the CD and the atlas: lessons learned in the lead up to Christmas

My Grandpa lives by the sea. We went to visit yesterday and spent a few hours with him, eating sandwiches and drinking coffee brewed on his camp stove in the afternoon sun.

He’s in the process of moving house and let me choose some of his books to take home. One is an old atlas with the inscription: “To Mary with love from Graeme Xmas 1960.” A message from my Grandpa to my Grandmother.

We have been looking through its softly worn pages today. In the lead up to Christmas while my heart is  beating faster and faster with increasing overwhelm, I can’t help but reflect on this little gift with wonderment. Imagine, opening up a present from your partner on Christmas morning to find a lovely book with a short message in the front. I like to think it was wrapped brown paper, and perhaps tied with white string. It is this kind of simplicity and thoughtfulness that I yearn for in my every day life. We are overcome with monstrous loud flashy messages and it is easy forget that we don’t need to buy each other and our children bigger and better things in order for them to be happy and healthy and cherished and loved.

At birthdays and Christmas I stick to this motto from Jodi Wilson:

something I want, something I need

something to wear, something to read

Even still it is easy to get distracted and carried away and panicky and compare-y. We have to stop doing this.

Gramps also offered me some CDs of classical music. “Ok,” I said, “but can I have one that isn’t frantic. One that I could listen to on a Sunday afternoon. Something calming. No violins?”

“Hmm. Well that isn’t how I approach music at all.” he replied.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I walk over to my CDs. I think of one I’d like to listen to. I put it on, then I sit down on the couch and I listen to it. That is how to engage with a piece of music. If it’s on in the background it might as well be anything.”

“Ok. But what if you’re me and you’ve got three screaming children and you have to cook dinner and fold the washing and feed the dog and it’s 1pm and you want to put your pyjamas on and you’re not really thinking about developing a relationship with a piece of music but you would like something to listen to… in the background?”

He stared at me for a moment, laughed, then a few minutes later handed me this, and we listened to it in the car on the way home.

The CD and the atlas. I’ve been thinking about them both since yesterday. The purity and the restraint and the slow and the time. I am so rushed. Even when I try to slow down, there are so many external things wanting my attention. Children, animals, schedules imposed on me and so many rules. Rules! So many!

It’s been a timely and gentle reminder. Now when I look at my Christmas list, I am not looking at things to add, but places I can pare down, things that I can make, things that I can replicate to create a bit of flow, areas that I was perhaps getting a little carried away (do the girls really need another story CD? What will really make them happy on Christmas morning?) I think it’s important to remember that the presents we buy and/or make for our kids are just the beginning for most families on Christmas Day. For many, including us, there will be a number of shared meals that day, and many thoughtful gifts and presents to open. To keep it simple and quiet in the morning at home, we are actually doing our children a favour and allowing them to enjoy the excitement ahead.

Will you start your Christmas morning slow and steady this year? Do you have many people and engagements to whiz around to during the day?

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one hour

I’ve been given an hour. One hour. One whole hour.

Half of it has already gone.

I made a cup of tea, checked my email, chopped some potatoes for dinner, and wandered around a bit nervously trying to choose what to do next. Then I sat down here at my very neat and clean #konmaried desk.

While I’m here with everyone around my head often drifts off to far away places, imagining all the things I would do if I just had five minutes.

Now I’ve got an hour and suddenly I’m here alone, overwhelmed with the prospect of what to do first. So there will be no photo accompanying this post. I don’t have time to find one.

I’m a little high on sugar having just got back from a birthday party, so that is not helping with the decision making process.

Sugar, caffeine and exhaustion… what was I saying about evaluating our diet in my last post? Someone, please remind me, quick!

That is all, I have to go and stare at a wall for a few minutes before my next task. Bye for now.

listening / watching / reading

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There’s nothing quite like the start of Spring to bring about feelings of freshness, new beginnings, energy… I absolutely love the Winter but it always drags on about a month too long here in Melbourne. All of you Melbournians know what I’m talking about!

Over a month into Spring now it finally feels like the sunshine has arrived. KB is on long service leave for another two and a half weeks and we have just got back from a lovely holiday on the south coast of NSW – a magical and inspiring coastline if you ever do get the chance to visit.

On the way home we heard a song by Nick Mulvey on ABC radio which was a treat, and I have been listening to his album every day since we got home! I’m sure I’ll be told to turn it off soon but in the meantime I’m dancing around in bare feet to it on a daily basis.

In our usual pursuit of slow and calm I also bought this book and devoured it in 48 hours. I’m now well into the process of #konmari – ing our house. I’m up to papers. I have such a problem with papers. We have no system with bills or anything and it’s just so boring that we are always finding ourselves getting into trouble with late notices and so on. Who has time for this stuff? We can’t work out a system that works so I’m loving Marie Kondo’s paperly advice: to throw it all away. Duly noted and obediently doing just that. What a relief to see all those old bills, receipts, notices, blah blah blah going into my throw out pile. KB will most likely have a minor freak out when he sees my pile but shhhh let’s keep it our secret for now.

