Wednesday, February 03, 2016

one more year before school

My social media feeds have been flooded with "first day of school" photos this week; sweet, momentous captures of smiling kids and their proud parents. On Monday I witnessed all the newbies in the playground - tiny bodies swamped by big brimmed hats - and I reminded myself that next year, it will be Poet's turn.

I had every intention of sending her to Montessori for four days this year; she loves it there and Daniel and I would benefit from the extra work day. But this week reminded me that it's really not that long till she's in school five days a week - and we'll never get this year of spontaneity back - so I'm changing my plans.

She'll still be at pre-school three days a week and on those days I'll juggle work and Percy so that when she's home, we'll get some special time just the two of us. Even if our plans are simple, stay-at-home ones, she'll be eager to help; she loves a good domestic project, this girl of mine. Of course, there will be mornings at the park, cafe dates and painting sessions, too. And I'm hoping that towards the end of the year, when Percy isn't so needy, that we'll hop on the train to Sydney and have a girl's day in the city.

Do you have a little one in their last year of pre-school?


Monday, February 01, 2016

5 ways to work effectively from home

The school term creates a strict 5-day-a-week routine on the household and it's one I've learned to embrace as a work-from-home mum.

The pace of my early motherhood years was rhythmic; we didn't need to be anywhere at any time so we floated from one activity to the next. At the time it worked wonderfully for us; I was teaching a few yoga classes a week, occasionally blogging and generally just relishing in new motherhood. It was beautiful in theory but not conducive to productivity.

When Che was three I started working from home and productivity was necessary. I may have grieved the loss of spontaneous days when he started school but over the years I've discovered that the 9-3 school day creates a very rigid time frame for me to work. Some may find this rigidity to be stifling but I'm not ashamed to admit that it suits me. In fact, I'm not sure how I would work without it.

My work load has increased significantly over the past year (professionally and domestically) - subsequently I've had to be pretty strict with my time and how I use it. In the process I've accepted that I'm not a Type-A highly organised person. But with realisation comes necessary change and I've discovered a few ways to get the work done without inflicting too much pressure on myself or the family.

Here's how I juggle work and motherhood and manage to make deadline:

- seize free time : regardless of whether it's 10 minutes or one whole, glorious hour, I leave everything else behind and attempt to get some words on the page. In these instances I'm really aware of my mind and my mouse wandering so I literally have to repeat "focus, focus, focus" to ensure I stay on task. Spontaneous work time, just like scheduled work time, requires a very clear goal so I'll choose one task and work on it till it's complete (or till my time is up). It's stolen time used productively....small steps towards completion. 

- done is better than good : Elizabeth Gilbert completely shifted my mindset with her simple yet profound advice in Big Magic. Perfectionism is such an unrealistic goal, especially for creative mothers working from home. Thinking back over the past few years I spent far too much time and energy (and angst!) attempting to create perfection with every story and photo. In retrospect my lofty goals inhibited an efficient work practise. Now I just get the words down or the photo edited and while I care greatly about the flow of the sentences and the colour grade, I prefer (for my own wellbeing and sanity) to just. get. it. done! 

- stay on top of emails and paperwork : the behind-the-scenes of working from home needs to be addressed regularly so you can maintain some semblance of organisation. Knowing the paperwork is done, so to speak, allows you to get on with work with a clear head (I'm really good at ignoring the pile of dishes that sit solemnly beside the sink). I set aside twenty minutes every day to send emails and delete the junk. Every few months I make sure I go through my email subscriptions with a fine tooth comb - newsletters that appear in my inbox but never get opened are just time wasters (for fast deleting go visit Because I work as a freelancer I also need to keep my invoices and receipts in order - I do this once a week.

- start your day productively : a slow start can often mean little progress (speaking from experience). I find that an early morning walk is the best way for me to start my working day. I push the pram with gusto and spend the forty minutes of quiet running through my to-do list, sprouting story ideas and thinking ahead for the week. If I can cross exercise off my list by 7:30am I'm rearing to get everything else done, too. For me, exercise creates mental space - I'm a lot less likely to be wracked by indecision, angst or doubt if I exercise before I create. 

