Welcome note


You’ll find her at the nucleus of the family, navigator of the ship.  A force-field around which things happen.

Giving so much to others, her energy is often scattered.  But at her core, she remains her whole, complete and beautiful self, if only she can prioritise the time to nurture it.

Motherhood is an incredible journey.  Both a privilege and a grind.   So often, how children turn out as adults is identified back to Mum.   How she loved, taught, listened, role-modeled, coped.

This blog is about you.  A Mum who, just like me, devotes her energy to raising her kids, running a home and perhaps also a job.  It’s a community of like-minded people to share experience and ideas about parenting, finances and personal wellness.

Perhaps you can identify with ‘just a minute’, either in the time you have available or as a frequent response to children!  Whether you have one minute or five, I hope that you find something of value for yourself.

Thanks for joining me.  Let’s get started!



Did nights out on credit lose me my house?


Did nights out on credit lose me my house?

Posted by Priscilla Dickinson in Debt is a drag 3 Comments

As a single woman in my 30s, I’d had enough of renting. My home-buyer’s checklist was a small lock up and go, close to the city. In early 2006, I bought a freestanding cottage in Orakei, pouring all my savings into the deposit. While doable, the repayments weren’t a walk in the park.

Having the one income, I settled on a bog-standard, two-year fixed-interest home loan rate over 25 years. Part of the bank’s welcome package was a credit card with a $5,000 limit, interest-free for the first 12 months. I wasn’t sure I’d use it but decided to take advantage of the (seemingly) free finance.

I started using the card for small, frivolous purchases: Friday night drinks, a weekend brunch and shouting the odd coffee. As my spending was scattered, I saw each purchase in isolation – $10 to $20 each time didn’t seem like much.

As the balance crept upward, my card became my back-stop. I had access to spare money and up to a year before thinking about paying it back. Time flew, and after eight months I’d racked up the full $5,000. A lifeline suddenly cut, it was difficult to change how I lived.

When 12 months rolled around, fees seemed to appear thick and fast. A $20 account fee tipped my balance over the limit, triggering a $20 over-limit fee. I found myself trapped in a cycle of paying the minimum balance (often late, with a $20 penalty applied), only to find myself a little short before next payday and redrawing on the debt.

In desperation, I took a second job. I’d come home to multiple boxes stacked at my door, spending evenings folding circulars. It was tiring work for small change, and I developed a swollen wrist to boot.

The extra money helped, but progress was slow. Feeling under pressure, I ultimately decided to put my house on the market. After one year of grappling with interest and fees, I repaid the card and cancelled it.

When I discussed a new home loan pre-approval with the bank, their response was that due to account conduct, I had to wait until my credit rating improved. I’d paid around $6,200 for the $5,000 “interest-free” card (125%), including interest and account and late payment fees.

Finance approval has never been so easy, but it’s not just about the numbers stacking up. If you’re a regular saver and live within your means, a credit card can support your financial situation by covering expenses while offsetting income against a home loan.

If you’re using a card to bridge the gap between paydays or fund last-minute Christmas gifts, it’s critical to consider the full cost – and your resources – to pay it back.

In my experience, it’s easier – and significantly cheaper – to practise patience and cultivate regular saving habits, even for small amounts. There’s no greater feeling than to buy or give someone something knowing you’ve truly earned it.

A Mother’s Courage to Speak

How I regained a sense of self and became an advocate for voiceless children.

Toastmasters International Magazine, April 2019

Following a solid year of nights spent sleepwalking from exhaustion and changing nappies—most of my conversations with other adults having been on the virtues of various bottle brands—I returned to work part time. I had been so focused on my two young children and all the work that came with them that I felt out of place in the corporate world.

My job required me to dial in remotely to a weekly team meeting and give a five-minute rundown of my work in progress. Sitting alone in an empty room, I grew to dread speaking into the large mobile-conferencing speakerphone. Without body language or other visual cues, I was lost. I stumbled through sentences, my voice giving way to pressure to get through my task list as quickly as possible.

It was those meetings, along with the days of anxiety I experienced each time I was asked to present to new advisors, that drove me to find a solution. I couldn’t go on that way, my stress was affecting my loved ones too.

In late 2015, I decided to visit the Eden-Epsom Club in Auckland, New Zealand. The club members were supportive and diverse, reflecting many different nationalities, age groups and walks of life. I joined in October 2015.

Over the next three years, I slowly worked my way through the Competent Communication manual, seeing it as an ideal self-improvement tool while raising pre-school children. It was my fortnightly evening out and helped me slowly regain confidence.

In 2018, I completed project nine of the CC manual, “Persuade with Power,” delivering a speech titled “Being a Voice for the Voiceless.” While delivering this speech, I was able to step away from my notes, walk to the front of the lectern and make eye contact with my audience—a huge accomplishment for me.

“Nothing compares to the feeling of being heard—or speaking about something you’re passionate about.”

As a mother, I understand the extent of influence that parents—and other adults—have in shaping a child for adulthood, which is why I became interested in the global issue of child trafficking. Although the issue isn’t on my doorstep, I feel responsible to help protect all children from harm.

