Time for an update

I’m sorry, peeps. I have been very absent of late (more so than usual!) as we’ve had a lot of stuff going on.

Almost 2 weeks ago, my friend Mel passed away from stage 4 breast cancer. It was a very sad time, especially because I didn’t get to see her after she was moved to Hospice, as she got sick very quickly and died only a few days later. I did manage to write her a long message saying everything I wanted to say, and I know she read it because she replied. Mel and I had been friends since we were kids. She was only a year younger than me, with 2 young children. Needless to say, it’s been a rough time for her family over the past 3 years, but she has fought so hard and was with us for a lot longer than the doctors thought she would. She was one of the bravest people I know, and I will miss her.

Less than a week after Mel’s passing, Rob’s father Julian had a kidney transplant. He’s been in kidney failure for some time and has been on dialysis for over a year. Rob’s older brother Greg donated one of his kidneys to Julian. A truly amazing gift! The transplant took place last Wednesday. There were a few complications with Julian’s operation, and he took a long time to come out of recovery. The hospital phoned us to say that his speech was not normal and they were sending him for a CT scan, so we were concerned that he may have had a stroke. Thankfully the scan was clear and his speech came right a few hours later. Greg came home from hospital on Friday night, and Julian was moved from hospital to an apartment just down the road on Monday. For the next 6 weeks he will be living there, accompanied by a family member or friend, and will be having daily tests at the hospital. Julian’s partner, Rob’s siblings and family friends are all taking turns to stay with him and take him to his appointments. Rob’s sister is with him now, and Rob will be staying with him for a week later this month.

In the middle of all of this, the boys went back to school. Tyler started college (Year 7). He has settled in so well and absolutely LOVES it. He has a great teacher, good friends in his class and year, so he is very happy. Ethan is in Year 10 this year and he seems to be pretty happy with all of his teachers too. It was great for us that the back-to-school adjustment went so smoothly, as it has been a pretty emotional time with everything else that has been going on (plus a few other things that I won’t go into on the blog). It’s great having both boys at the same school again. They walk to college together in the mornings, but walk home separately (usually with their own friends). I thought I would be more emotional about my ‘baby’ going to college, but he was so ready for it and is so happy there … how could I be sad? Although having said that, I would really like to freeze time RIGHT NOW because oh my goodness, ages 11 and almost 14 are fabulous! Loving this stage so much.

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So that’s my little update for now. I’m not sure when I’ll get time to post again. I’m only blogging today because I’m home from work with a bad cold. In summer! I feel quite ripped off! ;-)

Until next time …

Summer lovin’

I haven’t posted for a few weeks because I’ve been far too busy enjoying our Kiwi Summer! I had 3 weeks off work over Christmas/New Year (Rob and I both went back to work on January 11th) and that time has been filled to the brim with summertime fun. Just the way I like it. :-)

As I’m sure you all know by now, we live right by the beach. We love the beach and go there whenever we can. If we ever get sick of ‘our local’, we have more than a dozen other beaches in very close proximity to choose from. If it’s windy on one side of the peninsula, we can just go to a beach on the other side. For somebody who LOVES summer (that would be yours truly), we live in the perfect place. Beaches everywhere. People from other places come to our area FOR THEIR HOLIDAYS. It’s that nice. And before you ask, YES, I’m completely aware of how blessed we are to live in a place like this, and I am grateful for it every single day.

So. It kind of goes without saying that we will have a swim (or two) at ‘our local’ beach most days. It’s a short, gentle, flat stroll to the end of our road, or through the park, then across the road to the beach. It’s easy, and we love it. But we also like to get out and about, exploring and visiting our favourite places. We do that as much as we can all through summer. Now that we’re back at work, we are making the most of our afternoons/evenings and weekends. We’re not home often! ;-)

We’ve been strawberry picking as a family. This is one of our post-Christmas traditions. We always go to the same orchard (Sweet Red), and we always get an ice cream made from fresh strawberries after we’ve picked a couple of kilos of fruit to take home.

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Rob and the boys love jumping off stuff into water. Our ‘other local’ beach (i.e. the next closest beach to ours, on the other side of our very skinny peninsula) has a big cliff and an awesome big tree with rope swings and a trapeze. The water there is gorgeous. I always feel like I’m swimming in fresh water, it’s so clear. We’ve visited this spot several times so the boys could jump!

