Saturday, October 31, 2009

Trick or Treat Aussie Style

Happy Halloween!

When we moved here I was pretty sure we had given up any hope for the kids to be able to go "Trick or Treating". I thought October 31st would be just another day to the Australians, with no spooky fanfare. Happily, I was wrong!

Apparently our neighbourhood is one of the few who do celebrate Halloween, so we really lucked out there. The kids didn't get to wear costumes or have any celebrations at school but they were excited that they would not miss out on the big candy grab!
Caitlyn, wearing her candy corn t-shirt and leggings, and I, in my tacky Jack-o-lantern shirt, put on our sunscreen (sorry to gloat!!), and proceeded to vamp up our house true Halloween style! Normally, I stick to some tasteful fall decorations and pumpkin patch signs, but this year I felt like I had to somehow prove my Canadian-ness by having the best decorations on the block! We had spider webs galore, a giant arachnoid hanging from the front deck, stuffed pumpkins swinging from the palm trees, and a carved twenty-four dollar orange pumpkin glowing to greet the trick-or-treaters!! Yes, I did say $24!!!! And no, I do not want to hear how pumpkins were only $2 each at Superstore!!!! Bananas, bananas, bananas!!!!!! I had just dropped my friends off at the airport and was feeling a little homesick when I made that purchase! Next year maybe we will go on the cheap and carve a yoda out of one of the green pumpkins they have here!!

At 4:30 p.m. we all got dressed and ready to head out to met some of Caitlyn's friends for trick-or-treating. Yes, all 3 of us got dressed up! And the bonus here was that we didn't have to figure out a costume that would fit over a snow suit! Oh sorry - gloating again!

Caitlyn wore her Tinkerbell costume with light-up wings, Jack was Luke Skywalker, and I dressed up as Marge Simpson. I figured that I may as well have some fun since I don't know enough people here yet to be embarrassed! We looked great, if I don't say so myself! Since Halloweening is a new thing here, the costumes we saw reminded me of my childhood. Not the fancy store bought ones you see nowadays, but the kind you threw together the day before Halloween! Girls were either witches or ghosts (bed sheet and all) and the boys were murder victims or scary masked murderers! Good thing I didn't go to all the trouble of making an Ahsoka (Star Wars) costume for Caitlyn! I would have looked way too keen!!

Paul was in charge of handing out candy. Again, I don't want to hear about how Halloween candy was $10 for 100 candy bars! I paid $22 for 50 mini Malteasers and $10 for some lollipops! But, what are you going to do??? You got to have lollies!! We actually ran out of candy by 7:30 p.m. and had to turn out the lights. I think we had more kids come to our door here than we ever did in our Calgary house!

The kids didn't get as much candy as they did last year but they didn't notice at all. They counted and sorted and were over the moon! And, they still let me raid their bags for a candy bar! Isn't that what's it about?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Boob Man

I knew I'd get your attention with that title! You'll have to read on....

Our friends Shannon and Fred have arrived from Calgary! Yippee!!! The kids and I picked them up from the airport and everyone was all smiles, hugs, and kisses.

While Skype is great, and I certainly appreciate the technology, it can sometimes feel a little like how I'd imagine a prison visit would feel. You get to see and talk to the people you care about - but no there's touching allowed! Instead of a glass wall in between, there's a computer screen and a million miles! So, let's just say that it felt really good to physically give them an actual hug!

After having only Paul and I around for the last two months, Jack and Caitlyn were very happy to have someone else to interact with. My kids are both pretty PDA (public displays of affection) kids so I wasn't surprised to see them snuggle right up to Shannon and Fred.

Caitlyn shows her love with kisses and notes while Jack shows his with chatter and cuddles. It feels great when Jack snuggles up tight but I must admit that he does have an issue with the concept of personal space.

Poor Shannon! Let's just say, Jack was quite affectionate this week. My son gave her a big hug when we picked him up from school on Thursday. Shannon was wearing a cute black top with shells all around the neck. In his "absent-minded professor" way, Jack started to non-chalantly rub the shells on Shannon's shirt - all the while talking non-stop about his day. To my embarrassment he didn't choose the shells on her back, or the shells by her shoulders - no, my son went straight for the shells on her chest! And he didn't stop there! While chattering away, he pulled the material out, took a quick peek (I guess to make sure the "girls" were indeed there), and patted the material back down. I tried desperately to steer him away from Shan's cleavage and over to give me a hug. He gave her another quick pat, told her "I like your shirt Auntie Shannon" and then came over to me. He announced that he liked my shirt too and started rubbing the beads on my chest!

