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Well after reading quite a few lovely “Year in Review” blog posts and Facebook updates, I decided to try to take a stab at one of my own. So many of these are so well written and reflective and inspirational that I don’t think I have the time or energy to write such a well written piece, but here goes! I particularly enjoyed the ytravelblog post and have modeled my post after theirs.
I reflect and analyze constantly but there is something therapeutic about an end of year summary reflection. As Paul and I enjoyed the midnight fireworks last night I commented about what a crap year it had been. Before the words were even out of my mouth I corrected them because our year has been far from crap. Yes, there was a really rocky month in there, but the year was full of awesomeness too. In fact as I flip through photos of the past year I relive all the amazing moments of 2016. Sure we got off to a hard start here in Melbourne and maybe made some choices we don’t love, but why should I let that overshadow all the other great moments we had in 2016. To quote from the the ytravelblog post “Know that every decision and action you make is a result of what you know at the time. Be gentle with yourself. You only knew what you knew when doing that. At the time you thought it was best. It may have been, so celebrate your good judgement. It may have turned out horrible, so celebrate your ability to have a go, to learn the lesson and move forward.” This speaks to me and I need to continually remind myself of this.
- 1 Travel Highlights
- 2 Life Highlights
- 3 2016 Lessons
- 4 2017 Resolutions
This is probably the easiest section for me to write. In fact travel highlights are usually my highlights of the year. When writing our little Christmas card for the year, I had to force myself to not base all of our yearly highlights on where we traveled.
The Rocky Mountains of Canada
So often our focus of travel has been outside of Canada and for us 2016 started in one of Canada’s hottest tourist destination – the Rocky Mountains of Alberta. Since my brother and Audrey live in Canmore, we were fortunate to spend Christmas 2015 and welcome the New Year with them and my parents at their home. Being all together at Christmas was a gift enough, but to experience the Holidays in such an iconic destination was just amazing. We took the opportunity to enjoy lots of ski days at Lake Louise, were gifted with a dog sledding excursion, snowshoed on a deserted lake, visited a remote hot springs (I can now laugh at the slick logging road Steve led us down without snow tires), and skated and visited the ice castle at Lake Louise. In fact our New Years last year included skating on a local pond; quite different from our New Years this year in Australia.
I love Disneyworld. I went there a lot when I was a kid when visiting my grandparents in Florida and after traveling to many corners of the world, this place still holds a special place for me. Watching my kids experience Disney is even better and for March Break we surprised the kids with a trip to Disney. We truly surprised them which was so fun to keep this little secret. The kids came home from school on Friday and the car was packed and we told them to get in the car because we were going to Disney. Their disbelief was priceless and so fantastic. Paul and I think nothing of making the 22 hour drive to Disneyworld straight. We have a good system of alternating driving, the kids sleep most of the way and zone out on DVDs the rest of the way. I love the feeling as you move south and get to shed your layers and spot those Waffle Houses and when you make it to Georgia pecan country, you know you are getting close. It was a busy week visiting the Disney theme parks and we had the added bonus of catching up with friends from Malaysia.
The Canadian Arctic
I was lucky enough to visit Nunavut on a school trip. We flew into the small community of Taloyoak, above the Arctic Circle on a tiny little plane. All you could see was white all around us and even though it was May, spring had definitely not arrived. Highlights of this trip include learning about the Inuit culture and connecting with elders and young people, trying local foods (polar bear, musk ox, caribou, Arctic char), camping out on the land, ice fishing, learning to drive my own snowmachine, learning to sew sealskin crafts and watching our Guelph students soak up this experience. I know this was a once in a lifetime experience and it was so great of Paul to take on 12 days alone with the kids to make this happen. When I returned home having missed Mother’s Day, I was greeted by a huge “Welcome Home” banner and lots of kisses and excitement which of course melted my heart.
- Read: The Great White North
It was Ella’s first year at sleepover camp and I was thrilled that she wanted to attend the same camp I attended as a kid, Camp Can Aqua. Summer started off with a weekend camping trip as we dropped her off at camp for a week. We camped at Silent Lake Provincial Park and it rained the whole weekend. We don’t camp a lot and so the rain tested our minimal camping gear. During a middle of the night scary thunderstorm I actually woke everyone up and we moved to the car as the storm was so close to us. However even in the rain the kids had a great time and are excited to go back next year. Ella did fantastic at camp and is really excited to return for two weeks in 2017 on our summer trip to Canada.
We are fortunate to have wonderful friends that invite us to their cottage, near Haliburton, for over a week each summer. Our kids are all best buddies and can occupy themselves for hours in the Lake – swimming, waterskiing, tubing, on the trampoline and the new zipline the boys built. Such a beautiful area and even better to be up there with good friends.
My parents brought their sailboat back to the Great Lakes after years in the Bahamas and we had the opportunity to spend a week in the North Channel of Lake Huron. It was great to be back on the boat and we had a super time with our family friends the Bondys.
