Blended families, minimalism and compromise…

I’m a busy mum with two kids of my own – a son (12) and daughter (10).

And kind of like The Brady Bunch, I’ve inherited another two kids with my partner, who has primary custody of his son (16) and daughter (11).

Four kids. Yikes! I often wonder how on earth this happened to me. But it did!

Mixing families is never easy. Over the last few years, as we’ve introduced our kids to one another, we’ve all had our share of ups and downs, and we’re doing pretty well, I think.

But with mixing families, we also have to make some concessions. One of the concessions my partner and I decided we wouldn’t make was on giving the kids space of their own.

Our options, when we first moved in together, were as follows:

a) Put the boys in together (16 and 12) and the girls in together (11 and 10, but from different families in each case, and my daughter has special needs and doesn’t sleep well)

b) Put his kids in together (a 16 year old boy with an 11 year old girl) and my kids in together (a 12 year old boy and a 10 year old girl with special needs)

c) Give the oldest (his 16 year old boy) a room of his own and make the others share in some way

d) Give the youngest (a girl with special needs a room of her own) and make the others share in some way.

None of the sharing options worked well. So we settled on a different option altogether, and decided that all of the kids needed their own room. Their own space.

It was hard finding a home that was big enough on our particular budget, and in the end, the home we’ve found is beautiful and in an ideal position, but it does need some work. We’re going to have to roll up our sleeves and get busy! That was the compromise we were willing to make.

The compromise we made also meant that my dream of owning a smaller home went out the window. I’m now the minimalist with a five bedroom home!

I’m the minimalist with the five bedroom home!

What I’ve learned from this is that people are more important than ideals. The house is bigger than I wanted, and I feel like an old fraud, preaching minimalism while living in a big house. But it is what we need, for our particular circumstances, with four kids from two families and one of those kids with special needs.

The truth is, minimalism means own what you need, and nothing more. If you need a big home, then buy the big home and don’t feel guilty. I need a big home, every square foot of it will be used.

My version of minimalism might be different from yours, and yours might be different from the next person’s. Have what you need, and be content. We’re looking forward to moving into our new home, and everyone having space of their own.

Sometimes space is a good thing. Especially when you’re blending families 🙂

We bought a new house!

I haven’t posted for a while, as things have been so busy. I guess that’s what happens when you BUY A NEW HOUSE!!!

Yay!!!

It’s been a hard slog to find what we needed. My partner and I, bringing two families together – and four kids of different ages – felt that it was very important that our kids didn’t have to share rooms. So we needed a FIVE bedroom house, on a fairly tight budget.

Five months of searching later, in a market which is going crazy with prices rising so fast we were wondering if we’d be priced out before we could find something suitable, we managed to find and secure a home. Everything was finalised on Friday, after weeks of worry, and settlement is in about a month from now.

So we’ll be extra busy over the coming weeks. We have to organise new heating for the home, and get that sorted, and we also need to do a lot of painting over the coming few months, as the house needs a lot of updating. It’s a fair amount of work. Luckily I’ve done most of that sort of thing before, and am not new to pretty much any of it.

We’re really pleased, and can’t wait to move in. At present we’re all stuck in a tiny little rental, much too small for six people, so it’ll be nice to have room to move at last.

New pathways, and a new home ahead…life will be busy!

Minimalism: the space between the lines

You’ve cleared the clutter, dumped the junk, ditched the rubbish in your home.

Now what?

Minimalism isn’t just about stuff. When we take our first steps on the minimalist path, it seems all about consumerism, saying no to all the stuff we thought we needed but really don’t, and finding the space between the lines.

Minimalism

Minimalism: The space between the lines.

It’s a good place to start, but once the junk is gone, and the habit of unnecessarily buying replacements is dead, it becomes glaringly clear that often our actual lives need simplifying too.

Sometimes we’re doing too many activities. We’re spreading our talents too thin, trying to be experts in a number of fields, struggling to be interested in everything.

Other times we find we’re stretched too thin by others.

Our partners need us, our kids need us, our ageing parents need us, and we’re meant to fit it all in on top of a full time job and a part time job on the weekend. Oh, and there’s that volunteering we do as well!

Minimalism asks us to breathe. To ask ourselves: what serves us best? What makes us happiest? What gives us the most value in return for our most precious asset, Time?

Once you start to see that space between the lines, what is important becomes obvious.

What is essential is invisible to the eye. Only with the heart can we see clearly. Clearing the clutter away opens our eyes, minds and hearts to the truth of who we truly are.

If we don’t have such a big house we won’t need that second job.
If we don’t take those extra classes in a hobby we really don’t enjoy all that much, we’ll have more time to spend with our partner and kids.
And our ageing parents? They won’t be around much longer. Perhaps we should consider spending quality time with them, over volunteering our time with strangers.

