#itsinthebag: better late than never

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I recently read this post on the lovely Jodi Wilson’s blog about the #itsinthebag initiative. I was looking for a worthy cause to prepare something for this Christmas, and this fits the bill. I prefer not to donate money at this time of year, only because it’s hard for the girls to understand how they are helping. Something tangible that they can see and help prepare teaches them a lesson that an online click of funds from here to there cannot. I am also especially passionate about initiatives for women and girls; being one of four sisters and having three daughters of my own (and a niece!) it is an issue very close to my heart. Of course there is always a place for monetary donations, and we do donate what we can to our selected causes during the year.

#itsinthebag is an initiative which traditionally cares for women in need, who are often forgotten. A handbag is filled with items of use and a note to show that someone cares. This year, they are also including bags for teenage girls aged between 14 and 18. Please differentiate your bag for teens with a yellow ribbon tied around the handles.

I read about this on Friday night, so when doing our food shop on Saturday we threw some extra items in the trolley: a hairbrush, some gel pens, tissues, sanitary items, hair ties and a few other fun things. I whipped up a tote bag and Bird, the Pixie and I will write a card tonight. We will post it all tomorrow.

Unfortunately collection points have closed for this year (as you know I am quite unprepared for the big day this year) so if you do want to take part, you will have to post your bag. Details are on the website.

Please see this post on Jodi’s website and the official website for more details.

 

Running the Xmas Gauntlet

Processed with VSCO with a7 presetIt’s the 11th of December and, up until Friday night, I had done absolutely nothing (zip, zilch) to prepare for Christmas. Friday night I went to bed at 7.30pm with a cup of herbal tea, a piece of dark chocolate and my laptop, and finally ordered some Christmas presents. For children, my first stop for gifts is always here. For the girls I like to stick to the little poem: something I want, something I need, something to wear, something to read. It helps to keep things simple and, for me, takes away some of the overwhelm and decision making.

I like to make most of our gifts for extended family and my niece (and this year, my new nephew!) and (if you’re family, stop reading here!) this year I’m trying my hand at these for adults and my usual combo of these and these and perhaps these for kids. Our family have really downsized our present regime over the past few years and now just give small token gifts to show our love and appreciation. My only issue with the adult pressie that I want to make is that I can’t find pine resin here in Australia, and I also don’t know if it is sustainable even if I were to find it… if anyone knows what I’m talking about and has any tips, please email me or comment below! I’m planning on making a little gift set of perhaps two or three for each couple/adult in the fam, just as a token, and because I’m sick of my usual gift of granola!

Yesterday we finally got a tree so I’m feeling like we are back on track. I also sewed a pair of shorts, finished a geranium dress for a friend and tidied my sewing stuff. I just have a few more birdie said orders to get through before I can close up shop for Christmas.

Christmas can be such an overwhelming time. I have friends who feel so much pressure to make things and be all homemade and festive, but they work outside the home and have children and the juggle is stressful. I have friends who spend a lot of money on gifts and give to a lot of people. We all have our own challenges and stressors this time of year. For me, it has been a slowly evolving thing: building traditions within my own family unit, figuring out what works best for us, what we can afford, what we enjoy, what we are and aren’t prepared to do. Figuring out what Christmas means to us, as a non-religious, anti-consumerist family. What is left for us here if we don’t believe in God (in the Christian sense) and we are worried by consumerism!?

For us, it’s simple: family. Time to share and enjoy each other. Time to celebrate giving small and meaningful gifts, and teaching our children about people who are less fortunate than us. A girlfriend of mine has been such a role model for me in this area. Every year she gets her children to choose and wrap and deliver a present to someone in need (whether it is for a shopping centre Christmas tree or other charity). She’s done it with her children well before they would have understood what they were doing, and now it’s so ingrained in them it is something they naturally think about and have empathy for.

I’m not always good at keeping things simple, or sticking to what (I think) we believe in at this time of year. I get stressed and run from here to there. I get caught up with the Jones’s. I do! But I try to patiently bring myself back to my own values and ideals. I guess this happens a lot in life generally, not just at Christmas.

