25 October, 2012

Counting Down

At about this time in seven weeks I will be jetting off to Australia for Christmas.  It will be the first time I have been back since we were married in 2010, the first time Raina has been to Australia (her visa is all ready to go!) and the first time that I will have spent Christmas with my own family in eight years. I can’t believe how long it has been.  More about that in a later post.

I have been thinking recently about what I miss about Australia.  I’ve had an Aussie-filled year, with my parents visiting and a very good friend has just left us after spending a few months as our house maid guest.  I haven’t really thought about all the things I miss for a long time.  To be perfectly honest, the longer I’m away, the shorter the list becomes.  This is a common theme among expats.  And a common post among expat bloggers I’m certain!

It seems that instead of missing things, I miss places, people and experiences.  I don’t yearn for pizza shapes like I used to, and even though a chicken parmy will be top of the menu, I don’t dream about it any more.

Here’s how my dream day in Australia would go: 

Wake up at Grandma’s house in Robe.  I don’t even mind if I’ve been sleeping on the crappy 50 year old squeaky bed.  Then I would stroll down the street for a cheeky eggs benedict brunch with a gorgeous cappuccino.  Coffee in Australia is sooooooo much better than here.  So good that Starbucks couldn’t stand up to the competition and left the country.

The sun would be shining and there would be no wind and I’d wander to my favourite beach.  It’s not a swimming beach and is a bit rocky, so there are almost never other people there.  The memory of it has actually become my happy place that I visit when I’m stressed, upset or unable to sleep.

I’ll climb out onto the rocks and sit in my perfectly moulded seat and watch the sea and the sky.  Because it’s a perfect day, the local sea lion will appear and play amongst the rocks searching for fish.

I love this beach so much that we took many of our wedding photos there

In the afternoon I’ll meet up with my favourite girlfriends and we’ll have scoff wine and eat goodies and while away the day.  A bit later someone (most likely my mum) will start cooking a bbq and there will be eight different cuts of steak to choose from, all cooked to perfection (ok, I’m tripping into fantasy territory now...).  There will be crayfish (for everyone else) and noodle salad (for me).
Eventually I’ll crawl back into the squeaky bed and sleep like the dead.

No dreams of grandeur, just comfort. This perfect day is even possible, and in just over seven weeks I'm going to have it.

What’s your dream day in your home country like?

18 October, 2012

The REAL Final Frontier

A couple of weeks ago I posted about conquering the final frontier.  How going to the dentist and the hairdresser was it and I am as integrated as I could ever possibly be.

I was wrong.

The final frontier is actually the phenomenon that is the Dutch sauna.

Australians may have a bit of a reputation for being exhibitionists.  You often see photos of women at Bondi with the girls out, or some bronzed goddess wading into the surf in only her g-string (thong to you northern hemispheerders*), but it's a safe bet that woman is not an Australian (unless it's Elle MacPherson).  You see the Australians are the women wearing boardies and a singlet over their bikinis.  Something I used to do before coming here.  Well, not quite.  There's not a snowball's chance in hell that I would wear a bikini.  Under boardies or not.

So, that's a bit of background.  Maarten has been suggesting for years that we go to a sauna together (that's a day spa for you who don't live in the Netherlands) however I have always resisted.  I mean, it took me about eighteen months before I would allow Maarten to see me naked in the shower (or anywhere with the lights on, for that matter).  How was I going to get my gear off and go swimming and lounging in a sauna in front of a couple of hundred complete strangers?!  Can you tell that I don't have the greatest body image?

Not long after Raina was born, he convinced me to give it a try.  I decided I could hide behind just having given birth as to why I looked so horrid in the mirror naked and thought; "It's now or never."  Off we went to Zwaluwhoeve in Hardewijk.  Waiting in the queue at reception I almost chickened out.  It didn't matter that even though I was searching everywhere and couldn't find a single Doutzen Kroes look-alike, I was terrified.  I was desperate that nobody look at me because they would judge me and my saggy bits and cellulite.

But I didn't.  I made it into the changing room and found myself standing across from two guys unceremoniously stripping off.  Down to their todgers.  Bending over in front of me and everything.  My eyes would have popped out of my head if I wasn't so busy trying to avoid looking.

