Bali Adventures Week 4 – Searching for Treasure and Snorkeling for Shipwrecks

Bali Adventures Week 4 – Searching for Treasure and Snorkeling for Shipwrecks

Another week under our belt! Each week that passes, I’m more and more amazed with this family. We had a friend ask us this week “would you do this again?” and it was really tough to answer.  Brent summed it up perfectly I think.

“This trip has had a lot of firsts. First time travelling this far. First time travelling this long with all 5 of them. First time not working this long. First time being away this long in a place where everything is different.”

With all those firsts, it’s really quite humbling and amazing that we have had this opportunity, but it does leave us spinning quite a bit! I think we have grown closer as a family, and also more independent. I think we have let go of some fears, and tried new things, new food, new ideas.

Here are some of the things we did this week.

Furniture Shopping

Brent and I have had a chance to explore a bit on Scoopy this week. We ventured off to a few cool shops to check out some furniture. Brent is looking for the exact-perfect-piece of wood that will become the centerpiece of our new home: the dining table.

Being parents of 5, when we look into the future, we realize that a table that seats 8 is not suitable. Between there being 7 of us to start, the moment you add in family, friends, aunts, uncles, grandparents – there just isn’t anywhere to sit.

Luckily, Bali is home to amazing and talented folks who specialize in teak and suar wood furniture.

The pieces I have seen here are nothing short of absolutely breathtaking.

Now, it’s not like shopping at fancy furniture showrooms at home. Oh no. This is all open air, usually under a tarp or a grass roof, and right in the middle of a workshop.

We stopped in at about half a dozen places, when we came across Kenny’s Furniture. We spotted a teak table from the street, and decided to check out the store.  The salesperson was nice and helpful. When Brent described what we were looking for, she said “Oh, we have some more pieces in the back, would you like to see?”

Weaving through furniture, stepping over various items, and out the back door we went. Following her through a back workshop and through a non-descript entrance, we found out that “the back” actually meant “10,000 square foot storage building, filled wall to wall with beautiful pieces of wood, all covered in dust and cobwebs.”  The pictures don’t do much justice, but I hope you get the idea:

Snorkeling for Shipwrecks

This week brought us far, far, FAR away from our home in Seminyak to the north-east(ish) coast near Tulamben.  This is the site of the Liberty Shipwreck. Back in WWII the Liberty Ship was hit by Japanese torpedos and beached at Tulamben.  Then, in 1963, Mount Agnung erupted, and the eruption and lava caused the ship to slip off the beach and settle about 3 metres underwater on a sand slope.

The ship itself is 130m long, so it slopes down under water to a depth of about 30m all said and done. Since 1963, it has become home to some lovely coral and many, many fish.  It also happens to be the most famous dive site in Bali.

Luckily, because it is so close to the surface, it is also a fantastic snorkel site. So off we went.

Here is what I learned on snorkel day:

  • You just never know what will enthrall your kids. I have taken them zip lining, and to a killer waterpark. Yet, they reported this activity to be the “best one yet”.  I think this is because there is just nothing else like it they have ever seen.
  • You can never properly predict a panic attack. Yep, I had one. A doozy of one. In the ocean. Wearing a snorkel mask. Out of absolutely nowhere, and for no identifiable reason.
  • Go-Pro cameras are freakin’ cool. I have attached some shots from Emerson’s footage for you to enjoy!

So, it started out as a normal day.  We got up as a family, ate breakfast, and met the diving company’s pickup vehicle at the hotel next door.  The company itself was amazing – they provided snorkel equipment, two guides just for our group, lunch, transportation and water.  It was a long ride (see the map – we drove clear across the island!), but the kids did awesome.  I was excited – I had done some snorkeling before, and loved it.

 

Ocean Panic Attacks are a Thing

I have no idea what went wrong.  The sea was a little rough, but nothing outrageous.  I’m a confident swimmer, and I have snorkeled before.  We went out as a group of 9, so it wasn’t like I was alone or stranded. But, something just snapped.  I secured my mask and snorkel, and was enjoying the swim toward the wreck. Every so often, I’d pop up and count snorkel tips.  (Yes, but it’s a mom thing!) Then, I’d continue on.

All of a sudden, I felt as though my mouthpiece was gagging me.  My heart started racing and I felt like I couldn’t catch my breath. I lifted my head to the surface, removed my mouthpiece and thought “That was weird.”

And then it got worse. Much, much worse.  I became scared that someone was going to attack me (like, who exactly, would randomly attack ME in the middle of the ocean with a bazillion other divers and snorkelers around?). I was convinced that fish were touching me (they weren’t), and I was absolutely certain that my entire family was in grave danger (No danger. None whatsoever.)

