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

Coming Home

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WARNING: To those with serious housework phobias, the below post may cause permanent psychological trauma.

When I was a girl, I dreamed of being a mum. I used to draw pictures of what my house would look like, right down to the picket fence, the horse stables and paddocks, the pot plants in the house….. I was am a dreamer!

Eventually I grew up and my dream of being a mum came true. I was going to be the best mum EVER. Sorry to all you other wannabes, but this one is mine. I’ve got it nailed, okay?

Alright, maybe not, but I certainly had the passion for it. Surely no one else loved their children as much as ME.

When I first got married and my husband was studying part time as well as working (hmmmmm, some things never change!), I used to dust the architraves. Do you even know what they are? 🙂 I probably only do because my father was a builder, so for those who don’t know, they’re the little strips of wood that go across the tops of window and door frames. Whilst we’re at it, I used to dust the skirtings (the strips of wood that cover the join between the floor and the wall). And yes, the louvres on the wardrobe doors got a good go over, too. Every. single. week! These days I’m lucky to dust, well, anything!

All this to say that my heart was truly in my home. My home was my castle. And when children came along, I was going to be Mum of the Year. Every single year.

Sadly, I don’t think I’m worthy of the prize. Not because I’m not good enough, but because, somewhere along the journey, I started to lose my way. My focus. Life got hard, and I got distracted.

My move to unschooling, and then radical unschooling, has really helped me to find a much better way of being with my kids. But my focus on hearth and home was sorely lacking. I love to go out and about having adventures with the kids, but when it comes down to being a home maker, I was sorely lacking! I think it’s partly because I’m an extrovert and also an ideas person, so I tend to be either out and about …. or at home, with my head in a book or computer, reading, learning and discovering.

Years ago I read a book called The Myth of the Perfect Mother, which talks about four “Green Focus Areas” involved in mothering: Tasks, Relationships, Ideas and Strategies, and how understanding them can help free us from “mother guilt”. We are each strongest in one of these (our personal Green Focus area) and usually have another focus area that is somewhat strong (our Yellow Focus area). Together, they form our Green Light Profile. We obviously also have a Red Light Profile, but if we can find ways of adding a bit of green to our red area, it helps it not to be so… well, RED! For example, a mother whose green light is tasks and whose red light is relationships might choose to look for things they can DO while spending time with their children (eg. crocheting while watching a movie, or doing projects together etc).

I used to think I was purely a relationships focussed person, but after reading this book I realised I am also very strong in the “ideas” area; hence why I often had my head in a book for hours or days on end as a child, and still do today (although my “book” is often a computer now). So for me, my profile is:

GREEN FOCUS AREA: Relationships and Ideas (hence why I love spending time with family and friends, and also reading and learning online and in books)
RED LIGHT AREA: Tasks!

What is housework? Tasks! I seriously get bored with it! I cope better if I’m doing tasks with one of my kids, or if I can listen to an audio book or at least lose myself in my thoughts, whilst completing a task. Whenever we move house, my poor husband keeps finding me reading the newspapers I’m meant to be packing our crockery in!

I tend to live my life in a kerfuffle, busily doing anything and everything outside of the home, or having fun with my children, or visiting with friends, or reading and writing myself into a stupor.

All of that is WAY more exciting than housework, yes?

What I had forgotten was that putting effort into my house helps to create a home. Home isn’t just about having great conversations with the kids, taking them to cool events and activities, or researching better ways of living and doing things, although for me those things will always be WAY funner than housework! It is also about putting effort into creating a warm and welcome space for our family to relax, connect and enjoy ourselves. It is about creating food to enjoy together. It is about me being unhurried so that my children sense my availability. It is, sadly, also about housework. 🙁

There! I said it! I’ve finally admitted that when I don’t fold the washing until it is a momentous mountain we can’t see over, people feel a wee bit frustrated (alright, MASSIVELY frustrated) because they can’t find the missing t-shirt, or undies, or that sock down the crack of the lounge, and they waste a lot of time searching for the all-elusive article. And also, there are rapidly reducing options of somewhere to sit! Although unfolded washing does in a way add another layer of padding, albeit a bit bumpy! (And yes, I know they could fold the washing, but that is the subject for another post!). I’ve realised that when I don’t plan what we’re going to eat for dinner until, well, dinner time, dinner usually doesn’t happen, or it is so late that everyone’s given up and helped themselves to other food and eaten alone. (Yes, I know they could do the cooking, but you also know that’s the subject for another post!) When the house looks really uncared for, my children can feel uncared for, too. When I remember that caring for my house is another way of caring for my family (relationships), or listen to a podcast whilst cleaning and tidying (ideas), it adds a whole lot of “green” to my red light (tasks). And trust, me, tasks like housework need to be a LOT more interesting for me to find the momentum to do it, or at least do more than start it! 🙂

Home sweet homeI realised I need to “come home”. To regain my focus on hearth and home, as an act of love for my family, which also creates a space that welcomes friend and neighbour, because there is more likely to be a washing-free lounge to sit on (and trust me, it is VERY embarrassing to realise your male visitor is sitting on a pile of your undies!), space to make and enjoy a cup of tea, and a prepared meal ready to offer the unexpected visitor (or one’s own children).

