Saturday, 26 November 2016

The magic of Christkindl

That moment we turned into the Christmas markets at Schonnbrunn Palace. 

Snaps from Salzburg's Christmas Markets

As I was browsing the world wide webs today, I saw a news clip about the opening of the German Christmas markets. My heart jumped a little. Three out of the past four Decembers my little family has really enjoyed the Christmas markets in Germany, Austria and Slovenia. I felt a little pang of disappointment that this year I won't be enjoying a Bratwurst with mustard washed down with a piping mug of gluhwein while wandering around stalls under a cover of twinkling lights.

If you've never been to a European Christmas market, they are held in town centres and squares from the end of November until the end of December. There are little huts serving mulled wine (and on occasion, alcoholic hot chocolates), sizzling sausages, spietzel (a cheesy noodle) pretzels, dumplings and stews. The main attraction are the stalls selling a dazzling array of decorations, tinsel twinkling under the lights. There is always a big Christmas tree, a band playing Christmas tunes and a very festive feeling. People go with their families to get in the festive spirit.

Last December, we were lucky enough to return to the beautiful Christmas markets in Vienna (where we first encountered them a few years before). Before we'd arrived in Vienna we'd had an incredibly stressful week packing, about to move apartments. We were also in a stressful stage of life where didn't know quite where we were headed. I remember feeling pretty wound up and fed up. The first place we went to after checking into our AirBnB was our favourite Christmas market at Schonnbrunn Palace. I will never forget turning through the gates, seeing the giant Christmas tree twinkling with lights through the cold mist. The smell of chestnuts roasting and mulled wine filled my nose. A magical sensation washed over me. The kids eyes lit up as they suddenly remembered this place for a few years before. Every little bit of stress melted away and every little niggle felt worth it for just that moment. That one moment of being in that one magic spot.

A few moments later, Skip and I had gluhwein in hand and the kids were demolishing pretzels bigger than their heads under that giant twinkling tree. I looked over at Lil-lil who kept saying over and over: "I'm just so happy." There's no doubt she spoke for all of us.

I'm lucky enough to have lots of special places that I've been to throughout my life, places that seem to hold just a little bit of magic, places that you just can't explain exactly why they make you so happy. The Christmas markets in Austria, especially those at Schonnbrunn Palace, are high up on that list.


Thursday, 24 November 2016

That time the hotel was full...



Christmas is a-coming as the kids' school schedule keeps reminding me. Concerts, end-of-year assemblies, parties, not to mention endless "Oh I hope I get this for Christmas!"

Now it would be an understatement to say that we're not a religious family. After living in Dubai for a number of years I think my kids probably know more about Islam than Christianity. When we were in Ireland last year, our friends were talking about mass, when one of my Catholic-baptised children asked what mass was. My reply? "It's like Friday prayers, but on a Sunday and in a church rather than a mosque" which was instantly understood.

So I shouldn't have been surprised when the other day, the same child came home from school and was excitedly telling me that next week in scripture class she was pretty sure they were going to tell the same story I had told them once. Confused, I asked, which story was that. "Oh you know the one about the couple who were trying to get into the hotel? But they were all full, so they had to sleep in a shed. It's weird that they know that one too!" Yes, it seems that religious education may not be my forte.

There was also that time I overheard Lil-lil explaining to Darbs who Jesus was. "He knows everything you do, he knows when you're good or naughty. You can pray to him and ask him for things or for help. He has a beard," she carefully explained. Darbs thought for a moment and said: "That's not Jesus. That's Santa!"

So, perhaps, over the next few weeks, it's time to start talking a little more why we celebrate Christmas and what's behind the tree and tinsel and presents.


Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Monday, 21 November 2016

Byron bliss

Over the weekend my family and I decided to take a little road trip. Go exploring.
We headed down the coast when Skip said: "why don't we keep driving to Byron Bay" and we decided why not indeed! Before we knew it we were sipping coffee as we wandered around The Farm and then devouring fish and chips next to the sparkling sea.

Byron has always been my happy place, somewhere I've just felt relaxed, rejuvenated. I went there for a day visit when I was 15 and then went to schoolies there 22 years ago when the love affair truly began. Then there were end of Uni-year getaways, which eventually morphed into family holidays and most recently Skip and I escaped for an adults only vacay.

When Skip and I went on our kid-free Byron, I was saying that I believed self-help is going to be the next big thing (again) for all the 20 and early 30-somethings who have lived their adult lives on social media who are suddenly looking for more. Looking for meaning beyond likes and summing up themselves with emojis. This idea fascinated me, so I've been reading a lot of the self-help stuff that's around and realised what a lot of drivel it is. Really it offers "motivation" and "taking control of your life" and finding "inner happiness" but most of it is written in a way that can be adapted for any situation. So it's a one size fits all approach, you can read into it whatever you want to read into and then hold it up as "proof" of a way to live or a "key" on your journey to fulfilment. In my mind it's just telling your whatever you want to hear to justify your choices.

As we were wandering around on our day exploring we can across a lovely guy with Down syndrome busking. He had a sign up saying he was an international rock star, he wore a glittery hat and he danced like there was no tomorow. Pure joy right there. He was having the time of his life and his joy made us all smile goofy smiles.

The thing is the real key to happiness is right there in front of us. It's jumping in the car and driving somewhere special. It's singing your lungs out in the car to a song you're heard a million times. It's giggling as you watch the kids jump over waves. It's dancing without inhibition in your lounge room. It's licking the salt and grease off your fingers of a decent piece of fried fish as your toes dig into the sand. It's laughing until your belly aches at something silly or inappropriate. It's dreaming about doing it all again next weekend. It's closing your eyes and dancing to your beat.

So yesterday was a magic day. Being in my favourite place with my four most favourite people on a most gorgeous day. That right there is happiness. A little memory that I'll carry with me.




Monday, 14 November 2016

Instant Karma's gonna get you

Karma. Reaping what you sow. Treat others as you'd like to be treated. What goes around comes around. Whatever you call it, as a parent this is a lesson that I (and I know most parents) try and try again and again to teach my kids. I think it's one of the tougher lessons to learn too, because when there's something you really want (a lolly, some money, whatever) just sitting there, the temptation can be too much, why not take it? When there's a chance you're going to get in trouble, why not lie? I'm trying to reinforce that those few moments that feel good or stop you getting in trouble may be great, but the bad stuff coming is far worse that resisting temptation.

I'm really big believer in Karma or reaping what you sow. I truly believe that you get back what you put out, so I know that I try to live the best life I can live. Of course, I'm never perfect and stuff up a lot.  I can be negative, cynical, bitchy, whatever, but I would never go out of my way to hurt others and I try to catch myself and stop any negative behaviour. Basically, I think if you consistently lie, cheat and steal (literally or figuratively), essentially treat people badly then it's going to come back to you in some way or another. It may not be today or tomorrow, but that negativity is going to come back to you in equal, or larger, measures. I think if you try your best to do right by people, treat them with respect, be honest with them, listen to them, just be there for them, then a whole lot of good things come back to you. When you hit those speed bumps in life (as you always will), there will be a lot of good people around to support you. I want to live life knowing that whatever happens, I've done the very best that I can do.

Which is why I'm trying hard to teach my kids this lesson. Lessons like, if you lie, you lose people's trust and that is a really hard thing to regain. Trust is one of those things you don't realise how important it is until it's gone. Trying to teach them to be good to each other as siblings, as hard as it can be at times, because the family living under their roof are the people they need to treat the best. The people they need to be able to trust and rely on. Mostly their eyes roll or glaze over when I talk about treating family the very best and always being there for them, but I hope that one day it will sink in. That they'll be good citizens. Good people. A good basis to build a good life on.

Do you believe in Karma?


"Nothing happens by chance, by fate. You create your own fate by your actions. That's Karma"

- Unknown.






Monday, 7 November 2016

The Butterfly Effect


video



The skies above Brisbane at the moment are filled with the fluttering white wings of butterflies. Where ever you look they are fluttering here and there above the trees and bushes. It's quite something. Apparently it's an annual butterfly migration, but one this big only happens every decade or so.

