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Finding The Happy

Looking for joy in all the right places

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Meaning

The home of Thursday’s Three Thank-Yous, my reflections on the Good Life in Christ, and all other sudden bursts of gratitude and thanksgiving

Changing shifts

They say you should be careful what you pray for.

A few of you know that I’ve been searching for a paying job for the last few months, in amongst the steady stream of visitors and birthday parties we’ve had.

Continue reading “Changing shifts”

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Max Lerner once said…

“The turning point in the process of growing up is when you discover the core of strength within you that survives all hurt.”

Purposefully On

I am equal parts a lover of paper and phablet, of the online and the off. My journals and organisers are probably the best expressions of this duality; from the moment my day begins, my phone and iPad are my electronic secretaries, but I turn to paper when I need to connect with myself and others deeply.

My personal journal – the one with the thoughts I never want to blog about – is therefore spread across a paper journal and an electronic app (Flava). On the one hand, I love the app for its immediacy and convenience. To be able to jot down a fleeting thought at a playground, grab a snapshot to suit. But it can’t beat writing longhand in a bound book — something I rarely make time for nowadays. Quality vs Quantity.

Gail had recently mentioned how she had deliberately left her phone by her bedside one morning, instead of picking it up to scroll through the usual apps as soon as sleep left her. The result was instant and positive. She felt more engaged with her children. She got things done. She was mentally uncluttered.

And I thought to myself, what a fabulous idea.

I’ve been trying different things on and off regarding my gadgets. I try to go without Facebook on Fridays when I remember to – except when I flick through it out of habit first thing in the morning, it tends to ruin the motivation for abstinence for the rest of the day. I’ve been weaning Arddun off the gadgets too, and have gone back to packing mini games and activities now that I’m once again lugging a humongous nappy bag everywhere I go, because of Atticus.

My biggest problem with these deliciously convenient gadgets is my rubbish capacity for delayed gratification. Have a question? Jump on Google now. Need to ask the builder something? Send him a text. Check my emails for the nth time, just in case the insurance people got back to me. Flick through ABC News and Facebook, just in case I missed something big. I’m sure my need to know absolutely NOW goes hand in hand with rubbish self-control and good ol’ kiasuism (a very nifty Singaporean word that roughly means “the fear of losing out”.)

The thing is, being constantly “on” is making me more tense and tired than I need to be. And it’s making me lazy about parenting. Every moment I spend flicking through Facebook needlessly out of stupefied habit is a moment that could have been better spent really playing with my children before they never want to play with me again.

So, three things tomorrow.

  1. Wake up with a prayer, not a phone
    I shall very deliberately move my iPad and phone away from the bedside table so I don’t reach for them tomorrow morning, before I realise what I’m doing. And when I’m finally awake enough to think straight, I shall begin the day with a prayer.
  2. Schedule my online times
    It’s going to be hard work because I have a tonne of things tomorrow, but I shall endeavour not to touch my gadgets until a dedicated timeslot for dealing with House Build things. It’s crunch time for house things I know, but this is about eliminating distractions and time-consuming tangents, and building better self-control around my electronic crutches.
  3. Go offline and be inspired
    I bought a book from Kikki K recently with 135 suggestions on how to unplug and snatch some soul-pampering moments. I’m going to do the tried and tested thing tomorrow of thumbing through the book and then doing whatever suggestion my finger lands on. Let’s hope it’s not the one that says “Go Camping”.

Painful home truths

It dawns on me this early morning that we will soon be leaving this home.

Length of living space
The length of our living space, and home to many a party – especially during the age Before Children

When we bought this house, we had always known that we would move eventually. It was to be the first of hopefully three, and we would live in it until the children arrived. The first rung in the property ladder. The step up into the larger family home, before we eventually downsize in our retirement. If we got to live that long.

During our house hunt, this had been the first house we walked into and the one we couldn’t shake from our hearts and minds. In November, we would have lived in this house for ten years. And in all that time of course, this house had become our home.

Our bedroom
Our spacious north-facing bedroom
Arddun's bedroom
Once our study and second guest room, this space has evolved into our daughter’s haven. I’m convinced it is the best insulated room in the house – warmest in winter, coolest in summer.

