Tuesday, 8 April 2014

technology overload: a journey towards finding balance

Parenting is not easy at the best of times, but when you've made a decision to embrace good old-fashioned style play for your children instead of constant exposure to screen time and electronic devices- be it the television, iPad or games on the iPhone, it can sometimes feel like climbing a never-ending uphill mountain. The truth is that it can require a lot of effort and patience to provide guidance and get them started in their creative play- whether it's helping them source items and fasten buttons and ties on their dress-up outfits when you feel like there are a hundred and one other things you should or could be doing, or baking with them when it takes three times as long and generates at least double the mess than if you were to just do it by yourself. It is time consuming to set up and supervise a creative project then clean it all up again or get them all geared up for a walk or some outdoor play, prepare the necessary snacks and locate drinks bottles only for it to rain ten minutes after setting off. It's undoubtedly easier just to turn on the television to keep them occupied or get half an hour of guaranteed peace but I can say with my hand on heart that it has been an effort so worth making for this family.

I'm sure a fair few of you reading are probably thinking "What's the big deal? We live in the modern world, it can't be avoided and children should surely be embracing modern technology." I realise that we are probably in the minority of most people we know and for some people this can be a touchy subject, but for me, the bottom line is that they have the rest of their adult lives to be attached to an iPhone or sat in front of a computer all day long. We didn't grow up with mobile phones or other devices as children but we all still learnt to use them pretty quickly once they showed up in our lives. I'm all for my little ones experiencing a childhood spent developing skills for interaction with each other and their imaginations. I'd much rather they engage with what is actually happening around them instead of with a virtual world and I know with great certainty I don't want them to waste their youth and precious childhood years in front of a screen instead of simply playing, exploring nature, getting creative or experiencing the joy of losing hours whilst enthralled in an un-put-down-able book. 

Since we've run a much tighter ship in terms of tech exposure over the past year or so, it has been amazing to see how quickly they have adapted and that playing (together and on their own) often without guidance or any adult direction, happens very naturally and organically now there is no expectation that the TV will be turned on or the iPad produced in the mornings, during any mealtimes or various other points throughout the day. Persevering with this approach is definitely paying off. Obviously we still get a fair amount of bickering and disagreements but they are figuring out a little more each day how best to get along with each other. I've witnessed with my own eyes that when children are simply allowed to get bored, this is when the magic and creativity really happens. They then embark on a role-playing game for hours, be it setting up an entire hospital in their bedroom for their dolls and soft toys or building an obstacle course in the living room or outside, all entirely led by their own imaginations. Sometimes they construct an entire intricate city out of blocks, populated by Sylvanian Families creatures or Playmobil people, complete with a train set built around it. When we go out to a restaurant or a cafe, we've made a conscious effort to use the opportunity to actually talk as a family rather than shoving an iPhone in their face to keep them quiet and I take colouring books and pencils to bring out if they do get restless. I know that I am setting them an example with everything I do myself so it's made me more conscious of keeping a check on my own online and screen time. I've never been much of a TV viewer but I don't want them to see me pick up my phone every free second to check emails or Facebook. This is something I know many of us struggle with and which I definitely could do better at.       

Of course we haven't completely banned all technology from our children's lives, they watch twenty minutes (typically one episode) of a kids series on DVD before bed. They choose these from our local library where we go to borrow books and DVDs once a week. If we have no other plans, we usually have a movie night on a Friday late afternoon/evening where we make a pizza together then watch a classic family movie. Lila loves The Secret Garden and Mary Poppins. They do also watch a couple of shows for half an hour on a weekend morning but that is pretty much it. We have an iPad with a few educational apps on it which they occasionally use or is brought out if they are ill or when we're on a very long journey (I will definitely be grateful for it when we will be boarding the twenty-something hour flight to the UK in a couple of months!) Curt or I take Lila to the movies to watch a new release a couple of times a year as a special outing and if the TV is on when stop by at a friends house, it's not a big deal. 

I will say though that one of the major factors in choosing a small, rural primary school this year was the fact that aside from having an amazing community and great teachers, it places a really big emphasis on reading, maths, and writing skills and the children don't use iPads until the later primary years. It shocked and saddened me a little when I went to look around some other much larger, more 'modern' schools to see a class of five year olds, each with an iPad in hand and completely absorbed in the apps and games they were playing, oblivious to each other and certainly not interacting and learning from their teacher who was just sitting at the front of the class doing something else. This post definitely isn't intended to sound preachy or make anyone else feel guilty about their own choices, just to document our journey and experiences and maybe it might offer some suggestions for anyone else who has been thinking about or wanting to find more balance where technology is concerned. There's no doubt that this means different things for different families and there is no one-size-fits-all solution, just a process of trial and error, perseverance and the knowledge that a childhood where they are given the chance to create their own fun, make real connections and explore, enjoy and observe the world around them is something worth fighting for. 

