Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Bronnie's birthday week

So it's my birthday ... or at least it was on Sunday.

And these days that is supposed to signify a week of celebrations.

In reality, that doesn't really happen.

Let's face it, the days of summer soirees and lazy lunches with the ladies are long behind me.

(God help me, even a photograph of a friend's G and T recently caused a storm of unfounded accusations and lies in the comments section of a recent harmless travel review post. For now I will only say this: I will not feed trolls. The abuse did not unduly bother me, since it was nothing to what I've endured in real life, and these people lost the power to hurt me a long time ago. But when innocent followers were subjected to personal attacks too, I followed expert advice and removed the comments pending further counsel.)

And you know what? Despite the vipers, my birthday week has been great so far.

Okay, so I haven't been living in up in Europe, lazing on a beach in Thailand, or trekking through a rainforest in the Daintree, as I may have done on birthdays past, but I'm a mother now, and my priorities are different.

Firstly, I visited my own dear old Mum with a few other members of the family for her birthday.

Mum, bless her heart, has health and memory problems, so it felt even more important to see her this year.

This year, our presence - well, mostly that of the teeny-tiny members of the family - pretty much seemed to make her day, which made the effort to get there worthwhile.

As for me, I had my kids with me for my birthday, which was all I ever really wanted.

We had a lovely reunion over lunch the day before, catching up over kisses, cuddles and mountains of food ... They are obviously going through a growth spurt!

After grazing all afternoon, and two dinners (!), the pair of them gleefully woke me at the crack of dawn.

"Mumma, it's your birthday!", they shouted, jumping into my bed on either side of me; One bearing the card they made the night before, the other the present (a lovely photo of the two of them).

Mercifully, my birthday fell on a Sunday, so the kids then insisted on making me breakfast in bed. It's kind of a family tradition now.

Harmonie was charged with the task of keeping me horizontal, in-between fixing the toast and apple juice*, while Chase whipped up a batch of his famous scrambled eggs. (He's quite the masterchef you know).

Then they sat and watched eagerly to make sure I ate every bite. Efforts to share were quickly rebuffed. "It's too spicy," said Harmonie, screwing up her nose. (Turns out Chase had added a few herbs from the garden). "Nope, I'm making myself an omelette next," said Chase.

Soon enough it was time to go to my birthday party, organised by my brother and sister-in-law and attended by a few close relatives for a surprise.

Really, it was a kiddy party for adults too, with all the goodies that kids of all ages like. Cheerios (little red sausages) and tomato sauce. Party pies and sausage rolls. Attractively cut up fruit. Teddy bear biscuits. Cheese and crackers. Chocolate birthday cake.  And the usual presents and mayhem, complete with furry kids pattering around and inspecting everything was in order. Thanks to big brother and his lovely wife for going to so much effort to have us all there.

After that, we did a little necessary food shopping, where I managed to talk Chase out of spending his pocket money on some jewellery for me. (Apparently he'd had his eye on it for ages, and was bursting to buy it for me.)

Then it was time for a swim with friends bearing gourmet snacks and gossip, followed by an early barbecue and bed.

In-between there were loads of phone calls, FB and twitter messages, and texts. I was well and truly spoiled.

Monday was back to school for the kids, and a thank-you morning tea for volunteers who had helped out throughout the year.

On Tuesday, I put in a few hard yards helping at the school parents and friends' Christmas stall. (It's surprisingly difficult helping a small child with $1.70 in his hot little hand understand he cannot buy something for $10 for his lovely Mum. Or trying to persuade another anklebiter that Granny probably wouldn't appreciate a toy toilet that makes fart noises for her Christmas present!).

Today, unfortunately, involved a visit to the dentist for the kids, and several appointments - no parties there.

Then there's an excursion for Miss 8 tomorrow, and a half-day as school finishes on Friday in a blur of farewells and overstuffed schoolbags.

And at the end of it, we will find ourselves once again on a plane, this time to Western Australia.

We'll be visiting my brother and his family in Albany. They have lived there for nearly five years now, and I've been aching to visit. Thanks to Virgin Australia's happy hour, we finally nabbed some fabulous airfares to get there. Happy birthday to me!

For a Maid In Australia, who has travelled widely throughout our Great Southern Land, it's to my shame that I admit that I've never made it to WA. Neither have the kids, so it will be another adventure we'll enjoy together.