Meanwhile I was revisiting some classic manoeuvres that I hadn't used since getting changed in high school.  You know, where you would put a second outfit on before cleverly removing the first.  Not showing a single bit of extra flesh.  When I was fifteen I was the master at this.

So, I managed to wiggle out of my jeans and into my robe, only flashing a little bit of boob (I was trying not to appear to be too obviously prudish, you see) and it was time to hit the sauna, via the group shower.  There was no avoiding hiding in my robe any longer.  So I slowly slid the robe off, shuffled into the shower and faced the wall, all the while chanting "Don't look at me, don't look at me," over and over in my head.  Well, the chanting was fighting for space with "Don't judge me, don't judge me," so it wasn't a particularly relaxing start to the day.

I was forced to get out of the shower eventually and join the naked population.  It was only then that I opened my eyes properly and had a good look around me at the other people and you know what?  There were no perfect bodies.  Not one.  Every single one was "flawed" by society's standards (meaning that they had bits that would be photo-shopped if on the cover of any magazine in the world).  We were all just people and we all had perfect bits and not-perfect bits.  We just have this image in our heads as to what's perfect and what's not.  We're bombarded with messages every day reminding us that our bodies are less than perfect and I've taken this message to heart more than any sane person should.

I made the decision then and there that it was time to stop being so precious and get on with it.

So I dropped the towel and hit the pool like I hadn't a care in the world.  Plus, my boobs were so happy, floating there in the water...  As the day went on, my confidence grew.  I stopped noticing what the other people looked like and just gave into the experience.  I swam, I baked, I scrubbed and I was massaged to the point where if I was any more relaxed I would have been dead.

I walked out at the end of the day with my head held high and ready to book my next trip to the sauna.

That, my friends was me conquering the final frontier.

Have you been to a Dutch sauna?  How do you feel about getting naked in front of a couple of hundred strangers?  Or would you only go on swimsuit day?

*Yes, I did just make that word up.

10 October, 2012

A sappy moment

Those of you who know me well enough know that I'm not particularly sappy. You won't find a single Celine Dion song on my iPod and although I love Sex and the City as much as the next thirty-something woman, I love Dexter more. You know that I'm far more comfortable propping up the bar with the blokes sharing stories of sheep shit than I am discussing the merits of Chanel vs Dior.

But please, allow me a moment here. Today's a special day. Today I sit back and reflect of
two years of marriage with the sweetest, most loving and caring man I have ever met. Two years of unwavering support through thick and thin. Two years of being held while I cry (and
for a tough nut, I cry a lot). Two years of thigh-slapping laughter. Two years of knowing what the other is thinking (except when it comes to cleaning the house - there's no way we're on the same wavelength there!) and saying the same thing at the same time. Two years of sharing excitement over the prospect of becoming a family and then actually doing it. Two years of snuggling on the couch, of holding hands wherever we go. Two years of just being together, not needing to talk.

We've had a grand romance. Him falling for me in Australia years ago and me falling for him on the phone a year later. Another year later we reunited and have never looked back. A year of snatched weekends, struggling with long distance. Then a year of struggles. Culture shock, change, staying in one place, learning a new language and lifestyle. A year of patience (him) and plotting (me) preparing for a wedding that was a perfect day. Then the rollercoaster. Cancer scare, pregnancy and finally the greatest possible gift; Raina. Our second year of marriage has been the most difficult yet rewarding year of our lives.

Maarten, thank you for the best times of my life. Thank you for our daughter, thank you for loving me.

I love you, happy anniversary.

Now, let me tell you a story about sheep shit....

08 October, 2012

Winners are Grinners

Yesterday was a massive day.  We hadn't had a great night with Raina (awake at 2.30, then again quite early), but Maarten bless his soul was up and eager to deal with it so I could get some rest ahead of the long day ahead.  In fact, he was Super-Dad all morning, with breakfast on the table when I came down, then getting Raina all ready for our big day trip to Amsterdam for the i am not a tourist fair so I could concentrate on trying to tame my mad, frizzy mess that sometimes resembles hair.  In fact, he was so organised that we made it out the door early!  That almost never happens.  We're at the stage now where we make our get out of the house deadline 15 minutes before we actually should be out the door and we're usually only a little bit late for everything...

