The little sunshine tag team

sunshine house

I am awake about 6am. After spending some time with the young ‘uns, I am folding washing, getting them breakfast, feeding rabbits, putting washing out, cleaning floors and windows, washing up… My objective is to have everything as good as it can be by noon, when my husband Gregor gets home from doing a weekend of shift work.

We sit down, and have a coffee together. A bit of lunch. Thirty minutes later, I am on the computer, working. I will do the afternoon shift {or he will, with the girls, which ever way you look at it}. After giving the youngest a sleep, he’ll prepare dinner, wash up, sweep and start getting the girls ready for bed.

That day, more or less, on repeat through the week.

It’s the Hacska tag team, and it works kind of well.

Luckily for us part-time workers, who don’t use day care, we have half-a-day – even a whole day here and there to hang out and just spend lovely time together.

On these days, we are less inclined to spend time doing things like mowing lawns {sorry neighbours} and more inclined to do things like walking up to the Byron lighthouse to eat ice-cream.

It’s an easy flow of work, as we pass the work/child baton from one to the other. What makes it work? A few things I think.

One is our breakfasts together. Every morning, we sit down for a family spread of yummy bread, cold meats and cheeses and of course excellent coffee. It’s necessary, relaxed time together. During daylight savings, this hour is harder to salvage, as we usually need to get our daughter ready for preschool, or ready for somewhere. Regardless, we love these breakfasts together.

Our broken work week is nice too, because we aren’t just working all the time. I think Gregor and I are both allergic to boredom and predictability. Variation is the spice of life, and our variation of a bit of work, a bit of house, a bit of something fun and creative, and a lot of family suits us quite well.

The other key ingredient is communication. Occasionally, we get a little antsy at each other – you didn’t sweep, I did more, you should do more kind of thing. But a little joke, a hug and an apology go a long way. As does acknowledging that the other person does work hard, and have the best interests of the family at heart.

Neither of us excel at domestic duties, so granted our house is only as organised as it can be, but as I drive in and see the long grass, or the flaky verandah, I tell myself ‘artists + kids live here’. We do our best. And we prioritise what matters to us.

Do you tag team? How does your work week work?

Visiting Jackie French

I wasn’t your usual teenager. While my peers were reading Dolly and the more adventurous, Cosmopolitan, I was reading The Australian Women’s Weekly. I loved learning about grown-up lives, and imagining the life I would have one day, when I transcended the gloomy adolescent years.

One of the most memorable stories I read was about a woman who moved to a property outside of Canberra in her early twenties, built her own house and developed a natural reserve that not only protected local wildlife, but grew an abundance of fruit and vegetables.

That was inspirational enough, but as I read on, I learned that this woman started sending away stories, and soon became a professional writer. She wrote children’s books, books for young adults, non-fiction historical books, gardening books, gardening columns and more. My teenage self imagined how this woman managed to fit everything in. How can you be a mother, gardening expert, an author, a farmer and nature conservationist?

Last week, the pieces of the puzzle began to fall together when I met Jackie French in real life.

Jackie French is literally a household name. I challenge any of you to think of an Australian who doesn’t know who she is. If you garden, you’ll know her. If you like wombats, you’ll know her. If you have children, you’ll certainly know her, or at least would have been read her books when you were a child.

Jackie is the 2014-2015 Australian Children’s Laureate. This means for two years, Jackie will tour nationally and internationally promoting and advocating children’s literature in schools and libraries. She’s the perfect choice, because Jackie is the best-selling author of over 140 books including Diary of A Wombat and Hitler’s Daughter. She is warm and passionate, and is an incredible speaker. Her address at this years Children’s Book Council of Australia National Conference made me laugh and literally moved me to tears.

Her career is impressive, but her personal story and lifestyle is truly inspirational.

Jackie bought a property in Araluen, south of Braidwood, NSW in her early 20s. She had studied agriculture in Brisbane, and headed south looking for property. She had a immediate affinity with Araluen, which was incredible because unaware to Jackie at the time, both sides of her family over a number of generations came from this tiny (yet impressive) valley.

JackieFrench_araluenvalley The property was overgrown with blackberry bush, and with a machete and few other tools, Jackie and her then husband began clearing to make room for a shed, which doubled as a dwelling. Jackie had a son, at which time her marriage ended. Child on back, Jackie continued to develop the land, removing weeds and introduced pests, and planting fruit trees.

