Living simply this Christmas by Jess

Last year Australian’s spent 43 billion on Christmas. This included 17 billion on food and 2.4 billion in tax-deductible giving.

“If Australians gave even just one dollar out of every hundred spent this
Christmas to someone living in poverty that would raise $400 million.”
– TEAR Australia

I actually love Christmas and buying presents for people, but because of a tight budget and broader global perspective, we are trying to approach Christmas simply. Christmas doesn’t have to be ridiculously excessive or too commercial, it can be wonderfully simple.

simple-christmas-mess

This year our Christmas present list is very small, consisting of Amy, her cousins, our neighbour, a donation to the UN and getting on board with the Random Acts of Christmas initiative. When thinking about what type of presents to buy for Amy’s older cousins, I didn’t want to get them another thing. They already have so much and in recent years, we have tried to give people experiences and memories over things.

With this in mind, Amy’s 6 and 4 year-old cousins will be getting a cooking experience to share with their mum (inspired by this list of non-toy gifts.) In cahoots with my brother and his fiancé, we have put together the ingredience for some chocolate chip cookies along with some accessories they can use again. Simplifying life doesn’t mean boring, it means being creative in the small things as well as the big. What’s one thing you can do this Christmas to simplify?

The recipe we’re using is from the Sweetest Menu, because I know the author and have experienced how yummy these cookies are.

“Live simply so others can simply live.”
– Mahatma Gandhi

Love Jess xxoo

PS – If you know Amy’s older cousins, don’t tell them what their present is… haha.

Travelling overseas with a toddler (Part 2) by Jess

A lot of parents and hopeful parents ask how Amy went on our travels, because man, did we do a lot of travel. I thought I’d follow-up on a post I did back in February and share some thoughts and encouragements.

Trip Disclaimer: let’s be clear, our trip wasn’t a two-week holiday. It lasted seven months, crossed five countries and included many, many flights and lots of accommodation changes. We certainly learned a lot early on, although we are far from experts. Hopefully someone finds this useful.

1. You can do it too. Don’t let anyone tell you that there is no travel after kids. Admittedly, we were only travelling with one so the adults were in the majority, but if anyone asks me, I say DO IT! P1020790P1030099 P1040349 P1040878P1050532AAA - P1060649 2. You need to change your expectations. When Tim and I travelled to the US the first time, we arrived in New York after 31 hours of travel, dumped our bags and walked back out the door at 1am. Haha, oh that makes me laugh now that we have Amy. The reality is that with a two-year old who has day-time sleeps, you just can’t do as much. You have to think about your days a lot more and allow for down time. Yes, you will see amazing things, but instead of seeing that war museum or Broadway show, you’re more likely to go to the zoo or play in a park. AAA - P1050913P1060043 3. Children open and close doors. This relates to number two, but in a slightly different way. Obviously, travelling with a little one means that there are restaurants you can’t go to and tourist attractions you won’t see. However, travelling with Amy gave us amazing opportunities to connect with people we never would have. Because of her blonde hair and blue eyes, I don’t remember a day when we didn’t have a stranger come up to say hi or take a photo. We did have complete strangers touch her all the time and on a few occasions pick her up. Sometimes I was ok with it and sometimes I really wasn’t, as was Amy. Follow your instincts and don’t feel bad about being that paranoid westerner. Honestly though, having children allows you to connect with a culture on a different level. For us, people were so helpful and Amy received countless gifts we couldn’t fit into our suitcases. AAA - IMAG2620P1060301 4. Prepare well. Always have snack food. Always have some little toys. Always have stickers. Always have crayons. Take an iPad mini. However, being prepared also means being flexible. Be prepared to change your plans as you figure out the limitations of your family and your kids. If you don’t know what these are already, don’t worry, you’ll quickly learn. P1060199 Preparing for overseas travel also involves purchasing travel insurance. While in Thailand (the first time) Amy had two febrile convulsions and spent a night in hospital with Influenza A. Our travel insurance provider (Travel Insurance Direct) was wonderful and we didn’t have any major stresses. Don’t skimp on this one. I actually read the full terms and conditions (around 80 pages!) of three insurance providers before we made our choice. Most of the top providers have similar cover, so it really is much of a muchness. In hindsight I wish I had paid for no hospital excess, because we were there for four separate admissions, but hey what can you do.

