Sunday, January 11, 2015

Simple, my word for the year

I have been mulling over for weeks what my word for 2015 would be. Last year my word was balance and there were so many times during that year that the mantra helped get my through. We all had huge changes during the year that at times threw our family into chaos. Our balance was upset and we constantly had to work to bring our family back to centre. Midway through last year I felt like our family had unravelled and our once close blended family was totally unbound and we were all living separate lives under one roof. I felt like I had no energy to pull the strings in, I realised that the mother is the centre of the family the one who doesn't even realise that she coaches everyone to come together everyday. At times of the year things got out of hand, at one point I told my husband I couldn't keep going and I would rather quit my job than lose my family. I think at this point he realised how much I was still doing to keep our family together and once again stepped up to the plate and showed us what an awesome and dedicated husband he is. Balance was the word that kept us all together during 2014.

In my search for a new word this year I looked at what changes I made last year and what worked and what didn't. When I kept things simple, it worked, when I tried to do too much or be artificial and pretend I was coping with full time working mum and awesome house wife, things fell apart.

Here are some ways that I have already been starting the SIMPLE life.

  • Decluttering, the more stuff you have the harder it is to keep clean, I have culled my wardrobe, the kids toys even the linen cupboard, really no family needs 25 beach towels. At the end of this year I want to own less stuff not more.
  • Wash less, this summer beach towels go on the the clothes line not in the wash, sheets get changed slightly less often, kids have to help fold and put away the laundry, everyone needs to iron their own clothes.
  • Somehow I got coerced into cooking a hot lunch for Christmas this year, my nightmare so I thought simple, bought foil disposable baking trays and used a combination of real plates for the mains and plastic throw away for the dessert. Not great for the environment but it meant that everything could go in one dishwasher load after 8 people for lunch and no extra washing up.
  • At Christmas I also decided to buy better products, I have more money but less time now so I can afford to buy the dishwasher tablets rather than the cheaper powder. I even bought dishwasher cleaner which meant my 20 year old dishwasher is able to take pots and pans as well as glasses, this was a lifesaver on Christmas Day when I drank too much champagne. I am also getting a new kitchen and dishwasher this year but that is for another post.
  • Spend more time outside, the highlights of our recent holiday was the runs, the walks along the beach, the time in the pool not the stuff we paid to do or the movies we watched.
  • Delegate, this is a hard one for me as I am a little bit of a control freak, for example I told hubby that he is now responsible for his own ironing, 3.5weeks later his work shirts are all still sitting in the ironing basket waiting to be done, it is driving me nuts. But it is no longer my responsibility. We really toyed with the idea of getting a cleaner this year but I have decided that we have a family of four and if everyone helps and takes responsibility we shouldn't need to pay someone else to do domestic tasks for us.
  • Eat fresh SIMPLE food 
  • Screen time, social media and email and smart phones really are killing us. We sleep less, have more depression and are eating more than ever. I love the book remotely controlled which talks about how damaging TV is on society and our kids, I gave up TV for over two years and I loved it. I noticed that when Miss 6 goes to her Dad's he lets her play the ipad all the time and watch commercial TV, this not affects her sleep, mood, anger but it also has her asking for more stuff like sugary treats and toys. Having less screen time family wide will simplify your life and give you more time for things that matter.
  • Enjoy time with family, don't be distracted. I asked Miss 6 what her favourite part of our holidays was, her response was "time with you mummy". Three weeks no laptop, lots of time and a simple life is all kids want and need.
So there are some things I have already started and hope to expand on during 2015 to find a simple life. Do you have any tips for me? Do you have a word for 2015?

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Holidays and the Blended Family

We tried desperately this year to book a family holiday over the Christmas holidays. My firm closes down for three weeks over Christmas meaning half my holidays are gone in the busiest holiday period of the year. Then we have a holiday block out period from May to October doesn't give us much holiday time. So knowing I had 3 weeks off over Christmas I spend hours dreaming with hubby about holiday options with the kids, then came to the time to book. Unfortunately we could not make any dates stick between the broken up Christmas and Boxing Day that we share with the other parents and the university course Miss 16 is taking over the summer.

