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Setting An Intention For 2017

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I stepped into 2017 as gingerly as I could manage. Usually, I’m the one bursting with optimism and hope for the year ahead, but as 2016 drew down, I spent New Year’s Eve day on the verge of tears, feeling that we’ve all been duped this holiday.

Regardless of my – or anyone’s – trepidation, we gathered with friends, ate spicy capsicum dip on crackers, even the 3 year old made it to the midnight fireworks (just), and we ticked over into 2017 with all the pyrotechnics, hysterical tantrums, and low level heartburn I am imagining that we can expect from the world in the months ahead.

It’s not my intention, however, to sit passively in brooding mode, crippled by my own fear for the year ahead. In the past couple of weeks, I’ve been contemplating whether I wanted to make any resolutions this year, and after some soul searching about where I am and where I’d like to move towards, I decided, instead on setting in intention for the year. Setting an intention is a technique that always served me well in my yoga practice, and even on days when I just wake up feeling out of sorts, so why not an intention for the entire year?

My word for 2017: CREATE.

The idea started with some thinking about my kid, the burgeoning and enthusiastic stick figure/flower/rainbow artist. I really encourage her artistic invention, and it brings her so much joy, but when she asks me to draw with her, I tend to think (though, never say out loud!), “Nup, I’m rubbish at drawing,” and then find some other extremely pressing task I need to complete, while she creates. But, the thing I’ve noticed when I do sit down with her is: 1. She is delighted that I’m spending time with her, 2. She commits more time and puts more effort into her drawings, and 3. She thinks that my scribblings are grand works of art, worth emulating and learning from. So, why do I nearly always skip out on this  experience with my kid? Because I don’t think I’m “good” at drawing. Geez, lady, who actually cares? As someone with a theatre background, I believe so much in the act of creation, just for creation’s sake, regardless of the end result, yet I’ve let pride and fear stand in the way of doing just that, even in my own home.

I drew this. My kid thought it was so good that she put a stick on it and turned it into a puppet. Collaborative art!

I want to create silly things, things that only exist for a moment, things that are ugly-but-who-cares.: jokes, and essays, and paintings, and sand castles, and cakes, and songs.

I want to create on my blogs. I want to write things that scare me to hit publish. I want to build collaborations and nurture fresh ideas. I want to dance on these pages.

I hope to carve out space in my life for creating things that I haven’t begun to envision, yet – things to do with social justice, with helping the people for whom I’m feeling the weight as we enter this year, with speaking up for what is right. I’m heavy with worry this year, and I can either sit with that and do nothing, or I can be an architect for the change I want to see.

And, as I thought about my plans and goals for the year ahead, I realized that I’d need to keep my expectations in check, as I have this massive creative project I’m already working on – a new little girl entering our family in just four month’s time. It’s a humbling honor to be able to create such a thing in and for this world.

The beautiful and frightening thing about creation is that, if you’re doing it right, it will lead you places physically and mentally which you never envisioned. In fact, I’d say that’s the whole point. I recognize in myself so many walls and barriers to break down in order to create – the need to be in control, the concern about what others think, the fear that there’s actually nothing creative inside me, and the summoning of the energy required to make.

Creation doesn’t just happen. I have work to do, and I’m the only one who can do it.


Tell me, do you have an intention or word for 2017? Are you a resolution maker? How are you feeling as we start a new year? 

 

Discovering Clovelly

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Discovering ClovellyNot one of Sydney’s most iconic beaches, lovely little Clovelly has long been on my list of places to discover (hence its appearance on my Undiscovered Sydney to-do list), so when I won a voucher for a Clovelly spa from the fabulous Mum to Five, a most excellent plan started to come together.

Recruiting husband for a few hours of Daddy duty, I decided to make an afternoon retreat of my Clovelly outing.

First stop, Yummy Mummy Day SpaDiscovering ClovellyDiscovering Clovelly

As you can see by the sign, they cater to pregnant women, but this is not an announcement. They’re happy to take regular, non-expectant “mummies,” as well. I went in for a couple hours of massage, facial, foot bath hoo-ha, and it was gorgeous. Just a big, giant sigh of candlelit, eye pillow, hushed voices, piano music relief.

You should go there. I should go back!

