Don’t Let That Stop You

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?

Absolutely not.

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.

Parenting Round Four – Some Moments in James’ Journey (We’re five months in now)

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.


Ten days after he was born, I had successfully filled the freezer with breast milk and left James with his dad so I could go out and have a few drinks with some girlfriends. He came to pick me up at our friend’s 40th birthday party at this local pub, and James wove his magic on many people and got a lot of smiles that evening! Again, not everyone’s parenting strategy, but this is how we roll.


The Birthday Amanda girl having a cuddle


This lovely Scottish lad was expecting a baby in a few short months (well his partner was) and this was the first time he had ever held a newborn. I thought that was pretty cool that he could get in a bit of practice before his own baby arrive 🙂


This is James with Rebekah. She will be sharing Godmother duties with another Bestie Petra. We popped over to visit when he was about three days old.


Kat, Dom and Rebekah. I adore this family… True story 🙂


Brother in Law holding wee man. He’s a fellow Caniwi.


My baby sister Sarah-Kate holding her wee nephew. He was only a few hours old! These guys would make such beautiful babies should they ever decide to breed. Just saying.


Some very VERY grateful South African ladies having a cuddle at the Coffee Club in Albany mall. He was two days old and my gosh were they glad to have a snuggle!


Meeting Pauline. He puked on her shortly after this picture was taken and she hasn’t held him since.


Bree doing a wonderful job of holding him.


The gorgeous and calming influence of the Midwife and founder of Placenta Tree: Wendy Lee. They make placenta pills for new mums. I took a few of the caplets and planted some in our orchard as an observation of the beautiful Maori tradition of burying they placenta in a special place in honour of Rangi (sky father), Papa (earth mother), and all the Maori Gods and ancestors. Have a look at the placenta tree website here if you’re interested!


James and Adam. He is a very good big brother (when he chooses to be)


My sister Leigh with her Godaughter Steph and her new nephew James… My niece Amara is there too but still in her belly 🙂


Daniel is an amazing big brother. He is so great with babies. It makes me prouder than I can every express.


Steph’s first cuddle… He was about 7 hours old give or take…


My midwife and Bestie Anna and Grumpy holding the latest (and LAST) Hobbit baby who arrived drug free after a 1 hour 40 minute established labour.


Meeting some ladies at my Great Aunt’s retirement village in downtown Edmonton.


Some guests at the Hotel MacDonald who adored the baby. I think one of these ladies had just gotten married the night before. The lady holding the baby just adored him… I thought she may steal him 😉


Shantell and her gogeous family!


Aunty Lara having a snuggle while he sleeps.


Uncle patrick holding his sleeping great nephew. They are so great with the kids… We’re the only breeders in the entire generation of our family tree, so they get plenty of attention which is nice.


Jilly Bean. We’ve been friends since we were five years old and now have broods of our own. Crazy.


The Lovely lady on the ferry to Victoria. Her dad was an international diplomat and she resides in the Bahamas. Very cool woman. Shame I lost her details as it would have been nice to keep in touch.


James resting comfortably on Ginell on our week long road trip down the West coast of BC and Washington.


This little girl was absolutely FASCINATED by him. So we stopped and let them have a cuddle.


And here she is having a safe and supervised snuggle with James.


JT when we bumped into him at a new restaurant on the North Shore.


Chris and Lesley at Chris’s birthday. They are WONDERFUL people and it was so nice to pop down to Wellington to see them!


Our old neighbour came round to babysit one night, he was just a little kid in Primary school when we moved here to the Shore! Time, it flies.


Mumsy and her fourth Grandchild. She is great with newborns. Unflappable.


Dear friends Chanty and Ya and their beautiful daughter Vera.


Youngest Kiwi baby sister and her second beautiful boy! He’s like a week younger than James.


I put this in here because he looks like Jean Luc Picard here and that is what we called him for the first three months of his life.


Ness having a cuddle


Sarah and Lee. I adore these gorgeous women and can’t wait to catch up with them again soon! I feel a dinner party coming on!