After working full time for 7 months straight I am desperately in need of some time off and getting away from it. Our house needs so much work that I need to be away from it to chill out a little. My kids are all water babies so a pool or beach is essential. We had all but given up on a holiday and decided to spend some time at my parents place down the coast.  Then we received a text message, "free week holiday in an apartment, paid for but we can not use it, let us know if you can use it" I was on the phone a few minutes later, me please! Even though the whole family couldn't be together the whole time, I said we can do it blended family style, some together, some apart, we are flexible! So although our holiday down the coast isn't the cruise or trip to Bali or Lord Howe Island that we were hoping for, it was exactly what we needed.

There were a few holidays I had my heart set on, another trip to Bali just because the kids adore it there.A cruise, because it is all inclusive and so much for the kids which means more time alone for hubby and I. I picked up a P&O Carnival brochure and Miss 6 looked at it for hours obsessed with the idea of a water slide on a ship. But of course cruse dates are so limiting with the restrictions of a blended family.

Image Credit
 Then we saw Pinetrees Lodge that looks so perfect, family friendly, spa treatments, relaxation and wine all in one. I am not interested in spending too long on a plane with the kids for our holidays so close was important for us and Lord Howe island is perfect distance. We also loved the Lord Howe Island Packages because I need time not having to think about where to feed family, arrange airport transfers or how much a glass of wine is. My brain is tired, I am ready for someone else to take charge, hence looking for chilled and all inclusive holidays for the first time in my life.

Even though I am still dreaming of our family holiday to one of these destinations it has been put off again to a future date, but we will enjoy our little special free holiday to Tomakin even though we are not together the whole time. I am eternally grateful to my Aunt who gifted us a wonderful chance to be with family and some great time away from home with Miss 6 one on one.

Do you have holidays plans this Christmas? Do you find getting away with the kids hard work?

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The family that trains together stays together

Almost three years ago Miss 16 and I joined the gym together for a six week trial. It was a fantastic things to do for our relationship, it gave us non pressure time together and we were getting fit together. At the end of the trial we unfortunately couldn't extend the membership as it was expensive but we had kick started our healthier lifestyle. Miss 16 (14 at the time) wanted to keep up the healthy lifestyle and was keen to run, swim and bush walk, all activities we could do for free. Three years on we do have that family gym membership and exercise is an integral part of our crazy busy family life. I believe strongly that by having an active family life you can help your kids develop lifelong habits. So here are some summer holiday tips to kick start your healthier family habits.

  • Bush walk
Bush walking is way more fun than just going for a walk, there are things to climb, roots to jump over
and animals to spot. My kids love bush walking, I usually pack a picnic to enjoy afterwards and make the day of it. Just being outside is good for the soul but the walk also encourages conversation and we have uncovered lots of issues on our bush walks. This photo is the first time we climbed pigeon house.
  • Get out in the water
We are lucky in the Illawarra to be surrounded by beautiful beaches and free pools. Mostly you can get into the water for free. Everyone loves a swim and it is an important skill for kids. If you have older kids maybe try stand up paddle boarding or surfing for added cool parent branding.
  • Teach them how to Fish
Fishing might not be a terrible active sport but it does involve getting kids outdoors and teaching them a skill. You can add in some exercise by walking along the water, or kayaking or throwing Frisbee whilst you wait for the fish to bite. My brother likes to take the kids fishing and it is important time for that good male influence to kick in, when my brother is away Miss 6 always asked when she can go fishing with Uncle K again. Pick up some cheap tackle from MoTackle and try and catch yourself a little long story.
  • Train for an Event
The second event I ever training for was with my teenage stepdaughter, we did an aquathon (swim and run). I had gotten the exercise bug a year earlier but had not yet convinced her to start the crazy active life. So four months out we started training for an aquathon, she was a strong swimmer so that played well to her strengths, I wasn't strong so she helped me and pushed me. On the other hand, I trained with her in the run leg. Together we passed the finish with huge smiles on our face, an achievement we made together. Hubby and I also like to do events together, our next one in a  team long triathlon in February.

  •  Have picnics at the Park
Take a Frisbee, a ball or a kite, anything to get you moving. We often have park dinners over summer, no washing up and a great way to get fresh air, some exercise and better sleep for everyone.

Plan for opportunities to be active as much as possible, make it fun and get everyone moving. Training together as a family has brought us so much balance.

Do you exercise as a family?