Last week, the kids were invited to a friend's house and they told us of a butterfly tree they'd found in the reserve behind their home. So, of course we set off into the bush looking for it. Setting off down the dirt track, it wasn't long before we could see hundreds and thousands of flapping white wings over this one tree. The lady who showed us the tree had lived there 16 years and said she'd never seen anything quite like it. 

The kids were mesmerised, as was I, it was amazingly lovely. 

As I look at all these insects fluttering over our heads, I think of the butterfly effect. Are all these tiny fluttering wings above a sign of change to come? Do their tiny wings herald a big change ahead?
I'm not sure that I believe one tiny event can change the whole course of our life, I would really like to believe in destiny and that we'll end up where we're supposed to be whatever path we take. But can it? Can one tiny action or event change everything for ever? Can we see it if it does?

This makes me think about change and why things are always evolving. The past short while, I have had this stomach-churning feeling that change is on its way. (Now don't see this as a read into anything about American politics, because whatever happens will happen there, this is more for me). Although, in my recent life, change has been constant, so maybe I'm just used to constant change. I don't know. I'm a person who goes on gut instinct and I just feel something is on its way. I'm hopeful it's good. In fact, I'm hopeful that it's wonderful. Or maybe I'm just hungry! 

Knowing that I'm powerless to change other people or things (as much as I'd like to at times), I'm focusing on making change in myself good, as that's all I can do. So, I try my best to be there for my little family. Be honest and good to myself. Be positive. Be true. I figure, whatever happens or if nothing happens, then it's not a bad way to live. 

In the meantime, I'll enjoy the spectacular show of wings overhead. 



  

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Lonsome

Moving and having to set up all over again definitely isn't easy. Putting yourself out there, making small talk, trying to find 'connection' is pretty tiring. It's also way out of my natural comfort zone.

I have found it far more difficult to do it here in Brisbane than in Dubai. Here people aren't as receptive to new friends. But I feel like in the past week or so, I have turned a corner. Now when I walk up to school pick up I have people who yell out "Hello!" and stop for a chat. Ask how I got on with something. It really makes a difference.

Feeling alone and feeling lonely are awful feelings. Unfortunately Skip has to travel for work a lot, which doesn't help and I really miss him being around. It's also hard for Skip when he's been working all day and then coming home to a wife who wants to chat, chat, chat, when he's already been talking all day. Of course, I light up with excitement when he gets home, when all he wants to do is chill out for a while.

We had visitors last night from Sydney and it's always fantastic when people come visit. Of course, though, I ramble on with rubbish just because I'm so excited to have actual adults to converse with! So much excitement on my behalf they'll probably won't want to return for some time!

Hopefully, this is the start of building new friendships and the lonesome feelings will disappear.

Monday, 31 October 2016

Happy Halloween

Snapchat filters make for easy Halloween costumes...

My young boy came running in this morning just after 5am (damn Queensland and it's resistance to Daylight Savings). "Happy Halloween!" he cried. With hugs and kisses all round. You would have thought it was someone's birthday!

For the next three hours until I could drop him at kindy, there were approximately 150 more "Happy Halloween!" My sweet-toothed boy who loves to dress up could not be anymore excited on this Halloween day. He ran up to everyone on the street and in the playground making sure they were filled with the happiness of Halloween. His joyful cheers put smiles on every face he met, even the biggest Halloween cynics.

I know there are a lot of people who dislike Halloween out there in Australia, but I think there's nothing wrong with dressing up, eating some lollies and meeting some of your neighbours. At the very least putting a smile on someone's face on a dreary Monday can't be a bad thing.

So happy Halloween!


Friday, 21 October 2016

Then, here and later


"It's just I'm surprised that five years on I'm still surprised how relentless it is. The lack of time that I thought would be abundant to do things for me. Dreams of pursuing a dream or exercise or reading or anything else are still just dreams. Even to sit and dream is just a dream."

The above is a quote from a blog post I wrote five years ago about being a parent. How that before I became a parent, I believed I'd be this mother earth type who'd suddenly have all this time to dedicate to myself and my child. I was obviously deluded and the reality was actually years of relentless hard work. While I might get depressed about this and tell myself that my life is slipping away or monotonously mundane (which it no doubt is), it is just one part of many parts of my life.   

I was recently watching Dazed and Confused again, I hadn't watched it in years and it brought back lots of memories. There's a line near the end of the movie though that goes something like this: "If in 20 years time, I say that school was the best time of my life, please kill me".

I don't think there's a parent out there who hasn't been told: "Oh soak up this wonderful time, it goes too fast." And as you stand there unshowered, unslept and with spew and poo down your front, think you'd really rather forget it all, thanks anyway.

When you're in the middle of the grind. The tedium. Whatever stage of life. You often fail to take note of the good stuff that's happening around you. You may lament that it's  not as you thought it would be, let's face it, it rarely is. We spend all of our lives, waiting for life to really start happening. Then that waiting for something becomes life. As time moves on, you forget the tedium and all those good times, however minuscule, are the ones that remain. Spending all day, every day with your friends. No bills. Little responsibility. Laughing as your baby giggles uncontrollably. Watching them take their first steps. A glass of wine and a singalong after a long day.

It's like when you go on that holiday or camping trip. At the time you're obsessed with that lost piece of luggage. Getting ripped off by that guy in the market. The rain that poured down and flooded your tent. Missing that train. All these things are going to destroy what should be the time of your life, dammit. Down the track, all you remember is that cocktail on the beach. How good that gelato in the square tasted. Long hours of conversation round the campfire. When you do remember the lost luggage or getting ripped off, it simply makes for a rollicking dinner party story.

The rise of social media, ensures that we can curate the 'good' bits and edit the bad in the here and now without the necessary passage of time to help soften the memory. We are reassured the good moments are indeed good by how many "likes" we get. And if we don't get enough likes, we can try again with another "good" moment. That scares me, I have to admit. The pressure on those "good" bits has escalated to a point where we don't even enjoy them anymore (unless we get validation from someone else that yes, that's good and we're liked). Then we have to up the ante and find another good moment. Ironically we stop enjoying those small gems of good time. Those simple joys are suddenly promoted to the time-of-your-life moments. Such a lot of pressure. 

Hindsight is always 20-20. I could go back and tell myself to not worry so much about school. I could tell  my 18-year-old self, to not cover up on the beach embarrassed because, love, that's as good as it's going to get. I could tell my 25-year-old self to stop wasting so much money and put something away. I could tell my 30-year-old self to stop worrying and enjoy that tiny baby. The thing is I wouldn't listen, even to my older and wiser myself. What I can do, is to tell myself now, that this is just one moment in time. That sleepless night worrying about XYZ won't matter in 12 months or 10 years time. The small gems of joy that may escape my vision right now will appear later on, like a developing photograph. 





Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Working it out

Life is a funny thing. Blogging is an even funnier thing. I was just having a quick look online when suddenly I was drawn to start reading an old blog post of mine Things Will Always Work Out.

Funny because, at the time five years ago, we were trying to sell our house and find a 'family home' that would fit us all and our impending arrival (Darbs). It felt like the biggest thing in the world. We didn't sell our house. We still own it, in fact. And yes, things did indeed work out. We did live somewhere. Dubai. Then Brisbane. The adventure of life and not really knowing what's around the corner. Life can take you some great places if you let it.

I do still believe that Things Will Always Work Out, and that's not because I'm an eternal optimist because at the moment I feel like I am quite a pessimist with a good dash of cynicism thrown in. I now believe that Things Will Work Always Out simply because they have to. We just don't have a choice. It's sink or swim. So when I now say "Things will work out", I think I really mean "We'll work things out, whatever is thrown at us". Unfortunately (or fortunately) you can't plan for life as it often has very different ideas.

This week marks my 10-year anniversary of being a parent (otherwise known as my eldest's 10th birthday). What a ride that has been. Being a parent has taught me more than anything else in my life. Those first few days, weeks, years were so overwhelming on so many levels. I lost myself there for quite a while. I'd even go as far to say I'm only now starting to raise my head and look around and take a breath. Ten years of parenting young children will no doubt do that to you. I'm older and wiser, pretty bashed around edges. I do have three amazing kids to show for it. And they really are incredible. I don't feel worthy of them sometimes.