Jack has always been a boob man. I remember taking him shopping with me to La Senza when he was about 3 or 4 years old. One minute he was standing beside me and the next I could hear people laughing their heads off. I turned around and just about died. There Jack was, wearing a goofy grin and a flamingo pink bra on his head. There was one cup over each of his ears and he was trying to tie the ends together under his chin. I think someone snapped a photo on their cell phone before we could escape from the store! One day, when he runs for office, there he'll be on You-Tube! So proud!

I guess it could be worse. And what guy isn't a boob man really? At least for now, Jack doesn't mind hanging around his mom and her friends. And as for Shannon - she got more than a camera kiss on Skype to remember!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Brisbane Baywatch?

I had my first adult stroke improvement class last week. It started at 5:00 a.m. - yes, that's right - 5 in the morning!!! What was I thinking?? I've never been an early morning exerciser! But, when I signed the kids up for before-school swimming classes, I felt a surprising draw to get back into the pool.

I used to pride myself on my swimming abilities. As kids we'd swim across Surveyor Lake in the summers, racing to see who could get to the other side first. Even though my Dad would never let us go without rowing alongside, we never needed rescuing. And when a picturesque spot like Kootenay or Surveyor Lake wasn't on the horizon, we would hit good ole Sikome (did they even test for E-coli then?). It seemed like my summers were spent more in the water than on land.

I even liked swimming lessons. Part of what I liked was the competitiveness. I loved it when I could beat the boys in my class - forcing myself to go faster and faster, to skip breathing if I had to. When it came to the level where you had to swim in your clothes - I was a pro. There were no sexy UPF50+ rash shirts then - let's just say that most farmers had a better tan line than I did!

Then as I got older, I had less time for swimming. I still managed to beat Paul at two sprint triathlons when we lived in Houston. He had his excuses, and I didn't beat him by much, but it felt great. Granted, in one race I only beat him by a minute. He still claims to this day that the one minute difference was the time that it took him to close his mouth when the girl next to him stripped down naked in the bike transition area! Still, swimming was one sport I could always beat Paul.

Back to my 5 a.m. swim class. I dragged myself out of bed and to the school pool. I had on my sleek black Nike swim "togs", goggles, and ridiculous headache inducing swim cap. Not exactly a Pamela Anderson Baywatch moment but what can you do? There was only one other swimmer in the pool with me - a former life guard who swims laps every day. I felt somewhat intimidated, having not really swam laps for more than 10 years, but I decided that I was there for me, and so I'd "give it a go." (Although I must admit that the only butterflies I had going for me were in my stomach and not of the swimming style variety!)

Briody (our 20 something coach) told me to swim 6 lengths of freestyle (front crawl) to warm up. So, I took a breath and started. I made it 2 lengths, then had to stop. "O.K.," she said, "try to only stop for 10 seconds after every 2 laps."

That didn't happen. I stopped at each end to gasp. "O.K., try to only stop for 10 seconds between laps". By this time I was seriously feeling like I had swallowed half the pool. Not a pleasant feeling when you know 400 kids with snotty noses and falling off bandaids had been in the pool the day before! Ten second breaks I thought - are you kidding me? Luckily by this time a few more people had come and she didn't seem to notice as much when my "one Mississippi's" turned into "thirty Mississippi's"! After my "warm-up" she must have decided to take some pity on me because I got to do back crawl and also work using the kick board. At least on those laps I didn't have to have my face in the water and I could actually breathe.

But, then it was back to front crawl. With some guy now sharing a lane with me, my "I am woman" competitive streak starting coming back, and I would not let myself give up. So, after 50 minutes of pain, my face was beat red but it was over. Only 9 more weeks to go... yikes!

After I drug myself out of the pool, all I could think was, "Thank God I didn't sign up for the Bribie Island Triathlon this weekend!" Even though the lifeguards here are not unattractive, it would have been embarrassing to be rescued.

