Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Book Review: The Happiness Project

Ever felt like you were in danger of wasting your life? Or maybe you just feel like life's ok but something's missing? 
Then maybe this is the book for you...

A couple of years ago when I was leaving Darwin for Bali a friend handed me 'The Happiness Project' by Gretchen Rubin. "It's a good holiday read," she said.

First published in 2009 I was late to reading this New York Times best-seller, I'd heard of it but there was something about it that made it sound...sorry Gretchen...a little...cheesey.

On the other hand, this book was a perfect holiday read for me because it is a mix of two of my favorite genres - memoir and personal growth/self-help.

In case you missed this read at the height of its popularity it is written by New Yorker Gretchen Rubin, a mum of two young daughters, happily married and fulfilled in her career as a writer.

So why undertake a happiness project? Gretchen had a realisation on the bus one ordinary weekday morning that perhaps she was in danger of wasting her life.

"As I stared out the rain splattered window of a city bus I saw the years slipping by 'what do I want from life anyway?' I asked myself, 'Well I want to be happy. But I had never thought about what made me happy or how I might be happier'".

And so Gretchen set about focusing on happiness, studying it, questioning it, and ultimately living her version of a happiness project - everyone's will be different Gretchen tells us - and then writing a book and a blog about it that has become wildly popular.

The book is divided into 12 chapters one for each month covering a specific topic - marriage, parenting, exercise and so on, with each month having a set of tasks to complete.

I found the book fascinating and irritating at the same time (sorry Gretchen about the irritating comment I will explain!)

I was compelled to read it cover to cover and to take notes but there were aspects that I couldn't relate to and in some ways the whole concept felt like a forced or clinical way to approach life and being happy.

I'm a Virgo and we Virgos love to order things but the idea of a checklist or spreadsheet to check off happiness milestones? That was the irritating part, but hey what would I know? Over 3.5 million copies have been sold!

I admire Gretchen for taking the time to write her project down. Her voice is clear and she's honest about the set back and detours on her own happiness project.

For me Gretchen's book isn't so much about purely about happiness,  I think happiness is fleeting it comes and goes like all emotions, the book brings into stark reality that days can slip away without us ever really doing things that we say we want to do.

This quote from the book says it all -

"The days are long, the years are short".

So make the most of them. And designing a happiness project of your own might just be the way to do it.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Remember To Breathe

It may sound completely obvious - ‘remember to breathe’ - but the fast pace of modern living means that often the first thing to suffer is the depth and quality of our breathing. 

And so much depends on it.

Breathe deeply right now and notice how you feel.

A common experience of day-to-day living for many women I know is one of overwhelm, anxiety, difficulty focusing, concentrating, being forgetful, difficulty being efficient and productive, racing from one task, activity and demand to the next.

Any wonder we’re shallow breathing!

So, how do we change this? To change anything in our lives, the first step is bringing awareness to what we’re doing.

Try it now, bring your awareness to your breath, sit up straight, relax your shoulders, put your hands gently on your belly and breathe deeply.

How good does that feel?

Benefits of Deep Breathing

The benefits of breathing deeply make for a long list and improve your physical, mental AND emotional health.

Practising deep breathing has been known to:

- improve digestion
- quality of sleep
- relieve anxiety
- increase mental clarity
- reduce symptoms of chronic pain

You can read in more detail here and here.

Make Deep Breathing A Daily Habit

One of the best ways to start and end the day is by taking a few deep breaths.

An easy and effective breathing exercise I learnt years ago is to gently close your eyes sitting in a relaxed position and take 24 focused breaths, one for each hour of the day.

Some people like to set a timer on their phone to remind them to drink a glass of water, you can do that with deep breathing too.

Anytime throughout the day if you are feeling stressed, low on patience or tired taking some deep breaths really does work!

Try it for yourself and let me know how you feel.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Just A Few Drinks

'Hi, Sobriety: Our Changing Relationship with Alcohol' was the title of a feature article in the Good Weekend liftout in The Age newspaper here on the weekend.

The article included personal stories of "grey-area drinkers", people who aren't fully fledged alcoholics rather they're drinkers who don't like their relationship with booze and what it's doing to their body, mind and lives.

