Jackhammers and Immigration Officers | Nadia La Russa

Jackhammers and Immigration Officers

Goodbye boys, hello new villa!

Week 5! One week to go! We said goodbye to the boys this week as they ventured home and left us girls to fend for ourselves.  On Tuesday, we had to move to a new villa. Our old villa was familiar an comfortable and I was sad to move, however, they were re-doing the road outside and there was jackhammering. All.Day.Long.

So, I reached out to my host, and luckily, she had another villa that was available. So, we packed up and moved into the new digs!

On Thursday afternoon the boys packed up and headed home, leaving the girls and I to explore the new neighbourhood, do a bit of shopping and making plans for the rest of our time here.

The dynamic is so much different with just us here. We can travel in a normal taxi, it’s quieter, and food is easier. But we do miss our boys! We had a chance to celebrate the twins’ birthday before they left with a delicious banana flour cake.

And then, it was off for some excitement! This week we chose white water rafting – wow was it cool! There is only one river here suitable, and I think it was definitely an “easier” paddle but it was loads of fun!  It took us about 90 minutes to cover the 10km journey, passing by beautiful stonework, caves, and trees.  Definitely an unforgettable day!


It hit me on Thursday that the girls and I had been here a month, and that our tourist visa was about to expire. So here is the story you have all been waiting for – Nadia and the Immigration Shenanigan.

I went to the visa renewal office alone, with my passport and the girls’ passports in hand, fully expecting a simple process costing approximately $30.  Little did I know what was in store.

Rewind to arrival day – a blurry eyed Nadia gets instructions from the immigration officer that sound something like “You tourist Visa is good for 30 days, make sure you renew it before it expires” which translates to my exhausted brain as “you have a month to figure this out.”

Not so.

When they said “30 days” what they meant was “30 days, and today is day 1.” And that is NOT the same thing as one month. So, we got here on the 24th. When I arrived at the immigration on the 24th I was two days late to renew. Apparently, this is a big deal. I asked the quickly-becoming-less-and-less friendly counter person “So what do I do now?” and the answer was “You leave the country. Immediately.”

So herein lies the problem.  I had no means to “leave the country immediately” for several reasons, the main one being that I didn’t have my children with me.  I started to protest, which was very quickly met with me getting ushered – and I use that word lightly – into the small, grey room with the table and two chairs that you see on television.  Enter Big Balinese Immigration Dude and Even Bigger Balinese Immigration Dude. Dudes were not pleased.

For the next 10 minutes or so, I was subjected to a very loud and stern talking to about the importance of respecting authority, following process, and removing myself from their land.  It didn’t take much to have me do what any self-respecting, confident woman would do – I burst into tears, and sobbed uncontrollably.

That was their cue. They left the room without a word, and entered a very small, sweet, kind and helpful lady with tissues. Calm Sweet Lady apologized for her mean friends, and suggested that there might be another way to get my visa extended.  It all became clear at that point what has happening.

“Money?” I said. “You want MONEY? Frick, why didn’t you say so. How much do you need?”

And it was done, just like that.  I handed over $500 and all of a sudden I became a respected and esteemed visitor. Not only was I allowed to stay, but now my passports were going to be “fast tracked” through the “speedy system.”  The next day, the girls and I made our way to the central immigration office, and were escorted to the front of the line for photos and fingerprints. Amazingly, our files were already at the office all ready and waiting for us.

Upon further research, I learned that this is a pretty common occurrence. That the intake officers at the airport are intentionally vague about the details and that this good-cop-bad-cop game is a way to line everyone’s pockets. Lesson learned for sure!

Thankfully, its all sorted. As they say, every trip has a story!

Why I don't Celebrate Halloween

Why I Don’t Celebrate Halloween

Halloween is in a few days, and each year I dread it. Want to know why I don’t celebrate Halloween? The store shelves are just about buckling from the weight of chocolate bars, pumpkins and severed limbs, and hyperactive kids across North America are testing their parents’ sanity. As far as I’m concerned, Halloween is just another greedy, commercialized money-grab that teaches our kids very poor lessons.

