Wednesday, April 16, 2014

My Baby Shower!

Last weekend, my good friend Cat hosted a baby shower for me at her apartment. It was a brilliant afternoon filled with sunshine, good friends, good food, and plenty of fun!

I didn't have a proper baby shower when pregnant with Liam due to moving from New Zealand to Malaysia at the time, although I did have a lovely afternoon tea back then, organized by my friend Kim in her garden, together with our hubbies and my sister-in-law.

This time around, Catherine, together with the help of another good friend Michelle, went all out to throw me the kinda shower I've only ever read about or seen on TV. She'd decorated her living room with streamers, balloons and yellow ducks, prepared a whole lot of delicious food and snacks, organized drinks and we even had baby shower games!

There were plenty of gifts for Baby N including some items that were on my Baby Wish-list awhile back, and a beautiful Nappy bouquet as well as a Nappy cake! They all looked so pretty I almost didn't want to open any of them - almost - except opening the gifts are a ritual at baby showers too. 

I was truly touched by the effort and generosity my friends have put into picking out gifts for the baby, and especially grateful for all the work that went into making the afternoon such a special celebration for me and the little one arriving soon.

No matter how many more months or years this German adventure may be, I'm truly glad I've had the fortune to meet some of these lovely, amazing women along the way, and to be able to call them my friends. This baby shower is definitely going down as a personal highlight of my time in Germany. Thank you all again for such a wonderful day!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Oishii Japanese Restaurant

Last weekend, thanks to our good friend Cat, The Husband and I were able to go out for dinner - just the two of us. Incidentally, it may also be our last 'date night' in awhile, with Baby N arriving in a matter of weeks! 

We decided on Oishii Restaurant, simply because I have been dreaming of Soft Shell Crabs for about five months now. Oishii is our go-to restaurant for decent Japanese cuisine here in Karlsruhe that actually serves a variety of items aside from the typical 'Westernised' sushi you find at most sushi joints in town. 

Oishi Restaurant
The restaurant only offers a 'buffet-style' menu, although unlike a traditional buffet, you order what you want through an electronic pad on the table. The dinner menu is more extensive than the lunch menu, and includes more of my favorite items like, yes, soft-shell crab sushi, tempura prawns, salmon sashimi and etc. 

The lunch buffet is available on Mondays to Fridays at 12.90€, and on weekends at 14.90€, while the dinner buffet is 22.90€ on weekdays and 24.90€ on weekends. It is a pretty decent price considering you can order up to ten rounds of ten items each time per couple, and The Husband and I never make it more than four rounds - no matter how hard we try! 

Ebi Kuschi (Grilled shrimp)
Shake Yaki (Grilled Salmon)
Admittedly, the ordering system can be tricky to navigate at first, especially if you're in a large group. Most people tend to over-order in the beginning, and then lose track completely of what they actually ordered especially when there's more than four of you and you order too quickly (you have to wait ten minutes after ordering the first round before placing the second order). 

We've found that it helps to wait until everything from your first round have arrived at the table before ordering the next round. That way, you ensure you're not ordering the same things over and over, ordering more than you can actually eat, or accidentally eating someone else's food!

Salmon Sashimi
Grilled 'Fish of the Day'
Yaki Zakana (Grilled Fish with salsa)
Spider (Soft-Shelled Crabs) and Ebi Tempura Roll
Grilled jumbo prawns
Spicy Ebi Tempura
The food was good and arrived promptly, with plenty of variety for both meat and fish lovers. I satisfied all my seafood/salmon cravings in one night, and only wished I had more room in my stomach to accommodate more! 

My favorite dishes were the ones that involved grilled fishes and prawns, although the gyoza was really meaty and tantalizing too. Other items we ordered but did not photograph were lamb and beef cutlets which The Husband enjoyed, miso soup, as well as warm tofu which was a little on the bland side. We ended the evening on a high note with delicious scoops of black sesame, green tea, mango and coconut ice cream that I'm STILL dreaming about. 


Oishii Restaurant
76133 Karlsruhe
Tel: 0721 470 514 12
Mobile: 0162 676 1366

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Easter market in Karlsruhe

Although it isn't technically Easter yet, the city celebrated the upcoming festivities in full-force this weekend with an Easter/food festival held in the heart of town. There were plenty of food and drink stalls, stalls selling Easter decor and crafts, egg-painting activities and more for the kids, live music, and a general atmosphere of fun and liveliness in the air.

