A Little Free Library

We take for granted the privilege and accessibility we have to books! A while ago I wrote about the importance of reading stories to your children, to teach them about libraries and book shops, but not everyone can just pick up a book and read.

I came across the most amazing initiative, not unique to Hermanus, in fact it is a worldwide initiative. It just spoke to me on so many levels, the most important of it is sharing, sharing of knowledge, sharing of stories.

A Little Free Library is a free book exchange. It belongs to everyone and everyone can use it!

When you see something you would like to read in A Little Free Library, take it. When you are finished, share it with a friend, bring it back here, or leave it in another Little Free Library.

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It is up to everyone to keep A Little Free Library full of good reads! Bring books to share when you can, and continue being a friend of Little Free Libraries everywhere!

This is not only for children, but for all ages.

How often have you read an amazing book and thought you could share it with someone who needs this exact story, but just kept it on your bookshelf. Yes you can take it anywhere, but this initiative is simply about sharing books, not about any other form of charity.

Mishka loved sharing her books and picking up books from other bookworms. This initiative has a clear message, it is about sharing!

Find a Little Free Library near you. I found ours on Facebook.

 

 

5 reasons for kids to visit museums

I remember those long journeys as a child, on our way from one side of the country to the other, driving not flying. We were allowed to nap for a little while, but my dad loved for all of us to be awake so he can show us our country and tell us the stories he was told about our history. Most of the stories are forgotten but some remain fresh in my mind, and now I can tell my daughter on our road-trips.

That said, I know I don’t have all the stories, and I do want Mishka to understand her world, not only from what she can see now, but from what was, to complete the picture. How will I do this? Buy her a few books, send her to Google with a list of topics? How boring!

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Why worry if we have the amazing privilege of museums and heritage sites to tell the stories for us. More than that, it allows our children to experience history by touching and feeling artifacts, by being present on a historical site.

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We recently visited the West Coast Fossil Park, and what a treat! Here you can see  fossils of bears, sabre-tooth cats, short-necked giraffes and the many other exotic animals which inhabited the west coast area some 5 million years ago.IMG_2087

Informative guided walking tours to the dig site are the main attraction. This site is well worth visiting as it is one of the few places where you can see fossils in the ground exactly as they were buried some 5 million years ago and exactly as they have been carefully uncovered by the research teams.

It made me think, how many of us make an effort to take our kids to see dinosaur bones, textile collections or extinct animal species? Why is this important?

  1. Children can benefit the most from museums because they are at a unique advantage to see things with a sense of creativity and inspiration. These spaces can foster a sense of wonder and boost self-esteem when paired with interactive learning exhibits that teach kids about leadership, sharing, and doing things for themselves.
  2. Museums also offer children of any age the chance to learn interactively about a particular subject, which enhances their drive to take an interest in it.
  3. Seeing those things in person allows us to connect with the figure in a way that’s difficult to do within the pages of a book.
  4. Better ability to compare and differentiate
  5. Enhanced love of history

Next time you go away, do your research, look for heritage sites and museums and take that time to show your child. There will be plenty of beach days or hiking days, make one of your days a day to learn (don’t call it that though, it will scare them!) Just pop in the car and drive there, they will love it!

 

 

Supporting mompreneurs: featuring AvaHazel.store

I’ve said this before, but will mention it again: we are so lucky to have the most amazing mommy entrepreneurs in our wonder world, especially craft and clothing small business owners. They are always interested in making something especially for us, to truly reflect who we are. AvaHazel.store is one of our new favourites and I want to share their story with you.

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We started our little family business after my beautiful Ava Hazel was born and I just couldn’t find anything unique to wear or dress her in.

So my mother Zenobia Engelbrecht started making clothes for Ava and I fell in love with it and could not resist sharing my beautiful mom’s talents.

We slowly started to look for designs and fabrics. This in itself was an amazing journey for us because it allowed us to spend so much time together, not to mention Granny time with Ava Hazel. 

We decided to name the business after my daughter: Ava Hazel Storey and if you look at it we just dropped the “Y” to make it AvaHazel.store☺️

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The first romper my mom made had a frilly neck, which is “our signature romper” named the AvaHazel Romper – inspired by the girl herself.

We offer something different and unique, something you wouldn’t find in shops

Our style is a bit peasant-like, almost old fashioned and timeless.

The heirloom dolls were added to the business later on and we called it: madebyzenobia. 

My mom made Ava a doll and this became our next product line so the whole world could share in the beauty and craft of these 100% handmade, one of a kind dolls.

We are confident that our business will grow with Ava and who knows maybe she will take it over one day. For now half of the proceeds from our sales goes straight into her education fund! 

This is exactly why we love supporting AvaHazel.store, they have the style we adore and the values we believe in. But don’t take my word for it, go see for yourself https://avahazel-store.myshopify.com/

Gentle Parenting – how we apply it

So many things are shared on our family Whats App group, but lately I really cherish the openness of my parents about their experiences as children and parents. My dad told a story about his first experience at a barber shop and how different it was from what my nephew experienced when he had his first hair cut at the local barber. It came down to the way children were seen and ‘handled’ – without empathy and very rigid rules of acceptable behaviour: mostly shut up, sit still and behave!

