Oct 28, 2012

The Free Time Paradox

via My Humor Spot and reblogged all over the internet

As everyone knows, once you are a parent there is no free time. I don't want to sound like a woe is mom, because I am actually not complaining about it. (Though it is OK to complain about it because sometimes it can suck).

What you have instead are these:

  • snatched time here and there; 
  • work time; 
  • supermarket shopping time (if you get to go alone); 
  • negotiated, fought for or paid for time out (e.g. meet friends for dinner or a movie); and
  • collapse-on-the-couch-after-kids-are-in-bed time.

When my twins were babies the thing that hit me hardest was how little time I had to myself, to do exactly what I wanted. In fact, it was with a kind of hazed-out horror that I realised that I would never have that sort of time, really, ever again.

The advice in baby books and magazine articles designed to help with "tips" such as "take fifteen minutes" to have a quiet cup of tea, paint your nails or relax outside while the baby slept or played in her cot horrified me. Fifteen minutes? FIFTEEN MINUTES? Pre-baby I was used to frittering away whole afternoons reading, walking or watching movies. No fifteen minute "me time" was going to do anything helpful for me.

Of course, everyone struggles with this and of course it does get better. 

Now my kids are nearly seven, I still can't while away whole mornings or afternoons doing whatever I want, but things are not as relentless, and I no longer feel I am living life on a hamster wheel spinning between home and work and home again.

I still yearn for more free time. 

But when I have it, I often don't know what to do with it.

Even if I plan what I'm going to do, I don't always enjoy it, or fully engage with it.

Instead I fret about how little time I have left, think of jobs or work I could be doing [not that I want to], or daydream about doing something else.

Sometimes all I want (NEED) to do is relax. So I will lie on the couch, or sleep, or watch TV or read, as I know this is what is best for me right now.

But oddly I am rarely recharged, happy or calmer after these sessions. It could be, of course, that by the time I do it I'm so exhausted that an hour in bed is not going to be enough. 

But sometimes I think it's something else.

It's hard to truly relax and enjoy yourself when you're unhappy with the state of your house or you have not done things you know you need to do - whether those are to do with work, self-care, housekeeping or administrivia, they have a way of gnawing at you and sapping any pleasure from "me time" until you tackle them.

It's where that advice from The Happiness Project comes from: if something takes you less than a minute to do, do it now, and you'll be happier. Hang up that jacket; return that book to the bookshelf. It's true, and we all know it.

Of course, it is also slightly annoying advice because, just as when my husband refers to a task as "only five minutes", what it, and he, infuriatingly neglects to remember is that home life is full of a million tasks that only take one minute, or five minutes. If you just attended to everything that you can do in a minute or five minutes, you could still be on your feet and doing stuff all day long (at least you could in my house).  So, you know - take advice like this where it's helpful, and leave it where it's not.

But here are two examples of how I used "free time" this week and how it affected my mood.

(1) Relaxed. Said "stuff it" to housework, shut my eyes to mounting chaos in the loungeroom, watched a DVD and napped. (This was on Tuesday afternoon/evening while the kids were at Greek school. I wasn't working that day, and I did nothing more than the minimum at home, which was parent my kids and prepare meals. I always wonder, why isn't that enough? It should be!)

Result: felt defensive, sluggish, faintly depressed. It's true I "needed" that relaxation time, and it's true that housework never stops and sometimes you just have to leave it. But it doesn't help you feel better about it.

(2) Cleaned up, and cleaned. Tidied living and kitchen area, swept and mopped floors, cleaned kitchen cupboards and surfaces. Swept porch, dusted and brushed dirt away from sills and screen door outside, took 4 bags of rubbish and a load of recycling to the garage.
(This was over 2 days, this weekend, in preparation for the kids having a friend over. I hasten to add this friend had never been here before; close friends and family members bringing their children round does not prompt me to clean).

