Archive for the ‘Family stories’ Category

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My brother and I decided to start the school holidays with a working bee. We made our first “boys trip” to mums and dads home by the sea since our father died.

I wanted to continue the tradition we had set up years ago, of taking our sons to the family homestead and spending time together during each school holidays. Back then, of course, the family vacays had been primarily for us to gather the boys around their grandfather in a regular fashion. However, after dad died in February, my brother was ready to abandon the holiday get-together – so much so, that we didn’t meet up there in the last school break. My kids and I really missed it.

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These family sabbaticals are essential, to my way of thinking. Otherwise, we see one another briefly a few times a year for birthdays and other celebrations. It’s not long enough to keep the fabric of our familial relationships alive and breathing. The internet is great and all very well. But, a true actual connection with your people comes through face-to-face conversations and spending time together.

I said, ‘I would like to continue the “boys’ trips” for as long as our teenagers want to go.’ My brother agreed, and we met in mums and dads quaint wood cabin on the first day of the holidays.

IMG_2957Unfortunately, without our parents there to maintain the place, when we drive up, it’s to a wild wonderland of weeds and overgrown paths. We’re also still reclaiming the land from the wilderness which had begun to overtake the gardens in the last few years of dad’s life. Upon every stay there now, we are reminded of how much work there is to be done.

The flat downstairs has been successfully renovated for renting out. The upstairs doesn’t need anything doing inside. It’s the house exterior and the grounds that need drastic elbow grease applied. Therefore, every trip is a working bee, by extension.

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We classed our stay at Grandpa’s as the ‘fifth working bee,’ and while we were there, we took three trailers of rubbish to the dump, marking the 23rd trip made to release our parents’ plethora of stuff.

Although the kids helped at times, mostly they wanted to have fun. Left to their own devices, they reverted to teenage things: like trekking down to the reserve to play ball, or lying around playing cards, and even tried their hands at cooking. They got to play cards with us in the evenings and watch movies lying on mattresses pulled before the fire.

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We didn’t trek up to the peak of the mountain, we didn’t go to the beach or the golf course, nor did we catch any fish. We worked hard on the family property, made meals together, and got to hang out in each other’s company for four days. And it was wonderful.

The best memories in life are made of such simple shared times as these.

It was such a delight to be in the fresh air of the seaside. It was such a pleasure to have an open fire, which we left burning all day on the really cold days, and it was satisfying to see the neglected areas come to life with a bit of TLC.

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We aim to slowly do the clean up and improvements on the house exterior, as well as to make the gardens low-maintenance, except for the veggie gardens, which we’ll hopefully keep going. We need to repaint, and to redo the steps and the ramp.

There is a huge amount to be done. But, nothing is daunting when you have a team alongside and you do each stint together. Every day, we moved mountains of rubbish and cleared whole areas of weeds. I made big pots of food each night and we feasted as only those who are truly hungry can. You’re exhausted and replete and sleep well.

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I particularly enjoy the conversations in the car. On this trip, my young nephew, who sat shotgun, was able to whip out his phone and check messages sometimes. But, the rest of the journey, we were stuck together with nothing to do but talk. You get to cover a broad spectrum of topics and catch up on everything. You can’t wander away and make food. You can’t read. Your attention is focused on what is being said. Car-bound conversations are some of the best I’ve ever had.

We finished our break by plotting the next one! We know it’ll be more blood, sweat and tears and, yet, we can’t wait.

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Talk to you later.

Keep on Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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Families are like fudge – mostly sweet with a few nuts. ~ Author Unknown

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On Wednesday, the thirteen-year-old had done his chores without being asked and was ready to bike to school by 7.30 a.m. I commented on this radical departure from the way he normally has to be asked to do everything and leaves for school with two minutes to spare. He said, “I’m more mature. I’m a teenager now.”

I was enchanted. I hugged him and told him how much promise he has as a young man coming up in the world, how much he has to offer.

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On Thursday, I had to nag him to do every single chore and he was running late again. I asked him what had happened. He said, “I’m not a teen anymore, I’m just a kid again.”

“Why?”

“Because being a teen is boring! You just have to do more work.”

I had to laugh. Good luck on the Peter Pan wish, kid.

I think of my new teen like a reptile that has outgrown his skin without fully inhabiting the new one. He’s a little bit stuck betwixt and between. He’s not grown up enough or confident enough to be a full teenager, yet neither is he a tween any longer.

