16 Random Things

Time for another brain dump of all my micro-blogging ideas!

  1. I swear I’m learning Spanish by absorption at the moment – we have language tutors in this term and I supervise two Spanish lessons a week. I don’t actually participate in the lessons but the songs that the tutor uses are so damn catchy that I find myself in the the shower going “Blanco, Azul, Verde, Marron, Amarillo es el sol”
  2. Ever since my recent cold, I’ve really struggled to eat breakfast in the morning. At the time it was because I was too busy coughing and trying to clear my airways but now that’s not an issue and I’m not sure what the problem is or how to trick my body back into eating breakfast again.
  3. I’m not sure whether it’s hormones or the fact I’m selling off baby gear or what, but lately I’ve had multiple dreams in which I have two children – CJ and a younger daughter. The mind and the body is a bizarre thing.
  4. Dad/Music Jokes for the win:
  5. I’m pretty sure one of the rewards of parenting is hearing the random stuff that comes out of your mouth every day that really make no sense out of context – “I don’t have a problem with your blanket, but he needs to go home to his bed”, “Bees don’t go to daycare”…
  6. There is something so cathartic about having a good cry, but as adults we often put it off because it’s not professional, or we have to parent or keep it together for any number of reasons. If I feel the tension building up and I know that I need to let it out… Armageddon never fails. I’ll never forget scaring the crap out of my high school boyfriend when he walked into the room to me full-on ugly crying after seeing it for the first time. Like the gasping-for-breath, unable-to-talk crying… poor dude, I’m pretty sure he thought someone had died for real. Two moments kick me right in the guts and never fail to make me tear up – obviously when Liv Tyler’s character says good-bye to her father, but also when the little boy sees Chick on the television and says “Hey mum, that salesman’s on TV” and she says “That man’s not a salesman. That’s your daddy”. Tears, every single time.
  7. On the same note, ridiculously keen to see Me Before You. The trailer caught me on a rough day and triggered the tears as well – it’s such a beautiful novel and if the movie does it justice I think it may become a favourite.
  8. Watching Joseph Naufahu (Khal Moro) on Game of Thrones, it struck me that his Dothraki had a distinctly Samoan flavour – turned out I was totally right!
  9. Truth time – I’ve stopped reading to my son before he goes bed. Initially I stopped reading when I had practically lost my voice during my recent cold, instead giving CJ a cuddle in bed for five or so minutes to help him wind down. And then I realised that was actually what he needed. He reads at daycare and we read at other times around home – he’ll quite often choose to read during his playtime. What he needs, especially when our days are busy, are five minutes in mum’s arms, five minutes to feel heard and to be loved. Bedtimes have been a breeze since we changed it up.
  10. CJ calls our evening talk time a “While”, stemming from the fact that when it started I would say “Mummy will lie down with you, just for a little while” 😂. I love that we have our first family slang!
  11. One of my friends joked that I jinxed myself taking a First Aid course because there’s been two serious incidents in which I’ve needed to use the knowledge since (and it’s been only a couple of months) after years in which I haven’t needed to at all. I prefer to think of it as fate providing the skills I needed even though I’d no idea that I would need them!
  12. English nerd fact: written language was invented independently by the Egyptians, Sumerians, Chinese, and Mayans.
  13. The logistics for getting to my dad’s (NZ) island-based wedding seem more complicated than most other things I’m in the planning stages of at the moment – and that’s saying something! Luckily I’ve got until mid-August to get things sorted.
  14. I haven’t always stood behind everything that Sheryl Sandberg has said (while I appreciate the gist of what she’s talking about in Lean In, I have some reservations) but I’m loving the insightful reflections of hers that I’m seeing around the web lately.
  15. I love thunderstorms – we had a good one a couple of weeks ago and I went to bed with my curtains wide open so I could watch it as I drifted off to sleep. There’s just something so awe-inspiring about the scale of it; I couldn’t even summon up real annoyance when a spectacular fork lightning storm kept me grounded in Perth Airport in 2015.
  16. It’s funny how different people use social media platforms in different ways. Take Instagram for example: brands use it to connect with consumers, famous Instagrammers use it to curate these “perfect lives”, bloggers can use it to connect with readers in a more visual format, and so on. There’s not a right or wrong way to do it. For me, it’s definitely become more of a lazy form of scrapbooking. It’s not a priority for me to sit down and create crafty little scrapbooks but I can take photos of things I want to remember, caption them and then get my hard copy printed at the end of each year. It may not have the perfection of a curated account but everything in there is beautiful to me!

