An interview with Tara Ray from Done and Left Undone blog, on Livechicandwell.com

Introducing Tara from “Done and Left Undone”

After the enjoyable experience of interviewing Jane Beckenham from My Home My Sanctuary a few weeks ago, I have been fortunate enough to score another great blogger interview.

This time I am delighted to present to you the inspiring Tara from “Done and Left Undone”. Tara resides in Australia with her young family but is originally from the United States and took the plunge to emigrate to Australia a few years ago.

Tara also interviewed me recently, here is the link to the thoughtful questions she asked and my responses.

Enjoy reading all about Tara and her fascinating perspective on life and I’m sure you will be keen to check out her blog or follow her on Instagram!

Please can you explain your choice of the name of your blog, “Done and Left Undone”? Perhaps it holds a certain significance to you or your life circumstances?

I guess it is a funny name for a blog. It’s actually inspired by a poem by the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu:

In the pursuit of knowledge, everyday something is added. 

In the practice of the Way, every day something is dropped.

Less and less do you need to force things, until finally you arrive at non-action.

When nothing is done, nothing is left undone. 

True mastery can be gained by letting things go their own way. It can’t be gained by interfering.

From the moment I read it, this passage started rolling around my brain like a marble. In our culture of glorified busyness, we are always doing, and yet there is so much left to be done. The more we do, the more needs to be done. The blog name is a reminder to myself to slow down and avoid the busy trap. I certainly believe in taking action, but I hope to take inspired action rather than just traipsing mindlessly from one activity to the next.

Tara, you grew up and spent most of your life in the US before emigrating to Australia (2 years ago?). How did you feel about the prospect of uprooting yourself and your young family to a faraway country? It sounds like a huge, brave step to take.

Thank you! My husband and I, along with our three children, moved to Australia in July of 2016 because of my husband’s job. The move is not a permanent one, which made the leap a little easier. It has been a really exciting time in our lives. I grew up in Austin, Texas, and had lived there most of my life. I had always wanted the experience of living in another country, so I was very grateful for the opportunity when it came along. The logistics of moving and figuring out how everything works in a new country, from enrolling the children in school to setting up our phone service and bank account, were not always simple.

It took about three months for me to feel settled, and ever since it’s been great. Sydney is such a beautiful city and I love being closer to the beach. My oldest child was 12 when we moved, and it was a lot harder for him than it was for his younger siblings. I think big moves are often easier for younger children. Still, we’ve had opportunities to travel and experiences that we never would have had if we had stayed in the US.

How is your life in Australia now different to the life you lived before in the US?

We shipped very few of our belongings from the US to Australia. We arrived with only our suitcases. A few months later, a few boxes that we sent by sea (mainly the some toys and books) arrived. The result has been an experiment in minimalism. 🙂 The house we’re renting in Australia is a lot smaller than our house in the US and we have relatively few things here. That aspect of it has been amazing in terms of housekeeping and having fewer things to organize and keep up with.

We’re also in a more walkable area here than we were in the US. I had been spending almost 3 hours a day driving in the US, which was way too much. Being able to walk the kids to school and spending less time in the car has been HUGE for me. I hadn’t fully appreciated before how much time I was losing every day by having to drive so much. One reason I’m able to write more now is that I’m spending less time commuting and driving the kids to activities. I finished the draft of a novel last year, and I don’t know that I would have been able to do that if we had stayed in the US. That change really isn’t anything specific to the US or Australia, we just happened to end up with a really different lifestyle.

This experience has taught me that there are a lot of different ways my life could look. I was on one path and it was comfortable and it would have been easy to continue along that path without giving it much thought. Making a huge change, like uprooting ourselves and moving to Australia, has taught us that it is possible to make massive shifts. If it’s possible to do one big thing, maybe it’s possible to other big things. Our lives are full of endless possibilities– I think it’s so easy for us to forget that as we go through our daily lives.

A quote in one of your blog posts really resonated with me: “I tell my kids, and myself, and anyone else who will listen, that our lives are the stories we tell ourselves”. Please can you expand a little on this. 

I think the stories that we tell about who we are define us. Have you ever noticed how two people can have almost identical experiences but describe their circumstances completely differently? Maybe one is a victim, the other is a survivor. We can focus on the negative or focus on the positive. It’s all about the details we choose to focus on and repeat. We’re not just passive creatures letting things happen to us; we get to be the creators of our own life stories. I think it’s empowering to recognize that where we choose to focus our attention helps shape our life’s narrative.