There is obviously a balance here, and what we each need to learn is often different to our neighbour. One lady we lived next door to was SUCH an early bird with her housework and getting the washing on the line, that the only way I was ever able to beat her was to hang it out the night before and have a 12 hour headstart! So yes, some mums needs to lighten up on the housework, and simply play more with their kids. Others of us need to remember that we’re NOT kids (although we still REALLY like to play!) and we need to rise to the occasion, taking responsibility for creating the home that symbolises our heart for our family.

I recently heard the term “house blessing” in reference to house work. And that’s what I want to do: to start seeing that the practical aspects of being a full-time mum are important, too, not just the relational aspects. And in fact, by putting effort into running our home more efficiently and creating a more ordered, beautiful space, I am blessing my family. I am helping to create that warm and welcome space that invites them, too, to “come home”.

What about you? What is your green light? What is your red light, and how can you make it greener?

DISCLAIMER: It is quite possible that some of us may actually be allergic to housework, and if so, paying a house cleaner also adds LOTS of green to the red area of housework 🙂

Magical Moments

I was feeling so despondent the other week. Actually, it’s been building for awhile. I used to think “Empty Nest Syndrome” started when all the children had left home, but in recent times I’ve discovered it starts when the oldest bird in the nest really starts flapping those ol’ wings of theirs! My children now range in age from 9 up to 18 (almost 19) and lately it has begun to feel at times as though I only have one or two children,  because I often go to events with only that many (although I often have three or four extras! But only 2 of my own.) Of course, in the next moment I might be picking up a teenager from work, dropping them to a friend’s house, or taking them to the mechanic with a broken down car or…… or….. So it’s not that I don’t have plenty to DO! It’s more that the house sometimes feels somewhat empty. And I often find myself driving an 8-seater van, with only 2 children. Other times, of course, it is filled up with their friends, or my whole family, but more often than not it is just the three of us.

I recently read a fascinating article that talked about how mothers are biologically connected to their children in more significant ways than we once realised! Fetal cells migrate into the mother during pregnancy and the implications of this are very far reaching, sometimes staying with the mother throughout the rest of her life. This might help to explain why my heart sinks whenever my husband mentions in passing about a time ahead when one of our older boys leaves home. Or when my youngest child, my “baby”, dreams of living on a farm with her dogs, horses and ute when she moves out…. I mean, I KNOW this will happen, and it will be beautiful in its own way, but right now, I have to say I’m really not ready for it! I’m still enjoying having all my children together under one roof. Except that they’re often not!

Three of our cherubs - they're not this small anymore though!
Three of our cherubs – they’re not this small anymore though!

I miss the days when they were younger and we spent more time all together. At one stage there were three shift workers in our family. Now there are only two, but it still means that it is rarely full house with everyone home at one time, although it is certainly a revolving door with LOTS of comings and going! One of the byproducts of this is that a shared meal in the evening gradually became a rarity. It was my fault in many ways. I would tend to only cook and serve a meal for us to eat all together when we were all home, which was pretty rare. Eventually it became standard for me to ask people if they would be home that night, before I’d decide whether to do a “proper dinner” or not. And so “proper dinners” became less and less regular. I got out of the habit. Now don’t get me wrong here; as a radical unschooler I don’t believe that family dinners are absolutely essential to family connection, good health or anything else. Forced family dinners with unhappy teens wishing they were elsewhere, or unhappy toddlers needing to run and play, etc, hardly create fond family memories! In an unschooling family, there are usually so many points of connection throughout the day that sharing the evening meal together becomes less of a necessary tradition. But in our case, with our family growing up and moving out more and more into the big wide world, I began to again crave that tradition of regular shared meals.

I miss the days when we gathered to eat, play and talk together more regularly. I was particularly grieving for those days this past week (probably something to do with a full moon, hormones and my husband being away on business again) but in the midst of my sadness, something really beautiful happened. On this particular day, realising that I needed to get back in the habit of pre-planning meals and being organised so as to make family connection over a meal more possible, I had made a big effort to prepare a meal in the morning before heading out for a big day. I knew I would be home late, with the usual pattern being either a super late dinner (by which time the teens would probably have gone out somewhere) or a “help yourself affair”.  After my big morning effort, I walked in the door from my daughter’s dance class to the beautiful smell of a mexican meal in the crock pot, only to discover that one son was going out for dinner, another was at a friend’s house, and the youngest boy (who had a friend over) wanted to go to his friend’s house for a sleep over. My husband was away too, so it was going to leave just my daughter and I to eat together. I felt so despondent. I knew I had partially created this dynamic, and yet here I was trying to change my approach but having to face the music of habitual disconnect. By this time, my hormones were sky high, and my mood was down in the dirt.

