Pregnancy and Childbirth: My Story(s)

Don’t worry, I will leave out the gory details. It is safe to continue reading.. 🙂  Giving birth is a natural process that woman have been doing since the beginning of time. Still, they are my two greatest accomplishments. It amazes me as to what the human body is capable of. The stretching of your skin and uterus as your stomach expands and then inevitably the process of giving birth.

My First Pregnancy

In May 2008, I stood there in the bathroom staring at the pregnancy test shocked by what I was seeing. Slowly it was sinking in.. I was pregnant! We had been trying for a couple of months but still, that morning I had prepared myself for another negative outcome. It was the best news ever and I ran to tell my husband!

I enjoyed every day of my pregnancy. As my stomach grew, we admired the miracle that it was, a tiny human was growing inside me! Once I began to feel the movements, it felt even more miraculous. We decided not to find out the sex of our baby and looked forward to a wonderful surprise. I read loads of books, counted down the weeks, and kept a journal, writing down how I felt every week along the way. The entire pregnancy went smoothly without a problem until one night in November whilst sleeping, my waters broke. I was just 34 weeks pregnant. I had not packed my bags and I was expected at work the next day. I called the hospital and was asked to come in straight away. The doctor gave me a shot of steroids to help strengthen the baby’s lungs and informed me that we would be meeting our baby in the next day or two!

Early labour began a few hours after I arrived at hospital; I began feeling slight cramps and these slowly became noticeable contractions every 5-10 minutes, but still mild and manageable. After several hours of these contractions I was thinking to myself, “This is not too bad at all! I can totally do this. I don’t know what all the fuss is about. I must just have a high pain threshold”.

Then Active Labour set in. Well that was a whole other ball game. The pain was unbearable. I somehow managed to get into a warm bath to try and help ease the pain, but the contractions just kept coming one after the other with no recovery time in between. They offered me pain relief and I opted for the Nitrous Oxide gas. I sucked on that gas like my life depended on it! I had quickly also moved into Transitional Labour, as I was soon to be told that during that one hour in the bath, I had dilated from 1 to 10cm! Needless to say, it was an incredibly intense hour of excruciating pain.

Suddenly, everything seemed to calm down and I actually almost fell asleep in the bath. I was almost ready to begin pushing. Due to the fact that our baby was at a gestational age of just 34.6 weeks, the midwife helped me out of the bath and onto the bed. I would have loved to have stayed in that bath. After twenty minutes of pushing, our beautiful baby was born. It was a girl!!! At 2.6kg, she was tiny, but a great weight considering. She was perfect and so alert, eyes wide open and looking around. We fell instantly in love with our baby daughter. As her lungs were functioning well and the breastfeeding was going to plan, we were able to go home after just four days in the hospital.

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My Second Pregnancy

I took six months maternity leave after having our first child to be a full time mum and then went back to work part time. My employer was extremely flexible and understanding, allowing me to work from home. In December 2009, one month after our daughter had her first birthday, we fell pregnant again! We were super excited to add another little addition to our family.

Being pregnant and having a child who was not yet walking was a little challenging. Particularly towards the end of the pregnancy when I could no longer carry her, and our daughter was still learning how to walk independently. So needless to say, we went everywhere slowly. I remember once trying to simply cross the road. We held hands and began to cross. Then my daughter fell half way across the road and refused to get up. She was very much aware that I was unable to lift her and she flat out refused to stand up on her own, finally doing so after a lengthy tantrum, when she noticed a car coming towards her. Even though this pregnancy posed new challenges that I had not dealt with the first time around, overall the pregnancy once again went smoothly. I was still able to enjoy being pregnant and just like the first time, I kept a regular weekly journal. I enjoyed tracking our baby’s development and was feeling really well. Once again I continued to work right up until the day before I went into labour. This time I made it to 38 weeks.

Once again, the early labour lasted several hours, but my waters had not yet broken. We headed into the hospital once my contractions were an average of three minutes apart. After a few more hours of breathing through the mild contractions, the midwives checked and informed me that I was only 1-2cms dilated and not progressing. They decided to move me out of the labour ward and down to the recovery ward, assuming that it would be a long night. As soon as I reached the recovery room, during an intense contraction, my waters broke. This then set me immediately into active labour. I could no longer walk through those intense contractions, so they sat me in a wheelchair, quickly brought me back to the labour ward, got me into the bath (as previously discussed) and finally gave me the precious gas to suck on which took the edge off.

This time I was determined to have a water birth. The bath is the place where I feel the most relaxed, so it was the perfect place for me to give birth. The midwife dimmed the lights and put some relaxing music on. My husband was kneeling on one side of the bath massaging my back and mum was on the other side, holding my head above the water while I battled the unexplainable, relentless pain and sucked on my gas. I had decided to invite mum into the birthing suite at the last minute to join us. I felt more comfortable the second time around and I knew that sharing this experience would be just as special to her as it was for me. Once again, I had dilated to 10cms within one hour. I was so relaxed in that bath that once again, I almost fell asleep during the transitional phase before pushing began. This time I didn’t have to get out and I had a midwife who was comfortable and experienced with water births. After 15 minutes of pushing, our son was born into the world and placed on my stomach in the bath. He weighed 3.1kgs and was perfect.

