“For though I fall, I will rise again. Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light”.
Starting Over Again.
When we moved from Australia to the UK we knew in our hearts that there was unfinished business here in this glorious, lush island of rolling green hills and abundant history. This beautiful British country that was to become our forever home.
“Until we realised that the jacket we had been trying to pass off as a good fit, felt truly uncomfortable and awkward”.
And in many ways we were the misfits, the renegades, the square pegs in round holes. The Australians who felt out of place in their home country.
A bit like wearing a jacket that needed re-sizing. No matter how much we tried to make that jacket fit – take it in here, add some pleats there, fancy it up a bit. It just never sat properly across our shoulders. It was too baggy under the arms, sat heavy on our chests and scratchy to wear for long periods of time.
We knew that we weren’t planted in Australia for long seasons, as much as we tried and tried to force those roots, deep down in the dry Australian soil.
They just didn’t grow, didn’t stick and most certainly didn’t thrive.
We tried moving, hoping that the ground was more fertile in other places, prettier suburbs, better schools, even better paid jobs. And that did work for a while, until we realised that the jacket we had been trying to pass off as a good fit, felt truly uncomfortable and awkward.
So we did it. We upended our entire family, our lives, home, nearly all of our worldly possessions.
Sold everything and with our most precious cargo, our six children, we relocated. To England.
We broke hearts, friendships and fractured family relations, through this move to the other side of the world.
It hurt us and it hurt others. So much confusion as to why living in the great south-land of promise and opportunity, just wasn’t enough. Wasn’t us. If it ever was in the first-place.
“It took much longer than we ever anticipated”
And for some, the thought of making a new life in a cold climate, grey, drab and wet, was unfathomable. But I guess that depends on which side of the coin you look at it. Like everything and everywhere, there are pros and cons. We decided to look at the pros.
You would think that once we had made the momentous decision to move, it would be all smooth sailing.
I sure did.
But that was far from the way it panned out.
Our new jobs were challenging, making connections, time-consuming and exhausting. Everything was a starting block.
We felt lonely at times and displaced. Setting up home all over again was expensive. Heck even getting a mobile phone contract was nearly impossible.
“I eventually realised that I was here all along”
However, just because something is right, doesn’t mean it won’t be difficult.
To adjust, settle, face reality.
Like the couple who long to have a child without success and finally, their dream has come to fruition.
Except being a parent is hard but that doesn’t mean their child wasn’t meant to be or they truly didn’t deserve to be parents. It just means that ‘right’ can also be challenging.
Or the couple who are perfectly suited for each other and marry. Do they never face hardship or sadness? Of course not. Marriage is hard work. For all of us.
Even for the most loved-up, cute couples you see on social media. Happiness isn’t without struggle.
We knew it would take time. To settle, find friends, breathe a little easier. But it took much longer than we ever anticipated.
Five years much longer.
And there were many, many times throughout those years that I couldn’t find myself anymore. Where had I left me? Where was I to be found? Was I to be found?
And I eventually realised that I was here all along. That our new path was really a journey that was to twist and turn, like all other life journeys.
Some points would be magical and others devastating but we are building a life based on purpose, not perfection.
Of course there will be ups and downs, sickness and trials, hardship and rejection. For this is life, despite what country you live in.
However, the one thing we do know, is that our jacket now fits.
Snug in all the right places, with space to move and freedom to stretch out our arms and fly.
In this new place that isn’t so new anymore and one we call home.
If a woman says “Do what you want!” Do not do what you want. Stand still. Do not blink. Don’t even breathe. Just play dead.
Never a truer word spoken really. Especially when said woman has raging and unstable hormones, feels fat, ugly and wants to eat a truck-load of chocolate in a dark room, whilst partaking in impulse internet buying.
I really don’t quite understand how this happens but sometimes, when I am in a certain womanly phase of the month, I will wake in the night, prepare myself a plate of scrambled eggs with fresh parsley, brush my teeth and trawl Amazon for hessian pineapple bunting, soft, squishy anti-stress peaches and fluffy white pillows.
Somewhere between 4 and 6 weeks later, I receive random boxes in the mail. Of which I have zero recollection of being actively involved in purchasing.
I mean, Amazon and Ebay finds can be so damn cheap!
This stuff, that someone buys at 3.24am about 48hours prior to ahem – that time of the month.
“Women are beautifully and uniquely created, not to serve men or our children or be a slave to our jobs or homes, but to make our mark on this world and shake it gently.”
Which lends itself to the point that women are deeply awe-inspiring creatures.
We can shop in our sleep, prepare food, uphold excellent hygiene practices, and support the Chinese internet market, very finely thank you.
Not-to-mention maintain our homes with the latest of decorative trends. Purely and utterly incredible.
Which is just as well really, because on some days we are golden goddesses, oozing sexuality, poise and glamor. And others pyjama-clad, scratchy, irritable, balls of confusion, with a slight whiff of halitosis breath.
Women are beautifully and uniquely created, not to serve men or our children or be a slave to our jobs or homes, but to make our mark on this world and shake it gently, as Gandhi so eloquently quoted.
Even though our minds can be like an internet browser, with at least 19 open at one time, 10 shopping carts full of wish-lists, three frozen and a distant rendition of ‘The Sound of Music’ coming from some random corner of our minds, we can keep those balls in the air for a very very long time. All at once.
“Don’t be afraid when storms come your way.
Learn to sail your ship over the waves”.
