Friday, September 27, 2013

A pod for pets!

Our pets pretty much run the house.
After years of dreaming of a time when my kids would sleep through the night, I'm still longing for an unbroken sleep.
You see, these days, it's not the pitter patter of little feet that wake me in the wee hours of the morning. It's the pitter patter of tiny paws. Or more correctly, the thump of a furry body against my door, as Hannah Kitteh throws herself at the screen door in her valiant efforts to wake me.
She used to be an indoor cat, but since moving to the country, she likes to explore at night. For as long as it suits her, thank you very much.
When she's had enough, she then makes her way to the door to my patio, and thumps against it until I wake up.
Oh, I've pretended I can't hear her. I ignore her. Pull the doona over my head. Count to ten and tell her to go away.
But she then climbs the screen door repeatedly, or leaps up to my window above the bed. And so I give in.
I get up, usually banging my knee on the dressing table, swear, let the bloody cat in, and go back to bed.
Lucy dog will leap up to joyously welcome the arrival of the Prodigal Cat, and the pair will race around the bedroom for a few minutes.
Then Hannah will leap onto my bed,  purr at me reproachfully and wait for a scratch, which I dutifully give, thereby rewarding her for her naughty behaviour. She then settles down on top of me. The dog lies down on another part of me.
We all get comfortable and fall asleep.
And then I'm woken by the jiggling of my bedroom door, the one that leads into the rest of the house.
Hannah Kitteh has decided she wants to move further afield and is trying to open the door. I get up muttering darkly, and let her out.
My head only seems to hit the pillow, and there's another lot of thumping. Hannah is back, this time wanting to come back in.
And so it continues throughout the night.
Sometimes Kit Kat will join us, coming home from a successful night's hunting with a gift of a dead mouse or rat for me, all the better to meow at my door until I get up and thank him for it.
Sometimes, Lucy will wake me to go outside to the toilet.
I complain at times, and occasionally threaten to give the pets away, but we all know that's never going to happen. The fur babies have me well and truly wrapped around their tiny paws. I'm possibly the worst offender when it comes to pampering them.
And so it was that I was thrilled to be given the chance to review a state of the art piece of luxurious pet furniture recently.
Imported to Australia by d & c Lifestyle, the Hepper Pod is a stylish bed made for cats and small dogs. The off-the-floor design and cosy cave-like pod, gives small animals a sense of security and the feeling of being on a mountain, giving them the best sleep ever! There's a washable lining too.
Both Hannah and Kit Kat shunned the pod - Hannah is interested but is a very wary cat despite her night-time shenannigans, and is still getting used to the idea of something new. Kit Kat is just a little too chubby I think.
But Lucy, our pampered Chihuahua-Pomeranian cross, adores the pod. She not only naps in it, she sits in it, stores her toys in it, and climbs in it to eat her chewie snacks and pig snouts. (Thank goodness for the washable liner!)
Unlike most pet furniture, the Hepper Pod is a pretty cool addition to our lounge too, and has been a talking point for every visitor to our home. Quite a few pet-loving visitors are thinking of getting their own.
At $199 its not cheap, but few pet products are these days. And to have a comfy piece of furniture that your pet will actually use is priceless.
There are other cool products on the website too, including a Cat Condo Deluxe. This is like a mini apartment just for cats. Designed for apartment dwellers and/or those with limited space for scratching posts, kitty litter, and feeding bowls, the easily movable condo has indoor stairs and separate areas for eating, scratching, exercise, toileting, and an elevated sleeping area.
If you've always hated changed the kitty litter - and who likes it, let's be honest- their Modkat litter box has rooftop access for privacy, and eliminates mess.
I love that the Modkat also stops other pets and children from accessing the 'treats' inside!

The Modkat litter box - pretty cool, right? Comes in several colours too.
(And yes, I never thought I'd put a photo of kitty litter on my blog either).

The Hepper Hi-Lo scratcher - stylish and perfectly arched for optimal cat-scratching! 

And this is the Hepper Pod Pet Bed we trialled:

Lucy's in the house

She prefers the top off

Where's my chewie treat?

Readers, do you pamper your pets?

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Getting divorced? Get super!