I've never been a heavy drinker but genetically speaking I probably should be.

I grew up in a family who like a wine or beer or 10, so drinking daily and drinking heavily on the weekend was a normal way to live.

I've worked in the hospitality industry on and off for over twenty years and woven into that a decade in food media. There's plenty to drink in those worlds and the lines between healthy and problematic drinking are very blurry.

It was great to see the article in The Age raising the profile of this all too common problem, a problem that I think is the elephant in Australia's living room.

The expectation to drink in Australia feels so embedded that to not drink is viewed by some as downright unAustralian. According to the article that tide of expectation is turning and sobriety is becoming the new black but in my immediate world there is still plenty of evidence of booze causing problems in people's lives.

I'm in my mid forties, with a number of women friends for whom wine has become something they wish they could moderate or give up but on which they rely to 'de-stress' only to find it ends in a hangover, anxiety and sometimes a drunken argument thrown in.

And what scares me is I know first hand from witnessing friends and family battle the harder realities of problem drinking - the accidents, the rock-bottom, rehab, recovery and sadly people dying - that these things can and do happen all too easily.

If you're concerned - even in the slightest - about your relationship with alcohol don't ignore that quiet niggling feeling or that loud voice that yells inside your head and heart.

Listen to your thoughts and feelings, write them down, talk to a friend, talk to a counsellor,
your GP, or check out online resources such as Hello Sunday Morning that features a tailored program to support people to change their relationship with alcohol.

And if you're watching someone you love battle with booze, it's a big step to talk to them about it but for some it can be a turning point. For others your words of concern will fall on deaf ears and that's hard but if you don't try you'll never know and you don't want to be left wishing you'd said something. Believe me.

If you are going to say something, choose your moment well. Choose a time free of interruption and a time when your loved one is sober. Also choose your words well. This conversation is not about shaming or blaming, the person you love will be doing a very good job internally of that. The words can go along the lines of this, "I've been wanting to talk to you about something, it might be a hard thing to talk about but I'm concerned about you and just want to check in and see if you're ok. I'm concerned about the amount you're drinking, how are you feeling about it?"

The aim of the conversation is to show you care and to provide an opportunity for an open, honest discussion. Your friend or family may not be at all ready or interested in having the conversation and there are risks involved - your friend or family member may become angry and not want to talk to you for a while - but talking is the place to start moving us towards an Australia where drinking isn't expected, where we rethink our collective attitude to alcohol. And where people are actually happier and healthier for it.

*disclaimer I'm not an expert in counselling and every situation will be different if you are concerned about your own drinking habits or that of a loved one seek professional advice, if you have a good local doctor they can be a good starting point. And if they're not, don't give up, keep trying until you find someone you like who is helpful.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Start Where You Are

photo credit: Peter McConchie

And just like that I'm back.

I've had a great break from blogging but the truth is I've missed it.

I've missed the rhythm and flow of writing too. I call myself a writer but I haven't really been writing!

I'm hoping to get into a steady rhythm of writing and posting here.

I still haven't written that book - finished that book. But I'm not being hard on myself I've had a lot of other things going on and I just haven't prioritised finishing the book.

And of course I've had a new idea for a different book. That's how the brain and creativity works isn't it? It is a constant process of managing our distractions, prioritising and then working to stay focused.

In other news we've been pondering a bit of a treechange / seachange. We already live by the sea but we're considering making a move to a quieter part of Victoria.

The Mornington Peninsula where we live now has become a popular place for people tired of city living to relocate to, which is what we did thirteen years ago. I still love lots about the Peninsula but the Waratah Bay / Fish Creek /Foster area near Wilson's Promontory has captured our hearts and has us intrigued as to what country life is like.

River will start high school next year and Sol will be going into grade 4. So, the plan is to start the school year in the new location which feels risky and inspiring all at once.

Sol and River are happy here, it is more Pete who has the itchy feet and would like to raise the boys in a place that facilitates a closer connection with nature.

Have you ever made a big move? How did it go? If you already live in the country, what's your experience of country life?

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

why I'm taking an official blogging break

Hello there it's been a while and in that while I've made a decision...to take an extended break from blogging.

