Friday, December 30, 2011

It was Christmas - but not as I knew it!

 As as 2011 draws to an end, I thought it was timely to take time out from our school holiday slumbers to post about our Christmas.

How was yours?

Truly, I was kind of dreading mine.

It was the first since having my children, that I've spent without them.

The lead-up was probably the worst.

The weeks before Christmas have always, like travel, been about the journey: Getting there. 

The baking of festive treats; visiting Santa; buying and making of gifts for family and friends; buying, making, wrapping and hiding gifts for each other; visiting the Christmas lights, especially the wonderful award-winning one our school janitor Mr Kelly puts on every year.

I missed all that, because taking the kids to Western Australia to visit my brother and his family, meant the kids' father got extra time with them when we returned - and fair enough too.

But that meant I missed out on special pre-Christmas time with the ankle-biters. I didn't even get to take them to get their pre-Christmas Santa photo because I'd assumed we'd get to do it in Albany, WA. But at the shopping centres we visited, Santa was never there. Must have been busy with his Reindeer I guess, or perhaps southern WA may have been a bit too far off the radar for pre-Christmas photos!

Thankfully, we'd put up and decorated the tree; and the kids had chosen and wrapped their presents for each other, their Dad, his partner, and his mother, before we went to WA. 

But I still felt like I'd lost a part of myself as I drove up on my lonesome to my family's home in Wondai, southeast Queensland, where we traditionally celebrate Christmas. Except this year, it was without my children.

I'd wondered, on my first Christmas 'on my own' - how I dislike that self-pitying phrase! - should I have done something else? Taken off to a far-flung destination. Visited with friends. I have many who live around the globe who entreated me to come and visit. Or I could stay at home, but help out at a local mission or visit those without family at the nearby aged care home. You know, just to get my head out of my own arse, and realise I have a lot to be thankful for.

But Mum and Dad are getting on in years, and although my brother and family from WA couldn't make it this year, many of the rest of the family could travel to the traditional family celebration venue. And I felt it was important to be there. Because - well, you know why. Without revealing too much of my parents' personal health, things can change in the blink of the eye. And even though they longed to see the kids, me on my own was better than not at all.

As it happened, being with my other family, was the best thing I could have done.

I stayed with my sister and her hubby at their lovely farm and spent my days at my parents'.

There was comfort in being with loved ones and the familiarity of times gone by.

In the past, being with family and friends has made me feel more aware of my single mum status - not that there is anything wrong with that! But this time it didn't seem to bother me.

Perhaps that comes with acceptance and time. Certainly, it's never been something my loved ones have put onto me. It's just been something within me. A feeling of being the 'odd one out', with all the baggage.  

And perhaps it was that this time, there was no need to explain to those who hadn't seen me in a while that yes, my marriage had hit the skids.

"You don't pick men well, do you?," marvelled a well-meaning family friend outside church last year, when Mr then 9 had triumphantly showed her my ring finger, and Miss then 7 had chimed in: 'Mumma happy now'.

(Trust me, there are not secrets in a small town when you have small children!)

Anyway.

As usual, there was the traditional Wondai Christmas Eve Festival, which has been held every year for as long as I can remember. Except for last year when the Queensland flood rains meant it had to be cancelled for the first time in history.

The festival hasn't changed much, except that the infamous sleigh rides - where kids used to ride around on the back of trucks, often shooting from water pistols and climbing on and off as the trucks were in motion - are no longer offered. For obvious reasons. 
                                                                                                                                                                                
Pre-carnival

The Hotel Cecil, attracting patrons since 1911
The always popular Merry Go Round. There are always popular turkey and ham wheels also, and there used to be a fabbo train ride for the little ones.
Possibly the world's smallest sideshow alley...
The traditional barbecue. Though the Marquardt family and extended loved ones usually opt for the air-conditioned comfort of the RSL. I really wish I had thought to take photos. I enjoyed possibly Australia's cheapest seafood basket at $12, a tasty concoction of fish, scallops, prawns, calamari and chips. And you help yourself to a vegie and salad buffet. Cannot beat it. I think the most expensive meal is a steak at $13. My parents opted for roast turkey, and again, all meals come with the self-service buffet.
The next morning, despite no kids in the house, my sister, her hubby and I rose early for church with the family. We followed that up with breakfast at my nephew and his wife's 'Love Shack', where their spoilt furry baby Reggie loved showing off his pressies, including his Fox.
Later, Christmas afternoon and dinner was held at my sister and brother-in-law's farm. It was the first time the family pool hasn't been used on Christmas day, probably because children did not arrive until much later in the evening. (And my kids did not arrive at all. Sob.)
A table set for Christmas dinner

O Christmas Tree ... at my sister's house!