In the spirit of celebrating the awesomeness and complexity of women, I have created a quick, go-to, glance-at, pin-on-your-wall, manifesto/self-care reminder to nurture our hearts:
Throughout the past week we have had an unprecedented heat-wave in the UK. Hitting a record high of 29C last Thursday, making it the warmest April day for nearly 70 years.
The surprising weather felt like a wonderful gift from nature, following the recent arctic conditions of the past few months. Actually my brain took a few days to acclimatise, not to mention the fact that my legs and arms literally hadn’t absorbed a single ray of vitamin D for well over six months.
It was all a bit of a shock.
Plus, I had to shave my legs! Six months of leg hair growth is impressive to say the least.
Like most of Britain, we headed outdoors.
Long walks in the sunshine, bike-riding through the countryside, a picnic in the garden, a few sausages thrown on the barbie. It was heaven!
I predictably went a little overboard and packed away everybody’s winter wardrobe (when will I learn?), storing them in the attic in the hopes that they won’t be needed for another six months.Also, predictably, the weather has turned cold again.
My poor children are walking around freezing in cute cotton dresses, with only tiny spaghetti straps to cover their chilly shoulders. And as I have also packed away their warm winter boots, their feet are turning a lovely shade of blue in rubber flip flops.
Never ones to be deterred for long, the kids have managed to squeeze their icy toes into the few remaining warm socks they own. Socks and flip flops are quite the look I can tell you!
So is the long sleeved tops they found in the clothes dryer and duly placed under their cotton dresses for some warm padding.
I don’t think this bespoke bohemian look will be catching on anytime soon, thank goodness.
For me, practising the art of Hygge, seems more beneficial and cozy when the weather outside is cold and grey.
Visions of warm candle-light, thick, soft throw rugs, hands clasped around a hot drink, evoke a sense of cocooned harmony. We all tend to hibernate over winter and what better way to do it than make our own abode cushioned in warm loveliness.
And when the sun comes out (and stays for a while), it is understandable that Hygge might take a bit of a back seat.
But that is where I have been wrong, as the Danish ritual of enjoying life’s simple pleasures takes on a whole new meaning in the summertime. Of course, you can Hygge at any time of the year and
summer is the perfect season to copy the Scandinavian’s and get back in touch with mother nature.
A Danish summer is very similar to a British summer.
We live in Norfolk and are blessed with beautiful big skies and lots of sunshine. However, we are also the recipients of summer showers and drizzle, just like Denmark.Summer Hygge is an open invitation to enjoy the great outdoors. Whether it’s a swim in the ocean, a relaxed picnic with pals or roasting marshmallows over an open fire, this is the season for making memories and enjoying the warmth.And it is all for free!
A day at the seaside, a glass of rose’ in the garden, a sunny patch on the grass with a book, doesn’t cost a penny, which is the sole reason it is so incredibly Hygge. Hygge isn’t about money but all about the experience.
And of course, the Dane’s are fanatical bike riders! In 2016, bikes outnumbered cars for the first time in Copenhagen, with thousands of people travelling on two wheels for commuting and leisure. Why not encourage the family to walk instead of drive to your local park or pub. There is something so invigorating about being in the fresh air with your loves.Have you noticed that a huge proportion of Instagram photos are taken outside? This is more than simply the light being better. It is because we are at our happiest when surrounded by nature.
A sweet fresh breeze, the sound of baby birds calling for their mama to feed them, hearing water twinkle in a sparkling stream.There is a sort of magic in the natural world. It has been said that a child, more than anyone else, is a spontaneous observer of nature. A playful spirit, a curious mind with a world to explore. I want more of that child-like joy and I believe it is to be found outside, just like the Dane’s have discovered.
And once you have had your incredible fill outside, why not bring it inside with some beautiful fresh flowers? Apparently, having flowers in your home increases happiness, reduces depression and anxiety and can build positive emotions with friends and family. A separate study by Harvard University found the same results – increased compassion, feeling less negative, and more energy at work.
Who knew flowers packed such a medicinal and beneficial punch?Or treat the family to a leisurely Swedish breakfast in the form of Swedish Cinnamon Buns – followed by a lunch of their famous smørrebrød (open sandwiches).
Remember, Hygge is the art form of creating intimacy in any given moment and nothing says comfort and togetherness more than baking and eating as a family.
Meik Wiking quotes in The Little Book of Hygge, that “Hygge is the pursuit of everyday happiness” – and that means summer just as much as winter.
Here are some more Summer Hygge tips for you to enjoy:
– Berry picking in the countryside. – Switch your bedding over into something lighter. 100% Egyptian white cotton sheets (although more pricey to purchase) are divine to sleep in, especially during hot summer nights with the window open.
– Set up a day-bed or a rocking chair in an area that gets plenty of light and a cool breeze.
– Invite some friends around for a barbecue, chimenea or a fire-pit. Think toasted marshmallows and an Aussie favourite, damper, which is a basic scone mix, fashioned on the end of a stick, roasted over the fire, dipped in butter and honey.
– Look for pretty beach shells and when home, help the kids make a shell mobile to hang outside, so it twinkles and sings in the breeze.
– Turn over some fresh dirt and plant some vegetable seeds.
– Take the family to an outdoor concert or festival. There are loads of amazing places up and down the country.
– Camp outside under the stars. Tell stories, play cards under the moon, be lulled to sleep by the sounds of wildlife and wake to the morning song of birds.
– Spring clean your house. We all know the feeling of satisfaction when you have had a good clean-out and of course, the benefits of living clutter-free goes deeper than just the aesthetics.
Get the whole family involved and encourage them to sell the things they no longer want or need. It’s a great incentive for little ones (and teenagers!).
