Okay. So in the long standing tradition of over-sharing, I have now spent 9 weeks taking selfies and random pics of feeding fourth and final child in various locations around the globe. From Auckland to Andalucia I have demand fed this almost insatiable little Hobbit.
I will spare you further pontificating about my parenting style or my experiences feeding and share some pictures so you can come to your own conclusions about how you feel about feeding in public. I cover up for my own modesty, and in all our travels I was only confronted once, strangely on a BC ferry. Everyone else was pretty good. I even fed him on the subway sitting right next to strangers, who were not fussed at all and quite relieved that I fed him and he was quiet after a good grizzle.
So, thanks in advance for scrolling through this 8-9 week cross section of our Hobbity adventures. I personally find it much easier to feed him on the go, and was thankful to get settled on the cruise ship so I could express and leave him at the creche for a couple of hours and enjoy a guilt free glass of wine!
Also just want to take a second to admit to the fact that I found feeding an absolute nightmare the first time around. I also found it tough to start out with with subsequent kids. I was mere moments away from giving up because it was so painful and difficult. But I pushed through (barely) and am glad that I did.
I’ll let these pictures tell the story for the rest of the blog.
I have no idea how you might be feeling about the current state of play here in New Zealand or around the world. Personally, I have had to take a serious sabbatical from the news because it is all just too much. Doom and gloom have given way to fear and a feeling of helplessness that has brought me to tears of late.
As a result of this, I’ve recently found it easy to find many fabulous excuses to just quietly go about my business, and not bother caring about people outside of my immediate circle of friends and family. Making a difference seems like a loaded and impossible prospect. Mean and destructive people are everywhere. Bad things continue to happen to good people. Our planet is choking and I am part of the problem as much as I am part of the solution.
So is it time to cash in my chips and stop fighting the good fight? Am I just one little person without a voice or the means to make a difference? Are things so dire that quietly conceding defeat and waiting for the worst to happen and accepting it, is my only rational option?
Ripples of kindness are far reaching and none of us can ever fully grasp just how much our positive activism, however we go about it, actually is. A simple and random act of kindness as small as smiling at a stranger or holding a door can change the course of a person’s day and trigger innumerable positive moments in the days and lives of others.
So why am I bothering to share this particulary loaded post today?
So this happened:
I went to a local fruit and veg shop to pick up some fresh local produce at reasonable prices. A woman stopped to admire James and I confided that I was absolutely exhausted with four children and all the other stuff on my plate. A little tear came to her eye and she told me a long and personal story about having two “miracle” children after serious gynecological issues. I apologized earnestly to her for seeming unappreciative of my large family, as children were absolutely a blessing.
She was obviously touched and buoyed by the human interaction and I suspect she went about the rest of her day in a brightened mood and anyone she may come across would likely benefit from that.
I realised that I am totally blessed in countless ways, not the least of which being the fact I am healthy, loud, outgoing and genuinely enjoy engaging with people.
From there I went to meet a couple of pathological overachieving friends and talk about actively changing our world and making it a better place. They plan on engaging people on issues ranging from simple to complex. We discussed things as straightforward as planting a garden or composting, and as multifaceted as rolling out a nation wide campaign set to affect a million people through tech, sustainability or positive social activism.
Then I stopped in to visit a dear friend who was busy in the kitchen with another awesome human making magic and delicious food together. We decided we were going to get together once a month to cook and then share our fantastic food with friends or strangers and they would be blown away by our awesome while we all felt pretty good about cooking AND sharing.
I felt much better after that.
So if you are feeling overwhelmed and asking yourself “what can I possibly do?” I’d like to start by sharing some ideas.
Reuse more of your stuff. Upcycle, repurpose, donate, fix or give away things rather than throwing things out. Crafty people are the best at this!
Waste less. Eat more left-overs, be a bit more thoughtful about waste when you are cooking for your family or a crowd.