I have more to say on this topic but this will do for today. I’m sitting in our front yard in the shade of the trees while the girls play with dirt and cockatoo feathers. I’m needed to assist with a cup of gum leaf tea so I had better get back to it. I hope all your Christmas plans are going well, if you choose to celebrate it!

re-evaluating

 

It’s nearly the new year, it’s the come down after Christmas, and for me that always involves a lot of thinking. Some who know me would argue that my entire life is burdened with (over) thinking… yes I suppose it’s true, but at this time of year particularly so. (Many apologies to those around me during this time.)

My intense thinking period usually begins around November when I’m deciding what to make for Christmas gifts. That gets me thinking about how I can teach the girls to care and understand the plight of other people (not just think about what presents they are going to get), how we can avoid the onslaught and pressure to buy everything at this time of year, why we celebrate Christmas (given we are not religious), what we value and then of course how to support those values in our everyday lives which therefore equals what we want to align ourselves more closely with and how we should try to live in the following year to achieve that. With me so far?

KB and I both give ourselves a small fortnightly allowance to spend on things like coffee and books and individual pursuits (mainly so we don’t argue about who has spent more on takeaway coffee: sideways glare) and for a long time I have been looking for a cause or an issue close to my heart to donate to. In the end I chose an organisation that supports women and girls, with a focus on birth control and sexual protection and education, as having three little women of my own it’s an issue I understand and strongly support.

While exploring and flipping this way and that in my mind, I realised that no matter what the cause, the issue or the side of the fence I sit on, there’s always going to be evidence to support my point of view, as well as the opposing. I could sit around for years thinking “will I or won’t I?” but there comes a time when I need to stop reading books and articles and watching TED talks (guilty!) and just decide one way or another where I stand in that moment. Sometimes it won’t be the “right” side of the fence and I may go through a period of discovery. Sometimes thoughts on an issue might change. But if a decision isn’t made at some point the danger is that I will just continue passively reading and observing and sitting on the fence and thinking things like “Oh, that’s terrible,” or “But the issue is just too big for me to have an impact,” and not actually take any positive action. Making a decision (even if temporary) means that for now, someone benefits from my decision in some tiny way, and if it should change in the future then so be it. And please don’t mistake what I am saying: I don’t believe you have to donate money to an issue to have an impact. Every step you take, every purchase you make (or don’t make), everything you eat/wear/say/do can have an impact – good or bad. It’s your choice as to which way you go.

Christmas day was a fantastic day for us. Since having children we’ve slowly been embedding traditions that sit with our values around Christmas time: thinking of others, making that the real meaning behind Christmas. This year the girls chose a gift for a child in need and that process of going to the shops, choosing a gift, purchasing it and writing a card was really tangible for them, as opposed to donating online. Every year I feel more and more uncomfortable about the consumerism surrounding Christmas, and every year I desperately try to balance it out by continually coming back to our values around Christmas in the best and most ethical way I can think of: by making gifts, by making thoughtful and ethical purchases, and by supporting others as best we can during this time which is not always pleasant for everyone.

Our lives are very short. Personally I feel that I have a responsibility to educate myself and make decisions about my values as a consumer, as an employee, as a mother, as a human being. If I change my mind in the future, if I learn something new that changes things, that’s ok too. The important thing to me right now is to take action in the best way I possibly can without entertaining any illusions that I need to be perfect or make the perfect decision. I don’t want to stumble blindly through life.

Are you searching to make some positive change in your life in 2016? It might not be about a charity or a cause or a political issue, it might be about a way of life, a way of eating, or to shape a thought. If you are interested in the things that I’m interested in, you may like the following websites, blogs and documentaries that I have enjoyed this year (just some super light holiday reading/watching for you…!):

// 80,000 hours: how to make a difference with your career

// The why and how of effective altruism: TED Talk

// Give Well: top charities

// Down to Earth: simple living

// CowspiracyMission BlueThe True Cost and Chasing Ice: my favourite documentaries of 2015

I hope that wherever you are, and whatever you believe in, you are happy and well.

pause, regroup

2015-12-14 07.04.04 1.jpgIt’s Christmas. IT’S CHRISTMAS. Each year I make a conscious effort to put the brakes on around the end of November. I do improve each year. It’s hard to avoid the rat race this time of year.

