Tuesday, October 21, 2014

How Living Lionheart went from a small idea to something big

Sponsored post

When I go back and read my first post that I wrote in 2010 when Travis the Lionheart was only 2, how could I have known what this blog would become?

I don’t know if I have ever shared ‘the big picture’ about Living Lionheart, and how this blog started with a small idea, and then literally changed my life – and dare I say, the lives of other families like ours?

This is what happened. I was on the brink of turning the big 3-Oh, and I was struggling to cope with raising a special needs child. That’s putting it mildly, I think. I had been steadily losing my marbles ever since he was diagnosed with Septo Optic Dysplasia when he was 8 months old.

I started writing about what we were going through, and I wanted my blog, which was then called “A Lionheart in our Bathtub”, to “educate and entertain”. Within a few posts I hit my stride, and found my hop-skippety mumbo-gumbo style of writing, my “voice” that I first started experimenting with when I worked at FHM. (Yeah, can you believe it? I used to be what we media folk called a “mag hag”.)

Within 6 months of starting the blog, I made the Top 10 in the Best New Blog category of the South African Blog Awards. Then a few months after that, I won the Mommy Blogger of the Year award from Kidzworld.

The story of the “Lionheart family” appeared in Living & Loving – and it felt so strange to even think of myself as “Momma Lionheart” in those days. Then we were featured as Blogger of the Month in Your Baby magazine. Then followed more interviews, most recently in Sarie magazine.

Not only that, but I was being asked to contribute articles about parenting to various magazines, and soon I was able make a living as a freelance writer.

I couldn’t quite believe that not only was I able to share our story, and be the voice of families like ours AND make a living by doing it. That is some fairy godmother stuff, right there.

Some time in 2012, just before World Autism Month, which is in April, I decided to play matchmaker and find one person who had a tablet they didn’t use anymore, and a family struggling with autism that wanted to use the device as an educational tool. (Travis the Lionheart goes to an amazing school for special needs children and I knew that many families like ours were discovering that there are apps out there especially designed for kids with autism and special needs to communicate and learn.)

A tablet was donated to me. And then another, and then another.
Starting a charity seemed like the right thing to do.

And so I was now a blogger, a freelance journalist, and charity founder. And it all started with that first post back in July 2010.

But let me tell you a secret: in my inbox I have a folder where I have saved all the emails I receive from families like ours over the years. I read them when times are hard for our family. Especially now, when our Lionheart is going through a rough patch and we’re feeling the strain.

Being Momma Lionheart is a great honour. The relationships and friendships that have grown from the seeds of this blog, and our charity, have changed me greatly as a human being. A bit like Cinderella, except instead of sparkly shoes and a pumpkin coach, I was given a magical soapbox from which to share our story and touch people’s lives.

Do you want to turn something small into something big? 
This summer Lumia is granting wishes!

Maybe you want to spend some quality time with your kids on a beach holiday, but you just can’t afford it. Maybe you have always wanted to do a course in copywriting? Maybe you are trying to get your business off the ground, and you just need someone to sweep in and build you a beautiful website and print some fancy business cards? Maybe you want to propose?

Let Lumia help you do that – tell them what inspired idea you want to make a reality, and they just might! Click here (it’s a really short form to fill in).

PS: I’m deeply curious what your idea is. If you want to tell me, put it in the comments below.

Blogger Tricks

Ice lollies in the summer

You know, even though it is TOUGH doing this Living Lionheart thing, I was reminded once again after my post on Sunday how important it is to search for those little moments that make it all worth it. I have written about them before - I call them bright red buoy moments. When you spot a buoy bobbing in the stormy waters of parenting and you just hang on for dear life!

So here is one of those moments: my three boys eating orange paddle pops at 9am on a Sunday morning, still in their pyjamas with their hair unbrushed.

PS: Every time you see Ryan's hands in the air it's because he has just yelled "Cheese!" I don't know why he thinks throwing your hands in the air when you shout "Cheese!" is a Thing, but it just is.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

This is why we can't have nice things

I’m trying to have a sense of humour about this. I was even going to suggest you imagine ACDC’s “Thunderstruck” playing as the soundtrack to this post.

The inside of my nostrils are burning as I type. From sweeping up black pepper with a broom and pan. Clouds of it. I can feel my throat swelling closed.

Travis is a whirlwind of destruction.

There is that saying: “Once you have kids, you only have kids.” Meaning they destroy all your stuff.

But this is something else.

I look at the Instagram shots of the interiors of your houses, with your chevron pattern pillows, and pretty wall stickers and clutter-free dining room tables with artsy deer-shaped ornaments and I think: “How the fuck do other families do it?”

Our furniture is lined with ballpoint scribbles. Chips of concrete have been knocked out of our walls. Bedroom doors have ragged holes in them.

All this damage, done by children.

But you know, that’s just the regular stuff.

Travis is a one-boy wrecking machine.  I don’t know if it’s just a way for him to vent his frustrations – he doesn’t “play” or even watch TV, you see – but the sheer Rand value of damage he’s doing to our home is becoming astronomical.

