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Finding The Happy

Looking for joy in all the right places

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holidays

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!

Little bouncers at the Christmas party

Just got back from our mother’s group Christmas party – our third together! Birthdays and Christmases are our two major annual events, and we try to make each one a little special. The fabulous thing about having 9 to 11 families celebrate together each time, is that we get to split the bill 9 to 11 different ways. Which means we can splash out on stuff like this:

Jumping castle rocket thing
Jumping castle rocket thing. More impressive in real life. (Stolen from Jo’s Facebook page.)
6 toddlers in Jumping castle
Seven little toddlers, seven times the fun!

Here’a video of the little tykes in action:

This year, I volunteered to bring mango tea, an Asian salad (a yummy dish I learnt from my MIL), and a fruit salad.

Regarding the fruit salad: after I went a-hunting through Pinterest, I ended up making this:

Fruit salad Christmas tree
30 seconds to take photo of magnum opus before running out the door.

which went down well with the crowd at the Christmas party – both big and little peeps. If you’re wondering how to do this, I bought a 25cm-tall styofoam cone from an art shop, pinned lettuce leaves to it using toothpicks, used star-shaped cookie cutters for the rock melon, and then pinned down red and green grapes, blueberries, cranberries, kiwi slices, strawberries and blackberries using a gazillion toothpicks. Took me an hour. I’m no maestro on food decorating, so if I can accomplish this, it means it’s Beginner-level easy – just time-consuming. And stressful, when you’re trying to do this juuuust before the 3pm party, and it’s 2pm.

Managed to dress the little people up in cute Christmas clothes. Had less success keeping them on the couch at the same time for a photo:

Christmas costumes take 1
Take 1
Christmas outfits on sofa, take 1
Take 3
Christmas costumes take 3
Take 47
Christmas costumes, waiting patiently
Bored

Gave up and took a video instead:

But what we should have done was put Peppa Pig on telly, because that TV show has proven hypnotic powers:

Watching Peppa Pig
Peppa Pig = Toddler Crack

Other attempts at memory-capturing:

Eating together at small table
Sharing a meal together
Leila and Arddun squeeze into little red car
Two friends share a ride in the Little Red Car

And then there was a whole heap of rather incriminating photos that might get us all in trouble with Jumping J-Jays. But we had heaps of fun. xx

Banks and Beautiful Kitchens

Yesterday turned out to be super productive for me in the long-run, which meant a lot of sitting on my bum to do paperwork, and then standing in long queues at banks, and then hogging a teller for about an hour each time. And poor Liz, sitting/standing/walking around, waiting for me.

So yes – nothing very much to report on the sightseeing front. But I did get to introduce Liz to roasted chicken rice, which she loved. And char siew rice, which she also loved. And Arddun’s typical breakfast in Singapore, which was the breakfast set at the hawker centre downstairs — 2 pieces of kaya-and-buttered toast, 2 eggs (runny, but made to toughen up for Liz), and hot tea… all for a grand total of SG$2.

The overhead lamp in my mother’s room had died overnight, which meant an unfruitful hunt for a circular fluorescent bulb in the daytime. Do you know how hard it is to find one of these babies in our modern day? I forgot how charmingly old-school my mother’s lamps are, but there you go.

Circular fluorescent bulb sitting on my mother's washing machine
The bulb that died: not the easiest to replace. But quite retro. And so is the checked washing machine cover underneath it! :)

Had a wander through IKEA after dinner, partly for the bulb, but mostly just to (re)introduce Liz to my favourite furniture shop…

Disco balls in girl's bedroom
Groovy lights and disco balls in girl’s bedroom. I’d like to do this for Arddun one day, although I suspect it’d really be for myself.

Liz had a hankering for chocolate at the day’s end, after all the yummy savoury food. So I happily complied with desserts at TCC. Kinda balked at posting photos of our food like Japanese tourists, so I’ll just say that her eyes rolled to the back of her head when she dipped into her chocolate lava cake.

