Warm up and beat the winter blues

By Susan Peatfield

Surveys show that the first weeks of January are a “down time” for many people. By this, they mean that they often feel lower in spirits and more “sluggish” at this time of year. Some of this is to do with the sadness of taking down the Christmas decorations, saying good bye to family and friends who have spent the festive season with us, and, of course, counting the cost of Christmas in our bank balances and round our waistlines.

hopeAnother theory is that people greet New Year’s Day full of hope and resolutions, all of which often fall by the wayside before January is out. Suggestions for beating the post-Christmas blues vary from extreme exercise regimes to sunlamps and vitamin D supplements. The suggestions that are in this article address the things you can do to warm up not just your own winter days but those of your home and the people you share it with.

Let’s start literally with the temperature of your home. Feeling cold at home is not a good feeling, but unless you have small children or elderly family members then your house does not have to be uniformly heated in order to feel warm and welcoming. The recommended central heating setting is 18℃ (a bit lower and more economical than the 20℃ of most homes). Think about the times though when a bit of a “boost” would be welcome. Perhaps when people come in from work or school or when you are all relaxing in the sitting room. Don’t forget the natural winter warmers of cosy jumpers and hot drinks as well as adjusting the heating controls.

Another benefit of keeping one area of the house warmer than the others is that it becomes the hub of home life. The appeal of the kitchen becomes much stronger to everyone when the supper is cooking and the oven is raising both the temperature and our spirits as we prepare for a shared meal.

The food of the winter months reflects the time when we were dependent on what was still growing and what had been safely stored away. Eating seasonally is a great way to enjoy the best of the food available. Although we can buy tomatoes and raspberries all year round, they will only be worth eating in their seasons. Instead, take comfort and enjoyment in rich root vegetable casseroles, fruit pies and crumbles and salads of spinach, goats’ cheese and walnuts. If you do not have a slow-cooker, maybe this is the year to buy and try one.

One exception to seasonality is to keep buying (and eating) oranges. They are in our shops all year round because different varieties reach us at different times and from different lands. Notice when the Christmas satsumas give way to the marmalade-makers Sevilles, and then through blood and navel oranges to tangerines and mandarins. These are the perfect taste of sunshine in winter.

If you planted hyacinths and narcissi in bowls indoors last autumn then by now they are in flower and scenting your home with the promise of spring. If you did not do this, then look in the supermarkets now for little pots of “tête-a-tête” daffodils with their leaves just spearing the surface, they will soon brighten up a winter window-sill or shelf.

light and walk The hours of daylight are precious at this time of year so make sure that every day you see some of them. Not from a train or car window, but on a short walk down the street or local park, or just round your garden. Dressed warmly you can enjoy the special light of this time of year and gain encouragement that in winter the natural world is storing up its energy ready to burst forth into new life – and so should we!


Happy digital-free Christmas!

By Rosemary Roscoe

I must admit that I was a little sceptical at first of the techniques advocated by decluttering guru Marie Kondo for reorganising the wardrobe  – but her methods really do work!  Instead of rummaging through a chest of drawers playing lucky dip as to what you pull out, she recommends folding underwear and tops lengthways and then arranging them into neat little packages in the drawer. That way, with everything, positioned side by side rather than in layers, you can see what’s inside a drawer at a glance – so simple yet effective!  Marie Kondo’s “joyfully decluttering” techniques and many more useful tips for managing a ‘smart home’, especially in the run-up to Christmas, are featured on a daily basis on our Instagram Account.

Robot AILooking ahead to the New Year is HRF’s much anticipated Experts’ Meeting in February entitled ‘The Home in a digital age’. The main focus will be on how new technologies can aid rather than replace people and relationships within the home. How much influence, for example, should smart devices be allowed to have on children? Could robotic voices one day replace those of parents, starting innocuously with instructions such as ‘wake up it’s time to get ready for school” but ending up controlling the way children think and behave? It’s a ‘Brave New World’ scenario that could easily come about with the increasing tendancy to converse with computerized voices such as ‘Siri’ on mobile phones.