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It made me very emotional to think about my dad as a little boy, not only did he experience this hostile treatment in a public place but also at home, the lack of understanding and compassion, the lack of comforting and emotional support, especially for boys of his generation. But that’s just it, a generational thing, what they thought was necessary to raise unspoiled, well-behaving children is totally opposite of what we believe, all the while not knowing the impact it would have on their children’s emotional intelligence and confidence.

Some of that trickled down to the way he raised me, strict and without affection. When Ian and I discussed our parenting style while we were expecting Mishka we disagreed about a few things but we were very clear about one thing, we will raise her to have a strong emotional bond with us. This means we will guide her with warmth and acceptance, not judgement and preconceived rules. Our main aim was to break the cycle of emotional deficiency in the parent-child relationship.

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Later I discovered that there actually is a name for what we thought would be a cool way to raise our kid: Attachment Parenting, and it has 8 principles:

  1. Prepare for Pregnancy, Birth, and Parenting
  2. Feed With Love and Respect
  3. Respond With Sensitivity
  4. Use Nurturing Touch
  5. Ensure Safe Sleep, Physically and Emotionally
  6. Provide Consistent and Loving Care
  7. Practice Positive Discipline
  8. Strive for Balance in Your Personal and Family Life

Sounds easy! Not so easy!

Every day I realize that my little girl is growing up. She challenges me on new levels, she is strong-willed and definitely has her own set of ideas about how things should work and it is not the same as mine. So responding with sensitivity seems very low on my list when I want to get her to do what I want her to do. This is the fine line between letting it go or practicing positive discipline.

Especially when I know we are going to disagree a lot going forward because we are both very strong-willed, and this is part of the problem, too much alike!

My aim is to focus on building our relationship and loving her unconditionally, I don’t want to transfer my own unhealed pain onto her so I make a point of distinguishing between what is mine and what is hers when it comes to emotions. This is striving to provide consistent love and care, regardless of my past experiences.

Gentle parenting asks us to consider how we make our children feel. It is the foundation of all other relationships: does she feel safe with us, or does she feel she has to hide her true feelings from us?

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I think about the 8th principle, to strive for balance, then I know for sure: rules are not what will win her heart. Yes it is important to provide her with a set of skills, but the deal breaker in a parent-child relationship in my mind is respect.

Balancing discipline and love is probably my biggest challenge. That’s why I bring in another element, inspiration!

I ask myself daily, do I inspire her to be a good person, to feel safe, to feel she belongs.

Making a lot of mistakes along this journey always brings me back to this: do I lead with love?

For me to respond with empathy, I have to first acknowledge my own fear and pain, I struggle with this sometimes and can project my own lack of emotional control by trying to control her.

I want her to grow through making mistakes and sharing with me and learning from it.

My thinking is that if she feels safe and reassured, she will behave because she will not feel the need to prove herself or seek attention. This underpins everything for me, she must trust her own heart, and the only way for that to be an option is if we guide her. So yes, when she makes poor decisions I will listen and figure it out with her, that way she will learn how to trust her own judgement.

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This sounds very grown-up for a 7 year old, but in reality it is applicable to small things, for example to do her homework halfheartedly or with all her potential capacity. The consequences will be clear, either she will do well or poorly, and given her competitive nature she will question the outcome and I will be able to lay out the facts, with compassion.

“Connection is a child’s greatest need and an adult’s greatest influence.”

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“Motherhood is about raising and celebrating the child you have, not the child you thought you would have. It’s about understanding that she is exactly the person she is supposed to be. And that if I am lucky, she might be the teacher who turns me into the person I am supposed to be.”

Raising a girl with old fashioned values but an open mind

I absolutely love Women’s Day, not because we get the day off, but it makes me think a little bit about what it means to be a woman, especially in today’s world where anything and everything goes. Not that I am or ever was an angel, but I do look back at where my experience as a woman started and how it was guided by a mother who made sure I have a good foundation, regardless of teenage rebellion or mid-life crisis moments. The basics are there and I can always go back to it when I struggle with moral issues or more importantly have to raise my own daughter.

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This is no easy task, and I am sure every generation has their challenges when it comes to raising a child (I’m thinking walkmans, hard rock, roller scates and bubblegum for my mom). For me, definitely the challenges of excessive information available at all times to everyone by the click of a button, so give her a mobile phone and she will have access to a world I simply have no control over (well not exactly, but very limited control).

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What will she learn from that world of information? What will she take from it if I don’t give her the proper looking glass and filtering skills, to keep what is good and discard what is bad.

It is such a fine balance between making her street wise but locking in good old fashioned values. I see no point in raising a daughter sheltered from reality, she needs to be equipped to deal with whatever is out there, but she needs to do this through the eyes of innocence. What a task! How do I do this?

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I go back to my upbringing, there are things that I wouldn’t repeat in raising my child, but there definitely are things that I am passing on to her, because it enriched my life and it gave me tools to survive tough times, both mentally and financially.

