Blowing Dust Off Boxes

Most families treasure memories of shared experiences and holidays, stories and anecdotes that make us laugh, piles of photographs waiting to be put into albums…..  In our family, we each have a “special box” containing various treasures we’ve collected throughout the years. Perhaps a first pair of shoes, some special cards or letters we’ve received, some of the kids’ poignant pictures or photographs and other various mementos. We each have one box.

Cody, our son who lived for only nine hours and six minutes, has two! Two boxes of mementos from a life that lasted a mere 546 minutes.

Every year on his anniversary, I allow myself some time to remember my son who was earthside for such a short time, to reflect on the impact his death has had on our lives. The grief gets easier to live with as time goes by, and these days I usually find that compartment of my heart buried beneath the busyness and joy of sharing life with my husband and four living children. On this day, however, I give myself the gift of some personal time and space to blow the dust off the boxes, open the lids and reflect on all the keepsakes collected there.

This year, on Cody’s birthday, which happens to also be the anniversary of the day he died, I took some photos of the various box contents, and thought I would share them here for posterity’s sake.

Unlike our special boxes, Cody’s are not filled with memories of anything he did in his life; instead, they are filled with memories of our pain, our loss. The photos I have are photos of my son on life support, of us holding our dead baby, of Cody in his coffin, of us standing in shock and horror at his graveside.

However, there are other treasures, too. Treasures that shine like little lights of love; messages of love and care from dear friends and families who reached out to us in our sorrow, who walked alongside us when we could not bear to walk alone; gifts that were given, pictures that were drawn, words that were shared to encourage and support us on our path through pain.

Cody’s “Special Boxes” (which are actually falling apart after nineteen years! I think it may be time to get a little wooden box that will hopefully last a bit longer, but still be light enough to carry in case of emergency):

Cody's two treasure boxes -  mementos of a short life
Two treasure chests – mementos of a short life
Tiny treasures from beginning to end of a short life: the pregnancy test strip, and his hospital wrist band.
Tiny treasures from beginning to end: the pregnancy test and his hospital wrist band.
A precious, precious keepsake. The ultrasound photo of Cody in utero looking out at us.
A precious keepsake. The ultrasound photo of Cody in utero looking out at us.
Cards from Cody's hospital cradle, detailing his birth info
Cards from Cody’s hospital cradle, detailing his birth info
Our only photograph of Cody prior to him being on life support. This was taken moments after his birth (after he had been "bagged", trying to get him to breathe better - he stayed with me like this for the next two hours - two crucial hours when he should have been in the nursery receiving specialist attention).
Our only photograph of Cody prior to him being on life support. This was taken moments after his birth (after he had been “bagged”, trying to get him to breathe better). He stayed with me like this for the next two hours – two crucial hours when he should have been in the nursery receiving specialist attention.
The next time I held Cody in my arms, he was dead.
The next time I held Cody in my arms, he was dead.
Not quite the family portrait we had been expecting.
Not quite the family portrait we had been expecting. And how I managed a fake half-smile is beyond me.
I never got to wash  Cody's hands, or wipe his fingerprints of dirty windows, but I do have this. Not quite the same, huh.
I never got to wash Cody’s hands, or wipe his fingerprints off dirty windows, but I do have this. Not quite the same, huh.
Newspaper notices: a birth announcement, a death announcement, and a funeral announcement.
Newspaper notices: announcing a birth, a death, and a funeral.
Pages from the "baby book" everyone gets from the hospital when their baby is born. In our case, pretty much all of the book remains empty as it was never needed. A poignant reminder of what could have been....
Pages from the “baby book” everyone gets from the hospital when their baby is born. In our case, pretty much all of the book remains empty as it was never needed. A poignant reminder of what could have been….

Blessed by the kindness and compassion of others….