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Friends of ours have a 3-person jetski and we’ve had a great time hooning around on the water with them. The boys loved being towed behind the jetski on the sea biscuit. There were some beautiful days just after Christmas where there was no wind and the water was dead calm and flat. Perfect for skiing!

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Shakespear Regional Park is another favourite place of ours. It’s right out the end of the peninsula and offers a bit of everything, really. Beaches, bush, farmland, waterfalls, mountain bike tracks, beautiful park-like grounds … it’s just stunning. We had a swim here one evening and also came for a church picnic a week or so later. Love this place.

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Up in Warkworth, about 45 min drive North from our house, there’s an awesome swimming hole (used to be a quarry) that we love going to. It’s nice to swim in fresh water for a change, and it’s so deep. The quarry was part of the old cement works. Some is free to explore, and the other more dangerous/unstable parts are fenced off. However, you can still get a really good view of it all in its rundown, ruinous state. I went for a walk and took lots of photos.

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Right behind our house is a huge grassy park with the best trees (I know. We are so lucky). On Saturday our city council hosted one of their ‘Music in the Park’ events at ‘our’ park! It was fantastic. Heaps of locals turned out with their gazebos, picnic rugs, chairs, sun umbrellas and food/drink, to enjoy an afternoon of awesome soul/funk music. There were 3 different bands over 3 hours. Such fun!

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We often go to the thermal pools at Parakai, also about 45 min drive (West) from our house. We headed there yesterday afternoon with some friends of ours and my sister. The pools aren’t really that hot in summer, so it’s still really nice and refreshing to swim there on a hot day. The slides are a big attraction for the boys, of course. Rob took heaps of cool videos on his GoPro and they were really fun to watch afterwards! Unfortunately they’re a bit big to upload here, but I’ve put one on my Facebook page.

Seriously. Who needs to go away on holiday when you live in a place with all of that (and more) to offer? A ‘staycation’ was all we needed.

Having said that, Rob DID take the boys away, but just for a couple of days. It was their 6th annual ‘Man vs Wild’ trip, something they look forward to doing every January. This year they spent 2 days hiking, adventuring, exploring and bonding in the wilderness around the Kauraeranga Valley near Thames. No cell phone coverage (so no way I could know where they *actually* were!), no campsite, no tents, no mattresses, no toilets or running water. They slept in hammocks in the trees in the forest, peed in the bush, boiled water from the stream and wrote a song that they sang together often called ‘Breaking the Law with Dad’ (don’t ask … I don’t know anymore than that and I don’t want to!). Needless to say, it was a very successful and enjoyable trip for the 3 of them. I’m so glad that Rob loves doing this with the boys, and that the boys love it so much (especially Tyler, who is very into his survival/wilderness stuff). They are making awesome memories every year.

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Amid all of the activity above, Rob and I both managed to find time to write a sermon each. We both preached on the same day, on a ‘Foundational Verse’. Mine was Romans 12:12 (“Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying.”) and Rob’s was from Luke, about building on a firm foundation. If you want to listen to the podcasts, you can find them here.

Until next time — I’ll be off ‘Summering’ for a few more weeks at least — see ya!

New.

So. It’s 2016. A new year, brimming with new possibilities, challenges and opportunities. I led worship at church this morning and shared this devotional based on one I read during the week. I thought it was the perfect way to look at the new year. Hopefully it encourages others too!

‘A Year of New Things’
Thanks to Christmas, we all end the year with new things—new toys for the kids, new clothes, new kilograms on our bodies. We start the year off with new things, too—a new calendar on the wall, new bills to pay, and new resolutions for the days ahead.
Everybody likes new things, including God. He’s called the Ancient of Days, but He says, “Do not cling to events of the past or dwell on what happened long ago. Watch for the new thing I am going to do. It is happening already – you can see it now!” God begins His book with the story of His creating a new world; He ends it with His plans to make a new heaven and new earth.
Our heavenly Father wants to do new things in the lives of His children. He desires to teach us new truths about Himself, provide new opportunities for ministering to others, take us to higher levels of worship and deeper levels of trust. But too often we’re like the Israelites when they were travelling in the wilderness. God promised to provide for them by raining down bread from heaven six days a week. He instructed them to gather only enough manna for each day, except for the day before the Sabbath when they were allowed to store up two days’ worth. When some of the people disobeyed and tried to hoard extra manna, it became rotten and full of worms by the next morning.
I’m like that sometimes. God wants to do new, fresh things in my life and in my ministry for Him. But often I try to hold on to yesterday’s stale manna. I don’t want to let go of what is comfortable and familiar—some old way of thinking, a certain way of doing things, my usual area of service to Him. I may miss new and exciting things God has planned for me if I don’t fully trust His guidance, even when He seems to be leading me down unfamiliar paths.
A good way for a child of God to celebrate the New Year is to let go of anything that has gone stale or rotten. Then we’ll be free to live each day expecting new, fresh things from the One who promises, “I am making everything new!