Finally, what advice would you give to your 20 year old self?

Oh, my 20 year old self was kind of a mess. I would tell my 20 year old self to start loving herself. She cared way too much about what other people thought and she wasted way too much time worrying about the future. I would tell her to start paying attention to her inner guidance instead of always looking for external validation. And I would tell her she is going to LOVE her future. In just three years she’ll meet the love of her life and each year will be brimming with more love and adventure than she can imagine.

Thank you for such thoughtful, insightful answers, Tara. They are very in-keeping with  the lovely, thought-provoking blog posts that you write 🙂

Tara Campbell Ray blogs at doneandleftundone.com.

You can also find Tara on Instagram @doneandleftundone.

P.S You can now follow me on Instagram. My IG handle is sarahdeeks_author. I post extra photos of bits and pieces that inspire and uplift me day-to-day so they may well have a similar effect on you 🙂 I look forward to seeing you there!

How to boost your confidence in social situations

6 Tips to Boost Your Confidence in Social Situations.

Confidence. One of those oh-so-elusive things at the times we need it most.

I’m sure I’m not alone in finding it a little anxiety-inducing to have to enter a room full of strangers. I admit that I still find unfamiliar social situations a challenge but many times I have pushed myself to face the fear head on.  A couple of examples include when I travelled alone to Italy to be an au pair for a family I had never met before as well as more common situations such as weddings where I knew very few of the other guests beforehand.

Yes, having to find the confidence to meet new people in social situations is unavoidable at times, so here are some strategies you could follow:

Visualise What Might Happen

…and anticipate likely questions, so that you can think about potential answers beforehand, as well as questions to ask the other person. For example when your child starts school, think what the other parents may ask you at the school gates. You could make a mental note to ask them whether they have any older children at the school and heather there is a PTA.

How to boost your confidence in social situations

Seek Out a Friendly Face

If you attend a party alone, quickly scan the room for someone who looks friendly and approachable. Without delay (to give yourself time to change your mind), stroll over to them with a smile and say hello. An easy ice breaker is to ask them how they know the hostess. Then you can ask a few questions about them or compliment them on something they are wearing. Most people are happy to talk about themselves and also enjoy having the pressure off having to think of their own questions!

Accept Compliments With Grace

If someone offers you a compliment, just smile and thank them. Resist the urge to downplay it by adding “what, this old thing?!”. That would only lower the energy to a more negative level and make the complimenter wonder why they bothered.

How to boost your confidence in social situations

Wear Bright Colours

They can have a positive psychological impact on our mood when we look in the mirror and make us look more approachable, too.

Be Mindful of Your Body Language

Crossed arms may make you feel safer but they say “don’t approach me”. Instead, aim for open body language with relaxed arms or gesticulate with your hands to show friendliness and confidence. If you have side pockets you could loosely keep your hands in them.

Spritz on a Favourite Scent

Studies show that women gain instant confidence by wearing their preferred scent. Carry a travel sized bottle to top it up later as needed.

It is Usually Worth Making Making the Effort

Scary though it can be, it is usually worth making the effort. You may even make some great new friends and make long-lasting memories. The more experience you gain in the types of situations you find difficult, the more easier you will find it to cope with future situations.

Do you have any of your own tips for increasing your confidence in social situations? I would love to hear them in the comments section below.

 

The power of scent to recall happy memories

The Power of Scent to Recall Happy Memories

Have you ever wondered why is it that getting a whiff of a certain scent can instantly transport you back to a time or place in your past that you associate with that scent?

Just a brief whiff of particular brands of suncream has the ability to transport me back to holidays of many years past. Instantly, more specific memories and moments of those holidays come rushing back to my mind and put a smile on my face.

Similarly, the scent of cinnamon calls for memories of baking as a child with my long departed dear grandmother to come flooding back.

