Sunday, February 28, 2010

Chapter 3: kids now houses later

It has just dawned on us that trying to cover parenting and buying a house in one blog is slightly ambitious. As a result we apologise that our blog on 'Tips for buying a house will need to come later' as we have realised that writing on 'raising kids and being parents' is chapter worthy unto itself.
I should warn you before you read any further, that the following blog may bore you sensless if you are not expecting or have kids. If you are still childless, for god sakes, stop reading now, and go enjoy yourself while there's still time!
if you are a parent, blog reading is about as fun as it gets, so, fill up a glass of red wine and snuggle up for some breathtaking annecdotes on child rearing, yippee!

We now have two children and a third on the way. Noah was 4 in December, Georgia is 1 and 1/2 and our third baby is due in August. Whilst we don't pretend to know all the answers about parenting there are certainly a few things that we have learnt from others and our own experience. Experience that we would love to share with you, especially the first time parents.

Hospital ceiling, fluroscent lights, midwives smiling, baby screaming...where to next? The first four weeks of your parenting life will most likely be a total blur and hence forth begins the wonderful joy of parenting. Joe and I really wished that we had some of the good ideas below when we started out. We have narrowed down our thoughts to the following:

1: Routine (and therefore parent sanity).
2: Behaviour > you and your kids.
3: 'Wine Time' > how to exist beyond just revolving around your children.

1: Routine

'Looking down into my arms at my newly first born son wrapped tightly in a swaddling cloth of pink, white and blue, craftfully prepared earlier by a seasoned midwife and feeling all tear jerky at the thought of being a parent (whilst my wife almost bled to death in a cleaning storeroom because the shift change over between the operating theatre and the recovery room at RPA forgot about her) I had absolutley no idea that I would spend the next 4 years of my life (and most likely more) incredibly sleep deprived.

All first time paernts resort to desperation. This may take the form of crawling in slow motion on on your hands and knees out of your baby's room so as not to wake them (a process which once took 10 mins due to not wanting to lean on the creaky floor boards) or putting your child in the car at 4 am to drive them around the streets so as your partner gets some sleep before the alarm goes off. This is totally normal, and so much fun!

By the time they reach three or by the time you have three you won't give a hoot about them carrying on at bed-time whilst you cook dinner or watch a dvd.
Something that we have found really useful was the '5 Baby Cry Sounds'. The idea is that all babies make the following 5 cries and each cry indicates varying needs by your child. At first we were sceptical (as all good parents are) but this actually worked for the first 6 months and helped us alot.

The crys are:
1: 'Eh, eh, eh' = I need to Burp
2: 'Neh, nnneeeh, nnnneeh' = I am Hungry > feed me now
3: 'owwww, owww' = I am tired, wrap me up and put me to sleep now
4: 'Eairh, eairh' = you didn't burp me right and now I have major wind problems.
5:' Heh, heh' = I am uncomfortable, I am too hot, too cold or I need my nappy changed.

If this is too hard to follow, which some ppl find is the case, remember the following golden rules:

1: feed a baby at set times and properly> get advice on breast feeding as it is essential.
2: burp the baby> this is most commonly the key to a good night's rest, hang in there and keep patting.
3: see if it needs a change
4: make sure it is warm enough, babies are often underdressed.
5: have some distractions if all else fails such as bathing the baby or a walk in the pram.
6: if all else fails walk away, remember you can lay the baby down safely and walk outside for 5 mins to re-group your sanity.
7: Your baby may be ill, don't have any worries about going to a doctor to get advice, even if it means seeing two or three.
8: We found that a dummy was really, really , really useful. It helped them settle and sleep and by the age of 2 they were happy to give it up with out any teeth deformities worthy of an Oprah Winfrey talk back show.

The answer to our sleep deprivation was a little book called 'Save Our Sleep' (Tizzie Hall), we were dizzy for Tizzie. In short, despite spasmodically lapsing into comas of sleep we managed to read the book, these are the routines we have adapted from Tizzie's suggestions.