The kids can't get their heads around the fact that it will take longer to fly to Perth than it did to fly to Nadi, Fiji; and that we'll then have to drive another 5 hours or so to Albany.

Luckily, we'll be taking our time and stopping overnight on the way from Perth to Albany.

We really cannot wait, and I'm betting, like Fiji, it will be over way too soon.

My birthday breakfast

Best of all, I'll be there to belatedly celebrate my other sister-in-law's birthday, as well as help my other big brother celebrate his this month.

We'll see more of this beautiful country of ours, and plenty of family bonding in the meantime.

May the good times continue!

* Why apple juice? Well, I still love coffee, but I am still a coffee snob, and would rather have no coffee than bad coffee. And since moving, I have not yet found my Nespresso machine. Sob. So I had to make do with juice instead. Dammit. Well, even birthday weeks can't be perfect ...

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Postcards from Fiji: The high flyer edition

Our Fijian holiday started far too early with hourly visits the night before from Mr 10, who arrived like a ghost in the night at my bedside.

“Is it time to leave yet Mum,” he’d stage whisper, scaring the crap out of me, and then leaving me restless and mentally going through my last minute lists.

Eventually, I abandoned sleep around 5 am, figuring we may as well be restless at the airport and have one less thing to stress about (missing our flight), then restless at home.

We made it to Brisbane Airport Parking in record time. BAP is my favourite parking choice now, following my run-ins with the inconvenience and expense of onsite airport parking.

BAP check-in and transfer was quick and easy, and we were soon being dropped right at the doors for the Air Pacific Fiji departures at the Brisbane International Airport Terminal.

Of course, check-in seemed to take forever, but there was still plenty of time for breakfast, shopping, and a quick nap thanks to our early arrival.

Nothing like a good healthy breakfast to start the day. Ahem. (Hey, it was early and they needed comfort food, okay?)

Catching up on precious zzzzs. Sure, now Chase sleeps!

Waiting for our flight was an exercise in people watching.

There were groups of families and friends travelling together; couples on honeymoon or romantic breaks; ‘average’ family groups (Mum, Dad, and 1+ kids; as opposed to us - single mum and two excitable kids).

Beside us a babble of bogans sat reading passages from the Sunday Mail and quite loudly, passing critical comment, and wind.

Across from us, an elderly lady unpacked a lunchbox – a real one this time – and proceeded to hand out boiled eggs and sandwiches to her group.

A glowing bride-to-be stood by happily clutching a wedding dress bag while posing for photos with well-wishers.

It was our first time flying with Air Pacific Fiji and I tell you it was like a blast from the past. In a good way.

While the plane seemed a little well-loved – there were no individual entertainment systems for example, and the movie/sound system wasn’t great – the seats seemed more spacious than usual and were comfortable enough.

The service was certainly friendly and efficient. We were greeted with hearty 'Bulas' by the brightly dressed staff, and nothing seemed like too trouble, even way down the back in economy.

The airfare included food, drink and entertainment. And, in a quaint touch from days gone by, drinks were mixed generously from scratch. Wine and spirit glasses were filled to the top – no individual dinky sized bottles or premixes here. Beers came in large-sized cans, much to the appreciation of several of the groups.

A gin and tonic came with ice, lime, a swizzle stick and packed a punch!


The real thing ... AND in economy too!

Lunch was a curious mix of a hot roll, pasta salad, biscuits and juice, which tasted better than it looked.

The roll had what seemed to be processed chicken and a little cheese inside it. It looked extremely unappetising, but the bread was warm and tasty. Especially when I filled it with some of the creamy pasta salad as well. (Mind you, I was starving, not having partaken of the comfort breakfast!)

Even Miss 8 devoured some of the buttery roll and biscuits. 

Chase, a nervous flyer, wasn’t hungry when the food came around, but when he went back looking for something later, the staff cheerily produced a chocolate cake and some fruit salad for him.

I say it again: Nothing was too much trouble for the Air Pacific flight attendants.

Miss 8 needed a blanket? It was produced immediately, and with a smile.

The bar remained open on request throughout the flight. A few of the blokey groups were hoeing into the Fiji Beer. These were brought, efficiently and nicely. None of those requesting extra drinks were looked at like they had just stepped in something nasty as would happen on some national airlines I could mention.