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Isn’t it Iconic…

In a class discussion on irony, I brought up the Alanis Morrisette song “Ironic” with my students and none of them had any idea what (or who) I was talking about. As well as making me feel incredibly old – as they manage to do on occasion – it also interests me that what is one generation’s pop culture references can so easily fade, yet others have a permanency that lingers.

For example, I’m yet to have a drama class that doesn’t recognise this song:

And more and more of my students recognise this (even though none of them are 18, so why are you watching, guys?):

*Favourite theme song of all time, by the way*

But there are dozens and dozens of pop culture references that mean nothing to the next generation. It isn’t a new phenomenon – we were that generation not so long ago (she says as she cries into her hands at how aged she is LOL) – but I think that I may notice it more in my work with young people. The day we established that their reference for slow-motion acting was “The Flash” rather than “The Matrix” (those blank stares again) was an eye opener. And it makes me laugh and smile that some day CJ is going to look back at singing along with Six60 and Ed Sheeran in the car the same way that I fondly remember singing “Piano Man” with my sister on the way to school, or at home “concerts” with Bonnie Tyler, Queen and the Flashdance soundtrack.

Ah well, in the words of some other old-timers:

😛

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Review: “Lab Girl” by Hope Jahren

I’ve been sitting on this one for a little while – it took me a while to get my head around the content because, to be honest, it was like nothing that I’ve really read before. If I had to sum it up in one sentence, I’d say that it was like “Eat, Pray, Love” for scientists but that doesn’t even really even begin to touch the sides of what this story tells. The book is part non-fiction science of plants, part-autobiography and part-mindblowing… that’s still not very helpful!

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The story, ostensibly, follows Jahren’s journey from grad student to the tenured professor that she is today. It focuses a lot on the relationships that she builds (and discards) along the way – including her chain-smoking colleague Lydia and her quirky relationship with her best friend Bill. The author doesn’t hold back on any gritty issues – mental health, sex, the reality of academia are all discussed.

Interwoven with this story are sweet little essays on nature that tie in with the topic content and seem to provide insight about our own personal growth. Jahren makes even fungus sound beautiful:

Why are they together, the tree and the fungus? We don’t know. The fungus could certainly live very well alone almost anywhere, but it chooses to entwine itself with the tree over an easier and more independent life. It has adapted to seek the rush of pure sweetness that comes direct from a plant root, such a strange and concentrated compound, unlike anything to be found elsewhere in the forest. And perhaps the fungus can somehow sense that when it is part of a symbiosis, it is also not alone.

Lab Girl is a book that has earned a place on my bookshelf because I feel it’s the type of book that I will get something new out of every time I read it. As the daughter of two scientists, it speaks to me of the mysteries in the world in a way that my heart connects with, not in a way that sets my skeptic radar off. Despite labouring over this review, I still don’t feel like I’ve done this book justice, so go out and get a copy and read it for yourself!

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Hibernation

It’s not a secret that for a large part of the summer, I was running on fumes. Aside from my holiday in Perth, I gave myself very little time to relax. My weeks were full of activities with CJ, and later, work. My kid-free days (which weren’t every week) were absolutely chocka. I was definitely the “DO ALL THE THINGS” girl. There was almost certainly an element of not wanting to mentally process all the changes in my life, though I would never have owned it at the time. And you know what? I had some very fun times. But as an introvert, someone who feels recharged by spending time on their own, it was only ever going to be something that I could handle for a limited amount of time.

Hibernation

My friends and I have always joked that we go into hibernation in winter. There’s not so many days at the beach, BBQs, house parties and garden bars. Socialising might be going out for Thai food and being home by 9:30. And while coming home to a silent house or to a baby-sitter may still feel a little bit weird, in some ways it’s exactly what I need. Time to think (or not think), time to read, time to unwind and decompress and time to write.

My Autumn and Winter days “off” are still full but in a different way. I’m trying not to schedule more than one major event in the time that I have to myself because I know (and especially as a solo parent) that I need to take time to recharge too. I seldom get the chance to do this in any serious way during the week because the time I have to pause is generally right at the end of the day and then I’m asleep LOL. Being the nerdy planner that I am, I’m booking in time with myself to take that walk along the beach, to sit in that cafe and write, to curl up on the couch and read. Because it’s not selfish to view those things as equally as important as making sure I catch up with my friends and that the deep cleaning sort of housework gets done. Who knew that I wouldn’t really get my head around that until my thirties?

