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In my wildest dreams, I never thought I’d be blogging about a pandemic. Yet here we are…smack in the middle of Covid-19 and it is testing humankind in a way we haven’t been tested for 100 years. To fight the novel coronavirus in our counties, cities, states, countries, we have to act as one and shelter-in-place. In other words, in order to stem the number of deaths we may face, we have to social distance.

We have to hole up with our family, with roommates, or as singletons for the greater good of our species. And, as easy as that is to say/write, it’s not something we humans are particularly good at. We are, most of us anyway, social beings.

So, what can we do to protect the collective and stay well? That is the question that I, as a mom, have been pondering for the past few weeks. As connection is so important not just to my family, but yours too, here are 35 tips I have found on how to come together while staying apart.

  1. At home, get creative about staying positive: call, email, write a letter or send a card. Leave a note in someone’s door or mail box or on their doorstep.
  2. Use Skype, Zoom, Whatsapp, Houseparty, Hangouts, and FaceTime to see one another
  3. If it’s safe to do so, set up a “gate” chat or “driveway” chat with neighbours.
  4. Set up a gratitude message board either in the kitchen or by mobile phone {texting, WhatsApp, iPhone, Facebook, Instagram} where every one can post a message or send a message to share something they are grateful for.
  5. Set a group daily challenge. It could be a healthy habit, a mindful practice, a creative pursuit, a new recipe. Check in daily to stay motivated.
  6. Set dates and times to watch the same TV shows/movies with others and message one other your thoughts along the way… I’m enjoying Derry Girls and Ozark, both on Netflix, right now. Netflix Party is a new way to watch Netflix with friends online. You need Chrome to access this service but it sounds like a great way to host and watch movies with friends everywhere.
  7. Join a local social media group. This will keep you up to date with what’s going on directly around you. It may also include ways you can perhaps reach out and connect with someone less fortunate than you and ways to assist them.
  8. Younger children might enjoy learning how to draw with Lunch Doodles with Mo Willems. Mo is a best-selling author and illustrator and he is teaching drawing every weekday on YouTube.
  9. Help younger children, teens and college-age young adults cope by giving them extra attention and reassurance.  Watch news together and talk about what you’re viewing. If someone feels overwhelmed by what’s they’re seeing, allow them to step away and then circle back and talk about what’s not sitting well with them.
  10. Check-in and share feelings so everyone knows it’s ok to be anxious, nervous, scared.
  11. Involve everyone in home management chores. It’s easier to stay positive when you have a job that’s important to everyone.
  12. Seek professional help if you are concerned.
  13. Watch a live concert, take a virtual tour of a museum or join or start an online dance party. Yo-Yo Ma, via Instagram, the Seattle Symphony and others are finding news ways to share their services during these challenging times. Enjoy free live broadcasts of the symphony from the comfort of your own home. You can learn more about upcoming concerts and how to watch these live broadcasts here.
  14. Many museums around the world are now offering digital access to their collections. The Louvre, Guggenheim, the National Gallery of Ireland, the British Museum of London, the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Korea, and the MASP in São Paulo are all available to tour online thanks to their own efforts or through Google Arts & Culture.
  15. The Metropolitan Opera in New York City is offering free nightly live opera performances.
  16. The DJ of Boogie Down productions fame, DJ D-Nice is hosting house parties on Instagram. He calls it Club Quarantine! Tag your friends. Tell me about your experience at the party.
  17. Coldplay front man, Chris Martin, is the curator of the annual Global Citizen festival. He launched the “At Home Together” series with an Instagram live video, during which he played several of the band’s hits and spoke to viewers who are in isolation during the coronavirus outbreak.
  18. Billboard Magazine has compiled an enormous list of quarantine music events online to watch on their website.
  19. The Kennedy-Center offers a wide variety of free videos of live and on demand performances and educational activities online.
  20. Join an online game, bookclub or discussion group. Discussions groups, found on sites like SeniorChatters, offer a way for older adults to engage in different topics online. Use these tools to meet other seniors from all over the world and discuss your favorite hobbies.
