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Parenting

How to be a Spiritual Parent

9 October, 2013

We are trucking along with this celebratory “How to be a _____ Parent series” I am incredibly delighted to have Thalia from the fascinating, kinda lighthearted but also pretty deep blog, Sacraparental, talking about raising her family in a sacred sort of a way. I love how she discusses her spirituality in inclusive and accesible terms and she often prompts me to pause and ponder love, beauty and connection amidst the craziness of family life. ( I have loved each contribution to this series so far. If you missed them, check out the ones from the last few weeks- How to be a Feminist Parent, an Expat Parent and an Eco Parent. We have some flipping BEAUT ones coming up too…)

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Spiritual, eh?

It’s a word that’s often followed by ‘but-not-religious’ so it’s brave of Lucy to invite me, a Baptist minister on maternity leave, to comment. But I have a nose-ring and we co-sleep with our toddler, so that gives me some street cred, right?

Anna Maxted recently wrote a reflection on parenting for the Guardian, worrying about her secular family’s lack of ‘spirituality.’ She wants her boys to have a sense of wonder, a respect for religious tradition and a moral compass to develop empathy and character, but also a scientific worldview. She decided after some thought and research that all are possible, and I agree with her – none of those are mutually exclusive.

My own spirituality is based in the Christian tradition, but I’d like to make this post an invitation to consider a broader kind of spirituality in your family life, illustrated by how we do things in our family. I hope you’ll take it in the inclusive spirit offered, and find a point of connection that meets your family’s experience.

Stretch high

Have you ever been to a singing workshop, or a fitness class, or a yoga session, where you were encouraged to stretch your body to its fullest extent? Go up on tiptoes, extend your arms to the sky and out wide, maybe even poke out your tongue?

Use everything you’ve got. Stretch as far as you can. Don’t confine yourself to the usual or the obvious – in posture or in awareness of the world.

If being or becoming a ‘spiritual’ parent is something that catches your eye, here are some stretches to try to make the fullest use of your inner life, connect yourself in different ways to the wider world and help your kids to stretch high and wide, too.

Listen to your life

There’s more meaning in your daily life than might be immediately obvious. Doing the washing-up is an act of love towards your family, a chance to muse or sing while your hands are busy and a bringing of order out of chaos – it needn’t be merely a mucky necessity. Can you find meaning, purpose and connection to the wider world in your grocery shopping, gardening, accounts and nappy-changing?

One piece of the spirituality puzzle is mining your usual life, mundane and exciting, for all the meaning, connection and potential in it.

This might come through a spiritual or secular practice of mindfulness, through meditation or just through consciously looking at your life more carefully.

One of my favourite writers, Frederick Buechner, calls it ‘listening to your life‘:

I discovered that if you really keep your eye peeled to it and your ears open, if you really pay attention to it, even such a limited and limiting life as the one I was living on Rupert Mountain opened up onto extraordinary vistas. Taking your children to school and kissing your wife goodbye. Eating lunch with a friend. Trying to do a decent day’s work. Hearing the rain patter against the window. There is no event so commonplace but that God is present within it, always hiddenly, always leaving you room to recognize him or not to recognize him, but all the more fascinatingly because of that, all the more compellingly and hauntingly. . . . If I were called upon to state in a few words the essence of everything I was trying to say both as a novelist and as a preacher, it would be something like this: Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.

Live out loud

You might be a pro at finding God in everyday life, or seeing the spiritual angle of your routines and choices. In my observation, many kids don’t notice this in their parents. Churches I have been part of are full of kids who would be astonished to know why their parents actually follow Jesus, because the subject simply hasn’t come up. If you want to model spiritual stuff to your kids, you’ll have to live it out loud.

We are developing language in our family to do this. When I see the first glimpse of sky in the morning, I instinctively, habitually, think of God’s goodness, which is, in the words of the Bible, ‘new every morning.’ But my son can’t know what’s going on in my head, or make these connections without help, so when we open the blinds in the bedroom in the morning, we say, ‘Good morning, Wellington! Thank you, God, for a new day.’

Similarly, as well as having ‘thank you, God’ routines for mealtimes and bedtime, we say ‘God speed that ambulance’ when we hear emergency sirens. When his dad leaves for work at the hospital, we call it ‘going to help people for Jesus’ to make the connection between work and spirituality obvious.