Routine for 6 week – up to 10 month
□ 6:00 am wake, feed/btle
□ 9:30 feed/btle, burp and bed
□ 11:00 wake, activity
□ 12:30 feed/btle, burp, bed
□ 2:00 wake, activity
□ keep up until 6pm feed/btle, burp and bed
□ 9:00pm > wake > quiet feed/ btle, burp and bed
□ 12:30pm> wake > quiet feed/ btle, burp and bed
□ 3:00 am> wake > quiet feed/ btle, burp and bed (baby usually drops this wake somewhere along the line)
□ 7 am wake

Routine for walking kid (1- ½) – 4 year old

□ wake 6:30am breakfast > activities
□ 11:30 lunch
□ 12:00 milk, bed
□ 1:30 /2:00 wake, activity, afternoon tea
□ 5:00 dinner
□ 6:00 milk, bed

Routine for a 4 year old

□ wake 6:00am breakfast > activities
□ 11:30 lunch
□ 12:00 quiet time > this is a time when Noah looks after himself, he reads books, plays board games by himself , or does drawing on our bed with the door closed. During this time I can rest, make dinner or just have lunch. Usually after 1 hour I join him for half an hour of time spent together.
□ 1:30 afternoon tea, activity
□ 5:00 dinner
□ 5:30 – 6:00 reading, story -time, this is a great way of spending time with your kids but also calming down before bed-time, Noah and Georgi both love it.
□ 6:15 bed
□ 9:30 toilet, we wake Noah up and take him to the toilet (he is out of nappies now but not sleeping all the way through without needing the toilet).

noah enjoying his bbq lunch on a drizzly day , aged 2 1/2

2: Behaviour
All children misbehave, and every parent deals with this in their own way. Some things that we have found useful are the following. Be unified as parents on the rules, be consistent, stay calm, and follow through with punishments - no empty threats. MOst importantly, give praise where its due to encourage the behavior that you want.

a) Positive Reinforcement:
As teachers, Joe and I both became aware of this catch phrase called 'positive reinforcement' prior to having kids. Positive reinforcement is basically commending your child for something they have done well or are trying to do well. Learning to implement positive reinforcement will solve a great deal of your child's behavioral problems, as a child that is +vely reinforced regularly is less likely to behave poorly. The best positive reinforcement is constructive time that you spend with your child. Second to this is saying things like "wow ___ you are doing such a great job making your bed, well done, I am very proud of you".

b) Example: Practice what you preach. You are the primary educator, the way you deal and speak to one another and your kids will set the foundations for their social development.

c) 'Emotional tank': adding to your child’s emotional tank is essential. Every drop counts, whether it is spending quality time playing or reading a book or something as little as a hug or play with their hair. Ultimately a parent needs to spend quality time with their children. Plan it in advance, have activities prepared e.g. going to the park in the morning.
(Some activities that we use are the park, pool, library, inviting ppl over, play group, painting, art and craft for example cardboard box rocket ships, making paper chains, sticking and gluing coloured paper scraps, threading penne pasta, jumping on an old foam mattress (rainy day), bed sheet cubby houses, cheap blocks and sticks from $2 shop or helping with household duties. Everybody has an emotional tank, they are like a car's petrol tank, to function each day we use up what is in them, therefore they need regular re-filling if the car/child is going to work properly the next day.

d) When a kid is poorly behaved it is important to have a consistent approach, this is what we do.

1 – tell the child to stop the behaviour and explain why its not right. warn that a consequence will follow if it continues.

2 – if the behaviour continues follow through with consequence, what ever you do don’t chicken out because every time you do it will become harder and harder. Don’t forget you are in charge. If the behaviour does not continue after the first warning tell the child they are good for listening to you and doing what they were told.

4 -explain to the child why the consequence has come about > stay firm but calm and don’t loose your temper “the reason you aren’t getting your lollypop is because you threw yourself on the floor of the shop and were screaming and mummy asked you to stop and you didn’t”. Do not be the parent who gives the child the lollypop just to shut them up, easy short term solutions will lead to long-term and much more difficult problems. Don’t be embarrassed or afraid of your child screaming and crying in public, better that you suffer the embarrassment of this when they don't get their way the first time then the child kicking and screaming its way through the next 20 years because it knows that this is how it will get its way.

5 - Pick your battles and remain positive. Don't be down on a child all of the time, any criticism you make needs to be a learning experience and the child needs to not feel constantly attacked (remember the 'emotional tank'). It is a good idea to give kids an opportunity to prove that they can behave well, for example to be a help and follow instructions. Say to a child “Daddy will play soccer with you this afternoon once you have cleaned your room, the quicker you do it the longer we will have to play”, then go in during room cleaning and say “wow you are doing such a great job” (+ve reinforcement).

6. Last of all, take the time to spend time talking with your kids and spend quality time with them - this siolves a lot of behavioral problems.
theres heeps of other stuff too i guess, but we just wanted to share some of this with you incase it helps somehow. Anyway, next week we will give our top ten tips to buying a house and return to the garden topic, with ideas on how to start your very own funky frontyard vege garden.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

chapter 2: the great escape

Chapter 2: 'The Great Escape'.