Result: For the first time in awhile I felt energized and competent. It felt good to be relaxed and confident in a tidy house - benevolent queen of my world. It left me happy and relaxed all day. The sunshine no doubt helped, and the playdate was good - all three girls played happily together and without drama for 3 hours. (I'll say that again: all THREE GIRLS played happily and without DRAMA).

I know - housework and a tidy home should not be what life's all about. And truly, for me they are not (as anyone who visits here can attest). And yes, it all depends on your mood and your energy levels at the time. This weekend was the first in awhile where I haven't had pain in my arm (healing after surgery from a bad break 4 months ago), which has been a real downer, as pain tends to be.

So, you know, I'm not saying this is a meaningful comparison or even telling anyone anything they don't already know.

But it's interesting anyway. We yearn for free time even though we have spent 10,000 years inventing ways of life with little of it. 

We (that is, I) prefer to sit and relax where we can, even though doing other things actually make us (me) happier.

Hosting a play date - assuming all goes well - is quite a good way to find happiness. First, it spurs you to clean the house. Next, you get to sit down and read or do whatever you like while the kids play for hours. Third, it makes your kids happy, which makes you happy too. And fourth, it makes them tired and happy to eat an early dinner and be all tucked up in bed before Homeland starts at 8.30.

Oct 22, 2012

What's your favourite scary movie and why? (Competition)

Halloween is just around the corner, as any parent knows who is trying to find cheapo costumes the kids will accept and steeling themselves for the still-somewhat-excruciating-in-Australia business of Trick or Treating. 

I love Halloween. Halloween here is still new and most people are grumpy about it, but as a kid in the US Halloween was nothing but fun - because most of the grown-ups get into it too. (That Modern Family Halloween episode gives an idea).

And just in time for Halloween, online energy retailer Click Energy is running a competition called "Lose Your Fear of Bills".

Electricity bills are scary, definitely. And getting scarier.  So how would YOU (Victoria or Queensland resident aged 18 or over), like to win a year's supply of free electricity?  

Click Energy is offering one person the chance to break free from the fear of bills with a competition that gives a whole year's worth of totally free electricity to the winner. All you have to do is visit their Facebook competition page at http://www.facebook.com/clickenergy and tell them what your favourite scary movie is and why.

The competition ends November 5th, 2012, and is open to Victoria and Queensland residents aged 18 years or over.

Good luck!

Disclosure: This is, obviously, a "sponsored" post. But I am not receiving any payment, electricity, gift or other benefit for it. This is a bit of an experience/experiment for me. And I genuinely hope one of you lovely people wins a year's supply of electricity!

Everyday Beauty: Gum Trees and Tea Trees

These two types of tree are so essentially Australian, and on the south-east coast are found everywhere. These ones are at our local park at the end of my street.

Eucalyptus trees (gum trees) to me are like California Redwoods in the way they are so majestic and convey such stability, calm and peace. Gum trees can grow 80 feet and higher, and can live for 400 years (though more commonly far fewer).

They do have a disconcerting habit of shedding branches so are not deemed safe for backyards. Some backyards do have them and you need to get council permission to cut them down. 

One in our park overhangs a bench thoughtfully placed there, and I admit I'm a little nervous sometimes sitting under this - though it is so beautiful:

I love the dappled bark on gum trees, and the way it catches and plays with the light - so awesomely beautiful in the Dandenong Ranges or the bush.

Gum trees near Glenrowan, Victoria

A Paperbark somewhere in Melbourne -
courtesy of Wikipedia Creative  Commons

I love the "folds" made by the joints of branches, and the way some are reminiscent of knees or elbows

And I love looking up and seeing the branches and spare foliage against the gunmetal sky, and the native birds that flock there


Tea trees, or ti trees (melaleuca) always remind me of the Mornington Peninsula, where they are everywhere, and where we used to spend summers when I was a child visiting or staying with my grandparents. Beautiful, twisted tea trees were on every street in Blairgowrie back then, and still line the beach foreshore.

