What can happen in a year.

See this photo above? That was taken a little over a year ago, I wish I could say it was staged, that I was faking to be sleeping in the kids blow up pool, but it is real.

I had worked 3 nights straight, and on little sleep had got up the following days to look after my kids and run a house.

I was so tired that I felt sick, I remember sitting in our front yard, knowing that I just had to fall asleep right there and then. I looked at the nearby blow up pool (which was thankfully empty), and crawled into it, falling asleep only moments later.

My husband and children found me here, and as Jamie took this photo, I was awoken by the sound of Kiara whispering “Are you dead Mummy?”

Within half and hour of this photo being taken, I was preparing dinner for the family, only to crawl into bed shortly afterwards.

My health was deteriorating, I was exhausted, drained, and looked and felt older than my years.

I was working shift work to help pay the bills, to get us a bit ahead and out of the financial rut we had found ourselves in, but I was feeling like I was just purely existing, not experiencing life around me, just one big bag of emotional, over tired mess. I was feeling pretty damned sorry for myself as well.

Something had to change, if I was not able to change my position, I had to change my way of thinking.

I commenced my gratitude project, photographing a moment in my life to be thankful for each day, and surprisingly there was lots to be grateful for, even when I was tired, overworked and exhausted.

In time I found a job that suited me and my family circumstances better, along with more sleep, and a brighter outlook on life, I started to feel a bit like “me” again.

That smile began to return, and I felt I was breathing in all the beautiful things life had to offer.

Amongst it all I stupidly began to think that being grateful would make life perfect….. it didn’t, but it did make life better.

Even now as I write this, the last few months in our house have been rather hectic, we had been renovating our house, surrounded by dust, dirt and mess, when we were suddenly forced to take our teenage niece on, forcing a stall in the renovations while we set her up, organised a new school for her, a place for her to sleep, and many other things.

As a result I now have a very close family member refusing to talk to me, and spreading some pretty nasty gossip and false stories around our small town about me.

We have had some tough times, no tougher than anyone else, but money has been tight, emotions have been high, and we have all felt a bit drained. The kids have also been effected by the changes in our house, including Jazz, my niece who has found herself at a new  house, in a new family dynamic and about to start a new school.

6 months ago our family unit looked like this:

Now it looks like this:

Yep, we are a bit of an eclectic bunch, we are still trying to find our way in our new situation, a few hurdles and obstacles have come our way, but we will get there, slowly (hopefully).

A lot can happen in a year, a woman can fall pregnant, and have her baby in that time, someone can move to a new city, start a new job (or several in some cases).  There are people who were alive and breathing this time last year who are no longer with us today.

Time stops for no one.

In the space of a year we laugh, cry, learn, stress, rejoice, celebrate, most importantly we all grow as people, every single day, we learn something new, maybe meet a new friend, find a new passion, grow a little more.

In the last 365 days, in this last year, I know I have grown. I have documented all the wonderful things in my life, as well as acknowledging all the things that have not been so great. I have learnt from some, grown a bit stronger, a bit wiser.

There is still loads of learning to do, some obstacles in my way that I still need to climb and move on from, I will get there, once again slowly, step by step, but I will get there.

A lot can happen in a moment, an hour, a day, a week, a month, and when you put all those possibilities together……….

So much can happen in a year.

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A year of Gratitude

A year ago I decided to take up the 365 Moments of Gratitude Challenge. I had hoped it would assist to get me out of the little funk I was in, to start viewing the world in a more positive light, but I was never prepared for how much this challenge would bring me.

After reading an inspiring book called “365 Thank Yous” by John  Kralik, and shortly after stumbling across the 365 Grateful site, I was inspired to start my own project.

So off I began, a year of taking photographs of something that I was grateful for. I do admit I was a bit daunted by it all, wondered if I would ever complete the project, but a voice inside me told me to give it a go, it was something that I really needed at that point of life.