Everyone has choices.
So choose wisely. Choose well.
And be happy.

happy beach

Runaway teens…and how to cope

My partner is dealing with a very hard time at the moment. His son has run away from home, back to the ex-wife’s, and we’ve received nothing but hurtful, nasty texts from the boy since he left two weeks ago.

I’ve found it hard to deal with my anger at the situation. I’ve tried to stay calm, but seeing my partner and his daughter in such grief and loss is hard-going for me. It hurts, more than if I were hurt myself, to see the man I love struggling with this.

Neither of us know what to do or how to cope, so instead he’s been saying little in response to the vitriol coming over the phone, hoping that his son will calm down and return to his normal, kind, cheerful self. The boy we know and love.

When this sort of thing happens, the grief can be overwhelming. We’re struggling to stay afloat. It probably comes across to the boy as gruff and silent, but it’s grief and misery. My partner has been hurt. He feels like he’s losing his son. He’s wondering if the loss will be forever.

So last night, when my partner and I were lying in bed, holding each other, and his face was so blank because he couldn’t even feel any more over all this, I suggested something to help us cope.

How to cope with runaway teens.

Find a clean, empty jar. Then, when you’re ready, write down something wonderful about the person you’re missing.

Maybe it’s a memory of a great day you had together. Or something kind they did for someone. Maybe a bad joke that made you all laugh. Or a time you were proud of them.

Maybe it’s the fact that they care for their younger sister. Or that they make great gourmet noodles, with an egg on top and Moroccan seasoning. Maybe it’s that horrible hair style that you don’t understand but you love them for anyway.

Write each thought down on a separate, small piece of paper. Fold it, and put it in the jar.

Write about the fact that you’re the stepmum, and you had such worries that they’d hate you when you came into their life. Write about the first time they hugged you and it was uncomfortable as hell.

Write about being their dad, and how you do everything you can to care for them. How sometimes that means making decisions that don’t make them happy, but that are for their well-being anyway. How being a parent means sometimes saying no, and teaching right from wrong. Write about how you have tried to do that. Write about how you care.

Write about how honoured you felt when they shared a secret with you, When they trusted you. Write about how you love having them in your family. Write about how you miss them. Write about how you worry about them.

Put each and every thought in the jar. You don’t have to do it all at once. Just one thought a day or so, whenever you remember something, when you think of something you miss, and the gap in your family that is empty because they’re not there right now.

Try to add a new thought, or memory, or feeling, every day. Just keep adding. In doing so, you honour the love between you and the bond you share. You help keep it whole. You heal what is damaged.

Ask every family member to do the same. Put their thoughts in the jar. All the things that make the runaway special and loved and wanted. All the reasons the runaway probably doesn’t understand. All the things they’re probably not aware of, or that you haven’t ever mentioned or talked about.

All the family members, all writing thoughts, adding to the jar.

Keep the jar in the runaway’s room. If they ever come back for their belongings, give them the jar along with everything else.

Don’t say anything about it. Just give them the jar.

Healing

I’m not saying this will do anything to heal the relationship. But sometimes relationships get broken not just for the things that were said, but because of the things that should have been said, and weren’t.

It could be that the runaway will ignore the jar. Or throw it away. Or laugh at it. Or get angry and abusive. They might mock it. But they need to know how you feel. That’s what the jar is for.

And those of us left behind? We need to express how we feel too. We’re hurt, and we’re angry, and we’re confused, but we need to remember that we love those who have left us, despite everything, and that our love is not going to disappear even when our children do.

jar

Healthy breakfasts: Don’t be a cereal offender!

Anyone who has ever had to clean a stuck-on, dried-out, dirty cereal bowl will understand why we don’t eat cereals with milk in our house.

Apart from being messy to clean up, cereals are also expensive, and not particularly healthy. Some are ridiculously high in sugar. I don’t think they’re good for our health or our budget.

We’ve moved back to older, basic breakfasts that people ate traditionally, before Mr Kellogg started selling his corn flakes a century ago. We’re also trying some foods that have never been a part of a traditional breakfast, at least as far as I can tell!

So I’d like to share with you some great breakfast ideas all of which I think are better options for families. All are budget-friendly, and easy to prepare.

Because life should be an adventure. And that includes breakfast!

