Sunshine Gypsies :: Wolfgangsee

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I love the idea of camping. But until this week, had only ever camped two or three nights with my little sunshine family. Here, though, beside the Wolfgangsee in Austria, we set up our fancy glamping tent under an apple tree for ten whole magical days…

From under the shade of the apple tree, we’d emerge each morning in the quiet, lakeside farm campsite and walk directly into crystal water. A swan or duck on the surface, or a shoal of fish in the shallow water would be the only sign of life. Other than the glorious mountains, surrounding the lake.

The farm where we stayed provided fresh cow’s milk, and semmel (little breads) every morning. The girls disappeared directly into the apple tree to eat breakfast while Gregor and I drank coffee.

Days were spent either beside or in the warm lake, rowing across the lake, in one of the lakeside towns, like St Wolfgang or Hallstatt, or walking in the mountains. In the afternoons, Gregor and I took turns running into the surrounding hills.

Our neighbouring campers were mostly locals – people who have a permanent camp set up, and have travelled to the lake most weekends of the summer for years.

There are many big resort-like campsites across Europe. But this is my style. Simple, inexpensive, lakeside, farm camping among friendly people.

What more could you want?

 

Fairytale Village

Hallstatt 01

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Earlier this week, we visited a town on a lake in Austria called Hallstatt. It is said to be one of the ten most beautiful lakeside towns in Europe. And I’d believe it. Overrun with tourists, and rarely sunny, yet so like wandering through a fairytale. Little Elka wandered the town, lost in storytelling mode. It was magic. 

Sunshine Gypsies :: Garmisch-Partenkirchen

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I won’t pretend we are not lucky. For the next six weeks, the Sunshine Gypsies are travelling around Europe. One tent and a carful of gear.

Stop one. Garmish-Partenkirchen, Germany.

We enter the green valley by train. The surrounding mountains are not imposing or intimidating. They seem kind, like a protective force around the valley.

Our sunshine tent has already been set up for us by loving family. It looks over the kind mountains, and we look over them.

Our first morning camping, the sun blazes. We dress and do a little walk among the pine trees. My daughter calls it fairy land and it is. The sun glints through the trees, sparkling on moss covered ground. We want to creep off the path and be part of it all. Fairy land. Red Riding Hood’s forest. Cottages made of wood remind us of the little piggy’s house. Sheep tinkle, bells around their neck as they graze. The music of grazing.

From the top the view is clear and perfect.

We meet granny Annie at the play park by the lake. We leave the children with her, and Greg and I go for our first run together in months. Up the mountain. Down. Around the lake. The day is so warm and I’m worried about my heart and blood pressure. But I don’t need to be. I feel amazing.

Like my daughter does most of the day, I tell a story in my head as we run. The lake is bright blue. Bright pink umbrellas and tanned German holiday goers line  the shores.

Later, all of us leap in the lake. It is unbelievably cold but once you get used to it, bearable. This mountain lake has a slide going into the water! One by one we pop out into the water. I’ve never seen little Rosie’s eyes so huge!

Walking back Gregor and I realise how amazingly relaxed we feel. Thank you mountains for your kindness and your protection.

‘Do you love them yet?’ asks Greg who is from a long lineage of mountain loving people. I think I do.

 The next day, we leave Garmisch, but not before stopping off at the cable car. We ride up within the incredible cliff, and reach the pinnacle. Well, there is climbing to be done first. One child on the back, and the other one – a self-proclaimed mountaineer, heading up the mountain. One wears her Peppa Pig tutu swimmers and sandals. The other wears a skirt and gold sandals. None of us have jackets.

‘What would my Austrian grandfather be thinking, his grandson taking his children up the mountain dressed like this?’ says my husband, slapping his forehead.

We walk through a tunnel in the mountains, then stand with one foot in Germany and the other in Austria. The air is cool, but it’s bearable, as the day is stunning.

We leave late afternoon for the Wolfgangsee, just beyond of Salzburg. Driving in a hot car with two little kids isn’t ideal, but if that’s as bad as it gets, we aren’t complaining.

Creative Spaces

creativespaces

I’m not sure if it was the labour itself, or perhaps the new event of being forced to sit, with little to do for long periods of time, but when I became a mother, I had a new, insatiable creative itch. Stories, ideas, thoughts, concepts, images swam through my mind. I longed to take a net, and capture them.

But between wrapping a baby, carrying a baby, feeding a baby, walking a baby around the town, and rocking a baby to sleep, it seemed I had little to no opportunity to cast a creative net. It was frustrating, because the pool seemed so deep, yet so alive with life. All I needed was five minutes – an hour, to reach in, and catch what I needed.

Around that time, my great and amazing friend Fritha was starting her journey as a life coach, and was looking for someone to test her new skills with. My arm, tired from carrying child, shot into the air, as if coffee hung from a cloud above.

One hour chat with Fritha changed everything. The first thing was identifying what I really wanted. Was it to amble around the lake, admiring the fish? No. It was to lower the net, and start making something happen.