Grow something. This is one of my favourite things, even though I have a track record of failed gardening attempts I keep trying. My granddad is an amazing gardener, and is producing enough for himself and many friends and neighbours well into his 80’s. Planting a citrus tree, or a box full of herbs to place on your kitchen windowsill is still growing something, and if heaps of people do a bit, the combined result is actually mind-bogglingly cool!
Say something genuine and kind to someone you Love. Seriously, if you do this all the time anyway, keep doing it, but if you’re having a bit of a downer day, take the time to make the effort to share some heart-felt and positive words and you’re planting some awesome right in your own social circle.
Smile at a stranger or let someone in traffic (safely) or say thank you with a wave if someone lets you in.
Clean out your pantry and donate some cans that you don’t think you will ever use. This is a double whammy because you get a cleaner pantry and you give something to someone who needs it.
If you are a foodie like me, get together with some other food obsessed people and spend an afternoon cooking and bring the fruits or our labours directly to a friend in need, or drop them off to one of the pay it forward initiatives in our area. Looking forward to getting together with Anna and Freddy in the coming weeks to do this, and I’ll totally YouTube it if I can manage to get a couple of moments footage without us flexing our trade-mark colourful vocabularies (I like to keep things G rated online as you know)
This list could go on in perpetuity because every day we are all given thousands of chances to do something good or constructive. Don’t feel overwhelmed, and realize that the time you spend making excuses not to do something is probably enough time to just go ahead and complete a task, however seemingly insignificant, that will plant a little seed of fabulous in the universe.
SO in conclusion YES, the world is totally messed up. But if we all start doing what we can with what we have where we are, then it really will get better.
Thanks for tuning in and please let me know your thoughts on little and big things we can do to make things better.
On Monday our littlest Hobbit will be five months old. It went fast, but it also feels like it dragged on and on as the sleeplessness, diapers, baby chattering, reflux, spills, car seat crying, 4:00am playfulness, and other quirks have really taken their toll.
We adore our wee man. He’s very much and individual and very sweet and gentle.
We have been happily handing him over to family, friends and even strangers who obviously adore babies. Some people are horrified by this. My feeling is this: we all parent in our own way. I choose to expose my kids to as many experiences as possible. So long as I feel they are safe, and I get a good feeling about the people in question, I will let anyone who wants a cuddle with our very wee children have one. They are immunised and breast-fed and people have kindly said they won’t hold them because they have a sniffle or recently were sick and wouldn’t want to get him sick.
The upshot of raising our kids the way we do, is that they seem to be fairly well adjusted, robust, resilient, curious, engaging kids. They have just enough stranger danger to keep them close to us when we venture around the corner or around the world, and they also have enough trust of people of every colour, creed and religion that they face the world without a great deal of fear or trepidation. We do things our way, and you do things yours, but this is just a snippet of James’ story so far.
So this has put the nail in the coffin of our ambitions to have a fifth child. No. Way.
There has been almost nothing relaxing about the past 6 weeks of globe-trotting. Don’t get me wrong, it has been amazing, and we have planted memories that will last a lifetime in our little people’s hearts and minds. The past weeks have seen us spend some fantastic family time together. It has also been packed full of chaos and cringe-inducing moments.
We have faced: varied schedules, greetings and goodbyes, jet-lag, frequent connections, jam-packed itineraries, a hefty helping of homesickness, exhaustion, tantrums, teething, bickering, bathroom emergencies at the most inopportune moments, much swearing (mostly me), concerned Canadians, surly Spaniards, abuse spewed at me at the airport in Montreal because I had a crying infant for 90 minutes solid on the plane, rudeness at restaurants, other people’s children, sweltering heat, long days, sugar highs, sugar crashes, screaming baby, whining, whimpering, wallowing, wandering, wondering, and walking. So. Much. Walking.
So there was that.
But there was also: swimming in pools and rivers, snorkeling in the Mediterranean, fine wine, good food, kind strangers, helpful people at every turn who offered a hand with the children in many different ways, new and familiar places, family, friends, summer breezes, dust road sneezes, ice-creams and brain freezes, laughter, tickles, cuddles, snuggles, movies, theatre shows, magic tricks, puzzles, and so much more wonderfulness; I will, however, spare you my inane chatter.