This summer is already promising to be a big one for me, one that is likely to be filled with a lot of change. It’s not going to be as quiet as these cool-weather-days and I’m okay with that too. I’m hoping, however, that I remember the lessons of these cooler seasons. That as uncomfortable as it can be sometimes to sit and reflect, it’s also useful. That it’s okay to say no when you feel stretched to the limit of the energy that you have to give. And to steal those pockets of time that I can find and not feel guilty about how I spend them. A car can’t leave the lights on all the time, and neither can I.

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Checking In…

One of the things that has been hardest about being solo is – I’m trying to think of a better way of phrasing it but can’t- no one has to care. When your whole family is you and a two year old, you tend to be the one that cares about the family and yourself; CJ just cares that there is food on the table and cuddles before bed. I guess, for a whole bunch of reasons, it didn’t really hit me so much last year. But coming home from work and having a two year old who doesn’t really care how mummy’s day at work went? It’s a bit different.

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The thing that’s made all the difference this year? About half a dozen friends (and praise technology, because half of them are overseas) who have made a concerted effort to check in, pretty much daily. None of them have tried to step in and replace my ex, and that’s not what I need. I’m not interested in finding a stop-gap measure “filler boyfriend” just so I don’t have to be alone. The day-to-day routine? I got it – well, most of the time. But the emails at work asking how my day is going? Love it. The messages following up how something important in my life has gone? Awesome. The friend who now only calls me by a pet name after I told them how weird it was to no longer have anyone calling me by a pet name – both hilarious and sweet (and no, you don’t get to know what it is!).

It’s made me so conscious of checking in on my friends who may be going through hard times. When life is going great, it’s so easy to float through life in your own personal bubble and not notice those needs that other people may not necessarily vocalise. I would never have asked these friends to touch base with me and be “my people” but they filled a need I didn’t even know I had. Of course I would love to have that one person to share all the good and the bad; I think that it’s just human nature to seek that companionship, to have someone who listens and whom you can listen to. But I am and will be forever grateful to those people who stepped up and it’s made me more conscious of looking for opportunities to be that friend in future. The friend that doesn’t give you what I think you need (although flowers and dark chocolate are always welcome, just saying), but the friend that meets the needs you have, to the best of my ability.

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CJ Says #5

When you’re teaching him new phrases and he insists on sounding like a hip-hop artist:

  • Me: I love you
  • CJ: Goan wife you (same same but different LOL – he did get it eventually)

When he commits to something just to prove a point:

  • CJ gets his bread out of the bag and takes a bite out of it
  • Me: Oh bud, I was going to put that in the toaster for you
  • CJ: No
  • Me: But I was going to put some peanut butter on it for you. That’s just a plain piece of bread
  • CJ: Mmmmmmm. Pwain piece-a bread. So yummy!

When he warns you that he’s going to bring the sass:

  • CJ: An’ I say, I say, No Ea-win (the way he says his carer’s name), no shoes off
  • Me: You only have to take your shoes off if you go on the couch
  • CJ: No, I say, No Ea-win, no shoes off AT ALL.

When you realise you’re raising a good man:

  • Me: Do you want to go out to a restaurant for dinner or get takeout and bring it home, bud?
  • CJ: Why take-out, my mummy?
  • Me: Well, because it’s Mothers Day, sweet pea, and mummy doesn’t want to cook dinner tonight. It’s mummy’s day to have a break.
  • CJ: It okay mummy, I cook (he then got all his IKEA food out of his play kitchen and proceeded to “cook” me dinner – solid heart eyes emoji there)

 

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Review: “The War Bride” by Pamela Hart

Sometimes it is the most unexpected occurrences in life that lead to outcomes you could never have imagined. This is definitely the case for the heroine of “The War Bride” Margaret, who sails out from England to find the man she married in wartime already married. With nothing to call her home, she decides to make a new life in Australia, pulling through heartbreak to find a life that brings her the fulfillment that she had hoped for. But things are never that simple…

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This story has a genuinely Australian flavour that I really enjoyed. There’s a particular scene where Margaret visits the beach for the first time and is struck by how different the antipodean experience is to the visits to the shore she has at home. I loved the way that the author intertwines post-war societal expectations of women around the central story, viewing them as a subplot to the main storyline rather than a key event.

I also liked that the major characters are all just trying to do the best they can under less than ideal circumstances. Sometimes you can do what is right and sometimes you can do what makes you happy and sometimes, if you are really lucky, they are the same thing. The big choices in life are seldom easy and I was impressed that Pamela Hart showed the struggle – that things are rarely black and white.

While it deals with some challenging subject matter, I would definitely class this as a easy read, one that’s easy to get through on a lazy Sunday morning or for that cross-Tasman flight. It was the perfect “palate cleanser” for me in between a couple of meatier novels and I’d definitely recommend this for anyone who wanted a lighter novel that still retained some definite substance.

