Monday, 29 August 2016
One of the reasons I started the blog Daily Imprint almost 10 years ago was that I wanted to live a different life. I had been on a safe path up until then. I did well at school, graduated from university, completed a Masters degree, travelled a chunk of the world, got married and had a steady job. But it wasn't entirely the life I wanted to live.
Instead, I wanted to be a writer. Not on a medical newspaper, as I was. And not as a copy editor, which was how I spent most of my days, hunting out adjectives with a red pen. But I had romantic ideas - of living as a writer in a foreign environment, ideally Paris or New York, Italy or France. I looked to the Modernist American writers in Paris at the turn of last century and of the Beat Generation in New York City fifty years later as my ideals. And Graham Greene and Gore Vidal living on the Amalfi Coast, and even the painter Picasso in the South of France. And while the image of these groups have become cliches, today I realised again that the most obvious truths on how to live these dream lives are often the easiest ones to forget. Perhaps because they are the hardest ones to live out.
In 2012 Leonie Barton had the opportunity to drive herself around the deserts of Namibia in Western Africa. "I had one of those cliche moments," she told me for today's interview on Daily Imprint. "I came back pretty determined to commit to a creative life because I could and because I lived in a country where the only thing holding myself back was me."
There were two ideas that struck me with this comment. The first was that we have to take responsibility for our lives - we can't lay the blame on others. Except in some dire situations, we are the ones who make the daily decisions that constitute our paths. I have known this before, but it's always a good reminder. But something that I hadn't considered in this context was our position of privilege.
There are many people in many parts of the world who live an impoverished life. They would do anything for the opportunities many of us are afforded every day. Not just the basic human needs - of water, food, clothing and shelter. And not even to speak of their rights - freedom, liberty and equality. But even if they were able to rise above all of that, Leonie's words make me think that to not live to our full potential was an insult to them. When we have everything that they don't, then is it not abhorrent to squander our opportunities? Whatever they may be - eating healthy foods, spending quality time with our children, caring for the planet, making a home. And then, perhaps the hardest one of all to do, commit to the life we really want to live - in another country, travelling the world, in a beautiful home, in creative pursuits, in the countryside, in a different job, in a different body...
Leonie's strategy was to take on a daily art practice. It was a simple idea - to create something every day from what she found, take a photo of it, and leave it for others to enjoy. After more than 18 months she has created a body of work, been interviewed by ABC Radio National, given a TED talk on "The Art of Saying Yes" and is now looking to exhibit her work and participate in artist residencies.
That decision on her part, and those small daily steps led to a creative life. And while many of us have wish lists that are big and long, it is worthwhile remembering that it is the small steps that make them happen.
portrait photography chris warnes
Friday, 26 August 2016
Talking about babies and their sleeping habits is a loaded topic. There are a lot of judgements that seem to fly around about the type of person - and mother - you are depending on the path that you take. Because, after all, motherhood is a journey, and is different for every person.
However, there are times when I try to listen without judgement because I am open to hearing someone else's story. There are times when I am willing to try anything that has worked for someone else. And this is true for all of the stages of childhood.
Today I am sharing my experience - not as a way to say it's the best way, but to say it's what has helped our family.
When our first child was born, I felt out of my element. I hadn't grown up around lots of siblings, and even when my friends started to have children, I still didn't know or understand what they were going through. But I was also interested to know what was working (or not) for them, and willing to listen.
After learning that we were to become parents for the first time, my husband and I took classes through the local hospital. These were mainly about what happens during the birthing process, but also provided tips, advice and current medical recommendations on different elements of caring for a newborn baby. For example, the hospital wanted to encourage parents to place babies sleeping on their backs as research had shown that this had helped to reduce the rate of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome significantly. They also discouraged parents from sleeping with babies in their beds, for the same reason. Even at the delivery of my most recent baby, the hospital's policy was that newborns had to sleep in the bassinets, and not with the mother. SIDS was sited as the risk factor.
