Bring a plate

This time of year always seems busy with lots of functions and get-togethers to attend. To avoid leaving all the food preparation to one person, often times in Australia we are asked to “bring a plate” to such gatherings. Most Aussies have no difficulty understanding the intention of the request to bring an item of food to add to the meal.

However the request can be a little confusing for newcomers to Australia as testified by my Canadian friend Robin who found the request to bring an empty plate to eat from a little strange. I’ve also had a discussion recently with my online friend Charli Mills of the Carrot Ranch  about the American tradition of “pot luck” which seems to imply a similar request.

Along with an invitation to a “bring a plate” get-together, I am usually requested to contribute a rice salad to the main meal, or a pavlova for dessert, or sometimes both! I am always happy to oblige as both of these dishes are not only very popular, they are also very easy to make. In this post I am sharing my favourite rice salad recipe.

In a previous post I made some suggestions for involving children in Learning in the kitchen. While for safety reasons children may not be able to actively participate in the preparation of the rice salad due to boiling water and the use of sharp knives, there is still much for them to learn through collecting and measuring the ingredients, and observing and discussing what the adult is doing in each step of the preparation.

If you are looking for a quick, nutritious and delicious salad to accompany a main meal at home or away, this rice salad recipe might be just the thing.

Rice salad 1


Rice salad 2


Rice salad 3


Rice salad 4


Rice salad 5


rice salad 6

I hope you enjoy it as much my family, friends and I do!

Thank you

Thank you for reading.

I value your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post.

A cute angel

This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills has set an angel prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that features an angel.

Usually I include my responses to Charli’s prompts in longer posts sharing some thoughts about education.

This week I’m going to leave it as a stand-alone, without the padding I usually provide. I am hopeful that the educational issues I have alluded to will be as obvious to you as they are to me. I’d love to know what you think.

A cute angel

Thank you

Thanks for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about this flash and what you consider its message to be.




Your-kitchen-Michael Rosen

Learning in the kitchen

The kitchen is a great place for learning.


When children participate in the preparation and cleaning up of meals and other food items the learning is richer than just cooking and cleaning, they are learning skills which will be invaluable for their future independent lives such as:

  • cooperation, sharing, taking turns and patience (how long before they’ll be ready?)
  • the etiquette of dining.
  • hygienic food handling.
  • the language of food and cooking and the preciseness of vocabulary such as the difference between dice and chop, shred and slice, boil and steam, bake and roast.
  • counting and one to one matching when setting the table with one of each item for each person.
  • the mathematics of measuring mass (250 g), volume (1 cup or 250 ml) and time (bake for 15 minutes).
  • the mathematics of linear measurement; measuring the length, width and depth of baking tins and trays.
  • reading and following procedures, and understanding that unless the steps of a recipe are followed in order the outcome may not be what was expected.
  • writing of menus and shopping lists.
  • organisational and preparation skills: making sure all ingredients and utensils are available and assembled.
  • the science of mixing and combining, heating and cooling, and the different effects these may have upon different ingredients and utensils.
  • understanding that some of the changes that occur are reversible e.g. water to ice and back again; but that some are irreversible e.g. cream to butter, but not back again.

While it is not suitable for children to use knives or handle hot utensils or heating appliances when young, and only under careful adult supervision when older, children can be included in many kitchen tasks from a young age.

Watching, discussing and asking questions provide great opportunities for learning. Children can be introduced to tasks such as mixing, pouring, measuring, menu planning and cleaning up, amongst others, as they grow.

One of the fantastic things about food preparation is the opportunity it provides for asking questions: it can be an ongoing edible science experiment, for example:

Why do the cakes rise?

What makes the water bubble?

Why is a cloud coming out of the jug?

Where does the water go when it boils?

Why isn’t the egg white white before it’s cooked?

What would happen if I didn’t put the egg in the cake mixture?

Why is some sugar brown?

What the difference between sugar, caster sugar and brown sugar?

What happens to cream when it is beaten?

At the moment I am grappling with a kitchen science dilemma, and if you can provide an answer to my question, I’d be very appreciative.