For this reason, I’m a voluntary advocate for Child Rescue, a charity that rescues and rehabilitates sexually enslaved children across Thailand, Cambodia, the Philippines and other parts of Southeast Asia. Since 2011, the charity has rescued thousands of children and offered assistance, such as a safe place to stay, counselling and training in practical skills.

My experience writing and delivering speeches in my Eden-Epsom Club has empowered me to write social media posts and newsletters for Child Rescue and spread the word about child trafficking to friends and family. I assist with fundraising activities in my community and intend to speak at my local church and other local events in the future.

In my early career, I felt more comfortable writing than speaking. Three years at Toastmasters has given me the courage to speak with authority and inject self-expression into my words. Evaluating speeches has improved my listening skills, making me a better communicator with friends and family. Beyond this, my skills are helping me spread the word about a cause that’s close to my heart.

Nothing compares to the feeling of being heard—or speaking about something you’re passionate about. Progress, no matter how small, builds over time. I joined Toastmasters to help myself. And now I’m able to help others too.

Natural beauty in under 10 minutes per day

Recently, my sister and I mulled over morning stresses of getting everyone out the door before 8.30, while the men established a ‘pecking order’ of tasks.  Filling and emptying the dishwasher, making beds and blowing husks out of the birdseed bowl were viewed as “non-essential”, while we declared that coming home to wrinkled bedclothes and full sink amid wrangling school bags and hungry kids was not on our agenda!

Whilst I’m not sure that they thought we should spend more time in the bathroom, inspired by the males’ advice to “re-prioritise”, I’ve challenged myself to prioritise self-care each morning.

Without the DINK (double income no kids) status, I’m not about to swap holidays or gifts for Botox and dermal fillers!  Once the kids are fed and clothes are laid out, instead of running through my own routine on autopilot, I try to make those minutes count.

Whether your mornings are hectic, or you have a little leeway, a small window spent on yourself can reinvigorate the brain, remove toxins and lay the foundation for smooth skin.  Here is my way of combining all three in ten minutes or less!

The root cause of heathy hair

A head massage increases blood flow (nutrition) to the scalp for strong and healthy hair and energises the brain.

Hang your head upside down and feel the weightlessness as your head, neck and arms dangle. Using the pads of the fingers, massage your scalp all over for around two minutes.  If you’re about to wash your hair, you could use a few drops of an essential oil (e.g. Lavender or Neem) or Jojoba oil.  Flick your head up and voila, you also have full bodied 80’s-inspired hair!

This simple routine, also referred to as the ‘inversion method’ is also hailed as a method to grow hair more quickly.

Brush away toxins

Grab a natural bristle brush with a long handle (Kmart or The Body Shop).  In simple terms, you’re brushing towards the heart, remembering that your lymph drainage areas are under the arms, in the groin area (around where the pelvis and upper thigh meet) and the neck.

Starting from the feet, brush up each leg in long strokes with a light pressure, clockwise around the belly, under the chest to each armpit.  Brush up each hand and arm, down the neck and shoulders and each side of the face: along the jawline, across the cheeks and forehead.

At first, it may feel strange dragging a brush up dry skin but I find it really wakes me up.  It comes close to a coffee!  Up to three minutes is all you need.

Put your best face forward

Face massage may be the best thing you can do to prevent wrinkles.  It brings fresh blood and nutrients to the skin, helps to improve muscle tone and relaxes stress points.  To prepare the skin, I like to use a carrier oil, mixed with a few drops of organic essential oil.  Currently, I’m using Grape Seed Oil as a carrier, mixed with a few drops of rose oil.  Rose is filled with anti-oxidants and I also like to mix it up with Frankincense to help remove any blemishes and for anti-aging).

Take the index finger from each hand and move them across the skin in opposite directions to each other.  As with body brushing, I like to massage one side of the face and then the other. Starting from the chin, move across the jawline up to each cheekbone, treading gently under the eyes toward to the outer eye and across the forehead.  I like to spend a minute working on the pressure points and releasing tension along the upper eyebrow line.

Buzzing with energy, you can then take that brisk shower and finish off with some natural skin pampering.  My current favourites are Hyaluronic acid combined with Vitamin C, followed by organic shea butter.  Shea butter is very thick to apply (I only use a dab) but I find it extremely hydrating and I also like the small amount of natural inbuilt UV protection.

Natural methods take longer to work than artificial ones, but as with parenting, I’m holding on to the belief that consistency is key and that lasting, natural beauty outweighs any quick fix.

I hope you’ll join me in spending some of your precious time on ‘me time.’  It’s the little things that count.

Some of my favorite natural beauty blends: Continue reading “Natural beauty in under 10 minutes per day”

How to create a personal style

There are certain things that no-one can take away from you…learning, self-respect, attitude…and style!

Forget about fads – knickerbockers, bubble gum jeans, puffball skirts, crop tops.  There’s something way cooler, sexier and possibly cheaper than conformity.   It’s personal style and no one can flaunt it like you!

