Review: “The Expatriates” by Janice Y.K. Lee

This book will be enjoyed by almost anyone, do not get me wrong; but I think that my experiences as a mother helped me to get even more deeply involved in the lives of Janice Y.K. Lee’s three expatriate women living in Hong Kong. It’s something I wasn’t expecting. But Lee opens the book with a prologue that discusses the reasons that people move countries and what their experiences are like. And for some people, seeking that dream or that better life involves moving entire families. For various reasons, Mercy, Margaret and Hilary have all found themselves living life abroad and none of them have found it what they expected.

Expatriates

Their challenges are all very different yet hinge around the ideas of motherhood and womanly expectation. What happens if you feel like you are meant to be a mother but you cannot have a child? What happens if a child is lost? What happens if you find yourself about to be a mother when it isn’t ever something that you’d even contemplated? The women find themselves living private lives very different to the public persona that they put forward and I love how Lee gives us this sense of peeking behind the curtain.

What did I love most about this book? Lee makes her characters real; imperfect and gritty. I can’t think of a single character that I liked the whole way through – they all had moments that made me want to yell at them and tell them that their behaviour was shoddy. While that seems like a bizarre thing to enjoy, it just goes to show how utterly engaged I was in the book. And without giving anything away, despite all the imperfect players in this story Lee manages to tie everything up in a resolution that is ultimately satisfying.

Would I recommend this book? Most definitely. I think that most people would enjoy this book but you might have a particular connection (and that similar frustrated engagement) if you are either an expat or a mother. It is definitely a book that’s hard to put down so make sure that you set aside that lazy Sunday to read it.

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Getting back on the (healthy) horse: The dreaded D-word

If you have been reading for a while, you will know that this year I’m hoping to get my health and fitness back on track on year – it’s not been the easiest journey but I’m getting there!

Diet

So it may come as a bit of a surprise but in this weight loss journey, I’m not dieting at all. I know that some people do Keto, Paleo, Whole 30 and it works for them. And if that’s what makes them happy – great! But in all honesty? I love food. I love deliciously dark and bittersweet chocolatey desserts. I love salt and black pepper chips dipped in basil aioli. I love eating nectarines so juicy that they leak down your chin when you bite into them. I love baking a whole bunch of veggies in the oven to make hearty roast vegetable salads. I love a perfectly cooked steak, crackling on a pork roast and peppermint ice cream (although the last one doesn’t love me so much – damn lactose intolerance).

Food brings me joy, in the taste, in the memories, in the companionship when shared with friends. On my recent trip to Perth, food brought me some fantastic memories! The pizza made for me by C that tasted so delicious after eleven hours of flight and transit, fish & chips (and sneaky Pimms – breaking the liquor ban) on Floreat Beach, delicious conversations over even more delicious drinks and/or meals with friends. This past weekend I drank and ate to my heart’s content at a birthday party. So I guess the question is – without a diet, how am I still losing weight?

To my heart’s content is a big indicator. To my stomach’s content too. One of the biggest changes in my diet has been actually listening to my body and what it wants. Not being concerned about finishing a meal. Paying attention to the amount of food that I’m putting on my plate and questioning whether it’s something that I actually want or whether I’m bored/tired/thirsty instead. I’ll still have that late-night dessert while watching the new X-Files, but I might make myself wait an hour to make sure that I’m actually hungry for it.

The other question I ask is “Is it worth it?”. For me, weight loss really is the simple difference of calories in to calories out. I know roughly how active I have to be to maintain my weight and how much I need to step it up to lose. Sometimes the maths will be out but the opportunity to eat somewhere I’ve always wanted to try, or to hang out with people dear to me is too good to pass up. Is it worth not having the loss or having to up my fitness game for the week? Then hell yes; say yes to the boozy chocolate cake.

I know I could drop the weight a LOT faster by calorie restricting more (currently averaging about 2 kg a month), but that’s just not the lifestyle I’m interested in living. Life is too damn short to not chuck back that cocktail and enjoy that tiramisu – in moderation. Not dieting makes this weight loss sustainable for me and keeping it off long-term is what I’m interested in.

Do you diet?

