Wednesday, August 24, 2016

warning: having children can ruin your relationship

This is the stuff no one tells you when you have children and not many people talk about until it's too late.

So today I thought I'd talk about it. Get things out in the open.

I hope you'll join the discussion.

Now that I am through the other side of babies and toddlers of endless sleepless nights, of clothes splattered with baby vomit and mashed pumpkin, of wondering if my husband and I would ever have a moment together where there wasn't a baby or child between us, I feel qualified to speak.

My eyes are wide open to the friends around me who are going through the early season of parenting, who are just starting out on family life trying to find their way with it all and well, feeling like they're failing.

Well here's the newsflash: living with babies and little people is HARD!!

No matter how cute they are, no matter how much your heart feels like it is actually going to break with love every time you look at them, early parenthood stretches our emotions and priorities to the extreme.

I'm writing about this because it is an all too common story of couples splitting up when their children are in this newborn/toddler stage and when I hear about it I can't help but think "if only you'd hung in there!"

Of course this is a massive generalisation that if they'd hung in there longer everything would be ok, perhaps it wouldn't, perhaps they were only hanging in there by a thread before baby arrived but if anything is going to test the strength of that thread a baby will!

For what it's worth, here are my tips for having children and keeping your relationship alive and well.

1. Surrender to and accept the fact that having children changes who you are and your life forever.

Soak that in for a minute.

Its a big one.

So many people keep thinking that their life will 'go back to normal' once the baby sleeps through the night, once the baby is eating solids, once the baby is walking.

This is the new normal, there's no going back, time will never be your own again (except maybe once they move out of home). And none of that's a bad thing. Your attitude is so important.

2. Speak up early.

As soon as you start to feel like you need a break/a nap/a footrub/more support, speak up. And if you aren't heard or understood by your partner ask a friend or family member.

3. Stay ahead of resentment

See tip number 2. If you don't speak up early a couple of things will happen. I call it the volcano effect, the resentment builds and builds until the inevitable explosion. Just as much as you are adjusting to the demands of parenting, so is your partner, don't turn it into a competition of who is doing more, whose job is harder. Work together.

4. Get some sleep

Beg, borrow or steal some sleep. Everything is harder and more emotional when you are sleep deprived. I was never one for day sleeping when my babes were little (probably to my detriment) so I used to force myself to make a cup of tea and actually put my feet up while I drank it. Even this small rest helped. A 10 minute nap while your baby sleeps, and going to bed early can mean the difference between sanity and tears - yours not the baby's!

5. Have some time out

This can feel so hard for some new mums, especially first time mums. "I'm ok, I can keep going" I used to think. "I love my baby I don't want to leave it with anyone else!" I used to think. But if you can, you will feel better for it. Even a walk around the block or a long shower or bath. In Robin Barker's fantastic book Baby Love she makes the point that if we are always around our partner doesn't get the opportunity to be with the baby and learn for themselves how to do things without feeling like they are being watched, leave baby with your partner or another family member or friend and have some time out.

6. Seek older wiser counsel

Once upon a time we lived in the village with grandmothers and aunties who were ahead of us on the path, who could fill us with wise counsel. Unfortunately the village isn't on our doorstep but it is there if you look for it. It might be your maternal and child health nurse, it might be your mum, or your neighbor. I'm blessed with a fairy godmother, aunties, grandmother, mother-in-law and sister-in-law I can call on if not always for babysitting at least for a chat when things get hard or confusing. Talking always puts things back in perspective.

7. If you're looking for your libido

The degree of this varies for everyone but ranks high on the list for causing tension post baby. You're exhausted, you're breastfeeding, your body is recovering from giving birth in every possible way, the only intimacy you want is with your pillow. Like so many aspects of motherhood as a society we can have really unrealistic expectations and ideas about 'what is normal' about when is too soon or not soon enough for your libido to find you again. Natural New Age Mum has put together a great post on this with thoughts and tips on 'what's normal' and what to do about it.

8. Never be too capable

My fairy godmother taught me this one when my first baby was born. This is a hard one especially I think for women of today who have had successful careers they somehow transfer career brain to motherhood and that's not really how it works. If you are too capable you are not allowing your partner to develop their skills and you are putting high expectations on yourself to be able to 'do it all'.

9. Make time for your relationship.

This really is the most important one. Remind yourself of why you fell in love with each other, those qualities are still there even if they're hidden under tiredness and raw emotion. Make date night a priority, it can be as simple and inexpensive as watching a movie together - make it a comedy!

Relationships are precious. They take work. They need nurturing. If you've neglected yours or you're feeling neglected, talk about it. If you find it hard to come up with the words write it down first. And do get some sleep it makes all the difference.