But something suddenly clicked. I realised yet again that it all starts with me. The children were responding to this pattern where I was disorganised with getting dinner on the table, and often just not bothering unless I knew EVERYONE was going to be there. And everyone was there less and less of the time.

I decided that right now, in this very moment, I could do something different. Instead of dropping into the doldrums, I could choose a different path. I texted two sons who were at friend’s houses, to ask if they wanted to go out for ice cream, preparing myself to hold the plan loosely in case they didn’t want to. But they DID! They jumped at the opportunity. My youngest son even opted to give up his sleep-over. So three of my children and I went out for super delicious ice cream that cost me an arm and a leg, but was worth every cent.

The following night, my husband was still away but his mates came to our place anyway for their regular Friday fire bucket. They asked me if I wanted them to douse the fire at the end or put some more wood on. I was really busy, wanting to get the house cleaned up (it was a MESS after a huge week) before my husband returned from his trip the next morning. I had big goals for my evening, and all the miracles I was going to achieve in the house. I said we were “too busy” to sit around the fire, and then it dawned on me. Here was a moment with the potential for magic and connection, or tasks and distraction from what mattered more. I chose the magic. “Chuck another log on the fire!”

So after the guys left, the kids and I took our dinner out to the fire bucket and ….. we connected.

When we had finished, my daughter rushed inside to get snacks (hoping to prolong the pleasure of our time together). But what really surprised me was that my fifteen year old son kept putting more wood on the fire and just staying out there with us. He would normally have gone back to his room far more quickly. After relaxing around the fire for awhile, he then asked his younger brother if he wanted to play darts. More connection! My daughter wanted to join in, and then they all wanted me to as well. So I did. And it was awesome, although they probably regretted their invitation after I annihilated them in the dart game, “Killer”.

Two nights later was Father’s Day. So we did it all again! With all six of us this time. And it was amazing!   

I plan to start preparing regular meals again, regardless of who will be home, and not waiting to find out if they will be, because lets face it: left-overs are awesome to have on hand or freeze anyway! Plus it also means there is additional food available if someone turns up unexpectedly. But I’ve learned that expectations really aren’t helpful. Rather than my children feeling like they “should” be home for dinner, my focus is on providing a warm and welcome home with a dinner prepared for whoever is here. It is far better to create an environment that draws and invites them, rather than “shoulds” them into being here. If it ends up that only two of us are home or feel like eating together, how lovely is that too!! Even if it’s just one person, it becomes an opportunity for solitude, reflection, meditation.

It’s about invitation, not expectation.

Another idea we have experimented with, is the idea of setting aside one night a week (or thereabouts) that is a SPECIAL family dinner. Something just for us. Perhaps not even just a meal, but a special family event that hopefully lingers into the evening with some game playing or movie watching or family photo nights on the big screen…. And what I love about this idea is that it is a tradition that could so easily (and WILL, hopefully) carry on to when our children do move out on their own. I love the idea of the kids being welcome to come and share a meal with us anytime, after they’ve moved out, but I also love the idea of a special weekly dinner that they’re all invited to. With girlfriends, boyfriends, wives, husbands, children…..

But again, I think the key is: invite, don’t expect. Better for our children to feel welcome and wanted, rather than pressured and pulled. Better to have only half of the family come willingly and happily itogether for food or fun, than to have the whole family there, but half of them wishing they were elsewhere.

One moment was transformed from sadness and negativity, to joy and positivity, with a little help from some ice cream. If I can do that in the next moment as well, and the one after that, and the one after that, life will be so much more delightful, one magical moment at a time.

Carpe Diem

© Ciprian.d | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock PhotosYou know the saying, “Where did the time go?” When did my first tiny (or not so tiny!) baby become a man with a car licence, a serious girlfriend, and facial hair? Wasn’t it only yesterday that I was gazing into those newborn eyes and comparing our features in the mirror, in absolute awe that this little being was my flesh and blood? Wasn’t it only yesterday that he took his first teetering steps, holding on to a postage cylinder thinking that it was something that would keep him on his feet, not realising it wasn’t attached to anything? Wasn’t it only yesterday that he said “I wuv you Mummy” for the first time?

I am so incredibly happy that we made the decision to pull our two eldest children out of school, and that the younger two have never been. I am so thankful for the time that we have been able to spend together; that I have been here to wipe snotty noses, dry tears, laugh at jokes, and reminisce together rather than have to ask “What did you do at school today?”