Here are a few things I have learned about traveling with a large family that I’ll share with you.
Back in the TBC (Time Before Children) we were able to turn on a dime and sneak off for a weekend road trip or hop a plane to someplace with very little forethought. We’d fly by the seat of our pants and let fate decide for us where we’d stay, eat, and play. We have had so many adventures traveling this way, most of which have been fantastic.
We were carrying on with this travel philosophy long after it was no longer practical. Even with three kids in tow we’d arrive in a place and just let the mood take us, without researching or thinking too long or hard about what we were going to do or how we were going to get there.
For the sake of your sanity, and the children’s health and happiness, please learn from our mistakes and plan ahead. At least a little bit.
We landed in the South of France with no plans, so decided upon touching dry land that we’d go to Eze.
Because of our total lack of research and preparedness, we took the train the two stops up the line to the bus-stop that would have taken us up the hill to the medieval town. We waited for about an hour for that bus to come. Fed the children ice creams and water, but the heat and wait got the better of us and we decided to catch the train back down to the beach. Just as we arrived on our platform, we watched the bus roll up and reward the people patient enough to wait for it to turn up.
Ah well. Maybe next time.
We did end up going snorkeling, and the people watching and crystal clear water was magic, so not an entirely wasted day by any stretch of the imagination.
You must have your accommodation booked so you don’t waste time searching for it and can get the kids fed and rested ASAP at each stop. Do not have them in the car, train or plane for any longer than is necessary and have things for them to do at stations and airports. Know where toilet and food stops are, and be ready to find rest stops often to let off some steam, or they will bicker until your ears bleed. That has been my experience anyway.
Things will go wrong. You have to know that, and not be freaked out or let it get to you.
You also must remember that you cannot ascribe to malice things that can just as easily be explained by ineptitude. We turn down the full body scanner at American airports as we’d rather not die of radiation poisoning like Madame Currie.
This is apparently fine when I am holding the baby, but they always seem to make it a very long and painful process for Grumpy and he often ends up waiting an extra 15-30 minutes than I do getting patted down, waiting, or just generally being messed around. He has decided not to take this personally, and that makes our experience a lot more pleasant.
Everything takes longer with children. Accept this. Or don’t travel.
Always. Always. ALWAYS bring snacks.
Always. Always. ALWAYS bring water.
Push your kids out of their comfort zones. Get them to eat the flash fried squid tentacles in Andalusia, even if they spit them out. Bring them, even as they drag their feet and protest, to cathedrals, parks, castles, monuments, ruins and so forth. Pack those little heads full of culture, and make sure you swat up on your history and local knowledge, as there will be questions and it is awesome if you can correctly answer them. We are always amazed by how much sinks in!
And then, when you have crammed their little heads so full of history, culture and new experience that they might just pop, change gears and do some mindless kid stuff.
Always make time for play parks, ice-cream stops, swims, cartoons and mindless kid-friendly blowing off steam antics. You’ll all be better for it.
And that, is just some of my advice on traveling with a large tribe of children.
I arranged to take this Disney cruise quite literally the same week I found out we were pregnant with our fourth child. We always do a babymoon, and this was to appease the older children more than anything.
Having cruised on NCL and Princess lines before, we had asked around and done some research, and Disney was heads and shoulders above all other lines for traveling with babies.
They are the only cruise line that will supervise children under the age of 3. There is a 9USD charge per hour for the privilege, which is exceedingly reasonable considering they feed, change, sooth and entertain your baby so you can have time to do with whatever you please.
Today I will outline our experiences for anyone considering taking a Disney cruise.
As this was our fourth child and our first big family vacation for a very long time by Hobbit standards (six months) I was given permission to book a two-bedroom suite. Very expensive. Private message me if you want to know how much and I will be glad to tell you so your jaw can drop as did Grumpy’s when he got the bill.