There is actually a scientific explanation for why certain scents induce such a feeling of nostalgia. In a nutshell, it has been discovered that the brain records scents in an area of the brain that carries out the function of producing long-term memories.

pexels-photo-533247.jpeg

Scents From my own Childhood

Even simple everyday scents such as Pears soap and Bird’s custard (the latter I very rarely eat as an adult but was served it as a dessert with sliced banana once a week throughout my childhood) can stop me in my tracks as memories come flooding back. It caused me to ponder which scents from within our home my own children might store away in their long-term memories and be responsible for waves of nostalgia in their distant adulthoods. Here are a few possibilities based on prominent scents we have around the house…

Cleaning Product Scents

I always try to select cleaning products that have a pleasant scent. I love Zoflora concentrated disinfectants that come in a varied range of scents, my favourites have been lavender and green valley but there are many others. I have sometimes made my own kitchen surface cleaning spray with half white vinegar, half water and a few drops of an essential oil such as geranium, peppermint or lemon. If cleaning has to be carried out, you may as well add a pleasant aroma while you go about it!

Air Fresheners

When I’ve been cooking fish or anything else that causes strong odours to linger in the kitchen I spray Laura Ashley’s Olive and Italian Lemon Scented room spray. Just four or five pumps is sufficient to eliminate any odours and replace them with the most uplifting scent. Sadly, it appears that Laura Ashley have discontinued the spray but make a diffuser with the same scent which I imagine would continuously release a subtle, fresh scent into the kitchen.

I find plug-in air fresheners to be a little overpowering and when I spilled a tiny amount of the fragranced refill oil into a drawer once it took months of airing and scrubbing to try to remove it. Now and again I spray the corners of rooms with a little aerosol spray, especially in the winter months when the house gets less ventilation and may become a little stuffy. At present we have a cherry blossom and peony scented one which smells divine.

the power of scent to recall happy memories and nostalgia

Perfumes

Despite many women claiming to have a signature fragrance, I have never been able to stick to just one and flit between a few different scents. Generally though, I prefer light, citrus notes and am less keen on heavy florals. A couple of my current favourites include Beauty by Elizabeth Arden and French Connection’s Her.

Of course, exposure to scents that we love significantly boosts our happiness in the here and now too. In a previous post about savouring simple pleasures I mentioned that using a gorgeous smelling shower gel each morning has an uplifting effect.

How about you?

Which scents do you love to use in your home, even in simple things such as cleaning products? I would love to hear which scents make you feel nostalgic for your childhood, too.

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Read about our family seaside break away in a static caravan

A Seaside Break Away

Our family has begun a tradition of taking a short spring break to a seaside resort in the school Easter holiday each year. We usually wait until after the Easter weekend itself as we love staying at home to celebrate Easter. Having this short break to look forward to helps get us through the dark and dismal days of January and February. Most years we only venture as far as the neighbouring county of Norfolk, which is far enough when we have three young kids who don’t particularly enjoy long car journeys (and suffer from travel sickness…)

Staying on a Holiday park

Staying in holiday parks and sleeping in a static caravan were not things that especially appealed to us before having children. It can’t be denied though, that with all the facilities they have from swimming pools to evening entertainment, they do have plenty to keep families occupied and happy.

I usually book direct with an owner (via direct letting websites) to stay on a Haven holiday park, as we like to be able to select a spot close to the facilities yet still in a quiet spot. Most evenings I stay in when the baby goes to bed early while my husband takes the older ones out to the disco at the clubhouse. As we spend more time than most people in the accommodation, we prefer to stay in a higher grade rather than the more basic ones.

haven in caravan

This year’s caravan

This year, we booked a gorgeous caravan with a view over the sand dunes and to the sea. It had decking outside that we were able to sit and enjoy the view from which was lovely when the weather was sunny.

In the living room, it hardly felt like a caravan with modern, comfortable interiors including a proper sofa rather than the fixed to the wall, bench type sofas of more basic models.

haven beach view

By the beach

We made the most of being right beside the beach by going for plenty of walks along beside it and in the sand dunes. Even though it was only early spring, the kids loved collecting shells and pebbles and other bits and pieces that they found, as well as hurling pebbles into the sea. They carved their names into the sand with sticks and all those timeless beach activities that children have always enjoyed.

After my husband and older children had left for the clubhouse each evening, I took our toddler for a little walk along the beach. It was so peaceful and calm at that time as the sun was about to set. We often didn’t see another person during the whole length of our walks and my toddler’s chubby hand excitedly pointed out seagulls, boats and other things that caught her attention. The sea air before bedtime did the trick to help her drift off to sleep quickly, too.

All in all, we had another lovely spring break away and enjoyed some quality family time together.

Do you go away for a short break or holiday in the Spring? I would love to hear about it, wherever you are in the world.