As I've said here recently, I'm taking some time to work on myself at the moment. Focus on me, pour goodness on me and hope that it trickles down to my family. My husband. My kids. I guess I want to like myself more and I want my husband, my kids and my parents to be proud of me. I don't really care what anyone else thinks of me, but as long as those people are happy to call me their wife, mum and daughter, well, I think I've done alright. I know that if I can be a better person, it will make my family better. So I'm eating better, exercising more, taking care of myself.

None of us are going to make it out of here alive. Bad stuff is definitely going to happen. We can't stop it no matter how #grateful #blessed we tell everyone on Facebook we are. People will get sick. People will die. Nasty things will happen. The only thing I can control is how I am in this moment. How I treat those around me. How honest I am with them and myself.

Gratitude is the big thing at the moment. If we show we're grateful for what we have, that will make us happy. It's the secret to life. Or so they tell us. But let's face it, we're human and we'll always secretly be wanting something more, something better, something else. So, I don't really believe in gratitude.

I think appreciation is the secret to happiness. Let that person know what you admire about them. That you miss them. That you love them. Listen to them. Be there for them. Support them. I think we often forget to do this and take those around us for granted. When they are the building blocks of our lives. We think "Oh they already know we love them. Are there for them", but do they? I know I'm guilty of this. When things do go wrong (and there will be times they do), we will need those around us to keep us up and to work things out.

Recently, a friend just sent me a text saying "I miss you". It's funny how three small words can make you feel appreciated, important and loved.

I stuff up and I continue to stuff up on an almost daily basis. I'm sure this will continue for the rest of my life. Things will work out, I'm sure.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

When you can't find the right emoticon for scraping Weet-Bix off the floor

Lately, I've been writing, writing, writing. I would like to write a book, but all the demons of self doubt seep in. How on earth could I write a book? Me?! That's a lot of words. A lot of story to come up with.
There are so many other people who could write better. People who would actually have something to say that people would want to read. The merry-go-round of self hate (or self truth) goes on and on.

I'm a Pollyanna. I always think that things will turn out right. Will work out for the best. Work out the way they're meant to be. Trying to look on the bright side.

But what if they don't work out and the reason that they don't work out is simply because I don't try. If I just accept "Oh well, it wasn't meant to be then." I'm now beginning to see that's an easy way not to try or to give up.

So I'm writing, writing, writing. Filling the screen with words, that may or may not be put together in the right way. That may not be something that anyone would want to read. It might be crap. I might be wrong. But at least I tried. At least the words will be out there. And maybe, just maybe, someone will want to read it. Just maybe it will resonate with someone. Make someone think. Or cry. Or laugh. Or just enjoy the words washing over them. Or simply have a distraction for an hour or two from the boring moments of life. Maybe only my kids and my husband and my parents will read it and tell me it's great before putting in on their bedside table to gather dust.

Facebook and Instagram and the rest of the social media world are awash with memes and quotes telling us to live in the moment, be grateful for the small things, live life fully. We don't even have to think too hard about it, as there will be an emoticon to fit the bill.  I have moments when I'm all for being grateful and being inspired, but sometimes the small stuff is scraping Weet-Bix off the floor, time and again. It's repeating "Stop it, no, stop it, stop it, be nice, no" over again. Sometimes being a middle-aged mother is as boringly mundane as it sounds. Middle-aged mother. How on earth is that me? And, yet it is. And there is no amount of money you could pay me to again be 30 or 20.
Thinking that I knew it all, when in fact I knew nothing. Yet, when I answer how was my day, I almost bore myself. So what can I say that anyone would want to read? I'm not sure.

So in spite of that, perhaps it's time to be brave and write, knowing full well, it could amount to nothing. To try or die. To write something more meaningful than a quote in metallic print in a Kmart frame or in a cursive font on a Facebook meme. Not aiming too high, but you just never know.



Monday, 26 September 2016

Special interests

A few weeks ago, I was chatting to my mother-in-law and she was telling me how she doesn't really have a hobby or interest, as such, and how having an interest is such a good way to involved yourself in a new place. It's a way to connect with like-minded people. She was wishing she had an interest or hobby. It made me think.

I look at my Dad, who has a passion for music (playing and listening), travelling, reading and how all those things have really enriched his life and even his career.

When you're in the middle of your life, kids, family, house and career all take over and it's easy to forget about those interests. Case in point, as I write this my daughter is whining and yelling about bugs and how she won't be able to do a single thing until all the bugs in the world are gone and surely I must be able to do something about this. So my small attempt to create and be involved in my interest is difficult.

Which is why it makes it even more important to have something for ourselves. One day, you'll retire and the kids will be gone and what have you got left? Will you even remember what is was that made you happy if you've had to give it up? What's the essence of you. Some days, I struggle to remember what used to get me excited.

I know that when I sit down to write it makes me content. My head suddenly feels normal again (not writing for the past few months have certainly made me crazy). These days I love to listen to podcasts and TED talks and think about new ideas, be inspired by other's ideas and creativity. Talking to new people who are completely different from me excites me as well. Hearing new stories.  Seeing new films. Louis Theroux is in Australia at the moment and I would've loved to have heard him talk, because I love his naive way of getting people to talk and reveal themselves. I find people really interesting.

When I was younger I used to love a heated discussion. It was never personal, but debating a point with someone with a completely different view to me was always fun. Debating all the things you're not suppose to debate (religion, politics) was the most fun!

I feel like all these things are building me to do something. Maybe write a book. Maybe make a film. Have a radio show. A podcast. Something.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Finding the best of me

Writing my first blog post yesterday in yonks reminded me how much I love writing. How when I write I never know where I'm going to end up and then all of a sudden the truth starts to all fall into place in front of my eyes. It's like magic.

I'm not great at talking, I wish that I was better at it. I talk to my eldest and she's like me, the words are there but they struggle to come out. I hate it for me and I hate it for her. I hope she can discover how to write one day.

After rambling yesterday about the lack of excitement of being home and yearning for adventure, I realised that it's up to me to make my life. It's so easy to ignore what is right in front of you.

We are now in a beautiful new home, in a beautiful new city. I have three amazing kids, who are happy, healthy and hilarious. I have a husband who I'm very much in love with. Unfortunately, I think I neglect to realise how rich I am with all this in my life. I'm not the amazing mother I should be and I'm not the loving wife I should be.

The past few weeks I've had a knot of anxiety in belly. I don't know why. Like something wasn't right. I couldn't put my finger on it. I've felt lonely and isolated and not like me.
 It's time to shake that feeling off and put the effort back into my life. Stop looking for what is wrong. Make the good things happen. Build on the wealth of personal riches I have.

So, my plan is to be a better version of me. Fill myself up with the good stuff. Read, eat right, follow my dreams and passions, take better care of myself, take pride in how I look, not settle for less than I deserve. Be the mother that my kids deserve. Be the wife that my husband deserves. Be the person and live the life that I deserve. You never know what's around the corner so I need to live the best life I can now.

I think it's so easy as a women, especially a wife and mum, to run yourself dry. To think that giving everything is what you need to do, when in fact it's the wrong thing to do and it's not giving what your family actually wants. So much neglect.

It's time to bring back the passion, the spontaneity, the fun, the adventure, live this life now. Starting fresh on this fresh new page in a fresh new stage. To find the best of me.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Musings of a repat

The whole time I was in Dubai, I'd heard and read over and over again that going "home" was the hardest part of being away.

Everything I'd read had said things along the lines of: "I was so depressed in my home country, feeling like I don't fit in", "Coming home was so much harder that leaving". Throughout our time there we had no plan to come home, when we'd come home or even if we'd come home. So when we discovered that we would be returning to Australia I always knew it would be hard. I expected to miss Dubai, to get annoyed by things here, find it hard to discover my groove. All that was true, but I've recently discovered it's actually a whole lot more.