It was also a wonderful way to welcome the spring, and after a whole week of suffering from a bad cold and taking care of a sickly Liam at the same time, it was wonderful to be out in the sunshine with my family, feeling the warmth of the sun on my skin, breathing in the fresh cool breeze, having some yummy food and drinks while listening to live music. I felt relaxed, happy, and contented, which is something I don't always feel living here, and it was definitely a moment worth cherishing.

Even though the exhaustion from being 35 weeks pregnant is almost constant now, this weekend was exactly what I needed - restful and rejuvenating at the same time - to help get me through the last weeks of pregnancy before the arrival of Baby N changes our lives completely once more.

All in all, April is starting out pretty well, and I'm definitely looking forward to more glorious, sunshiny days like these. Speaking of which, I'm also looking forward to being able to chug down a cold, refreshing glass of Hugo again on a day like today, but that's another story. 

Easter festival in Karlsruhe
A glorious, sunshiny day in Karlsruhe
"We wish you a Happy Easter!"
Enjoying the sunshine
Spices and sauce
More local delights
Live band entertaining the crowd
Enjoying a delicious pulled-pork burger
"I'll try some too, daddy"
Crepes, anyone?
Rhubarb and strawberry pie
Selfies with my boy
A little petting farm for the kids
Easter eggs!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The trailing spouse

I never thought I would be one of them. You know, the trailing expat wife whose life revolves around the family while The Husband earns a living. The term 'trailing spouse' is used to describe a person who follows his or her life partner to another city because of a work assignment, and we certainly didn't start out that way. The Husband and I both met while we were living and working in Auckland, both young, working professionals chasing our dreams, on equal grounds. Neither was our move to Germany precedented by The Husband's work in any way. We both made a mutual decision to move here for the sake of our son nearly two years ago. But because of where we live, the fact that Germany is The Husband's home and not mine, the fact that he can work here, speak the language, communicate with people while I can't, my life has thus ended up like one of a trailing spouse - following while my husband takes the lead - and boy have I struggled with that.

I was, and have always been a Type A personality. I'm an over-achiever. I'm obsessed with getting things done. I'm impatient, competitive, ambitious. I loved studying. I graduated with a Double Degree in Psychology and Communications, and while studying full-time for those degrees I was also working part-time for the University and interning at the local hospital. Over the years, I've thrived in the publishing field, in seeing projects through to completion on both a national and international scale. At 22, I worked my way up from being a writer to being an editor of several national magazines both in Malaysia and then in New Zealand and it never fazed me. And I'm not writing about this to boast about it. Simply to state that I've always loved my work and all the stresses and perks that came with it. I loved the deadlines that got my adrenaline running as we rushed to print. I loved managing my team of talented writers and designers, brainstorming ideas for each issue, working with clients on ads, attending events, interviewing everyone from a five-star hotel manager, a restaurant chef to a winemaker or an artisan baker. Writing about them. Sharing their stories and inspiring others as I do so to never stop reaching for their goals and dreams. Being inspired myself.

But all that ambition aside, I also always knew I wanted a family. And not in my late thirties when I had reached the top of the career ladder. No, because in my mind, I'd never give up the part of me that was ambitious and had something to say. I wanted to be a young mum who could keep up with my children, but also be someone who makes a difference, however small, with the work I did. That was part of the dream too.

I used to look at women who appeared frazzled and harassed while rushing their kids from one activity to another and I told myself I wouldn't be one of them. Women whose lives revolved solely around their children, who never had anything interesting to say if it didn't have to do with their kids, who were constantly distracted. Women who were so talented and beautiful and confident who are suddenly reduced to shadows of their former self, and I said that wouldn't be me. That even when I became a mother, I would still be interesting. I would still read books. Write interesting articles. Travel when I could. Meet interesting people. Engage in things that I'm passionate about. That I would still be me.

Oh how I want to laugh now at my idealistic twenty-something self. 

Because without realizing it, and then even after realizing it and fighting it tooth and nail, I've still ended up as one of those women I used to pity. A trailing spouse. A woman whose life revolves solely around her husband and her child. Without planning to, without even seeing it coming, I've suddenly had to sacrifice whole chunks of myself to be a mum. To live in a foreign country where I don't speak the language and have no option of working, and I don't mean freelancing or volunteering which is a whole different thing. Suddenly I'm so far away from everything I ever pictured my life to be, and I can't seem to find my way back.