It is therefore fitting to release our Seven Days of Hygge free e-book, whilst we are in-between seasons here in the UK.
For every day of the week, we have given you a snapshot of embracing the life of Hygge at home and sharing this with your loves.
In order to receive your copy, simply click the subscribe button in the right hand corner of the page.
We will need your email to send you the book, however, we promise not to spam you with endless annoying information!! Honestly, is there anything worse.
You could also be in the running to receive your very own copy of The Times bestseller ‘The Little Book of Hygge’ by Meik Wiking.
Three subscribers will be chosen at random on the 1st of June and we will announce the fortunate recipients via Instagram and Facebook, the same day.Wishing you a wonderfully Hygge Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter!
I so hope you enjoy your Hygge journey as much as we do and here’s to emanating the happiest country in the world!
Positive Parenting Part Two – Teaching Through Play
We are covering Positive Parenting in a Five Part Series.
Part One, being the era of ‘helicopter parenting’ and micro-managing your children. I touched on ways to loosen one’s grip and allow children the freedom to self-regulate their own decisions and be given certain leeway of sorts, all within suitable boundaries.
The feedback I have received from this post has been incredible!
Thank you so much to everyone who responded with stories of their own and also re-shared the blog piece, personally.
I am very humbled by your responses, both publicly and through private messages.
Moving forward, today’s post is on Teaching your Child Through Play.
This quote is a poignant beginning: “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning”
– Mr Rogers.
When I was a new mother at only 23, I remember being so excited at the prospect of decorating our first-born’s nursery. We didn’t know what we were having, so the palate of choice was a lovely soft buttercream and pastel lemon.
We also didn’t have a lot of money at the time, having just purchased and built our first home, however as I love to recycle furniture and household items, this part I found to be wonderfully therapeutic for a first-time, constantly ill mummy.
Many, many hours were spent painting side tables, drawers and walls. And nipping to the toilet to be sick in between!
Our first experience of visiting a baby and toddler boutique, had a remarkable affect on my blood pressure!
Excitement and overwhelming loveliness surrounded me.
So. Many. Cute. Things.
Gorgeous hand-made wooden skittles, delicately crocheted baby rugs, knitted dolls, adorable baby play-gyms, pastel coloured bouncers.
You name it, I wanted it all.
And actually throughout the first few years of being a parent, I somehow acquired what seemed like all of everything.
Before I knew it, I was surrounded by baby and toddler paraphernalia and it felt like all I ever did each day was chase my tail, picking up toys, sorting toys, retrieving toys from behind the sofa or in the dog’s bowl. All through the day I was shifting stuff from one place to another.
Which meant I bought more stuff. To hold the stuff.
Trips to Ikea were taken (we all know how dangerous these plastic-fuelled outings can be) and home I came with clever storage options (or so I thought).
Tall chests of drawers, mesh baskets (lots of them), shoe holders, sock organisers and large fabric bags that hung from the ceiling to hold the enormous amounts of soft toys that somehow multiplied by the day.
But even though I thought I was being very clever in finding places for our hoard, my house, my entire house, always looked messy, and my children never seemed to focus on any one thing.
One weary afternoon, when my toddler and baby both woke early from their naps and I felt that familiar crushing feeling of the walls closing in, I realised that my two charges were suddenly very quiet. This usually meant they were up to something, so I went to investigate.
What I found on that long afternoon, many years ago, literally changed the way I parented and forged a new freedom for myself and the children.
They were both sitting in a huge cardboard box that my husband had left in our front room. He was planning on flattening it and adding it the recycling bit by bit.
However, for the children, that box represented so much more.
They told me it was a rocket ship and played for hours and hours together – just that box and their imaginations.
The following day, I gave them crayons and they made it into a car. We stuck paper plates on the sides and again, hours of imaginative and free play ensued.
I soon realised that the copious amounts of toys were more for my heart than theirs. Yes, the initial excitement of something new was evident and scant attention was given. But that never lasted – often not even until the end of that day.
They didn’t actually play with anything, rather chucked bits around the room.
So began, my daily task of putting aside toys.
After a month, we had four huge black garbage bags full to the brim of stuff. And guess what? The kids never once asked after them or wanted to see them. Ever again.
I hung onto those bags of toys for two more years. More were added. It was an experiment in minimalism before it became popular many years later. And finally the day came, when I took them to the charity store. The weight of all of those hours of sorting stuff, finally evaporated. It was unbelievably freeing.
For the children but also dramatically for me.
Many years and six children later, child-rearing of today is even more messy and cluttered.
Trending research indicates that parenting practices today, can cause deep stress and anxiety, overwhelming both children and parents alike. There is so much going on for parents and children, that the norm is to convenience parent.
If your kids won’t sit down for a meal, there is a device for that. If they won’t ride quietly in the car, there’s many an app to assist.
The problem with constantly stepping in and providing everything, all the time, is that we end up with providing too much.
And actually, I have found, that too much doesn’t foster happiness in children.
Again, please hear my heart in this, I have been that parent. There is no condemnation in this space, only my desire that you would learn from my copious and many mistakes and maybe take a few tips away to implement into your own family.
So what does child-led learning actually mean?
For me, it obviously started with less stuff, which then led to me being a lot more hands-off in relation to their play time.
I let them become bored, without instantly jumping in to provide a solution. Boredom kick-starts imagination and the wonderful and unique adventures that flow from periods of being still.
We went back to the basics of play.
This began by taking away dvd’s in the car and teaching the children to sit quietly and just ‘be’, without the necessity of constant entertainment. What a gift we can impart to our children in the form of being aware of their surroundings, immersed in the rhythms of life that are all around them.