P.S. Check out my interview with Jane from My Home My Sanctuary here!

P.P.S. Please do add your email to the box to sign up for weekly blog post updates and a free printable self-care pack if you haven’t already.

 

 

An interview with home writer Jane Beckenham

An interview with Jane From ‘My Home, My Sanctuary’.

Jane

This week I am excited to share with you an interview with Jane Beckenham. Jane lives in New Zealand and writes a lovely blog called My Home, My Sanctuary. As well as home-based topics Jane also writes about other thought-provoking themes relating to living a contented and fulfilled life.

Jane kindly responded to my questions to provide a snapshot of what she and her work is all about. I’m sure you’ll want to check out her blog after reading her answers!

I love the name of your blog, My home My Sanctuary. Why do you think it is important that our homes act as sanctuaries and what specifically have you done to help create your own sanctuary?

Thank you, Sarah. It took a while to come up with the name and it went through a few manifestations. Our homes are our refuge against the world, against the busyness of it, and the constant call for our attention to outside influences. I feel (and hope for others) that when they walk in their front doors they will feel that ‘refuge’, that sense of a place of belonging, of a home that wraps them in its embrace.

Specifically, I try to keep our home declcuttered – stuff doesn’t offer sanctuary or a sense of calm. Now am I always successful at this, no, not always. But it’s the effort that is important. On a ‘superficial’ level I have tried to decorate our home so that it is pleasing to those that live here, both in style, color and design. The old adage a place for everything and everything in its place is something I work towards.

Would you mind sharing a favourite piece of furniture or or decorative item in your home that you particularly love?

I have several pieces.

Firstly is this writing desk. This belonged to my grandmother (who if she had been alive would have been about 117 by now). My sister actually inherited but she has no room in her house for it, so I get to have the joy of having it here, and remembering my grandmother sitting at it.

Jane desk pic 

On it, are vintage tea cups, but the pink one in the middle which has little gold legs was a present my grandmother received when she got engaged and that was in 1908. The well-loved teddy bear was my husband’s when he was a child. The Russian icon ornaments are a reminder of my children’s birthplace.

What advice would you offer to an individual who has never spent much time or thought on creating a comfortable home that acts as a sanctuary, but would like to? Where would you suggest they start?

I think it’s a two pronged effort. The room I would start on first is their bedroom. Because this is the one room, hopefully, in the house that they can take respite in and the bedroom should offer respite.

However, if clutter, dirty clothes, clothes not put away, exercise equipment, tv, computer etc etc, are all taking up space in the room, they should be moved out, and at least for the clothes etc, put away.

You can’t make a calm refuge when there is STUFF everywhere. A bedroom should be a claming place and seeing the treadmill in the corner reminding you that you haven’t used it for months and its become a clothes stand, hmmm. Not good. Then there’s the interruption of laptops, computers etc, Get rid of them. Instead read a book, relax, have a glass of wine. Talk even. People are forgetting how to communicate, we’re so locked into the digital world.

And once you’ve decluttered and cleared out the excess. Clean it, top to bottom, move the furniture clean behind it, clean the windows, wash the curtains.

I know this sounds a lot, but it’s a now and again chore, but by refreshing the room thoroughly, it gives the occupants a fresh start.

Do you follow a routine for keeping on top of household chores and if so, do you think it is important to?

I try! I really do try! Am I successful? Mostly-ish. I have a set list of chores I do Mon-Saturday, plus have recently added exercise – oh joy! Friday’s chores are really my catch up days and I do things I haven’t managed to get done Monday-Thursday. Big chores like cleaning windows, I do when I can. I have a disability and unfortunately trying to do these big tasks is not an easy feat.

But at a minimum every day, the bed is made, dishes done, kitchen counters clean, bathrooms swished and swiped, and a load of laundry done. I’m trying to be more organized and pick out the clothes I will wear the next day, right down to jewelry just before I goto bed. It’s a great boost to the morning if I’m organized from the night before – and that I come out to a clean kitchen.

Decluttered, minimalist living in vogue right now. What are your thoughts on clutter?

People say they want to be more organized, but reality is you can’t organize clutter. The trouble is sometimes it feels overhwhel,omg to actually start. I mean where? Every room has STUFF. My suggestion is that the person just picks up a trash bag and goes round each room, picking up rubbish that can be tossed into the recycle.