Then I prayed something along these lines …

Lord, whether we’re leaving behind a year of joy and blessing or trials and difficulties, we pause to give thanks. We thank you that you are always with us every single day of every single year. Please remind us of your presence in the year ahead, even when life is busy. We are so thankful that we serve a God who makes things new and gives us the grace of fresh starts and new beginnings. Be glorified in our lives this year. Amen.

AMEN!

Christmas 2015

Finally getting around to posting about our Christmas Day celebrations with family.

Things were a bit different this year. We had breakfast with my family and then lunch with Rob’s family. Normally we can’t do both families on the same day, but Rob’s older brother and his family hosted ALL the Whangarei tribe at their house. There are 23 of us now!

The day started with reading the Christmas story from Luke as a family, then opening presents from each other at home.

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When your brother gives you a new Xbox game but puts it inside a Weetbix box so you don’t suspect a thing …

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When you get your dog a Christmas present and he’s like, “WHAT the heck is THAT?” …

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When your parents get you your first cell phone (and it happens to be a smart phone) …

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At my parents house, we had a yummy champagne breakfast with bubbles, OJ, French toast, bacon, bananas, maple syrup, strawberries and cherries. Oh, and scorched almonds. Because scorched almonds!
We opened presents with my family, and decided to take some long overdue family photos. Including one with the timer, which proved rather difficult! You might be able to tell from the practice shots I took while trying to line it up properly!

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Lunch at Greg & Sarah’s was awesome. The whole family together in one place, all the cousins running around and having fun. The food was delicious and the company was fabulous.

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We ended the afternoon with a walk down to the beach, and most of the kids decided to go for a swim (many of them in their underwear or clothes, since we hadn’t planned for a swim). It was beautiful down there and lots of other people had the same idea!

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I got my annual “cousin” photo … aren’t they gorgeous?

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Rob’s younger brother and his family stayed Christmas night at our place, and we spent most of Boxing Day at our local beach with them. Swimming to the pontoon, paddling in Rob’s new wooden canoe, playing beach soccer with the cousins and making sandcastles. We had a long, leisurely lunch of leftovers on our deck in the sunshine, and they finally headed back home to Whangarei about 3pm. After they left we met up with friends down at the beach for a relaxed fish & chip dinner … just lovely.

I hope all my lovely blog readers had a wonderful Christmas! I know I don’t post much but I trust there are still some of you other there. From my family to yours, Merry Christmas!

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Proud Mama

It’s that time of year when I gush about my boys and how amazing they are. I know, I know. Nobody else thinks they are that amazing, but I know them better so I’m right. ;-)

Anyhow, it’s my prerogative as their Mama to write about how amazing they are here and preserve the memories for future safe keeping (you know, in case I lose the actual paper reports and certificates. Which could happen).

Let’s start with Ethan, since he finished his school year sooo long ago (11 days ago). 2015 was his first year of college, year 9 (form 3). He had a great year, achieving some fantastic results. His report is full of “Achieved with Excellence” and “Achieved with Merit” for about 90% of his assessments throughout the year, and he did really well in his first real end-of-year exams, getting mostly Merit endorsements. He’s excelled this year in Social Studies and all his options: French (Excellence in everything), Music, Graphics and Sports Institute. Maths hasn’t always been his favourite subject – and still isn’t – but he did get 94% in one test this year which was the highest mark in his class and one of the highest in his year. Really proud of how far he’s come in Maths. Sadly for his BSc-degree-toting Mama, he isn’t a huge fan of Science. But he has enjoyed Biology and I think they get to pick specialty subjects earlier than we used to, so only one more year of General Science and then he can go down the Biology-only path if he so desires.

