2014 – A year to grow

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In an ideal world I would have gotten my new year goals post up here before the end of 2013, but that’s not just how my world works. 2013 was a bit of a crazy year and it continued right up until the end of the year with work deadlines, visitors, illness and general life stuff. Anyway I wanted to take a few days to really think over what I want to focus on this year and what worked and didn’t work last year.

Looking back on last year’s goal post I see there is a fair amount of stuff I didn’t achieve (cooking? ahem!) but also some significant things that i did. This year has been a great year workwise and I achieved my goal of making 20jt a month pretty consistently since April. My Indonesian has also come along a lot despite not doing all the podcasts and learning 5 words a day that I was going to (I  did this for a while and then got caught up in other stuff). I speak Indonesian with Made nearly all the time now, which is the important thing. I still want to improve my fluency but I’m getting there slowly.

My theme for 2013 was balance and this year I mulled over a few different words to focus on but decided on grow. I almost feel like we’ve been stuck for the last few years – not making enough money, just scraping by, constrained by having to focus all my time and energy on two small children. We moved to a new house at the end of 2013 and i feel like that was the start of many great things. I want to grow my business, grow our income, grow my relationship with my children and husband, grow my independence and confidence, even grow my blog! The foundation is complete and now it’s time to blossom.

I also want to focus more on myself this year – it’s the first time in nearly 4 years that I won’t be pregnant or have a baby to look after. Maya is so grown up now and I’m really seeing the light at the end of the tunnel (we can sit in a restaurant with her without her causing chaos!). She’ll be starting nursery soon too. Kiran will be mired in the terrible twos for a while yet but he’s not as attached to me as he was – I can leave him with someone else for a full day no problem. The next step is to finally finish breastfeeding and maybe attempt a night away from them both.

My health suffered in 2013 and while it was mostly bad luck I’m sure focusing too much on work and the children rather than myself had a lot to do with it too. I had dengue fever, bronchitis, flu and a whole load of other coughs, colds and stomach upsets. I’m already working on improving my health (taking vitamins, drinking more water, cooking healthier meals etc) and getting more exercise and more “me time” are going to be priorities too. It’s helped a lot moving – before I never really had any time alone and as an introvert it’s something I really need to recharge my batteries. now Made takes the kids and I’m alone in the house for a whole glorious afternoon! I’ve mostly been using this time to work but I want to take more time for just doing stuff for me like reading a book, having a bath and going for a walk. I can also now walk into Ubud through the rice fields which is amazing and opens up a whole new world for me.

So those are the overarching themes. I want to focus mainly on health and wealth and grow in both of these areas. I also want to work on my parenting skills (as i try to do continuously), be more patient and focus on creating happy memories with my children as they are growing up so fast. As for specifics, I saw a nice idea here – 14 things for 2014. So here are my 14 with no commentary on how achievable or not they may be:

  1. Make $5,000 a month consistently
  2. Make at least half my income from my own businesses (not client work)
  3. Pay off my “small” debt (which is not that small but separate from my “big” debt of student loans and bank of mum and dad mortgages)
  4. Launch 2 new websites
  5. Write an e-book
  6. Learn to drive a motorbike
  7. Create a beautiful learning/playing space in our home
  8. Cook 12 new meals (one a month and hopefully more!)
  9. Have 12  family fun days out (and hopefully more)
  10. Make 12 videos of the kids and our life (a la documenting delight)
  11. Go on 12 date nights with my husband (carrying this one over from last year – we managed a few!)
  12. Visit family and friends in the UK
  13. Fill a sketchbook with drawings
  14. Get up early and develop a morning routine

That’s all! Better get on with it :)

p.s. I’m also thinking about a new design for this place. What do you think?

Linking up with ohdeardrea and lots of other lovely ladies here :)

It’s about the journey

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Recently I started reading the blog of author, Jeff Goins, which is full of really insightful posts and great writing. I also signed up for his mailing list to receive little tidbits of weekly thoughts and inspiration. The email that came through last week was titled “10 Reasons to Enjoy the Journey” and coincidentally was exactly what I’d been thinking about that week.

On my Japan post where i talked about how one trip to Japan had sparked a whole chain of new opportunities and experiences, my friend commented how different my life would have been if I was still in the uk. It’s true, things would be totally different – i wouldn’t have met my husband, i wouldn’t be living in Bali, i wouldn’t have had children, or at least not these particular children. Or maybe the universe would have conspired to have the same ending with a different journey, who knows?