Jackie O’Fee, owner of Auckland-based Signature Style sums up style versus fashion.

“The reality is that every trend doesn’t suit every body…and yes, I mean that to be two words. Your shape is your own and we’re all built differently. True style is knowing what works for you, and then selecting the trends that suit you rather than letting them dictate what to wear.”

At a recent business conference, a presenter commented that the interviewer makes their mind up about a person within the first three minutes of an interview, spending the remaining time seeking pathways that make them right.  With limited time to communicate who we are, how we present ourselves at that first meeting can create unconscious bias about who we are.

Great personal style reflects our uniqueness and highlights our strengths. With the proliferation of online stores and import brands, the opportunities for style statement are endless and accessible to most budgets.

Finding your personal style starts with choosing complimentary colours, considering the context of your lifestyle and the characteristics of your body shape, so you can shop with ease and confidence.

Complimentary colours

Know your colours and stick to them.

Jot down your favourite colours.  Which do you feel good in? To open up your choices, consider which colours go together or would work well with a different accent colour.  I love green and pink, lemon and brown, brown and dark pink/nude and black with brown.

Knowing what you look best in is so helpful when building a wardrobe.  At Signature Style, one of O’Fee’s services is a professional colour analysis. “The colours that never go out of style are the colours that look best on you! You’ll always be able to find something in your colours in the shops.”

For a little self-help in defining whether you’re ‘warm’ or ‘cool’ and how to start creating a colour palette, Hungry Wardrobe has a few tips.

Do certain colours stay in fashion?  According to O’Fee, there’s navy, taupe and, of course, black and it’s variants.  “We’ve had navy hanging around now for about five years (hooray!) and there’s usually a version of taupe out there too. You can always find black (but it’s a bit boring – seriously), grey and cream.”

Context of your lifestyle

Like your life, aspects of your personal style will change over time.  To help shape your personal style, you could start with reflecting on your key weekly activities and the percentage of time you spend on each.  For example, you may spend time at work, caring for young children, doing the school run (I like the ‘athleisure’ options), nights out with friends, corporate functions, BBQ’s, etc. Knowing the current percentage mix in your life will help to prioritise spending and choose style options to support you as you transition through these roles.

Physical characteristics

Consider your personal characteristics and physical strengths to help you make fabric and fit choices that draw the eye to your best features.

  • Many style experts agree to accentuate just one feature with your clothing. You may be tempted to go for more (lucky you), but one is the most striking.  Retain a little mystery…and mix it up!
  • Consider your body shape and both what you want to cover up and reveal in the styles you buy. Where do you want the hemline to fall?  As O’Fee says, “Ladies who are short-waisted and busty are likely to feel ‘all boobs’ in a leather biker jacket.  If there’s more weight around the hips and thighs with a bit of a tummy, a long-line boyfriend blazer isn’t the best choice.”  Focus on where you want the eye to fall and make clothing choices that draw attention to these areas.
  • Consider your personality. Do you love the vivaciousness of florals or feel more comfortable in muted patterns?  Are you sensual and love luxurious fabrics like chiffon or cashmere?  Perhaps you want a mix of patterns to reflect different moods or settings.  Having an overall theme that you enjoy will help guide your choices on patterns and textures and how much you spend on staple items.

Start shopping

Once you’ve reflected on colours, your lifestyle and characteristics of your body-shape, you’re ready to shop for ideas!  Online is an ideal place to start – check out Instagram, Pinterest and designers’ websites for ideas.

The Recycle Boutique, H&M and Dressmart are ideal for budget-conscious options, as is Louvisa for accessories.  Similarly, online fashion brand Birdsnest offers a wide range of clothing for different body shapes, with a free online style guide.

Personal style can be admired, but not imitated.  With a strong personal style, there’s no need to buy on lukewarm feelings.  Personal style ensures that a first impression reflects your strengths and uniqueness and supports you to perform at your best in your ever-evolving roles.

Freeing yourself – and others – from entanglements of the mind

It’s all in the mind.  There’s no doubt that the mind has incredible power, but without an adjudicator, it can be prone to over-thinking, rehashing and creating its own melodrama.

Old, recycled thoughts can keep us – and the people close to us – trapped.  Feelings or difficulties that we haven’t been able to voice or work through to an agreeable solution can become wedged inside us.  Although when grief, sadness or anger resurfaces, we can simply swallow it back down, if not dealt with and cleared, it can be cannon fodder for the mind to replay the same message over and over, without respite.

“You are the sum total of your most dominating or predominant thoughts.”  Napoleon Hill

We don’t deserve to be held ransom by our thoughts and those connected to us don’t either.  There’s fantastic support available and many success stories of people becoming unstuck through therapies such as counselling, neuro-linguistic programming and hypnosis. Perhaps they’re all tools that seek to achieve the same thing: acknowledging and releasing repressed feelings and thought patterns.