This is a sponsored post

We all know that divorce sucks, but do you realise a marriage breakdown can add 10 years to your working life?
It's not bad enough that we have to divvy up homes, belongings and in some cases, pets and children, Suncorp reveals that the average Australian divorce has severe repercussions for newly separated singles as they work to re-establish their financial wealth.
Suncorp Superannuation's Untying The Knot report reveals the hidden costs for the country's 900,000 or so divorcees.
According to Head of Everyday Super Lisa Harrison, the most common concerns were property, child custody, the family car and the partner's income.
However, thousands of dollars were often excluded from the financial settlement because superannuation was not taken into account.
In fact, 86 per cent of divorcees did not consider superannuation as part of their divorce settlement - which meant they could expect to work another 10 years longer than other Australians to secure their financial security in retirement.
Take a look at the infographic here:

The Hidden Super Cost of Divorce - An infographic by the team at Suncorp

Isn't that sobering? It's so easy to take super into account when making your financial settlement with your ex, and so important for your future.

“Given that Australians are most likely to divorce in their early to mid-forties, there is a considerable amount of  superannuation involved, with a 45 year old males’ average superannuation balance of $128,0006," Lisa says. "This is compared to $42,000 for women at their average age at divorce of 42.
“Legally a divorcee is entitled to half their partner’s super. Considering super during divorce could mean the difference between being able to retire when you want to, rather than having to work well into you’re 70s and beyond.
“It is critical, especially for Australian women, that they consider their partner’s superannuation as our survey shows that divorced women are more than twice as likely to feel like they need to be more resilient and smarter when it comes to money.”

A few other interesting facts and figures uncovered during the study included:

The Untying the Knot report paints a picture of what an average Australian divorce looks like
Approximately 50,000 divorces occur every year in Australia.
The average age of men at divorce is 45, while for women it is 42
One in two divorces involve children (48%). Typically, the average divorce involves two children
January is the most popular month of the year to start divorce proceedings
Queensland is the divorce capital of Australia per capita (2.5) while the Northern Territory has the lowest rate of marriage breakdowns in the country (1.5).
The seven year itch has been replaced with the nine year itch, while the average time it takes from separation to divorce is three and a half years
Australia’s divorce rate of 2.2 is higher than China, France, New Zealand and the UK while more than half of the Russian Federations of 4.7.1

I am the author of Happily Ever Parted (Surviving Separation and Divorce), published by New Holland Australia, 2006. I've been divorced twice. 

Monday, September 16, 2013

Back to reality

So the quick trip to Sydney has been and gone, and the winner of the #EscapeTravelFamily reviewer competition has been announced.
Sadly, it wasn't me! The prize went to the lovely Bianca Wordley, who with her husband and three kids will get to review three family holidays for Escape Travel on social media.
But the other finalists and I felt like winners too, because we were each given a domestic holiday in Australia for our families.
The kids and I haven't decided exactly where or when we are going yet, but the chances are it will be a hotly debated subject in coming weeks.
The best part of the day though, was meeting the finalists and the great people from Escape Travel. There were also interesting people from other media there too, like Out And About With Kids magazine.
The finale was at the Pullman Grand Quay Sydney Harbour's ECQ bar, with it's floor-to-ceiling views overlooking Circular Quay and the Sydney Harbour Bridge. It was simply breathtaking.
As we talked travel, writing, and blogging, we felt very lucky to have been chosen from hundreds of entrants from around Australia to be the finalists, especially when the Escape Travel shared some of the amazing entries.
While it's back to reality this week, here are a few photos from the day ... each time I look at them I remind myself it really did happen!

A group selfie of the finalists, taken by Katrina Lee Chambers.
That's Katrina on the left, myself, Bianca, Matt, and Julie  

And a more formal one 

The all-important selfie

Beautiful Sydney - maybe one time I'll go for more than a flying visit

Thanks to Escape Travel for the fabulous opportunity and for the fantastic holiday we have to look forward to.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Our 15 minutes of fame!

