Monday, January 30, 2012

living the good life

I live in a small rural town - well a village really - with a population of about a thousand people.  Families come here from all over the world.  They like how the village looks and feels - it's proximity to countryside but also to the town - it's wide open streets, it's community focus.

Within the town boundaries - which are easily walkable - theres a school, church, pub, superette, two cafes, three gift shops, Playcentre, museum, petrol station, hairdresser and a few other non-retail businesses, community facilities,  and clubrooms.  We have our own newspaper, monthly market, Christmas festival.  There's clubs and interest groups galore, from Bowls to Weaving to Scouts.  It feels like most people are either on a committee or in the volunteer Fire Brigade, or helping out at school.

Everyone knows each other, or so it seems.  Children walk or bike to school with each other.  They drop in on their friends after school and at weekends.  There's always a kid to play with at the park.  You always see someone you know at the store.  When someone dies, half the village seems to be at the funeral.   Families socialise together - children get to see others families in action, and parents get to share that load a little.  I have made some incredible friends here and they have in many ways become my family.

Some years ago I explored the possibility of living in an intentional community - you know the kind - a place people choose to move to, where  people share values, and sometimes real estate but maintain their own homes.  Where families eat together and learn together.  They share their veges and mind each others children.  It all sounded rather Utopian.  It was exactly what I wanted, for me, and my children.   The down side was I was going to have to move a long way from ''home''.

And then it hit me - I actually live in one already.

I feel incredibly blessed to be part of such an awesome community and have no plans to leave.  Having lived all over the world, I think I've found the place I can truly call home.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

frugal shopping

I had a major sort out in the wardrobe last week (yes, another one).  I was ruthless - removed lots of clothes I haven't worn in ages, things I wasn't sure about, things that needed mending.  It was quite horrifying how many impulse buys went on the discard pile (along with a favourite top that somehow got caught up and ended at the op shop too but that's another story...).

The upshot was that the wardrobe looked a whole lot emptier (I have a rail just a bit bigger than a single wardrobe and a 3 drawer chest).  So, what better thing to do, than have an attempt at filling it again.

I discovered the joy of op shop/preloved/vintage clothing when I found myself a single parent with not a whole lot of money.  It's now become my main source of shopping, and after a few mistakes along the way I have developed a few rules.  I am not ashamed to tell people of my latest bargains, and many have asked for my secrets in unearthing some of the treasures, so here they are


1. Start with the working out your style exercise.  I discovered Trinny and Susannah and follow the rules religiously.  Now I can scan a shop rail and know very quickly if there is anything I will want to buy.  I stick to certain colours and styles and rarely move from them.   It can be boring but it's also reliable and saves time and money, and fashion disasters....

2. Don't shop by brand necessarily, but learn which ones suit you in terms of cut and style.  This also helps you avoid mistakes.  And means you will quickly find those brands on a crowded rack.  I am a bit of a label snob and am always drawn to more high end brands, and the reality is that they simply are better quality.   That said, many of them simply don't suit me.  This particularly applies to skirts and jeans - when cut is crucial - and then you can often get some real bargains. I recently bought Hartleys jeans for $15 which still had a new tag stating $129 on them.  I also watch for English brands which are invariable better quality than their kiwi counterparts (I especially like Jigsaw, Wallis and River Island)

3. Be choosy about fabric.  Don't buy anything that is even slightly scruffy or worn.  It will always feel second hand.  Where ever possible avoid synthetics too.  They almost always smell second hand. Forever. Ick.

4. Even though something might only be costing $5 don't buy it unless you love it.  Apply the same rules as if you were paying full retail price.  Trust me, a bargain is not a bargain if it never gets worn.

5. Always keep your price limits back of mind.  I will not pay more than $12 for anything, other than a dress and even then my upper limit is always $15.  Otherwise I might as well wait for a sale and buy new.  My average purchase price is $7.

6. If you're creative, look at something that might be able to be reworked - hem altered or accessory added

7. Always keep one eye out for fantastic vintage buys.  Some stores specialise in them and there are some incredible bargains.  I have a small collection of gorgeous things I may never wear but represent moments in time.