Is this a special needs thing? A mental disability thing? An autism thing? Normal for any 7-year-old? Or maybe it is fair to say normal for a 7-year-old sized 18-month-old. Because that is where I peg his mental age at.

 I don’t know. But let me tell you what our Lionheart has done, just in one week.

Travis now pulls the plug points out of walls. Yes, the square thing behind which lies the wires that lead into the plug point. He used to pull the covers off the plug points, so that the bare metal is showing beneath. But now he rips the entire metal box out of the concrete wall, so that the wires are exposed. There is no fixing this without the help of an electrician, by the way. And it’s fucking dangerous for the other kids to say the least. We have now had to use masking tape to get the electrical unit flat against the wall again until we can get in the pros.

He couldn’t rip the electrical unit of his bedroom wall, so instead he’s bent it so badly that the cover doesn’t go on again. It will need to be replaced entirely.

On Saturday, he kicked the glass out of his bedroom window. This is the second time he’s done it. Basically he just keeps on kicking or slamming his windows open and closed until they shatter.

I used masking tape (yup, we have a lot of that around here) to try seal the shattered bits together so that he doesn’t have the wind blowing through before we can get it repaired. And because it’s unsafe to have bits of glass everywhere.

I have a shower. Check in on Travis afterwards. He’s pushed or punched through the glass, even though I taped the shit out of it. Now there is a big, gaping, jagged, hole. Not to mention shards of sharp glass that will cut him, and his siblings, to ribbons.

So I rearrange his bedroom this morning so that it’s not so easy for him to get to any plug points or glass windows when he’s chilling on his bed (which is his HQ these days).

We don’t really need a plug point available in Trav’s room because I can’t put a bedside lamp in there. Why? Because he smashes them.

Just a few days ago I went and bought three new bedside lamps for the house to replace all the lamps he’d smashed previously. I have bedside lamp shopping down to an art.  It has to be stainless steel because he breaks anything ceramic. I got him a nice blue (steel) desk lamp from Mr Price, and in less than 24 hours, he broke it.

He picks up the lamp and slams it into the ground a few times. That should do the trick! Then he goes around the house and does the same to everyone else’s lamps.

But I digress. Let’s talk Sunday morning.

Suddenly, I can the smell of pepper blowing through the house. Now, I know it’s Travis because yesterday I walked into his room and he’d taken one of those boxed pepper refills from our spice cupboard and was stimming with it (he shreds the cardboard wrapping, takes out the foil packet, and rubs it across his mouth).

Travis had gotten some black pepper in his eyes. It burnt like hell, obviously, and I had to try and wash his eyes out using a syringe filled with water. Which resulted in much pinching and scratching, as you can imagine.

So I know it can only be Travis who is back in the pepper!

True as God, I walk into his bedroom. Travis has thrown all of his clothing out of his cupboard (I have to repack his cupboard several times a week). Then he has thrown the pepper all over the clothes lying on the floor. And his bed.

At this point I am tempted to just turn around and walk away. Leave him with his peppery clothes and bedspread and to hell with it. But, of  course, I can’t. I know it’s just a matter of minutes before he wipes his eyes with it and we have to go through yesterday’s wrestling match. Again. Plus, his brothers will dip their hands into it too.

So there I am, brushing up small, dusty mounds of pepper while the wind blows into his room (because there is an enormous hole in his window, remember). And feeling. Dammit, all the feelings.

You know you can’t leave shoes lying anywhere in our house? Travis rips out the inner soles. Some shoes you can just slide the inner soles back in (I have a neat stack of inner soles in Ryan and Oliver’s room, which I can’t seem to find the accompanying shoes for).

Other makes of shoe, once you rip the soles out, you might as well throw them in the trash. Like all of my flat shoes. Destroyed.

You know we spent R600 bucks on a nice new pair of sneakers for Travis this week? New Balance. White ones. He freaking loves them! He loves them so much that he ripped out the inner soles as soon as we got home from the shopping centre. We bought his little brothers each new sneakers that same day, and have to hide them at the top of their cupboard out of Trav’s reach.

Not that this has stopped him. He has already ripped the soles out of Oliver’s new sneakers when we accidentally left them lying about.

Sunglasses. Reading glasses. When people come over we have to warn them not to leave these within reach, because Travis can destroy them in under 60 seconds if they are left unattended. He snaps off the frames. One side – snap – then the other – snap, and then he’ll do his best to push the two lenses out of the frame too.

Forgivable when it’s a R50 pair of sunnies you bought from the guy at the traffic light. When it’s a R6 000 pair of Ray-Bans, not so funny.

Car keys? Poof. Gone. In the swimming pool or buried in pot plants.

I just don’t know what to do anymore, really, I despair. And there is no disciplining Travis – really, I have tried all methods. He is incapable of restraining himself. You can’t reason with him. You can yell all you like but he doesn’t even make eye contact. He is locked in his own world. And he is pretty miserable, I can tell.