Why Amsterdam? Our India flights routed through there so we figured why not stay and see a city we had never visited before. At first glance it may not seem like the most likely choice for a European holiday with kids, but we found it to be a fantastic city to explore with kids. We treated ourselves and stayed on a houseboat on a canal and explored the canals, history of the city, the Anne Frank House, the super great NEMO Science Centre and the windmills of Zaanse Schans. We even were able to meet up with good friends from our days in Malaysia, capped off with a sleepover.
We have wanted to visit India for a long time and since we planned to travel between leaving Canada and Australia, it seemed like the right time. We picked southern India because we figured it would be less intense and easier for the kids. We spent four weeks in mostly Kerala backpacking around and while travelling in India can be challenging, we loved our time there and it has definitely wet our appetite for a return trip. We stayed in so many lovely homestays which allowed us to connect with so many awesome people. The biggest challenge for the kids was the food as their palate couldn’t handle even the toned down spice. There were so many highlights from this trip – beaches, wildlife, food, religion and culture and birthdays. We capped off our stay with a fantastic splurge our last night at the Marriott Kochi.
- Read: our whole series of India blogs
When booking our flights from India to Australia we knew we wanted to decompress in Southeast Asia for a few days. Ella was given the choice of choosing Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur or Singapore and after some research she opted for Bangkok. Paul and I hadn’t been to Bangkok since 2006 and were excited to take the kids around to our favourite spots which of course included lots of delicious Thai food and Thai massages. We stayed in a great Airbnb apartment and soaked up the clean and orderly streets after a month in India. We visited the luxe shopping malls, ate some amazing sushi, toured through Khao San Road, the Grand Palance and a few Wats and rewarded the kids with a couple of days at theme parks for their birthdays.
- Read: We Love Thailand
Melbourne and Around
We have only been in the city 3 months and yet we have seen and done a lot. In Melbourne we have toured around the Central Business District, wandered the laneways, visited countless parks, enjoyed a few dinners out. We have visited the beaches of St Kilda and Brighton and the cute neighborhood of Williamstown where we first landed in the city. We have been to a basketball game, the Zoo, the markets, a children’s farm in the City. We have explored neighboring areas on daytrips to Healesville and the Yarra Valley and camping trips to the Murray River and Great Ocean Road. Now that we are on school holidays we have the month to explore the City some more.
- Read: our series of posts on Expat Life in Australia
This one if harder for me as I truly have the worst memory and have to really think back on the year to consider what the highlights were.
The Kids’ Transition to Life in Oz
While I struggled with the transition, I was continually amazed at how well the kids adapted to their new life here. I always say kids are resilient, but I was reassured of this by their great transition. Ella at 9, particularly impressed me with her maturity and positivity (apparently this isn’t a world, but for me it is!) and there were many moments where she was comforting me when I was feeling low. Ella is sensitive and can struggle with change and we were so thrilled with her transition. It is great to see her being able to manage her emotions and thrive. Yes, she misses her dear friends in Canada and her school and her house, but she embraced her new school and met friends and flourished her first few weeks at school. Gavin struggled more than we expected and this transition has really brought out his worries and we feel bad for creating more anxiety for him. BUT, we know that our stable little family unit provides him with the stability to move forward and his awareness of his feelings always impressed me. Miles, being the youngest has had the easiest transition and hasn’t missed a beat.
Last Fall after continually hearing about the plight of Syrian refugees and Canada’s pledge to welcome many Syrians I became involved in our local Guelph community initiative to bring over 50 families to Guelph. We formed a team through the high school where I worked and planned for the arrival and welcome of our family. Unfortunately by the time our family actually arrived in September, I was already half way around the world. Even though I would have loved to see this initiative through, it has been so heart warming to see the emails from our group and hear about our amazing family’s adaption to their new life in Canada. Probably just as important for me over the past year was seeing our community come together and through numerous meetings and sessions reflecting on the situation in Syria and the loss that the Syrian people have lived through. It also has brought feelings of pride in Canada’s role in welcoming refugees. Canada has only taken in a small amount of refugees compared to Germany and there have been many hiccups in the process, but I am proud of what has been done.
A Triathlon, Oh My!
I am not a runner; in fact before this year, I strongly disliked running. In 2015 I started running and signed myself (and my good friend Ange) up for a 5km at Halloween. Throughout 2015 I discovered that I actually didn’t mind running as much as I thought. After completing the 5km I moved on to my next goal of completing a triathlon and signed up for the Guelph Lake Triathlon in June with my buddies Janet and Cass. I liked the way this goal structured my workouts and it felt good to work towards this goal. Unfortunately Paul ended up being in Australia when the triathlon came around. I thought swimming would be the easiest part for me because of my childhood competitive swimming background, but on race day, the shock of the cold water and the discomfort of my never before worn wetsuit stunned me and I actually understood what a panic attack might feel like. Fortunately I calmed myself down, finishedthe swim and ultimately finished the race. AND I felt really good about what I had accomplished. 2017 will definitely include another triathlon.