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One of my friends always challenges us by asking, what would your value be if everything had to blow up: no electricity, no cellphones, no internet, no laptops, no credit cards, no codes. How would you survive or earn a living? I know, ridiculous question right, like that would ever happen! Or is it ridiculous? It is a question about what other things you can do except scroll on a phone and make calls and swipe a card. In other words do you have some skills sister?

The skills I want Mishka to have are very simple but very useful and that is why I involve her in everything I do in and around the house. Not chores, fun! She’s been sitting in my kitchen since she was old enough to sit by herself, watching mommy gather ingredients for cakes, stews and some very complex french cuisine. I didn’t force her, I simply included her. Today, as a seven year old, she gathers her own ingredients and asks me for recipes. I am so proud!

This weekend my mom completed an heirloom crochet blanket, our whole family was in awe of the detail and skill that went into that work of art. What does it take to make something so astonishing. Firstly the desire to create, then some skill picked up from someone who had the patience to teach you, then all of your extra time and love, woven into every block and stitch. It doesn’t get more special than that. I am lucky, because my mom showed me the basics, I can build on it, and now I can show my daughter, and she will one day want to show hers. So its not just a skill, it’s a gift to pass on. Does it have a place in a world of artificial intelligence and everything quick and easy? Who knows what life will be like for her as a 45 year old? I only know that I gave her something that she can use one day.

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I was happy to come across this when I did some research about old fashioned values:

Young people are starting to see the value of etiquette. Some like to write this off as an old-fashioned concept, but etiquette will always be relevant, because it’s about human interaction.’

As middle-aged parents, we have come a long way, raised in the 80’s (the start of anything goes), all the way through the technology driven 90’s and millennium, to now where organic, authentic, handmade, plastic-free and community driven projects are hip and in. In a way we are lucky, we are street wise but also old fashioned. We can give our children so much in terms of old fashioned values but keeping an open mind.

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I am a keen supporter of tea parties and crafts as much as I am of technological advancement. I want Mishka to have it all, but I never want her to lose her ability to recognise value in people, in nature and tangible life.

Never too old for blocks

I think Mishka enjoys the blocks even more now than she did as a toddler. We are so lucky to know so many creative women with a shared love for everything different, eco friendly and hand-made. Yogi blocks is one of them! Suzelle (Yogi blocks) and Charise (Olive & Arrow) collaborated to create and sponsor these amazing blocks for Mishka.

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She spends hours rearranging, stacking and just admiring them.

Yogi blocks are great for cognitive development and just a beautiful decor item to have on a shelf.

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Some are hand-painted others printed, but every block speaks of a passion for education and art.

These blocks can also be ordered for milestones in your little one’s journey to bigger things. Suzelle is amazing, you dream it, she makes it!

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A garden like no other

Part of the enchantment of The High Acre Forest Cottage is their beautiful garden. DP & Hannes grow their own food and flowers.

As florists they understand that fresh is always best, and what better way to ensure that a bride’s bouquet is indeed perfect, than to grow your own cut flowers and fillers.

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We were spoiled rotten by getting the opportunity to not only admire their handy work but to spend precious time in the garden with baskets to pick and choose as we want.

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I can’t think of a better way to spend a morning than to collect your stock to make a beautiful wreath.

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Mishka was mesmerised by the colours, textures and shapes of the many different herbs, flowers and fillers. She spent hours getting just the right combination for her wreath.

IMG_8693 It reminded me of our own garden back home and what we do to make it a wonder world for spending hours of fun or retreat in.

My own love for gardening was inspired by my mom who loved fine gardening, particularly English gardening. She pampered every little plant, tried anything, regardless of our less optimal geographical region. Every winter everything would die of black frost, every Spring she would start over and create a paradise. I absolutely loved every nook and corner of her garden, I learnt so much about patience and waiting for the cream of the crop.

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However, my gardening style developed with my own journey, and I will always have lavenders, pansies and geraniums in my garden, but going through one of the worst droughts the Western Cape has ever seen, I discovered that the Aloes I brought with me from Gauteng were much better suited for this part of the world. We lovingly transplanted every bit of the Aloes we could when we first settled in: they are such survivors. This year we are enjoying the beautiful oranges of their flowers all over the garden. We are not the only ones! Daily visits from the sugar birds make our hearts sing as much as theirs.

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The biggest gardening event for us this year was when we planted Mishka’s English Oak tree. She wanted a tree she could climb and one that could hold her tree house one day.

The friendly people at Themba Trees in the Elgin valley took time and effort to make sure she selects the perfect one. We went home with a three meter tall tree and Sam helped us plant it. This is the beginning of big things, well a big thing! Time will be captured in this beautiful majestic tree’s rings, our time and our love will be locked into this tree.

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We will also remember where this tree came from. Caroline from Themba Trees encompass all the values we aspire to. She started this small business from her knowledge and qualifications and mixed it with passion for the environment and social responsibility. The result: gorgeous mature trees! Knowing that it was grown with integrity and a love for people and nature makes this Oak tree so much more special to us.

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Low maintenance gardens are so important to get started, if you think you don’t have it in you to grow something, keep in mind that succulents don’t need much to flourish.

