Friday, October 24, 2014

Wind of Change

So, you know how I've been talking (dreaming) about returning to Auckland, like, ever since we left?

Guys, we're going home.

Yeap, I've kept it kinda hush hush (well unless you're a Facebook friend, in which case you're probably like shut up about Auckland already), because there were just too many uncertainties, too much to go through/apply for/process, before it could even become a reality, that I really didn't want to put it all into words on this blog.

I wanted to keep an open mind and be flexible through the entire process, so I wouldn't be disappointed should something not happen at a specific time or place, should things fall apart or go awry somehow. I carried my hope with me, silently, wishfully, and went through the physical motions of everything we needed to do to make our way back, one step at a time, without putting too much of my mind on it, although my heart was all in.

But now, NOW that my residency has come through, that The Husband has secured a job, that plans have been made and we're selling our furniture and deciding on flight tickets, I guess there's no turning back - The Mahons are heading back to the City of Sails!

There is so much to be done, and if I let myself dwell on how seriously complicated it is moving overseas with two little children in tow, I will jump into the nearest hole and never want to come out again. As it is, we're tackling things one day at a time, checking items off our (my) to-do-list and trying not to jump too far ahead into the future, while ensuring that yes, we're actually going to have a place to live in once we get there, which is as you know, kinda important when you have mouths to feed and all that.

You would think after moving internationally for the eighth time in the past 15 years that I would be used to this chaos and sense of uncertainty by now. In a way, I am. I know we have much to arrange and plan and organize, but it's a good kind of busy as I know all the energy is going into making our dreams come true. But I've never had to do this with two little children, and I have to admit that the responsibility of taking care of them through this transition, ensuring that their comfort, security and stability is not compromised while we uproot them from the only home they've ever known, worries me.

Nolan will be okay, I think. At the moment he still sleeps anywhere, he doesn't need much except for his milk, some play-time, sleep, and me. He's very, very, clingy to me.

Liam, my dear Liam however, is quite another matter. Not only do we have to make sure his extensive medical file is up-to-date and transferable, we need to ensure all his tests and check-ups are up to date before we leave, that we have medicine on hand for the two months the boys and I will be in Malaysia prior to moving to Auckland, that he won't be too affected by not being in his daycare or in regular contact with other children for a few months, by not having any therapy until we have their residency status sorted once we've in NZ.

He is very much a creature of routine and doesn't do well with the slightest change to his schedule. This will be akin to a tornado coursing through his path. He will be in three different continents and timezones in a matter of months, meeting all sorts of new people, being in new environments over and over again. Until we find a permanent home in Auckland, we'll be staying in short-term accommodation, so we can't really even settle once we get there. It will all take awhile to sort out. I can only hope that my little trooper, who's developed so well over the past half a year, will embrace the changes to come, and that it won't cause any regression in his development or behavior.

 Saying goodbye to Karlsruhe, Germany
That said, I am excited about what's to come, about what lies ahead for us back in New Zealand. Those who know me well know that Auckland has a special place in my heart. Perhaps it's because it's the first place I've lived in where I truly felt free to be who I was and who I wanted to be. When I first moved there back in 2007, I wasn't tied down to anyone or anything. I went there on my own accord, I followed my heart. I had to start over, with a blank slate, but I didn't mind not knowing where I was going, because my heart was open, and the journey felt right. I met my husband. We got married on the beautiful island of Waiheke, which I can't wait to take the boys to. We made some lifelong friends. I lost my heart to the city, to her sparkling waters, from the very first day, and a big part of me will always belong there, even as I've left pieces of myself in all the other cities I've ever called home.

So the process of saying goodbye to Karlsruhe, this small, German city that's been my home for the past 2.5 years, the place where we received our firstborn's diagnosis of Williams Syndrome, where we gave birth to our second son, where I've met some lovely people who I know will always be a part of my life... the process begins now. And it will be bittersweet. Germany's been really good to us despite all the challenges we've had thrown our way.

We've had plenty of wonderful times and memories even if I don't particularly feel any love for the city. I've enjoyed my exposure to the many German festivals, I can now read a menu entirely in German, my thoughts and conversations are peppered with German words and phrasings, our son has been well cared for by the many doctors and therapists who've come and gone even as we were still coming to acceptance of his diagnosis and what it meant for us, I've had plenty, PLENTY, of wonderful German wine and food, experienced a snowy winter again after eight long years, and oh, the magic of Christmas markets. I think I will miss that the most.