A blog post I read recently by another fellow expat mum really resonated with me. "So much of my role of wife and mother is patience and sacrifice, playing second fiddle and supporting actor," she writes, and I couldn't agree more. And for someone who've always had such lofty goals and dreams, who've wanted to achieve so much, taking care of the family while putting my own plans on the back burner is not always an easy or rewarding job. Some days I look in the mirror and have no idea who the tired-looking woman is staring back at me - who doesn't bother to dress up anymore (my wardrobe of stylish, elegant work clothes have been replaced with jeans and sweaters), doesn't wear any make up or jewelry, or even paint my nails. I can't remember the last time I pampered myself, went for a spa treatment, a facial or a massage, all things that used to be part of my monthly routine so I could appear my best to the world. When I watch The Husband contemplate his own wardrobe each night and pick out shirts, jackets and pants for work, I turn away because I can't remember the last time I cared about what I wore, now that I no longer have anyone to impress.

An article I read recently about 'Finding Happiness as an Expat Wife' had this to say: "Plenty of expat women experience a huge loss of identity. While it is often easier for women than for men to avoid defining themselves by their career and the resulting prestige, a lot of their self-esteem is indeed connected to professional skills and financial independence."

My husband tells me that my 'work' is now my child(ren), just as he has his daily job to go to, and we both have our separate roles to play. That they're both equally important. He works to make sure the family's needs are met, so we can pay our rent and have food on our table. And he is right of course, in that taking care of Liam alone is a full-time, no-break job - there's no arguing that. But when it comes right down to it, it's really not the same is it? While he deals with clients, uses his brain to solve grown-up issues and problems, communicates with people who converses back, accomplishes tasks and projects, socialize with people he works with, attend the occasional work dinners and trips and is able to change his surroundings every now and then, my job is feeding, cleaning, taking care of the house, taking my child for walks/therapies/appointments, changing diaper after diaper, and engaging with a child who can't say anything more than dadada back at me - an occasionally fun and rewarding role, yes, but more often than not also mind-numbing and monotonous.

Everyday is the same for me. Gone are the days when I managed projects, worked on ideas and implemented them, published a different magazine each month. Now, I don't talk to anyone except my husband in the evenings and Liam's therapists during the day. I cook, eat and clean with a toddler clinging to me. I don't get coffee breaks or vacation days or company dinners or chatting with my colleagues over lunch about stuff that doesn't involve kids. And more often than not, I'm lonely, even though I have a mini person who's always by my side. Yes, things will be a little different once Liam is properly enrolled in daycare for two hours every afternoon. It's two hours I have to myself which I'm entirely grateful for. I definitely need the rest and the break, at least until Baby No 2 arrives. But still, do the two hours I get to myself actually change anything? Maybe I can read more, drink a cup of coffee during that time, go for a walk by myself, get some errands and shopping done. Some women love things like that. In Asia we call them tai-tais. In the Western world, they are Ladies who Lunch. I've never been one of them.

Should I stop wanting more just because I'm a mother now? While there's a part of me that is so grateful and thankful to be able to be here for Liam, especially these first two years which has been crucial to his development, a part of me also resents everything I've had to give up. While life as a SAH(expat)M may appeal to some, I feel restless. And lonely. I am mainly stuck at home. My life is 100% mum with no chance to be anyone or anything else. I'm no longer Jo Lene the editor, the writer, heck, even the food blogger. No one cares about the work I used to do or the life I had. I'm just Liam's mum, or my husband's wife. And that realization is a daily battle and frustration for me.

The thing is, I do love being a mother. I wouldn't change that for the world. I love Liam and our little growing family more than any work I've ever done. In terms of achievements, being a mother is probably right up there. But I'm also beginning to realize that it's okay to admit it is not ALL of me. There has to be a balance in life and for the past year and a half, my life has been supremely rewarding yet completely one-sided and treacherously unbalanced. It's no wonder I've been struggling so much with my identity. Been so unhappy. I've gained the title of mum while simultaneously losing everything else that I care about - things which were a crucial part in forming who I am, including living in a place I love, working in an environment I was always passionate about, being able to socialise and communicate with people, being with family and people I care about. I've never been a follower and the life of a trailing spouse is not one for me. It took me moving to Germany to clearly see that.

