Go ahead, cut someone else’s grass… I dare you!

G'day! I'm your new neighbour...

G’day! I’m your new neighbour…

Less than 48hrs after reading this post over at Down to Earth Mother, I was lucky enough to enjoy first-hand the benefits of being friendly with your neighbours.

Following the recent downturn and subsequent redundancies, our street is looking somewhat empty at the moment.

Unfortunately, living in a company town means that only current company employees (of which there are now less) are eligible to live here. As a result, our little street of 13 houses has said goodbye to five families, leaving only 8 houses occupied.

Regardless, those that are left are a good bunch, particularly the neighbours that are directly across from us; a lovely Islander gentleman, his gorgeous Thai wife and their ‘cute as a button’ 11month old son. Despite significant language barriers we often trade herbs (their Kaffir Lime and Lemongrass is exceptional), cooking (I take over scones, cupcakes and brownies while delicious Thai dishes are often sent our way) and we let the little ones play together whenever the weather allows. Our neighbour’s English is improving and I am learning about Thai geography and some basic words! It’s a win-win…

Yesterday we loaned our lawn mower. No big deal and certainly nothing that we would ever expect any form of repayment for, after all sharing resources is one of the beautiful benefits of being neighbourly. Upon glancing out the window as I was washing the lunch dishes, I suddenly noticed that our wonderful neighbour had not only mowed his own lawn, but had now started work on our verge (my least favourite area to mow)! Naturally we asked if he was lost…

Even more surprisingly and delightful, late in the afternoon after the lawnmower had returned to the garage, a plate of delicious, freshly made Thai spring rolls arrived on our dining table. What a treat!

Getting to know your neighbours can be an absolute delight. Collectively you can share resources (saving both money and the environment), and learn from each other, regardless of cultural or lifestyle differences.

Easy tips to get to know your neighbours!

• When you first move in to a new neighbourhood, take the time to introduce yourself, exchange phone numbers and share any significant details that may be relevant (shift work, large family, friendly dog…)

• Bake extra – baking a little extra to share with your neighbours takes almost no time at all, yet delivers amazing amounts of goodwill. Nothing extends the hand of friendship better than pumpkin scones or chocolate brownies.

• Is your herb garden overflowing? Let your neighbours know – you may save them a trip to the shops and prevent your lovingly tended herbs from being wasted.

• Host a neighbourhood BBQ and invite everyone to bring a plate that celebrates their heritage

• Initiate a conversation. Rather than just a brisk hello as you rush past, linger for a moment and ask about their day. It may just be the start of a wonderful new friendship.

• Do you have kids? Concerned about their safety? Start getting to know the other parents in your neighbourhood. Not only will your children suddenly be surrounded by friends (less requests to be driven to distant friend’s houses), you will also feel reassured about your children’s safety.

• Mowing your verge? Take an extra five minutes to look after your neighbours at the same time.

• Bring the rubbish bin in. Less than 30 seconds to perform a random act of kindness to make you both happier!

Not only will knowing your neighbours give you greater peace of mind, it may help save you money and adopt a more sustainable lifestyle. Now who is up for that?

Mindful Parenting – It’s Not Easy!

Play time!

Play time!

Ok, I’ll be honest from the outset. This blog post is really just a thinly veiled cry for help and advice from all those parents out there who manage to successfully juggle ‘mindful parenting ‘while maintaining their own sense of identify and purpose, along with the ability to actually get things done.

Although mindful parenting means different things to different people, to me it means spending time actively engaging with your child / children, not using TV as a babysitter continually, seeking to capitalise on their natural desire to learn and explore and just generally paying attention. The question that I have is; how much is enough? Is there such a thing as a happy balance?

The guilt from engaging in other activities (writing, study, yoga) while my little one is awake and active has bothered me for a while now. Perhaps it’s an only child thing and will lessen with the arrival of B2…

If you are like me and struggle to balance mindful parenting with retaining a sense of self, some of the following ideas may be helpful for you.

Ideas to parenting mindfully in the modern world

• Play when you can. Babyhood and toddlerhood will pass in the blink of an eye. Ensure that you set aside some time each day to truly play with and engage with the delightful little person that your child is becoming.

• Get outside and spend mindful time together whenever possible (first thing in the morning / straight after work etc…). This means no iPhone distractions, no keeping an eye on the TV (really, is the Today show that interesting) and preferably no ‘work’ during this period.

• Reduce, declutter, simplify! The less stuff that you have, the less time it will consume, effectively leaving you with more free time to engage with your family and work on things that are important to you.