This is the photograph that commenced my project:

My two darling children, Kiara and Noah with the flowers that they regularly pick from our garden for me, always with some kind words such as “These are for you Mummy cause we love you so much”. I was always happy to receive them, but often worried if we would have any flowers left on the plants. I decided to take a moment to be thankful for such a kind gesture.

From here my journey commenced, I started to open my eyes up a bit more to the wonderful world around me. I started to think of all the beautiful, kind people in my life.

In the whole project, the majority of moments that I was grateful for were free. I started to see that it is really true that in life it is not so much about what you have, but what you think about. I thought of the people in third world countries who did not even have a proper roof over their heads, yet were always seen with smiles on their faces, I compared them to some of the richest people I have ever met who still grumble about anything and everything.

It really is not about what you have, it is about appreciating what you do have.

The ripple effect commenced, the more I started practising gratitude, the more I was able to find to be grateful for. I really did have a blessed life!

I also found that my attitude was rubbing off to my children, they seemed to be more grateful as well, I felt happier, my marriage seemed stronger, and friendships deeper.

I also started to become kinder to myself, I started to try new things, rather than the usual little voice that would have told me it was impossible, I started to give new things a go, to rise to new challenges.

With Gratitude, I found kindness, happiness, empathy and honesty. It was as though by being thankful, all the other wonderful things in life were also magnified.

Now don’t get me wrong, this did not suddenly make my life perfect, or stop me from having off days, though I did find that I was able to bounce back a bit easier from hurdles, and started to look beyond the imperfections.

I doubt that a stranger would meet me on the street and comment on what a positive, inspiring person I am, but I do notice the change within myself, I feel so much more free.

As I said before, I am still prone to feeling overwhelmed and anxious, I still have my odd meltdowns,that’s ok,  I am after all only human, but these days they are less regular.

So was my Gratitude project a success? Most definitely!

I would recommend anyone to start practising Gratitude for a more grounded, happy way of living, here are some ideas how to start:

  • Start a Gratitude Journal, write down each day or even once a week the things that you are grateful for in that time, take the time to reflect on past entries.
  • Stop thinking about all the things that you don’t have in life and start focusing on all the great things you do have.
  • Discuss with your family each night over dinner what wonderful things happened to each of you that day, and what things you are grateful for.
  • As you go to sleep at night, take a moment to focus on the things that you were grateful for that day.
  • Go out of your way to thank others, be it friends, family or even that nice waitress that served you a coffee today in the local cafe.
  • Think Happy thoughts
  • Start to believe in yourself and all the beautiful things/people and moments you have in your life.
  • Remember some days one of the most powerful things you can do is to stop, take a moment to breathe, and to just be. This can be a moment to gather your thoughts, to calm down, and to regain a bit of peace in a hectic day.

Never did I expect that one simple decision to commence a project of photographs would have such a profound, positive impact on all aspects of life.

I really am thankful for the art of gratitude, and all the wonderful things it has brought to me, most importantly the ability to no longer walk around in this beautiful world with blinkers on my eyes.

And for each and every one of you who have commented on any of my pictures over the last year, dropped me a message of support, or just simply come along for the ride,

I thank you

The most powerful words

A week ago I watched the movie “The Help” for the very first time. It was a movie that captured my heart and has been in my mind ever since.

So many important messages in it about racism, prejudice, and parenting.

I feel I would write a novel if I covered them all, but I have really been thinking about the Nanny/Housekeepers in the movie.

Actors portraying a huge part of history.

Women who maintained other people’s houses, and raised other people’s children while they missed out on watching their own children grow up.

For those of you who have seen the movie, you will remember that beautiful little girl who thinks of her Nanny more as a Mum then her own biological Mother.

Her Mother does not seem to know how to talk to her, how to hug her, or how to just be with her.

The bond between Nanny and child was huge.

I loved the words that she would use as she sat the little girl on her lap:

“You is Kind, You is Smart, You is Important”

Such simple words, yet so very powerful with their meaning.