In lieu of food photo, I’ll leave you with this Random.

Rose-covered bike
This is a kiddie-ride machine of a police bike that I spotted next to the escalators at Anchorpoint. Words fail me at this point.

Fresh eyes

Liz and I touched down in Changi Airport at 7:20pm local time (10:20pm OZ) last night and have spent 28 hours in the country eating and sleeping, mainly.

So far, Liz has been introduced to chee cheong fan, cha siew bao, sashimi and unagi, and usual dinner fare one finds at catered events (some sort of fried noodles, some sort of fried rice, some kind of fish and soy sauce, some kind of prawn…)

The timing of our arrival coincided with the church’s annual Missions drive, and a very special evening event where we officially recognised and appointed/reinstated 4 deacons. And then celebrated by eating more food. And then went out after that and had coffee.

New deacons getting their feet washed
Because nothing says “Welcome to Servant Leadership” like a good foot-scrub.
Rosie, Morene and Peter dressed in purple
Matchy-matchy! From left: A. Rosie, A. Morene and U. Chew (now a deacon! w00t!)
Liz and giant hot chocolate
Liz, holding up my Uncle Edward’s idea of a “small cup of hot chocolate”.

I’m gonna try and be a good girl and document this trip for a variety of reasons, the chief of which is how this feels a lot like the ending of my girlhood. But the very close second reason is how this is Liz’s First Trip Overseas (not including NZ and Tasmania), and her First Time in Asia, and her First Time in the Northern Hemisphere. And it’ll be a trip of a lot of her Firsts – which is such a weird and wonderful way for me to pay homage to my heritage as I play tour guide. I feel like I’ve been given a small chance to immortalise my memories, because now someone else from my present and future world knows, understands and cares about who I am and where I came from. And I’m so thankful to Liz and her generous family for giving me the opportunity to draw this beloved picture of my Country of Origin on such a fresh canvas.

Bula!

We’ve been away for 15 days on a much-awaited holiday that surprised us when it finally rolled up after months of anticipation. It had been something we told ourselves we’d do once we got back from Singapore and the dust had settled a bit. The body had been feeling weary, the soul somewhat diminished after a year of emotional battering. So we took ourselves up to Brisbane to spend a week with Arddun’s Poppy and Nanna, and then to Fiji.

Here’s some holiday snaps. I do apologise for the quality; I’m not in love with the camera in my Android phone, and I’ve gotten out of the habit of taking photos of Arddun because the darling girl Cannot Keep Still Long Enough. (And also because this phone camera has the reaction time of a sloth with the flu.)

Brisbane

The three of us arrived at Tony’s parents’ place to find their house had been transformed into Toddler Wonderland. There’s a swing. And a sandpit. With sand in it! And building blocks… and new books… and a large toy garage with cars to slide up and down ramps… and the dolls have their own high chair and a nice wooden bed – with its own top sheet, blanket and quilt, of course – and their own pram… and there’s crayons, and playdoh, and strawberries to pick, and veggies to harvest, and…

Arddun was in love. I’m utterly convinced that at one point, she had looked at me as if to ask if she could live there for good. She had a grand time. And we got good rest. The moment her eyes opened in the morning, she’d ask for Poppy to take her out on the swing, and she’d look for “Nina” (Nanna) for cuddles and other treats yet undiscovered in the house. Brisbane life suits Arddun.

Evie with Allie
Finally, we meet sweet Evie in the flesh! She is such a happy, contented bubba and greatly impressed me with her magic ability to sit in one position and entertain herself for 2 hours in our midst.
Blowing bubbles with Great Aunt Anne
Blowing bubbles with Great Aunt Anne in their gorgeous garden
Arddun chasing bubbles in Tony and Anne's backyard
Chasing after bubbles
Reading with Poppy in pergola
Reading with her beloved Poppy. The red swing was hers and Little Kitty’s very favourite means of passing the time.
Picking strawberries with Poppy
Picking strawberries was a huge novelty, and a real treat.
Lunch table of Ladies Retreat
Went to a Woman’s Day retreat, hosted by The Point church. Was an interesting ladies-only retreat, fashioning its lessons layout on typical women’s magazines. I had to take a pic of the lunch table, which my lousy photography does little justice to. Each lunch bag was HANDMADE, and included a rather gourmet sandwich. That palm tree made out of stacked pineapples? Courtesy of Pinterest.
Arddun with Nanna
Thanks for a lovely time, Poppy and “Nina”!