The first few months being back in Australia, in a new city, was exciting. The green, the food, the beauty. Being easily understood. Feeling the comfort of colloquial shorthand. Moving and resettling was understandably an upheaval. Getting the kids settled a task. I expected all that. What I didn't expect a few months down the track was the wave of sadness that envelopes me at certain moments, catching me unawares.

I love Dubai, but I don't exactly miss it. I can live without it. There are things I miss - friends, the stuff that we did and the places we went, of course, but it's more than that. I miss the excitement. I miss that every day for 3.5 years I learnt something new, constantly having my eyes opened to new sounds, tastes, tidbits of information. Always something new about the place I was in and the people who inhabited it. I miss the camaraderie of being with other expats, being surrounded by people who were up for the adventure of living somewhere else, who could throw themselves on a plane and caution to the wind and see what's out there. I miss the adventure.

I guess, essentially, I miss being an expat.

Home, for me, is such a loose concept. Is it where you are born? What your passport says? Where your heart is? Where you are in that moment. Is it a place that you long to return to? Is it where you make it? I don't know. I've lived in 7 different cities and four different countries in my life.

We recently moved into our "proper" house and literally as we were moving in, my middle girl had a big stack on her scooter in the street. One moment she was relishing a new-found freedom, one of the reasons why we moved here. The next she screamed and cried and said to me: "I just want to go home!"
Confused, I cautiously asked: "Which home?"
She couldn't answer me and just sobbed. Strangely I got what she meant.

Home is that moment when you feel a sense of comfort. Home can be an old movie that you haven't seen for years, but watched over and over as a kid. Home can be a good laugh with an old friend. Home can be a shared memory with someone you love, because shared memories are without doubt the best. It's easy to remember something on your own, but it's so much more special when you can remember it with someone.

Being an expat is addictive. It's so hard to fill that void of adventure and excitement in other ways now home. To stop and say, OK, this is it for the next however long and be happy with it. For someone, like me, who loves change and growth and challenge and not knowing what's around the corner, it's the thing I've feared the most.

Repatriation is hard. You can't just go home and be the same person when you left, because you're not and neither is anyone else. As a family it's hard. Individually it's tough too, for each of us. Finding your place, your worth. So, I'd be lying if I didn't say that I felt a little lost and unsure. I think most repats would agree.

Friday, 22 July 2016

Voices in my head

Recently, I received an email from a good friend who lives on the other side of the globe and she was apologising for not writing sooner, but she did say "I do talk to you A LOT in my head, if that counts". And it does. I like being a sounding board for someone going through their day, even if I'm not actually hearing her words.

The thing is I chat to her a lot in my head too. Does that sound crazy? Perhaps it does. I hear something and I can see her rolling her eyes or chuckling with me. I also write a lot of blog posts in my head too, because as much as I have to say and no matter how much I want to sit down and write, it doesn't always happen.

Living somewhere where I don't know many people and having a husband who works hard and travels a lot, not a lot of adult conversations happen in my world. So often I resort to chatting to friends and writing blog posts in my head. I know that I'm not alone, there are plenty of mums who are knee-deep in the nappy trenches, people who have moved to a new place or people who are stuck at home due to illness or a myriad of other reasons. Sure there's social media and I definitely do keep up with the chatter there, but the outrage and opinions does my head in at times. And there are only so many times you can chuckle at Trump meme.

A few weeks ago, we headed down to Sydney for the school holidays and my birthday party. It's always great to go to Sydney and catch up with all my friends and family. Each time, before I go, I have these grand plans of wonderful catch ups and quality time spent with good people I love. What usually ends up happening the kids get sick and tired and whingy from being dragged around. I only get to see a quarter of the people I want to and quality time turns out to be rushed catch ups and nothing like I imagine. I leave feeling exhausted and frustrated that things haven't turned out like I planned. More than likely pissing off myself and few others off in the process.

Then after the push and pull of being Sydney, I end up back with days filled with busy monotony, wishing I could transplant some of those catch ups here. It's like feast and famine. It's a feeling I've shared with a lot of other expats, it seems to be a common thing. And even though I'm not an expat anymore, in some ways I feel more like an expat now than ever.

Then you meet someone and they invite you for coffee and dinner and before you know it you have friends. You wave hello to people at the school gate, down the street and in the supermarket. You slowly, step-by-step, build up a life again and become part of a strange place.

A Whatsapp messages buzzes, an email dings or message lands on your phone and you're instantly in the thoughts of someone a city or world away.

Whatever happens, I still think those voices and unwritten blog posts will remain in my head.

Friday, 3 June 2016

People person

Earlier this week I was driving into town to pick up Skip for a sneaky birthday lunch. On the radio was one of my all-time favourites Conversations with Richard Fidler on ABC local radio, which I have listened to whenever I'm able for the past 10 years (if you don't know it, go and podcast it immediately).

The show involves an hour conversation with a person - they could be wildly famous and just mildly interesting. The show this day was about a man who has studied birds for many years, mostly the magpie and brush turkey. This fascinated me as we currently have a brush turkey living in our yard and we recently had to remove almost 2 tonne (yes, tonne) of vegetation matter from its nest. This guy explained all about the huge nests they make. In the midst of my wide-eyed amazement at his tales, I thought "I'm so glad we have people who are so fascinated about this stuff that they spend their lives studying it and sharing what they learnt".

I think that's why I love reading and books and movies and blogs. I love hearing people's stories. Everyone has a story to tell and it's interesting.

I also love hearing people who are passionate and interested about stuff, even if I'm not interested on that topic. I heard Adam Spencer recently talking about maths, and I'm not a maths person and I loved hearing him get excited about numbers and their place in the world. I wished that I had a teacher when I was young who was that passionate and maybe I would be a maths person. The older I get, the more I despise this nonchalant attitude we're all supposed to have, I want to be excited about stuff and I want to hear other people excited about things.

While I was in Dubai, without doubt the best part was the all the people I met and hearing their stories. Whether is was Maria who grew up in Soviet Russia or Aabia who told me what life in Pakistan was like as a woman or the Malaysian couple who ran marathons or Leila and her life in Lebanon. It felt like such a privilege to share in their lives and their stories. And I do miss that. I miss those parent catch-ups that were like the United Nations and the whole world opened up to me. I brought home such a deeper understanding of the world and the lives people live through those conversations.

The thing is we all have stories, unique and important stories. Most people don't think their story is worthy to share and keep it bottled up. Or they make up what they think should be their story.

While looking on the Conversations website, I stumbled across an episode of someone who I sat next to at work for a couple of years. I didn't really know him well, but he was a great writer and he used to make me laugh because when he did speak he'd say "What's is going on? I don't understand any of this?" usually referring to his computer or a work meeting or a comment from a colleague. So it was strange to hear him talk for almost an hour about this amazing story of his family and his childhood. Here I was thinking he was a privileged  kid who was a talented writer, but I had no clue he had such a traumatic life.

 I'm so thankful for the people who are brave enough to share their stories. There's so much talk about over-sharing these days, that people reveal too much of themselves. I get that. But I think there's a big difference between sharing your story and writing a Facebook update about missing the train. I think people feel comfortable sharing about what they ate for breakfast or what they're doing on the weekend, but people don't want to share what's really interesting or what's really important for fear of not being 'good enough' or feeling ashamed (probably because of all the Facebook updates) or being uninteresting when what they think is uninteresting is the most interesting, because it makes them who they are.

I'm amazed and envious of the artists who can put their stories into songs or words or paintings. I think they're luck that they can share their stories and our stories too. I don't think you have to be an artist to share though. Do you share your story? Who do you share your story with?

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Rain, rain come and stay

There is much excitement in our house at the moment, you see, they are predicting rain and lots of it for Saturday. Why is that so exciting, I hear you ask. Well, it's been almost four years since our family has had a cool, rainy Saturday. One of those days where you have no choice but to curl up under a blanket, read a book or watch a movie. Maybe make something delicious to snack on and then return to the blanket.

In Dubai, it was a nice day every single day. And on the rare occasions it did rain, it usually lasted a matter of minutes and then the seeded clouds would roll away. The pressure of "It's a nice day, I really should get out and do something" is surprisingly real.