While I was pregnant I succumbed to netflix and promised myself it would just be for the free month. Five months later we still have netflix. Yesterday I watched Cowspiracy, and I have to say it has had such an effect on me that I am dragging out all my old vegetarian recipes and taking a good hard look at our diet… again. When I began eating meat again after a period of time as a vegetarian, I was so careful with my choices and seriously limited our meat intake. As the years have gone by and more children have been born, meal times have become a last minute panic, throwing together whatever I can during the last dash before bedtime. I hate eating this way as I love cooking and planning and preparing and being thoughtful about what we eat and when we eat it, and while we have a number of good habits it has been difficult lately to be mindful about it. Cowspiracy has given me that motivation again. Tonight we’re having eat your greens pesto pasta (with brown rice instead of pasta because I don’t have any in my pantry). My sister gave me the recipe a while ago; you basically just cook up some garlic and leek or onion and any other vegetables you like that you have on hand, mix through some pesto and serve. You can be as creative as you like with this dish and it will always taste good. You can make your own pesto but I usually let myself off the hook and just buy a jar because this is meant to be an easy and cheap meal, after all.

In other news Pearly pops is already rolling over, and yesterday at the dreaded Maternal Child Health Nurse appointment she said it’s time to put her in the cot (!) and start thinking about giving her food (!) and all sorts of other dreadful things like that. I nodded my head like the good mother and threw the papers in the bin when I got home.

Well, it feels good to be here today. The sun is shining and I’m about to make myself a coffee. Birdie is at kinder, the Pixie is with her Daddy out for the morning and Pearl is demanding that I turn the computer off. Right. Now. So… goodbye and have a lovely day.

that overwhelmed feeling

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It’s day four of being at home with two sick kids (luckily Pearl has avoided it so far). They have that deep throaty cough that keeps you awake at night and makes your voice croaky. KB worked late the last two nights (home 8.30pm) and leaves around 7.15/7.30am in the mornings so the days at home alone feel long. I’ve had to miss out on a gathering at a friend’s house I was looking forward to and cancel my pregnant sister and aunty with her baby coming over this morning which I was so looking forward to. (Very small and minor complaints in comparison to world wide events of late, I know.) Yesterday we spent the entire morning at the hospital for some check ups for baby (she’s had a little heart murmur since birth, but is absolutely fine) and when we returned home a little frazzled and burnt out, our darling Pixie didn’t want to have her day sleep (cue exasperated emoji x 1000). I spent about an hour returning her to her bedroom to no avail.

Eventually I gave up and let them both play in my room on my bed (found all sorts of treats under my doona when I went to bed myself last night…). Knowing I had the evening ahead of me (and wanted to be in front of the TV by 7.30pm for The Bachelor Australia semi final!!! #guilty) I decided to do early baths and try to instil some sort of calm into our afternoon. I made little oat pockets in hankies and let them pour milk mixed with a few drops of lavender into a deep, warm bath. I desperately wanted to get in myself and lock the door of the bathroom (with them on the other side)… despite my efforts, come 5pm Pixie was bouncing off the walls. When she is tired she morphs into this strange kind of hysteria. Her giggles become high pitched and her face draws a curtain over itself, she looks at you when you speak but doesn’t seem to hear the words. She wouldn’t eat her dinner and she has also figured out that I am relatively powerless while I’m feeding Pearl. So she looks me in the eye as she picks things up she’s not meant to touch, as she gets down from the table when she’s meant to be eating her dinner, as she pulls my wallet out of my bag and begins to empty its contents all over the floor, as she tips her cup of water into her dinner or puts her entire fist into her food, as she pulls Nell’s hair… or all of the above.

I was so beyond my limits by 6pm that I pretended it was 7pm and put them both to bed. Luckily for me our clock ran out of batteries yesterday morning so my clever Nell was unable to see through my nasty little trick.

On days like these it really makes me question our Western way of life. Since having babies this set up has always felt very unnatural to me. When my family are visiting (and often stay for full days at a time because we just can’t get enough of each other) it feels full and whole and right. We always joke about buying houses all in a row, we call it “our commune”. But for me it actually just sounds perfect. One of my little sisters is about to have a baby and even though she only lives a 20 minute drive away, it seems too far. All the rules that we impose on ourselves, when you really think about it, life in our culture is just one big game. We have made all the rules (working 9-5, living isolated in silos and away from our families, do this, don’t do that, etc) but now we seem absolutely trapped by them.

Well, at the very least, I do. Do you?

the flowers and so on

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Spring has officially arrived in the Southern Hemisphere. Over the past year we have done a little bit of work here and there in our garden and although there is a lot more to be done (and we generally have no idea what we are doing) I was amazed at the variety of flowers that bloomed to announce the beginning of the new season. I love Winter, but the last few weeks always seem to drag a little. Everyone seems to have a sunnier disposition all of a sudden now there is some colour in our days.

