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Family Travel, unschooling, writing

Family travel | Chiang Mai, Thailand (ARGH! ELEPHANTS!)

30 June, 2015

The baby elephant swung its thick grey trunk over to Ramona, moving his snout across her body while she ripped the sheath from a corn cob. Before she could hand the sweet corn over, another trunk, this one about 8 times the size, reached over her shoulder and pinched it. Grandad elephant, with his big gnarly tusks, doesn’t get the snacks after the whipper snapper, thanks very much.

It was magical, getting up close and personal with these jungle beasts. There was a crowd of them right next door to where we were staying, a motel at the foot of the mountains outside of Chiang Mai, Thailand.

We’d wake up to the sound of them trumpeting to each other as their mahouts got ready for the day ahead. We followed them on a little trek, Juno shouting POO! POO! most of the way because, turns out, the jungle is where they do most of their biz. We were even there for the precious moment when the baby elephant did a sneeze and farted at the same time – such a classic. We were all completely delighted!

As we spent more time there, we watched them carry tourists around the jungle, splash in the river on command and pose for a photo.

And we were left pretty saddened by it.

It wasn’t really at all what the website portrayed it to be with it’s “Keeping Elephants Alive” slogan…. Keeping them alive, sure, but shackled and controlled.

It is incredible standing next to one of these magnificent creatures, but you also feel like you’re not really meant to. They are meant to be crashing around a dense jungle, stampeding together, getting furiously protective of their babies, not chained too many metres away to even stroke them with their snout.

We still enjoyed our time in the foothills of the Chiang Mai mountains- we visited a waterfall and ate our weight in tropical fruits. But it was with relief that we got in to the city, where we didn’t feel accused by the neighbouring elephant’s eyeballs.Family travel in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Chiang Mai turned out to be incredible! Totally wasn’t expecting to fall so in love with it. We were surprised (and gladdened to our CORE) to find tasty flat whites amongst the street food stalls. We stuffed our faces with every kind of noodle and curry. We sat in little shacks filled wall to wall with enormous cuddly toys. (Yeah, it was weird, in a way only a city full of hipster designers can be!)

And then we came across Elephant Nature Park – Chiang Mai’s only true elephant sanctuary. We were finally able to visit a herd of elephants with good consciense! (We had good conscience, I can’t tell you about the elephants – cheeky, a few of them were, I suspect.) The Thai woman who began this elephant sanctuary actually has royal protection as she has received so many death threats for being so determined to rescue Thailand’s elephants from illegal logging, and an often undignified and cruel tourism trade. Here is a video I made all about this part of our trip:

There are over 40 elephants spread around 300 acres, and they aim to try and rehabilitate some into the jungle where possible. There is no riding, no shows, humans are the ones that have to step back when an elephant goes where it wants to go – it was perfect and totally soul-lifting. family travel thailand - elephant sanctuaries in Chiang Mai

We only had 8 days in Thailand so tried to tick off a few Must Dos – i.e a massage. Mine was done by a blind man, a member of the Association for Blind Massage, a Chiang Mai social enterprise. It was completely brutal. Sheesh. I almost cried – except that I didn’t want the big Thai lady getting a massage next to me, who did huge, smelly burps every time her masseuse rubbed her back, to think I was a wuss. But I did feel about an inch taller afterwards. Family Travel Chiang Mai Thailand - elephants and pad thai

Less of a typical “Thailand Must Do”, but a major “Our Family Must Do” was a visit to the local Chiang Mai flea markets. Unexpectedly enormous and filled with old delights, the Prince Royal College secondhand markets were full of proper Asian antiques, and – the stuff I love- a load of manky household crap. BRILLIANT. I bought, get this, a big Pestle and Mortar. Hahahahaha. It weighs 8 kilos. Exactly what we need in our suitcase at the start of a 3 months travelling adventure. I was like; BAG IT MY FRIEND!

We spent our first few days feeling sad about chained up elephants and also being extremely jetlagged and basically all really mad with each other. But by the end of our time there we were just floating on a massive Pad Thai buzz. Happy that we had spent our baht on some good, ethical stuff.Family Travel Chiang Mai Thailand

What is the trick to finding good ethical tourism? I don’t have lots of great answers. This week showed us just how entangled the industry is with untruth and propaganda. Research as much as possible online (we didn’t touch the local tiger place as I’d read about some awfully cruel practices there), talk to lots of people on the ground, make one or two choices to support local social enterprise. But mostly, realise that travelling is less about ticking off all the “Things To Do” and more about being in a place, eating the food and talking with people. That is where the real experience is to be had. I reckon.

Like, if we’d filled up our days with all the suggestions of visiting exotic, caged creatures, how would we have found ourselves perched at the foot of a two storey marble cat with a moustache and a handbag, drinking the yummiest mango smoothies ever?

Parenting, unschooling, writing, yurt life

What to do when the people you love don’t love what you do

8 June, 2015

A few months go we met up with an old family friend we hadn’t seen in yonks. We’d kept in touch, were really close and were excited about spending time together as we passed through her town. We only had her one hour lunch break so you can imagine our surprise, and sadness, that she spent almost the entire time letting us know in not-so-subtle ways that she was disappointed with what we had decided to do with our lives.