On our recent travels I realised I was doing too much and it didn't feel good.

In fact it felt stressful. I felt anxious and like I was never really 'on top' of anything.

Something had to give and I decided the blog was one of those things.

I thought about my current priorities and decided that instead of blogging, I want to:

- write a book. Perhaps even bookS.


- focus on building my husband's online gallery River&Sol as a solid business because I've always wanted to focus on building a successful business and the reality is without focus things just don't work as well as they could, simple as that.

Not focusing, scattering oneself across many things is a form of self-sabotage in a way.

So, I'm focusing and it is such a relief.

I love my blog.

I have loved blogging.

I will miss blogging.

I won't miss the guilt and worry that came with not posting for a while.

There are many great wholefood mamas to follow for wholefood inspiration, many more beyond this list but here are some of the friends (and their blogs) I've been lucky to make over the blogging years who will keep you on track and well fed:

Natural New Age Mum
Lisa Corduff
Brenda Janscheck
Well Nourished
Happy Tummies
Cut out the Crap
Barefoot Kitchens
Alexx Stuart
Jo Whitton
The Nourished Psychologist
Additive Free Bites

Thankyou for being a reader here.

Continue to join me on Instagram @wholefoodmama or @riverandsol.

We'll meet again some day, perhaps here, hopefully through the pages of a book!

Until then, remember that good health is golden so treasure it and count all your blessings. Twice.

With love, Nikki aka The Wholefood Mama

(photo credit: Peter McConchie)

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

warning: having children can ruin your relationship

This is the stuff no one tells you when you have children and not many people talk about until it's too late.

So today I thought I'd talk about it. Get things out in the open.

I hope you'll join the discussion.

Now that I am through the other side of babies and toddlers of endless sleepless nights, of clothes splattered with baby vomit and mashed pumpkin, of wondering if my husband and I would ever have a moment together where there wasn't a baby or child between us, I feel qualified to speak.

My eyes are wide open to the friends around me who are going through the early season of parenting, who are just starting out on family life trying to find their way with it all and well, feeling like they're failing.

Well here's the newsflash: living with babies and little people is HARD!!

No matter how cute they are, no matter how much your heart feels like it is actually going to break with love every time you look at them, early parenthood stretches our emotions and priorities to the extreme.

I'm writing about this because it is an all too common story of couples splitting up when their children are in this newborn/toddler stage and when I hear about it I can't help but think "if only you'd hung in there!"

Of course this is a massive generalisation that if they'd hung in there longer everything would be ok, perhaps it wouldn't, perhaps they were only hanging in there by a thread before baby arrived but if anything is going to test the strength of that thread a baby will!

For what it's worth, here are my tips for having children and keeping your relationship alive and well.

1. Surrender to and accept the fact that having children changes who you are and your life forever.

Soak that in for a minute.

Its a big one.

So many people keep thinking that their life will 'go back to normal' once the baby sleeps through the night, once the baby is eating solids, once the baby is walking.

This is the new normal, there's no going back, time will never be your own again (except maybe once they move out of home). And none of that's a bad thing. Your attitude is so important.

2. Speak up early.

As soon as you start to feel like you need a break/a nap/a footrub/more support, speak up. And if you aren't heard or understood by your partner ask a friend or family member.

3. Stay ahead of resentment

See tip number 2. If you don't speak up early a couple of things will happen. I call it the volcano effect, the resentment builds and builds until the inevitable explosion. Just as much as you are adjusting to the demands of parenting, so is your partner, don't turn it into a competition of who is doing more, whose job is harder. Work together.

4. Get some sleep

Beg, borrow or steal some sleep. Everything is harder and more emotional when you are sleep deprived. I was never one for day sleeping when my babes were little (probably to my detriment) so I used to force myself to make a cup of tea and actually put my feet up while I drank it. Even this small rest helped. A 10 minute nap while your baby sleeps, and going to bed early can mean the difference between sanity and tears - yours not the baby's!

5. Have some time out

This can feel so hard for some new mums, especially first time mums. "I'm ok, I can keep going" I used to think. "I love my baby I don't want to leave it with anyone else!" I used to think. But if you can, you will feel better for it. Even a walk around the block or a long shower or bath. In Robin Barker's fantastic book Baby Love she makes the point that if we are always around our partner doesn't get the opportunity to be with the baby and learn for themselves how to do things without feeling like they are being watched, leave baby with your partner or another family member or friend and have some time out.

