Gender + Motherhood

I discovered something last night: audiobooks. The only time I’ve really heard about audiobooks until recently has been my Gran telling me which murder mystery book she has been listening to on tape from the library. The thought of it always made me sneer a bit… I didn’t feel like it was *real* reading. But good on her, because she can knit while she listens and that seems like a better use of time than watching TV – WAIT, hold up – doing craft + reading at the same time?

Sometimes I wonder if I’m just a little bit thick.

Suddenly I’m seeing audiobooks being plugged everywhere: on my favourite youtube channels, on instagram, on advertisements. Every hipster I know is listening to an audiobook. Is this the new podcast? I looked into it, and the only reputable looking audiobook app seemed to want to charge $14.95 per month PLUS the cost of books… this seems a little steep to me, particularly when you don’t get a hard copy book to shelve lovingly in your bookcase; it’s just an audio file. I gave up and decided to go back to netflix and podcasts (of which I have a number now I totally love… perhaps a discussion for another post).

It was late last night, I was getting into bed to work on a hat and suddenly I was thinking about audiobooks again. Wouldn’t it be great if I could crochet and listen to a good book at the same time? I had a sudden revelation: I can borrow audiobooks from my library, for free. A few fast taps of the thumb later and I had an app which is linked to my local library, and was listening to this.

I listened to the whole essay last night, which finally brings me to the topic of this post, gender and motherhood.

Before I had kids, I didn’t believe that girls and boys were different in any way. I thought any differences in behaviour or attitude were purely due to parental influence.

A few years into motherhood, and having seen my friends raising boys, or boy and girl combinations while I’m raising girls only, I have changed tack a bit. I realise fully that boys and girls are very different. However, I still believe that stereotyping is alive and well, even in those of us who have the very best intentions not to change the way we parent based on the gender of our children. I am beginning to think of it as invisible stereotyping. That is, invisible to the perpetrator, perhaps not so much to the outside eye. Gender stereotyping is so ingrained within us that, without careful reflection, it is carried out with little notice.

I was at the house of a very dear friend yesterday who has three boys, around the same age as my three girls. We have been friends for a long time, well before we had children. We have always laughed at how different the boys are to the girls and vice versa. But then there’s this extra layer, the invisible stereotyping layer, that I have been noticing more and more.

The example that comes to mind is this. We’re at the coffee shop with our kids. A rubbish truck drives past. My friend looks at her boys, who are staring at the truck and says, “Look! It’s a big rubbish truck!” The boys get excited and watch the truck driving off down the street, maybe saying something like “Truck! Truck!” Later that day, my friend, seeing the boys’ interest in the truck, takes them down to the fire station to look at more trucks. She buys them a t-shirt each with a truck on the front. Their enthusiasm builds, and at home they all draw pictures of trucks. In addition, at their birthdays, they are given a variety of toy trucks as gifts (including one from me…).

Rewind, back at the coffee shop, I’m on the other side of the table. The rubbish truck drives past. I look at my girls, who have also turned to look at the truck. I might say, “Oh yes, look, a truck!” The girls watch the truck driving off down the street and say, “Truck! Truck!” Later that day, I take them home, set them up at the table and get out a stamp collection that someone has given us as a gift. It’s a fairy set, they absolutely love it. We draw pictures of the fairies in their houses and talk about what fairies might eat for dinner. It doesn’t occur to me to foster their interest in the truck in any way.

This is just a small observation, and as much as I hate to admit it, variations of this example have happened numerous times over the years. My friend told me yesterday that she had taken the boys down to a busy corner to watch some trucks drive past. I had also been walking through a carpark with the little yesterday and she had pointed at a big truck saying “Tain, tain!” I said, “Actually, that’s a truck!” and kept walking. I didn’t mention the truck again.

What does this say about us? My friend and I are both well educated, modern women (we like to think). Neither of us are particularly girly, or boyish. We’re both into human rights, and believe women to be strong and independent. But even if we don’t want to admit it, we are raising our children in different ways, and those differences are largely based on their gender. Neither of us are right or wrong and I’m not illustrating this to make a judgement in any way, merely to voice my observations.

