Wednesday, May 27, 2015

What Parenting Taught Me About Art & Bravery



Becoming a parent has forced my humanity to develop at warp speed. Once my daughter was born the world changed. And even more than that psychic shift, I suddenly felt accountable for my actions past, present and future.

As I’m sure we all know, it’s hard to take advice from someone who does not practice what they preach. If I have high expectations for my daughter I must hold myself to those same standards, otherwise my advice to her is useful as vapor.

Of course I want my little girl to chase her dreams, break barriers, and be a kind soul. Well then darn it- it’s time for me to be all those things and more so I can show her how it's done.

I always thought I was one of those people who had not found ‘my thing,’ my life’s passion. The truth is, I knew what it was all along I was just too afraid to own it.

Don’t get me wrong, I've lived, have been a little bit interested in a lot of different things. Like taking yoga in foreign languages, eating dinner in complete darkness, sailing on ferries, giving out fake names, playing matchmaker, stealing toilet paper, tattooing a human, falling in love with an Australian stranger in Malaysia then marrying him. It’s been an unforgettable whirlwind.

Despite all those wild memories I can’t shake the feeling that even though it appears I have been living my dreams, I've actually been distracting myself from them.

When you become a mother at 32 (almost 33) you've lived enough life to know that your options are instantly limited. The list of things you will never do grows longer and your wide, bright future becomes a pinhole- understandable because your priorities have changed. That's quite a lot of pressure for a free spirit however if you are also a procrastinator like myself, it might just be the ignition you need to get into gear.

I have traveled the world, married a wonderful man, given birth to a healthy child but what good are those things if I have not created something just for myself? If I am fulfilled I will be a better wife/ mother/ person and my daughter is the direct benefactor.

Growing up my heart and life revolved around the arts. I danced, painted, played instruments, sang, acted, wrote stories and poetry. All these things were encouraged and supported until University Graduation. Suddenly I was supposed to act like a grown up and ‘get a real job’ which sounded dreadfully boring. 


And yes, I could have gone against the grain and fought hard for my dream but it’s not easy when you are a young person being launched into the world. Your parents’ opinions mean everything especially when you aren't mature enough to trust yourself. I looked for guidance everywhere but within. “Shadow artists did not receive sufficient nurturing. They blame themselves for not acting fearlessly anyhow (Julia Cameron).”

So now, no more blame. I can look at my adventures, half-cooked ideas, abandoned career paths and use those as material and inspiration for my new creative life. 

I sound so confident don't I? Really though, I’m shitting myself. Every now and then I think “what’s the point,” or “I’m not good enough.” But even I can respect someone who tries and fails more than someone who never tries at all.

Now the work begins. Here I am, an adult student in a limitless classroom. There are no assignments, no deadlines, no grades, no graduation. I am the only one to judge whether or not I’m trying my hardest. The only one who knows if my goals are getting enough attention. The top key performance indicator will be- whether I am someone my daughter can look up to.



Tuesday, May 26, 2015

One + Four = Life: Change

‘For a seed to achieve it’s greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes. To someone who doesn't understand growth it would look like complete destruction.’ Cynthia Occelli




Sometimes life breaks down in order to allow you to rebuild. I can’t help but feel like this weekend was the perfect example of how change is the only constant.

Recently there have been changes in my family, my career, my daughter and my home. All of these elements are at different stages in the cycle of life, death, birth, destruction and growth.

I woke up Saturday morning to the buzzing of chainsaws and the grinding of a wood-chipper. The trees in our backyard were being cut down to clear the way for an extension on our home. I guess you could say Saturday was the first official day of the renovation which should have been exciting.

I could not help feeling nostalgic for my beloved Meyer Lemon tree. I don’t know much about gardening but I did know that this tree has produced so many lemons at such a constant rate, that everyone who came to the house mentioned it- and left with a bag of lemons because we could never possibly go through them fast enough.