Love to hear your thoughts on this one in the comments.

Friday, August 12, 2016

friday list

























It's been a long time since I've done one of these. A list of things I love or have discovered that I think you'll like too.

If perfection or comparison is holding you back read this

I'm re-reading Eat, Pray, Love. Have you read it? Did you love it? Hate it?

Fancy some dairy-free, gluten-free Italian food? Mamacino's got that sorted.

If you're visiting Sorrento on the Mornington Peninsula enjoy lunch, dinner or a glass of wine at Cakes and Ale - my favorite little bistro there that I also do the marketing for.

I've been asked to submit my story of being a mum without my mum here for this beautiful site Keeping Mum, if you or someone you know would like to contribute their story visit the site for details.

Miso  + maple glazed eggplant sounds good to me!

Wanna brew your own kombucha? Check this out.

A friend and I make a pact sometimes to not talk about lunchboxes when we meet up lol. I have to confess I find the whole thinking and talking about what to put in lunchboxes so boring! Brenda has come to the rescue and put together this great list of 17 sweet and easy lunchbox recipes.

We all need a night off from cooking sometimes, if you live in the Elsternwick area you can call into What's 4 Dinner (250 Glen Eira Rd. Elsternwick) and pick up a home style meal you don't have to cook! What's 4 Dinner and Dody Oliver Catering are my other marketing clients. Dody is a mum of three and dynamic business woman who wants people to eat well but understands not everyone makes time to do so. Her meals are cooked from scratch using real food and nothing else. Bayside customers can order online and have meals delivered.

If you're on Instagram come follow me @wholefoodmama and if you'd like to see my husband's beautiful photography you can find it @riverandsol

We set off on a seven hour drive tomorrow across a rough red dirt road on our way back to Darwin. It's been a big six weeks here on the Gove Peninsula. 'See' you when we get there!

Have a great weekend xo

Sunday, August 07, 2016

how to find peace

I could have written about how to travel and eat wholefoods or how to pack a healthy lunchbox but the truth is I've been failing at that lately.

Hot chips, sausages in bread, bakery lunches and even donuts (!) have been in eaten in far too greater proportion on this leg of our trip.

I've been cooking some delicious meals in our caravan fresh fish caught by River and Pete has been a highlight, but the undesirable foods have crept in when we've been out and about.

Sausages in bread are the standard catering item for any free event celebrating things like NAIDOC week or other cultural festivals.

Perhaps I'll have to write a post about getting back on the wholefood track.

For now though I'm writing about peace, namely peace within myself.

I've been doing some soul-searching on this trip as I often do when I travel, the two seem to go hand in hand for me. As I cover new outer territory I cover new inner territory.

More and more I've come to actually feel what spiritual masters talk about all the time, that peace isn't something to look for, that it is within us, there all the time.

To accompany me on my latest inward journey I've had the voice of Elizabeth Gilbert in her book Eat, Pray, Love as my guide.

I started re-reading it as a study on how to write memoir and then settled into reading the story again for the pleasure of it.

Just in case there happens to be A person out there who hasn't read it or seen the film, Eat, Pray, Love is about Elizabeth Gilbert's quest to find who she is and make peace with herself after her life crumbles and changes direction following a difficult divorce.

She writes...

"Your treasure - your perfection - is within you already. But to claim it, you must leave the busy commotion of the mind and abandon the desires of the ego and enter into the silence of the heart."                                                                                                                                                       - p.207

And what I've discovered is that the silence of the heart is always there.

In our darkest times and in our lightest times it is always there.

Meditation is one way to find peace and feel the silence of the heart but there are other ways too.

Meditation scares some people. "How do I know if I'm doing it right? How do I do it? How long do I have to do it for?" goes the thinking.

Shhhhh!

Quiet mind.

Quiet all the thinking.

Sit. Breathe. Close your eyes. Breathe. That's all. And when thoughts come notice them but don't attach to them. Watch them float by like clouds or simply say the word 'thinking' in your head as a way of noticing the thoughts and then letting them float away.

And even though I said peace is within us, peace is of course outside of us too.

Peace can be found in a flower, in a sunset, in a raindrop. Nature is a wonderful place to find peace and you don't have to be surrounded by a forest to feel it (although immersing yourself in nature definitely helps).

Last evening as the sun was setting I walked from the caravan to the tap to fill up our water bottles. On the way back to the van I noticed how the sky had changed.

I stood in the middle of the field looking up at the soft grey clouds and the dusky pink sky. A few little stars were starting to twinkle and a slither of a crescent moon hung low in the sky.