 

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CJ Says #3

Those moments when you feel like you are being trolled by your kid:

  • Me: Do you really need dessert? You had berries.
  • CJ: Yoghurt, peeeeeeeeezzzzz
  • Me (under my breath): Uuuugggghhh fine
  • CJ (whispering): Aaaaaahhhh yoghurt

Those moments when he tells you how it is:

  • CJ takes the box his Thomas The Tank Engine shoes came in out of the recycling and pulls the paper and tags out of it
  • Me: Oh no sweetheart, that’s rubbish
  • CJ: No mummy, not rubbish. It’s Thomas.

Those moments when he’s far too grown up:

  • I read the menu at the cafe to CJ
  • CJ walks up to the counter
  • CJ: Hi. Coffee peez and nuggets like Donalds (the waitress very kindly made him a fluffy rather than a coffee!)

Those moments when he shows his McDonalds obsession (boy, will I be glad when this phase of pointing out every single McDonalds is over – we don’t even go there that often!)

  • CJ: Donalds!
  • I look around: No darling, that’s not Donalds. That’s a KFC.
  • CJ: What dat?
  • Me: They do chicken
  • CJ: Chicken Donalds!!!!

Those moments when he likes to try his luck:

  • CJ: Mummy?
  • Me: Yes sweetheart?
  • CJ: Me a plane?
  • Me: Yes darling, we’re going to go on a plane this year.
  • CJ: Mummy?
  • Me: Yes, sweetheart?
  • CJ: Me a how-ee-copta? (Nice try bud, not this year)

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Kiwi In Perth Tips

So on my recent trip to Perth, there was a bit of gentle ribbing between my hosts and myself about my quintessential Kiwi-ness. From saying that my brain had turned to custard after a full day of flying to the fact that I’d packed two jumpers and a cardigan for a Perth summer, one could say that my feathered, flightless Kiwi underbelly was showing! I decided to do a bit of a tongue-in-cheek #KiwiInPerth hashtag on Twitter to collect some Perth tips to share with you if you are planning a trip to what I feel is a hugely underrated destination. Some of them might also help you even if you are hitting the Eastern States of Australia too!

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This is not a specifically Perth or Kiwi tip, but evening swims and watching the sun go down is an A+ way to spend an evening (Floreat Beach)

Tips

  1. You do not need to take a cardigan with you everywhere you go. It will never be cold enough to need it

  2. When someone talks about a texta, they mean a felt tip pen.

  3. Native Perthians will bitch about the heat something chronic. This is their cultural right, similar to Wellington and the wind

  4. Honeycake is indeed amazing and def worth a try. Very sweet & rich though, don’t need a lot.

  5. They call ice blocks icy-poles here… Doesn’t particularly make sense but then neither does calling them blocks

  6. Some slang doesn’t translate and you will have your hosts in hysterics when you say something will “rip your undies”

  7. Licensed drinking areas in food courts

  8. When deciding to walk from the city to Kings Park, remember there’s a big f-off hill. Someone bring me an “icy pole”

  9. Massive McMuffins are called Mighty McMuffins here – true story. Apparently exactly the same, though

  10. Feeling the heat? You can pretty much cross the CBD Nth-Sth underground. Start at Carillion City and end at the Esplanade

While I joke about the culture shock, there’s no denying that Perth (well, WA as a whole) is a beautiful place that contains some of my absolute favourite people. If you haven’t considered a visit I definitely recommend you do!

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16 Random Things 

Almost an entire month into 2016 and it’s shaping up to be a crazy year. Already had an amazing (life-changing? maybe) holiday that I’m still trying to process, I return to full-time work NEXT WEEK and I have a little boy who will be two in a month’s time. There’s a lot going on and so here’s 16 random things that I want to share but aren’t really substantial enough to be “grown up” blog posts of their own.