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Being pregnant and becoming a mum was overall the most enjoyable and wondrous experience that I will treasure for the rest of my life. I was able to breastfeed them both for 12 months, and they were both such happy, smiley babies. It has been a pure joy to nurture them and witness each and every step along the way as they grew and developed into the children that they are today.

Time has flown and suddenly we have two school aged children.. but you can read more about that in my post, I Can See the Light!

Does the weather affect your mood?

For those of you who are not yet aware, there is such a thing as ‘Seasonal Affective Disorder‘ (SAD). It is appropriate that this condition is abbreviated to ‘SAD’, as that is exactly how it makes you feel. I had never experienced or had even heard of Seasonal Affective Disorder until my thirties, when I moved from Australia to The Netherlands.

Now you may perceive the weather in the Netherlands as ‘not that bad’, but coming from Australia, it was initially quite a shock to the system. Going from an average of 3000 hours of sunshine per year to 1500 hours per year will affect you, both physically and mentally.

My first winter in the Netherlands was a looooong one. I felt like winter was a six month long season, running from October to March. The difference between daylight hours from summer to winter is dramatic here. In the peak of summer, the sun will rise just after 5am and set just after 10pm (a whopping 18 hours of daylight!) compared to the middle of winter where the sun will rise around 8:30am and it will be dark by 4:30pm (a mere 8 hours of daylight). Meaning that in the Winter, most people drive to work in the dark and drive back home in the dark. This can be quite depressing if you are not used to it. Let’s be honest, even the Dutch struggle with the lack of both daylight hours and sunshine every winter. By February most of them are fed up with it and you will find the majority of them complaining about the weather on a regular basis. So for someone who came from a country where winter was mild and lasted just a couple of months, adjusting was tough. I struggled, really struggled, through the first two winters.

I found myself feeling very moody, depressed, with no energy and I did my best to avoid going outside at all. I just wanted to ‘do as the bears do’ and hibernate away. Some days, I’d start crying, but I had no idea why? Every time I’d put it down to home sickness. Day after day of grey, rainy days and sometimes going weeks without seeing the sun really got to me. I was miserable and my terrible mood swings and lack of energy lasted well into spring each year.

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During my third winter, I stumbled across an article online about SAD. I decided that this Winter, I was not going to suffer the ‘winter blues’, I was going to fight it!

Firstly, I found myself some kick-arse Vitamin D capsules. These little yellow balls of sunlight contain 500% ADH – Aanbevolen dagelijkse hoeveelheid (Recommended daily intake). I began taking them in Autumn and the packets lasts me four months. Boy do they help! These capsules have now become my go-to saviors every winter.

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Now that I work full time, I am also forced out of the house. No longer can I ‘hibernate’ away during those long, dark winter days. I have to go out. During my lunch break, as long as it is not raining, I go for a twenty minute walk. The daily exercise helps to keep my mood up and prevent muscular stiffness. Even if you don’t feel like going out, force yourself outside for a little walk, the fresh air and exercise will help more than you think.

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I’ve also learnt that, whilst in Australia you seek out the shade, in Holland you must seek out the sun!  Where I am from in Australia, if you wake up and it looks like a sunny day, it will usually stay that way all day long. In the Netherlands, you will experience four seasons in one day, every day. You can’t plan the day ahead according to the weather. If you see a half an hour window of opportunity where the sun is peaking out from behind the clouds, you take it without hesitation! Even on cold winter days, if the sun is shining, you go find a spot out of the wind, sit in the sun and you soak up those precious golden rays!

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Doing all of these things can help increase your happy hormones. The Dutch winters are still difficult for me, but much more manageable now that I have taken the above steps. It also helps that every three years, we leave the winter here and head back to enjoy the Australian summer for a month 🙂

So don’t brush off that yearly feeling as simply a case of the “winter blues” or a seasonal funk that you have to tough out on your own. Take steps to keep your mood and motivation steady throughout the year.

Aloha! The Best of Hawaii

For almost a year, Hawaii was basically a second home to me. I lived and worked onboard the MS Statendam and in 2000-2001, our itineraries alternated between Mexico Riviera and Circle Hawaii. Our Hawaiian itinerary began and ended at San Diego, California and the cruise was always a duration of two weeks. I still believe that cruising is the best and most convenient way to travel when you have a restricted time allowance. You only need to unpack your bags once and each night, whilst you are sleeping, the ship will take you to a new destination! Once you reach the islands, it is always so exciting to wake up each day and prepare to discover a new destination. A day of adventure always awaits.

As I worked six days a week with an of average of twelve hours per day, I mostly spent my day off each week lazing on the various beautiful beaches in Hawaii. However, I was occasionally able to join some of the ship’s tours and discover more of what these amazing islands have to offer.

If you are planning a vacation to Hawaii, whether it be by ship or not, I hope these tips and recommendations will help you to make the most of your time in this beautiful part of the world.