Each choice we make affects our lives and for all i know there are trillions of alternate universes out there where other versions of me are carrying out completely different lives.

For example, when I first set out to travel, New Zealand was my end destination. I’d researched a lot of places and decided that nz was where i wanted to be for a year or so at least – the plan was to scratch my travel itch by backpacking through Asia for several months and then travel through nz and try to find some kind of work. I’d already lined up a work visa and spent weeks researching job opportunities, looking for travel insurance nz and asking questions in working holiday forums.

Well as you know i never got to New Zealand, but that’s not really the point. Maybe another version of me is living in an alternate nz, maybe another one worked there for 6 months and went back to the uk. The fact that I never got there at all doesn’t matter because life is all about the journey.

The experiences i had when i was travelling shaped me as a person and changed my attitude and my outlook on life. Maybe i could have flown straight to Bali and arrived on the same date but i very much doubt that my life would have turned out the same.

i decided a long time ago to try really hard never to regret anything. Even when we make mistakes, they affect our lives in ways we don’t know. Maybe if we hadn’t made that mistake, our lives would be very different and not necessarily for the better.

To give you an example, on the day I met Made he was supposed to be in Singapore. His boss had bought him a ticket and he was all ready to fly out but when he got to the airport he realised his passport was expired and he wasn’t able to travel. Balinese wages are low so the opportunity of having an overseas trip is a pretty huge thing. Imagine how you’d feel if you missed out on that? So cursing himself for being so stupid, he returned to Ubud and met me. Ha! Maybe he would have preferred the trip to Singapore :p

Our whole lives are just millions of coincidences and choices all strung together. In life we shouldn’t be hurtling forward to the destination. what is the ultimate destination? Death? It’s not about where we’re going as we don’t even know for sure. Rather it’s about what we’re doing in the here and now.

I’ve not read it yet (it’s on my list for next month) but Jeff Goins latest book is all about this. I’m intrigued to see what else he has to say. What do you think?

A Life-Changing Trip to Japan

P1000569 P1000617 P1000571 IMG_8045 P1000188 P1000408 japan-235 japan-265 IMG_9814 japan-67.jpg IMG_8198 japan-322 IMG_9805 IMG_9748 DSCF1162I’ve been meaning to include Japan in my wanderlust series for quite some time but I’ve travelled so much there and have so many photos, I’d have to split it up into several cities. Japan is the first place where the travel bug really hit me and was a trip of a lifetime for more reasons than you may think.

My first real job out of university was working as web manager for a high school. As well as developing and redesigning their website, they had grand ideas for creating some kind of online learning curriculum and wanted me to develop educational games and materials for that. Sounds great right? Well I thought so too and I was thrilled when i got the job, beating around another 10 people at interview.

The reality, unfortunately, was quite different. This was a troubled school, put in ‘special measures’ by the government and it didn’t take long to see why. The kids were out of control and the staff were not much better. As with any school, there were some great kids and some excellent teachers but the majority won out to create an atmosphere of depression and chaos.

I started with great enthusiasm but this soon dissipated when i realised nobody was interested in what i was doing. The atmosphere was toxic and I hated being there. I used to wake up feeling physically sick at the idea of turning up to work another day. One day I had a brick thrown through my office window.

Things improved slightly when I moved to share offices with the IT and science staff – there at least I had people to talk to and we could complain together about how bad things were and how much we wanted to escape. I tried applying for other jobs but had no luck – I think my confidence and state of mind were so affected, I had resigned myself to my fate.

One day I decided enough was enough – I had to get out before this place dragged me down with it. I marked a date on my calendar for leaving, with or without a new job, circled  it in bright red pen and booked plane tickets for a 3-week holiday in Japan with my boyfriend at the time.

Those of you who have only known me for a few years won’t know that I used to have quite an obsession with Japan. I loved everything about it – the language, the culture, art, food, cherry blossoms. I’d been studying Japanese language for a while and dreaming of the day I could walk around Tokyo, hearing it in reality.

Well dreams are just dreams until we do something about them and booking that ticket was an important lesson for me. I know now that we attract good things into our lives by putting positive thoughts out there and following our hearts.