I took my time returning to reality in the relaxation room, and then left to walk down the hill for part two of Operation Clovelly Holiday.Discovering Clovelly

Clovelly Beach was about a 15 minute walk from the spa, and the whole area just has that relaxed, beach town feel to it. Deep saltwater sighs, all the way.

I found the beach, and it was quite interesting, a tucked away little inlet, leading out to the greater ocean, which you could observe on rock cliffs at the other end of the park. I could see why this secluded beach is popular with families (there’s a little playground just off the beach, as well).

Discovering Clovelly

Discovering Clovelly

There had been a storm the night before, and the water was still pretty wild, waves crashing up the cliffs. It was beautifully dramatic.Discovering Clovelly

After having my Joni Mitchell, clifftop, hair blowing in the breeze moment, I walked along the boardwalk, past the beach pool, and set myself up on a towel in the sand. One of the main reasons I wanted to go to Clovelly was because it purportedly has excellent snorkeling. I’d brought my snorkel, but sadly the water was far too murky from the storm to see anything, and the only sealife visible was an onslaught of of seaweed.Discovering Clovelly

I did make an effort, but ended up just setting myself up for a lounge on the beach with my book. Which, truly, was no hardship.

The man next to me had a better time of his swim, as he emerged quite chuffed to have found $20 floating in the tempestuous water. The sea taketh, and the sea giveth – you never know!

When the weather warms again, I’d like to get back to make another attempt at the snorkeling.
And, while I’m in the neighborhood, check in to make sure the day spa is still, you know, running properly.

The Aqua Aerobics Ladies

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pool-side-1Three days a week, I drag myself to the gym. I go there because I want to weigh less, live longer, and because they watch my kid as part of the membership fee. I like going there, even though I’ll never be naturally athletic.

In my classes, I see the same people week after week. I’m on nodding-smiling terms with most of them. I notice things about these people I see so regularly. I love the middle aged male twins who sit on bikes on opposite ends of the room from each other. A lady who reminds me so much of someone I knew casually in Florida always bops her head along to the music. There’s a woman who is in almost every class I go to. She’s a mother, too, as I see her picking up her kids when I collect mine. She’s in perfect shape. She baffles me: In spin class, she never seems to break a sweat, while I’m close to cardiac arrest. I’m amazed by the amount of weight she lifts in Pump. While I’m putting weights that look like 50 cent coins on my bar, she’s hoisting on a couple of charger plates. There are others equally as fit, and plenty more across the range of “average,” like me. There are some well dressed in Lululemon, and some slumming in KMart clothes (me). I’ve been with these people who I don’t actually know for awhile now. I notice things – about them and about myself.

After class, we all shuffle off to pick up our children, get back to work, or whatever it is that people who can be at the gym at 9:30 on a weekday morning do with themselves.

I usually wander into the women’s dressing room to splash some water on my reddened face. Many weekdays, like today, it is full of much older women getting changed after an aqua aerobics class. I’d place their age range from 65 to 80ish. They are clad in draped towels or in various stages of undress between swimsuit and dry clothes, and I get a quick picture of where all of our bodies are heading in the future – softer, more wrinkles, less angles. I can see the inevitability, as the aging process hasn’t escaped any of these women. I always listen in a little to their conversations for the couple of minutes I share with them. They compare ailments and medications. “Well, that’s just how it goes,” is the phrase that ends most of these conversations, signalling that there’s no point in discussing it further, and there are more interesting things to talk about … like what they served at the dinner party last week or whose daughter recently married, and whether we approve of the beau. They also talk a lot about the other women in the class – why wasn’t Jan here this week? Has anyone spoken to Carole? Is Rosamund’s trip going well? How is Judith feeling after her surgery?

The aqua aerobics ladies always go up to the cafe for coffee after class, and they are certain to spread the invitation around, encouraging everyone in the group to stay for the drinks and companionship. Though I’ve been crossing paths, mostly unnoticed, with these women for nearly two years now, it was just today that something occurred to me about the aqua aerobic ladies, and that is that they are amazing.