While this movie was set to portray history’s events, the meanings are still valid today.

So many people want to give their children presents, rather than their presence.

Our children do not need to feel pressured to be the best athlete, smartest student, or most attractive person.

They simply need to be encouraged to be themselves, to know that they are unique, beautiful and special just as they are.

For the past week I have been thinking of these powerful words, as Kiara drifted off to sleep the other night, I whispered all the things that I love about her into her ear, with positive affirmations about what a wonderful little person she is.

My usual insomniac drifted off to sleep that night with a smile on her face.

I sat Noah on my lap yesterday and as I tickled his hand, I told him that he was kind, important and smart. He asked me what important was.

“It means that you have a lot to offer the world little boy”

“It means that you are special, just because you are you”

I hope my children grow up knowing that I love them, and are so proud of them just for being the people they are.

They may never get an A+, they may never win a race at sports, or a beauty contest, but I do hope that they grow up with the knowledge that as long as they do their best in life, as long as they keep a kind heart towards others,  that is all that can be asked of them.

And that they are loved, cared for and admired, purely for being the unique little beings that they are.

When life doesn’t go to plan.

Sometimes life just not go according to the picture perfect plan we had in our heads.

Oh boy do I know about this, in recent times, any plans that I had set out seem to have been thrown up in the air, torn to pieces and destroyed.

The people who should love you unconditionally sometimes don’t.

The people who should have your back sometimes stab you.

Hurdles come in our way, detours on life’s path, little speed bumps that were unexpected.

The plans we make sometimes get destroyed, but from their ruins, new plans, goals and ideas emerge, and we learn from our experiences, our failures, our hurts and our mistakes.

In these moments, we also find our support team, the cheer leaders in life that we are blessed to call friends.

Relationships are put to the test, and many emerge stronger, with the knowledge of how much your partner/ friend/ family have your back in a time of crisis.

I have had the detour of life’s plans lately, I have had days of wondering how on earth I would be able to put one foot in front of the other, how this would all work out, but at the end of the day, it was the simple moments that gave me courage,

the odd text of “how are you holding up?”

the email “you are in my thoughts”

the comforting phone call with an old friend.

one of my children telling me they love me.

and most importantly going to bed each night to warm safe arms wrapped around me and the whispers “we will get through this babe, I know we will”

I am starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and I am so very thankful for the people who have carried me through these dark times when I felt I was not able to stand myself.

There has been moments that I have felt like a coward in it all, the woman who goes on about all the things to be grateful for was falling apart.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, I was not falling apart after all, just putting myself back together.

Life had thrown me some punches, and like a boxer in a boxing ring, I felt like I was on the ground, broken, bloodied, and ready for defeat.

I heard myself whisper in the haze of it all “I can’t take anymore, it just has to stop”

Life threw me a few more punches while I was down, a bit of a kick in the guts, to add to all the bruises, grazes and blood that was already there.

I wondered if I would get up, deep inside, in the depths of my soul, I knew I could do it, I knew so many people were counting on me, most importantly my own little family.

I kept getting the comments of “You are the Mum, you simply HAVE to keep it together for the family”

All the while I felt I was being held together myself by a thread, one delicate thread.

Slowly I stood up, ready to look life in the eye, battered, bruised, and still very delicate, but now with the belief in myself, that so many beautiful people had been holding all along, even when I didn’t

I looked life right in the eye, and in a deep, firm voice I said:

“Bring it on, you can’t break me”

Finally I am back, the broken pieces are starting to mend, the wounds are healing, and I start to realise I was not a coward at all, sometimes it is not about being brave all the time.

Sometimes it is ok to get knocked down, to be discouarged, to wonder how you will make it through.

The most important thing though is that you remember to get back on those feet, to look life in the eye and be prepared to fight, each of us have it in us, and each of us deserve to believe that we will go on, we will win, and we will move on.

That is true courage.