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His friends are just as important as ever, that’s one thing that’s remained a constant. He’s taking his first tentative, teetering steps into crushing on a friend. The social activity, his teacher reports, is increasing. Break times at school, which used to be all about sport, are now more often about socializing.

He’s a shape-shifter. Daily, the youngest son’s interests and appearance change. He veers from dependable, docile and close by, to unpredictable mood swings and long sessions whispering into his cell phone in the bedroom closet. The growth he is doing now is unparalleled; he’s morphing into new skins. The rounded cheeks are no more. They belong to yesteryear. I realize his voice isn’t as high pitched. He’s sneaking up on my eye-level.

I miss the days of my youngest son being a “tween” though. It was a lot quieter around here then. He’s gone to visit a friend, it’s been half an hour since he left, and yet, my head is still ringing.

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Bored with Fortnite, he’s back to playing roblox on his computer which means he is stationed on the kitchen counter, the only available spot left for a computer at this end of the house. The games make noises; like blaring sirens and bells ringing, and then the son himself is talking to the friend he’s playing the game with via his mobile phone. So, I hear the friend’s chatter and my son’s. I can deal with this. It’s all normal teen stuff. However, as the game goes on, his voice tends to take off for the stratosphere like a supersonic jet.

The youngest son doesn’t have to be situated in the kitchen, but I’ve watched enough Oprah shows to know that kids taking computers into their bedrooms is never a good idea.

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And, while the incessant chatter that goes on after school between he and his friends is annoying, I’d rather that than not be privy to what they’re talking about or getting up to.

Nevertheless, after the kids have gone to bed each evening, I feel like my head has been freed from the inside of a bell.

At least with Fortnite, the son played it in the living room. I never thought I’d be suggesting to my youngest that he might like to play Xbox, but I have done so. A number of times. However, he’s not buying what I’m selling. Fortnite is so last month. Of course, the key factor is that all his friends have returned to Roblox. Kids flock together. It looks like I’m stuck with him in the kitchen drowning out all other sounds for miles around. I’m thinking of buying sound cancelling earmuffs.

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Perhaps the earmuffs might also help me withstand what he himself has called “verbal diarrhoea.” He’s at the stage of having a lot to say. He talks a lot when he’s not gaming, texting or on a phone call, practising his drumming, or eating. Once he starts to talk he just keeps going. He doesn’t need me to say anything, just listen.

All he needs is for mama to set the framework, hold the course, to give him someone to bounce things off. And, to keep the food coming, of course!

It’s nothing a good pair of earmuffs and a regular sabbatical won’t heal. What about you, how are you surviving the teen years?

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Talk to you later.

Keep on Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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All kids need is a little help, a little hope, and someone who believes in them. ~ Magic Johnson

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When did I know I was going to become a grandmother? Nine months ago, my eldest son sent me a simple text. “Guess who’s going to be a grandma?” it was like time stood still. In reality, it was twenty-eight years ago, when my blond haired boy of eight used to draw pictures of his ‘house, wife and three children,’ that he first told me I would one day be a grandmother.

When I was little, I used to draw fairies, animals and so on. I don’t recall ever thinking ahead about my future, or the family I might have one day. When my eldest was little, he drew his own home and family and even his dog, it’s something he’s wanted ever since he was a young boy.

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Maybe it was because I was a teen mom, and his father and I were separated by the time he was one and a half years old? Maybe he wanted to give his kids the family environment he’d wanted for himself?

Maybe it was just his personality.

As a teenager, my first born gained a reputation for being good with kids. At the parties for the youngest in the family, he could always be relied upon to be outside, looking after the gaggle of kids on the trampoline, or wherever they were. He has that open fun sort of personality that little kids adore.

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In my mind, I have always seen him as a father-to-be, no doubt. So, it really surprised me when a few years ago, he said he wasn’t sure if he would ever have kids.

Meeting the right partner changed things, however. He and his girlfriend got engaged last year, and, I was delighted to hear they were expecting a baby.

I wasn’t so sure how I felt about being called “Grandma,” though. Frankly, it made me feel old. Grandmother? Me? I could’ve sworn I was still a young person with places to go and things to do. No, I thought, I don’t like the thought of being called “Grandma,” I’ll have to use Nana, or Nan, or Gan-gan, or Gigi, or Meemaw.