Being one of four girls, having three daughters of my own and a niece, having gone to a girls school, I have grown up in a world of girls and women. I don’t know a whole lot about boys. I also personally have zero interest in trucks, which of course are used in this post simply as an example of something that is typically viewed as masculine as opposed to feminine. How can I make sure I am allowing my girls to express themselves freely, in a world where even I am shaping their perceptions and ideas towards a version of an outdated stereotype?

I tell them monthly, weekly, daily: they can do and be whatever they want. But do their toys, their clothes, their school uniform, my guided topics of conversation and interests – do they express the same message?

These are questions I don’t know the answer to. But it feels good to have a conversation about it, I think. I’m inclined to agree with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, we should all be feminists. What are your thoughts?

Charging for Handmade Items

I’m writing this on the cusp of my own dilemmas on this very topic. I’ve been chatting lately with other friends who make and sell handmade things, about how we come to pick the price we are happy to make and sell for. You’d think it would be relatively straightforward, but I think for many creative people this is a real clincher – especially when you are not making and selling purely as a hobby, but the money you make actually helps to feed your family!

Last night I was sent a message on instagram asking for a custom order item I don’t make very often. I was caught between these two thoughts, one: feeling super excited that someone wanted to order something from me, so I had better not charge too much otherwise I might miss out on a sale, and two: gently reminding myself of the cost of materials, along with time to make the item. How would I decide what to quote? What if it was too much?

When I am pricing an item, there are a number of things to consider. While I know I’ll never get paid an award hourly rate, I do need to be paid enough for it to be worth my time and energy. As much as I absolutely love creating and making things, I don’t have the time or inclination to do it for free. If that were the case, I have plenty of children and family members I could make for to satisfy my urges. What I am paid needs to compensate for the time away from my family and the cost of the materials, in a way that I am comfortable with and don’t end up with a deficit.

I think sometimes the fear of missing a sale or the fear that our handmade items aren’t worth it, or won’t be valued, can easily fall into the trap of undercharging. The problem with this is it is rarely sustainable and sooner or later leads to burn out. I used to fall into this trap often by undercharging, finding myself up at all hours of the night, neglecting my other responsibilities stitching or crafting away at something begrudgingly. The joy was suddenly sapped out of what was usually an enjoyable process for me. There were even times when I ended up losing money in the beginning as much as I am embarrassed to admit it.

People who don’t know or care much about what it takes to make a handmade item, will never value the price of a handmade item. If they want something cheap and made in a hurry, they can go to any big chain store. In saying that, though, it often surprises me that people are willing to throw $40 at a stock standard, made overseas hat from a big name brand at a shopping centre, but will scoff at the idea of paying that for an individual, high quality, locally made hat. This makes absolutely no sense to me.

Here are just a couple of links that can help you to  both understand the value of handmade items, along with some guides to charging for your handmade items.

:: The True Cost – a documentary about the exploitation of both people and the environment in the fashion industry. A must watch if you want to know where your clothes really come from, and what you are personally supporting with every dollar you spend.

:: Tips for pricing your handmade goods – an article by Ashely Martineau

:: A simple formula for pricing your work – by Danielle Maveal on the etsy website

There are so many other things you could research to find out more on this topic – the benefits of a local and capsule wardrobe, the benefits of wearing organic clothing, the benefits of supporting local businesses — all of these things will help you to either price your own items or understand why handmade and locally created items and crafts should be celebrated.

I’d love to hear your feedback and thoughts in the comments.

Immersion in the Present

Time is passing. There is only now and now and now. With young children it can be easy to daydream through the motions: the feeding, the dressing, the herding. I’ve been reading Buddhism for Mothers of Schoolchildren and have been reminded yet again of “and this.” I find myself quoting as I pack the school lunches, as I wipe the daily grit from our old table, as I fold (or not fold) the washing, as I pull a tearful little face to my chest after a fall: And this. And this. And this. There is only ever this. At first I wondered if it only served to remind me of the monotony and take me, unwillingly, away from my airy thoughts, but with practice I have seen it bring me back into the moment, to ground me.

Over Winter I have been immersed in thought, in yoga study, in reading, in thinking. Perhaps this is nothing new (for me) but with the addition of yoga I have felt growth within myself that has surpassed all other things.

As I type, the littlest wanders over with a shell. I hold it to her ear. “Listen,” I say, “can you hear the sea?”

And this.

I sip my coffee.