For me, the two most practical, cost-effective and timely tools to identifying and re-setting re-current thought patterns are meditation and mindfulness. I change my practice to reflect any current challenges, allocating just 15 minutes most mornings.  The interesting thing about practicing them is that I didn’t just wake up one day and feel marvelous.  Like anything organic or natural, progress is slow but sure – and ever-evolving.

Here are three things that daily meditation and mindfulness practice has taught me:

  1. Freeing my own mind from spiraling thoughts not only frees me, but also any person/s who may be subliminally affected by them. As I accept and respond differently to others, so they have more choice on how to respond, creating new possibilities for everyone.
  2. Over time, the load of hurts can be lessened. This creates more head-space to focus on other things more deserving of precious time and energy.
  3. Every choice has merit and is influenced by a person’s unique life experience. We can disagree one something and still both be right.  Let’s embrace that!

There are many guided meditations available to buy online and that’s one way to jump start and embed a regular practice.  After attending a couple of meditation groups, I veered down the non-traditional path of developing my own practice methods, rather than using a prescribed one.  Do what works and feels right for you.

Whichever way you start, here are a couple of simple meditation and mindfulness ideas to consider incorporating into your own practice:

  • Find one positive word, a mantra that you believe in, that sits right within you. Repeat that word in your mind, see each letter and place it upon each of the energy centres of the body, one-by-one (feet, base of spine, lower abdomen, stomach, heart, throat, between the eyes and top of the head).  Use your deep diaphragm breathing to slowly breathe in, focus on each centre, hold the breath, then release out, repeating your mantra as you visualise it touching each centre.
  • Tell yourself that you intend to set aside time to release any old feelings that no longer serve you. Sit and scan the body and wait for any to appear, then identify where the body you are ‘holding’ the feeling.  Where is the tension of this feeling held?  See the feeling and let it be seen.  Name it and accept it – voice this if needed.   Now imagine pure white light beaming into the feeling, holding and surrounding it, then carrying it away for cleansing and transformation.

Depending on the nature of the feeling/s held, you may devote many ‘sessions’ to a particular one.  Lightness in replace of tightness is a good sign that it is shifting or has cleared.   With regular mindfulness practice, repressed feelings are noticed and accepted without judgement, from which they can then be let go of more easily.

As a busy mum, these small yet significant practices maintain a daily habit of giving time to myself to restore my inner well-being, so I’m less likely to ‘boil over’ at surface stresses.  As I manage my own reactions, I have more energy for things that matter most and am clearer about the boundaries of what’s right to take on.

Sometimes life brings up people and situations that challenge us.  Rather than run away from these challenges, by using meditation to find that inner calm and releasing caged feelings through mindful awareness, you’ll begin to grow into acceptance.  You’ll love more and grow more…and free others to do the same.

Is your home underinsured?

This content originally appeared in the Winter 2018 issue of Juno investing magazine.

Most insurance companies have changed their rules on house rebuild cover. If your home is damaged, there’s now a real risk that you might find yourself with only half the house you expected, says Priscilla Dickinson.

After the Canterbury earthquakes, most residential insurers moved from ‘rebuild’ policies, an open-ended cover based on a square-metre rate, to a capped ‘sum insured’. This means that homeowners are now responsible for calculating their home’s total rebuild cost.

We typically spend years paying off our homes but, when it comes to insuring them, there’s a tendency to underestimate the cost of a total rebuild.

If you haven’t calculated the true cost of rebuilding your home, you could be one of the 85 per cent of homes that could be underinsured, according to a recent Treasury report.

Richard Godman, underwriting manager of Vero Insurance, says a house insurance policy’s purpose is to replace what you’ve lost. “It’s important to get your sum insured right, because it’s the amount that the insurer will pay up to if your home needs to be repaired or replaced.”

As a homeowner, your main priority is to put an accurate value on the rebuild cost of your home. Most insurers have an online calculator for this, but many people get a valuation, just to be sure.

Will a free calculator valuation be enough?

Vero’s ‘Cordell Sum Sure’ calculator asks for the home’s address and then pre-populates all the details for customers to check.

Tower Insurance uses its own version of the Cordell Calculator, available through their website. AMI customers can visit need2know.co.nz.

The calculators allow for demolition (including removal of debris) and professional fees (such as council, architect, surveyor and legal costs). Vero recommends customers keep a copy of their sum insured calculation in case they need to claim on their policy.

Michael Brown, Willis Towers Watson’s national manager, broking, says people often accept a default sum-insured figure.

“When we help our clients, we remind them that most default sum-insured figures are conservative. These should be checked against a valuation or using calculation models. Many people that we talk to haven’t amended their sum insured from the default.”

Is a valuation required for a rebuild estimate?

Although a formal valuation isn’t required, many homeowners may prefer to use a valuer, particularly if their home is built to a high specification.

Willis Towers Watson suggests homeowners with higher-value homes or bespoke features get a valuation, as it will give a more accurate assessment.

“Typically, rebuild values estimated by a registered valuer, quantity surveyor, or builder are higher than the amount generated from the insurer’s calculator,” Brown says.