  1. I moved out of home at 17. While it wasn’t the smartest move to make financially, I don’t regret it. I grew up very fast and it shaped me into the person I am today. If CJ wants to move out of home at a young age (after completing high school) I’d be totally supportive.
  2. If you buy Seat + Bag on Air New Zealand flights that then transit and become Virgin Australia flights, Virgin will give you a meal anyway. I love Air New Zealand but this was a win/win scenario.
  3. A group of giraffes is called a “tower”.
  4. I once played a role in a play that required me to change tops mid-scene. High school friends still refer to “that time you were on stage in your bra”. It’s a pity, because it was actually the role in high school that probably had the most acting range for me and all anyone ever remembers is my breasts LOL
  5. I watched Jupiter Ascending despite terrible reviews because a) sci fi and b) Channing Tatum. It was still terrible and Mr Tatum is not in it enough to justify the watch. Just doing you a public service by letting you know.
  6. Related: does anyone else have Tatum/Dewing Tatum #relationshipgoals? I’m sure that they aren’t completely perfect behind the scenes (who is?) but something about the way they present themselves is just so real… you can’t fake that kind of awe when your wife is giving you a lap dance on international television LOL
  7. I’m more sad about changing gyms because CJ won’t get to go to crèche anymore than because of the exercise facilities. This is despite the fact that I can now change to a gym with less of a commute because he’ll be a full-time daycare kid and won’t need the crèche anymore. He’s got such a good relationship with the crèche mums but hopefully he’ll build that with his new carer too.
  8. If you lift a kangaroo’s tail off the ground, they can’t jump. It wasn’t until I visited Peel Zoo and got schooled by my Aussie friends that I realised the importance of a tail in kangaroos’ jumping. I just always thought that they had awesome thigh muscles.
  9. Related fact: I’m scared of snakes. I didn’t realise that the snake around the neck of the cashier at the Zoo was real until I was about to pay and saw it moving. I want to overcome this fear one day and eventually touch one.
  10. I really hate the phrase “indian giver”. I understand what the people using it are trying to communicate but the origins of the phrase are ridiculously racist.
  11. I’m glad I was the sober driver for the Six60 concert I attended last weekend – which was amazing (see my little Facebook review here)! The band was awesome so there was no dire need to get a buzz on to enjoy and bottles of wine were $50 – that’s like a 200% markup o_0. I did have a couple of small glasses out of the girls’ bottles though, because hello – concert in a vineyard.
  12. I still haven’t managed to find a maxi-dress I like this summer. I’m about at the point where I give up – I’ve been making do with short dresses to this point. I can wear those with tights as the weather turns to winter anyway.
  13. I’m so glad that I made the effort to go see The Eagles on their last Australasian tour. I went with my dad and remember talking about the fact that it might have been our last chance. I don’t know if they’ll tour again but it definitely won’t be the same without Glenn Frey. The Eagles were part of the soundtrack of my childhood and will always have a special home in my heart.
  14. I’ve thought long and hard about sharing my personal goals on the blog this year but I’ve decided that I’d rather keep them private. In the past I’ve felt like I needed external pressure (I’m not even sure that’s the right word) to get to my goals. This year I actually feel really focused on the things that I am hoping to achieve and I’m finding that intrinsic motivation in myself. It’s refreshing.
  15. As much as I love my son, as he becomes more and more a little boy I’m starting to reassess at what point I stop telling his story for him. I’m already becoming a lot more hesitant posting pictures on my more open social media (Twitter, Instagram) and I can see that this will probably be an ongoing thought process of how I keep digital memories in a way that best serves him. I certainly don’t have the answers yet.
  16. What I tell myself every time I feel down:

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Raaaaahhhhh.

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Review: “Eden Gardens” by Louise Brown

Usually my holidays are all about reading but I was all about the writing in my free time on my recent Perth holiday. I only packed one book to read – the new release from Louise Brown, Eden Gardens – and it turned out to be the perfect holiday read for me. Poor organisation (yup, that would be me who decided to fly out on January 1st because it was cheaper) meant that both my phone and iPad needed charging at the airport and so I tucked into this novel before I was even on the plane!

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The story focuses on the stories of Maisy, her mother (a “fallen woman”) and their ayah, Pushpa. Louise Brown does a fantastic job at showing the breadth of experiences in colonial India in the 1940s, from the “jute wallah” traditional colonial experience of Gordon MacBrayne to the freedom fighting of Sunil Banjaree and, of course, Maisy’s own experience as a Calcutta-born Englishwoman who is more at home eating street food in the bazaar than in the streets of the “home country”.  It tells the story of love and lust, war and freedom, all played out against the background of a British India vividly created in description by the author.