Every one of these women has reached a place in their lives beyond what I have lived. I don’t know their stories, but I think it’s safe to bet that some have buried life partners, some have even buried children. They’ve fought diseases and some probably live with chronic pain. They’ve had careers, they’ve traveled, they’ve made good and bad decisions, and lived with those to this very day. On this day, they chose to come to aqua aerobics class where they leave the pool feeling powerful. And then they use that power for good – the good of reaching out to other people, of encouraging mental and physical health and sustaining a community, of refusing to hide a few round, wrinkly spots because, ladies, we are all in this thing together. Maybe they have always been like this, or maybe it has taken them so many years to get to this place, but what I saw today was women taking care with and of each other. They weren’t casting eyes around to see who lifts the most or has the freshest outfit, but simply making sure there were enough seats at the table.

I feel good after my gym classes, but if I’m honest, I could be stronger. Their kind of power is the type that I’d really like to wield.

Day 22: The Big Red Rock

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Prompt: Something I have yet to see in my expat country.

I’m proud of the amount of travelling we’ve done around Australia, having seeing at least something of 5 of the 6 states. There’s so much more to see, but the only item that remains on my must-do list is that big red rock smack dab in the middle of the country. The one that just screams, “Australia!” – Uluru.

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Australia is a dang big country, roughly the same size as the U.S., but thanks to the giant desert in the middle of the country, nearly the entire country lives near the coast, the bulk of it on the East. To get from, say, Sydney to Melbourne or Sydney to Cairns is pretty easy and inexpensive, but to get from Sydney to the sparsely populated so-called Red Center, things get a bit more complicated.

I’ve researched travel to Uluru for a couple of potential trips that haven’t panned out. A couple of considerations that have held me back:
1. The weather is prone to extremes, and in the summer, there are supposedly an insane amount of flies (no thank you, if I can help it). So, there are really only maybe three months where it’s ideal to travel there.
2. It’s wicked expensive. The flights are the most expensive domestic flights available, and if you fly to Alice Springs ($$), instead of directly to Uluru airport ($$$$), you need to rent a car. Once you get there, there are only a couple of hotels, all managed by the same company ($$$$).

It’s all do-able, as evidenced by the fact that people go there all the time, but it’s always proven a bit too tricky and expensive for me. Not to mention, Partner-in-Crime is not that excited about Uluru, so it’s mostly me saying, “let’s go to Uluru!!” and him saying, “yes, but for half the price, we can go to on a two week cruise of New Zealand.” So, there’s that.

Still, I’m drawn.

Look at this Google Map satellite image and tell me this is not one of the most fascinating places on earth…

And this…
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and this…

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…and this.
Nope, we’ve come to far for me to not see the big red rock. One day, Uluru. One day. 

Cooking With Jamie

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During the three weeks we were in temporary housing after the flood, I went on a TV binge. Cooking shows in particular. I caught onto the series Jamie Oliver was doing in concert with his book of the same title, Save with Jamie, and became quite smitten with the charming, practical Brit. Not being particularly interested in celebrity chefs, I’d only had a passing awareness of Jamie Oliver before, mostly to do with his campaign to healthy up school lunches and from happily eating a few times at his restaurant in Sydney.

The idea of Save With Jamie is that normal people can make beautiful, healthy meals and spend a lot less on groceries than we most likely do now. On the show, he’d feature one big meal (“the mothership”) intended to have leftovers. He’d then show an option for said leftovers. He’d also cook up a variation on a take-away meal that was both healthier and a lot cheaper. He also scattered in all sorts of money and food saving tips (I was hooked after his suggestion to save all those tiny ends of cheese you end up with in a container in the freezer to sprinkle over later dishes. Good one, Jamie!).

I am not a gourmet cook by any means, but I do love to make nice meals and I cook from scratch 9 days out of 10. I’ve been making an extra effort to cook healthy since the Hushpuppy started baby led weaning. She’s getting to the age when she knows if we’re cheating her out of something she’s not eating. Bowl of ice cream for me and a piece of broccoli for her. Not on her watch. Plus, I am famously frugal. Famous mostly in my own mind, but I do love a bargain.

So, as a late birthday gift, my Mom gifted me a copy of the Save With Jamie book. Since then, Jamie has become a new member of our family. I consult Jamie for a plan before our weekly shops, and I tell Partner-in-Crime, “Jamie and I have decided what to have for dinner tonight.” We have been so thrilled with almost every meal (only one miss so far), and at dinner, if P-i-C praises my meal, I say with a flourishy wave to the sky (because that’s where Jamie lives), “thank you, Jamie.”