And as much as we’ve been gearing up to this season of selling and moving on, I can’t help but feel nostalgic and a little sad about the prospect of leaving this place. It’s a terrific family home, and it’s served us very well. Coming from an old flat in Singapore, this is the first house I’ve lived in that has such open plan living, and where the kitchen truly is the hub of the home. I love that our guests always gather around our massive kitchen island the moment they arrive, and that I get to engage with them even as I’m busying in the kitchen. Having gotten so used to entertaining this way, it was one of the first things I made sure we have in our new home – a large kitchen island, right in the family living area. And space underneath for bar stools so we can continue having breakfasts that way.

Main living area with skylight
I’m really going to miss these high ceilings and those windows.

Arddun had learned to walk on these floors. My mother stayed here every chance she could. Atticus was almost born here (if I ever get down to writing about his birth, that is definitely a story to tell.) For a few consecutive years, we hosted Chinese New Year for our friends here.

Chinese new year 2011
Chinese New Year 2010, probably the last bash before Arddun arrived
Guest room
Before this became Atticus’s room, this was my study and our guest bedroom. We’ve had so many friends and family come stay with us here over the years for days, weeks, even months.

These walls have paid witness to the highs and lows of my family’s last decade. Mostly highs, really.

I’m going to miss walking to the shops. I love that when it was just Arddun and I, it was so easy to walk over to the buses and take a ride to Belconnon or the city. A part of me is rather sore that they’re finally going to build a cinema within walking distance of this place, but we’d probably be in the new house by then. My little fantasy about date nights with Tony and then walking home thereafter, slightly ruined now by the prospect that we’d still have to drive.

I love that I could send Tony to the shops for onions in the midst of cooking, and he could still make it home in time for dinner to be finished on schedule.

I’m so glad we moved to this part of Canberra. I’m so thankful we have this home.

If all goes well in the coming weeks, someone else is going to walk into this house, see what we’ve seen in it, and love it on the spot. Until then, I’m going to treasure our last months together.

View from front door
That uninterrupted view from our front step

{Thursday’s Three Thank-yous} Ye merry gentle men

I grew up without a father for most of my life, but I’ve always had several father figures. There were many to be found within the church I grew up with in Singapore, and God has this wonderful way of providing different ones at each stage of my life.

My children are deeply loved by their daddy, but they are also very blessed to grow up around other men of character. On Sunday, anticipating a mini milestone, I took my camera along so I could introduce you to some of the men in Atticus’s life.

1) Raymond

Arddun, for reasons only her young heart knows, refers to Liz as Aunty Liz but to Raymond as Mr. Ray. Even as a baby, Arddun has never been afraid of his big bushy beard and loud, hearty laugh. I still have fond memories of Arddun reaching out tentatively to pat his bristly chin like it were a curiosity. He may look a very little bit like Gimli from LOTR (or a garden gnome, depending on beard length) and in many ways, he can be just as courageous in fighting for what is right. Always generous, always opinionated, deeply in love with God, Raymond is a teddy bear.

And Atticus adores him.

Atticus and Raymond seeing eye to eye

Raymond tickling Atticus

2) Peter

Before children, I was never one of those at church who would scan the room for cuddly babies. And on looking back, I wish I had been because at the very least, I could have provided something that many mothers of young babies are always thankful for – a bit of reprieve from baby, just so they can sit down for 5 minutes with a hot cup of tea for a change.

Peter is another gentle man in Atticus’s life. He just loves children, and Atticus has been a great and ever-willing beneficiary of his cuddles and walks around the room during our Sunday morning teas. I love watching someone else light up when they see a child of mine.

Peter with Atticus

3) Mark

Mark has three children of his own, two of whom Arddun loves playing with on Sundays. Miles (the youngest), I’m eyeing off as a playmate for Atticus in the years to come.

Being a father of two boys has also called on some resourcefulness when it comes to haircuts. Thanks to YouTube, Mark has learnt to cut his own boys’ hair. And with Atticus’s own wispy baby strands now falling over his eyes, I’d called on Mark to exercise some YouTube hair-cutting wizardry.