6. Seek older wiser counsel

Once upon a time we lived in the village with grandmothers and aunties who were ahead of us on the path, who could fill us with wise counsel. Unfortunately the village isn't on our doorstep but it is there if you look for it. It might be your maternal and child health nurse, it might be your mum, or your neighbor. I'm blessed with a fairy godmother, aunties, grandmother, mother-in-law and sister-in-law I can call on if not always for babysitting at least for a chat when things get hard or confusing. Talking always puts things back in perspective.

7. If you're looking for your libido

The degree of this varies for everyone but ranks high on the list for causing tension post baby. You're exhausted, you're breastfeeding, your body is recovering from giving birth in every possible way, the only intimacy you want is with your pillow. Like so many aspects of motherhood as a society we can have really unrealistic expectations and ideas about 'what is normal' about when is too soon or not soon enough for your libido to find you again. Natural New Age Mum has put together a great post on this with thoughts and tips on 'what's normal' and what to do about it.

8. Never be too capable

My fairy godmother taught me this one when my first baby was born. This is a hard one especially I think for women of today who have had successful careers they somehow transfer career brain to motherhood and that's not really how it works. If you are too capable you are not allowing your partner to develop their skills and you are putting high expectations on yourself to be able to 'do it all'.

9. Make time for your relationship.

This really is the most important one. Remind yourself of why you fell in love with each other, those qualities are still there even if they're hidden under tiredness and raw emotion. Make date night a priority, it can be as simple and inexpensive as watching a movie together - make it a comedy!

Relationships are precious. They take work. They need nurturing. If you've neglected yours or you're feeling neglected, talk about it. If you find it hard to come up with the words write it down first. And do get some sleep it makes all the difference.

Love to hear your thoughts on this one in the comments.

Friday, August 12, 2016

friday list

It's been a long time since I've done one of these. A list of things I love or have discovered that I think you'll like too.

If perfection or comparison is holding you back read this

I'm re-reading Eat, Pray, Love. Have you read it? Did you love it? Hate it?

Fancy some dairy-free, gluten-free Italian food? Mamacino's got that sorted.

If you're visiting Sorrento on the Mornington Peninsula enjoy lunch, dinner or a glass of wine at Cakes and Ale - my favorite little bistro there that I also do the marketing for.

I've been asked to submit my story of being a mum without my mum here for this beautiful site Keeping Mum, if you or someone you know would like to contribute their story visit the site for details.

Miso  + maple glazed eggplant sounds good to me!

Wanna brew your own kombucha? Check this out.

A friend and I make a pact sometimes to not talk about lunchboxes when we meet up lol. I have to confess I find the whole thinking and talking about what to put in lunchboxes so boring! Brenda has come to the rescue and put together this great list of 17 sweet and easy lunchbox recipes.

We all need a night off from cooking sometimes, if you live in the Elsternwick area you can call into What's 4 Dinner (250 Glen Eira Rd. Elsternwick) and pick up a home style meal you don't have to cook! What's 4 Dinner and Dody Oliver Catering are my other marketing clients. Dody is a mum of three and dynamic business woman who wants people to eat well but understands not everyone makes time to do so. Her meals are cooked from scratch using real food and nothing else. Bayside customers can order online and have meals delivered.

If you're on Instagram come follow me @wholefoodmama and if you'd like to see my husband's beautiful photography you can find it @riverandsol

We set off on a seven hour drive tomorrow across a rough red dirt road on our way back to Darwin. It's been a big six weeks here on the Gove Peninsula. 'See' you when we get there!

Have a great weekend xo

Sunday, August 07, 2016

how to find peace

I could have written about how to travel and eat wholefoods or how to pack a healthy lunchbox but the truth is I've been failing at that lately.

Hot chips, sausages in bread, bakery lunches and even donuts (!) have been in eaten in far too greater proportion on this leg of our trip.

I've been cooking some delicious meals in our caravan fresh fish caught by River and Pete has been a highlight, but the undesirable foods have crept in when we've been out and about.