My question is:

What is a suitable vegetarian substitute for gelatine?

One of my family’s favourite desserts is Mango Cream Tart. Gelatine is used as a setting agent in the dessert.

Some of my family members are vegetarians who, upon discovering the answer to the seemingly innocuous question

What is gelatine made from?

realised that eating anything containing gelatine no longer suited their food choices.

So rather than remove the dessert from family menus, or make something that was unacceptable to these family members, I decided the only thing to do was find a substitute for the offending ingredient.

I have purchased two different vegetarian substitutes but both require being boiled in the liquid which they are to set and are therefore unsuited to the Mango Cream Tart and other cream cheese cheesecakes I may wish to make. An additional factor confirming their lack of suitability is the warning that they may not set some fruit juices.

I did an online search and found 3 Vegetarian Substitutes for gelatine. If you have used with success any these products, or another product, that may be suitable to use in my Mango Cream Tart recipe I would love to know please.

Here is the recipe which includes suggestions for parents on how they can incorporate learning opportunities for their children while making it. If you can’t help solve my gelatine dilemma, I’d love to know what you think of the way I have presented the recipe. Would this format be useful to parents of young children?

Mango 1

mango 2

Mango 3

mango 4

Mango 5

Mango 6

Mango 7

Mango 8

Mango 9

Mango 10

mango 11

mango 12

Mango 13

Mango 14

You can click on this link: Mango cream tart – recipe for a full-screen slideshow of the recipe.

The quote by Michael Rosen at the top of this post is from his new book: Good Ideas How to Be Your Child’s (and Your Own) Best Teacher. In the book he includes a chapter “The Kitchen” explaining why he thinks the kitchen is the best classroom invented.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post. I’d especially appreciate feedback on my presentation of the recipe and suggestions for a vegetarian substitute for gelatine.


Kitchen photo credit:


I’m (not) dreaming of a white Christmas

Last week the flash fiction prompt set by Charli Mills of the Carrot Ranch was to write a story using two objects, people or ideas that don’t go together. There was quite an assortment of responses, including mine. You can read them all here.

This week Charli has continued in the same vein, challenging us to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that pairs something seasonal with something odd. 

In Australia that’s easy. We’ve already got Christmas in summer. Most people around the world would say you can’t get much odder than that!

But it is summertime in Australia and Christmas is just around the corner.

While we enjoy warm days at the beach and in the pool, picnics in the park and barbecues in the back yard, hoping the big storm doesn’t get us this time (like the one that hit Brisbane on 27 November); those from whom we have inherited our Christmas traditions are cooling down in the Northern Hemisphere, many looking forward to a (not too) white Christmas.


Shops here are playing traditional (northern) carols with snow, sleighbells and mistletoe; decorations are tinged with fake snow and cards show snowy scenes with families huddled around the fireplace.

While there is an increasing number of songs and books with an Australian flavour many are merely innovations on the traditional such, as “The Australian Twelve Days of Christmas”, “Aussie Jingle Bells” or “An Aussie Night before Christmas”.

Some Australian Christmas picture books

Some Australian Christmas picture books

One innovation that I particularly like is The Twelve Underwater Days of Christmas by Kim Michelle Toft. Kim is an Australian who uses her talents as author and illustrator to educate children about the things she feels passionate about: ocean life and coastal habitats. Her illustrations, hand-painted on silk, are absolutely stunning.

12 Underwater days

In addition to the visual beauty of the book there is great value in the supporting information through which Kim explains the importance of conserving each of the creatures included in the book. While written by an Australian, the application of the book is not limited to our shores. Creatures from all over the world adorn the pages.  If you ever wished to own a book simply for the beauty of its illustrations, this is a great choice.

One original song I enjoyed listening to on the radio as a child is “Six White Boomers”. Despite the reasons that make me reluctant to mention it this year, it is a delightful tale of a joey who rides on Santa’s sleigh, pulled by six huge white kangaroos, to be reunited with his mother on Christmas Day.