I dusted off my sewing machine this week and I’ve made seven pairs of shorts (I use this pattern) and one little skirt for some of the small people in my life. I’ve still got a few more things to make, namely for my own kids – two sweet crochet and sew dresses too much to ask two days before Christmas!? I may have to revise my list…

Instead of granola (I always use this recipe with my own little spins) for my main gift for humans (family, kinder teachers, friends, etc) I decided to collect tins over a period of time and use them to make little succulent pots (pictured above). This was a great activity for the kids to help with, they tore the paper and scrubbed the glue off the tins, they dipped them in white paint, they helped to fill the tins with soil and after I had planted each cutting they placed little pebbles around the new plant. They enjoyed doing it and there was enough variety to keep them interested. All the succulent cuttings are from our own garden, or from walks in our surrounding area. It also ticks my main gift giving requirements which are to upcycle and make use of things we already have, but also result in a thoughtful and meaningful gift. Extra points go to presents that the girls can have a hand in making. I’ve got a few more ideas and inspiration here.

In my travels I’ve found some good articles on the topic of our crazy consumerist culture, particularly around this time of year. You can read a collection here; the ones by Rhonda Hetzel were my favourites.

It’s so important to me not to buy into the chaos, not to allow the pressure of the purchase, to roll my eyes at the shopping advertisements. I refuse to be sucked in by it all. Over the years I’ve slowly learnt the alternatives and I can see a way out. I realise now how easy it is to either make my own, or if I do purchase something it is almost always either handmade by someone else, or ethically made, fair-trade or local. I’m honing my skills in this area and am really happy that despite having three kids under five I’ve managed to make the majority of our gifts this year. It’s probably the closest I’ve ever come to having a buy nothing new Christmas. Next year, I’ll aim for 100% handmade or ethically produced.

What about you? What are your Christmas pressie traditions/aims/ideas?

the CD and the atlas: lessons learned in the lead up to Christmas

My Grandpa lives by the sea. We went to visit yesterday and spent a few hours with him, eating sandwiches and drinking coffee brewed on his camp stove in the afternoon sun.

He’s in the process of moving house and let me choose some of his books to take home. One is an old atlas with the inscription: “To Mary with love from Graeme Xmas 1960.” A message from my Grandpa to my Grandmother.

We have been looking through its softly worn pages today. In the lead up to Christmas while my heart is  beating faster and faster with increasing overwhelm, I can’t help but reflect on this little gift with wonderment. Imagine, opening up a present from your partner on Christmas morning to find a lovely book with a short message in the front. I like to think it was wrapped brown paper, and perhaps tied with white string. It is this kind of simplicity and thoughtfulness that I yearn for in my every day life. We are overcome with monstrous loud flashy messages and it is easy forget that we don’t need to buy each other and our children bigger and better things in order for them to be happy and healthy and cherished and loved.

At birthdays and Christmas I stick to this motto from Jodi Wilson:

something I want, something I need

something to wear, something to read

Even still it is easy to get distracted and carried away and panicky and compare-y. We have to stop doing this.

Gramps also offered me some CDs of classical music. “Ok,” I said, “but can I have one that isn’t frantic. One that I could listen to on a Sunday afternoon. Something calming. No violins?”

“Hmm. Well that isn’t how I approach music at all.” he replied.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I walk over to my CDs. I think of one I’d like to listen to. I put it on, then I sit down on the couch and I listen to it. That is how to engage with a piece of music. If it’s on in the background it might as well be anything.”

“Ok. But what if you’re me and you’ve got three screaming children and you have to cook dinner and fold the washing and feed the dog and it’s 1pm and you want to put your pyjamas on and you’re not really thinking about developing a relationship with a piece of music but you would like something to listen to… in the background?”

He stared at me for a moment, laughed, then a few minutes later handed me this, and we listened to it in the car on the way home.