One of the things that I loved about this story was the lack of predictability in the plot. It’s not necessarily a negative if you’re able to guess what happens next in a novel but I really liked the fact that the author kept on surprising me with what happened next. I also loved the imperfection of Maisy’s character, showing that even strong women (and I do believe that for all her choices, she was a strong woman) buckle and break sometimes.

I wouldn’t class this as a traditional holiday read – it definitely isn’t light and fluffy. Themes of racial and class segregation and gender inequality run strong throughout the text and it engages the reader to actually think about these issues and draw their own conclusions. If you love stories where the hero or heroine is imperfect, novels about culture and with a message that makes you think, this is a read for you.

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Three Covers I Like More Than The Originals

I love original music but I think there is also something to be said for the art of a truly well-done cover. Here are three of my favourite covers – I hope you like them too!

Hurt

Original: Nine Inch Nails / Better: Johnny Cash

I actually heard the Johnny Cash version before the NIN version and thought, given his life story, that the song was absolute perfection. Cash’s aged and gravelly voice with his bluesy demeanour gives this song life that I just don’t get from the original. There’s something to be said for being at the age where you can reflect on the experiences of life and this song feels deeper if you look at it from that perspective.

Nothing Compares 2 U

Original: Sinead O’Connor / Better: Chris Cornell

Nothing Compares is one of those songs that seems to be iconic no matter what you grew up listening to – or maybe it’s just if you’re my age. Those opening bars are as familiar as a hug. I’m a big Chris Cornell fan – I remember seeing him in concert circa 2007 with Linkin Park – but I have to admit being surprised when I heard that he had covered the song. I didn’t see the two styles gelling. How wrong was I? This is amazing!

Titanium

Original: David Guetta feat. Sia / Better: Boyce Avenue

The original song is great and I’m not going to lie, I do love the acapella renditions in Pitch Perfect. But Boyce Avenue have to be one of my favourite acoustic cover bands and this has to be a top pick. With a slightly slower pace, the lyrics are clearer and you have more time to really absorb the words. Maybe it’s the English Lit teacher in me but I really love that.

Any covers you love that you think I’ve missed? Hit me with them below in the comments section.

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Word for the Year: 2016

Brave

Source

My word for the past year was abundance. I was sick of living with a scarcity mentality, that there wasn’t enough of anything to go round. Although I let this word slip from mind around the time that my separation happened (four months ago, I can hardly credit how fast time has gone since then), the essence of it has seeped into my soul and I’ve still been living in the truth of that word without even thinking.

I’ve had a year abundant with experiences, both good and bad. I’d definitely say that 2015 is the year that changed the course of my life and those experiences have given me clarity as to what I want moving forward. I’ve had an abundance of creative inspiration, jump starting my work on my novel and even helping me to get back into short story and poetry writing. I’ve had an abundance of work this year which has obviously had a flow-on effect on the financial side. Surprisingly, even with working I’ve had an abundance of quality time with my son. I wonder whether having fewer hours to spend with him during the work week has meant that I have more respect for the time we do have together. As much as it seems funny to say coming out the other side of a marriage separation — holy crap, have I felt an abundance of love this year. Some of it has come from the most unexpected places. And when there have been times I’ve been confused or not known how I’m going to get through something, there are some wonderful, wonderful people who have given me abundant amounts of time and friendship to help me work out what my next steps forward are.

So why BRAVE?

Like any good word for the year, it sprung into my mind without prompting. There are certainly times in the past year when I have had to be brave. Facing my fear of failure when it came to my marriage was definitely one of them. Joining a gym and meeting a personal trainer was another. But at times, and in certain situations, I feel like I’m only at the very start of my bravery journey.

What does BRAVE look like?

Brave means making big plans and following through with them. Brave means not being afraid to speak my mind and not being apologetic for my feelings or my opinions. Brave means continuing to put my well-being on an equal par with CJ’s well-being because he’s not well-served by a mother who is unfit, unhealthy or mentally wrung-out. Brave means doing what I need to do to hit my weight goal this year – no self-sabotage. Brave means asking for help at my new job and not worrying about whether it makes me look incompetent – nothing looks as incompetent as doing something wrong, and with coming from a different educational sector those questions are expected. Brave means hopping on a flight tomorrow and enjoying a well-deserved child-free holiday without feeling guilty. Brave means putting everything on the line for the things that really matter, and not being afraid to hold back when the things don’t really matter.