And then, I saw Brent. He came to the surface and said “Are you ok?”  Somehow, those three words brought me back to reality. I was ok. No harm was coming. But I had to get out of the water.

So, I swam back to shore as calmly as I could, and stood on the beach and watched Brent and the kids snorkel.  It ended up being a great day. They swam and played for about 3 hours, then we sleepily drove home.

I’m still a bit baffled at what triggered or caused this in me. I’ve never had it happen before – and I certainly hope it doesn’t happen again, or at the very least, that it happens while I’m on dry land.

Healthin up!

Back on dry land, we ventured to our family favourite spot to eat – a great, healthy place called “Go Fresh Life” that makes beautiful salads and cold pressed juice. It’s such a relief to find a spot that is both healthy and appealing to the kids.

Stay tuned for white water rafting, our big move, and some ink coming next week! We miss everyone back home!

Week 3 - Ants, Scoopy and Toilet Paper | Nadia La Russa

Ants, Scoopy and Toilet Paper – Week 3

Week Three is done. Wow, just wow.  I feel the days slowing moving by, and then the next thing I know, the days have flown by.  Life has slowed down here for us – finally. I’m absolutely loving this pace.  We had the chance to get into some really good conversations with the kids and have found out the insights from their viewpoints. Emerson, on his own accord, told us the other day “Life is easy here.”  Hearing him say that was a breath of fresh air.

This week’s adventures took us to Waterbom – Asia’s #1 rated waterpark, and #2 in the world. The kids had a blast.  The parents also had a blast relaxing in the gazebo and occasionally throwing food towards dripping children.  Of course, the immediate question as we were leaving was “can we do that again?!?” – so I’d call the day a success.

The boys and Andria took turns on the “flowrider” to hone the surfing skills, and we did a family ride down the lazy river. The day was absolutely amazing.

Our house is next to the Four Points Sheraton, and each night, we can hear music from their rooftop patio. On Monday’s, we have started taking the kids there. It’s usually a small crowd, maybe our group plus one other table, and the musicians have started including the kids in their sets.  I’m loving it, although every so often I get a twinge of “maybe Camryn is a bit young to be singing in a bar.”

As we settle into regular life here, I find myself getting used to certain aspects of life that I think would be strange to accommodate back home.

 

Ants. Holy moly, the ants.

These buggers are e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e.  They are small, they travel in packs of 349,280 and the walk around silently, carrying of any food you are foolish enough to leave out.  They don’t bite or actually harm anything, but they are certainly not easy to get rid of.  I realized pretty much from day three here that I could either live in a cloud of Raid, or just deal.

So, all of the things go in the freezer. Chips, rice, cereal, fruit, everything. Zero things get left on a counter here. These guys will literally crawl inside a wrapped loaf of bread if you leave it unattended for more than a few hours.  I’ve gotten used to brushing them off my bed each night and wiping down the bathroom sink each morning.

 

I drive a Scooter

I rented a scooter this week.  What a difference a little mobility makes.  I think my mother is going to lose her mind at this one (sorry mom!) but the more time I spend here, the more I realize that the traffic moves relatively safely. So, I walked down the street and rented this piece of freedom:

Meet “Scoopy”

Scoopy and I did get ourselves into one itsy-bitsy traffic jam (see above traffic picture) but I just followed the rest of the pack – on to the sidewalk – and in a few minutes it was over.  No one actually drives at any amazing speed here, and I’ve learned that all you really need to do is keep track of what is going on in front of you, not hit anything, and everyone else does the same.

I bee-bopped from Seminyak to Canngu where I visited Made’s Banana Flour and had myself a little piece of heaven on a plate – fluffy, gluten free waffles.

It was AH-MAZING.

 

Toilet Paper

For reasons that I don’t quite understand, toilet paper isn’t a “thing” here really. They have it, but the more time I spend here, the more I start to wonder if it’s really just for the north American tourists.  The house we are staying in is fully stocked, but heaven help you if you leave the house without a partial roll with you.  Most public bathrooms are outfitted with this setup.  I can’t even begin to figure out how on earth I would even operate this, or what the rules are on it’s use. Just, no.

 

Since coming here, Brent and I have waffled back and forth between “this is awesome” and “what were we thinking.” Overall, its been an experience being here – one that I have definitely found enriching and challenging at the same time.

This week, we are heading on a snorkeling adventure – stay tuned!

Bali Adventures - Week 2

Bali Adventures – Week 2

Another week! Amazing.  Time is sure flying here.  We have gotten into a pretty good daily routine – we wake up, eat breakfast as a family, hang out at the house until mid-morning, then we venture out for lunch.  Each day we try a different “warung” (which, directly translates to ‘shop’ but we have learned means ‘small café or restaurant’) and sample unique cuisine.