Mementos from the absolutely incredible NETS (Newborn Emergency Transport Service) team who airlifted Cody to Camperdown Children's Hospital. There was one who went well beyond the call of duty, a nurse, whose name was also Karen. She came to our little hospital with the NETS team, travelled back with Cody, held him while he died (after the life support tubes were removed, subsequent to seven cardiac arrests), and then stayed at the big city hospital long after her shift ended, so that she would be there when we arrived. I don't think we will ever forget her.
Mementos from the absolutely incredible NETS (Newborn Emergency Transport Service) team who airlifted Cody to Camperdown Children’s Hospital. There was one who went well beyond the call of duty, a nurse, whose name was also Karen. She came to our little hospital with the NETS team, travelled back with Cody, held him while he died (after the life support tubes were removed, subsequent to seven cardiac arrests), and then stayed at the big city hospital long after her shift ended, so that she would be there when we arrived. I don’t think we will ever forget her.
Our one and only "birth congratulations" card. It was such a novel idea to give us a card, celebrating his birth, considering he had already died when it was written. It was a wonderful card to receive, because it honoured and validated his life, not just his death.
Our one and only “birth congratulations” card. It was such a novel idea to give us a card that celebrated his birth, considering he had already died when it was written. It was a wonderful card to receive, because it honoured and validated his life, not just his death.
Another thoughtful gift, brought to the funeral by a friend. We still have it and it looks as good as the day he brought it, because it was never played with. :(
Another thoughtful gift, brought to the funeral by a friend. We still have it and it looks as good as the day he brought it, because it was never played with. :(
I only have a photograph of these mementos, because they are buried six feet under, with our precious boy. How thankful I am for our dear friend who hand sewed the outfit we buried Cody in.
I only have a photograph of these mementos, because they are buried six feet under, with our precious boy. How thankful I am for our dear friend who hand sewed the outfit we buried Cody in.
We could have buried Cody in this outfit, which I had bought for him during the pregnancy, but we decided we wanted to keep it. I'm glad we did. Sometimes I have held it and caressed it, just to feel close to the one I never got to cuddle much.
We could have buried Cody in this outfit, which I had bought for him during the pregnancy, but we decided we wanted to keep it. I’m glad we did. Sometimes I have held it and caressed it, just to feel close to the one I never got to cuddle much.
We still have the recording of the funeral service and the transcript of our eulogy. Also the "Lifetime Memories" book from the funeral agency that has records of Cody's birth, death and burial, along with signatures of people who came to the funeral. Precious things!
We still have the recording of the funeral service and the eulogy transcript. Also the “Lifetime Memories” book from the funeral agency that has info about Cody’s birth, death and burial, along with signatures of people who came to the funeral. Precious things!
Cards, cards and more cards. Such an outpouring of love and compassion. All treasured, all kept, all appreciated.
Cards, cards and more cards. Such an outpouring of love and compassion. All treasured, all kept, all appreciated. There is more, of course, that people did for us. So much more!! From accompanying us to the funeral parlour, to helping provide care for Travis, to providing groceries, many tissues and soft shoulders…..
What a treasure children are! Some of our "little friends" (who are now big people!) gave us cards and pictures they had made.
What a treasure children are! Some of our “little friends” (who are now big people!) gave us cards and pictures they had made.
Often when we went to the grave during the first couple of years, we would find little gifts there. We never knew who had put them there. Some of them we were able to keep. Only today I got a message from a friend who I haven't seen in years, but who walked those early days with us. She said: "The girls and I used to visit when they where little.  Im embarrassed to say that they usually popped one of their McDonalds toys on… So if you where wondering why they where their it was us!" :)
Often when we went to the grave during the first couple of years, we would find little gifts there. We never knew who they were from. Some of them we were able to keep. Only today I got a message from a friend who I haven’t seen in years, but who walked those early days with us. She said: “The girls and I used to visit when they where little. Im embarrassed to say that they usually popped one of their McDonalds toys on… So if you where wondering why they where their it was us!” :)
The plaque at the grave only mentions Travis, our oldest, because he was the only one who was already born when Cody came and left. This is an inscription in a little book we had ready to give him as a "congrats on becoming a big brother" present, along with a picture he made for Cody, after he died. Travis was 22 months old. He's now nearly 21!
The plaque at the grave only mentions Travis, our oldest, because he was the only one who was born when Cody came and left. This is an inscription in a little book we had ready to give him as a “congrats on becoming a big brother” present, along with a picture he made for Cody, after he died. Travis was 22 months old. He’s now nearly 21!
Whilst we did receive an immense amount of support in many ways, there were some who expected we should be "back to normal" within six weeks or so, others who seemed to grow tired of our grief a while after that. Not so my beautiful sister-in-law who surprised us with this hand-made cushion on the one year anniversary of Cody's death. She has since gone on to suffer the untimely early death of her husband, and I hope she has been as blessed by others as we were by her.
Whilst we did receive an immense amount of support in many ways, there were some who expected we should be “back to normal” within six weeks or so, others who seemed to grow tired of our grief a while after that. Not so my beautiful sister-in-law who surprised us with this hand-made cushion on the one year anniversary of Cody’s death. She has since gone on to suffer the untimely early death of her husband, and I hope she has been as blessed by others as we were by her.
In addition to the support we received from friends and family, who were dealing with their own grief, we used to attend a local support group for bereaved parents. It was both a help and a hindrance. Sometimes, listening to other stories was really depressing! But it was good not to feel so alone in our experience, to know there were others walking a similar path. Over the years I often thought of training as a grief counsellor or parent support person, as a way of giving something back, but I have chosen instead to focus on loving my own children well, and responding to situations and opportunities as they arise in my life. For now, anyway.
In addition to the support we received from friends and family, who were dealing with their own grief, we used to attend a local support group for bereaved parents. It was both a help and a hindrance. The ladies who ran the group were incredible! Sometimes, though, listening to other stories was really depressing. But it was good not to feel so alone in our experience, to know there were others walking a similar path. Over the years I often thought of training as a grief counsellor or parent support person, as a way of giving something back, but I have chosen instead to focus on loving my own children well, and responding to situations and opportunities as they arise in my life. For now, anyway.

Giving something back…..

During our first year of grief, when I also happened to be pregnant with our precious third son, Brady, we volunteered to be interviewed by Richard Glover on ABC Radio, about parental grief and subsequent pregnancies. They apparently received many calls and emails from people thanking them for what we shared, so I trust it was worth it! We have a tape of the interview, but I now have no way of listening to it. Can you still buy cassette players, lol?
During our first year of grief, when I also happened to be pregnant with our precious third son, Brady, we volunteered to be interviewed by Richard Glover on ABC Radio, about parental grief and subsequent pregnancies. It was nerve wracking and emotional, but hopefully it was worth it! We have a tape of the interview, but I now have no way of listening to it. Can you still buy cassette players, lol?
We also spoke at our church once about our grief experience, particularly within the context of our faith. We have a copy of that tape, too. It seems we really must procure a cassette player! Some of the feedback from people who heard us speak was so encouraging. It felt good to be giving something back after all that everyone had been giving to us.
We also spoke at our church once about our grief experience, particularly within the context of our faith. We have a copy of that tape, too. It seems we really must procure a cassette player! Some of the feedback from people who heard us speak was so encouraging. It felt good to be giving something back after all that everyone had been giving to us.
When our local library put a call out for donations to their annual Book Day appeal, we decided to give a children's picture book with a difference: a book about the death of a baby but from a sibling's perspective. I hope people borrowed it and were blessed by it. We still have the copy my mum had bought for us, and it had certainly helped our kids when they were young.
When our local library put a call out for donations to their annual Book Day appeal, we decided to give a children’s picture book with a difference: a book about the death of a baby but from a sibling’s perspective. I hope people borrowed it and were blessed by it. We still have the copy my mum had bought for us, which certainly helped our kids when they were young.

Feeling cared for, even after all these years…..

I have received so many lovely messages and comments today, some from people we no longer see but who walked those early years with us, others from people who didn’t know us then, but know us now and reach out with love and support, even diarising his birthdate so they won’t forget. There has also been support, of course, from our immediate and extended family who have been there from the start.

My three youngest kids never got to meet Cody, but I think they still feel a sense of connection, and they certainly show beautiful empathy towards Geoff and I. This is a little note from a couple of years ago. Then just tonight, this message from Brady during a break at work: "I just want you guys to know that I think you are both the most amazing parents anyone could ask for. I know today is always hard for you and always will be. I love you both so much and I hope you're feeling okay tonight. Love, Brady."
My three youngest kids never got to meet Cody, but they still feel a sense of connection, and they certainly show beautiful empathy towards Geoff and I. This is a little note from a couple of years ago. Then tonight, a message came from Brady during his break at work: “I just want you guys to know that I think you are both the most amazing parents anyone could ask for. I know today is always hard for you and always will be. I love you both so much and I hope you’re feeling okay tonight. Love, Brady.”
My lovely husband and kids brought me flowers, tea and raw chocolate today. Can't complain about that! And the kids have just been so gracious and understanding all day long.... Feeling blessed.
My lovely husband and kids brought me flowers, tea and raw chocolate today. I can’t complain about that! And the kids have just been so gracious and understanding all day long…. Feeling blessed.