Japan was every bit as amazing as I thought it would be. We arrived in the midst of cherry blossom season and the little pink flowers fluttered around us as we explored the streets of Tokyo and Kyoto. We walked up the steps of ancient mountainside temples, soaked in the lights and sound of Shibuya, took photos of the cosplayers in Harajuku, walked through bamboo forests and sped all over the country by bullet train.

We packed as much as we possibly could into those three weeks and every single day was like a dream come true. Of all the places I’ve been and all the things I’ve seen, that first trip to Japan is still one of my most memorable and best travel experiences.

Just to top things off, I came home to a new job, working with a group of amazing and creative people who became some of my best friends. I worked in this job for several years before I decided it was time for another change and set off on my travels again (this time on the trip that would culminate in me ending up in Bali). I am 100% convinced that if i hadn’t just set a date and bought those plane tickets, I would have never escaped from that awful job and been open to the other opportunities that are out there.

Travel really can change lives and I urge everyone to take that trip of a lifetime before the years slip away. Don’t waste any more of your precious life in a dead end job or with people that make you miserable. Buy that plane ticket. Plan that trip. Just go!

This article has been written to recognise the author´s contribution to travel and tourism by Avis Car Hire (http://www.avis.co.uk/) on the A-List Awards 2013

Blood, babies and the realities of expat healthcare in Bali

IMG_1256A newborn Kiran, already angry – he screamed non-stop for an hour after being born.

Bear with me on the gory title, I’m going somewhere with this.

I was inspired to write this by a campaign that was going around on my Facebook news feed yesterday about a Russian woman living in Bali who had lost her unborn baby during her last month of pregnancy due to complications and was now in Sanglah hospital in a coma, fighting for her life. The campaign was to try and find as many people as possible to give B+ blood to increase her chances of survival. I just checked in on the story now to find that she has sadly died, leaving her husband and 4-year-old daughter. So utterly tragic.

Would she have lived if she was in a different country, perhaps with a readily available blood bank? Impossible to say but this problem comes up time and time again. Bali does simply not have enough blood and if, god forbid, you ever get into a serious accident or have a life-threatening illness that requires a blood transfusion, there is a good chance you will need people to donate “on demand”.

And people do get into accidents – motorbike accidents usually. Then childbirth is another big risk. I hemorrhaged after having Kiran, luckily not badly enough to need donated blood but it’s definitely something to consider in advance if you’re planning to have a baby here. I’m in the lucky position of having AB+ blood which means I can receive donations from any other blood type, but others are not so fortunate.

Pregnant women with a rhesus negative blood type are particularly at risk as it is in critically short supply in Bali. While around 15% of Caucasians have rhesus negative blood, only 1% of Asians do. The problem is a real one and I’ve heard of women shipping in blood from Singapore in preparation for labour, in case of complications.

The Red Cross maintains a register of rhesus negative donors in Bali and if you plan to live here for any significant length of time, I would urge you to make sure you know your blood type and add yourself to the register so you can be contacted when a supply is needed. My ‘lucky’ AB blood is almost useless as it can only be donated to other AB types.

From time to time incidents like the poor Russian girl come up and I do think about those of us who have chosen to live in countries less developed than the ones we come from and the risks we are taking. Bali’s medical care is improving but is still way behind the likes of Malaysia and Singapore and expats with serious conditions are usually flown out of the country.

It never really occurred to me to go back to the UK or go anywhere else to give birth – there are some good hospitals here, with well-trained doctors (although maybe a little on the laid back side – read Erica’s account of the differences between Jakarta and Singapore). They just don’t always have the resources that other countries do when things go wrong. As expats we’re often spoiled with hospitals that look like 5-star hotels with service to match. It’s easy to forget that most of the rest of the country don’t have access to these facilities – the maternal mortality rate in Indonesia is one of the highest in Southeast Asia.

If you’re interested in donating Rh-negative blood while you’re travelling in Bali, you can contact the Red Cross or Kim Patra. If you’d like to donate to a cause to improve healthcare access to pregnant women in Indonesia, Bumi Sehat is a wonderful organisation.

Do You Believe in the Law of Attraction?

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I was inspired to write this post by a couple of things. Firstly one of my friends wrote on Facebook how inspired she was after watching The Secret. If you haven’t heard of The Secret, it’s a bestselling book and movie about the law of attraction. What is the law of attraction? Well basically the premise is that if you ask the universe, it will provide. Or in other words, if you believe strongly enough that you will be a successful person with lots of money, a big house and a great relationship then you will get all those things.