She questioned our decision to live in an unconventional dwelling, telling us our yurt wouldn’t stack up against health and safety regulations. She berated us for not using our good degrees, wondering why we had settled for such simple employment.

We knew some of our family and friends wondered about the same stuff, they’d let us know, respectfully, that they worried about our relaxed parenting style and lifestyle decisions. But we hadn’t ever been grilled for an hour, so upfront and disparagingly.

We were hurt.

But we got over it.

Because we are one hundred per cent convinced that we have made the right decisions, to give up our jobs, to move across the world, to start living in a yurt, to buy land with another family, to parent in a consensual, rights-respecting way. We have reflected hard and researched hard and then followed our hearts, and we think this is the only way to do life. We are pretty sure footed about this path we’ve settled on.

Most of the time.

Hehehe.

I had an email this week from a reader who is experiencing similar backlash about her and her partners desire to shake off the mortgage and hunker down for a more simple life. And it got me thinking about how common this is. People we care about letting us know that they don’t like our disregard for the status-quo. It got me jotting down a few thoughts.

Haters gonna hate?
When I am feeling defensive about all of this, it is easy to say “Haters gawn hate” in my most badass voice. But the truth, I know, is that these people aren’t haters. This isn’t a post about all the anonymous folk that comment on Daily Mail articles about hippies weaving a house out of the old uniforms of veterans. This post is about the lovers in our life who don’t like the way we live. Our siblings, and besties, and cousins, and parents.

They love us
And here is the thing. They love us. It is probably the main reason they tut or roll their eyes or outright berate us over lunch. It is easy to forget this when we are feeling got at. Sometimes it is hard to believe that love can ever look so reproachful. But it can. And we have to remember that.
They are scared
Why would people that love us want to criticize important decisions, especially ones that we have thought so hard about? They are scared for us. They haven’t ever seen people stray from the 9-5 working day. They worry that we will be left high and dry, age 93 without a bean to our name apart from dementia. If we come from well off families, it might look as if we are throwing off the responsibility that wealth can bring. If we come from hard – up families it might look as through we are chucking all their hard work spent raising us away.

And also sometimes they are worried because they think they have seen this before. I recently read a book that looked at the macro picture of The Sixties and it was pretty revealing about how older generations might see our lifestyle now and worry about where it is going to lead. It is easy to look back on the sixties and think, oof, all those hippies had it SUSSED! But in their shrugging off of social norms they really did shrug off a lot of good stuff, too. For example, it seems as though part of their dive into sexual freedom meant they leapt away from commitment, and even, sometimes, consent. I think the liberal, progressive days of the sixties paved the way for today- where we are able to take radical concepts and run with them- so ‘nuff respect for that- but our parent’s generation see this and think we are going to end up like the burnt out, drugged up, love crumpled hippies of the Sixties. And they are scared for us.

Reassure them
Are you able to pinpoint what people are afraid of, on your behalf? If so, you can reassure them, without having to change your decision making. This isn’t about having to explain yourselves, which can get tiresome in the extreme, but putting it out there, explicitly , that they do not have to be afraid.  Sometimes I think people are worried that we have simply “fallen” into this lifestyle, that our parenting is simply accidental laissez faire, as opposed to being a parenting style we have researched DEEPLY. They think our lack of proper jobs is to do with not asserting ourselves, of accepting something less than our full potential. Often, we don’t have to actually explain our position, we simply just need a few choice sentences that can address those deeper fears.

  • We have researched this extensively and believe this is exactly the right decision for us.
  • This is intentional, not accidental.
  • We have a plan.
  • We believe this is the way we can fulfill our full potential.
  • We are committed to our family’s safety.
  • This is the way we can achieve full mental and physical well being for all of us.
  • We have reflected upon the risks of this and are going into this with eyes wide open.

Let other people explain your thinking
We have a book that we sometimes call upon and give to people. It explains our parenting style from a philosophy which many of our family come from (Christianity.) Close family members can be very open to reading materials given to them, and this can be a much easier way of getting ideas across than through conversation. Having someone else explain something can validate it and articulate it better than our flustered, sometimes defensive, selves! This can lead to some quite open and honest conversation.
We can focus on connection
There are loads and loads of reasons Tim and I have opted to stray from the mainstream when it comes to our parenting, our children’s education, our jobs, our home and, well, you know, whole life. Some of them include “because we have given a lot of thought to the idea of schools and think that, for the most part, they stifle learning, stampede over human rights and crush a child’s spirit” also “we don’t have 9-5 jobs because the idea that you are what you earn or that we must find value in being busy, busy, busy is a load of crap” HOWEVER… we don’t tend to say this out loud to many people, y’know?