Writing this is reminding me to update our repertoire as he grows (he’s now 22 months old), to connect his growing empathy with an awareness of God’s love for other people and our repsonsibility to show love and care to friends and strangers.

He has picked up on our ‘bless you!’ when someone sneezes or coughs, so perhaps adding ‘God bless you’ when we talk about someone being sick or sad might be the next step for us. What about in your house?How to be a Spiritual Parent

Be part of a faith community

Together and alone, in company and in silence: most spiritual traditions have elements of solitude and elements of community.

There are huge benefits for all kinds of families in finding a community to belong to that supports your kids’ spiritual development.

A religious community, if it appeals to you, can offer educational support (mentoring, children’s programmes, group activities), practical help (meals for new parents, extra ‘grandparents’ for your kids, support for vulnerable families) and a shared context for exploring the sacred. For older children in particular, it is powerful to find that adults outside your family respect, believe or practise similar things.

Maybe, like Anna Maxted, you’d like your kids to develop a sense of wonder about and in the natural world. Joining an outdoors club or community as a family might help make this a regular thing in your life and surround you with other people to support your children as they explore the world.

It’s really important to our family that our son is surrounded by people other than his parents who will encourage him to thank God at dinner time, practise hospitality and kindness, read stories about Jesus with him and when he’s older, talk with him about their own experience of God. It’s hard to do this stuff alone.

Speaking of which…

Get yourselves some ‘godparents’

Whether ‘God’ is a word you use in your house or not, it can be brilliant to get your child a ‘godparent,’ someone who is explicitly given the role of encouraging them in their spiritual development. This doesn’t have to be a formal church arrangement, you can just ask a friend to be a special person in your child’s life, and define that in whatever way makes most sense to you.

Our son is lucky enough to have four godparents, two in each of our home countries. As well as thinking the world of him, this is the job we asked them to take on, in the words of the Church of England service:

[Minister:] The church receives this child with joy. Today we are trusting God for his growth in faith. Will you pray for him, draw him by your example into the community of faith and walk with him in the way of Christ?
[Godparents:] With the help of God, we will.

What would you want to ask a godparent to do? I’d be keen to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Keep some rituals

I’m not much for routine, truth be told, and we have lived most of our son’s life as international nomads. But I am appreciating the daily rituals that are a necessary part of child-raising. It can be oddly freeing to have the anchor of young children in the house.

You may or may not eat or go to sleep at regular times (we don’t, really), but your kids will still eat, sleep and brush their teeth sometime, so you can attach small rituals to enrich those kinds of daily events.

We say ‘grace’ when we eat. At the moment my son just says ‘Thank you, God. Amen.’ But we’re just on the cusp of making it more elaborate as he becomes more articulate. I have plans of writing out a few family-friendly grace options to keep on the dining table. I’ll let you know when/if this eventuates (I’m sure Lucy has a crafty solution to make it gorgeous!).

Read and feast

As I said, my own spirituality is part of my identity as a follower of Jesus Christ. What Christianity offers beyond the kind of spirituality Anna Maxted seeks for her sons is a shared narrative of how the world works: there is a God who is bigger than our universe, who is revealed to us through Jesus Christ’s work in the world, and who connects with us directly now through God’s Holy Spirit.

If you identify with organised religion, either as a matter of personal belief or belonging, or as part of your family history, there are a few key things that can help connect your kids to it as well. Belonging to a faith community helps, of course, and the other biggies are helping your kids to engage with your tradition’s sacred writings and following the festivals and seasons of your faith.

The topic of children’s Bibles is a huge one, both philosophically and practically, and I haven’t yet tackled it online. But I can tell you that I have bought over a dozen copies of The Jesus Storybook Bible for special children of my acquaintance, and the biggest hits in the Jesus genre in our house are a lift-the-flap book called Who Am I? and a retelling of Daniel in the Lions’ Den that (this is the popular bit) has a dog and a cat sprinkled through the illustrations.

For older children, I’d make special mention of Joy Cowley’s The Easter Story and Geraldine McCaughrean’s The Jesse Tree.

As for festivals, well, who doesn’t like to party? We follow the church calendar, more or less, including doing a bunch of things to mark Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter and Pentecost.