IMAG2261 Lastly, make sure you have the proper travelling equipment (see here for some tips). The only change I would have made was to get a portacot with a zip top. While in one Brazilian city we had to cover ourselves in mosquito repellant all the time, I’m not kidding… every second of every day. Unfortunately Amy often woke up in the morning looking like she had chicken pox on her face. Poor sweetheart.

5. You’ll both need a break at times. It can feel risky travelling overseas with kids. We’ve all heard the horror stories of children going missing or being taken on holidays. With this in mind, you are constantly on guard and always in physical contact with your little one. As wonderful as this time is together, if you’re travelling for a while like us, sometimes you just need alone time. Tim went and saw a few movies by himself at night and I think I managed to get one or two massages. It’s not much, but taking the small opportunities when you can help greatly in the long run. AAA - IMG_20141002_105626 6. Don’t stay anywhere for less than two nights. For us, we tried no less than three. It’s just not worth it and you won’t get to see much. Very early in our trip we left San Francisco and drove down to Santa Cruz to spend one night there. By the time we arrived and went for a little walk, it was time for Amy’s bed, which meant we were accommodation bound. The next morning we packed up all our things and had to move on. We didn’t really get to experience Santa Cruz at all. After this experience we would allow about half a day to pack for each transition. AAA - P1050226 7. Other tips.

  • Take hard copy photos of those nearest and dearest to you. Try going through the photos at least once a week. It will help your little one remember faces and names.
  • Get/buy Whatsapp or a similar data messaging app. It’s an easy way to stay connected with family and friends back home as wi-fi is often available in most accommodations and cafes.
  • For long flights, sit at the back of the plane. If your little one goes crazy, at least you don’t have to walk through a plane full of people and wake them up.
  • Before a transition make sure you have a supply of essentials; nappies, wipes and snacks. You never know what you’ll have access to when you first arrive.
  • Once again, always have stickers! 🙂

AAA - P1030335  8. You can do it. Seriously, we are not the first parents to drag our almost two-year-old half-way around the world and we won’t be the last. The time we spent together was priceless and something we will never forget, so we say go for it! Get out there and explore the world with your toddler. If you’re sensitive to them and know how they’re coping you’ll be fine. You can do it and you should. AAA - 10460679_10153100064613065_2052060467692166776_n Love Jess xxoo

A story I haven’t told by Jess

I tell you this story now, because it directly relates to the current situation we’re in and to be honest, it’s a bit of a reminder for me.

When we were in Chiang Rai, Thailand we had four days before our plans again ran out. Roughly the same amount of days we also had left on our Thai visas. We decided to make our way to Vietnam so we bought flights and found accommodation quickly. This left us with $900 in the bank account! Now that might sound like a lot and to me it is, but $900 was only enough money to get one of us back to Australia and nothing more. We knew we had some money coming in from tax returns and an insurance medical bill but we didn’t know when.

I remember we were not stressed out. Sure we had moments when those little doubts started to come in, but I guess in the end we knew God (and our families) wouldn’t leave us high and dry. We almost laughed with anticipation about what God was going to do.

Within the first two days of arriving in Vietnam we ended up with $14K in the bank account. That’s right $14,000. We got insurance claims, tax returns, child government payments, a large sum from a family member and the few friends supporting us all sent funds without knowing our situation. We were totally blown away! From $900 to $14K… crazy stuff! We were amazed and in awe of God’s extravagant provision and knew that there was a reason.

This leads us to today, right at this moment as I sit at my kitchen bench typing these words. We ended up putting most of the money into our bills account to cover the loan and other monthly bills. Now that we are home and both unemployed, that money is what we are living off and the reason we could restock our pantry when we moved back into our house. It gives us a grace period while we pray the right jobs come along.

I must confess, I am finding it harder to not freak out now that we’re in Australia. I think it’s because when you’re overseas, you have nothing but God to back you up, but when you’re in your own culture, you have skills and experience that you can and should use. For some reason, I feel more responsible and like God will leave me on my own. I believe in using what you’ve been given and not just waiting for things to fall from the sky. As always it’s another lesson in trust and faith for me. I’m sure that many of you will be nodding your heads and thinking “Haha, been there”, so you understand what it’s like.

I have seen God do amazing things, not just in our seven months overseas, but throughout my whole life. I need to remember all of that when those feelings of fear begin to creep in. Seriously, $900 to $14,000 in two days.

Love Jess xxoo