So anyway what was weird about her posting this is that I’d literally just read The Secret the day before. This is not a new book, it was published (and the film was made) in 2006 so it’s kind of a weird coincidence that we both watched/read it at exactly the same time 7 years later. I’m not sure exactly why I decided to read it, I was put off when it was on all the best seller lists because I tend to run a mile from anything over-hyped.

In my opinion, the main problem with The Secret is that it is over-dramatised, it over-promises (both great things for best-seller status!) but it’s light on the actual practical application of the law of attraction.

Now the premise that you can wish for a million dollars (or whatever) and it will just end up in your lap may sound like hippy mumbo jumbo and it is really. The idea that you can wish something and have it happen without any work on your part is rather dangerous. Before I read the secret, I read a few other books along similar lines but they are much more practical in their advice. positive thinking is all very well and good but you also need to be willing to take action towards achieving the things that you want.

For example this one goes into the science and psychology of positive thinking and visualisation and why they are so powerful. When you start to think about this, the law of attraction really starts to make sense – if you see yourself as a successful person and look for good things to happen in your life then you open yourself up to new opportunities and see possibilities that your eyes may have been closed to otherwise.

Visualisation has also been scientifically proven as an effective way to achieve success in many aspects of life – from achieving gold medals in the olympics to birthing a baby without pain. This is another reason why it’s so important to set specific goals when you want to lose weight, save money or whatever as it’s practically impossible to succeed without being very clear with yourself about exactly what you want.

Doesn’t sound quite so improbable when you start thinking about it in these terms right?

The thing about the law of attraction is that it also works in the opposite direction so that if you constantly think bad thoughts then you will bring bad things to you – people who constantly complain about being ill will always be ill, people who think and stress about their debt will only end up in more debt.

So the second incident that made me write this post was a nice little example of this negative effect of the law of attraction. Made has got it into his head that I attract bad luck. This started when we had a very old, unreliable car that was constantly breaking down. For some reason, if he went out in the car on his own it would be fine but then when we went out together it would break down. Now as far as I’m concerned, this was coincidence, but the seed was planted in his mind and now he swears whenever he brings me out with him, we have some kind of bad luck. When we went out for lunch today, the road was closed, causing us to make a lengthy diversion. Made immediately started harping on about how this only happens when i’m in the car and if he’d been on his own, he was sure the road wouldn’t be closed! 5 minutes down the road, what happens? The car splutters to a halt – out of petrol. Now was this just coincidence? Do I really attract bad luck? Or is Made creating bad luck by being convinced that we’re going to be victims of it?

The other thing that I find interesting about the guidelines for inviting good things into your life is that they’re basically the same as prayer – ask the universe for the things that you want and express gratitude for the things you already have. I am not a very religious person (much to the consternation of my very religious husband) but I do find the parallels fascinating. Not being familiar with the methods of prayer when I first met Made, i quizzed him about it and the best way he could describe it was a form of meditation.

Now meditation is another fascinating subject. In fact several studies have shown that meditation literally changes our brains and it’s becoming rather the in thing for entrepreneurs and creatives to use it as a tool for becoming happier, less stressed and better at what they do, eventually leading to more success in every aspect of their lives. See the link?

So I’d be really interested to hear what everyone else thinks about this. Do you believe that you can manifest your ideal existence? Or are you of the opinion that it’s complete bullshit? Opinions please!

 

A Woman’s Work

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Mother’s day in the UK is the fourth Sunday but in Indonesia it’s the 22nd of December, conflicting nicely with Christmas (not that Christmas is celebrated in Indonesia but I’m not about to give it up any time soon). In the UK, the traditional celebration is to be brought breakfast in bed by your kids along with some kind of macaroni art or painted pebble or some other kind of handcrafted goodness. Here, things are rather different.

Mother’s day in Bali, like most special days, means more work for all the women. While it’s a day to celebrate and honour mothers, they don’t get a day off. On the contrary, the events planned usually require a few weeks of preparation.

In every village in Bali there is a banjar. This is an organisation that you could think of as the village council – all important events are discussed here and preparations made for important ceremonies, weddings, funerals and the like. A couple become members of the banjar after they are married and are expected to attend meetings and be involved in the community by joining in with communal cooking and cleaning and ceremony preparation.