My gardening tips:

  • Start small, get a few containers and ask a friend for some succulent cuttings.
  • If you are more adventurous, get one container close to your kitchen with three of your favourite herbs (this should inspire you to look after it and get it harvest ready)
  • Make an effort to keep your shrubs in a good condition – prune and feed. This is a good backdrop for the rest of your gardening aspirations. Just have something going that is not too much of an effort to look after.
  • If you have a shady garden, go for Aggies (Agapanthus) and Clivias. They can be split and divided to make many more plants. Fill those gaps!
  • Plant a tree, if not for yourself for your children.

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HAPPY GARDENING!

Mid-year escape – choosing the right place

July school holidays are long and cold, choosing the right place to for a break-away can be more than finding  a sunnier spot, we can embrace winter and go somewhere to really escape our routine, rethink our goals and bond as a family. IMG_8713

When we sat down to make a decision we couldn’t agree on something at first, feeling a bit frustrated I picked up the magazines I just bought and there it was! A paradise nestled in the Knysna forest.

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Our great escape suddenly became so apparent, we had to take Mish to see the Big Tree! And we absolutely had to stay at The High Acre Forest Cottage with the incredibly creative owners, DP (a friend from my school days) and Hannes. Men of many talents, decorating the cottage certainly is one of their gifts. Everything so perfectly thought out and so fitting for this beautiful forest setting.

Their use of colour is clever, for example the blue on the walls are amazingly warm in winter but cooling in summer! The fabrics used can only be choices of someone who knows his textures and textiles! Not to mention the little nick knacks and art, so right up my ally: eclectic, interesting and creative.

This truly is a home away from home, everything you could possibly dream of having on your break-away. Best of all: it is pet friendly – Gigi was spoiled as much as we were with space and an extra large drinking bowl.

Just a few kilometers from the magical Big Tree and so many beautiful stops and coffee shops, staying here is also very convenient when you want to explore the greater Knysna area. Returning to High Acre Forest Cottage after our daily explorations was just such a treat!

But this is not the only special attribute of High Acre Forest Cottage, DP & Hannes are both avid gardeners and they grow anything and everything from food to flowers. As a fellow gardener, I couldn’t resist! More in my next blog post and some of my gardening tips and treats.

 

Tricks to teach kids to love reading!

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There are so many activities you can do with your kids, some super fun, some not so fun, and I think reading is one of those not so fun activities, because you may think its the best thing in the world to cuddle up in quiet relaxation with your favourite story, for kids today, with so many physical and cyber activities, it is almost impossible to convince an eight year old to sit down and chill with a book.

So I decided to get a secret weapon, well two weapons: first some professional tips from professionals and second take her to the most amazing book shop in South Africa.

Contrary to what some people believe, learning to read is not a ‘natural’ process that happens all on its own. It’s a complex one that requires the proper teaching of various skills and strategies, such as phonics (knowing the relationship between letters and sounds) and phonemic awareness.  https://readingeggs.co.za

First things first:

10 simple steps to teach your child to read at home:

1. Use songs and nursery rhymes to build phonemic awareness

This playful and bonding activity is a fantastic way for kids to implicitly develop the literacy skills that will set them up for reading success.

2. Make simple word cards at home

Cut out simple cards and write a word containing three sounds on each one (e.g. ram, sat, pig, top, sun, pot, fin).

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3. Engage your child in a print-rich environment

Create daily opportunities to build your child’s reading skills by creating a print‑rich environment at home. Seeing printed words (on posters, charts, books, labels etc.) enables children to see and apply connections between sounds and letter symbols.

4. Play word games at home or in the car

For example, start by asking questions like “What sound does the word                      start with?” “What sound does the word                      end with?” “What words start with the sound                     ?” and “What word rhymes with                     ?”.

5. Understand the core skills involved in teaching kids to read

It’s important to remember that learning to read involves various different skills. There are five essential components of reading that you can read about here. These are the skills all children need in order to successfully learn how to read. In summary, these include:

  1. Phonemic awareness – the ability to hear and manipulate the different sounds in words
  2. Phonics – recognising the connection between letters and the sounds they make
  3. Vocabulary – understanding the meaning of words, their definitions, and their context
  4. Reading comprehension – understand the meaning of text, both in storybooks and information books
  5. Fluency – the ability to read aloud with speed, understanding and accuracy

6. Play with letter magnets

Middle vowel sounds can be tricky for some children, which is why this activity can be so helpful. Prepare letter magnets on the fridge and pull the vowels to one side (a, e, i, o, u). To help them, say each vowel sound aloud (/ayh/, /eh/, /ih/, /awe/, /uh/) while pointing at its letter, and ask your child which one makes a sound similar to the middle sound.

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7. Harness the power of technology to keep your child engaged

Learning to read should be an enjoyable process in order to keep kids motivated to improve.

8. Read together on a daily basis and ask questions about the book

A lot of people don’t realise just how many skills can be picked up through the simple act of reading to a child. Not only are you showing them how to sound out words, you’re also building key comprehension skills, growing their vocabulary, and letting them hear what a fluent reader sounds like.