Peter CombePeter Combe has written two albums of original, but with a traditional rather than specifically Australian flavour, Christmas songs for children, including this one:

Some Christmas traditions popular with Australian communities are Nativity plays, carols by candlelight and Christmas parades. Many classes and schools perform their own end-of-year “break-up” concerts to which parents and the wider community are invited.

Using the traditional Nativity play as the setting, Mem Fox created an original and fresh story in Wombat Divine. It is a delightful tale of Wombat who loved everything Christmas. When finally he was old enough to be in the Nativity Play he rushed along to the auditions. Unfortunately it was difficult to find a part that was just right for Wombat. Can you guess which part he got? You’ll have to read the book to find out! Children all over the world will identify with Wombat and his predicament and enjoy the heart-warming tale.

Books are wonderful gifts to give or receive at any time. The titles I have mentioned here are perfect for giving, reading and sharing at this time of year. When I was growing up there was always a book for Christmas and birthdays, a tradition that I have continued with my extended family and friends. You can almost, but not always, guarantee that if it is a gift from Norah, it is a book.

After my siblings and I had grown up and swelled the family numbers with partners and children of our own, my Mum used to say, “There’ll be no presents this year.” It wasn’t that she wasn’t a giving person, for she was. It was just that there were so many of us! When she passed away this year she had about fifteen grandchildren and eight grandchildren, in addition to her remaining nine children and their partners. (I’m saying ‘about’ for grandchildren and great-grandchildren in case I’ve missed some in the count!) You can imagine how daunting a task it would be to go shopping for all these people ranging in age from six months to sixty! However it was always surprising how frequently she did not follow her own rules and had a small something wrapped up to present to many of us.

This year there will be no presents from Mum, and more sadly, we will be without her presence.

Although I have borrowed my Mum’s words, “No presents” for both flash fiction pieces included in this post, the stories do not cast aspersions on her generosity. I have simply explored how the oddness of no presents or presence at Christmas time may have impacted Marnie, a character I have been developing in my flash fiction pieces, at different times in her life. At this stage of my writing I am still investigating her character, discovering a little more with each flash piece as her once indistinct figure begins to step out of the shadows and take shape.

This first piece is written about a difficult time for teenager Marnie and a situation that may be the catalyst for her leaving home.


No presents

Marnie jerked backwards avoiding the predictable grope. In so doing she collided with her mother, sending her sprawling onto the tattered sofa.

“Aargh!” her mother screamed. “Look what you’ve done!”

Marnie watched the liquid from the upturned glass merge with the patchwork of stains collected in the carpet. If it was her blood it would not have mattered more.

“I … I’m sorry,” she stammered. But her sorry was for all the years it had been like this.

He smirked, raising his hand to strike, “No presents for you this year!”

“That’s right!” She ducked. “No presence!”


So as to not be too dismal at this time of year, I have written a second piece about a younger Marnie for whom there still seems a glimmer of hope.


No presence

With faces as bright as their Christmas wear, the children bubbled into the room, each carrying gifts for the Kindness tree, “for those less fortunate”.

Parents fussed, removing smudges and replacing wayward hair before blowing kisses and hurrying off for the parade.

And there was Marnie: no parent, no Christmas dress, no gift, no smoothed-down hair; no smile.

One last chance.

“Marnie!” I beckoned, and held out my Christmas cape and crown. “Will you be my special helper?”

Our eyes locked communicating more than any words. Her smile was my reward.

“I’m proud of you,” I whispered.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post or flash fiction pieces.

December reflections

The end of the school year in Australia has approached swiftly and silently this year, for me at least. You see, now that I am not in the classroom I am not absorbed by all the things that the end of the school year brings.

In Australia the school year coincides with the calendar year so November and early December are frantic for teachers completing the final assessment and reporting for the year, preparing their students (and themselves) for separation after spending so much of the year together, and making preparations to welcome a new class in the new year.

The classroom remains busy with learning and curriculum matters until the last day. Both teachers and students begin to tire and the warming (hot, in most parts of Australia) days in classrooms without air-conditioning add to the fraying edges of all as they anticipate the long summer holidays.

teacher beginning and end

One thing I always enjoyed about the end of the year, that made all the extra work and the increasing heat tolerable, was the learning about family traditions and celebrations, including Christmas.