The nine months sped by.

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Then, on the 17th June, my first granddaughter, Sienna Bella, was born  at 2.51 in the afternoon, weighing in at a healthy 3. 30 kg.

We went to meet her the following day. As soon as I laid eyes on her my heart melted. I saw my son holding his daughter in his arms and the happiness was indescribable. You hear people talk about how wonderful it is to become a grandparent, and yet, you never really know what it is until you experience something for yourself.

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I can say all my anxiety about getting old, about time passing quickly, and so on and so forth, just faded away in the face of the magnificence of this new life. This daughter, this granddaughter, who is now the spear of this family. This girl will carry the blood and genes of our family forward into the future. I felt myself and my silly worries about weight and wrinkles fade into insignificance before this newborn, the first born of my first born. It was a moment of sheer bliss, only equalled by the birth of my own children.

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To be clear, I had expected it to be lovely, of course. Babies are powerful. Most people love to be around babies. They remind us of the time before words and thoughts and worries, when we, too, were fresh from the netherworld. To be around a newborn and look at their perfection is like being refreshed.

However, meeting my first grandchild was better than lovely. It was a moment I’ll never forget. I felt instantly connected to her. Instantly moved by a desire to guide and protect.

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It is a pure love I feel as the paternal grandmother and the nectar is extraordinarily sweet. I have this feeling inside like “I can’t wait to see her again!”

I went to Toastmasters a few days after her birth. My friends at the meeting greeted me with, “Congratulations, Grandma!”

I said, “Yes!” and struck a crazy pose!

I tell you, I embrace the word, “Grandma.” In fact, I’m over the moon about it.

Welcome Sienna Bella to the world and to our family. Another phase in life begins.

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Talk to you later.

Keep on Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are. E.e. Cummings

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The “tween” morphs before my eyes. This weekend, he celebrates turning thirteen (ominous bells toll somewhere!) Wasn’t he a baby a moment ago?

He’s taking that step over the threshold, from hovering ‘between child and teenager,’ into official teenagedom.

We’ve been feeling the rumblings of the fiery belly within the volcano for a few months now. I’ve referred to my youngest son’s tween years in previous posts, by likening our household to being the wary villagers living on the slopes of an active volcano. Rumbles like meltdowns and unexplained grumpiness accompany bouts of joyous abandon on a daily basis.

The “tween” morphs before my eyes. His second year of intermediate school is much more social and about friendships and social groups. You never let your friends down, so he tells me. He’s spending more time on his phone. I had to request he put his mobile down for the entire drive we took in the car today, so that we could have a conversation.

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The first year at Intermediate school, he spent an hour or so gaming in the evenings, but it was on his computer, mostly playing games like Roblox and Minecraft, which he did for the most part alone.

This year, every night after dinner’s eaten, homework and drum practise are done and all the chores are finished, the youngest son plays Fortnite. There are alternate explosions henceforth, of giddy dances of triumph, and bursts of molten lava bearing anger and frustration down the slopes, either killing or scaring the daylights out of the poor, unsuspecting villagers.

What weaves these explosions of energy together is a lot of enthusiastic boy talk as he and his friends discuss their game. I watch sometimes from the kitchen while I’m making dinner. Their continuous conversation is punctuated with “Bro” “Bruh” “Yo” “Rip” “and “tight.” Every aspect of the previous game and the kills they made has to be discussed before they can start again.

The son does play solo quests sometimes but, they seem very sad affairs. No, Fortnite is all about the squads, and the way the groups of kids get to hang out together in virtual reality and play war games to their hearts’ content.

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In our house, Fortnite is played through the Xbox on the big screen of the tv, and the youngest son can talk to his friends as they play. This sort of enlarged experience is all part of the more hyped up version of himself he is at present. His voice rises in pitch more often, and he sometimes collapses to a bed mortally wounded by something I’ve said. Apparently, I don’t understand where he’s coming from, even though on the other hand I’m ‘the only one he can tell everything to.’ I tell you, it’s turbulent times in the village. We look up at the black smoke wisping from the peak across the sky.

What else is to come?

The “tween” morphs before my eyes.

There’s no change in the tone of voice yet, he can still reach a high note I can only dream of.

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Another thing that hasn’t changed is the sweetness. The innocence is still there, thankfully. I delight in the purity I still see in him.