Yes, I miss the past sometimes and the life I had before children. We all do. That's only normal. But this isn't about the past, because I do not want to go back to a life without children. My longing to return to New Zealand does not signify wanting my old life back. No, that's forever gone and I'm a changed person. I 'm no longer a single, working professional, or a newlywed, but a mum with two kids, a woman who's had to face plenty of hurdles in the last few years. I may not even want to return to the publishing industry.

However, New Zealand to me, is a dream of being whole again, where I can gain back parts of myself which I've lost along the way. It is about returning to a place I loved, and continue to love, which is so important when life is hard as it so often is. It is a refuge from the storm. A place where I can build a new life for myself and my family, where I can see The Husband and I growing old together while doing the things we love. A place where I can be mum, be an advocate for Liam, and hopefully have the ability to reach some of my dreams and goals at the same time, a place where I can be... me.

But the journey there takes time, and patience. We have a plan, and I really hope it works, but the truth is I don't know if it will. Right now it seems too big, too much, too difficult. And the truth is, some days I wake up unable to breathe in the middle of the night for fear that we'll never get there. That I'll live the next few years of my life as a shadow, invisible and unheard. But I also believe that happiness is worth fighting for. Dreams are worth fighting for. And a life half-lived is a life not lived at all.

And so I hope. And I'll cling to that hope with all my heart and soul. It's all I have.

And until then, I'll continue to play my role as an expat wife and mum to the best of my abilities. I'll try not to lose myself along the way. I'll continue to write here, so I never forget where I came from, who I was and who I want to be. I may be a mum. I may have a child with a rare genetic disorder. I may have another baby on the way who'll take up the remainder of my time and energy. But I'm also still me. And if I lose who I am at my very heart and soul, I will have nothing to give to the people I love.


Until the day I feel whole again.

Because when it comes right down to it, we only have one life to live. To truly make our own.

And we deserve nothing less

Thursday, March 20, 2014

100 Happy Days

25 days ago, inspired by a friend of mine, I decided to sign up for the '100 Happy Days' challenge.

Now those of you who know me, really know me, know this is truly a challenge for me. People who live with clinical depression like I do tend to see the glass as half empty instead of half full. But I decided to do this anyway, with the hopes of finding a silver lining in every day, whether it is something as simple as savoring a cup of coffee, having a delicious dinner after a long day with the little one, or perhaps enjoying the sight of flowers blooming in the spring sunshine as I take Liam for his therapy sessions.

The premise is simple really. It's about noticing the little things and learning to enjoy the moment you're in (another thing I truly struggle with). No matter how bad your day is, there's always something good in it, if you only take the time to truly see and appreciate what's around you.

My role is to capture these moments and share them on a platform of my choice, which in this case is Instagram and Facebook. So far I've missed one day - yesterday, to be precise. The darkness was swallowing me whole and I simply could not fight it. Today, I'm picking myself up and starting anew.

My Facebook account is private for family, friends and acquaintances only. But I've also uploaded the pictures on Instagram, and you can follow my '100 Happy Days' journey there if you choose. Just click on the Follow Me On Instagram tab located on the right column of the blog, or if you have an Instagram account, look me up there (Username: Sojourner21).

I don't know if I can make all 100 days. While it may not seem like a big deal to some, the truth is I have struggled. Life is difficult at the moment, and that's putting it in extremely simple terms. I am dealing with many uncertainties, fears, and worries, and struggling on top of it all with my identity - with finding a balance in my life between my role as mum, wife and who I am as a woman, as well as the profound loneliness of being an expat wife and SAHM.

I miss my home in Auckland, I miss my family and friends, and there are days when I feel like a ghost of my former self. I'm desperately trying to find the woman I once was, the one I know I can be again - a person who was confident, who felt beautiful, who had goals and knew how to reach them, who wined and dined and loved life and dreamed big and was never afraid of the unknown.

But until I get there again, I have this - my little challenge to look for the good and beautiful in each day.

Baby steps to finding my way back to where I belong.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

I'll carry you home...

"A song for your heart, 
but when it is quiet,
I know what it means 
and I'll carry you home...

I'll carry you home."

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

When the going gets tough...

It's been a rough week for me. I've been physically exhausted and in a lot of discomfort, mentally unfocused, and emotionally a bit of a wreck to be quite honest.

