Wednesday, 25 May 2016

The Aaron King Memorial Oval

A couple of weeks ago I got a phone call from Adrian from Kings Meadows High School. He started to talk about their school oval, and how the council had redeveloped it to help with the flooding that takes place in Kings Meadows, and how the school hadn't been able to use the oval for a year. He then told me that the reopening of the oval was going to be in a couple of weeks.

Aaron loved Kings Meadows High so much, and I'm always happy to go up there. I was waiting for him to ask me if I could come and take photos for them (as I often take photos at the school) but instead he said 'we were wondering how you would feel about us naming it the Aaron King Memorial Oval?'.

I was blown away and felt so honored that they would want to do something so special.  Since it's now been over four years since Aaron passed away, there are no students at the school who know him anymore.  To know that the school still want to remember him and want him to continue to be a part of the school,  means so much. It was lovely when the put up a memorial plaque in the school gym, so I didn't expect at all that anything like this would happen.

Work was so lovely in letting me work half a day, so that I could go along to the reopening.  I asked the boys who wanted to come along with me, and straight away Kobe said that he would.  Harri started stressing out and said he didn't want to miss 'lunch time' at school and then Kobe said 'is it more important to have lunch time or to go to something special Harri!?', which made me laugh.

When I asked Jay if he wanted to come he said he had English and didn't want to miss it.  Kobe cracked us up as he said 'but you already speak English Jay! It's not important to go if you already know how to speak it! Hang on! We do speak English don't we!?'.

As the day got closer, Harri started to stress about whether he should come along or not. I told him that it's not every day that you get to do something so special to remember your Dad and he said he would come.  I think the bribery of going to Maccas afterwards sealed the deal for him :)

After all the talk from Kobe of trying to convince his brothers to come along, he then realised it was 'hot food day' at school and burst into tears when he realised he would be missing out! I convinced him that it would be better to go along and he also thought that getting Maccas afterwards was a pretty good deal.

The weather hasn't been too bad yet, but today it was absolutely freezing all day.  It was the first day when there was ice on the car when I left for work, and it was about 8 degrees celcius when I picked up the boys to go along to the reopening.

Mum stayed the night before and came along with us, and Aaron's Dad and step Mum Carrol also met us there, as well as my cousin Tim and his wife Helene.   The reopening was held out on the oval and all the firsts sports teams from school stood along the side as the speeches were given.

The principal and others from the school talked about the redevelopment of the oval and how it affected them the past year, and how it will benefit them now.   The mayor also spoke.
Aaron's really good friend and past colleague Kristy then spoke about Aaron and the impact that he had on Kings Meadows High School.  I was fighting back the tears the whole time, as her speech described Aaron and his passion for the school, the students and sport so well.  I loved that you got a sense of his personality as that's what I hope the current students to know about him.
This is the speech that Kristy gave:

We often ask our students what they are passionate about and where they find inspiration. It's a difficult question for any one to answer, young or old. 12 years ago, I was lucky enough to meet a man who was an inspiration, not just to myself but to his students and all who knew him. A man who was inspired by love and found his own inspiration in the exact same place.

Aaron King was a great man. A passionate teacher, sports coach and grade leader but more importantly a role model. Passionate about family, education and his faith, he educated a generation of kids with the underlying value of respect. The lessons he taught, changed lives, shaped futures and moulded an era. His influence so strong that even today, past students will stop me in the street just to talk about their mate Kingy.

But it was Aaron's love of sport that most remember him for. This was evident to anyone who met him...mainly due to the fact he was more likely than not, wearing a hawthorn tie, badge, shirt, scarf or Guernsey or all of the above. Alternatively, American football, baseball or basketball would also feature...along with many, many styles of converse sneakers. One pair were bought with one thing in mind and with a lace change and the right socks, became the perfect pair of hawthorn sneakers. Gosh he loved the Hawks. He religiously collected every article about them from multiple newspapers, watched every single game, gained a job with the club and I'm sure a lot of staff still remember the year he wore his Guernsey for his school photo

And then there was Tamar. A man of style, Aaron's dedication to his beloved house Tamar was also marred with his fashionable creations of Tamar t-shirts for athletics carnivals. A trip to Rivers or Kmart for a plain t-shirt and home to print transfers and create a t-shirt that made reference to one of his favourite tv shows, all too old for any kids to recognise. One favourite read "I pity the fool that don't support Tamar".  He loved Tamar so much so he'd be along side the kids at every sports event. He'd provide encouragement, jokes and  healthy competition at every opportunity. 

There were also the countless footy trips to Melbourne. It didn't get much better than this for Aaron. A couple of days with (ironically) no chaperone meant - 7 Eleven creaming soda slurpys, Big Macs, Oreos, Pepsi Max, Smiths originals & Krispy Kremes - for a man who didn't drink he was in serious need of detox on his return. That topped with AFL selfies, the MCG, DFOs, games arcades and the students he adored - he was in his absolute element. 