The Arctic Trip
Yes, I already mentioned this as a travel highlight but it felt bigger than just a travel highlight. I feel so lucky to have been able to participate in this exchange program through my high school where 12 Guelph students welcomed 12 Inuit students from Taloyoak. After an amazing week seeing friendships develop and seeing the Inuit students experience southwestern Ontario, we had the equally amazing experience of travelling up to the Arctic. I feel so fortunate to have had this opportunity to experience a part of Canada so few people get to see. Most importantly I feel so lucky to have been able to visit as guests and not tourists. For the rest of my life I will remember flying through the community on a snowmachine in the evening and visiting with many local families. It forced me to think about the past and what the future would bring for people of this region and to understand that there were no easy solutions forward. I was blown away by the cultural identity of the community and yet also confounded by the rapid changes to their way of life. Thanks to my fellow teacher Brian for inviting me to be involved in this amazing trip.
Regret is Hard
I never anticipated that I would struggle so much with the transition to life in Australia. In fact when I think about our first week here, arriving full of excitement about what was to come, I feel a certain melancholy on how that excitement so suddenly changed to sadness. I have learned so many life lessons from this experience and even though I would rather things had gone differently, I am thankful for what I have learned about myself. It has taken awhile, but I have moved on to acceptance of the decisions we made. BUT I still can’t believe how rocked I was by the transition and feel so thankful to have the amazing support of my family and friends to help drag me through my blues. I spent almost a year planning and thinking about our time in Australia and without realizing it I had so many expectations about the experience. But then suddenly I felt those expectations collapse and I felt miserable about the decisions we had made. The “would have, could have, should haves” constantly beat me down and it took time before I was able to move past those feelings and focus on the future.
Part of my problem settling here was feeling like we weren’t living in a neighborhood that reflected us. But who did I see us as? I saw us as a family that sought out alternative ways of doing things – travelling the world with our kids, alternative ways of schooling, a more balanced way of life, focused more on limiting our environmental footprint and on and on. The lesson for me is that we don’t have to be all of one thing. We can be a little of this and a little of that. For instance a friend of ours is completely unmaterialistic, Birkenstock wearing, but loves to shop at Target. And that is okay. I was judging us on a pretty large yardstick and was black and white with my assessments. Our neighborhood does not define us; we do and we can be us living anywhere.
I can Shmooze
I have always considered myself an extrovert, but as I get older I find myself preferring the comfort of my close network of friends. I dislike meeting new people and find myself dreading situations where I have to move around a room and talk to people I don’t know. You would have thought I would have thought about this when deciding to move across the world and start our lives over again. You would have thought I would have thought about how this would involve making new friends and numerous conversations with strangers. But somehow I didn’t really think about this and this move has forced me to do just that. I am constantly having the “work the playground” and talk to random people I don’t know. And while I don’t love it and I am not great at it, I have found I can do it. Being forced to do it somehow makes it easier.
Sometimes at dinner we go around the table and each person shares their favourite thing from the day and something they want to work on. Miles in particular really enjoys this tradition and often initiatives this discussion. In fact on New Years Day at dinner he wanted us each to review our fav memory and what we were working on. I don’t make formal resolutions but I definitely have informal thoughts of what I want the next year to bring and what I want to change or work on. Most of these are tied to what came out of our lessons from 2016.
Go With the Flow and Live in the Moment
I am a planner by nature and I enjoy researching and planning. However I also appreciate spontaneity and letting life take you where it takes you. This year I want to try not to over plan and overthink things and just live them more. Enjoy the moments more, instead of planning and organizing the next ones.
I spend a lot of time with the kids and while I cherish that time, it can get intense. Sometimes I am not always as patient as I would like to be and I want to continue to work on staying calm when crap hits the fan. Less yelling, less nagging, take the emotions out of my reactions. This is hard but when I see my kids snapping at one another I am acutely aware that perhaps I am not always modeling the best behaviour.
I enjoyed the training for my triathlon last year and since once the kids return to school I should have lots of free time, there is no excuse. I have even contemplated stepping up to the Olympic distance, but think I will try one more at the Sprint distance first. End of May, St Kilda – I will be there!
Eating more Veg
Over the years we have tried to eat more vegetarian meals because I do think it is healthier and I am not a fan of factory farming. However my children are hard core carnivores and whenever I make bean burritos or sweet potato soup, we have lots of leftovers. I still make these meatless meals, but sometimes it is just easier to make meals I know they will eat. My brother’s transition last year to becoming a vegetarian has fueled me to move the family more in this direction. We aren’t going for an official switch, but by the end of the year I would like us to be eating 3-4 meatless dinners a week. I have already borrowed a bunch of vegetarian cookbooks from the library for some inspiration.
Read our 2017 Year in Review post.