If you know someone who is recently bereaved, please don’t hold back from showing compassion and empathy. Perhaps you will be inspired by some of the wonderful things our friends and family did for us (not all of which are recorded here, of course). Perhaps you will be inspired by this post, too.

And please don’t assume that grief ends as time passes. It changes, for sure, but random acts of kindness are always appreciated. Let’s do our bit to make the world more kind, loving and compassionate.

Justice for Refugees March

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In an ideal world, I guess, my kids would just enjoy being kids and not worry at all about the “state of the world”. But some kids don’t seem to be content with that. They feel deeply, they see clearly and they want to make a difference.

Molly is one such child. We don’t watch the news, and I don’t burden her with the woes of the world, but she picks up on things as she goes about her life, and it sits deeply within her soul. But it can’t stay there. Her thoughts and feelings about things not right in the world rise up into a tenacious fervour, causing her to want to do something to make a difference in the world.

As her parent in this unschooling life, I partner with her in this passion, selectively strewing opportunities before her and facilitating the ones she chooses to pursue.

She is astute in her observations of things not right with the world, sometimes referring to herself as being “like an old lady”, making comments about the problems with “this generation” and “the world these days” and passionately critiquing the latest failings of our politicians, especially when it comes to issues such as climate change, same sex marriage, women’s rights and the plight of asylum seekers.

Speaking of asylum seekers, when I casually mentioned that there was going to be a march in the city, seeking “Justice for Refugees” there was absolutely no holding her back. Not normally one to love crowds, loud noises and the general busyness of the big city, she puts all that aside when she has the opportunity to march for a good cause.

And to Molly, the rights of asylum seekers is one such good cause!

We met up with another couple of  homeschooling friends who feel similarly passionate about the deplorable way our country is treating asylum seekers, and we marched in solidarity together.

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As people gathered, there was a great vibe, and also some speeches and music. It felt great to stand with like minded people, on behalf of those without a public voice.
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I wish we’d thought to create and take a sign! Some of them sent such poignant, powerful messages in very few words.
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Some were very big!
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It was definitely what would be called a peaceful protest. So many people, and such a positive, passionate, friendly vibe.
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The police were present, but really had nothing much to do!
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I love some of the creative, quirky people we meet at these marches!
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There were LOTS of signs declaring people’s disagreement with the government’s approach to asylum seekers.
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Would you just look at those mean, nasty, scary non-caucasion people in that photo? ;)
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It was interesting to see the sign in the background, stating that the labor party are “for refugees” considering that they also want to turn back the boats! We had some interesting discussions about that!
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It was great to see lots of churches represented!
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Political parties, religious groups and individuals all united with a common message
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At the end of the march, as people started to gather again, there were more speeches and a choir. And places to buy food!
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There were also badges for sale. This was one of Molly’s favourites. :)

All in all, it was a great event to be part of, and it sent a very clear message to the government. Whether they heed it or not is sadly out of our hands, of course. In the meantime, it was good to have a voice and make a statment, standing with asylum seekers and letting them know we welcome them here and we seek justice for them.

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It was great to see this sign displayed so prominently on one of the most visible city churches as we were leaving. A good reminder that we are not alone in the struggle!

RSPCA Million Paws Walk 2014

One of Molly’s strongest passions is animal welfare. When I found out about the Million Paws Walk earlier this year, I thought she would probably be interested, so like all good unschooling mums, I “strewed” the idea before her. To say she was enthusiastic in her response would be an understatement!

A little while after registering for the walk, we discovered that the RSPCA is not a 100% perfect animal welfare organisation, which caused some confusion as to whether to proceed or not. After doing some reading and discussing the issues together, however, Molly decided to proceed with the fundraiser, based on the idea that they still do rescue animals, and the public/media attention garnered by the Million Paws Walk would help animals in need by providing much needed funds. Being vegetarian, we knew that we would not be participating in their meat-based barbecue, and we also hoped to meet up with a volunteer from Animal Liberation Victoria, who was going to be there with her pet pig wearing a sign that said “Friend, Not Food”.

And we're off!
And we’re off!
It was such a thrill for Molly to join with SO many other dogs and their families, all for a good cause (this is only a small portion of the people - and dogs! - that were there).
It was such a thrill for Molly to join with SO many other dogs and their families, all for a good cause (this is only a small portion of the people – and dogs! – that did the 5km walk around the lake).
Some of the people were real troopers ;)
Some of the people were real troopers ;)
The freakiest thing that happened during the walk was losing each other! Molly and Lucy had run ahead and then we somehow lost each other in the crowd and were apart for quite some time. It was so scary for me! I didn't know if she was ahead or behind, and I was getting worried. I found a volunteer in a little buggy, and she was so helpful! She radioed the volunteer headquarters, gave a description of Molly and Lucy (I was able to show her a current photo from the day) and then we went searching in the little buggy! When we got to the end of the course without success, I elected to wait there and she went back to search the crowds again. It was a heart wrenching wait and then eventually they were found! What a relief! I think I was way more worried than Molly, and I think she and Lucy quite enjoyed their little ride. :)
The freakiest thing that happened during the walk was losing each other! Molly and Lucy had run ahead and then we somehow lost each other in the crowd and were apart for quite some time. It was quite a terrifying experience! I didn’t know if she was ahead or behind, and I was getting worried. I finally found a very helpful, understanding volunteer in a little buggy, and she was so helpful! She radioed the volunteer headquarters, gave a description of Molly and Lucy (I was able to show her a current photo from the day) and then we went searching in the little buggy! When we got to the end of the course without success, I elected to wait there and she went back to search the crowds again. It was a heart wrenching wait and then eventually they were found! What a relief! I think I was way more worried than Molly, and I think she and Lucy quite enjoyed their little ride. :)
We found the pet pig!! She'd lost her "Friend Not Food" sign by this time, but it was still cool to meet her and her owner! :)
We found the pet pig!! She’d lost her “Friend Not Food” sign by this time, but it was still cool to meet her and her owner! :)
We also found lots of other dogs to play with! One of Molly's favourite breeds is the German Shepherd, so she enjoyed this opportunity for a pat, and also a chat with the owner, of course.
We also found lots of other dogs to play with! One of Molly’s favourite breeds is the German Shepherd, so she enjoyed this opportunity for a pat, and also a chat with the owner, of course.
One thing that Molly gets very angry about is puppy factories, so as soon as she saw this sign, she decided to go and speak with them. I love her zeal and her confidence to engage with adults on issues such as this.
One thing that Molly gets very angry about is puppy factories, so as soon as she saw this sign, she decided to go and speak with them. I love her zeal and her confidence to engage with adults on issues such as this.