Because I was a new mother and wide-eyed, I didn't want to take this risk with my first child. However, there were times when I was so tired that sometimes he fell asleep with me in bed as a newborn, always during a nighttime feed. However, the few times that this happened, either he or I wouldn't sleep so well. Even when I was desperate for one of us to sleep, it never worked for us. I was always worried that myself or my husband might roll over onto the baby. It has always been my experience - with all four children - that we both sleep better when in our own beds. (And this is true for the children as they have aged too - they are too wriggly!)
Co-sleeping is something that seems to becoming more and more popular - at least from my admittedly small sample of mothers who I follow on Instagram. And that is fine - I understand the need to find something that works for each person's circumstances. But it is not something that has worked for us.
When I was pregnant with our first child a friend gave me a book as a gift. She was an intelligent woman and a high achiever - a classic type-A personality. The book was called Save Our Sleep. At first I put it to the side, but when I felt overwhelmed with my newborn I started to read it. Then another friend, whose baby was sleeping at six weeks old, gave me another book: The Baby Whisperer. I also read this, and started to follow through on some of the advice. While I have never been overly strict on following routines, we have found them to work for our family. All four of my children - who have each had their own distinct personalities - have now been sleeping through the night by about three months old.
For me, what the books above have helped me to teach me is ways to understand my baby, and their needs. For example, if a baby has just been fed and they start to cry, I always check their nappy first or try to determine if they have wind. My first reaction is not to breastfeed straight away. I also try to ensure that they have a "full" feed each time, offering both sides - and this usually happens when they are about three hours apart - versus "snacking".
Also, swaddling has worked for us. If they come out of their wrap, then they are more likely to wake and not have a full sleep. I've always found wrapping with the arms up - as above - allows the baby to suck on their hands and comforts them. The giant wraps from Li'l Fraser have been really good for this, as I have mentioned before.
And by following some form of a routine, I can read their cues better for when they are tired and need to have a nap. If they are starting to grizzle and they have already had a feed and a nappy change, then I know it's time to put them down for a nap. If I get the timing right then there is little to no crying.
And the word "crying" is often quite loaded too. But when babies make a noise, they are trying to communicate. With each of our children I have learnt to read the different sounds they make - because different cries really do mean different things. Sometimes our baby shrieks and often this proceeds a burp or wind. This doesn't mean that he's hungry - because when I first tried this, he actually refused. Similarly, when I put him to sleep he makes different sounds and I listen to what he's trying to tell me. Sometimes it's, "I'm tired and not happy here but I'm not hollering. I just want you to know that I'm here." And so I wait. If his sounds escalate then I will go and pick him up. But I don't rush in at just any sound. Sometimes it almost sounds like he is forming words. They are almost a string of sighs.
If the baby has woken up and their nap was only a short one then I might take them for a walk before feeding them. If they are "rooting", I will breastfeed. But if they are content then I will hold off until closer to their feeding time. Generally, I feed every three hours - starting at about 6.30/7am - put the baby down at about 6.30pm and give a "dream feed" at about 11.30pm. Now our baby is sleeping through until 6.30am. When he is about four months old, we will transition to a four-hourly feeding time.
It is a flexible arrangement and by no means dogmatic. But knowing roughly when he should be feeding helps me understand his needs better. This has been true for all of my babies. And it may help you.
image the indigo crew
This post is brought to you by Imprint House, our online homewares store, which helps to keep this space alive.
Thursday, 25 August 2016
The five-year-old received some lovely books this year for her birthday, a combination of ones that we had found and others that she was given as presents. Five is something of a transitional age for reading. She's interested in chapter books and happily listens along to stories by Roald Dahl but she will also look on when her younger sister is read picture books.
The Little Fairy Sister by Ida Rentoul Outhwaite and Grenbry Outhwaite (National Library of Australia)
This book was a gift, and I'm so glad that it is now part of our collection. It is a popular Australian children's book from the 1920s that has been reproduced by the National Library of Australia from an early edition. The illustrations are representative of illustrations of the Art Nouveau era and the text is not dissimilar to books such Alice In Wonderland.