  21. If you’re a reader, Celadon Books shares their five favorite book clubs that you can join online.
  22. Play games online. Whether you prefer cards or board games, it’s easy to now play a favourite games online. Websites like Arkadium.com offer a variety of card and board games that you can play with others or on your own. You can also download apps on your phone to play games with others, like Words with Friends.
  23. Little ones might enjoy watching Storyline Online, on Youtube, a children’s literacy website created by the SAG-AFTRA Foundation, which provides free storytelling videos and resources for parents and teachers to foster a love of reading in children. The website features an expansive library of videos of new and classic picture books read by well-known actors and actresses like Viola Davis, Chris Pine, Lily Tomlin, Betty White, and James Earl Jones. In a style akin to Reading Rainbow, stories come to life with dynamic voice performances and animated versions of original illustrations, encouraging children to see reading as a transformative imaginative experience. Arnie the Doughnut is read by Ireland’s one and only Chris O’Dowd.
  24. Save with Stories, started by Jennifer Garner and Amy Adams in partnership with Save the Children and No Kid Hungry, is offering stories on Instagram and Facebook to provide fun and education to kids and parents stuck at home during the coronavirus outbreak.
  25. Audible has launched a free collection of audiobooks for children. Amazon’s Kindle is offering two free months to its unlimited ebook service for new users.
  26. Broaden the mind and take a class. Ivy League schools have made nearly 500 online courses free to keep individuals occupied while stuck indoors. The online courses can be found on Class Central and include subjects in mathematics, programming, personal development, education and more.
  27. Coursera, an American online learning platform, started by two Stanford professors, offers classes for free that are taught by top instructors from world-class universities and companies.
  28. Move your body and quiet your mind. Joining the Fitness Blender community, and others like it, will give you the chance to take free classes and stay healthy. Fitness Blender, in particular, offers 600+ workout videos and an online network of fitness-friendly instructors.
  29. Meditate with Headspace, is a guided meditation service, being offered for free through the Headspace app. The programs include meditations, sleep and movement exercises which you can listen to any time.
  30.  Core Power Yoga, a popular yoga studio chain in America, is currently offering free online classes through its Core Power Yoga On Demand platform. The classes are pre-recorded and range from 30 minutes to up to an hour long. The studio is also offering online guided breathing practices and meditations.
  31. 305 Fitness, one of NYC’s most popular dance-cardio workout classes is now offering free cardio dance live streams twice a day on YouTube at noon and 6PM EST.
  32. No Peloton bike? No problem. In response to Covid-19, the Peloton App is opening up to new users for a full 90 days. The app, which includes at-home bootcamp, outdoor, and running workouts. After 90 days, there is a fee, so be sure to mark your calendars.
  33. Food feeds the soul…and the empty stomach. Learn the basics, and not so basics, of cooking in all forms from online experts. Massimo Bottura, for example, is teaching from his new Kitchen Quarantine classes on Instagram. Also, Chef Thomas Keller takes us inside his own kitchen while teaching technique and recipes on Instagram. Chef Jose Andres does the same with his #recipesforthepeople. Irish chef, Donal Skehan has his own YouTube channel, if you want to get caught up on cooking Irish style. And while Rachel Allen doesn’t have her own channel, you can find many of her Irish cooking recipes Rachel Allen.
  34. Learn a new language…Spanish, French, Mandarin or even Irish perhaps?! There are online learning platforms offering free language skills including Babbel, Duolingo, Busuu, Learn a Language.
  35. Teach a class. I love to cook and have started using social media as a way of connecting to others who like to cook too. I’m teaching my first bread making class this Thursday to a group of ladies via Zoom. Think about a skill you have and reach out to your family, friends, and social media followers to see if anyone would like to meet up weekly to share or teach a class.

Remember – we are all in this terrible time of Covid-19 together. If we can find creative ways to stay together but stay apart…we have a fighting chance to see a better tomorrow. And, as An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said yesterday, “We cannot lose focus. What we’re doing is difficult but it is making a difference.”