All in all it was a great day and Molly particularly enjoyed the opportunity to mingle with so many dogs and dog-loving families, as well as feel like her fund raising might be able to make a little bit of a difference in the lives of neglected and abused animals.

Blog Maintenance

For those who receive my blog updates by email, I thought I should explain that I’ve been missing in action for awhile, due to Molly having broken her leg not long after relocating our family interstate, and it’s been a bit crazy around here! I haven’t been blogging much, but I have been doing some maintenance on the site, updating dead links, etc. I’m also about to transfer over some old posts from another blog that I’m closing down. I’m hoping that they appear in correct chronological order, but even if they do, I think you’ll still get email updates, and you’ll probably be thinking, “Wow, that’s from awhile ago, what’s going on?” Hence the explanation. :)

I’m going to transfer the posts, and then I have some new ones coming soon!

Cheers,

Karen

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Is Strewing Manipulative?

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I was recently helping my daughter purchase some Lego on Ebay. At the conclusion of the sale, she commented, “I love it when they show suggestions at the bottom of the page of other things you might like. I often find lots of cool stuff!” She didn’t feel any pressure to investigate the suggested options, but she appreciated knowing about them.

It occurred to me that things like “Suggested Groups” on Facebook, or “See what other people are watching” on Ebay, or “Customers who bought this item also bought…..” on Amazon, are similar to the Unschooling concept of strewing. It is presenting ideas of other things we might like, based on our interests. Sometimes, with strewing, we introduce things to our children that are similar to a current interest, expanding upon something they already love. Other times, we introduce something completely new.

I often hear unschooling parents say they don’t like strewing, because it is manipulative. Yes, it can be done that way! Picture this, for instance: a parent sneakily places items (“educational” ones, if you please!) around the house in strategic places, and then sits back passively as though with a spy camera, waiting expectantly for their child to stumble upon it, notice it, pick it up and learn something. The parent then pounces upon the child, seizing the moment to teach them something they think their child should know. Okay, so maybe that’s an exaggeration, but you get the idea!

Strewing becomes manipulative when it has strings attached, when it is done for the purpose of teaching rather than delighted discovery, when we don’t let go of our expectation that our child will pick up the item, read the book, look at the web link, listen to the song or say yes to the activity. I know how badly it can be done, because I have done it that way! Having shared previously about my own early attempts at strewing, I thought I’d share today about some principles of strewing that ensure it is not done in a manipulative, sneaky way, but rather in a way that enhances and expands the environment in which our children are living.

Strewing is the other third of the unschooling triangle, the parent-initiated part of the Unschooling Dance. A triangle is considered one of the strongest shapes, and the same is true with unschooling. All three elements are necessary for unschooling to thrive:

  1. Child-initiated learning, where the child freely explores their own interests, with our attentive support and interest
  2. Incidental, accidental learning that is stumbled upon inadvertently from unexpected sources
  3. Strewing, where we introduce ideas, resources and possibilities that the child is free to pursue – or not

Without that third element, unschooling is not as successful and children are at times left to flounder in a vacuum of just “doing their own thing”.

Strewing is the act of scattering morsels of mental yumminess across the paths of our children for them to discover, use and enjoy – or not. It has no strings attached. It is simply a scattering of possibilities. Unlike planting the seed of a tree, or rows of equally spaced vegetables, which implies expectation of a particular, measurable outcome, the idea of scattering seeds is more open ended.

I saw a packet of seeds once that included the seeds of a variety of annual flowers, all different shapes, sizes and colours in one packet. The instructions were so simple: to simply scatter the seeds over a prepared bed, scatter some seed raising mix on top, and then apply water. Those that land in an environment conducive to that flower, and receive the appropriate growing conditions of sunlight and water, will tend to thrive. Others won’t, but that’s okay because there isn’t an expectation that every seed will produce a flower and those that do grow will be surprising and varied. The gardener doesn’t have a lot of control over the specific outcomes. Some seeds may lie dormant for an extended period, only to burst forth with life at a later date when the conditions are favourable. Some seeds will blow away with the wind, and pop up in surprising places, much like the parachute seeds of a dandelion plant. When strewing is done with an open hand and a positive, relaxed mindset, it is a natural and important part of successful unschooling.

Strewing requires that we let go of assumptions, expectations, judgments and attachment to particular outcomes. Once we have shared an idea, opportunity, link or product with our kids, we let it go. Imagine someone sprinkling icing sugar over a cake and trying to hold on to the powdered sugar, or pick it back up. What a mess! Once you’ve strewn an item that you think might be interesting to your kids, don’t try to “make it happen”, don’t attach an agenda or expected outcome to it. Simply let it go. Trust that your child will pick it up, try it, read it or do it if they are interested, and if they are not, they will feel completely free to ignore it, put it down or simply say, “No thanks”. If you sense that they sense that they should…… it’s time to analyse your true motives for strewing.

Strewing works best when we know our children well, what they like, what they are interested in, what they haven’t yet been exposed to, what might enrich their life. It requires that we have a heart of kindness with a desire to share good things with our children that we think they might happily benefit from.

Strewing is natural. It is as natural and normal as a wife mentioning to her husband that there is a cool band playing at the local pub this weekend, or someone grabbing something at a shop that they think their friend might like or be interested in, or a someone sharing an interesting post on their friend’s Facebook wall, or a husband calling out to his wife, “Hey, check out this new show, honey! I think you’d love it!”

Strewing is kind. It is not manipulative, but kind, for an unschooling parent to share interesting things with their kids, or leave them lying about on the off chance that it piques their child’s interest. If you see something you think your child might be interested in, but withhold it because you think it is too directive or controlling to share it with them, you are keeping something from your child that they might really enjoy. Strewing something you think they may like is, well, thoughtful! And kind.