Thursday, 20 March 2014

nesting


























I am a home-making enthusiast at the best of times- well, aside from heavy duty (that should truthfully say 'any kind of'') cleaning and the relentless tidying up of the never-ending messes familiar to every weary parent. I love pottering around when I have a spare few minutes, rearranging and creating little displays. Nothing fancy, usually just using objects collected on a beach walk grouped with a vase filled with some dried lavender or a random assortment of fresh flowers from the garden (even herbs or whatever seems to living and green) and a well-loved old edition of a favourite book unearthed from the op-shop.

Creating a sense of 'home' in the old-fashioned sense is hugely important to me. I am drawn to objects like handmade quilts and other family heirlooms and hand-me-downs, treasures collected from travels and items with provenance and meaning. I also gravitate towards being surrounded by lots of calming natural elements and textures like wood, wool, cotton, wicker, plants and any kind of greenery. Living in a flawless or fully kitted out showroom-esque home will never be an option, clearly because I'm just not tidy enough. But aside from that I suppose I'm not really motivated by the same hot new interiors trend or replica designer chair as a few million other people. There's no denying that I enjoy the odd trip to Ikea and we have a few great functional items purchased there over the years but the whole ready-to-purchase 'look' is not the holy grail of home as I see it.

I recently came across the concept of wabi-sabi, the Japanese art of finding beauty in imperfection, and it really struck a chord. Wabi-sabi is a way of being that champions the simple, slow and uncluttered and reveres authenticity above all else. In the home, wabi-sabi inspires a kind of warm minimalism that celebrates the human rather than the machine, things that resonate with the maker's touch, things with soul. It's not so much a decorating 'look' as a mind set. Over the past couple of weeks my nesting instinct has gone into overdrive though I am yet to get to the dusting of long-forgotten corners or any cleaning of the windows and I'm honestly not too concerned if this doesn't happen. This urge to nest has probably has a lot to do with being 33 weeks pregnant and it has nicely coincided with the changing of the seasons. Though we've been lucky enough to still be enjoying some beautiful late summer days, autumn has slowly started creeping in and I am ready for it now.

The sofa (I know I should say couch now we live in Australia but I'm still stubbornly holding onto sofa, trousers and felt-tip pens among other English expressions), has been draped in a cosy wool throw, toes are soon to be clad in soft thick knitted socks when lounging at home and I'm looking forward to cooking up warm soups and hearty casseroles and lighting some candles of an evening. I am tired; more exhausted than I remember being in my previous pregnancies and ready to slow down, settle in for the colder nights and prepare for the new little member of our family that we will be welcoming in not so many weeks now. A name too, we also need a name for her. It seems that by the time you reach the third child of the same gender, pinning down a name you both agree on is more challenging than ever before with all the firm, mutually-agreed favourites already being used up with the other two. Hopefully we can reach a decision soon and that my powers of persuasion will prevail!

Thursday, 6 March 2014

reality and online illusions



I've been thinking about this online space of mine. What it is, what it has been and where it might be going. I first decided to start a blog when I was pregnant with Lila; my first baby, almost six years ago. Back then I don't think blogging was a particularly well known concept and certainly anyone that did have one never could've predicted how the phenomenon would have blown up in recent years. For my part, I simply wanted a creative outlet and a place to write; a journal of sorts. Also somewhere to record and share memories and thoughts on this new adventure of motherhood I was about to embark on. I wanted to create something that my children could read back through when they were grown. In the years since then I've also blogged about my various creative endeavours, spaces, people and things that have inspired me. When we moved overseas it became a great way of recording what we were up to on the other side of the world to share with family and friends back home. I've not really done much at all to promote it and have never had aspirations of garnering a huge readership or making money from it with advertising or sponsored posts. At times I've updated it frequently but there have also been months of silence when life has got busy or all my energy and attention has been taken up elsewhere.

I like the fact I'm not pressured to write daily or even weekly, resorting to just churning out meaningless posts. Instead I wait until inspiration strikes and get something down that is actually real and important to me. I'm also not sure I would feel comfortable with encouraging people to buy products we couldn't afford and aspire to a type of lifestyle we don't really live and could never maintain. It's always been a more personal endeavour than that. However I do realise that the things we choose to share online don't always paint the most realistic picture. I think most of us are aware that everyone is generally trying to put forward the best possible version of their own lives (not just in terms of blogging, in every kind of social media). While I've always done my best to keep this a positive place as I am generally a pretty optimistic, glass-half-full person, I would never want anyone to be under the impression we live anything even vaguely resembling a picture-perfect existence.