Then, we head to the beach or to whatever activity we have planned, and we reconvene at dinner for a home cooked meal. After supper, someone does the dishes (7 people, 7 days of the week. Coincidence? I think not) and we either do a family movie or we have a family conversation about something important.

It’s been equally nice, and not nice.  Our house is small and cozy, which is great until someone is in a grumpy mood. It sure doesn’t take long for that to spread like wildfire through our little group.  Luckily, we have had some really good conversations to talk through what’s going on. I think we are making headway.

Brent and I decided that we would limit activities to one per week – for a few reasons. First, money. We sure can’t afford to rent jet-skis for 7 people each day. Second, exhaustion factor.  We experienced that we need about two days to properly recover and re-engergize for the next adventure. Third, time – there has been great value in just hanging out.

Our Place

It’s ‘bake’ or ‘not bake’. That is all

The house we rented is exactly what it appeared to be in the photos, however, it’s no secret now that the owner deliberately tried to angle the shots to make the rooms look bigger than they are.  The kitchen is a long galley style that gets really crowded, really quickly.  I have to walk past the sink, fridge and counter to get to the stove. When I’m standing at the stove, I’m directly blocking the main bathroom door, and also the door that leads to Logan’s room. Cooking here has been a challenge at times, particularly trying to bake things.

The decorations are….eclectic to say the least. We have seen many examples of “upcycling” all over the village, and this place is no exception. There is no rhyme or reason to the colour scheme, and yet, I kinda like it.

The house itself is set behind a tall fence, next to a rice field. The grass roof has seen better days, and when it’s raining hard, the water pours into the shared bathroom.

 

This week’s adventure

We asked Komang to take us to Sekumpul waterfalls this week.  We drive up a windy, narrow road that lead into the clouds. I was disappointed in the weather, but on the other side of the mountain, it was like we had entered a whole new world. It was bright, dry and warm.  Another windy drive down the other side of the mountain brought us to the entrance to the waterfall trail.

Many of you know that I’m addicted to hiking, so I was pretty excited. I had read reviews about the waterfalls and how beautiful they were – but I was not at all prepared for the difficulty of the journey, or the awesomeness of the falls.  The trail lead us down over 500 stairs, some of which were no more than a plank of wood stacked on its side. Handrail availability was sketchy at best.  Most of the way down, I was thinking to myself “we eventually have to come back up this mess” and I was aware that both Andria (arthritis) and Camryn (broken femur in June) might have some difficulties.

But, we made it, both down and up, unscathed.  The kids don’t hate me, and for the first time ever, I got to stand under a waterfall.  It was amazing, and humbling.  I absolutely loved it.

This coming week our adventure will take us to Waterbom – the #2 highest rated waterpark in the world. Stay tuned!

 

 

Bali Adventures - Week 1 | Nadia La Russa

Bali Adventures – Week One

What a whirlwind!

It’s hard to believe that it’s already been a week, and it’s equally hard to believe that it’s only been a week.  I feel like we have done a ton of activities, and also done a ton of nothing(ishness).

The trip started out with a small kerfuffle. The girls and I hit the airport 44 minutes before the departure of our flight, fully expecting that we’d get our boarding passes and meander to the gate with our carry-on luggage.  Apparently, the cutoff for the flight was 45 minutes, and in the one minute that I was late, they had assumed we weren’t arriving at all and had issued our seats out to the standby passengers.

I have never in my life before encountered this level of ridiculousness, but we took it in stride. I asked the Air Canada rep to check us in for the rest of the trip, which she did.  I then rebooked us on the porter flight that – ironically – departed 20 minutes later (24 minutes before said Air Canada flight that I was “late” for), and off we went.  We landed at Billy Bishop, high-tailed it to Pearson, and boarded our 5:55pm flight to Munich without issue.

I’m conflicted between being angry at Air Canada for their cut off times, and being angry at myself for not showing up an hour before.

Since getting here, there are a few things I have learned. I am by no means an “expert” on Bali, and I find that I’m still learning more each day about how life works here.

The Traffic

The traffic here is unbelievable.  They drive on the left, and I have yet to see any traffic lights, stop signs, lane dividers or any sort of “this is where you are supposed to be and what you are supposed to be doing” traffic notifications. As such, the drivers here pretty much do whatever they want, and it appears that so long as you issue a friendly honk of your horn, you can drive wherever you please without anyone stopping you.

Then, there are scooters. Everywhere.  When the cars are stopped, the scooters boot in between the cars, beside the cars, up on the sidewalks, around pedestrians and anywhere they can fit. They just keep on going. Then, when the cars start up, the scooters are just driving in the same lane right beside them.

Amazingly, nobody dies.  I started the week out incredibly anxious and stressed, and somehow, over the course of 5 days, it doesn’t bother me in the slightest that cars and scooters whip past me at mach speed on the sidewalk while I’m walking home with my groceries.