Jackie French

Jackie French

Jackie French Jackie was a single mother with a property. She had no money to speak of, and a car to register. A friend suggested she send away her writing. Within three weeks, she had a book contract for what was described by the editor at HarperCollins as the messiest, worst spelt manuscript they’d ever received. She also secured a weekly column with the Canberra Times and in a farmer’s magazine.

Jackie French Last Monday, Jackie welcomed a bunch of CBCA conference delegates to her property. She showed us many of the hundreds of fruit species she grows. She talked about permaculture, and how specific plants had been planted for birds, so other fruit would be left for humans.

Jackie French She introduced us to Noam Chomsky, the herald of the garden, who observes the conversations and interactions of the local wildlife.

Noam Chompsky

Jackie French

JackieFrench07 She talked about her wombats, and other inspirations for her books.



JackieFrench10 She showed us the wombat hole under her house, and told us about the resident wombats who regularly visit. Occasionally, they wander into the house and make themselves comfortable.




JackieFrench14 She invited us to pick fruit from the trees. (These tamarillos were incredible.)




tree dahlias

tree dahlias

JackieFrench19 As she talked, Jackie’s knowledge of and respect for the land grew apparent. Her property is self-sufficient, yes, but it also encourages and invites wildlife to flourish. She has vast knowledge of the property’s indigenous history. She knows and respects the stories of the land. She knows its secrets.



JackieFrench22 Behind almost all great women is a supportive and loving partner. We met Bryan, Jackie’s husband. Bryan is an engineer, who built this waterwheel, which pumps water and makes energy for the property. Between the waterwheel and the impressive solar-power heating system, the house is 100% carbon neutral. Jackie bought one of the first solar panels sold in Australia, and has expanded her collection over the years.


JackieFrench25 We wandered around her garden and her property, grateful for the opportunity to see this beautiful, peaceful and rich life. Every delegate I spoke to shone with admiration for Jackie and everything she had done here. We felt privileged.

Jackie’s warmth and generosity was exemplified by the lunch she made for the thirty or more guests.


JackieFrench29 As we were walking back to the mini bus, Tom, our driver remarked that the visit had been “life-changing”. I thought about what he said, and Jackie’s own words rung in my mind.

Don’t ask children what they want to do when they grow up. Ask children how they would like to live their life. That’s the important question.

Although I don’t know how I could possibly fit more into my already busy life, I would like to live my life exactly like Jackie. She inspired me when I was thirteen, but I completely fell in love with her when I met her in person, and visited her home. I know who I’ll be nominating for Australian of the Year.

For more tales from the sunshine house, visit me over at Facebook. You can also sign up for my monthly newsletter, where I occasionally run giveaways for subscribers, and update you with the latest sunshine news.

Linking with Essentially Jess for IBOT.

The discovery of stars

How to Catch a Star. Oliver Jeffers.

How to Catch a Star. Oliver Jeffers.

I have been feeling a little estranged from my older daughter lately. I’ve been working more, and spare time is spent driving to markets or hanging out with friends. Usually, we read books together at night – our special time, nestled in together on the marshmallow couch. But lately Baby has been waking up for a feed at exactly that time.

You would think I would cherish every moment of down time with my older daughter, desperate for a piece of her. But the truth is, when we have down time, I get frustrated more than normal by her three-year-old demands and ways. The whingeing grates more than normal, and the screeches are intolerable. I am short, sharp and heavy with her, my patience like a short wick.

So quickly, we snowball into a mess. Like this afternoon, sleep-deprived Baby hangs asleep in a sling on my front, while I cut out shapes with older daughter. I am trying to be crafty, but I am failing miserably. Why do I bother?

“They are diamonds.”

“I don’t want diamonds. I want diamonds after.

“Do you want hearts?”

“I want diamonds AFTER!”

“Do you want circles?”

“I want diamonds AFTER!”

And so forth.

I didn’t understand what she meant. Instead, she screeched and baby woke up after twenty minutes. I yelled. I told her I was so mad at her, and she said: “You can’t be mad at me. I am crying. You can’t be mad at me for being sad.”

How true that is. How my little heart broke. Damn me for being so wretched.