I can't forget to mention the - multiple footy tipping leagues he was in, fundraisers, coaching basketball, walkathons, playing down ball, basketball, football and cricket at lunch time, I could go on! Sport was such a huge part of his life. Cricket was always a big talking point amongst the staff and students here. With his devotion to the English cricket team being a little too unAustralian for most to bare. It sure rustled some feathers around the place during the ashes test. 

Aaron loved all sporting endeavours at Kings Meadows High School, but it was his footy teams that gave him the greatest joy. There was nothing he wouldn't do for those boys, even if it meant a meat pie before every game for luck...too scared not to, just in case. Footy season was hard on him - battling the Hawks good form and his own teams too, was not easy. He spent most free time with his feet on his desk and whiteboard on his lap - organising his team, working on his game plan but mainly making sure it was all done fairly. 

We'd always joke that the reason he put his hand up to be on the time table committee was so that he was assured of his footy team. The love was mutual between him and his footy boys and I know they still visit him regularly.  I wish that Aaron was here to see the amazing redevelopment of this oval. I'm sure he would've snuck on before the fences were down just so he was the first one to try it out. There really is no better way to pay tribute to his memory than this  and fitting that his plaque reads: in memory of Aaron King - our cherished colleague, teacher and  friend. May his memory live on in the sport played on this ground.

To all who knew him, to all who know of him. Today we stand together and honour a truly great man, an inspirational teacher, a sport loving larrikin who changed every life that crossed his path.

Aaron was the heart of KMHS and we were left broken when he left us. But by remembering him and placing this memorial here today, the heart of Kings Meadows High School has been restored.

A couple of the boys from the senior firsts footy team then spoke about how having the redeveloped oval will benefit the school.  It is actually a beautiful oval and the ground wasn't boggy at all, despite all the rain that we've had.  They were saying how great it will be to be able to use the oval all year round, as they haven't been able to in the past, and have had to cancel games, or go to a different venue.
 After the speeches we were then asked to go up the front to do the official cutting of the ribbon.
 The mayor asked the boys if they would like to cut the ribbon and Harri jumped at the chance.
The media was there and they got us to face away from the students, to get a better photo.

 A high five from the mayor for Kobe :)
 After the official opening there was a lovely afternoon tea put on by the catering class.
The senior boys footy team then played their first game on the new oval against Riverside High School.  Aaron would've loved to have been the coach  out there today with the boys.  If only he were here to do it

 Harri found a couple of grade 7 boys that he knew and hung out with them during their lunch break, and Kobe loved having a kick with them.
I couldn't wait to get to Maccas to have a hot chocolate.  My hands are still frozen!
 It was such a special day and we feel so honored that the school would remember Aaron in such a lovely way. All day we kept saying how stoked Aaron would be about it. I'm sure he was watching from above.  A special sign is going to be placed at the oval, and we look forward to seeing that when it is ready.

Monday, 23 May 2016

Wishing He Had Four Eyes

When Jalen got his glasses last year, Harri and Kobe were both very jealous. I remember when I was little that hardly anyone wore glasses, and there was no way that you would ever wish that you had glasses. 

At the beginning of the year Harri started to complain that his eyes were sore when he was reading.  He had been hooked on the Harri Potter series and had been doing lots of reading, so I thought that maybe his eyes were tired.  He kept on complaining and said it was also happening at school.  I thought he was just wanting glasses like Jay, but thought I had better get his eyes checked out just in case.

His eyes weren't too bad, but the optometrist said he could definitely get glasses to help him when he's reading or on his iPad.  He kept grinning at me like 'told you so!' and was so excited to choose some frames.  His face doesn't look amused, but trust me - he was super excited! I wasn't so excited about my bank balance. 
He kept on saying he wanted some frames like Jay's and I kept telling him that Jay's were very similar to mine, but he wasn't having it! Apparently I'm not as cool as Jay (even though I actually am!).   He was very excited when his glasses came in.

Kobe was devastated when he heard that Harri was getting glasses, and then started complaining about how sore his eyes were! I knew he was just wishing he had glasses, but the lady at the shop said it wouldn't hurt to book him in and check. He had to wait a couple of weeks and was so excited when he found out it was his turn.
As I expected his eyes were totally fine. When the optometrist started to tell him that his eyes were good, I could see that his bottom lip was quivering. I told him it was good that his eyes were good because it meant he had the best eyes in the whole family. He wasn't convinced that it was a good thing though.  When we went back to the front of the shop, the lovely manager pulled out a pair of frames and asked Kobe if he would like to keep them.

He was so excited, and has been wearing them heaps - just like they are real glasses. He loves it when someone says to him 'cool glasses Kobes!' as they think he really has glasses, and then he pokes his fingers through to the other side, to show them they are just empty frames, and has a great laugh.
He's such a funny kid.  Thanks Lisa at OPSM Kings Meadows for making his day.  He does look very cute with his glasses, even though he doesn't need them.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Please Help

Yesterday Harri, Kobe and I had a busy day at soccer and then went to watch a Hawthorn game live.  When I got home I asked Jay what he had been up to and he said that his friend Jackson had come around for a while, and they then met up with some of their 'squad' to hang out. 

