Saturday, July 31, 2010

Top 10 tips to tidy your toyroom

Once you have the knack of decluttering your grownup knickknacks and do-nothings, you might be ready to tackle a much thornier problem - Kid Stuff!

Why is Kid Stuff harder?
The essence of decluttering is "Do I need this?"  Adults usually have a few main interests and activities - we have learned we must focus on only a few for any level of quality.  So the essential question can be answered with a minimum of struggle.  Even the followup question "Will I need this later?" can, with some honesty, be handled.

Kids are butterfly beings with different interests each day so... "does she need this - will he need this later?"  How do you know? 

Inspired by a lovely Montessori handbook,  I have redesigned our home toy areas.  Here's what I've learned:


1.  Declutter first

Only store and organise what you want to keep!

Your kids will gain as much from the improvement as you do.

2.  Art is in the making

Be brutal with kids' paintings and crafts - at preschool and early school they might make something each day.  Do the math.  How many boxes of crumpled coloured paper and scattered glitter do you really want in your house?

If it doesn't make you say "Wow!" and rush off to show your partner or grandma, it's not this year's keeper.

3.  Dig deep!  

Toys which have been buried and haven't been played with for some time are the best candidates for someone else to love.  It is tempting to bring them out as a new surprise for your children, but beware!  Unless you can get rid of familiar toys instead, you won't end up decluttering anything.

Remember that they have too many toys and that's why you are here.  You don't have to do anything heartwrenching, but don't fall into the "this is sorta neat, maybe they'd like this again" mediocrity trap. 

4. There can be only one... 

You may find (like me) that you've bought several versions of a toy at different times, because you liked it just as much each time you saw it.  Full marks for consistency - now let's work on improving the clutter.

I'm a sucker for letter and number teaching games and there are so many cool ones!  But perhaps my kids don't need a Bob the Builder spelling game and Pooh Bear dominoes and an ABC puzzle and fridge magnets to learn the alphabet?

5. No one-trick ponies

The secret to having fewer toys is keeping only the toys that are full of surprises to stir your child's imagination.  Some toys look great but really only do one thing. 
  • One pull-along toy grabbed my son's attention and he even bought it with his own pocket money.  But even though this cute Elmo-head opened up to show Cookie Monster when pulled, that's all it did. Pull, roll, open, and giggle maniacally.  Its string was so short that a child tall enough to pull it would generally pull it off the ground.
  • A building set we were given that makes only a dog or a duck has limited entertainment value - the frustration of putting it together wrong generally outweighs the satisfaction of building a dog one more time
  • Current Lego fashion for sets with special pieces that build only one thing get a big thumbs down - we have a giant jumbled set of mostly basic blocks and I'm amazed at what gets built.  Again, I like toys where doing it differently doesn't mean doing it wrong.
Do yourself a favour and find one-trick ponies another stable...and think hard when bringing new toys into yours.
6.  Be careful giving away your kids' stuff!  

I judge what stuff my kids don't love anymore.  If I gave them refusal rights, they might develop a new attachment. So far, I haven't been bitten.  But just last week, my niece claimed a handed down book (now Nadia's favourite) as one of her favourites still! (This is the first time - both my nieces are very generous with passing on their things to us.)  Oh, the dilemma!  Oh the agony!  Oh, the irony, for my sister has yet to forgive our mother for donating her soft toys without asking her...

But we've got at least a 99.99% success rate.  And when my little baby darling girl wasn't looking at the book, I slipped it into my sister's little baby darling girl's schoolbag and luckily, I haven't heard anything about it at all.  Because if there's one other thing we have too many of, it's books!  I know this will strike a chord with many of you, and I'd love to hear what you do when you have so many great kids books that your shelves runneth over.

Now you're ready to put your remaining beloved educational and entertainment gems away. 

7.  Take professional advice

Dr Maria Montessori designed a revolutionary and successful teaching method that is still being used today.  Originally, their special handmade learning toys were dispensed by the teachers from locked cupboards.  But the children showed they would treat their playthings with respect.

Today's model allows children free access (many early education centres also use this model):
  • Open low shelves
  • Baskets or boxes to contain parts of toys
  • Last toy put away before next toy out (very important, but we are still working on this habit for home use)
I have seen this design in so many centres, but I had to see it described in a book to act on it.

I had two stacking basket sets where the shelves are now, and they ended up as stacked jumble piles that the kids rarely dug into for toys.

That big basket on the top shelf will become another junk basket if I don't dedicate it to a purpose.

    8. Easy access
    A good play area must be easy to put things into and get things out of.  Otherwise, anything stored there will turn into a junk pile. Remember that good things might as well be junk if you can't find them. It's much easier to throw something down and under than to pick it up and out.