The school reports we get from college are very brief compared with primary school, but Ethan got consistent ratings of “Very Positive” for his Attitude to learning and “Always” for Finishes work in class and Completes home learning. The general comment from his tutor group teacher (who he just loved, and who loved him!) was also very pleasing:
Ethan has had an excellent year, and has produced high-quality work that has resulted in Excellence grades across almost all of his subjects. He has a wonderfully positive attitude to his learning, is always willing to contribute answers in class, and has been an absolute pleasure to teach.”

He capped off his year with a fine reward for his hard work, gaining the “Outstanding Effort” award for his class at the Year 9 Formal Prizegiving. He wasn’t expecting to get anything, but I’m glad he did. He’s not one of those kids who necessarily stands out as he can be quite shy at times and blends into the background a little, but I think the kids who work hard quietly behind the scenes also deserve to be recognised for what they do!

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Ethan has continued to play soccer (football), water polo and athletics this year. Not sure if he’ll carry on with water polo next year. At his age, sport requires a lot of commitment, and this year we had 2 terms where he had water polo training or games 5 nights a week – very tiring for all! He might choose to just concentrate on his soccer next year, but we’ll wait and see what happens. We will support him in whatever he decides to do, even if our taxi driver services are required on a frequent basis!

Ethan has also carried on with his drum lessons this year, and continues to play regularly in our church band. He sat another Rock School drum exam a few weeks ago but we don’t have the results yet. Speaking of drumming, he was invited to join the college Concert Band. A very prestigious achievement indeed, as the band is invitation only, he was invited by the HOD Music and he would have been one of the only Year 9 students in the band (most are seniors in year 12 or 13). He went to a couple of practices but decided not to join. I was hoping he would, but left it up to him to decide. Perhaps he will change his mind some time in the future?

Now onto Tyler. 2015 was his last year at primary school, so a big one! He had a great year, getting involved in lots of sports at school (soccer, rippa rugby, hockey) and representing the school at interschool swimming sports (freestyle and backstroke) and athletics (high jump). He also did very well in cross country, coming 5th which was his best ever result, although they only take the top 4 to interschools. He came home with a fabulous report. He is “Above National Standards” for Writing and Reading, and is “At National Standards” for Maths. He also had some of his writing published in the Hibiscus Coast Young Writers Competition. The general comments in Tyler’s report were also really great:
Tyler is an energetic and well-mannered student with a sweet nature. He enjoys learning and always rises to the challenge of new tasks. Tyler is a particularly skilful writer whose work has been recognised and published in a local writing competition this term. Tyler is quite sensitive and when things don’t go as expected he tends to become easily upset, but he is learning to be more resilient in this area. Tyler has a close circle of friends and is a valuable member of our classroom. I wish him the very best for his future.”
In an email to me, his teacher said how much she had enjoyed getting to know Tyler this year. Aww. I took this photo of her and Tyler on the last day:

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Tyler was rewarded for his hard work at the Year 6 Graduation Prizegiving last week. He received the Siddin Swimming Cup for Boys and a Merit award for Written Language (meaning he was in the running for the Writing Cup). He was the only boy – along with 6 or 7 girls – up on stage for the Writing Cup. Pretty proud of that!

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As always, the Year 6 kids performed a ‘farewell’ song at their Graduation, which was a tear jerker for all of the parents and grandparents! Here is a link to my You Tube video of them singing (Tyler is near the top right). Aren’t they gorgeous kids?

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Soccer is Tyler’s first love, and he continued to play for his local club throughout 2015. His team did incredibly well, coming second in their grade. They’ve been together as team for a few years now and are just a fantastic bunch of kids, with the best coach anyone could ask for. Tyler also played summer soccer, which finished last week. Their team came 2nd – after being undefeated and top of the table all season, they lost in the final. But they had lots of fun and we all enjoyed watching them play.