So far almost all of these celebrations have been outside of a regular church community while we’ve been travelling – so I can confidently say you can participate in the rhythms of the year whatever your situation.

What do you think, friends-of-Lulastic? Does exploring spirituality in your parenting interest you? What do you do in your family that we could try? What are your best tips and resources to share? I’m very keen to hear your ideas in the comments below.

Thanks for having me, Lucy!

Family Travel

Croatia’s Islands and Coastline: Camping, Calamari and Compulsive Swimming

4 October, 2013

We came to Croatia primarily because someone told me once that National Geographic had voted it the “most beautiful country in the world” – oh yeah, I thought… You sure? Because I have seen quite a few beaut things in my life, and like, who are YOU, some kind of AUTHORITY on countries and landscapes and geography and that?

Within the first hour of crossing the border from Slovenia we were muttering at the mountains and coastline “Wow. Yep, it is alright this place.” After our first full day we were hyperventilating with all the stunning scenes making our lungs compress and eyeballs water. A week in and we were saying to each other “That National Geographic most beautiful country in the world thing? Hello, UNDERSTATEMENT OF THE YEAR.”

Turns out those kids (actually I imagine them to be Teva-toting bespectacled old fellas) Know Stuff.

Our 25 days camping through Croatia are very nearly up. We weren’t sure how we were going to cope, spending all that time with a toddler and a baby in a tent, but we are so SO glad we pushed through after the catastrophe that hit Betty the Campervan in Italy. The weather has been kind, we have had sunshine, and therefore swum, everyday apart from 2. At least once a day we are gobsmacked by the outrageous postcard perfection of the coves and bays and marinas and the way the oceans just pull you in.

I was on holiday with my folks in New Zealand many years ago when we came across the most breathtaking little waterfall with a plunge pool. We scrambled down to it, like children rushing upon the Turkish Delights in the Snow Queen’s palm. We stepped in to it, up to our ankles. My mum though, she kept stepping. She stepped in up to her knees… her waist… then she dived in, every bit of clothing on including her precious watch. It says a lot about my free-spirited, frolicsome mum. But also about the water. Some rivers, lakes and seas poke a Swimming Button, they unleash an overwhelming urge to jump right on in. Here in Croatia, this water is EVERYWHERE YOU LAY YOUR PEEPERS.

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After visiting the National Parks, Plitvice and Krka, we headed down to Split and jumped on a ferry to the Island Korcula. We resisted the swim compulsion at the port – too chilly at 8 am- resisted it on the beautiful ferry trip – too fatal- and resisted as we drove along the Island shore in search of a campsite – too anxious as campground upon campground seemed to be non-existant or closed. We finally found a little camp in a place called Prizba but the man showed me the sign he was about to erect “CLOSED UNTIL JUNE 2014” Nooooooo! But, pity upon us he took, we built the tent under the olive groves and DASHED down to the sea to finally yield to the tug of clear-as-glass turquoise waters.

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The beach at Prizba is sheltered from any wind, and looks out towards a couple of tiny Islands. There is the funnest slide into the harbour, just a couple of bays along from where we camped. And within half an hours drive there are hidden coves with rocks to clamber, each one clamouring for position as Most Beautiful Beach In Most Beautiful country in the world. (Pupnatska Luka and Bacva were our favourites although the latter at the end of a pretty treachourous windy trail! Vucine on the Peljesac Peninsula then popped along and blew even these two out of the water.)

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Most evenings we’d wander down to the tiny marina and chuck in the lures and line we had foraged from the bottom of the sea, joining the local nuns (honest truth- nuns in full habits- with a daily fishing habit, hoo hoo tee hee) in a dusk calamari search. Apparently they were there, and indeed one morning Ramona came running back from a walk with Tim absolutely bursting with a story about the octopus they spotted in the sea! They had shown a local Grandad who came over! And caught it right there in front of them! And then it got free and tried to use its legs to creep back in the water! But the old man got it back! And octopuses change colour on the rocks so noone can see them! It was pink! Then it was brown! As you can imagine Tim was gutted he didn’t catch the bugger. I was, throughout the telling of this adventure, trying my utmost not to boff. Ugh. Octopuses.