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Island of Hawaii – The Big Island

Both the name of the entire state, and the name of the largest island is Hawaii, so to avoid confusion, people refer to this particular island as “The Big Island”. Built from five volcanos, the island is nearly twice as big as all of the other Hawaiian Islands combined; It’s sheer size means that it has much to offer. The island literally continues to grow in size, due to it’s active volcanos, as larva pours out into the ocean and hardens along the coast. Hilo (on the West coast) and Kona (on the East coast) are the two usual ports of call when visiting by cruise ship. The big island is where all the volcano action occurs, so this is where you will be able to see an active volcano or huge underground lava tubes; there are many tour options.  There is also incredible sport fishing possibilities and if you would like to snorkle with large Hawaiian green sea-turtles, Turtle Bay (Kahaluu Beach) in Kona is a must-see!! Kahalu’u Beach is famous for it’s sea turtles and it’s gentle lagoon is also suitable for beginner snorkelers and children. A calm beach, warm sun, lots of seaweed to eat… I guess Kahaluu Beach is kind of like turtle heaven. Turtles are a protected marine species in Hawaii so remember to keep your distance while enjoying these beautiful creatures. There are many great hot spots where you can swim/snorkle or dive with the turtles. For example, whilst somewhat difficult to reach, Kiholo Bay is one of the best places on the Big Island for spotting Hawaiian green sea turtles.

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Maui

By far my favourite Hawaiian island. We docked at Lahaina, where massive fig trees will be the first thing you notice along the shore. This town was the perfect representation of ‘Hawaii’. Just walk around this beautiful town, take it all in. Get somthing to eat at the famous ‘Bubba Gump Shrimp Co’ restaurant and perhaps visit the Whalers Beach Front Shopping Village Centre, literally positioned right on a beautiful beach (where my husband and I had our first date actually). This island also boasts Hawaii’s #1 ranked golf course, The Plantation Course. Attend a Luau, a traditional Hawaiian party with hula dancers, to really get a sense of the Hawaiian culture, and preferably at sunset. In Lahaina you can find a good Luau at the Old Lahaina Luau or the Feast of Lele. If you have time to explore further, take a drive to the West Maui Mountains, Haleakala crater (at sunrise or sunset), or the beautiful Iao Valley.

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O’ahu

Most of the ships will stop at Honolulu, a beautiful city on this island and the capital of the State of Hawaii. It is enjoyable to simply take a walk along the boardwalk parallel to the beach, especially at sunset if you have the opportunity. Along the boardwalk you can find some great restaurants and shops on one side, or surfers on the other. From Honolulu I’d recommend you take a trip out to Pearl Harbour and visit the USS Arizona Memorial.  This is a somber and emotional experience, yet important enough to designate your time to a visit here. From Honolulu, you could also take a trip out to Paradise Cove.

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Kauai

On the island of Kauai, do not miss the opportunity to see the Waimea Canyon Lookout. Basically the grand canyon, but greener! You could take a tour or taxi out to the lookout, but if you want to do this ultimate style, book a helicopter ride; An unforgettable way to see the canyon and get a bird’s eye view of the entire island and its impressive waterfalls. There are also lava tubes, pipes for underground lava rivers, and blowholes along the Na Poli coastline. The most impressive blowhole in all of Hawaii is Kauai’s Spouting Horn in Poipu. Ocean water enters the ancient lava flow tube until enough pressure builds to forcefully spew out the water. Mountain tubing is also a lot of fun for the whole family, however these tunnels are man made. This island truly is an emerald wonderland.

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All in all, Hawaii is the ideal vacation destination. You will undoubtably relax, unwind and recharge. Many cruise lines, including Holland American Line continue to offer Hawaiian cruises; More information on these itineraries and planned destinations can be found here.

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Note: There are additional small islands of Hawaii that I have not yet visited, so I have therefore been unable to comment on them.

 

GP Culture Shock

One of the things that caused me the most culture shock upon our arrival in the Netherlands (apart from the weather) was going to see a doctor…or trying to. I quickly learned that the whole process was completely different to what I was used to and it took me a long, long time to wrap my head around it.

Time Slot:  In Australia, if I required an appointment to see my GP, I could call at any time between 8:00-20:00. In the Netherlands, I learnt that if I needed an appointment, I could only call between 08:00-10:00. If I called at 10:30… too late, you got the answering machine that would inform you that you could call back the following day between 08:00-10:00. Extremely frustrating when you have a screaming child in pain.

Fight for your Appointment: If you do manage to call within this restrictive time slot, you will then be asked by the receptionist why you need the appointment. To me, this was unheard of! I’d like to speak to the doctor about that, not to some random receptionist! Back home when I would call to ask for an appointment, I was simply given my appointment time, no questions asked. Here I first had to pass a full on interrogation, answering a dozen questions, giving personal information to this total stranger with a power trip. Getting an appointment was almost mission impossible. You had to fight for it. I learnt this lesson the long and hard way…

During the first few months after our relocation to the Netherlands, I called for an appointment for my one year old son who had been crying from ear pain for a few days. The receptionist first asked why I wanted the appointment, then asked if he had a temperature. She then asked how long he had the temperature and I answered honestly, 24 hours. I was told to give him paracetamol and to call back if he still had the temperature after three days. No appointment given. Before I could argue my case, my call had been abruptly ended. In Australia I would have been given an appointment so that the doctor could actually check his ears, and if the infection was bad enough, he would then be given antibiotics.

My children both had regular ear infections in their first two years of life, so I was well aware of the symptoms and usual treatment. He was showing all those symptoms. I ended up calling back the day after informing them that the paracetamol was not helping enough, that he was still in a too much pain, was not able to sleep, and now had a higher temperature. Once again, I was told keep up the paracetamol and wait. I hung up the phone frustrated and in tears.