A valuation is likely to cost you anywhere from NZ$500 plus GST to upwards of NZ$2,000 for a luxury home, but the extra cost could save you thousands at claim time.

Reviewing your policy

It’s good practice to review your sum insured annually, or, as Godman recommends, “When doing anything on your home, such as structural renovations, adding a shed, or garage.”

Tell your insurer about any structural changes, including removal or installation of cladding, roofing, windows, or doors. Some policies include a small limit for building work, but most renovations require a Contract Works policy.

If your home will be vacant for 60 days or more, telling your insurer beforehand allows them to assess and cover any additional risk during that period.

Cover for incidentals and soaring costs

Most house insurance covers incidental costs separately to the sum insured (to specified limits), for example stolen keys, landscaping, and alternative accommodation if the home is uninhabitable.

Many policies have an in-built benefit, called ‘Demand Surge Protection’. This protects homeowners from soaring costs where there’s an increase in demand for materials and labour after widespread loss from an insured event.

A claim can be settled above the sum insured limit if the home’s replacement cost is higher. At Tower’s discretion, ‘House Plus’ customers can receive up to 10 per cent above their sum insured for natural disaster, flood, storm, and the replacement cost for fire.

The ‘SumExtra’ benefit under Vero’s ‘Maxi House’ policy pays up to 10 per cent above the sum insured towards the replacement cost for natural disasters, or the replacement cost for other causes.

Vero’s benefit is automatic, providing customers use the Cordell Calculator, a qualified valuer (or similar) to check the rebuild estimate of their home every three years (or when the size is increased or improved in quality), and keep a copy for their records.

Brown urges homeowners to regularly review their sum insured to ensure it keeps pace with current building costs and to check their policy, as some benefits are not necessarily automatic.

“Willis Towers Watson works with a panel of insurers, and one of the main considerations is their flexibility around replacement cover – not all insurers have equivalent offerings. We want our clients not to have any nasty surprises.”

Less cover? Smaller house

Your home is your biggest asset, therefore insuring it is a necessity. Sum-insured house insurance requires you to set the cost to rebuild your home. If there’s a shortfall, options include borrowing to bridge the gap or using a cash settlement to rebuild a lower-spec home.

By using your insurer’s calculator (or a registered valuer) to calculate the rebuild cost, retaining a copy and reviewing it regularly, you’ll be in the best position to have your home put back good as new.

Supporting the body through tough times

A story about natural healing versus surgery  

We were on the home stretch to Christmas when my four-year-old insisted I join him for a round of ‘fire balls’ on the trampoline, a game in which we ‘dodge’ the balls until inevitably one touches a leg and is thrown to tag the opponent.

Accidents happen when we least expect.   Bang!  My left foot caught a ball and rolled forward.  Losing my balance, I keeled over to my right, my left leg resembling a zig zag road sign.

Desperately, I clung on to my kneecap for fear it was going to slip off in the same direction as my leg.   A split second later, my partner would’ve slipped out the door but thankfully, I’d caught him mid-way with my cries.

“Call the ambulance”, I yelled, my voice catching and shaking as the shock hit.  I felt desperate for pain relief.  Was my kneecap broken?  I was handed a device that looked like a large whistle (Penthrox).  My ragged breaths were flailing.  “Keep breathing in and out” the paramedic instructed. “It will help ease the pain.”

An examination, X-ray and a few hours of waiting later, I was relieved to hear that my limbs were intact.  Heading back home with a simple crutch, I felt light-hearted, gracious even.  I’d witnessed people worse off than me that Saturday night. Limping out those hospital doors, I appreciated the Doctor’s fair and careful attention to my injury and his leave pass for home.

The next day, the seriousness of my injury dawned.  My poor old ‘puffer fish’ knee was awkward.  Getting in and out of bed and navigating stairs were a hassle.  No more bending or kneeling to help the kids and walking to school was out.  My energetic son was warned each time he made a beeline for me for fear he’d trip!   My hands were, quite literally full, juggling crutches as well as the regular paraphernalia of bags and shoes.   Rice, rice and more rice (rest, ice, compression and elevation) put me out of action for the entire weekend (and frankly, were a great excuse to read on the couch and do nothing)!

Unfortunately, when Monday rolled around, I realised that my motherhood duties persisted.

MCL sprain.  Now what?

An ultrasound confirmed a medium grade sprain of the medial collateral ligament (a support ligament that runs along the inner side of the knee).  Initially cheered by my physiotherapist’s assessment of a ‘grade two’ injury that would take around six weeks to heal, my enthusiasm dampened as weekly progress was zilch.

I was referred to a knee specialist who immediately ordered an MRI scan.  What a revelation!  A large cyst had taken up camp near the ‘suprapatellar fat pad’ and there was extra fluid (oedema) around the bone marrow.   Clearly, my knee needed some extra help.

From the surgeon’s perspective, the recommended option was to put a claim through ACC for key-hole surgery to remove the cyst and fluid, requiring a general anaesthetic and about 10 days’ off work and childcare.   Leave it untreated and I run the risk of calcification with possible osteo-arthritis later in life.  My mind replayed those parting words, spoken with the confidence of many years’ experience.  “It won’t repair itself.”