We don't have a lot of money, drive a big or fancy car and certainly don't have a polished house full of super expensive possessions. I do hope we live in a home which may be a little shabby but feels comfortable, welcoming and full of love. My kids wear hand-me-downs and we don't buy new things very often. If we have made a choice to have something or go somewhere significant it will have been saved for or at the sacrifice of something else. We don't eat out or go on holidays or expensive day trips much at all but we try to make the most of where we live and what it has to offer throughout the year and we feel happy and grateful for what we have. I think often about our priorities and family values and what really matters in life. One thing that springs to mind is that when you live in a relatively small space with three other people (two of them small and like all children, prone to creating a whirlwind of chaos) I'd say it's fairly crucial that your happiness doesn't hinge on being able to maintain a clean and tidy house resembling a spread in an interiors magazine all of the time.

Some of the very well known family and lifestyle blogs have become hugely effective money generators for their creators but I know for many people they have sadly lost any sense of honesty or authenticity they may have once had, simply pushing products and an illusion of a perfectly curated life. I love finding online spaces that inspire me and feel real but I'm not a fan of the pressure others create to buy this, that and everything, to have and do it all. These seem to breed envy and insecurity, leaving a lot of readers feeling lacking in their own lives and themselves as people. Here's to writing from the heart and knowing that we are most likely not the only people out there with a pitifully empty fridge that could definitely do with a clean and no idea what to cook for dinner tonight (or maybe that's just me!)

Friday, 21 February 2014

stories

 

I have a thing for stories. Books of course- my lifelong love of reading has been well documented here but I'm not just talking about the stories held between pages bound together. I love connecting with people, finding out what they've done and where they've been. What has made them who they are and where they long to go. I think I've mentioned before that I work in a little café on a Sunday and like many other jobs, it has its fair share of menial tasks and repetition and hardly a vast amount of financial reward, but regardless of that; I look forward to my shift every week. Some people may look down a little on 'café work', especially when it's done by someone who is no longer a penniless student, in possession of a degree and with a couple of career jobs under their belt. I couldn't care less though.

Over the years I've worked in many hospitality jobs at different stages in my life and in numerous places- pubs, restaurants, bars and cafes. All of them brilliant and on occasions, unpleasant in their own way. But the people I've met, the stories I've heard and the lessons I've learned. They are wonderful. There's no life experience like it. Every Sunday now, in the quiet lull of the late afternoon before the dinner rush, I make a tea for one of our regulars (always very milky with one large sugar). He is a 60-something local and we have a chat and set the world to rights. He tells me about the days of his youth in the 70's when the skateboarding movement was being pioneered and he competed against the legendary Z-Boys from America in the first skateboarding championships held in Australia. He reminisces on his past business ventures and what he would have done differently in his marriages and his relationships with his children. In return I tell him about the struggles and joys of life with a young family in these times and my hopes and dreams for the future

Aged five and a half, there is nothing more that Lila likes to hear than anecdotes about when Curt and I were children. What each of us did for fun, places we went to, what we liked and generally how we spent our hours. All the rest of our family members get grilled in the same way and as I re-live my childhood days and beyond, I realise that she is piecing together the fragments of the puzzle that make up our family. Gathering this sense of history is helping her figure out the bigger picture of life and her own sense of belonging within it. There is something pretty wonderful about that. There's nothing like becoming a parent to make you reflect on what has shaped you as a person, the influences and experiences that have defined you and the things you want to repeat with your own family (and of course those you shudder at the mere memory of).

I dearly hope we will manage to raise readers and book lovers, though I can admit I do get a little panicky at the thought of them selecting their own material after a quick glance at the young reader shelves at the library. No doubt there is likely to be a backlash against the numerous tomes offered up from our home shelves in the vein of 'What Katy Did' and 'Goodnight Mister Tom', but the Rainbow Magic fairy books series...it does make me shudder slightly. Actually, I just realised that aged eleven, I greedily consumed the entire back catalogue of the Sweet Valley High series in about two months flat so I should probably get down off my quality reading material high horse. Whilst written stories will always have their place, it's equally important that our children know the value of human stories, of getting out in the world and being open to meeting people of all ages, from diverse backgrounds and different walks of life. I can't wait to hear the stories they tell their own children. To discover which of the memories we are creating now will stand the test of time and to know they will leave behind a legacy of their own past shared through their words.