So, I've committed to hauling myself to the pool every Friday morning. I figure I can only go up from here. And in a country with sharks in the water - I don't want to be the slowest!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Happy Birthday Mom!

Today (Oct. 16th) is my Mom's birthday. So here's a special "shout out" to you Mom!

Although I may have a personal bias, I think my Mom is the best mom out there. Actually, I'm not the only one who agrees - she was chosen as one of the top 10 moms in Calgary a couple years ago in Vibe 98.5's Mother's Day contest.

Today, I would like to give my Mom a gift of thanks.

Mom, I want to thank you for always being there for Robb and I, and our families.

I want to thank you for being such a kind, considerate, and warm person.

I want to thank you for being the kind of person who would offer help to anyone, without expecting anything in return.

I want to thank you for being the kind of parent we knew would love us no matter what, but who also instilled in us the desire to be the best we could be.

I want to thank you for your vibrant energy - you're like the Energizer Bunny who never stops moving.

I want to thank you for being the kind of Mom/Granny who never ends a conversion without saying "I love you".

I want to thank you for being the kind of Granny who treasures time with her grandkids and whose grandkids know she would do anything for them.

I want to thank you for being the kind of Mom whom I can call when things go wrong, but also the person I most want to call when things go great.

I want to thank you for always making us feel special, for guiding us without judging us, and for making us believe we could do anything.

I want to thank you for your friendship, your great wit and sense of humour, and for always being my cheerleader!

I want to thank you for showing me what a strong, smart, funny, and compassionate woman can accomplish. (That's you Mom!)

I hope you have an amazing day! I love you!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Stop Me before I Volunteer!

I have a button - you know the kind you pin on your shirt, backpack, or whatever. It has a picture of one of those perky 1960s women on it and says "Stop me before I volunteer again!" I received it as a gift from a friend who likes to tease me about my inability to say "no". Well, today I should have been wearing it. I think I lost it in the move....

My day's volunteer extravaganza actually started last night. Jack's Prep class (what they call kindergarten here) cooks on Thursdays. They were looking for volunteers for October and I thought, "hey, why not?" Since they don't really go all out for Halloween in Australia, I thought Halloween cookies would be a big hit with the kids. Today was my day to cook. I was worried because we wouldn't have time to refrigerate the dough after mixing it, so I made a batch ahead of time. That way I could pull a Rachael Ray-like switcharoo and "ta da" perfect cookie dough. But once I made the first batch, I worried that there wasn't enough for 24 kids, so I made another. Never mind that the recipe said one batch would yield 6 dozen cookies - I did not want to be short cookie dough with a bunch of ravenous "Preppies" looking on.

So, this morning I put on my Halloween spider shirt, filled a toy cauldron with ghost, Frankenstein, witch, pumpkin, and bat cookie cutters, and lugged all the ingredients to the school. Jack was over the moon about me coming to cook. I was happy he was happy, but really I was also feeling nervous. While I knew that it was unlikely a bunch of 5 and 6 year olds would swear at me, I still thought it could be "Hell's Kitchen." Let's face it - cooking with your own kids entails patience and a mop. Cooking with three groups of eight children was going to be a little daunting! (Did I mention that there are only 6 girls in the class?)

While the teacher got the kids settled into their start of morning routine, I set out the ingredients and checked my cooking space. It was going to be tight, one mini kids' table and a toaster oven. Well, I'd make it work.

The first group got started late as the kitchen also served as a change room for the other class's swimming lessons. When I did finally get them around the table, I made the rookie mistake of showing them the cookie cutters first. I could have added spinach to the recipe and some of the boys wouldn't have noticed. But, in the end, Jack's group did pretty well mixing up the dough, only getting a small amount of flour on themselves. They cut out their shapes and I managed to get the cookies out of the toaster oven unburnt. After another delay (a Grade 3 buddy project), I got the second group organized. By this time we only had time to roll out the actual dough (that goodness I brought plenty) and cut out their cookies. Well seven kids with nothing to do but wait for their turn to use the rolling pin wasn't going well, so I through caution to the wind and let them fight over the cookie cutters again. With only 10 minutes left before their class had swimming I sat the last group down, gave each a turn with the rolling pin (luckily no one used it as a weapon) and managed to shove the last batch into the oven. I'm sure it was not a Martha Stewart moment for anyone, but heck, all they were interested in was when they could eat one. They didn't care what went into them, or learning about measurements, or anything educational - they were hungry!