8. Shop little and often, and have two lists in mind - firstly, things you need that go with what you already have, and secondly special occasion things.  Because these are less common in shops you need to grab when you can.

9. Tell others about the shops you visit.  The more customers they have the more stock they seem to carry.    

10. Don't write off a dusty old op shop that doesn't look appealing from the outside. These ones often carry the best finds.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

playing nicely

It's been a long school holiday this time round.  Two weeks of rubbish weather, a week without a car, and now two weeks of working and having to juggle kid stuff around the office work.

I've done my best to have as many outings and play dates as possible to keep the children happy and occupied - mainly because like most kids, if it's just them, there's constant niggling, grizzling, fighting and ''it's not fairing''.  Which, interestingly almost never happens when there's extras around - and definitely doesn't happen when they are at someone Else's house.

It's rare for kids to squabble and be deliberately unkind to their friends - especially to the degree they do it with their siblings.  And it seems to me that adults are a bit the same. 

It's an intriguing thing to me.  The people that we should be the most respectful of, the most accommodating toward, the most loving to, are the ones we treat the worst.  Parents, kids, siblings, partners - all seem to get the blunt end of our behaviour.

But our friends - that's a different matter.  We show our best side to them - they get the sparkling wit, the generous hospitality, the stimulating conversation, the generosity of spirit.  If we're having a bad day we keep out of their way - rather than take it out on them.  If they annoy or hurt us we make allowances, or compensate.   We excuse them a poor decision or two.  We accommodate their diet, their music preference, their housekeeping style, the way they parent, how they drive, their cooking.   We often even take their criticisms - their feedback - seriously and with far more humility than we would afford a relative or work colleague!

We choose them for their unique qualities and love them unconditionally.  We are usually more tolerant than in any other relationship.  We are almost always thrilled to see them, and delight in their company.

So why do we treat them best? Is it because with friends, they are the easiest to lose?

Sunday, January 22, 2012

decisions decisions decisions

Definition of AMBIVALENCE
: simultaneous and contradictory attitudes or feelings (as attraction and repulsion) toward an object, person, or action
a : continual fluctuation (as between one thing and its opposite)b : uncertainty as to which approach to follow
— am·biv·a·lent adjective
— am·biv·a·lent·ly adverb

I have found myself using the word ''ambivalent'' way too much lately. In this part of the world it is often used to mean ''i don't really care one way or the other" but I mean it in its true sense of being conflicted - having two opposing views about something.

I use it partly because I like it as a word, but also because I do seem to have been faced with a number of things - both big and small and in between - where I have had two differing directions of thought.

My FDH used to say I spent half my life weighing up pros and cons and was incapable of making a decision based on gut reaction and I think he may have been right.  I've got better at it, and the truth is of course, that if I listen to my inner voice (really truly listen), I know exactly what my opinion is, or what decision I ought to make.  It's just that I am an expert at weighing up consequences and trying to be balanced with outcomes.  It must be a hangover from my days of Banking! 

Why is it that we don't trust our inner voice?  Do we fear being wrong? Being right?  Being perceived as opinionated or inflexible?

What decisions do you dither about?  Which do you find easy to make, and which are easier to deviate from?    

When you make a decision that turns out to be the ''wrong'' one (and I use that term loosely) do you find it easy to forgive yourself?  Are you able to change direction?

Reason - Gut feeling - Fact...What drives you? 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

making the main thing the main thing

Last year, I did my best to do some consolidating. It kind of worked...I started paying off a little more debt (that is...I worked more, including a new job). I spent a little more time on stuff for me (dancing of course,,,and achieving my 2011 goals). I made some amazing new friends and spent time really getting to know them.
I guess you could say the words to sum up my year were ''consolidation'' and ''deliberate'' (see my December post on living deliberately

This year, I think it is going to be about priority and boundaries.  I need to take stock of the things I do that fill my days, and head.  I need to work better at not making too many compromises (with my heart more than my head it must be said).   I need to be clearer with myself, and others, about what my boundaries actually are.  I need to learn to say NO sometimes and I also need to say YES more too.

I'm excited about the year ahead.  I've got lots of things I want to do.  A number of things in the pipeline I've been planning for a while, and some that have just shown up.  There are people I want to spend more time with.  Books I want to read.  Some new experiences to try.