- accept that balance is not always attainable (but juggling is possible) : I schedule specific work time into my week but it's not always enough (the freelance gig is often a drought/flood scenario). When I'm swamped with work I've learned to accept that the house will turn to chaos - there's just no other way around it. It's just not possible for me to stay on top of housework and look after the children and meet all the deadlines. So, messy house = busy work week, relatively clean house = quiet work week. Sometimes I'll type while holding a baby and answering pre-schooler questions, at other times I'll hide in the laundry just to get the urgent editorial done. Just like I schedule work time I also schedule down time. Working from home means the line between work and home is very, very blurry - indecipherable, even. Scheduling downtime is essential to maintaining some distinction between work and play.  


Sunday, January 31, 2016


"A portrait of my youngest children, once a week, every week, in 2016."

Poet: oh, this face. She's grown so much this summer (ISO100, f1.6, 1/1000).

Percy: we don't have a bath so the sink will have to do (ISO400, f2.8, 1/1250).

And a little non-photography related heads-up, one of my favourite stores, Bohemian Traders, (with plenty of breastfeeding-friendly options) is having a huge sale today (40% off already reduced prices!). I featured a few of their styles in these summer posts and I highly recommend this dress to see you right through pregnancy! 


Friday, January 29, 2016

scenes : farewell summer holidays

/ fresh flowers and a cleared table - a rare sight during the holidays.

/ Australian summer in the backyard (sweet linen shorts from Paul & Paula and eco sand toys from Quut).

/ a moment.

/ baby chickens at Mama and Popa's house.

/ she giggles with her whole body.

/ fluffy bums eating all the rocket.


Tea, Orwell style
Heartfelt and heartwarming
the health benefits of knitting
the changes high-school brings
simplifying back to school
fabrik has 40-50% off storewide!


Thursday, January 28, 2016

5 skills you need for a confident birth experience

In the lead up to my baby's first birthday I find myself reflecting on this time last year when I was full bellied and patiently/not-so-patiently waiting. I was equal parts confident and anxious. I cried because I wanted it all to be over. And as I rubbed my belly and felt my baby kicking I cried because it was almost over.

Percy's birth taught me more about humility, patience, grace and gratitude than any other experience of my life. It was a long, complicated birth and yet every step of the way I felt like I knew what to do.

Facing the unknown with a set of skills that supported and comforted me made me feel strong and confident and empowered - even in the face of immense fear. It may have been my third birth but there were many skills that I was using for the very first time; skills I had taught countless yoga students and their partners.

Regardless of the birth you are planning and regardless of the birth that you eventually experience, I urge you to get some skills. Woman to woman, trust me when I say they are important. Essential even! For your birth and ultimately, for motherhood.

1. Learn how to breathe.

You know how to breathe, I get it. But do you know how to breathe when the intensity of a contraction literally takes your breath away? Do you know how to breathe and stay completely still when the anesthetist is preparing the epidural?  Look beyond the esoteric, hippy-la-la birthing circles where you are encouraged to bbbreeeeaaaaaathhhhhheeeeee and instead, recognise that your breath is your life-force for you and your baby. Long, deep breaths help you stay relaxed, connected and centred, regardless of the enormity of the contraction. Long, deep breaths into your belly are good for you and your baby.

How: Place your hands under your belly and feel your baby rise as you inhale and fall as you exhale. Practise every day, for twenty breaths. Over time you'll notice that your breaths get longer and deeper. Try not to control the practise but instead, just watch and listen. You'll notice that there's space between the end of your inhalation and the start of your exhalation. Let there be space, observe the space, relax in the space.

When: breathe long, deep breaths in late pregnancy, to calm your nerves and to ease you in and out of contractions. Use them as resting breaths between contractions during second stage (pushing). And use them when your two-year-old is writhing and screaming on the floor of the supermarket. But, don't use them if you feel the urge to push but for whatever reason (eg: cervical lip, not yet at the hospital) you can't. Instead, lift your chin and breathe short, sharp breaths into the air (this lifts the baby out of your pelvis and relieves the pressure to push).