    It took so long to clear out underneath our small school desk in the corner that it was an obvious lesson - nothing more is going to be stored there.

    9.  The storage must fit the the stored

    Small toys in a deep container might as well be in a black hole, or expect the whole lot to be on the floor for searching.  As a rule, toys shouldn't be piled more than three layers deep in a container...excluding building sets like Lego, of course.  Luckly, shallow containers are more likely to fit under furniture for storage.

    We have a few big containers (probably verging on too big)
    • Bucket for bats and paddles and spades
    • Hamper for balls and balloons (my kids like blowing up balloons just for the sake of it)
    • Tall basket and a wall mounted hammock for large soft toys
    I do my best to keep small toys out of these black holes.

    10.  Rotating toys

    You may have great toys that you and the kids can't part with but still can't fit into your professionally-inspired uncluttered easy access play area either.

    If you have the room elsewhere, box those winners up and bring them out in a few months (and choose current toys to live in the box).  Rotation time is a great time for another round of decluttering!

    When boxing up:
    • choose toys with some lifespan left - if your child will be too old for that toy by next rotation, that's one to leave available for play
    • store with care - you don't want rotation time to be jumble cleanup time

    Must try harder
    You can see from my pictures that we are still a work in progress.

    Seriously, I am donating in fruit bags when I have so much stuff I ought to be donating in rubbish bags.  Has anyone tried the clean sweep method with toys and other kid stuff?

    Other takes on tidy toyrooms:
    Have I missed out your favourite tidy tip?  Share it!

    Kickstart your day

    This isn't news to anybody who can read labels, but the vast majority of packaged cereals aren't good for you.  In fact, the vast majority of food in the supermarkets aren't good for you either.

    But some of the quotes in the cereal article make my lip curl: 
    Food and Grocery Council chief executive Katherine Rich said manufacturers had already reduced the salt and sugar content of their cereals, but "only so much can be removed without removing taste and flavour".
    Allow me to translate:
    Our customers are addicted to sugar and we like it that way.  If we added less sugar, our customers would go to another cereal that still has lots of sugar, and...wait, sorry, (fans face vigourously) I just can't talk about it anymore!
    Kellogg's spokeswoman Tina Wall said its Crunchy Nut Corn Flakes and Nutri-Grain contained less sugar than a 200g pottle of fruit-flavoured yoghurt.     
    Pay that woman an even more obscene salary - she's worth every penny.  In case anything is lost in translation:
    We're not actually at all bad, especially compared to another product that has also been sweetened past all resemblance to its natural state.
    I fondly remember the days when my kids would happily chow down on porridge with me every morning.  While their tastes have been adulterated already, our pantry holds only cornflakes, rice bubbles, weetbix, and muesli.  Boring?  Hooray for boring!  I can't imagine a trip to the store that would include buying Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs for my little Calvin. I shudder to think of his behaviour after eating a bowl, and this crap costs more than basic cereals.
    • Perhaps it's only a psychological effect, but I really like to start the day with simple whole grains; the way I would like to eat for the rest of the day too.  With that one meal, I get more fibre than the average person eats all day.  If you start with sugary treats, are you likely to improve with the rest of your day?
    But somebody's buying them.

    OK, let's get real.  A lot of people are buying a lot of them...a lot.  Supermarkets don't stock boxes that don't move, and 72% of cereals had unacceptable levels of fibre, sugar and fat!  And they taste like it.  They taste too good to be good for you.

    So if you do buy more, shall we say, entertaining cereals, will you step up bravely and explain why?  And I'm also interested if these are actually served to children for their breakfast...  I will also accept stories about other people you know who buy these cereals, if you know why they do.

    Thursday, July 29, 2010

    Yo-yo day again!

    I'm still looking for inspiration on my last yo-yo, the camera that was...

    This one should be a no-brainer as I'm not into dust-collectors, but it is a little potpourri jar and I want the room to smell nice!

    Perhaps someone could explain that I don't need to use a little jar to make the room smell nice?  How do you freshen your rooms in wintertime?

    And in other news, I really did it!  I cut the cord on my cleaners, like I promised.  
    • I planned one last session (as notice for them) but they delayed me for a new client until it was too late.  So I still have our $42, my thank you card, and my box of homemade chocolate coconut ice.  And I did my own vacuuming and wiping, and the house hasn't fallen to bits.  
    That's one small step for me, and one giant leap for minimalism.

    Saturday, July 24, 2010

    Exercising and mental gymnastics

    I recently commented on one of the longest Facebook threads I have seen and I haven't been able to stop thinking about it. 