• Do the housework while your little one is awake and get them involved in the tasks. Folding the washing, sweeping floors, preparing dinner / baking, decluttering, polishing furniture and hanging out clothes are all activities that children can get involved in from the moment that they are able to crawl. (Admittedly, chores may take a little longer but think of it as a long term investment in a helpful family member)

• Encourage your child to learn to entertain themselves. Praise them when they use their initiative, offer open ended toys and allow them to use their creativity.

But what about me??

So many friends have described a loss of personal identity as being almost synonymous with parenthood. But (deep breath), it doesn’t have to be this way!

• Set personal goals and share them with your family. If you are working on something that is important to you, you’ll feel less guilty about saying ‘No darling, Mummy / Daddy is working on something at the moment’.

• Get out of those pyjamas. Regardless of whether you had a rotten sleep and the highlight of your day is going to be dancing the hokey pokey; getting up and getting dressed will set a positive tone for the rest of the day.

• Connect with others. It’s amazing the good that a conversation with another adult can do. Preferably connect with others in person, but if you don’t know anyone local that shares your (non-baby) interests, try connecting with others online.

• Take care of yourself. I get it, you’re tired! You have a baby that wakes every 40mins and a toddler that still won’t sleep through. Regardless, being unfit, eating unhealthy foods and being a generally frumpy Mummy won’t help with retaining your own sense of identity and positivity. Sorry, but it’s true!

• Continue to learn and challenge yourself. Did you used to pride yourself on your knowledge of global affairs? Spend 20 minutes looking at Al Jazeera.com rather than Facebook. Try to have at least one non-baby related piece of conversation ready to share with your partner every night.

There’s no getting around it, balancing mindful parenting with retaining a sense of personal identity is a challenge. But, it’s one worth attempting. I’d love to hear your tips!

P.S – I’m a parent too and I get it, parenting can be really hard. These suggestions are designed to help encourage and support you, not as a criticism or to incite guilt!

Will Somebody Please Get the Lights?!

Welcome back to the second month of ‘Baby Steps to a Greener World ‘! I hope that you enjoyed undertaking the Eco-Stocktake last monthly and hopefully gained a better understanding of your ecological footprint.

This month we will be undertaking the first of our baby steps to reduce our impact on the environment, starting with… lightbulbs!!

‘Since the lighting sector is on the edge of a spectacular revolution based on new technologies, perhaps the quickest, most profitable way to reduce electricity use worldwide is simply to change light bulbs.’

Lester Brown, Plan B4.0: Mobilising to Save Civilisation

Did you know that lighting your home accounts for approximately 12% of your electricity bill? With electricity prices locked in an upward climb, now is the perfect opportunity to investigate options for savings for you and the environment!

The Australian Government undertook a phase out program to increase the energy efficiency of light bulbs in Australian homes as of 2010, so it is highly likely that you have already made the shift without even realising it!

However, if you still happen to have some incandescent bulbs lurking in your home, here are the top reasons why you should consider changing to CFL or LED technologies.

• CFLs use approximately 75% less electricity than old fashioned incandescent bulbs.
• CFLs will reduce your energy bills (by roughly $30 US over the lifetime of each bulb installed)
• CFLs will last up to 10 times longer than incandescent bulbs.
• LEDs are even more efficient and will last up to 50 times longer than the old incandescent bulbs

If you’ve already made the shift to more efficient lighting technologies in your home and are now looking for other ways to reduce your lighting costs, you could try some of the following;

• Turn lights off if you are not in the room (sounds totally ‘duh’ worthy, but it is amazing how many of us forget to do it!)
• Install sensors or dimmers if you struggle to remember to turn your lights off.
• Opt for natural lighting where possible; open up the curtains or install a skylight and invite natural lighting into your home
• Light paint colours will help to reflect existing light, reducing the amount of artificial light that is needed. As a bonus, lighter paints tend to make rooms appear more spacious and open!
• Participate in Earth Hour as a family and use it as an opportunity to build awareness of just how often you turn on lights unnecessarily
• Encourage your workplace to participate in Earth Hour.
• Talk to your kids about their lighting use – are there areas that the whole family can improve on?

Have fun turning out the lights around your home this month. Next month we’ll be looking at easy and fun ways to drive less, so make sure you check back here for some great ideas!

Teetering on the Precipice of iPhone Addiction

Yesterday, I removed the email account from my iPhone, allowed the battery to run completely flat and shoved it on top of the bookshelf out of sight.

The blessed relief was overwhelming.

I never thought that I would fall into the iPhone trap and certainly wasn’t an early adopter. Nor was my addiction ever particularly severe. I was very happy to leave the phone at home and go camping, rarely used it on public transport and always left it on silent to avoid being interrupted.

BUT…

I was still using my phone too much. Sure, I may not be as addicted as some, but in my own way I was still allowing my phone to interrupt my time, space and mental energy.