Frankly, that should have been the end of my volunteer day. But no... I had also signed up a few weeks before to help with their swimming class. Down I went with my new little friends to the school pool. I had been told that I probably wouldn't have to go into the pool but to come in my "togs" a.k.a "swimmers" a.k.a "swim suit." Unfortunately when we got down there the gym teacher announced that she would appreciate some help and if you had a suit on, jump in! Great! Out of twelve parents (yes, twelve) only two of us had on our togs. At least the pool was warm.

Again, I wish I would have stopped myself there, but no.....

I went home, grabbed a English muffin for lunch, changed out of my suit, and went back to the school for Caitlyn's swimming class. At least with a Grade 3 class, they didn't really need much help changing and I didn't have to go in the pool this time. All I had to do was calm my daughter down (she had an ant crawl onto her face right before and was somewhat hysterical - guess the apple doesn't fall far from the tree with her dislike of creepy crawlies), check off the roll call list, and chat with the two other moms there.

It was a wild day, and I will probably (never say never) do three volunteering stints in a row again, but it was worth it. Caitlyn and Jack are only going to want me at their school for a couple more years. When they're older they will make me stay home or drop them off a block away. So, guess I until then... I'd better ignore the button.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Crocodile Hunter

O.k., I've had my first reptile moment in Australia. I knew it would come sooner or later. I've seen snakes at the zoos here and the occasional lizard at the more wooded parks, but I had yet to actually encounter a creature inside my own house! I didn't like it!!!! Before any of you start worrying about my well-being, it was not a brown snake (venomous ones) or even a poisonous spider. Instead it was a green striped gecko that somehow wandered in and destroyed my afternoon's tranquility.

I was innocently minding my own business, when I saw a little thing by the step. I was about to pick it up, thinking Jack had left his little toy crocodile on the floor when I saw it wink at me. I'm sure the neighbours next door heard me squeal!!

I knew Jack would think the gecko was too cute and ask "Mom, could we keep it?" - but seeing it in my house gave me a major case of the willies. It's like when you hear there's lice going around in your kid's school - you automatically start itching. The idea of some reptile roaming freely around my house, who could at any moment dart out at me, was too much!

Bravely, I tried to get it to run to the door by stomping my feet - but it couldn't get over the step. I thought those things had sticky feet and could climb anything? Not my gecko! Instead my maneuvers backfired and the thing started running towards me. Clearly, I was not channelling Steve Irwin "Crocodile Hunter".

I had to leave for an appointment but I knew I wouldn't be able to sleep if it was still in the house. I had pictures of waking up to a gecko on my head! Having no luck corralling the dumb thing into a container, I finally managed to cover it with a garbage can. So I left him (or her, I didn't check!) confined to quarters. I ignored my urge to call Paul. Later, when I returned, the gecko was thankfully still under the can. I gathered up my courage, opened the garage door, slid a piece of paper under the can, picked it all up, and RAN! I nearly made it out of the garage before the gecko escaped, but this time my foot stamping made it run away from me and into the great outdoors. Again, I was squealing the whole time!!

I'm not even sure if geckos are classified as reptiles but I don't care. While my brain knows they are small, harmless, and even good to have around (they eat mosquitoes) it still freaked me out.

So give me the "wall of death" around my house, thank you very much. I like my reptiles behind glass!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Mommy Yell-est

My name is Jenny Huizinga and I yell at my kids. O.k., there, I've admitted it. I don't yell everyday, but it happens. And I am not proud of it.

I don't start out yelling. It usually goes like this:

"Honey, please go put your shoes on."
"Honey, put your shoes on, please."
"Please go get your shoes on."
"Go get your shoes on now please."
"Your shoes!"
"Get your shoes on!!"
"What are you doing??? Get your shoes on now!!!"

You get the picture. By the end there is no "honey" and certainly no "please". And by then, my daughter or son is in a foul mood, and so am I. Plus, I also get to feel guilty about the whole encounter. Often, during the actual yelling part, I have sort of an out-of-body experience. It's like I am floating above, seeing myself hollering, all the while thinking - hmmmm.... this doesn't seem to be working. Unfortunately, even though the good me can see that the yelling me is being counter-productive, it's hard to make the real me take a breathe and go to my "happy place."