The Battle to Get Treatment: The following day I finally managed to get the appointment, only to be told by the actual doctor that I should just give him paracetamol. That was it! Apparently, paracetamol is the solution to everything here. What about antibiotics?! I soon learnt that GPs rarely give out prescriptions for antibiotics in the Netherlands. Only in extreme circumstances. I get this, I do. There are so many reasons why antibiotics should not be used too often. But at that moment, I was so angry and felt so helpless. My poor little boy. Why did he have to go through all that pain unnecessarily?

A couple of days layer, after our son had endured several days of pain and several sleepless nights, both of his ears burst and fluid was coming out of them. I called the doctors again, as I had never seen this happen before and assumed the worst, only to be told by the receptionist in a cheery voice, oh thats great news, now the worst is over!! Arrrgghhhhh this was niet normaal (not normal)!!! I would have much preferred the doctor to take a look for himself and reassure me that all was well.

Exaggerate: I soon learnt that to get an appointment for my children in this country, then I was going to have to exaggerate; Yes, he has a high temperature of 39.5 (actually it is 38.5), Yes, he has had it for three days now (actually one or two), Yes, he is very very sick and needs to see a doctor as soon as possible (actually this is true and I am willing to lie to get it!). Finally I have mastered the technique of getting a GP appointment in the Netherlands.

Fantastic Health Care System: I should add that the Netherlands does have a great health care system. All regular, short-term medical treatment is paid for by mandatory private health insurance (which is about 100 euros per month less than what we would pay for our family in Australia). I have never paid an additional cent out of pocket for any visits to the doctor, dentist, optometrist, physiotherapist, pediatrician, hospital visit, or for any prescribed medicine. I know that we will always be covered for surgery, ambulance transportation or treatment when/if required. For that I am very grateful.

Find a GP that you and your family are comfortable with: We have since changed GP’s. We are now with a new GP who is a mother herself and genuinely listens to a mother’s intuition and concerns. She will thoroughly examine her patients and make you feel like you are well taken care of. She will speak English with me when I am struggling to understand or express myself. As an added bonus, the window of opportunity to make an appointment at our new clinic is a little larger (08:00-12:00). However, I do still have to exaggerate my way through the front-line interrogations before I can see her though… One day when they ask me why I want an appointment, I may finally grow the balls to be able to say “That’s private and I’d rather discuss this with the doctor herself”. That is, once I figure out how to say this confidently in Dutch.

How do you find the whole process of making an appointment to see your GP here in Holland, and how does this compare to your home country?

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I Can See The Light!

For years my days were scheduled around feeds, nap times, nappy changes etc. Our kids are now 5 and 7 years old. They now both sleep a full twelve hours through the night without waking!. They now both sleep without nappies or have any ‘accidents’ in bed. They now both dress themselves for school and feed themselves at the dinner table without assistance required. They now both shower themselves, go to the toilet themselves and brush their own teeth. So you see, I can see the light!

Life is indeed becoming easier for my husband and I, as our two kids have now passed the baby, toddler and pre-schooler ages, and are now two independent school-aged children, who love to do things for themselves. In fact, they thrive on being able to show us how well they can do daily tasks on their own (and we love to see it!).

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely loved being a mum of little ones. I loved being pregnant and loved having a baby in the house. Sometimes I do miss having a little teeny baby in our home and I do miss the miraculous feeling of a human moving inside my tummy. I had always wanted four children. I grew up in a family of six, and loved having three siblings to play with. Our house was always fun, loud and busy.. and I loved it.

When I hold someone else’s baby, I always get extremely ‘clucky’. I’m only 35, I think. I could easily have another baby. I toy with the idea for a bit. Hmmm that would be nice… Then I tell myself to snap out of it! Life is so easy now! Going back to do that all over again; the two-hourly feeds through the night, the constant nappy changes. No, I’m just not going there again. Now I just have my dose of baby cuddles with my friends’ babies, and then I can hand the little bundle of joy back to his/her mum once the crying starts :).

My daughter was born five weeks early. She was a tiny, skinny little 2.5kg baby and now she is such a little lady. She is the tallest in her class and growing up so fast. At 7 she can now read, write and speak both Dutch and English. It is so wonderful watching her grow and develop into the bubbly, friendly and caring girl that she is. Our son was always a mama’s boy and I still get plenty of hugs, but now that he is getting a little older, he is more interested in playing outside with his mates on their bikes or with a soccer ball. He does however, love to help me cook dinner and sets the table for me every night. We are so extremely content with our two happy and healthy children.

I can finally say that I am no longer sleep deprived ..and I am loving it.

Kristen

 

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The Day I lost My Sister

You always hear about other families tragically loosing loved ones, but you just never think it will happen to your family. This is my story.

It was August 10th, 2000 and I was a nineteen year old, eager to discover the world. Three months prior, I had flown out of Australia to begin working on cruise ships, leaving behind my parents and three younger sisters. I worked six, twelve hour days per week in the spa onboard and that particular day was my day off. The ship was in Ketchikan, Alaska and I was ashore, enjoying my day of freedom; I sent an email back home via the internet cafe (in those days there was no internet onboard), had some lunch, did a little shopping, and then I sent all of my left over savings from that month back to Australia (as I was saving for a car). I literally had just 2 US dollars left in my wallet, but it didn’t bother me, as I was headed straight back to the ship anyway and didn’t plan to go ashore again before my next pay day.