And, he retains a need to discuss everything with me. I’m a “touchstone” for now. I remember though, with horror, the terrible creature I morphed into at the age of fifteen. I shudder to think of that happening to my youngest son. He has such a beautiful heart. So far, he hasn’t changed from the usual earnest, sensitive spirit he always was.

However, his appearance is slowly dramatically changing. He doesn’t look like my baby anymore.

All of a sudden, he’s sprouted literal inches overnight.

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I swear. I looked at him tonight and he’s taller than he was yesterday! I felt like someone had taken my child away and replaced him with a much bigger version, and I wanted the smaller one back. His face looks different, the cheeks no longer chubby. Can people really grow that fast? I’ve heard it said that the body releases so many growth hormones, that it does more growing in adolescence than at any other time in our life.

The youngest son’s only just started shooting upwards.

Tonight, he and I looked at one another from his new elevation, and he said, “Imagine when I’m looking down on you.” I said, “Let’s not imagine that, yet.”

Did you ever see the play, ‘Stop the world, I want to get off?’ I did, and that’s how I’ve been feeling lately, with my newly minted teen. Any advice would be welcome!

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Talk to you later.

Keep on Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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Parents are the bones on which children sharpen their teeth. ~ Peter Ustinov

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My status update on Facebook of a week or so ago asked whether sleep deprivation was ever used as a form of torture. It was an earnest question. Because having experienced insomnia brought on by menopause in the last four years; I have come to realize how important sleep is to my well being.

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Getting enough hours of shuteye each night is essential to my health, and to my mental health and emotional wellness.

I’ve noticed myself getting annoyed with people out in public, I have little mini road rages in my car, and I don’t give way with a smile as often. I’ve done stupid things like putting the phone in the fridge, and the milk in the freezer, and I’ve forgotten appointments.

This has made me aware that for me to have a sunny attitude and happy interchanges with people, I require a certain topping up of the tank. When there are only a few hours sleep under the belt, the tank’s at half full.

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They say most adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep a night.

Women need twenty minutes more than men, and once they’re awake generally find it harder to fall back to sleep than men.

In the last four years, I’ve been finding it more difficult to fall asleep again if I’m disturbed in the night. I’m still raising my two younger boys, and sometimes, they wake up, needing me for some reason. The end result: I’m sometimes getting through my days on three to four hours sleep.

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Arianna Huffington of the Huffington Post  says women aren’t getting enough sleep and once famously called sleep ‘a feminist issue.’ I see her point. I do find everything harder to do on less sleep, let alone attaining my “full potential.”

Instead of relishing the day, I’m battling the day. I can’t get ahead or enjoy the moment.

My grandmother, rest her soul, only ever slept three hours a night. When I asked her why, she said she’d done so her whole adult life. She didn’t need more than that. Me, I need a good nine hours a night to be at my best.

They say that sleeping a whole seven hours at a stretch is a relatively modern innovation, and that in the past, people usually slept two or three hours, got up for a spell and then went back to bed. This was one of the suggestions I heard, to get up and do something relaxing in a low light, like yoga or meditation, before returning to bed.

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It’s about training the mind and memory to attach wakefulness to other areas of the house, and to associate restfulness with the bedroom.

The last four years have been a bit of a struggle, as I’ve been barely functioning on auto-pilot each day, after sleeping a few hours.

I had to look into different things I could do to assist me on the path back to the land of the sandman.

The first thing I did was go to see a medical herbalist. The herbal tinctures she prescribed were instantly effective, and wonderfully natural and non-toxic yet, the price, exorbitant. After a few successful months, I realized the budget couldn’t sustain the price of the tinctures, so I quit. I had to do what I could at home to help myself get the Z’s.

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It’s all still a matter of trial and error, but at least here’s somewhere to start.

*Top Tips for Better Sleep*

*Take regular exercise each day, aerobic and weight training can cut down the number of times you wake in the night

*Carbs for dinner give the body a peak in the levels of insulin which helps you to nod off

*Try to establish a routine bedtime, as the body can set a pattern for unwinding at that time

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*Switch off all sources of light in the room, the darker the better for production of adequate levels of melatonin, the hormone that helps us stay asleep

* Play slow soft music; it’s been found that music with a rhythmic rate of around 60 bpm syncs with the resting heart rate

* Meditation or relaxation/breathing exercises prior to bedtime help release the stress of the day and detach from the dramas

I’ve learned the hard way to make sleep a priority. How about you?

