised how much negative thoughts pull you down every day. When you finally are aware of the bad thoughts you will have to systematically work on getting rid of them. Positive thinking helps you become more motivated, powerful and strong-willed.
  2. Next cliché you have heard thousands of times – physical activity helps your body and mind remain in good shape. Sport really improves you – helps relieve stress, builds your strong-will, self-confidence and improves your mood. It is significant to prepare this good ground for changes. A sound mind in a sound body.
  3. Single –tasking. Stop making hundreds of things at the same time and you will see how more efficient you are becoming. Multi-tasking makes you: more stressed, overwhelmed and less effective and focused.
  4. Choosing one goal. Have a list of goals and arrange them in the order of importance. Focus on achieving one of them at a time. When you succeed with the first one go to the second and so on.
  5. Choosing the important things. Find things which are precious and necessary for you and concentrate on them. Get rid of useless disruptions and things which do not give you anything good. You are the builder of your life and you decide about the way it looks like.
  6. Being kind. Treat other people with kindness and they will return a favor. If you find it hard, try step by step – start with being kind to one person every day.
  7. Daily routine. Your day should be organized, because this will help you gain more harmony and reduce stress. It is also a good way to become more productive.

How to form the habits?

Choose one habit to form and focus on it for the next 30 days. To make it more visible, write your plan and strategy on paper. Realise what your motivation is, think of possible obstacles and ways of overcoming them. Announce it publicly and inform about progress. Find support for weaker moments and remember about rewarding yourself for small successes. If it ends up with failure, think it over, find out what the reason of the failure was, draw conclusions and… try again.

Problems with your children’s behavior? Repair your relationship with them!

All parents have some problems with their children. These are different depending on the age of the offspring, but most of them comes from the wrong parent-child relationship. In the book The Ten Basic Principles of Good Parenting, Laurence Steinberg, PhD, we have found a lot of very useful advice for parents struggling with this complicated task which is upbringing children.

The first common mistake is using violence – both in the shape of words and slaps.  Then we have implementing very strict discipline and becoming “a boss” not a parent which also brings bad results. In short, your aim is not to make your child afraid of you, totally obedient and feeling worse – your aim is to help your child become the “healthy” and strong adult.

If your child is, let us call it, difficult, it is time for you to take a closer look at your relationship with him or her and your parenting methods because there is probably something wrong with them. Do you want to cooperate with people you do not like? Or who yell at you to make you obedient? Probably not, just try to see yourself through your child’s eyes.

Here are 10 commandments for you as a parent:

  1. Set a good example. It is not a secret that children just copy their parents.
  2. Love, love and love. What can spoil your child? It is not too much love, these are love-substitutes like being too lenient, having no expectations and showing love through giving loads of presents instead of devoting time and attention.
  3. Engage in your child’s life. Be here and now for your child – both mentally and physically. Show you are interested in his or her life, not only in his school performance and homework.
  4. Make systematical adjustments. Remember that your child is constantly growing and changing. You must be up to date with your parenting.
  5. Make rules. Childhood is this precious time of shaping your child’s future adult life. If you fail now, he or she would have trouble in the future. Do not let your child for him/herself now, it is a way to a disaster.
  6. Let your child be independent. Do not treat your child’s will to be autonomous as a rebelliousness and something wrong. Set limits where it is necessary, but allow for independence – there must be balance between the two.
  7. Consistency is the basis. When you have problems with consistency, your child gets confused. You should know what you expect and inform your child about it, then stick to it and avoid changing your mind every day.
  8. Harsh discipline causes aggression. If you are aggressive towards your child, you make him or her aggressive too. Harsh discipline very often just humbles children and shows them that they are worse and weaker just because they are children. Is your goal to damage your child’s self-esteem?
  9. The policy “No, because I said so” is not very successful. Explain your children – especially adolescents – the rules and decisions you make. Once again, you are not a boss who just gives orders, you are a parent who wants to teach children how they should behave.
  10. The key to success – respect. You want to be respected by your child? Show your child that you respect him/her. The relationship you have with your children builds their future ability to build healthy relationships.

Being a parent is a huge responsibility. That is why, we all should be more or less prepared for the huge amount of effort we will need to put in upbringing our children. Luckily, seeing our child as a happy, self-confident and decent adult in the future will pay everything off.

Top 10 essential family values

How do you define family values? In our home family values are rules or ideals that, as a family, we agree to live by and stay true to. The list of essential family values would be a mile long no doubt and the top 10 lists for each family would be as unique as the one that came up with it.