Am I the only mom in the world who yells? I doubt it. (Thanks to TLC I'm sure there's footage of Kate Gosselin yelling at her brood). But it still makes you feel a little like Mommy Dearest when you do have those moments. How do you stop? That's that the million dollar question.

As much as I'd like to think that if my kids would just listen to me all would be well, that's just not realistic. It's a mother's pipe dream. I hate to admit it, but I'm part of the problem. When I sit down and analyze my peak yelling periods, it usually coincides with us being late for something or in a hurry to be somewhere.

One of the moms from Caitlyn's class told me that she had a new mantra for parenting - "hurry is the enemy of love". The idea that I could be hurting those I love by always rushing them hit me hard. How many times a day do we tell our kids to hurry up? I know I say it a lot! Sometimes I'm even the reason we're hurrying - letting them sleep in so I can get some housework done first, talking to my Mom on Skype, searching for my keys. Does all this rushing get us anywhere? Not really.

After yelling at the kids to get their shoes and backpacks on, and rushing them off to school, Caitlyn was early and Jack's class hadn't even started. In Jack's class no one even noticed we were late. All that was accomplished was tears, frustration, and a future requirement for psychological counselling. But seriously, none of us was "feeling the love" and that's not good. God forbid if anything happened to one of us, I wouldn't want my last words to be ones of admonishment, especially about something as silly as shoes.

From now one, I'll work on limiting the use of the words "hurry up" in my vocabulary and remember that the world will not end if we are late. And if I do lose it - at least I'm not on reality T.V.!

What are you grateful for?

This post is dedicated to my friends and family celebrating Thanksgiving this weekend. Wish we could be there with you! Please know how thankful we are to have you in our lives!

Every day there are things that don't go our way, things we take for granted, things not accomplished. Far too often we concentrate on what has gone wrong, worrying and stewing about how we haven't yet obtained all the things we want in life. As a Mom, it's easy to focus on what our kids could have done better - how they could have behaved better at the store or how they didn't clean their rooms. I know that I often get trapped into busyness of life and feel the knots in my stomach when I fail to accomplish the tasks on my perpetual "to do" lists. But, there is hope for us. My father taught me something that has helped me live life better and I want to pass it along to others.

My Dad was a remarkable man. He passed away April 19, 2008 of Stage IV colon cancer. At a time in his life when most people would have felt little to be grateful for, my Dad started to write a gratitude journal. He told me how the simple fact of writing down 4 or 5 things he was grateful for each day had changed his whole outlook on life. Focusing on the positive each day left less and less time to think about the negative. He wrote simple things in his journal like how he was "thankful for thicker soup at the hospital today" or "thankful that Edo added salmon to its menu". Can you tell he loved food? Of course he also wrote about important stuff like how he was "thankful for seeing his grand kids and how they made him laugh". Some of the things he wrote in that journal I will treasure for always.

After he told me about his gratitude journal I started writing my own. On a bad day it might seem a daunting task, trying to find the good things to list. However, I've found that once you get started it gets so much easier. You might start with a silly thing like "I'm thankful that my car did not run out of gas today" (something that I am thankful for far too often, given my propensity for pushing the little red light) to being "thankful for a friend's call" or "for a night out without the kids". It's amazing how once you start listing things, more and more ideas pop into your head, and in no time you've actually pulled a good day out of a bad one. I've even added a gratitude journal application on my iTouch. What could be easier?

I may not always write my list down every day but mentally at night, before I go to sleep, I try to recall all the things that were good.

I don't claim to have discovered gratitude journaling but it has helped me focus on what is really important in life - like Caitlyn's love notes, Jack's wide eyed joy about the awesomewater slide we went on, laughing with my friends on Skype, or the best popsicles I have ever tasted - they're called Cyclones here and they are amazing! On that note, I guess I am my father's daughter!

So try a journal yourself... you might like it.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Turkey et Vin

My friend Shannon was teasing me the other day that she was only going to "follow" my blog when I wrote about cooking Coq au Vin - like the blogger whose life was made into the movie Julie & Julia.