The suite was fabulous. Nearly the size of our first home in floor area. Three toilets, two baths and showers, two bedrooms and a fold out couch in a large and beautifully finished living area that included a large flat screen TV as well as dining table for 6. There are three single beds in a separate children’s room and a beautiful master bedroom with walk in wardrobe, dressing room and lavish on-suite bathroom including a spa. The entire room is tastefully decorated with walnut veneer, plenty of storage, and a wide selection of excellent reading materials on the bookshelves.
We would both rate the suite a 9/10 when compared with the other lines we have cruised.
The service was absolutely impeccable as well. The HR department deserves a pat on the back for their training and recruitment as not a negative word was uttered by any of the staff about their role, their experiences or Disney itself. I made the mistake on the last day of asking one staff member how they manage to stay so cheerful with screaming children, and being inundated with Disney EVERYTHING all the time. They were aghast by this, and said they loved everything Disney, and you know what? They meant it.
When you cruise with Disney you get a seating schedule and rotate around all the restaurants on the ship. A team of servers follow you from restaurant to restaurant and take care of your every need. They cut up the food for the kids, nothing is too much trouble. There are seatings for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
We found our lead waiter to be very politically insightful as he was from India and filled us in on the relatively new government there, as well as the state of things like the caste system and taxes. This was exceptionally eye opening and interesting to me, as there is surprisingly little general information about Indian political, economic and general affairs in the news in New Zealand. Apparently the top tax rate is around 18% and people find ways around that frequently.
His assistant was a good natured, warm and diligent woman from Jamaica. She has an 18-month-old child herself, and was amazing with the children. When I mentioned I had huge admiration for the personal sacrifices people make to fulfill these contracts and be away from the children, she was somewhat sad to think of her baby back home, but again, never uttered a single negative word and appeared to genuinely love her job and the children she was serving. I wish her all the best.
The third night of the cruise, Mickey Mouse walked through the Animators Palate restaurant, and I looked at all the happy children. The air was electrified with his presence and the joy and excitement of the children and parents around us was so real you could feel it in the form of goose pimples and chills. Some of the kids were special needs, some of them were make a wish kids. It reminded me of a cousin who I admire and Love a great deal who came on this exact itinerary cruise with her son not long before he died of an aggressive brain cancer. I started crying, and my Jamaican server gave me a big hug. I’m crying again as I write this, because it is a stark and raw reminder that life isn’t fair. And the embarrassment of riches I have been dealt must be paid forward. It was also a reminder to reinstate our family tradition of a Jack of kisses. This means five kisses, at least once a day for each of the children to remember their cousin. We have now reinvigorated this ritual and might be lucky enough to see my cousin on our way back through Canada in a few days.
Our room attendant was also from Jamaica. She had her 39th birthday while we were on the ship, so I got her a bottle of perfume from the store to wish her a happy birthday. She was gentle, kind, efficient, courteous, friendly and professional. My excitable and chatty daughter had a birthday a couple of days later, and Janice got her a lovely gift. She really went above and beyond in every way.
Staying in a suite you get a concierge service. Our concierge was originally from Zimbabwe and resides in South Africa. He was good-humoured, efficient, professional, courteous, and was in contact with us daily.
He went to great lengths to make us comfortable. The thing I personally found most refreshing was how human he was, and we he was the only person who was not appalled when I shared with him my exhaustion at the uber-formulaic Disney EVERYTHING. There are people who are so obsessed with Disney that they choose these cruises or Disney vacations every time they travel. We are not those people. In fact, we felt considerably like fish out of water in general, as our children did not have the Disney garb, nor did we make a massive effort at the trademark Pirate party.
He accepted that about us. And didn’t look at us as if we had leprosy if my trade-mark potty mouth came out, or if we expressed how uncomfortable we were with the terrific level of twee and extreme Disney everything. For that, I am very grateful indeed.
The facilities were clean and functional. The trademark Disney extravagances and surreal veneers were impenetrable.
The childcare facilities for my youngest son were fabulous. The manager of the facility was a young lady from Scotland with a refreshingly dry (but still personable and cheerful) way about her. They took great care of James and settled him after he threw up several times (as he does) after his bottle.