And this.

Over the weekend we went to Apollo Bay and I attended a whole day workshop with Melbourne writer, Arnold Zable. The parallels between yoga and writing were illuminated as I listened to his words: “To be a writer, you have to be here, you have to be mindful, grounded. You have to witness.” Because if you aren’t there to witness something, to witness it deeply and fully, then to capture that moment in words later is going to leave you unreliable; the moment dulled through the fog of your inattention.

So go out and allow yourself to see. Notice the way the morning light hits the edges of a plant in your window. See the wisp of hair on your child’s forehead and know its habit to swing this way, or that. Feel the crackle of eucalyptus leaves beneath your feet, the solidity of your legs, your body moving through air – feel it as though you are moving through water, or soup. Step outside in the fading light and smell your neighbour’s open fire, smell the chill of the evening, the dampness of the soil.

And lastly, this: Xavier Rudd singing out from my computer speakers: Cherish this moment. Cherish this breath.

Bringing in the Weekend

It is a sunny winters day today. The girls are on the couch watching Play School in their pyjamas and I’m gearing up to clean their bedrooms. The smallest is sitting next to me doing some drawing and intermittently yelling at me if I don’t take a texta lid off fast enough. I’m finishing my luke warm coffee and knowing my time sitting is coming to an end.

Today we’re doing some tidying, meal planning, and a few other bits and pieces before heading to our local Winter Solstice later this afternoon. Things have been incredibly busy lately with both KB and I writing reports or marking for school/uni and we’ve barely had time to take a breath. I’m not someone who thrives on busy-ness, I much prefer white space in life and do almost anything I can to preserve it. Lately that has been impossible, contradicting almost everything I’m learning at Yoga Teacher Training! But it has provided me with a different platform to practice my learnings, and I suppose a window into what normal life would be like for many of my future students, who may or may not have an awareness of the importance of creating space in life, let alone the tools to do it.

So I have a toddler on my lap now, precariously lashing out at my keyboard, which means this post is coming to an early end. I’m off to tidy, potter and think about how I can carve out some time (because to carve out time is sometimes necessary when finding time is difficult) in these remaining short days to think about how to move forward as our days begin to stretch out and lengthen once again.

What are you letting go of this Winter Solstice? What are you moving towards?

Tomorrow, We Will Begin Again

I spent the day at Yoga Teacher Training today. We practised Surya Namaskar, Sun Salutations, and spent the afternoon learning about Ayurveda, laughing about our doshas and the funny intricacies each of us shared with various imbalances (not so funny, but funny enough in the context of our discussion). We talked about how to live balanced lifestyles based on the calm, grounding philosophies of Ayurveda and her sister Yoga. I drove home looking out towards the sun setting in the sky, behind giant white cotton wool clouds feeling motivated and driven and buoyant. I visualised a fairy stone meditation I was eager to try out with my daughters this evening, followed by dimming the lights at sundown and ending the day with a hot bath and deep breathing. Screens off not long after, early bed, rest. I imagined myself deeply asleep by 10pm after this magical evening of peace and calm.

I arrived home and jumped up the front steps. Opening the door I was met with the most incredible display of tears, tantrums, anger, yelling. An abundance of yelling, from all three girls at once. Yelling and fighting and poking and provoking as only children who have been seemingly abandoned for the day by their mother can. Or is it just my children, when I dare to leave for a few hours? There was this brief moment in time where I was absolutely raging internally, wondering how to put out this fire of frustration. Didn’t they know what I wanted for them? How they would benefit? I watched as my thoughts of a peaceful and mindful evening slipped further and further out of sight. I gave the girls a bath (more tears), then hid in my room for a moment to stare mournfully out the window, breathing and waiting, breathing and waiting. Perched on the edge of the bed, fighting off tears at the thought that to be a yogi and to live a calm, grounded life you most definitely have to be single, childless and, quite possibly, residing in a cave somewhere far away from civilisation. I scorned myself for being so naïve (and my thoughts, so anti-yoga).

Then. I pulled myself together. We got the children to bed. I put toys away, picked up discarded socks, pants and undies from the floor. I put shoes away, wiped down the dinner table. Picked squashed peas from the bottom of my socks. Walked slowly. Around the peas. Ate. Reminded myself that each moment is a valid opportunity in which I can bring in the philosophies I am learning. That I am… learning (always).