They may however, just want to focus on one room. Like I said above, start on the bedroom, because you deserve a place of refuge and solitutde at the end of each day.

But… if that feels like too big of a job to start off with, then go small. One drawer, one cupboard, or go to the smallest room in the house, and start there.

The most important thing is – IS THAT YOU START

You have been a successful fiction writer over the last twenty years and are now turning your hand to non-fiction. Which particular aspect or type of non-fiction writing most appeals to you?

I’m really passionate about home and hearth writing, about women finding their way in life. I’ve recently hit my 60s and the last four years was really tough, as I struggled with depression and also the loss of my mother at the age of 90. I kept wondering why should I push myself, I mean why bother. But I am so happy to say, that just recently, that fog of why bother has lifted, and I’m battling my way back top. I really want to focus on home, family, midlife, reinvention and just searching for that joy and passion and purpose in life that we women seem to crave – well I do, anyway!

What do you enjoy to do in your spare time?

Funny you should ask that – today – I decided to be lazy, I watched a movie (The Secret- which I loved), I had a snooze. I love spending time with my family, I am a mother to two daughters and I also now a grandma! I have a wonderful bunch of writer girlfriends; we meet once a week to talk writing and they are a fabulous group of women ranging from 19 years old to 82. We all get on amazingly even with such a varied ages.

You can find Jane at:

www.myhomemysanctuary.com

@myhomemysanctuary

https://www.facebook.com/MyHomeMySanctuary/

Jane has also hosted an interview with yours truly, so if you would like to read a little more about me here is the link to it.

home office makeover

Home Office Makeover

Our home office area has been ripe for a makeover for some time now. I spend a lot more time here than used to as I’m in the process of writing a book, so I really desired a work space that felt clear and welcoming to spend time in.

A compact space

Alas, I don’t have the luxury of a separate room that could be called a study or home office. Most of our rooms are allocated as bedrooms as we have three children. When we had a small extension added on a few years ago we planned for a built-in cupboard to house a desk, filing cabinets and shelving to be a designated home office area. There are folding doors that can easily be closed to these cupboards when no one needs to be working there, to keep the room looking neater. On the whole I am pleased with how much we have managed to fit into such a small space. Planning good storage and organisational systems is the key to a tidy home.

Over time though, the desk area had become increasingly cluttered and messy. It didn’t feel a positive space to work in and was embarrassing when friends and family came round who might see the mess if I couldn’t close the doors to it fast enough!

Concealing the ugly pinboard

Firstly, I decided to get a small piece of fabric to cover the pinboard on the wall. A lot of the items pinned to the board are important bits and pieces that I want to keep easily accessible but they don’t have to be on view the whole time. I found this piece of pale blue ‘Paris’ printed fabric on Ebay for about £7 including postage. It’s pretty cute with Eiffel towers, Sacre Coeur and Arc de triomphes dotted over it. I thought it teamed up well with the mosaic photo frame next to it which holds a selection of photos from my last trip to Paris with my husband. I can scarcely believe that was a whole seven years ago, but it must be because I found out I was pregnant with my eldest daughter the day before we went (so sadly missed out on the wine and unpasteurised cheeses…).

Ditching the garish pencil pots

Next I decided to do something about the ugly old green striped pencil pots we had. Don’t you think they look awful in the pic?! I’m not too sure what possessed us to buy them in the first place. They had become faded from sunlight and were over ten years old. I ran a couple of empty baked bean cans through the dishwasher and covered them with small strips of giftwrap that I already had. They have a little street scene printed across them which bears a resemblance to the one on my blog homepage image, don’t you think?

home office makeover

Then I just had a good declutter (something I aim to do regularly throughout the house) and filed papers away etc. The difference to sit down and work here is incredible. It feels a more relaxing and positive place to be.

Lighting

The one thing I’m still not content with is the lighting. You will see the string of heart-shaped LED lights hanging above the desk, but to be honest they emit minimal light. Yet I dislike having the ceiling lights on because they are ridiculously bright and almost induce headaches. I really need to get a small desk lamp or perhaps a spotlight integrated under the top shelf.

How about you?

What is your home office like? Perhaps you are fortunate enough to have a whole room to dedicate to it. Or maybe you have had to carve out a small corner of another room, like me? I would love to hear what yours is like, even with a pic if you’re able to add one. I’d also be interested to hear which type of lighting you have in your home office area to help me decide on my soft lighting solution!