Since we've been in Brisbane, the weather has been warm and nice. Every day. So every weekend we've gotten out and bush walked and played in the park and swum at the beach and explored and enjoyed 'the lovely day'. All the while, secretly hoping that big black clouds would roll over, the temperature would drop and we'd have no choice but to hibernate at home.

Four years is a really long time not to have that luxury of hearing the rain pelt on the window, a cool breeze blow under the door and not have a single place to go. You can't fake it either. You may try to stay at home and close the curtains, but you still know that it's hot and balmy and sunny outside. The guilt will creep in and you just can't enjoy it.

I can live with damp washing. I can live with soggy shoes. I'm just looking forward to it! My kids won't know themselves, they're always asking to stay at home.

Now, I have written this I've probably jinxed it and the sun will be shining in a bright blue sky and the nagging thought of "We should really get out there…" will return.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Spewin'

Without a doubt, the worst thing that all parents will go through at some stage of parenting is gastro. Waking up in the night to find their child in a puddle of vomit. Sheets, blankets, PJs having be washed and rewashed. Picking chunks out of hair and even eyelashes. Hand washing and lots more hand washing. Just when you think you couldn't possibly have to wash another load or wash your hands again, yep, there's more.

Gastro (I think) has hit our house. And while it's awful watching your little one so unwell, you know it's a ticking time bomb until another kid starts chucking, then another, until it's the husband and then, of course, you. Then suddenly you're washing sheets and clothes and picking out chunks while trying not to blow chunks yourself. Parenthood at it's most glamourous. And let's not forget about the stench.

At the moment, one child is down, I'm in that denial stage where I think "maybe she just ate something bad", while simultaneously jumping at every cough or gag that the other kids make. Dettol in hand wiping down every surface in the vain effort of stopping it spreading throughout the house.
In one way hoping, that if everyone is going to be struck down, can it happen now and get over it quickly so we don't have to cancel the weekend plans.

Skip is away again this week and I think is understandably hoping we can get this bug done and dusted before he arrives home.

Meanwhile, the washing machine goes on and on…

Image courtesy of Keerati at FreeDigitalPhotos.net 

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Meal deals: Fishy tales


Last night, I resurrected a recipe at Skip's request. It's a dish I used to make years ago (although I used to use a Tetsuya recipe and it was a bit more fiddly than this version), but for some reason I stopped making it. Probably because the ingredients were a little more difficult to come by in Dubai. Anyway, it's so simple and so delicious, that I thought I better share it.

This recipe is one that I got from Jill Dupleix but I changed it slightly. It's a take on Nobu's famous miso black cod and it's super easy and super quick to make. I reckon it's the perfect Monday night meal, light and healthy after a weekend of eating and/or drinking and you can have it on the table quick smart (if you prepare ahead and marinate the fish the night before, or you could eat it on a weekend, just remember to leave time for the fish to marinate). Best of all it's very, very delicious. There may be a couple of ingredients that are not in your pantry, but they're easy to pick up from the Asian aisle of the supermarket and once you buy them, you've got them for next you make it. Believe me, once you make it you'll make it again.

So I dare you to try it.




Miso fish with sesame snow pea salad

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons of soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons of caster sugar
  • 1/3 cup of Mirin
  • 1/3 cup Shiro Miso (white miso paste)
  • 500 grams of white fish (I used bream, but you could use any firm white fish)


Udon noodles or rice to serve

For the salad

  • Snow peas thinly sliced on a diagonal
  • Lebanese cucumber, deseeded and thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons of miring
  • 2 tablespoons of rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons of sesame oil
  • sesame seeds











Method
  1. Place the soy sauce, sugar and mirin in a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Add the miso paste and whisk until combined. Take off the heat and let it cool completely. 
  2. Place the fish in a dish with the marinade and toss to coat. Leave for a least two hours or, even better, overnight in the fridge. 
  3. Heat a hot grill. Line the wire rack with alfoil. Place the fish on the foil and chuck the marinade. Cook for about 10-15 minutes  (if the fish is whole, you can cut the fish into smaller pieces and the cooking time will be less). The original recipe said not to turn, but I quite like to turn and get the golden, burnt caramelisation all over the fish. 
  4. For the salad simply toss all the ingredients together. Serve the fish and salad with some udon noodles (I used ready-to-eat noodles) or some rice. 

My other favourite way to cook simple, delicious salmon is below. This dish is on regular rotation at our place.

Sweet chilli and lime salmon

Ingredients

  • A good slosh of sweet chilli sauce
  • A dash of soy sauce or fish sauce
  • A teaspoon of sugar (optional)
  • Lime or lemon juice (lime works better, but I often use lemon)
  • Finely chopped corriander
  • Salmon fillets (with or without skin, whatever you like)

Method
  1. Put all the marinade ingredients in a small bowl and mix together
  2. Place the fillets on individual pieces of foil (enough to fold up and make a small parcel)
  3. Spoon marinade over the fish fillets, then bring the edges of the foil together and scrunch tightly to make little parcels.
  4. Put in a hot oven and bake for about 20 minutes.
  5. Serve the fillets on rice or noodles with stir-fried veggies or salad.
YUM! 

What's your favourite way to cook fish?




Monday, 23 May 2016

The secret life of BrisVegas



Last Friday, as I was sitting with my legs spread out on the grass of the school oval watching the kids kick around an AFL ball, the sun was starting to dip behind the lush, green mountains. A golden haze spilt across the grounds giving a warm glow and the most perfect light. A balmy breeze blew through the tall gums circling the oval.

I was chatting to some other parents, talking about where I'd come from and what had brought me to Brisbane. Talk moved onto the weather, as it often does. "It's just so glorious, to think winter is just a few weeks away," said one. "You see, this is one of the reasons Brisbane is Australia's best kept secret. I moved here from Canberra and you just can't beat the weather and the lifestyle. If everyone else knew how we lived, they'd all want to move here," said another.

It's true. A lot of people think we're a little strange for moving here. Brisbane equals boring in a lot of people's minds. Suburban. Nothing much to do. Redneck. Boring.

A dear friend quoted Paul Keating when we said we were moving here: "If you're not living in Sydney, then you're just camping out." Well if that's true, then I have to say I quite enjoy camping out.

Sydney is my hometown. It's where I was born. It's where I spent the majority of my life. It's where most of my family and friends live. It's a place that will always be "home". The problem is the few times I've been back over the past few years, I've found that it started to annoy me and stress me. I'd get in the car thinking I had plenty of time to get where I was going to find it actually took me three times longer. To buy a home we would have to settle for something nowhere near what we wanted, miles away from friends and family, and have a long commute for work and just about anywhere else. Then there's the parking, the rush and everything else. Sydney was beginning to lose its shine for me.

I've found Brisbane to be anything but boring. We can afford to have a lovely house just a couple of kilometres from the centre of town, in a nice neighbourhood. I've driven into the CBD at peak hour on a Friday evening and back again in a matter of minutes. We can jump in the car and be in the bush, the real actual bush in under 30 minutes. We have a funky bar, as cool as anything I've seen in Sydney a three minute walk from our house. Yet, there is space and parks and trees. There are plenty of good coffee shops and places to eat. There are Farmer's Markets and boutiques and bookshops. And best of all it's relaxed. It feels like life is made to lived here, not just to exist. It's easy and simple. Life just feels good here.

For an easy day trip you can venture north to the Sunshine Coast, south to Byron Bay or west to the dividing range. Places I'd dream of going for a holiday are now in easy reach each and every weekend.

So, if people think that Brisbane is this boring uninteresting place, where not a lot happens that's a-ok with me. I'm happy to keep it secret.



Friday, 20 May 2016

Lazy bones

This morning as I drove past the servo I noticed that petrol had dropped 10c a litre, as I was driving on fumes I pulled in. I spent a minute or two trying to remember where the button was to release the petrol cap, then another minute trying to remember if this was the car that needed premium petrol or was E10 ok? Finally, I was filled and ready to go, I open the back door and told Darbs to come with me and go inside to pay.