(Note: Said consumption of drinks did mean the toilets seemed to be extra busy. Those with Mummy bladders or small children should go before they have to really go if you know what I mean!)

Soon enough, the first sights of Fiji came into view: Dots of islands, surrounded by searing blue water and pristine reefs. Lush tropical mountains. The kids oohed and aahed with excitement.

Until poor Harmonie suffered ear pain, and one of the lovely flight attendants brought her some sinus-opening stuff to sniff.

The other hiccup was when it was announced that the plane would be sprayed before landing for unwanted passengers (bugs, insects etc), just as they used to do many years ago in Australia.

Aspie Mr 10 went into a mild panic, scared that he would be gassed too.  It took some fast talking on my part and I had to shield him with a blanket before he finally realised it wasn't that bad and he was going to survive after all.

And finally we were on the ground.

We were in Fiji. Our holiday in paradise had begun!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The golden ticket ...

Should I stay or should I go?

Well, I don't have a choice at the moment, because I don't have an invitation. An invitation to the very-exclusive, invitation-only Nuffnang Asia-Pacific Blog Awards 2011.

The lovely people at Nuffnang has launched a competition for bloggers to win passes to the wonderful event, and this post is my entry into the contest. Seriously, those passes are rarer than Willy Wonka's Golden Tickets!

You see, on 16 December 2011, 500 bloggers from around the Asia-Pacific region will flock to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for the Nuffnang Asia-Pacific Blog Awards 2011 at the Putrajaya Marriott. The awards, courtesy of Volkswagen Malaysia and the Putrajaya Marriott, aim to honour the region's best bloggers, as well as bring together blogger communities from across the Asia-Pacific region.

Why do I want to go?

1. Some of my fellow bloggers were lucky enough to go to Blog Her in America this year, and several are planning to attend next year as well.

But me, I've always felt more connected to the Asia-Pacific region. My first overseas trip was to Asia, and it opened my eyes to the delights of the world beyond Australia. And yet, we had so much in common - and that has only increased as time has gone by.

I spent months of several years backpacking happily around Asia. My first husband's parents lived in Singapore and we holidayed there every year for a time. I lived in New Zealand. I holidayed in Samoa. And my first overseas holiday as a single-parent family with my kids was in Fiji.

As an Australian, I want to learn how to become more a part of the Asian-Pacific blogging community and I believe the Nuffnang Asia-Pacific Blog Awards are clearly the best place to do this.

2. A trip to Malaysia would help me focus on where my blog needs to go next. Who better to be inspired by but the best?

3. The kids will be with their Dad so I won't have to feel any Mumma guilt. And I might be able to schedule some time for a little shopping. And realise my bucket list goal of going to one of those fish spas, where little fishies nibble the yucky stuff off your feet and toe-toes.

So how about it Nuffnang?

How about waving a magic wand, and turning a Maid In Australia into a temporary Maid in Malaysia?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Speak out! (Or: We all have a voice)

Today is Speak Out day, where bloggers across the world are posting, or speaking out, against domestic violence.

That's violence of all kinds towards women, men, kids, parents (and to my mind pets as well. Because violence towards pets is often used to intimidate victims of abuse into staying and/or keeping quiet. Research shows that people who abuse animals also go on to hurt children and vulnerable humans as well).

And Speak Out involves domestic abuse across the board: Emotional, mental, physical, financial, and sexual. Sometimes a combination of the lot.

Some time ago, my lovely friend Wanderlust, a survivor of domestic abuse and international ambassador for the Speak Out campaign, asked if I'd be interested in joining the cause, and of course I put my hand up.

And, as in my participation in the online campaigns about depression and suicide awareness, I intended to share my own experiences in a bid to let others know they are not alone. That even if you're in the worst place imaginable, there is a way out, there are people who will help you, and you can be happy again.

And that's all true.

But, one of the first rules of participating in a campaign like this so personally, is that you have to be in the right head-space to begin with.

And this week, already exhausted from moving home mostly on my own, I used the time packing to write my post in my head. This time, reliving the past, of times when I was the victim/survivor of abuse of the kinds of all of the above at different times in my life, I found it was all too confronting.