If it feels like a conversation is honestly and openly spirited, that people have authentic questions, then we are MORE than happy to have a deeper discussion about our reasons. But if it is just a quick talk, or we sense any hostility, than we try and focus on topics that are inarguable:

  • We want to spend this quality time with our children while they are young
  • We want to spend loads of time outdoors, enjoying nature
  • We want our children to experience as much love as humanly possible
  • We have plenty of time later on, if we want, to be more ambitious
  • Children are natural born learners and we want to provide as much chance for them to follow that up as possible

These are the kind of sentences that we think provide a way to connect. They are likely to get people thinking, ah, yeah, I can get on board with that idea. (For the most part, we just say the first one, over and over again, on a loop,  like a politician on the radio, exercising the media training they’ve been given.)

Your life fits you alone
And then, when all is said and done, you are the one living your life. Only you and your family know the right decisions for you. There very much comes a point when we need to stand tall, with our feet on the foundation of our good decision making! We have researched, reflected, looked inside our hearts and out, and we are living the life that fits us alone!

There is a beautiful quote, a slightly less street way of saying “Haters gonna hate” about how an entire sea of water can’t sink the ship, unless it is allowed in. Lulastic parenting lidestyle blog New Zealand

What is going to help you batten down the hatches? To seal up the portholes and fill in the cracks?

I feel at my least vulnerable, and least defensive, and least likely to let a dribble of water into our ship when I have these things:

  • A tribe. A group of people who think like us! Who make our parenting look normal, our yurt look awesome, and our lack of office jobs look ideal. At various times in our lives this has looked like online forums, regular attachment parenting meet ups, bi-annual unschooling camps, even moving to a place where questioning the status quo is a healthy normal. (Here in the Coromandel, New Zealand, living an eco, sustainable, progressive life is very common and it was a big reason we chose to move here.) Come on over and find a tribe at our Facebook page too..

  • This is our friend’s beautiful yurt. We actually know tons of people that live in buses or tents or handmade homes – life can be very good without enormous mortgages.

  • Lots of information. I am zealous about books and studies. I read and read. I keep up with neuroscience so that I can explain the importance of attachment, I keep up with the baby mortality stats so that I can counter any argument to cosleeping, I read everything I can about how children learn, I get my head around the unsustainability of our current housing situation and seek to understand what are the fundamentals for happiness and well being. I RARELY pull these out of my quiver and fire them – it might be tricky to do so uncombatatively! But for my own sake, this all helps me feel confident in the choices we are making.
  • Ongoing family discussion. Tim and I talk a lot about this stuff. It is important that we are together on this journey of understanding. We go over quick fire parenting decisions we have had to make, we discuss books we are reading about sustainability. We sometimes take a while to catch up to each other but we are in it together. A crew learning the ropes. (Oh lordy, I am completely unable to put my ship metaphor away!)

I want to just take a second to validate you. It’s going to be a slightly emosh second as I am feeling quite full of heart that you are here, reading this, one of us … You aren’t alone… we are all here and we can cheer each other on.

If you are questioning the mainstream and seeking to live a life that takes less of a toll on the earth, you are of a crowd that is going to go down in history, that will be thanked by our grandchildren’s grandchildren! They shall call you a legend.  If you are making presence and peace and love your ambition, and don’t really have two pennies to rub together, you are rich. If you are nurturing your child’ spirit, determined to let them spread their wings, to live as partners in this dance of life, if you choose empathy over control,  you are nourishing a generation that will take this love and build a new world with it. 
I am sure I have only scratched the surface of this topic! I would be absolutely stoked to hear some of your own thoughts on this hefty topic. 

Family Travel, writing, yurt life

How to travel Europe with your family

18 May, 2015

So, you want to travel Europe with your family? Perhaps in a campervan? Or camping?

Good luck with that!

Hahaha. Oooh, I jest, I jest.

Two years ago we sold our house in London, and most of our possessions. We packed up our troubles in an old kitbag, and hooned off in a cool little VW campervan called Betty, to bury them beneath the sea. (Ideally the Adriatic sea… off the coast of Croatia.) After an agonising wait for our baby’s first passport and other hiccups, we were finally on the road. The woes of being very unorganised people. How we get through every day, let alone go on epic adventures, is QUITE a mystery.

These days we live in a yurt in New Zealand, where I write and we farm and go on adventures. For more inspiration about helping your family connect with their wild side please check out my little (*ahem* bestselling) book of daily readings, 30 Days of Rewilding.

I can hand on heart say that those months travelling around Europe with my husband, a three year old called Ramona and a baby called Juno held some of the most special, universe-exploding-with-joy moments I have ever encountered in my thirty years.Family Travel Camping Europe

(It also induced several poke-my-eyes-out-with-my-toothbrush moments of stress and agony too, but more about that later. Some troubles just won’t be buried.)

Our adventure sent us through France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Croatia and Spain…. ending up in a flight to New Zealand to begin a different sort of life as farmers. (Yeah, weird eh. We actually bought a cow yesterday. I don’t so much do the farming as writing about it and eating the food that grows.)

I have been writing this post in my head since the day that trip ended. I wanted to put together something really useful, to help people take this dream of travelling around Europe with their family, and make it a reality. So this is pretty long, and pretty comprehensive. Here are practical tips, links to much more detail, websites we relied on, and our ultimate trip highlights.How to plan a family adventure around europe

So, you want to travel Europe with your family? This is for you.