This one at our park is our girls' playhouse, and even I feel the magic when I step inside during one of their games. (It is usually a cafe, but is sometimes a house or a hairdressers' or a tent).

I love the branches and the overhanging leaves - it's the perfect playspot at the park and a thing of beauty as well.

Both eucalyptus and melaleuca trees produce useful oil. Eucalyptus oil is a handy cleanser and disinfectant as is tea tree oil, which may also have some medicinal properties. Those little concentrated bottles we buy at the supermarket are also very handy for wiping away the sticky residue of labels from glasses, plates and new books.

Beauty - and power!

19th century Melaleuca illustration
courtesy of Wikipedia Creative Commons

What everyday beauty caught your eye this week?


Oct 20, 2012

Listography: Top 5 Things I'd Like to be Reincarnated As

Hmmm. This is a hard one, Kate Takes 5.

For this month's Listography, the topic is what you'd like to be reincarnated as.

So who, or what, has the loveliest or easiest or most interesting life?

OK, here goes- in no particular order:

1. A lion in a protected game park in Africa.
Lions have an OK life. Top of the food chain; surrounded by family and friends; much of the time spent lazing around in the shade of a tree. I would want to be a FEMALE lion, hanging out and hunting with the other womenfolk; looking after and teaching my cubs, patiently putting up with their gamboling antics (until they get too painful, when they get a quick slap or nip). Most important to avoid the stress and macho crap of being a MALE lion - all that fighting and bluffing to keep your place until a younger upstart throws you out of the pride.

2. A girl, in a secure home with a loving family, 100 years in the future. 
What will things be like for her? What opportunities and experiences will be available to her?
(Obviously, this one needs a conditional out-clause, in case I wake up in a blazing nuclear/terrorist/climate-change Armageddon).

3.  Someone who makes money from creative pursuits, and is successful at that. 
Not a famous person, but someone like, for example, the kind of technical or creative consultants who create things for movies or websites, or a musician who is respected in the industry and works with others better known.

4.  A science writer.
Oh how I envy these people! Great job.

5.  A seagull. 
Oh, I know their lives are actually probably a bit stressful, and involve lots of scrapping for food and looking for food - but watching them soar in the air is one of the best, and most wistful, things in life. Jealous!

What about you? What would YOU like to come back as?

Seagull flying - by Witthaya Phonsawat via FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Seagull - by Dominic Harness via FreeDigitalPhotos.net

If you'd like to play Listography, click on the badge below to join in


Oct 17, 2012

My Dog's Favorite Toys

My dog loves his toys.

His cuddle toy is probably his favorite.

He also likes this one

He loves his daybed

And he loves his winter coat which we put on him at night 
as he sleeps outside. 
He gets very excited when I say "time for bed" and I put on his coat.

In the morning he wriggles himself out of it and then drags it around to lie down with and snuggle.

He likes to gather a few of his toys and sit with them all within reach

He loves his bones too.

He has numerous toys, most of which live in the garden

As do the various bits of plastic he has stolen from inside the house, 
until I collect them and throw them away.

He steals underwear from the laundry hamper and takes it to the garden, where I find it, wet and filthy, days later

Worse than that, he has stolen and destroyed many a rubber sandal, from KMart thongs (that's flip-flops, Americans!) to expensive Crocs and my favorite Ipanemas.   : ((

Worse than THAT, he has caused heartache for the girls, by destroying toys, over and over again

But the toy that gets him MOST excited....


is this one:

a toilet paper roll

And I let him have them because when I give him one, 
the joy and excitement on his face are irresistible.

Even though they very quickly end up like this:

He knows straightaway which items are HIS. 
If I give him a new toy, he is thrilled with it immediately 
and guards it jealously.

He worries when I pick up his toys to toss them outside, 
and gets VERY upset when I put them in the washing machine. 
He is happy and excited when he gets them back, 
and doesn't even mind that they've been cleaned.

He knows what he's not allowed to take (anything that is not his).
He knows when he has done something bad (chewed a child's toy).