When I was a child, I used to play eye-spy. For hours.
After that I coloured in. Again for hours.
And I loved to simply look out of the window and make up stories of wild ponies running alongside our car, being chased by a wicked, evil witch, ready to ensnare them, before a beautiful, reigning Queen of the Universe, rescued them and transformed their form into unicorns.
Oh the stories I told in my mind!
I want my children to be lost within their own limitless imaginations and journeys and they won’t do that if I am constantly feeding them with other things.
Things that stop them from going to those places of freedom and magic.
We reverted to the traditional methods of play that children across the years all enjoy. Lots of crayons, felt-tip pens, water colour pencils, paints, play doh, plasticine.
Old newspapers and magazines are brilliant for making paper mache shapes or animals, or creating collages, using different forms and shapes, overlapping these cut-out images on paper.
The children love nature, so a lot of their play and learning is through what they see with their eyes and feel with their hands.
We incorporate outside play which always results in learning. On average the kids spend at least three hours outside in the daytime, despite the weather.
Our garden is a rich learning environment!
Bikes are ridden, trees are climbed, flowers and fruits are picked, the dog is walked, the horses fed and patted. Learning is a natural flow following these encounters.
Many times after discovering something outside, the children will want to know more.
I don’t pressure them to do this, but I am also not absent. I let them lead and provide the right kind of support when they desire to know more. I direct them to the appropriate learning places and encourage them always, but I don’t do it for them.
I allow them the freedoms to dip in and out, as their curiosity and natural learning desire journeys them onwards.
It is kind of like a beautiful and slow dance that I have the pleasure of being a partner in.
We love books!
Weekly trips to the Library ensure that there is always a plentiful stock of rich literature for the kids to curl up on a sofa or under their duvet and escape to magical places and have new adventures. The treasure that flows from reading is – you guessed it – more play.
Our eight year old twins and their 11 year old sister, love to sing, dance and create a story, through drama.
Creative writing and the use of words is such a gift from moments of solitude with a nose in a book.
So much learning happens in these spaces and it frees me up to enjoy the children as well. There is nothing more satisfying than experiencing their joy and growth organically. It enables their unique gifts to shine and their own personalities to guide them in their own learning journeys.
Olive and Martha are twins.
Olive loves to read and do sums. I dislike maths very much but she can’t study enough of the subject.
Martha, is the polar opposite. She adores drama, art and creating her own stories through play. Her idea of heaven is to be outside the entire day, surrounded by butterflies, ladybirds and worms. Even better if there is a picnic rug, some food and lots of space to explore and find treasures.
I have literally just touched the tip of the iceberg with this subject.
It is my desire that you will discover your own freedom of allowing your children to learn through play. Enabling them the space to have adventures, without the constraints of too much stuff or an adult directing their every step.
I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences in this often controversial area of parenting.
Positive Parenting Without
The Shock of Letting your Children Go.
Today I am beginning Part One of a Five Part Series in Positive Parenting for Long Term Benefit amongst the increase of micro-managing children.
As the importance of childhood has become clearer and let’s face it, the era of children being seen and not heard, wasn’t at all beneficial and nourishing for children’s hearts, it seems that the pendulum has swung all the way over to the extreme side of ‘hands-on parenting’. Many parents find themselves very much immersed in the age of the ‘helicopter parent’.
The term ‘helicopter parent’ basically means hovering a little too close, micro-managing a child’s every move, trying to correct them before they fall or fail and hoping that they are saved from any sort of disappointment or disillusionment.
A few years ago in Australia, when our twin girls were only just toddling, I realised I needed a break, which for me at the time, was in the form of a few days away from the home.
I was fortunate enough to find employment across the road from our house, at a local private college, spending quite a lot of my hours on the Reception Desk of the primary school.
It was during this period, that I first began to experience ‘helicopter parenting’ to the absolute extreme.
Mother’s, many, many, many of them, some two or three times a day, would come into the office to “have a word” about their child.
Now, I am all for sharing legitimate reasons to ensure children are well looked after or kept an eye on, but I was soon to discover, that legitimate and micro-managing were not compatible.
Some parents wanted to tell me that their child didn’t sleep the night before, and would we go easy on their behaviour in the classroom and playground.
Other’s felt that a packed lunch of sandwiches and fruit wasn’t quite the standard that their child required and presented a hot meal each day.
Then again, it could be that their child had fallen out of a friendship group and could we please ensure that their child was monitored for signs of distress or anxiety. However, considering that there were literally hundreds of children in the school, this seemed very unlikely to achieve.
I soon realised a pattern to these parent’s actions and it made me very sad. They were fearful. Very, very scared of releasing their children and letting them go.
It became apparent that ‘helicopter parenting’ isn’t very good for kids in the long run, and even worse for the parent.
I believe, there comes a time to let go and allow their individual natures to shine.
Quite apart from the hovering shadow of a parent.
Kids need to fail and consequently learn how to deal with the feeling and emotion, because life is full of ups and downs, and yes, failure is one of them.
Please don’t misunderstand my heart, these parents were wonderfully warm and kind people, who truly wanted the best for their children, as we all do.
It’s just their best, didn’t necessarily mean constantly monitoring them. Some of the kids were crippled by the stifling nature of their parents micro-management.
A recent study on children who were recipients of ‘helicopter parenting’ at school and in their early life, through Brigham Young University, yielded concerning results. Due to the initial study showing such poor results in children’s attitude and behaviour, subsequent follow-up research was carried out. The outcome was that they were not as engaged in their senior school studies, and their feelings of self-worth were much lower.