9. Play games to memorise high-frequency sight words every day

The strategy for learning sight words is, “See the word, say the word”. Learning to identify and read sight words is essential for young children to become fluent readers.

10. Be patient; the best way to teach kids to read is to make it fun!

Every child learns at his or her own pace, so always remember the single most important thing you can do is to make it enjoyable. By reading regularly, mixing things up with the activities you choose, and letting your child pick out their own books occasionally, you’ll instill an early love of reading and give them the best chance at reading success in no time.

And that is just what I did, I took Mishka to Hemingways Bookshop. What a gem!

Hemingways of Hermanus is a charming antiquarian and used book store located a stone’s throw from the cliff path in the beautiful seaside town of Hermanus. It’s known as “The most unusual and quirky bookshop in South Africa”. Once inhabited by simple fisher folk, today this locale is a popular tourist destination with its picturesque setting of art galleries, eateries and hotels.
Hemingways Bookshop, an emporium of books and collectibles delights the visitor with its eclectic and nostalgic ambiance.

 

IMG_7930This little bookshop is exactly how I would imagine a bookshop in Paris would look and feel like, and I am not wrong –

A favourite destination for both locals and visitors, it has been compared to the famous Parisian bookstore, Shakespeare & Company.

IMG_7932Hemingways truly is a sanctuary as well as a celebration of authors who have stood the test of time. I just feel so lucky that I can share this experience with my daughter in our little village, so far removed from Paris.

This may even instill a love for travel along with a love for reading and books. We need more of these wonderful imaginative destinations to awaken some idea of times gone by.

I hope you too can find ways to get your little rascal to sit still and get lost in a good book!

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The value of crafting – hooray crochet!

As kids, my sisters and I always thought we were the lamest girls because we spent our holidays learning to do all kinds of crafts. Well, where we grew up malls did not exist and our winters were so long and excruciatingly cold, we didn’t really want to get out anyway.

Today I am incredibly grateful for those housebound holidays because I can spoil a friend or my family with something I made with my own two hands. It just says so much more than a store bought gift, because in this handmade gift lies my time, my feelings and my effort.

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Some crafts did not come that easily, and as it sometimes goes with mom and daughter, patience run out. But I did not give up, I took my crochet pin and a few balls of yarn, walked over to my Nan and did not leave until I got it right. Left handed or not!

Of course when boys entered the picture, the crochet kit was buried and was not resurrected until the other day. Finally I have time and head space for crafts again!

Don’t for a second think its like riding a bike, oh no! I had to learn the few basics again and made Mishka a beautiful thick blanket.

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A month ago when I featured the beautiful socks and ponchos from Little Yarn Shop I rediscovered this burning desire to create more than a simple stitch blanket. I contacted them and they offer beginners classes. Chane fro the Frogging Fox is an amazing teacher! I learnt to crochet fluffy hats and face rounds, so I am totally hooked again!

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There is so much more I want to do! If my mom did not ignite this crafty fire, I would never have thought I had the ability to make something so complicated myself. That is why I am exposing Mishka to crafts too. Even if she doesn’t enjoy every single activity, she will learn something about patience and ability, and perhaps one day be able to crochet a blanket for her own daughter.

It is also a connection point, an activity you can enjoy while spending time with others. This gift of crafting gets passed on from generation to generation, but it is also a way women can get together and share stories while sharing tricks of the trade.

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Mishka will spend some time with Granny Ronnie during our winter break, when it seems to rain forever in this part of the country. She still has plenty of time to learn before boys occupy too much of her thoughts and time.

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My advice to anyone who wants to start any craft, start simple, find the simplest pattern and a whole lot of youtube videos, set aside time, pour a glass of wine and just start!

There’s a teacher in every town, just ask and you will find. If you are in the Hermanus area @thefroggingfox will teach you a few tricks!

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I hope my crochet over-share inspired you to take up that craft you’ve always wanted to master! Not only does it keep you out of trouble, but actually has been proven to be imperative to your mental health:

People who exercised their artistic muscle were 73% less likely to develop mild cognitive impairment, a condition that can mean memory problems and reduced mental function, than those who didn’t partake in artistic activities. People who did a lot of crafts like woodworking and quilting were 45% less likely to develop mild cognitive impairment than people who did not, and computer users were 53% less likely to develop it compared to adults who didn’t use the computer. Social adults were 55% less likely to have memory problems later on than their antisocial peers. BY ALEXANDRA SIFFERLIN  – Times APRIL 8, 2015

Food for thought!

 

The Amazing Thornewood Treasures

The little world you imagine, with wood creatures, hollow trees and pretty little flowers, all of that comes to life with The Amazing Thornewood Treasures!

IMG_5906 They handcraft and paint every little piece, with so much detail and care.

Wooden toys are long-lasting and with such beautiful pieces you just want to treasure it for generations to come. Mishka loves the bunny family in particular, and come Easter they get special treatment.

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The treehouses are perfect for her Sylvanian families.

Thornewood Treasures also make the most wonderful rockers that double up as little play tables when you turn it upside down.