Basically, brave means making the big calls, being explicit about what I want and don’t want. I spent a year… maybe longer, it’s hard to tell when things went wrong… living for other people’s wants and happiness. Brave means loving myself in a world where women are told that they aren’t enough unless they are Pinterest/Instagram perfect. Brave is being honest. Brave is having the metaphorical balls to put my happiness first.

What’s your word for the year?

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Sweet Mama M will be on break until the 14th of January. See you back here then!

2015 in Review

What did you do in 2015 that you’d never done before?
Had my first kid-free vacation since CJ was born, worked as acting head-of-department for six weeks, separated from M-Daddy, attended a wedding solo… quite a few things, actually!

Did you keep your New Years resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
Rather than resolutions, I set goals. Some of them I absolutely smashed, others I’m well on the way to achieving. I’ve got goals for 2016 too and I hope that I’m equally successful.

Did anyone close to you give birth?
Yes. Baby-palooza this year, with the most recent being my friend Greer who gave birth on Christmas morning!

Did anyone close to you die?
Sort of. My great-aunt died just before Christmas. We used to see her a lot when mum was alive, but not so much recently.

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What countries did you visit?
Australia – it was my first time visiting Perth and now I’m about to head back there!

What would you like to have in 2016 that you lacked in 2015?
More travel, more adventures. 2015 felt like the year that I got my house in order. 2016 feels exciting! Three trips already planned!

What date from 2015 will remain etched upon your memory?
The 8th of August.

What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Surviving! I kid, I kid. Probably my success at work this year. The substitute teaching I did gave me a really positive reputation amongst the local teaching community with some opportunities for leadership positions that I otherwise would not have had. I definitely think this contributed in part to me gaining a new position at the end of this year that will be way better for CJ and I.

What was your biggest failure?
I’m really struggling to think of one. Originally I thought my marriage, but I really do believe that our separation has been for the best. Maybe failing to complete my novel by the end of the year? I don’t know. There’s definitely been stuff that hasn’t gone the way that I intended but I don’t think of it in terms of failure.

Did you suffer illness or injury?
I actually had a stunningly healthy year, which I put down to the improvements in diet and exercise and adding in supplements to replenish what I lost from having CJ and breast-feeding.

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What was the best thing you bought?
My new MacBook? Or my gym gear. Honestly, I didn’t buy a lot but those two things have helped me reach my goals.

Where did most of your money go?
The boring, everyday stuff. Or savings. I’ve had to spend a little on smaller clothes that fit. Next question.

What did you get really, really, really excited about?
My upcoming trip. It will be my first proper holiday rather than long weekend in two years! So glad I made it happen.

What song/album will always remind you of 2015?
Oooooooh that’s a hard one. I thrashed the latest Six60, Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift albums in my car. My gym playlist? One of those.

Compared to this time last year, are you:
happier or sadder? Happier; much, much happier.
thinner or fatter? Thinner
richer or poorer? Surprisingly, richer

What do you wish you’d done more of?
Travelling and exploring.

What do you wish you’d done less of?
Worrying about everyone’s opinion of my marriage ending. Some people have been surprised but no one has been a total asshole about it.

Who did you spend the most time on the phone with?
V – been a total life-saver through everything that has gone on this year. Or Skype with Alice. 

How many one night stands in this last year?
None

What was your favourite TV programme?
I usually allow myself one “must-watch” TV show each week that I block out time for. At the moment, it’s “Call The Midwife”.

Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
Hate’s a very strong word. People have disappointed me but I wouldn’t say I hate them.

What was the best book(s) you read?
I finally read “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” series and I now understand the hype!

What were your favourite films of this year?
Star Wars – The Force Awakens purely because I’m a fan girl that has waited so long for this to happen. Watching Gone Girl on the plane to Perth. Catching About Time on the TV and thinking about how small moments can change lives forever.

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What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I turned 30, and I did high tea with the girls at my favourite place in the city, went out for dinner and spent the night in a hotel before hitting the day spa the following day. I’ve never staycationed in my own city before and it was marvellous.