We bought our home from an almost 90-year-old woman. We gutted and restored it before our daughter was born and when elderly Joan came over to see the results (she keeps in touch with the neighbors) her last remark was to ask if she could have some lemons from 'her tree.' It was such a tender moment, Joan seeing a brand new home and a brand new family where hers once grew. Despite the modifications inside, 'her lemon tree' remained gnarled and strong in the backyard, unaware of time passing, still hard at work, pumping out its juicy yellow fruit. 

For some reason though, for almost six months this year, the tree has produced next-to-nothing. I cannot remember a time where this happened in the five years since Matt bought the house- even when we had tenants in it. 

Perhaps the tree was going through some sort of metamorphosis itself. I had to purchase lemons at the supermarket for the first time in ages. I checked often, willing lemons to appear and when those first green fruit-buds peeped out of the branches I thought to myself- Finally! Now I’ll be able to get back to experimenting with Limoncello and salt cures. 

A tear rolled off my face when Matt told me the lemon tree was the first one tackled Saturday morning. I fought so hard to keep that tree but in the end it was too risky and expensive. Matt told me the tree removalists had been kind enough to pick all the half-ripe lemons from the center where we were not able to reach (I had already made Matt scavenge everything he could the night before.) Unfortunately most of the lemons were sacrificed, too green to pick and won't ripen off the vine.

As sad as losing the tree was, nothing prepared me for the news to come next.
“I spoke to your Mom, and your Dad this morning,” Matt started. I could tell he was choosing his words carefully.
“What is it,” I said, eyes narrowing, more as a statement than a question.
“It’s Bella...she’s gone to doggy heaven.”
“No!”
And then the tears came for real. My dog, the one I got when I was 21 ,who was my companion and roommate for 8 years while I stumbled into adulthood. The one who was there through broken hearts, moving-boxes, job-hopping, and indecision. She was the one I came home to. My constant and my companion. 

When I moved to Australia I gave her up because I could not bear risking her health- flying for more than 24 hours as cargo and entering quarantine for a month. It broke my heart but I gave her a better, happier life as a grand-dog, and in turn I gave my Mom a little piece of me to keep while I moved thousands of miles away.

And now she is gone, just two weeks before I could have seen her one last time. I could have been there to hold her in her last moments. And be with my Mom so she would not have had to experience that heartache alone. After losing my grandmother less than three months ago it just triggers and stings.

The only thing that could make me feel better was to hold my daughter close and smell her hair and remain grateful for her health and warmth.

This weekend I was cheered by friends who made me smile and laugh. I’m looking forward to the new addition to our house, the upcoming visit to my hometown, hugs from my Mom, Dad and Brother. And not least importantly, the new beginnings of a career in art- the fulfillment of my dreams.

And as these changes swirl around me, caught in the middle, I will undoubtedly change too. 

I think it's how we accept and absorb these transformations which provides the opportunity for renewed grace.

One
All that is left of the 40 year old lemon tree, but it will make the way for our spacious new family home. Matt has promised we will buy a new lemon tree and use it in a topping out ceremony, once the roof is complete (oh the things you learn when your partner is in the construction industry!)

Two
National Geographics from the 1920's and 30's that I bought at an auction with my Grandmother. They are my inspiration behind a new art project I will be starting once time allows.

Three
Our dearest Isabella. Loved by many, loyal to all and particular as the day was long. She will be forever in my heart and her name forever tattooed on my ankle.

Four
My love, inspiration and new beginning. We can finally get that hair into a 'pony.' Her conversational capabilities astound me on a daily basis. Today she asked to go to 'eshoping' in the 'beep-beep.' She is definitely an apple who didn't fall far from the tree...or should I say lemon?

How has your week been? I'm hoping for a less intense one next week. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Cajun Shrimp Quinoa Bowl


This dish is so delicious you won't even realize how healthy and uncomplicated it is. Kind of like the perfect relationship. 

First things first, get your quinoa going in a pot and let it bubble away (make sure to rinse it first to get rid of any bitterness). While that's cooking, prep your veggies. Here I used fresh corn off the cob, sliced cherry tomatoes and cilantro (coriander.)