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We felt like we had finally found the swimming idyll that we had secretly been hunting for throughout this whole trip. No wonder we stayed there for a week and then moved to the Peljesac Peninsula for a further 4 days.The campsite owner didn’t think much of my Squatters Rights stance. (Jokes.) We left with resigned reluctance, a bank of memories and a small flock of fleas courtesy of the mangy cats who were part of the Mangy Cat Sanctuary he ran alongside the camp that would rampage through our tent each time we turned our backs.

But back to all this beauticiousness. From almost every point on Croatia’s Islands and Coast you can see other islands; hundreds and thousands of them. Round like blobs of paint dripped perfectly into the sea; scattered like a giant kid blew the candles out on his birthday cake spitting billions of soggy crumbs of crisps everywhere…

Or like “God’s tears” as someone more, er, elegantly put it…

After the peninsula we trucked into Dubrovnik for the day, which hands down must be one of the coolest old cities ever (yeah, in fact UNESCO gave it that award a few decades back, turns out.) An ancient town of beautiful architecture, ruins and cathedrals, inside walls you can walk on (we spent a happy 3 hours doing it!) inside another layer or rocks protecting it from the clean, deep ocean- rocks you can bomb off into, yep, water that just compels you in.

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We had heard terrible things about the crowds; cruise ships that bustle up and take over the town but we must have been there in off season as it felt calm and peaceful and free from those pesky tourists. *cheeky smile*

We are now staying in Campsite Serina outside of a little town called Omis, south of Split. It is on a little peninsula, with lots of little coves for swimming straight into the ocean. It must be one of the best campsites ever, with an acoustic folk duo playing on camp each night and the host family welcoming everyone like kindred souls. But, we probably need to leave soon so we can actually get some sleep- the extreme, noisy winds make it feel like there is a giant trying to blow his birthday candles out all over our tent…

PS Come over to Instagram and check out more of our snaps, I’m @lulasticblog

Parenting

How to be an Eco Parent

2 October, 2013

Third in the How to be a _____ Parent series, is Kat from the beautiful and inspiring blog, Eco Empire. Let her inspire you with her tips for nurturing a nature loving family….

I didn’t suddenly decide to become an eco-parent – it just made sense to take care of the environment our children are inheriting. My belief is that even the little things can make a big difference so I try to encourage people to start small but dream big. I started small by looking at the products I was bringing into my home and then I started to dream big – like being self-sustaining with chickens and fruit trees and maybe even bees!

One of the strangest misconceptions about being an eco-parent would be that we make things harder for ourselves. I’ve actually had someone tell me “yeah but I just can’t be bothered recycling” (I thought they were joking, but sadly they weren’t). What you need to know is that being eco conscious does not mean compromising on the good stuff, it just means making informed decisions. I rarely do anything without stopping and thinking how it may affect the environment. The good news is by being eco conscious you often make decisions that are not only better for the environment but better for your family’s health, wellness and bank balance!
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Some simple rules to live by:
• Always consider an item’s origins. Whether it be the clothes your kids wear, or the fruit they’re eating – think about where it was made, how it was made, how far it’s come. I try to buy local and ethical products.
• Always read the label. Whether it be that jar of sauce or your laundry liquid, get to know what’s good and what’s bad and be warned about deceptive labelling making out a product is organic or eco-friendly (when it’s not). It’s amazing what kind of toxic and unhealthy ingredients are in well-known products. These are not just bad for the environment, but unhealthy for your family too!
• Ask ‘what are my options’? Don’t just assume that you HAVE to buy or do something. There are always more environmentally friendly options out there. If you’re ever unsure just Google ‘eco-friendly _____’ – there are so many wonderful resources out there for you to find.
• Start small. Don’t overwhelm yourself all at once. Perhaps try to do one new eco thing a week or even month. I’m still learning and growing.

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Here are ten of the easiest eco things I’ve done as a parent that you can do too.