Dinner included crispy duck, cooked by my nephew and his lovely wife ...

Crispy potatoes

Assorted roast vegies - purple carrots, normal carrots, parsnips, garlic, pumpkin

Brussel sprouts.
Not pictured: duck fat gravy, Yorkshire puddings
Later, there was Nigella Lawson's caramel croissant pudding, Auntie Bel's Famous Trifle, and Nana Doris's Plum Pudding and Custard
(Yes, I know. A heart attack in a meal!)

 
The main reasons for the effort: Mum and Dad

The next day, I was up at 4.30 to drive back to Brisbane to pick up the kids for our own Christmas on Boxing Day. We were straight over to my place, where they discovered that Santa (and Mumma) had visited. They were so quick, this is about my own usable photo!

After lunch, we walked to the park, all the better to test out some of their new Christmas presents, but Missy's face says it all: It was far too hot!

Par for the course in southeast Queensland Australia.

We spent the rest of the day in and out of the pool (where I nearly passed out blowing up their new pool toys), and I cooked them a roast dinner for our 'second Christmas'.

So Christmas turned out to be lovely after all. (Despite the heat.)

Hot, tiring, and messy; but still full of love, food, and cuddles.

Next: A Happy New Year to us all!


Friday, December 23, 2011

Of mice and webcams ...

This Post Is Sponsored By Nuffnang



Anyone who follows me on MIA, Facebook, twitter, or even in real life, knows I am #technicallychallenged.


When the opportunity came up recently to try out and review the latest Microsoft Touch Mouse for Windows 7 AND the Microsoft LifeCam Studio WebCam I kind of jumped at the chance.



I post as someone who recently deliberately bought an el-cheapo black-and-white printer that the salesperson assured me that was just like the old-fashioned ones.



This was because I wanted a printer that only printed. That did nothing fancy, that only printed black and white word-processor-like print-outs. That not even a #technically-challenged Mummy Blogger like me could stuff up.



Just like Santa, I asked the young man and checked with him twice: Are you sure it’s easy to use and there’s nothing special I need to do or know?



“Oh no,” he said. “It’s easy as. And it’s the last one left. Lucky last.”



Was it the best, or was it the only one ever available?



Because I got home and found I STILL had to install damn software.



And despite wasting hours on it, and enlisting the services of Mr 10 – who can pretty much work out anything computer-related - I STILL can’t get the computer and printer to talk to each other. Which means I STILL can’t print anything.



SIGH.



And so I’ve learned that old-fashioned is not always best.



Meanwhile, did I mention that I get RSI in my right wrist? Not because of anything naughty, but because until now, I’ve been using a variety of computer mouses/mice, and none of them are up to much chop.



This is because, as Mr 10 wisely admonishes me: ‘You get what you pay for Mum’.



And I’ve never done a VLOG or Skype before, because I have a morbid fear of seeing myself on camera.



Which is pretty strange for someone who started her career as a television journalist, but there you have it. (Note: I was younger, thinner, and more confident back then. And had fewer wrinkles and freckles as well.)



So when the opportunity came up recently to try out and review the latest Microsoft Touch Mouse for Window 7 AND the Microsoft LifeCam Studio WebCam I was in.


Because I am sick of using mouses/mice that don’t work and make my wrist ache.



And I’m sick of not being able to skype my friends and rellies because I’m embarrassed that I’ll look even weirder than usual. (And don’t even think about business meetings)!



And this stuff is the best of the best.



I was pretty sure I wouldn’t even know how to install it.