But how am I using the time that we have together? It is so easy for the days to drift along, and to be gone like sand blowing away in the breeze. It is so easy to get caught up in the daily stuff of life, that we forget to really LIVE our lives to the full.

I recently saw an ENORMOUS sand timer, and I thought, “I want one of those!” I guess my desire symbolised the fact that right now, with my oldest on the cusp of adulthood, I want time to  s  l  o  w    d  o  w  n…….  But alas, as the saying goes, “Time waits for no man”.

So my motto for this year is Carpe Diem – seize the day! Make the most of the moments. And my reason for this is that the sands of time are beginning to rush through the hourglass and this phase of life is beginning to draw to a close: that of having all four of our children at home together. My oldest child is now 18 and working full time, with a serious girlfriend taking up much of  his time and attention. This is a good thing, of course! But it reminds me that life as we know it, with our children under our wings, is changing. I delight in what lies ahead, but I also intensely treasure these moments in the here and now.

I have on my bookshelf the highly acclaimed book The Power of Now. I also have the audio version of it. So really, I have no excuse for not having read it yet! I guess it just hasn’t been enough of a priority for me. It has been overshadowed by the other stuff of life. And that’s how it goes with most things really. I’m a full-on IDEAS person. Actually fleshing out those ideas, bringing them into our daily lives as things we actually DO is not such a strength for me. It’s one of the reasons why I’ve started my other blog, Unshackled Adventures, where I can chronicle some of the things we do. Because it’s not enough to DREAM of doing things. It means little or nothing if those dreams aren’t actualised.

I do love to dream! And I believe that the dreaming is essential to the doing. But the doing is also essential to the dreaming. DO THE DREAM!

From what I understand, one of the secrets to “living in the now” is fully immersing myself in this moment. Feeling the sensations in my surroundings, allowing my senses to come alive, and really engaging in life to the full, right here right now. It’s not living in this moment whilst dreaming of the next.

Sandra Dodd’s “Do It!” page about unschooling really spoke to me recently, and I strongly advise all unschoolers, and in fact all parents, to read it. Today. And…. to do it! As I wrote in my last post we just don’t know how long we have with our children. Why waste one minute of it!

One of the challenges in our family is that until recently we had three, yes three, shift workers in our family of 6 people. This made for almost non-existent shared family dinners, because it is extremely rare to have everyone home in the house at dinner time on the same night. So because there was usually at least one or two people not present, I started to get out of the habit of preparing a proper sit down family meal. Then it became a habit for us not to eat together, so that on the nights when we actually were all home I wasn’t thinking ahead about planning for a shared meal, and one or both of the teens would end up going off to do something with friends. We gradually became quite disconnected as a family unit, and whilst I’d been blaming it on the broad ages of the children, the older two becoming more and more independent, and the fact that there was so often one to three people not present in the evening, I began to slowly realise that it was also partly my fault. As the home maker, I had let that shared family meal slip away. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe that family meals should be compulsory or a meaningless habit, particularly for home ed families that spend a lot of time together anyway. There are many ways to connect as a family and this is only one of them. But I realised that for us, with the older teens gradually spending more and more time with friends, the shared family dinner is something that brings us together, something that represents home as a warm and welcoming place, something that invites them to the table and invites them to family life. So I decided that I needed to make the preparation and presentation of the family meal a habit again.

I also realised that, with our family calendar on the fridge, it is usually possible to find one meal time in the week when no one is working, and I decided to make that a special family meal, whether it be brunch, lunch or dinner. This week, that happened to be tonight. It took effort to protect that time. There was talk of extra children sleeping over, or for a couple of our children to go elsewhere, but I decided to prioritise our family time together. And it was wonderful. This is the second week in a row now when we have planned for and achieved a special shared meal. I know that for most families this is common place, but for us, having everyone in the house at the same time to share in a meal is something worth CELEBRATING! So we helped prepare for the meal together, we put flowers on the table, music on the stereo, we shared delicious food together, laughed and chatted, cleaned up together, and then a few of us enjoyed a couple of games of Hearts (a card game). Is it showing off to say that I got a “slam”? 🙂 I am so glad we did this, and I hope to make it a regular event, but not so regular that it loses its specialness. Whilst we don’t have the privilege of eating together most nights, it is nice compensation to make it a bit special when we do. And I’m hoping that it establishes a habit that can continue even after the nest starts to empty, because once a week or so is quite sustainable I think!

I have many other ideas for ways that I hope to live by the motto of Carpe Diem this year; this is just one.

What about you? What will you do to seize the day, capture the moment, and create special memories with your family? What will you do to make the most of this day and the time you have together with your family?