I'm feeling anxious as the countdown begins to the finals of the Escape Travel Family Reviewer competition in Sydney on Friday.
It's not so much the finals I'm worried about ... the other four finalists are fantastic, and I feel honoured just to be up there with them. So I figure, what will be, will be, when it comes to the winner. (Pick us, pick us! Please?)
If we're lucky enough to win, it would be truly life-changing. To have the opportunity to see more of Australia and the world with my children, and share it with Escape Travel's readers would be a highlight of my life, and one of the best gifts I could share with my kids. And I know I could do the job, because I've been writing and editing and blogging for years. It's what I love to do.
But if we don't - well, at least we tried, and we had the opportunity. And maybe, maybe, a little of the magic will rub off!
But I always feel weird and guilty about leaving the children, who are, after all, my favourite travelling companions. Even if I am leaving them for a very good reason.
And then there's the fact that the competition became very real this week, when the media came knocking.
Firstly, Anne Martindale from South Burnett Online, came to do a story and photo with us.
We'd just got home from school with minutes to change when she arrived. I was a bit worried when she decided to take her photo of us around the kitchen table. It is actually where I do most of my blogging, but which was currently covered in paperwork, drawings and toys.She reassuringly told me this reflected typical family life.
Okay then.
Today it was the turn of the local paper, The South Burnett Times. Danielle Lowe arrived, and we had a chat about the competition. The highlight was when she told me I was pretty into social media for an 'older lady'. Hee hee. I am officially an older lady. It's okay, I took it in the spirit in which it was given.
The kids weren't here, as they were on a little travel adventure of their own, a school excursion.
This one was to a writer's event in Ipswich, about a four-hour bus trip away, where they were getting to meet Australian children's author, Jackie French, amongst other writers.
They were very excited last night, having waited for this event for weeks.
I'm glad they are getting the chance to spread their wings a bit and branch off on their own in a safe environment via school.
It's a busy week of travel for our family, as I am headed to Sydney for the finale of the Escape Travel Family Reviewer Competition.
I have to drive to Brisbane, catch my flight, and make my way to the Pullman Quay Grand Sydney Harbour, which looks absolutely delightful.
The hardest part will be being away from the kids, who have to go to school. But I know we'll all be fine. (Of course we will!)
And I will feel incredible Mother Guilt, sinking into a hot bubble bath and sleeping in a King Size Bed all on my own for a night. Isn't that the worst?
In the meantime I've been thinking about what our family can offer as family reviewers.
We're a single parent family, but I don't necessarily think that makes us different to other families.
These days, families come in all shapes and sizes. We're all different and that's okay.
We all want value for money, and expect - and deserve - good service.
Certainly, as a single parent, I probably need somewhere where there is going to be plenty on offer, at no extra charge for the kids. So that it's somewhere where I can get a break as well, rather than doing the same thing in a more exotic environment.
And I definitely travel on a budget! That doesn't mean we don't like a taste of luxury if we can't get it, and I'm a demon at bargain hunting, especially on the internet.
In addition, we have a child with Asperger's Syndrome, ADHD, and allergies, several of them life-threatening. That doesn't make travel impossible, just a little more interesting at times. You have to factor in a little more planning, and a few more breaks.
I've learned that routine is important, even when travel makes this difficult. And packing a supply of easy to get to and prepare snacks has saved us time and time again from the edge of disaster!
As for me, I have arthritis and vertigo, so I have trouble negotiating plane stairs, especially if I'm loaded up like a pack mule with kids' crap laden with carry-on. I've learnt to check in myself where possible and request seats near the front so I can walk on via the front. But if I can't, I manage. And the kids these days are big enough, and caring enough, to help.
Certainly, apart from a few meltdowns here and then, and the odd discussions with chefs, our family's extra needs are rarely a big deal. It's certainly never stopped us from doing what we wanted to do. Have epipen and a positive attitude, will travel.
It really can be as difficult or as easy as you make it.
Part of the fun of travel, as they say, is the journey.
Do you have any tips at surviving the drive? Or flight? Or how do you cope when you finally get there?

Off on an all-day adventure!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

We're in the finals!