2. Move your pregnant body - standing, sitting, crouching, squatting, dancing.

Is moving really a skill? It is when there's a head in your pelvis and fluid dripping down your legs. Moving when you're pregnant gets the blood and breath flowing and helps to ease the aches and pains associated with growing a baby. It strengthens your legs so you can endure hours of walking and squatting during labour and it opens your hips in preparation for baby's journey. But most importantly, it helps you to know where you feel most comfortable - it's those positions that you'll naturally gravitate towards in labour.

How: Get off the couch and onto the floor, leaning forward so your baby's back falls towards your belly (this encourages baby to get into the ideal anterior birth position). Get on your hands and knees, rotate your pelvis and swing your hips from side to side. Dance with your legs wide and your knees bent. Rotate your shoulders and shake out any tension.

When: start moving as soon as you feel well enough but makes sure you don't create too much heat in the body, particularly in the first trimester. In late pregnancy when all you want to do is flop on the couch know that rest is good but so too is movement - it keeps the energy flowing which ultimately helps to kick start labour. When you get to the hospital treat your birthing suite as your own, private space. Move, dance, squat, sway, rock and if you do want to lie down, lie on your side to keep the pressure off your lower back.

3. Get comfortable with sound - oooooh, aaaaaah, oooooom

You may be thinking that the screams that escape from the labour ward are necessary but let it be known that they are, in no way, constructive. Keep your sound low and you'll keep your energy low - exactly where it needs to be. I'm convinced that sound is the key to releasing stress, anxiety, fear and tension in labour - it's the ultimate, natural pain relief. Did you know that there is a neuro-muscular connection between your jaw and your pelvic floor, your throat and your birth canal? So what does that mean? Well, if your throat, jaw and mouth is tight and tense so too will your birth canal and pelvic floor be tight and tense. The key to releasing and relaxing? Soft lips, relaxed jaw and low sounds. The vibration helps to soothe the nervous system and sends lovely, calming motion down to your baby.

How: Once you've practised 20 rounds of deep, belly breathing (see 1.) you can start to make sound on the exhalation. Start with light ahhhhh sounds and slowly progress to deeper ooooohhhhh and oooooooommmmmm.

When: The sound you instinctively make in labour says a lot about what stage you're at - the deeper the sound, the closer birth is. In early labour you may feel the need to exhale with a sigh or an ahhhh. As labour progresses you'll graduate to deeper more guttural noises until your roaring like a lioness, proudly so.

4. Discover your intuition and listen, listen.

A mother's intuition is all-powerful and listening to it is vital during pregnancy, birth and motherhood. The best way to discover it is to simply be aware of your body. When you are aware of your body and what it can do, it's much easier to trust it and to have faith in its ability. Spend time sitting in stillness and you'll start to know your mind, too. And when they connect? Powerful intuition.

How: In my opinion, yoga is the best way to develop awareness of the body, breath and mind. Pre-natal yoga is a nurturing, informative and inspiring practise during pregnancy and while you will be encouraged to move you'll also learn to listen and observe through simple meditation practise.

When: If something doesn't seem right, speak up. When all feels good, it usually is. Be guided by your intuition, don't be afraid of it.

5. Create and maintain a grounded, positive, focussed mindset.

The mindwork you do during pregnancy can promote a positive birth experience - regardless of how or where you birth. Likewise, the thoughts that circle your mind in labour can be pretty powerful when it comes to how your labour progresses.

How: think positive affirmations and good intentions. Just like it takes time to learn to breathe into the belly, it takes time and practise to establish a positive, focussed mindset, particularly when faced with a situation that induces fear and doubt. Firstly, choose an affirmation or birth intention. It may be: "I will carry to full term and confidently birth my healthy baby," "I am growing my baby in happiness, I will birth my baby in happiness," or "I can and I will, I can and I will." Place it in the back of your mind, write it down, draw it, and mentally repeat it to yourself every single day, like a mantra or a prayer.

When: As soon as you notice fear, doubt or anxiety creeping into your headspace, come back to your mantra and repeat it till you feel comforted and confident, again. Language is incredibly powerful in the birthing space so arm your birth support team with words that resonate with you. Words like: surrender, breathe, believe, faith, power, open, light, deep, soft, flow, love." Phrases such as: You CAN and you ARE doing it" can be incredibly powerful when a labouring woman starts to give up.