Things you will need to travel Europe:

Money.
(yeah, I know. duh.) It says a lot that the cost of our first night camping in our campervan on our Great Journey blew our brains. £25! We tossed and turned all night wondering how one earth we were going to manage £25 everyday for accommodation for 5 months! How little research we did before we left! Laughable really. So, if you are going to camp in campsites, plan in a good wack for accommodation. And have masses of money. For us, we decided to free camp. And that decision led to almost entirely free accommodation for 5 months and lots of adventure.

Time.
We spent our first 3 weeks on a total mish- buzzing from place to place “Having An Adventure, Really, Arent We?!” and almost went insane. Aim to spend lots of time in places, meandering, getting to know little villages and rivers, and it will be a lot more pleasant for all of you! Especially for the children. Family Travel Camping Europe

Loose ethics (1) – wifi at Mcdonalds. We were so surprised that there wasn’t wifi all over Europe. You could get it at £25 a night campsites… but there was none free anywhere else. Apart from Mcdonalds. I had successfully avoided Maccas for two decades before we went to Europe. But when we discovered their free and fast wifi, we were sucked in. With a side order of fries. Once we got to Spain we managed to get our heads around buying a SIM card and having a special short term deal. We genuinely couldn’t work this out in the other places!

Loose ethics (2) – compromising on food ethics/ health. When we are settled we try and eat mostly organic. We found this really hard to do whilst we were travelling. In France they had good, obvious “bio” options, but we struggled to maintain our commitment to that, and also general awesome nutrition, over the five months. It could be done though, with much more effort put in to the food side of things. But we didn’t prioritise it. I do regret this a little, as I think Juno’s dental health was impacted by me mostly eating bread and foraged figs whilst breastfeeding. But I raise it in order to say that there are some things, whilst constantly on the move, that are tricky to work out. And there does need to be a little compromise, I think.

Fearlessness – or exceptional organizational skills. Our courage increased as we went. We became better and better at turning up at place expecting to find somewhere good to sleep. We tried hard to always arrive at a place in the daytime so we could suss everything out well once we were there. Alternatively, you could plan ahead. We are not good planners at the best of times, and when it required so much time in Old Macdonald using up there wifi, we basically stopped planning anything.

An open heart. The absolute best thing about travelling is the random things you end up doing. But you do need to have an open heart for this. I guess if you are planning a trip of this kind, then you have it. Say yes when an old granny offers you some cherries, invite another family on the campsite up to the café for chips, ask locals for the good swimming spots and ALWAYS skinny dip at the Playas Nudista. After taking a punt and asking another family out for dinner they became our fast and firm friends and we met up with them several times over our adventure- we celebrated two birthdays with them.

Suspended hygiene. The truth is, if you are doing a lot of swimming, you don’t need to shower. And if you are free camping, showering and doing laundry and all those things can be a bit tricky. RELISH the freedom of being a bit smelly and read up on all the reasons a bit of bacteria is so good for us. Hehe. Honestly though, we were probably swimming two times a day, for most of the trip. If you are not a big swimming family – you might need to suck it up and stay at camp sites more often. (But do also read this post: Do Children Need a Daily Bath- 8 Reasons To Stop Washing So Much.)

Family Travel Camping EuropeA hobby. Because travelling is best done at a snail’s pace it is really nice to have a little hobby to turn to. Sketching or writing poetry or taking photographs – these can help you see a place through a different lens. And they can pass the hours while your children bury each other endlessly in the sand. I learnt the ukulele while we were travelling around Europe and now I play and sing everyday.

A purpose
Before we left I did a bit of a shout out on my blog, asking for people’s suggestions of where to go. We decided to visit a few projects around the place that people had pointed us towards. Such as the Forest Kindegarten in Germany – read about their knives and stuff, if you like, and the Sunseed Eco Village in Spain (read about the hippy that laid a golden poo there.) We also did as much of the Wild Swimming France book as we could. This just adds a bit of a fun dynamic.

Amazing Insurance/ Breakdown Cover. Because if you have this, you CAN be a little bit fearless. And, you know, you might break down. Really seriously. Twice. *Ahem*Family Travel Camping Europe

Baby Wipes
They can clean ANYTHING! I’m not gonna lie to you, at least 3 times I did a day’s worth of dishes with a few baby wipes.

Audiotapes or mixtapes your friends make you for the journey. We tried to make the journeying quite pleasant, so rarely did more than 100 miles in a day. But you still clock up a lot of time on the road and having stories and new music from our friends was really cool.

Be prepared for:

All the emotions (1) – From your children
For the most part, our children were buzzing out on our own good vibes of freedom and happiness. However, our three year old did express a lot of emotion quite often. Sing goodbye as a ritual (we used to name each of the things we loved in each place, as I strummed away on the Uke) Give lots of time for goodbyes (oh- I have an AMAZING Guide to Helping Children Say Goodbye RIGHT HERE!) Find ways to incorporate your children’s wishes and aims – one of the families we travelled with had a family meeting every morning where everyone said what they wanted to do that day, and everyone’s ideas were respected equally. This could be quite a disempowering time for your little ones, unless you support a better alternative for them.