In other words, over-involved parents had a negative effect on these children, who displayed more tendencies towards risk-behaviours, simply because they were never allowed to self regulate any risk for themselves.
Many of these parents were again, warm and incredibly loving, but were unable to let their children go and trust that they had instilled enough positive emotions and key moral aspects, within their hearts to make the right decisions.
These children said they longed to be able to work things out for themselves, but were never given the chance.
This could mean that the child whose mother brought him a hot lunch every day, felt alienated from his peers and in this situation, desired to be the same as his friends. Being different is a wonderful gift, but not always the right choice.
Overall, stepping in and taking over the child’s own age-appropriate responses, can turn into a negative practice.
As I said, I had twin toddlers at the time of my ‘helicopter epiphany’ and for me, it was a clear indicator in the way that I didn’t want to go forward.
From that time on we implemented this manifesto, which we still use today.
Let The Children Be Free.
Encourage them always.
Let them run outside when it is raining and don’t worry about germs.
Let them remove their shoes when they find a puddle of water. Splashing is so much fun! As is mud and dirt! Everything can be washed away with good soap!
And when the grass of the meadows is wet with dew, let them run and trample on it with their bare feet. Bare is always best!
Let them rest peacefully when a tree invites them to sleep beneath its shade. Nature is a gift to be embraced as often as possible. Even better away from adult eyes.
Let them laugh and be joyful when the sun wakes them in the morning, for a new day holds immeasurable promise and the possibility of adventure should you let them find it.
When I resigned from my school job, we moved to the UK, which began a delightful new story in the lives of our family.
I noticed straight away that the ‘helicopter phenomenon’ spanned across the world, and in my new country, children as young as three were attending nursery and then full-time school.
This fed the controlled environment of micro-managing little one’s and made me all the more sad towards this trending parenting practice.
Yes, these tiny ones were dropped off within an educational space, but their every movement and reaction was documented by their caregivers. Even a small collision with their peers, or a slip-up when they were running, was recorded in triplicate, signed by three caregivers and reported to the parent for initial and waiver.
Was there any end to this?
On top of the professional micro-managing was also the markers that were required for my little ones to reach.
Did they need speech therapy because they were struggling to pronounce their ‘t’s’? Or could they possibly fine-tune their imaginations to enable learning to take place between 9 and 3, instead of incorporating both?
It seemed as though the teachers and experts in the field were applying a different sort of pressure to our children’s young and pliable minds. A sort of micro-managing of their own.
I will share more in Part Two about freeing children to learn at their own pace, whilst being led by their unique interests.
But for now, dear parent, I congratulate you because I know that all you desire for your child or children is for them to be happy, and I truly believe that happiness is the first step in the process towards raising whole and centred children.
And whether you are totally hands-off or have a bit of a propellor whirring away, well done for your heart’s desire in raising these amazing offspring that have been gifted to you.
Because, let’s face it, parenting is not always easy. We enter into a lifetime contract of moulding and shaping our children’s hearts, with zero training for the task ahead. So give yourself a huge pat on the back today, because we are all doing the very best we can for our precious children.
So I once had a dream.
In it, I was surrounded by many children, a few cats and a Labrador. The lab was laying by the fire. The children were playing contentedly. They didn’t squabble or niggle each other.
The girls had long blonde hair, which fell in curly waves around their angelic faces.
My home was overwhelmingly inviting with lots of soothing whites and grey, and incredibly peaceful.
We lived in the countryside, surrounded by fluffy sheep with black heads and feet, and a bunch of pretty cows.
Our garden was a tangle of pastel coloured climbing roses, meandering over the stone cottage that had aged gracefully over the years.
Little tulips bobbed their heads about in the spring sunshine.
The grass was warm and soft.
My boys were laying on a checked picnic rug, contentedly reading. A gentle breeze blowing their wispy hair.
Dreams are a precious gift in that they give us the incentive to move towards a certain goal. They are our enablers and the wind beneath our wings.
We, however, are the ones that have to keep the dream moving forwards.
And then we finally arrive at our destination – except it looks different, altered and not really as we perceived it would play out.
In my case, the reality of my dream, looks like this:
My children, of which there are many, are wonderful and unique creations. Only one of my six has blonde hair and it’s dead straight.
We do have a dog – a Labradoodle called Queenie. She does sit by the fire. She also sheds hair and eats her poo. Like I said, not quite the image I had in mind.
I have a smattering of boys and girls and whilst they do play nicely together, there are some sneaky stirrers in the pack, who poke and wind each other up like expert covert agent’s, trained in the art of sabotage and infiltration.
I hope my home is overwhelmingly inviting, but many days, it is messy, the toilet doesn’t flush and the children’s sheets haven’t been washed for a month.
There are occasions I step back and think my house looks so amazing, it could be in a magazine spread. It stays this way for precisely 5 minutes. But I know for sure, it’s happened at least once in my life.
I also have a lot of whites and grey. One being a white cotton sofa. It currently has small black paw prints scattered across the cushions from muddy cat feet. I have covered the sofa with throw rugs and these have acquired weird crispy bits on them. I fear it is either snot or the leftovers of a mouse one of the cats caught last week.
We are surrounded by animals. Lots of horses as well as some cows and sheep in a field nearby. The horses are really sweet from a distance but poo the size of houses.
My kids step in that – often – and walk it through the house. Come to think of it, that may be the mysterious substance on my throw rugs.
Our garden is green. That is all.
And whilst my initial dream, holds all of the wild magic and freedom of a fairytale, it’s not real life.
