How to have a mini backpacking adventure with two young kids: It’s all about the planning, folks

For a while now I have been slightly annoyed by how easy my kids expect things to come to them. Now that might seem a little harsh. Surely we want life to be easy for our kids. Well, yes and no. I don’t want my kids to suffer unnecessarily but I want them to develop perseverance and grit.  Not too much is known about how to develop grit but I had a sense that we better start doing something about it early.

It was about then that my hubby and I started thinking of booking a summer holiday. Up to this point we had taken the kids on a couple of holidays within the UK, a trip to Florida with the extended family and a very easy all-inclusive trip to Tenerife which the kids had adored. We had also enjoyed it and it was what we needed at the time, a lovely no-hassle week away, but I was keen that the kids didn’t see package holidays as the only option. Before having kids, Steven and I had done a bit of travelling but it’s something I really wish we had done more of. That’s one of the reasons “go places” is on our family manifesto as I really hope the kids will do a lot of travelling in their lives. Travelling brings experiences you just can’t manufacture: seeing how different places and people make different choices in how to live their lives, developing self-sufficiency, perseverance, and experience in handling misunderstandings and when things, inevitably, go wrong. The kids are only 7 and 5 but we decided this was a good time for them to start experiencing some of these things and experiment with a mini-backpacking Continue reading


How to change your habits by taking ridiculously small steps

Confucius was right: “It does not matter how slow you go as long as you do not stop”

Wow. I have been away for a while. The past couple of months have been pretty busy for me. Mostly, I’ve been working on getting my two pet projects up and running:

  • Stories Unspun – where I’ve been publishing my story “The Extraordinary Reality of Ella Rove” one post at a time alongside narration by Elena, aged 11. Have a look and leave me a comment about what you think 
  • Times Like Ours – this is a venture I’m trying out with my friend Harriet. We were looking for a space to discuss what it’s like to live and work in times like ours, and not finding it, we decided to create our own. We’ve been holding evenings in Edinburgh on all sorts of topics like the place of art in everyday life and the upcoming “are we obsessed by the pursuit of happiness?” But we’re just as keen to hear your thoughts wherever you are in the world so have a look at our FB page.

Back in January, I decided to change one habit a month for 2014.  In January I wanted to change how I used technology. While I managed to implement something like inbox zero, I still spend far too much time on social media. In February, I simply wanted to drink more water. How hard can that be? Pretty darn hard as it turns out.  So, true to what I said in that post, after failing for the second month (out of two!) in a row, I reviewed my goals and approach.  As I reviewed Continue reading

Announcing my new and really scary project – Stories Unspun (part of my quest to get over the fear of failure)

I’ve not posted for a while, sorry about that if you missed me 😉 but I’ve been working on something that I’m super excited about (more details further down…)

Failure as a tool - 2013vinod-19056

Over the last few weeks I’ve been thinking a lot about failure. On our manifesto, we have “Fail well and bounce back” because that is a hallmark of being adaptable and willing to take risks when doing something new and different – creating, not following, a map etc.  Vinod Khosla, co-founder of Sun Microsystems and creator of the infographic above says “No failure means no risk, which means nothing new.”  As failure is so importance, I’ve been thinking about my own failures, especially trying to focus in on my most spectacular one and what I learned from it. But I quickly realised that Continue reading

Keep learning and growing – to set goals or not set goals? But is that even the question?

I don’t know about you but this month seems to have been all about setting goals.  This has partly stemmed from my thinking on new year’s resolutions but everyone seems to be going crazy for setting goals and writing to do lists.  With this explosion of interest also comes a hundred and one ways of doing it.  For example, I’ve heard, and had a go at, doing the following this month:

  • Setting three big, stretching goals for the year
  • Changing one habit a month
  • And, I think this is actually my favourite – coming up with one word (or up to three depending on who you listen to) that should define your year.  I’ve chosen CLARITY as it is needed in so many areas of my life at the moment.