Strewing doesn’t need to be silent or subtle. It is about intentionally introducing things, ideas, opportunities and experiences into their world that they might not otherwise have stumbled upon by themselves. It sometimes sounds like, “Hey, check out what I found! How cool is this!” or “I found out about a play that’s on. Are you interested in going?”

Strewing can be experiential. It doesn’t have to be tangible items strewn about the house. It can be presenting our children with the opportunity to go somewhere, do something, try a new hobby or activity, and so on, but again, it needs to be an opportunity that is presented with an open hand, not an expectation that the child will say yes.  

Strewing can be electronic. It can simply be emailing cool links to them, or setting up a Pinterest board for them, where we post links to cool things they might like, or sharing links with them on Facebook, and so on.

The strewing, sprinkling, scattering and sharing of ideas, things and opportunities enrich our child’s life and learning, and might include any of the following, and more:

Playing a new genre of music on the stereo
Celebrating International “Days of the Year” – today is apparently Belly Laugh Day, which sounds fun. But there is also Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day, Backward Day, Talk Like A Grizzled Prospector Day and so on!
Adding DVDs to a Netflix/Quickflix queue
Adding new apps to a device for them to discover
Buying a foreign, unusual food to try
Bringing home a new craft item, cool gadget or game
Leaving a new recipe book open on the kitchen bench
Cooking international food for people to try
Leaving a half-completed jigsaw puzzle on the coffee table
Starting an “art squiggle” and leaving it for someone to finish
Pulling out something that hasn’t been seen or used in awhile
Buying a magazine about their hobby or something random
Driving a different route to a regular place
Driving to a new place to explore
Brochures from travel agents
Setting up a board game on the table
Bringing home unusual artefacts from a second hand store
Taking the kids exploring at a second hand or antique store
Visiting restaurants from other cultures
Inviting interesting people to your home
Starting a new hobby yourself (it can be contagious and lead to all sorts of conversations, too!)

Here is a small sampling of some fun strewing from our life, recently:

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What about you? Do you think strewing is manipulative? Have you found ways to do it that are relaxed, natural and non-coercive? I’d love to hear your stories and examples!

Autodidactism

autodidactism

Here in Australia, we are in the middle of summer holidays and people are slowly starting to think about the new school year beginning again.

Some of us don’t live in that paradigm anymore. We are school free. We live as though school doesn’t exist.

Except, of course, that it does. School is part of the fabric of our society and it can take quite a long time to extricate its tentacles from our thinking (a process known as deschooling).

Schools have gradually become less relevant and less “necessary” as society has become more technologically advanced and accessibility to information has increased. If you think about the history of compulsory schooling and about how society has changed, it is hard to believe that the majority of people still seem to believe that government mandated schooling and curriculum are relevant, helpful or perhaps even essential.

Or perhaps they have simply never paused to question our reliance on the school system for the instruction of society’s masses of children.

I am here with good news. :)

Schools are not essential for learning, for getting into university or for being “successful” in life! Schools are no longer the custodian and disseminator of all knowledge.

Knowledge, learning and all sorts of opportunities are widely and freely available in our modern society. It is not just a privilege for the rich, and apart from certain careers, formal instruction is not usually required at all. If someone chooses to undertake formal lessons or classes, however, these are usually available without ever setting foot inside a school building. Times are changing! Gone are the days when academic knowledge was a privilege for the rich, where knowledge was sequestered in dusty old text books in school classrooms.

Autodidactism is defined as “learning on your own or by yourself, and an autodidact is a self-teacher.” It is not an adequate term to explain the fullness of the parent-child dance that is unschooling but it is a helpful starting place for people stuck in the mindset that a human requires a teacher to enable them to learn.

Learning from Resources Readily Available in the Community

In our contemporary societies, we have a wealth of resources to inspire and equip us in our learning journey.

  • Libraries
  • Supermarkets & other shops
  • Banks (pocket money, budgeting, investing)
  • Sporting Facilities
  • Tutors
  • Grandparents & other older people
  • People from other cultures
  • Plays, shows, concerts
  • Volunteering
  • Internships
  • Parks and playgrounds
  • Museums, galleries, zoos
  • The public transport system
  • Churches and synagogues
  • Restaurants from other cultures
  • Travelling to other towns, cities or countries
  • Pretending to be a tourist in your own town!

Learning from Resources in the Home

Basically the entire home is filled with potential for learning. Sandra Dodd suggests making the most of that by seeing our homes as something akin to a museum, filled with treasures waiting to be discovered, or brought out at an appropriate time. Just for starters, how about things like:

  • The entire kitchen!
  • Old family photographs
  • Scales of all kinds
  • Maps and atlases
  • The computer
  • The internet!
  • Music (so many genres, cultures and artists to explore!)
  • Books and audio books
  • A sewing machine
  • Craft supplies
  • Board games (old, new, other cultures)
  • Clocks (analogue and digital)
  • The garden
  • The backyard ecological system
  • Pets
  • Microscope
  • Rulers and geometry supplies
  • A chemistry set
  • Bats, balls, trampoline, basketball hoop

Resources for Higher Level Learning

Most people assume that the older a child gets, the more they need school, college or university. Whilst some older teens and young adults will choose to engage in formal classes, or choose a career that requires a degree, there are many, many young people who thrive abundantly without formalised lessons of any kind. Blake Boles, in his brilliant books, College Without High School and Better Than College, does a pretty good job of showing how autodidactism can be an awesome choice for older teens and young adults. Entrepreneurship, travel and learning for interest rather than a piece of paper are supported by amazing resources such as:

Learning from Resources not Typically Thought of as “Educational”

Once confidence in autodidactism is achieved, it will become obvious that learning also happens in the midst of all sorts of other activities and resources, not often thought to be “educational”.

  • Youtube (check out channels like VSauce, Minute Physics, Minute Earth, In59Seconds, Quirkology)
  • Minecraft
  • All sort of Video Games
  • Playing with, well, anything!
  • iPods, iPads and other tablets
  • Computers
  • “Mucking around” with music
  • Watching television
  • Advertising (yep, really)
  • “Mistakes” and “Failures”
  • Regrets (yep, even those)

That being said, schools seem to work well for some people and some families benefit from using the service provided by schools, and that is totally fine, of course. I am not here to judge, but to show another possible path.