Reaching the depths of economic despair, Joe and I pulled ourselves together and stopped thinking depressing thoughts like 'we'll never afford to live in our own home let alone rent anywhere vaguely gentrified ever again'. No damn it, we would rise above these bleak and socially elitist thoughts and finally learn how to budget even on one income. After a few unsuccessful budgeting attempts we came to the realisation that we had to budget day by day.

Our basic formual was this: Our total monthly pay - rent - $150 grocery/week - bills - $200 safety net - other regular expenses = $ left over for the month - $1000 savings divided by the number of days til next pay day = our daily allowance.

The daily allowance usually came to something like $25/ day, we spent this on things such as petrol, dvds, beers, extra groceries, and so on. Each day we would write on our weekly budget sheet how much we had spent to keep track of our expenses. It wasn't easy but once we got the hang of it we were saving $1000 a month.

Along with this budgeting there were some other major changes we made to our habits that helped us to save, or more importantly, to not spend. We started shopping at Aldis, which we had not fully embraced until this stage for fear that our child would not sleep well at night in an aldi's brand nappy, or that because we were such coffee loving gurus we couldn't possibly diverge from buying our weekly $18 Lavazza coffee fix.

If Aldis had a fanclub we would be the first to join. Aldis brought our family closer together, our weekly Aldis adventures are a far cry from our virgin voyage into a bagless Aldis experience. For those of you who have never experienced Aldis, take a deep breath, be brave and try to look beyond the quasi-communist, pack-your-own-trolley-or-die, gladiatorial, incongruent post-modernist weekly specials and just try one of the myriad of brands that you have never heard of before (but sound alot like those that you know and trust). If you are a first timer try their chocolate, corn chips or milk and for the more adventurous shoppers don't go past the haloumi cheese, kalamata olives or a loaf of the sliced light rye bread. Once you are a seasoned shopper you won't think twice about buying practically any product sold at Aldis and save yourself hundreds in the process. Our top Aldis buys include nappies for $15 (all sizes work perfectly well), ground 'Brazilian' coffee for $8 and pasta for 59c. Just get to your nearest Aldis and have a go, you will easily fill your weekly shopping trolley for under $200.

Starting a veggie garden
Back at home, one day Joe decided he was going to grow a vegetable garden. He had grand notions of self-sustainability within 3 sqm. We built 2 vege boxes about 2 m long by 70cm wide by 50cm deep, we even built them on concrete. First we layed newspaper, followed by a thick layer of sugar-cane mulch, a sprinkling of fertiliser and a top layer of soil. Our first crop included, shallots, lettuce, garlic, spinach, carrots and onions. Surprisingly they all did quite well which prompted us to grow some tomatoes, peas, potatoes and chillis. Despite a few initial setbacks involving possums (which was overcome with bird netting) our little vege garden provided us with enough lettuce and shallots to make it worth its while. Shallots in particular are fantastic and will last years as they keep growing back again and again.

One day we noticed our 86 year old, next door neighbour peeking over the fence at our vege garden. I asked David "Do you like our vege garden?" catching him by surprise. "I like it so much I'm going to make one myself", and the very next day David embarked on the Taj Mahal of vege gardens, that put our humble boxes to vegetable shame. He boastfully wofted giant Bak Choys over the fence and gifted us with 1 and half foot cucumbers, bragging about his endless glut of tomatoes and the size of his lettuce. David had done his research, he wasn't one to do things by halves. Up until this point David and Nancy, the elderly couple next door had been highly suspicious of us, which is not uncommon amoungst neighbours in Umina. Using a potion of horse manure and comfrey 'tea' his vegetables left ours for dead. Despite the rivalry, the vege gardens opened the doors to a fruitful friendship and many shared green thumb tips from both David and his lovely wife Nancy.

Starting a vegetable garden was one of the best and most satisfying things we have ever done. David's enthusiasm for gardening was infectious, he generously gave us a 'Diggers' gardening club membership and book which is one of the largest retailers of heirloom fruit and vegetables in Australia. Like David, we caught the gardening bug! It has now become an essential component to the way we live.

In Chapter three we will chat about the lessons we learnt on buying a house and raising our two children.