1. Buy second-hand. Kids’ needs grow quickly, so buying everything brand new is often unnecessary and expensive. I buy boxes of second-hand clothes and toys from the local online classifieds or Ebay. Markets and Op Shops are a great place to go too. Most of the things I’ve bought look near new! The kids certainly don’t care that it’s second-hand.
2. Use natural products. Whilst you might eat naturally (wholesome food with no artificial or toxic ingredients) people often forget about what goes on (or makes contact with) their skin – such as bath soap, laundry liquid, kitchen spray and wipe, even medicine. There are so many toxic products that not only damage our ecosystem, but aren’t good for your health either! If you can’t afford to buy eco products, you can possibly make them for next to nothing.
3. Grow your own. Grow fruit, vegetables and if you’re lucky get your own chickens. It’s a great way to ensure you are eating organically and it’s such a great activity to do with the kids and teach them where food comes from. My son is a big fan of picking mint leaves and chewing on them as a snack!
4. Visit the local farmers’ market every weekend as a family ritual. Especially if you can’t grow your own food, you can buy them from local farmers. The markets usually sell fruit, vegetables, meat, eggs as well as breads, plants and homemade jams and preserves. It’s really a great way to do some food shopping disguised as a great family outing!
5. Begin a love affair with nature. It won’t be hard to convince most kids to enjoy the outdoors, in fact as a newborn my son was often only consoled by going outside (I’m talking the instant we walked outside he would stop crying). By teaching them to be kind to animals and respect nature they will become natural mini eco warriors and nature will become their playground. My son can play in our yard for hours with little to no toys.
6. Join a toy library. Usually not-for-profit organisations run by local parents, they offer annual memberships which let you borrow toys (much like a book library) for a set number of weeks. By the time my son is sick of a toy it’s time to return it for something new!
7. Use cloth nappies. Disposable nappies are an environmental disaster taking decades to break down in landfill. There is a big misconception that cloth nappies are hard work, but they’re not! I personally wash (and by wash, I mean put them in a washing machine) my nappies daily so it’s just part of my daily routine and that way it only takes maybe 15 minutes out of my day. That’s not a lot when it means saving thousands of nappies from heading to landfill (not to mention saving you lots of money).
8. DIY and homemade. From recipes to toys, before you buy think about whether you could make it instead. One of my son’s favourite toys as a young baby was a fabric ‘book’ I put together from fabric scraps. He also goes crazy for my homemade dehydrator raw crackers – and the best part is I know exactly what’s in them.
9. Create new traditions. Holidays such as Christmas and Easter (also Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and even birthdays) has turned into a consumerist, commercialised nightmare. I’ve watched kids get absolutely spoiled with gifts only to be happier playing with an empty cardboard box. Come up with new traditions for your family – I’ve always loved the “Something they want, something they need, something to wear, something to read” gift giving philosophy, and for holidays like Easter simply making chocolate Easter eggs together is an affordable fun family activity.
10. Read. I’ve borrowed books from the library and even bought a few, but there is SO much great inspiration and information on the internet. I follow a pile of great blogs written by people, just like me, learning and sharing how they live their lives in a sustainable and eco conscious way. Pinterest is another great resource for ideas. Expand your knowledge!
As a mother I feel like I have been given the most important job in the world. Everything I say and do could shape the person he will become! Talk about pressure! But I think teaching him how to love and care for the environment automatically provides a fun and imaginative childhood, implanting amazing moral and ethical values for life. I think if people aren’t already convinced to ‘go green’ before having kids, holding a newborn baby in your arms and knowing that you’re daily living has an impact on that tiny baby’s future, can be the light bulb moment!

Family Travel

Croatia’s National Parks: Bears, waterfalls and figs

29 September, 2013

We were soaked to the bone, mother, baby and toddler standing on the corner with an outstretched arm and hopeful thumb. Fortunately the first car responded and picked up this little hitchhiking trio of drowned rats. We had been caught out by both a raging storm and a mythical local bus in the middle of one of Croatia’s National Parks, Plitvice. Our campsite, the beautiful Korana, was six kilometres away along a crazily unwalkable road, but thanks to the two Israeli tourists who picked us up, we we were soon zipped back in to our tent drinking hot chocolate. At one point on the ride home they said “We saw your little family earlier, in the rain, by the waterfalls and thought it was so cruel/cool…” We still don’t know which it was and I guess it could really be either depending on your view of weather/ children/ raincoats. We all enjoyed ourselves a lot more than if we’d opted to sit in our tent exhausting Ramona’s one book of fairytales! (Gah, just admitted we only bought one book with us.) (Also… we all do tend to have a but of fun when things go awry… I think it’s a part of my personality – the more dire a situation is the more cheerful I become; you know we are in a right pickle if you hear me belting out “You’re never fully dressed without a …. SMIIIIILE” in a broad American accent and busting out a bit of tap dancing.)