I don’t know how he does it, but he just knows how to get a lot of flavor out of simple ingredients. I’ve also been saving a good deal of money, as advertised. The “motherhsips” tend to be less expensive cuts of meat, which saves a heap. Plus, obviously, getting one or two more meals out of the leftovers is good value. I also started an herb garden on our balcony (per Jamie’s suggestion), and am beginning to reap some of the rewards of our my little crop.

Let me brag and show off some of the things Jamie and I have cooked up. (Sorry, Jamie and I make nice meals, but we are no food photographers).

Drunken noodles

Mothership lamb roast 
Mothership pork roast with red cabbage, celariac, and home made bread.
Pulled pork tacos. Leftover meal from the roast.

BBQ pork on slaw and waffles. Another leftover meal from the mothership.

BBQ  baked beans with sweet potato and homemade croutons. This one was amazing.

Asian inspired turkey salad with pomegranate dressing.
This one is not in the Save book, but I naturally turned to Jamie for some inspiration with my Thanksgiving turkey leftovers.

Sausage panzanella
Ham hocks with parsley sauce.
Jamie suggested I make a pea soup with the leftovers from this mothership. It was pretty good, but not especially photo worthy.
Frenchie salad

Thank you, Jamie!

A Thanksgiving Revisited

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It’s Thanksgiving Thursday in Australia, and I am working on all the final preparations for our expat Thanksgiving on Saturday. We are hosting for the first time, and are expecting 20 guests (plus 3 babies) of 5 nationalities. I am grateful that, in our time here, we have made enough friends to have such a festive gathering.

It is sunny and warm, and this seems like the perfect opportunity to revisit a blog post I wrote three years ago called “November Horses,” which I’m still fond of, mostly because the original article is so beautiful. Several years and Thanksgivings gone by, I do still wonder what kind of horse I am.

Click here for my Thanksgiving Down Under offering.

Expat Blog Challenge – Join Us in February!

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I did not take this gorgeous photo. Credit here.

This one is for you, my fellow expat bloggers.

In past years, I have done National Blog Posting Month, and loved the rigour of writing every day. I set myself a goal of doing another month-long blog challenge, but this time wanted one with some set prompts, as it’s more of a challenge to find topics now that I’m not exactly new around these parts. Turns out, a set of blog writing prompts that work for an expat-themed blog just doesn’t seem to exist. So, hey, why not create my own.

And, if  I’m going to do a blog challenge, why not find some co-conspirators and have an expat blog party?

So, in that spirit, I have designated February 2014 as the Expat Blog Challenge month (you may notice I picked the shortest and, let’s be honest, most boring month).

Want to join? I’ve created a group on Facebook to get us going. It’s a closed group for those who want to keep some anonymity, so just request to join. I’m approving all requests that don’t look like spambots. Or, if you’re not on Facebook, send me a message at opalhearted (at) gmail (dot) com, and I’ll make sure that you get the prompts.

So far, the bloggers are mostly Americans in Australia, like me, but it’s open to anyone with an expat blog, so please feel free to join or pass along to other bloggers you know who might like to play. The more the merrier.

Melbourne Cup Simplified

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Three years ago, I wrote this post – “Mr Ed and Other Things I Learned From the Melbourne Cup” – in which I was a smidge dismissive of my ability (dare I say interest) to ever make sense of the national obsession with the Melbourne Cup horse race.

The Melbourne Cup, in brief, is “the race that stops a nation.” To my American readers, think the Kentucky Derby on steroids. In Victoria, Melbourne Cup day is a state holiday. In the rest of the country, it’s a day to dress up and get your middle of the afternoon party on.

Considering that my first Melbourne Cup was simultaneously a shocker and a non-starter for me, I feel it is an important milestone on my expat journey to document that I have, at last, been to my first ever Melbourne Cup party.

A mum (“mum” because she’s Australian) from my mother’s group offered to host a Melbourne Cup party at her place. There were mums all dressed up and babies in fascinators, ample bubbly, a feast for a king, a draw in which I won nothing, and about 2 minutes of a horse race on TV. And, I have to tell you, it was a lot of fun. Though it is sometimes hard for me, the key here is clearly to stop overthinking the significance, and just put on my pearls and hat, grab a glass of prosecco, and have a jolly time.