Upon arriving back to the ship late in the afternoon, feeling happy and relaxed after my day in the fresh Alaskan air, I was approached by a fellow crew member who informed me that the front office had been trying to get a hold of me all day as a family member had been calling the ship, trying to reach me. To call a ship was no easy feat! My heart sank. I knew that something terribly bad had happened back home. I immediately assumed that poppa (my grandfather) must have passed away. I had no money to buy a ship phone card so the purser, sensing the situation, gave me a 20 dollar phone card. I took it back to my cabin and dialed my parent’s phone number with a terrible feeling of dread.

Dad answered and the conversation went as follows;

Me: “Hi dad, its Kristen”

Dad: “Thanks for calling back” – His weak, broken voice worried me further..

Me: “What has happened?”

Dad: “During the night, your sister started to get a terrible headache. In the morning, we rushed her to the hospital, but….there is no easy way to tell you this…Caylee died today”

Me: “Dad!, don’t joke about things like that!!”   – he was always joking and playing tricks on us kids. This can’t be real I thought. She’s only 14! He must be playing another one of his silly tricks..

Dad: “Do you really think I would joke about something like that!!?” – His voice strong and serious.

This was the point where I realized he was telling me the truth and I could no longer control myself. I let out a wail and cried, no, no, no, no…!!! I was hysterical and could no longer speak. In the midst of my uncontrollable sobbing, dad managed to get me to pass the phone onto my cabin mate who was standing beside me. As dad was asking her to look after me, I dropped to the ground and broke. My whole world and heart broke at that exact moment.

The rest of that evening is still a blur. I don’t remember all that much, except that through the night I was constantly waking up with nightmares, then realizing that it wasn’t a nightmare, it had actually happened, then crying myself back to sleep. This happened over and over again until finally it was morning.

My employer had been notified and had booked flights for me to go home. We were in the middle of Alaska, so flying home the same day I had received the news was simply not possible. It was on the 11th that I began my long journey home from Sitka to Anchorage, Anchorage to Seattle (staying the night in a hotel in Seattle), then the day after, Seattle to Los Angeles, Los Angeles to Sydney, Sydney to Melbourne. All alone. Hugging my stuffed Alaskan husky teddy ever so tightly and trying to cry as quietly as possible on the planes. My wonderful colleagues were aware that I had just posted all of my cash home. So before I left, they went around the entire ship collecting donations from crew members to ensure that I could pay for taxis, etc and get home as comfortably as possible. I will never forget how thoughtful and generous they all were.

After a long.. oh very long.. journey home, I made it back the night before Caylee’s funeral. It was a funeral where we celebrated her life, rather than mourn her death and it was a beautiful service attended by thousands of community members. Once the church was full, the people spilled out onto the foregrounds of the church by the entrance and listened via a speaker. Afterwards, as we left the church in our car, all students from her school stood and lined either side of the road we drove out along. She would be missed by so, so many.

It was determined that she died of Meningococcal Meningitis, a bacterial form of meningitis  that causes an infection of the thin lining that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. She had gone to bed the night before, after doing her homework, feeling completely fine. By 8:00am she was unconscious. That afternoon my parents and two other sisters had to watch in despair as the doctors turned off her life support machine. At this point, I was still oblivious to what had happened as it had been so difficult to contact me.

My family members and I all dealt with our grief in different ways; Some of us wanted to talk about her all the time, for some of us that was just too painful. For many years I could not even speak her name without crying. I cried a lot. I also felt terribly guilty for not being there by her bed with the rest of my family in her final hours. Now, sixteen years later, although my heart still aches and I still miss her every day, I can talk about her without crying and I can smile when I think of the great memories I have of her.

My daughter now sleeps with the fluffy alaskan husky and one day, I will explain to her just how important that husky was to me during that long journey back home.

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A photo taken of us girls in 1986 (Clockwise from the Top: Kristen, Jessica, Caylee and Sarah)

Movies that Rocked my 1980’s!

As a child, dad had the most extensive and adored collection of family movies. We had a huge bookshelf that was crammed full with hundreds of VCR tapes (remember those?!). Kids from today’s day and age wouldn’t even know what a tape looked like, but when I was growing up, we treasured them. Only our all time favourites would be added to this visual library in our living room.

We frequently enjoyed choosing out a great movie from our collection and watching it either together as a family, or after school while mum and dad were over at the dairy milking the cows. These tapes were watched over and over again by us kids and we had our obvious childhood favourites, where the actual tape was almost worn out and the cover almost broken beyond repair. I think I could still quote these movies line-for-line, even after twenty years.

The recent tragic loss of the great David Bowie initiated this post as it brought fond memories back to the surface of one particular favourite film of mine.

Here is a list of my top ten ultimate movies from the 1980’s (bearing in mind that I was a child).

The Labyrinth (1986)

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Sarah, a teenager, is left home alone by her parents and she has to babysit her little baby brother Toby. But the baby wont stop crying, so Sarah tells him a bedtime story and in the story, she summons the goblins from her favorite book, the Labyrinth, to steal her baby brother. When in reality, they actually do, she must solve the Labyrinth of the Goblin King (Bowie) within 13 hours or else Toby will become a goblin. She meets some of the most amazing creatures, both friendly and not-so-friendly, along the way.