Pop over to their Instagram page to see exactly what I mean @thornewoodtreasures

Being a mother

Every mom has a unique experience, from the day you find out you are expecting a child to the day you die. Sometimes we forget that as women, our whole make-up, from our endocrine system to our physical appearance, all of it is part of the intricate honour of being able to bear and mother a child.

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The incredible and overwhelming emotional connection that starts, for some from the first sight of that positive line on the pregnancy test, for others somewhere in the second trimester, yet others when you hold your baby for the first time. It doesn’t really matter when, but that connection is undeniably the most important one of your life. And this happens with every child you bear. Not all women make good moms, but most women at some stage of their lives think of having a child, or consider what it may be like. Well, all I can say is quite simple and cliche, it changes you forever.

The month of May is all about Motherhood, it is also my Birthday month and that always reminds me of my mom’s experience as a mother to me. You see, its not just about being a mother, it is about being your mother’s child. So much of what shapes you as a person starts with your very first relationships and of course this starts with your family. We form our world views from what we experience in our family culture, and to me the culture in a two-parent home is often set by the mother. It was the case in my family.

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I can go on forever about what it means to me to be Mishka’s mom, but I can’t begin to think about my own motherhood without thinking about my mom and what motherhood meant to her. Yes, generational gaps sometimes cause us to misunderstand each other and our parenting methods, my mom certainly does not always approve of mine. But I learnt so much from my mother about sacrifice and about unconditional love. Raising five children is no easy task, and whenever I feel exhausted from a day driving around to get Mish to all her activities I remember my own mom taking an afternoon nap, after making sure all of us were properly fed, dressed in our sports attire and at our desks doing home work. I remember going into the off-limits grown up sitting room, where everything looked pristine and untouched, there on the couch, my mom with her eyes closed, at peace – I couldn’t get myself to wake her to let her know it’s almost time to get up and start taxiing us around. But never ever did she not wake up on time, it’s as if she had a built in alarm clock, it absolutely amazed me, to this day I am so grateful for every dress she fixed for me, every cake she baked for a school event, every beautiful word she said to make me feel better about disappointing life events.

Being a mother means you no longer think about yourself when you open or close your eyes, it means you never sit down without first thinking if your child has what she needs Being a mother means your heart breaks on a daily basis, and not the silly kind where a boy hurts you, no this heart break is for the little struggles your child faces everyday in the process of growing up, but you can only be there, you can’t change their experiences, because it is what they feel, not what you feel. Being a mom means constantly thinking about your child’s future and what you can do to make sure its a good one.

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I’ve also come to realise that all the things I wanted my mom to do differently, I now judge much less harshly, in fact, I now see how she must have felt or thought when she said and done the things that drove me so mad. Being a mother means you learn to see other’s point of views and be more empathetic, less judgmental. Being a mother means you have to say goodbye to all your preconceived ideas about what a good mother is supposed to be.

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All we can do as moms is our very best. We will be judged, by other mothers and worst of all by our children. But I take comfort in knowing that today all I have for my mother is respect, despite mistakes and fights and misunderstandings. Being a mother changed me.

Tips for raising an only child

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Life with an only child can get very interesting because all of our time and attention are focused on this one person. Mishka can come up with the funniest stories and interpret situations in ways that we never imagined. It got me thinking about what the impact of being an only child really is on her development now and in future.

So many couples have children later in life which makes it quite challenging and risky to have a big family. If I just go back to the time I was pregnant with our Mishka (I was 40 at the time) thinking how blessed I am to even be given a chance to fall pregnant. Worrying about a normal pregnancy, about a normal child to be honest. To go through all of that again in two years time just did not make sense to us, especially with chances of genetic disorders rapidly increasing from a age of 35.

Many other couples and even our families think we did Mishka an injustice to only have her, and that we were selfish in our decision. Perhaps it is true, but for us the other risks outweighed the risk of raising a “spoiled only child”. So we got creative and decided that we will make a concerted effort  to make Mishka’s life interesting, fun filled and integrated.

That’s why I want to share my experiences with other single-child parents and let you know that it is possible to raise a well rounded, socially integrated only child if you pay attention to a few little things from the beginning.

1. Plenty of activities

This is where Ian and I come in, we make sure we have plenty of play time together. I enjoy outdoor activities like getting on our bicycles and exploring our neighbourhood. We run down to the beach and catch and release rockpool fish. Ian spends time with Mishka indoors after work, they spend hours building lego towns and villages. Sometimes when he is busy in the garage Mishka’s curiosity get the better of her and she has to know what he’s up to, so much so that she now has her own basic toolbox!

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2. Pretend Play Kitchen, Doctor and Cleaning Sets

It also happens sometimes that we are just too tied up with work or other projects, but then Mishka knows how to keep herself busy. Only because we showed her how to pretend play and kitted her out with a backyard mud kitchen and gave her a mini cleaning set (no slavery I promise!).

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3. Crafty activities

Get a crate together with a few craft activities. For girls it can be anything from tying strings of beads to making masks with cardboard and glitter. Have it stocked and handy, when boredom kicks in it’s a matter of finding a comfortable space and opening up that box to transpose them to a beautiful world of creativity and discovery.