Melbourne Cup may not be my holiday, but I do believe it has won me over.

The Hushpuppy and me, ready for the races. As our resident Aussie, it is her holiday!

September Was Against Me

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September nearly did me in. And when I talk about this September, I am reminded of a line from the Dar Williams song “February,” – “February was so long that it lasted into March.” My September was so long that is lasted mid-August into mid-October.

When we found our new apartment, we originally planned to move in the beginning of July, but before we signed the lease, the unit’s owner decided that he needed it until the middle of August. We were mostly fine with the delay, but the trouble was that it was putting us in a tight squeeze with the arrival of  my oldest and one of my dearest friends (ODF – oldest, dearest friend – we’ll call her), who was coming for two weeks to meet the Hushpuppy. Following closely thereafter was our second visitor, my mom (Mom, we’ll call her). Both of our visitors were incredibly amenable, helpful, generous, good natured – everything you want a house guest to be, and it is hard to overstate how flattering it is to have anyone willing to spend big bucks and travel many hours to visit us, so I don’t want to imply that our guests were a problem, but considering that we wanted to show them a nice time and give them a comfortable place to stay, we were in a bit of a crunch and had to put off settling into any routine with our new place.

We moved on the 21st and ODF arrived on the 24th. That was just enough time for me to get her room made up, the kitchen unpacked, groceries procured and boxes shoved into closets. I was thrilled-thrilled-thrilled to see her, and I won’t get into the amazing adventures had with her and my Mom in this post because I don’t want them to get mixed up in this tale of woe. I will just mention that, while out on a very nice day of coastal walking, my phone went mysteriously missing. It may have been lost, but I hold a strong suspicion that it was stolen. Either way, it was gone, and we were going out of town the next day, so I was off the grid for a few days. I did actually need a new phone, but the tragic part is that I had some videos of Hushpuppy that I’d not managed to back up elsewhere, including a beautiful one of her second day of life and some of her first meals. I’m still heartbroken at losing those.

Adding to the brewing September storm was Partner-in-Crime’s pre-scheduled 3 week trip to Europe to be in his best friend since childhood’s wedding. It was, for the record, a trip that I insisted he go on, as you don’t miss your best friend since childhood’s wedding for anything. And, there was some design to the stacking of house guests during this time, so that I would not be alone with the Hushpuppy for a full 3 weeks.

And so it was that on the 5th of September, P-i-C got on a plane to Europe, ODF got on a plane to Cairns to see the Great Barrier Reef, and I settled in for my first stretch of single parenthood.

For the first couple of days, Hushpuppy and I were rocking it. I got back on the grid with a new i-phone and we had a fun picnic lunch with Sydney Smiles. On Sunday the 8th, I had another brunch date scheduled and ODF was returning from Cairns late that night. At 8a.m., I hopped in the shower and when I got out and stepped into the hall, the floor was mysteriously wet. A quick scan revealed water rushing up from the drain in the laundry room. A lot of water. And it kept coming.

I am, in hindsight, pleased with myself that I was the very picture of calm and order in the ensuing drama. I found an incredible friend to come and watch Hushpuppy for a couple of hours. I dug out our lease and found the emergency plumber and property manager’s numbers. Did I mention that it was a Sunday? Of course it was. By 11a.m. the plumber, the owner, and the property manager were all on site, furrowed brows all around, every non-furniture item was off the floor and my little daughter was offsite, as water continued to rush out of the drain.

The plumber walked in and summed the situation with verbal efficiency  – “Wow.” “Wow” is not what you want to hear from your emergency tradesman. He said he’d hoped to discover that I was on, say, the 7th floor, rather than being in on the ground floor because 7th floor flood means, oh, toilet backup or somesuch easy fix. Ground floor flood means Bad News Bears (sewage line backup. Yes. Disgusting). Everyone mobilized and, long story short, the line was somehow fixed, the wet vac guy came and removed over 500 litres of water (he had to tell me this, as he was also having a “wow” moment), and Hushpuppy and I were moved into temporary housing while the cleaning and carpet replacement could be arranged.

To be fair to all, we were moved to a nice, furnished unit in the heart of nearby Crows Nest, which is a pretty sweet location if you have to be stuck somewhere other than home.