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Christmas and the Blended Family

Christmas is supposed to be a time to share with family and friends, unfortunately with blended families it gets a little tricky. Of course kids just want to spend time with all of their family, but it just isn't possible, it is rare to find separated couples who can still happily hang out together. After you remarry everyone moves on and starts their own traditions.

I sometimes struggle with sharing my daughter on special occasions I don't want her to miss out on our family events whilst she is with her other family. Special occasions like Christmas and birthdays make it difficult on children as they can only be with one set of parents. This year we tried desperately to book a family holiday but with Miss 6 going to her dads for boxing day and Miss 16 on Christmas night, then changeover week and a summer school program we just couldn't get the dates to work.

This will be my fourth Christmas as a blended family and each year we get it together a little more. Here are the tips I have learnt and I am no expert so feel free to add your own suggestions.

  • Make new traditions together that can be done on any day. We do the Christmas lights drive each Christmas with the kids and we also buy a new decoration each for the Christmas tree. Gingerbread house decorating can also be lots of fun. These little traditions are what children remember as adults.
  •  Don't try to compete with the other families. What your exes do over Christmas is none of your business, don't get caught up in trying to buy the kids more expensive presents or a grander Christmas Day lunch, it's not a competition.
  • Ask your family to swap days for Christmas celebrations. A few years ago my mum swapped our family Christmas dinner to Christmas Eve, I love it. No pressure to go between two family's and we also get to enjoy it together.
  • Say No. You can't do everything and see everyone. There are already lots of pressures with changeover days. Don't create unrealistic goals, just take each moment as it comes and enjoy, if you can't enjoy the moment, focus on a glass of wine.
  • Keep it simple. The Christmas period is crazy and kids in blended families have double the excitement. We toned down Christmas lunch to some cold meat and salad so after the drop offs and pickups we can all relax. If you are baking, buy disposable baking trays - no washing up!
  • Wish the other family Christmas greetings. Last weekend my ex and his new pregnant wife turned up at surf club and Miss 6 asked if she could go for a swim with her new step mum. It was hot so my husband and I wanted to swim too, but it can be a bit intimate swimming between the flags with the new step mum. So I made the effort to chat with her, I don't have a particular issue with her (my ex hasn't painted me in the best light) but it isn't easy to like someone who gets to have your kids when you don't.
  • Get some downtime for yourself and your marriage. It is easy to focus on the craziness of Christmas or the kids, but don't forget yourself. Indulge in a long bath, or go for a walk adults only. Blended families can be a stressful dynamic over the festive season so make sure you support your relationship too and nurture one another.
So anymore tips for me?

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Teaching your kids to drive and for Learners

Miss 16 got her "L" plates in July and since then we have been official family driving instructors. Teaching your kids to drive is a HUGE responsibility, you are giving them the skill to use a fast and very dangerous machine. I have been absolutely shocked at how laid back some parents take the whole driving lesson thing and forge hours so their kids can go for their "P" earlier. I feel very strongly that we need to teach our kids respect for the rules, especially with driving because the statistics are stacks against them.

Miss 16 has 40hours driving under her belt and she is at the stage now where she is the designated driver wherever we go, she has no choice. It is hard work to get the 120hours in a year but I want my kids to have as much experience as possible before I let them loose. A couple of weeks ago we were driving with Miss 16 and  she negotiated a complicated merging lane incorrectly and ended up pulling in front of another car, no problem because the other car was being very aware of the "L" plate driver. Then she got off the merging ramp and an ambulance went past, a minute later another ones comes screaming past and cars are pulling off, then a third one. She is just recovering and a truck is broken down in the outside lane and she gets stuck behind it. We arrived at our destination and Miss 16 was quite shaken up, I calmly explained to her that is why getting all your hours up is so important because being a good driver is about understanding all the outside forces and other drivers, not just your own driving.