Being a non-Balinese speaking bule and pregnant or looking after a small baby for most of the time since our wedding, I have so far avoided most involvement in the banjar, but last mother’s day, a few days before Christmas, I went along for the annual celebrations. Every year for mother’s day in our village, a fun walk is organised. Now getting up at 5am to trek miles through the rice fields rather than being served breakfast in bed is not really my idea of fun but this is all part of being a woman in Bali.

After the walk, the women congregate in the bale banjar (like a community hall) to exchange gifts. These are all very small gifts with the emphasis being very much on “it’s the thought that counts”, or not in some cases…. I received a pair of big pink nylon knickers. Made’s aunt got a packet of noodles. The woman next to me unwrapped a box of mineral water. The previous year, Made’s mother was most unimpressed with her mystery gift that turned out to be sanitary towels.

Anyway, opening the gifts does provide a few laughs and these women aren’t going to get any presents from their husbands or children so they have to rely on each other – it’s really a tough life being a woman in Bali.

Gender bias isn’t as bad here as it is in some other countries like China or India – children are treasured whether they happen to be a boy or a girl – but still, boys are favoured to a huge degree. In Balinese culture the boys stay with the family, taking care of their parents as they grow old. Here, children are your retirement fund. When a woman gets married, she goes to live with her husbands family and becomes a part of his family. Because of this, girls are not given any inheritance and in some cases are given less education because they are not considered part of their parent’s family any more once they are married.

Women here are tough and they work hard. They get up before dawn, sweep the compound, go to the market, cook for the family and make the offerings and then they go off to work. Many cultures have traditional gender roles that involve the woman staying at home to look after the children while the man goes to work but here women are often expected to be the main breadwinner too. It’s pretty common for young women to hand over their babies to their mother in law’s care when they are a few months old so they can go back to work. After returning from work, there’s no rest – only more cooking, more caring for children, more making offerings and more community commitments.

And what do the men do while the women are busy taking care of their families and earning money? Well in many cases, not a lot. You’ll see men sitting around, drinking, playing cards and stroking their cocks. Bali is definitely a man’s world.

A  year or two ago in preparation for some kind of village competition, every house was asked to display a sign listing all the duties of a good wife. This involved taking care of the home, taking care of the family, taking part in the community, working to make money. As you’ve probably guessed, there was no alternative list for the man of the family.

I was fairly shocked when I first came here to see that women do most of the heavy lifting and carrying on building sites. Whenever there’s a building project going on, you’ll see women carrying huge piles of bricks on their heads.

Women are expected to look after their husbands and take care of guests, whatever else they may be doing. Made often bemoans the fact that i don’t get up before him and bring him tea and cake, despite the fact that he never actually drinks it when I do make him tea. Of course my response to Made saying “make me tea” during the first months of our relationship (please isn’t really a common word in the Indonesian language) was “you’ve got hands, make your own damn tea!” I’m actually lucky to have married into a fairly progressive family – Made and his father both cook, clean and do other things that many men don’t. But I’m still expected to drop everything and make coffee for everyone like a dutiful housewife if Made’s friends turn up at the house – it’s just not the done thing for the man to make the coffee and we must keep up appearances…

I do think (and hope) things are slowly changing in Bali. Now women work and spend a lot of time away from home they’re exposed to more ideas and opinons. Bali is definitely becoming more westernized, particularly in the tourist areas and I don’t think that’s always a bad thing. It’s becoming less of a rarity to divorce which means more women can escape abusive relationships with less worry about being completely ostracized from society (however the husband retains custody of the children in 90% of cases).

There’s no doubt about it, it’s hard work being a woman in Bali…

I nearly have a 3-year-old. Plus Bali is trying to kill me and other stuff…

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hello blog. Long time, no see. I thought I’d do a bit of a random catch-up post now that I’m actually able to sit at my computer and type without feeling like my brain is dripping through my ears. So you know that time I had dengue and was horribly ill? Well that was followed by a further TWO illnesses, the second of which I’m only just recovering from now and actually felt worse than the dengue.

I have no idea why I’ve been so unlucky to be ill so many times in such a short space of time and with 2 hospital visits (I never actually went to the hospital with the actual life threatening one). I hate doctors and hate hospitals and generally avoid them at all costs but I’ve been feeling SO ill, I finally dragged myself there as I couldn’t take another night of crazy fever-induced dreams and my poor kids were getting tired of having an invalid mother. The doctors did the usual indo thing of not diagnosing me with anything but sending me off with a huge bag of medicine. Oh and I had a blood test as they thought it may be some other horrible mosquito illness or typhoid or something but luckily not.