Stay healthy. Stay safe. And, message me if you have any more ideas.

~ XK

 

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There’s something exciting and wonderful about January and the start of a new year. It’s a blank slate…don’t you think?…the chance to create something wonderful in our life and the world at large. It’s an opportunity to renew relationships and commitments or scrap the ones that didn’t work for us in the past.

Resolution, intention, purpose, goal, conscious thought…whatever you/we call our outlook for the coming twelve months…I am glad we are here today and have the chance to think about the next 363 tomorrows in 2018.

My intention this year is LOVE. 

I thought about other words and phrases: do better, be more, simplify, focus, get healthy, gratitude, travel, family, thankful, be positive, trust, faith, find joy, be present…but they didn’t resonate as much as LOVE did.

So this year…I’m going to practice Love of Self, Love of Others, Love of Work, Love of Learning, Love of Travel, Love of Being Strong, Love of Cooking, Love of Parenting, the Love of Letting Go…and more. Love, love, love…isn’t it just grand?

What is your intention, purpose, goal, conscious thought, resolution or “word” for 2018?

~ XoK

 

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A loaf of Irish porridge bread on a wooden cutting board.February is not Irish heart month {September is*}, but with the visual cue of hearts literally everywhere we go, it seems the perfect month to reassess how best to care for the hearts of my sweet family.

Up first…exercising more. The Irish Heart Foundation recommends thirty minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity fives times a week. In our Irish home even that miniscule amount of exercise can be hard to achieve, which is why I’ve started making physical activity a part of our family “talk-time”. Whether it’s my husband and me, one of us with one of our daughters, or the whole family together, we’re walking, biking, hiking and even dancing to the Wii while we are talking…laughing…and sometimes arguing and crying.  The upside of combining talking and exercise is obvious…we’re hardly aware that we’re being physical.

Next…stressing less. As my husband and I have moved into parenting teens, our lives have become more stress filled. What’s worse, as our kids have moved into their teen years…their lives have become more stressful too. Multiple studies have shown that extreme emotional distress is bad for the heart, no matter what your age. Stress triggers the “flight or flight” response, which in turn causes a surge of adrenaline in the body and makes your heart pump faster and harder. Not good…unless of course you’re running away from a man-eating tiger! To counteract stress we’re all doing some simple heart healthy activities, including sharing worries and woes with friends, journaling, listening to music, and allowing time to do absolutely nothing.

Finally…eating better. Over the past ten years, we’ve steadily reduced our intake of trans fats, saturated fats, sugar, salt and alcohol and increased our uptake of water, fruits, vegetables, healthy oils, and whole grains. Some of our perennial favourites include water with mint, 70% dark chocolate (Aine Irish hand made chocolate is the bomb), omega rich salmon, roasted broccoli, and porridge.

Porridge, also known as oatmeal, is not just for breakfast any more. Last September my friend Marguerite invited me over for an afternoon cuppa and a catch up at her beautiful home in Donnybrook. Instead of the usual side of biscuits {cookies}, Marguerite served Irish Porridge Bread. I’d never had porridge bread before and was delighted to give it a try. Truth be told, it was really good.

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Oats are high in beta-glucans**, a soluble fibre, which can lower cholesterol by soaking it up before it gets absorbed into the bloodstream. Oats are also a rich source of magnesium, which is important in preventing heart attacks and strokes by relaxing blood vessels and regulating blood pressure. What’s more, for someone like my brother-in-law who lives with coeliac disease, porridge is, for the most part, considered a safe, gluten free, food***.

From our Irish home to yours, we wish you a happy heart month. What are you doing in February to take care of your heart?