And now, I have to wrap this up. Oliver is having a nap in his cot, and Travis has barged into Oliver’s room and is banging on the cot with a plastic piece of… something… and moaning and shrieking.

I am doing my nut in, people, really I am.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

I will be speaking on personal branding at #JoziMeetUp

If you are not doing anything on 8 November, and are in the mood for a little stand-up comedy, I will be speaking at the #JoziMeetUp. The comedy will be my outfit, although I can't promise that I won't slip a photo of a naked person into my slide deck just to make sure that you are paying attention.

I will be speaking on Personal Branding, and as a teaser - my presentation will be called 7 Fast and Dirty Tricks to Cement Your Personal Brand.

"Fast" because I have the floor for 20 minutes.

I was so very sorry that I missed the previous #JoziMeetUp. I was stalking everyone's Instagram feeds, and feeling much, much FOMO. Especially when I saw what was in those goodie bags.

Not. This. Time.

I will be there, and I will be square. That is because my backside is rather square and there is very little I can do about that in the next three weeks.

Join me?

Get hold of Laura to book your ticket. I hear they are being snapped up FAST!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Saving for your child’s education, Lionheart-style

Collaborative post

Recently I was set the challenge of investigating the different ways in which I could set aside funds for my boys’ education. When you think ‘education’, you’re usually picturing the staggeringly high cost of a stint at university, but in my experience, school fees begin hogging your family budget much earlier than you’d expect.

Example: My three boys attend good schools in our neighborhood. From January next year we’ll be paying over R11 000 a month towards school fees, and my kids are all under that age of 7. That’s R5 000 a month for Travis the Lionheart who attends a special needs school, and over R3 000 each for Ryan (3 years old) and Oliver (18 months old). 

FYI: these are not fancy schools, you know, like the ones with ludicrous waiting lists.

Looking at this breakdown of costs, this means, practically, that as parents and providers you need both short-term and long-terms solutions to save for your child’s education, starting from nursery school, to primary school, high school, and beyond. A three-year degree costs more than a small car!

Here are some tips for saving for your children’s education, Lionheart-style.

Saving for education, today
How do you make the money for school fees and extracurricular activities materialise out of thin air, right now, today? There’s no magic formula, short of taking on a second job. The easiest way to save money – is not to spend it. Here are some of the ways the Lionheart family saves our pennies:
  • We don’t have DStv. That’s a saving of R800 right there.
  • We buy in bulk. Example: these 200g packs of bacon that have replaced the usual 250g ones? Doesn’t bother us, because we buy bacon 1kg at a time, and it only costs R84.99 (at Food Lover’s Market – thank me later).
  • We shop at Jet, Ackermans and Mr P. Even though I have my nose pressed up against the window at Cotton On, lusting after their cute Ramones and Sex Pistols tees for boys, I know they’ll grow out of their pricey hipster shirts in a few short months.
  • We squeeze every penny out of our loyalty programmes and being an ‘eBucks whisperer’ should be a skill that you can be endorsed for on LinkedIn.
Cutting these corners in the Lionheart budget means that we have enough to pay school fees every month.

If you are already managing to pay your child’s current school fees, then you should be thinking about putting money away for the future and life insurance cover is one of the many investments that should be a part of your key considerations - that is if you haven’t as yet invested in this financial product. Here are some long-term savings options:

Saving for education, tomorrow
Firstly, putting money away in a 30-day notice account each month is a handy way to save, but the interest you’ll earn is not much, even with the magic of compound interest (that’s when you are earning interest on top of interest). To really make your savings grow nice and fat, you need to invest. Here are a few smart ways to do that.

  • Unit trusts – Almost always a safe bet (if not a little boring).
  • ETF (exchange traded funds) – You know how Satrix works? You pay a set amount each month that comes off by debit order, like R300, and it is immediately invested on your behalf in the Top 40 shares on the JSE? This is the same thing, except there are different ‘baskets’ of shares to choose from. Pick one that has a spread of shares across different industries to minimise your risk. It’s proven that buying shares is an excellent investment, but only if you’re doing so long-term.
  • Education policies – Many insurance and financial services companies offer these. You calculate how much you’ll need for education (say, varsity fees), taking inflation into account, and then pay a set monthly figure towards it.
Remember, life insurance is one area in which you can’t cut any corners. If something happens to you – death, illness or disability (and we know all about the devastating effects of that last one in this family) and you don’t have the necessary monetary plan in place, you could be faced with severe financial distress.

When you’re starting a family you have dependents to take care of and ensuring that you’ve done all that you can to safeguard their financial security is an important matter and shouldn’t be delayed. Hippo’s comparison site makes the process of finding the suitable life cover all the more easier, providing you with a range of life insurance quotes which are suited to your budget. 

I hope I’ve given you a few ideas as to what you need to bear in mind as you plan your child’s future. Proper financial planning for your loved one’s education whether you invest in insurance policies or savings plans like Unit Trusts, ETFs and Education Policies will go a long way to easing your future financial concerns.

Now, check out this awesome infographic that was made especially for my article :)