So yeah I’m almost better now but my brain still isn’t quite working properly, I feel like I’m in a bubble where I can’t hear or think properly. Also it has robbed my ability to understand Indonesian. Someone came to the house for something the other day and i swear he was just saying “blah blah blah blah”. I had to send him away in the end.

As I’m so ridiculously behind with all my work now I’ve just decided to kind of give up and go with the flow. It’s kind of nice. I’m not taking on any new jobs for the rest of this month to give myself some breathing space but I still have loads to do. Now we have a couple of other income streams I’m hoping to cut back and spend more time with the kids before i lose my mind. i always say this but I’m really doing it now and it’s nice just sitting with Maya and watching her draw instead of stressing that I have to go and finish another article or whatever. I’ve given up on scheduling and i’m just fitting in the work where i can.

oh and then both my computers broke again. Kiran jumped on my lap while i was holding a cup of tea, most of which then ejected itself into the keyboard. So now I can’t really type on my mac. Or I can as long as i don’t need the letters g,h,y,u,l or c. Then my brand new pc laptop crashed today and decided it was totally broken so i had to reset it, losing all my files in the process. Luckily all my work is backed up to ‘the cloud’ (my computers have broken too many times to not do this) but it took me all day to get it going again and install dropbox and picasa (which is pretty much all I use these days. it didn’t come with office so I’ve switched to google drive).

Wow I’m even boring myself now, what was the point of this post again?

Oh yeah so apart from Bali trying to kill me with its various tropical illnesses, September has kind of crept up on me. As did August. But that means it’s October next month and Maya is THREE in October! Three! I can’t believe I’m going to be the mother of a 3-year-old.

The last few months she’s been amazing me with her ability to do random stuff. It’s like a switch flips and she can just suddenly do things that I never noticed her learning. She’s drawing actual things like lions and spiders now instead of just circles (eggs!) and scribbles.

Also a couple of months ago, she suddenly switched to speaking Balinese 90% of the time. I always knew she could understand Balinese but she’s grown up speaking Indonesian and only said the odd word in Balinese. One day she just randomly started speaking fluent Balinese, much to the amusement of everyone and she hasn’t really stopped. It gives me hope she’ll do the same with English.

I worry that I’m not doing enough activities with her – I’m not one of those flashcard mothers and I don’t push her to learn the alphabet or things like that. I’m a big fan of free play but still I wonder if i should be teaching her things. When do kids start learning to read? How on earth do you even start teaching a child to read? She reads herself some books – the ones’s she’s memorized and sometimes she makes it up from the pictures. usually in English as I’m the one who reads to her most of the time, which pleases me.

She can suddenly count now too – I mean she’s been able to count from 1-10 for ages but she didn’t really get the concept. Now if i give her 5 objects, say, she will count them one by one and say “there are five!” i certainly didn’t teach her to do this – did she teach herself?

a few months ago she would build towers out of her duplo blocks but there was no method or understanding of balance. now she builds perfectly symmetrical constructions, matching up the colours on either side.

I’m fascinated just watching her. I’m sure this is all developmentally perfectly normal but I’m amazed at how she seems to just suddenly know how to do stuff! I guess this is what 3-year-olds do? Or rather what she does when she’s not driving me crazy by being soooo deliberately naughty or giving me a heart attack by putting her life in danger (she knocked the motorbike over today by climbing on it, I heard a huge crash and thought she was dead). Oh and we’ve still got Kiran’s terrible twos to get though. Fun fun! Tell me how people with huge families cope?!

The Motorcycle Diaries

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Pretty much everyone who lives in Bali gets around by motorbike or scooter. I’ve ben here nearly 5 years and I’ve been intending to ‘learn’ how to ride a motorbike for almost as long. I say ‘learn’ because there’s really no learning to be done – most of the bikes are automatic and it’s more a case of just having the confidence to get out on the road.

Actually I did learn several years ago in Nusa Lembongan – a little island with no cars. I was perfectly happy pootling around the little dirt tracks of the island but as soon as we got back to the mainland, I lost my confidence again.

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The traffic in Bali is crazy. It’s basically every man for himself (or woman, whatever) and there are no rules. Very few people have an actual license and those that do just buy it – there’s no official test.