All the emotions (2) – From you
The highs! The lows! There is something about travelling that rips open your heart. At 4:30pm you’ll be sitting by a river with tears in your eyes because you are JUST SO HAPPY look at our angelic children and my dashing husband we are all perfectly content and we love each other so much! And then, inexplicably at 4:50pm, you’ll be like F*CK THIS SH*T WHAT ARE WE DOING LET’S GO HOME YOU B*STARDS

I think that having a lot of empty time makes you more attuned to your feelings. Emotions that you’ve perhaps tucked away neatly in order to carry out an orderly, systematic breakfast/work/mortgage/ dinner sort of life are suddenly given some space to pop out and yell BOO in your face.

Be prepared for it. And get good at mindfulness. Hehe. True though. We downloaded the app Yoga Studio and it SAVED THE DAY! (Tim and I aren’t naturally yoga-y, although we would like to be, we would rather eat chocolate and read Jack Reacher. But when you have lots of extra time it is quite do-able to fit in some mindfulness practice and did really help us.)

Country Guide
Here is a little whiz around the countries we went to, with particular reference to the camping situ….

France – France introduced us to wildcamping.  Staying by lakes and rivers, also almost every town has a free motorhome car park. We met lots of beautiful people doing this, all very respectful of the spots. France was such a breeze, a really wonderful intro to camping around Europe. In fact, we could easily spend three months in France alone.

Switzerland– the odd bit of free camping and absolute gobsmacking beauty. The stunning buildings and clear lakes and mountains. We fell in love with Bern all over again…. but pushed through quite quickly as everything was so dear and we did feel like we were chancing the free camping a lot. One night we accidentally stayed over in a Graveyard. We arrived in the dark thinking we had found a wonderful peaceful spot and in the morning realised it was a cemetery. OH! We zipped out of their pretty fast. Read more about our campervan bustling around France and Switzerland.

Germany– There was the odd bit of freecamping to be had in Germany, but not in the touristy spots – probably rightly so that the Black Forest should be protected by rangers. We did some cool things here in Germany and it is very easy to travel around with only your one pathetic language under your belt. Bit of a warning though, the German elderly are completely and utterly OBSESSED with your babies being cold. I am talking stopped-in-the-street-on-boiling-hot-days-every-single-day OBSESSED. Be prepared for them waking your baby by squeezing their bare feet and sternly saying KALT!KALT!

Italy – we stayed in campsites in Italy (mostly because we were broken down but also because we heard it was slightly unsafe) And we blew our budget somewhat on the incredible pizzas and pasta – this was absolutely the culinary highlight. It was an absolutely lovely place to be for the children – people literally call across the street “CIAO BELLA!” just to be kind and jolly to the children. If you do Venice- stay at the campsite over the water and get the boat in. Far cheaper and lovely way to do it. Read about how to do Italy and Venice hear. Also, another breakdown story. Eep.

Family Travel Camping Europe

Croatia– Be warned, there is NO FREE CAMPING there. As a result of landmines in the past, they are very strict about not wandering/driving off the beaten path. Croatia was surprisingly expensive, not the tuppence-a-day place people remember it as, and there was a sort of tourist-weariness amongst the people there, they are still quite clearly recovering from a very tragic conflict. It still made it into our highlights, though. (Read on.)

Spain – if a lover of France is a Francophille is a lover of Spain a Spancophille? Sounds totally wrong, if you ask me. But I am now one! The freecamping around Spain was PERFECT. A real community. Read all about campervanning around Spain with your family, and a surboad and a caterpillar here.

Handy Websites to travel Europe with:

There were two sites that we referred to on a weekly basis.
Wildcamping Forum – this was very important to us – so much good advice for travelling around the Uk and Europe in a campervan. Their Spain Forum was so helpful.

Trip Advisor – we had some lovely house-stays in Spain as a result of Trip Advisor. (Courtesy of our breakdown insurance….) If you stay 3+ nights in a place it can be super cheap. We relied on Trip Advisor a lot for restaurants and hotels and ideas for things to do. It has to be one of the most helpful sites for accomodation and activities to travel Europe with.Family Travel Camping Europe

Travel Highlights of Europe:

The national parks in Croatia were incredible, despite being very touristy. Well worth the visit. And the completely astonishing Croatian shoreline, azure ocean and islands. We didn’t really enjoy the vibe there (got to make your own fun, for the most part) or the food available to buy (don’t hate me, I am just being honest) but we loved foraging walnuts and figs all over the country and we fell head over heels with Dubrovnic and Split. In Love. Wouldn’t have missed them for the world. Read about flea markets in Split here.

Seville in December. What a wonderful place! We loved the cafes, the culture, the street art, the late night churros and hot chocolate, the general vibe. In fact- Spain. It is amazing! We LOVED how much they cherish children there, and how involved in all of life. We adooooooored being out on the town at midnight with all the children having fun!