The Hidden Kingdom: Sippy & Sunny - A Great Barrier Reef Adventure by Vicki Wood and Kelly Elsom (Unclebearskin Productions)
As we have all of the Sippy & Sunny books it was too irresistible to add one more to our collection after mother and daughter authors Vicki Wood and Kelly Elsom released their latest book. It follows Sunny on an underwater adventure and is accompanied by the most beautiful illustrations by Brigitte May. Vicki has a real talent for selecting illustrators to really bring her stories to life in a completely unforgettable way. As with all the other books in this series, it flips and has a French translation on the other side.
When We Were Very Young by AA Milne and illustrations by EH Shepard (Egmont)
It's interesting that even though poetry is less read by the general population as a whole, it still has a way of captivating children. Our son has enjoyed many books of poetry, and we thought that this one might appeal to our daughter. Many of the poems are familiar to me from my own childhood, and I look forward to reading them all over again.
Home by Carson Ellis (Walker Books)
This book is perhaps a little young for her now but the illustrations were hard to pass by. But even though the text is quite simplistic, the illustrations are rich and, hopefully, will provide a talking point. Sometimes books like these can actually provide the opportunity to talk about different topics because the images are the strongest thread.
images the indigo crew
Wednesday, 24 August 2016
However, without even realising it I have started our own tradition, which is much easier to manage. It's a simple idea but one that I hope will be appreciated in years to come.
Every year I write a long note on each of the children's birthday cards. I've never been the sort of person to write just a brief message but with them it takes up an entire card and is perhaps about 300-500 words long.
I reflect on the changes in their personality since their last birthday, their milestones and interests and comment on how they relate to their siblings, and the changes in our family's circumstances - moves and holidays, etc. They always enjoy when I read it to them on the morning of their birthday and I hold onto them for them to re-read when they are older.
And for these cards I enjoy using special ones that can decorate their walls. One year I got each of them a card/mask from TMOD. This year I was taken with the illustrations by Cat Lee on cards from UncleBearskin Productions.
images the indigo crew
Tuesday, 23 August 2016
It is easy to get excited about birthday parties. They are a joyful time, and can be a lot of fun - even in just the envisaging and organising. But after all of the planning and preparation when the clock ticks down and the guests arrive, we try to keep the occasion as low key as possible.
But there are parameters. Over the years we tend to find that children can get a little restless if there's no structure. So we usually have in the back our minds a run down of how things should go. An activity or two followed by food and cake. Two hours seems to be a good time limit too, and generally we prefer morning get-togethers - from about 10-12 noon. That way the sugar and excitement can abate as the day wears on.
Last year a craft-based fairy-themed birthday party was quite a hit and so this year we continued with this theme but with a twist. After seeing an idea for a potted fairy garden party on Cloistered Away, I thought it would be a great activity for our soon-to-be five-year-old. It also suited our current location as we could set up a table outside and have plenty of space for the children to forage.
In the days leading up to the party, I bought a few craft supplies and also rounded up some of our own, including shells we had found at a local beach and feathers that we've accumulated this past year. We also made some toadstools the day before from air-dried clay, moulding the shape, inserting a skewer and painting with poster paint.
For the party, we carried the supplies in old jam jars (easy to transport with the screw-on lids) and egg carton containers. Everything was placed in the centre of the table. We also bought small strawberry plants for the girls to plant in their fairy garden pot. Each of them was given a terracotta pot filled with soil and were free to decorate the gardens as they chose. There are some amazing creations on Pinterest, but I wanted each child to have the freedom of opportunity to create their own design.
When everyone arrived we gave them all a paper bag to forage in our garden where nothing is precious. The girls picked black-eyed Susan flowers, bamboo leaves, sticks and pebbles. And I had some paper butterfly notes from Poppies For Grace from years ago, which I taped onto skewers, and they inserted into their gardens. Each child also got a little Schleich rabbit to use as a decoration. And along with the potted gardens, this was their party gift.
Food was cobs of corn and organic sausages cooked on our make-shift outdoor fire, and one of our homemade cakes that we make and decorate every year. This year chocolate sprinkles were made to look like a toadstool.
Decorations were kept to a minimum as we are the midst of renovating The Stone Lodge, where we hosted the party. A painter's drop sheet created a neutral backdrop and was adorned with simple white bunting.
Creating the fairy gardens was enjoyed by all and, of course, something you can do at any time of year.
images the indigo crew