About the Groceries

Ok. So I’m a numbers girl. I budget things for a living. People pay me to do this, and I’m considered an “expert” at this having had literally tens of thousands of hours preparing budgets.

Somehow, I catastrophically failed at determining a reasonable grocery budget for this family trip.

At home, I have a pretty stable grocery expenditure line. It rarely varies, and I can usually feed the family for $5-7 per meal.  Depending on how often we have the boys, it can go up from month to month, but there has yet to be a month in the last 7 years where I have totally blown the food budget for this family out of the water.

So, before this trip, I found the location of the supermarket that I currently shop at. They have a comprehensive website, and I was able to ascertain that while some items here are much cheaper than at home (rice, fruits and vegetables), some items are much more expensive (eggs, milk, spices and specialty gluten-free items). Armed with this information I did up a general meal plan for the family, beefed it up by 20% (just in case) and came up with a food/grocery budget for this trip of $2500.

I was wrong. I was wrong by almost triple.  Yep, let that sink in, because it sure hasn’t for me.

Here we are on day 6, and I have, thus far, spent $1345.58 on food.  At this moment, we have enough food to feed us for approximately 2-ish days.  If I buy absolutely nothing else whatsoever, we will run out of breakfast options by Tuesday.

I’m still trying to figure out exactly what happened, but here are a few things that have come up:

  • These children are eating an incomprehensible amount of food. Seriously, you have no idea.  We haven’t thrown any food out, there hasn’t been one meal where someone didn’t clean their plate, and approximately two hours after each meal there are five “hangry” people in my presence that are miserable to be around.  I didn’t believe this at first, so I used my parenting tactic of “if you are actually hungry, you can have a (insert usually undesirable food here)” *and they do*.
  • I failed to properly budget for the staple items – I purchased a kombucha scoby, some starter kombucha, some essential kitchen utensils (like, a cutting knife and a frying pan) spices, oils and gluten-free items which set me back about $300 or so.
  • I did not account for the caloric requirements of 5 growing humans who spend their days running around. This was a gross underestimation on my part.  But seriously, look at these smiles.

 

It’s hot here, but not that hot

I think I envisioned spending my days trying to wear as little as possible, and walking around using one of those battery operated clip on fans all the time.  It’s not quite like that. Honestly, I’ve found the weather really pleasant here.  It’s sunny a lot of the time, and the ocean is a wonderful and welcoming temperature.  The evenings cool off appropriately and we have had no issues sleeping at all.

24/7 with family is much different than I expected

This is both in a good ways and bad ways. I have experienced both extremes of “wow this is amazing and I love spending time with my family” and “get me on the next flight out of here.” But, I think that’s part of what we wanted out of this experience.  The highs and lows of family life still exist here.  What’s been great is that each day we learn and grow together.  I can’t wait to see what the rest of this adventure brings.

We miss you all back home! Send love and good vibes our way 🙂

 

Living in Bathing Suits | Nadia La Russa

Living in Bathing Suits

The other side of the world is so much different than home! The girls and I arrived in Bali yesterday around noon (midnight the day before for all you Thunder Bay-ans) and we were greeted at our rented home by the host.  Despite desperately wanting to sleep, we set ourselves up, unpacked I and set out to get groceries and various other items for the house.

At midnight, I went back to the airport, courtesy of my “driver” Komang, and found myself 4 exhausted boys.  Thankfully, everyone was pretty much ready for sleep by the time we got back, and we started our day at 9am.  After a brief swim, then breakfast (because, you can swim before breakfast in Bali. Or anywhere really!) we ventured out to the beach.

The beach takes about 10 minutes or so to walk to, using various pathways, narrow streets, corridors and what I’d normally classify as “sketchy at best” roadways.  The kids have been awesome about taking it all in stride, and didn’t seem to notice that scooters simply bolt past them on the sidewalks.

Sitting by the ocean is unbelievable.  The sound of my kids squealing with delight as they were crashed towards us by the waves was simply the best.  It reminded me that I have such a short time left to enjoy these moments.

The days this week are going to be pretty low key as we adjust to the time change and the climate here.  Stay tuned for more to come!

Father's Day | Nadia La Russa

Father’s Day

No matter how much I try to deny it, Father’s Day is by far the toughest day of the year for me.  Many of you know, that my father passed away at a very young age after what can only be described as the most bizarre period of my life.  In 2000, I was 22 years old, newly married and I hadn’t had my children yet.  Dad slipped away into the confusing and heartbreaking journey through Alzheimer’s, despite only being in his 40’s.

It wasn’t until over 15 years later that I finally started properly grieving his death.  Some days I still look at my daughters and a wave of anger washes over me – how could he be missing all of this, all of these moments, the laughter, the family visits and these granddaughters that he so enthusiastically looked forward to spoiling to bits?