No cost and low cost Family activities

We went into these School holidays knowing that money was tight, and with a recent addition to the family in the form of a Teenager, I was a bit worried about how we would cope.

Despite all being sick over the holidays with the super cold, Kiara getting an ear infection (with grommets), and working amongst it, we got to spend some great family moments together, as well as entertain the children at little cost.

Here is a list of some of the things we did, in hope that it will help others for future budget family time and kids activities.

  • We attended a few of the local shopping centre free activities. The kids got to paint with some beautiful cockatoos looking on, as well as patting at the annual Easter petting zoo at one of our shopping centres. We also got to watch a local schools performing arts group dance at another shopping centre.

  • We packed a picnic morning tea and explored a local park one day, picking up interesting leaves while we were there, to take home and paint up and do arts and crafts with.

  • Met some friends  for a play in the park
  • We explored online to find some colouring in sheets and activities, one of my favourites is www.dltk.com it is filled with some great activities that you can just print out at home.
  • Cooking, fun and cheap and you can eat it afterwards!

  • We had a BBQ with some friends on Easter Sunday night, we got our friends to BYO meat and drinks, and provided salads and snacks. The kids ran off some of their sugar high from all the chocolates and it was nice to have some adult conversation.

  • Went for a swim in a local creek, it was freezing though, so we did not stay in long, but it was fun and refreshing.
  • Some friends invited us to the beach for an afternoon of playing in the sand and going on their jet ski, that was a fun day.

  • The kids got to hold and play with some friends kittens, they loved that.
  • We set up our own disco.

  • We had a couple of movie afternoons at home with movies we already had, closed the curtains, but doonas and pillows on the floor, was great chill out time.
  • We set up an adventure area in the backyard, and spent ages in the cubby house and on the trampoline.
  • In Cairns there is a group that does an annual local pass for discounted entry into 4 local wildlife attractions, we get it every year and well and truly get our monies worth, we used it to go to a local wildlife park, ride on an army duck and feed some wildlife, was a cheap day out.
  • In fact, we ended up using it at 3 of the 4 wildlife parks over the holiday period, made for some fun, free excursions out.

  • A friend gave the kids money for an ice cream each for easter, so we went to local esplanade one evening for ice creams and a walk along the esplanade, it was filled with lots of great, free sights and was lots of fun.
  • We made homemade volcanoes one day. I gave the kids 4 plastic cups each on a cooking tray, we dropped a few drops of food colouring in each, then sprinkled bi carb soda and let the kids pour vinegar in. They never cease to be amazed at the volcano effect in the end. We used the remaining coloured liquid as home-made paint.

The list of fun, free or low cost activities are endless once you get thinking of them, trips to the local library, a dress up day, a teddy bears picnic, going to the local skate park and much more.

It has been great to get through the holidays, having fun and doing things together without breaking the bank.

Taking time to smell the roses (or choc chip cookies)

All my Grandparents have passed on. Between Jamie and I we only have his Paternal Grandma Colleen. I think of her as a surrogate Granny myself, and love that my children have got to know at least one Great Grandparent.

Granny has had cancer a number of times, and with high doses of chemo to rid her body of cancer, she also lost her sense of smell.

Sometimes I will be talking about something such as how much our lounge chairs ended up stinking after the recent wet weather, and she will say quickly “can you please smell my lounge chairs to make sure they don’t stink either? How embarrassing, I can never tell!”

More than once she has asked me to let her know if her house smells as she cannot tell herself.

It gets me thinking, we all have these amazing senses that we all just take for granted, yet some people don’t have, or no longer have.

I really rely on my sense of smell, in the early stages of motherhood we rely on it to let us know when our baby needs a nappy change (how glamorous!), or to know when there is something that needs cleaning.

The good part of smell is walking past someones house and smelling the wonderful dinner they are cooking, and wondering what it is, or the ability to smell a flower, a lovely meal, or that beautiful perfume that you have loved for years.

