Friday, December 31, 2010

For Auld Lang Syne

Happy New Year everyone! On New Year's Eve I always like to reflect on where I was exactly 12 months ago and where I hope to be this time next year. We celebrated NYE last year with friends, but we were home by 11pm and I was in bed feeding my 3 week old baby at midnight. J has changed and grown so much in that time and I honestly cannot believe how quickly the year has passed. This time next year we'll have a two year old running around, and who knows where we'll be?

The end of the year has made me a bit nostalgic but to be honest, much of the year went by in a blur. I can barely remember the first 6 months, as I was wandering around in a fog of sleep deprivation, hormones, confusion and overwhelming love and adoration. June was a turning point, when I quit breastfeeding, lost 7kgs and we bid farewell to our old nemesis, reflux. Since then our little guy has flourished and we've enjoyed every minute. 2010 was a year that changed us in a lot of ways. We watched our son grow with wonder, anticipation and complete bewilderment, and we gradually grew into our new roles as parents. Parenthood brought us immeasurable joy and happiness, along with new fears and heartbreak. I'm typing with tears in my eyes and struggling to express just how my heart has been opened, by joy and sadness in equal measure over the last 12 months. I wrote about this feeling in my post An Open Heart but I'm only now coming to grips with just how profoundly this has changed me. I've grown up a lot myself and I never really expected that.

It may seem strange that at almost 32 years of age I'm only just now feeling like a proper adult. I guess it's because I've never had responsibilities before, but it also has a lot to do with wanting to be a good parent. I'm far from perfect and still have a long way to go but I feel very strongly that I need to lead by example; I can't encourage my son to be the best person he can be, if I'm not fulfilling my own potential. I want him to be kind and compassionate, strong and independent but also thoughtful and selfless, and I know that if I have any hope of teaching him those values, I have to possess them myself. Seeing myself through my son's eyes has made me realise how flawed I am. I know for a few more years at least he'll see the world as we introduce him to it and his interactions with everyone and everything around him will be based on ours. J is a little mimic and picks up on things we say and do so quickly already, the good and the bad. He's also so much like both of us, and there's nothing like seeing yourself in a small person to motivate you to be a more positive role model. I'm sure most parents start out with the best of intentions on this front, and I may be underestimating the amount of work involved in such self-improvement, but I've already made some big changes and feel like a better person for it. If I were the kind of person who makes New Year's resolutions, I'd resolve to continue what I've started this year.

There is more to it, and as always I have more to say, but I've just welcomed in 2011 by watching the Sydney fireworks on TV and now I have a date with a soft pillow. Good night, and happy new year again x

Friday, December 24, 2010

All I want For Christmas

Christmas has never really been about presents for me. It's nice to give and receive great gifts, and I do put a lot of thought into what I buy for people, but I'd be perfectly happy if the day was simply about getting together. When I was growing up it was the one day of the year we all put aside what we were doing and got together to celebrate. My dad's family is so busy all year that even though they live within a 2 kilometre radius of each other, they never get together, except at Christmas. I would much rather just be with the people I love than have them worrying about what to buy me. We're hoping to instil this value in J as well, and have not bought him much at all. The tree is surrounded by gifts from grandparents, aunties and uncles and we're happy to let others spoil him this year. We figure it'll be the only year we can get away with it!

Until J was born I took responsibility for buying birthday and Christmas presents for our friends and families, and sending out cards. Last year I went out early, knowing our baby was due in December, and bought cards and presents for everyone. Wandering around Stanley Markets, 8 months pregnant, I vowed never again! To top it off, my husband disapproved of a number of my selections for his family, and promised to go out and buy more gifts later. Needless to say he didn't and his mother and step-mother received, in February, the gifts I had bought for them. So this year I bought a few small things for my family, sent out an e-card and left the rest up to D. As yet there is not a single gift under the tree for anyone on his side of the family, and I'm trying really hard not to care or nag, but it is Christmas Eve and I know I'm going to feel really guilty opening presents from people who have not received anything in return. I also know if I have any hope of teaching my son that Christmas is about more than presents, I'm going to have let it go.

My husband and I are pretty practical people we try to buy each other things that we either need or have specifically asked for. This year I wanted pearl earrings and a luxurious facial. As I sit here looking at our beautifully decorated half-dead tree, surrounded by beautifully wrapped presents, I've started thinking about what it is I really want (or need), but I'm struggling. Apart from the usual global-sized wishes like world peace, that everyone wishes for, I can't really wish for anything more. It sounds cliched, and I don't generally like to admit out loud that I'm perfectly content with all that I have, just in case the universe hears me and takes something away. But I have a husband who has put up with my pre-Christmas madness all month; eating all my baking attempts, even the burnt ones, listening to endless carols and watching tacky holiday movies with me each night. Today he drove us around Central and Kowloon all day trying to find a car park, all because I insisted on leaving the grocery shopping to the last minute. He even went to IKEA and spent the evening putting together a table so we wouldn't have to eat our dinner on the sofa tomorrow. He did all this without complaint, expecting nothing in return. My gorgeous son was also dragged around the shops all day, fed fried rice for lunch, and denied his afternoon nap, and not only did he not complain, he entertained us and other shoppers the whole day. He makes me smile every day, and the way his face lights up when he sees me is a gift in itself. I feel very blessed this year and my wish list is surprisingly blank. 
    In the end what I want this Christmas is for my friends and family to receive what they wish for, and all the love, happiness, success and peace that they deserve. And, just so we're clear, I might be happy with what I have, but I won't knock back a present or two if they appear under the tree tonight!

    Merry Christmas everyone, and thanks for reading xx

    Thursday, December 23, 2010

    Letting Go

    I'm sitting in my living room at 10am, still in my pyjamas, surrounded by toys and debris, there are dirty dishes in the sink and the laundry basket is overflowing. But I've decided not to care. My Christmas present to myself this year is permission to let go. Granted, it's only been a week that I've had to do all the work myself, but while my helper's away I've been killing myself trying to maintain the standards of cleanliness that we're used to, forgetting that our helper's sole purpose is to keep the place clean. I have several purposes at the moment and I've had to admit that I can't do it all. So I'm going to stop trying to. 

    I have friends in places other than Hong Kong, who don't have helpers, some don't even have family close by, and yet they manage to look after their kids and keep the house running while their husbands are away, sometimes for 10 days at a time. I've marvelled at how they manage to keep it all together and maintain their sanity. Most of the mums I've spoken to about this say that the only way to cope is to give up something. One mum, a friend of a friend, always looks immaculate, but her boys are little terrors. She's decided that discipline and behaviour aren't a big deal, preferring instead to spend a little time on herself. Others aren't too fussed about the housework, putting that way down on the priority list. Socialising and quality time with your husband are also put on the shelf at times. I've realised this week, that I could do without a helper but something would definitely have to give. I worked my butt off on Tuesday to make sure the house was tidy when my husband came home that night. I know for sure that if I didn't have a helper, I would not make this effort every week. I'd probably leave the house in a state deliberately so D could see what it's like most of the time he's away. The dog would end up completely neglected, and there's no way I'd ever iron anything. I probably wouldn't be able to work either, but that would be a sacrifice I'd be willing to make. 

    The best part about the last week has been the amount of time I've spent with my amazing little guy. We have had so much fun together and I've absolutely loved every minute of it. Despite being ridiculously busy, I've had more time to sit on the carpet and play. And rather than leaving J at home while I go to the shops, I've been taking him everywhere with me. He's fabulous company and I'm so grateful that we've been able to spend this time together. I've learned that, until now, I've been occupying myself with a lot of stuff that's just not important, and that's what I'm letting go of. I've been putting a lot of pressure on myself to try and keep everything running smoothly and make everyone around me happy. I want to be liked and respected and keep up with the mums around me who always look good and have beautiful homes and great hair, and still have time to go to work and look after the kids and bake cookies on the weekend. Now I know that they've probably made a lot of sacrifices to maintain that lifestyle, I don't feel so bad.

    If I've learned anything this year, it's to value what's important and make the most of it, you just have to work out what that is. I can keep trying to 'do it all' but if I really think about it I think I'll find that I really don't care if the floor's clean or the washing's folded. So I'm going to spend the next couple of days tidying, baking, shopping, wrapping presents, and preparing an amazing Christmas dinner. Not because I have to, but because I want to. If I can spend the day with my gorgeous son and collapse on the sofa at the end of it with my husband, mince pies, mulled wine and tacky Christmas movies, I'll be very happy indeed. 

    Monday, December 20, 2010

    Candy Canes, Silver Bells and Other Hazards

    Firstly, I have to refer to my last post The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. Our missing bag was found, left behind by baggage handlers in Sydney for reasons unknown. I was so relieved to have it all back that I didn't ask questions. I felt guilty for assuming the worst but my husband assures me that bags do get stolen all the time, especially at this time of year, especially in Sydney. And I also have to apologise to those of you who may have noticed that I haven't been posting very regularly lately, despite having the best of intentions. We arrived home late last Wednesday night and only had one day at home with my husband before he left for New York. Our helper is on holidays so it has just been J and I once again and my "spare" time is filled with laundry, dishwashing, bed making and cooking. I have been lucky enough to have a bit of help with dog walking etc, but otherwise I have been flat out. It's actually been really good for me and I have hardly noticed the crushing homesickness that enveloped me as I left Sydney. I also have a new appreciation for mums and dads who do this all the time. 