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Talk to you later.

Keep Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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The one who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd. Those who walk alone are likely to find themselves in places no one has ever been before. ~ Albert Einstein

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**with ref: the special report, Are you getting enough sleep, by Alex Davies

012 (16)What a week! There is this thing kids with special needs do sometimes, which myself and friends who have special kids like to call, “running with Diablo.” It refers to those inexplicable times that come around with cyclical regularity, when our kids go off the rails for a short time.

Overnight, they go from sweet and obliging to fickle and resisting.

I’m not sure what sets Sam-the-man off. Our fifteen-year-old with Downs’ syndrome will periodically become impossible to deal with. What causes it? I’m not sure.

It never lasts more than a few days, yet while it’s here, he can cause merry havoc.

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Sam’s been running with Diablo this week. Yesterday, his teacher rang to say he’s not listening to any of the teachers in class. The day before, the taxi driver had to move him to the back seat, because Sam kept taking his shoes off and putting them in her face as she was driving. On Tuesday, my neighbour came to tell me Sam was in his school uniform lying on the grass verge. We ran down and there he was. He must have gotten off the taxi outside our house, as usual, but instead of walking up the drive to the house, he’d walked along the street and lain face down on the grass verge. Luckily he was unhurt. I thanked my neighbour and brought him inside, thanking our lucky stars as well.

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The rest of the time, Sam’s a model child! He will do everything he’s asked. He knows his daily routines, though he still needs a parent there to keep him on task. He can do everything for himself with guidance. It’s taken a lot of work and patience over the years to get him to this level of independence, but we’re here and so proud of his progress.

Sam’s doing really well in school and in general. He’ll happily sit and do his homework for an hour with his carer supporter in the evening. He’ll do anything he’s asked with a smile on his face that melts your heart.

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Then overnight, Sam is the exact opposite, he won’t do a thing I say, and he won’t go along with a single thing the family is doing. He plonks himself down and refuses to move. It’s like a switch is flipped. I talk to him a lot at these times, to explain why he has to do a thing. If he hears enough that makes sense to him, he’ll cooperate.

Next week, I’m attending another child behaviour workshop run by Sam’s school. A special needs mum needs tools in her kit!

The best tip I ever heard was “Distraction! Distraction! Distraction!” and it’s the parental trick I use with Sam most often.

They say the mental health of someone with Downs’ syndrome is five years younger than their physical age. Therefore, Sam is mentally around ten.

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When his behaviour derails, and he’s sitting on the floor refusing to get up and walk to the taxi, I divert his attention, “Oh, did you see that bird?” “Did I tell you about the thing we’re doing this weekend? Come on, get your shoes on and I’ll tell you.”

And the second best tip would be momentum. Once you’ve got them moving in the direction you want them to go/doing what you want them to do, KEEP GOING, do not stop!

Momentum is your friend.

A friend asked, “How do you cope?” Some days are harder than others.

Sam-the-man tests me sometimes to be more resourceful, and he keeps all of us on our toes. There are times when he’s locked us out of the house, or taken something important, like the remote for the garage or a personal device or car keys, and hidden them.

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We’ve lost many tv remotes and devices over the years that the phenomena even has a name, we call it a “Sammy special.”

The fact is it’s not easy, and as a parent I am tired a lot of the time.

I’m not sure whether his cyclical bad behaviour is a childhood thing he will grow out of or not. I remember my father asked me a couple of Christmases ago, “How much do you think Sam will grow up?” And I said, “I don’t know.” That’s the thing. The future is unknown. We’ll find out when we get there, I guess.

Meantime life is never boring, and I wouldn’t trade Sam for all the money in the world.

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Talk to you later.

Keep Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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There is no end to the adventures that we can have if only we seek them with open eyes. ~ Nehru

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In October of this year, my youngest son will be going on the trip of a lifetime. He and eleven other lucky kids from across New Zealand have been chosen to go to Disneyland.

Two weeks ago, we received an invitation to apply for a place on the coveted annual trip with Koru Care New Zealand, through our association with Heart Kids NZ. Yesterday, we got the happy news he had been accepted, and we’ll happily do our bit to help raise money for the trip, as this is such a great opportunity.