I’m not a rational person when it comes to Father’s Day. I see kids struggle through the stage of not treating their parents well and my heart hurts for all the times I was rough on my poor dad.

Despite being generally sad on Father’s Day, I am very aware of how fortunate I am to have great dads in my life still.  Mike, the girl’s dad has always been a great father.  I treasure my conversations with Doug, Brent’s stepdad and I enjoy visits with David, Brent’s dad.  The last two years I have really loved watching my brother in law Chris shine as a dad, and of course my brother Dan is pretty much the exact replica of what I remember my dad being like when I see him with his girls.

There are countless other dad’s in my life that I admire.  But this year, I’d like to tribute my husband Brent.

Father's DayIt’s really hard to put into words what has happened to me this last week or so, but I can tell you that the events that unfolded have completely transformed my perspective on this man.  As in any marriage, things haven’t been easy.  We are both smart, and come equipped with our own firm set of values and opinions. Those haven’t always lined up. But now, I think I finally see that what I have been looking for in him has been there all along. I just never knew it until this week.  I realize that might sound ridiculous – after all, I am married to the man. Just hear me out….

One week ago today, I was in Grand Marais with my friend Lauren. We were blissfully basking in the afterglow of an epic spa day, making our way back home.  About 2 hours from town, my phone rang.  It was Mike, calling me from an ambulance, where he was with Camryn headed to the hospital.  In the short conversation that I can’t fully remember today, he explained that she had broken her leg while dirt biking at his camp.

Shaking, I realized that I couldn’t be there when she got to the hospital. I immediately called Brent, explained what I knew of the situation and asked him to be at the hospital with her. All he said was “Yes.”

When I arrived at emergency room two hours later, I walked in to find Camryn in a highly anxious state – and there was Brent at her bedside.  He stayed there, until almost 11pm.  He arrived at the hospital again at 7:30am with a bag packed for her, and he stayed with me all day Sunday while she had her surgery, got settled back in her room, and finally left at nearly 10pm that night. Just as I was getting settled in my “hospital chair that pretends to be a bed” a text came in that said “I miss you.”

I just stared at my phone, in disbelief.

Father's DayThis man, who had spent nearly 48 hours non-stop by my side, who had been nothing but steadfast, calm, and comforting for me, and for a child that *isn’t even his* leaves and then 15 minutes later tells me he misses me?

A wave of emotion came over me. Because every day, he chooses this life.  He doesn’t have to, but he does.  And when shit gets real, he doesn’t waver. Ever.  I thought about all the times I felt angry with him for not buying me flowers, or not saying the exact romantic thing I wanted to say at the exact moment I wanted him to say it and how in those moments I thought he was just the worst person ever and I felt shame. Because, if that same man can stand with me at my worst and tell me he misses me then he deserves my best, forever.

Nadia La RussaAll of a sudden, it was like the lights went on.  I became very, very grateful for the life I have.  I have a man who accepts me as I am, and who wholly and unconditionally loves my daughters as if they are his. And that makes Father’s Day a really, really amazing thing to celebrate.

Happy Father’s Day Brent

Love,

All your girls

 

We are headed to Bali!

So, back in September, I announced to Brent* that I thought it was time to give the kids the “one big family experience.” We have travelled as a family before, when the kids were younger, but we’ve only ever travelled in the car with them – places like Wisconsin Dells, Minneapolis, and Lutsen.

Right now we are in this strange parenting vortex; one where there are days when I have happy kids, and then the next day I have moody pre-teens. One where these inklings of entitlement peek through gratitude, and where normally content children all of a sudden demand to be taken shopping.

It’s a tricky time, these years.  Throw in a dash of mixed parenting ideas and blended family dynamics and I tell ya, there are some days where I just want to leave the planet. (Preach, right?) My idea, instead, was to go to the other side of it.

Brent gave me his usual, half-smile, cute eyebrow raise “oh ya?” which I *think* might possibly mean “What have you got cooking THIS TIME, oh insane and crazy wife of mine?” to which I responded. “I’m taking the kids to Bali for six weeks this summer!”

You’d think this would spark some sort of discussion, debate, argument, SOMETHING. Nope. Brent simply reached for his phone, opened the calendar app and said “What dates?”.

Less than a week later, I had our flights arranged courtesy of three different point collection agencies.  I had found a lovely AirBnB spot in Kuta Utara (check it out here) and we had the kids and the exes (mostly) on board.

And then, I got on with life.

Now, as we approach our departure date, and because it’s becoming a comfortable and easy idea, I have been inserting it into random conversation with friends. Not because I’m looking for shock value, simply because it’s just now become a part of my plans, so I forget that most people aren’t quite expecting this.  Conversations have typically gone something like this:

Friend: Summer is coming! We should plan a weekend at camp together!