    I started this particular post a while ago and thought that, since it will only be relevant for a few more days, I'd better get it out there...

    It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas. I love Christmas, or at least the build-up to it. Christmas Day itself is always a bit of an anticlimax but the shopping, decorating, carols and cooking always put me in a good mood. To me Christmas is all about family, and in the absence of family, it revolves around food. Pudding Sunday, the last Sunday in November, (aka Stir-Up Sunday in some homes) is right up there on my list of favourite days of the year, and it marks the start of the festive season for me.

    My grandmother used to make a proper Christmas pudding every year, even though very few of us actually ate it, but when she gave up making them I decided to take over the reins. That was about 6 years ago and I've done it every year since. The pudding has to be made at least a month before Christmas to give it time to age and soak up all the lovely alcohol you "feed" it over the month. My pudding is an adaptation of a Nigella Lawson recipe, and it's without a doubt the most perfect pudding you can imagine, if I do say so myself (I'm worried I'd be in breach of copyright if I posted the recipe and I'm afraid I can't find a link on the web, so it will have to remain my secret recipe!). Looking at the recipe it seems quite complicated and you would imagine that something that requires storage and "feeding" for a month, followed by 6 hours of steaming, would be quite delicate and sensitive to temperature and humidity and that sort of thing. But they're really very robust. One year I made one here in Hong Kong and took it all the way back to Australia. It spent 10 hours in a suitcase on a plane to Melbourne where we stayed in three different places. Then we took it to my parent's house, a 2 hour flight and an hour's drive away. I was worried it wouldn't be any good, but it was just as tasty and Christmassy as it always is.

    This year I decided to make two, and may have finally found the one thing that the recipe can't handle. The first one was far too wet, even after 5 hours of steaming. I added more flour to the mix and the second one was better, so it was the one I took home for my in-laws. I felt bad that once again we wouldn't be spending Christmas with them, and they were really pleased to have a little reminder of us, to share on the day. The pudding I kept for us is sitting on my kitchen bench, a gooey, rummy mess, but it's too late to make another one. On Christmas Day I'll just have to cover it with cream and custard and hope for the best. Other seasonal treats I've taken to making since we moved to HK are mince pies, gingerbread biscuits and mulled wine. As much as I love a hot Aussie Christmas, I have been absolutely thrilled to be able to partake in some of the northern hemisphere's traditional cold-weather foods. We will have to forego the turkey this year as our oven isn't big enough but I will be baking a chicken, with stuffing and gravy, and loads of roast vegies. The forecast for Christmas Day is cooler temperatures so I'm very excited and plan to eat all day!

    J is far too young to understand what all the fuss is about but he is very curious about all the presents and the decorations on the tree. My parents loaded us up with so many presents I had to borrow an extra bag to bring them all home. Despite the effort involved they do look lovely under the tree and we will have lots of fun opening them, even if J just wants to play with the wrapping paper! Having a real tree is another of our traditions and it goes a long way back for me. When I was little we always had a real tree and it was generally cut down by Dad, just on dusk, a few days before Christmas. When I left home he tried to leave the tree cutting for when I got back and it became a bit of a ritual every year, just the two of us. One year, when D and I were staying in Sydney for Christmas, Dad went out and found a small but perfectly formed tree and wrapped it up, took it to the airport, and sent it up to us on the Sydney flight. It was magical, and was the best present I've ever received. Going down to Wellcome (the local supermarket) and buying a tree isn't quite the same. But they're real, and they look beautiful. I can't imagine having a plastic tree, it just wouldn't be Christmas. Unfortunately Wellcome receive their trees in late November, so for the last two years our trees have been practically dead by Christmas Day. As I write this, our tree is a very definite shade of brown, and I went out today and bought more decorations to try and hide the fact that the poor thing is well past its prime.

    It has been a constant battle this week to keep J away from the tree and stop him from pulling the baubles off and sticking them in his mouth. Despite my vigilance I found him chewing on a candy cane today, with half the plastic wrapping stuck to his tongue. Earlier in the week he pulled off some tinsel and wrapped it around his neck! I never knew a Christmas tree could be such a deathtrap! Even though it's a joy to see his little face when we turn on the lights on the tree, I'll be relieved when we can pack it all away. I'm hoping next year he'll be old enough to understand that he can look but not touch...

    I do also want to write about presents and what I learned about travelling with a toddler but that will have to wait: it's 4pm and I still have no idea what we're having for dinner. I wonder if J likes panettone...?

    Friday, December 17, 2010

    The Grinch Who Stole Christmas

    Once again I've been sidetracked from my original planned topic, but I'm sure you'll understand why today's post has me so absorbed at the moment. We just returned safely from Sydney last night after a great two week break. J and I recovered from our illnesses in time to spend a few days with my parents, visiting family and enjoying the fresh air and gorgeous summer weather. Despite everything I said in my post The Tyranny of Distance, I did need to be dragged kicking and screaming onto the plane. It was very tough to leave, and it was only love for my husband and a reluctance to keep living out of a suitcase that got me through the gate. We cashed in some air miles and upgraded to business class so no matter what mood J was in I'd at least be comfortable. He was a little excited and overtired but it was a really pleasant flight.

    The pleasantness of the experience was shattered however, when we arrived at the baggage carousel to find one of our bags missing. It wasn't the small one with the easily replaceable baby bottles and toys, or the porta-cot, nor was it the one with my clothes. It was the largest bag of the lot, the one with J's clothes, many of them brand new, and all our Christmas presents from my family. While I was visiting my parents I took the opportunity to collect some things from storage and I had them in this suitcase too. Also missing are 3 limited edition children's books that I've had since I was 5, a gorgeous blue satin dress, an antique bead necklace that was my grandmother's, J's baby blanket (that he's slept with since he was born), a rather expensive beach towel, my favourite pants, my favourite t-shirt, and the charger for our camera, along with a number of other things that have no value or meaning to anyone but us. Cathay Pacific baggage services have been as helpful as they can be, while Sydney baggage services have not been helpful at all. Cathay just rang at 11pm to let us know they haven't had any luck tracing the bag but will continue looking. It's good to know they're onto it but, to us, it's looking more and more likely that the bag was stolen. So now I can't sleep.

    I'm so incensed that someone would consider taking a bag that didn't belong to them, especially at this time of year. The trouble is, it was possibly the first time ever that I didn't lock the damn thing. A large, full suitcase, unlocked and bearing a first-class tag would be very appealing to anyone without a conscience. But, like I said, there was nothing in there that would be valuable to anyone but me. I've tried to be Buddhist about the whole thing and think "it's only stuff, we made it back safely and that's the main thing," but it was MY stuff, and it was all of great sentimental value. It's also the principle of it, who steals a bag of presents and baby clothes, at Christmas! I've just had to email my mum and ask for receipts for the presents she bought us, how Christmassy is that?!? Some of the items I'll never replace, no matter how much compensation we receive.

    If there's any good to come out of this, it's an excuse to go shopping. And it's certainly distracted me from my post-Sydney depression. But I'm sad to say I've lost more than a bag full of stuff; a little bit of my Christmas spirit went with it, and that's irreplaceable too.

    Thursday, December 9, 2010

    Now You're One...

    I had this fear that if I didn't keep blogging while I was away that people would stop reading. That hasn't turned out to be the case fortunately but I did feel it was important, today of all days, to check in. Our time in Sydney has been a rollercoaster ride of loving then hating the place we used to call home, but I'll write more about that later.

    Today I have to write to acknowledge that it is my beautiful boy's first birthday! I looked at him last night smiling up at me and was overwhelmed with love and pride. He's by far the best thing I've ever done and I'm amazed every day by how much he has grown and developed without any input from us. His personality has bits of both of us but he is a unique and special individual, and I never expected that from a 1 year old. Every day he gets better and better and I really feel blessed to have him in my life, and to have the opportunity to spend so much time getting to know him. We have been attached at the hip this week, on our own in a studio apartment in Sydney. He has been a bit unsettled by the trip and hasn't let me out of his sight. It's nice to be so needed but at the same time I'd really like a bit of peace to go to the loo and have a shower! I'm afraid it's not going to be a pleasant birthday for him but it will certainly be memorable. We're both sick with different bugs and have spent most of the day so far asleep. It's a far cry from the fun day with friends that I had planned but I figure, since he's too young to know any different, we can always celebrate another time.

    I realised earlier today, with just a hint of irony, that I spent the 9th of December last year in pain and doped up as well, just in a different way. Despite that, it's still a very significant day. I'm sure it probably has a lot to do with hormones but I have nothing but fond memories of the day our son came into our lives, and his birthday will always have meaning for me, more so than my own ever has. I'd love to share the story of his birth with you all but I am about to collapse with exhaustion so it will have to wait for another day. I do, however, want to say how thrilled I am to be celebrating this milestone. I thought I'd be a bit sad at having to admit that my baby was not a baby anymore, but the opposite is true. He's such a sweet, good-natured little boy that I couldn't ask for more. Except maybe more time. Waiting for J to arrive was the longest wait of my life and as soon as he was here it was like life went into fast-forward. I cannot believe it's been a year since our lives changed so dramatically, for the better, forever. I want time to slow down but at the same time I can't wait to see what the next year holds. Happy Birthday my lovely boy.