"What do you mean, go inside and pay?" he asked. Pulling him along, I explained that's what we did here. He shrugged his shoulders and followed me inside. After pointing out the bowser (I'd forgotten to note which number), questions about shopper docket discounts and then an argument with Darbs about how he couldn't have a Fanta slurpie at 9am, I was really, finally ready to go.

We then headed up to laundry to pick up Skip's shirts. Yes, I'm lazy and he's lazy and I hate starching and ironing and all that waste-of-time stuff.

Home again, I noticed that the car was really filthy, I pulled into the driveway, got the hose, bucket, sponge and chamois ready.

"You're washing the car again?" Darbs asked.

"Well, it was the other car I washed last week and this car is really dirty. Do you want to help?" I asked.

"Nah," he said as he went off to ride his scooter. The novelty of car washing has well and truly worn off.

You see, Dubai has made me really quite lazy and all these normal chores are strange to poor Darbs.

I do miss being able to pull into the servo and the man filling my tank and taking my money without getting out into the searing heat. By the end I didn't even have to tell him how much I wanted or what type of petrol I needed, he'd automatically start filling my car as soon as I'd pulled up. He knew not to ask if I needed Salik, fuel cleaner or a 15-box value of tissues.

I do miss being able to get my car washed and vacuumed weekly by a team of guys for under $10. As I looked at the streaky mess I made of my car, my admiration for those guys went up a million. They were true masters.

But I have a shameful confession to make. The most lazy part of my life in Dubai wasn't the live-in maid we had for a few months and it wasn't having people come and clean my home and change my sheets each week. The most lazy part of my life was the man who sat at the boom gate at my local mall, he'd sit there and collect tickets and put them into the machine so the boom would go up. All so we shoppers didn't have to stretch too far or put our arms out into the heat.

The first few times I used to think "How ridiculous! Surely it's not too much to reach out and put the ticket in the machine myself?" Then there was the day when he wasn't there, he was taking a well-deserved break. That day I actually had to wind down the window, of course I hadn't pulled in close enough so I had to take my seatbelt off. Then I dropped the ticket and it fluttered under the car. So I actually had to get out of the car and find the ticket on the greasy, dirty ground, while the cars piling up behind me beeped their horns. The ticket finally in my grasp, I threw my hand up in apology and mouthed "The man's not here!" and the drivers nodded in understanding. Oh the humanity of it all.

Now as I exit Westfield, I think wistfully of my ticket-collecting man and his smiling face at the boom gate of the Mall of the Emirates and my old Dubai life.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Dumb and Dumber

Someone said to me the other day, "It must be strange to feel that your 'home country' now feels foreign". And it's true. Coming back to Australia, a lot of things feel the same but a lot of things feel different. Some of the things have changed, but some just feel different after some distance.

The most obvious thing I noticed when I came back to Australia was the smell. The scent of eucalyptus was almost overpowering, yet, of course, I never noticed it when I lived here. Every day, I really notice the birds and their sing-song, especially the kookaburras, and it's just magic.

Then there were the things that had changed, the NSW RTA had become the DMS. You could no longer just buy Tim Tams or Vita-Weets, they had to be Pina Colada-flavoured Tim Tams or Soy & Linseed Vita-Weets. Everything had to be done online. And after any interaction with any type of customer service, I'm asked "Please rate us".

Like every normal person you always become a bit nostalgic and wistful for what you have left behind. Suddenly I really needed to eat labneh and hommous and not having to give a score out of 10 for the person who delivered your new couch.

There are some things about coming home that I haven't enjoyed. One thing I have noticed, that I never noticed before, was the fact the men seem to talk over the top of women all the bloody time. On TV, on the radio, at the pub, at a friend's house. A woman will be talking and then all of sudden, without thought or seemingly care, a man will just start waffling about his take or thoughts. It's completely maddening. Or a woman will be talking and you can see the man's eyes wandering off somewhere else. It's so rude!

People have said to me, "Oh you must be glad to be back where you can have a bit more value as a woman and not be sexually discriminated against." The thing is that the men I met in Dubai didn't talk over the top of women. They listened politely. They were interested in what I had to say. They thought about what I said and responded accordingly. Arab men, South Asian men, European men. My words and my contribution to a conversation had value. They weren't dismissed before they were even out of my mouth.

The other thing I'm finding maddening is the dumbing down that gets done in this country. I turn on the radio and there are these loud people yelling at me, always yelling, there's no subtlety. There's this awful blokey humour, 'oh don't go there', nudge-nudge stuff. Even the women sound blokey (maybe in attempt not to be spoken over), not like any women I know. The jokes are all a dumb variation of the same thing. It's this whole 'Keeping it Real' vibe, where intellect is dismissed as 'up yourself' and quick wit is to be distrusted.

You turn on the TV and it's all Seven Year Switch, Marriage at First Sight, home bloody renovation shows and talent quests. I don't know, I really believe we're all a bit better than this. We're all a lot smarter than what we're being fed. I'm not suggesting that Four Corners be put on continuous loop, I'm all for a big of escapist entertainment, but does all of it have to be of the lowest common denominator.

 Wouldn't it be good to see some real Australian stories? Australian dramas. Australian comedies. Australian docos. Not people willing to sell their soul for their 15 minutes.

The news is all gasps and outrage and people being called on by other people to apologise. If you're not outraged, then your not relevant. All while the important stuff, the stuff that actually matters gets swamped by "the ugly truth of Thermomix", a politician being asked to explain, someone being un-Australian and football players changing jobs.

I just think it would be nice to be spoken to by the media like I have half a brain. I think most Australians have a lot more than half a brain.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

You old hag


As I was doing Goosey's hair this morning, she was looking wistfully at a picture of herself as a toddler and said: "I wish I was three again, I don't like getting old, Mum."

Stifling a chuckle, I replied: "Well, it's not that bad and you can't change it, Darbs just wants to be old like you, remember."

I'm rapidly approaching the big 4-0 in a couple of months and while it feels weird to be almost 40, I have to say I don't mind at all. It's much better than the alternative and not turning 40! I'm healthy, my family are healthy and that makes me luckier than a lot of people in the world. Last year, when I was diagnosed with my tumour, I was forced to think about the possibility of life being cut short about not growing old, so bring on old age I say!

Plus, I think life gets more interesting as I get older. I think I get more interesting as I get older. So, if that's the case, who wouldn't want to get older?! God, it would be so boring to stay 25 or 30 forever. The other thing, being a mum, I'm always brought back to earth. When I was talking about my birthday and maybe having a party, Lil-lil said to me: "Why? It's not a big deal or anything. It's not like turning 10." Of course not, what can be more important than turning 10?

The only downside of turning 40 is the fact that it's all starting to go by so fast. There's so much I want to do and all those lazy days you feel you could waste when you're young start to feel a bit more precious. A minute ago I was picking out a cot and a pram, these days we're picking out high schools. Before long it will be formal dresses, universities and schoolies (perish the thought).

With that though comes more time to explore for myself. Now the kids are not so reliant on me every minute of every day, I can start to read more books, write more, squeeze more time to follow my pursuits. Maybe even a sneaky adults-only trip away.

So you see, I'm really looking forward to turning 40. For a brief moment, I thought about doing one of those bucket list 'before I turn 40' things that a lot of people do. Then I didn't really see the point, for me  40 is a new, exciting chapter and I think it's going to be a great time in my life, I really and truly do. So,  I'm going to start a list of things to do after I'm 40. I feel wiser and more prepared for it than any other stage of my life. I can look back at what I've done and what I've achieved and know that what ever gets thrown my way I can get through, I can go forth not feeling fearful.

I almost feel like I'm turning 18 and that life, real grown up life, my life, might start now. And I might actually have a little bit of control over it, although as I've learnt we have no control over life. Just like babies, life is predictable in its unpredictability.

Image courtesy of Bulldogza at DigitalFreePhotos.net

Friday, 13 May 2016

My secret guide to eating out in Dubai - Indian, Pakistani, Arabic & Persian food

The original Bu Qtair Restaurant, before they got fancy and moved across the road. 