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A Kidlet-centred Road Trip

Over the Easter break, CJ and I went to visit friends in Palmerston North. G and I have been friends for years, but the last time I had seen her was when I was nine weeks pregnant. Since then, I’ve had one child and she’s had two(!) so a catch-up was well overdue. Wanting to instill my love for adventure in my son, I decided to tackle the 1000km round trip with my son in the car, rather than fly down. I wondered whether I was crazy, but it was totally worth it. Having a holiday that centred around things that we would both find fun honestly made it a breeze.


Hamilton:

We are big fans of the underrated Hamilton, but on our stop here this time we didn’t get out of the car. We pulled up alongside the lake and grabbed a quick morning tea to tide us over until lunchtime. The lake is a great place if you or your kidlet need a breather, as is the Botanic Gardens – although for both we usually find ourselves spending much longer there.

Taupo:

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When deciding on a lunch stop, there really was no question for us. CJ is absolutely plane-obsessed and the McDonalds restaurant in Taupo has a retired DC-3 plane that kids can both play and eat on. CJ was so excited about the plane, although a little less so when he realised he couldn’t get into the cockpit. After our lunch, we went for a walk along the lakefront and had a bit of a discussion about the difference between lakes and oceans. We also checked the air pressure of the tires before hitting the Desert Road which CJ thought was absolutely amazing.

Palmerston North:

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Waiting for four whole trains to go before your turn – pretty hard when you are excited and only two!

I’d been prepared to stop midafternoon if necessary but CJ was more than happy to have his afternoon tea literally on the go, with me contorting myself to pass crackers through from the front seat. While I’d definitely say that a key part of why our holiday was so enjoyable was our fantastic hosts, there are also some very fun things to do around Palmerston North with little kids. We hit up a couple of playgrounds, but CJ’s favourite would have definitely been the one at the Esplanade that has a miniature train ride. I say miniature, but it actually spans a significant portion of the gardens and goes quite fast, right up my little speed demon’s alley.

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We got to explore the army camp and see all sorts of machines which absolutely thrilled the little boys. I also took CJ to the Manawatu Gorge – “big river” – and up to Te Apiti Wind Farm – “big engines” to round out our experience. In amongst all of this there was a serious amount of napping and relaxation for all kids and adults, some dinosaur donuts and a few motorcycle races. CJ also got to hold his first baby!

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Taihape:

I timed our journey back so that we wouldn’t hit Auckland until dark and hopefully avoid the holiday traffic – if you are an Aucklander, you will know exactly what I mean! This meant that our lunch stop was in Taihape, home of the giant gumboot. My intention was to take CJ to see said gumboot but he had other ideas, having seen a sign for a train station. Our lunch break was spent pretending we were going to catch a train (the station is only served by the Northern Explorer, which is on a limited schedule) which admittedly was actually more fun than going to look at a gumboot.

Tongariro National Park (well, the entrance road):

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An unscheduled stop, and not for everyone. CJ was grumping that he hadn’t had quite enough lunch to have his afternoon nap. Having a 4×4, I decided against just pulling to the side of the road and we headed into the road to the regional park itself, which looks a little bit like a Martian landscape. It was just something cool for CJ to see, and we didn’t venture very far from the road seeing as the NZ Army uses the area for training missions.

Rotorua:

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I knew that Rotorua would offer us plenty to do, which is why I chose it as our afternoon stop. I could have literally done an entire long weekend here with CJ, but decided to make it more of a taster. We headed to Government Gardens, on the lakefront which has a whole bunch of free and fun things to do. We visited the Rachel Spring and I explained about hot springs (the site of the infamous eggie comment). We found a pukeko up close and went for a walk along the lakefront where there are a bunch of teeny mud pools and little hot springs. The most impressive examples of their ilk? Of course not. But it was a fun intro for the little dude who was admittedly more interested by the “owies” Danger signs.

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Dinner was definitely a nostalgia visit for me. One of the restaurants that we grew up going to was Cobb n Co and I had seen one on Fenton Street, one of the main roads in Rotorua. I was only going so that I could get a Traffic Light mocktail but it is ah-may-zing if you are on the road with a kid. They have a separate family seating section that has a whole corner to keep kids occupied – toys, TVs, and playstations which I saw a few of the dads on too LOL . While CJ is pretty awesome with his table manners, it was SO nice to  know that I could take a leisurely time over my meal and not rely on a two-year-old’s ability to keep himself occupied. I love my fine dining but this was a nice, middle-of-the-road option that was low-stress and the perfect thing to round off a long weekend adventure.