Could you describe your life in a couple of words? How would you like to define the way you live it out each day?  What truly motivates you?  Would an adjective be more effective at giving you focus for the year ahead than a New Years resolution?

Monday, January 16, 2012

working under pressure

There's no doubt about it, I'm a tidy freak. I like being organised. I LOVE decluttering.  There's always just one more thing that could be chucked/recycled/donated.

I'm also pretty organised, and have an electronic diary which reminds me each day (as well as 3 days, and 24 hours before the event) what I need to remember or achieve.  I do lists.  I tick them off. I have New Years resolutions and usually keep them.  I take a list to the supermarket.  I mend stuff.

I like tidy cupboards.  I have a capsule wardrobe.  All my bills are on automatic payment.

Which makes me sound like a total control freak right? (Moi!?!)....

But I have a guilty secret - well at least, it was a secret until now....And this is it:  I work best under pressure. Which means...
- I tend to operate in bursts of super high energy, but those are easily squashed by long periods of faffing about.
- I put things off and then do them all in a mad rush - like starting the ironing at 10 pm.  Or washing up the dishes right when I should be leaving for work.
- I don't spend a leisurely hour getting ready to go out to dinner - it's a ten minute mad rush right before I should have left already
- I have this awesome reminder that tells me when my bank account is getting low - but rather than monitor it, I wait until I get the insistent beeps and then transfer money right on closing time.
- I leave getting a haircut until I really should have had it done a week before.  Ditto colour.  Ditto Warrants on the Car.

I guess you could say I work on Just In Time.

It works for me.  Most of the time.  And I doubt I can change the habit of a lifetime, no matter how much I wish I was cool calm and collected.

I liken myself to the duck gliding serenely on the water for all to see, but actually paddling like mad underneath...

What's your work style?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Happiness and contentment

Further to the post about the commercialism of Christmas and our need it now culture I have a question for you...

Do you ever think...If I just had THAT I would be happy?  If I had that promotion, that house, that dress?  If I were friends with her, If I lived in that suburb, if I could have that trip of a lifetime, if I lost that last 5 kg... I would be content?

And even though you know that it's a ridiculous notion - after all, once it's obtained, completed or experienced, then what? - you still harbour the secret thought that maybe, maybe it might just satisfy the need?

If you turned that upside down, and decided that in order to achieve that thing, it might be a good idea to be happy FIRST - then what would you do? How would it affect the way you are on a day to day basis? Would you be more content to live in the moment? Could you settle?

What if you could let go of the thing that might define your happiness, and look at the world as it is for you now?  Are you happy?

Friday, January 13, 2012

all about food

All about food – are you tagged?

Broot ...

challenged me to answer some questions on food and cooking.
1. What, or who inspired you to start a blog?
Originally I wanted to write a diary of sorts about my children and my business.  It's evolving:)
2. Who is your foodie inspiration?
Jamie.He changed the way I cook..
3. Your greasiest, batter – splattered food/drink book is?
The Playcentre cookbook that I compiled - mainly with my own recipes -  and published myself (want a copy? only $10!
4. Tell us all about the best thing you have ever eaten in another country, where was it, what was it?
Too many to choose from.  But I did do Europe by food - black forest cake in the black forest, truffles in Belgium, Baguette in Paris and so on...
6. What is the one kitchen gadget you would ask Santa for this year (money no object of course)?
A dishwasher
7. Who taught you how to cook?
Mum, Nana, Jamie.
8. I’m coming to you for dinner what’s your signature dish?
Lasagne or Pasta Carbonara with way too much bacon and fresh cream.  Apple strudel.
 What is your guilty food pleasure?
Dark chocolate.  Oh and Pringles - but it's true, once you pop you can't stop
10. Reveal something about yourself that others would be surprised to learn?
After 10 years of Playcentre I still need a recipe to make playdough
Finally…tag 5 other bloggers with these questions…like a hot baked potato…pass it on!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

thinking positively in a negative world

There's lots of funny emails and Facebook posts about the ways men and women interpret things differently. Or how kids say one thing and parents say another.