But he doesn't stop doing it.

We keep the girls' bedroom doors closed, and shoes in a box.

The girls know they can't leave anything lying around on the floor.

But he still manages to get stuff occasionally.

We have to hide the cat's toys so he won't destroy them.
So the cat only gets to play at night, when the dog is in bed outside.

She harbors resentment, and they have an uneasy relationship.

Somehow, though he's supposedly not allowed on furniture, 
he has managed to make this chair his.

After a hard day's play, a boy does need his rest.

Dogs, eh?
: )

Oct 14, 2012

Everyday Beauty: Raindrops

Raindrops on the clothesline:

And on our scraggly young olive tree (olive shrub):

I wanted to add a photo of raindrops on the car window, which I always think looks beautiful, but I couldn't capture it on the camera. Some things you just have to see and enjoy with your eyes, I guess. :)


Oct 13, 2012

How to do school lunches

It's the start of a school term, so it's time for magazines and newspaper lifestyle sections to publish articles with ideas for school lunches. Traditionally these articles are accompanied by pretty pastel images of salad wraps tied up with paper and string, and cute snack boxes filled with grated cheese and carrot.  (At least I believe they are, because I stopped opening the links to all these articles quite a long time ago).

Beautiful, healthy and generally very impressive lunchbox,
courtesy of aJ GAZMAN GucciBeaR at Flickr 

When I was a kid my school lunches looked like this:

  • wholemeal bread sandwich with margarine, Vegemite and cheese
  • 2 homemade biscuits
  • apple

Canteen lunch (allowed once a week):
  • meat pie
  • packet of chips (crisps)

No water bottle was supplied; we drank from the drinking fountains. I'm not saying this was good - drinking-fountain water was warm in summer and could taste metallic, and one of my perpetual memories from childhood is being thirsty and hankering for water in situations where no water was on offer. (I used to wish you could buy a drink of water from a shop - I used to picture it in a soft drink can, and I thought it was one of those useless fantasies that could never really happen, like jet packs and robot dogs).

But I don't remember being overly bored or dissatisfied with lunch. The apples were sometimes bitter, or bruised, or contained unexpected caterpillars (ah, organic food!). No doubt I was sometimes bored or dissatisfied, or jealous of the inevitable kid that came to school with Nutella sandwiches and a giant bag of crisps, but I don't remember it. I always ate all my lunch.

This solid, middle-class, suburban life lunch has definitely influenced what I give my kids for lunch.

Here is what my kids have for lunch, these days:

  • a sandwich. A: rice wrap with margarine and Vegemite. M: white bread sandwich with margarine and either jam, honey, cheese or tomato
  • a "brain food" snack - usually a cheese stick for A, and cheese and crackers for M. Or sultanas, rice cakes, carrot sticks, etc
  • a sweet snack: mini pack of Scooby Doo biscuits, or 2 Coles mini lamingtons, or a muesli bar, or occasionally, 2 homemade biscuits
  • fruit: cut up in a little box (as A is put off by whole fruit but will happily eat it cut up): usually a mix of two of apple, orange, mandarin, banana, strawberries and grapes. Or a peeled whole mandarin in a different shaped little box (the transparent square box means cut up fruit. The opaque cylindrical box means possibly a peeled whole mandarin)
  • water bottle

Lunch order - they have on Fridays:
  • hot food: A: hot dog or nuggets; M: macaroni and cheese, or spag bol, or nachos
  • a snack: usually a packet of crisps or a muffin
  • a drink: usually Quench or Focus or Just Juice

The teachers definitely encourage "healthy choices" in lunch boxes which is both helpful and annoying. It's mostly helpful, as the kids come home and ask for this stuff, and eat it. Plus I can quote school policy as backup when I tell them they can't have Nutella sandwiches and lollies for lunch.  It's slightly annoying because on the occasional day when the kids don't have the correct 'brain food' in their lunchbox they feel all anxious and ashamed at having the 'wrong' food even when what they have is still perfectly healthy. And also, because my daughter M who has a perfect (lucky) attitude to food, and eats very healthily and well, she should be able to eat a jam sandwich for lunch without me wondering if I'm doing something wrong.