I found peace in the sky.

Peace might be on your kitchen table or even in your basket of washing waiting to be folded.

Peace is all around us and within us and for those who can't see and feel peace at this moment pray for them.

xo


Saturday, August 06, 2016

a love story

Today I thought I'd be romantic and tell you a love story.

Everyone loves a love story right?

It's the story of how Pete and I met.

A good ten years before we met and fell in love I admired Pete from a distance.

Not in a romantic way, I was in a long term relationship.

The first time I laid eyes on Pete was at the launch of a calendar he had photographed to save the Goolengook Rainforest.

Hearing him speak that night I was full of admiration for his free spirit, for his free thinking, for the way he stood up for things he believed in and completely in awe of his photography.

I bought the calendar and after the year was over I cut the photos out of the calendar and stored them in a tea chest. I didn't know Pete and I didn't meet him that night. I saved the photos for years.

In my mid twenties the relationship I was in ended and I spent a few years living out a bit of arrested development. I was old before my time during my teens so I gave myself a second chance at the adolescent years in my late twenties, some of it wasn't pretty but oh well lucky for my kids I got that out of my system then!

I was almost twenty nine when a switch flicked in my being, that switch I'd heard about but didn't believe in until I experienced. 'Must find father of my children' played over and over in my brain.

I became clearly focused on finding the love of my life to have children with.

I remember talking to a happily married friend who had two children and asking her, "How do you know when you've met the right person?" "You just know" she said with reassurance and confidence in her voice. I wasn't convinced.

It was during this time that Pete reappeared in my life.

A mutual friend asked me to interview Pete for a magazine story.

We met at a cafe and Pete told me his story of travelling to Arnhem Land to record and photograph the stories of the Yolngu people in North East Arnhem Land.

At the end of the interview Pete said, "I'd like to read it before you submit it to the editor". This caught me by surprise. It wasn't standard procedure for me to do this with people I interviewed.
"Ok" I said tentatively.

A week later Pete came over to my house and read the story I'd written about his life.

Let's just say there was a lot of creative toing and froing about what should stay in the story and what should be cut! This would be the first of many creative tussles between us.

Our friendship was born but it would be some months and some serious soul searching on my behalf before our relationship was swept into love and romance.

Eleven years later, two beautiful children later we are living our happily ever after in all its raw and honest glory.

We are both creative, sensitive, spirited souls which doesn't always make for smooth sailing but I wouldn't have it any other way.

Our lives together are rich and compelling.

My friend was right, you just know.





travel review: thursday plantation aloe vera gel & tea tree antiseptic cream

I've come to realise that even though I started this blog with a wholefood focus in mind, travel has become part of it with my family and I traveling for third term each year.

We travel for my husband's work with Elders in remote Indigenous communities so we find ourselves in places that are hot and where mosquitoes and sandflies love to buzz around. The problem with mosquitoes is not only do their bites sting and itch but they can also pass on nasty things like Ross River virus, Dengue Fever and Barmah Forest virus. The other potential problem is that if bites are scratched until they bleed there is a risk of infection which my husband was hospitalised for once many years ago.

Our trip this year to North East Arnhem Land is no exception. Our youngest son Sol must have had 60 bites at least on his bare legs during our time out bush, despite our futile attempt with homemade repellent that just didn't seem to work.

The super strength repellent available to buy includes a chemical ingredient called DEET included in various concentrations depending on the brand. The use of DEET comes with many warnings due to its strength and potential side effects that range from skin irritation, headache, burning eyes to more serious and extreme effects including seizures and death.

Needless to say we steered clear of repellents containing DEET and instead made our own repellent of tea tree oil, eucalyptus oil, dettol antiseptic and baby oil.

As dusk fell we sprayed this mix on our skin and then put on our long cotton clothing. It helped but wasn't 100% effective, I don't know if there is anything that's 100% effective. The sandflies found my ankles and we weren't quick enough covering Sol up so we had to find relief from the bites which we did in the form of Thursday Plantation Antiseptic Cream. More about that soon.

The other peril of outback travel is the blazing hot sun. Again, despite our best focused efforts to stay protected from the sun's burning rays sometimes we've been caught out and had to soothe some sunburn.

So today I'm sharing with you my favorite remedies for sunburn and mosquito and sandfly bites. What we put on our bodies is just as important as what we put in our bodies.

Thursday Plantation

Thursday Plantation is an Australian based company that makes a range of products for hair and skin using natural ingredients including plant oils.

Their products are free from synthetic parabens, sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS), sodium lauryl ether sulphate (SLES) and no harsh detergents.