Holding our neighbours baby the other day, I caught myself sniffing him and saying “oh how I love the smell of baby!” (thankfully his Mum did not think I was weird!).

When I do the fruit and veg shopping, I find myself smelling all the beautiful fresh produce as I put it in the bag, it has now got into a habit that I pass an orange onto the kids to smell, they close their eyes, take a deep inhale and smile.

I love the citrus smell, the smell of a lovely bunch of flowers, or fresh rain outside, the smell of the kids after a shower and they are clean for the night, the list could go on.

The other day I was near Granny’s house, so decided to pop in for a visit, the kids needed to wash their hands, so I took them to the bathroom, and soon found myself commenting on how nice her soap smelled.

Then Granny offered us all a choc chip cookie. Her favourite she told us, she told us, and she has one each night before bed with a glass of milk before bed.

Once again I found myself taking in the beautiful aroma as I took a bite of the cookie.

“Wow! These smell beautiful” I said

“Really?” Granny asked

“You know I can never smell them myself”, I saw a flash of disappointment on her face.

For a brief moment I had forgotten about her lost sense of smell. I was about to apologise, to move on, but I decided to take the moment to explain the smell of the cookies to her.

“They have the lovely home-made smell, I said, and the bits of chocolate pieces in them bring out this delicious, warm, sweet smell, they smell beautiful.”

I looked at Granny, she smiled.

She may have lost her smell, but not her sense of imagination.

Most of us have the sense of smell, along with all the other senses of Touch, Taste, Sight and Sound, yet we often take these blessings for granted, we go along the path of life just thinking that is what we have, we don’t take the the time to slowly enjoy things

The sound of laughter or a beautiful song that touches our heart.

 The ability to see a sunset or  rainbow or watch our children play. 

Being able to feel a hug from a loved one, or the sprinkle or rain on our skin.

 Tasting a beautiful meal or treat, enjoying each mouthful,

And of course, the ability to smell a beautiful rose, or a choc chip cookie.

Lets all start to slow down a bit, take the time to be thankful and enjoy some of the many things we take for granted every day. You will be amazed what you find.

 

If all else fails, “ad lib”.

Easter Saturday, I was thinking of the fact that we had only got chocolate for the kids, we usually get eggs or a bunny each for our extended family as well.

I have had so much else on my mind, and worked on Easter Saturday too.

I printed out some easter template cards for Kiara to colour in for everyone, she loved doing that.

Then I started to wonder what I could make to give everyone?

The shops were shut by this time , it would have to be something that we have the ingredients for.

I thought of Chocolate Balls, I made them as Christmas gifts a few years back, they were yummy and a hit. I set about finding the recipe, nowhere to be found, so off to google I went.

Most recipes called for basically the same ingredients:

Arrowroot Biscuits

Condensed Milk

Cocoa Powder

Coconut

Easy enough…….. if you have those ingredients. I was sure we had a packet of arrowroot biscuits in the cupboard, turns out we didn’t, and I threw out the coconut a few weeks back when it did not look so great, and have not replaced it. We have cocoa powder, but it’s pretty old, did not know if I could trust it.

I remember once making the chocolate balls with crushed up wheet bix instead of arrowroot biscuits, perhaps I could try that?

So I set out………. I started to make some chocolatey balls, with ingredients I could find in the cupboard. I really did not know what I was going to put in until I started to make them, much to my husbands horror, he works cooking cakes every day to particular recipes, he is shocked by my “ad lib” recipes. I tend to just guess amounts of ingredients or add extra things in.

This is what I ended up putting in our chocolate balls:

Wheetbix crushed up

A can of condensed milk

Milo

Chocolate Ice Cream topping

A tub of light cream

100s and 1000s to roll the balls in when finished.

It was very much a case of ad lib, just putting what I thought of as we went along. The kids thought it was lots of fun and enjoyed helping, the whole time we really did not know if they would turn out or not.