After the adrenaline of screaming, I felt down. I was about to come crashing down on my self, criticise me, blame me etc. but then my daughter was so incredibly forgiving, I didn’t have the opportunity.

We ate spaghetti Bolognese, sitting on the grass in the backyard.

We showered together with baby.

We read together. Book after book after book.

We ended by reading How To Catch A Star.

“I want to catch a star,” she said. “But I can’t reach. I need a ladder.”

“You know, the book is imaginary,” I said. “You can’t really catch a star.”

“But I want to.”

It occurred to me that my daughter, with all her wisdom, intelligence, knowledge and imagination has never known stars. She has known songs about stars, and can recite books about stars, but she has never known stars.

I carried her into the night. She looked up.

“Stars!” she breathed. “They are so cute! They are so amazing! I love stars.”

I wish I could remember discovering stars for the first time. But I will remember this for my daughter instead. The night you discovered stars, your face lit up like one of them, and you wrapped your arms around my neck. You refused to go to bed, how amazed and overwhelmed you were.

And so it begins


And so it begins…the first day of the next fifteen years. School. Well, pre-school…more playing than schooling, but it’s teachers, and bags and gates…so technically, it’s school.

My little big girl Elka was so excited, she even agreed to brush her hair tangles . I almost convinced her to eat her breakfast. She took three bites, just to get her through the morning.

I know parents reading this will be rolling their eyes – been there, done that. You probably have put numerous kids through big school by now. And it’s just another day.

It was just another day. But my little one sat in the back seat of the car, nibbling her finger. It was an unusual gesture. Despite the Big Girl bravado, I think she was a little concerned.

After leading her in, meeting the teachers and putting on the uniform broad-brimmed hat, she disappeared into the playground with other children. Five minutes later, she re-appeared. I’m having a great time Mum. Bye! It was as if it was scripted.

Sitting quietly at home, with my second, far quieter child, it felt – quiet. We looked at each other, baby and me, and wondered where our noisy companion was when you needed her. I missed her incessant conversation. Her silly stories. Her antics. Her occasional emotional outburst. 1000s of ideas. 1000s of instructions. Eve and I had to think for ourselves. It was weird.

More than anything though, I felt a little saddened that this was the first day of fifteen years more. That my little girl is as big as she claims to be. Saddened, but proud as hell.

Picking her up, I felt prouder still. We nearly messed up the first day pick-up, thinking my husband was doing it; he thinking I was doing it. We very nearly sucked. But I power-walked into town with Eve in the sling and the car seat on the pram to meet Greg in town, and collect Elka. We nearly sucked, but then we didn’t.

She was happy to see me. Not relieved or spent. Just pleased. She told me how she read to her little friend when she was sad, and how she knew the teachers’ names, and how she played and painted and stuck things on paper.

Have you had children start school this year? How have they gone?

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{linking with Jess at Essentially Jess, because it’s Tuesday}

At last, Mum, a routine

In some ways, I believe I was born to be mum. In other ways, I am hopeless.

Like this whole routine business. They wrote about it in parenting books. Every parent I know does it, well. But routine? We have never quite managed it.

The bedtime routine is classic. Dinner, bath, toothbrush, jammies, books, bed. The sequence provides cues for bedtime.

Because my daughter loves going to bed with her jutie and someone to cuddle, we have never had to rely on a bed time routine. We do most of those things, but never all, and never in order.

Often we are out late, and feed her in the car on the way home.

Sometimes she baths or showers with us in the morning, or not at all.

We always do teeth. That’s the only constant.

We have many rituals. A long, continental breakfast – a spread of meats, cheeses, salad, bread and mustard. We go out for coffee regularly. We read together. Lie in bed together as a family. Our day is woven from rituals. But no routine.

Pre-school starts next Monday. This will be Elka’s introduction to routine. And I agree, kids benefit from routine. It’s grounding in a highly stimulating, sometimes crazy world. Kids like predictability.

Maybe my child craves it? Maybe, in some ways, I am hopeless, because I have never successfully implemented a routine.

So, in preparation for pre-school and for the first time in three years, Elka has her first bedtime routine.

bedtime routine

Dinner. Bath. Teeth. Jammies. Books. Jutie. Bed. She got pretty excited about it. What’s next? I said. Teeth! she yelled jubilantly.

Do you do routines?

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{linking with Jess at Essentially Jess, because it’s Tuesday}