If you haven't seen the movie yet, you should go, it has some pretty hilarious moments. Part of the movie is based on a woman who started a blog about cooking Julia Child's 524 recipes in 365 days. An interesting idea for sure, but not something I would ever want to duplicate.

So, I'm sorry Shannon but it's so not going to happen. For one thing - I didn't even know what Coq au Vin was until I Googled it (rooster cooked in wine, for those non-gourmets like myself), and for another - I don't have a passion for cooking. So consequently, I would never choose to cook my way through Julia Child's cookbook, or for that matter, any cookbook. Well - unless it was a cookbook dedicated solely to cupcakes! But then I'd have to blog about my exercise program... boring!

However, in an effort to gain readership (are you there Shannon?) I have decided to cook something on par (at least in my mind) with Coq au Vin - namely Thanksgiving dinner. And while the turkey may not be cooked in wine, the cook may need some to make it through!

For a lot of people cooking a Thanksgiving dinner wouldn't be much of a problem. Usually one person in the family is always responsible for the turkey, year after year after year. I am not that person. Last year I ordered the whole dinner from Sunterra. That's how I roll!

So my decision to cook Thanksgiving dinner will be a challenge, and not just of my cooking prowess. First, there's no such thing as Thanksgiving in Australia. I guess when you come over on a boat as a prisoner of Mother England you don't have a lot to be thankful for! Since they don't do Thanksgiving here, it's proving difficult to find all of the ingredients that you'd associate with a turkey dinner. For one, the only turkey I've found so far looks more like a cross between spam and a turkey - a "spurkey"! Scary!!

Then, the pumpkin pie. Is it too late to get someone to send me a can of pureed pumpkin? I might be willing to risk a rubber glove search by an overeager quarantine official just to get my hands on one! Apparently the Aussies like to work their frustrations out on their pumpkins. The lady at the grocery store looked at me like I had escaped from a mental institution when I asked about pumpkin in a can. Couldn't they have spared a row for cans of pumpkin, or are three rows of jars of beet root really necessary?

With no pumpkin puree in sight it looks like I will be mashing up some fresh pumpkin myself. That got me to thinking - is apple pie associated with Thanksgiving? Who am I kidding?Pumpkin pie is Thanksgiving!! Just like kids jumping in leaves, family around the table, and my brother and cousin Mary moaning about how they need a nap after so much turkey! Guess I better just buck up and smash some pumpkins!

So, I will cook Thanksgiving dinner. Not because I want Shannon to read my blog, but because I love what it represents. Giving thanks for all the good things we have in our lives. This year, far from home and family, celebrating Thanksgiving is a chance for us to appreciate what we have together, while also emotionally linking ourselves with those back home. They will be eating turkey and pumpkin pie - and so will we!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Shopping is not a four letter word

Shopping is not a four letter word, so how can it be bad? I am far from being the shopaholic girl featured in Sophie Kinsella's books, but I do admit to loving shopping (though I am definitely not talking about shopping of the grocery type persuasion!) Some of the best times of my life have revolved around shopping and the friends shopping with me.

My Mom and I took a trip to Seattle the summer after my dad passed away. We both needed to get away. My brother Robb told us what tourist spots we should visit. Friends told me about plays we should see and good restaurants to check out. Well, we saw none of that! It was girls gone wild - if by wild you mean wild about deals!!! We landed in Seattle with no plans as to where exactly we would go. All we had was a map and directions to the nearest factory outlet. Along the way we found Target, Ross, Marshalls, Kohls, and Nordstrom's Off the Rack. It was heaven!

We ate breakfast and dinner - there was no time for lunch! The only mid-day snack allowed was a drink and some popcorn at Target, which we ate while still pushing our carts. We laughed together at outrageous and hideous outfits, rolled our eyes at exorbitant prices, and encouraged each other to buy, buy, buy. Heck, when a cool shirt costs $9, you go for it baby!! We had our Ikea commercial moments - you know the one - where the lady thinks something is too cheap she must be practically stealing it and yells at her husband to "get the car" before anyone notices. We'd give each other "the look" and hustle out of the store, high on getting an amazing bargain.