    Wednesday, December 1, 2010

    The Tyranny of Distance

    I love Christmas. Mostly the few weeks leading up to it, the day itself is always an anti-climax, but everything else, the carols, the shopping, the food, is the highlight of my year. I've decked the blog in honour of the season and I'll be dedicating a few posts to the good, the bad and the ugly of Christmas this month, but today I want to write about travelling, something many of us do at this time of year.

    We're leaving tonight for Sydney and we'll be away for two weeks. I'm stressed and anxious about the flight, I'm not organised enough, and as much as I'm looking forward to the time away (especially given the horrendous state of HK's air this week!) I'd rather just stay where I am. I always go through this trauma for a few days before going to Australia; the thought of repatriating just for a short time always brings up mixed emotions for me and there are times when I think it would be easier just to stay in Hong Kong. They say that home is where the heart is, and I definitely feel like I would be at home anywhere as long as D and J were with me. But there is a part of me that will always belong in Sydney. As much as I love going back to visit I know it can never be the same as it was when we lived there. People have changed, we have changed, and life has gone on without us, but at the same time everything is so familiar and the same. It's strange going back and having to stay in hotels and hire cars, it makes me feel homeless. At the same time I feel comfortable because I know my way around, but I feel like I don't belong. It unsettles me and I feel like I'm being pulled in two directions. I want to stay and pick up where I left off, I want my son to grow up on the street we used to live on and I want our friends to get to know him. For a long time I refused to acknowledge on the Australian immigration departure card that I was merely a "visitor," I always ticked the box next to "resident departing temporarily." I held onto the hope that I would return sooner rather than later, and was in complete denial about the fact that I was no longer a resident in my own country.

    I go through this angst every time I go back. I torture myself by window shopping at real estate agencies, and spending quality time in all my favourite spots. Then the reality sinks in and I realise that when we visit Sydney we see her at her best. Our friends all make time to see us, we've saved up so we have more cash than we would if we were paying rent, we don't have to battle traffic or work in dead-end jobs every day. We don't get involved in the politics of the place or rely on the local infrastructure in any way, it's all good when you're just a "visitor." I also struggle at the other end of a trip, when I have to come back to HK, and my husband has to drag me kicking and screaming onto the plane (quite embarrassing sometimes...). On returning to Hong Kong I slip into this depressed fog for a few days; I don't unpack, I mope about the house complaining, "it's not like this in Sydney," and "when I was in Sydney I could buy this/do that/go there/be happy..." (yes, I'm a delight to live with). Viewing a place through holiday eyes is very much the same as wearing rose coloured glasses, and I have to constantly remind myself that if we did stay in Australia life would be much much harder. Not to mention all that we'd be leaving behind.

    The fact that our families are there is the main reason we go back as often as we do, but it adds to the emotional wrench I feel at both ends of a trip. It's lovely that people care and that they want to spend time with us. I would complain a lot more if we went back and no one made a fuss. My father-in-law will be meeting us at the airport on Thursday and I'm absolutely delighted that someone will be at the gate to greet us for the first time since we moved here 3 years ago. Of course we want to see as many people as we can but we've learned from experience that it can be absolutely exhausting trying to please everyone. Despite the fact that that's simply impossible to achieve, we do still tie ourselves in knots trying, but we always end up disappointing someone. No matter how much running around we do, we can never see all of our friends and all of our families, and we're often forced to make a choice between the people we want to see and the people we have to see. I always leave feeling as if I could've spent an extra month there and still missed people. Being there reminds me of all the people we're missing while we're away, the babies we don't get to watch grow up, the family members who grow older every day, and whose time is limited. I'm so happy to see everyone but so sad at the same time. Noticing that my father's hair is greyer and my mother is thinner every time we see them, that I've been away long enough to notice these changes, breaks my heart. It sounds completely selfish but one year I'd really like to go back and not see anyone, to avoid the heartache. I'd love to take my boys to a small beachside town and have a proper Australian holiday, just the three of us, another impossible dream.

    It's not just the emotional aspect of the journey that takes a toll. It's a real physical and logistical nightmare sometimes. Our first trip back to Australia with J was a marathon effort. We flew from Hong Kong to Sydney, then Brisbane, then Canberra and back to Brisbane again. J racked up more air miles in that month than most people do in a year. We also spent several hours driving to places outside of the capital cities. The poor little guy was so overwhelmed and exhausted by it all that it took weeks for him to adjust when we came home. When we went to Melbourne in June we decided that we'd stay in one place and ask people to come to us. It went well (still completely disruptive for J's routine, just less exhausting) but there were a few family members who couldn't come and see us, and that has complicated things even more for this next trip. If we tried to fit everyone in we'd literally spend most of our time in the country on planes or in cars travelling to and fro, all for a brief visit, where we'd probably be greeted with a comment like "what a pity you can't stay longer."

    Unless you've lived overseas and had to return home with a small child in tow, it's hard to comprehend exactly what's involved. Some family members have never travelled and they seem to think it's much simpler than it actually is. "Just jump on a plane," they say. We've had a few visitors come through Hong Kong since we've been living here, and while we wouldn't want everyone rocking up on our doorstep, it would be much easier if more of our family came to us. I don't think you can fully appreciate how difficult it can be to travel overseas (packing, check-in, immigration, 9 hour economy class flight etc) with a baby until you've done it for yourself. It's an exercise on the scale of a small military operation. I'd like to think that there would be fewer demands placed on our time if more people understood how little of it we have and how complicated it can be. Maybe that's just wishful thinking, or maybe that's a selfish way of looking at it, either way a little time spent in our shoes would benefit a few people.

    Now that I've done nothing but complain I do have to say that I can't wait to get back to the city I love so very much. I'm going to take my son to Bronte Beach, walk along Sydney Harbour every morning with a coffee and my beautiful boy, I'll shop until I drop in the malls that have everything I've not been able to buy in Hong Kong, I'll eat in my favourite cafes and laugh till I cry with friends I haven't seen all year. Then we'll go and see my parents and the town I grew up in. We'll look out over the vast open plains and breath deep lungfuls of fresh country air, we might even convince Pop to take us out to get a Christmas tree. We'll sit with my Nanna and she'll tell me stories of when her babies where J's age and I'll probably cry when I say goodbye, because she hasn't been well this year and she and I were cut from the same cloth. And my husband won't have to drag me kicking and screaming onto the plane because we don't live there anymore. Hong Kong, for better or worse, is home.

    Sunday, November 28, 2010

    The Days of Our Lives

    I was speaking to someone recently and she asked me if I was still blogging regularly. She said that she initially thought the project was a little ambitious and had wondered to herself if anyone's life can really be "that interesting." With that in mind, today's post is dedicated to the minutiae of my life (which is apparently what this blog is all about), and you can be the judges of whether or not it's at all interesting!

    J woke at 5 again this morning. We're not sure what's suddenly changed but this new routine is not working out for us at all!  I spoke to my friend K about this yesterday and she told me that she gets her boys up at 6, gives them a bottle and puts them straight back to bed. They then get up somewhere between 7.30 and 9 for breakfast. This sounded pretty good to me so I decided to give it a try. J loved the early bottle but would not go back to sleep. We battled for an hour before he crashed but he was up again by 7.30. He passed out around 10 and missed playgroup so I had to take him out in the afternoon. We went to see the triplets but after the early start and only one nap, J was a very grumpy boy indeed. He was in bed by 6.30 and I wasn't far behind him. I think tomorrow we'll go back to what we were doing; ignoring him till 6.30, or until he started shouting at us to come and get him up.

    The day started for us at 3.30am. This did not bode well. J woke up crying and couldn't be consoled. We gave him another bottle, and had flashbacks to the days when we were up at that hour every night. In the end I got into the cot with him, an exercise in bendy gymnastics, and rubbed his back till he finally fell asleep around 5. D got up to him at 7 and I got a sleep in, a rare treat but well earned! Our helper was off today so while J napped this morning I tidied up, baked a cake, vacuumed and still had time for a shower! Definitely feeling like supermum today. We missed playgroup again but went to the playground in Mui Wo, which J just loves. He chased another little boy around and came home filthy and exhausted. I was pretty wrecked too but had to leave the boys at home and head to Discovery Bay for the 2nd half of a CPR/First Aid course I've been doing. I did a proper first aid certification several years ago but I never renewed it. I always thought I'd know what to do in an emergency, but if a child was involved I'd probably end up flapping my arms about shouting "help, help!" This course was invaluable, and the procedures for CPR have been simplified so much since I last took the course, now anyone can do it, and should. My helper also did the course and we both agree it was invaluable. I just pray we never have to use our new skills. I came home and watched my little guy sleeping for a while before heading to bed.

    I remember reading somewhere that if a baby is habitually waking every night at the same time you should wake them an hour earlier to reset their body clocks. Well, J woke this morning at 6.30, so even though it wasn't intentional, I think yesterday's early start probably did just that. Today we realised that our little man is officially a walker. He still wobbles quite a bit and crawls when he wants to get somewhere quickly but he's walking all the time. He went from taking a few steps here and there to walking across the room so quickly, it almost happened overnight. We filmed him walking towards me, with the biggest, proudest grin on his face and emailed it to the grandparents. We spent most of the day today organising our upcoming trip to Sydney. We fly out on the 1st and it feels like we still have so much to do. There are so many people we want to catch up with, and so many family members who want to see us. It always feels like we spend our time trying to please everyone and we end up disappointing someone. I'm trying not to let it worry me, but I can't help feeling like it'd be easier just to stay home...