Sausages in bread are the standard catering item for any free event celebrating things like NAIDOC week or other cultural festivals.

Perhaps I'll have to write a post about getting back on the wholefood track.

For now though I'm writing about peace, namely peace within myself.

I've been doing some soul-searching on this trip as I often do when I travel, the two seem to go hand in hand for me. As I cover new outer territory I cover new inner territory.

More and more I've come to actually feel what spiritual masters talk about all the time, that peace isn't something to look for, that it is within us, there all the time.

To accompany me on my latest inward journey I've had the voice of Elizabeth Gilbert in her book Eat, Pray, Love as my guide.

I started re-reading it as a study on how to write memoir and then settled into reading the story again for the pleasure of it.

Just in case there happens to be A person out there who hasn't read it or seen the film, Eat, Pray, Love is about Elizabeth Gilbert's quest to find who she is and make peace with herself after her life crumbles and changes direction following a difficult divorce.

She writes...

"Your treasure - your perfection - is within you already. But to claim it, you must leave the busy commotion of the mind and abandon the desires of the ego and enter into the silence of the heart."                                                                                                                                                       - p.207

And what I've discovered is that the silence of the heart is always there.

In our darkest times and in our lightest times it is always there.

Meditation is one way to find peace and feel the silence of the heart but there are other ways too.

Meditation scares some people. "How do I know if I'm doing it right? How do I do it? How long do I have to do it for?" goes the thinking.


Quiet mind.

Quiet all the thinking.

Sit. Breathe. Close your eyes. Breathe. That's all. And when thoughts come notice them but don't attach to them. Watch them float by like clouds or simply say the word 'thinking' in your head as a way of noticing the thoughts and then letting them float away.

And even though I said peace is within us, peace is of course outside of us too.

Peace can be found in a flower, in a sunset, in a raindrop. Nature is a wonderful place to find peace and you don't have to be surrounded by a forest to feel it (although immersing yourself in nature definitely helps).

Last evening as the sun was setting I walked from the caravan to the tap to fill up our water bottles. On the way back to the van I noticed how the sky had changed.

I stood in the middle of the field looking up at the soft grey clouds and the dusky pink sky. A few little stars were starting to twinkle and a slither of a crescent moon hung low in the sky.

I found peace in the sky.

Peace might be on your kitchen table or even in your basket of washing waiting to be folded.

Peace is all around us and within us and for those who can't see and feel peace at this moment pray for them.


Saturday, August 06, 2016

a love story

Today I thought I'd be romantic and tell you a love story.

Everyone loves a love story right?

It's the story of how Pete and I met.

A good ten years before we met and fell in love I admired Pete from a distance.

Not in a romantic way, I was in a long term relationship.

The first time I laid eyes on Pete was at the launch of a calendar he had photographed to save the Goolengook Rainforest.

Hearing him speak that night I was full of admiration for his free spirit, for his free thinking, for the way he stood up for things he believed in and completely in awe of his photography.

I bought the calendar and after the year was over I cut the photos out of the calendar and stored them in a tea chest. I didn't know Pete and I didn't meet him that night. I saved the photos for years.

In my mid twenties the relationship I was in ended and I spent a few years living out a bit of arrested development. I was old before my time during my teens so I gave myself a second chance at the adolescent years in my late twenties, some of it wasn't pretty but oh well lucky for my kids I got that out of my system then!

I was almost twenty nine when a switch flicked in my being, that switch I'd heard about but didn't believe in until I experienced. 'Must find father of my children' played over and over in my brain.

I became clearly focused on finding the love of my life to have children with.

I remember talking to a happily married friend who had two children and asking her, "How do you know when you've met the right person?" "You just know" she said with reassurance and confidence in her voice. I wasn't convinced.

It was during this time that Pete reappeared in my life.

A mutual friend asked me to interview Pete for a magazine story.

We met at a cafe and Pete told me his story of travelling to Arnhem Land to record and photograph the stories of the Yolngu people in North East Arnhem Land.

At the end of the interview Pete said, "I'd like to read it before you submit it to the editor". This caught me by surprise. It wasn't standard procedure for me to do this with people I interviewed.
"Ok" I said tentatively.