In fact, I was waiting for my kids to come and help me install it (cringe, but true story), when the lovely Vanessa from Nuffnang rang to ask me if I’d reviewed it yet.



And so I decided to be a Big Girl and have a try myself.



And I could do it!



In fact, it has been the easiest of anything I have ever had to install on my computer.



The mouse and webcam basically talks you through the installation, so that even I couldn’t stuff it up.



The mouse is interactive, so you can choose the level of interaction that suits your fingers/thumbs/touch etc. It’s much easier for my poor arthritic hands, but much quicker and easier for any hands!


Isn't it pretty?


But the webcam!  Even without make-up, the technology makes the vision far more flattering than my in-built Toshiba laptop webcam. I did think I’d use it first up, but I still want to experiment, and I would like my kids to be a part of my first VLOG.

The Microsoft LifeCam Studio perched on my laptop 

 
It comes with full 1080p HD Sensor for superior video quality




In one cute package

Check out more information on the webcam!



So my lovely readers, you have future vlogging fun to look forward to (or not).



But it was so ridiculously easy to install, and sits so easily on my computer, that I can’t see why anyone wouldn’t want one.



And I now have no excuse not to skype with friends, rellies and business colleagues from far away places.



And erm, VLOG.



Consider yourselves warned.




Does Christmas shopping stress you out? Get thee to Fiji!


Have you been battling the madness that has overtaken Christmas shopping centres in Australia in the lead-up to the arrival of the Big Man In Red?

Me too.

And it's exhausting.

Not to mention, unsettling.

It's kind of a bit 'Bah Humbug' to see exhausted, whining children and sulking teens trailing after stressed, snappy parents fighting over the last Christmas puddings and plumpest cherries.

One toy shop assistant confided she secretly awarded a 'Grinch Of The Day' from a long line of cranky customers with her coworkers, and sometimes they were spoilt for choice.  

It shouldn't be that way, should it?

If I could click my heels three times, I'd magic myself back to Fiji, where I could get my Christmas shopping done in comfort and perhaps have a swim on the way back.



A collection of shops near The Warwick Resort and Spa, Fiji

Just like at home, you can find yourself getting distracted, and ending up getting something for yourself. Or getting pampered.

See?

Even the Man Child had to have one (actually it ended up being three!)
The shops are air-conditioned and never crowded
The aisles are roomy too
There are no need for Christmas trees here. Fiji has all kinds of natural versions going on.
You'll always come away with a bargain ...

And a quiet place to sit down and escape the crowds if it gets all too much!

Readers, where would you escape to if you could?

Some of MIA's Fiji adventures were organised with the assistance of Tourism Fiji and Air Pacific Fiji.  She booked and paid for her stay at The Warwick independently.



Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Dear Santa ...

Pssst.

I'm going to share a secret with you.

I've never really been comfortable with the whole Big Man In Red routine.

Don't get me wrong, I love a rotund happy guy dressed for winter in the middle of summer as much as the next person.

And I totally get why we stand in line for ages and pay huge amounts of money for a digital photo of our offspring with a shopping centre Santa. (Kinda).

Like most parents, I experience that touch of panic - and often nausea - that accompanies the yearly writing of the Letters To Santa. In my case, the all-important letters increasingly become littered with exhorbitantly-priced, impractical presents, my kids have about as much chance of getting for Christmas as I have of getting a date with George Clooney. Bearing a new Nespresso machine. And a few months' supply of my favourite blends.

But where was I?

Oh right. Santa.

You see, the thought came to me again tonight, as the kids ran through their wish list again.

(Disclaimer: They know that a wish list is just that. That they will get maybe a few off the list if they are lucky. They know that Santa and parents and family and friends can't possibly give everything. Or even a tiny percentage of their list. But there's no harm in wishing, right?)

As a single Mum, I have a very limited budget, and I tend to have to be adventurous with my presents for various occasions. So far, I've always managed to delight them. The Santa ones have made them happy too.

But this year, it's a bit more challenging. And it's not just because of the cost factor. It's because of the logistics and practicalities.