    To my loved ones involved in the discussion (and everyone else) - this is not a dig about personal choices; it's about the world we are somewhat stuck with.  So here goes...
    "Soooo.. why is it that when I'm friendly to someone at the gym, they automatically assume that I want to spend my entire workout talking to them when I obviously have to remove my earplugs every time they say something?"
    Being more of a loner myself, I have a huge amount of empathy here.  It can be really difficult when someone else ignores obvious social clues that you're not open for conversation.  And there were plenty more empathetic comments from people who'd obviously been there.

    I have never done the Walkman/IPod thing during my exercise because I like my mind to wander meditatively and I like to look around me.  Takes my mind off the sweating.  So, going past my own automatic introverted response, my personal devil's advocate asked
    "...isn't it nice that people want to talk instead of just being in their own heads?"
    But apparently, at the gym, it isn't!  The firm response: while they are positive social butterflies in other areas, they are at the gym to work out and conversation is a distraction from that.  They even discussed antisocial techniques to discourage approaches.  And I can totally understand a need for focus - this is your health!

    But how did we get so far away from balance in our lives?  So many people have such a large disconnect between daily food and daily action that they pay significant money to rent space in a building so they can get in a car, drive to the building, then move their bodies with the help of machines, many using valuable electricity.  And a large majority of these people find it much easier to get through the pain of the experience by using earphones to limit their world to their favourite music - so much so that another person trying to make conversation is an unwelcome intrusion.

    Some people take this outside too.  Today, when running alongside one of Auckland's top-rated views (Rangitoto on a sunny morning), I noticed people wired in, turned on and dropped out of their surroundings.

    As I've said before, I don't use the gym now.  So I compared my own preferences during my exercise - how would I feel if a stranger walking or running near me struck up a conversation and continued to chat?  I can only speculate, because it has never happened.  One major difference between exercising outside and in the gym is that people are actually moving.  Moving at different speeds, in different directions, away from each other.  In the gym, if you're 10 minutes into your 20 minute workout on the crosstrainer and some desperate saddo decides to chat you up mercilessly, you're trapped.

    Gym body work has no other purpose except to maintain or regain health...and of course that in itself has value.  But this lack also makes it unique.  You're not making anything grow, or making anything cleaner, or building anything, or getting any Vitamin D or fresh air, or learning that your neighbour planted three new trees and the house down the road is for sale, or making anyone else happy, or learning skills useful in other areas, or even usually having much fun in the process.  
    • The gym is the exercise equivalent of processed packaged food - or perhaps the hamster wheel in our virtual cage?
    And yet this is genuinely a preferred choice for so many people, because nothing else fits into their lifestyles.  The popularity proves a need is being filled.  A recent study shows that even standing helps your health compared to sitting during your day.  And so many of us in the knowledge economy must sit to complete our work.  Beyond micropauses, the standing workstation is an interesting variation that I haven't adopted yet. 

    Partly in commitment to the discomfort that led to this rant, and to goals 1 and 3, I am giving up a personal luxury we have enjoyed since being DINKs - our weekly basic houseclean.  The dark side to Nadia's increased time at preschool is a further drain on our budget.  I can't come up with any easier way to increase our bottom line (and get a bit of free exercise on the side).  Goodbye, outsourcing! 

    Friday, July 23, 2010

    Motherhood and beyond! (Punch fist in the air like Buzz Lightyear)

    Today Nadia started her first morning at preschool and I had my first real taste of the end of fulltime mothering.  Heady stuff!  And I get it again tomorrow!
    • Nadia settled in like a dream.  So I skedaddled, dropped off a few bags at the charity shop, bought some lovely treats, and dropped in at my (ex)regular Plunket kids' playgroup for a celebration of being childfree.  The previous week, which should have been our last, everyone was hopelessly sick and we missed out on the farewell morning tea that was put on for us!  Chatting with the girls is more fun when you have no kid to keep entertained.  And aren't responsible for taking out the toys, and putting back the toys, and...  This won't be a major plan for my spare time, but it was a nice closure.

    I've discussed the need for special sparks to get through the mundane requirements of living.  But that is survival mode.  There must be more! I need to have goals that serve me as a person and not only as my super crucial role of SuperMum.
    • I totally do not want to hear "I thought you don't go to work because you don't know how to do anything" and I love seeing the wonder on the kids' faces when I do something beyond their experience.