The Black Forest, Germany. We were fortunate enough to make wonderful new friends in Frieberg and perhaps this tinted our time there. But we loved the wildness of the Black Forest, picking millions of tiny wild blueberries on walks to little lakes and buying smoked fish outside the Cathedral and chasing paper boats along the mini waterways.

Wild Swimming and the Children’s Festival in France. Some of the river swimming in the mountainous areas of France is out of this world. Shockingly cold but, injects YEARS of life into the weary bones of parents! We also went to Le Grand Bornand Bonheur des Mômes festival in the Alps –the biggest kids festival in Europe and what an inspiration! So much fun – an acre of wooden train set to build and a whole pasture filled with massive musical instruments made from random recycled rubbish – La Jardin Musicale.

Frequently asked questions about how to travel Europe:

How did the kids cope? Generally, I reckon if parents are happy, than kids are happy. We were all carried along in a spirit of nomadic freedom.  We prioritised their needs, planned travelling around sleeps and tried to park in places that they would thrive in. They LOVED having both parents around and the unstructured time.

What about stuff? We took waaaay too much stuff. Could have chucked half of it.  Pack your bags and then take half of it away! We also didn’t plan places for everything. The other family we roadtripped for a while with had a perfect place for everything. Do this, would you? It will help with the madness. 
Family Travel Camping Europe
What about baby paraphernalia? We didn’t have too much. We cosleep, so that was easy, and just had slings. And we are nappy free so Juno didn’t even have stacks of that. At night time she used to wear a Tena, hehehehehe… we rescued a massive stash of unused adult incontinence pads for the trip….

Argh, recalling everything is giving me a fluttering in my chest, and ants in my pants, and a desire to fling my clothes off and pretend my local seaside is a Playas Nudista.

What about your budget? When I say we were thrifty, I mean we were like, super cheapskate. We freecamped. We cooked almost EVERY MEAL apart from birthdays and special occasions with friends. (Well, apart from completely not resisting Italian carbs and Mcdonalds chips. Wifries.) A ferry trip, cover price to the Alhambra, and entry to Croatian national parks were probably the only activities that weren’t free. We chose walking and swimming and dossing over actual activities. We don’t feel we missed out at all- in my opinion theme parks look the same the world over. We lived on less than we lived on whilst in London, and made do on a mixture of savings and a tiny bit of income from my writing. Petrol and groceries were our two big costs.

Embrace the fear, race your kids along the shore, scrabble over the cliff to a waterfall, dig out your inner nomad and have a family adventure that will set your heart aflutter for a lifetime.

PS I hope that was helpful! If you have any other questions, please ask them in the comments and I imagine I will edit the extra questions and answers into this mahoosive post.Family Travel Camping Europe

And for more inspiration you probably need to download my ebook, 30 Days of Rewilding, The Telegraph called it “a manifesto for life lived in nature” – there is one with your name on it!

Keep in touch with our off grid yurt living here in NZ on my Youtube Channel:

writing

The best of Lulastic and the Hippyshake 2014

5 January, 2015

As of tomorrow we have been in New Zealand for ONE WHOLE YEAR. What a simply bonkers year it has been. It has involved such a wonderful amount of travelling time- taking our bus on roadtrips a few times a month, it has involved a massive amount of family time – what with both of us being around for a lot of the week, on one hand it has been a year of fulfilling dreams (becoming a proper, paid writer, one of them) and also not quite achieving what we set out to do. (Buying some land and building a house of our own. Fortunately not achieving this has had the bonus of getting to reside in a beautiful yurt on land with two other incredible families.)

Not having internet in the yurt means I am getting WAY better at being really present, at zoning into family life, but it has meant that I rarely spend time promoting the posts I’ve written. Which is weird, why would I write them and then not go nuts sharing them? I guess because it is the writing I like the most.

Because I don’t get online that much, and because Facebook is like a big, unpredictable baboon in the way it lets you know  – well, NOT no- about new posts, it is quite possible that you have missed some of 2014’s top bits and bobs. Here is some of the most popular bits of Lulastic writing from the year:

My top three posts were all to do with giving up shampoo. Why go No Poo? and Shampoo Free For Two Years and
Happy Hair: the Definitive Guide to Giving Up Shampoo all totally rocked it, I think mostly because so many newspapers linked to them in “HAIR RAISING SHOCK OF WOMAN WHO DIDN’T WASH HER HAIR IN LIKE EVER” style articles. Seeing as I am hawking an ebook about giving up shampoo I am well glad that people are visiting here for information on that!

Aside from my posts about No Poo, the rest of my top ten were about parenting. I am stoked about this as it is my passion to support parents to live peacefully and communicate respectfully with their children.

Emotional Memory: Explaining a Child’s and a Parent’s Raw Reactions – so glad that this post about tantrums was so well read as I genuinely feel that if parent’s knew about this they would breathe a sigh of relief and feel much better able to cope with intense emotions.

Raising a Rebel – Why I am Glad My Child Isn’t Compliant – Here I discuss how compliancy is totally overrated! If you sometimes despair because your child never does what you say then give yourself a high five and tell yourself you are doing a WICKED JOB.