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Tyler is also doing tag rugby and athletics throughout the summer. No doubt more sports will be added to his list next year. 2016 will be a big year for him. Off to intermediate (college for him) and all the changes that are associated with that. He’s got a lot of good friends going to the same school, and I’m glad that he has his big brother there. He also has his Grandad! My Dad works at the school as a teacher aide, and is usually in the junior (intermediate) school, although he won’t be in any of Tyler’s classes. I’m just happy that he will be nearby if Tyler ever needs him.

For me it will be a little strange to have both boys at college next year. No more primary school for us! The school has been amazing, and a huge part of our lives since 2007. It’s just down the road and feels like a second home. I thought I would be a blubbering mess at Tyler’s Graduation but I somehow managed to keep it together (I cried more at Ethan’s Graduation, for some reason). We’ll miss the school but we are so grateful for the impact the school, principal, deputy principals, office staff and of course the teachers have had on our boys over the years. We couldn’t have asked for a better start to their education. A wonderful place!

We’re really proud of both of our boys. They have worked so hard this year and deserve to be recognised and rewarded for their efforts. We took them out to dinner on Saturday night to celebrate a great year. They chose the restaurant – Coast Bites & Brew – and we had a lovely time as a family, celebrating their success.

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So here’s to 2016! Looking forward to what it has to offer!

December!

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December. It’s always a busy time of year for everyone, isn’t it? I think it’s worse for us down in the Southern Hemisphere, because it’s also summertime and the end of the school year. It would be like Christmas in July for you Northern peeps. Imagine it!

The weeks are filled with end-of-year dinners and parties, Christmas lunches and dinners, work parties, school parties, prizegivings and assemblies, graduations, picnics, camps, rehearsals, shows/plays, concerts, Christmas shopping and more! Interspersed with all the ‘usual’ stuff like work, meetings, appointments, exams and all the kids’ activities and sports!

Apart from water polo (for Ethan), the boys’ sports (athletics, summer soccer, tag rugby) haven’t quite finished for the year, but when they wrap up next week it will be a little quieter for us. Ethan finishes school tomorrow, and Tyler goes to his Year 6 camp (until Friday). He has his graduation from primary school next Tuesday. For us, it will be ‘goodbye’ to the primary school that we have been associated with since 2007 … very bittersweet. I know I’ll be crying on the last day! It has been a wonderful school for both of the boys.

I haven’t really started my Christmas shopping yet, which is unusual for me. But this year – for the first year ever since I started working 17 years ago – I am taking the whole week off work before Christmas. I am SO EXCITED. I’m more excited about that week than I am about the 2 weeks after Christmas! Hopefully it will be a relaxing time for me as I will be able to get my Christmas shopping, baking, wrapping and bits done over a whole week, rather than rushing to get it all done in just one day. I enjoy doing all of those things, so they are not chores, but it will be nice to do them at a more leisurely pace and really experience them! Christmas music will be playing, the lights will be on the tree, and I will be able to potter around doing things I love. The boys will be off school too so I am looking forward to spending lots of time with them. I hope it will be really special.

So although I love my job, I am totally counting down the days! After today, I will only have 7 1/2 working days left. Yay! :-)

Herbst

This is the new orthodontic appliance that Tyler got last week:

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This is the second stage in his orthodontic treatment, after already having a palatal expander to widen his upper jaw. The Herbst will encourage lower jaw growth and bring it forward. After all this he will need braces.

I wasn’t sure how he would adjust to it, but he has been such a trooper! For the first day, he ate mostly soft/liquid foods like soup, yoghurt, pureed fruit, etc. It didn’t take him long to be able to eat food like pikelets, English muffins, diced fruit, etc. He’s not quite at the stage where he could eat a steak or anything, and there are some foods he will not be allowed for the entire year that he has to wear the Herbst (gum, caramel, sticky/chewy lollies, hard nuts, ice).

I’m really proud of him! He’s done amazingly well and I know it can’t be easy. But it will all be worth it (and worth the $$$$ too, I’m sure).

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Being mindful

Mindfulness.

It’s the ‘buzz word’ right now. Everyone is talking about how to be more mindful.

Psychology Today describes mindfulness this way:

Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.”

As you are all aware, I am a Christian. Many Christians have a problem with the idea of mindfulness because of its Buddhist roots. While it’s true that mindfulness (and meditation) is a Buddhist practice, the mindfulness that I’m talking about (and that most of the Western world is talking about) is actually devoid of spirituality.