The CD and the atlas. I’ve been thinking about them both since yesterday. The purity and the restraint and the slow and the time. I am so rushed. Even when I try to slow down, there are so many external things wanting my attention. Children, animals, schedules imposed on me and so many rules. Rules! So many!

It’s been a timely and gentle reminder. Now when I look at my Christmas list, I am not looking at things to add, but places I can pare down, things that I can make, things that I can replicate to create a bit of flow, areas that I was perhaps getting a little carried away (do the girls really need another story CD? What will really make them happy on Christmas morning?) I think it’s important to remember that the presents we buy and/or make for our kids are just the beginning for most families on Christmas Day. For many, including us, there will be a number of shared meals that day, and many thoughtful gifts and presents to open. To keep it simple and quiet in the morning at home, we are actually doing our children a favour and allowing them to enjoy the excitement ahead.

Will you be keeping things slow and quiet this Christmas morning?

can I talk about it yet?

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I’m about to say that word that no one wants to hear: CHRISTMAS.

There, I said it.

I saw in my Facebook feed yesterday that there are only ten more Fridays before the big day! Every year I say to myself: I’m going to be organised this year. And then it’s the week before Christmas and I’m running around swearing and throwing tinsel at people and writing lists and absolutely, positively not being that serene image of a mother with her apron on baking Christmas cookies for the kinder teachers while singing jingle bells in a melodic tone. Whatever is the complete opposite of that lady = me.

The other thing I say to myself each year: I’m not going to stress myself out or place high expectations on what I can or cannot do. Repeat the above sequence.

So this year I am saying things like: I am aiming and hoping and would like to make most presents myself but I am totally flexible and open and calm and serene and if this doesn’t work out then I will be completely at peace with that. Repeat above sequence.

Without giving too much away to my family you can have a look here, here and here at some of the things I would love to make for presents this year. I try to choose just a couple of things for different age groups and then make en masse (eg. last year I made these shorts for all the kids in the family). For foodie presents I always make granola but am wondering whether to try something different this year? Jam? Lemon butter?

I like to make things partly because I get so overwhelmed with consumerism around Christmas. At all times, actually, but mainly at Christmas. Our house is so full of toys that we are literally bursting at the seams. It’s lovely to be lucky enough to have options, but it is also… a lot. I like my children to appreciate and love their toys and to look after their belongings so I try to think carefully about what we bring into our house and often pack things away in boxes under the house to rotate, or choose toys that aren’t being loved to donate elsewhere. Making things or buying handmade and ethically produced gifts helps me to be more thoughtful about what it is I am giving.

This year I want Birdie especially to start to understand that while there are lots of things that we can’t have or afford, in the scheme of things we are beyond lucky. I think the best way to do this would be to donate a Christmas present to a charity, that way the girls could go through the process of choosing a gift and then giving it away – a bit more concrete that just making a donation, I think? If you have any ideas to share I’d love to hear them.

What about you, have you started planning yet? Do you buy online, go to the shops or do you make things?

it’s that time again…

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I always promise myself that I will be organised at Christmas time, that I won’t be scrambling around in a mad rush and I won’t be forced into buying things that compromise my values because I’ve run out of time! Alas, I am rather behind schedule and my list of things to make is gigantic… we are half way through November and shit is getting real in my sewing room.

I am quite the overachiever and apparently love nothing more than a late night sew-fest and the pressure of doing things at the last minute. As much as I hate it, I can’t seem to shake my ways. Oh well.

I’ve talked so many times before about buying nothing new at Christmas and supporting handmade and so on and so on. Apart from the fact that a Christmas-crazed shopping centre is my absolute worst nightmare, I love the feeling of really thinking about presents and putting the effort into cutting and sewing and making and giving something genuinely unique. I’m not sure if the people on the receiving end of my gifts feel this way… but it’s the thought that counts, right? This year I am going about Christmas in my usual fashion, however we are buying a couple of things for the girls – a wooden kitchen, a bike for Birdie and maybe a scooter for the Pixie. Unfortunately I can’t make these things. I did try to purchase the wooden kitchen secondhand but have had trouble finding what I am looking for. Two years ago we gave the girls a beautiful waldorf style doll’s house and I was lucky enough to find this on my local buy swap and sell site! So if you keep an eye out – you do find.

