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Finding The Happy

Looking for joy in all the right places

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Canberra

TTT – Water, Family, and the art of asking for permission

(Again, a very late one… but at least not forgotten!)

It’s taken me a little longer to think of my list this week – possibly because I’ve been privately logging my gratitudes daily for almost a month now and feel a little repetitious, and partly because I feel like I need to pick Three Huge Events from the week just passed.

It’s been a lovely week. My quest to cut down on consumerism has yielded a mixed bag of results – I now steer clear of most shops, that’s true. But I’ve also ended up visiting more friends or inviting them over, and therefore buying a lot more food. I’ve decided it’s a net gain, overall. Spending the time to connect with others over nom-noms trumps wandering into malls out of habit… and I’ve learnt to eat more simply during my lunches.

Anyhoo… here’s three things I’ve decided to be thankful for.

1. Clear drinking water

We had Mark’s parents over for morning tea on Thursday last week, which wandered into lunch, and then again into afternoon tea. Spent a lovely day with them at Gold Creek. They’ve just very recently “migrated” from Perth, and so the comparisons between short visitations and actually settling in Canberra naturally came up.

The topic of water came up, and I know it sounds like one of those I’ve-run-out-of-things-to-be-thankful-for moments when I say that I’m grateful for Canberra’s water quality. But it’s true. I’ve drunk water from the tap in many cities and in many countries when it’s deemed safe to drink water from, and Canberra’s water is probably one of the nicest-tasting and cleanest. It was one of those epiphanies I didn’t get until I was reminded of Adelaide’s water – which tastes vile. I mean, it’s considered safe for drinking but it just tastes artificial and wrong. And their water alone is the reason I would never want to move to Adelaide. Seriously.

Canberra drinking water in a glass
Cool, clear Canberra refreshment

2. Family coming down

Plans are finally falling into place for this year-end! Tony’s parents will be staying with us in the last 2 weeks of November (hedging their bets that Boy Blob, like Arddun, will make an early entrance), and my family and their significant others will be making their way down over the course of the first two weeks in December! Nothing like a full house to welcome a new baby. It will be a bit nuts, I suspect – but good nuts.

3. Arddun’s habit of checking first

Something else I’ve grown very thankful for lately is how Arddun thinks to ask Tony or me for permission before she helps herself to food – whether it’s a biscuit for afternoon tea, or an extra slice of cheese with her meal. It’s something we’ve reminded her gently to do over time, and we haven’t always been successful. There was that one recent time she got caught polishing off a bag of lollies she received from a school friend’s birthday party… she had to learn a lesson from that. But lately, she seems to understand that she needs to ask for permission before helping herself to food. And it’s a relief, frankly, especially since she is still reacting to popular “child-friendly” foods like sultanas and other fruits and vegetables.

Probably jinxed it now, and maybe she’ll sneak off something at the next Mother’s Group luncheon… But for now, it’s something I’ve observed that she’s grown good at. And it’s such a win for all of us.

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TTT – Going live, coming home

I know this is now two days late.

To be fair, I did start writing this on Thursday… Greenland time.

Better late than never, etc etc…


I don’t know whether it was the lack of sleep, my current gooey pregnancy hormones or the fact that I have the day off today, but I woke up this morning feeling a whole lot of Thankful. There’s a calm in me, wholesome and warm like freshly baked bread, and just as nourishing and welcome on this cool winter’s afternoon. I don’t usually gush about the good things in life, but there’s just something about today that makes my soul hum.

We’ve had Andrea and Ben over this last week from Singapore. Between blogging the hours away and immersing myself in their cheer and company, I chose the latter the way one savours a good meal and is loathe to let any morsel go to waste. They got on the coach this morning and even as I type, are on their way to Sydney to eat their weight in fresh seafood and work it off after with long walks around this hilly, bustling metropolis. I’m going to miss them, but I’m sure they have, in no small way, contributed to my sunny sense of wellness this day.

So here goes.