Here are four reasons why I don’t celebrate Halloween:

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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.

Get to work, kids!

According to an article I recently read, a Saskatchewan family farm is being investigated for violation of child labour laws, largely for having their own five children work on the farm, specifically in the meat processing area.  The news clip, shown here, shows children using knives and vacuum sealing equipment, as well as general farm-related, animal feeding and cleanup tasks.  Apparently, it is against the law for children under the age of 16 to drive farm equipment or handle hazardous chemicals.

Fine. Don’t let the kids drive.  I get it.  But I see absolutely nothing wrong whatsoever with a good dose of hard work, for any child, at any age.  As a parent myself, I’d like to share a few things I have learned.  Now, please realize that I certainly don’t think *every* family should operate this way, or that I am *completely* right in my views and everyone else is wrong, but here is what I have observed and implemented based on my own life experiences.

Some background information for you: my father Frank was rather insistent that, at age 11, I get a job.  Even back in 1989, when things were much different than they are now, jobs for 11 year olds were a bit harder to come by.  Frank was able to secure me a position at a local banquet hall to assist with cleanup at weddings, one or two nights a week.  I would be dropped of at around 5:30, and picked up when I was done, usually at 10ish.  I do remember a bit of resistance from my mother, but I think the European work ethic won over. Besides that, I was a very strong willed child, and I actually *wanted* to work.

Frank had a few ground rules when it came to working:

1) There is no “calling in sick to work.” If you have a cold, you take cold medicine and you go to work.  If you are tired, you grab some coffee, and you go to work.  If you aren’t feeling well, you pretend you are feeling well, and you go to work. If you….well, I think you get the point.

2) The only acceptable answers to a request your boss makes are “Yes sir” or “Yes ma’am.”

3) If you are asked at the last minute to pick up a shift, the answer is “Yes.” Social commitments be damned.

4) You are to say “thank you for this opportunity” each and every time you receive your pay.

5) You are to figure out what else needs to be done and do it, without your boss asking.

Armed with this information, I went to work and stayed there for almost 7 years.  My pay started at $16 per night, of which Frank informed me that $10 of was to go straight into my RRSP – but that is a story for another time.

Fast forward 25 years. I know own my own business, am completely financially self-sufficient, and I have children of my own.  Further, I have employees of my own. In my years of owning businesses and working with other business owners, I have seen many stories of less than stellar employee performances. In my experience – and yes, once again, this is written from a single vantage point – a large majority of these issues could have been completely avoided if a proper work ethic and mentality had been instilled by one’s parents at the appropriate, impressionable age.  I assure you, I performed my absolute best at every job I ever had, but not because I was scared of what my employer would do if I didn’t perform well. It was because I was afraid of disappointing my father.

As for my own children, here is what I have learned:

1) From about age 3, my kids wanted to be helpers and please.  When Camryn was born, I engaged Andria in getting diapers, helping to throw out bottle liners and get Camryn’s toys put away.  She loved it.  The thought of “helping mommy with the baby” was engaging.  Now that I also have stepsons, I see the same in them.  If I so much as halfway mention that I’d like to organize a drawer or closet I have to practically pry Logan off of me because he wants to get right in there with me.  Brent brings the twins along to various renovation and construction projects and they are already picking up handy tricks of the trade. As for Camryn, she has rejected the idea of getting her allowance for  doing nothing and has devised a payment system for chores and tasks.

2) When my children develop a sustainable life skill, it increases their self esteem.  I don’t have the science on this one, but I know for myself that being self sufficient makes me feel better about myself. The fact that I can prepare a healthy meal is empowering and attractive.  It’s also no secret that the earlier we learn something, the more we can practice and perfect it.  Letting our children work by cooking, cleaning, gardening, building, etc allows them more time to get really proficient at skills they can use later in life.

3) The work my kids do now helps to define unique interests in each of them. I can tell you that my kids, all of them, can identify an interest they have and how that can make them money in their adult life.