Friday, February 12, 2010

chapter 1: first time parents and suburban survival

Chapter 1:
Jo and I live in Springwood, in the Blue Mountains, N.S.W. We have two kids, three chooks, a vege garden and a two bedroom home which we think is beautiful, sometimes we have to pinch ourselves just to realise that this really is our life. This is our story of how we got here, as just 12 months ago we never thought that owning a home and making ends meet on a single teachers income was possible and even totally comfortable. If you are just starting out in the search for a home, or have a young family, or you just want to learn how to grow your own veges and keep chooks (all without turning into hippies) then you might enjoy reading this blog.

When Jo and I got married 6 years ago, we were cool. We were into cafes, theatre, playing pool at the pub with our friends and hosting the occasional dinner parties...we had reached our socio-cultural apex, at the tender age of 26, when suddenly our first child Noah arrived. After 4 days of labour and an emergency caesar, Noah arrived and our world stopped and so did our sleep. Three days later, whilst Jo was still in recovery I ducked out of the hospital for a coffee and a cigarette, I was so tired I fell asleep on my cigarette and burnt a hole in my forehead, everyone sitting around me got up and left suddenly. It dawned on me there and then that things were going to change, but I had no idea how much so.

Apart from the sleep deprivation we had absolutely no idea how the birth of a child and the loss of an income could change our 'change' bowl! Our Blog is for normal ppl, with no agenda who like meat, drink fashionably cheap wine and want to read about how we evolved from double income, play station obsessed, take-away-eating, laisez-faire, latte swilling late risers couple into a family of four who have their own chooks (Henrietta, Billy Holiday and Charlie), a vege garden, their own home, and a brewery on one teacher's income. P.S We are pretty normal.

Having spent 10 months in my Dad's garage, with our 1 and 1/2 year old, where, if you showered for more than a minute and a half the sewerage would back up and come out the shower drain hole and flood the entire bathroom. but it was o.k. because the glugging sound would give you at least a 30 sec warning before your feet were covered in poo...we were sad about the idea of really.

We had managed to save enough for a rental bond and so in 2007 we moved to the Central Coast, Umina Beach which was an hour and 20 mins drive to Sydney along the freeway to Joe's work. When we first moved in, we couldn't understand why the beach was so beautiful but the rent was so cheap. We made this move (away from our beloved inner-western Sydney suburb of Summerhill) with our nearly 2 year old son because we couldn't afford to live in Sydney anymore. I had stopped working as a highschool teacher when Noah was born so as I could stay at home to care for him and on Joe's income and our living habits we found it impossible to meet the rent for our apartment.

To describe Umina Beach, one could simply stop at 'Beach, Beer and Bogans' (especially frightening on Australia Day)...but that is not entirely fair, whilst the bogans were uneducated they were nice...enough. This said, Umina was where Joe and I learned two invaluable skills: Budgeting and veggie gardening.

We lived in a fibro beach-house with our Italian Femme Fatale 68 year old landlord, Maria, who also lived in  a condo in our backyard. Maria was a grumpy, old Italian woman who shamelessly walked around our yard in a black bathing suit saying "you mow lawn...dis child boy orrr gel?" whilest hanging her size 26 knickers on the clothes line that we were paying rent for. Maria became our impetus to escape the rental market once and for all.

The idea of budgeting was initially as foreign to us as a 'transnuchal ultra sound' is to a first-time mother. It was in Umina Beach, where we were so far away from any of our usual indulgences - good cafes, cinemas, friends, babysitters, take-away etc - that we realised our 'usual indulgences' were quickly becoming unusual.
"Babe, where has all the money gone? The car is out of fuel and I cant afford to get to work" "Ive got 3 dollars worth of coins in my bag, you'll have to use neutral on the downhills!" It was time to start budgeting.

We began to work out all of our monthly expenses. Groceries, fuel, bills, rent and so forth, then subrtacted it from our monthly income. We aimed to save a grand a month. We limited our daily spending to $25 dollars per day, and kept a record of every penny we spent each day. It started working!

Joe became addicted to the idea of saving money and started researching other possible money saving schemes, when one day my husband had a 'brilliant' idea. We sould become self sustainable! Not to save the world or trees or whales, or cut carbon emissions, we would become self-sustainable and save money! (in order to escape the evil size 26, black bathing suit, knicker wearing, Italian landlord that was Maria) and to finally one day own our own home and never have to rent again (up until this point we had collectively rented 9 places).

Chapter 2 - Joe goes crazy and starts a vege garden to cut grocery costs, consequently this blossoms into a beautiful friendship with our 86 year old neighbour David and his wife Nancy who had the most competitive nature, so that vegetable growing took on a whole new level.