I would much prefer the scenario where I am in the middle of my beautiful mess because that’s when the real magic happens.
Delightfully chaotic, taking me on a wild adventure daily, with no room for boring or perfection.
It is in those moments of chaotic messiness and the cries of “watch me one more time mummy”, that I truly see the beauty in my everyday.
Right there amongst the dirty washing and the barking dog, the child who wants my attention and the one who is hungry – that I know I am living my dream.
We experienced our first full week of snow in Norfolk this week.
After waiting for close to five years for a proper downfall, we were not disappointed.
Overnight, the landscape was transformed into a winter wonderland of gorgeously light and puffy snow, perfect for crunching underneath one’s feet and even more perfect for making snowmen.
We had two enthusiastic attempts at snow-building.
The first was a practice run but the second was magnificent.
Our boys rolled an enormous snowball all the way along a 1km stretch of country lane. Each turn, catching more ice and the end result being taller and wider than my 6ft, 17 year old.
This large orb nows sits in the front of our garden, sporting a head and stick arms, with the obligatory beanie and scarf adorning his head and neck.
Sledding was the next obvious move and never far from the children’s minds.
As parents, we were delighted to finally retrieve from the loft, our brand new sleds – naively purchased at the beginning of our first winter in the UK.
How foolish one can be!
It’s just as well we had no idea how long those little red speed boats were to be stored for.
Every winter we waited with baited breath when the weather fell below zero, hoping that we would experience a bitterly cold snap, generating a decent snowfall.
And here is where there are two schools of thought amongst the snow culture.
Namely children and adults.
The children, they see the delight and excitement in the change of the weather, straining and longing to just get out there in the elements and play. Hoping that there will be a snow day and pass from attending school, which doesn’t affect our four youngest, but does our 17 year old in Year 12.
Children don’t seem to mind the biting cold and the fact that they can’t feel their feet. They want to throw, eat and make snow angels in the ice.
I have much to learn from my children, still. Every day they challenge me to look beyond the responsibilities of being an adult and just enjoy playing. When did I stop playing?
There are some days I would like to cancel my subscription as an adult and retreat back to being a child.
More fun and less worry is generally the norm – and I want to be more like that.
The second school of thought is, of course, the adults.
We are the ones who think about whether the snow is safe, as we scramble about trying to find enough pairs of thick socks for our kid’s feet not to freeze. We tell them to zip their jackets up all the way and won’t let them outside until they have gloves on to protect their little fingers.
We grumble when the kids come in wet and cold – at the puddles on the floor and the dripping clothes to dry.
We worry whether we will be able to drive to the grocery store and do we have enough milk for those warming hot chocolates the kids ask for?
We make a mental risk assessment as to how dangerous it would be to crawl at 40mph to the local corner store, with every chance it is also closed. And then we will have to make another decision whether the roads are clear to drive to the next large village and buy supplies. Note to self on driving in a snow storm – don’t do it, even for milk! Drink water and wait. We drove to the GP and to the store and ended up stranded in a snow blizzard covered field for two hours. Not the wisest move. I definitely went wrong somewhere on my risk assessment of weather conditions.
Play doesn’t often naturally come into our heads. It seems we revert to decision-making, planning and worry.
It’s likely that the snow and ice will be around for some time and my plan is to do more of the playing and less of the worrying (unless in a snow storm and then we will stay away from vehicles with four wheels).
So what if we have beans on toast for dinner, or eggs and ham another night? If the children wear the same clothes for a few days and recycle their socks on the radiator for another adventure outside – does it really matter?
It doesn’t make me a bad mother. It makes me a fun mother.
One who smiles and engages fully with the children without my mind drifting to other concerns.
When you are an advocate of slow living, it doesn’t happen overnight.
It doesn’t mean that because you are wanting to live a free and uncomplicated life, that it miraculously occurs.
Like this snow week, I have fallen into the trap of the worrying mum.
The one who keeps adding to her to-do list whilst she is indoors and her children play outside. Granted, I did play for a bit but when my fingers turned blue, I retreated into the warmth with hot tea and a hot water bottle, watching the children through from the comfort of my snuggly chair.
Slow living is a conscious and daily effort of saying no to life pulling you in one direction, and putting your hand back on your heart and declaring what is most important to you.
That is slow living and that is when you will see the rewards of your decisions.
For me, those rewards come in such beautiful ways. Huge hugs from my children saying thank you for being their mummy.
Small twinnie hands holding mine under the covers of my duvet in the dead of night and whispered “I love you’s” over and over.
It’s the cries of “mummy watch me!” and “did you see that!” and most fun of all, “mummy chase me!” – not easy in the snow but a great workout.
These are the beautiful snap-shots of living intentionally slower.
I want more of them in abundance and less of the world pulling me away.
I desire slow every single day and I will fight for it with the power of the lioness that is the driving force within me.
The gardener does not make the plants grow,
we just provide optimal conditions. -Ken Robinson from Notebooking with Friends-
As mothers we hear a lot of talk about providing a rich environment for our children.
One which is generously stimulating for young and pliable minds in the form of unrestricted activities, at home and after school.
We should allow our children to be involved in as many different forms of leisure that they choose.
Even if it stretches us financially and emotionally.
Who wants a child that has nothing to do?
What would they find to occupy themselves with?
We also are told to not let our children wait – for anything.
If they are hungry – we are to feed them, instantly.
It seems that we are in a society where children are unable to do anything without having snacks as a natural addition to their every activity.
I’m all for not starving my children!
However I also don’t want to be constantly feeding them throughout the day.
I never did that when they were babies being breastfed and I don’t do it now.