The phone rang around arsenic hour the other day, and I noticed it was from a blocked number.
I grimaced, thinking the call was probably from a telemarketer, but took it anyway.
Sure enough, the caller was from the marketing department of Escape Travel. Ever polite, I paused and waited to hear his spiel.
Instead I heard: "Congratulations, you're a finalist in our Escape Travel Family Reviewer competition!"
Well, that's not what I was expecting to hear.
I'd entered the competition a few weeks ago, and in typical MIA style, had forgotten all about it.
That's not to say I didn't want to win - of course I wanted to win! But I figured there would be so many entrants, I assumed we wouldn't have a chance.
Not this time.
Turns out, we are the only representatives for Queensland, and the only single parent family to make the finals.
The competition involved finding a family to represent Escape Travel. The winning family will review three holidays for them in the following year and post social media updates.
It goes without saying that it would be awesome to win. To take my children on a few holidays of their lives and then write about them for a company like Escape Travel would be a dream come true for the three of us.
I've loved travel for as long as I can remember. And I'm so proud that the kids have inherited that part of my personality.
My first experiences were as a fresh-faced young tacker, joining my own family on holidays to beaches and mountains in southeast Queensland.
Then Dad bought a four-berth caravan, which he converted into a six-berth (I was one of four kids), and we went on several memorable adventures. Including one trek from Brisbane to Cairns and back, and another across the country, taking in Sydney, Newcastle, Melbourne and the ACT. Doing that in a non-air-conditioned car with four kids in the back was certainly interesting - and yes, Mum and Dad did threaten to stop the car and leave one of us on the side of the road, more than once!
On several holidays we were able to bring the family dog, always a Dacshund. (Seriously, what were Mum and Dad thinking. Four kids and a dog? In a small caravan?)
Surprisingly, these experiences didn't put me off travel. They just made me want to see more.
Then when I got older and lived and worked in Cairns, I was lucky enough to write a lot of travel stories as part of my job as a reporter and feature writer for The Cairns Post. That meant I actually got paid to travel - how awesome was that?
Diving and snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef, visiting islands, hiking through the Daintree Rainforest, staying at world-class resorts, exploring lava tubes - those are some of the best memories of my life.
And of course, once I started saving money, it all went on travel.
My first trip overseas was to Asia, and what a mind-blowing experience that was. So much culture, fabulous food, shopping, and fun, right on our doorstep. Then the obligatory trip to America and Canada followed, with backpacking across Europe and more of Asia coming next.
Living and working in London was next, which gave more opportunity for travel around the world. I've lost count of the countries I've visited, and jobs got put to one side a couple of times while the globe just had to be explored.
Whilst working for magazines in London, I was generally in a different part of Great Britain for work every week. Again, I was paid to travel! It was a Sagittarean's dream.
Travel has always been part of my life, but having kids clipped my wings at first. There was the expense, the packing, and the logistics. Not to mention the constant refrain: Are we there yet?
As they got older, and I got braver, we started taking trips further afield. And I've discovered, that while taking holidays with children is different than travelling alone or with friends or partners, it's still the best thing ever.
Yes, you have to pack more gear and take it slower, but travelling with kids re-introduces adults to the world through younger eyes, and that is a gift.
We even lived and worked in New Zealand for a while, which was an unforgettable experience and an amazing way to experience another country's way of life.
Travelling with kids means slowing down, staying longer. That might mean less time for 'boring stuff' like galleries or shopping, and more time for rests, living in the moment, and play. Compromise is key.
Holidaying as a single parent family has extra challenges. There is no other adult to carry suitcases, or take up the slack if someone is sick. There's only one person to supervise at busy places like cities and theme parks. And of course, there's one person responsible for paying for all this.
But the payback is the quality family time, the bonding, and the memories you create.
And those things are priceless.
Just ask my kids.
So far we've been lucky enough to snorkel with turtles in Samoa, make a fish-house in Fiji, and feed elephants at Australia Zoo.
If we win the Escape Travel family reviewer competition, I can only guess at the adventures that await us!

When I was a younger traveller, nothing phased me ...

When you're a parent, you worry more about keeping the kids safe! On this adventure, a jet boat ride on the Sigatoka River, Fiji, I was more worried about getting sick and embarrassing the kids. Luckily, I managed not to disgrace myself! 

Chase reels in a bream in WA

Harmonie finds beauty on the beach in Fiji

Swimming with the sharks at Sea World. Having snorkeled and dived on the Great Barrier Reef, I didn't think I'd be scared. But there are so many sharks and rays and they swim so fast and close, I was terrified. I had quite enough adventure that day, thank you very much. (It was exhilarating though! I would totally do it again!)

And that's the best thing about travel. It brings families together, creates memories and makes us appreciate the wonderful world we live in!

I can't wait for our next escape.