    So here's the public declaration of Thinking Big!
    1. Body in shape - I was doing pretty well before the Great Illness (ok, it wasn't Man Flu, but not fun anyway).  But now it feels like I'm starting again.  And I'm 40 next year - so what better motivation than feeling and looking fab at 40?   Concrete Goal: runs reaching the beach on my free mornings as well as my mini-morning workouts
    2. Voice in shape - I don't want to be "I used to be an opera singer..." forever   I have the time and I need to prioritise.  I have the potential to be an even better performer than before, because after having children, I doubt I'll be half so uptight.  Concrete Goal - unbox my old sheet music and refresh my memory of one song a week.
    3. Bring in some money - I have just taken on two voluntary responsibilities for groups that have been important to my family.  While these earn no money, they are a genuine item on my CV and will help me warm up my skills.
    And here's what I'll give up:
    1. Facebook time - one peek per day and off again
    2. Eating for entertainment - my lifelong habit of opening my mouth and putting things in without thinking is keeping me where I am today (at least as much as opening my mouth and letting things out without thinking)  Hours of hard-fought sweaty workout can be blown in 15 minutes of thoughtless eating - don't do it!
    3. No, if I can manage 1 and 2, I'll be doing extremely well!
    What about you SuperMums?  Are you ready to commit to a goal that grows you as a person?  (Before was too early for me, and if you're still knee deep in newborns then this is not a guilt trip!)

      Saturday, July 17, 2010

      Investment in joy ...

      Reaching the end of this two weeks' school holidays, far too much of which have been spent in various levels of illness - my own, DH's, and both kids.  And not enough in fun and excitement for anybody.
      • DS has just been rushed to the last opening moments of the local White Cross to confirm an ear infection.  Oh joy - antibiotics!  I suppose, at least, this should mark an improvement.

       We all deserve sparks in our lives - in face we all need these sparks, these little moments that quite frankly make it worth getting up in the morning...or in the night.

      It can be extremely hard for mums to find these - we spend so much of ourselves in service to the family that often there's nothing left for treating ourselves well.  And as a minimalist mum, I may fall even deeper into this trap:
      1. Attachment parenting philosophy certainly includes the mother taking care of herself, but with needy immature loudlings on tap all day and every day, it's not obvious how this blossoms from theory to reality
      2. My frugal side doesn't turn on and off like a switch - it's hard not to see extras as just that: extras and therefore unnecessary and therefore foregone!  Many of my compatriots speak of budgets containing "play money" for them, but I don't have a primping account, just our usual scrimping one.  
      3. So not for me the casual trip to the cafe for that pricey steaming scented cardboard cup or the hairdressers for a cut and colour of my coif, or to the jewelers to add to my bling.  And I don't actually want it - I'm not forcing myself to be minimalist by denial. 
      But if I skip the usual suburban housewife's fare, I still have my own tastes and pleasures to indulge - and I neglect them to the whole family's peril.   When I watch myself (like in the past few days) becoming inappropriately and uncontrollably resentful, I know I've been missing out on my sparks.  And at a pity party, you don't have to share the hors d'oeuvres, but...

      My treats
      1. Off-duty time.  I'm tempted to put this at numbers one and two!  I'm reaching the end of the years when Nadia is with me basically always.  From next week, she starts two mornings a week (and they can't call in sick).  When I don't get a consecutive hour or two actually off duty, the tension mounts....
      2. Reading.  My tastes have devolved away from anything serious and I devour chick-lit.
      3. Writing - this helps get bubbling ideas out of my head.  Bubbling ideas are very uncomfortable
      4. Anything tasty that I can prepare with some care.  Hot cocoa in a special cup with sprinkles, yum!  Special note - in the pursuit of gratification, stuffing of food in mouth without care and preparation happens.  It never works.  It's totally unsatisfying.
      5. Bathing or grooming (thankfully hasn't included any nitpicking for some years) - sometimes as basic as trimming toenails or as fancy as painting them.  Moisturising my feet.  A bath or shower with time to dream....
      Now it's your turn - treat me to your nicest treat ideas!

      Wednesday, July 14, 2010

      Proud to be a really bad consumer...

      This post was inspired by a comment by Ken Silver on a very inspiring older post over on Erin Doland's Unclutterer
      I found out the other day what the bank folk call people who pay off their credit cards on time or early: deadbeats! Obviously that’s because the banks don’t make any money from the card users.
      Gosh, I'm so darned proud to be a bank deadbeat that I feel all choked up!  We've been making banks unhappy for years now - paying off our first mortgage years before it was due and always paying off credit card debt so we get free credit days and cashback points.

      I'm thrilled that both DH and I are very debt-shy.  It is possible that this has stopped us from making the proverbial "killing" in the real estate market.  It's also possible this has saved us from being overstressed and financially overcommitted and in serious trouble.