I know one savvy couple who are clued-up about managing technology well in their home. They limit their children’s use of the internet using the ‘Screen Time’ app with parental controls.  Once the time is up, for example for social media, you receive a notification that you’ve reached the limit and can choose to be reminded to get off the app in 15 minutes, or ignore the limit for the whole day. However parents can take control by adjusting the amount of time and shutting down a child’s access to the internet once their allowance is used up. The threat of having their allowance curtailed is enough to keep their children concentrating on their homework instead of being distracted by their devices  – and  good habits are encouraged by setting them tasks to complete and rewarding with additional screen time. Dad has also set up the internet in their home so that if anyone attempts (unsuccessfully) to go on a blocked site, he is alerted to the fact on his computer!  What is noticeable is how happy and outgoing their children are, chatting openly instead of switching off from family life during the holidays and disappearing to another room for hours to watch something on their tablet. After all Christmas is about spending time with family and friends.

A very happy and peaceful Christmas!

Letting in the Light of Christmas

by Susan Peatfield

We are now firmly on the countdown to Christmas. Whether we are expecting a houseful for the holidays, or just have to organize ourselves, this is a busy and expectant time.

Many of us will treasure happy memories of childhood Christmases. The excitement of decorating the tree; the joyful anticipation on Christmas Eve of opening our eyes next morning to see the presents waiting for us; the sound of Christmas songs and carols; the delicious seasonal tastes and smells of spices and good things to eat and drink:  the lights in shops and streets; the flickering candles of Advent and the warm glow of our homes in the cold of winter.

Christmas itself lights up this season of the year. As the year gets older and darker towards the solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, our earliest ancestors protected themselves against the darkness by lighting fires and feasting and celebrating the hope for the sun’s return.

Our traditions draw on these older ones – the yule log and hot spiced drinks date from earlier times. The true meaning of Christmas though is sometimes only glimpsed today, in amongst all the tinsel and noise.

Recapturing some of our childhood wonder is one of the gifts of Christmas. This is not nostalgia but a reawakening – opening our eyes again – to all the season holds. And, again, it is in our homes that we can capture the glow.

A beautiful tradition of Advent is to make a wreath of fragrant evergreens – pine, ivy, holly and wintersweet – around five candles. Four candles represent the four Sundays in Advent, and week by week first one candle, then two, three, four and then on Christmas Eve the fifth and final candle is lit. Lighting our journey to Christmas. Although these are a centerpiece of churches in Advent they are very appropriate and meaningful decorations for our homes too.

Another way of letting this light shine is to have a special place for the Christmas story in your home. It can be a lovely activity, if you have young children, for them to arrange the figures of the Holy Family. Remember that the figure of the Baby Jesus is not placed in the manger until midnight on Christmas Eve. It might be that this is the “privilege” of the youngest child – in which case they can do it before they go to bed. It can also be very powerful for everyone to gather at the crib on Christmas morning and to see the Baby Jesus there.

Keep the light of Christmas shining through the celebrations by taking a few minutes each day to light a small candle by the crib and to be warmed and nourished by all that this wonderful season brings to us.

Happy Christmas!

Marking the Changing Seasons

By Susan Peatfield

The way life can be these days, rushing from work, to school, to home – sitting on buses, trains and in traffic – it is easy to miss the changing of the seasons.

AutumnTrue, we might notice the rain and the cold, but the real differences that mark the moving forward of the year all too often pass us by. Ask yourself this: when was the last time I really looked at the trees on my way to work or on the school run? When did I last look at the flowers growing – or not – in my garden or in the local park? Do I know which of the vegetables in my supermarket belong to this time of the year?

Autumn is, as the poet says, the “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness”. It is also a time of golden leaves and a rich harvest of good things to eat, drink and enjoy. But, blink and you miss it as we now find ourselves hurtling towards preparations for Christmas. One way to slow down the pace and to take stock of our surroundings is to bring some of the changes outside inside – into our homes.

Perhaps you have a memory as a child of a “Nature Table” at school? Or maybe you remember bringing home horse chestnuts “conkers” and pinecones from walks in the park? If these things gave you pleasure then, it is very likely they still have the power to bring you pleasure now. More than pleasure, in fact, more a real connection with the beauties of the natural world.