And guess what? They don’t lack in nutrition of any form.
Who knew this was possible?
Delayed gratification isn’t really something we talk about amongst the parenting circles and forums.
In fact, it’s the opposite. We are trained to be at our child’s beck and call.
I have six children. Imagine if I was at the mercy of their desires 24/7? I wouldn’t be alive today.
At the very least, I wouldn’t be functioning at all well as a mother and wife.
We are human beings, not robots to automatically serve our children constantly.
No wonder mothers can feel so lost and exhausted throughout parenthood.
The gardener does not make the plants grow, we just provide optimal conditions.
I don’t think these conditions mean we should give in to our child’s every whim and desire.
That’s not how the world works and we aren’t doing our children any favours if we create a synthetic environment where they are the kings and queens.
What a terrible disappointment when they realise this isn’t true. What happens when they hear the word ‘no?’
Sometimes providing optimal conditions looks like a day of nothing planned.
Of being bored. As a society, we don’t like to let our kids be bored anymore.
It’s such a shame because abundant and imaginative play is born from moments of emptiness.
There really isn’t any point in constantly purchasing colouring books, reading books, craft kits etc, if our children never have the actual time to sit. Dwell in their own space. To think without any distractions. Alone, without an adult breathing down their necks or a structured activity to constantly stimulate them.
Our empty days look like setting up outdoor kitchens, stirring mud into pies, laying on the trampoline, staring at the sky and climbing trees.
It’s picking flowers and mixing their colourful leaves to make ‘perfume’ – I remember doing that as a kid. It was wonderful!
The girl’s writing a story in lavish detail and being lost in the wonder of it all. That imaginary life is so enchanting!
In this photo, the children wanted to make a flower cake that was actually edible and not full of squishy mud and worms!
This is the result.
A light and buttery sponge cake, that they made on their own, scouring my old recipe books for a ‘simple butter cake’.
My intervention was to show them where my cake books lived.
Water icing was poured over the fresh cake. As well as a variety of summer flowers picked from the garden.
Plus the bugs. There were bugs swimming in the icing.
Happiness, I tell you, comes in all forms, including eating fresh cake with bugs.
But in all seriousness (even though the bug cake was a reality and did get eaten – and only bugs died in the process), if there is one thing I wish for my children, (besides the obvious ones of being happy and healthy), it’s that they have a magical childhood.
Where their free spirits are given space to roam and wander.
And their environment is truly bountiful and rich in learning, through play and imagination.
Without harsh restrictions but still within an ordered world. That’s my dream.
So, today, if you are tired, weary, finding parenthood the exhausting roller-coaster it can be.
Try getting off once in a while and allowing yourself and your family the freedom to -just-be- still-.
But are they happy you may ask? Well, yes, they are. Abundantly so.
And I can’t even begin to tell you how exquisitely nourishing stepping off that roller-coaster has been for us.
For my heart and my family’s. A rich life that is free and unencumbered is treasure indeed.
“Sometimes one small gesture, can give you the strength to do enormous things. A little generosity can unleash great tenderness. Leading in time to deep, real love. And a single conversation can change your mind, your life. The world is no bigger than the people who inhabit it. And together or alone, we are closer than we know”. -Vanessa Redgrave-
I watched Episode 4 (Series 7) of ‘Call the Midwife’, on the weekend, and was touched by the truth of the above words. It reminded me of a moment that signalled a major change of direction in the course of my life and our family.
Just over six years ago in Australia, Matthew, my husband and I, were in Target, shopping for our daughter’s birthday, which happened to be the next day.
I remember feeling disappointed in myself that I had left it so late.
I had always been quite organised with the children’s birthday’s, often buying them gifts months before.
However, working three days a week and caring for six children, two of them twins who were still toddlers, was beginning to stretch me in uncomfortable ways.
I often felt overwhelmed with the daily challenges of caring for a large family, whose ages ranged from 18 months to 15 years.
And on this evening, running around the store, 20 minutes before they closed, I again felt that crushing weight of being too busy, fall heavily upon my chest.
And of me, wanting to step off the fast train I had found myself frequently boarding.
I was standing in the book department and happened to glance across at the ‘self-help’ and ‘inspirational quotes’ section. One of the books caught my eye immediately. On the front cover was a sign-post.
It was the sort that I see all the time living in country Britain – the old-fashioned wooden types, often pointing to a public footpath that meanders across a field or through a wildflower covered woodland.
This signpost had two arrows in different directions. One was the path of busyness and the other was the path of living intentionally slower.
Underneath the signs were these words –
“Stand at the crossroads and look;
ask for the ancient paths,
ask where the good way is,
and walk in it,
and you will find rest for your souls”.
Often people speak of an instant ‘knowing’ about something or someone. In my life, I have had those inner feelings on quite a few occasions. This was one of those moments.
I knew that I knew, that I knew, our lives were about to change. Had to change.
We were at those crossroads, indeed standing right underneath them, within the harsh bright lights of Target.
And we had a choice to make.
I also knew it was going to be a truly difficult and gut wrenching life choice. Because it meant leaving my extended family.
I looked at Matthew and pointed to the front cover. He said, “I think this means we have to make a choice on where we live and how we live”
And I said, “I want to live in England”.
From that point onwards, we had a renewed focus and confirmed path set before us.
We wanted to be in the countryside, amongst green pastures and beautiful spring flowers.
For our children to grow up in Europe, embracing the diversity of cultures and the opportunities to travel and experience the world.
We wanted to bring our children up within a slower paced environment.