He always came home happy and relaxed, and they changed nappies and played with him and were not daunted by the fact he needs to be held and entertained constantly. They had him over 20 hours on the cruise, and let me come down to breastfeed him and called if he was upset. 10/10 for these guys!
The older kids were not smitten with the Oceaneers club. Adam did not make any friends, and neither did Daniel. Stephanie did of course. They spent hardly any time at kids club, which was actually fine with us, as we got to hang out with them in the beautiful suite and around the well-monitored pool facilities. There are lifeguards on at all times which was cool.
Our only complaints
On the first night we dined at the only paid dining facility called Palo. The food was fantastic, the wine was divine, and our server Kat was lovely and professional.
My husband arrived in a dress shirt, vest and some jeans. He was turned away due to the dress code. This would have been fine, however the Maître Dee was rude. It was also incongruent, as my husband looked absolutely fine, and tidy. There was a table next to us where the woman was wearing a gingham print shirt and pants, and the dress code stated that women MUST wear a dress. (I know, what is this, 1953?). Kat was kind enough to find a pair of pants for Grumpy to wear. She even delivered them to him in our suite.
As my husband only eats fish, he ordered it for lunch and then dinner on our second day. He sent it back as he found it inedible. The fact is, they have to use frozen stock, and it ended up dry and unpalatable. The head chef came to apologise in person, and admirably made no attempt at excuses. He knew exactly what Grumpy wanted, and promised something special. That turned out to be a special order of sea bass defrosted slowly (in the fridge) and cooked perfectly. It was delicious. They also sent us a plate of garlic-seared shrimp. They went above and beyond to keep us happy and we were very appreciative. We also learned that Disney is the third largest buyer of food on the planet. This fact was overwhelming and proves again the magnitude of the Disney machine.
Although I am sitting here at 10:30pm the night before we disembark in Barcelona and I NEED to get off this ship, I can fairly safely say we will cruise again for the children. The room was perfect and the staff were all amazing, bar the rude Italian gentleman that made Grumpy feel uncomfortable.
“One belongs to New York instantly, one belongs to it as much in five minutes as in five years.” Tom Wolfe
This pretty much sums up my feelings about this iconic American city. The first time I landed in NYC I was engaged to the man of my dreams, and tagged along with him while he was there introducing the world to his iconic product Serato ScratchLive™ at a Remix Hotel held at the SAE (School of Audio Engineering) in Herald Square.
I have been married to that man for over a decade now, and we have brought all of our children here as infants, as the idea of herding young people through the streets there is not on any level appealing.
The first morning I arrived in the city, I walked out to towering skyscrapers and deafening noise like I had never heard before. And I was home.
New York moves at a frenetic pace that even an ADHD riddled brain like mine cannot fully grasp. There is an inescapable energy that buzzes arrogantly through every inch of this surreal city. You can smell it. Undeniably unpleasant, yet strangely exhilarating; the stench that wafts through the streets, subways and up through the manhole covers as you traipse through the endless experiences the c ity has to offer.
There is never enough time in New York. Perhaps why it has been christened the city that never sleeps. A day, or a week, or a month will still leave you painfully aware of all the sights, sounds, smells and moments that you missed. Even though you sacrifice sleep and tolerate aching feet to stay for just a few hours more zigzagging your way through Manhattan.
I Love this city. The way you might Love a disinterested or sadistic lover. The pollution is palpable, subsistence is expensive, and the city cares not whether I live or die. Nor does it mind what I do while I am wrapped up in the chaos of its rhythms.
So I carve out my own familiar path. There is a weeping willow tree by the turtle pond in Central Park that we return to for a nap and some calm. I always strike up several conversations on the subway. And Google always finds me a restaurant with food that makes me want to weep it is so delicious.
This last trip we flew a friend out to join us for a day in the city. She’s going through some major life changes, and was able to fly out to join us for a day of sight-seeing and unplanned chaos.
I won’t bang on about it, rather, I’ll share some pictures of Hobbit happenings while we were there.