      Other things I am proud of:  
      1. Shopping the grocery loss leaders instore or online and not buying lots of extras to cancel out our savings.
      2. Looking for secondhand deals on Trademe or in charity shops before buying retail
      3. Donating my unwanted stuff to friends or on freecycle so others won't have to buy more stuff.
      George W Bush can go hang for all I care; the solution to our problems is not to go shopping.
      • Research indicates that George W Bush saying this may be a media legend - but I'll say it again because I like the sound of it - George W Bush can go hang for all I care.
      The era of the consumer superculture is over and shown as the pyramid scheme it always had to be.

      It's not my responsibility to use hard-earned money to buy things we don't need in a doomed effort to regain what we really never had.  And it's not yours either.  A healthy economy needs to build on real gains, not the cycle of continual product failures.  And we need to reclaim some independence from the money-go-round because we were never the winners.

      See this great Alternet article on the topic...

      What real change would you like to see to our economic base for a sustainable future?

      Sunday, July 11, 2010

      In defense of Peter Pan


      Breastfeeding in public has become an active topic around my neck of the online woods for at least 6 months.  I contributed my bit to the Carnival of NIP (very much on one end of the spectrum).  The mainstream media have also been plugging away regularly on the topic, soliciting the feedback of Joe and Jo Q Public on the concept of children being fed anywhere, anytime, in front of them.

      Answers fall in the following general categories:
      1. Breastfeeding is wonderful and natural and women need to be encouraged to do it, not hidden away.
      2. Breastfeeding is OK and I don't mind as long as they are discreet and maybe use a cover
      3. Oh my god, have some consideration for everyone else and feed your baby in private - pump it into a bottle and use that rather than whipping your breasts out in front of everybody.
      OK, so you already know I'm biased!  But variations on number 3 go all the way to "stay at home until your baby is weaned" and this makes me pause for thought beyond the automatic outrage I have as a BF mother at the attitudes people have.

      Children should not be seen or heard
      Our society has reached a point where large sections of the adult population feel entitled to not see children at all - breastfeeding, bottlefeeding, running around having fun, whatever!  24/7, 365 days a year, children are taken care of, invisibly, by somebody else (thank goodness).

      Adults like me (a younger child of two), from coming of age until I had my own children
      1. live alone or with childless peers of a similar age
      2. go to study or work where nary a short young person of insufficient years is tolerated, and family responsibilities are kept invisible
      3. finish the day with activities scheduled after small children are tucked up at home safely
      We have no idea about children except as an unwelcome surprise intrusion into adult space, and no idea about their carers except as objects of mild pity and scorn.  And many of us will defend our preferences vigorously!  These preferences for the adult world only please are heartfelt and genuine - and based on the most artificial separation between children and adults in human history.

      How did this happen?
      The small, mobile, nuclear family has as much to do with this as the workplace.  With fewer siblings, there is no continuum for children to learn about childcare in the family.  Families are more likely to live in different cities or countries, and only in direst circumstances in the same house!  So how could children absorb the childcare needs of their cousins, or hear stories of growing up in grandma's day?

      And then the saddest punchline is that then some adults like me have children.  And we and our children are at the mercy of our own ignorance, our exposure to childhood experts that span a full 360 degrees of advice, and if we are lucky, our parents' faded memories of how they raised us 20, 30, or more years ago.
      • Don't get me wrong:  I'm the biggest fan around of not having to produce every child I fall pregnant with as the natural course of things until it kills me before my time.  I just feel sure we don't have to throw it all away along with the 10 children.
      There have been some lovely posts recently on what kids can teach us:
      Is it really a good idea for a large proportion of us to lose touch with the magic (as well as the more obvious annoyances) of children?  Who never learn to live with, communicate with and understand the needs of a child?  And be a proudly defiant subculture?  Only children are often considered disadvantaged by lessons they never had to learn in their families, and surely there is a parallel here.

      Any of us born grownup?
      We were all children, for better or worse.  If you refuse to understand what children are, or what you were, as a child, how can you hope to understand the adult that grew from that child?  That goes for the adult in the mirror, across the dinner table, or across the boardroom table.   The things kids do naturally read like a menu from the self-help books.
      • I am not saying you must have children of your very own to do this - simply that avoiding children as distasteful biological necessities that happen to other people, or even just casually scheduling your life with no contact, is probably not healthy  

      One of my favourite communication books is How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk
      by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish.  It's great for talking with your kids but the very same methods work their magic with anyone of any age who appreciates honesty and consideration.

      And let's turn this to the dark side and look at...

      Things children learn from the adult world
      • things are more important than people
      • schedules are more important than people 
      • invented fantasies on the screen are more interesting than your own imagination, other people, or real life
      • you will spend most of your time working at something you probably don't like to earn money to buy things, and the rest of the time you will be too tired to do much else
      • you have a limited time to enjoy any activity
      • fun and excitement are annoying to other people
      • your activities are strictly defined by whoever's in charge
      • joyous use of your body "just because" is weird - physical activity must be to some organised purpose - unless you're drunk or otherwise drugged
      • men don't care for children
      • and plenty more...
      And thus these children become the next wave of adults.  Why would Peter Pan want to grow up?