 The Neverending Story (1984)

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I’m pretty sure I watched this for the first time in the cinema, and I still remember how much of an impact this movie had on me. The film involved a troubled boy, Bastian, who dives into a wonderous fantasy world through the pages of a mysterious antique book after being tormented by school bullies. He reads of a beautiful, doomed land named Fantasia. A brave boy (Atreyu) is asked by the princess to stop it’s mysterious ongoing destruction. Drawn into young Atreyu’s quest with his horse (Artax), Bastian discovers that the characters in the magic book can actually hear and see him. Can Atreyu save Fantasia, or is the princess really summoning Bastian himself? After watching this movie, I had multiple dreams of flying Falkor, the white luck dragon…or was he a dog? I am still unable to watched the sinking swamp pit scene, with beautiful Artax the horse, without bursting into tears.

The Dark Crystal (1982)

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I grew up loving the main characters from this movie, Jen and Kiera; I can remember stating that if I ever had a daughter, that I would name her Kiera. That didn’t eventuate, but this showed just how much I loved this film and it’s characters. This movie was quite sci-fi and the story behind it was that during the Great Conjunction of the three suns, the Crystal of Truth is split. Thus starting a war against two races – the hunchbacked, gentle beings known as Mystics and the vulture-like, cruel beings known as Skeksis. In that moment the Crystal became the Dark Crystal. There is a prophecy that only the elf-like Gelflings can restore the crystal. Therefore the cruel Skeksis are out to destroy all Gelflings because this will take away their current position of power. In addition, they also like to drain the essence of the Gelflings and drink it to restore their youth (yikes!) Jen and Kiera are the last two Gelflings to survive. Only they can restore the crystal and ultimately bring peace to the world.  “When single shines the triple sun, What was sundered and undone Shall be whole, the two made one, By Gelfling hand, or else by none.”

Flight of the Navigator (1986)

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David, a 12-year-old boy, chases his dog into the forest and goes missing in 1978, only to reappear once more in 1986. In the eight years that have passed, he hasn’t aged at all. He has no memory of the eight years he was gone, so scientists insist on studying him and imprison him in an institution. It is here that he discovers a UFO and realises that he has navigational powers that enable him to take this fantastic flying machine anywhere he desires.

The Boy Who Could Fly (1986)

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This movie teaches you that if you believe in somthing hard enough, and keep trying, then anything is possible.  Milly, her brother and their recently-widowed mum move to a new neighborhood. Once there, they all deal with a variety of personal problems and Milly finds a friend in her autistic next door neighbor, Eric. Eric does not speak and has a fascination with flying since his parents both died in a plane crash when he was young. Milly observes him constantly sitting on the windowsill of his bedroom with his arms outstretched, longing to fly.  Millie begins to suspect that Eric actually can fly, especially when he appears to jump from her windowsill to his and when he saves her from falling off a bridge. Anything is possible, right?

Splash (1984)

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This movie starred Tom Hanks and Daryl Hannah, and was directed by Ron Howard…need I say more?  Every young girl has fantasized about being a mermaid at some stage or another, right? In this film, Allen (Hanks) is reunited with a mermaid named Madison who saves him from drowning as a boy, and then falls in love with her not knowing who/what she is. She changes into a mermaid only when she comes in contact with water, so for most of the time, she has legs. Great ones at that. Such a wonderfully romantic movie. Both Hanks and Hannah are amazing together in this film and it taught me that love conquers all and can overcome any obstacle.

Willow (1988)

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In the dungeons of the castle of the evil queen, a prisoner gives birth to a child who, according to an ancient prophecy, will put an end to the reign of the evil queen. A midwife saves the child from the wrath of the queen, but is forced to throw her cradle in a river in the moments before her capture. Willow, a dwarf, finds and adopts the baby girl, Elora Danan. He then begins a difficult journey to protect the baby so that she can fulfill the prophecy. Willow then meets a great swordsman (Kilmer), and together they journey through a war-torn land of magic and monsters, to save a baby princess. Another classic which was directed by Ron Howard.

Anne of Green Gables (1985)

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This was a series of three movies, which we continued to enjoy over and over. Anne, affectionally known by her classmate Gilbert as ‘Carrots’ is feisty, smart and witty, but hates her red hair. Although she appears confident in the public eye, she is constantly working on feeling comfortable in her own skin throughout the series. As an orphan, she was adopted by an elderly brother and sister and, during the series, we watched her grow into a confident young woman. She really was a “true kindred spirit”.

Supergirl (1984) 

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Growing up in a family of six, five of whom were female, I guess we secretly felt empowered by this movie. It was the ultimate ‘girl power’ movie and so for us, we watched this so much more frequently than the Super Man movies which were released a few years earlier. The main character of this film is Kara, superman’s cousin from Krypton, who comes to earth to save her dying city.

Pretty In Pink (1986)

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Andie (Ringwald) is one of the not-so-popular girls in high school. She usually hangs out with her friend Duckie, who has always had a crush on her. Then she meets the new guy at school, Blaine (McCarthy) who is rich and popular. He is interested in Andie, despite the social pressure from his friends. Blaine invites Andie to the prom, but backs out at the last minute due to the pressure from his friends, but she attends anyway in a pink dress she made herself (as she couldn’t afford to buy one).

Even though I have such fond memories of the above movies and watched them all multiple times before I had reached the age of ten, I am still hesitant to let my seven year old daughter watch them. Some of them would horrify her or make her way too emotional. Were we tougher in the 80’s? Or are the children of this decade just too protected?