And as a Mumma, I have to face the truth (once again) that I can't give my kids everything that they want. (And even if I could, that would be wrong, right? Because that would be totally spoiling them, and turning them into brats, and no one wants that. But still, the guilt that I can't make at least some of those wishes come true hits me in the guts like a bad case of eggnog.)

Anyway, in a bid to share my angst, here are some of my Christmas angels' wishes.

For both, the obvious ones include being able to live in our old Riverhills home with me; being able to pick the mulberries from the trees at our old home; having our old pets back, Daisy, Zac, Lolly and Narnie, who we reluctantly gave up when we moved to New Zealand; Chase's friend Nick being better again; Harmonie's favourite guinea pig Star not having been eaten by the carpet snake at our old home; and moving to Western Australia.

Now for the individual lists:

Chase

Nintendo DS 3 with the 3 turned off and the DS Skylanders Games
Gaming computer
iPad
iPhone
My own puppy (a real puppy, preferably a toy poodle, or malteser (toy poodle, maltese cross)
Trashies
A yabbie farm
Proper cooking tools so I can cook yabbies on the barbeque like Uncle Stuart
Good fishing gear and a beach nearby to fish at
A bike and helmet

Harmonie

Rabbits, especially a Mummy and Daddy rabbit who will have lots of baby bunnies for me to look after (Mumma's note to Santa: Illegal in Qld.)
Rabbit hutch
My own dog. Maybe one I can carry in a handbag. I don't really mind. It could be a rescue doggy.
Guinea pigs.
A real pony. And a home for it.
A farm.
Lots of good fishing stuff and a fishing boat.
Trashies and glueys
My own computer
An iPad
A phone so I can talk to Mumma whenever I want
A bike and helmet and maybe a scooter

Now clearly, most of these are not going to happen.

They are either too expensive, cannot happen because I am renting, or because of geography.
Sigh.

So Mumma and Santa are going to have to come up with some Christmas magic again this year.

But this is the thing.

In my days as a young magazine journalist, pre-kids, I remember writing a story with a child psychologist about the harm and confusion that Christmas can do to children.

And I remember feeling this myself as a child.

First, there is the obvious fact that year-round we tell our kids not to talk to strangers, to trust their gut instincts etc, then practically force them to sit on some strange man's lap.

A man we will allow to enter our house and eat our food and drink our milk. But leave presents, which somehow makes it all right. Which is all kinds of wrong, right?

Stay with me here.

Secondly, there is the Not Fair Effect. And I remember that feeling to this day. Being told that Santa comes to kids who are good, Is Not Good.

Because as a child, I remember thinking: 'But I've been really, really good. How come I only get one crappy bible book, and that nasty bully from school got all those toys and a cabbage patch doll? She wasn't good at all! And I was really, really good, and all I got was one present and it was religious one and wasn't fun at all?'

And no one could explain it to me!

So how will I explain to my kids that the nasty kids who play up all the time and talk back to their parents and pick on smaller kids in the playground will get the iPads, and the Skylanders, and the puppies? Even though they haven't been very, very good?

And that my kids, who are freaking awesome (though I accept I am biased), will get very much less?

Where is the Christmas miracle in that?
And yet, I know the kids and I will have a wonderful Christmas. Even though I won't get to celebrate the actual day with them this year. (My turn is next year, such is the the life of a single parent), it doesn't really matter, because we will have our own celebration on Boxing Day.

And to us, Christmas is more than a day, and it is more than presents. There is still a part of me that likes to mark the religious part of things, and they learn this at their school too. We also celebrate the spiritual side and the coming together of family and friends. The festivities, food, and fun.

For all, children, men, women, young, and old, I wish you peace and happiness for December 25.

And at least something to make you believe in miracles.

And may Santa bring you at least something that is on your Wish List.

I'm hanging out for a Nespresso. With or without George Clooney!

One of Chase's first Christmas photos. Santa's little helper!


And this was from last year. The kids have made me join them in every photo they've had taken with Santa! (Maybe that don't talk to strangers thing has sunk in after all!)


Sunday, December 18, 2011

Fiji - finally!

The first thing you notice as you get off the plane in Fiji is the humidity. The second is the friendship.

“Bula,” shout workers on the tarmac, as you leave the airplane.