Fiji

Fiji turned out to be a funny sort of holiday for us. Arddun felt miserable for the first three days; I suspect she had a bit of the flu, and after travelling and adjusting to yet another new environment, her usually good humour packed it in, and Tony and I had a rough time of it as we tried to soothe her, while gingerly picking through the minefield of illness-induced tempers and general Toddlerisms.

Then she emerged on Day 4 tonnes happier and raring to go. And that was when we got to see more of Fiji proper.

We poshed out this trip, and decided to stay at the Sheraton. Perched on the edge of the island, it boasted ridiculously postcard-perfect views of the waters, and made for very nice photography if one came better equipped than I did.

Random view of scenery at Sheraton resort
Took this impulsive shot while walking from our villa to reception. Yes, there really are coconut trees everywhere. And the weather was as sun-kissed and perfect as all that.

Staying at the villas worked well for us because we had a kitchenette, which we used at least once a day, and a washing machine with a dryer, that also got a reasonable workout. Most of all, we had the space to spread out and mooch when we didn’t feel like wandering the resort.

Arddun with socks and slippers
Arddun’s latest party trick is to put on her own socks All By Herself. She has yet to learn that socks do NOT go with thongs/slippers/open-toe-anything. Unless you’re English and don’t know any better.
Arddun and Tony in Infinity Pool
This is the Sheraton’s infinity pool, which is also the baby & kids pool. And yes. It’s the pool. Then rocks. Then ocean. And it’s insanely pretty.
Flying Fish restaurant view
Flying Fish restaurant, where you’re literally dining on the beach, salty breeze brushing your face, soft sand beneath your feet.

There isn’t anything in the way of attractions outside of the resort; Denarau, at least, seems content to lead their tourists from one resort to another, and the short cruise we took around some of the islands and islets showed us more of the same. Resorts all look and feel alike after a while, and by Day 5, we were starting to feel restless for some local culture and sightseeing. We took a couple of day trips to the town centre and walked around a bit. Totally reminded us of parts of Malaysia and, to a lesser extent because traffic wasn’t that insane, Hatyai. Our most reasonably-priced dinner was at a Chinese restaurant called Bohai, which really took me back to some of the Chinese family restaurants in Chinatown from when I was a kid.

Nadi town centre
Nadi town centre
Vegetable markets
Vegetable markets in Nadi town centre.
Goofing around with Tony
Goofing around with Daddy’s cap at the Mana Island resort while waiting for Aunty Famiza to show us around.

Yes, we managed to meet up with Famiza twice during this trip! All a happy coincidence that they were also holidaying in Fiji at the same time. Other happy memories include our last and dearest meal at the fine dining restaurant at the Sheraton, called Ports O’Call. No children allowed, and the waiters would bunch up now and then and sing four-part harmony like a dream. We scored a farewell song because it was our last night in Fiji and at the resort. The food acrobatics (blue flames dancing down a Cointreau-drenched tangerine peel) suitably impressed, dinner was yum, and the dessert in particularly sent me to heaven and back.

Blue flamed orange
Can’t really see much in this piccie, but this was the blue-flame-cointreau-orange thing I was talking about
Singing waiters farewelling us
Farewelling us in style: we asked one of the waiters if they had to audition to get a job as a waiter. Of course he didn’t have to. Singing is practically a given with most Fijians, it seems.