The boys and I fly off to Malaysia mid-December, arriving just in time to celebrate my 32nd birthday and Christmas with the family. I'll stay on with the little ones to spend some quality time with loved ones and friends whom I haven't seen in years, which I'm really looking forward to. The Husband will return to Germany to finish up work, finalize the packing and selling of our belongings, before meeting us in Malaysia again, and we will all head to Auckland sometime towards the end of February.

The next few months will be a whirlwind of events. There will be moments where I'll want to give up. There'll be times when I'll think we're crazy for doing this, again, with two little babies. There'll be some tears. There'll be lots of wine and late night scotch to get me through the day. But there'll also be plenty of fun and laughter. Of hugs and hellos. Of having family and friends in our lives again that we had to say goodbye to four years ago. There'll be new adventures and memories to be made. At some point, Liam will stop saying 'nein' and start saying 'noi', with a Kiwi accent. Our boys will grow up by the oceans and beaches, running on the sand, eating Fush n' Chups and Mince and Cheese pies. There will be new friends. I can start working again. We can adopt a dog. 

It is crazy. It is risky. It is letting go before we even receive. But you know what? Every time I've moved, every time I've chased a dream, even when people thought I was being silly because I didn't know what laid ahead, or because I was leaving a good job, or because I wouldn't be earning as much money, it has always worked out in more rewarding ways than I could ever imagine. Yes, even our unplanned move to Germany, which has enriched my life deeply. Because at the end of it all, life isn't a game. There's no winning or losing. No wrong or right. 

This journey we're on, this endless discovery, all these experiences, good and bad, they only make you more whole as a person. You can't know what you want until you've experienced what you don't want. You don't always appreciate your health until you know what it's like to be battling cancer. You know that life is too short for regrets. You know some things, like running with your children chasing the waves, are worth much more than having more money by staying later at work. 

No matter what happens, no matter where we've been or where we end up, it's been an amazing ride. It IS amazing. And I'm so, so thankful for all I've been through... and all that lies ahead. 

Saying hello to Auckland, New Zealand


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Nolan is (almost) six months old!

I feel a huge amount of guilt that my baby Nolan doesn't get featured as much on this blog. I don't talk about him or write about him as much as I do his brother Liam. He doesn't have a Facebook page updating friends, family and strangers on his latest achievements and progress. I don't document every new thing he does and announce it to the world. Already, he's learning to take a back seat to his brother, whose needs are always so much more immediate, so intense, but he is no less wonderful, perfect, and one of my life's greatest gifts.


Nolan is a typical baby. While these five words may not mean much to most of you, it means a whole world to me. It means that he does things when he's supposed to do them, when I'm not even aware or noticing or looking. He smiles, he rolls in both directions, he lifts his head up, he feeds without throwing up, he engages, he babbles. He's gaining weight. He says 'mama'. He fits into clothes meant for his age. He plays with toys. He is mostly sleep-trained, because I haven't been able to spend too much time carrying him in my arms until he falls asleep like I did with Liam in the beginning. He is so, so strong and sturdy. And he does it all so effortlessly, so naturally, that watching him grow is like watching magic happen everyday. 

And even though I don't rave about it all as much as I do when Liam does something new, trust me when I say I'm not taking any of it for granted. Every milestone he hits makes me laugh and cry at the same time. With Nolan, I want to say things like 'he's growing up so fast', and 'he's changing everyday'; things that used to make me cringe whenever someone else said them and all I could think of was, 'not my child'.

But now I understand. Now I know what other parents mean when they say that about their children. When I see Nolan wearing an outfit now that Liam only wore at nine months, when I see how quickly he's learning to do things, how close he is to crawling, I know it's only a matter of time, possibly less than a year, when he catches up to Liam physically and developmentally and then surpasses him. 

I am prepared. I am excited. We knew this day would come. But I am also afraid. I am afraid it will hurt, to see Nolan playing the role of the older brother and teaching Liam things instead of the other way around when the time comes. I am afraid of the responsibilities my little Nolie Bear will have to grow up with, having an older brother with special needs. Already he's learning to wait, to be patient when Liam has a meltdown, when he screams and hits his head. He waits and he watches, seemingly understanding that his brother needs me more at that moment. He takes a backseat.

My lovely, sweet Nolan, the baby of the family, is growing up quickly. 

At six months old, he is chatty, smiley, easy-going, gentle and sweet-natured. 

Every night, before putting him to bed, I whisper in his ear, "You are kind, you are beautiful, you are strong, you are gentle, you are brave, you are loving."

And he is. All of that, and so, so much more. 

Monday, October 6, 2014

Liebster

I was tagged by blogger Sara of Nine and Ninety Nine for the Liebster a couple of weeks ago. Thank you for nominating me, and sorry it took me so long to get to it!