I am happy to say that the end result was a success! We wrapped them up in baking paper, tied with some ribbon from the craft draw and Kiara put some foam stickers on each.

Granny was the first one to receive one of our little homemade packages, she said they were delicious!

Now, please don’t ask me for exact recipe, because I do not remember it now!

One step at a time

It has been a full on few months in my household.

I would love to tell you all that I have faced all the little hurdles with undying courage and determination…………. but  that would be lying.

To tell you the truth, I acted a bit like a scared little baby, I had a few anxiety attacks, I found myself throwing myself on my bed in tears, those great big sobbing tears that just come from nowhere and take forever to end.

For a little while I was not able to talk to people about the events happening in our family without bursting into tears, not cool in public, or if you are explaining the situation to a stranger.

I wear my heart on my sleeve, sometimes it is a good trait, sometimes it just makes me look unstable.

It all seems like such a long story to tell, so I will keep it to the brief outline.

After years of planning and wishing to carry out major renovations in our house, we finally got bank approval, our dreams were becoming a reality!

Unfortunately it was not going to be as smooth of simple as that.  Building commenced the same time as the late wet season started, so we had the usual dust, dirt and noise, as well as bit wet puddles of thick mud being dragged through the house. I refused to let it upset me, I kept my eye on the bigger picture, until……

We got some unexpected bills that put a bit of a halt in our renovations, leaving us with the building site look and the worry that it would never be finished.

Then we suddenly took on our 15-year-old niece, the extra time and expense of quickly getting a room ready for her to move into, enrolling her into a new school, endless paperwork, hurdles etc, and all on our current family income.

The bank account started to dwindle, as my stress levels started to rise.

Friends were concerned about me, but I just had no more words to use, and shut myself out a bit, exhausted, drained, scared and over it, and when I was brave enough to open my mouth to let them in, it seemed that I had a tirade of verbal diarrhoea, and would apologise afterwards for the excess of words just tumbling out of my mouth.

Some of you may read this and think I over reacted, perhaps I did, but all I can tell you that living it has been  pretty full on.

After being used to raising a 3-year-old and 5-year-old, a 15-year-old is rather different. As I put my 2 to bed at night, I look forward to just sitting down and chilling for the night. It seems that this is the same time of the night that giggly teenagers are getting their second wind and want someone to interact with. It has been a case of getting used to a whole new routine and way of living.

Grocery bills shot up, as with the cost of petrol to get Jazz to and from her current school on the other side of town. Of course in amongst it all, other little hurdles came along.

It has not all been hard times, having a teenager in the house has had it’s fun times as well, more laughter, cheeky moments, and extra set of hands around the house. Jazmine has been so grateful for us giving her a roof over her head, and so willing to help us however she can, it has been a breath of fresh air to have her around.

The real problem was the way in which Jazmine came into our care, the choice between foster care and us was not a hard one, and not one that we even had to think about, or regret for a moment, but the fact that it came to that position has caused a wave of extra emotions for all involved.

All the while my husband assured me “we will be ok, everything will be alright”.

But all I did was stress out, wondering how on earth we were going to do this.

I think that maybe looking at the big picture got a bit daunting, trying to think too far ahead and taking into account all the things that were needing to be done, or the process that was needing to be gone through made it hard.

The only thing to do was to cut the huge mountain down, to look at it in little steps, to think of how we could get through each day as best as we could, to know that this way we will eventually get there.

No one was trying to tell me it was easy, just that it was possible.

I still have days in which I ask myself how we are going to do this, how long it is going to be until things seem “normal”, but slowly I am getting there, getting used to our new household, accepting that this renovation may be a long process that will require time and patience.

I have been reminding myself to slow down, to take a moment to breathe, to be easier on myself that all is not as perfect as I would like it to be – perfection is overated anyhow.

All I can do now is just take it each day as it comes, one step at a time.

We will get there, it will take a while, but we will get there, together, I know we will.

One step at a time