I’m not so scared of the driving itself; it’s more the other people on the road. I’ve seen so many near misses while I’ve been here and at least one person dead on the road (from trying to undertake a truck on the inside lane by the looks of it).

As well as the general insane craziness of the driving there are also little kids driving motorbikes to school and tourists who jump on their bikes the first day of their holiday and drive probably more dangerously than anyone else. I also suspect that few of these tourists have travel insurance or realise that driving without a license will void their insurance.

It seems like every week I’m hearing about somebody killed or injured on a motorbike. Just this morning I read about an 11-year-old boy who attended the international school in our village, killed on a day out on a motorbike with his older brother.

So you may be wondering why I’m even contemplating going out on a motorbike when it’s so dangerous. One word: freedom.

motorcyclediaries4I’m somewhat isolated in the village here and I rely on Made to drive me whenever I want to go anywhere. There’s not much of interest within walking distance – a couple of mini marts and a swimming pool.

Learning to drive a motorbike and getting out on my own would open up a whole new world to me. I’d be able to pop into Ubud for a coffee, meet up with my friends without needing Made to pick me up and drop me off and drive to the supermarket whenever we ran out of bread or milk.

I’d also like to get out and about with the kids more. When Maya was going to playgroup, Made would drop her off and pick her up so I was very uninvolved – which is definitely not what I want.

However, risking my own life on a motorbike is one thing but taking my kids is another thing altogether. I’m not sure I’ll ever feel confident enough on a bike to take them, even like most Balinese kids they’ve ridden on the back of a scooter almost from birth.

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We do have a car and learning to drive it would also be an option but I’m not even considering this. I think driving a car in Bali is a million times harder than a bike and while technically safer for you, there are so many accidents involving motorbikes and cars. You really have to be looking everywhere at once and it’s totally common for bikes to be overtaking on both sides at once.

So I’ve been saying I’m going to learn pretty much from arriving here (I remember sending Made an email from Australia when I’d only been here a month saying I was going to learn as soon as I got back). I’ve had being pregnant and not being able to go out for long with a small infant as an excuse for a long time but that excuse is no longer valid.

We even bought a new bike last year that is light and easy to drive and won’t break down.

My excuses are running out. I must get on that bike. Call this my public accountability ☺

I need a holiday

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I’m late with this week’s escaping the 9-5 post again and I have others that I meant to write and I haven’t yet. I think I need to just face the fact that I will never be one of those bloggers who can schedule posts in advance and post set things on set days. Not sure I want to be anyway.

I’m just in need of a little whinge. Bear with me.

I had a horrible day yesterday. And the day before that and maybe the day before that too. The kids are being ‘challenging’ lately. Kiran had a total meltdown the other day – a tantrum on a scale that dwarfed any of Maya’s tantrums (and if you know Maya, you’ll know that’s saying something). I’d gone next door with the kids and Kiran was having fun collecting flowers from the floor but I needed to go back as I’d left the stove on. He didn’t want to go so I just picked him up screaming and took him back. he then continued to scream. and scream. and scream. Distraction wasn’t working, ignoring him wasn’t working, he didn’t want anything. I’m always scared to put Kiran down when he’s having a tantrum as he bashes his head off things but I tried momentarily to put him on the bed and he just reached up for me screeching “mama! mama!”. He was obviously terrified too and just couldn’t stop himself – he clung to me trembling but hitting me and biting me at the same time. He was screaming so hard, he could hardly breathe. This continued for maybe half an hour, maybe an hour, I’m not sure until he slowly started to calm down. I on the other hand was a nervous wreck by the time that made got back and Maya was crying too (for attention).

Maya has been so naughty lately and seemingly only with me. She throws her food (and Kiran’s) on the floor – we’re talking whole plates here, stamps on my laptop with her shoes on, pulls all the clothes I just folded out of the cupboard and yesterday she looked me in the eye and proceeded to wee on the floor inside.

Work has been going well (apart from the fact I’m doing too much of it and still not earning enough) but I’ve had some terrible days with that too recently. I just sent a client to an article that I’d written about the wrong person – it was meant to be her sister. And just yesterday a series of 5 blog posts I’d sent off on a tricky subject that required a lot of research were apparently not right. I’d misinterpreted the instructions somehow. No idea how I’m going to fix that one without starting again. Sigh.