Irish Porridge Bread

Makes One Large Loaf

Ingredients:

500ml/16oz/2cups natural yogurt

1 beaten egg

1 tbsp. treacle or maple syrup

300g/11oz/3cups porridge oats, plus 2 tbsp. more for topping

2 tsp. bread soda/baking soda

1/2 tsp. Salt

Method:

1 Place yogurt, beaten egg and treacle/maple syrup in a mixing bowl and stir well.

2. Mix the oats, bread soda, and salt in a separate bowl, add to the yogurt mixture and stir well.

3. Place in a greased or parchment lined 2lb. loaf tin, sprinkle with extra oats and bake at 180°C/350°F for 30 minutes.

4. Lower the oven temperature to 150°C/300°F and cook for another 30 minutes.

5. Lift bread out of loaf tin and allow to cool on a wire rack.

Additional Notes, Related Articles & Credits:

* Irish heart month coincides with the World Heart Federation’s World Heart Day, which is held in September.

** Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism

*** Anyone suffering with coeliac disease should proceed with caution when eating oats. Research suggests that for many coeliacs, oats are fine but for individuals who are particularly sensitive, they may be toxic.

**** For more research on the health benefits of eating porridge please see these articles (1, 2, and 3) from Harvard Medical School.

 

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When life gives you lemons…you make lemonade, right? But what about when life gives you elderberries?

Such was my thought a few weeks ago, as I stood staring up at the enormous elderberry shrub in our back garden. In the summertime I make a delicious elderflower cordial from the tiny fragrant flowers our elder gives us: from the cordial we enjoy homemade spritzers, sweet curd, popsicles…even pavlovas…for months on end. But as I eyed the tiny black berries that had grown from the unused summer blossoms, I wondered what to do.

Irish chefs and scratch cooks have been using elderberries for many years to make wine, jam, chutneys, tinctures, sauces, tarts, and fizzy drinks. One of Ireland’s most famous chefs, Richard Corrigan, uses them to make Elderberry Jelly. Imen McDonnell, blogger and cookbook author, throws a handful of elderberries into her autumn-inspired Irish Hedgerow Martini. And Michelan-star chef J.P. McMahon uses elderberries to make vinegar and sauces for his wild game dishes.

But what could I do?

As I stood there thinking about the possibilities, I remembered that my good friend Susan once suggested our family take a daily spoonful of elderberry syrup to boost our immune systems. Susan was giving Sambucol, a black elderberry extract, to her family and was finding that they were coming down with fewer colds and healing faster when they did catch something. So, a bottle of Sambucol was bought for our home and we took a spoonful every morning from autumn to spring as an ounce of prevention for a number of years.

I don’t know when we stopped taking Sambucol or why. Perhaps I got lazy…maybe just forgetful? Last winter, however, when I was knocked for six with a cough that lasted weeks, it sure would have been helpful {not to mention “healthful”} to have some on hand.

Beautiful elderberry syrup in five glass bottles

As I stood there looking up at the clusters of tiny black berries hanging heavy on our elder shrub, that’s when it struck me. I could make my own elderberry syrup with very little effort and use it as a winter tonic for our Irish family.

Recipes for homemade elderberry syrup are readily found on Pinterest. Darina Allen has one in her Forgotten Skills of Cooking cookbook. Biddy White Lennon and Evan Doyle have a whole chapter dedicated to elderberries in their Wild Food book, too. Being my first time to make elderberry syrup, I followed Darina’s recipe and, within a few hours of picking the berries in my back garden, I had my very own seasonal elderberry syrup bottled and ready to be used.

From our Irish home to yours, I wish you good cooking and very good health!

Elderberry Syrup

Makes about 600ml

Ingredients

1 lb. elderberries

1 lb./450g sugar to every 600ml (1 pint) of juice

1 organic lemon

Directions

1. Strip the fruit from the stems, put into a stainless steel saucepan, and cover with cold water.

2. Using a swivel-top peeler, remove thin strips of zest from the lemon and add {to the saucepan}.

3. Bring to the boil and simmer for 20-30 minutes or until the elderberries are soft.

4. Strain through a jelly bag or a piece of muslin.

5. Measure the juice and put it back in the saucepan. Add 450g/1 lb. sugar for each 600ml of juice and the juice of the lemon {previously zested}.

6. Bring back to the boil for about 10 minutes, allow to cool before pouring into sterilised bottles. Seal with a screw cap and store in a cool, dry place.