The realisation that I'd been a victim/survivor? far too often in my life and not quite dealt with it, was far too much to deal with right now. And I realised the first person I needed to share it with properly was a professional, not the world wide web. I hope you understand.

Many flashbacks were experiences I have not yet shared with my loved ones, and things I do not yet need my children to know. (Some of their friends now read my blog, can you believe it?) So I'm going to have to censor it a little.

Oh sure, I'll share my stuff with my children one day, if they need or want to know, but only when it's appropriate. And now is not the time.

So instead, my message for Speak Out day is to reiterate the Things I Know about domestic violence. These include:

No one ever has the right to hurt you, punch you, hit you, throw you, slap you or throw things at you. (Well unless you're playing sport or something and it's in context).

They don't have the right to deliberately break things, including toys, punch holes in the walls, hurt your pets or threaten to, or to threaten to hurt your kids or parents if you don't do what they want.

That goes even if you're having an argument and you've said or done something nasty or naughty.

No one has the right threaten you, call you names, put you down, call you swear words.

If they do hurt you or abuse you verbally, you don't deserve it. You are not a fxxking idiot, it is not your fault.

If you wear a short skirt, or low-cut top you do not deserve to be sexually abused or raped.

If your partner/parent thinks you've been flirting with someone (even if you have, but usually it's in his or her mind), you don't deserve to be raped, sexually assaulted, bashed, locked up, and/or attacked or punched or glassed.

We all know that when it comes to sex, no means no. But that goes even if you are in a consenting sexual relationship. That goes even if some sex acts are okay, but some are not. The ones that are not should not be attempted by anyone, even if it is by your husband.

You should not have to do anything sexually that you do not want to do. Particularly if it hurts or is humiliating.

Children never deserved to be hurt or assaulted, physically, sexually, emotionally or otherwise. No matter what they do.

Even if you're not working, you deserve to have the freedom to make phone calls, to come and go as you please, to shop without showing the receipts to someone and accounting for every cent.

If you are in crises ask for help. A friend, neighbour, a doctor, the police. Speak out, and don't stop until you get help.

You may have to leave with nothing on your back but your clothes. In the scheme of things, does that matter as long as you (and if applicable, your kids) are safe?

1800 737732 is a free confidential service for any Australian experiencing or who has experienced domestic or family violence and/or sexual assault. It is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

For other countires, google domestic or family violence. Or just go ahead and read some more of the posts from the other wonderful bloggers who have joined up with the Speak Out campaign cause.

Here they are:








Monday, November 14, 2011

Bula!

This time last week, the kids and I embarked on our first big family holiday as a single parent family: Fiji.

Oh sure, we've travelled and flown by ourselves before. We've been on holidays and getaways too.

But this was the first time we'd done the full-on package deal involving an overseas flight that was typically aimed at families, honeymooners and groups. 

I chose Fiji because:
 It was close enough to Australia - about 3/1/2 hours flying time - to not be a drain on the kids and I either physically or financially.
Despite the short flying time, I knew we'd be immediately immersed in a different culture and way of life, which to me is one of the joys of travelling. I wanted my children to experience that too.
One of my BFFs was going at the same time, and I impulsively bought an internet deal so we'd be able to hang out together occasionally. Turned out we were even on the same flights, even though we booked separately!
It was affordable, even for me! Kids stay, play and eat free deals are popular, and all-inclusive deals mean there are no surprises at check-out time. Prices for souvinirs, food, drink and experiences are generally cheap compared to Australia.
I'd never been. Having spent a lot of time in Far North Queensland and Asia in my younger days, I guess I figured Fiji could wait. Silly me.
I knew from those who had gone before me that kids are treated well in Fiji. As a single Mum, I wanted to go somewhere where I'd get a bit of a break but the kids would have fun at the same time. Fiji fitted the bill perfectly.
I'm still taking it all in, so for now here are a few of my favourite memories of our holiday:

 - Being greeted with a huge genuine Bula!, a firm handshake, and the words, 'Welcome home', when we arrived at the Shangri La's Fijian Resort and Spa
At the Shangri La, guests are treated like family and therefore welcomed home like family.
 In my past life as a travel journalist and world-traveller-sans-children I have stayed at  more exclusive and expensive establishments. (Don't get me wrong ... the Fijian is pretty fantastic, and you can't beat the location). But never have I been made to feel more special and important than I did here. The kids rapidly grew accustomed to being treated like VIPS, and were practically in tears when the time came to leave.