We stayed in Seattle four nights and never once booked a hotel ahead of time. By 2:00 p.m. we'd start thinking about finding a room, but then we'd find another store. We just didn't want to stop to worry about something as menial as checking in! Like I said, we were wild!! Fortunately we never had to sleep in our car. Though given the motel we stayed at, in the town where they filmed "Twin Peaks," it might have been a better option. But even then, getting a room where the windows looked out at a cement wall, a shower that didn't heat up and only dribbled water, and a TV whose lack of cable meant having to watcher "Cheaters" simply added to our laughter.

During those five days my Mom and I grew even closer as friends. It was a great time that we'll always treasure. We laughed...we cried...we shopped...

Monday, October 5, 2009

A new strand of jewels

When we first arrived in Australia it felt like we were on vacation. As the days past and we actually began living the life you live when you aren't on holiday - cleaning house, taking the kids to school, grocery shopping, etc. I was struck by a sense of loss. The house I was living in Brisbane wasn't home. I missed my friends, my family, my life in Calgary. While I knew that we would all adjust and that my immediate family would grow closer through this, I still felt sad. It seemed like a lot of what made me happy was in Calgary.

But, like Randy Pausch said in his Last Lecture - "you just have to decide if you are a Tigger or an Eeyore." It's a choice. I could choose to be unhappy or I could chose to suck it up and "bounce" back.

Serendipitously, on a day when I was feeling particularly blue, I found an ad in Brisbane City magazine that instantly brightened my mood. The ad was for classes at the Brisbane Institute of Art. I had searched the Internet for art classes and found nothing, but with the link on this ad I found a place that offered everything from drawing to ceramics to jewelry making. With Cait and Jack both in school full-time, here was my chance. Excited, I plugged in my new credit card number and instantly became a student of the arts!

Today was the first day of my 9 week jewelry silversmithing course. I LOVED every minute of it!! I can hardly wait to go back next week. My heart feels happier.

That's not to say that I won't have down moments, or that I wouldn't give anything to hang out with my Mom and my friends in Calgary, but I do need to allow myself some happiness here. William Morris (not sure who he is but I liked his quote) said "Not on one strand are all life's jewels strung." To me that translates like this - there are lots of jewels we have in life (family, friends, things that make us happy) and they are not tied to the same strand or thread in life. You have people and things that help make you happy in one place or time in life, and things and people that help make your happy someplace else. You are free to let yourself wear many "strands" of "jewels" in your lifetime. And for those who know me.... I love necklaces!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Carpe Ice cream

Last week was the equivalent of Spring Break in Australia. Not that my kids really needed days off after being in school for only 3 weeks. Still, there we were in a new city with some time on our hands.

At the start of the week I decided to search for some kid friendly parks in Brisbane where we could get some fresh air. Despite inventions like Google Map I really had no clue where these parks were in relation to our neighbourhood but, I thought, how far could they really be? Well, some were further than expected, perhaps because my GPS decided to pay me back for not listening to her earlier in the week. In spite of her questionable directions we managed to fit 3 parks and 2 picnics into 5 days.

Now, our picnics were not the glamorous type. Who needs fancy food and gingham napkins when you have peanut butter and jelly, some nacho chips, and juice boxes. I decided to add a little excitement by bringing along our ice cream maker. It's this cool contraption that looks like a plastic ball. You let the kids shake it for 20-25 minutes and viola - homemade ice cream!

For our last picnic of the week I decided to try a park on the other side of town. The park had been rated one of the top 10 parks for kids in Brisbane. If I'd been in Calgary I probably wouldn't have bothered venturing out to a unknown suburb but here - it's all an adventure baby!

A mere 55 minutes later, we finally found our park. Wynnum Wading Park - complete with cool net climbers, whale water sprinklers, a ginormous wading pool (Jack's words), and right by the ocean. During the long drive the kids had been taking turns shaking the ice cream maker. So, when we sat down at the picnic table for lunch the ice cream was more than ready. Jack asked whether we could eat the ice cream first, before having lunch. I thought about it for a minute. The ice cream was ready and I knew how good it would taste on a hot sunny day.
"But," the mother in me thought, "what if they eat the dessert and then won't eat their sandwiches?"