Here are my answers to Sara's questions:

1. What things can you not live without?
My phone, my laptop, my piano, books, wine. 

2. If you could go anywhere, where would you go?
Right now, Auckland! But we're in the process of making our way back, so I'll be patient for another few months. For the purpose of travel, I'd love to return to Chicago for a visit. It is one of my favorite American cities, and was very special to me during my university years. The last time I was there was 11 years ago.

3. What is your favorite book and season?
That's a hard one! I have a lot of books I love. But an all-time favorite would be Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. So much of what she wrote really resonated, and still does, with me. My favorite season is winter. I love being out in the warm sunshine during the summer months, but there's something about the winter cold, the snow, the way the world around me gets dark and people turn to each other for warmth and comfort that speaks to my soul.

4. What are three goals you want to achieve in your life time?
To write and publish a book.
To own my very own home where my children can grow up in.
To celebrate my 10th wedding anniversary with family and friends back on Waiheke Island, Auckland, where The Husband and I got married.

5. What is your favorite food?
Anything Japanese.

6. What do you miss most about home?
My family. Malaysian food comes a very close second!

7. What surprises you most about living abroad?
How difficult it is to live in a country where you don't speak the native language fluently. 

8. How do you balance conflicting areas in your life?
I do what makes me the happiest. What's good for my soul. It may be selfish and at times not the smartest choice, but I've learned that if you're unhappy doing something, being somewhere, nothing you do (even for the most altruistic reasons) will change that and it will seep into all other areas of your life. When a conflict occurs, for example (in my case) should I be a SAHM or return to work, do I continue living in Germany or do all I can to return to New Zealand, do whatever makes you the happiest. What's good for your soul.

9. What's in your bag/ backpack/ purse?
I carry a Nappy Bag everywhere with extra nappies for the boys, a change of outfits, snack and drinks for the kids, and most of the time I throw my purse, keys and cellphone in there too. When I'm on my own, I carry a handbag with my purse, keys, cellphone, lip gloss, a tissue packet, my moleskin and a pen!

10. What are you most proud of?
Being a mum to two extraordinary, beautiful boys. 

11. What things do you love and hate about being an expat?
I love meeting new people, being in new places, establishing new routines and being out of my comfort zone. Nothing makes me feel more alive then when I'm challenging myself and exploring a world that's unfamiliar to my own. I hate being so far away from my family, and the fact that most everything is transient. Being an expat has meant a lot of homes (15 different houses/apartments in ten years!), a lot of hellos and goodbyes, and a lot of uncertainties, which was good when it was just The Husband and I, not so good when we now have two little ones depending on us for stability and certainties.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Sweet Potato and Spinach Mini-Quiche

Cooking for and feeding Liam takes up a lot of my waking hours. At 2.5 years, he's still barely hitting 10kgs. He still doesn't chew well and can be quite sensitive to textures. My one saving grace is that he loves food. He'll try anything. And then of course refuse to open his mouth if he doesn't like it. 

I spend a lot of time researching and googling up recipes and ideas of what to cook for him that won't be too time-consuming (as I have a five-month-old clinging to me most of the time), that isn't too rich in calcium, that he'll be able to chew. It's a work-in-progress. We have a few staples now that we know he'll eat (he loves gnocchi, smoked salmon, pasta in bolognese sauce, quiches, muffins and cakes) but I continue to try to introduce a variety of food to help him get used to different textures and taste, to help him 'practice' chewing, to make sure he gets as balanced a nutrition as possible.

Yesterday morning, I made a bunch of mini-quiches (in a mini muffin tin) with spinach, grated sweet potato, ricotta cheese, eggs and grated parmesan cheese from this website. He loved it and gobbled two fresh from the oven, and then had another three with some smoked salmon for lunch). Of course, I then realized it had way too much calcium from the cheese and spinach so now he can only have a couple each week, but this recipe made more than 24 pieces and they freeze for three months. Grating the sweet potato was a little time consuming, but that was the hardest part. This is also great for parents doing Baby Led Weaning and for toddlers who like to use their fingers to eat!

I'm definitely going to make more of this and introduce different vegetables each time.