Thursday Plantation Aloe Vera Gel



When we're traveling my favorite soothing remedy for sunburn is Thursday Plantation Aloe Vera Gel.

When we are at home we break aloe vera leaves straight from the plant in our garden and crack them open to rub the gel onto skin that's been exposed to the sun.

It's a bit difficult to travel with an actual aloe vera plant so on the road I like the Thursday Plantation Gel because it is immediately cooling and soaks nicely into your skin without being too sticky and the tube is a handy size to store in small travel spaces like a tent or caravan or in my handbag. It lasts well too as a little bit goes a long way and it is readily available in chemists and supermarkets.

Depending on where you buy it it will cost around $8 or $9 for 100g tube.

Thursday Plantation Tea Tree Antiseptic Cream



A friend who lives in Arnhem Land put me on to this fantastic antiseptic cream to use as relief from insect bites.

I was so grateful to have this on our recent trip out bush. The cream is very light so you don't feel like your skin is being smothered and it immediately is cooling and anti-inflammatory.

The other benefit is that if like my youngest son, someone in your family scratches their bites until they bleed you can wash the bites with clean water and then dab this cream on to prevent infection.

I will be keeping this as a permanent addition to my travel kit and my first aid kit at home too.

I bought this product at the Chemist for around $8, again depending on where you buy the price varies from as low as $6.95 at this online chemist to $11.36 at this online retailer.

If you have some tips or remedies for insect repellent or relief from bites, stings or sunburn I'd love to hear.

Happy travels!



Thursday, August 04, 2016

FAQ: how do I get my children to eat veggies?

Dear Mamas and Papas whose children fuss over eating vegetables,

I feel your pain! My six year old would rather eat his own hand than munch on the rainbow of veggies on our table but here's the answer: Don't give up!

Essentially that is the sum total of the answer but I know you're looking for more than that so here goes...

Take a look at your own attitude to food. Do you love sweet food? Chocolate? Cake? Is eating veggies a struggle for you too? Our actions speak much louder than our words so part of the key is for your child to see you eating and enjoying vegetables - regularly.

Grow your own. Plant some food and involve your children. Kids love to get their hands dirty and the main part of the fun of a veggie garden is picking the result. Even if it is just herbs or strawberries in pots believe kids will love it and it will help open up their minds and tastebuds to eating the good stuff. Stephanie Alexander's Kitchen Garden Foundation is great evidence and inspiration for this point.

Involve your children in the food preparation. They are much more likely to try meals they have cooked themselves. Gather a stack of cookbooks and let your children choose some recipes they'd like to cook with you - the recipes have to of course include veggies.

Your best friend is the grater and your next best friend is the blender. Ideally we don't want to be hiding the good stuff at every meal but the reality is to get the nutrition into some little blighters we have to grate in 10 veggies to spaghetti bolognaise and blend in the baby spinach to a monster green juice made sweet with frozen banana and coconut water.

Stay cool as a cucumber. For some kids and parents food becomes a power play. This is not good for anyone's digestion. One approach is the grown up decides 'when and what' will be eaten and the child decides 'how much'.

Try a different texture. Some kids will eat raw carrot. Some kids like it cooked. Some like it grated in a sandwich. Sometimes, it all comes down to texture. Don't do backflips trying to please your child but at different meals offer the 'offending' vegetable in a different format and see what happens.

Make sure your kids have an appetite at meal times. If you have a child who like to 'graze' ie. eat all day, when meal time rolls around they will have no hunger, no reason, no motivation to eat what is served. My son went to a Steiner kindergarten and the teacher there was a grandmother who encouraged us young mums to map our mealtimes out like this: breakfast, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner.

Read French Kids Eat Everything by Karen Le Billon. It is a fabulous true story of a North American family that moves to Le Billon's husband's families rural village in France and transitions their young children from carb loving, cake munching kiddos to veggie loving souls. Karen tells their story with such good humour and practical advice you can't help fall in love with it and be filled with hope and inspiration that you too can do this in your own home.

Keep a food diary for a week. This will give you a really accurate picture of what your child is eating and whether you really need to get yourself so worked up! :)

Make a 2 fruit 5 vegetable chart. This can be a great way of engaging young children in eating well. Some kids are really motivated by stickers and visual charts. Design it any way you wish. Explain to your children the aim is for them to eat 2 pieces of fruit each day and 5 serves of vegetables (for children that's about 2 and a half cups) and they can stick a sticker on the chart for each serve they eat. Ideally it should be a rainbow of fruit and vegetables, lots of different colours.