I’ve also recently started a coaching qualification in which I get some coaching myself and, of course, I’ve had to come up with three goals for that.

Alongside all this, there are the lovers of To Do lists (myself included) but I think even I’ve taken it a little too far this year and currently have lists for things to do:

  • This year
  • Before I’m 40
  • Before I die.

I feel the need for a giant 1980s style Filofax to keep track of all of it all.

And so I can see why some people are questioning whether setting goals is the right thing to do and there has been a backlash from some who say that setting goals just doesn’t work.

For example, someone commented to me the other week that I shouldn’t be setting big goals but aspirations instead.  This one stumped me for a while.  Then I decided I didn’t like that idea.  Aspirations are great, don’t get me wrong.  I aspire to be a good person.  But aspiring to be one won’t actually help me be one.  I need a few well-chosen and appropriate goals to help me focus on what I mean by that and how I can get there.

And then there are the reports, like this article in Forbes, that setting goals can actually be dangerous, causing (albeit in companies) “unethical behaviour, over-focus on one area while neglecting other parts, distorting risk preferences…”  However, I don’t think this reflects a problem in setting goals per se (did I use that right?) but in the systems that we work and live within (including our own self-beliefs) that reinforce the view that you have to achieve your goal, no matter what.  Very Machiavellian and a lot of drivel if you ask me.

I think that if you only set aspirations for yourself, you are listening to the demons in your head (remember Top Dog?) that set out to protect yourself from failure because there is every chance that you might not achieve a concrete, stretching goal.  And I think that the dangers in setting goals come from our misguided assurances that once written down, they are then set in stone and never to be discussed again until they are achieved.

My approach, as will most things in life, is not to be too hard on myself.  The process of setting goals helps me focus on what’s important.  Writing a To Do list captures things I want to do that I might otherwise forget.  But I don’t then go hell for leather in trying to achieve them all.  I use a process of Test, Review, Redraft and Test again (although it’s never as explicit as that at the time.  I’ve just come to realise that that’s what I do.)  I try things out, asking myself if I really enjoy what actions those goals entail.  And crucially, if I find I’m not, I question if that’s because it’s just getting too hard and I can’t be bothered.  Sometimes the answer to that is no and so I change the goal.  But more often the answer is yes and so I try to be gentle with myself but keep going with it, drip by drip.

An example.  My habit to change this month was how I use my technology.  It’s supposed to help me but I was finding that my overflowing in-box at work was giving me palpitations and I was spending too much time at home checking my emails and on FB.  I have to admit, that two-thirds of the way through January, I am doing rubbish.  But, I think I’ve figured out why.  I sorted my work inbox and now have a system that I’ve been using pretty successfully for two weeks now (big tick, J for me).  But I still spend too much time on email and FB at home.  However, if I’m being absolutely honest here, by reflecting on why this is, I think I’ve uncovered a deeper psychological issue.  I’m afraid of missing out.  I like seeing what folk are up to and watching stupid videos that everyone’s talking about.  So I’ve decided to refocus my goal.  I’m still going to try to reduce my time on FB but my priority is staying on top of my inbox at work (which feels amazing, by the way).

So I threw caution to the wind and decided, hell yes, I am going to introduce the kids to goal setting for the New Year.  All I asked them to do was to draw up to three things that they wanted to do in 2014.  I am totally kicking myself as I put their drawings “in a safe place” and can’t find them but Mischa wants to go on holiday (booked), go down a zip slide (on the to do list) and install a fireman’s pole from her bedroom to the kitchen (probably not going to happen but we have agreed to redecorate her room this year as a  result).  As for Jude, he wants his own website (we’re on the case) and to grow farty beans – still stumped on this one but it’s a challenge!