Atticus eating arrowroot biscuit in highchair
Arrowroot biscuits, a fabulous distraction for a first-ever haircut!

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Atticus's face getting squished during haircut

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Atticus with Mark
A handsome result. Thank you, Uncle Mark, for taming my unruly baby locks! Can you YouTube how to build a cubby house next?

{Thursday’s Three Thank-yous} Brother, Bank, Building

Okay, no more awkward photos. I promise.

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged about what I’m thankful for. I used to take a breather every day at 3.00pm and again at 11:15pm to take stock of how my day is going over a hot cup of tea. One of the things I used to do at both those stops was to reflect on the big and little things I was grateful for. Free parking, for instance. New job. That sort of big and little. If I paid enough attention to what was going on, I could even mark the moment with a photo.

That habit had, sadly, shrivelled up in the wake of our new and more hectic home routine, what with Arddun’s preschool and Atticus as the newest kid on the block. Now that we have more of a routine going, I’m hoping to put some Mindfulness stops back in my day.

Like a muscle that’s fallen into disuse (see Velle’s Abs for further reference), identifying and celebrating things to be grateful for takes practice and doesn’t come as easily as one would think. So in coming back to this Thursday meditation, I struggled a teeny bit before the following came to me.

1. I’m thankful Arddun and Atticus have each other.

We had Mandarin playgroup again today, and the three of us had rocked up extra early. The playgroup is held in a children’s gym at the community health centre, so Atticus soon found himself in a cheerful corner of the room surrounded by age-appropriate toys. He was rapt enough that I could sneak over to the kitchenette on the other side of the room to grab a tea and bikkie.

And then I heard it. Volley after volley of that unmistakable belly-laugh.

Lately, Arddun has made it her mission to make her brother laugh. The moment she leaves her bedroom in the morning, she makes a beeline for her brother. She does everything from fart sounds (already a hit with the boy) and tickles, to bray-laughing like a donkey and general slapstick. I didn’t have to look up from my tea to guess what was going on back at Atticus’s playmat. His big sister had settled herself down beside him and was jiggling the levers and bells on the toy in front of him to get a reaction. Another mother who attends the playgroup sidled up next to me and marvelled at how wonderfully they play together.

Giving Arddun a sibling was a big part of why we had Atticus. But making a loving, gentle and kind big sister out of Arddun has turned out to be a wonderful blessing for Atticus.

Arddun kissing Atticus on couch
Yes, yes… I am adored.

2. I’m glad banks understand Mummy Brain

Atticus and I went to the Canberra Centre yesterday to catch up with some of my old colleagues for coffee, and to get some errands done. About two minutes before said coffee-date, however, I realised that I had left my wallet at home.

I wasn’t too panicked – the ATM machines lately have this feature where you can retrieve cash without using your card. I was also going to try and get some cash at the bank, although it wasn’t until one of my colleagues pointed out that I would need my ATM card for that, that I blanched. Oh dear. I had parked my car within the Centre, and there was no way to pay to get it out. I still needed to do my errands. What now?

Turns out, banks understand. In fact, it seems to be such a common occurrence that the teller could finish all my sentences.

“Hi, this is a little awkward, but I just found out I left my wallet at home…”

(Eyes the gurgling baby in the pram squeezing out every ounce of cuteness from his chubby cheeks and shiny eyes.)

“How much do you need?”

Less than two minutes later, I was out of there with enough cash to pay for parking AND get what I needed from Officeworks.

3. We have a slab!

After a lot of drama and rain and waiting and more rain and banks and then finally losing our tempers, our house has both slabs. It feels like we’ve gotten over a hump in the project. It hasn’t been a straightforward process, and it’s also turned out to be a complicated build… but at least we have a nice view.

Slab
Never thought I’d be so happy to see so much laid concrete.

Declutter Challenge Accepted

While flicking through Facebook the other day, I came across a blog that was inviting its readers to do a 30-day Declutter, by sending out a prompt a day.