My girls are only in grade 1, so I know it's early days yet, but so far they seem OK with what they get. They have the odd complaint, and their tastes will suddenly change on occasion, which is evidenced by the kinds of comments they give me on their lunch:

"MUM! I TOLD you, I HATE jam now!"
"MUM! I can't EAT Vegemite in a sandwich, it makes me VOMIT!"
"MUM! I HATE flat cheese, I only like GRATED cheese!"
"Ryan gets sprinkles in his sandwiches EVERY DAY."
"Taylor has money for the canteen EVERY DAY."
"Amelia gets a lunch order EVERY DAY."
"I LOVE sultanas. How come you NEVER give us sultanas?"
"I HATE sultanas, don't give them to me EVER, ever again. Ever, Mum, OK?"
 "I didn't like my cheese and crackers and Nicki was hungry so I gave them to her."
"Tomorrow can I have extra cheese and crackers?"
"Ew! Why'd you give me HAM?"
"MUM! My orange was yucky. It was SO GROSS."

And so on.

But overall, lunch is not too tricky, and I feel no need to trawl magazine articles for "lunchbox ideas", cook savory muffins or make up sandwich fillings with cooked chicken, ricotta, grated carrot and walnuts.

As if life isn't hard enough.

What do you do for lunch boxes?

Oct 9, 2012

The Things Kids Say...

I don't want to come over all cutesy and all, but here's a collection of some funny things my kids have been saying.

My girls are twins, aged six-and-three-quarters.

A: drawing. Me: "You're really good at drawing, you know that?"
A - still drawing - nods matter of factly. "It's my passion."


M - eating her macaroni and cheese for dinner:
"Mum, you're the man! This is fantastico!"
... still eating: to A:  "Mum rocks!"
... when I said there was no dessert: "Mum doesn't rock."

A - whose hero is currently Velma from Scooby Doo:
anytime she's impressed, surprised or dismayed: "Jinkies!"

M - on seeing a boy in the street who may or may not be from their school:
"That boy looks familiar. There are lots of boys that look like that. Their faces are very bold."

A came home from school last week and told me "OMG means Oh my God". She has now taken to saying "OMG". I mean actually saying "oh-em-gee".
As in, when I wake her up in the morning: "OMG, I do not want to get up"

M,  when I asked her to tell me her "secret":
"That's for me to know all about it and for you to not be able to find out."

A, playing pirates:
"Imagine I'm the captain and you guys are the hearties"
(as in: Aar, me hearties!)

Then there are also the lame-o catchphrases inherited from moi which are in regular use, making them sound like mini-me Gen Xers:
  • No way, Jose!
  • Correctamundo!
  • What the...?!   
  • Mama Mia!    

(I've also tried to teach them "Say it, don't spray it" and "That's my name, don't wear it out", but sadly they haven't stuck).

Fun with kids!

Oct 7, 2012

Toffee Apple Fail, Puppet Pass

Toffee Apples.
Challenge accepted.

First batch of toffee - fail.

Second batch of toffee - fail.


No toffee apples, kids. Sorry.

 * * *

This turned out better:

M. wanted to make puppets, which we ran out of time for on her last Sunday Fun Day. As chief Good Drawer in residence, A. offered to draw the puppet characters, and we each chose a character and cut it out. M. chose 'The Princess and the Frog.'

Once we cut them out, we used sticky tape to stick them to straws.

The puppet show itself was over in two minutes, and no doubt these will never be played with again. They're pretty cute though.

And that was pretty much our Sunday.

What did you get up to?

Oct 6, 2012

Everyday Beauty: Around Here

Just walking around the suburban streets...

Crazy Paving on the path at our local park.

A natural archway formed by trees over a footpath

My neighbors' garden

How's the walking around your place? Anything pretty?



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