And that tomorrow, we will all begin again.

Births, Deaths, and Other Synchronicities

One year ago, my Grandpa died on my birthday. After much deliberation over how to spend the day this year, Mum brought the family together at her property in South Gippsland. On the day of my birthday, Saturday, we had a birth/death gathering of sorts with a long lunch, wine and sweets. It sounds strange and in some ways morbid to see it written down like that, but for me, it was the most perfect, quiet and thoughtful way to spend the day.

At 3.30pm, the moment I was being born into the world 35 years ago, and the moment we held Gramps as he left us one year ago, we all wandered up to the top of the hill and looked out across the expanse before us: hills, sun, cows, trees, sky.

After Gramps died, I wanted to get something to hang on my wall to remind me of him. I hunted around for months through the depths of the internet, hunting for a big photo of the ocean, or the Prom, or the outdoors; a photo that symbolised something we both loved together which was the big wild world. I kept going back to a photo of a Great Egret that I stumbled across on instagram. After literally months of going to the website to look at this picture and finding out that Robert was a Gippsland based photographer, I emailed him. I was hoping the photo was taken somewhere in Gippsland, as Gramps lived on Phillip Island and we spent a lot of time together down there along the coast. I asked Robert where the photo was taken and instead of simply telling me the location, he wrote, I took the photo at Anderson’s Inlet, Inverloch, in South Gippsland. It was a peaceful late afternoon on a low tide, 19th May 2016. 

I couldn’t quite believe that after looking at what seemed liked thousands of coastal pictures, the one I had chosen was taken the evening before my birthday, the very evening before Gramps died, at a place we visited often together. The last time we were there we sat by the sea with the girls and ate fish and chips. I wrote back a rather emotive email, and ordered a large copy of the print.

Last week I was looking for an envelope for Bird’s lunch order. I was rifling through papers and in amongst a box of life-admin debris I found a water-colour birthday card painted by Gramps, pictured above,  which he had posted to me in 2004 when I was living in London. I stuck it on the wall in my bedroom after receiving it in the mail. On the back you can see old brown outlines of the sticky tape I used, around big letters which say: “LOL Gramps.” By LOL he always meant “lots of love”, however I can’t help but see the funny side of it in this context… rediscovering it the week before my birthday the year after he died.

We came home on Sunday and I did all my usual things: pottering, cooking, preparing for the week. I find myself wondering about death, about how life is possible and how someone can simply be gone, while others are still here. I overheard the girls talking the other day, the conversation went a little bit like this: I wouldn’t like to die, would you? / No way. Can we just stop talking about it? It is really a disgusting thing. / Yeah, it is disgusting. / Yeah, disgusting. I have been carrying around a sad sort of melancholy these past few days, but it has felt kind of warm and necessary. I’m moving forward into this next chapter attempting as light an attitude as I can muster, as he would have wanted. For, no matter my attempts, I will always be someone who thinks a lot. I’m convinced it isn’t always a bad thing.

Meal Prepping


Our weekly organic veg box arrived earlier this week. I haven’t been meal planning lately and have been wasting a lot of food as a result. It makes me cringe each and every time I find some godawful thing at the back of the fridge that was a vegetable in a previous life. We updated our budget recently and I am on a mission not to waste anything (not just for the sake of the budget, but also because it is just plain terrible to waste food!). I’ve also gone through my (makeshift) pantry (I don’t have a real one…) and have discovered all sorts of things like quinoa, dried chickpeas and adzuki beans, falafel mix, dried shitake mushrooms, among other bits and pieces.

When I’m on a mission (and have the time) there are a few key things I like to do when our veg box arrives to get things sorted and minimise waste. So the other night, when most of my brain was voting for me to go to bed with my laptop to watch Outlander, I:

:: chopped up a giant bunch of silverbeet and another giant bunch of spinach and washed it all thoroughly in a sink full of cold water. I blanched it until bright green then froze in portion-sized batches to use in soups, curries, stir-fries; as you would use any other frozen vegetable.

:: popped a fresh bunch of coriander in a jar of water in my fridge.