Me: Sure, sounds awesome. We are leaving July 22, so it has to be before that.

Friend: Leaving where?

Me: We are going to Bali until September.

Friend, with obvious shock: What? What do you mean “you are going to Bali until September?”

And this is where I realize, that casually saying that you are meandering off to the other side of the world for 6 weeks isn’t a normal thing to do.

From there, the following questions appear, in varying order. I decided a blog post to address them might be a good idea, for those of you that still haven’t wrapped your heads around what your crazy friend is up to now.

“Are you kidding?”

Nope, this is the real deal. The girls and I are leaving in the late afternoon of July 22nd, and should arrive about 12 hours before Brent and the boys, who are leaving the morning of July 23rd. It takes approximately 35 hours to make the trek.

“All of you? You are taking ALL the kids?”

We are all going. We are taking ALL the kids.  Despite the fact that this might sound overwhelming and expensive, it really was quite reasonable. Our friends at Aeroplan, Avion, and ScotiaRewards were helpful in coordinating flights, making sure the kids weren’t travelling alone, but did fall short of booking the parents in first class. ?

“Why?”

This is a good question.  I feel like I don’t have concrete and logical answers to this.  My reasoning for doing this is kinda fuzzy, but I have narrowed it down to the following, somewhat rational statement;

“Our kids are at a critical age and stage where they are growing into adults and with thoughts, beliefs and opinions of their own, but they still want to hang out with us. We recognize that we have a very short window of time left where they are under our influence in this way and I want to show them a different part of the world. I want to give the kids my travel bug, walk them through busy, crazy, loud international airports and have them experience different languages, currency and food. We want to show them that their North American lives are not the only way people live, and we want to teach them the value of living in another culture that is completely different from our own.”

Am I crazy? Oh probably.

“Why Bali?”

I chose Bali for a few different reasons. Here they are, in no particular order:

  • It’s far away from here, and while it’s somewhat expensive to get to, it’s very inexpensive to live there.
  • Bali has been on my bucket list, so part of the decision was a selfish one on my part.
  • It’s a different life than we are used to – I could have picked Florida, or Hawaii, but I wanted to be in a place where English isn’t the first language and where things aren’t “normal” like they are here.
  • It’s on the friggin equator. The weather will be both hot and predictable. This is important, because we are only packing carry-on luggage.

“YOU ARE ONLY TAKING CARRY ON LUGGAGE FOR A SIX WEEK TRIP?”

Carry On LuggageCorrect. Brent and I learned the hard way that the “lug” in luggage can make or break the travel experience. I have yet to meet one person in my life who packs two enormous suitcases, fenangles them through airports and says “wow, I’m sure glad I brought all this stuff!”  It doesn’t happen.  We don’t need any more than we can carry in the overhead compartment or under the seat in front of us. We will never have to deal with baggage claim, and we will be forced to deliberately choose the items we have with us.  And also, we don’t need more than we can fit in a carry on. Seriously. Our days will be spent in bathing suits and tank tops.  If we can’t fit what we need in a 21” bag, then the whole purpose of this experience is lost.

 

“Can I come with you?”

Absolutely!

You can’t fit in our luggage (see above comment re: carry-on luggage) but you are completely welcome to join our adventure. We have rented a simple, grass roof home, and I plan to cook each meal from scratch with delicious food.  If you can get yourself to us, I will feed you and give you a place to sleep.  Please reach out to me before you book your flight, so we don’t get too crowded. Kids welcome.

“What about work? Will you actually be off for the whole time?”

I will be off work as much is practically possible, but entrepreneurs are “off work” about as much as parents are “off parenting” when their kids aren’t around. I’m blessed with an amazing group of people who run the companies, and an amazing group of clients who recognize this opportunity.  In 20 years of owning my own business, I have never taken a vacation this long.  I will be using my typically less than average sleeping requirements and the 12-hour time change to my advantage.

“Will you have a blog or Facebook updates so we can see your adventure?”

Totally! I plan to do daily Facebook updates and the occasional blog post. Also, if you’d like to receive a post card from us, reach out to me!

 

*stellar human, patient husband and generally goes along with my crazy ideas. Sorry ladies, this one is taken.

My Life With Andria

I want to share with you the story of my daughter Andria.

Andria entered this world just over 14 years ago, after a wrenching 49 hours of labour. She was 6lbs 15oz and I was just 23 years old at the time. I remember looking at her in my arms and thinking about the amazing life we were going to have together: her learning to crawl, walk, talk, read, ride a bike, go to school, graduate, get a job, get married and have children of her own. I think that’s what all mothers do, in some form, don’t they?