1) Going live, baby

After telling myself that I’d like to get out of web project management and try something else, I landed a part-time contract in April with a Christian organisation that I just could not refuse. It turned out to be an intense project full of twists and turns that required constant creative thinking and firefighting, and pushed me outside of my comfort zone. It’s not finished yet, but the first part of the product launched on our deadline despite crazy, crazy odds and yet another last-minute curve ball. Awed, inspired and grateful for the many hands on deck, but most of all touched by the graciousness I constantly encounter from others in this business.

It also meant I could enjoy the rest of the week with Andrea and Ben without this project hanging over my head and heart. Bliss!

2) Being at home with my homies

I remember one bible class lesson with Willie where she described how, decades into her marriage, she still feels about hanging out with her family of origin. That sense of sinking into that deep sigh of familiarity and knowing, “This, THIS  is my family”. Don’t get me wrong – Tony, Arddun, Boy Blob and I are a family. They are my family. And of course home is wherever they are. And I love Tony’s family too – his family of origin. The source code that explains his uniqueness.

But being with your own family of origin means dipping your whole being into the aaah-just-right waters of your genetic pool. It means never having to explain the history, because they were a part of it. It means saying a word to recall a lifetime, and to watch this sage-like recognition of where you’re coming from when you talk about a time and place.

I don’t think Ben, Andrea and I slept very much over the week, mostly because we were chatting so late into the nights, and then starting the day early-ish so we could spend more time with each other still. It didn’t take very long for Arddun to pick up where she left off with them in June last year. The second moment she got home from school on Friday – 9 hours after they’d departed for Sydney – she looked around the house before quietly asking, “Where’s Aunty Andy? And Uncle Ben?” And I know she misses them still.

(Sorry for funny colours. Was playing with filters.)

Andrea and Ben
Our visitors – “Uncle Ben” and “Aunty Andy”
Andrea doing Arddun's hair in the morning
Still waking up at the breakfast bar while Aunty Andy does her Elsa hair
Andrea and Arddun
Her Aunty Andy
Arddun climbing steep ladder to slide
Getting by with a little help from Ah Ben
Arddun solo down slide
Wheeeeee!
Arddun running out from slide
Again, again!
Andrea Arddun slide
Sliding down together is so much fun!

 

3) Seeing the world I’ve grown to love through appreciative eyes

I get a little teasing, mainly from Singaporeans, for choosing to live in Canberra. Partly because most of them have only heard about how quiet it is, but mostly because Canberra is about as different a city from Singapore as you can get. It’s 350,000 inhabitants “squished” in land area bigger than Singapore (including the latter’s islands and numerous land reclamation projects). It isn’t about shopping and food. It has four seasons including a real winter, a struggling public transportation system, and a lot of natural parkland and reserves. It’s quiet. Oh lord, it’s quiet. You can hear your thoughts here. You have room to breathe the freshest air blowing through from surrounding hills and ridgeland, and your sinuses and skin clear up because it’s dry and clean. You can see sheep and kangaroos grazing (though not together). You can build houses here. You can work hard here, you can slow down here, you can grow alongside your children and soak up their childhood. And because there aren’t so many people around, you can find yourself here – distinct, apart from the crowd, clear, lucid. Apprised of, but relatively sheltered from fads and trends and popular opinion. You can get clarity here. You can dream.

As with any home, you know its faults most of all – but you’d defend it to the ground if someone on the outside were to attack it. And until a few years ago, I guess I’d secretly regarded Canberra as a looooong staycation. But it’s been eleven years since I moved from Singapore, and I’m more content now than I’ve ever been in over a decade.

It’s a lifestyle – and a life choice – that is hard to explain, and even harder to embrace if you’re not looking for it. Tranquility can often be mistaken for boredom, and it took me a while – especially coming out of my twenties – to wind down the adrenaline junkie in me. I still pack too much in a day, and I still burn the candle on both ends to embrace all my interests. But I’m beginning to understand that a life without constant hyperventilative event and drama can be deeply satisfying.

(HUGE caveat: I’m not saying my Singaporean friends and loved ones are all dark and twisty adrenaline bunnies incapable of switching off and building fulfilling lives. Hardly. I’m just saying Canberra is starting to suit me, but it doesn’t suit everyone. Mostly because there are no durian parties here.)