ODF came back and then departed for good a day later, Hushpuppy and I were back on our own again for a few days, we shared some meals and drinks with friends who were nice enough to come and entertain me, and then my Mom arrived. We were enjoying our time, but anxious to get back home, especially since the 2nd bedroom in our Crows Nest place was a loft, so Hushpuppy’s 5a.m. wake ups meant my poor guests also had a pre-dawn wake up call, and also I kept having to make bus trips to the other apartment to pick up more provisions.

A week came and went. Two weeks. And finally three weeks, and Partner-in-Crime came home to us still in temporary housing, and to me nursing a teething baby who had somehow come down with a case of conjunctivitis. Welcome home, honey!

Not my actual eye.

The good news was that we finally got the all clear to go home the day after P-i-C’s return. The bad news was that I picked up pink eye from Hushpuppy.

A round of antibiotics, a trip to IKEA to replace a ruined rug, and a lot of re-unpacking later, things were finally looking up, and we enjoyed the rest of our visit with my Mom, which seemed far too short, even though it was a whole month.

In the midst of all this madness, Hushpuppy was unfazed, despite the upheaval and weeks of sleeping in a porta-cot which didn’t look terribly comfortable to me. Through it all, she managed to cut 3 new teeth for a grand total of 5, learn to sit up, and start crawling. It would seem that she thrives on adversity.

Hello. I know how to crawl.

My September has finally concluded, and I am descending from a fight or flight high that’s kept me going for the last few weeks. Spring appeared while I was too busy to notice, and I’m ready for a quiet, drama free and dry stretch ahead in our still-new-to-us home.

Harbinger of good things: the jacarandas are back!

Three Year Expativersary

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Today, I’m blowing out three expat-birthday candles.

I have aged past expat-toddlerhood. To extend the metaphor, that means that I’m walking confidently and have mastered most of the fine motor skills requisite to expat life. 
Indeed, this year was a lot about my child-having, a life milestone which I have no way of comparing to any American experience. No matter where I live, having my first baby will always be connected to Australia and the Australian way of doing things. Considering that Australia was named the 10th best country to be a mother (compared to the U.S.’s ranking of 30th), I feel fortunate to be here, though I wish I could have merged all that is great about Aussie motherhood with having family and long-time friends nearby.

Feelings of national identity were on my mind a lot this year with the heated Presidential election, as well as the gun control debate that began after the tragedy at Sandy Hook. I often find it hard to talk about without sounding as if I’m disparaging my home country, but there were many times this year that I felt my personal philosophy and political viewpoint fit more in Australia than the U.S. Though I have never been an overtly U-S-A-U-S-A chanting-“patriot” who is Proud To Be An American in the Lee Greenwood-Toby Keith sense,” American is part of who I am, and sometimes I found it sad to feel so out of sync with parts of the national conversation.

We made a concious decision this year to stay in Sydney, rather than move elsewhere in Australia (more on that later), so that makes this the year that I found my roots have embedded deeply enough in this city that I would like to call it home for some time to come. I won’t lie, it remains a precarious relationship, Sydney and me, but I’ve found enough to love that we’ve decided to stay together and make it work.

This was also the year that I learned to love Australian Christmas on its terms. I was certain that Christmas would remain the final frontier in expat acceptance, that I’d be dreaming of a white Christmas for however many years we live in the antipodes.  I still look forward to my next American Christmas, whenever that may be, but was able to find joy in the holiday for the first time Down Under.

And, the Aussie phrases just keep slipping into my vocabulary. “How are you going?” “Yeah, good.” I even slipped a “heaps” into an email the other day. Oh, it happens, slowly but surely.

As I’ve done in years past, I’ll conclude with some of the significant images from my year. Year three and Australia have been good to me. I’m wishing for myself and my family many happy returns.

Anniversary dinner cruise

Sculpture by the Sea

Election party

Hawkesbury postal boat cruise

Baby shower

Jervis Bay

Jervis Bay

Kiama, NSW

Down Under and American Christmas treats

Boxing Day, Sydney to Hobart launch

New Years Eve, Sydney Harbour Bridge

 Baby baby.

Hushpuppy’s Unitarian Universalist dedication ceremony

A project I worked on comes to completion

2 passports down, 1 to go

My devonshire tea birthday party at The Tea Cosy

6 month old little lady