How wonderful it would be to see the day when schooling is no longer compulsory, but rather an option for those who wish to use it. John Holt, the pioneer of the unschooling movement, expresses a vision for this in his book, Instead of Education: Ways to Help People do Things Better.

I think making schools optional would be the fastest route possible to true school reform! If schools had to entice children to attend, and convince parents that it is a good choice for their family, they would have to create places children really want to go to, and parents see the relevance and value of!

In the meantime, those of us who choose to live school free can simply get on with the fun of living a learning lifestyle, trusting in our ability to learn what, when and how we want! :)

I’d love to hear your stories showing some examples of learning without school, especially when the learning has happened in surprising ways.

Note: The above graphic is obviously tongue in cheek. Anyone can obviously go to school if they really want to.  

Saying Yes With Joy

For the most part, saying yes to my kids comes naturally to me. It hasn’t always been for the best reasons though. Whilst my natural default setting has usually tended to be “Yeah, sure, why not” (unless I’m tired or cranky!), there have been times when I have wanted to say no but have said yes because I did not like causing my child to feel disappointed or upset.

So my “Yes Mum” tendency was not so much a badge to wear with pride, but a badge that should have said, “Too afraid to say No.”

Is the solution, then, to say no more? I don’t think so.

Over time, as I changed my parenting and homeschooling style, I started to realise I needed more authenticity in my yes. I wanted to say it mindfully, not just as an automatic, unthinking response, or out of a fear of disappointing my child. If I truly wanted to say yes, I wanted to do it with real joy and choice, rather than stating a resigned “Yes” with a slight roll of the eye if they were asking for something I wished they didn’t want, like “junk food” etc. Once I would have verbalised the words “Fine then,” or “Sure, whatever,” with an undercurrent of “But I wish you wouldn’t!” Gradually, however, I moved towards a simple “Yes” with a smile. (Mostly!)

Kids are smart! They don’t just hear the words; they pick up on the undercurrent, even subtle ones. So if we fake a “Yes”, but think to ourselves, “No, I really wish you wouldn’t” in our minds, our kids will likely end up confused or insecure, not really sure which way is up. A fake Yes isn’t really a true Yes. (I do recognise, though, that there are some kids who are far more literal, missing the undercurrents and subtleties. This can thwart the intentions of passive aggressive parents, who hope to “send a message” through tone, subtle facial expressions or even sarcasm!)

What is behind a default setting of Yes or No?

Fear of a child’s big emotional reaction to “No” in the present moment can drive some parents (like me, in the past) to say yes, and it can lead to the parent micro-managing the child’s life, ensuring they always have everything they want, are always “happy” and never have to endure the trauma of being told No.

Fear of a child’s big emotional reaction to “No” in the future – fearing that the child will feel entitled to always being told “Yes” – can cause other parents to dig their heels in and hold tightly to a big loud “NO!” in the present, assuming that by saying No lots of times, the child will “get used to it” and realise “they can’t always get what they want”. They believe that their “No” response now will prevent the child developing a sense of entitlement, and help them survive better in the big, scary world.

Perhaps the parent’s own childhood was unpleasant and filled with “No”, so it feels familiar and comfortable to stay stuck in that negative place, to pass on the unpleasantness without realising how different life could be for both parent and child if a new way was forged. Perhaps it really is, simply, an unconscious, familiar, default response. Not thought through. Just a parent operating on auto-pilot, repeating the way they were parented.

A subconscious (or even conscious!) desire for control can be another cause behind a default setting of “No.”  “If I let him, he will…” or “If I always say yes, he will always….” The parent feels the need to say No to keep the upper hand, to show him who’s boss, to make sure the parent’s own values are being lived out, that the things important to the parent are being instilled in the child.

No, you can’t have another cookie

  • You will get fat (fear)
  • I don’t approve of sugar (control)

No, you can’t watch TV

  • You will lose the ability to play imaginatively (fear)
  • I want you to play outside in the dirt (control)

No, you can’t play on the computer

  • You will get addicted (fear)
  • I value a low-tech life (control)

No, you can’t stay up late

  • You will never go to bed early again (fear)
  • I expect kid-free time every evening, even if you’re not tired (control)

I believe our relationship with our children and their sense of value and self worth can be seriously damaged by a parent whose default setting is “No”. Too many times I have seen parents respond:

With a no, no here, and a no no there.
Here a no, there a no, everywhere a no no!

Too many times I have seen children shrivel up, in the face of no after no after no, as their self worth crumples like discarded paper.

What about you?

Are you naturally a “Yes” parent or a “No” parent? What is your default setting when your children ask you for an extra story, or to play in the rain on a cold day, or to eat ice cream for breakfast, or ….? What answer do you tend to give when you’re on auto-pilot?

What voices do you listen to in your head?
The voice of a neighbour, a family member, a friend?
The voice of fear, judgment and expectation?
Or will you listen to the voice of your child.

What sort of parent do you want to be?
What sort of parent do you want your kids to have?
What do you want your family life to be like?

Say Yes as often as you can! There is almost always one lurking in the shadows somewhere, beyond your fears and desire for control, beyond your ideas about societal expectations and judgments.

The secret is taking a moment for mindfulness.

Pause…… and think………..

  • Why not just say yes?
  • What is the worst that could happen? Is it likely to happen?
  • What is holding me back?
  • What would it be like if I said yes?
  • What would it be like if I said no?
  • Are there real, unchangeable reasons to say no?
  • How do I feel when people say no to me?
  • How will my child feel, what will they think, if I say yes, or no?
  • What is behind my child’s request?
  • What are my child’s needs and feelings?
  • What are my needs and feelings?
  • What wonderful things could happen if I say yes?
  • Am I willing to do my part to enable a joyful yes to be said?

And I think that’s the key: saying yes with JOY! Not resentment.

If the request and the mindfulness process trigger quite a lot of inner turmoil, put it on the shelf to deal with more fully later, and try to find a yes in the moment if possible. Or perhaps your child is old enough, or the situation serious enough, for you to let them know you need time to consider your answer.

If you decide to say yes, say it with joy and confidence, without attachment to your expectations, assumptions and judgments. What is most important: your personal values, or your child’s personal values? Delight in your child and trust in their ability to know what is good and right for themselves in that moment. There is nothing wrong with loving guidance, but there is something wrong with control, coercion and dominance.