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Koru Care New Zealand is a charitable trust established in 1983. It’s run by volunteers ‘making dreams come true for seriously ill and disabled children.’ Heart Kids NZ is another charitable trust. It’s committed to providing lifelong support to those born with congenital heart defects and heart disease.

The youngest of my three boys was born in 2005, with complex congenital heart disorder (or CHD), although we did not know that at the time.

The first clue came when he started coughing at three weeks old, though he had no other symptoms of ill health.

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The cough would come and go from then on, however when he did contract the flu, then his health would plummet fast and the cough would become life threatening and continuous. It took me five years to get a diagnosis, as we went down the road of misdiagnoses and educated guesses and countless trial treatments.

Finally, after trying everything, I went back to our doctor with the whole story. She listened carefully to his chest. Her discovery of a heart murmur led to the hospital tests, which finally confirmed the problem was a hole in his heart or Atrial Septal Defect.

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In 2010, he underwent double bypass open heart surgery. The operation was later added to the “unusual casebook.” The hole in his heart was ‘more than just a hole, there was only a rim between the upper chambers,’ the surgeon, Dr. Elizabeth Rumball, told us later. ‘And his heart had grown a single vein from the liver to the bottom of the heart,’ something she had never seen before. Dr. Rumball had to figure out how create an autologous pericardial patch to fix both issues.

After six hours of surgery, my five-year-old woke in Pediatric Intensive Care, with a gash down his chest, in a lot of pain. His recovery process began there. Only three days out from the surgery, he moved to the high dependency unit and was already taking his first steps. Three days later we were released to go home.

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We’ve come a long way since those days.

They say it takes paediatric heart patients a year to get their energy back and a decade for the body to recover to the pre-surgery state, however, he is in good health these days. The difference with heart kids is that they are a little “fragile,” they don’t have the same stamina as other kids. They are also susceptible to emotional, developmental and behavioural problems.

My son has thrived since the surgery. Gone are the days and nights of coughing. He has quality of life and the prospect of a healthy future ahead, thanks to the wonderful doctors and staff at Starship Children’s Hospital.

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While we were in hospital, we joined the amazing Heart Kids NZ foundation. We put his name down on the list of kids interested in going to “Heart Camp,” a weeklong retreat each summer. From the age of eight, he has gone to camp every year. He’s learned adventure skills like kayaking, abseiling and rock climbing. He’s sat around campfires, and gone swimming, ridden the flying foxes and water slides. He’s made friends and had important experiences of independence. Because he was well known at heart camp, his name came up when Koru Care said they had places for four Heart kids on the Disneyland adventure.

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My son was the right age and state of health to be eligible, so his name went forward with a lot of others. And we were lucky enough to get picked. He was excited when I told him the good news because he has never travelled anywhere or been to a theme park, and he’s always wanted to go. This sweet boy who has been through so many trials in his life, will get to go on the adventure of a lifetime, to Disneyland!

Thank you to Koru Care New Zealand and to Heart Kids NZ and to the medical staff along the way for making all of this possible and for making a boy’s dream come true.

Blessings come in many ways, even when they’re sometimes dressed as catastrophes.

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Talk to you later.

Keep on Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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If you can dream it, you can do it. ~ Walt Disney

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A tragedy befell our garden this week of Edwardian proportions.

On Tuesday night, around nine o’clock, a storm sprang out of nowhere. It only lasted a few hours and yet, it did untold damage across our region. Trees fell down on people’s houses, on cars and across roads. Winds gusted 100 -160 kilometres an hour and in some places got up to 210 kilometres. A four story building under construction caved in, and there were power outs in many areas, leaving people without heating on the coldest night of the year.

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I went to bed around 9.30 on Tuesday night, afraid of the big gusts of wind roaring around the house. About half an hour later, I was woken by a loud, insistent banging on the door. My neighbour, Pete, stood on the doorstep in an oil slicker, holding a powerful torch, with the wind and rain howling behind him.

“You okay?” he asked.

“Yes, why?”

“Your big tree’s fallen down.”

My heart sank. No. Not that tree.

The Liquid Amber

Not the tree my parents planted in 1962 when they first moved in. The tree my brother-in-law dubbed ‘The Jewel of the Garden’ for its radiant magnificence. The tree whose dramatic changing hues, shedding of leaves and regaining of resplendent green shoots has heralded the turning of the seasons throughout my life. The tree I went and hugged for a few days in a row after dad died, and sang to. No. Not that tree.