I've said this is a secret guide to eating out in Dubai, but there are some old classics on this list that will appear in most eating out guide to Dubai. Despite that there are some places that I'm only sharing now that I've left the city and I don't need to worry about getting a table on a Friday anymore.


When people move to Dubai it's quite common to hear that they've gained the Dubai Stone, this is the weight you put on from all the eating and no moving that tends to happen in the city.

As most people know Dubai is known as a city of glitz, glamour and excess and this is true of its restaurants. With more 5-star hotels than you can imagine where a lot of expats spend their dirhams and hours on the weekend, there are restaurants to match. Of course, you can choose to dine with Gordon Ramsay, Gary Rhodes, Marco Pierre White, Atul Kochhar, Nobu, Richard Sandoval, Giorgia Locatelli, Jamie Oliver, Wolfgang Puck, Antonio Carluccio, Jason Atherton and the list goes on and on. Not to mention the fit out of these restaurants being totally mind-blowing.

For me, though, this isn't what eating out in Dubai is about. There are so many places where you can get the meal of your life without damaging your wallet. There's a little secret to discovering the best food and that's to take a look at the people around you. The nationalities of the highest numbers in Dubai are Indian, Pakistani and Arab, so these that are the cuisines to head for and you won't be disappointed.

Here are some of the places that we ate at time and time again:

Ravi's
It would be impossible to write an eating guide to Dubai without mentioning Ravi's. It's an institution. It's a place where Pakistani taxi drivers and British investment bankers alike dine at rickety tables eating curries, roti and kebabs washed down with cold bottles of water. We once feed a group of 10 people for under AUD$100 and had leftovers for lunch the next day, so it won't break the bank. If you've never tried Pakistani food before, then Ravi's is a must. I recommend the mutton Jalfrezi and the ginger chicken, palak paneer (spinach and cheese) and the dhal. Order up big, have a chai while you're waiting and then sit back and people watch. This is about as Dubai as you can get. If you'd like to visit this restaurant jump in a cab and say you want to go to Ravi's in Satwa, the driver will know exactly what you mean.

Gazebo
This North Indian restaurant was a slow burner for me. I'd heard people talk about it, but didn't venture there for some time, what a mistake that was. It's a chain of restaurants so you can find them throughout the Emirates, including Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah and Ajman. The quality of their food is consistent and I was never disappointed. I've never had a bad meal from Gazebo, but the Murgh Kastoori Kabab and the ladies fingers (I could never find this on the menu, but if you just ask for ladies fingers they'll know what you mean) are truly outstanding. I might be crying a little as I type this as I can't believe I won't be eating either of these any time soon. To find one of their restaurants visit their website.

Raju Omlet
Oh my. This place is really the goods. If you don't like eggs, then you can forget about it as that's all they serve - breakfast, lunch and dinner. The restaurant is an Indian franchise that serves curried eggs (don't think about Aunty Beryl's curried egg sanga cause they are nothing like this), rolled omelettes with chilli and marsala. The curries are served with pav (which are a Bombay-style bread roll) and roti. Their chai is also the best around, lovingly made, my favourites were the ginger chai and the mint chai.
There is a tiny outlet in Karama near the Park Regis Hotel and since I've left they opened another on Sheikh Zayed Rd in Al Quoz. They don't have a website, but you can check out their Facebook page.
In researching this, I've discovered there's a Raju Omlet in Melbourne, so I'm off to check out some cheap flights….

Calicut Paragon
If you like seafood and you like Indian food, then this is the place for you. Another franchise (they love a franchise in Dubai), they serve up seafood curries you wouldn't believe. I had the best prawns I've ever eaten in my life here, unfortunately they were ordered by someone else and I sadly I never worked out which ones they were. They also do a mean Appam here (a pancake made from ferment rice batter and coconut) which go perfectly with their dishes. The crabs and prawns are fantastic and they also do a mean dhal. They have two restaurants in Dubai (and a couple in India), so check out their website. We used to visit the Karama one and then you can go and visit the famous Karama Handbag market, to pick up a few genuine imitation handbags. Here's their website.

Bu Qtair Fish Cafteria
This is another Dubai institution and has been around for many years! While we were living in Dubai it was housed in a small portable shack near the beach with one of the best views of the Burj Al Arab around. People would begin queuing in the sand before they opened to get the best pick of the prawns and fish, then sit at tiny plastic tables to gobble it down. They serve two things - fish and prawns both served in the same marinade, you can pick your fish out of their large bucket and order the prawns by the kilo. You can order rice and roti and they come with a spicy coconut gravy which I could drink by the barrel. Just before we left Dubai, it moved across the road to the Fishing Harbour and is now served up in a more sterile environment and they now open for lunch. This makes me a little sad as Bu Qtair was the best most unpretentious place you could come across. If their prawns still taste the same then it's still worth a visit because they're unbelievable. Get their early to avoid the queues! They're located at the Fishing Harbour in Umm Suqueim, turn at the Chalet restaurant on the Beach Rd towards the beach and follow the road around.

Al Safadi
Within a couple of days of landing in Dubai we discovered this gem and kept returning time and time and time again over the three-and-a-half years we were there. Their Lebanese food was some of the best I had in Dubai and that's saying something because the Lebanese food in Dubai is plain awesome. Their baba ganouj, hommous, falafel, grilled chicked, kafta, fattoush is out of this world. Fresh, tasty and delicious. They are located on Sheikh Zayed Road, not far from the DIFC. This is a pretty local restaurant, so you won't find any other tourists there, but you will leave with a happily full belly. Check out their website (where I also just noticed that they have another restaurant in Dubai in Al Rigga and another restaurant in Erbil in Kurdistan!)

Burj Al Hamam
Another reliably good Lebanese restaurant. They are also a chain (are you getting the gist about chain restaurants in Dubai yet?) with outlets around Dubai and the whole Middle East, so you can get a good feed whether you're in Dubai, Kuwait, Amman or Riyadh. The outlets in Dubai Marina Mall (lovely to sit outside when the weather is good, also has shisha) and the Mall of the Emirates (this outlet is seriously plush and full of bling). All the dishes are good here, but the calamari and the whole grilled chicken are standouts. Darbs says they have the best french fries around.

The Iranian Club
This is a fantastic place to come if you've never tried Persian food before and you want to get a taste of Iran. They offer a buffet every Thursday, Friday & Saturday lunch for around 75 dirhams a person (AUD$27) you can eat as much as you like and they serve unlimited soft drinks and black sweet tea. There's a plethora of fresh salads, Persian kabobs and saffron rice. Note: to enter the club everyone must be modestly dressed - no shorts or singlets for men; arms, legs and heads covered for women. This place is well worth a visit, check out their website.

Barbecue Delights
The only bad thing about this North Indian, Pakastani, Afghani place is that I didn't get to go there enough. I encourage you to go there and delight for yourself. Order the Barbecue Delights Special Platter (don't bother with anything else) and prepare to roll out of the restaurant. They, of course, have a few outlets in Dubai including Lamcy Plaza, JBR and Downtown. Visit their website.

Bamyam Afghan Restaurant
We discovered this gem when we were invited to eat by the cousins of the owners, it was my first taste of Afghan cuisine and it didn't disappoint. The Aushak (kind of like Afghan ravioli) and the bolani gardana are delish. Located in Business Bay, when the weather isn't scalding you can sit outside and the kids can play all in the shadow of the world's tallest building. Visit their Facebook page.

German Doner Kebab
Before I went to Dubai I was not much of a kebab person, greasy unknown meat wrapped in soggy bread did nothing for me. Then I discovered kebabs in Dubai. There's the famous shwarma (chicken, pickle and french fries with garlic sauce wrapped in bread, OMG, so good. You can get these anywhere, even at IKEA. My favourite kebab though used to come from German Doner Kebab. A mix of chicken and veal, with sauce and fresh red cabbage and salad wrapped in a cripsy waffle-style wrap. So, so, so good. German Doner Kebab shops are all over the city and make a perfect quick lunch or late-night belly filler. Visit their site here. PS you can find them throughout the Middle East and Europe.