But most of all, we wanted to rid ourselves of all our material gain and live a simple life. One without so many distractions and one outside of the norm of our 4 bedroom, 2 bathroom new build home. In a rapidly growing housing estate, full of the same types of homes and gardens.
We wanted more!
I didn’t buy the book but I did buy a diary. In that diary, I documented our journey from that defining moment in Target – the small gesture which led to great things, to actually moving to the UK.
How is it that one small gesture can lead to great things?
This is what we did –
1- We made a solid decision and stuck with it – we kept our focus and began to strive towards the end goal – living in England. 2- We involved the children, daily. Speaking about our plans and allowing them to have their input and listening to their concerns and worries (of which there were quite a few, such as leaving family and friends). 3-We made small steps every day towards the end decision. This meant talking about moving, telling friends, sharing with family, selling our belongings, deciding on those things we deeply treasured, looking for employment. 4- We made the decision to not become despondent when it began to take a lot longer than we initially anticipated. A job was difficult to find from the other side of the world. Skype interviews were uncomfortable and we weren’t always familiar with the different counties of the UK. A lot of research was carried out in order to familiarise ourselves with each region of the UK. 5-We immediately chose to not wear our tinted glasses – as in – the grass always seems greener on the other side. In the case of England, I can safely say that the fields and hedgerows were exponentially more colourful (and green!) than Australia. However, that was only in nature and not in actual living. 6- Once our decision was made, we didn’t leave room for doubt. The diary I kept was a brilliant time-line of events and circumstances. Positive things people said to us about the move, encouraging signs and confirmations along the way. In other words, we kept our eyes and ears open to remain committed to our decision, despite many things not going accordingly to plan.
Just over a year later, we arrived in England. Our new home was a sweet cottage, called Red Berries. It was surrounded by fields of produce growing. We had rose bushes and fruit trees in our garden. The children made a den under a big old apple tree and spent their summer days playing in the comforting shade of the branches. My soul started to breathe again. We gradually made friends and established a sense of belonging.
Maybe for you today, friend, you are looking for the signs as well.
Whatever your circumstances and situation, there will be a way forward.
Sometimes it’s a bit blurry and feels unsure doesn’t it? And you worry about making the wrong decision.
The thing is – there is no such thing as the perfect choice, only to keep your eyes open for the cues that are before you.
Look for those signposts – because they will be there.
That single conversation may change your mind, your life.
We chose the arrow that led us to here.
One small gesture, one tiny book cover in our case, can indeed give us strength to do enormous things.
Maybe you have been assigned this mountain
to show others it can be moved.
There are times in our lives, when we are looking up at life’s mountain, a bloody great big mountain, as my Aussie descendants would say.
Tall and foreboding. As wide as the ocean. Touching the sky. It’s colossal bulk leering over you. An ominous shadow that just won’t shift.
It is terrifying and can render one incapable of moving forward or back. Motionless. Stuck in the one place.
We are in that place today. We have been here before and we will be here again. Of that, I have no doubt. Jobs come and go, friendships change, people get hurt, people get sick.
It’s life for sure, but damn – it’s a hard place to be in.
If you had asked me eight years ago, I would have said having twins was that mountain before me.
Six children under the age of 13, we had just moved across the world from the UK to re-settle once again, in Australia.
I was as sick as a dog pregnant with two humans. We were re-establishing our lives – new employment, picking up friendships, letting others sift through our hands, desperately trying to find our feet.
That was our mountain – life. Keeping it all ticking over.
I practically didn’t leave the house for six months. Instead, my new abode was our $10 second-hand Ikea couch, sourced from Gumtree late one night, when I couldn’t stand sitting on the hard wooden floor boards anymore, whilst we waited for our shipment of furniture to arrive from England.
And I provided food for two hungry babies, from my body. Well, actually one hungry baby who stole her sister’s milk, and one lazy baby who was too chilled to acquire the milk. Preferred it poured down her throat. That sort of thing.
I didn’t shower much. Felt like my skin had stretched beyond what was humanly possible. And prayed like mad my insides would somehow, all miraculously, find a way back to some semblance of normality. Hoped I could pee one day without leaking. Wondered if I would ever be able to run again without my guts feeling like they were all jiggling about in my body. Or even if I would have the energy, ever, to run again.
I look back on that mountain now, eight years later, with fondness.
Because I realise, now, we moved that mountain.
In fact, we conquered it. We pushed it back, bit by bit, every single day.
It wasn’t anything quantitive at the time.
It was all the minute, tiny things – like cleaning the kitchen, bathing babies, washing their clothes, picking roses from the garden, talking to a friend, sipping coffee, being kind to my husband, allowing myself to eat cake without guilt.
So, now, we look up at the menacing form once again.
And predictably, I wonder how we will ever shift it, or even begin to tackle that big buggar of voluminous proportion.
I lie awake at night, looking at it from all angles and possibilities. And still, that mountain doesn’t shift.
However, here’s the thing I realised this morning, actually whilst I was out running. I remembered how I had fretted whether my body would ever move normally again.
We are moving that mountain.
We do it every day.
Just like we did eight years ago, with tiny twins solely relying on us for their survival, and four more children, who kind of got our left overs for a while.
We did it then and we are doing it now.
And I realised that we find strength and endurance in the deserts of fasting, not the deserts of feasting.
It’s called survival and before you know it, that mountain is so far ahead in the distance, it becomes blurry.
And you look at it’s form with a sort of thankfulness in your heart.
Because it’s not the mountain that is the stumbling block, it’s our perspective of it.
So, I choose to be happy for this moment, in this moment. Because this moment is my life.