Did you know that the Lulastic Facebook community is the absolute bombdiggidy? They helped me crowdsource the 4th most popular post in 2014 – 40 Ways to Find Your Parenting Mojo – a list of creative and simple ways to break the cycle of grumpiness.

This post, Give a Child A Knife and You’ll Empower Them for a Lifetime, put me live on BBC radio where the host hit me with the first question “So, do you advocate giving GUNS to TODDLERS?!”  Pfft. I’m not advocating that, nope, but a knife? Yep.

Tandem Breastfeeding a one year old and a four year old was also up there- we can’t have ENOUGH pictures normalising extended (well, natural term) breastfeeding in my opinion. So THANKYOU for sharing this post.

One of my most intense posts, one that generated yards of discussion was about how we perpetuate a major ‘ism” everyday. Could the concept of adultism transform parent-child relationships? This was probably my least favourite post of the year as I felt that in my passion for sticking up for kids I fell into a role of accuser, and I never want to be this. I want to encourage and support parents to question the status quo through stories, not badgering. But it must have struck a bit of a chord, eh?

And the tenth most popular post is one in which I sum up my entire parenting-changes-the-world theory – Urge: Allowing our children’s yearnings to bloom. Increasingly I think that, after keeping our children safe and well fed and generally feeling really loved, if we have any leftover energy, we should focus on helping them listen to their internal voice. I think this is the key to a fairer, more beautiful world.

Let’s make 2015 a  fairer, more beautiful year, eh?best of Lulastic 2014

Parenting, writing, yurt life

Here’s to you

24 December, 2014

We are on a bit of a road trip, bussing down to spend Christmas with Tim’s family in the central North Island. We parked up for the night halfway and went for a bush walk. 45 minutes to the waterfall? Easy!

We’d been cooped up for hours, surviving on the Peter Rabbit audiotape and lollipops- a hike in the wild was just what we needed.

We crossed a rickety bridge over a river and into the dark of the native bush, I was ready to be swallowed up by its calm and was set on a shower under the waterfall.

And then…

Ramona wanted to swim every time we rounded a corner and came upon the river, joyous and tedious in equal measure.
Juno wanted to walk, her mighty little legs thumping out steps but slowing our pace to a shuffle.
All the leaves kept getting stuck in between Ramona’s sandle and shoe.
Juno wanted to breastfeed AND walk.
A mist of mozzies followed us.
The shelter of the manuka trees couldn’t cut through the muggy heat.
The halterneck of my swimming cozzy stabbed into me and I imagined my bra, discarded on the seat of the bus, and I longed for it.

We veered, irascible, through the forest, anywhere but present. We stumbled for an hour and a half… And then we got to a sign saying “WATERFALL 25 MIN>>>”

We weren’t even half way. Not halfway!

It was actually comical, so we laughed, and our laughter saved the day.

We gave up on the waterfall and looked about us. We were inches deep in massive fallen fern leaves, each one the brightest gold, as if a hooligan had stalked into the forest with a can of metallic spray paint and covered each one, in a spirit of festivity.

We found a mini waterfall, not THE waterfall, but perfect for tiny clamberers, puddles pouring from one into the other. And a big angled rock, ideal to lean on and search for patches of blue sky through the forest canopy.

We were probably only a mile away from our bus but it was a remote, tropical place of rest for us, a snatched meditation before the crazy of a big family Christmas.

And happiness filled all our bellies.

~

I want to say an enormous big thank you for reading and sharing my blog. It is such a pleasure for me to write and I am grateful that there are people who read my words. Despite not having internet at our yurt (did I mention that? Hehe) this has been a massive year for Lulastic and the Hippyshake and I am quite blown way by it all.

Here’s to you.

I hope that you find a glade by clear waters to rest in, that you walk on steady feet as you find your path – sometimes with wilderness on your left and a cliff on your right. (Here’s to deliberate, intentional living, eh?)

May any hurt and pain you are carrying fade away, like leaving behind the cloud of stinging insects, until you come to the wide open sky of forgiveness.

May you know freedom from whatever oppression or oppressive thoughts you feel, freedom that feels like taking off all your clothes and swimming butt naked in a cool bend of a clear river. (And here’s to some actual skinny dipping too.)

I hope you can find joy and contentment, even though you might not ever, ever arrive at the waterfall. (And here’s to presence, really just being present.)

May you see the gold in the dead foliage and feel happy in your bowels.

And may your bra be ever comfy.

writing

Writing in my blood

10 December, 2014

It’s scratched out in biro, a ten year old’s retelling of the naughtiest thing she’s ever done: France July 1992. Found a packet of cigarettes with my cousin Michael. We emptied out a bit of the tobacco in each one and put a fire cracker inside, the wick hanging out just enough to be set alight. We put them all back in the packet and left them back on the bench, and hid in a bush to watch.

~

My mum and dad moved house last month, and as they packed up their old place they kept coming across all these things I had written. Journals, poems on waste paper, secret holiday stories retold in terrible, teacher-despairing handwriting.