When all that prep-work is complete, get going on your sauce...this is where the flavor is. I used a recipe I found online. I didn't have coconut yogurt so I used coconut milk and Greek yogurt. Throw all sauce ingredients into a food processor or blender and watch the green goodness transform before your eyes.  Use any extra as salad dressing. Yum!

When all your ingredients are ready, last but not least, cook your little shrimpies in a skillet. I seasoned mine with this rad Cajun seasoning that I use on everything from seafood, to potatoes. I love it- just go easy as it's a little on the salty side.

Once the little pink dudes are cooked you can create your bowls!

Start out with quinoa on the bottom, then a generous smattering of sauce, add the veggies and then lastly the Cajun shrimp. I'm making myself hungry....


Not affiliated with this product, sharing cuz it's dang delish.


Cajun Shrimp Quinoa Bowl


Ingredients
  • 2 Cups Quinoa
  • A Dozen Shrimp (Prawns)
  • 1 Corn on the Cob
  • A Handful Cherry Tomatos
  • A Handful Cilantro (Coriander)
  • A Few Shakes Cajun Seasoning
  • 2 Cups Water
Cooking Directions
  1. Rinse and drain quinoa then add the water (I use a 1:1 ratio), bring to a boil then let simmer until most of the water has evaporated. Turn off the heat and let it sit with the lid on until absorption is complete.
  2. Veggie Prep! Remove corn from cob and slice tomatoes. Chop up the cilantro.
  3. Sear shrimp and season while cooking. Make sure they are pink through but not overdone.

The Sauce


Ingredients
  • 1 Cup Kale Chopped
  • 1 Cup Cilantro (Corriander)
  • 1/4 Cup Coconut Milk Yoghurt
  • 1/4 Avocado
  • 1/2 Jalepeno
  • 1/4-1/2 Garlic Clove
  • 2 Limes Juiced
  • Pinch Salt to Taste
Cooking Directions
  1. Throw all ingredients into food processor and blender and off you go!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Lalia & Spot: Dress Review

A public service announcement to all first time preggies out there...don't be scared just be prepared.

{Laila & Spot graciously allowed me to chose an item from their current line to review. Like a kid in a candy store I picked out this dress that I can't wear until after I have another baby (which sounds like an odd statement)....but at least next time around I'll have something functional and adorable.}

Recently I got to know L&S and hung around one of their photo-shoots, it was an awesome afternoon meeting some really nice people not to mention I had the chance to write about a niche clothing line that I could have used myself 19 months ago!!!  

Laila & Spot design clothing for new mothers- read: not maternity wear.

When you give birth, your body completely changes. It’s different from your old body which you knew well, and different from your pregnant body which you had nine months with which to familiarize yourself. Now you’re dealing with out of control hormones, temperature fluctuations, milk production, and sagging to name a few.

New mothers have much different and more specific needs than pregnant women. They need accessibility- to the milk-givers. They need stretch in some places and camouflage in others. They need breath-ability, wipe-ability and dewrinkle-ability.

The kicker is, no one tells you to prepare your wardrobe for these things when you are pregnant with your first baby. Nope, let's just sell you a thousand bump-hugging things that will be useless post partum! Let me tell you, the bump gets a lot less cute without a baby in it.

So here’s this dress. I loved it the first time I saw it on the L&S website. It’s a bit fun, sporty and can be worn in summer alone, or in winter with leggings and a cardigan or long sleeves.
Did I mention it's as comfy as it looks?
And check out the placement of this zip. It’s above boobies so it won’t hug or draw attention to them (trust me they will draw enough attention on their own when they are squirting all over the place.) When you unzip, there is a small privacy shield so that you can easily control how much nip to expose...especially in those early days of breastfeeding when you may be uncomfortable (I remember trying to ‘cover up’ the first few days but eventually I resigned all dignity and fed everywhere.)
The orangy-red neckline draws attention to your face because trust me you don’t want people checking out your bod or judging you on how much babyweight you’ve lost (which they will do anyway.) And the matching trim on the skirt is just enough of a cute detail without being too blocky which could mess with the clean line of the dress.
  