Jumping from trampoline into surgery…or not

Surgical treatment plays an integral part in healthcare and is often the sole or best option.  Aside from being mainstream and demanding a high level of skill and experience, it’s quick, quantifiable and tested.  What’s more, the public system is free and in my case, private surgical treatment would be covered by ACC.

There’s a big ‘but’ though.  In non-acute cases, is surgical intervention always the best and only solution?  Allowing the body to be put to sleep artificially, to place complete control of our bodily function into the hands of someone else, albeit a highly skilled professional, to me is unsettling.

Like wellness in general, knowledge and popularity of alternative treatments continues to grow.  Although untested to the masses, many practitioners cite miraculous results as to how their methodology has supported the body to heal itself.  The trick is finding the right one!

I’ve decided I have a couple of months left up my sleeve.  Surgery is booked in after the next school holidays.  With a self-imposed deadline set for natural recovery, I now have all the motivation I need to get cracking on my own healing.

Blood, bowen and bentonite clay

In the last month, I’ve set out in some unchartered territory.  It starts with my least favourite sight.  Blood.

My first round of treatments were three sessions of lymphatic drainage.  This is a form of vibration therapy which dramatically increases blood circulation, helping to ‘sweep out’ toxins via the lymphatic system and promote healing.  Sitting in a comfy chair with seat and back pads and a ‘wand’ to direct blood circulation around my knee, I felt the heat of my circulation ‘rev up’, followed by a little itching incited by the healing.   After the treatments, I felt revitalised but still unable to complete one rotation on the bike.

A week and a half later, I tried acupuncture, funded by ACC.  The acupuncturist inserted strategically placed needles from the top of my leg to the bottom, concentrating on the knee area.  With each treatment, he slowly built up to my ‘ouch’ threshold, allowing him to insert the needles slightly deeper each time.  This wasn’t too painful, but the true test was in ‘blood cupping’.

A small cup was placed on different areas of my knee, suction applied and the skin colour assessed.  A good deal of redness indicates the opportunity to remove stagnant blood under the surface.  A small needle pricked my skin multiple times, producing a slight stinging sensation before the cup was re-applied.  A successful cupping ended with dark purplish dots blotting the skin, indicating removal of clotted or ‘old’ blood.  After just one treatment, I was able to perform a complete cycle rotation.  Voila!  As our third session concluded today, we hit the ‘jackpot’, removing thick and stringy blood from the main cyst site, nestled within the fat pad area.

The acupuncturist has healed many sprains with blood cupping.  He assessed a hip imbalance as the root cause of my injury, not the knee.  “I can treat the knee, but if you don’t heal this, he said, pointing to my hip, your knee problem will probably come back.”  The physical demands of motherhood – and possibly running around without any form of postural regime – has left one hip out of kilter.   Hips are so important to defining our physical strength and posture, I wish I’d sought out an Osteopath sooner!

To conclude my course of alternative treatments, I’m talking with a Bowen therapist who has experience in re-balancing the muscles around the hip area, which in turn could benefit the knee and, together with home-based exercises, prevent reoccurrence of the injury.

The bentonite clay?  Bentonite is having a resurgence.  Touted as a healing clay that cleanses the body, I’ve been using it as an evening poultice to draw out the toxins around my knee area prior to having acupuncture.   Making a poultice involves mixing the clay with warm water to form a thick paste, spreading it over the entire knee area and wrapping it in a light bandage dressing.  Leaving the clay on overnight allows it to set and draw out impurities.  One morning, after washing off the hardened clay, I noticed a pocket of liquid had formed at the base of the inside of my knee.  Perhaps the clay had drawn out some of the trapped liquid.

Healing takes time

As a Mum, I’ve heard (and sometimes felt) that many of our daily tasks are thankless.  If our bodies could talk, perhaps they’d say the same.  My injury has highlighted just how much we take our bodies for granted.   Appreciation (and a little patience) can work wonders!

The body wants and tries to return to homeostasis.  I’ve set my mind to healing naturally and I’m encouraged by my progress.  It’s interesting that when commit to an outcome, the supporting evidence takes care of itself!

If I end up sitting all gowned up in that surgery waiting room, I want to take comfort from the fact that my body had the chance to step up.

Having any form of injury or illness is tough.  Each of our bodies is equipped with its own innate intelligence.  Regardless of age, size or appearance, it deserves to be supported and appreciated for the myraid of daily miracles it performs…just as much as we do!





Budgeting.  The best cure for a financial hangover

Christmas…it’s family time wrapped in a bow, the time of year when we’re called to take time out from work and other priorities, crawl out from under our rock and spend time re-connecting.

On the down side, retailer noise is at its peak with pressure to spend within a deadline.  Sales are an ideal way to plan Christmas shopping, but they create temptation to over-spend.

Rather than greeting the New Year with a resurgence of credit card fees that can leave us playing catch up for many months afterwards, now is the ideal time to re-commit…to a budget!