As many of you may know, it’s likely that Andria’s life isn’t quite going to turn out that way, and I want to share some of the realities that I’ve been presented with over the course of her life. I want to be raw, open and honest. In return, please don’t get your self-righteous fingers on your keyboard and think it’s OK to type something into the comment box that you would never in a million years say to me in person. Just don’t. It will make you look horrible, trust me.

And I want to clarify a few points:

Point #1 – I love Andria. Beyond what I can even describe in words. I think it’s a pretty normal mommy-daughter love – we have periods of frustration, arguments and tough, messy parts. But I have not for one moment ever stopped loving her.

Point #2 – I am fully aware that, despite the challenges we have been through, it’s not a far look to find parents that have things much, much worse. This is not about comparing my life to theirs, or complaining about my life, or anything like that. This is just a look into my reality.

Moving on…

When she was 11 months old she suffered what was later told to me to be a ‘harmless’ febrile seizure after a pretty nasty flu. Doctors and paediatricians assured me repeatedly that there would be no long term, permanent effects, but I didn’t believe them. I didn’t believe them because I’m The Mom, and sometimes The Mom just knows.

About a year later, she ate a peanut butter cup, and we had the scare of our lives. That scare where doctors and nurses shove you out of the way and say “Get the mother out of here” and speak in that scary code language that we normally only see on the most intense of television drama shows.

So, I had on my hands a mentally disabled toddler with a life threatening allergy to peanuts.

Which back in 2004 were-friggen-everywhere. There were nuts in my bath soap, most of my food, even the wax that was in the garage to wash the car. Everywhere. While she laid in her hospital bed under constant observation, I was at home bringing garbage bags of food out of my house because now, life was very, very different.

The doctors told me that she wouldn’t have any further cognitive issues because of the peanut allergy, but again, I didn’t believe them. Because I’m The Mom.

Three months after that, she couldn’t walk. My life became a wild ride of appointments, medications, specialists and therapy that goes along with a Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis diagnosis. So now, I had a mentally disabled toddler who I was scared to take anywhere where there was food because of the peanuts. That couldn’t walk because of arthritis. And couldn’t tell me what was going on because she is mentally disabled. Say that 10 times fast.

And then, I just yelled. I said “I’m The Mom and I just KNOW so stop telling me she will be completely normal!” And they did. Finally.

If I had a few sentences to describe Andria

I would tell you that she is kinder and more compassionate than most people. That she is a 6 year old trapped in a 14 year old body, and has the communication skills of about a 4 year old. That she has a contagious laugh, and a great heart and a big desire to please. She teaches me how to be more easy going, to see the joy in simplicity, and to let things go. Like water off a duck’s back.

She really is one of my favorite humans.

But, here are a few tough things about my life with this kid:

  • She will likely never leave home and live independently. Most moms are sad when their kids move out, but really, that is the natural progression of things. You raise them, they start their own families, then they care for you as you age. That’s how it’s supposed to go, right? Do other moms lay awake in their beds wondering what’s going to happen to their child when they die? Stressing that she will need regular care for the daily things of life (and that I really don’t think it’s fair for that responsibility to fall on her sister). Most of you probably don’t visualize yourselves in your 70s still trying to find childcare for your daughter.
  • A kid like her makes relationships tough. The person you marry has to be fully aware that there might never be a “the kids are out of the house let’s travel the world for 6 months” phase. They have to be ok with not parenting like a regular parent. They have to be ok when sometimes you just let things slide because you just can’t handle one more correction.
  • She has vulnerabilities that other kids don’t. She’s 14, and developing like a 14 year old. Except, just about every day as she leaves the house I pray that there isn’t a 16 year old boy with not-so-great intentions because that could be just a crappy situation.
  • She doesn’t fully understand how she is different. It’s so hard to answer her when she says “Mom, when can I have kids?” every time someone in our circle of friends or family has a baby. Or “Mom, will I get married?” because I can’t exactly picture that right now.
  • Like most moms, I have thoughts that I instantly regret. Like “I didn’t sign up to have a 5 year old for the rest of my life” and “I don’t want to do this anymore” and “This isn’t fair!” I’ve learned over the last while that a good sleep solves most things.
  • No one exactly gets it. The thing about mental disabilities, is that there is no template. No road map. No regular course. And no cure. No one – not one single human on this planet – can speak with confidence about what the general future of her life will shape out to be. Most of us can assume that our children will grow and develop into adults. I can’t say that for certain about Andria. Some days she acts like a normal 14 year old – she can make a meal and clean her room and do her laundry. The moment I start thinking “Hmm. Maybe she can live independently” I discover that she has left the water running, the stove on, or not flushed the toilet and I’m slammed back into my reality.
  • There aren’t many fantastic resources available for kids like her. Our standard government programming like ODSP (Ontario Disability Support Program) and the RDSP (Registered Disability Savings Plan) programs are definitely added bonuses, but ultimately, I need to figure out now what she will need after I’m no longer around. It overwhelms me sometimes, trying to make sure I have enough money saved away so she isn’t a financial burden on her siblings after we pass away.