- The Fijian's dedicated Children's Lounge. Just for kids when adults are checking in, out, waiting for tour pick-ups or any manner of tiresome holiday details that kids find tiresome. Chase and Harmonie were even served their welcome fruit punch here, and our porter Bill kept them company, checking out the latest iPad apps, while I finished the paperwork. (PS, Check out Bill's uniform, isn't it cool? He remembered the kids' names from that day forward and made a fuss of them every time he saw them too.) 


Bula! The kids totally get into the spirit of our holiday. Harmonie is holding a box of her temporary pets, hermit crabs she has collected from the beach. (Yes, even on holiday we collect temporary pets.) That's a favourite one she is showing off to the camera. Bitey. They all had names. She also slept with a favourite coconut, and was really upset that she couldn't bring them all back into Australia.


This sign immediately caught Mr 10's eye.
He wanted to take them up on their offer for a free scuba dive lesson in the pool, but he missed the cut by 1 1/2 years. Well, that's a good excuse to come back I guess!


No Mummas allowed at the Little Chief's Club (AKA Kid's Club.) Chase looks like he's plotting all kinds of mischief ...


Fish-feeding anyone? Or fishing? Nature vs Nurture? (The waters and reef surrounding Yanuca Island is a marine park so you can't fish here. However, staff will take keen fishermen/women to good local spots by boat).

The activities weren't just fun, they were educational. Here, Harmonie learns how to tie dye her own t-shirt!
These are just a few tastes of our trip to Fiji. I can't begin to say how lovely it is and how much we long to be back on Fiji Time.

I asked the kids what they liked most about Fiji and Chase said:

'Everything. Just the whole way of life. The way they live their lives, how they don't have to lock their doors and windows or even have doors, how they look after each other and take care of children. That in the villages, everyone looks after each other. The food, the culture, the nature. I love it all."

Harmonie: "The beach, the rivers, and the hermit crabs."

For me, it was the beauty of nature and the friendly people. 

Readers, have you ever been to Fiji? Would you like to go? 



Friday, November 4, 2011

Fiji Me!

I've been quiet on the blogosphere lately, but that's because life has been anything BUT quiet!

We're moving soon, so I'm up to my neck in boxes and crap; and I'm busy talking to removalists called Brett and Scotty and Jack, who hopefully won't poo in my toilet and clog it like one of the last removalists did.

(Yes, this actually happened).

And I'm also stressing Big Time, because the kids and I are going overseas in Two. More. Sleeps.

Squee!

Yes, we're off to Fiji on one of those daily internet deal thingies I booked earlier this year. It was the result of an internet-fuelled fit of madness after one of my BFF's did the same thing and posted it on her Facebook Status Update.

"So it's not takey?" I think I commented. She replied that she'd done a few of those deals, and they'd all been fine. Not only that, she'd stayed at this resort - the Warwick Fiji Resort and Spa - before and it was lovely. And very kid-friendly. I was sold.

A few mouse clicks later, and we were on. (Has it ever been easier to book a holiday? Dangerous days indeed. Thank goodness for credit cards!)

The kids have been counting the days, and bombarding me with questions:

Will there be horse-riding? Yes, but you are very allergic

Can they go swimming? All the time

Is it five-star? Who cares? It's Fiji?

What will they get to eat on the plane? Really?

Can they each have a camera? Nice try

Is there a kid's club? That was one of the first things I looked for! Seriously apparently Fijians love kids and the kids clubs are The Bomb.)

So next week, instead of moving, thinking about moving, or stressing about moving; I intend to bare my white skin on a sun lounge (sunscreen applied and under shade of course!), read a few good books, get a massage, eat and drink far too much, wear sarongs, and build happy memories with my wonderful kids.

Fiji me!


Fine dining at The Warwick Fiji Resort And Spa

We've added on a few nights at the Shangri-La's Fijian Resort and Spa, Yanuca Island. Hopefully the view from our balcony will look a little like this!

Cannot wait to get Beached As ...

And lose ourselves ... (the Shangri-La)

We're flying with Air Pacific Fiji, so unfortunately there is no chance of us being marooned in Fiji as there might be with other airlines. Ahem.

We'll be back!