Liam is having feeding issues again, which makes every meal time incredibly stressful and frustrating to say the least; I haven't been sleeping well at all, which means I'm a walking zombie all day long; and all the fears and worries that were plaguing me when we were discussing trying for another baby is suddenly back in full force - now that I'm about seven weeks away from my due date.

Will I be able to cope with another child when I'm barely hanging on with Liam as it is? Will this child be healthy and as much as I hate the word, normal? Will Liam understand that I can't be all present for him anymore once the baby arrives (as it is, he has a meltdown if I do not attend to his needs within a few minutes). I feel torn in a million directions when all I really need at the moment is space - space to breathe, space to have a meal without a toddler clinging to me and whining, space to be able to cook (again for the same reason), space to zone out, space to just be me for awhile, and not mum.

But it's the one luxury I do not have at the moment. Being a SAHM means it's Liam, Liam, Liam all day long. And don't misunderstand. I love my son with every inch of my heart. I love him so much it hurts. But some days, I also feel incredibly suffocated in this role. I long to be able to have some time away from him, so that I'm a more patient, gentle, kinder, understanding mum when I'm around him - instead of this person I hardly recognize at the moment. I yell at him when he doesn't eat even though I know it's not his fault. I sigh when he clings to me instead of smiling at him and playing with him. I scream at him when he's having a screaming meltdown, because I just can't anymore, which of course does nothing but leaves us both in tears and pain.

He needs a new physiotherapist. Someone who actually cares about his progress, or lack thereof. He needs a Feeding Therapist who will do more than see him once a month and tell us 'there's really nothing we can do for him, you just have to let him practice eating different things'. He needs someone who will worry about his failure to grow and thrive, about his nutritional intake, as much as we do. He needs so much, and he should have it all, but I have nothing left to give. Not to him, not to the baby growing inside of me that's keeping me up all nights, not even to my husband of whom I'm actually jealous. Jealous that he gets to leave this house everyday and go to work, have adult conversations, drink a cup of coffee while it's still hot, have lunch with his colleagues without constantly having to hear whining and crying. Sure, I know work comes with its own set of problems and stresses. I know it's not exactly all fun and games whenever The Husband leaves the house. Still, some days I'd give anything to trade places with him. At least you can reason with an adult. Tell them to give you five minutes while you finish something without them bursting into tears.

Most of the time I'd like to think I have been a positive advocate for my son. Since his diagnosis, I've gone all out to raise awareness for Williams Syndrome, for Liam. I've stopped hiding or being embarrassed. I explain myself, and him, over and over to strangers. He's not different, I tell people. He's just different-abled. He's not abnormal, I correct. He's just not your typically developing child. He may not talk yet, I agree. But he's the loveliest, friendliest child you'll ever meet. He'll let anyone carry him. He'll give anyone a hug. And I do mean them all. But the truth is there are days when it's incredibly difficult to remain upbeat. When all the things I try to put a positive spin on just turns around and bites me in the ass, especially when he refuses to eat for the hundredth time, or looks at me and cries and cries and I have no idea why. And I'd give anything for him to be able to tell me. To call me 'Mama'. To ask for milk, or water, or a walk, without me guessing all the time. I want to cry bullshit on Williams Syndrome, which I've tried so hard not to let take over our lives, even though it lies at the heart of Liam. It is not WHO he is, but it is a part of him, and undeniably a large factor in what makes him the way he is, friendly cuddles to strangers and all, consequently shaping the rest of our lives with it.

This wasn't the vision of motherhood I'd envisioned. And this week, I'm really struggling with all of it. Everything hurts, right down to the bones. Last week I nearly punched someone who looked at Liam and said, "Don't kids just grow up so fast?" He had no idea. But I still wanted to scream at him. "No, they don't! Not all kids!" Certainly not mine, who at 24-months still behaves like an 11-month-old.Who will always be a child in some ways. Who's been a baby for what feels like forever when I really need him to take the next step forwards, especially with another baby on the way. No, not my baby, who has already been surpassed in weight, size and abilities by nearly every child half his age and younger in my expat group.

But I smiled. And nodded. I kept the hurt in. Like I always do.

And I wish there was a pill I could swallow to make it all better.

I wish there was a solution.

I wish I didn't feel so alone.

But I'm riding this out.

One hour at a time.

And drinking lots of decaf coffee. Because some days that's all you can do.

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