You may remember giving in to momentary temptation and buying something you didn’t need – or really like, only to return home, remove the price tag and gulp.  Instant guilt pang.

In my view, having a realistic budget helps to avoid this.  Like dieting, rather than a sudden crackdown on spending, making small and regular cut-backs is the key to success.   Two cups of coffee a day without sugar potentially saves your body from 700 spoonfuls of sugar over a year. It’s those incremental changes over time that make a difference.

Like me, you may have made cut-backs due to a part-time income as you prepare your kids for school.   Rather than being side-lined by the mantra ‘We can’t afford it’, this year, I knuckled down to prepare a family budget to see where the boundaries lay.  Here are a few of my experiences in setting a budget and how it allowed me to actually enjoy my purchases.

What is a budget?

Put simply, a budget represents all personal income (by week or month).  Offset against this are financial commitments. Firstly, fixed expenses such as mortgage repayments (or rent), other debt repayments and living expenses (e.g. food, phone, electricity, cars, water, rates, insurance, school or private kindy/day-care fees). 

Once fixed expenses are documented, there are variable living expenses (e.g. gifts, kids’ parties, haircuts, repairs & maintenance, doctor, dentist, clothing, kids’ hobbies). 

A realistic budget may also include money for entertainment, weekly take-aways, self-cares, donations and, for the handyman at home, a ‘general’ category for those ad-hoc jobs that require an urgent trip to Bunnings!

Why have a budget?

A budget a picture of financial incomings and outgoings.  Having this information in current, summarised form is the roadmap for retirement planning.

Our budget tells me how much is left over after meeting our family’s fixed expenses.  It’s helped me to plan the kids’ hobbies each term, weigh up the day-care versus Kindy decision, even manage the kids’ expectations around birthday parties at Butterfly Creek and Rainbows End!

Having taken heed of it, the budget has rewarded me with robust justification of the odd shopping spree!  Avoiding the label of ‘Miss Frugal’, I’ve been guilty of ‘frittering $20 here and there, only to realise that these extra purchases mounted to a considerable annual sum.  Setting the limits in black and white has required me to think carefully and plan what I buy.  Living (mostly) within rations makes me feel more noble than having a Mastercard Gold!

Make your budget work for you

Following are a few of my own financial faux pas that I have learnt from.

  1. A budget isn’t an automatic ‘license to spend’, but permission to spend up to the prescribed amount (this concept has taken me a while to grasp)! For example, we have a weekly budget for ‘Kids entertainment’, however if I spend all of it during term time, it leaves no wriggle room for over-spending with both kids at home during the school holidays.
  2. It’s tempting to ‘tick up’ personal spending, e.g. a flurry of spending on clothes one month to take advantage of a ‘flash sale’. This makes it difficult to keep the discipline of spending nothing for the duration over-committed time-period, risking derailing the budget.
  3. Revise and revise. Costs and income change, so make a habit of reviewing the budget regularly to keep it realistic.
  4. Keep a log book handy (bag or car). It’s easy to forget purchases made earlier in the month.  Short of going onto internet banking and wading through records, a simple option is to keep a written log book of discretionary purchases (e.g. clothing) with dates and amounts for easy reference.
  5. Every few months, compare the bank balance month-on-month (the day pay/s go through). Investigate over-spending. Was there a ‘big month’ with disproportionate fixed expenses, e.g. a quarterly rates instalment or annual insurance premium?  Trawl internet banking and do a rough tally of spending against the budget categories.  Areas to look for might include top-up grocery shops, impromptu treats for the kids or visits to The Warehouse!
  6. As a budget provides a savings forecast, it’s useful to create a loose plan of where you’ll land at retirement age. Are you on-track to having repaid the mortgage (considering the mortgage term)? What might your savings be? Do you need to save more and where could you cut back today? Although the facts are bound to change, it’s a good grounding exercise to keep one eye on the end goal.

Mindful spending

Having a budget is one thing, sticking to it is quite another.  When writing a budget, I think it’s important to start with a clear picture of why you’re budgeting.  Yes, perhaps the biggest hurdle of all is deciding what you really want!  A first home, dream or beach home, renovation, a car or simply to enjoy an early retirement.  The more personal and tailored the goals, the easier it feels to forgo things now, e.g. a savings goal might be to run the New York marathon within the decade.  Although an earlier retirement would be nice, it may not be enough to curb spending for instant gratification!

Spending money is a rush!  Although by saving, you’re forgoing some things now, your goal needs to be strong enough so that although you said no to buying ‘x’, the amount you’ve saved brings you that much closer to your goal.

Regularly reconnecting yourself to what’s important to you will help you to live within your budget, remembering that little and often is more achievable than large cut-backs.

Let’s raise a toast to great financial (and physical) health.  With a budget to set spending boundaries and the big picture, small changes made little and often and will enable you to enjoy bigger rewards in future.

Merry Christmas and may 2018 land you in great shape.

Bad hair day hacks

If there’s one thing that fosters frustration in little (as well as big) people, it’s hair.   Despite my experience in wrestling with my own big mop, I’m still learning how to keep my cool around hair that won’t do as its told.