So, we made it to Amsterdam with plenty of time to spare and hit the fair.  I hadn't taken two steps inside when I had half a dozen bags shoved at me and was pounced upon by a market research dude, but after a few deep breaths I squeezed through into the main hall where all the action was.  I made a bee-line to the Expatica stall to introduce myself and find out how the competition was going to shape up, then I took a seat to take a few deep breaths.  To be perfectly honest, I wasn't all that nervous.  It's much more difficult for me to knock on the neighbour's door to collect a package than it is to get upon stage in front of thousands (okay, dozens) of people to deliver a reading.

Andy, the fantastic Toastmaster gave me the run-down, I was first up and it was time to get on with it.  Up on stage I went, looked down at my page and could hardly read as I was shaking so damn much!  I thought, ok, I need to make this shaking less obvious, so it was time to try and wing it.  I started moving around on stage a bit and only glancing briefly at the page and it seemed to work.  Although I did quite a bit of ad-libbing and forgot some of my best lines!

Image thanks to the awesome Indigo Jones.  That's Maarten and Raina there in the foreground.
Next up was Catina from Amsterdam Mama.  Catina read a fabulous post called Pancake Panic - Mama gets stuck in honour of Breast cancer awareness month.  Catina had the crowd in stitches with the imagery of getting her girls stuck in the mammogram machine.

Then Nandini from Taal : : Tale took to the stage with her thought provoking post about identity while visiting the hairdresser; Kapper Who?

Once all three of us had read our pieces, it was time to climb back on stage for the voting.  It was a process that Catina and I agreed took us straight back to high school.  I felt 16 again, standing up there, trying to appear nonchalant, all the while secretly hoping that I get the loudest cheers.  You know, just like in high school.

Because Maarten had been an exceptional campaigner, he had brought along a contingency of loud voices to cheer me on.  And it was entirely due to them that the applause-o-meter (Rhys, from Expatica) decided that I was victorious!

Thanks to Amsterdam Writing Workshops I won a fantastic two day workshop of my choice, worth 150 euros!  The course is something that I am very much looking forward to and it's wonderful to be given the opportunity to improve my writing skills, something that I have been desperate to do for a long time.

After the competition was over, I was able to spend some more time walking around visiting stalls, and I was treated to a gorgeous pink velvet cupcake from Alice in Cakeland by a friend.  I caught up with Lynn from Nomad Parents who has some brilliant projects in the pipeline and I also managed to catch Emmy from Amsterdam Mamas, which must be the fastest growing community in Amsterdam.

We even managed to wind it all up with a sensational cheese tasting from Reypenaer, trying not to be too piggy by scoffing some of the most famous and best tasting cheeses in the entire world.

Thanks very much to Expatica for putting on such a wonderful event and hosting such a fun competition   My  only criticism:  give the job agencies more space.  The hoards of people surrounding them made it difficult to navigate the close quarters at times.  But that's a minor detail in a wonderful day.

See you next year.

Did you attend?  Did you try any of the workshops on offer?  What did you think, will you go back next year?

04 October, 2012

Finals Fever

And not of the AFL variety either (curse you swans).

Incredibly, I have been selected as one of the finalists in Expatica's i am not a tourist Expat Blogger competition.  I'm absolutely stoked, to say the least.  Just being a part of this competition has revived my enjoyment of blogging and has helped me to get back into writing (semi) regular posts.

Thank you to everybody who voted for me, and to Maarten for being such an enthusiastic campaign manager.  He saw the competition and took it upon himself to nominate me and although popularity contests are something that I really struggle with, this entire process has been great fun.

Now there's one more step expected of you.  This Sunday between 11.30 and 11.50 at the i am not an expat fair, myself and fellow finalists Catina from Amsterdam Mama and Nandini from Taal : : Tale will be reading our favourite posts out loud.  On the main stage.  In front of other people.  For you all to judge.  The finalist with the loudest cheers will win a creative writing workshop from Amsterdam Writing Workshops.

So, get gargling, start warming up your voice, clearing your throat, practising your wolf whistle (damn, why is my wolf whistle the loudest?!) and find your loudest pair of boots to come cheer for us at the Beurs van Berlage in central Amsterdam (next to de Bijenkorf).

If you haven't already, you can download your free tickets by clicking the image below.

See you there!

What we are talking about

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