  • Eggs. Two eggs per person, cooked any way. Add some toast if you want. You’re done! My son likes soft boiled eggs and soldiers, while I like my eggs poached (you can poach in the microwave in a mug of water) with a little table salt for flavour. Eggs are also great as omelettes, or scrambled on toast.
  • Vegetable tacos. Why not? Tortillas with cheese, cucumber and tomatoes in winter, plus a dash of salsa. In winter, we replace the cucumber and tomatoes with carrots, broccoli and fried onion. Yum!
  • Toast. My kids like toast for breakfast. My daughter has strawberry jam, my son has chocolate spread. I like vegemite. We keep our spreads limited to one choice per person – any more, and they’ll start cluttering up your pantry. Feel like something different? Try someone else’s choice for a change!
  • Porridge. The old-fashioned stand-by. Warming, filling and economical, there’s nothing better than a hot bowl of porridge on a cold winter morning.
  • Milkshakes! Breakfast doesn’t have to be solid food. Sometimes we like to just make up chocolate milkshakes and go. Add a scoop of protein powder or psyllium husk if you feel you need more bulk added.
  • Green veggies. I cook frozen spinach in a pan with some garlic salt and pepper. It’s delicious, and a really easy way to get my greens right at the start of the day. Green veggies are a great accompaniment to eggs too! Other options for hitting the green in the morning are broccoli florets steamed in the microwave with a teaspoon of sweet chilli sauce, or cucumber wedges raw, cold and fresh out the fridge in summertime.
  • Pancakes. Pancakes on a Sunday morning are one of our family’s traditions. Make them a tradition for your family too. You’ll find my pancake recipe at the bottom of this page. Pancakes are cheap and quick, and they fill my kids up until mid-afternoon.
  • Soup. Soup is a great breakfast food. We keep a stock of tinned soups to hand, and I also make soups from scratch and freeze them into portions. Either option works, and both are great for breakfast with some toast to dip.
  • Fruit. You can’t beat an apple or two for a portable, easy breakfast. Bananas and mandarins are great too.
  • Greek yoghurt with scroggin or trailmix. I like to put a spoonful of dry scroggin or trailmix into my fresh Greek yoghurt. The combination of textures and flavours is lovely, filling, and perfect to start the day.
  • Last night’s leftovers. We commonly eat last night’s leftovers for breakfast. Leftover pizza is my favourite. Yummmmm!

What’s your favourite non-cereal breakfast? If you’ve tried something new and wonderful, or you eat something comforting and traditional, let me know in the comments!

cerealoffender

Pancake recipe

Ingredients:

Serves 4.

  • 3 eggs
  • 3 cup milks
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 1 cup self raising flour.
  • Spray oil.

Method:

  • Put frypan on medium heat and spray with oil.
  • While pan is heating, combine sugar, plain flour and self raising flour in a large bowl.
  • Add milk gradually, stirring to a smooth paste.
  • Crack eggs into mixture, and stir until the egg is well mixed in.
  • Pour a large scoopful of mixture into pan. Flip when top of pancake is dry. Continue cooking until done.
  • Serve and cook remaining mixture into pancakes.

10 tips for suburban sustainability

This is the third post in a series titled “100% sustainable – is it possible?”. I hope you enjoy my analysis of different lifestyles, their ecological impact, and the possibility of humanity achieving sustainability.

We’re selling our farm, and moving into the suburbs of a small town to live.

I’ve already talked about how small homesteads aren’t necessarily sustainable, especially when you factor transport into the equation. The next question is, can suburbs be sustainable?

I think they can, but it depends on a lot of factors. So here are 10 tips for suburban sustainability.

1. Localize, localize, localize. Even in a city, you can localize. Find hobbies and social groups that are close by. Use the local shops where you can, and local businesses. Share tools and household implements and knowledge with your neighbours – and get to know your neighbours!

Every suburb or area has its own unique “vibe” and identity. Become a part of yours, and become known as a local member of the community. Make sure your kids are known too. You won’t regret it.

2. Transport. Transport is the big one. No lifestyle is sustainable if you need a car to get you everywhere. Choosing a home that is close to where you need to be on a regular basis (work, schools, hobbies) is a huge factor.

3. The size of the home. Big homes use more energy in just about every respect. Consider lighting, for example: my home (the farm) has 33 ceiling lights. My friend’s small bungalow in town has just seven. My farm was built in the 1980s; his bungalow was built in the 1930s.

Houses may be built more efficiently now, but as time has gone on they have got bigger, and added more “features”. Extra rooms, bathrooms, porches and windows all use lots of energy.

In short, if you want to know if a house will send you broke before you buy it, count the ceiling lights and windows.

4. Choose the smallest home that will fit your needs. You’ll be happier, wealthier, and have more free time because you won’t be spending so much time cleaning and maintaining a huge home!