This is a super long-winded way of me saying that it made my heart sing to see how Andrea and Ben truly appreciated this brown land I’ve come to call home. They found joy in the little things I find joy in – good food in surprising cafes, gorgeous views unassaulted by high-rise buildings, fresh produce, quirky shops. Freezing cold air juxtaposed with yummy hot chocolate, humongous stationery warehouses, a double-storey music store. Stretches of winding road enveloped in velvety darkness, supermarkets that stay open till midnight. Quiet traffic.

An almost-empty cinema and a brilliant movie playing while you’re nursing a glass of Prosecco. A surprise of wooden artistry in a forest of glass and concrete. Crazy playgrounds shaped like acorns, and a breathtaking expanse of land dedicated to the cultivation and conservation of the world’s trees.

A church that is small but intimate and loving. That trusts each other enough to lay down true burdens, that worships without fanfare (and sometimes without Powerpoint). That asks hard questions and is okay with diverse answers. That can be disorganised, but strives so hard to be patient with one another in love.

And then the ultimate compliment – that they can see why I live here. And that is heartwarming indeed.

Photo of Graham, Penny, Andrea and Ben (normal)
A posed shot with the Frys
Photo of Graham, Penny, Andrea and Ben (quirky)
That’s more like it
Andrea taking in view from arboretum
Andrea taking in the view of the arboretum

A beautiful day at Yerrabi Pond

After a pretty horrendous a day of blizzard-grade winds that finally culminated in mid-afternoon snow (!), we stepped out of our house on Saturday afternoon to soak up as much of the winter sunshine as possible.

We love living within walking distance of Yerrabi Pond, which is turning out to be one of the nicest family-friendly suburban parks in Canberra. Got organised this time and had cut up our old bread into fling-size pieces for the ducks and swans. THIS time, I checked the weather beforehand — a lesson learnt from Thursday, when Jaclyn and I brought our children to the park during near gale-force winds and I watched as Arddun tried vainly to feed the ducks, only to find her bread slices snatched up by the vicious winds and consequently snagged by opportunistic magpies. A bit of a parenting facepalm moment.

Some happy snaps:

Arddun and Tony heading out to the pier
Walking to the pier to feed the ducks
Arddun back view looking at ducks
Waiting for the ducks to gather
Arddun flings bread to the ducks
Flinging bread pieces as far and wide as little arms can manage
Arddun, Tony and ducks on pier
Pseudo-artistic shot
Close up of Arddun flinging bread to the ducks
Action shot
Arddun feeding ducks on other side of pier
Not to neglect the ducks on the other side…
Arddun, duck and Tony on pier
Arddun, duck and Tony on pier, each doing their own thang.

Arddun gazing thoughtfully at ducks

Close up of Arddun gazing thoughtfully at ducks

Arddun waiting for her turn on the Flying Fox
From ducks to foxes… Arddun waiting her turn on the Flying Fox.
Tony helps Arddun on the Flying Fox
Getting on the harness with a little help from Daddy
Tony giving Arddun a starting push on the Flying Fox
And a one…
Tony giving Arddun a  push on the Flying Fox
And a two…
Tony letting go as Arddun takes off on Flying Fox
And away we go!
Tony pretends to catch Arddun while she's on the Flying Fox
I’m gonna get you!
Tony wheels Arddun back to base on the Flying Fox
Not enough momentum to get back to base. Need some help from Daddy
Close up of Arddun waiting for the Flying Fox
My girl
Tony looking into the distance
My man

Summer lovin’ with Aunty Kerri

Tony’s sister Kerri came to stay with us for a week, which threw routine out the window in the best way possible. I haven’t done the touristy thing for years now, so it was lovely to revisit the usual tourist haunts – the gallery, the museum, the War Memorial. We even took a leisurely cruise on Lake Burley Griffin and had a rundown of Canberra’s odds and ends from the skipper with the driest sense of humour.

Arddun, Kerri, Penny and Hayley on the train at Cockington Green
With Aunty Kerri, (Grand) Aunty Penny and Hayley on the train at Cockington Green

(Hayley had just been advised by her grandma that it is best to keep her arms and legs in the train by “waving like the queen”.

Arddun did not get the memo.)