A week later Pete came over to my house and read the story I'd written about his life.

Let's just say there was a lot of creative toing and froing about what should stay in the story and what should be cut! This would be the first of many creative tussles between us.

Our friendship was born but it would be some months and some serious soul searching on my behalf before our relationship was swept into love and romance.

Eleven years later, two beautiful children later we are living our happily ever after in all its raw and honest glory.

We are both creative, sensitive, spirited souls which doesn't always make for smooth sailing but I wouldn't have it any other way.

Our lives together are rich and compelling.

My friend was right, you just know.

travel review: thursday plantation aloe vera gel & tea tree antiseptic cream

I've come to realise that even though I started this blog with a wholefood focus in mind, travel has become part of it with my family and I traveling for third term each year.

We travel for my husband's work with Elders in remote Indigenous communities so we find ourselves in places that are hot and where mosquitoes and sandflies love to buzz around. The problem with mosquitoes is not only do their bites sting and itch but they can also pass on nasty things like Ross River virus, Dengue Fever and Barmah Forest virus. The other potential problem is that if bites are scratched until they bleed there is a risk of infection which my husband was hospitalised for once many years ago.

Our trip this year to North East Arnhem Land is no exception. Our youngest son Sol must have had 60 bites at least on his bare legs during our time out bush, despite our futile attempt with homemade repellent that just didn't seem to work.

The super strength repellent available to buy includes a chemical ingredient called DEET included in various concentrations depending on the brand. The use of DEET comes with many warnings due to its strength and potential side effects that range from skin irritation, headache, burning eyes to more serious and extreme effects including seizures and death.

Needless to say we steered clear of repellents containing DEET and instead made our own repellent of tea tree oil, eucalyptus oil, dettol antiseptic and baby oil.

As dusk fell we sprayed this mix on our skin and then put on our long cotton clothing. It helped but wasn't 100% effective, I don't know if there is anything that's 100% effective. The sandflies found my ankles and we weren't quick enough covering Sol up so we had to find relief from the bites which we did in the form of Thursday Plantation Antiseptic Cream. More about that soon.

The other peril of outback travel is the blazing hot sun. Again, despite our best focused efforts to stay protected from the sun's burning rays sometimes we've been caught out and had to soothe some sunburn.

So today I'm sharing with you my favorite remedies for sunburn and mosquito and sandfly bites. What we put on our bodies is just as important as what we put in our bodies.

Thursday Plantation

Thursday Plantation is an Australian based company that makes a range of products for hair and skin using natural ingredients including plant oils.

Their products are free from synthetic parabens, sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS), sodium lauryl ether sulphate (SLES) and no harsh detergents.

Thursday Plantation Aloe Vera Gel

When we're traveling my favorite soothing remedy for sunburn is Thursday Plantation Aloe Vera Gel.

When we are at home we break aloe vera leaves straight from the plant in our garden and crack them open to rub the gel onto skin that's been exposed to the sun.

It's a bit difficult to travel with an actual aloe vera plant so on the road I like the Thursday Plantation Gel because it is immediately cooling and soaks nicely into your skin without being too sticky and the tube is a handy size to store in small travel spaces like a tent or caravan or in my handbag. It lasts well too as a little bit goes a long way and it is readily available in chemists and supermarkets.

Depending on where you buy it it will cost around $8 or $9 for 100g tube.

Thursday Plantation Tea Tree Antiseptic Cream

A friend who lives in Arnhem Land put me on to this fantastic antiseptic cream to use as relief from insect bites.

I was so grateful to have this on our recent trip out bush. The cream is very light so you don't feel like your skin is being smothered and it immediately is cooling and anti-inflammatory.

The other benefit is that if like my youngest son, someone in your family scratches their bites until they bleed you can wash the bites with clean water and then dab this cream on to prevent infection.

I will be keeping this as a permanent addition to my travel kit and my first aid kit at home too.

I bought this product at the Chemist for around $8, again depending on where you buy the price varies from as low as $6.95 at this online chemist to $11.36 at this online retailer.

If you have some tips or remedies for insect repellent or relief from bites, stings or sunburn I'd love to hear.

Happy travels!

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