Don't worry. It will all be ok. My mother in law says that when she was raising my husband she was convinced for the rest his life he would only eat sausages, mashed potato and peas because that was all he would eat enthusiastically as a child. Of course as an adult he eats absolutely everything. Like many things in childhood, kids go through stages and as long as parents can remain positive and light hearted about things the stage will pass.

For more info, tips and inspiration on handling fussy eaters take a look at naturopath and mum of 2, Georgia Harding's fantastic blog: Well Nourished. Here's a good post to get you started.

If you are really concerned about your child's eating behaviour or nutrition do seek professional advice from a paediatrician or naturopath.

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

10 lessons from 10 years of parenting








10 years ago last Friday Pete and I became parents.

A beautiful baby boy came into the world, we named him River and he continues to delight and intrigue us, to challenge us and indirectly call us to be better versions of ourselves.

Decade birthdays feel like milestones more than the others, even River said on his tenth birthday, "Mum, you know how people ask if you feel different when you turn a year older? Well usually I don't but this year I do".

There is no one handbook for parenting that has all the answers. Although, I do love the series of books by Sarah Napthali 

The work of raising children is more complex than what can be found in a book. You see, the challenge and joy in parenting is that each soul has its own purpose to fullfil, its own karmic journey.

Yes I believe in the woo woo, the wider cosmic story that takes us down paths we sometimes don't know why we're following. I believe it is this bigger story, the unfinished business from previous generations that comes through in our DNA that adds to the variables of what 'works' with one child and not with the other.

I don't have all the answers but I thought from my ten years of parenting I'd share some of what I've learnt so far:

1. Honour the soul of the individual child. This is how I parent. Yes I know that sounds woo woo too but there you go. This by no means means I make excuses or allowances for my boys in some hippy trippy kind of way it means I notice the differences in my kids and parent them accordingly. My two sons have different personalities, different interests, different strengths and weaknesses, different lessons to learn in this life and I aim to honor these differences in the way I parent. This means noticing what they're interested in and supporting and encouraging them to pursue those interests and talents, even when they're resistant. And it means setting boundaries and expectations to help them overcome what I can see is challenging for them.

2. Teach your child responsibility from a young age. There's no point waiting until your child becomes a teenager and then expecting them to instantly be responsible and start picking up after themselves. Start early. I know it feels easier and quicker to do things yourself but it doesn't help anyone in the long run, not you, not your child, not their future boss or future partner.

3. Say yes. I learnt this one from a dear friend who is a wise mother of four and grandmother of four. When your child asks you to play with them, forget the dishes and play with them. The childhood years are fleeting. There will come a day where they won't want to kick a ball with you, draw pictures with you, play monopoly with you (no not monopoly! anything but monopoly!) Play. Good for you, good for them. Watch how happy it makes them. But more than that it is a case of actions speak louder than words, you are showing your child you love them and are interested in what they're doing rather than just telling them.

4. Don't hide behind your children. It took me a while to realise this, sometimes I was using my children as an excuse for not doing things personally and professionally. Ouch! That was hard to admit. There were things that I would put off under the guise of 'my children need me' when really my children will always need me in one form or another so if there are things I want or need to do for myself then it is a matter of making it happen. The making it happen part can be tricky if you are one like me who struggles to ask for help or let someone else take over for a while. Keep it in mind.

5. Practice communicating clearly and openly with your partner about parenting. What happens when one parent is cool with video games and the other isn't? Eating junk food? Watching tv everyday? Smacking? Time out? Being on a different page from your partner about how to raise your children can be the source of so much tension. And the problem is these are not really things most people discuss until they are on the job and the children are in front of them! The only way to deal with this is directly and honestly - but not in the heat of the moment. Over a cup of tea, a glass of wine, take a walk together, talking things through when you're both relaxed is the ideal way. And if it is really tough for you to work this out together then consider talking with a counsellor together. It is really important to get this right because mixed messages to your children doesn't help them.

6. Make it a priority to keep your own cup full. I have a friend who schedules in massages and facials into her diary like she does a dentist appointment. She doesn't feel guilty for making time for herself. At this stage my finances don't allow for monthly massages and facials but a walk on the beach is free, a cup of coffee is cheap, time with girlfriends is priceless. Making time to hear your own thoughts and re-connect with who you are is actually vital to the health, happiness and well-being of your whole family.