“Bula,” smile the tropically-dressed musicians playing welcoming music as you walk inside the terminal.
Photo by Harmonie

The customs staff, fittingly, are efficient rather than friendly, and we are processed and picking up our bags with a speed that astounds me.

We pile our waiting Pacific Destinationz car for our transfer to the Warwick Fiji Resort and Spa.

Ready to go. Miss 8 is sulking because her big brother got the front seat. (Only because he called 'first dibs'. She got it next time though...)

Our driver Moses, makes sure we know it’s at least a 90 minute a drive and checks if we need to go to the toilet or have a drink first. (So important if you have kids, or, ahem, a Mummy Bladder.)

Then he suggests a quick trip to the supermarket to stock up on bottled water and snacks, which will be much more expensive at the resort. And the stop will be at no extra charge to us.

I don't have to even ask the kids. "Shopping!" they say happily, thoughts of snacks and soft drink dancing in their heads.

We are thrilled to discover it’s a New World, which was our local supermarket when we lived in New Zealand.



Of course, the Fijian New World is not much like an Auckland New World which makes it far more interesting.

Oh the delights we find on the shelves!

Shasta softdrink – the kids’ favourite ‘artificially-flavoured’ soft drink of choice when we holidayed in Samoa.


UFO chips – my favourite salty snack when I was a kid, no longer available in Australia.


Fijian water – goes without saying.

Moses appears, and pushes our trolley, unloads and packs up again, and loads our purchases into the car again. Oh, I could get used to this!

Finally, we are on the road to the resort.

Snapshots of Fijian life flash by.

Crops of cassava and sugar cane. People walking home along sugarcane rail tracks, with fishing rods on their backs. Groups of youths playing rugby on dusty fields with makeshift goal posts. Homes made out of iron and timber with washing blowing in the breeze, line the side of the road.

We all desperately try to stay awake to take it all in, but lulled by the motion of the car, Moses’s CD of seventies hits, and our own exhaustion, we all doze a little.

Only Harmonie is still sleeping as we drive into the Warwick, and it takes quite a while to wake her.

“Missy, we’re here,” says Chase, speaking in his loving big brother voice. “We’re in Fiji.” Her head jolts up and she clutches her kitty toy and looks around her with wide-eyed interest.

"Bula," says our porter, Vasahalia, warmly shaking the kids' hands as they scramble out of the car.

He instantly makes friends with them by making a fuss of Harmonie's stuffed animals, and calling them 'sir' and 'madam'.

While I’m taking care of check-in, he takes the kids to look at the koi fish and carp and promises the children and their toys a ride on the baggage trolley if they are good while Mummy is busy. They are.

He has three children at home, he tells me, and making guests' kids happy is the best part of his job.

I’ve just completed the paperwork, when we’re presented with three very welcome glasses of juice.

The kids love this treat. Oh, and of course, Kitty has some too.


Then we’re taken to our room, the kids via their promised baggage trolley ride.


For me, the room itself is a disappointment. It's terribly small for three people, and there is practically no view.

I don't know how families of four or more manage, and the deal we booked was a room for four, not three, so I'd expected some extra space.

Chatting to others as the days pass, I find out that families of five often squeeze into these rooms as well! And of course, we also find that it doesn't really matter in the end, because we are only ever in our rooms to sleep after all.
Plus, the room is air-conditioned, and clean, and when our housekeeper arrives and sees we are short of towels and pillows etc, she's quick to remedy the situation. She also tells us to get to dinner promptly - the only restaurant included in our all-inclusive deal shuts at 10 pm local time and it's just after 9 pm now. So off we go.

Unfortunately, it's a buffet and all the best food is gone. Nothing has been replaced. It's roast night, which the kids would normally love, but there are only a few lonely pieces of rejected meat, overdone veggies, stale bread, and picked-over salads left. The gravy pot is empty.

Miss 8 bravely asks for fresh replacements and are told they coming. They never arrive.

There is nothing tempting left for dessert so we leave feeling still a little hungry. I would have thought there might have been at least ice-cream for the kids, and the fruit looked dried out and unappetising. (Note: Luckily this was our worst meal experience at the Warwick, and we certainly found with buffets the trick was to get there early).