Having strong well defined family values helps solidify the foundation for a strong, tight knit family. When cultivated long enough this closeness provides a soft place to fall when life doesn’t go according to plan. Strong and consistent family values are important in building trust and confidence in each family member.

Here are my top 10 essential family values.

1. Belonging. It is important that each member of my family feel that they are loved, that they belong and that they matter. Being a cohesive family could mean that you spend every spare minute together doing family activities but keep in mind that everyone is different. Creating a strong family unit is great but each person should be allowed the space and freedom to explore the activities they think they may enjoy. People are more courageous and more willing to take chances if they know they have a safe place to come back to when things dont quite work out. Coming together for special occasions and holidays and just spending time together as a family is what helps build that sense of belonging.

2. Flexibility. Im all for order, schedules and structure in my family to help maintain some level of sanity. But too much structure and the unwillingness to give a little can result in a lot of unhappiness and resentment. The more flexibility you have in decision making, for example, the happier your family will be for it. Imagine one member of the family always thinking they are right and enforcing their way of doing things. This certainly wouldnt lead to much happiness within the family unit.

3. Respect. This is a bit more difficult to define. For my family, to respect each other is to take feelings, thoughts, needs, and preferences in to account when making decisions. It also means acknowledging and valuing everyones thoughts, feelings and contributions to the family as a whole.

Respect is indeed earned and there is a very fine line between it and fear. The only way to earn and keep someones respect is to first show them respect yourself. Respect as an important family value will extend out of the home and into school, work or other social settings.

4. Honesty. This is the foundation of any relationships that are meant to last. Mother-daughter, husband-wife, sister-brother. Without honesty a deeper connection will not form and certainly wont last. Encourage honesty by practicing understanding and respect when someone tells you of their wrong doings. If we lose it and get angry when were told what has happened the other person will be more likely to hide it from you next time simply to avoid the disrespect.

5. Forgiveness. Forgiving people who have wronged you is an important choice to make. Yes, forgiveness is a choice. It is not some feeling that randomly washes over you when you feel the other person has suffered enough. This can be tough since a lot of us tend to equate forgiveness with saying what you did was okay. They are not the same thing. Holding a grudge, is not conducive to a close family with mutual respect.

Keep in mind that everyone makes mistakes, we all occasionally say things we wish we hadnt and non of us are perfect. Refer to value 3 communication. Get issues out in the open, gain some understanding and move on. Life is too short.

6. Generosity. Giving without thinking whats in it for me is an important value for anyone wanting to be a responsible, contributing member to society. Through generosity we build empathy since we tend to think more about what people want or need. Being generous doesn’t mean simply handing over money to someone in need. It can also include giving your time, love, attention or even some of your possessions.

7. Curiosity. Children have a natural curiosity. If you’ve ever watched a toddler even for a couple of minutes youd see that quality shine through. For some that curiosity wanes. I think it’s important to encourage and push our kids and even ourselves to be curious about things. Rarely should we ever just take someones word for it. How do we spark our curiosity? Ask questions. Lots of them. Read about a topic you know very little about and dont be afraid to say you dont know. Critical thinking is an important skill that can be learned and developed through exploring your own curiosity.

8. Communication. Communication is as much an art as it is a science. A failure to communicate will likely lead to unhappiness and misunderstandings. Small issues grow into larger ones and when they eventually boil to the surface it’s unlikely they will be resolved calmly. Communication is a lot more than simply speaking your mind. In addition to spoken words, communication also extends to tone, volume, expression, eye contact, body language and effective listening.

I would argue that this is the most important value for families to have. When people feel they can talk openly about anything hopes, dreams, fears, successes or failures all without judgment, its encouraging and strengthens the bond.

9. Responsibility. Wed all like to be considered responsible people. Some of us are and some of us are decidedly less so. Responsibility is something that is learned. As a child you may have been shown how to put your toys away after playing, how to tidy your room or how and when to feed the dog. This sense of responsibility extends well into adulthood. An adult who has an intrinsic sense of responsibility doesnt require a lot of prodding to show up to work on time, return phone calls or meet deadlines. Setting out individual responsibilities for family members works to instill this quality in everyone.

10. Traditions. This is by far the most fun for me. I think traditions are what make a family unique, they draw people together and create a sense of belonging for everyone. Traditions dont need to be expensive, elaborate or a lot of work. It can be something as simple as a lazy Saturday morning sipping coffee and chatting or an annual fondue dinner to ring in the new year. If you dont currently have traditions in your family, create them! All traditions started with one person why not let your family traditions start with you? Get creative and have fun.