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4. Treasure Hunt

This takes a bit of effort from your side but the excitement and anticipation that go with this activity – Priceless! Get creative and have themes for the hunts. Make sure she learns something from it. Include her friends, maybe let her make an invitation for her closest two friends and make a play-date out of it.

5. Give only children the opportunity to interact with other kids

This can easily be done by enrolling your child for after school activities from an early age, this is a crucial time for your child to learn to socialise.

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6. Teach your child social skills

This is very important as only children are very easily perceived as being selfish and reluctant to share. You can prevent this by making a point of teaching your child how to share with you and then with other kids or adults. Reward children when they’re being considerate and administer consequences when they aren’t.

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7. Make a point of encouraging independence

It is very easy for you to make your child too reliant on you, it is just natural to protect and shelter your child, but unfortunately with an only child there is a very real danger of over protection. This can be avoided by being conscious of your actions and letting your child have fun on her own, give her some chores and responsibilities to emphasize her ability to function on her own (within reason of course).

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8. Be careful with your expectations

Now this is easier said than done because after all this is your only chance to shine through your child, there is only one. Haha, jokes aside. Having unrealistic expectations of an only child is a very common pitfall we sometimes just can’t avoid. I am guilty myself, I sometimes expect Mishka to participate in every possible activity, just to make sure I haven’t missed one or two hidden talents. But this can be very harmful to your child’s identity as she may feel that she has to be the best at everything.

My biggest piece of advice is to start the socialisation at home. It will take effort sometimes but setting time aside to get involved in her life, to share fun activities and to teach her how to be part of a team can make the difference between a stereotypical only child and a well integrated and liked human being.

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Slow Relationships – quality time with your daughter

It’s easy when they are little girls and they just hang on every word you say. Growing up means they start having their own opinions and sadly their own time. In between school and activities, not to mention all the shouting and motivating that goes into getting them to do homework – you might find yourself thinking if you do enough to spend real time with your daughter.

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Soon she will be in high school and then boys enter the realm. Parties and hanging out with friends. Where will I fit into her life?

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I decided to find a way for us to connect and do something that we can always come back to when those teenager years hit and we barely talk. I wanted to start a little tradition for just the two of us, special and away from the hustle and bustle.

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Picnics are special because there goes planning into it and having to know each other to pack the right things. I thought that this way she will always know that I know her, because she will find all her favourites in our picnic basket. And we all know that this changes over time and the only way to know is to be observant and to care about her likes and dislikes. This is a very simple way to make her see that I still see her.

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You can pick a spot and keep it the same, or you can explore and decide together on where to go next. We are so blessed with many very special spots, with nature and beauty surrounding us. We keep a nature journal to jot down the names of the places we visit and stick the treasures we find in it.

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I know that when Mishka is out in nature she is in her element and I hope that when she grows up and feels sad or alone, that she can suggest we take time out and pack a basket. I hope that she will find comfort in our time together and feel free to share her hopes, dreams and fears with me.

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Time cannot be bought or replaced. This is the gift I hope to always give my daughter.

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Easter activities – bring Autumn into your home

Easter weekend is a special time for Christian families and in between going to services and honoring the beauty of this time, kids also have time to play and explore with you.

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Ponchos by Heide from Little Yarn Shop

In South Africa Easter is during the beginning of our Autumn and our streets are covered in colourful displays of beautiful leaves. Grab a basket and something warm, find a safe spot to park your car and start gathering! Leaves make great garlands to adorn your home for Easter festivities.

It’s quite simple: collect leaves with petioles (the little stem at the end of a leaf) still attached. Back home, gather a few leaves into a posy and tie the petioles together with a piece of string, leaving a little bit of string available to tie to a long piece of string (the garland string). Make a few posies and then tie it to the string, evenly spaced. Wola! Ready to decorate your home with Autumn!

We may not go to the beach as often as in the summer months so we decided to bring the beach to us! A coastal terrarium is a great way to make use of the special treasures collected on those perfectly sunny beach days.

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You will need:

  • Beach sand
  • Small white pebbles
  • Coastal treasures e.g shells, driftwood, dried sea plants
  • A glass container
  • Succulents from your area

Line the container with beach sand followed by a layer of pebbles (be careful not to crack the glass container) and cover the pebbles with more beach sand until the container is half full.

Arrange the other elements on a flat surface as you plan to have it inside the container. Start placing one element at a time on the sand in the glass container. This is another very pretty addition to  your Easter table.

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Vintage outfits from @littlevictoryclothing

Our terrarium contains beautiful shells from Struisbaai beach, collected on a family weekend away. It’s a wonderful way to share memories and revisit special times.

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Spending time together during Easter is one of the best ways to commemorate the love of Jesus for his ‘family’. It doesn’t have to be spent indoors and cooped up all weekend, explore and collect and enjoy fun projects with your kids while you have a little bit extra time.

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We hope you have a blessed weekend!

SLOW FASHION – Lillie & Me

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Lillie & Me is a Cape Town based manufacturer of beautiful handmade genuine leather kiddies and mommy apparel.