If you are absolutely convinced that you must say no, say it with as much gentleness and kindness as you can muster, with utmost respect for their feelings at the time of the request and at the time of receiving your “No”. Say it with respect for their underlying needs, and with a willingness to find other ways to help meet those needs, even though you are saying no to their specific request. For instance, if they asked for a particular food item that they are allergic to, you could consider other foods that are similar, that they also like, and that are okay for them to have in that moment. Resist the temptation to say “No,” to the cookie, “But here, you can have this broccoli instead”. Try to offer an alternative that is equally as appealing as the requested item (it might even be broccoli!). A no said with empathy, and with validation of the feeling of disappointment and powerlessness in your child, is a whole lot better than a cold-hearted, unfeeling “No.” Imagine having to ask for everything and anything you wanted! And being subject to the answer.

If the request was for time spent doing something with you, take a moment to consider why you would want to say no, and what internal work you can do to help you get to a place of yes. Perhaps you could imagine the look of delight on their face when you respond with a joyful yes, and the aftermath of delight and contentment once their need for connection with you is fulfilled. Perhaps it might help to reframe the importance – or not – of what it is that you are thinking of doing instead. Do you really “need” to get those dishes washed or that carpet vacuumed right now, before playing with your child?  Do you really “need” to answer that email, or make that phone call, before reading the story with your child, or playing the video game, or jumping on the trampoline together?

At times when we feel like we really must say no, we can often say things like this instead:

In 10 minutes, I can …..
After I finish this, we could …..
I feel stressed, what could we do to make it safer?
Wow, that sounds like fun! Go for it!

It may seem easier to leave our auto-pilot response set to “No,” because it feels safe and familiar, and we feel like we are in control, but if we can instead develop a new habit of pausing to think, of granting ourselves a moment of mindfulness, it can result in a much better outcome, for both us and our children.

A genuine, mindful yes helps to create a solid platform of security and self-worth within the child, on which they can build a life of mindfulness, and freedom to choose rather than react. A child who grows up in an environment littered with frequent “No’s” is more likely to feel unheard, unseen, unimportant; is more likely to react by demanding their rights, or giving up and thinking they don’t have any rights at all.

A child who usually hears No, is more likely to say No
A child who isn’t listened to will find it harder to listen to others
A child who doesn’t feel heard will eventually stop talking
A child whose needs are not met will behave in more needy ways, or eventually give up

A child who usually hears Yes, is more likely to say Yes
A child who is listened to will find it easier to listen to others
A child who feels heard will keep sharing and talking
A child whose needs are met will be more likely to show respect for the needs of others

Sometimes it feels as though a yes will take too much energy. That it will ask too much of me or make me like a servant or doormat. But I think, in reality, that saying yes GIVES energy. It is a positive, affirmative word, and as such it gives a sense of positivity. Of well-being. Of  blessing. Of connection. Try it now. It’s fine to start off timidly with a tentative “Okaaaaay, I guess so”  but in the end you want to be shouting from the rooftops a joyous, generous YES!

It is saying no that often drains energy. It focuses our attention on why it’s “too hard” or we’re “too busy” or just on all the reasons NOT to do it. I may have to DO something if I say yes, but when I say no I often find it saps my energy. It drains me of positivity. It leaves me feeling……. negative. After all, no is a negative word, yes?

Everyone’s Needs Matter

Saying yes to our children does not have to equal saying no to our own needs. Both can live in harmony if we are creative with the strategies for meeting everyone’s needs. For more information on this idea, I highly recommend checking out the controversial, eye opening book, “Winning Parent, Winning Child” by Jan Fortune-Wood.

Just a random thought to finish off. This famous guy (Jesus) said once to treat others as you want to be treated. I wonder how many parents, with a default “No” answer to their children get upset when their children’s default answer to THEM is “No”?

Yes is a wonderful word! Try it out. :)

To whom will you say yes?

  • Your fear?
  • Your desire for control?
  • Someone else’s judgement or expectation?
  • Your child?

Here are some examples of “Yes” from my recent weeks, when I have been incredibly busy with a house move, and the children have been “entertaining themselves” much more than I normally feel comfortable with.

“Yes, you can play basketball – on the roof – in your pyjamas”
“Yes, you can play basketball – on the roof – in your pyjamas”
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“Yes, we can play the Doctor Who board game, even though we have been living in the house less than 24 hours and are literally surrounded by boxes!”
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“Yes, I will play Scrabble with you”
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“Yes, we will help you create an almost empty space in the garage, so you can park your bike and ride your skateboard in there.”
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“Yes, you can set up the gaming computer and your recording space before just about anything else gets done.”
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“Yes, you can decorate the christmas tree all by yourself, even though it might look different to how I would do it.”
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“Yes, I will come to your dance party, even though I ‘should be’ unpacking and getting ready for a big extended family christmas lunch!”
Husbands matter, too. "Yes, we will have your extended family over for Christmas Lunch two weeks after moving in."
Husbands matter, too. “Yes, we will have your extended family over for Christmas Lunch two weeks after moving into a new house.” :)

What words will you write on your children’s hearts?

It’s Beginning to Look a lot like Christmas!

We don’t own a Christmas Tree. We’ve had a couple of artificial trees previously, and the last one was actually quite nice, but we gave it to the op shop two house moves ago, partly because our house at the time wasn’t big enough for a tree, and partly because we decided we would rather have a real one. First we tried our hand at a living tree (a species that dates back to dinosaur days!) in a pot, and that lasted, well, one Christmas 😉 so we decided this year to go for a real tree, direct from a farm. We figure it’s good to support a local farmer, it’s good for the environment, and we’ll only have to keep it green for a couple of weeks, which we can hopefully manage!

So it was off to the local Christmas Tree Farm to buy ourselves a tree! Just Molly and I went because, well, the tree was going to take up the entire back of our van being as we have neither roof racks nor a trailer!

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It was a bit exciting! And there were hundreds and hundreds to choose from!
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Some just needed to be hugged!
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Some were a bit too small
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Although they were very, very cute
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And some were waaaaaay too tall!

We realised that we had forgotten to measure the size of the van interior, so we used Molly as a tape measure by getting her to lay down in the back of the van, which actually worked pretty well! :) We realised that the maximum size we could get was just a tad taller than her with her arms stretched up high.