      Saturday, July 10, 2010

      I found the BEFORE pictures!

      Just like on the infomercial, I'm really excited about this!  Because some of my biggest work happened in our downstairs area before I started on this blog and now I get to show it off...

      If it can be called showing off to display how horrendous things were before.  
      • Believe it or not, I took these pictures to show this area to an organiser for student host families.  Do I blame her for refusing us?  Why was she even polite?  In my defense, had anything come of it, I would have made exactly these improvements.  The real hangup was the lack of a wall and door enclosure to the bed area.  If anyone knows an easy way to ventilate a room surrounded by concrete wall and ground, post now!
      All right (deep breath).  Here we go.

      That's not too horrible, for a downstairs area...after all, we have had guests here on a regular basis.

      And in fact, the after shot isn't a huge improvement.  Lots has changed but it's not much less crowded.  Gotta love the new mirror - bargain ex-dresser mirror from our local charity shop and installed by handy dandy DH!  And the actual working desk area.

      So, in our before shot across from that futon bed.....things are getting worse!

      Well, you have to tidy extra furniture somewhere...right?  Right?  Of course you do.

      And now?  This is so great...we discovered there was a wall back there.  To help convince you this really is the same space, on the far left of both, you can see the edge of our large food storage pantry.  That sucker ain't movin'!

      The dresser behind SuperTorchMan there and the hamper on top are empty!  And the tall brown cupboard is now completely hidden behind the big pantry when you walk into the room - same storage area, less visual clutter.

      Now, for Super Uber before picture of the rest of the downstairs area (ooooh, I can't look, it's too scary)!

      Did I say the downstairs area?  Sorry, I meant the disaster area.  I'm so glad I have an after shot coming... 

      What a difference! It's like day and night!  OK, it is day and night, but that's not important right now.  We have rediscovered the floor...and walls...and bits that restore the roomy quality of the room, while losing that je ne sais quoi, junk pile decor we had going before. 

      Of course, I got rid of loads of stuff during this transformation.  but I also did some thinking.  We had cleared the space for the desk (invisibly holding up towers of boxes in disaster shot) to go across from the bed and be a desk. Then I clicked:  perhaps it's not the best feng shui to build my Great Wall of Boxes or even the new Lesser Wall of Boxes in direct line of sight of the door to this room...which is also the first room on view when visitors enter the lobby of our house.  I couldn't hurry them up the stairs before they saw our shame.

      Now Wall of Boxes is invisible unless you step into the room - which most visitors won't.  They do see the kiddy art tables in artful disarray most of the time, but at least that's now against the wall instead of halfway across the floor.

      The amazing thing is, I didn't really think we had a major problem before I started on it.  Even though it wasn't really out of sight, I had put it out of my mind because we have a sizeable house and this isn't our living space.  But the feeling of accomplishment?  Priceless...

      What about you - any hidey holes in your sanctum of peace that you're pretending don't exist?

      Sunday, July 4, 2010

      Nursing in public

      Welcome to the July 2010 Carnival of Nursing in Public

      This post was written for inclusion in the Carnival of Nursing in Public hosted by Dionna and Paige at All week, July 5-9, we will be featuring articles and posts about nursing in public ("NIP"). See the bottom of this post for more information.


      Our first child, our unexpected son, was born only 1.7kgs (3lbs 12oz) while I was unconscious.  Instead of being introduced, he lay in an incubator under Daddy's hands while I was treated with increasingly painful measures to stop my haemorrhage.  While my life was saved with drugs and transfusions, my sister singlehandedly prevented the routine formula feeding of our tiny boy.  She quoted to the special care department the WHO recommendations for supplementation when mother's milk is not available...and did not back down.
      • In fact, it is standard hospital policy to formula feed babies who are small (so they can gain chart weight) and babies who are big (because mum couldn't possibly produce enough milk for a big appetite).  A friend of mine with a large baby was told she would need to supplement before she had recovered from her epidural!

      During our stay in special care, Alex and I were on a frequent feeding schedule and I pumped after each feed.  I was just able to supply the tube-feeding supplement schedule the hospital prescribed - they were clearly so reluctant to use the donor milk available.  Alex was judged by staff to be feeding very well, when in fact he was too weak yet to do it properly.  We learned by ourselves at home instead.