It always takes me a while to shake off the darkness of Winter. I thrash through my wardrobe wondering what to wear when the sun comes out and warms the air. I keep putting nourishing yet heavy stews on the meal plan, unsure of what to do with those fresh leafy greens that arrive in my veggie box. (While we adjust our favourite go-to meal is currently a tray of roast vegetables, raw greens, a handful of seeds and a blob of hommus. It has enough possibilities to suit the whole family in one form or another.)

At the start of each season I always spend some time consulting this book. It grounds me in the here and now and no matter what is going on in my life, it always has something to say to me. I love the recipes and find that with a quick refresh of the suggested seasonal pantry items the kitchen is in business again. I’ve had about five minutes to peruse it this season, but I have kept it out on the kitchen table so it is within grabbing distance at opportune moments. I was also given this book for my birthday back in May which I absolutely love and am happy to say Pearl has finally allowed me the chance to test out some of the recipes, many of which are perfect for the warmer weather headed our way.

Speaking of warmer weather (or lack of it) for those of you in the Northern Hemisphere who are bundling up and slowly retreating into Autumn, I am very excited to be featured in the Autumn issue of Tend Magazine, talking about creating a sense of place for our children in our homes and local landscapes. Pop over here to check it out.

I think that’s all for now, my head is a little foggy with less sleep than I would generally like, and the end of the school term in sight. I’m looking forward to KB being on long service leave and I can think of little else. FIST PUMP! Ciao.

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I survived

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So it turns out I am perfectly capable of living a normal life outside of social media, without turning into Gollum searching for The Ring. After the first few days, I actually didn’t miss it at all!

The other day I downloaded Instagram onto my phone again. I’ve clicked the app maybe five times in the last three or four days, as opposed to five times in an hour that I was capable of previously.

I can now sit down and think, my mind feels clear, my feet are on the ground.

I was sitting at the traffic lights during the week and I looked into the window of the car next to me. I saw a two year old in his seat, tapping away eagerly on a screen of some sort. This time spent away from social media has really made me think (again) about the place screens play in our lives. How seamlessly they slip, unassuming, into the fabric of our homes.

We bought an iPad last Christmas for KB’s work. I have used it a handful of times and actually forgot we had it until about six weeks ago, when the girls asked if they could watch ABC KIDS on it. They sometimes have a go on one at their Nan and Pa’s place, and surprisingly (or not?) they knew how to use it better than I did. Since that day they have asked to use it constantly, and being so bedraggled I started to say yes. Before I knew it they were having iPad time every afternoon and started to cry if I said no.

What have I done!?

I think it’s unrealistic while I’ve got such a small baby that I ban screens altogether (I’m actually just not willing to put myself through that right now… for better or worse) but I am so conscious and conflicted as their world is saturated with technology, unlike my own childhood… it just doesn’t feel right.

We’ve got some thinking to do, that’s for certain.

bon voyage social media

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My thumb hurts.

I looked down at Pearl today and saw she was smiling at me. I nearly missed it because I was too busy scrolling. Mindlessly scrolling through the depths of Instagram.

I couldn’t tell you what I was looking at. It was just one image after another, scroll, scroll, scroll, pause… like… scroll, scroll… then suddenly a movement on my lap caught my eye and there she was looking up at me, gums and dimples and all.

Then and there I decided to follow in the footsteps of some other friends on Instagram and take a break.

I used to take every January off Facebook in the days when I was quite addicted to it. It was amazing how quickly I forgot all about it, how quickly it was replaced by real live things: books, the newspaper, phone calls, conversation, writing. Thoughts that didn’t automatically translate into status updates. But sure enough February would come around and the habit would begin again.

I like Instagram a lot more than Facebook which is both good and bad at the same time. Good because I am engaging in things and people that truly interest me. I’ve connected with some wonderful people that I would never have had the opportunity to otherwise. I’ve had windows opened towards me into other people’s lives. When you’re home with small children it can make you feel less alone to have a peek through those windows, to see what other people are up to. I’ve been inspired by creative people and learned things from other mothers.

But it can also take away from real life, if you let it. Just like it did today, when I almost missed the sweet and fleeting smile of my baby. I’ve misheard questions and comments from Birdie and the Pixie because I’ve been on my phone, ignoring them and not being present. I don’t like the example I am setting them, losing myself in cyber space while I should be reading them a book or listening to their ideas, or just observing, thinking, watching, sitting. I find my attention span is becoming more and more limited as my thumb flicks from here to there, not fully engaging… and it’s not just Instagram, it’s my phone in its entirety. I remember the days I used to scoff when I heard people talking about phones that had cameras on them. I have a camera thank you very much. Ha!

So bye bye Instagram, and while I’m at it: Twitter and Facebook too… I’m off on hiatus for a week or so. Destination: Real Life.

If you’re thinking about it too, check out this video, it might give you the motivation you need!