Some Australian Christmas picture books

Some Australian Christmas picture books

Last year I wrote about some of the Christmas activities I did with my class, such as making friendship trees

Friendship treeand a co-operative 3D display.

3D Christmas tree display

3D Christmas tree display

I shared some suggestions for parents to support their children’s  reading, writing and maths development in fun ways during the holidays. (These and other items are available in my TeachersPayTeachers store.)

I also provoked a lively discussion about whether Christmas should be included in a school program by suggesting tens reasons for its inclusion. Many readers joined in explaining their position either in support or against.

I always enjoyed this special time of year. I loved hunting through discount stores for items with which children could make cards and gifts for their families and decorations for their home. Often we talked about “free” gifts they could give and made vouchers for things like a free car wash, breakfast in bed or unlimited smiles and hugs.

As well as the gifts they made for each other in class, such as the friendship trees and Christmas crackers, I always gave each child a small gift, usually a book to read, a pencil and notebook for writing in; something to do over the holidays.

While it was never expected, but always very much appreciated, many of the parents and children presented me with lovely ‘thank you’ cards, letters and gifts, some purchased, many home-made; all treasured. While the consumables were long ago enjoyed, many other items still adorn my shelves!

A selection of gifts from over the yeats

A selection of gifts from over the years


Sometimes it was difficult to know what to give as a gift to recognise a special teacher. This year Bec has come up with, what I think, is the perfect gift, though she didn’t design it for that purpose. It’s the apple cozy: a special little bag for carrying an apple safely, protecting it from bumps and bruises. They are available in her Made It and Etsy stores. An apple for the teacher in its own special bag: how cute!

Apple Cozy // Joyce

Apple Cozy // Joyce

Although there are no preparations for Christmas at work this year (except for Secret Santa) there is still much to do at home. The traditional time for putting up the tree and decorations is December 1, and I usually have mine up by the end of the first week in December. Now that both my children are grown and living in homes of their own, I thought I would have the lonely experience of decorating on my own this year (Hub says he helps by not helping, but actually he gets tree and decorations down from the roof space for me!)

What a delightful surprise it was to have both my children and grandchildren (all two of each) visit on the day I was putting up the tree and help me out. The joy that the excitement of a 3- and a 5-year old bring to such activities cannot be matched. I think we did a pretty good job! When I look at it I relive the fun we had together.

Christmas 2014

Christmas 2014

Although to most it would appear simply a Christmas tree, and some may consider many decorations to be ready for the discard pile, most decorations have a story to tell. For me it is a memory tree. It holds decorations made by my own children over the years, and now some by my grandchildren.  There are gifts from family and friends, and children I have taught. Each item, as it is placed on the tree, provides a time for reflecting upon the wonderful people whose lives have touched mine over the years. Each has its own story to tell of the joy that others’ kindnesses can bring. But it is more even that just a memory tree. It is a giving tree; a time for remembering and being grateful.

What are you family traditions? What and how do you celebrate?

Thank you


Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post.


How do you connect?

 Many of you may recognise this song from Sesame Street: One of these things is not like the other.

Finding the one that doesn’t belong sounds like a simple activity, but which one did you choose? And why? Did you choose the rubber boot? I didn’t. I chose the shoe with laces. Does that make me wrong?

The items had some obvious similarities: they were designed for wearing on the feet, and they were similar colours. Differences in size and style were also obvious.  Just what made the rubber boot “not belong” any more than any of the others, I’m not sure. Does that mean I am not as smart as a pre-schooler?

Rather than simply providing children with an answer as happens in this video, I would prefer children were provided opportunities to explore and discuss similarities and differences and would invite children to explain why a particular shoe might be selected.  I think there are valid reasons for each to not belong, and there are also many reasons for them to be grouped together.

The ability to make connections between new and established information, including by identifying similarities and distinguishing differences, is an important contribution to learning. Adults can aid in the learning process by making explicit the ways in which objects are similar and by discussing ways in which they are dissimilar.