7. Nurture self-esteem. With both of my children in school now I've come to realise that nurturing their self-esteem is really the best thing we can do as parents to help see them through life's storms and joys. And one of the best ways to do this is to provide them with opportunities to find out what they're good at or what they enjoy and encourage them. I witnessed this when my youngest son started playing tennis, it came easily to him, he walked taller because of it. Jobs around the house play an important role in this too believe it or not. Having a sense of belonging and purpose is important for well-being, by giving our children responsibilities around the house we are giving them the opportunity to feel a sense of belonging, that they are valued, that what they contribute matters and in turn an opportunity to feel good about themselves. You can read more about self-esteem here.

8. Get to know your children's friends and their parents. Socialisation is a huge part of parenting. Teaching your children how to be in social situations through leading by example is something I think is important. Having their friends over, having your friends over are great opportunities to teach your kids about how to communicate and how to be a good friend. Socialising doesn't come naturally and easily to everyone, parents included! But I think it is a really important part of life and something to share with our children. By having your children's friends in your house from a young age I believe you are setting up open lines of communication that will help you through the teenage years. Which leads me to my next point...

9. Each stage prepares you for the next stage. I remember talking to a mum of grown up sons asking her secret for surviving the teenage years and her answer brought me so much relief 'each stage prepares you for the next stage' and how true it is. Now that my boys are in primary school, those new born days are but a memory. The challenges of surviving on little to no sleep, daytime naps, introducing solid food, things that consumed my days and thoughts are over and we have slipped into the next stage, almost without noticing and we are dancing and weaving our way through this stage as we will with all the rest ahead.

10. Enjoy your children. I've saved the best til last. In the midst of family life it can be all too easy to forget to enjoy our time together. Each age and stage bring challenges but it is so important to enjoy this precious time.

This turned out to be much longer than I thought. I hope there's something useful in there for you!
I'd love to hear your take on raising children.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

tea & damper

"Will you go back to town on the weekend?" Shania stared intently at the fire, her brow furrowed. She shook her head no.

"You prefer it out here?" I pressed on.

She nodded. Still staring at the fire.

These were the first words we'd exchanged after sitting for an hour alone at the small, smouldering campfire we'd cooked breakfast on.

It was our job to keep the fire flickering away to boil the billy for tea and in case the hunters came back with fish or mudcrabs.

Shania liked her tea in a red plastic cup that easily held half a litre of strong tea.

She made each cup with two tea bags, water boiled on the fire, a splash of cold water and no milk but a good spoon of sugar stirred in. The sugar taken from a crumpled bag that had become home to a family of ants.

Pete had gone into town, an hour and a half away on red dirt and across four river crossings. One of the crossings called Boggy Creek for good reason.

We were camping at a homeland with the Elder Pete is working with on a community led healing program, and her family.

One of the Elders had woken with a toothache and realised that the next day was a public holiday so she needed to see a dentist today. Plus her husband needed to pick up his medication from the medical clinic.

Pete's focus was getting a generator and water pump back in action for the homeland after it being without running water for two years. He packed the parts into the 4WD, the Elders and their grand-daughter climbed in and they were gone for the day.

Sol and River had gone hunting with the Elders' son and grandson and a new friend we'd made in town who was helping with repairs at the homeland.

The whole time they were away hunting I was anxious about the boys getting sunburnt, about sand fly bites covering every piece of their exposed skin and the very worst fear...crocodiles.

Shania's three month old baby was at the camp with us,  I was delighted to be regularly handed the baby. Such a gorgeous boy, so chubby and full of smiles. When he grizzled I rocked him and walked the red dirt track til he fell asleep in my arms. I would return from walking and hand the sleeping baby to his mother who tucked him into bed inside one of the the three rooms that were used as bedrooms by the family.

Pete and I and the boys were camping in our two room tent and each morning I paid great attention to sweeping the sand out and straightening the bedcovers until they were perfectly straight. I needed order in the tent, it was an oasis from the sand flies whose bites stung for days.

After three days of heat and no running water our skin was grimy and itchy with sweat, sunscreen, sand, insect repellant that didn't work and the myriad of bites as evidence. I was ready to go back to town and have a shower but in an odd way I was enjoying the grime, the letting go of all the things that matter in town.

I was also ready for a full nights sleep without the constant hum of the generator or being woken by Sol who was beside himself with discomfort from the burn and itch of bites.

On more than one occasion I zipped myself out of the tent and into the night with my torch to find a bucket and pour a bit of water into it from the jerry can holding water collected from the river 10 minutes drive away. Every drop counted so I used it sparingly but I had to do something in an attempt to bring Sol relief and bring us both sleep.

I washed his bare bite covered legs down with the cool water, wetting a towel and laying it over his legs. Once the burn and sting had eased slightly I dabbed the bites with a tea tree antiseptic cream and layed beside him singing softly til he fell back to sleep.