Additional Notes, Related Articles & Credits:

* Scientifically there is evidence to suggest that elderberries may reduce swelling in mucous membranes, help relieve nasal congestion, lower cholesterol, improve vision and improve heart health. Elderberries contain Vitamins A, B and C with large quantities of vitamin C, dietary fiber, carotenoids, flavonoids including quercetin and anthocyanins, organic pigments, tannins, amino acids, viburnic acids, minerals like potassium among others. All these make elderberry a powerful antioxidant. In addition to anti-oxidation properties, elderberries have anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory and anti-viral properties. They also have mild diuretic, laxative and diaphoretic properties. For more information, read studies from University of Maryland, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Department of Virology, Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School, Jerusalem, Israel, and one from Yale University.

** The elder is native to Ireland. In Irish folklore, the Elder is thought of as an unlucky plant; often connected with the fairy folk and their mischievous tricks. It was once said that to make a child’s cradle from the wood of the elder was to invite the fairies to steal away a child. According to an old Irish saying there are three signs of a cursed place: the elder, the nettle and the lonesome calling corncrake.

***Read J.P. McMahon’s article on elderberry in the Irish Times here.

****Some fun recipes for elderberries from around the web are Elderberry Ice Cream over at Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, Elderberry/Blackberry/Crab Apple Jam over at The Irish Catholic, Mulled Elderberry Gin over at Wild Irish Foragers, Elderberry Tea at Fresh Bites Daily blog, and the most beautiful Gluten-free Elderberry, Pear, Hazelnut Cake at Our Food Stories.

***** Some elderberries are poisonous and the leaves of all elderberries, especially, should never be eaten. For more information, Cornell University’s Department of Horticulture has guidelines, noting the fruits are used in “…pies, jellies and jams.” If you’re unsure if your elderberries are edible, please consult your local plant professionals/experts before consuming.

And two more articles on the benefits of elderberries may be found at the Irish Examiner and The Irish Times.

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Last Tuesday evening was just another night for most people but in our home it was “Spaghetti, S’mores, Sleepover” night. For hours I listened to five girls sing pop songs, laugh, share secrets, play dolls, jump on the trampoline, dine al fresco on the back patio and roast marshmallows (more like burn them to an eternal crisp) outdoors before they passed out with exhaustion in their respective beds. It was lovely, really.

Watching my youngest daughter and her “B.F.E.” (best friend ever) was probably the most fun. While they sat at our little red café table on the side patio, I watched them . At first they were talking and then laughing. Next, one of them snorted and the two of them started laughing so hard they nearly fell off their chairs. I thought to myself “I gotta get me some of that”.

And by “that” I mean “joy”. Life has gotten too damned serious lately. The simple pleasures of fresh air, music, laughter, pasta, a roaring fire and a good night’s sleep are being overshadowed by all the “debt”, “bailouts”, “foreclosures” and “loss” swirling around us. We need to reclaim our joy…remember how to throw our heads back and snort and laugh with abandon. “Spaghetti, S’mores, Sleepover” night may have been organized for the benefit of my daughters but, in the end, I had fun too.  Where do you find your happiness?

Spaghetti Sauce

(Serves 6)

4 tablespoon good olive oil

1 onion, chopped finely (1/2 cup)

garlic, minced, to taste (1 tablespoon)

1 kg of tinned tomato pieces in their liquid

handful of fresh basil

salt and pepper to taste

sugar to taste

Directions

1.Put all the ingredients into a big pot.

2.Simmer uncovered for about half an hour to an hour until it is reduced and concentrated by about one-third.

S’Mores

(Serves 5)

15 Marshmallows

One Packet of Rich’s Tea biscuit or Graham Crackers

Chocolate bars cut broken into small squares

Directions

1.Roast a marshmallow on a long stick over hot coals or a fire.

2. Place a chocolate square on top of one Rich’s Tea biscuit.

3. Next put the roasted marshmallow on top of the chocolate square.

4. Cover with a second Rich’s Tea biscuit and gently press the two biscuits together.

5. Wait a minute for the marshmallow to melt the chocolate and then eat.

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