If I'd had to pay full-price (the kids ate free) I would have been really peeved. But instead, we walked back to our room along a coconut palm-lined beach, enjoying the sea-breeze and the sound of the waves. We had nothing to complain about really. We were in Fiji after all!

The kids made friends with some cats and kittens (who made short work of the meat they were unable to eat), and all was well.


Back in our room, the kids tore into the snacks and drinks we'd bought earlier. (Thank you Moses.)

Just like her Mum!

The kids watched a little Cartoon Network while I read, and when I said it was bedtime, they happily turned out the light, and were snoring gently within minutes.

And I let them sleep in for as long as I dared before waking them for the first real day of our Fijian holiday.

After all, we didn't want to miss breakfast!
Maid In Australia travelled to Fiji with the assistance of Tourism Fiji and Air Pacific Fiji

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Wait for it ....

I was reading the latest post by the clever, funny and cranky Mrs Woog this morning, when it sparked a memory.

A memory of my worst waiting room experience ever.

I was at the office of my my OBYGYN in Brisbane, Australia.

He was always running late and racing off to deliver other women's babies. As they do. And I get that.

But one day, I'd been sitting with legs crossed and a bladder filled to bursting (he'd wanted to do a quick ultrasound on the day) for a good two hours, whilst my antsy toddler created havoc in the crowded waiting room, when the good doctor finally emerged and called for 'Bronwyn'.

With that, a woman who had just come in, changed direction, and walked breezily into his office. AAARGH. (I may have screamed that out loud!)

I told the receptionist, she phoned him, but the doctor decided to continue seeing the other Bronwyn since she was already with him. Even though he then had to call for her file - for it was mine that was before him. Delaying my visit further. And with no regard for my bursting bladder and rising blood pressure.

WTF?

Not only did he still charge full price, in the end the good doctor was not even there to deliver my baby. He was on holidays.

Anyway.

It got me to thinking about horrible waiting room experiences, because to be honest, are any of them ever really nice?

As Mrs Woog points out, most waiting rooms are painted in colours that are supposed to be soothing, but instead resemble the colour of puke, poo, or snot.

Usually, they are filled to capacity with people who are coughing, sneezing, or hacking up all manner of diseased bodily fluids. Or worse.

And all too often they are filled with seriously ill people, rioting children, and those who can least afford it empting their wallets on the way out. (Yes even with the Medicare rebate and/or concession cards.)

On one visit, to my GPs newly refurbished clinic, my child covered myself, himself, his chair and the floor in vomit. I then had to sit reeking of the stinky fluid during my child's consultation, apologising all the time, while the GP joked and said he'd smelled worse. He still refers to Mr 10 as the kid who 'christened' his surgery. To that GP, Mr 10 will forever be the child who sucked a sultana up his nose, but that's another story!

So readers, do you have a waiting room story?

I'll rustle up a prize for the most memorable.

Just share in the comments below ...

Monday, December 12, 2011

Sunset


And so the sun set on our first day in Western Australia. Overlooking the Indian Ocean of course. From one of Fremantle's idyllic beaches.

The kids were distracted by shells and pieces of shiny glass, polished and made smooth by years of gentle wave and sand action.

They were oblivious to the nearby celebrations for the World Sailing Championships currently being held in the port. (Where a great white shark had been seen that very day I believe!) Can you see the 'Perth' sign to the left, which had been erected just for the world's camera's?
Miss 8 writes 'school holidays' in the sand! (Just in case there was any doubt!)

So happy to be here!
The sun slowly begins its descent ...
Mother Nature, the Indian Ocean, and the Universe work together to showcase Western Australia at her very best
Miss 8 was more taken with the shells than the sunset ...
The kids made friends with a local artist who regularly visits the local beaches to collect tiny specimens of polished coloured glass and stone. She uses them to make jewellery and other artistic pieces out of them. She was lovely, teaching them about the colours and which pieces were worth more, and her most valuable finds.

Harmonie was very excited when she spotted a hermit crab! And no, I wouldn't let her keep it as a pet!

Happy girl, skipping!