4) Working keeps them active, and away from their electronics. Who has time for iPods and TV when there is so much work to be done? We aren’t perfect. Yes, we have days where there is far too much screen time. But, my 9 year old stepsons can operate most of the items in a tool box, are lean and strong, and have provided tremendous value in various hard-work projects.  Also, they can see the fruit of their results. The best part? They take good care of the things they have built!

5) Teaching safety to our children makes them safer in everything. I do not want my kids to learn how to work safe on the job – I want us as parents to teach them safe work practices NOW so they are armed with that when they enter the workplace. The example above of the family farm shows the mother saying “I don’t have a problem with my kids using knives because they are good at it.” Perfect.  If her child ends up with a career as a chef, they will have years of using sharp knives already under their belt.

I don’t claim to have all the answers, or to be 100% right. Perhaps there is value in “letting kids be kids and have fun all the time” but I don’t see it.  I think that when my kids work hard, they appreciate and value the fun times more.  I can see my children turning into smart, strong and empowered individuals before my eyes, and I assure you, they will be a blessing on their future employers.

How to be a stepmother – 101

If you had told me 5 years ago that 5 years from then I would have three stepsons I would have thrown my head back and laughed and laughed and laughed.

A few reasons for this:

1) I don’t have boys. I have girls. I practically WILLED the girls to be girls. When I was pregnant with Andria, I announced her gender at the 8 week dating ultrasound. The technician just shrugged and said “You have good eyes lady!” Andria tries so hard to act like I boy, I’m sure she would have preferred to be a boy….so I decided to have another girl. Camryn is your ultimate girly girl – hairdos, and dresses, and DRAMA to the max. I get all of this. I understand it. I doesn’t bother me.

They sit still. They colour. They stay quiet. They bathe, sometimes even voluntarily. Their toys don’t make noise, have remotes, drive, fly, or break apart into six million foot-stabbing pieces.

2) I’m NOT a kid person. The two I birthed myself were…let’s say…surprises, mostly to me. I am a career person. I don’t finger paint, I don’t tolerate whining, and I really, REALLY need my sleep. Kids are messy and unpredictable and generally inconsiderate because…well…they’re kids. When mine came along, I loved them from the very moment I saw them. Then I promptly made darn sure I wasn’t going to have any more.

Whaddaya know. I have 3 stepsons. Over the last 4 years, I have tried to get into the groove of mothering a) kids that aren’t mine and b) boys. The challenges that have arisen seem insurmountable, and surprisingly, there is very little useful literature on the matter. I have a few highlights that I have gleaned from what I have read and what I have experienced for stepmommies:

1) There will be days when you think your husband has forgotten your existence and you are a complete stranger in your own home. Just remember that the kind of guy you WANT to be married to is the kind of guy that will forever overcompensate to his children for the demise of his marriage to their mother. You would never, ever want to be married to a dead-beat dad so when you feel invisible, draw a nice, long, warm comfortable bath and thank God that you are married to a guy who wants to be an amazing father, even if he doesn’t seem to quite know how. The even better part is that he also wants to be a great husband even if he can’t multi-task.

2) No matter how many crafts, activities, gifts and privileges you bestow upon your stepchildren, they will ultimately utter some version of “my mom is better than you.” Remember that you are helping to raise children to honour their parents – and that includes her. When this happens, smile and say “I get ya bud. Mom’s are great, aren’t they?” Then go get a hug from your husband.

3) At the best of times, between biological parents, there will be disagreements on parenting style. Trying to have ultimate agreement between parents in a blended family is like trying to nail jello to the wall: It won’t work and you’ll end up in a mess. State your boundaries and preferences in a loving way and release yourself from the outcome. This will be tough, but remember, that you married a man that comes with children…and they need your love too.

4) You can have your spotless clean neat house in pristine order later. Now is not the time to fuss over silly things when your children and stepchildren need your love (and so does your husband!)

5) If someone offers help, take it. If you need something that you think might sound silly, ask anyway. You’d be surprised how the little things make the biggest difference.

6) Pray. Pray all the time. Pray for God to work in your heart to be soft to your children and family. Pray that He will use your love to create awesome little people in His image. Pray that as your children and step-children grow that they can look back and know they are loved.