      I nursed Alex on cue, round the clock, while in an as yet unrecognised state of post traumatic stress disorder from his birth.  If I couldn't nurse him in public, I couldn't have left the house.  I nursed him above 2 kgs, and 3 kgs (a normal birth weight), and exclusively until about 7 months.  I nursed him past 1 year, and 2 years, and sometimes painfully through my second pregnancy.  And we all learned a new relationship when Nadia joined us.
      • It's my right to feed my babies in public. I've earned it. 
      • It's my duty to feed my babies in public, so other children won't grow up as I did, with no memories of seeing a baby at a mother's breast. 
      • It's my pleasure to feed my babies in public, to show that a good baby is one who trusts her mother will respond to her needs, not one who has given up asking for a response.
      • It is my habit to feed my babies in public without even stopping my conversations, and I hope that my nonchalance will be contagious.
      I am still tandem feeding both Alex and Nadia.  I appeared on a local documentary for this rarity, and felt quite badly represented, but couldn't pass up the chance to explain the breastfeeding continuum from newborn onward - and why there is sometimes no good reason to stop.   


      I feed 2 year old Nadia only in friendly places, and the only friendly place to feed my 5 year old (18kg) Alex is at home.  Because we still have a long way to go, baby....

      Art by Erika Hastings at

      Welcome to the Carnival of Nursing in Public

      Please join us all week, July 5-9, as we celebrate and support breastfeeding mothers. And visit any time to connect with other breastfeeding supporters, learn more about your legal right to nurse in public, and read (and contribute!) articles about breastfeeding and N.I.P.

      Do you support breastfeeding in public? Grab this badge for your blog or website to show your support and encourage others to educate themselves about the benefits of breastfeeding and the rights of breastfeeding mothers and children.

      This post is just one of many being featured as part of the Carnival of Nursing in Public. Please visit our other writers each day of the Carnival. Click on the links below to see each day’s posts - new articles will be posted on the following days:

      July 5 - Making Breastfeeding the Norm: Creating a Culture of Breastfeeding in a Hyper-Sexualized World

      July 6 – Supporting Breastfeeding Mothers: the New, the Experienced, and the Mothers of More Than One Nursing Child

      July 7 – Creating a Supportive Network: Your Stories and Celebrations of N.I.P.

      July 8 – Breastfeeding: International and Religious Perspectives

      July 9 – Your Legal Right to Nurse in Public, and How to Respond to Anyone Who Questions It

      Yo-yo day - say chocolate!

      • Help mothers beat the Booby Traps and vote for BestForBabes!

      OK, this is one of our toughest and most interesting yo-yos.  And a very valuable (and expensive lesson for me).

      This is our lovely IXY 910IS digital camera - this picture was taken with our slightly newer but just as lovely IXY 910IS digital camera.  Confused?  Just wait.

      The camera in the picture (let's call it #2, which is ironic if you happen to be into toilet humour) was our replacement camera that we bought after our perfectly good previous Canon digital camera (#1) went AWOL during our house move in 2007.  We kept assuming it would show up somewhere after the chaos of the move, but it never did (and neither did the pictures on it!)  So we got to upgrade as a reward for our carelessness.

      We moved in August.  Fast forward a few months - Alex was 2 and a half and just loves cameras (and remotes and DVD players and anything at all that has buttons than make something light up or go whirr).  In a moment of madness, I let him have the precious new replacement camera (#2), thinking "he's got the strap round his wrist, he's not much more than 1/2 metre tall and he's on carpet so what harm could he possibly do?"

      Well, now we know one significant answer to that question.  (Let's face it, there are probably more.)  What he can do is grasp the extended lens in his surprisingly strong grip and twist it hard enough to break the automatic mechanism.  Look closely at the photo and you may note that the lens is out... sort of....twisted 90 degrees from its originally designed stopping point.

      Shocked and appalled but being the the frugal and savvy consumer that I am (if not so savvy childminder :-) we investigated repairs.  'Twas something like the week before Christmas and I'm sure you won't be surprised to hear that estimated repairs (for the known damage) would at least be a large proportion of the cost of a new camera, plus several weeks' waiting time.  We just couldn't be without the camera for Christmas with a deal like that.  Thus, we winced again, and camera #3 has been doing fine duty ever since.

      And yet we still have the other camera which is now literally just #2, and I think the mistake that we are making financially is called valuing sunk costs.  Is there any chance that someone else would take the risk and hassle of getting it fixed to save a small amount on the purchase of a new camera?  We've waited so long that now it's not even attractive as a latest model.  Yet it is still on our shelf  - even if it's DH's office junk shelf.

      I am open to imaginative suggestions for this yo-yo that beat just throwing it in the rubbish.  Feel free also to share stories that make me feel not so alone in my poor judgements about children's capabilities :-)

      Friday, July 2, 2010

      How not to go shopping

      Whoa!  This really speaks to me:  Why Consumerism is unsatisfying...
      No, really, click on this, read the quickie article, and come back.  Now this one from our lovely Leo - it's really short too.