You just have to browse through her Facebook page to fall in love with the teeny tine leather shoes and when you just think you’ve seen it all, she comes up with practical solutions to outings with your little one. I absolutely love the Diaper Clutch Bag – It’s got space for: a Full pack of wipes,  2 Diapers, Bum cream AND You can pop in your phone, keys and cash! This is perfect for a no nonsense mommy!

My days of worrying about diapers are long gone, but the genuine leather backpack with adjustable straps is my favourite at the moment. It is complete with a waterproof lining, perfect for your little girl or boy’s lunch box and extra clothing. The best part is that it is personalised with your child’s name on it.

So much care and love go into every design, including bibs and breastfeeding covers to mention a few of her products. To me this is exactly what I value about slow fashion, unique and not mass produced!

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Hop on over to Lillie & Me to see what I am on about.

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The M word

We became aware of the concept of mindfulness when our lives started moving too fast for us to make sense of it. One moment you are dating and living in a little apartment, the next you have a home larger than you ever imagined, a child in pre-school with activities every afternoon, keeping up with the Van der Merwe’s and just charging through life. It’s when someone else stands in your garden and admires the beautiful green haven, you realise, I don’t even notice it anymore, I don’t appreciate this enough. Then all the other questions follow, the ones bringing you to a stand-still and forcing you to ask what are we doing?

DSC_9299Fynbos crowns by The Flower Scene. Pretty dotty dress by The Curators 

 

It took us two years to plan our exodus, our liberation and freedom from all of this stuff, the racing about, towards more and more stuff.

In the process, I started reading up on mindfulness, because I heard it somewhere or stumbled upon it on social media, but it struck a chord. This is what it basically is:

 Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.” Mindful.org

 

That in itself is so much to grasp. It translates to not being too caught up in the noise, in the hustle, but to understand that you are here, in THIS moment, in mind and body.

Reach Out explains it as:

“Mindfulness is about training yourself to pay attention in a specific way.

When a person is mindful, they:

  • Focus on the present moment
  • Try not to think about anything that went on in the past or that might be coming up in future
  • Purposefully concentrate on what’s happening around them
  • Try not to be judgemental about anything they notice, or label things as ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

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Feather & Lace Crowns @opgedollie

To me, this is core, non-judgemental. What does it mean? Try to imagine not judging a person, or an experience or a product.  As James Davis puts is:

Mindfulness is really the beginning, the first steps of soul consciousness. In order to see ourselves and others in a non-judgmental way, we must see ourselves (body, mind, emotion, world) from ABOVE. So mindfulness is taking control by going off-automatic-pilot, and it is the soul that does this.

Are you convinced yet? Me neither, it is still very abstract, an idea. How do we implement this? How do we live this? To clarify it for me I had to go back to an old time favourite source, which helped me all through my ‘wonder’ years (I wonder why this, I wonder how this) – How to for Dummies!

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According to dummies you should try and understand the three aspects of Mindfulness:

Mindfulness has three different aspects that operate together seamlessly to bring about a state of mindful awareness. Print out and pin up this list to remind yourself of what these are.

  • Intention – Your intention is what you hope to get from practising mindfulness. You may want stress reduction, greater emotional balance or to discover your true nature. The strength of your intention helps to motivate you to practise mindfulness on a daily basis and shapes the quality of your mindful awareness.
  • Attention – Mindfulness is about paying attention to your inner or outer experience. Your mindful attention is mainly developed through various different types of meditation – either formal, traditional or informal – when talking, cleaning or driving, for example.
  • Attitude – Mindfulness involves paying attention to certain attitudes, such as curiosity, acceptance and kindness.

Okay, so now I understand the concept, but how do I utilise this knowledge. Because when you are dealing with a real issue, can you go back and think about the three aspects and magically feel better?

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Mishka’s 1930’s dress by Romantiques

Dummies helped me again! With the RAIN formula:

R – Recognise the emotion you’re feeling. Name the emotion in your mind if you can.

A – Accept the experience you’re having. Yes, you probably don’t like the feeling, but the reality is the emotion is here at the moment.

I – Investigate. Become curious about your experience. Where do you feel the emotion in your body? What kind of thoughts are going through your mind?

N – Non-identificationSee the emotion as a passing event rather than who you actually are, just as different images are reflected in a mirror but are not the mirror. Different emotions arise and pass in you, but are not you, yourself. The most powerful step is non-identification. Have the attitude ‘anger is arising and will soon pass away’ or ‘sadness is coming up in me, and at some point will dissolve’.

Sometimes you just need to do one step, whereas at other times you may want to work through the whole formula. Practise using the formula whenever you can, so when things become challenging for you, you’ll find it easier to use.

 

We are still a long way from perfecting this practice, but we do it daily, at one moment or another, just reminding ourselves to recognise the beauty of our surroundings while rushing to be on time for a school activity, or accept that we have a challenge living through a drought but understand that our attitude will determine our outlook and possibility to find solutions for it.

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Gillian Coetzee

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A very special mention -Justine from The Curators picked out Mishka’s beautiful dress with pink ribbon,  the dotty dress and the skirt and shirt for our photoshoot