:: chopped up an abundance of sweet potatoes and potatoes into little bite size pieces and roasted them with a few dregs of mixed spices (rosemary, oregano, thyme) plus a squeeze of fresh lemon (finally got through them all!) and some salt and pepper. I divvied them up into a container for my lunch at work, a container in the fridge for snacking on or eating with lunches, and also threw some on top of our bowls of spaghetti. I’ve still got a lot more, I will roast some whole to eat with salad and kim chi for lunch, and make some into a mash to have with… something…

:: cleaned out the crisper and neatly arranged all the other produce in a way that was visually pleasing. Ok, so I just wiped it out and then plonked the new veggies in… but that didn’t sound as good.

Yesterday I pushed on and made another orange blossom cake (we have so many oranges suddenly!) for afternoon teas this week… unfortunately, as it is cooked with almond meal, I can’t send it to school or kinder due to nut policies. OH, and as a precursor to this I made my own almond/flaxseed meal, making sure to add a little extra in order to have some leftover to sprinkle on morning oats. It is always best to prepare this fresh yourself, if possible, as it goes rancid very quickly.

I also cooked up some of the dried adzuki beans I’d found in my cupboard. I set aside some for the vegetarian pasta sauce Bird and I ate for dinner last night (meat sauce for the other three), I froze some in batches, and lastly made an adzuki bean hommus which I personally thought was italics worthy delicious. Unfortunately, the girls italics hated it, the baby even went so far as to burst into tears after I spooned a taste lovingly into her mouth. Bird turned to me and said, “What we’re trying to say is, it’s a bit strong tasting.” Enough said, I will, without complaint, proceed to eat the entire batch on my own… with corn chips, preferably.

Last but not least I used all the stalks and roots of the spinach and other leftover veggies from last week to make a vegetable stock paste. Hashtag, no waste!

I have to say, I’m super impressed with my efforts. It does take time and energy to eat wholefoods and prepare things from scratch. I don’t always have the time, or the inclination. But when I get on a roll, it is very satisfying. I find the most important things to do are to get the big leafy greens into some form that makes it easier for me to grab and eat, as these tend to be the veggies I pretend to ignore when I open my fridge (so much effort, not my favourite to eat, but so so good for our bodies). Blanching and freezing works best for us. I also find herbs keep longer if you pop them in a jar of water. Other than that, chopping and having things ready to use helps as well. I’m sure you all have many tricks of your own, feel free to share in the comments, I’m always interested to hear how others manage their food.

Some Food

I was back on my feet yesterday after being unwell… lucky, as I had a full day intensive for Yoga Teacher Training. Lucky, again, as it finished early at 3.30pm giving me time to come home and spend some time in the garden with my family (and to pick the limes pictured above from our tree). After such a hectic few weeks I was longing for my girls and KB in between various pranayama and philosophical (mind blowing) talk!

I took the time to go for a walk during yoga lunch break and feel the ground under my feet. I’m learning more and more the simple value of this.

Once I was home though, I hit the kitchen and started getting prepared for the week. In the girls’ lunches this week they have these (with oats instead of cashews) and these (with tahini instead of peanut butter) and sneaky veg muffins, a recipe from Meagan back in her old blogging days which I can no longer find online. I keep meaning to ask her if I can share the recipe here, as it is a much loved one in our house.

To add to that I throw in some veg sticks, hommus, and usually a sandwich. Today I sent the Pixie to kinder with some rice and tuna warmed up in a thermos and surprisingly she ate the lot, so over the colder months I will aim to use up some leftovers instead of sandwiches every day which I don’t tend to like giving them so much.

I also made some granola as I’m so damn sick of porridge in the mornings! I have it with a spoonful of porridge, coconut yoghurt, frozen berries and a dash of maple syrup. Don’t mind if I do.

Mothering When Unwell

I stood outside on my back deck at dusk yesterday, looking out towards a darkening sky. The air was still and the leaves hung from the baby gum next to my deck, all languid and lazy like. The air held the crisp tones of Autumn. It’s finally here.

And so, too, is an unexpected illness that has seen me in bed by 6pm the last two evenings, and using what little energy I have in small bouts: to get up and wash some dishes, then sit down again; to make a hungry child a snack, then sit down again; to put a load of washing on, then sit down again. To count down the hours until KB gets home to take over.