Too often isn't this how we think? We don't go out with good friends because we need to do the laundry. Or, we tell the kids we'll make cookies with them another day - we don't want to mess up the kitchen. When you look back on your life do you want to see the regrets? I don't. That doesn't mean that I'll let my house become a disaster area, but I do need to put aside my "mother/wife guilt" sometimes and just live life!

So, going back to the day at the park. I looked at Jack and Caitlyn and thought, "what's the big deal if they don't eat all of their lunch. These kinds of days don't come along as often as we'd like and if I can see the joy on their faces from a simple clandestine act like eating dessert first - then why not?'

So that day I decided we should seize the day and carpe ice cream!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

All Kinds of Families...

In the months before we actually confirmed that we were moving to Australia, we tried to prepare the kids for the possibility. My 8 year old daughter resorted to writing lists of the pros and cons involved. She had items like "won't be able to go to Granny's trailer at the lake" and "no tobogganing" as cons, and "better weather" and "a pool" on the pro side. I could understand her analytical thinking - she's like a clone of my dad (the engineer). He was famous in our family for his "lists" and calculations. I remember when my parents were building a fireplace downstairs - there was my Dad, deep in calculations on how many bricks it would take and how far apart they should be placed. Meanwhile, my Mom (the "action-ator") was already busily putting up the bricks using a Popsicle stick as a spacer! Anyways, I digress. I understand how Cat approached the decision on moving. It was the same way that I was trying to work my mind around it. Both of our lists had items that were not empirically measurable. How do you measure "missing family" with "can go surfing"?

My 5 year old son, however, had a different view of things altogether. He usually does. Jacko is his own little man. One morning, after Paul had gone to work, Jacko climbed into bed with me, cuddling up close. I love it when they snuggle. I asked him what was up and he tearfully told me that he did not want to move. Feeling somewhat ambivalent about the move myself, I tried to be the bigger person and talk about some of the positives and how it would be good for Daddy's work. That's when he came up with a doozer. "Mom," he said, "you know, there are all kinds of families." I kind of looked at him quizzically thinking "what are they teaching in school now?" He proceeded. "Mom, there are all kinds of families. In some families the dad lives somewhere else and he just comes and visits the kids...." Obviously there was an implied "why can't Dad just go?" "Oh man," I thought. Paul is not going to feel particularly loved when he hears this one!" "Honey," I started, "usually in those kinds of families, the mommy and the daddy aren't married anymore." It's not that he wanted Paul to move away. He just thought you could go to Australia and be back the next day. He was right about one thing though. These days there are all kinds of families. Luckily we have the type of family that sticks together, even when it means taking a leap of faith and moving across the world.

In the end, despite a bad start, Jacko did come around to the move. He decided having his own pool was indeed a true pro.

This is SOOO not a diary

I've always been bad at writing diaries. That's why I cannot and will not make this blog a diary of any kind! As a kid I'd inevitably get a diary for Christmas - Santa clearly knew of my love affair with all things stationary - and I would wait until January 1st, eager to pour out the myriad of emotions that I knew I deep down possessed. However, by day 5 I had sunk to writing about what I had for dinner and what a pain in the ass my twin brother could sometimes be. Not exactly the juicy, wild stuff I had envisioned. Pathetically the most remotely interesting entry was about how I thought a boy had whistled at me - written backwards in case my brother attempted to read my diary. Sad I know. My brother only made one attempt to read the diary, mocked me for how utterly unexciting it was, and never tried to find it again. Mind you, not many people would expect anything scandalous to come out of a diary with a picture of Little Orphan Annie on the cover. As I grew older, I continued my pattern of writing for a week or so and then abandoning my efforts. I didn't even have to buy a new diary each time, I'd just keep filling the same sad journal. So why a blog when I couldn't keep up a diary? A few reasons... A blog post can be anything; it can be a story from the past, rantings about the perils of parenting, even a funny anecdote about my new life in Australia. Although I am sure it's not healthy, I think my diaries failed because I prefer to internalize my emotions. Trust me, I can cry at the drop of a hat (something I hate) but I never wanted to label what I was feeling! I'm hoping this blog will let me work on my writing and occasionally show some emotion, but without the "touchy-feely" stuff rampant in diaries. So, this is my challenge - work on letting my creative left brain loose as I share my thoughts on motherhood, life in a new country, and whatever else helps keep me sane! Wish me luck!