How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2015?
Simplify. Classic, timeless pieces. Less is more.

What kept you sane?
Writing. Writing here, writing on my writing blog, writing my novel. Writing letters that I may never send.

Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Ryan Reynolds – I know, shock horror, out of all the celeb Ryans, give me Van Wilder any day.

What political issue stirred you the most?
I’m not rapt with the amount of money that the government spent on the flag debate when we have so many other pressing issues as a country.

Who did you miss?
My mum, as always. 

Who was the best new person you met?
They know who they are. Needless to say I love how sometimes people come into your life and all of a sudden you can’t imagine life without them.

Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2015.
That it’s important to do what makes me happy – that’s why I got inked!

Quote a song lyric that sums up your year
So far away from where you are, I’m standing underneath the stars – Lifehouse

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Hohoho… a solo Christmas

One of the most frequent questions I’ve had recently is “What are you doing for Christmas?”… not in a “wanna hang?” kind of way but in the “oh shit, have you guys managed to sort out what you guys are doing now that you’re no longer together?” way. I’m not going to lie, it did take some discussion and thought and compromise but you know me, I’m a planner. I had that ish on lock ages ago. For the last couple of years, being heavily pregnant and then having an infant, we dug our heels in and had one BIG Christmas. Both sides of the family came together and had a big lunch at our place, meaning that no one was ridiculously rushed. It worked well. But it obviously wasn’t going to work this year.

One of the things that’s been really good is that having almost sole custody of CJ this month (for a series of reasons) has meant examining all the things that I would try to do in a holiday season and thinking as to whether they are really important. Some, like taking CJ to the Christmas picnic I used to attend as a child, are total HELL YESes. Some, like having perfectly matching paper under the Christmas tree, are not important in the slightest. And some of them have been easier to do in the short amount of time I’ve had to myself, like seeing the Christmas decorations in the CBD.

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I haven’t been a total Christmas grinch though – CJ has definitely had some Christmas fun. While we haven’t been to a Santa parade (the timings didn’t work), he’s been to the Christmas Wonderland Display twice (where he loves the Christmas trains) – once with his Dad and Nanny and once with me. We’ve decorated wrapping paper with crayon drawings for his aunty’s presents. We visited Santa although CJ decided that he wasn’t so much of a fan this year. We read our Santa books and we often start our mornings with a little Christmas carol dance party. I’ve dialled back on my epic housewife bring-a-plates; no strawberry croquembouche or multi-flavoured truffles this year. My one child-free night this month I decided to go out and party with friends so rocked up with bought food (Dunkin’ Donut Munchkins!) to a get-together the following day. It’s going to sound funny coming from a cook like me, but it was kind of liberating to not care about being Pinterest perfect and instead focus on friendship and fun. And I guess that sums up my attitude to the season – do the stuff that brings CJ and I joy and forget about the rest. Don’t worry about perfection, worry about what ten years from now is really going to matter.

So Christmas Day? M-Daddy is coming round for breakfast. While we’re not the type of exes who will just hang out together socially, we certainly don’t hate each other. We figure that Santa is only going to be exciting for CJ for such a short time (I found out he wasn’t real when I was five!) and while our circumstances (location, commitments, relationships) allow, it can be a nice memory he has of us spending time together. We’ll be doing the traditional bacon sandwiches and bubbles and then CJ will be heading off with his dad for Christmas lunch and a nap. I’ll get to spend the day in the kitchen doing some of the more technical cooking; I’m actually excited for this as I tend to avoid the overly complex meals I love to cook when I’m juggling work and a little lad all by myself. Late afternoon, CJ arrives back and will get to have Christmas dinner with my side of the family and then will hopefully toddle off to bed with a full tummy and a full heart. It’s not the simple Christmases we’ve had in the past but it’s not any worse for it.

I’m really pleased with how this year has turned out. I’m a total Christmas fan and I was really worried, post-separation, what it would look like and that it would turn out to be a massive drama. It’s actually been easier than I expected. And as CJ gets more independent I’ll be able to introduce back in more of the time-consuming parts (like making ornate desserts) that I actually find fun. Whatever life brings, whatever changes may come, I hope that the spirit of Christmas that I’m feeling right now is what moves forward with us – that having a holiday season that you enjoy is enough.

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