I could have sent in the paperwork and done this at any point over the past 15 years or so as I have met the criteria for claiming Kiwi citizenship for quite a long time now.
My Canadian passport came up for renewal, and the children’s did around the same time, so I thought we may as well all have our passports renewed at the same time and I ought to just get my Kiwi one organised.
I would hazard a guess there are few people on the planet as frequently and genuinely grateful to be living in their surrogate country as I am to be here in New Zealand.
I know that my country of choice is far from perfect, and the vast imperfections are highlighted as we lead up to the November election. The most pressing concerns as far as myself and my family are concerned being our abhorrent domestic violence and poverty, and our energy and environmental policies. There’s plenty more to discuss, but I’ll leave it there.
So on this, the first official day of what I hope will be a long and happy life as a Kiwi, I thought I’d share with you a quick list of things that make me think of New Zealand.
1) Rainforest, streams, birds, big trees, tramping, nothing that will kill you (no snakes or bears or vicious animals at all in our gentle little Island paradise), scenery, greenery and beautiful coastline. So… Nature. We got it in spades down here.
2) Punching above our weight. We’re a nation of overachievers. Sure lots of Kiwis head offshore for a time and seek fame or fortune abroad, but once New Zealand is in your heart, there’s a very good chance you’ll return. We do very well at the Olympics. We are currently the greatest Rugby nation on earth. We share great business and academic minds with the world. I feel that New Zealand and Canada share this mentality to punch above our weight, as we both have larger nations to compete with. Kiwis have the Ozzies and Canadians have the ‘Mericans. It gives us kind of a stroppy younger sibling mentality in some ways I think, and that means as a nation and as individuals we are often seen on the world stage. Grumpy’s company Serato is a great example of this, and I am consistently baffled as to why, as a nation, we don’t celebrate our successful sons and daughters a bit more here at home. Guess it is that whole humility thing and the tall poppy mentality. Grumpy himself certainly doesn’t want to be “celebrated” and prefers to keep to himself. I think that’s pretty cool, and typically Kiwi.
3) I’m not the only person who seems to like this temperate Island Nation. There’s a certain type of chilled out rich and/or famous person who seems to be attracted to these shores. We play host to lots of celebrities of note. Some stay for a while and speak highly of our Island Nation (Stephen Fry, Ian McKellen, Tom Cruise, etc…) Others plant roots here and call NZ home. Some of my favourite implanted people who now reside here include James Cameron, Shania Twain and/or Mutt Lange and there’s a long list of other people who have or continue to own property and frequent New Zealand as they too believe it is just about the most perfect place on the planet.
4) Food. Oh my goodness, do we understand food. Fresh produce, a year-round growing season for a vast and breathtaking array of fruits and vegetables. Organic produce and meats and cheeses. Beautiful wine, honey, and native herbs and spices. We don’t ascribe to pre-packaged fast-food and empty calories mentality. It has snuck in a little, and there’s plenty of KFC, McDonalds, Wendy’s and other fast food chains that help contribute to us being an embarrassingly fat nation, but in our defence, lovely fresh and healthy food is available here year round if you’re willing to go out and get it. We have countless markets ranging from cheap and cheerful places where you pick up produce from the farmer himself, to high end French style markets boasting delicious but dear morsels.
5) Diversity. We have an amazing ethnic diversity. We are the largest Polynesian island and boast the largest Polynesian population. People from Tonga, Samoa, Fiji, Cook Islands, Niue, and even the Melanesian island nations have enriched this country with their food, sporting prowess, arts, music and culture. We also have a rich and vibrant Asian population and more and more people from around the world are bringing their gifts and talents to our shores. Aside from ethnic diversity, we have an amazing biodiversity. We have the only natural prehistoric forest left on earth. Tramp into the Waitakere ranges, and you’ll be seeing plants exactly as they looked when dinosaurs ruled the earth.
I could go on and on about New Zealand and how great it is, but I have kids to get to school and I’m sure you have things to do as well.
Wish me luck for tonight’s ceremony.
This is where I share opinions and observations about things that happen to the Happy Hobbit family.