    Another relatively uneventful day. I have been working on an article for Playtimes magazine, and I finished my first draft today. It still needs a lot of work but I'm very pleased with my efforts, and even more impressed that I finished a draft 6 weeks before the deadline! We took J out shopping today. He's still at an age where a trip to the supermarket and a ride in a shopping trolley counts as an outing. We decided to have some lunch while we were out but it wasn't quite the leisurely seaside meal we used to have once upon a time. J was a bit cranky and restless, he hates sitting still, but once we started feeding him from our plates he was quite content. He played with a drinking straw for about 15 minutes and we ended up having a lovely time. He has started to reject lumps and chunks in his food so we're back to purees this week. At the same time he'll eat anything we're eating. Last night he had spaghetti and tuna off D's plate. I'm not sure he could eat a whole meal of it but we're going to start trying more grown-up food when we're away. D went off to work tonight and he'll be in LA till Sunday night. I had to trim his moustache before he left, it's getting a bit unruly now. He's growing for Movember and has raised quite a bit of money. I don't think he had any idea what he was getting himself into when he drunkenly declared at the rugby that he was going to grow a mo for the month, but I'm very proud of him for following through!

    The little man woke early again today but it meant that he had an early nap, so we finally made it to playgroup. When we got home I spent some time rearranging the furniture in his room, something I've been wanting to do since we moved in. I was sick and had a newborn baby when we moved so everything was done for me. We had a huge wardrobe in J's room and D laid out the furniture differently to how I would've done it. It's always bothered me and this week I was determined to rectify it (while my husband was away and couldn't argue with me). I think it's important that little people have their own space. I hated that we used J's room to store our crap, and I felt like he deserved better. So with our helper by my side, I put things right, and I'm so happy with how the room looks now. By 2pm J and I were both pretty tired so we had an afternoon nap. J's favourite game at the moment is hiding things under the sofa or behind the curtains. He hides something and holds his hands up and makes a sound that we know means "where is it?" Tonight while he was eating his dinner he was repeating 'daddadadadad' over and over, then he stopped, looked at me, held up his hands and said "where is he?" It's only been in the last month or so that J has started to notice that his dad goes away. He gets very excited when Daddy comes home (as do I), and I'm starting to wonder how long it will be before we gets tantrums when Daddy leaves...

    J slept last night from 7pm-6am, and I took that as a sign that he also loves his new room. We're on our own for the whole weekend so we took the dog for a walk and while J had his morning nap I did the dishes and tidied up. I don't mind being on my own now, and it's definitely manageable, but it does make it harder to achieve anything. We went out to Tung Chung, something I hate doing on the weekend but couldn't avoid. We went to Taste and J was quite happy until we got to the  checkout. Of course there were about a million people in the queue and I had to try a few different tricks to avoid a complete meltdown. In the end I pulled the straw off a juice box and he played with that till we were done. Unfortunately I realised at the checkout that I had had a mummy-brain moment the day before and hadn't noticed. I had been at Park N' Shop on Friday (yes, we do go to the supermarket an awful lot!) and paid with my card to get cash out. Only, they didn't give me my cash and I didn't notice. So after Tung Chung we made a quick trip to Mui Wo where I explained my dilemma and the helpful staff at Park N' Shop corrected their mistake. Thank goodness they were helpful, I don't know how I would've explained to my husband that I left $500 at the supermarket! After that a coffee and a quiet afternoon were in order. I also weighed myself today and the scales (might be broken) showed that I had hit a 10 year low, so I celebrated with pizza and chocolate for dinner.

    J didn't have the best night's sleep last night so we both woke up at 6am feeling pretty shabby. After breakfast I ran upstairs to get my glasses so we could go out for a walk and "had a fall" on the way back down. It was the kind of fall that knocks the wind out of you and breaks hips in older people, and the only thing that stopped me from bursting into tears was J standing at the bottom of the stairs with a look that was equal parts concern and impatience. I brushed off my bruised ego (and elbow and bum) and we went out. Still feeling pretty rotten I decided that there was only one thing to do when we got home; put on Christmas carols and kick off Pudding Sunday. But that's another story...

    Wednesday, November 24, 2010

    New Beginnings

    Firstly I have to say a huge thank you to our friends who came and helped us celebrate J's birthday last weekend. It was a lovely afternoon and even though our little man was a little grumpy, in the end we all had such a good time. Looking at the photos of the 3 of us together cutting the cake, it amazed me how quickly the year has passed. Our son is not our baby anymore, he's a toddler, and a very cute one at that. It was great to have our friends together to celebrate that.

    Our friends all ignored the "no presents" remark on the invitation and J received some great gifts, but one present stood out amongst them all, and that was a special gift for his parents. It was a charming wicker basket, disguised as a cardboard box, containing all sorts of grown-up goodies; wine, chocolate, fruit, cheese, and oysters. It came with the warning that the contents might lead to romance, and that romance can lead to first birthdays! It was an incredibly thoughtful gift and we were both really touched that someone had thought to acknowledge that we deserved a treat for the last 12 months. The sweet couple who gave us this gift don't have children (yet) and my first thought was a cynical one. Yes, it's all fun and games with your liquor and aphrodisiacs, but where's the romance nine months later when you have your knees in the air and a human being is coming out of you headfirst and hungry!? Little did they know, I thought to myself. Then, very quickly, the romantic in me took over. I started thinking about the start of a new life, the different ways our babies are created, and I loved the idea that our childless friends still have hope that a little bit of romance and some quality time is all it takes. And I realised that, even though we're not thinking about baby number two yet, I share that hope.

    We've had friends who have fallen pregnant without even trying, by accident or design. Others fall pregnant easily enough, but have trouble staying that way. Some babies are planned and carefully timed, with a mummy and a daddy who are loving and committed. While others are the result of a chance encounter and too much of a good thing. Some people are born to reproduce and have more kids than they can cope with. While others try desperately for years to create a family without any luck. So many people have the will but lack the way, and need input from others to make their dream a reality. Some babies are made in a petrie dish, after their parents have been put through gruelling and very unromantic fertility treatment. With all of that in mind, I'm definitely hoping, for ourselves and our friends whose families aren't yet complete, that it really is as simple as a romantic night in.

    Friday, November 19, 2010

    Birthday Parties and other Frivolities

    A warning for those who are pressed for time: This is going to be one of those posts that isn't about much at all and ends with me waxing lyrical about how gorgeous my son is.

    Tomorrow we're hosting a pre-birthday birthday party for J. We'll be in Sydney for his actual birthday and we wanted to celebrate with our friends here in some way. I read somewhere, in a party planning guide, that you should invite one guest for every year of the child's age. Well, one person just didn't seem like a proper party, and my son's best friends are triplets so that piece of advice was promptly ignored. I did however, want to keep things fairly quiet and low key so I only invited a handful of our closest friends and neighbours. My husband was disappointed by my list and went on to invite just about everyone we've ever met in Hong Kong. This lead to a fairly significant argument over invitation etiquette; my husband being of the belief that it's best to invite everyone to avoid offending someone. He was sure many of our single friends would have better things to do on a Saturday afternoon than come to a kids birthday party, and would politely decline. I'm not a fan of the token invite, preferring not to take that chance and risk ending up with 40 people at my son's first birthday, but the invites had already been sent. So we didn't get off to a great start but in the end we are expecting about 20 people, parents and kids, which I think is perfect.

    I worked for a few days this week and my husband and I were both struck down (at different times) by a nasty stomach bug so the week was a little stressful. It was also the week the December roster came out so we were busy dealing with several sets of parents and trying to coordinate our upcoming trip to Sydney. As it turned out we simply ended up disappointing everyone (a separate blog post on this topic is coming), so the week was unpleasant as well as stressful. In amongst all that I did do a lot of planning for my boy's big day but very little preparation. I spent today running around buying groceries and trying to find party supplies (impossible on Lantau and in Elements), the whole time worrying that J was going to be tired and cranky and that the whole thing had gotten to be too big a deal. I pressed on and finally tracked down balloons and party bags at the toy shop in Mui Wo (thanks Bizzie Lizzie). Despite being ever so helpful, the lady that runs the shop mentioned prizes for games and I smacked my head in disbelief: yet another thing to worry about that I hadn't even thought of! I wanted to write tonight about the unnecessary pressure I've put on myself this week to be supermum and to put on a great party for my little one. I remembered all the parties I've been to and the little things that other parents have done to make them special; I wanted my party to be in that same league somehow. I spent the drive home worrying about pass-the-parcel and age-appropriate music and walked in the door swearing that J's first birthday party would be the last.

    Then I started thinking about why it is we were so keen to celebrate this milestone. It's because it's his first birthday, his first ever. My little boy was born (almost) a year ago and he's a fantastic human being who deserves to be celebrated, whether he knows it or not. When I was getting J ready for bed tonight he started playing with the ipod that we keep in his room for his sleepytime music, and despite the fact that there wasn't anything coming out of it he started bouncing up and down, his idea of dancing. I turned it on and his little face lit up and he did his best Stevie Wonder impersonation, swaying from side to side. At that moment he was so cute and sweet that I thought my heart would burst! This whole week he's kept me smiling, no matter how stressful things have been. And that's why I'm throwing him a party tomorrow.