I remember the days when I would get ill pre-kids. I’d take the day off work, go to the video shop (those were the days!), hire a bunch of movies then set myself up on the couch for the day. Getting sick when you have small children changes that scenario somewhat.

Now, when I’m sick at home with the kids, there are a few key things I do to make my day easier:

// tidy my surrounding area: I remember when I was sick as a child my Mum would change my sheets and tuck me into bed, then she’d get to work tidying my room, opening the curtains, picking things up off the floor and putting my clothes away. I’d lay in bed and feel like everything was being taken care of. I’m a grown up now (wah!) but I follow the same rules. There’s nothing worse than sitting around sick and miserable in a messy space, so I drag myself around picking things up, putting things away (even if it is just into a washing basket to be dealt with later), and doing a general tidy before tucking myself up on the couch or, if I’m lucky, into bed.

// give myself permission to use the television or ipad: we don’t watch a whole heap of tv these days, but when I’m unwell I use it without qualms. We watch movies in bed, or from the couch and I just lay there and try to rest and spend as much as I can horizontal.

// hydrate: when I’m not feeling well, you’ll rarely find me without my drink bottle and a (hopefully) hot cup of herbal tea by my side. It’s something easy to do even if you’re busy and still having to keep moving. I take a keep cup with me filled with herbal tea if I have to go out.

// cancel everything humanely possible: swimming lessons, play dates, appointments, you name it, I cancel it. As a parent it is near impossible to get time to rest, so what little time I do have doesn’t need to be taken up running around unnecessarily. Someone made a comment the other day about how good I am about paring back when the going gets tough and when I reflected on it I realised that, yes! I am in fact a no-guilt canceller. I do this not just when I’m ill, but when things get too much and overwhelm anxiety is rising… I’m outta there.

// have a bath with the kids: sometimes this takes more energy that it’s worth, but if the kids are ratty and I’m really struggling, I put us – or even just them – in the bath. I don’t know about your kids, but mine relax in the bath and could stay in there for hours with minimal fighting and carry on, so it’s a good place to plop them when I’m unwell. I can either get in with them or just sit on the edge and take a few moments to breathe.

// take time out to move and breathe (even if I don’t feel like it) : studying Yoga is opening my mind to all the things we can do to help ourselves when ill. There are so many breathing techniques and gentle movements that stimulate different areas of our bodies and minds. Things like nadi shodhana breathing for overwhelm, or even just some gentle twists can help.

Remembering even a few of these things helps me feel less helpless and “poor me” when I’m sick. What do you do when you’re home alone with the kids feeling like rubbish?

A Slow Start

It’s Wednesday yet it feels distinctly like a Monday. With school holidays, three weeks off work due to the uni break, Easter, an operation, three trips in and out of Melbourne (for fun) and a seasonal change to boot, the last month has seemed like a circus. A mainly good and fun and happy circus, but a circus nonetheless.

Bird went to school for one day after Easter before having grommets in and adenoids out last week. A big week but overall, a success. That afternoon as we sat in recovery she looked at me and said, “Mum, everything is so loud!” After five years of hearing and congestion difficulties, I breathed a sigh of relief. For all the anxiety that had come in making that decision, will we, won’t we, will we, won’t we; in that moment, it was worth it.

She went back to school today and I’m back to teaching tomorrow and kinder is back and KB is at work and, as such, our life will start to resemble normality once again. No more late nights, dinner when we feel like it, pyjama days or nicking off to the country… at least, not during the week for the time being. Weekends are another story.

Last night I lay in bed as the night folded around us. I heard the flow of gentle breath coming in waves from all except me. My breath was full and awake at the midnight hour, though in the daylight, I long for sleep.

And such is motherhood, flowing from one moment to the next, the uncertainty coming in ebbs and flows, the solidity of our day to day routines seemingly fluid yet always constant and neverending.

Today, we took things slowly on our first morning back. We hung around at school chatting to parents, and worked our way back home to a hot cup of coffee, babycinos and a moment around the table cutting out pictures of dragons and making people out of toilet rolls with sticky taped wool for hair. We are heading off to swimming lessons now.

Even though the routine is back and a rhythm will once again be in place, I welcome it. Sometimes it’s nice to have something to rely on.

(Oh, and I baked a cake… this simple, delicious, refined sugar and dairy free orange blossom cake.)

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