Image: Lila and Curt. She never gets tired of hearing his stories.

Friday, 31 January 2014

beauty, naturally



I first started taking more notice of the products I was using on my hair and skin when I was pregnant for the first time. Before that my basic purchasing criteria was along the lines of...Will it make me look significantly better? Does it smell lovely and have nicely designed packaging? I can't remember exactly where I first heard or read about parabens, petrochemicals, sulphates and the other chemicals present in the majority of products on the market, but as soon as I did a little research it worried me and the implications of what these nasties may possibly be doing to my baby was enough to make me sit up and decide to make some changes.

I figured that if you're going to be careful about most of the food you put into your mouth then it makes sense to do the same for what you apply to your skin and the rest of your body. Questioning what's really in it and where it's come from, then making better choices without of course taking it to extremes and sucking out every last bit of joy from life. I firmly believe life needs joy, and if that happens to comes in say the form of a pot of lovely non-natural body lotion every now and then, so be it. I've always been careful to choose chemical free toiletries and products wherever possible for my children and I'd like to say I kept this change up for myself too. However once each of my little ones has been born I've fallen back into my old habits, seduced into trying the latest, hyped-up creams or products which promise (and sometimes do deliver) wonderful results, or fallen back on tried and tested classics and favourites.

I can say with hand on heart that there's no way I could ever be a fully committed, doused-in- patchouli-oil hippy that has eschewed shampoo in favor of dreadlocks and completely ditched make-up for a strictly all-natural warts 'n' all approach. The lure of a select few luxurious, beautiful products such as the treat of a divine bottle of fragrance on top of my dressing table or a gorgeous nail polish colour will always be my downfall. They are such happy makers and surely one of the great advantages of being born a woman is the prerogative to indulge in a little pampering, not to mention the joys of a great lipstick and the transformative effects of a lightly flushed cheek or well defined eyebrow.  But I decided when I fell pregnant this time around that I would find some really awesome, effective natural products that I would actually commit to carry on using for the long haul.

In general, Australia seems to be a good place to be when embarking on this quest. I'd say it's a pretty health conscious, eco-aware nation which has an impressive selection and choice of natural ranges that don't take much leg work to seek out. Of course it requires a little label sleuthing as you can't take anything with the words organic and natural plastered over the packaging at face value. Some of the brands that I've tried so far and loved include Trilogy - their Rosehip facial oil is a game-changer and the Everything Balm smells wonderful and can be used as everything from a lip balm to treatment of insect bites and for softening patched of dry skin. The Natural Instinct range has the body wash, body lotion and hair care categories covered and I've been impressed with the performance of the ones I've tried so far. Going into to the territory of natural deodorants seems a lot more of a serious commitment and one that I've not been tempted to venture into yet on the grounds that is there any chance that they could actually work effectively? The hygiene factor and distinct possibility of stinking out everyone within a ten metre radius is surely a sacrifice too far, though having said that, I have heard some amazingly good things about this product.

Financially there was no way I could afford to do a complete overnight overhaul of most of my toiletries so I've been waiting until something runs out before replacing it with a chemical free alternative. Natural, especially organic ranges usually come with a higher price tag, though I've learned that a big tub/jar of raw, unrefined coconut oil can do wonderful things in the field of beauty as well as cooking. Google it if you want to know more, but it can be used as a highly beneficial cleanser/make-up remover, skin moisturiser and hair conditioner. That kind of multi tasker has to be a winner in anyones book, just think of the amount of other bottles and clutter it can eliminate in the bathroom. If going natural takes a little more effort and means saving up for a few better products instead of a cabinet full of chemicals but doesn't have to involve sacrificing results then count me in. Next on my wish list is a bottle of this, a carcinogen-free nail polish that doesn't scrimp on style.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

goodbye and hello



Another year ticked off, the last few months of which raced by in a blur of crippling morning sickness followed by the inevitably frantic calendar of events which make up the festive season. The past couple of weeks have finally allowed some time to breathe and think about what has passed and what 2014 might have in store. A new baby girl for one (due to make her appearance in early May) to complete the family. I am giddy with excitement at the prospect of my three little girls, but also overwhelmed by the responsibilities that lie ahead in raising them all into them into smart, strong and kind women. I wonder if anyone ever really feels qualified for that job. I can only follow my instincts, keep everything crossed and hope that with a dash of luck and support from our extended families that we will manage to set them on the right path. 