    While I'm at it, I think we deserve to celebrate for ourselves too. We survived a year of colic, reflux, sleep deprivation, baby flu (worse than man flu), pureed vegies on the carpet, porridge in our hair, and everyone who is biologically related to us feeling as though they have a right to be a part of our son's life (when it's actually more like a privilege that has to be earned).  The best part is that we survived all that and we couldn't be happier.

    I realised that my son is too young to remember that he even had a first birthday. And I also realised that all of the children coming tomorrow are under the age of three and most of them will just be happy to be outside playing with their friends. So, there'll be cake but it'll come out of a packet. There'll be food, but it'll be healthy, tasty stuff for the grown-ups. There won't be games, but we've hired an expensive beach-side patch of grass for the kids to play on. There will be party bags, but there isn't much in them. And if my son is tired and cranky we'll bring him home and put him to bed, and years from now we'll tell him that his first birthday was awesome. I'm already planning next year's...

    Sunday, November 14, 2010

    I ♥ HK

    Ok, as promised here are my top ten things I like a lot about this city:

    1. Diversity: Hong Kong is truly the most multicultural city I have ever lived in. I definitely think assumptions are made about certain nationalities, or groups of people, based on stereotypes, but I've never witnessed or experienced outright racism (which can be rampant in Australia sadly). Our group of friends here includes people from Canada, South Africa, India, Europe, Indonesia, Sweden, Japan, New Zealand, just to name a few. One of my favourite things about teaching here was seeing kids from so many different backgrounds working and playing together, and I love that my son will grow up being exposed to such different cultures and ideas.

    2. Contrasts: Despite being a very modern, metropolitan city, there is another side to this place that not many people expect to see. We live on South Lantau island, 25 minutes by ferry from Hong Kong proper. I guess it's what's considered a rural idyll by local standards. We live across the street from the beach and on the other side of us are two large peaks covered in hiking trails and untameable wilderness. Every day a herd of cattle makes their way down the road to feed, and there is a water buffalo habitat 5 minutes from here. It's so refreshing after a manic day in the city to come home and have to stop the car to let an impressively massive buffalo pass. The Lantau Bovine Association have the tough job of making sure these gorgeous creatures are treated well and that they receive veterinary care when necessary. You can find them on Facebook if you want to know more. Another contrast I love is the difference between the summer and winter here. Winter is cold and everything dies off, then suddenly, around April, with a little bit of rain it all bursts into life again. When the jungle's in full bloom it makes me wonder how anyone ever thought that building a city in amongst all that wilderness was a good idea.

    3. Shopping: Like a lot of things here, I have a love-hate relationship with shopping. You really have to be organised and in the right frame of mind. I find impulse buying a lot easier because I tend to be disappointed if I go out with a plan. Shopping does seem to be a national pasttime and you can buy just about anything from just about anywhere. I've been introduced to so many new brands, of clothes, accessories, household products, food, that are now my staples and I will genuinely miss them when I leave HK. Whether you're shopping on the street, in a mall, at the markets, the crowds can be overwhelming and I sometimes feel like I'm sitting in a car at an intersection trying to merge onto a busy highway; you just have to close your eyes, move forward and let the traffic take you with it. When you do manage to snag some bargains and make it home unscathed, it's all worth it!

    4. Proximity to the rest of the world: Having lived in Australia for 28 years it's great to live somewhere that's so close to everywhere else. I travelled to Europe when I was 20 and it took me two days just to get to London. My return journey from Dublin took 3 days, involved a car ride, ferry, train, bus and 4 flights, and I still had to spend 6 hours asleep in a transit lounge in Osaka. Here I can get on a plane after breakfast and arrive anywhere in Europe/Africa/America/Asia in the same day! We once went skiing in California, for a weekend! Admittedly that was a little extravagant but definitely do-able. The travel is one of the main reasons why we're here, and we can't wait to show J the world that lies just beyond our doorstep.

    5. Opportunity: We came here because the company my husband works for offered a package that was too good to refuse. In Sydney we were living simply but still beyond our means. We couldn't sustain the kind of lifestyle we had and move ahead financially. Hong Kong offered us the chance to pay off our debts, buy our own home and still have a life. We're not exactly wealthy but we're comfortable. I've met a lot of people here who have been offered opportunities that they wouldn't otherwise have had if they'd stayed in their home countries. Many have started businesses and are succeeding at things they only dreamt about doing before. There's a feeling here that you can do anything you want to, and I'm finally starting to feel that all the sacrifices, everything we gave up to come here, have been worth it.

    6. Blue sky days: I hate the pollution here. I've said it before but I'll say it again, it's the one thing that will make me leave one day. If it's possible to get SAD (seasonal affective disorder) from too much smog, that's how I feel about it. Over the summer we were treated to a long stretch of good weather and clear skies and we saw how spectacular the city could look. It is a gorgeous part of the world, when you can see it.

    7. Xiao Long Bao: Chinese pulled noodles in a clear soup with pork won tons (from Crystal Jade, IFC) is on my list of top ten favourite dishes. It's even better when you get seated at a round table with a dozen other single diners all eating an array of mouth watering dishes, expertly wielding their chopsticks and cups of jasmine tea. I have bemoaned the lack of good quality fresh produce here but the abundance of amazing regional specialities is a definite plus.

    8. Cleanliness: I've seen people pick their noses, floss their teeth and cut their nails in public here and the throat clearing is just stomach churning! But, it's one of the cleanest cities I've ever been to. Since SARS there has been a massive public education campaign to encourage people to "use cough manners" and keep the streets clean. Public areas are regularly sanitised and disinfected and it's rare to see litter on the streets. There's a silent army of workers out there every day cleaning, gardening, maintaining public areas and doing a damn fine job of keeping the city shiny and hygienic. At the height of swine flu last year we went back to Melbourne. On arriving at the airport I was horrified by the state of the place. The floors were dirty, the bins were overflowing and there was not a cleaner in sight. It really opened my eyes to how clean HK really is.

    9. Safety: I feel very safe here. I went out last night and caught a late train home, and at no point did I feel a need to stay in well-lit areas or look over my shoulder. Crime rates are very low and minor crimes like bag-snatching and muggings are rare. People here are just far too honest to consider breaking the law or hurting someone. I really like feeling so secure, it should be that way everywhere. The public transport is also safe and clean. The trains make Sydney's transport system look like something out of the dark ages.

    10. The people: The local culture is so very different to our own. The education system has a very different focus and creates a unique mindset which can be infuriating to Westerners. There's a lot that's difficult to understand and there are days when it's impossible to achieve anything because what you're asking is just too hard to explain. En masse, the local people are simply very different to us. I could go on, in detail, but I'm trying to be diplomatic and positive. Despite the obstacles, when you get to speak to someone one-on-one and really get to know them, you find a race of people who are funny, hard working, intelligent, quirky and kind. They have a deep respect for their culture and family, which is at the core of everything they do. They are a full of contrasts, preferring to "save face" rather than risk a confrontation, while at the same time not really caring what anyone else thinks. There's a good reason why China is such a powerhouse and it has so much to do with their work ethics and values. It's a truly fascinating culture, filled with equally fascinating subcultures. I could live here another 20 years and still not fully understand what it is that makes the local people tick, but I would really enjoy trying to figure it out.

    So there you have it. I'd love to hear from you if you have something to add to this list. Have a great week everyone!

    Monday, November 8, 2010

    Hong Kong - A Survival Guide

    Firstly, I have to mention the changes I've made to the appearance of the blog. I spend so much time looking at the page that I was starting to get a little bored. I discovered some fantastic backgrounds and was inspired to make a few changes, it's a bit like getting a new haircut. I hope you like what I've done and I'd love to hear what you think.

    Secondly, I've realised that I've been on my soapbox a bit lately, and I'm probably starting to sound like I don't like Hong Kong all that much. It's true, I struggle from time to time, and I'm intensely homesick as Christmas looms but there are a lot of things I love about this place we now call home. I've decided to write a 2 part series on life in HK. Today's post will be a guide to the top 10 things you need as a parent living in this city. Stay tuned for a post later in the week where I'll give my top 10 things I love about HK. For today, the things you need to survive parenthood in Hong Kong:

    1. A decent stroller. Most people I know, including us, own two. One for jogging or going for walks close to home, the other for trips out and about. We recently bought a Maclaren Quest: without a doubt THE best purchase we have made for J. It's light, zippy, easy to fold and comfortable. It reclines nicely for sleeping and has a basket for shopping underneath. It's also so small and light that most cab drivers will let you put it in the backseat beside you instead of in the boot (trunk). There are a vast number of similar light-weight strollers available in places like Bumps to Babes, Mothercare, Eugene Club and Toys R' Us, but they are more expensive here than anywhere else. Check out

    2. In a similar vein, a good carrier is also a must. Public transport is not all that convenient when you're using a stroller so it's worth investing in a carrier of some kind. We have an Ergo, which J and my husband love, and it can be used until he weighs around 15kgs. I find it a bit hard on my back and prefer a Baby Bjorn style carrier but they're apparently not great for growing spines. Whatever you prefer, a carrier is an essential piece of equipment.
    3. Information: You need to know what to do, where to go, how to find whatever it is you need and who can help you, especially when you're new to HK. There are a few expat websites/forums out there and I have found them invaluable. AsiaXpat is great for buying and selling second-hand goods while GeoBaby is a great source of info on all things pregnancy and baby related. Check out: or My favourite website for HK specific parenting tips is (as I've mentioned before) Little Steps:

    4. A coffee machine is also a must if you like your caffeine and you're fussy about how it's delivered. There are some great places to get a decent coffee here but they are few and far between. Pacific Coffee shops are everywhere, and while I'd rate them higher than Starbucks, they're not for the true coffee connoisseur. I like Simply Life in IFC (although it does depend on who's working on the day), LGB (various locations), and Habitu (also a few of them around) for coffee out and about. Otherwise we rely on our Nespresso. I've just done some research on whether or not they use Fairtrade coffee and was pretty appalled by what I discovered. If you're interested in being an informed consumer let me know and I'll pass some info on. If you'd rather just drink a great cup of coffee at home every day you won't regret welcoming a coffee machine, Nespresso or otherwise, into your home: This is one appliance that won't end up in the back of the pantry gathering dust.

