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Laura Brand

Laura lives in the countryside with her husband, and their two daughters Mabel who is almost 4 and Peggy who is 2 years old, two dogs, two cats and chickens. She is the author of The Joy Journal for Magical Everyday Play published in April 2020 by Bluebird. Laura aspires to guide her children in the joy of play as well as mindfulness. She uses her instagram platform @thejoyjournal to share engaging yet easy activities to do with children for creative, everyday play encouraging a connection to nature and an injection of fun and craft into bath time, rainy afternoons , long journeys and playdates.

Home is a place of muddy boots, abundant jars of playdough and hand-painted ‘welcome’ banners above the doors. With chaos and calm in equal measure.

I wake up between 6-7am, usually our elderly dog barks first otherwise it will be Peggy our youngest, screaming through to ask if “Old Macdonald is still in bed?” (She’s obsessed with tractors!) Peggy and I go downstairs and the first thing I do is put the kettle on, I need two cups of tea to feel human. I try not to put the TV on for the kids first thing in the morning, because I notice it does affect their mood so much, so at their small table and chairs, they have some sticker books, chalk and board, pencils and books for entertainment while I make breakfast. Most days I light candles in the kitchen rather than lights, especially now the mornings are darker, it feels a bit more soft, calm and cosy. (I don’t always succeed with the A.M. TV rule… sometimes, if it’s been a sleepless night, I cave).

I am not a breakfast person-  I love cereal at night but not in the morning. I prefer a hearty mid-morning meal like scrambled eggs and avocado, or even hash browns and baked beans, veggie sausages and mushrooms… always with hot sauce and a cuppa. If I am dashing about or don’t want the full meal… marmite on sourdough toast! Russell always has porridge, with a side of spinach and since the girls are back at Montessori a few days in the week, he has been doing a pot of porridge early, which the girls love with toppings like almonds, goji berries, hemp seeds and maple syrup.

I am a bath person. I love a hot bath. I try to read in the bath, but it doesn’t always happen… sometimes because frankly, I get too hot. So I just lie there thinking… and immersing myself fully in the water. I love adding magnesium flakes at night and I adore Lola’s Apothecary rose bath oil or Weleda’s Pine bath milk (which transports you to a cosy forest cocoon).

We try to be relaxed about getting out the door. There are so many things to remember when you have kids, dogs, cats etc… that we have to go slowly otherwise we generally tend to forget something quite important. So to stay sane, I try to prepare for anything that I can the night before (for Montessori that means getting clothes out / prepping packed lunches) but mostly, we choose our peace of mind over keeping to a clock.
Russell and I both do the drop off in the morning and I usually do the collection.

I try to get up before everyone else, but our youngest tends to either beat me to it, or sense when I do then wake minutes after. If I manage an early rise, I will go and have a cup of tea, check my to do list, maybe look at my phone which I keep in the kitchen overnight, reply to messages or emails. I exercise early in the morning, twice a week. Once the kids are up, on a week day it would be breakfast, Montessori drop off together as a family then Russell and I like to get a coffee together before we go our own ways for various work commitments. I spend my time on domestic jobs and errands, prepping activities for the girls, writing and I am now adding “building” to that list, as I have given myself the challenge of constructing a mud-kitchen (and a 3 bin composter for our garden), both of which I’m doing with hand me down or found bit and bobs and old wooden palettes. Being outdoors, in the garden or in nature in any capacity is essential for me and I love working with my hands, to keep me creatively engaged and motivated. If I stay inside all day I can quickly feel stagnant. On weekends, we tend not to make too many plans, we spend a lot of time in pyjamas, we watch movies, we go for walks and we eat family meals together.

I am a prep night before for the kids… but always with me, wing it…. Which is why I often wear the same outfit until it’s got holes in it and no longer wear make-up… (which is a relief actually).

Our girls eat earlier than us most days, so after tea time either myself or Russell will do their bath and bedtime. I will usually have prepped dinner before this if it’s me cooking, so that I can bath/shower and put comfy’s on early in the hope of going to bed at a reasonable time. We eat dinner and sometimes watch a movie. My favourite way to wind down is a glass of red wine and a movie.We recently bought a little projector and it has made our evenings much more magical, with movie nights a much more regular thing. We love Studio Ghibli films, so if Mabel is still up we make a big cosy bed on the floor or outside and watch one of those and eat Propercorn (sweet and salty!). My favourite way to wind down is a glass of red wine and a film. Some nights we are so tired, we just go to bed and our bedroom has become much more of a sanctuary since we decided at the beginning of lock down not to keep our phones in the room- so if we go to bed early, we read our books (I am currently reading Watership Down). Generally for us bedtime is 9pm and the girls’ is 6:30-7:30pm. That goes through phases though so I try to not hold high expectations around that.

As a family, together, our favourite meal is homemade vegan bolognese with rigatoni (not spaghetti) and vegan garlic bread. I am not a vegan, but Russell is and our kids are vegetarian. It is much easier for us to eat the same food, but now and again I cook myself fish or seafood. Russell and I would probably both choose our ideal date-night food to be Indian takeaway… our local, Malik’s of Marlow is award winning and it is phenomenal so we feel lucky to have that nearby for a treat!

Before Covid, I had been writing my first book The Joy Journal for Magical Everyday Play – this was almost 2 years in the making, as I had a newborn Peggy to keep me busy but Mabel and I would spend a lot of time experimenting and playing, making and getting messy. The book was finally released on April 16th, which was right at the beginning of lockdown. The only difference was that because my husband was now at home all the time too, we actually spent much more time together as a family and now I had book commitments and promotion to do, we just balanced it out between the two of us to get what we need to do before factoring in the daily walk and family meals together as much as possible. The lockdown time has been a very busy time for me work-wise, but I must say I found myself burning out at the beginning of the Summer holidays and decided to take my foot off the pedal where possible.

Knowing what I know now, the advice I would give myself at the beginning of motherhood is to look after myself as a priority and the importance of my own needs as well as my families.

What’s my favourite way to Pause? Being in a forest looking up at the majestic trees. Being in nature in general with no agenda.

What’s my favourite way to Play? I love making things with clay whilst listening to music.

The Joy Journal for Magical Everyday Play is available to buy from Amazon

You can follow the brilliant @TheJoyJournal over on Instagram.

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