A couple of other highlights ahead include a long awaited month long trip back to the UK, my parents and our family home at the end of June with my sister and all our children. Also a newly begun freelance writing gig for which I'm looking forward to getting lost down a rabbit hole of words and crafting sentences, researching and sourcing images. Worthy of a mention too is the fact that in few short weeks I will be waving my first born off at the gates as she begins primary school. A whole new chapter in her life and mine. A time of great excitement but also the bittersweet reminder that she went from being a tiny newborn to a school girl in what feels like little more than the blink of an eye. She also lost her first tooth last week, a milestone I (probably naively) wasn't prepared for or expecting for at least 12 months yet. Just slow down already young lady, while I get my head wrapped around all of this.

The year just departed was on the whole a good one. We settled into our new home and surroundings, managed to grow some food and flowers in our patch of earth, made friends in the community and connections with our neighbours and added two new members to the family- our backyard chickens Daisy and Evelyn. There was also a long awaited and well deserved promotion at work for my better half which has taken a little bit of pressure off the question of how will we manage to raise and support three children?

I suspect we'll get along somehow as best we can. I know now- one of the redeeming aspects of tuning 30 I think- that life suddenly gets a whole lot easier and more enjoyable when you let go of the pressures bearing down from every direction. These and pointless comparisons that urge us to carry on spending and accumulating, keeping up with anyone that seems to be more together and having and doing it all better. One of my goals this past year was to simplify life, whittle down what we own, think more carefully about what we bring into our home and generally just spend less time worrying about what we don't have and more of it doing what we love and is important us. This is a journey which I want to continue and I look forward to more creating, adventuring and memory making in the upcoming months. Also spending time with our dear friends and family and making and eating a whole lot of good food. And with that, welcome 2014.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

days gone by



I sometimes wonder if anyone else has an overwhelming sense of nostalgia for the ways of life that were lived a few decades ago. Maybe it's ingrained in me after a childhood of weekends spend with my parents wandering around every National Trust property in a hundred mile radius of our home, a carefree childhood growing up in a hundred year old farmhouse where (to mine and my sisters dismay at the time, we didn't own a video player until I was almost a teenager), afternoons spent cycling around country lanes when people were a whole lot less concerned about safety gear and unsavoury characters who may be lurking around in the hedges waiting to pounce on innocent children.

Clearly not everything in days gone by was idyllic, far from it, but there was certainly much more of an an emphasis on the things that really matter- time spent with family, pottering about outdoors, a sense of community, making do and mending, growing what you eat and preparing from scratch good food to share. I feel so much more of an affinity to a more simple way of life than the modern markers of success such as monetary wealth, racing up the career ladder, a ten hour work day, a constant state of stress and an unrelenting pace and lack of free time.  I know the world my children will grow up in is already vastly different to the world of my own childhood. When I tell them that there was no such thing as the Internet or mobile phones back then they will look at me aghast and unbelieving.

There is undoubtedly no escaping from the technology that infiltrates every minute aspect of our lives, but I do believe that children should be allowed to be children in the way they always have been for generations. To play, to create from their own imaginations, to be allowed a free rein under a watchful eye on the sidelines, to not have every second of their free time scheduled with extra curricular activities, to be exposed to skills and crafts that have been passed down through the generations instead of being glued to a screen, remote or games console in hand. So I suppose I am careful about what we bring and let into our home- the books we read together, the choice not to buy them toys or dress them in outfits emblazoned with tv kids characters- I'd rather they have a chance to express their own creativity than be a walking billboard for brands and marketing execs. The decision not to turn the television on for them but to encourage them to explore the outdoors or help me out in the kitchen. Making the time to sit down for family meals and talk about our days together.

I realise this all sounds very like 'The Waltons' or something (it's not, there's way more bickering). We're so far from perfect I can only laugh at the concept and and have our share of family ups and downs just the same as anyone else. Sometimes it's hard to try and explain to Lila that she can't watch Barbie Princess Charm School on You Tube when that's what a few of her friends from kindergarten are spending their time at home doing, but she soon forgets it and gets back to the business of making dens under the kitchen table or drawing. And yes, I know that at some point, (hopefully not for a long time yet!) they will no doubt be exposed to High School Musical and Justin Bieber or whoever his god awful equivalent may then be, but I hope by the time that happens that they will have enough of a sense of themselves and their interests that they will be able to decide if that's what actually floats their boat or not. One day I hope my girls will look back and appreciate their childhood in the same way I do mine.      


  Top image- scenes from our home.
  Above- Lila at kindergarten, Rose and Curt ocean gazing.

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