      OK, let's move on...

      We've all experienced it.  And in general, buying less stuff is good.  I admit to having a natural advantage because I don't like shopping that much.  I find comparison shopping stressful and I can't remember ever going on to do more comparison after I've painfully decided what to buy.  I hate busy shops with lots of people and ads everywhere.  And I don't really like spending money. 

      So how does the natural (that's me) shop?

      Don't go shopping
      This is my first line of defense.  This may sound too obvious, but when your eyes gets hit with the goodies, your brain gets the gimmes! Marketing creatures are professionals and they are paid to know how you think.  What's your win/lose average for going shopping and coming out empty handed (or even with only what you went in for)?   Yeah, me too.  Wow, I didn't even know I needed that until I saw it....

      This applies to
      • Real shops
      • Online shops
      • Mail catalogues
      Of course, we all must shop.  But with a strategy, some shopping trips can remain in the alternate universe where they belong while in this universe, I have more money and an uncluttered home.
      1. Plan food shopping - schedules and lists are a must to avoid hitting the supermarket many times a week
      2. Don't shop as casual entertainment or mood enhancement - the shop owner is getting better entertainment for their dollar than I am and remember that article at the top of the page?  Again, with planning you could spend that money on something really satisfying.  Shopping can be lots of fun sometimes, I do know that, so keep reading.
      OK, so when you must go shopping
      • Shop first at basic stores - this goes for food and anything else.  The fancier the store, the higher the prices and the better the "come-hither and buy me" tricks.
      • Shop at secondhand and charity stores - when I feel the urge for retail therapy, I avoid retail stores.  Downmarket shops don't have flashy ads and plastic packaging, a lot of their goods are better quality than new in retail stores, a real range of fashions and sizes are available, and of course, if I feel like some seriously uncontrolled shopping, better at the charity shop than the mall.
      • Group shopping tasks together - if I know I have to visit 5 shops before lunch to buy what I need, I am more focused and less likely to browse, even if I had the energy!  If you do a casual shopping trip each day of the week, you will magically discover more things you need to buy as you stroll down the aisles.
      What's your shopping personality?  Does it interfere with any of your other important goals?

      Thursday, July 1, 2010

      Breast is best - please turn on sense of humour!

      This isn't a satire of non-breastfeeding mums!  As I was writing this, I felt mostly the total disconnect of communication that we have between these two "sides" in the mommy wars.

      BF mum: “Breast is best.  After all, as mammals we…”
      FF mum: “I am NOT a bad mother!”
      BF mum: “What?  No, no, but studies show that…”
      FF mum: “I had nipple problems.”
      BF mum: “Ah, you see, the correct latch can be…”
      FF mum: “My nipples fell off. They had to be surgically replaced.”
      BF mum: “OH!  Umm, well, breast surgery can cause complications, but generally…”
      FF mum: “My baby lost lots of weight.  When he was down to ½ kg, my doctor made me use formula.”
      BF mum: “Oh dear.  You see, weight loss in the newborn is usually…”
      FF mum: “I had to go back to work within 3 hours of delivery.  The only place I could express was in the construction workers’ lunchroom!”
      BF mum: “Wow.  Did you know that employers are required to...”
      FF mum: “If I don’t get 10 hours sleep a night, I attack people at random.  I just got out of prison.”
      BF mum: “I see. Sleep deprivation is always…”
      FF mum: “My religion forbids seeing my own breasts or I will go to hell and my soul will be distributed between legions of demons.”
      BF mum: “I see.  There are often sensitive cultural aspects…”
      FF mum: “My baby was born with three heads and I couldn’t feed and I wish people would stop looking at us like she’s a freak!”
      BF mum: “Mothering multiples can be tricky – there are sometimes different positions…”
      FF mum: “I’m an orphan solo mum living on a desert island…”
      BF mum: “Isolation from the community is a very difficult…”
      FF mum: “My baby was kidnapped by aliens and it was too late by the time we got him back!”
      BF mum: “OK, but sometimes after periods of separation, bonding can be assisted by relactation…
      FF mum: “My family owns a formula company and if I’d breastfed, my husband would have divorced me.”
      BF mum: “Often your family isn’t where your best support…”
      FF mum: “So you see, I had to use formula.  The most important thing is that the baby is fed!”
      FF mum: “Hey sista, chill out, I had formula and so did my babies and we’re all Olympic champions!”
      BF mum: “But, but, breastmilk has amazing properties formula can never match, and for most women with the proper support…
      FF mums: “Stop making us feel guilty, you militant breastfeeder!”