Phew! That's a lot of eating. There are still a few gems that I want to share with you including cafes and the famous Dubai brunch, so I'll post again this time next week!

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Itchy feet



Let me start this post by saying I'm not a big fan of travel writing (and once upon a time, many years ago I was a travel writer) and I probably dislike travel blogs just a little bit more. Over the past few years, my family and I have travelled a lot. We tried to make the most of being in the centre of the globe, in an aviation hub and see what we could of the world. So that begs the question, do I become a hypocrite and write some travel posts? Or ignore the fact that travel has been a big part of our life the past few years.

So I thought, what is it I don't like about travel blogs? Well most of them use titles like "Our complete guide to…" when in reality it's not a complete guide and, simply, I just hate being told "You have to do…" or "You can visit without seeing…" because, of course you can! For me travel is such an individual experience. It's like me telling you, when you go to the beach you must swim, then make a sandcastle and then walk on the rocks, if you don't do that then you haven't really been to the beach.

There's also a smugness about travel blogs too, even when most of the time the smugness is unintentional (let's be honest, it's probably more my jealousy than their smugness). 

I'm not one of those people who say "I'm traveller, not a tourist, I really want to get to understand a country" because if you're not actually living in a country you won't understand what it's like to live in a country. Full stop. So we're all tourists to some extent, and that is a-ok. For some people travelling is about ticking off landmarks or seeing all those famous spots they've seen on their screens. For others is about walking and eating and soaking in the vibe. For some it's meeting new people. For others it's about broadening their horizons and understanding of the world. For a lot of people it's about simply about shopping and having a holiday! All perfectly good reasons to hop aboard a big AirBus or Boeing, in my opinion.

Anyway, I decided that over the next few weeks/months I'm going to share some of my travel tales. And that's what they will be - tales. You may get some inspiration or ideas to make your travel more fun or less stressful, but I won't guarantee that. For me, they will be a diary of our adventures, that our kids might read one day and it might spark some memories (and be worth the many dollars we spent!). 

Now for my next post, I'm going to do exact the opposite of what I just said I wouldn't do, and I'm going to write a post about where and what Dubai locals recommend you do and see in the city. Places that you may or may not find in the guides, places that I discovered by stumbling upon them or friends recommending them. With so many Aussies now stopping-over in the Emirates, I thought it might be nice. So please let me know if there's something special you'd like to know about! 


Image courtesy of Ohmega1982 at DigitalFreePhotos.net

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Breaking out of the box

A big move to a new location is always fraught with the fear of fitting in and finding your place. I've spoken to so many people who have moved suburbs, towns, cities, states and countries and found themselves with a nice new home, in a nice street. Everything they hoped they would get from their new move. Except for one thing…. a social circle. Someone to moan with over a cup of coffee, people to laugh with over a long, lazy Sunday lunch and someone to ask "Where's the best place to get your hair cut?"

When I moved to Dubai, it seemed like a big move to a far and distant strange land. Where everything was done a little differently and the people who lived there came from all over the world. While I thought I was a little out of my depth, settling in was surprisingly easy. Being a place where 70% of the population is expats means that most people are either in or have been in the same boat. Most people are willing to give you a hand, invite you over never having met you and just generally welcome you. Everyone knows what it's like to up and move to a new country so you have something in common and something you can share with almost everyone you meet.

I was lucky enough to meet people quickly and before the first month was out I made a friend who will remain a friend for life. Of course, these friends move on and then you have to put yourself out there again and again to keep your social circle healthy.

I always knew that moving back to Australia would be harder. While I've always tried hard to keep my friendships here healthy, we moved to a city I'd never lived in before and knew just one single person. I also knew that all the people I'd meet would have a strong group of friends and probably wouldn't have the 'vacancy' sign out. Also, I'd be meeting people who wouldn't really understand what I'd been doing the past few years.

I always knew I'd have to put myself "out there" yet again, but this time I knew it would be harder nut to crack. I just don't think I realised just how hard. Standing next to groups of mums at school pick up, nodding and throwing in a comment, to get a strange "who is she?" look. Meeting mums of the kids' friends and explaining where we'd moved from to get "Oh that sounds exotic!" or " Goodness, I'd feel bad making my kids move round the corner."

It's like being a kid again. Trying to fit in with the groups and work out cliques. Putting yourself out there again and again, knowing that for every 50 or so people you meet there may just one you'll connect with.

Just before we left to go to Dubai, I was at our local park with the kids. I met a lady with a toddler. She'd just returned to Australia after living in London for many years. She told how miserable she was as she was finding it impossible to make friends. Everyone already had their friends and weren't looking for a new one. She told me how desperate she was for just one of the mums in the park, who were always perfectly friendly, to ask her over for a coffee. Or at least say a warm "Yes, that would be lovely!" when she asked them to come to hers. I felt awful as I was literally moving out of our house the next day and in a week or so would be grappling with finding my own feet in a new place. I sometimes think of her and wonder if she settled in and now has a whole tribe of mates.

I thought of her again last week when I was chatting to a mum at preschool who'd lived in Singapore for many years. We talked on and on about expat life and moving back. In my head I thought "Yes! A comrade", until she leaned in close uttered the words: "Actually, I haven't told anyone, but we're moving to Sweden really soon."

Despite not winning at this making friends stuff so far, I haven't given up. I may be a little battered and bruised but I'm sure I'll find my circle eventually. 

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

What's it like being home?



I have had this question asked so many times over the past few weeks. "What's it like being home?" It's a difficult one to answer because, well, am I actually home? Yes, I'm Australian and I'm in Australia, but I'm living in a suburb I've never lived in, in a city I've never lived in, in a state I've never lived in. If we hadn't moved to Dubai, then this would've been a big move away from home, not a return.

I'm in a place where people understand what I'm saying and (most of the time) I understand them and that is actually comforting. Not trying to think up alternative words for 'esky', 'singlet', 'thongs (meaning shoes)' or not saying something that might offend. There was the one time recently while buying meat with Darbs when the butcher said: "Would the little guy like a cheerio?" I stared blankly for a second, wondering if he was going to call out hello to Darbs or offer him a single piece of breakfast cereal. Before my silent gap was too long, I said to Darbs: "Would you like a cheerio?" Darbs looked at me, looked at the butcher and shrugged his shoulders. In an instant a small frankfurter was put in his hands.
Aha, I had suddenly remembered Skip saying something about getting footy franks given to him by the butcher when he was a kid.

For the kids coming "home" to "Brisband" has been interesting. They're not too sure about the plethora of bugs, ants, spiders, moths, geckos, bush turkeys and possums that inhabit our garden. They do love bubblers though. It was strange explaining that if they were thirsty at school they could take a drink from the bubbler, now we have to make a five minute stop at every bubbler we see so my little camels can keep themselves hydrated. There have been more than a few: "Why can't we just go home?" and having to explain that this is home and Dubai may never be home again.

They have sold Dubai to their new friends as a place of wonder where you can buy glittery bags at the hypermarket but you have to buy water in bottles as there are no bubblers. It's a place of warm "puffy" bread and hommous. Where the canteen sold hot Indian and Arabic dishes and pancakes for breakfast. Where you had months off for holidays and a time of year that you couldn't eat in public. Where you had to get up before the sun to go to school, I often hear them say to each other "If we were in Dubai we'd be at school now, not just eating our breakfast."

For us adults, Brisbane is a wonderful place to live. Cosmopolitan, yet relaxed. In one word, simple. Life is simple.

So for the kids, it's step-by-step to settling into home. Making a new friend, one step. Playing AusKick, another step. Being invited to a party, one more step. After a while Dubai will be a memory and this life will take over as "home". Though I'm sure the longing for warm puffy bread will never end.

When we landed in Sydney I felt like was asking everyone, "How's life? What have you been up to?" Everyone updated me with the comings and goings of their family and work and life. One friend instantly replied: "I've just been really getting into Bieber." This was my all-time favourite answer. So next time someone asks how I'm settling in I might just steal this answer.
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