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I remember when dad came back to visit the old homestead, a few years ago. He walked out into the backyard to admire the liquid amber he’d planted fifty years before. His head tilted, and he marvelled, “It’s grown so big.”

No.

Not that tree.

I couldn’t bear to go and look at it that evening and, besides, it was too wild outside. I waited until the next morning. Then, I went out into the garden, and I couldn’t believe my eyes.

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Most of the main column was gone. My nephew, who lives in the sleep out, said he could hear branches cracking in the storm. He’d gone outside to get a look and could see the big gusts of wind whipping the branches around. He went back to bed and threw a mattress over himself when he heard another loud crack, then a resounding thud when the top half fell.

Miraculously, it had crashed into Pete’s backyard, missing everything except for his clothesline.

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I was relieved to see the remaining trunk was still firmly planted in the ground and that many of the branches still seemed strong.

The tree removal guy says he hopes to salvage what’s left. He can trim the branches and trunk. The tree will be half the size, but the prognosis is that it might survive to be hugged another day.

Boy, I hope so.

I don’t care to lose too many more family members at the moment.

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The theme of loss and the reality of it in our daily lives is difficult.

At the end of the middle grade novel I’m working on, The Last Tree, when the hero, Aden misses his elderly mentor, Geo, he asks himself, ‘Is this what it’s like to grow up, there’s more pain and losing people?’

I think that’s one of those storms we all have to go through, when we start to mature, in becoming aware of our mortality and that our parents aren’t going to live forever. There are moments of understanding that one day we’ll have to find our way through this world alone, and one day, we’ll take the place of our parents as the elders in our own families.

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The elderly or grandparent character in a story always represents our mortality, by the nature of their advanced age, they represent impermanence.

I love to write the grandparents and always include them in my fiction. The truth is, that half the Jewel of the Garden must be taken away, that grandparents will die some day, and that our beloved parents will one day do the same, and so will we. But, the student, the child, the garden will carry on. The new growth will replace the old tree. And the next generation will blossom and thrive and have their season in the sun. That is the flow of life, and there is comfort in that knowledge and wisdom in acceptance.

Have you ever weathered a major storm or lost a tree you loved? What did you do? What nugget of wisdom did you gain from the experience?

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(Dad’s grandson and great-granddaughter)

Keep Writing!

Yvette K. Carol

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If we know how to appreciate these beautiful things, we will not have to search for anything else. Peace is available in every moment, in every breath, in every step. ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

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I was talking with friends at Toastmasters this week. We find solace as women, in sharing stories with one another; it helps us to find our peace with the way things are. I and two other Toastmasters are in the same situation at present. We’re wondering what to do with all of our parents’ beloved possessions.

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If it was up to my nephews, they’d “back a truck up to grandpa’s section and just throw everything in.” But, it’s different for me and my women friends.

Our parents’ things, their worldly treasures have emotional resonance.

We value their collections, their chosen artworks, however, we can’t keep all of our parents’ possessions. It would be impossible. So we’re left to walk the tightrope of this critical decision making on what to throw and what to keep.

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One friend was saying her mother had collected the old fashioned bread plates and had a hundred and twenty of the pottery bread bases hanging on the walls in her house. Now, the family is stuck with what to do with them.

My other friend has an elderly mother who is currently downsizing, while she herself is retiring to a small town. Her mother had a treasured full dinner set with gold trim, which she’d bought when she first arrived in New Zealand, in the 60’s. My friend can’t take the big dinner set with her into retirement. She’s going to offer them to her daughter but her daughter is into minimal living. So the freighted question has to follow? Re-cycle, re-use or reduce?

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It’s such a hard call, because it feels like you’re parting with your parents in a very real way, dispersing their belongings, which they had gathered over a lifetime, while they raised you. I want to keep everything!

But, then I would be repeating the same cycle of having loads and loads of possessions I neither use nor look at.

I think I’m with my friend’s daughter. I prefer the idea of minimalism.

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If there’s one thing that dad’s death has brought home for me, it’s that we have far too much “stuff” generally. My parents, god bless them, liked collecting cool things too, shells, rocks, driftwood, amber (kauri gum). Yet, the boxes upon boxes of these treasures were accompanied by hordes of acquisitions over the years, which they had stored in the garage and forgotten about.