It immediately appealed to me for various reasons — unlike FlyLady, this challenge is finite and focused, and there is a possible prize at the end. ($150 vouchers from Howard’s Storage World, anyone?) I’d tried doing FlyLady a few times, but ended up annoyed either by their emails or website — which are both ironically cluttered and disorganised. The more I wander through An Organised Life, however, the more I fall in love.

I feel like I’ve been continually decluttering, especially since 2013 when we were

  • packing to live in Singapore for half a year, and then
  • packing my mother’s house in Singapore, and then
  • unpacking when we got back from Singapore, and then
  • unpacking boxes that we had shipped from my mother’s house, and then
  • decluttering and packing boxes in anticipation of Atticus and an eventual house move.

Phew!

What I’ve been confronted with over and over in these last 2 years is my sentimentality. I had marvelled, while packing my mother’s house, at what she had opted to keep in her tiny flat. What most people would pass over as junk, I had immediately recognised as remnants and relics of my childhood and her life. And since her death, I have been finding it especially difficult to declutter because, like her, I simply can’t bear to let go of the silliest things.

Like 20-year-old eyeshadow and perfume. Like showercaps. Like bindis that no longer stick to anything.

Like shoes that hurt. Like blouses that have shrunk since I had Atticus (ahem!).

Like notebooks filled with everyday lists and scribbles. Like old contact lenses.

Like badly chipped jars. Like clothes that no longer fit either Arddun or Atticus. Like costume jewellery that’s broken beyond repair. Like lotion for stretch marks that don’t actually work because, hello? I’m a grown woman, not a bloomin’ rubberband.

And so I find I have to revisit my piles of clutter periodically, if only to summon the fortitude to let. it. go.

Since I came into this challenge late, I needed to catch up on 10 days’ worth of prompts. This, on top of my usual housework and that small matter of keeping Atticus alive and well. But thanks to the last 2 years of that constant cycle of gathering and dispensing, I managed to do the following today.

Box of shoes
Shoes! Mine and Arddun’s. A surprisingly small box, but then again my summer shoes are lost in storage somewhere.
Floor with old cosmetics strewn
Toiletries, a surprisingly difficult one for me to tackle. I had consolidated my travel-sized toiletries a few months ago, but the make-up drawers were hard work for me because they come with memories of choir days, and dates in my twenties, and shopping trips with girlfriends, and just that promise of a magical evening out dressed to the nines. Never mind that some of them are about 20 years old, and I don’t dare smear any on my face.
Cups and crockery on kitchen table
Coffee Cups & Crockery… very low yield, as I most of our crockery are hand-me-downs and therefore sentimental. In fact, I was rather reluctant to part with these except they’re quite badly chipped all over, and I never use these cups because they’re quite useless thermoses.
Candles and platter
Vases, candles and platters. I use all our vases because we only have three, so none to throw out. Heaps of candles but again, many are sentimental so these were all I was willing to give away.
Cookbooks on kitchen benchtop
Cookbooks! I’d already done a cull before, but then duly went out and fell in love with a few more volumes. These were the only ones that made the cut this time around.
Boxes of children's clothes
Children’s clothes. Two boxes worth, the bottom being Atticus’s and the top being Arddun’s. To be honest, I’d been accumulating Atticus’s for 4 months now, so it’s not like I threw everything together today although I did fill it up enough to close the box today. As for Arddun’s, I regularly go through her clothes because she grows so quickly, and now that we know we won’t be keeping most pieces for Atticus, it’s made decluttering a whole lot faster.

I haven’t tackled bags yet (Day 4), or knick-knacks and ornaments (Day 5), or toys (Day 6), mostly because there’s nothing to be done there. Most of my bags are in storage, as are the family’s knick-knacks and ornaments (mostly from my mother’s house). I had also just sorted through Arddun’s toys the week before, so I’m counting that as a done deal.

Sorry this is a boring one for you. It’s mostly a means for me to pat myself on the back. I’ve never enjoyed housework and Tony is amazingly consistent with the bits he does (all our laundry, some dishwashing, the garden, the garbage, the garage.) But when it comes to sorting and sifting, it seems to be my one constant project. And I, for one, am grateful Atticus napped for 4 hours today.

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