Spinach and Sweet Potato Quiche

Ingredients
2 Tbs butter
1 medium peeled and grated sweet potato
10 oz of shredded organic fresh baby spinach or frozen organic spinach (if you use frozen make sure to drain the spinach well)
2 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
3/4 cup ricotta cheese
1/4 cup of grated parmesan cheese

Directions

1) Preheat oven to 375°.
2) In a medium skillet, melt butter.
3) Add grated sweet potato and saute over medium heat until done. About seven minutes. Next, add the spinach and saute an additional 3 minutes. If you‘re using frozen do not add the spinach just yet.
4) Transfer sweet potato and spinach to a medium bowl and allow to cool a bit. Next, add the eggs, ricotta, parmesan cheese and if you are using frozen spinach add it at this time. Mix well.
5) Fill a greased mini muffin sheet with mixture and place in oven. Bake for 15 minutes or until golden. Makes 26 and freezes well. Can be frozen for up to 3 months. Defrost in microwave for 15 to 20 seconds.

*There was no added seasoning as Liam didn't need it, but if you're making it for the family/adults, I would add in some salt and spices to jazz it up a little. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

Time, or lack thereof

Some days, I wish there were twice as many hours in a day, or twice of me, to do everything that needs to be done or that I wish to do.

Life has been chugging along since the last of our guests left two weeks ago. I wake up at 6am every morning. I sleep, well, I sleep when I can. And in between, it's one task after another after another, often revolving around the care of both kids and running our home, until some hour at night when the house is finally still and quiet. When I can sit down, put my feet up, and just breathe.

I often want to do so much, in that last few moments of peace before I say goodnight to the world. Before I close my eyes, and it's tomorrow, and the race starts again. But more often than not, all I manage to do is to read a chapter or two of a book before my eyes close into an often troubled, interrupted sleep.

Being a Stay-at-Home-Mum (or SAHM, as internet lingo goes), has taken more out of me than I ever thought it would. I used to think these women have it easy. What did they have to do all day except look after their children, I would think? How tiring could that be? They get to go for walks, have coffee with friends, do their shopping in the middle of the day unlike working people who only get to do so on weekends. I take back every negative, judgmental thought I ever had about SAHMs.

But this isn't a post about SAHMs and what we do all day. THAT would take me far longer to write. This is a post about time, and all the things I wish I had the time to do. Like write. I really wish I could update this blog more frequently and consistently. There is so much I want to write about our lives in Germany. About Liam and Williams Syndrome. I want to reach out, to educate, to be more in touch with my readers. But oh the exhaustion, every single hour of every single day. Writing takes alertness. It takes focus. It takes being able to string your thoughts into coherent sentences. It takes time, which I frankly don't have. When I do find an hour or so to myself, the thoughts I have are often too muddled by exhaustion. Too much has passed that I don't know where to start writing about Liam and how much he's developed. And so, I don't do this as much as I want to, need to.

I also have a book project that I've been working on (and I use the term 'working' very loosely) for months and months now. Most of this book remain as unwritten words in my head. I haven't gone past the first chapter. I want to dedicate myself to it. I want to have an hour to write this book everyday. People trying to be helpful would say, 'Maybe you should get up an hour before your day starts to write. Plenty of authors do that'. I am, however, often already up at 5am. Some nights I'm up from 1am to 5am, trying to soothe a fussy baby. Trying to sleep whenever I can. So this is just not an option for me.

I want to run. I started a running program a few weeks before my parents arrived in July. I was supposed to be able to run 5Ks easily by the end of week 8. I stopped at week 4. Sure, I've lost all of my pregnancy weight. But I'm nowhere near as fit as I need/want to be. 'Surely you have 40 minutes to go out and run three times a week', the same kindly people would ask? Actually, I do not. When I started the running program, Nolan was sleeping in his hammock relatively well. If he fussed, we would rock him and he would drift back to sleep. He's since outgrown it, and we moved him to a baby cot a few weeks ago. Let's just say, life hasn't been the same since. The plan was for me to go running three times a week after both boys are in bed and we've had our dinner. Now, I guess we all know what happens to the best-laid plans don't we?

I want to study. I want to grow in an area I'm passionate about. I've actually enrolled in the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET) Level 2 online course. I want to enhance my writing career with a professional wine certification someday. It requires about six hours of study a week, on your own, not including the online activities and class discussions you're supposed to participate in. I don't know what I was thinking when I signed up to do it this month. All I can say is, my brain was fuddled by lack of sleep, and I was possibly-ever-so-slightly deluding myself by thinking I could squeeze this in on top of everything else.

What else? My husband, friends, job-hunting for our move back to Auckland, actually enjoying time with my children and not just running around like a headless chicken trying to keep them fed/clean/entertained/notcrying, perhaps pursuing a hobby just for the pleasure of it - to get me out of mummy-mode every now and them, to remind me of my own needs and desires as an individual, yes, I wish I had time for all of that.