Look around your home for a suitable “space”. It might be a shelf, or a small table, or even a ledge by your front door. All it needs to be is where you will SEE it – and it not to get on your nerves! (Not where it will get in the way or get knocked over.)

autumn 2A small piece of fabric or paper in a season-appropriate shade could mark out the space chosen. The display depends on you – what you find and what you like. A typical autumn display might contain: brown, red and gold leaves from a range of trees; acorns, conkers and pinecones; a miniature pumpkin or squash, a small jar of asters-“Michaelmas Daisies” – or chrysanthemums; a bunch of grapes or some rosy apples. In other words, anything that brings the season’s glow into your home – and life.

Men who sometimes work from home ‘are the happiest’

If you consider that day nurseries in the UK can charge £70 a day per child it’s hardly surprising that unpaid carework and household chores are estimated to be worth a staggering £1 trillion – more than the whole of the manufacturing and retail industries put together.
And who takes responsibility for all that unpaid work? No surprises to learn that according to ONS figures for 2014, women carried out 26 hours of unpaid work on average per week compared to 16 hours by men. And many women would probably dispute the male average figure of 16 hours!

The home has undergone substantial change in recent years with both couples having to be wage earners in order to afford to get on the property ladder. The traditional role of the woman devoted entirely to running the home while the man works full time,  gave way to women working part or full time and frustratingly trying to juggle the demands of work both inside and outside the home.
People often have to commute long distances to their workplaces, work long hours and couples are rarely able to relax together in the evenings.  Many are anxious and feeling overstretched and their children are equally anxious if they not able to spend enough time altogether as a family. When the family is struggling, relatives and elderly neighbours living alone get overlooked and loneliness creeps into their lives.
Hence the wellbeing of the whole of society is dependant on the state and happiness of the home.
But a ‘third way’ is now gaining ground – shared responsibility or the rapidly growing demographic of the stay-at-home Dad. No longer reproached by wives for their absenteeism from the home, men who are able to redesign their work schedule to take a more prominent role at home are reporting increased levels of contentment and engagement within the family, especially when they take on equal parenting roles. A recent US study claims that Dads who wash the dishes raise more aspirational daughters.
“As a man, there is a great deal of satisfaction in knowing that you are at least contributing toward the physical care of your family. The best case scenario is being able to do that while at the same time spending time with them at home,” commented one blogger who has “done the entire range” – worked in an office 100% of the time, worked from home 100% of the time, and now works part time in the office, part time at home. “Dads who work from home, at least some of the time are the happiest,” he says.
While it’s generally accepted for women to rearrange their hours at work to balance home responsibilities, there’s still a bias against men doing the same.
But as the demands of an aging population add to the number of hours couples need to devote to caring for their extended families, perhaps companies will find they must provide a more flexible work schedule for both men and women if they are to retain their trusted employees.

The home is also a “business”

By Antonio Argandoña

On 10 October the Home Renaissance Foundation held a meeting at IESE Business School, Barcelona, Spain, to launch the book The Home: Multidisciplinary Reflections, which was published last March. Instead of the standard presentation of the contents of the book, this session consisted of a brief presentation and a round table discussion on the part of academics, publicity agents, professionals and parents, talking about the home as a business. The following is a brief summary of my opening presentation.

Book HRF

A business is an organisation, and the home is also an organisation, i.e. a group of people working together for some common goals that will benefit all of them, though probably for different reasons. This definition contains five key elements:

  1. The people. In a business everyone is usually, though not always, there because they want to be. Participation in the home is not always voluntary: small children, for instance, cannot decide whether or not to remain at home. What matters is that in a business and a home alike, everyone counts: the family members, those who help from within it and from outside, relations and neighbours… all of them are shareholders, directors, employees, suppliers and clients.
  2. In a business each person has his or her own reasons for being there. The employees, for example, may wish to be paid, learn, improve their career, have a good time, make friends, etc. The same is true of a family, but here it is very important that all of them are at least to some extent prepared to do things for one another.
  3. Shared objectives. In a business, the central aim is the actual existence of the business, because everyone obtains from it what they need: clients receive goods or services, the employees receive pay, training and a career, the owners receive profit. The home is an organisation with multiple purposes: reproduction, nutrition, training, care, physical and psychological security, acquisition of an identity; plus restaurant, school, hospital, playground… a place to live, develop skills and talents, grow in knowledge, capacity, build attitudes, values, and virtues… and also learn to “replicate” the organisation, i.e. form another home in due course.
  4. Intentional participation, because, in the words of a colleague of mine, “the necessary and sufficient condition for an organisation to exist in reality is that there is a set of people who are motivated to belong to that organisation, with all that their membership implies. The organisation should aim to maintain and strengthen their motivation, without which the organisation would disintegrate.” When one member starts to think that he or she would rather be somewhere else, the home begins to break up.
  5. Coordination and direction are also needed. In the context of the home this is not necessarily hierarchical, or necessarily democratic: it probably changes over time. What matters is that everyone feels involved in this coordination, each according to his or her possibilities. The baby’s involvement consists of crying, laughing, eating and dirtying its nappies, because all of that is what motivates the rest to take on their respective responsibilities.

To sum up: a home is an organisation that one is always (or almost always) part of, sometimes without explicitly deciding to be. It is a community of persons each with their own reasons for being there, but above all, with an interest in the home’s fulfilling its function and continuing to exist; and it can be replicated in new places, albeit with changes. The key of a home lies in its members’ readiness to work together with others, including people from outside, to make it a place of training in knowledge, abilities, attitudes, dispositions, values and virtues, in regard to different family members at different times. And meanwhile the home offers services to its members, which are an opportunity to live together and fulfil that particular function. The home is an excuse for living together. For that to happen, everyone needs to be prepared to do everything when the time comes: each is necessary, and each member has to find his or her role at each moment. I explained this with a phrase of my own: in the home, each member has to be ready to iron an egg or fry a shirt.

Calls for a ‘digital detox’ in the home

There’s no denying that the internet is immensely useful – connecting young people with their friends and with just a few clicks, a world of information comes to our screens. But as most of us have discovered, it comes at a price – it’s hugely addictive!

We all know people who just seem unable to look away from their devices and see so many youngsters today absorbed by their phones as they walk along the street. Their eyes become glazed and it takes a lot to peel them away from tablets, laptops or smartphones. Technology is controlling us rather than the other way round. The only way to keep it in check is a digital detox at least once a week where everyone puts away their devices and speaks to each other, before we risk turning into social recluses. And where does most training begin? Naturally, in the home – it’s where our core values are nurtured and reach fruition.  It calls for a day a week when the family sit down together and chat or go out for a walk come rain or shine, when we challenge ourselves to achieve something rather than retire to the comfort of the smartphone when the forecast doesn’t look too bright.

According to Dr Tim Elmore, Founder of ‘Growing Leaders’, an organisation dedicated to mentoring young people to become the leaders of tomorrow, parents need to stop mollycoddling their children. They have to teach youngsters to possess true “grit” if they are to survive the digital era of instant communication, where everything happens at the click of a switch and people can feel overwhelmed by the demands being made of them. Dr Elmore, whose two children both suffered severe bouts of anxiety as they were growing up even though they came from a “healthy” home, states in his book ‘Stressed Out’ that today’s adolescents are “overcommitted”, “overexposed” and “overprotected.”

“Parents have often nurtured them, coddled them, and done a much better job protecting than preparing their kids for the world that awaits them as adults. We’ve prepared the path for the child instead of the child for the path. It would be easy to assume this is only true for adolescents from very busy and affluent areas….. but it’s happening everywhere,” says Dr Elmore.

“One could argue we should be the happiest, most well-adjusted people in history with more technology, more conveniences, more stress-saving devices available than ever. Sadly we seem to be more depressed than previous generations. Times in the past were simpler and we expected to get less done during the days, we attempted less during any given day. All of the clutter and expectations are catching up on us. There are lots of things screaming at us to stimulate us –so when we are experiencing periods that are not stimulating we can feel down,” he said.

He recommends that the quickest steps children can take to maintain happy lives is to have “margin” in their days. “Those who are emotionally healthy are those who create margin in their calendar,” he says. “They schedule portions of their day to create space. They remove noise and clutter during those portions of the time. They experience solitude, quietness, simplicity. They take control of their day instead of remaining at the mercy of the busyness going on.”