The fact that we first encountered Plitvice in a torrential downpour, while squished between tour bus group after tour bus group of tourists, and still found it to be singly the most beautiful place on earth, attests to its flipping awesomeness. (I originally had “breathtaking wonder” but then remembered I wasn’t David Attenborough.)

It is a series of lakes connected by waterfalls, lakes that are so clear that when you are standing on the shore the ducks appear to be floating in mid air, and when you are standing on a cliff looking from above there is a perfect mirror image of the waterfalls reflected on its surface. A wooden path weaves over and alongside the waterfalls, making you feel almost a part of it. As you trace the lake’s shoreline from one waterfall to another the sound fades until you are left with simply the chorus of crickets… Then you approach the next connecting fall and the sound builds gradually until you are right amongst the cascades, it’s ferocious noise causing you to shout.

“SHALL WE TAKE A PICTURE?” “NAH, LET’S KEEP GOING SO WE CAN GAIN TIME ON THIS TOUR GROUP!” “BUT WE’LL WISH WE HAD MORE PHOTOS!” “WE’LL GOOGLE IMAGE IT!”

We were so pleased we got the two day pass (about £15 per person) as the next day was bright and sunny and we explored the upper lakes at leisure. The upper lakes seem to be free from the cumbersome tour groups but are just as spectacular.

Someone we met later on in our trip told us they skipped Plitvice because of all the tourism and “Seen one waterfall, seen ’em all right?!” We nodded, not wanting to break it to him. But the answer in this case is really Heck No. The falls of Plitvice are gobsmacking in their seeming endlessness; everywhere you look there is cascading water, their scope; enormous, tiny, wide like someone busted up a damn, gentle trickles, and the water; like every Evian advert ever made melted together, like the water all water on earth would be like if we actually lived in heaven.

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It was water that lured… Tempting throatily like the serpent… “Come in, splash here, dive down in my divine depths… OH COME ON YOU BORING OLD TOAD AT LEAST DIP A TOE”

But alas, Plitvice’s only bad point (apart from an unreliable bus service and crowds) – you can’t swim! Honest! It is a travesty that there isn’t even a tiny little designated area. Croatia, please sort this out. We won’t even wee in it, PROMISE.

(Also, another major downer: you probably won’t actually see a bear here. Even if you read about Plitvice and bears on the Internet and that was the main reason you came, really, that still doesn’t make it likely that you’ll see a bear because, hello?! They are so right in the middle of All The Nature not hanging out with all the tourists on the paths, okay, hahahaha SILLY! *weeps for self and lack of bear viewing*)

Back to the swimming thing… You can’t swim at Plitvice but swimming in other Croatian National Parks is ALL ON. Which is why we pootled a couple of hours south down to Krka (pronounced Krka) for more waterfalls.
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Krka National Park was a fair bit less crowded and seemed to be loads more family friendly. Something about being able to swim there made it all feel as if everyone was there to participate in outdoorsy activity rather than just take photos of the outdoors. Like Plitvice, it was fall after fall. Any single one of them would have done the country proud but yet again there they were gushing all over the place. A bit showy offy there, Croatia, with all this breathtaking wonder.
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The swim was majestic, just as you’d imagine swimming under an enormous waterfall to be. We all went in and all thought it was pretty cool. Ramona calls waterfalls “mountains” – rationally i figure it is because they are like “fountains” but massive and with added grandeur. She still talks about swimming under the mountain, a week later.

The path was lined with fig trees too, so we got to partake in my favourite hobby, and foraged our way from waterfall to waterfall. They were tiny and juicy and we scoffed them like we scoff blackberries on our walks in England.

We spent four days in the Krka region, two of them in the park (a two day pass was £12) as we just really liked it. At the southern end of the National Park, in actual Krka town you can swim in the river and it is the point at which it meets the sea. It is a crazy feeling; the chill of the river water on top, the warm, salty buoyant water below. We found a walnut tree and got about a billion and just sat munching walnuts and figs feeling that beautiful foragey contentedness.