This year I’ve been making star garlands, pictured above, little shorts, and crocheted tiaras mainly. Most of the little folk in our circles will be receiving variations of these this Christmas. I’m also planning on making a dress each for Birdie and Pix, and something else… I haven’t fleshed out the list properly yet. I make all my family granola every year so will also be continuing with that tradition.

This is also my first year to make teacher gifts now that Birdie is at kinder! I am yet to decide what to do for our teacher folk, I’m thinking granola or a star garland. Any tips?

What are you making? Are you a mad shopper at Christmas? Do you write lists? How do you keep the madness at bay?

 

 

buy nothing new christmas // the first of a new series

A few years ago, in the spirit that I like to do most things in – completely last minute – I decided I was going to have a Buy Nothing New Christmas. There seemed to be a lot of chit chat going on in the blogosphere about having periods of buying nothing new, and nothing motivates me more than a challenge! So I dove in head first and have to say it was such a satisfying experience that I have *almost* done it every Christmas since. In fact, I was so motivated, my Buy Nothing New challenge continued for the first six months of 2011!

It made me realise not only how much we consume needlessly in our daily lives, but how much we can do without, and more to the point, how much great stuff is circulating the planet as rubbish, because we are constantly, obsessively, compulsively replacing things that are still in perfect condition. It truly is a sad state of affairs.

I thought it might be fun to share some of my bookmarked (now who’s old fashioned?!) ideas with you over the coming weeks, so if you are thinking of having your own Buy Nothing New Christmas, there will be plenty of creative ideas here. Of course the other option is to buy presents at an op shop or an online vintage marketplace like etsy so that you are giving unwanted items a new life, rather than supporting the business of waste.

If you think this is all a load of hoo-ha, check out this video and it might give you a new perspective. On a larger scale, and if you have a bit more time, I love, love, love this movie. Maybe you could chow down with a bowl of homemade popcorn and watch it tonight? Yes, do it! Watch it!

Now to get us going, here are some wrapping and gift presentation ideas:

// Gift bag tutorial: Petite Purls

// Cute placard idea: Flax and Twine

// Paper globes to decorate presents: Tiny Happy

// Simple gift tags: A Little Hut

// Make your pressies extra cute with these free printable moustaches! : Marie Claire

I have loads more in my bookmarks and also on my christmas pinterest board, but I think five is a respectable number. Over the coming posts I will share gift ideas for babies, kids, girls, boys, ladies, gents and so on.

What do you think? Are you feeling motivated? Do you think you can do your bit to slow down our crazy consumption obsession this year?

a belated christmas post

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I had no time after Christmas to post a little update. Four days post the big one we were packing and cleaning and packing and tidying and packing and trying to get organised. It felt like groundhog day trying to get us and the kids out of here. On the 28th we were finally On. Our. Way. down to our family’s little country hideaway. We got back today and we are lucky enough to be heading off again on Thursday in the opposite direction to spend time with the other side of the family on the coast. I feel blessed to have these little hideaways that our parents generously allow us to visit. Without them we would not be in a position to have a holiday for a very long time.

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Christmas came and went and for us is always spread out over a couple of days with the various groups of family we have. It was the first year that our biggest kid really got into the spirit of it all and went to bed tingling with thoughts of Father Christmas, reindeer and surprises to open the following morning. I remember those days so well and am reliving the thrill of it all through her big brown eyes.

IMG_2888Like I have spoken about before, I am very conscious of not have a house full of discarded toys, but instead having meaningful and well loved things to play with. The biggest attends Montessori once a week so much of our play is inspired by the beautiful Montessori setting, but I also really love Steiner environments and philosophies as well. I am not qualified in either and what we do is just a mix of things I have seen, liked and feel comfortable with.