What was stopping me? So much, I asserted. A baby. And all her many needs. I have absolutely no time.

She encouraged me to look at my week, not as a whole, but in fractions.

‘So, when are you having these creative thoughts?’ she asked.

‘Walking the pram.’

‘How often is that, would you say?’

‘Most days. Twenty minutes to town and back.’

‘OK. So that’s seven days. Forty minutes. So at minimum, you are spending two-hundred and eighty minutes being creative a week?’

It sounded like a lot. But it was true. I started to get excited. Where else were these creative pockets?

Hanging clothes. Washing up. Rocking baby to sleep in the dark. The creative minutes piled up before me.

‘And what time does Baby go to sleep at night?’

‘Around seven.’

‘Then?’

Then… well, exactly. Then. Then my creative life really began. All those thoughts accumulated through the day, baskets of creative fish writhing and alive, were waiting. And all I had to do was open my computer, and let them free.

It was a wonderful feeling.

I discovered blogging around that time. I blogged most nights. Not because I felt I had to. Simply because I had to. The need was irrepressible. My husband kindly washed dishes while I wrote short stories and posts. The accumulative effect of being creative was like a snowball, ever growing the more I rolled.

In recent years, I haven’t had a structured nine-to-five job. My work day has been broken over many hours and days, a week fragmented into slices of parenting and shards of work. I worked when I could, and parented around work. But thanks to my early conversations with Fritha, creativity was never far from hand.

I’d sit down to work, and before launching into a project, would quickly tap out a blog post that had been burning within. Between dishes and folding the washing, I squeezed out a status update. Or maybe jotted down the outline of a picture book. Creative ideas were everywhere, as long as I was looking.

As busy as we were, technically, my week was bursting to the seams with creative space.

The richest space of all, ironically, came from what was otherwise the hardest hour of my day.

As a constant do-er, I found lying down with my kids to help them sleep initially lovely and wonderful, but later challenging, the longer it took. Some nights, lying beside my eldest, waiting an hour and a half for the wiggles to cease seemed like a small torture, as lovely as she is. I longed to get on with my night.

But then I let my mind sink into a creative space. The richest, deepest most wonderful creative lake there was in my week. Stories formed, almost in tact. Blog posts too. Entrepreneurial ideas I felt convinced would change the world. My subconscious was in overdrive and having the time of its life.

And as soon as the child’s arms finally became heavy, I lifted them off, and turned my thoughts into words on a page.

My life as a parent is never static. Nor is my husband and my work schedules. Things are forever changing, particularly this year, as we travel Europe with two small children, and no official address, taking life as it comes.

My creative spaces are sometimes elusive, and harder to find. Lately, they’ve appeared in the swimming pool, in the forest, running through the gardens and at seven in the morning, when I am the only one in the house awake.

The important thing about catching fish though is to do it. If I harness that creativity when its there, it grows.

Where are your creative spaces in the week? 

Bamboo Mother

bamboo mother

You know you are winning as a parent when your three-year-old cries for over an hour each night, and finally falls asleep at 9.30 – 10pm, a perfectly reasonable time for a small child.

After books are finished, and lights are out, I am calm. I lie peacefully beside her, remaining quiet in the face of escalating requests: milk, food, pyjamas, no pyjamas, blanket, song, no song etc… The later it gets, the stronger the emotion and the more ridiculous the requests, and while I take myself away to pretty places in my mind, or try and sing a soothing song, {which is probably more soothing for me than her} my emotions too are rising.

If the episode really does take an hour or more, I often snap. I stand, strut out of the room, frustrated. Or her little, strong legs start hurtling down on top of me, and it’s impossible for me to lie calmly.

‘That’s it!’ I cry, exasperated. ‘I’ve had enough! I have to get Dad.’

Of course, the emotions escalate further…and if I don’t return to a quiet, calm place beside her, there’s no end to it.

Most nights, once sleep is finally achieved, I leave the room feeling battered and weary. The wonderful day just gone is forgotten, as my adrenalin and cortisol levels have left me feeling rubbish, and in need of Netflix and chocolate. I abandon all my evening’s creative aspirations, vent to Husband, and collapse.

Mostly, I am mad at myself, for at some point cracking. For losing my calm, and my cool. For getting exasperated.

But, there was one night, recently, where an hour had passed, and I finally stood with her in my arms. My legs were strong {thanks to jump squats}, and my arms too {thanks to the twelve push ups I do once a week}. She leaned into me, all 24 kilos of her, crying heavily. And I breathed her in deeply. Exhaled.

‘It’s okay,’ I said into her sodden hair. ‘You can cry. Just cry. It’s okay.’

She cried with relief, then, for about a minute, and fell asleep.

I held her, calm and strong, and an image came to be then, which felt like an aspiration for motherhood.

Bamboo.

Strong, yet flexible. You can build houses with bamboo, yet it can bend in the wind. It’s persistent, consistent, and all consuming.

Standing with my jump squat strong legs, and push up strong arms, with an enormous child in my arms reminded me that calm, strong and flexible, like bamboo is what I need to be.

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