According to neuroscientists, it’s when we’re bored that we can be most creative. So let’s all ‘unplug’ periodically, show more empathy and use our imagination to greater effect!

‘Generation sensible’ find contentment at home

By Rosemary Roscoe

As thousands of ‘sixth-formers’ head back to school or move on to university after a glorious summer break, it’s encouraging to hear that the majority prefer home life to hanging out with their friends.

AdolescentAccording to a recent poll of 1,000 16-18 year olds they are far more focused on their studies than indulging in drugs, alcohol and sex. Dubbed ‘Generation sensible,’ two-thirds of the teenagers surveyed said they had never had sex and 24% said they had never drunk alcohol – which may explain the sharp fall in teen pregnancies since 2007.

More than 80% of those surveyed said performing well in exams or succeeding in their chosen career was a top priority, compared with 68% who said spending time with friends was a top priority. And many admitted to spending 4-5 hours a day on social media, with work and study commitments making organising time to meet up with friends difficult.

Young people were also more likely to view time with their family as of high importance than time with their friends.

Have teenagers always secretly craved a happy home life rather than going out and getting drunk with their friends – or are the latest generation of social media savvies so well informed about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse they won’t risk going down that route?

Whatever the reason, it says something about the importance of the home for our mental and physical wellbeing.

Joanna Roughton, a 21st-century homemaker

By Ángela de Miguel

Joanna was a mother of six, wife, and journalist, who left frontline journalism to dedicate herself to her family full time.  She never regretted the move. Knowing that her home was now working better made her happy, and she knew how lucky she was. In a Homemakers Project interview, she said that her current “job” was certainly no less important than her former one.

As a journalist, she had been senior editor for Reuters in Hong Kong and Singapore, and then Head of Foreign News at Sky News in London. Only someone who has travelled the same path knows just how gripping that sort of work is. But in an editorial meeting after having her first child, she realized that her priorities were now elsewhere.

Joanna and her husband, Colin Brazier, supported Home Renaissance Foundation from the start. Convinced of the need to talk about homes and how important they are for society, they were the ones who suggested our latest study, the Global Home Index, on the values required to make a home.

For several years, Joanna’s posts on the Home Renaissance Foundation’s blog were a way of keeping in touch with her previous job. They are well worth reading – direct, touched with irony, and still keenly applicable today.

Although we worked together in the same thinktank I met Jo face to face just three or four times – a downside of teleworking. Those few meetings were gems; she really was a woman for all seasons. She won me over in the first minute of our first meeting. She always had a smile that expressed the joy of her Christian faith, she was charged with energy, and combined optimism and realism. All of these features were used by her from day to day in building the home that she captained, a-swirl with six children, horses and dogs, and a husband at the beck and call of breaking news.

She knew the pitch and how to play it. We can be sure she has left a stellar example that will be followed by her children under Colin’s guidance, and that from heaven she will continue cheering on her wonderful family with the same strength she always showed. Rest in peace, Joanna Roughton.

Smart is already on Instagram

SMART Home Management is the more practical project of Home Renaissance Foundation. SMART is a new vision for running your home.

In 2012 a group of people became aware of the need for homemakers to see their role as a profession, and of the demand for developing the skills necessary to become competent and to avoid being overwhelmed by the work of the home. To this end, SMART Home Management was set up to provide holistic courses that offer training in every aspect of the home, from family relationships to de-cluttering a room.

A total of 315 women have participated in the SMART workshops, learning new skills as well as how to apply these in their own homes and in the wider community.

So now, thanks to social media, we wish to share with you this interesting initiative through Instagram, the most visual social network.

You will find plenty of advice on Instagram about order in the home, tidying, cooking or cleaning and we think that while they are full of useful tips, there is a need for something more structured.

Most of the tasks and activities of the home are concerned with education and the vision of the home. We believe in good management and the well-being of all the members of the home, which makes such a big impact on our lives – so let’s take good care of it and learn how to manage it well!

If you have an Instagram account, please, follow us and share it with your contacts!