Camryn – 1, School – 0

Camryn’s father and stepfather often get frustrated with her, but I get the kid. Primarily because she is the former version of myself. I remember being 7 years old, being completely right about something, and being overruled by my parents “because I said so.”

I rarely have any issues with her, and let’s face it, the kid is darn cute. Every so often, she does something hilariously noteworthy, and yesterday was one of those “Where *IS* that handbook, and what is the right answer here” moments.

Sitting at breakfast with her father, she announces that she forgot her agenda book at school on Friday* however, all the students that arrived Monday with a parent’s signature in their book got a treat so “I just signed it for you, Dad.”

Below is Mike’s *actual signature* from Thursday of last week:


And this is the one she produced for her teacher on Monday after hearing about the treat:


I could barely contain myself. I’m not sure if the full impact of my “Identity theft and document forgery is wrong” conversation was felt since it was delivered through choked laughter.

* Camryn frequently forgets items such as agenda book, lunch pail, jacket, hats, snowpants in various locations like the school coat room, the bus, my car, the church parking lot. Not at all unusual that she forgot her agenda book at school.

Saturday Breakfast is the Best Ever

There really is nothing better than breakfast on what I call the “full kid” Saturday. Every second week, we have all 5 kidlets, and by Monday afternoon Logan is putting in his order for Saturday morning pancakes. When he is older, I’ll tell him that my pancake recipe is really, really healthy.

This past week, I gave up my healthy option and pulled out a loaf of this amazing cinnamon swirl bread that we picked up in the states last summer. I had it pre-sliced and ready for cinnamon french toast.

I’ve decided that my favorite kitchen item is my grill. I use it all the time. It’s almost not big enough to properly fit all the food I need to cook. In my mind I have a picture of my new house, with a grill built right into the counter, next to the stove. I’m sure this already exists, and it’s on my list of “absolute musts” for my new home.

Best kitchen device

Best kitchen device

The day before I got home, my mother in law stocked up my kitchen with groceries. (I’m certain she’s on the list to be sainted one day) so I was able to sort out a full breakfast with what I had in my kitchen. She bought me a bag of potatoes, so I fired up the trusty smitten kitchen page and found the most delicious hash brown recipe. I’m thinking I’ll never purchase frozen fries or hashbrowns again.

Hash browns from scratch, courtesy of smitten kitchen

Hash browns from scratch, courtesy of smitten kitchen

Finally, the bacon. The best decision this family has made this year is to purchase half a pig from our friends the Zavitzes. The meat is to die for, especially the bacon. It’s by far the best bacon I have ever had in my life. A bit of fruit, a drizzle of syrup and…..voila!

Presentation is just as important as taste :)

Presentation is just as important as taste 🙂

It’s as if the children can hear the spatula lifting the french toast on to the plate, because 4 minutes later….

I never get sick of looking at this face!

I never get sick of looking at this face!


Camryn Lamers aka Dr. Seuss

So, I decide I’m taking the girls tenting at Sibley last weekend. I got a variety of responses to this: everything from “Oh that will be so fun!” to “You realize that ‘tenting’ means sleeping in a tent, right Princess?”

Truth be told I’m quite the camper. In my pre-kids days Anita and I spent many a weekend in tents. So boo to all of you who think I’m too much of a Princess/Rockstar to tent.

Princess Camryn however, did not take that well to the idea. We set up the tent, blew up an air mattress for her and rolled out the sleeping bag.

Camryn – What is this mom?
Mom – This is where you will sleep
Camryn – Ummm actually, I’ll just sleep in my bed at home, okay mom?

But the best, the absolute BEST was waking up on Sunday morning. She pokes her head out of the tent and announces “Mom!!! I can’t find my shoe!”

“Well, it has to be there somewhere, ” I reply. And the following phrase is what comes out of her mouth:

“Boo hoo, I lost a shoe, I used to have two, now I am blue.”

Seriously. How is this not the most hilarious thing you have ever heard??