5. Search for the sun. When you’re house-hunting, take a compass with you. Find north. If you live in a cold climate, the more low north-facing sky you can see (in the southern hemisphere) or low south-facing sky you can see (in the northern hemisphere), the warmer the house will be in winter.

Sunshine will make a massive difference to your heating bills.

6. Thick curtains, rugs and insulation. Make sure your home, wherever it is, is well-insulated. It’ll pay for itself very quickly. Likewise, thick floor-to-ceiling curtains will keep the warmth in in winter and keep the house cool in summer. Floor rugs are also great for warmth, and can be cleaned and replaced easier (and more cheaply) than wall-to-wall carpet.

7. Use your greenspace. I’m continually surprised at the fact that, on our farm, most of our home-produced food comes from the small amount of greenspace just outside our front door. Plus our chickens, which turn food scraps into eggs.

Don’t think for a moment that you need a farm to be sustainable. And don’t underestimate the amount of food that can be grown even in pots, on a balcony.

Just in pots we grow: cherry tomatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, strawberries, raspberries, lettuce and a variety of herbs. They provide summer salads and desserts in very small space. It’s easy to do.

Strawberry plants - plus a few flowers - on our kitchen windowsill. My kids are watching them eagerly!

Strawberry plants – plus a few flowers – on our kitchen windowsill. My kids are watching them eagerly!

8. How much is that doggie in the window? How much does your pet really eat? I’m not saying don’t have a pet, but do the maths before you take on a pet. And if you do choose to have a pet, go to the SPCA if you can, and give a lost pet a new home.

9. The Farmer’s Market. Check to see if there’s a local Farmer’s Market, and use it. you’ll save money and shop more efficiently. Locally grown produce is almost always better, and usually cheaper as well as more sustainable.

10. Get to know your local secondhand stores. Buying secondhand is much more sustainable than buying new. And don’t be afraid to pass on old, outgrown items instead of binning them.

Leaving paradise…

My ex husband and I are getting our farm ready for sale.

We’ve been here six years, and I feel sad to be leaving. When we bought the place, it was a dream come true to me. I’d always wanted land, and a farm, and a house almost exactly like this. It was what I wanted.

In the six years or so we’ve been here, we’ve turned our property from a toxic wasteland doused with chemicals by previous owners into an organic paradise. It’s beautiful here, and peaceful, and the place thrums with birdsong in summer and the buzz of bees and insect life.

I feel like I’ve done what I came here to do.

I'll miss my country home. But the time has come to move on...

I’ll miss my country home. But the time has come to move on…

But times change, and the fact of the matter is that when you divorce, everything gets split to ways, and I can’t afford to stay. In any case I’d have probably had to leave even if I could afford it, simply because I’ll soon be working full time, and I wouldn’t be able to manage the upkeep on the place.

Sometimes life changes, whether we want it to or not.

Sometimes life changes, whether we want it to or not.

It’s time to move on.

So we’re getting painting and decking done, and fixing everything that needs sorting for the sale. The place is actually in pretty good order, but there are some things holding us back, and they all take time. Then we hope to sell this summer, and we’ll split the proceeds, and go our own ways.

I'll be saying goodbye to my sheep. I'll miss the rural life. But life changes sometimes.

I’ll be saying goodbye to my sheep. I’ll miss the rural life. But life changes sometimes.

Moving into town

I’ll be moving into town, and my plans are to rent for a while until I find a place that suits me. I’ve already started to watch the market, and I’ll be looking for a place that is convenient to my son’s new High School (he’s starting High School this year, I can’t believe it!) and close to wherever I end up working.

Ideally I’d prefer not to need a car at all, but with young kids I’m guessing that’s just not possible right now. Maybe once they’ve left the nest…? 🙂

One thing that is daunting is clearing out the whole farm of everything that needs to go. Despite the fact I’ve been decluttering for a couple of years, there is still a lot of stuff that needs selling and dumping, and getting rid of it all takes time. I’m glad I’m not a clutterbug! But there will be a lot of farm tools that I won’t need in the city any more, and I’ll be selling a lot of them.

Being independent…

It’s also a bit scary to think of supporting myself for the first time in decades. I was with my husband for nearly twenty years, and suddenly being independent is a big change for me. I think I’ll cope just fine, but I’m sure there will be challenges.

I’m glad my ex-husband and I are on excellent terms. I wouldn’t have to do this all if we were fighting. But we’ve reached a very amicable separation, and our relationship has evolved into one of good friends. I hope we stay that way.

I don’t think anyone ever plans to divorce. But we were neither of us happy together, and when we decided to end things we immediately knew it was the right thing to do. I never saw myself as a divorcee, but I guess that’s what I am. As long as we both put our children first, though, everything will be all right.

It will be all right 🙂