Dreaming BIG but starting small – a different approach to new year resolutions

So 2013 is nearly over and to be honest, I’ll be glad to see the back of it.  It has been a particularly full and turbulent year for our family to the point that I can’t figure out how we’ve fitted it all in.  We’ve seen births and deaths, marriages and separations, changes and frustrations.  And then to top it all off, I smashed the screen of my beloved ipod touch last week 😦

Don’t get me wrong, there have been some amazing moments and accomplishments (for example, Mischa is now up to 207 skips and aiming for a thousand, and I am currently enjoying my friend’s INCREDIBLE homemade truffles).  Usually these kind of things help to keep me afloat, as does the ability to see the reason in everything.  But I have to confess that in 2013 it’s felt like we’ve been kicked in the teeth time after time without time to recover.  However, even though we’ve only had it a month or so, I have found myself coming back to the manifesto we created in November and using it as something to tie my tiny red kite to as it gets buffeted in the winds.  It’s helped me feel better.  Like we’re heading down a new path.

And this is why I love new year.  Not Hogmanay as such.  I won’t be heading up town to the street party to be surrounded by drunks and have no idea of how I’ll get home.  No way hosay, those days are over thankfully.  I like the chance the new year brings to pause for a bit and think about the year ahead.  I’m not going in for resolutions this year though.  January is not a good month to make big changes that I tell myself will be good for me overall but I know I’ll give up on a couple of weeks in.  In my present mental state, I don’t want to pile on that guilt thanks.

So instead, I am going to make one small change for the better every month.  That way I can try it out to see if it has the desired effect and hopefully, knowing it’s only for a month will help keep me motivated.  Basically, I’m pinching the idea from Leo Babauta of Zen Habits who is in the middle of a Year of Living Without  and Matt Cutt’s TED talk.   I am also going to set myself three BIG goals for 2014.  I have no idea what they are yet but I feel excited just thinking about the possibilities!

Expectation quote - Michael J Fox

So small changes while dreaming big.  And to help in that, perhaps the biggest challenge of all.  I’m going to try to let go of stupid, unhelpful expectations – of myself, of others and of life (see Selina Barker’s post on this).  I have no idea if 2014 is going to be any better than 2013.  The vast majority of things that happened were so far out of anyone’s control they couldn’t be anticipated, never mind planned for.  But a lot of the frustrations and disappointments were because I was holding up some kind of expectation of how things should be.  That’s tiring and I need my energy for more important stuff in the coming year.  

All the very best in 2014 for you and yours!

Enjoying the small things in life

As part of our manifesto, we chose to enjoy the small things in life.  I thought I’d share one example of this when Jude and I spent a nice hour earlier this week drawing together. Usually I help the kids set up their drawing things at the kitchen table so I can get on with the dishes or cleaning or some other boring task. But I was in a strange mood and needed to do something to lighten it.  The kids had become obsessed with cracking nuts – a task their granny had just taught them. It’s probably a combination of the noise and mess it makes.  I don’t think they’ve ate any of them but I’ve been stepping on pieces of broken shell all week. Not nice with bare feet :0

As a way of taking his mind off cracking every single nut in the bowl, I started drawing round the empty shells to make animals like tortoises and crabs.  He joined in and after a while we got really creative, fishing for nuts… (extra points for correct guesses of what they are :))
Fishing for nuts (2)

After that there was no stopping us.  I think we came into our finest hour creating evil fruit in the fruit bowl…
Evil fruit (2)

The photo doesn’t do it justice.  We drew faces on some of the nuts too.  I tell you, if you have any trouble getting your kids to eat fruit, get some edible dye and draw faces on them.

We’ve only got one left.  There’s been a satsuma massacre in our kitchen.

How to create a family manifesto. Step 2: Finalising it (but that’s not the end of it)

Hello there strangers.  I haven’t posted anything in a while.  We had some very bad news last week which has rocked the whole family and put most plans on hold for a while.  However, my 30 day challenge finishes today and I want to have an end product to show for it.  And here it is.  Our completed manifesto!

Family Manifesto - poster for blog

Below are the steps we took to finish it.  After the kids had their input, Continue reading