But you take what you can get. You do the best with what you're given. With what you have. And I content myself with that every single day. Whatever I manage to do today, this is my best. If everything else has to wait, if some dreams have to be postponed, if some activities have to be given up on, it's okay. It has to be okay.

You know why? Because with the time I do have, with the mundane routine of the everyday, with the exhaustion of looking after two babies, with being a SAHM, with taking care of my family, my baby Nolan breaks into a huge smile every time he catches my eye. Liam leaps into my arm every time I pick him up from day care. Liam has finally started walking, and saying words. Nolan is rolling over like a champ. He is big and strong and I know he will care for his brother like no one else one day. They are love and light and ultimately the reasons for all these things I want to do and accomplish, so they can have the best possible life.

But they don't care about the future. All they want, all they need, right now is me.

This time is for them. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Summer 2014

As promised, here are some pictures of our summer - in no particular order. Most of them were taken during our family vacation to Lake Como when my parents were visiting, and the rest are mementoes of time spent with friends and family, mostly at home in our garden.

Although fall seems to have arrived far too soon, I'm nevertheless thankful for the many wonderful sunny days we've had, the many evenings we've sat outside in the garden while Liam toddled all over the place, the friends we've had over to enjoy some good food and wine with. This will always be remembered as the summer Liam learned to walk. The one where we surprised my parents with a trip to Italy. The one where we welcomed baby Nolan into the world (although that was technically Spring but who's counting?)

In all honesty, this may be our last summer in Karlsruhe. In Germany. We're really hoping that by this time next year, we'll be bracing ourselves for a cold NZ winter. And perhaps it is with the knowledge that our time in Germany is quickly coming to an end, that I'm better able to treasure and look at our final months here with fondness, even as I eagerly anticipate the next chapter of our adventure back in Auckland, a city I love like none other. 

But regardless of what, how, when, why or where, life is about the journey. And every day is a journey. 

Family, friends, people, places, food, wine, travel, children... these will always be the footprints of mine.



















Saturday, August 23, 2014

August

It has been a crazy sort of summer, beginning with my parents' arrival in Germany in late July. We left the day after they arrived for a one-week family holiday in Lake Como, Italy, and then they were in town for another two weeks where both Liam and Nolan received plenty of grandparental cuddles!

We currently have a week and a half of downtime, where for the first time since Nolan was born, I have both boys to myself all day long, before welcoming our next guests from Singapore - my cousin and her husband, who will be in town this Wednesday for three days. The day after they leave, our good friends, who're also Liam's godparents, arrives from the USA to stay with us for a week!

So I'm just checking in to say I'm sorry for the long hiatus. I'm still here and we're all doing fine - most days anyway. Nolan has just turned four months old and is rolling in both directions! He amazes me everyday with how naturally and instinctively he learns things, without any prompting, any pushing, any therapy. Every achievement of his is bittersweet. I am so, so proud of my strong little baby, and yet more often than not I find myself thinking, "So this is what it's like to have a typical child. A child that gains weight. Grows normally. One that hits milestones without me even having time to blink." Observing my younger son develop so easily and beautifully, inevitably leaves me feeling happy and sad at the same time.

As parents we often try not to compare between our children - each child is different after all, and it's the same for us. I've stopped tallying up Liam's delays a long time ago. I still worry about what he will/will not achieve, mainly because I don't want life to always be difficult for him; and I still hate that he has to struggle to do every little thing that comes so easily to most other children, Nolan included, but for the most part I've accepted our unique situation and even embraced it - and Liam's mostly happy spirit is infectious. But I won't lie and say the differences between the two doesn't sometimes hurt, and I think it's only normal that it does, especially when you have a typically-abled child and a child with special needs. I've learned not to give myself a hard time about how I'm feeling. If I need to cry about it, I do. If I need to feel frustrated or angry, I allow myself to do so. And then I move on. Over time, it's become easier to live for the moment, and to accept and celebrate my family as it is.

Liam still does not care much for his baby brother, although ever so often, he warms up and gives him a little cuddle when prompted. He is walking like a champ now, and at nearly 2.5-years-old, has a total of three words: "Um" for food, "Ai" the German equivalent for cuddling/stroking one's head, and very recently "Bubble!", which he says a hundred and one times a day - and every time he does, I find it hard not to give in to him and blow some bubbles, which sends him into a frenzy of happiness.



Life is chugging along in our little corner of the world, with plenty of challenging moments and days as well as joyful ones. I'll post some pictures of our summer when I get the chance soon.

In the meantime, here's to the last of the summer days - to drinking chilled Grauer Burgunder in our lovely garden, to barbecues, to friends and family, to first steps, and always, always, to the magic of bubbles.
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