It’s cold and grey and drizzling in Ubud at the moment. Just like being back in the UK.

So yes, I need a holiday. Preferably without children. It’s my and Made’s birthday coming up later this month so I’m hoping we can escape for a couple of days (although no chance of living Kiran just yet and if I can’t leave them both I won’t take just one). For now I’m just hanging in there.

Please send chocolate and wine!

A simple childhood

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Work is just not happening this morning so I thought I’d take the opportunity to do a bit of structured procrastination and continue my discussion about first world vs third world attitudes to money and life.

It never fails to amaze me the huge deal that is made about how much babies ‘cost’ and how everyone rushes out to spend thousands on expensive strollers, brand new clothes and other ‘must-haves’. This fairly recent article from the Guardian suggests that it costs £222,458 to raise a child to the age of 21 – 0ver £10.5k a year! Now I know that childcare isn’t usually free and there are some necessary costs in terms of clothing, food etc, but that is just ridiculous.

I know I’ve talked about this before but I was glad about living out here when I was pregnant that I wasn’t expected to buy everything on those lists that are included in every ‘preparing for baby book’ with everything from bottle warmers to baby food makers. How ridiculous. We had no cot, we had no pram, we had a cheap baby bouncer but no expensive automatic swinging contraption and I never felt for a second that our kids were deprived in any way.

Things just get worse as they get older with the pressure to buy toys, clothes and other kid junk. I’ve noticed a bit of a backlash in recent years towards this and there does seem to be an increasing trend to buy second hand clothes instead of getting everything new and focus on real play, rather than buying plastic flashing toys.

So you don’t need to be rich to raise a happy kid. On the contrary, it seems to be a trend that a lot of well-off families actually spend less quality time with their kids. Are the children impressed with the fancy clothes? I doubt it. With the fancy toys? Maybe but I’m sure they’d be just as happy with a stick and some dirt. And being on a budget forces you to be creative about the activities you do with your children. I was really inspired with Georgia’s pledge to spend nothing for a year, despite preparing for the arrival of a new baby and you don’t have to take long looking through her site to realise how happy her kids are and how they get out and about and explore and paint and do other stuff that kids should be doing. One of the major steps she took which sort of made me gasp, was getting rid of all the toys. Extreme? Maybe, but maybe not. Rather it just proves the point that anything is a toy for kids and they’re often happiest playing with things that don’t have a primary function of being a toy.

Made tells me stories of growing up in his little village in Bali which I can’t even get my head around as they are so far removed from my own experiences. Every 6 months on the Kuningan holiday, our village hosts a market on the football field next to one of the temples. This is a source of great entertainment for the kids who love shopping for new t-shirts, toys and knick knacks.

He spoke with some sadness over the fact that this event wasn’t so special for kids any more as they get so many things day to day anyway. When he was a child, he got new clothes only twice a year at this market when he was allowed to go and pick out a t-shirt. The village kids were so excited by the crowds and entertainment that they’d run around playing well into the night, whereas now they’re happier indoors playing computer games.

Another story he told me was that they had no money for toys, even a simple ball. So when Galungan came around and they slaughtered pigs for the ceremonial feasting, the village kids would blow up the pigs bladder and use it as a football, providing days of entertainment.

I’m not saying I want my kids to wear the same outfit every day for 6 months and entertain themselves playing with the internal organs of pigs but I think it’s just proof that children don’t need much to be happy.

There are a number of different world happiness indexes that are published yearly, including a few that are focused on the happiness of children. I think that the results of these surveys always need to be taken with a pinch of salt, especially when countries with extreme poverty come out on top – you need to check what data they’re using to compile their indexes, but it does provide some interesting food for thought. I found this study which seems to be a fairly well balanced view on what makes kids happy worldwide. The verdict? Family, friends and playing came out as the top three sources of happiness. No surprises there.

I think back to my own childhood and what are the most intense memories. Do I remember the clothes I wore or the toys I had? Not really (although I still have a soft spot for the magic treehouse). What I remember: picnic lunches in the garden on sunny days, yearly camping trips to France, getting to stay up late on the annual New Year’s Eve party that rotated through my parents friends, woodland walks and water fights. This is what I want for my kids, making memories, being happy, having fun. My yearning for the simple life is still pulling against my yearning for pretty things and I’m still working on balancing work with home life but we are getting there little by little.

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