    5. A Domestic Helper. I have mentioned some of the challenges associated with becoming an employer of a domestic helper in previous posts, but ours is really a member of our family for better or worse. She has made life here much easier given the lack of family around us. Being able to hire someone to look after the housework so I can get on with the job of looking after my son is one of the biggest perks of living in HK. 

    6. A good quality, well-stocked nappy bag. We have one from gr8x that opens out to a change mat. ( I find it a bit bulky and there isn't much room for carrying the things I need, like a purse, phone etc so I end up carrying two bags. But, it is great on flights and when you're out trying to use those cold, hard change tables in shopping centres. I also have a small bag that has everything in it for short trips. Things that I always carry with me in HK (apart from the usual nappies, wipes, food etc) are a jacket or muslin cloth to cover your little one indoors (HK air-conditioning can be very chilly even in the middle of summer), clips or cords that attach to dummies/soothers and toys so you don't have to keep picking them up off the floor, and antiseptic, no-rinse hand sanitiser. 

    7. A great GP or access to a baby clinic. There are vast differences in the quality of healthcare in clinics across HK. Public clinics are generally free and can be fine, but the doctors, in my opinion, tend to overreact and overprescribe. We see a private GP here and most things are 100% covered by our health insurance (except vaccinations unfortunately). She has known J since birth and it is so reassuring knowing that she knows his complete medical history every time we see her. I had a terrifying experience at my one and only trip to a public clinic with J and won't risk it again. Baby clinics are also a great way to keep an eye on your little one's progress, talk to professionals, and meet other mums. A number of medical centres run them on a weekly basis and there's also a clinic, among many other things, at Annerley ( 

    8. Playgroups/playdates: To be honest I'm not sure what it's like for those living on HK island or Kowloon-side but here on Lantau there's really no such thing as taking the kids to the park. There's the beach (if you don't mind dead fish and buffalo poo) and a couple of small play areas, but the only way to allow your little ones to really let off steam is to take them to organised playgroups. I've already mentioned the playgroups we take J to but there are a few other specialised play centres in HK that are worth a mention. Two that have been recommended are Playtown in Pok Fu Lam (, and Roly Pollies in Causeway Bay ( There are also many others around that offer play time in English and Mandarin if you're keen to encourage bilingualism from a young age. I would love to hear from anyone who knows of other places, especially those closer to South Lantau.

    And finally 9 and 10: Patience and a sense of humour. Most people here are polite and some can be really quite helpful. But there are others who will push past you, bumping the stroller to get through an open door before it closes. Some days I feel like people are being deliberately unhelpful and others I feel completely invisible. Accepting these things as part of life in a city that has 7 million people crammed into a relatively small area will help you avoid getting too stressed about it. I also find it helps to leave yourself plenty of time to do anything, especially when you're out with a little one. I'm a huge fan of going out on days when I don't actually need to do anything, when we can just wander around and watch the hustle and bustle, and truly appreciate this fairly unique and fascinating place. 

    Tuesday, November 2, 2010

    Married to the Job

    Friends might remember me having a rant a few months ago when my employment status was altered on an application form. I had listed my occupation as "stay at home mum" and the person taking my form crossed it out and wrote "housewife." I had a similar experience recently when applying for a library card. I had the option of ticking a number of boxes in the employment section of the form and the only category that applied to me was again, "housewife." I could've lied on either of these forms and declared myself to be a professor of physics or a self-employed entrepreneur because it's really nobody's business what I do with my time. But I do like to be honest on official documents, especially as we are living very close to the PRC, and you never know who's paying attention.

    I strenuously object to being labelled a "housewife" and I apologise if any of you out there wear that term with pride. I mean no offence, I just feel that it's a very outdated term. It instantly evokes images of 1950's wives greeting their husbands with slippers and the day's papers, keeping the kids busy while hoovering and cooking three-course gourmet meals every night. The term itself implies that we're tied to the house in some way, that rather than being a conscious decision, staying at home is our "ball and chain." I'd like to believe that our mothers and grandmothers burnt their bras in the 70's so that staying at home could be a choice for women today. I think it bothers me so much here in Hong Kong because a number of their laws and rules in relation to marriage and family are quite archaic, so it stands to reason that their definition of a housewife is as outdated as mine. There is no recognition of any relationship outside of a marriage between a man and a woman. There is no such thing as de facto status, let alone acknowledgement of a gay marriage. If an expat man is working in Hong Kong, his partner is not eligible for a "dependent" visa unless they get married or she finds an employer to sponsor her. I also object to being labelled a "dependent" but that's another story. We have also had friends here who have had to prove they were married before undergoing fertility treatment. It seems you're not entitled to start a family unless you're officially husband and wife. I might feel differently about being called a housewife in a country with more liberal views, but the limitations placed on what constitutes a family here has me on the warpath.

    My husband told me recently that he thinks the only women who don't like the term are housewives themselves. He also suggested that I come up with another, more corporate sounding term, like "Manager of Domestic Affairs." He wasn't taking me seriously at the time, but I do quite like the sound of that. I can't imagine how well that would go down with the bank manager or the immigration office in HK, but it does sound infinitely more important than "housewife," and is probably a much more accurate reflection on what it is we stay-at-home mums actually do. We're not just mums; we're nurses, pharmacists, cleaners, managers, taxi drivers, chefs, teachers, entertainers, diplomats, and jugglers. We work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, without holidays or annual bonuses. I don't know many CEO's that work under those conditions.

    Since becoming a parent I definitely feel as if I'm managing the household and I have become a lot more organised. I have a calendar on the fridge which outlines every member of the household's movements for the whole month; playgroup, work, doctor's appointments, social engagements, everything is on there. Partly because I have a tendency to forget things if I don't write them down, but also because we're so very busy these days. I may not do the housework myself every day but I do make sure that someone does it, and that it's done to my high standards. And I do it myself on weekends. I also do the grocery shopping, plan meals for the three of us and make sure that we all have clothes to wear, as well as buying all of J's nappies and our cleaning products online. I know where my husband will be and when he is working, even when he doesn't. I have J's routine down to a fine art and I organise 99% of our get-togethers with friends. If I left that job to my husband we wouldn't have any friends!

    I'm aware that I may sound like I'm running a small dictatorship, but I'm sure the parents among you completely understand. I do take my role as "Manager of Domestic Affairs" very seriously but only because I enjoy it so much. If I wasn't so organised and engaged I'm afraid I might be bored at home all day. As it is, I love what I do. J is teething at the moment and hasn't been sleeping well at all. He woke up crying several times last night, and even though there were times when my husband got up to him, the only thing that calmed him down was a cuddle with his Mummy. Despite the sleep deprivation, there was nothing else I would rather do, and I don't think there's a label big enough for that kind of commitment.

    Friday, October 29, 2010

    Is Prevention Better than Cure?

    I hate injections. Not to the point where I'll avoid them, but I do get myself into a bit of a state if I know I need one. It's especially bad now that I have a child who needs them on a fairly regular basis for the first few years of his life. Despite my reservations I've made the decision to go and get a flu vaccination next week. Mainly because I'm spending a lot of time in schools and playgroups, surrounded by children, these days, and also because the years when I haven't had the shot, I've been so sick that doctor's visits were a weekly occurrence. I'm in two minds about whether or not to give J the flu vax as well, and I'm not sure I can explain why.

    The issue of vaccines for babies and children generates heated debate and impassioned argument, and has a tendency to divide opinions. Despite advances in modern medicine and the number of serious illnesses that have all but been eradicated because of vaccines, there are still people out there who don't believe in vaccinating themselves or their children. We recently watched a documentary about it which basically made the naysayers look like complete idiots. One mother argued that since polio is virtually non-existent, there was no point continuing to vaccinate against it. She seemed oblivious to the fact that the disease is rare because of vaccines. There was also footage of an anti-vaccine protest where protesters were driven by the "links" between the MMR vaccine and autism. One scientist published one article several years ago (which has since been retracted) discussing this alleged link which lead to a world wide backlash against vaccines. His theories have since been disproven many times over but a lingering doubt remains.