Juno, at five months old, is really swiping at all our food now. You should see her trying to get our figs, she bustles about, purple with determination, pivoting 180 degrees on her rotund belly. She managed to hustle Ramona’s cheese sandwich yesterday, I’m unsure if that’s better or worse than the twigs and dirt she is usually scoffing. And then there is Ramona who is thriving on our “Pick Every Ripe Fruit You Pass” and “Ice Cream Every Other Day” policies.

We have been on an Island for the last few days, can’t wait to tell you about it…

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Parenting

How to be an Expat Parent

24 September, 2013

In the second of the series, How to be a _____ Parent we have the wonderful Emma of a Bavarian Sojourn giving some advice for those contemplating a family move. *gnashes teeth* Yep, I’ll be needing these in a few months!

This is by no means an exhaustive list. You don’t have the time to read one, and I don’t think I could write one if I tried, as I am still learning new things, even after four years as an Expat! This list is however aimed at those who have just undertaken their first move, or are seriously considering it – but if you are doing neither, it might give you some idea of what it is like. Enjoy!

  • Patience. Something you absolutely must have as an Expat parent. You will find yourself calling upon it almost every day!;
  • Research each new destination thoroughly. This will not only give you a good insight into a place, but will help you settle in faster as a family;
  • Take as much time as you need to make decisions about important things such as housing and schools. Don’t be forced into signing something by pushy estate agents, relocation consultants and the like. If something doesn’t feel right, it usually isn’t.
  • Help prepare your child for a new country with stories, films and books. We love Miroslav Sasek’s “This Is” Series. Whilst Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and the Sound of Music might not actually be factual, they gave our children some idea of what the countryside looks like in this part of the world at least!!
  • Bear in mind that the first few weeks of your new life will be taken up with hideously frustrating bureaucracy. It will soon be a distant memory, don’t worry.
  • Do expect strange but lovely gifts from your new neighbours. We were given bread and salt when we first arrived here – a traditional Bavarian house warming present – particularly welcome as we hadn’t then found the bakers!
  • If you are not on a work Expat contract, but are there for the long term, look at local schools as a good alternative to the International variety. Your children will be fluent in the local lingo in a matter of months (and this will help you no end!)!
  • Keep an open mind with everything. You will experience cultural misunderstandings from time to time, but don’t immediately assume that it is intentional (something I have to remind myself often!)…
  • Expect that things will be different to what you are used to, and you won’t go far wrong. Things might make more sense the way they are done at home, but you are not at home.
  • Expect the unexpected. From odd and often unnecessary doctor’s appointments that arrive in the post, to strange cultural playground rituals. It’s all part of the fun!!
  • Don’t imagine that Expat Parenting is not competitive, it is. From how many languages your children can speak, to the contents of their lunch boxes. You would be amazed!
  • Enjoy meeting people from thousands of different countries and backgrounds. Don’t just stick to Expat circles either, it can take more time to get to know the locals by attending local functions and events, but it’s worth it. Get to know your neighbours too, even if you can only communicate via sign language at first!
  • Prepare your children for how different basic things like birthday parties can be. Not every country celebrates with cakes or offers party bags for example! Likewise, if it’s your child’s party, don’t imagine anyone will know what on earth you are talking about when you suggest Pin the Tail on the Donkey or Musical Statues.how to be an expat parent
  • You will experience eye opening situations such as lit candles on classroom tables, School trips in almost -20 conditions, and forest schools in the snow. Things that could possibly make tabloid headlines at home – embrace the differences!
  • In the same vein, get used to super relaxed (or almost non existent – to us anyway) health and safety rules. This might sound slightly worrying, but it’s usually more refreshing than anything, and I am holding out hope that one day my children will thank me for their more free range childhoods!
  • Learn the language together. I don’t usually advocate watching TV, but it helps more than you think it could, and speaking the language will help you feel like less of an outsider.
  • Join online groups for your area, always helpful when looking for recommendations for doctors, dentists and the like.
  • Install Skype, What’s App and anything else that helps you keep in touch with home. And get the guest room ready quickly, you will be using it a lot!
  • But perhaps most important of all – enjoy yourselves! Start a blog, take thousands of pictures and experience absolutely everything you possibly can – for who knows these days how long such an experience might last? And on the days that you find things tough, remember that it’s more than likely than not that one day you will look back on it and laugh… Promise!
Family Travel