The blessings she has brought into my life and what I have learned from her have far outweighed the challenges and the future unknowns. Some days I get excited at what potential she has and it makes my heart burst to see the joy she brings to everyone around her.

For now, we’re taking it one step at a time.

Coping With Family Stress Over Easter

Doesn’t it seem that while we can’t wait for long weekends to get here, once a holiday weekend arrives you can’t wait for it to be over?

Easter weekend (and any holiday, really) can often be wrought with anxiety, stress, and family blowouts for many of us.

If family gatherings have you reaching for yet another glass of wine, eating an entire cake and you need a week of solitary confinement to recover, this post is for you.

Try coping with family stress over Easter this year with a different approach:

Commit – Either Way

Despite the heavy slathering of guilt associated with attending family events, you do have a choice whether you go or not. If you choose to deal, then deal. You shouldn’t (for many reasons) choose to do something and resent it later. Commit to your decision and pack your best attitude. For many of us, it’s expensive to travel over the holidays, so try to make the most of it.

If you decide it’s simply not worth the stress, send a nice gift or card instead. Even organize a Skype/FaceTime chat with the family so you’re sort of there.

Then spend the weekend with people you actually like hanging out with, or do something that will benefit others, such as volunteering at a soup kitchen.

 Make a Game Plan

Ok, you’ve committed and you’re going to the family function. Don’t go in unprepared. Communicate ahead with your partner or family, and decide on a game plan for the day.

 What’s the worst that could happen? No really, what is the worst? Go over potential anxiety-inducing situations, and decide with your partner how you might deal with each. What’s your exit strategy when things start to go south? What’s the secret signal for “I’m trapped in this conversation, help me!”? Who is responsible for keeping an eye on the kids? By communicating ahead of time, everyone knows where they stand, and you may prevent arguments later.

Now, for a bit of tough love:

The most important part of this part is remembering that you have agreed to do this, so it is not the time to be irritable, passive aggressive, argumentative or lay on guilt to anyone else. This is when your shiniest, happiest, most pleasant self should be present. Nothing is worse than agreeing to do something, then ruining it for those that actually want to.

Alleviate Unnecessary Stress

What can you nip in the bud early on? If you know the family member hosting the party/dinner is a huge stress case, call them a week ahead and ask how you can help. Whether that means preparing some of the dishes so they don’t have to, or picking up drinks and platters on the way. Ease their load if you can.

If your in-laws are notorious for overindulging your kids with sugary bribes, speak to them well in advance about what is and isn’t an acceptable gift. Suggest other kinds of (non-edible) presents that you know your kids would appreciate. If your children are old enough, talk to them about the amount of treats they can have. Do it before you leave the house. It’s easier than having to take it away from them and explaining why later.

Pick Your Battles

There’s always some family member who gives you a hard time for your life choices – whatever they may be! Your relationship status, your job, your clothes, your hockey team, your car, where you live, what you have bought recently… they have a comment on everything.

Instead of reacting to a hurtful or insensitive comment, pause and think about whether or not it’s worth gettingIf family gatherings have you reaching for yet another glass of wine, try coping with family stress over Easter this year with these survival tips.

worked up about. It’s probably not. Taking the bait and getting into an argument may be your go-to response, but there’s more chance of the actual Easter Bunny joining you for dinner, than ever changing your agitator’s mind.

Change the subject, or walk away.

If the same scenario takes place every year with the same toxic person, keep away from them and hang out in another part of the house. Make a point of spending the most time with the relatives you do like instead.

Have a Wingman or Wingwoman

Coping with family stress over Easter is so much easier with a friend. A supportive person on your team is helpful when the smoke starts to stream out of your nostrils. If you’re simmering, signal your partner and get outside for a quick walk to reset. If you don’t have a partner, get someone on standby for SMS vent-therapy if needed.

Play Bingo

This is my favorite way of coping through difficult family gatherings, and seeing how silly things actually look from the outside.

bingo2If family get-togethers are predictably painful, see the humour in them with a game of bingo. Make a list of all the ridiculous things typical to your family gatherings (e.g. uncle gets drunk and passes out on the table, cousin starts on political rant, aunt asks you why you’re still single, the smoke detectors go off and dinner starts two hours late). Organize these items into your very own bingo card.

Check each event off your card when you get home, and if you get a line, YOU WIN! Treat yourself to a bottle of wine or a pedicure.

 

Nadia La Russa is a wife, wellness coach, mom, step-mom, and former stress case.  To book a coaching session, or find out more, contact her here.