Today my grizzle - and yes I'm going to indulge in one - is about how often society (generalising here but I'm allowed cos it''s my blog...) prefers to take a negative view than a positive one.

e.g. I say I'm open and vulnerable. You say I'm needy.  I say she's intuitive.  They say she jumps to conclusions to quickly.   I say you're spiritually open.  Someone else would say you're a fruitcake.

Why do we do this? Why can't those ''soft'' characteristics be considered strengths not weaknesses?

Similarly the person who is discerning is labelled picky or intolerant.  The one with really strong boundaries is described as inflexible or judgmental.  High energy equals wired.  Low energy equals lazy.  Laid back is considered unmotivated.  Brave is too easily translated as foolhardy.   Can't win!

I've also heard it said that the negative way we describe others is usually more a reflection on what we think of ourselves than what we really feel about them.

Here's an idea...what if for 2012 we made a conscious effort to do less labelling and more accepting?  Would it change the way you felt about other people?  Would it change the way you feel about YOU?

Which words would you use to describe yourself... the positive ones or the negative ones? Why?

Monday, January 09, 2012

spoiled brats and a throwaway culture

That's how a friend described her children today.  she didn't mean it literally (well I don't think so...), but referred to the way our children's generation has access to everything their heart desires, and never seem to have to wait for it.

I am incredibly lucky that my kids are largely not ''stuff'' driven.  But they too love a trip to spend their precious $2!  And have no qualms about discarding something if it is out of date, or fashion, or just not exciting any more  (that bit isn't all together too bad, as at least they don't accumulate the clutter!!!)

At the risk of sounding curmudgeonly, I agreed that things just weren't the same as when we were kids.  We got books on birthdays and at Christmas.  I remember waiting an entire year for a packet of felt tip pens (the new thing then), and only getting them because a relative had been abroad and could bring them back.  All my clothes were homemade, or purchased at Farmers, once a year.  No way would my mother have considered entering an op shop to buy anything.

That was the days before the Warehouse, the $2 shop and Trade me.  Nothing was really disposable. In fact I still have many of my toys, even some of my clothes from my childhood....

So now, when we notice the trousers are getting a little short, or it's a rainy Sunday with not much on, it's all too easy to make a trip to town.  And it's cheap - at the time.  Clothes cost the same in dollar terms as they did thirty years ago.  Many things are way cheaper.  There is no expectation that anything will last more than a season - and in fact not much need for it to do so - after all it will likely be too small, too out of date, or discarded through boredom by then anyway.

Technology is cheap.  Even the special food we used to get only at Christmas and birthdays are every day groceries now.

And so we risk a generation of need it-want it -get it mentality.  And when it's no longer wanted, or interesting, or current, it can be discarded without though.

I just hope that this obsession with the here and now, the growing culture of the takeaway, and our apparent disinterest in longevity will not end up applying to our relationships with real people

Friday, January 06, 2012

living out loud

Over the past couple of weeks I have used my phone to it's fullest capacity - taking photos of the children at every opportunity and creating a visual diary of their summer, all the while posting it on Facebook for the viewing pleasure of friends and family abroad.

It struck me that there is something rather narcissistic about doing this...really truly who is interested in looking at (often not very good) photos of my kids with other random friends.  In locations most people have never been to, and are probably unlikely to ever get to.

A friend of mine once said that she took the most photos when she was the most unhappy....that is, that when she was content with her life,  she could allow it to simply unfold around her.  When things weren't so good she would take dozens of photos of herself (with friends, socialising mainly) as if to convince herself what a fabulous life she actually had.

Times have changed a bit since that comment, particularly with the invention of the digital camera and instant uploading - but I think possibly the sentiment still stands.  I want the children to be able to look back and say ''wow we had a great time then!'' long after they can no longer remember it.  And, whilst many of those photographs make the public forum of Facebook, many more are carefully put in a real photo album, and more still are in a digital album on the computer.

I would hate to end up like the ubiquitous Japanese tourist, who spends their whole holiday viewing a new place from behind a camera - only really getting to appreciate it on their return home to the projector screen.  But truth be told I enjoy capturing those fun moments and sharing them with others - or at least imagining that others will enjoy looking at them as much as I do.   And some days, yes, I do need to be reminded how good my life actually is.