Everyone was super grumpy because our flight was delayed by over an hour, but having a cuddle with James put a smile on this lovely lady’s face.


Nana Margie. One of the most maternal people on earth. I’m so grateful to her and Ken for being there all these years since I arrived here in NZ. And very thankful for her two beautiful daughters and the men in their lives as well.

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Checking in at the Marriott in Culver City. The lady holding him was so awesome, she swooped in and grabbed him for a snuggle and every time we saw her and he LOVED it!


Sweet snuggles in Vatican City with one of the families from the cruise. They didn’t speak English, we didn’t speak Spanish. Lucky snuggling babies is universally understood.


Indian Family who now live in Germany. They were lovely and spoke like ALL the languages and were so sweet with James. They held him while we took the cheesy pictures of holding up the tower. Very nice of them indeed 🙂


First picture of mom holding James, taken in Barcelona the night before she went exploring in the South of Spain and we got on our Disney cruise with the kids.


Lovely waiter at the excellent Tapas restaurant up the street from Las Ramblas (not IN Las Ramblas, cause the food around there is pretty universally terrible and overpriced)


Charming some locals in Spain


Mike May at Rock and Soul near Times Square in Manhattan


The absolutely AMAZING Crystal at a lovely restaurant in Boston. It was her Birthday this night too and she came out to see us! So honoured, and we just adore her fair trade, organic cotton socks! I didn’t get a picture of Michelle and the baby in Boston, but I didn’t get like heaps of pictures actually…


Sharon at Rock and Soul with James


Lovely waitress at a Japanese restaurant near the Natural History Museum by Central Park.


Heather! She is amazing with babies and a wonderful friend. Glad to have had the chance to hang out chatting till the wee small hours of morning!


Georgia and James. Nice to finally hang out IRL as we’ve gotten pretty close online over the years 🙂


My absolutely gorgeous cousin Jocelyn holding him. She’s rad. Like seriously. Chilled out, kind, funny, witty, interesting, active. Just awesome. It is nice to be reminded of this when I get to see her!


Grammy Karen!!!!


Amanda and Kaspyr and Derek and James. Four fabulous humans who all have a very big and permanent place in my heart!


Derek and one of his oldest and dearest friends at some very large mall outside of Calgary… like seriously, that place was MASSIVE!


Daniel holding James when we had lunch and met our beautiful baby cousin Lanae at Boston Pizza! Christy and Rex are like amazing and baby is perfect and I am looking forward to hanging out with them all a lot more in the future!

My great great Aunt Esther (My grandmother's twin sister) and her gorgeous boyfriend holding James.  They are soooo loved up and there is something so beautiful about old people and young people together.  They have an affinity that is magic!

My great great Aunt Esther (My grandmother’s twin sister) and her gorgeous boyfriend holding James. They are soooo loved up and there is something so beautiful about old people and young people together. They have an affinity that is magic!

Planes, Trains, Cars, Buses, Big Ships and Babies: Some insights into traveling with a large tribe of children

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.

Adam with Red in Vatican City

Adam with Red in Vatican City


Pompeii, it was HOT!

Pompeii, it was HOT!

Grumpy and Steph with Red at Breakfast last day on the cruise

Grumpy and Steph with Red at Breakfast last day on the cruise

Goofy and our goofy boys.

Goofy and our goofy boys.

Vatican City with four kids is not exactly relaxing...

Vatican City with four kids is not exactly relaxing…

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.



Loved the statues in Rome

Loved the statues in Rome

Here are a few things I have learned about traveling with a large family that I’ll share with you.

1) Plan

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.

2) Patience

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.

3) Snacks

Always. Always. ALWAYS bring snacks.

4) Water

Always. Always. ALWAYS bring water.

5) Balance

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.

Dee’s Review of the 2014 Mediterranean Disney Cruise

Dee’s Disney Cruise Review

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 Room

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:

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.

Mickey mouse at Animators Palate

Mickey mouse at Animators Palate

Mickey mouse at Animators Palate

Mickey mouse at Animators Palate


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.

The Concierge

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.