Fiji, as a whole, has a gorgeous climate and a very warm people. And their singing is like melted butter with warm caramel. We were greeted with “Bula!” every 10 paces. Even Arddun got into the swing of things eventually. Once she got past the fact that Bula also meant Hello (so she stopped saying “Hello, Bula!” to those she chose to greet), she was quite happy to Bula anybody who happened to pass. But only in the evenings, around dinner time.

Arddun putting on her socks on hotel bed
Putting on her socks before we head out the door for the last time

Arddun, the ant’s pants

I haven’t given a summary of Arddun’s development in ages, but she has grown up so quickly lately, that I thought I’d try and capture what she’s like now.

Arddun has always changed from week to week, but her mental and physically developments in the last month have left Tony and I a little short of breath as we try to catch up. Since my return to Canberra from my week-long stay in Singapore on 9 March, Arddun has started speaking in short sentences, and has become a wonderful mimic. (Today’s new sentence was a rather demanding, “Come here, Daddy!” Which we corrected for tone, but secretly thrilled over.)

Things are starting to truly spark in the brain – she’s connecting words with concepts and meaning faster than ever, and now counts to 14. She recognises numbers and some letters, is able to follow simple instructions quite flawlessly (“Press 9”, when choosing which button to press in the elevator), picks up new songs within 2 tries, and even thinks she can juggle.

Observe:

She is also besotted with Peppa Pig videos (I mean, besotted). And she drives the neighbours downstairs nuts, because she is still in love with Big Girl’s shoes… except she doesn’t understand the concept of our floor = someone else’s ceiling. And 8am being too early to wear heels.

Arddun in Big People shoes

More stylo shots:

Arddun with neck rest
Neck rest self-portrait in the Flemish style, ala Nina Katchadourian http://www.ninakatchadourian.com/
Arddun wearing hat
Hello, dolly

Arddun looking like Alias

I have told some of you in person that God’s timing – both in the macro and micro sense – has just been astounding. Arddun, all toddling innocence and joyful, boundless energy, has been a wonderful way to channel my energies and brighten my days. As I mother Arddun, I miss my mother… but in having yet one more thing in common with that amazing woman who birthed me, I feel closer to her all the more.

Photos mostly by Arddun’s proud second cousin and original fashionista, Aunty Andy.

High flyers

Some tourist in our capsule had claimed that the Singapore Flyer was the tallest ferris-wheel thingamy at the time it was built, surpassing the height of London’s Big Eye. Of course, she also went on to claim that the Esplanade was purpose-built to look like a durian. (It wasn’t. It was basically designed by a Kiwi who forgot that we are an equatorial island, and they had to retrofit the spikes to mitigate greenhouse effect and to possibly save it from looking like a pair of housefly-eyes.)

Needless to say, I’m not convinced that this tourist had all her trivia lined up. But the Flyer was indeed tall, and we were treated to a marvelous view of Marina Bay and all its shiny, man-made wonders.

Yes, Tony and I decided to play Tourist for one afternoon.

The Singapore Flyer isn’t cheap. I think I calculated something like a dollar a minute, with a free minute thrown in. And it’s slow – so it’s not like a fun ferris wheel in an amusement park, and you don’t get to lose your lunch on the way down. I also think I was the only Singaporean in our capsule – not that I wasn’t practically a tourist myself.

But we enjoyed ourselves, on the whole. This, despite that fact that on Minute 9 of 30, we caught a whiff of something wholly natural and suss and realised that our sweet, young daughter had done a massive poo.

In an air-conditioned capsule. With no toilets, barred exits, and no easy or surreptitious means of nappy-disposal.

Still. We managed to enjoy ourselves, and Arddun was given enough space to roam. Heh heh.

Hibberds on Singapore Flyer
Top row: Tony and Arddun, the TRUE tourists in our little group; the view of the back of the F1 grid at the starting point. Middle row: Getting higher, and you can just make out a couple of dragon-boat teams training in the water; Arddun, softly singing to them. (“Row, row, row your boat…”) Bottom row: Arddun, poster-perfect tourist; our little family!

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