France and Switzerland with two kids, a Campervan and one pot

1 September, 2013

Last night Tim, after a meal preparation that involved me angrily pouring cooked macaroni into the sink because I’d used up all the containers and needed the pan for the sauce, ever so sensitively, asked if he could mention something… “You’re kind of swinging from mood to mood Lu- intense happiness to extreme annoyance… What’s the story?” I haven’t been getting much sleep- Juno is waking a lot at night at the moment- but there is more to it than tiredness. This kind of living seems to provoke big emotions in me. Being in these wild and glorious places with startling beauty on our doorstep and the freedom to roam and explore makes me SO FLIPPING HAPPY. Like dance around, laugh out loud, shout WOOHOOOOO in a tunnel happy. But the fact is, that to experience this we have to live in a tiny van with one pan, a host of mosquitoes and two kids with needs (NEEDS! It’s absurd!) There is also the sometimes stress of trying to find a place to stay each night, weighing up free but possibly risky riversides and car parks against the security but crazily high prices of campsites.

It’s hard to believe we only left England 16 days ago. It feels like we’ve done SO much; how are we possibly going to survive the next 80 days?! We’ll combust with the combination of extreme feelings of joy and frustration and contendedness and stress!

We have just entered Germany. France and Switerland have been amazing… Here is the run down:

Our holiday really began once we got to Troyes, somewhere Northish in France. We went to the little lake about 20k north of there and camped and swam for two days. Bliss. We planned to go far on the third day but fell a little bit in love with Lac De Liez just in Langres where we had just stopped for lunch. It was truly gorgeous so lunch turned into an afternoon visit which turned into a night time free camp which turned into two lovely days! We then drove up to a tiny village Mouthier Haute Pierre about half an hour away from Besancon where we swam in the freezing river and climbed a waterfall. We drove an hour South to Lake Ilay and free camped in the most tranquil spot on the south of the lake, having campfires and cooking potatoes and melting cheese on there. After a couple of days we had an epic drive over the mountains through HAIL, yes! HAIL, to a village called Le Grand Bornand in the Alps by Annecy. There we met up with my sister and her family and enjoyed the biggest kid’s festival in Europe. It was spectacular- so much creativity and not a jot of consumer culture. A hand crafted merrygoround and an enormous musical garden made of recycled stuff. It was brilliant to have so much space dedicated to kid’s autonomous play and we think we might try and pull something off like this one day…. Watch this space! We were really sad to say good bye to my sister and my nephews and nieces – Ramona shed all our tears for us.

We beat a hurried path into Switzerland through Geneva and up to Gruyere where we explored this cheesey village in the pouring rain. Such an enchanting place with a castle and mountains with musical cows (well, bells) that Ramona loved. We camped in the car park there with a couple of other motorhomes- killing our first massively rainy afternoon by making hot chocolates, reading and playing our Ukelele squished in the van.

We went to drive by Lake Gruyere but spotted an island in the middle with the ruins of a monastery, that, coupled with the azure waters enticed us in. We stripped off and with a few hoots waded in completely in the nick. Gosh, skinny dipping makes your lungs explode with life!

We meandered up to Bern and after a bit of deliberation handed over £25 for a night at the campsite on the river. It gave us space to stretch out and we were able to walk in to town and float down the river and explore the free zoo right over bridge. We were only going to stay for an afternoon and night but once again just couldn’t leave! I think it might be my favourite European city. It is worth going just to sail yourself for miles down the cold, clear waters of the Aare alone. Food and accommodation is super expensive in Switzerland but there are plenty of free things for a family to enjoy.

We popped to Basel, another lovely city, free camping just on the outskirts. But Switzerland was making us feel pretty skint so we were pleased to arrive in Germany yesterday. Freiberg is where we’ll be for a little while now.

Perhaps we have come too far too quickly; perhaps for our own sanity we need to stay for longer in a place, to create microhomes and adventure from a base. And perhaps we need to invest in another pan.

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Photos take forever to upload so sorry there aren’t more! X