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Finally we found one that was just right. :)
All we needed then was a friendly farmer with a saw, a quadbike and a trailer, and the tree was ours!
All we needed then was a friendly farmer with a saw, a quadbike and a trailer!
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The barn where we parted with our money was just so cute, I had to get a photo of it. :)
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Carrying the tree over the threshold. ;)
You know those books where you have to spot something on each page? What do you spot in each picture? ;) Someone was VERY interested in our new tree!
You know those books where you have to spot something on each page? What do you spot in each picture? 😉 Someone was VERY interested in our new tree!
Time for some decorations! This is the first year that I have been able to fully and absolutely let go of any sense of control over the end result. Molly was the only child particularly interested in decorating and she was VERY interested, and wanted to do it by herself, so we cranked up the Christmas music and she went for it. Placing the start on top required a bit of creative furniture moving, but was successful in the end!
Time for some decorations! This is the first year that I have been able to fully and absolutely let go of any sense of control over the end result. Molly was the only child particularly interested in decorating and she was actually VERY interested, wanting to do it by herself, so we cranked up the Christmas music and she went for it. Placing the star on top required some problem solving and was successful without any broken bones or upturned trees, which is always a good thing!
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Time to remember a special little boy, who never got to celebrate even one christmas with us, but remains forever in our hearts. We loved you and love you still Cody xo
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On a lighter note, I would like to take a brief moment to remember our Christmas Angel. May she rest in peace. 😉 Forever rejected by a child’s preference for a Christmas Star!
All in a day's work. :) Let the celebrations commence (or continue, as the case may be!)
All in a day’s work. :) Let the celebrations commence (or continue, as the case may be!)

Wishing everyone a wonderful, loving, peaceful, fun Christmas, however you choose to celebrate. Remembering, too, those who grieve or are lonely at this time. xo

Settling In

After our first night in our empty house, things were about to get a whole lot more cluttered! With the truck arriving 30 minutes earlier than expected, I was not only without coffee making facilities, but also without a take away coffee. And it was 6.30am. Oh dear!

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We’ve never used a removalist company before, and wow! How amazing they were! Although it would have been much nicer if they’d brought me coffee!

Before we knew it, the multitudes of boxes that had surrounded us at our old house were now surrounding us at our new one! And it was only me, two kids and a dog there to unpack it. I did offer the removalists my undying love and affection if they would just stay and unpack everything for me……

Fortunately, I received offers of help from my sister-in-law and my mother-in-law, and even from a friend I’d never actually met! It was such a strange and wonderful thing to welcome her to my new home and meet her face to face at the same time. We had chatted so much online through a common interest group, and now here she was bringing me practical help and good conversation that wasn’t typed on a keyboard, although I was somewhat tempted to communicate via iPads across the kitchen bench! They were all so incredibly helpful in getting the initial unpacking of my kitchen done and helping me find a bit of floor space to walk on! They even brought coffee, which is more than I can say for the removalists. :)

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The joy of a drive-through coffee shop up the road! (Not sure about the straw though?)

The next day the kids and I continued unpacking and trying to make some sense of all the mess. One of the boxes Molly was particularly delighted to open was filled with board games, which proved to be a great way to connect in the midst of the chaos. The problem was that I was so incredibly tired, I kept falling asleep in between each one of my turns!

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My sleepiness was apparently a brilliant source of amusement for the kids, and they even managed to capture quite a few videos of me snoozing and then being suddenly woken by some trick of theirs!

Then, finally, at the end of the day, 48 hours after our arrival, Geoff and Brady arrived in Larry the Laser, who had done a stellar job of towing a heavily ladened trailer over 1,000 kilometres! Even Molly’s three pet mice survived the trip. AND they stayed in their cage, much to Geoff and Brady’s delight!

The human family members weren't the only ones delighted to greet Geoff and Brady upon their arrival!
The human family members weren’t the only ones delighted to greet Geoff and Brady upon their arrival!
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Our first night “together” in our new home was actually only 5/6ths of our family, with Travis having chosen to stay in Newcastle. And, to make it particularly poignant, the day Geoff and Brady arrived was Travis’ 20th Birthday! We celebrated in his absence with some take away food at the coffee table because we didn’t yet have cooking supplies set up or even a dining table!!) It was super nice to have Brady and Geoff back with us, but sad to be missing Travis. It sounds as though he had a pretty fun night with his mates though!
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Gradually, gradually, things started to look a little bit like home.
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We went op shopping for treasures and furniture
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Buying drive-through coffee on the way – of course!

One of the expected surprises at the new house was that there was a basketball hoop set up in the backyard. Molly in particular had wanted one for awhile, and there was one already there! The kids quickly discovered that our little rebounder was a lot of fun to use when shooting hoops!

It’s beginning to feel a lot like home. :)

Home Sweet Home

Finally, finally, after two overnight stops, we made it to the real estate agent to hand over a small fortune in exchange for a large set of keys. We were almost “home”.

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Walking through the tunnel of bushes and putting the key in the lock for the first time (once we finally worked out which one it was!) was especially exciting, because we’d never even seen the house before! (One of the challenges of an interstate move.)

We had fun exploring our new house and discovering some of its unexpected surprises (well, I don’t guess they’d be surprises if they were expected, lol).

Like laundry chutes! Heaps of fun! I'm sure the novelty will wear off, but it was fun imagining some of the things we could put down there! Fortunately for Lucy, we decided that even our little dog would be too big! ;)
Like laundry chutes! Heaps of fun! I’m sure the novelty will wear off, but it was fun imagining some of the things we could put down there! Fortunately for Lucy, we decided that even our little dog would be too big! ;)
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We found a lovely wind chime on the back deck, discovered a little “friend” in the garden that matched one of two we had back home but had inadvertently left behind, found out that the front door bell is actually an intercom system which we had quite a lot of fun with, and discovered we have a ducted vacuum system (woo hoo!).
We decided quite quickly that although rather small, we really like the backyard! It has 3 fruit trees, a gorgeous deck and plenty of room for our little dog to run around and explore. I love watching the kids being creative with photography. It was a lovely way for them to connect with and discover their new outdoor living space.
I love watching the kids being creative with photography; it was a great way for them to connect with and discover their new outdoor living space (and share it with friends – thank you social media!). We decided quite quickly that although rather small, we really like the backyard! It has 3 fruit trees, a gorgeous deck and plenty of room for our little dog to run around and explore.
It was weird but also fun to spend the first night in a completely empty house. :)
It was weird but also fun to spend the first night in a completely empty house. :)