As the eldest, I remember taking charge of my sister’s hair out back of a Pennylane’s bake shop while our parents toiled away making sandwiches.  Long, blonde and straight, my sister had pin-up hair, but alas she was also allergic to it!  I couldn’t have imagined that 30-odd years later, I’d be staring accusingly at almost identical hair with an equally fussy young customer.

My primary schooler hates ridges (“hitch-hikers”) and the shorties that fall out at the sides.

“Put the clip in.”  I snap out of my reverie, placing said hair-clip into fringe carefully to avoid escapees.

“Not like that.  Like the other one.  Mummy, what are you doing?  Put it higher and join the other hair together.”

One is fine, twice, I’ll grit my teeth.  Three strikes and put nicely, my reaction might be “Mummy can’t do magic all the time.”  But instead of pulling out a smart remark, I need to smartly divert this plane if we want to leave the house on time.

Having suffered a few bad hair day hold-ups in my time, following are a few of the hair hacks we use at home.

  1. Declare it a ‘bad hair day’. You know those stretchy fabric headbands that tie (or twist over) at the top? They’re our greatest ally. We found them at the chemist and stores such as H&M.  After trying several times to do that perfectly neat high ponytail, gently brushing to avoid screams of pain, I suggest we resort to the ‘bad hair day headband’ to cover all those sneaky fly-aways.  It’s quite funny (luckily).
  2. Give it a spritz. Refilling a trigger hair spray bottle with water and (gingerly) spritzing the hair line area can work wonders to tame those unruly, soft baby hairs.  We use it to brush all the hair away from the face before working out those snags.
  3. Hide the bad bits. Got knots that refuse to come out today, either of their own volition or their owner’s?  When time is short, we’ve found that a simple plait or high bun covers them up beautifully.  Outta here!
  4. Pink sticker it. OK, so there are days that Mum has to do it, because even though she’s told she’s no good at hair, she’s probably the best option!  But if we’re feeling independent and on top of things, we can earn a sticker by doing it all by ourselves.  When said number of stickers equals a reward, it may just be worth relinquishing the struggle!

 Aside from saving my sanity while expediting school drop-off, by training my young one into some good hair day habits, I may just have time to tackle my own hair.

Although I often resort to scraping it back into a practical ‘Mum’s ponytail’, a few minutes to spare and I can slap on a coloured headband or master that cool braid, messy bun or half ‘up-do’ from Pinterest!   Nothing says it better for a Mum than done, but not over-done!

I suppose I can’t quibble about the pursuit of perfect hair.  For little – and big – people, having good hair gets everything else off to a good start.

Here’s to hair (and everyone else) doing as they’re told!





Making Mum time

As a stay-at-home (OK, a ‘working from home’) Mum three days’ a week, forgive me if I can feel a little badgered into playing.

Sometimes I love it and am happy to bear the brunt of a four-year-old’s pent up energy.  Other times?  I just want to be left alone for 20 minutes.  Maybe an hour.  Take my time hanging out the washing, give the house a hoovering, snatch a look at Facebook or hover around the laptop catching up on news and checking out clothes I’d love to buy because there’s a 30% off sale.

“Mum, can you bounce on the trampoline with me?”

“OK, I’ll just finish emptying the dishwasher, then I’ll do it”, I reply.  I’m feeling watched!

Having gone through periods where I could quite happily stack up little jobs and engross myself in hours of distracted ‘busyness’, recently I made up a little rhyme that I think epitomises fitting in  each other’s needs.  After all, we want to play with our children, we know it’s good for them but it’s a mental grind doing stuff that a pre-schooler wants to do.  All day.

And so the rhyme goes:

A piece of pie for me and you.  I take one bite, you take two.  When it’s your turn, I shine the light bright.  When it’s mine, I do too.

Still with me?  I swear I’ve caught myself reciting this in my head.  I snap out of distraction mode to catch the end of a very important sentence! If I’m being shown something, that’s one strike and you’re out material!

While I could be accused of letting my child dictate the play time a bit too much, I now take my own needs fully into account and fit them in.  When it’s his time, I’m 100% in.

Remembering this little phrase helps to prevent those half-hearted moments when I reluctantly join in, only to be distracted a few minutes later, flitting to the next thing on my to-do list (it can grow exponentially)!  When the light’s on him, I try to just be and play.  Willingly, and is often the case, physically as-well as mentally!

I know its a chunk of time well spent and I can be in charge of when it starts and ends, setting expectations at the start and discussing what happens next.  Perhaps the Lego or felts and paper, a puzzle, a library book about dragons or, dare I say it and if all else fails, an hour’s TV or tablet time.

We each have our own ideas and strategies, this is one of mine.

If you’re clear of nappies, you’re probably an expert at this already.  But if like me, you find yourself leaving a room of grumpy kids with a trail of excuses to delay the inevitable, why not humor yourself with a similar strategy, set them up with a full tank then take that lunch break guilt-free!  You deserve it.