So those are my top 10 family values. Of course there are others Ill be incorporating but these are the most important to me.

Do we have many in common? What is in your top 10?

5 Ingredients. 5 Minutes. 5 Meals. Simple Noodles

I love pasta.

Simple, comforting, versatile and inexpensive it’s easy to see why it’s on high rotation in most family dinner repetoires. But sometimes pasta can get a little boring week after week. Which is when I look to Asia and the wonderful of world of noodles for inspiration to freshen things up.

From fresh hokkien noodles, to dried rice sticks to soft Japanese udon noodles. There are so many options to choose from. And they’re fast. No need to boil for 10 minutes or more like pasta, just pour over some boiling water, soak for a few minutes and serve.

I know the thing that holds me back from cooking Asian food is the long ingredient lists and the thought of having to buy a whole heap of different sauces that I’m only going to use every now and then. So I’ve tried to keep things simple. To cook all 5 dishes youll only need three sauces soy, fish and oyster. If you haven’t cooked Asian before I’d urge you to at least invest in a bottle of soy sauce and start from there.

So why not surprise the family with some noodle fun?

Japanese noodle soup with spinach (serves 2)

Udon noodles a lovely fat white Japanese wheat noodles. I’m still not sure how they can be all soft and fresh looking but come in packs that don’t need refrigerating. Noodle magic?

They are brilliant to have on hand for a quick meal. Just add in some some soy sauce lemon and baby spinach for a deeply satisfying nutritious dinner.

1 chicken breast, finely sliced into ribbons
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 packet udon noodles (7oz or 200g)
1 packet baby spinach leaves or 1 small bunch english spinach
lemon juice

Bring 2 cups water to the boil in a medium saucepan. Add chicken and simmer for 1-2 minutes or until cooked. Scoop out chicken with a slotted spoon and divide between 2 bowls.

Return broth to the heat and add noodles, soy and spinach. Stir to break up the noodles and let the spinach wilt. You might need to add the spinach in batches. Don’t worry it will fit in as it wilts.

Add 1 tablespoon lemon juice, stir and taste. Keep adding lemon until it tastes fresh and zesty. Pour soup over the chicken and serve hot.

2 minute noodles with bok choy & oyster sauce (serves 2)

If the thought of using 2 minute noodles disturbs you, by all means try another noodle but I was pleasantly surprised how lovely they were with the fresh greens and the savoury sauce.

If you can’t find bok choy, any other asian greens would work or you could just use a big bunch of English spinach.

1 packet 2 minute noodles chicken flavour
1 bunch baby bok choy, separated into individual leaves
1/3 cup oyster sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil

Place about 2 cups water in a medium saucepan and add the flavour sachet from the noodles and bring to the boil. Add bok choy and noodles and simmer for 2 minutes until noodles are cooked and the bok choy is wilted. Drain and return to the pan. Stir through oyster sauce and oil and serve hot.

Veggie laksa (serves 3)

Laksa is a wonderful coconut milk based noodle soup that hails from Malaysia. These days you can get commercial laska or other Thai curry pastes that take all the hard work out of it.

I’ve used Singapore noodles in this recipe which are a fine version of fresh hokkien noodles but I have eaten laksa with rice noodles and even a combination of the two so feel free to substitute.

I’ve cheated a little on the 5 ingredient rule by including mixed chopped vegetables as a single ingredient. I actually used a carrot, a zucchini and a red pepper, all cut into little batons. Chicken laksa is also really popular. Prawn or shrimps are lovely cooked in the spicy fragrant coconut broth.

3/4lb (350g) fresh Singapore noodles
2oz (60g) Laksa paste or other Thai curry paste
1 large can (1 1/2 cups) coconut cream
2 cups mixed chopped vegetables (see note above)
handful fresh basil leaves

Place noodles in a heatproof bowl and cover with boiling water. Allow to stand for 1 minute then massage to loosen into individual strands. Drain.

Meanwhile heat 2 tablespoons of peanut or other vegetable oil in a large saucepan over high heat. Add curry paste and stir fry for 30 seconds. Quickly add coconut cream and 2 cups boiling water. Bring to the boil and add vegetables. Simmer for 2 minutes or until vegetables are cooked to your liking.

To serve, divide noodles between 3 bowls. Pour over soup and vegetables and top with basil leaves.