There are two nice big pockets, big enough to hold tissues, bottles, dummies or whatever else you need. I doubt you’ll use them for your hands because they will always be full with stuff.

The fabric is nice and natural-feeling and comfy enough that I would consider passing out in it and going out in public the same day.
Even at 30 pounds heavier this would still look cute, don'tcha think?
Laila, a Mother of two, came up with the idea for this company when her oldest was only a few months old. Like me, she struggled to find clothes to fit her post-baby body and ended up with buying button-downs that were too big and frumpy.

I asked Laila if she had any advice for pregnant first time Mothers and I could not agree more with what she said:
"Most mums are focussed on the birth and find it difficult to think beyond that. While you are still pregnant, work out what will happen after the arrival of your little one. A lot of people make birth plans – I think making a post birth plan is a great idea. Things like who will do the cooking, what your new routine might be like.

Buy yourself something nice to wear once the baby is born. It will lift you up on tired days having something comfortable, bright and easy to wear."
You can find L&S clothing for new Mummies on their website.

If you are interested in trying things on in person and you live in Australia or New Zealand, shoot them an email hello@lailaandspot.com.au with your postcode and they will point you in the direction of a retailer near you.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Choosing a Baby Name Can be a Royal Pain

The British royal family recently welcomed Princess Charlotte Elizabeth Diana, a name steeped in history and tradition- it’s not like Wills and Kate had unlimited freedom naming her royal highness.

And it got me thinking, for the rest of us plebs options are infinite. I wonder would it be easier if we had a limited pool to choose from? Just like royalty! 

Matt and I know couples who disagreed for months over names and friends who went into the hospital to give birth with a long list to narrow down, among other priorities.

It’s difficult business choosing a name for someone you've never met, let alone making sure the name suits the surname and opens doors to a successful life. Not sure how naming a kid 'Hasgtag' would be anything but a roadblock. (I kid you not, people have done it.)

Luckily Matt and I agreed on our name options easily. We were going to use traditional family names for a boy and I loved Ella for a girl. Well, as you know things took a much different turn.

I convinced myself I was having a boy but when I found out the opposite was true- I became concerned with how trendy my girl's name choice had become. I can only imagine the parent's of all the 'Charlotte's' collectively gritting their teeth as the Royal Princess' name was announced. Now they must mentally prepare for a massive spike in what is already a popular name, as a friend of mine said, "there are going to be millions of them!"

In recent years the name 'Charlotte' has decreased in popularity the UK (from the fourth most popular in 2000, to 24th in 2013) but it has shot up American charts (from 298th in 2000, to 11th in 2013.) 'Charlotte' is already the number one girls name in Australia.

I’ve always liked having a unique-ish name and I wanted my little girl to experience that same, special feeling of being the only “whoever” in the room.

Over the years however there are a few things I've come to dislike about my own name though it's meaning, 'the break of day,' is beautiful- it sounds a lot like 'Doh,' or 'Duh' in other languages.

Ironically the most frustrating place to pronounce my given name is in the English-speaking country of Australia, my adopted home. People have spelled my name, Dauun, Done, Don.... Matt tells me to pronounce it "Dorn," but I just can't bring myself to do that.

Before becoming a mother, I collected a list of requirements for my future child’s name- to prevent any of the same grievances I have.

The Non-Negotiable Name Criteria:
  1. More than one syllable (which helps with point number 2)
  2. Must sound good in other languages
  3. No awful Aussie nickname (they will stick an o, y or ie after ANY name) *late addition
  4. No double letter initials (I was Dawn Denecke for most of my life, DD)
  5. Different but classic (no Apple's or Siri's for me)
The evening of our 20 week scan (gender confirmation day) I told Matt that I wanted to chose another name for our girl. We had a quick discussion and looked at a bunch of names online, then he suggested Lavinia which comes from a song we both love.