A while ago, my little girl and I were catching the train back to our accommodation with 10 other people in the compartment. Every single one of them was engrossed in a screen, so engrossed that not one had a spare moment to return the enormous cheesy grins that were beaming out from our pram. My daughter’s expression went from joyful, to confused and ended at devastated as not one person spared a second to connect with her.

Upon watching this unfold, I at first congratulated myself on not being as obsessed as others. But then I realised that my little one knows how to activate Siri and make the picture on the screen come up, but is yet to learn her ABC’s. Her interest in the phone has been created through my interest in it and she regularly has to compete with an inanimate object for attention as I check the weather, read new emails and delight in blog posts.

I’m certainly not Robinson Crusoe here. A 2012 survey by Harvard Business School showed that more than 70% of people check their smart phones within an hour of getting up, 51% check continuously during vacations and 44% said that they would experience a ‘great deal of anxiety’ if they lost their phone.

Compare this to the very small percentage of people that engage in mindful behaviours such as yoga or meditation within an hour of getting up and it becomes apparent that smart phone use has infiltrated our lives far more than any other habit.

The next time that you go to check your phone, stop and ask yourself; what messages are you missing as you gaze at the screen? Is updating your Facebook status ‘bored, on train’ more important than a moment of connection with a stranger that may alleviate that boredom?

Unplugging, even temporarily, provides us with a reprieve from the exhaustion of hyper-connectivity.

Breaking the Addiction
If you are sick of feeling shackled to your smart phone, try some of the following;
• Leave the phone at home while you go for a walk.
• Remove your email account from your phone (let’s face it, the world probably won’t end if you don’t respond within 5 minutes)
• Have a phone free weekend – let the battery die on Friday, put the phone in the top of a cupboard and don’t recharge until Sunday night.
• Smile at a stranger, gaze out the window, focus on your breathing and meditate, or (if you’re really bold) strike up a conversation the next time you are on public transport
• Banish all phones from the dinner table (really, does this even need to be said?)
• Get an alarm clock and banish the phone from your bedroom. Watching Youtube, updating Facebook and Tweeting are not conducive to a restful sleep.

I’d love to know if smart phone addiction is a problem for you. What strategies can you suggest?

‘We need a revolution. Revolutionary thinking. Revolutionary action… It is easy to mouth the words ‘sustainable development’, but to make it happen we have to be prepared to make major changes – in our lifestyles, our economic models, our social organisation and our political life.’
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon 2011

Held Hostage by Killer Flies, Stinky Bugs and Man Eating Lizards

I’m finding it somewhat difficult to be positive this week as to a large extent we have been held hostage inside the house since Tuesday. Just when I thought that we were getting on top of the heat problem (its only 42 degrees today and our 5:30am wake-up has allowed for playtime outside), a swarm of killer flies has descended upon our little community, laying waste to everything in its path.

People have had to take time off work, there have been numerous allergic reactions and the local health centre has issued warnings.

These aren’t just ordinary house flies that buzz around your face and generally aggravate you a bit. Nor are they the typical March fly. Both of those I can handle. These devils bite through clothing, have absolutely no regard for insect repellent and leave the fortunate ones covered in red welts, while the less fortunate are faced with Epipen injections, daily antihistamines and time in the medical centre.

Our daily walk to the local pool has become a cross between an Indian war dance and a scene from a horror film as the swarm descends on the pram and I, leaving me dancing about and doing my utmost not to curse out loud.

However, in a sick and twisted way these horrible creatures have reminded me that despite this plague of biblical proportions, there are undoubtedly positive lessons to be learned.

1. We are lucky! Unpleasant though the itching is, it’s highly unlikely that we will contract diseases from the bites. Medical assistance is available and unlike many places across the world, insect plagues aren’t resulting in deaths.

2. Daily exercise soothes the soul (and the itching). Our walk to the pool may be a nightmare but the daily hour of swimming offers a reprieve from the biting and itching. It is a time of peace and tranquillity with the added bonus of burning calories!

3. Even after a relentlessly long hot summer, it is still possible to find non TV based activities to entertain a toddler inside. This week we have made play dough (rose pink), baked cupcakes for our neighbour, played sock puppets and done lots of dancing around the house.

4. Adversity makes us appreciate the good things in life more. Once we leave here it is doubtful that we will ever again be faced with such long hot summers, or killer flies, man eating lizards and oceans of stink beetles. As a result, I am genuinely looking forward to enjoying more moderate climates and swatting the occasional mosquito, things that I otherwise would have taken for granted or even complained about.

5. Killer flies tend to be most savage towards darker colours. Is this a metaphor for life? Can our own light coloured attitudes (positive, calm and happy) help us to ward off unwanted pests, while darker more negative attitudes have the opposite effect?

What lessons have you learnt from unpleasant (and frankly irritating) experiences? How do you stay positive?