Bleary eyed I rolled back over to my bed for a few hours sleep before he woke me again. It was one of those nights that felt endless, one of those nights that mother's know so well where you just will the sun to rise and bring the day because the night is for sleeping and you're getting none of that.

---------------------------------------

"We're having Grandmother's damper for supper" announced Rose sitting crossed legged by the fire she rolled up her sleeves and washed her hands in a bucket of water as she prepared to make the dough.

Shania was assembling the ingredients in front of Rose as she requested them. "Got any baking powder Galay?" Rose called out to me. "No, but I've got self-raising flour". "Ma," she said.

Galay is the kinship word Rose uses for me. The Indigenous kinship system is like a vast weaving that takes deep concentration to follow and to start to work out the relationships. Galay is the word that refers to 'brother's wife'. Rose calls Pete wawa (brother) which makes me galay.

'Ma' means ok.

Once all the ingredients were gathered from the tucker box I sat on the mat and watched Rose mix and need the dough. Her elegant hands flattened and smoothed the dough over and over until it was supple and lightly dusted in flour. Rose began shaping pieces into squares about the size of a slice of bread. She placed a fry pan on the grate over the fire and poured in sunflower oil to fry the dough in. The result was somewhere between a donut and the fried scones my great grandmother made when I was a child. Rose sat carefully cooking each piece until there were two towering piles. "This one's for your family, my family," she laughed, "I know how much boys eat".

With all the pieces cooked everyone gathered around to eat. It was dark by now. A fluorescent light powered by the generator hung from a nearby tree and gave us light to squeeze golden syrup onto our damper from a plastic squeezy bottle and to pour cups of tea.

I ate my piece of damper that was crisp on the outside and softly doughy on the inside. Golden syrup dripped down my hand adding stickiness to the mix of sweat, sand and sunscreen already on my skin.

The texture and sweetness of the damper was as satisfying as the nostalgic memory of my own grandmother's version also eaten with golden syrup. I thanked Rose for the damper, drank my tea and headed to the tent if not to sleep to rest until the sun rose again.

Have you eaten damper by the fire? Or fried scones with your grandmother? I'd love to hear your stories.

*some names have been changed 


Monday, July 18, 2016

first impressions: north east arnhem land

After a mere 10 hours driving from Katherine, 700 kms of the drive on red dirt avoiding pot holes, sandy bogs and jagged rock we arrived in Arnhem Land.

For 11 years I've been hearing about Arnhem Land and Peter's Yolgnu family who live here.

Finally we are here together with our own children.

Pete is working with a Yolngu Grandmother here who takes care of her community through a healing program, taking young at-risk Yolngu out to homelands for support and healing.

We are based in Nhulunbuy the mining town set up here on the Gove Peninsula in the late 60's when Rio Tinto started mining bauxite for aluminium.

From Nhulunbuy we go out bush with Pete for him to do his work.

The coastline and landscape is postcard perfect except when the mine and refinery come into view, the mined red earth and the imposing refinery buildings and silos look like something out of a sci fi film dropped from the sky.

It is hard to fathom what it must have been like here in the 60's before the mine arrived and even harder to imagine what it must have been like when Rio Tinto made their mining 'deal' with the Traditional Owners of this land.

I don't even feel like I am in Australia anymore. It is a place of its own here.

We are remote in many senses.

Food comes in on a barge from Darwin once a week. Once the supermarket runs out of something for the week that's it. I was told on one of my first visits to the shops "Sorry, no bananas until next week".

But then there's Nature's 'supermarket' where real food is plentiful if you know where to look and how to catch it.

On our first trip out bush we ate the most spectacular mud crab, speared in the mangroves by a Yolgnu friend and cooked on the beach by his mother. "From the mangrove, to the fire, to your mouth," she said laughing as she handed Sol and I a crab claw to share.

There was no sense of time that day on the beach until the sun started to set, "We need to get back to camp before its dark, so they can collect gapu (water) from the creek" our Grandmother friend said looking up the beach for her son and husband who had gone fishing with River and Pete.

As dusk settled around us on the beach I began to worry about baru (crocodile). I looked up the beach nervously hoping to see the hunters walking back. I noticed Grandmother and her daughter-in-law did not take their eyes off the sandy point in the distance where the men had gone hunting, they too seemed to be willing them to walk back into view soon.

Within minutes we could see them walking back towards us. No fish today. We were happy and grateful for the crab. Grandmother gave the other crab claw to Peter and River to share and divided the body of the crab up for her and her husband, her son and daughter-in-law.

*********

I shared this story on my facebook page, it has been one of my favorite moments of the trip so far...