    Type the words "vaccine and autism" into Google and you'll be hit with an overwhelming number of sites dedicated to the argument over whether or not there is in fact a link between the two. It's quite scary, so if you're a worrier like me, don't go there. I did however, read some interesting statistics while doing my "research." In the early 1900's whooping cough (pertussis) killed 5 in every 1000 babies before their 5th birthday in the U.S. When a vaccine was introduced the number of deaths declined by 70%. In the US, due to the backlash against vaccines that has occurred in recent years, the number of cases is again rising, to the point where they declared an epidemic in California last year. The World Health Organisation estimates that world wide 300,000 children die every year from this preventable disease, making it one of the leading causes of death in the world. Prior to modern vaccination, the child mortality rates for now preventable diseases was horrific (and in some countries it still is!). The number of alleged vaccine related autism cases pales into insignificance in comparison. I admit there is nothing insignificant about having your child diagnosed with autism, but the risks just don't add up when you consider the alternative: a world where the general population is no longer inoculated against these terrible diseases.

    I'm aware that I'm at risk of sounding like I'm sitting on the fence with what I'm about to say, but I'm not. I'm very clearly pro-vaccine but I do at times understand the point of view of those on the other side of the fence. Despite the fact that I consider myself to be quite rational, and knowing that vaccination is so necessary, I still feel slightly uncomfortable with the idea. It was tough watching my brand new baby being injected with a vaccine to prevent a disease he may never (god willing) be exposed to. A few days after he was born he was given a BCG shot to protect him against tuberculosis, an injection that creates a wound that stays around for months, and leaves a nasty scar that will be a permanent reminder that our son started life in a country still grappling with this terrible disease. Having my son vaccinated wasn't an issue for me, until he arrived. While I was pregnant I read about a young baby that had died after contracting whooping cough. She was too young to be vaccinated against it but happened to live in an area (northern rivers, NSW) where many parents had chosen not to vaccinate their children. She contracted it from a toddler who was visiting. If nothing else that story should be enough to convince anyone with doubts about vaccines that they really do save lives, so why isn't it that black and white?

    Personally I think it has more to do with the vaccines themselves than with the diseases they prevent. As with any medical treatment, I don't believe that we should accept vaccines without knowing what they do and what they contain. The arguments against vaccines that contain things like mercury (Thimerosal) as a preservative, are very valid, and we do have a right to know what's in them and why. Again, in the documentary we watched, there was a lot of blah blah about pharmaceutical companies and the money they make out of vaccines and it all being some sort of scheme to rort the public out of millions of dollars. After working in the pharmacy industry for several years I don't think this is a completely ludicrous suggestion, but it isn't enough of a reason to forego vaccines altogether. The schedule of vaccines is also used as a reason for not vaccinating. There have been times when I have wondered if it's really necessary to vaccinate against several diseases all at once.  It seems like an awful lot for a little body to cope with, and it's no wonder some children have reactions after their jabs. At the same time, I think I'd rather watch my son suffer the mild discomfort of an injection rather than the lifelong effects of hepatitis, or struggling for breath with whooping cough.

    So I guess after all that my point is this: vaccines are necessary, not just for the health of your own children but for the health of others, but we should also make it a point to inform ourselves about them and to keep the medical profession on their toes. I think the fact that we do argue about whether or not to vaccinate our children is a good thing; it proves that vaccines have done their job. If smallpox was still prevalent in society today there's no way we'd be arguing about vaccines; we'd do whatever we needed to do to protect our children.

    Sunday, October 24, 2010

    What's in a Name?

    It's not uncommon here, in Hong Kong and other parts of Asia, for people to choose a more "western" sounding name for themselves. Some try and find a name or word that closely resembles their actual name, like Chun might choose John, or Mei Lin might be Merilyn. Others often choose names that aren't all that common these days, like Doris, Albert or Kelvin. Then there are a few people who obviously put a lot of thought into the meaning behind the name they choose, and instead use actual words from the English language. In the recent past I have met, or heard of the following names: Rainbeau, Twinkle, Sugar, Suspense, Ice, Dolphin, Pop, Zenith, and Sunshine. Celebrities have been using unusual names for years (Apple, anyone?) but I have to admit that I do have a giggle when Breeze asks me to fasten my seatbelt, or when Diamond takes my coffee order. I've been thinking about it a lot lately and even though some of these names may seem strange to us, I think we put just as much thought into the names we choose for our children.

    I had my son's name chosen before I was even pregnant. I actually based it on a character from one of our all-time favourite TV shows. I know it sounds a bit corny but West Wing fans will understand. The character was a really good guy and I liked the way the name sounded. Our son's middle name was always going to be my maiden name and we loved the way the two names went together. As a teacher I found choosing names quite difficult. There was always some child who I thought of when a name was mentioned. There were quite a few names I was opposed to purely because I'd met one or two naughty children with those names. I also realised that I almost always had preconceived notions about a child based on their name. A Cosmo was bound to have a very different upbringing to a Christopher, and I anticipated different behaviours from both. Sometimes I was pleasantly surprised but not always. J's name was one of the few that I had no association with, I only knew nice kids with that particular name. I also wanted a name that would suit both a child and an adult, one that couldn't be used to tease him later on, and one that wasn't so common that there would be 5 others with the same name in his class at school.

    Even though I had my heart set on this particular name, my husband and I still spent hours poring over baby name books, just in case our baby came out and he didn't look like a J, or if he was, in fact, a she. We always said names out loud with the middle name and surname; we called it the Prime Minister/President test. If it didn't sound like the name of a future leader, it was dismissed. I had a really hard time finding an appropriate girl's name that I loved as much as I loved the name I chose for J, so we were lucky in the end that we had a boy, because a daughter may have remained nameless for a few weeks while we debated over the endless number of ways to spell Katelyn/Caitlin.

    We've known people who have the name of their child picked out months, even years, in advance like us. While I was pregnant I had a lot of people ask what names I had picked out but I was always very reluctant to share with some friends. Not because I was worried about them "stealing" the name but because most people are quite honest when it comes to their opinions on names. I mentioned a few potential names to some and was met with responses like, "Oh, I really don't like that name," or "I once knew a girl called ... and she was a complete b@#%h." One friend accused me of being a bit precious about it, and didn't think it was that big a deal ("people have babies every day!") but I knew it would always bother me if I gave my child a certain name knowing that friends or family members hated it. I decided it was better to wait until it was too late for them to comment. After the baby was born they would have to lie and say they loved it, right?

    Whether you're a Prince or a Peter, Mary or Mermaid, the name you have reflects who you are, and most of the time, a lot of thought has gone into it. In a way I like the idea of choosing a name that reflects a quality or even an object that you admire. Who wouldn't love a Hope or a Faith? I have no plans to name any of my future children after precious gems or confectionary, but I'm keeping an open mind.

    P.S. 16/4/10 - I recently learned, thanks to a young man named Promise, that some names that might seem unusual to us, are simply the English translation of a Chinese name. The meaning and thought behind it are the same, and that makes me like these wonderful names all the more.

    Wednesday, October 20, 2010

    It's Not Me, It's You

    I'm ashamed to admit it but I cheated this week, and it was good. I've been seeing a physiotherapist, G, for lower back pain for a couple of months now, but after a visit last week that did nothing for me, I decided it may be time for a change. This left me wondering, how can one affect this change without feeling the guilt of betrayal? I called to make one last appointment with G, to give it one more shot, but the day I was hoping to book turned out to be G's day off. Serendipity had smiled upon me! I had no choice but to make an appointment with someone else. I was able to make the break I had been contemplating, safe in the knowledge that I wasn't going to get caught. I went along yesterday, relieved to know that G wouldn't see me waiting to be treated by someone else. Any doubts about my indiscretion were quickly brushed aside as J massaged and stretched my aching back with expert hands. I came out of there feeling better than I had in months.

    I'm no expert when it comes to physio, but I know enough to know that it's a physically demanding profession that can often require some pretty serious manipulation and massage. I'm not sure if it's a cultural thing but G is Chinese and was very conservative when it came to remedial massage in more sensitive areas. In the half a dozen times that I saw G, she would only ever touch me between the waistband of my shorts and my shoulder blades, which was a problem given that the pain was in my pelvis and hamstrings. Now I have to work out how I can schedule all of my appointments with J on days when G isn't in. I don't want to hurt her feelings, but I can't bring myself to explain that it just wasn't working out.

    I know for a fact that it's not just me; I have spoken to friends who have had similar reservations about trying someone new. I witnessed a genuinely awkward moment at the doctor's last week. While I was sitting in the waiting room, one of the GPs came out and started chatting to the woman waiting next to me. It was obvious they knew each other well, and the woman seemed almost embarrassed when she admitted that she was there to see another GP. She hurriedly made an excuse, "I'm just getting a flu shot, it's nothing, I didn't want to bother you with it, you're so busy."  She was obviously feeling the same "cheater's remorse" that I'm trying to avoid. It's not just healthcare professionals either; cheating on your hairdresser can cause all sorts of grief and guilt as well. It's especially difficult when your new "expert" is in the same practice or salon as the old one. I used to see a hairdresser here in HK who was recommended by a friend (another potential minefield!), but after several cuts and no "wow" factor I decided I couldn't keep spending the money (he was really expensive!). One day I decided to try one of the lower-ranked stylists at the same salon. The new guy was cheaper and better, and I still go there, but only on the days I know the first guy isn't in.