Wednesday, January 27, 2016

simple food : the best birthday sponge cake

You know it's a relaxed and enjoyable birthday celebration when you're searching for birthday paraphernalia at the bottom of the drawer and you happily uncover a few burnt-before candles of the champagne bottle variety. Mismatched candles aside, this cake is my absolute favourite and it never, ever disappoints.

Somehow I've become the official birthday cake baker in the family. I never aspired to such a role but here I am, sifting flour and whipping cream. Given the choice I'll always bake a classic carrot cake with cream cheese icing but for something a bit sweeter, I make Sipi's Strawberry Cake - found years ago in the delightful book that is Falling Cloudberries. And if you have a penchant for heartfelt cookbooks designed with colour and quirk, I've just discovered that its predecessor, Apples for Jam, is only $8.95!

Back to the cake. 

There's nothing quite as comforting as a jam and cream sponge but getting the sponge just right can be tricky. Turns out that fluffiness is based on the quality of your egg whites - they need to be whipped into voluminous peaks and then folded, not stirred, into the buttery batter. 

I'll be making two of these beauties for Percy's 1st birthday in early March. If you fancy making one too, I highly recommend! It's best eaten on the day that it's made but it will keep for one day in the fridge.

Sipi's Strawberry Cake

220g (1 3/4 cups) plain flour
180g (3/4 cup) sugar
3 tsp baking powder
180g butter, melted
185ml (3/4 cup) warm milk
4 eggs, separated
1 tsp vanilla extract
800g strawberries
4 tbsp strawberry jam (my addition because you can't have sponge without jam)
1 tsp lemon juice
3tbsp icing sugar
750ml (3 cups) double cream

1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C
2.Grease and flour a 22cm springform tin or a bundt pan.
3. Put the flour and sugar in a bowl with 1 tsp of the baking powder.
4. Mix in the butter and then stir in the milk.
5. Add the egg yolks and vanilla and beat in well.
6. Whisk the egg whites to soft peaks, incorporating the rest of the baking powder when the eggs have started fluffing up.
7. Fold the whites into the cake mixture.
8. Pour the batter into the cake tin and bake for about 1 hour or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean and the top is deep golden and crisp.
9. Remove from the oven and leave to cool a bit before turning out onto a rack. When cool, slice the cake in half horizontally and put the bottom half on a large serving plate.
10. Clean and hull the strawberries.
11. Dice about half the strawberries and sprinkle with a little lemon juice and 1 tblespn of the icing sugar
12. Whip the cream into stiff peaks with the remaining icing sugar.
13. Spread jam over the bottom of the cake and then mix the diced strawberries with about a third of the whipped cream and spoon over the jam.
14. Put the other half of the cake on top and thickly spoon the remaining cream over the top and sides, then decorate with the rest of the strawberries


Monday, January 25, 2016

when the baby becomes a toddler

He wakes me every morning in precisely the same way; his belly on my face as he reaches for the glass of water or book or earrings that sit on my bedside table. I promptly lift him off me and he screeches on cue and then I flump back onto the pillow and wallow in the early morning-ness of it all.

The baby became the toddler far too soon.

He's walking from chair to table and back to chair and grabbing things that were out-of-reach not that long ago. Just this past weekend he started climbing, too. He's making his way to the top of the armchair, his little stick figure legs tentatively perched as he leans against the window and leaves kiss marks on the glass, completely oblivious to the fact that he is mere centimetres from falling.

There's not time to dwell on the significant changes that have occurred over the past few weeks because I'm chasing him out of the bathroom and lifting him off the chair and making yet another plate of food for him to smoosh and chew and throw onto the floor. But I am acutely aware of the fact that Percy's babyhood is dwindling. Surely not? But yes, really. He's grown the quickest of the three; he needs to stay up to speed so those little legs of his are wasting no time. The once whimpering, scared newborn that was placed on my chest looking feeble and helpless is now fiercely independent and all too quick to leave my sight.

I naively presumed that toddlerhood was a good year away. Instead I find myself in that tricky in-between; wishing for a little more baby time while he fearlessly launches into babbling, toddling, falling, bumping, giggling phase.

He cut his first tooth today, he calls "mummummummum" when he wants me near and he shakes his head and wiggles his nappy bum when we play music.

In six weeks time he will be one. That was the fastest year of my life.


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