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

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

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


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.
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