An unexpected bonus was that most of the thing we did were either cheap ($2.50 for the train ride) or free! This wasn’t intentional, I did have a little holiday fund set aside, but it wasn’t really needed. I know that what we did only scratched the surface of the possibilities of what was available – I would have particularly loved to take a walk in the Redwoods in Rotorua – but I was more interested in relaxation this break than ticking everything off the list.  In the end, it was a really fun little break that CJ still talks about and that is worth everything to me.

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Checking Out

To be honest, I don’t remember having a lot of “deep and meaningfuls” with my dad as a kid – he was the splinter getter-outerer, the teddy doctor, the constellation-explainer. The big life conversations? They were more mum’s department. I guess that now she’s gone, he’s taken on more of that role and a couple of weeks ago we had this big philosophical conversation about, of all things, checking out.

I’m not talking about when you leave a beautiful resort to head back to reality – that certainly brings another set of challenges! No, the kind of checking out when you’re halfway (or fully) out the door in your head, even while your body is still present.

We all know that person who has handed in their notice at work and is just going through the motions – in fact, I think that the workplace was the first place I heard the phrase. Suddenly everything that they’ve put up with so long is aggravating and they are looking forward to their new adventure. But I think it can apply to a whole bunch of situations. For me personally, I think I’ve checked out of my living situation.

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I’m lucky to be in a position that I can afford to rent my childhood home post-separation. It’s in a relatively good area, it has a big back yard that CJ can hoon around in and its warmly insulated in a way that sadly a lot of Auckland properties aren’t over Winter. It’s in desperate need of renovation but that means the rent is cheap enough that I can save towards my big goals. In the weeks after my separation coming home to a place where I could still see my sister’s childhood scribbling on the wall was oddly comforting.

But I’ve checked out.

I guess, more accurately, I’ve set my goals and now I’m just ready to move on. I’m impatiently (and lord knows, impatience is probably my biggest flaw and a lesson I’m having to learn in multiple ways this year) waiting for all the pieces in the puzzle to fall into place and for CJ and I to start the next adventure. The flaws about this house are starting to drive me mad. Objectively, I can still see the benefits of living here but subjectively I don’t really want to be here anymore.

The interesting thing about this house (and for some people it might be their job, or their relationship) is that I could stay. Certainly no one is going to kick me out. I could make do. But having checked out in my head, having already moved on mentally to the next place I want to live, I don’t think I’d ever feel the same about living in this place again, even if I wanted to try. It’s filled with lovely memories but that’s not enough for me now.

It’s time to move on.

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Review: “A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald” by Natasha Lester

When I received this book for review, I was SO excited. The cover is gorgeous; as I said to my friend Lizzy, if the content was as good as the cover it might earn an elusive space on my bookcase (the alternative cover I’ve seen in NZ stores is pretty stunning too!). The book is also set in the Jazz Age, an era of opulence that I love to read about – I’ve previously enjoyed books like The Paris Wife and Z: A Story of Zelda Fitzgerald. Finally, the blurb teased about a showgirl who wanted to become a doctor – colour me intrigued!

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Evie Lockhart doesn’t fit in the box that her parents and her small town are trying to fit her in. She feels that her life is already planned out for her and yet, she feels so unsatisfied. Just as she’s beginning to wonder whether she can settle for her small world, one moment on a walk along the river changes her life. She comes across a girl from school giving birth on the riverbank and in the ensuing tragedy her eyes are opened to a dream that she barely dared admit to herself. I daren’t spoil anything for you, because I really want you to go and read this book, but her subsequent trip to New York City is a life changer.

Evie is SUCH a powerful female character. I admired her so much for pursuing her goals despite overwhelming adversity. She defies the complacency that is the accepted standard for women of the time (and dare I say, somewhat still relevant today) and does what she needs to do to create the world she wants to live in. Natasha Lester has created a complex character that is strong, yet soft; firm, yet gentle and a woman with a social conscience AND a heart filled with dreams.

Lester creates a totally engaging narrative that manages to keep the reader on their toes right until the very end. She’s not afraid to toy with our feelings towards some of our favourite characters. In the end, all the characters are gloriously flawed (including our heroine Evie) and I think that makes it all the more interesting for the reader. Evie, in particular, makes decisions based on the only way forward that she can see – whether that is the only possibility or not – and for right or wrong, follows through on those choices. There’s just something so gritty and real about her that I absolutely love.

Go out, get the book. Whether you’re into Jazz Age stories or not, Evie’s story is one of strength and one I’d recommend to anybody who is or who loves a strong woman.

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