Young children very quickly learn to notice obvious similarities between e.g. different breeds of dogs, a variety of drinking glasses and cups, or construction items. However adults can assist and challenge children to think creatively and in new and innovative ways by encouraging them to make connections between seemingly disparate objects.

Many innovations have been developed as a result of creative thinkers making links that didn’t previously exist between apparently dissimilar objects or situations. George de Mestral’s invention of Velcro, involving the application of an observed phenomena to a very different situation, is perhaps one such example.

Playing games is a good way of encouraging children to think creatively. It is not necessary to purchase pre-packaged games. Many games can be played with items from around the house or in the toy box, or using picture cards from early childhood games like ‘snap’, printed clipart, or cut from magazines. Here are just a few suggestions around which you can construct your own ways of taking turns, playing and having fun:

 What’s the same?

Display two pictures e.g. a duck and dog, a bus and a boat. How many ways are they the same?

 How are they different?

Display two pictures and explain how the items are different. The differences could be obvious e.g. a duck and a dog, or more subtle e.g. two different breeds of dogs, or a male and female bird.

Which one does not belong?

Display three or four pictures. Discuss similarities and differences, and then decide which one doesn’t belong, providing reasons.


Provide children with a larger number of items e.g. construction blocks in different sizes, styles and colours or pictures of a variety of objects or animals. In the beginning it is easiest to sort by one feature e.g. is yellow/is not yellow. Encourage children to look for similarities between particular items e.g. colour or shape and ask them to group all items with that characteristic. They will then have two groups, one with the feature and one without.

Once children can confidently sort in this way they may be able to sort by two characteristics e.g. size and colour. They may even begin to make decision about how to deal with items that fit into two groups.

What else?

Show children a common everyday object and discuss its use. Encourage them to think of alternate uses for the same object e.g. a pencil could be used as a flagstick, a mast on a toy boat or to identify where seeds were planted in a garden.

Link the story

Display pictures of any two items e.g. a beach ball and a pencil. Ask children to create a story that involves both items. I immediately think of a family making plans for a holiday at the beach. The child wants a ball to play with at the beach and uses a pencil to add “beach ball” to the list of items to take. Your thoughts are probably very different. I’m sure someone will have the beach ball impaled on the pencil!

Making up stories like this can be just as much fun for adults as it is for children. Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch has challenged us to make it so this week with her flash fiction prompt to:  In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story using two objects, people or ideas that don’t go together. Charli allowed us to choose the two items. I decided to explore a little more of my tormented Marnie and her unicorn. I’d be pleased to know what you think.

Unicorns and coffee

People crammed in, around and in front of the small sidewalk cafe, reminding her of the fairy-tale pageant that had bypassed her radar. She couldn’t move now. Her coffee fix, too hot to sip, had just been served. So, as always, she retreated within.

Cocooned in thoughts flittering across years and experiences, she barely noticed the cacophony of the crowd or passing parade.

The sudden shout of “Unicorn!” penetrated, startling her.

She was six again, cowering with her unicorn, avoiding mocking stares.

But this time pitying and unbelieving stares watched the spreading stain of scalding coffee.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post or flash fiction.

Talking interviews


Lisa Reiter is writing her memoir and sharing her stories on her blog. She also invites others to join in and share their memories through her Bite Size Memoir prompt. Her prompt of the moment is “Interviews”.

In my role of teacher over the years, I have conducted many parent-teacher interviews, each with varying degrees of pleasure and stress. And that’s just for me! I have also sat on the other side of the desk attending interviews to find out about the progress of my own two children.

I mostly worked with children in their first year of school.

When conducting interviews with parents, particularly at the beginning of the year but at any time, I always invited them to talk first; to tell me their impression of how their child was going, to raise any concerns they had and to ask any questions they wanted answered.

There are a variety of purposes for beginning an interview in this way:

  • It gives the parents a voice and acknowledges their importance in the child’s life and education.
  • It ensures that any concerns parents have are raised and discussed first, and not left until the end or even missed out in the short time allocated to each interview scheduled on a parent-teacher night.
  • It provides an insight into the child’s life and how the attitudes of the parents may affect, or be reflected in, the child’s attitude to school and learning.