My husbands car has always been the dedicated "learner" car because it is old and only has bomb insurance so it didn't cost extra to add a learner driver. After our 6 hours spent in the car a couple weekends ago with hubby and I taking it in turns to get wind blown, I declared she was ready to drive the good car. This is where the drama with the insurance started. Our current insurer wouldn't cover Miss 16 to our insurance policy without tripling the costs and the excess so we started the quest to find cheap car insurance with adequate coverage. After speaking with other parents, plenty didn't realise that lots of insurers don't automatically cover learner drivers any more and this could be one expensive lesson if the worst was to happen. So if you have teenage kids, check out your insurance before they start driving. which kids can do

There are some government initiatives to help parents and kids, we did the keys2drive program which is a free lesson and chat with an instructor for both parents and the learner driver. We learnt so much in the lesson about the best way to teach, the stages of lessons and just watching the instructor teach Miss 16 was a real eye opener.

There is also a Safe Drivers Course which costs $140 and gives students 20 hours of logbook hours. It can only be done once the learner has 50 hours of driving hours experience. It is a three hour group discussion on how drivers can manage risks on the road followed by a two hour driving lesson with another learner which focuses on practical safe driving behaviours.

So here is my advice for teaching your kids to drive;
  • Sort out your insurance and make sure they are covered to drive your car
  • Service the car and get the mechanic to do a full safety check
  • Get some driving lessons
  • Do the free Key2Drive program with your kids
  • Enrol them in the safe driver course
  • Do the hours regularly, don't leave it all to the last minute. Make the learner the regular family driver, the most experience they have, the better driver they will be.
Do you have a learning to drive story?

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

#Men and gifts for them

Every year I have this conversation with my mum, my sisters, my girlfriends about what to buy men. We all agree they are so freaking hard to buy for. Men tend to have few wants and those they have they simply fulfill themsleves. Whenever I think I have a great gift lined up for a man, they tend to buy it themselves.

I have bought all the usual gifts, the undies, watch, books, cooking classes and interstate trips. I really want to buy my husband his dream gift but since I am not yet earning a dream wage that one is in the secret tank for a later date. Now Mr 18 has his own wage, buying his gifts just got really hard.

Today I did a talk about social media and I inspired everyone to use # on social media. So I went to instagram and typed in #men, the results are hilarious!
Oh gosh, if this is what the new generation call men, I am worried for my daughters. Although they do all have great hair maybe the new LYNX Hair range has been getting a workout.

So after checking out the instagram hastag for men, I will be buying my son, undies, lots of new hair products, maybe some speedos........ and a jacket, that should have me in the cool mum books right??!! Hang on I am confused.

What are you buying your men this Christmas.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Pregnancy changes everything.

Seriously, there are way too many pregnancy announcements around me. Some are beautiful news, others not so awesome. (And no despite being late this month I am certainly NOT pregnant)

One is a young mum, not married, she is in a bad place in her life and her choice of men is the same, I see only two ways that it will work out and neither is good. I want to help but sometimes help is a bail out and makes people make more poor decisions, but there is a baby involved. I feel really torn about this one.

Then there is my dear friend who will be an incredible mum. We met about 15 years ago when we were nannying in the UK, her husband is gorgeous and she has a supportive family around her. Their child will be lucky, blessed and always cared for no matter what happens. It is a true celebration.

Then there is my ex's new wife, she too has swallowed the pregnancy water. I am not sure how I feel about this, having spoken to so many step kids and parents, it is the "new baby" that really changes the dynamic. I get it, sometimes in our crazy blended family I wish my husband and I had children we could call our own together and not share with anyone else, but we knew thing would upset the balance too much. I am not sure how this will pan out and it certainly throws another spanner in the works. Again uncertainly is our future, so often in these situation the new mum becomes resentful of the existing step children and their passion for building relationships diminishes as they take on one of the hardest jobs, full time motherhood.

Despite the circumstances surrounding new pregnancies and mine certainly wasn't perfect, I think the pregnant woman still wants to celebrate the life changing events. I know because my pregnancy at the same point my marriage was dissolving certainly wasn't seen as a particularly great announcement.

But after working for the past two years at baby expo's I have some great idea for baby presents, here are some of my favourites.

  • A basket of samples, individual nappies, small wipe packs, baby panodol, nurofen and some adult panadol too!
  • I love these wool baby blankets which replace the traditional Australia gift of a lamb wool rug from the MiniJumbuk website. Blankets are way more practical.
  • Clothes, but get bigger sizes, babies grow so damn fast in those early days, I like to stick to size 0, they get the most wear out of the bigger sizes.
So should I congratulate my ex's new wife on her pregnancy, should I buy a gift? I feel like I am just not that cool......


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