So when I Skyped them this week with a revelation I had had, “Mum! Dad! I am a WRITER!” they were all “OBVIOUSLY!”

Until a few days ago I thought I was writing as a function. To share information about something I thought was important – like parenty things. Or to make a living.

In fact, you might be reading this going; I’ve been reading your writing for nearly 4 years. You wrote a bladdy book, you numpty.

But truly, it has only been over the last few days that some clouds have cleared in my head and I am able to say, not “I write” but “I am a writer” and it sounds like the most nuanced of differences but it has been quite life changing. I’ve been walking around in a mystical thin place, where it feels anything could happen. I swear to God the closest thing it feels like is being head over heals in love.

If it was a different vocation, at this point I’d probably have to sell everything and change my life from top to bottom, to sail my ship or enter a nunnery. But nothing really has to change for me… though I think everything will. Because now I can give space and joy and freedom to this thing that is pumping like mineral rich, life giving blood through my veins.

It looks like I’m writing a list of all my favourite verbs while I’m supposed to be cleaning the dish-bomb-stricken kitchen but you can’t judge me: IT’S MY VOCATION.

I’ve heard it said that, if, as an adult, you want to discover what it is you are CALLED to do, think about what you were doing a lot of when you were ten years old. Before the waters got muddied with expectations and talk of earning a living. Were you building? Drawing? Designing robots. Do more of that. That’s probably going to tap you into your deep down self.

And, as my mum and dad reminded me, what I was doing was writing. As soon as I could, I was piling words on top of words. I had diaries with scented pages and little locks on them. After every page I’d write a note for my sister “I KNOW YOU ARE READING THIS PUT IT DOWN AND MOVE AWAY”. I had one whole diary full of swears, the worse swears I’d ever heard of.

When I worked as a campaigner, for six years, the bit I loved the most, the days I came home high, were when I had been bashing on the keyboard, telling a story that I hoped might spark an activist into being.

Even when I’ve been painting and crafting, I’ve mostly been dealing in words.

I’ve been writing my whole life. But just this week feel able to say I am a writer.

Do you ever get the feeling that the earth has just been yanked to a stop on its axis? And that all the things that were meant to have been tipped into your lap? That is this week.

I grabbed a book from the library shelf on Monday because I liked the typeface. It then kept me up until 4am because I had to finish it, and then, I swear to God, I was buzzing out the whole next day because it was so simple and funny and GOOD. (God bless Maria Semple, and also, maybe the extra espresso I had to help me get through the day after an allnighter, yknow?) It made me go, WOW STORIES ARE SO AWESOME, STORIES STORIES STORIES… (Also, Woo COFFEEEEEE!)

And then, in another act of random grabbiness I got out Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones and scoffed her book into my hungry,epiphanic week:

“We are important and our lives are important, magnificent really, and their details are worthy to be recorded. This is how writers must think, this is how we must sit down with pen in hand. We were here; we are human beings; this is how we lived. Let it be known, the earth passed before us. Our details are important. Otherwise, if they are not, we can drop a bomb and it doesn’t matter. . . Recording the details of our lives is a stance against bombs with their mass ability to kill, against too much speed and efficiency. A writer must say yes to life, to all of life: the water glasses, the Kemp’s half-and-half, the ketchup on the counter. It is not a writer’s task to say, “It is dumb to live in a small town or to eat in a café when you can eat macrobiotic at home.” Our task is to say a holy yes to the real things of our life as they exist – the real truth of who we are: several pounds overweight, the gray, cold street outside, the Christmas tinsel in the showcase, the Jewish writer in the orange booth across from her blond friend who has black children. We must become writers who accept things as they are, come to love the details, and step forward with a yes on our lips so there can be no more noes in the world, noes that invalidate life and stop these details from continuing.”

And, then, THEN, I got a parcel from the UK, from Mothers Milk Books – two books, the lovely Musings on Motherhood and the Parenting Anthology, which is the collection of parenthood poetry and prose collected during last years writing prize. They are raw, honest, moving and sort of opened my eyes to possibilities. By now the words “WRITER” are burning like neon on the underside of eyelids.

(Teika is currently collecting entries to the next Writing Prize – so if you are saying all these holy yeses to life and want to be published, this could be a step. It closes on 18th January.)

So yeah. A bit of a self indulgent post, to break an 8 day blog break. I guess perhaps a barrier to owning this writing-as-vocation thing is a fear about the indulgence of it all.

It’s been a introspective, cataclysmic week, in a nothing changes, you probably-won’t-notice kind of a way. Apart from possibly slightly less blogging – I’ve begun spending my writing energy getting back in touch with a biro and notepad. This time not so much scrawling out stories about being naughty but just weird, trippy bollocks in the middle of the night, and in worse handwriting.

What were you doing age ten? Has your vocation been a slow burner? Are you a writer? Or something else? Do you think you might enter the Mothers Milk Writing Prize?

IMG_9100.JPGRamona took this shot of Juno and I- she even chose black and white. I’m a writer, she is an artist…