Were any of the above movies your childhood favourites during the 1980’s, or did you have another favourite that you watched over and over again? I’d love to hear from you!

Kristen

Flying with Kids

My husband and I travelled extensively before we had children. I think back to those days and remember how relaxing it was to sit on a plane for hours on end just eating, sleeping whenever I felt the need, and watching endless amounts of back to back films.  Suddenly two little children came into the picture and traveling became not quite as simple.

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Sleeping in Singapore airport (aged 9 & 24 months)

But, if you are well prepared before you board the plane, then it doesn’t need to be a stressful experience. As they say, a relaxed mum means a relaxed baby. Lucky for me, I have an extremely relaxed husband.

Traveling whilst your baby is between 0-12 months, is pretty smooth going. You are designated bulk head seats with a bassinet on the wall in front of you. So your baby can sleep comfortably and you have the benefit of extra leg room! I wont list off everything that I’d recommend you include in your hand luggage, but if you are not breastfeeding, I would highly suggest you pack a bottle so that your baby can drink on departure and landing. This helps their ears to adjust to the change in cabin pressure, which can be somtimes quite painful for them.

Traveling with a toddler between 12-24 months is not quite as easy, as they are more interested in running up and down the aisle than sleeping or watching tv, they no longer fit in the bassinet, and their seat is your lap. Be sure to pack activities that will hold their interest and keep them busy such as colouring books, a couple of their favourite toys, the comfort item they sleep with every night, and an ipad (loaded up with some great toddler activity apps). Although this age can be quite the challenge, most parents still like to travel as much as possible during these first few years, as from two years of age, parents need to pay almost full price for their child as they are then designated a seat of their own (from 0-2 years of age, you only need to pay tax on the flight).

Traveling with children between two and four is still a little tricky. Even though they have their own seat, kids that age still do not like to sit and be still for very long. Take some candy for them to suck on (a stash of it is good!), a couple of small toys they love to play with, some craft activities such as a bag of pipe cleaners and beads to make bracelets, the iPad of course, and try to have a parent seated on either side. Once they are around four and over, they begin to have more interest in the television/gaming screen and are happy to watch a movie or two if you are lucky. To promote sleep, I like to put the kids into their pyjamas and read them a story. Once they fall to sleep, hopefully mum and dad can then get some shuteye too.

It wasn’t until the age of nineteen that I boarded a plane for the first time. Our children, on the other hand, have already flown three round trips between Australia and the Netherlands, and twice to the Greek Islands. They are just 5 and 7 years of age, and extremely fortunate to be growing up as little world travelers, learning to appreciate different cultures along the way.

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Safe travels,

Kristen.

 

Germany – The Land of Fairy Tales

Visiting Germany is like stepping into a fairy tale. The castles, narrow cobblestone streets, exposed wooden beams, forests and rolling hills make it feel so magical with such a fairy tale feel to it. After all, the Grimm brothers were German. In some towns, it’s just like instantly stepping back in time, where you can easily imagine Hansel and Gretel skipping along the path and into the nearby forest.

Being just a short drive from the Netherlands, our family enjoys visiting Germany as often as we can to discover different areas of this beautiful country. Here are some of our favourite German towns.

Monschau

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Monschau is a quaint little town, located in a narrow valley between the hills in the North Eifel area. The river Rur runs right through town and, depending on the time of the year, can vary from a trickling stream, to a rushing white water river. The Bed and Breakfast that we stayed at, Bürgerhaus Monschau, was located right on the edge of this river and had the most amazing view over it (see below photo). I have never slept better than that night, listening to the rushing water just outside our two bedroom family room.

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On both sides of the valley, you will find some great walking tracks, that the whole family can enjoy. We followed these paths with a four and six year old, so it is definately doable with young children and gives an amazing outlook over the town. One of the tracks will lead you to the Monschau castle, which dates back to the 13th century. Although the castle is now a hostel, our kids still enjoyed running around the castle grounds and up in the tower, which is open to the public and offers a great view.

For dinner, there are so many romantic, candlelit restaurants to chose from. I can highly recommend Cafe Thelen. Although still quiet a fancy restaurant, we felt comfortable entering with two young children who cannot sit still or quietly, and they served a killer pork knuckle!

Some of the best hot chocolate that we have ever had was at the Schokoladen Cafe Hüftgold in Monschau, where you choose from the many different flavours of ‘chocolate on a stick’ to stir into your warm milk.

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Monschau is quite a small town, but definitely worth a visit for a day or two. Whether it be a romantic weekend away, or a little family trip – you will not regret it.

Cochem

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Cochem is one of my favourite towns, located along the Moselle river, it is bursting with character with so much to discover. We stayed in the family friendly Ferienresort bungalow park just out of town, but there are also plenty of character filled hotels located in the town centre. The town of Cochem itself is enchanting due to its narrow streets and twisty alleys, the lovingly restored half timbered houses with the typical slate roofs, the historical market-place, its medieval town gates, churches and walls.

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Cochem is set in a romantic part of the Moselle Valley, with surrounding hills covered in vineyards, the powerful flowing Moselle river, and of course the magnificent castle overlooking the old town. We enjoyed a walk up the hill to the Cochem Castle. From here, you will have the most unforgettable view over the town, river and surroundings. Tickets can be purchased at the castle entrance for a tour of inside the castle, but the view is for free 🙂

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A thirty minute drive from Cochem is the Berg Eltz Castle. A visit to this castle is a must. It really is magnificent.