"Can we do that?' I asked him. I LOVED it because it was so out there, so old, and so perfect.
"We can do whatever we want," he replied.
'Lavinia,' it will always remind me of our European honeymoon since I had the song on our traveling mix. And it gets better- the traditional nickname for Lavinia is Vinnie (Matt’s Dad is Vince and my Grandfather’s middle name was Vincent) a nickname I could live with-and love.

Lit Nerd Bonus: the name comes from Roman literature, a character in Virgil’s Aeneid which I studied in school.
Virgil's 'Lavinia' was a strong character, described as the 'Mother of Rome,' she was so loved by her husband that he named the city after her, Lavinium. My beloved Shakespeare had a character called Lavinia too but she was tragic so we won't mention her.

This name choice has proved to be quite versatile already, some of our Lavinia's aunties started calling her 'Vin'- which is cute and funky. And when you ask my daughter what her name is she says “Nee.” She can never be upset about a lack of options.
As for the middle name, I will always wish I went with something a bit more simple but my husband adores the name Florence (he has a little thing for Florence Welsh.) I think it went better with Ella but it's all good-we went to Florence on our honeymoon so that’s cool. (And for those of you who know, I still have to rename my bicycle which Matt named Florence a few years ago.) If our Vin-bug hates her middle name she can blame Dad, but she won’t because she adores him.

And speaking of Lavinia's Dad, his name was actually David for the first few days of his life before he became Matthew. My name came from outer-space, my poor Mom was super groggy before her cesarean and doesn't remember adamantly telling my Father and Grandmother to name me Dawn if I happened to be a girl.

And so we have Lavinia Florence. A big name for a little girl with a huge personality. Nailed it.

Did  you have a difficult time choosing your children's names? Do you have any regrets? What's your name story?

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Vietnamese Shredded Chicken and Veggie Salad


This salad is super satisfying because it tackles all the tastebuds with it's sweet, sour, salty and spicy tang. To start- I threw a package of chicken thighs into the slow cooker along with some grated ginger & garlic and gave it a quick sear. I covered the chicken about ¾ of the way with some boxed chicken broth and a splash of soy sauce and cooked on high. Once finished, the chicken will shred easily with a fork.

Next I prepared the veggies. When I get my food processor out, I try to maximize it. When I’m using it to shred and chop veggies I usually do enough to fill a large serving bowl and leave it in the fridge to pick at during the week. I used the large grating blade to shread zucchini, carrot and beets. Then I chopped some cabbage, spring onion and mint leaves. Throw it all in a bowl and chill in the fridge until the chicken is cooked.

Now the dressing. My tangy take on a typical ginger lime. I use one whole lime depending on the juiciness, then add the remaining ingredients. Always test for balance. If it’s too sour or salty, add more honey, if it’s too intense add a bit more oil. Tip: with the sesame oil, less is more. Aim for that perfect tangy balance. I love a tangy dressing which is why I think the vinegar gives it the perfect kick in the pants.

Finally portion out some salad in individual bowls and top with chicken and dressing, sprinkle with sesame seeds if desired. Deeeeelicious!

Vietnamese Shredded Chicken and Veggie Salad


The Chicken


Ingredients
  • 1 package Chicken Thighs or Breasts
  • 2 or 3 cups Chicken Broth
  • Splash Soy Sauce
  • 1 Tablespoon Grated Ginger
  • 1 Tablespoon Grated Garlic
Cooking Directions
  1. Throw the chicken, garlic and ginger into the slow cooker and sear if you have that option. If not, don't worry about it. Make sure the chicken is about three quarters covered by the chicken broth then add a splash of soy. Cook on high or low depending on how much time you have. Both settings work well. High is probably better if you're using breasts.

The Salad


Ingredients
  • 1/4 Cabbage
  • 1 Large Carrot
  • 1 Zucchini
  • 1 Beet
  • 1 handful Chopped Spring Onion or Scallions
  • 1/4 Cup Chopped Mint Leaves
Cooking Directions
  1. Chop the cabbage, spring onion and mint. Then shred remaining veggies on a grater or food processor with any attachment you like. I used the large grating blade. I've made more salad than I need for the chicken but when I get my food processor out I like to make the most of it. Keeping the salad in a big bowl in the fridge all week makes side salads an easy accompaniment to lunches and dinners.