When you take away the spiritual side of mindfulness, you really just have an intentional focus on being aware and present. It’s not about ’emptying your mind’ (which is how meditation is viewed by many Christians). It is being aware of your thoughts, and clearing away the erroneous junk that crowds our brain. Put it this way: what is the opposite of mindfulness?

Mindlessness.

Only half listening to someone talk while you’re busy doing something else.
Eating without thinking about what you’re eating.
Extreme multitasking (aka doing too many things at once).
Running on autopilot and not remembering how you got from point A to point B.

Mindfulness is the opposite.

Listening intently to someone when they are talking to you.
Eating slowly and savouring each mouthful (and stopping when you are full).
Concentrating on a task so it is done well, then moving onto the next one with a sense of achievement.
Taking time to enjoy the solitude of a car trip, looking out the window and admiring the scenery.

I’d rather do the stuff in list two. So I’m actually on board with this business of being mindful. I’m not into weird stuff like alternate nostril breathing or staring at a lit candle for an hour but I am trying to focus on the present a lot more. Instead of yearning for the past or worrying about the future, I like to think about what I can be doing right now. To live in the moment. Not frivolously or recklessly, but intentionally. To enjoy the little things — because I’ve actually noticed them and been aware of them, rather than letting them pass me by.

Several different activities have been purported as ways to promote mindfulness. Everything from adult colouring books to washing dishes by hand. Both of these I can relate to!

Along with half the population, I’ve jumped on the adult colouring bandwagon. I find it very relaxing and therapeutic. Besides the fact that I’m an arty/crafty person, I enjoy the fact that it allows me ‘down time’ and helps me de-stress.

Several years ago, I made a New Year’s resolution to wash my dishes every night. This used to be my most hated chore. But I have kept this resolution ever since. Along the way, we got rid of our dishwasher and we have been washing our dishes by hand ever since. It’s now a chore I don’t mind doing. I get a lot of thinking done while I do the dishes!

Who would have thought? Colouring in and washing dishes! :-)

Life!

I haven’t blogged for ages, but lots of things have been happening.

I’m dealing with a shoulder issue. I’ve been dealing with it since February this year, and it’s far from resolved. Basically, my whole left shoulder is ‘a mess’ (those were the radiographer’s words) and I may need surgery. I’ve got several things going on: bursitis, impingement, multiple tears in multiple tendons and (the main problem) calcium deposits in the tendons of my rotator cuff. This causes severe pain, which I have been living with on a daily basis. There were a few beautiful pain-free months in there, thanks to an injection of cortisone. But sadly that has now worn off, and repeat scans and x-rays have confirmed the problem remains (slightly worse, or much the same, but definitely no improvement). Tomorrow I am seeing an orthopaedic surgeon and will know more about what the future may hold. I don’t know if he will recommend surgery or not, but if he doesn’t then I am demanding another steroid injection because I want to actually enjoy my summer holidays!! Life is painful right now, and I’ve quite frankly had enough.

What else is going on? Well, Ethan has just finished his first real exams. Only 2-hour ones in Year 9, but this is practice for the real thing in Year 11 (NCEA). He’s got results back for most of them, and has done well so far. He’s not sure why they have to bother going to school for another 3 weeks since exams are over, and asked if he could ‘have a few days off’. I told him he will soon be having TWO MONTHS off, and that would have to do!

Tyler’s sick with a nasty tummy bug at the moment, but is on the mend. He did well in his school athletics last week, coming FIRST in high jump! So he is off to interschools soon. A great achievement for his last year at primary school. He was chuffed. Sprints have always been his ‘thing’ but he’s had a really painful heel lately (Sever’s Disease, we think) so he didn’t do quite as well in the running this year (he came about 3rd/4th in his heats, instead of 1st/2nd).

I’m looking forward to Christmas! Are you? It’s only a few weeks away now and I am especially excited about finishing work a lot earlier than I usually do this year. My last day will be 18 December, and I’m looking forward to the following week where I can shop, wrap presents, bake and do all those things without feeling rushed off my feet! Plus, I will get to spend lots of quality time with the boys, who will both be off school. Yay! :-)

Okay, have to rush off now and finish dinner but I will try to post again soon. I know my posts are few and far between these days. I think I need to post some photos next time! :-)