She was given a lot of lovely gifts on Christmas Day, which I predicted, so at home that morning she just had a few simple presents to open, the main one being a secondhand doll’s house that I found on a local Buy Swap and Sell group. Well worth checking out on Facebook to see if you have one near you! I was so thrilled to find this secondhand as I feel uncomfortable about our throw away society, and like to re-use things where possible and instill this value in my children. I couldn’t care in the slightest that my child is getting something that isn’t ‘brand new’ and if anything I think it adds to the character and value of many of the things she owns. The well loved doll’s house in the picture above is a perfect example of this, I love it, and I think I am having more fun playing with it than she is!

This Christmas was probably the most joyful day I have had, the build up, the advent calendar, the excitement… I really am loving Christmas again and am so pleased to be starting new traditions with my little family. I should probably admit now that at 11pm on Christmas Eve I realised that I didn’t have anything for the littlest as I had spent so much time focussing on the biggest. Bad Mother Alert!!! Luckily I had a few things in the shop that I could wrap up at the last minute. Sorry darling baby.

What traditions do you celebrate with your kids? Do you celebrate traditions that you didn’t as a child? I’m interested to know as we started celebrating Winter Solstice last year which is something we never did as kids in my family. This year we will also celebrate Valentine’s Day as a day to show our friends and family how much we love and appreciate them (puke, sorry.)

* Does my littlest not remind you of a tiny wee possum? She is such a little pixie.

an advent calendar

Last year I wrote a bit about the meaning of Christmas for me and my crew. Christmas had become all kinds of nasty for me and I’m just so thrilled to have a teeny weeny family of my own now to regenerate the spirit of Christmas in me… It’s for this reason I was ever so desperate to make the biggest her first advent calendar this year (and engage in any type of Christmas event/tradition possible). We never had an advent calendar as kids so it’s not a tradition I have been a part of before, but I feel really strongly about developing our own family traditions that we take part in each week or month or year to enjoy and look back on with fond memories.

IMG_2759I began scouring pinterest to get some ideas… there were sooo many! I finally decided to make one with little gifts hanging from a stick, as I had collected some from our yard and around the place which have been driving Prince Charming nutty as they are continually falling over in the corner of our study. They are such beautiful sticks though, he just can’t seem to see that! Nevertheless he was thrilled that I was finally using one for a project. Little does he know that come the 25th of December this pretty little stick will be going back to my stash once it is no longer in use. Until this post arrives in his inbox of course, drat!

Anyway, I had all manner of creative ideas about the bags I would sew and numbers I would carefully stitch onto each one, then it was Friday 30th November and nothing had been started… so I scratched that and made this instead. Is that a nice stick, or what?

IMG_2754The ones on pinterest and the one in my head looked a lot better, but the kid has been more than thrilled and I am getting a bit of a kick out of that each day when she climbs up on a kitchen chair to help me cut down a gift. I have cheated somewhat and almost all of the gifts are Christmas decorations we already had, in the hope that being two and a half, she won’t remember them from last year. So far, success! There are about four which are actual gifts for her, things I had lying around the house like a bouncy ball, a stamp, a little purse and something else which I can’t remember. The last gift isn’t there yet but it is going to be a small card from me telling her (and next year one for each girl) how special she is and mentioning something wonderful she has achieved that year. I’ll punch a hold in it, date it and put some string through it and she can hang it on the tree. I thought that might be something nice to look back on each year when we are decorating the tree and can read through cards from previous years. We’ll see!

IMG_2768The wrapping paper is recycled pages torn out of our Melways (the city map book for Melbourne) which has become obsolete nowadays with iPhones and google maps and those things you get in your car which tell you where to go (I don’t have one). It seems I hardly need these things anyway as there is something in my genes which prevents me from getting lost. It’s weird. When I got my licence my friend and I went driving and thought it would be an adventure to get lost somewhere and have to find our way out. She had a great time as every bend we went around she was lost, but I couldn’t join in because I always remembered how to get out. I’m a bit like a homing pigeon.

I digress. It’s late. The advent calendar. Yippee, it’s up, we’re having fun, we’re into it, we’re all about Christmas here at our place.

Night all xo