The Dressing


Ingredients
  • 1 Lime Juiced
  • 2 Tablespoons Honey
  • 1-2 Tablespoons Soy Sauce
  • 2 Tablespoons EVOO
  • 1/2-1 Tablespoon Sesame Oil
  • 1 Tablespoon Vinegar (white or rice wine)
  • 1/2-1 Tablespoon Grated Ginger
  • 1/4 Tablespoon Chili Sauce or Flakes (optional)
Cooking Directions
  1. Start with these proportions and tweak from there. I rarely measure when I cook but with this dressing, it's all about balance. You want the perfect combo of salty, sweet, sour and tang and heat. Test it out until it tastes perfect to you. Dressing is key because if it's delicious enough, it will motivate you to eat as many veggies as you can fit in your body which equals health! Yum!

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Like Tinder but for Mama Dates: Hello Mama's!

Source: website
{This is not a sponsored post, I found out about Hello Mama's socially. We are chatting about partnering-up but I wrote this because I think the concept is awesome and compliments my mission statement, plus I have readers who might love it too!}

Have you ever seen a cool-looking Mother with a well behaved kid at the supermarket and wish you had the guts to ask for her secret? Or have you noticed a Mum pushing her kid through the neighborhood in sweats (just like you) at afternoon nap time and want to shout out to her, “I feel you sister! Hang in there!” Well I-do-but-I-don't because I don't want to look as crazy as I feel.

There is a brand new online matching service in Australia, exclusively for mothers. And you don’t swipe right or left depending on their looks but rather fill out an online profile which matches Mamas based on much more important criteria.

Supplied
Hello Mama’s, a website for Mum-matching, has launched the Aussie version a few days ago. They have been a great success in The US and Canada with over 60,000 users. Big numbers are expected in Australia, New Zealand and the UK as well.

It’s really less like Tinder and more like a combination of Meetup.com (for it's niche interest groups) and Match.com (for it's matches based on a questionnaire.) Feel too shy to meet in person? There is no obligation to do so. HM's have an online forum and chat groups for local advice. And who knows, you could develop an online friendship that could eventually turn into a real life one once you feel comfortable!

Supplied
I’m an outgoing person by nature but striking up conversations at the playground can feel a tad awkward even for me...I've done it a few times but have never been brave enough to score another Mum’s digits, I don’t want to seem like a stalker.

Being a Mother is ironically lonely because you have zero privacy- but someone in the same situation understands those messy feelings. It can really help your state of mind to chat with someone who gets it. Every time I leave my Mum’s Group I feel like I've been given the encouragement to soldier on. Not everyone is so lucky, sometimes Mother’s Group’s don’t work out. Mine only meets once a week- there are four other days to fill!
Easy to use on a mobile too (source: mobile site)
Hello Mama’s could be the answer. Who has time to make Mum friends out in the world when people are scurrying around glued to their phones? Three intelligent, isolated Mothers in the USA thought to use the popular online-dating-service model to link other stay-at-home Mums (why didn't someone think of this sooner?) When you fill out a profile HM's will match you with other like-minded Mums.
The founders. Source: website.
Just moved to a new area? Have a child with severe allergies? Want to hang with people who use the same parenting strategies? Or what if you're like me and want to meet other expats? HM's gives Mothers the opportunity to create specialized, local meet ups or play dates with parents who experience similar challenges.

Motherhood can be extremely isolating for a million reasons. “At the end of the day we want users to be able to create their own support network,” said Shalini, Hello Mama’s Managing Director, Australia. HM's have given Mums the power to do so in a wonderfully simple way.

The site is free to join, it's user-friendly and monitored for safety and respect. I signed up myself and look forward to exploring all it has to offer. Maybe I'll see you on there!

xoxo