Often times I have found that parents share my concerns, and discussing them is easier when raised by the parent. One of the most difficult things is raising and discussing an issue of which the parent is unaware.

Over the years I have found that what parents most want to know is:

Is my child happy?

Is my child well-behaved?

Does my child have friends?

How does my child’s progress compare to that of others?

Prior to the interviews I would make a checklist of things I wished to discuss with each parent, including responses to the queries listed above and any other issues I wished to raise or anecdotes I wished to share, ensuring the positives always outweighed the concerns. I would gather samples of the child’s work to show and have at hand suggestions for ways the parents could continue to help with their children’s learning at home, which generally meant reading to them, talking with them, playing games together and possibly involving them in daily activities such as setting the table, writing shopping lists etc.

But I digress. My purpose in writing this post wasn’t really to talk about parent-teacher interviews, it was to list 10 memories about interviews in response to Lisa’s prompt. Like the parent-teacher interviews, many of them have a link to education.

I remember interviews


School days

  • I remember brushing up on my conversational French for an interview as part of my final exam. I remember the interviewer laughing at something “funny” I said. I’m not really sure if he was laughing at what I meant to say, or at what I did say!


  • I remember not having an interview for my first teaching position. I was awarded a three-year teaching scholarship which, in return for my training and a small living allowance, “bonded” me to the Education Department for three years.
  • I remember agonising for hours over written responses to selection criteria but being unsuccessful in the interviews; and going without preparation to other interviews and scoring the job!

    bad taste party

    Would you employ this woman? Bad taste fundraising function at school.


  • I remember being interviewed by a policeman after hitting a pedestrian on my way to work one morning. I was horrified to see the teenage girl bounce off the bonnet of my car. Fortunately she wasn’t hurt as I had only just pulled away from traffic lights, but we were both rather shaken up. She was only a few metres from a pedestrian crossing (also with lights) and the policeman said if anyone was to be charged it would be her. I wish she hadn’t been so impatient. I still worry about the unpredictability of pedestrians on the side of the road.
  • I remember being interviewed by police after our car was stolen. I was so upset I couldn’t remember the registration number. After it was stolen a second time, we got rid of it!

    stolen car

    Our beautiful car – stripped!

  • I remember being interviewed by the police after our house was burgled and giving them a list of items that had been stolen. The most surprising one was a big screen TV. Big in 1999 is not the same as big in 2014. It went as far out the back as it did across and weighed a ton. How they got it out of the house and down the steep driveway without being seen I’ll never know; or even why they did, as newer technology  was on its way and it wouldn’t have been worth much to resell.

The media (Note: You are neither expected nor required to watch any of the videos included in this section. They are simply for my amusement and learning.)

  • I remember being interviewed by the local paper when offering sessions to assist parents help their children read.

Satelitte 17.06.92 (2)

  • I remember being interviewed on Radio on the morning of the Family Day Picnic for the year of the family in 1994.
  • I remember being interviewed on a local community television station. I was invited to talk about the alternative school I was setting up. (I haven’t found the footage yet, but below is a response given to a question about self-esteem at a publicity meeting. Apologies for the amateur quality.)
  • I remember being interviewed at school about keeping butterflies in the classroom, twice: each time for different programs and different television studios.


Just as an aside, at about the same time that I was being interviewed about butterflies for the program “Totally Wild”, Bec was also being interviewed at school for the same program. She is proud to say that the times she appeared on that program numbered three to my one! Not long afterwards she appeared on the news a couple of in anti-war rallies!

Bec on "Totally Wild"

Bec and friend Elise talking about heating on “Totally Wild”

Of course, not all interviews occur face-to-face. Interviews can take place online too. During the 15 months that I have been blogging I have passed on a number of awards asking people to answer questions. This post is a compilation of the answers given to my interview questions by my first nominees.

Thanks, Lisa, for this opportunity to take a walk down memory lane.

Thank you

Thank you readers. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post.