Kerri posing as wonder woman
January, as Kerri and I have both determined, is a fabulous month for preparing for change. Still bringing 2014 on…

It’s been building up to a proper Summer, which means sweltering burns of up to 40°C. We have therefore rediscovered ice-cream in a big way. A former colleague owns and runs Stripey Sundae in Gold Creek, and Arddun and I had such a lovely maiden visit with Kerri last week, that we got the Mother’s Group over yesterday for a glorious icy-cold binge.

Arddun eating salted caramel ice cream in Stripey Sundae
Salted butter caramel ice-cold goodness
Kerri and Arddun sitting on the bed
Thanks for visiting, Aunty Kerri! Come back soon!

Water, water everywhere

Until we became parents, I don’t think we realised how well set up Canberra is for young families. But now that Arddun is starting to interact with others and her environment, the challenge is on to find new places of toddler interest. And the discoveries just keep getting better.

One of the things I’ve discovered this week is the Dickson Aquatic Centre. I had heard wonderful things about it before, but as I had visited the outdoor pool at Philip in my Uni days and found it to be, well, awful, I wasn’t holding my breath for the one at Dickson. After all, Singapore’s public pools with its cheap-as-chips entry fees, its theme-parkesque water slides, and wave pools replete with those huge doughnut floats had pretty much spoiled me for life.

But lo! We went to the Dickson pool on Wednesday past. And it has been renovated. And it is good. So good, that we had to come back two days later to show Tony.

Water spray area from a distance
Lots of different pools for different swimming needs, but there’s also this lovely water spray area that the tiny tots absolutely adore. Great introduction to big-time water fun for Arddun. She spent half of our morning there.
Close up of Arddun with the spray gun
She can barely reach it, but Arddun loves playing with the spray guns.
Arddun with Tony at the spray guns
Arddun with Tony at the spray guns.
Arddun waiting at fountain sprouts
Waiting patiently for this fountain to start. Whoosh-ka!
Grassy area between pools
I love how they have these tall, old trees that reach out to the sky and touch fingers, forming this natural canopy over soft grass. Just perfect for picnics, as you can tell by our set-up in the middle here. There’s even barbecue pits and picnic tables for bigger parties!
Canopy of trees
The view when lying down on my picnic mat to have a quick snooze.
Horsing around with Daddy's hat after our picnic lunch
Horsing around with Daddy’s cap after our picnic lunch
Arddun with Tony at Dickson Aquatic Centre
What a lovely day well spent with my Daddy!

TTT – Room (in my heart) and a view

1) Beautiful views

Eight years, seven months and four days ago, I came to Canberra and thought it a grey, lonely place. I couldn’t get over how abandoned it looked. How empty, lifeless. (It was a winter week night in Civic.)

But it’s hardly that. I just didn’t know where to look at the time.

We went to The Deck for afternoon tea yesterday. The sun was out, the grass was greener than I’d ever seen it, the waters were still and lovely. The cafe was empty save for the table of us, which meant we were treated to the most stunning view of the lake and Regatta Point. In air-conditioned comfort on a hot Summer’s day. Our babies, crawling and clapping at our feet, oblivious to the magnificent background they’ll one day inherit.

And I fell in love with Canberra all over again that afternoon.

NO PICTURE, though! What a pity!

2) Love notes

Read melancholic mooing. See loving, heartfelt comments. <3

3) Hello, friend

It’s the most natural thing, I realise. It’s such an easy trap to fall into. But with every new milestone I seem to reach in my adulthood, I see my friends less. It’s a two-way street. My timetable’s all different now, and the first few months with Arddun were busy as I tried to settle into my new role. But it’s almost like old friends don’t think to call you anymore when you reach a new stage of life, because they’ve already assumed you’d say no as you’re too busy. When actually, the opposite couldn’t be truer.

But then someone pinged me this week on Facebook, and this afternoon I found myself at Urban Pantry, thoroughly enjoying my linguine and the great company. And talking about non-mumsy things. And feeling HUMAN. A little bit of my old self, peeping through the laid-back jeans and wind-tossed hair. Before I was a mother, I was This Other Person. And she came out and had linguine today.

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