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The walk from the car park down through the forest to the castle took us about half an hour and offered unforgettable views of the castle. We then opted to catch the shuttle bus back up to the car park, as the kids were tired by that stage. There are multiple hiking possibility to and around the Berg Eltz castle ranging from 1-10kms, depending on what you are looking for. This is one of the most impressive castles I have laid my eyes on.

Dinkelsbühl

Dinkelsbühl is one of the three most historical towns along the ‘Romantic route’ in the South of Germany. The town is still surrounded by old medieval walls and towers and great walking tracks can be found around both the inside and outside of this wall.

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Within the walls, you can find original and colourful buildings, cobblestone streets, and of course the church which was originally part of a monastery.

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Füssen, Hohenschwangau and Schwangau

Situated at the very end of the Romantic route, just a hop, step and jump from the Austrian border, everyone travels to this area for one reason and that is to see lay their eyes on the Neuschwanstein Castle. I am no exception. We drove all the way to this area just to fulfill a decade-long dream of mine, to see the castle that inspired Disney!

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Füssen, Hohenschwangau and Schwangau are nestled at the base of the Alpine mountains and a stones through from the Alpsee Lake. The best view of these landmarks, can be seen from the castle!

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You will need to park your car at the base of the mountain and then you can either hike up (a twenty minute uphill climb), or purchase a shuttle bus or horse and cart ride up to the castle. I would highly recommend purchasing your tickets to the castle online before you go as unfortunately, we learned upon our arrival around 11:30am that all tickets for that day were already sold out. Although we were unable to tour the inside of the castle, we still enjoyed the walk up to the castle and were able to enter the main gates and enjoy the incredible view from the top.

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I have also recently discovered that there is a ‘German Fairy Tale Route‘ in central Germany, which focuses on the brothers Grimm and their famous stories! I look forward to adding this to our list of places to discover in this beautiful land of fairy tales.

Kristen

Disclaimer: I am by no means being compensated for the above recommendations, they are simply my own opinions based on personal experience. 

Dutch – The Language of Phlegm

When I worked on Holland American Line cruise ships, the majority of the officers were Dutch. When I heard them speaking dutch for the first time, the initial thought that came to mind was “crikey, they are really working up some serious phlegm there!”. Let’s admit it, it is not the prettiest language on the ears. Unlike French or Spanish, I would certainly not label Dutch as ‘the language of love’. Far from it!

Ironically, I began a relationship with a dutch man and began picking up a few words here and there, mostly the bad ones. But at that time, I had no interest in learning the language. I was still in denial that I would need to. With words like ‘gekruid gehakt’, ‘scheveningen’ and ‘verschillende verzekeringen’, it was just too complicated.

Some people are natural linguistics. I am not. I grew up in Australia where English is pretty much the one and only language spoken. Apart from some french classes in high school (which I never took seriously) I had not been exposed to any other language than English until I met my now husband at the age of twenty.

I managed to avoid learning the language properly until we relocated to the Netherlands ten years after we began our relationship together. This was when it really hit home. I am an organiser. I like to plan, prepare and organise. When we first moved to the Netherlands, we had two children of our own, yet I felt like a child again. I could no longer do these things as we were living in a small town where no one spoke English. I had to rely on my husband to do everything for me. He needed to pay all of our bills, read all my mail and make my appointments for me. I hated the feeling of loosing my independence and that’s when I decided that if I was going to be happy in our new country, I would need to embrace this language that I had been trying to avoid for so long. I had married a Dutch man and was now living in the Netherlands. In order to fully integrate, I would need to be able to speak their language.

After attempting to use various self-taught methods in the past without success, I enrolled in a dutch language course in Rotterdam at CBE Languages. Once a week, I attended a two hour course. I was motivated and in a classroom situation, I thrived and seemed to pick up the language a little better. I realised that I knew a lot of the words already, it was just a matter of learning how to put them together to build a sentence and gaining the confidence to speak in front of others. After a while, I finally felt like I could hold a basic conversation with someone and make my own phone calls. Sure, my grammar was not perfect, but they knew what I was saying, and that was a great feeling. For a long time, I was afraid to speak it. Believing that if I said the sentence wrong, that people would laugh at me or think I was stupid. I felt as though I sounded like a child when speaking dutch. Now I realise, that even though I make mistakes, speaking it is the only way to improve. People don’t laugh at all, they genuinely appreciate that I am trying.

Eighteen months after arriving in Holland, I received ‘that dreaded letter’ in the mail. The letter was from the municipality, informing me that I would need to enroll in an integration course and pass the civil integration examinations in order to stay in the Netherlands. As I had already done the language courses in Rotterdam, I managed to complete the course in three months rather than the usual two years. I then sat the exams, passing them with much relief.

I still have a way to go before I would call myself ‘fluent’ in dutch, but at least now I can make that phone call, or buy a magazine and read it without hesitation (rather than having to wait until the next time I travelled through Schiphol airport). Best of all, I can now walk into the butcher and confidently order that 500 grams of gekruid gehakt!

Dank u en een prettige dag verder!

Groetjes,

Kristen