Hokkien noodles with tofu, honey & soy (serves 4)

Hokkien noodles are fresh wheat based noodles that are a lot like fresh fat spaghetti. They are usually in the chiller section of the supermarket, although I have seen some that are shelf stable in the Asian food section. If you can’t find hokkien noodles any other thick wheat based noodle would work well or even some spaghetti or bucatini.

If you’re not a fan of tofu, feel free to substitute in finely sliced chicken breast or even beef.

1lb (500g) fresh hokkien or singapore noodles
10oz (300g) firm tofu, chopped into large chunks
1/3 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons honey
6 green onions, finely sliced

Place noodles in a heatproof bowl and cover with boiling water. Allow to stand for 1 minute then massage to loosen into individual strands. Drain.

Heat some peanut or other vegetable oil in a large wok or frying pan. Add tofu and stir fry until golden brown. Mix together soy and honey in a small bowl then add to the wok. Stir and allow to cook until slightly reduced. Toss through noodles and green onion and serve hot.

Rice noodles with chicken & lime (serves 4)

This is based on the Thai dish larb which is a fresh fragrant stir fry of ground chicken or pork. If you don’t want to invest in a bottle of fish sauce you could use 1/4 cup soy sauce instead. It will be slightly more salty and heavy but still lovely and fresh with the lime and herbs.

Dried rice noodles are an excellent option when youre catering for people with wheat and gluten sensitivity. Rice noodles could be substituted in any of the recipes above. Just soften them first by soaking in a bowl of boiling water and off you go.

Another allergen note. Most soy sauces contain some wheat derivitaves and aren’t suitable for gluten free diets. The Japanese soy sauce known as Tamari does not contain wheat so look for this if you need to.

3/4lb (375g) rice sticks (dried rice noodles)
1 1/2lb (600g) ground chicken
1/3C fish sauce
1/4C lime juice + lime halves to serve
1 bunch coriander or fresh mint, leaves picked

Place noodles in a large heatproof bowl. Cover with boiling water and allow to soften.

Heat some peanut or vegetable oil in a large wok or frying pan. Cook chicken over high heat until well browned. Drain noodles and add to pan. Cook until noodles are heated through and softened. Add fish sauce and stir for a few seconds. Remove from the heat and toss through lime juice and herbs.

31 simple family pleasures and why they’re all that matter

That man is richest whose pleasures are cheapest.

– Henry David Thoreau

There’s a feeling a lot of people get that in order to enjoy life, they have to *do something*.

Go to the movies, go shopping, go drinking or dancing or clubbing, go to a concert, drive, eat and spend. The list could go on, but think of anything involves dressing up or spending money, and you get the picture.

Unfortunately, this view forgets some of the best pleasures in life: the simple ones. It also costs a lot, which means we must spend much of our lives earning the money to support having all this expensive fun.

Our family lives dont need the pressure of doing something exciting. We don’t need to go to amusement parks or events or spend a lot of money in order to spend time with our loved ones.

Instead, focus on the simple pleasures with your family. These are the best moments anyway and they cost almost nothing.

This takes a switch in mindset any moment is an opportunity to spend time with someone you love your spouse, your child, or the whole family. Any activity, no matter how simple, can be a joy, if you truly focus on being in the moment and fully experience that moment.

Once you have the right mindset, there’s no limit on the kinds of pleasures you can find with your family. Just a few examples to get you started:

  1. Take a walk and have a nice talk.
  2. Pack a simple picnic and go outdoors.
  3. Get outside and toss around a ball or Frisbee.
  4. Ride bikes or jog.
  5. Rent a movie (or get out one of your old DVDs) and make some popcorn.
  6. Bake cookies.
  7. Play boardgames.
  8. Make tents out of blankets.
  9. Read a book together.
  10. Tell stories.
  11. Look for bugs outside.
  12. Make paper airplanes.
  13. Go to the library.
  14. Take a hike.
  15. Camp in your backyard.
  16. Go to the beach or a lake or river.
  17. Take a stroll in the park or go to a playground.
  18. Read a book of tongue twisters and make up your own.
  19. Play loud music and dance.
  20. Just snuggle.
  21. Hide, and go seek.
  22. Thumb wrestle.
  23. Watch a sunrise.
  24. Count the stars and find constellations (or make up your own).
  25. Have a good hug.
  26. Eat chocolate. Slowly.
  27. Banana split.
  28. Root beer float.
  29. Make pancakes for dinner.
  30. Tell jokes.
  31. Be lazy together.