We went to meet Nandi Beth, Pete's Yolgnu mum. Nandi is the Yolgnu word for mother. Nandi Beth was spending a few days in hospital, nothing serious so we went to the hospital to meet her. Her delight and joy at seeing River and Sol for the first time was so lovely. She hugged them to her and smiled from her heart, then stood back and looked at the boys, "I get depressed when I come to hospital. Now you've made me happy". In the car when we left Sol said, "We look different but we have the same feelings. Grandmothers love to see grandchildren." They sure do. It was such an experience of universal love.

**********

There are challenges here. Divisions. Politics. Corruption.

There are wonders here. Songlines. Dreaming. Artistry. Family. Ceremony.

I hope you'll stick around to hear more.

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

love a puppy? read this first




Meet Jedda.

In January this year a lady named Kel drove into our driveway in a pick-up truck with two red heeler x dingo pups on board.

Kel was like a movie character.

Long red hair down her back, cowgirl boots and belt to match, dressed in jeans and check shirt she was fit for a rodeo. Kel is an animal whisperer no doubt about it.

I'm still not sure exactly how Pete found Kel but he had heard that Kel found puppies for people. So for a good few months Kel was on the lookout for us for a red heeler pup.

Late December Kel phoned to say that she had found a breeder in Queensland with a litter of pups but that we needed to wait a few more weeks before the pups could leave their mum.

I was out of the house when Kel arrived. When I came home River came running out the front door, "Mum this is the best day of my life!!!!"

I knew Sol was going to be excited that we FINALLY had a puppy but River's excitement surprised me I didn't think he would be as taken with the little bundle of fur that arrived.

Once the first rush of puppy love wore off and the toilet training challenges set in we all began to realise we had absolutely no idea what we had signed up for.

It was Pete's idea to choose a working dog breed. The idea and the reality are quite different things.

We knew that puppies and working dogs especially had a lot of energy and would be quite nippy around the heels as their sharp little baby teeth were tested out but wow it was all so constant!!

So much so that within two weeks of Jedda joining our family Pete declared to me one evening, "I've made a mistake. I've chosen the wrong breed, I think we should send Jedda to live on a farm, now while she's young before she gets too attached to us".

"Whaaaaaat??!" was my civilised response. "I think we need to give it some more time", I suggested. "She'll settle down."

But no, in my darling husband's get-things-done-now approach he decided it would be a good idea to tell River and Sol of his plans the next morning before school.

"Can't you at least wait until after school? They're going to be devastated," I said bracing myself for the inevitable tears.

And tears there were.

I took the boys to school that morning with tear stained faces and tried to re-assure them that Dad would change his mind. I hoped quietly to myself.

That night after school River in his mature beyond his years way announced to Pete that he had an offer for him, "Dad if I spend time training Jedda, we take her to puppy school and we keep her for another month, if she hasn't settled down by the end of the month we can find a farm to take her, but if she does settle down we can keep her." How could anyone argue with that?

I'm very pleased to say that six months later Jedda is firmly part of our family.

It's been an interesting ride falling in love with a puppy and carrying out all the responsibilities that come with having a pet. Sol and River do really love Jedda and I might add that Pete is besotted with her. Pete is the one that walks her on the beach each morning and has made a whole new group of friends as a result.

Jedda's made friends too, we don't only have children over to play now we have dogs! Jedda's friend Del has even had a sleepover!

Within a day of Jedda arriving I tried to talk a friend into taking Jedda's sister. I'm so glad that my friend decided not to. With the benefit of hindsight it wasn't the right time in my friend and her family's life to take on a puppy.

If you're dreaming of owning a puppy or have children trying to talk you into getting a puppy my advice would be if you've never owned a pet before do your research before getting a puppy.

Here are my tips:

- research the breed, do they lose hair? how active are they? what are their temperaments? do you have enough space in your backyard for the breed you are considering?
- find out all the costs involved - registration, vet fees, pet food, flea treatments, grooming
- if you travel a lot - who would look after the dog? could the dog travel with you?
- spend time at the local dog walking park or beach and get to know some dog owners and different breeds. Keep talking to dog owners and ask lots of questions

Having a pet IS a wonderful thing. It is a big responsibility too, one that will demand of your time, energy and money but will of course offer emotional rewards and physical too with all the walking you'll be doing!

Even though in my heart of hearts I'm not really a pet person (sorry for all of those who are! but I have to be honest!) I can't imagine our little family without Jedda now, she is such a sweet old soul and she has brought new friends into our life too.

Are you thinking of getting a pet? If you have a pet what are your tips for becoming a pet owner?







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