    Why is it that we can't just admit to our service providers that we're no longer happy with their services? They are professionals after all, surely they can take the criticism. Perhaps they might even take note and make an effort to improve what they're providing. Do we sneak around, afraid of stepping on toes and hurting feelings out of our own sense of guilt? Or is it that we're hoping that if things don't work out with the new person, we can just slip right back in where we left off without any awkwardness? I've decided that whether it's my health or my hair, I'm not going to settle for anything less than the best, but only on Mondays.

    Saturday, October 16, 2010

    A Topic Close to My Heart

    Today I’m going to talk about boobs, among other things. My male readers will be disappointed to know that this post won’t be as titillating as you’re hoping, but reading it might encourage you to help out someone you know. 

    I know many mothers, and women in general, who don’t take the time to look after themselves. They get so busy juggling work and family, and running around trying to do everything for everyone, that they forget about their own needs. Sometimes it’s as simple as not making time to have coffee with a friend or getting a hair cut, but other times we ignore minor health issues because we don’t “have time” to go to the doctor. Admittedly I can’t put myself in that basket yet. I’ve been a complete hypochondriac since my son was born, mostly out of fear that something terrible will happen to me and I won’t get to see him grow up. I think it stems from a need to worry about something, and worrying about myself is far less terrifying than worrying about my boys.

    One of the things that drove me to the doctor’s office in a state of panic this year was a lump in one of my breasts. I was still breastfeeding at the time, so I knew it was probably related to that, but in the back of my mind was a niggling doubt that it might be more serious. After driving myself crazy looking up my symptoms on that most professional of medical databases - Google (I know, REALLY bad idea!), I saw my GP and she referred me to a specialist. I had an ultrasound and they actually found two more lumps, which did nothing to allay my fears, and the doctor drained them on the spot. He assured me it was “probably nothing” and sent me home to wait for the results. It was the longest three days of my life! In the end, the doctor was right, they turned out to be benign cysts, but I need to have another ultrasound in 12 months time, just in case.

    Breasts seem to be one of those body parts that most women are never happy with. They’re either too small, or too big, lopsided or droopy. We envy others who have what we want, and half the time they’d prefer what we have! I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with my boobs. I’ve been flat-chested all my life; the boys at school teased me and said I resembled an ironing board! It didn’t help that my Mum laughed out loud when I told her I thought I needed to start wearing a bra… As an adult I’ve learned a few tricks to avoid looking like a 12 year old and I’ve accepted that bikinis are not for me. When I was pregnant “the girls” looked impressive but failed to live up to expectations when it came to breastfeeding. Then the thought that something might be wrong with them made me realise just how attached to them I am (figuratively speaking).

    This experience frightened the living daylights out of me and has made me much more vigilant in checking for lumps on a regular basis. I don’t have a family history of breast cancer and I’m in a low-risk category, but I don’t want to take any chances. And neither should you. There are a number of great events in support of the Breast Cancer Foundation this month (including the sale at Bralicious, which I went to a few days ago) and I’m urging all of you, whether you’re a teeny-tiny A cup or a magnificently buxom DD, to check for lumps, have mammograms, do whatever you need to do to keep yourselves fit and healthy. And husbands, if you’re still reading, don’t let your wives use the excuse of not having enough time. Take care ladies and have a great weekend x

    Tuesday, October 12, 2010

    It's a Dog's Life

    Those of you who know us well have probably been wondering when I was going to mention the other member of our family, the P dog. Until J arrived she was our "baby" and the newest member of the family turned her little world upside down. I had no intention of adopting a dog but was doing volunteer work at a shelter a few years ago when I came across a scrappy, beaten up little thing that looked like a cross between a huski and a badger. I walked into her cage, she rolled over and put her head in my lap and my heart was hers. I signed the adoption papers five minutes later and then had to work out how to tell my husband we were now dog owners.

    We were a couple with a lot of love to give, and she was a broken animal in need of TLC; it was a match made in heaven. We overcompensated for her rough start in life by spoiling her rotten, and there was no hesitation when it came to bringing her with us when we moved to HK. She has adjusted well to life here and is a completely different dog to the one I found that day at the shelter, even if she is still a little funny looking. We knew that having a baby in the house would be a big adjustment for her and we planned to make some changes before J arrived, to ease the transition for the dog. We were much stricter and she was no longer allowed to sleep on our bed or have the run of the house. The first day she responded by hiding under the bed for hours but after a couple of days she seemed resigned to the fact that a new regime was here, it was as if she knew she'd had it good and had been expecting the change all along. Friends with dogs warned me that I wouldn't have much time for the dog once the baby arrived, and told me that I would probably lose my patience pretty quickly. I found that almost impossible to imagine and I swore that I would still love P just as much and would never neglect her.

    Then we brought J home and we were so busy all our training and promises to P went out the window. She took advantage of our sleep deprived state and started sneaking up onto the bed in the middle of the night, she jumped up on visitors and barked at anyone within a 2km radius of the house. We tried to give her a little bit of attention every day but there were days when I had battled for hours to get J to sleep, and the thought of having to attend to the needs of another small creature was more than I could bear. She has woken him up on a few occasions and I have often contemplated turning her into a nice pashmina. She was again evicted from the bedroom recently, much to my husband's disgust. He doesn't believe it's fair to make "our daughter," as he refers to her, sleep in the study. Since we don't let J sleep in our bed I think it's a no-brainer.

    When it comes to the baby/dog dynamic, we've had to work hard to placate the dog with treats and rewards whenever we show J a lot of attention. It's gotten to the point now where she wakes us up or makes a fuss when she hears him wake up. She still doesn't seem overly keen on him but he adores her. It's his first case of unrequited love. P was quite put out when J started crawling and could chase after her, and she had no idea what to think when he started growling at her! He thinks it's hilarious when she barks and he encourages her by shouting out something resembling "woof." Now that she realises he's not going to hurt her, and that standing under his highchair at dinnertime is highly beneficial, she's starting to come around.

    Watching them together is quite sweet most of the time but I have to admit I do find myself losing my temper with the dog more often. She was sick last week and it was like having two children, it was that much work. On the weekend I had to look after them both by myself, which was fine, until the dog rolled in something disgusting while we were out walking and I had to bath her while trying to convince J to go down for a nap. For the rest of the morning I locked the dog between the two gates on the stairs as silent punishment, it was like a doggy version of purgatory.

    I'm really looking forward to the day when J is old enough to walk and play with the dog and I won't have to worry about either of them, until then it's a delicate balance between keeping the baby safe, the dog happy and me sane.

    Sunday, October 10, 2010

    Hidden Gems and New Discoveries

    You've probably gathered by now that I'm not very adventurous. For that reason I can't take any credit for the "new discoveries" of the title. Everything I'm going to mention in this post has been recommended to me by someone else. Having gotten that out of the way, I want to tell you about some fantastic new resources I've learned about recently. Apologies to my non-HK based readers, there's not much in this post for you I'm afraid!

    For locals of Lantau island there is a brand new library and municipal building in Tung Chung. The library has a great selection of books in English and a huge children's library on the ground floor. One bonus of signing up for library membership in HK is that your card is valid in all libraries in the city, including those cute little mobile libraries. I'm not generally a fan of libraries. If I love a book I prefer to keep it, so I can read it again and again. I don't like the idea that someone has already turned the pages and I hate giving back great books. But J loves storytime and being able to try different books each week gives us some much-needed variety, and saves loads of money. I highly recommend you join a local library today!

    For more info see

    Adjoining the new library in Tung Chung is a new municipal building and sports centre. On the 2nd floor, hidden away is a soft-play area. It's a huge room with padded walls and floors, and it's virtually impossible for little ones to hurt themselves running around in there. A great option for an outing. The centre also has rooms for hire and I'm told there are pilates classes now running.  

    Another great resource I've just heard about is a website called Little Steps (thanks H). It is fairly new and has lots of information for parents on things to do in HK, places to go, and where to shop. It's high on my list of favourites and is top of my bookmarked list.

    This week in the sidebar I've briefly mentioned Mum-trepreneurs: Mum's who run their own businesses at the same time as raising kids and, sometimes, working in full-time jobs as well. These are all women who have found a niche here in HK and are using their business skills or creativity to do something about it. Here are some of my favourites:

    Suzanne Goodwin Photography - high quality (and affordable) maternity and family photos, taken by someone who has a great eye and a friendly manner that puts you at ease. It's clear that she loves what she's doing and that shows through in the finished product.

    Bralicious - When the ladies in the lingerie department at Marks and Spencer put me in an A-cup at 6 months pregnant a friend referred me to Nicki at Bralicious. She correctly fitted me (as a D-cup!) and sold me a great selection of maternity bras. She also does regular lingerie, pajamas and shapewear. This week they're having a sale and 5% of every sale will go to the Breast Cancer Foundation.

    And then there are the two businesses I've listed in the sidebar. Hip Little Bubba is run by Nicole and offers a lovely range of imported clothes, bags and nursery accessories for stylish mums and bubs. Attic Lifestyle is Simone's business on the side, and she sells gorgeous homewares from around the world. They share a space in Aberdeen and both have websites that you can see by clicking on their images. 

    Well, I may not be the first to have discovered these resources but hopefully some of you out there are reading about them for the first time here, and can benefit from my sharing them. Have a great week everyone x