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I think it was after emptying the tenth or twelfth trailer full of rubbish from my parent’s property and seeing all the old crockery, and broken appliances, and junk going into that landfill, that I felt, this is wrong. Over consumption is killing our environment.

It made me want to do better, to yearn for simplicity in my own life at home.

After coming home from the first working bee with my siblings at my parent’s house, I started spring-cleaning my house. I gave away boxes of unnecessary bits and bobs to charity. Because I had seen firsthand that we’re weighted down with belongings we never look at and never use.

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At the same time, I feel a great need to simplify primarily by consuming less.

I need to be far more discerning in my shopping choices, from now on. I want to buy quality brand products when I do need to buy things, and buy as little things we don’t need, as possible. That’s the goal, anyway.

Wish me luck!

How about you, have you felt the need to simplify?

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Talk to you later.

Keep Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are. E.e. Cummings

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Because my siblings and I have been clearing out my parents’ home recently, we’ve pored through literally hundreds of old photos. I was thrilled to find photos of the very early days of our family homestead, the house I still live in today, which none of us had ever seen before. And, the idea came to me, to do a photo montage of the journey this old house and yard has taken to the gorgeous beauty it is today.

patch of dirt with promise

It all started with a patch of dirt with promise.

In 1962, my parents were set to immigrate to New Zealand with their two young daughters. Dad came to New Zealand first, to build his young family a house in a newly opened suburb, with the help of two professional builders.

Dad building the house

By the time mum and my sisters took the six week journey from the U.K by boat in 1963, a nice tidy three bedroom wooden house was waiting for them.

The new Lockwood house was home.

The finished house

Back

The finished house, front

Front

I was born in 1964, my brother two years later. We lived a semi-rural lifestyle with a menagerie of pets, and enjoyed an idyllic, safe, free childhood in this house.

The garden, back

In the backyard, my parents had planted a hedge of bentamy trees along the fenceline, and a liquid amber sapling in front of the canary aviary.

The house took a lot of wear and tear.

The house, 1980's

In the 1980’s the house was painted brown, and apart from the extensive vegetable garden, there was not a lot of garden, just three fish ponds and two bird aviaries.

A triumphant return.

The house, 1990'sThe house, front

My parents offered me the house for rent in the 1990’s, and I returned after a long absence. The exterior wall colour had changed to white. Otherwise, the homestead had remained unchanged inside or out since the 1960’s.

In the backyard, we found a jungle.

The garden, back, 1990's

The bentamy had been left to multiply untended for the whole six years their house had been rented out and had grown ten, twelve feet high, and engulfed the aviary completely. The neighbours behind us complained their garden received no sun in winter or summer.

The back garden clean up

The back garden clean up crew

My parents and brother pitched in to help with the enormous job of trimming the hedge. The arborist carted away a ton of wood on his truck.

reclaiming the aviary

We found the old aviary had survived underneath the bentamy, and we turned it into a garden shed.

under the bentamy

We left some foliage for privacy and planted a line of native trees called pittosporums along the fenceline. Within a few years, we’d take out the bentamy stumps altogether and let the natives take over.

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My husband and I began updating the interior of the house with a new kitchen, taking out the old fireplace, and putting in new LED lights. We added verandahs front and back as well as French doors.

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I had the roof fixed, the “hips” replaced, and I had the house painted a new colour called “Parchment” with white trim.

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I went on a planting spree and planted flowers, trees, and shrubs everywhere.

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I fenced the entire property and added three lockable gates.

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The liquid amber had bloomed into a fantastic venerable tree. As the oldest of its kind in the district, it’s leaves are the last in the neighbourhood to change colour in autumn and the first to get green buds back again in spring. It truly is the jewel of the garden.

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In 2014, I knocked down the old aviary/shed and built a brand new sleep out in its place.

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The maintenance on the house and property is nearly a full time job, yet, with a lot of hard work, I’ve managed to reclaim this place and create a magical garden getaway in the heart of the urban landscape. The house my father built was a haven for us growing up and is now a base for my kids and nephew and I that has heart, history and a family legacy rooted in its foundations.

I love our home.

Where do you live and why? Tell me where you grew up…

papa bear and me

Talk to you later.

Keep on Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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“Art is never finished, only abandoned.” — Leonardo da Vinci.

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