Jay and Jackson have been friends since Primary School and were also on the Student Leadership Board at school together last year.

This morning Jay woke up to the tragic news that Jackson's Dad Gary had passed away during the night from a heart attack. I was on the computer when he came and told me, and my heart just dropped as I couldn't believe what he was saying.  I quickly jumped onto Facebook and saw the awful post that his Mum Liz and Jackson had both written, and all the shock and sadness of that first morning without Aaron came flooding back.

All morning I have been thinking about him and his Mum.  After we heard the news Kobe, Harri and I went for a walk and during our walk we saw a double rainbow.  Whenever we see a double rainbow we like to think that it's Aaron and Noah sending us a sign that they're close by.  I wondered if they knew our hearts were a bit heavier today after hearing the news.
Things are never easy, but they're so much easier than they were four and a half years ago, but I hate to think of the long road ahead that Jackson and his Mum Liz have ahead of them.   This is a photo that I took of them just before Jay and Jackson's grade 10 leaver's dinner last year.
It can be easy to just sit back and say how awful something is, and be overwhelmed with wanting to help but not knowing what to do.  But one thing that I've really learned since Aaron and Noah passed away that you just have to do something.   Sitting back and feeling sorry for someone is not helping them.   I still love the story about seeing someone who is drowning and saying 'let me know if you need help'.  Instead it's better to just jump in and help them.

I'll never forget the way I felt when I heard that someone who was practically a stranger had started a fundraising campaign for our family when Aaron passed away, and I now consider Naomi to be a great friend as she just jumped right in and did the one thing that she knew she could do to help from afar.

The money that she helped to raise gave us some breathing space in those first few months to just be able to grieve.  We didn't have to stress too much about how we were going to pay the bills or buy food and I could just concentrate on the boys and getting through each day. 

This afternoon I asked Jay what he thought about starting a fundraising page to help Jackson and his Mum.  We talked about how the money could help them just get through the next little while and hopefully help with funeral costs and he thought it was a great idea.

Please read, share and donate to the Bowen family if you can by clicking on this link.  Even $5 makes a difference. 

Lots of love to you Jackson and Liz.  We hope you know that many people love and care and want to help.

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Mother's Day

Last Mother's Day was a day I will never forget, as we were at Kirribilli House for the national Mother of the Year announcement.  I was up at 5 am to get my hair and make up done before appearing on Sunrise and then going to the announcement.  It was such an exciting day and I wish that every Mother's Day could be as exciting, but this year was extra special. 
It is my fifth Mother's Day since Aaron and Noah passed away, and it's always been a hard day (except last year).  Aaron always made a fuss on Mother's Day and made sure that he had taken the boys shopping for presents, cooked me tea and made sure I didn't have to lift a finger all day.  Being a widow as well as a Mum to a child who has passed away, makes Mother's Day extra hard.  When Aaron died the boys were still very young, and even though I didn't expect them to do very much on Mother's Day it's always hard when they have quickly given me their presents they made at school, or presents that Mum had bought for them to give me, and have then just gone on with their day like it was any other day. 

Last week I got a text from Jay while I was at work, telling me he would catch the late bus home. He said he wanted to go into town to buy me a present. I was very shocked and surprised as my Mum had always been the one to help the boys arrange something, and this year he did it all on his own.

Kobe excitedly brought home a little bag with a present in that he made at school, and put it the bench ready for today.  A couple of days ago Harri said he didn't have me a present yet, and I told him I didn't mind and that I would just love it if he would make me a special card. He said 'how do you know I haven't already done that Mum!?' and said he really wanted to buy me something.  Kobe said he wanted to as well, so yesterday I gave them some money and let them loose at Coles on their own.

It was very cute as they came back to the car with a bag and kept telling me not to look. I couldn't help but see there was a bunch of flowers in the bag, and I told them that if they were giving me flowers then they would have to put them in a vase or they would die overnight, so it was okay for them to give them to me early.

They cracked me up as they then went into a big discussion about the prices of the different bunches of flowers, and the ones they wanted to get were too much money, so they decided to get these ones.

I told the boys not to wake me up early and that I would just open up their presents this morning, once they all woke up.  They each came into my room at different times to say happy Mother's Day and they were so happy to give me their presents and cards.  Kobe made me this cute card at school.  He has terrible fine motor skills, so his handwriting is always very scrawly but I think it makes it extra cute. The last word says 'above'.
 Harri made me a lovely card at school and wrote this:
 Harri and Kobe gave me the flowers and also the blocks of chocolate. Kobe was so cute when I opened up his present from school and said 'shells!' like he thought I would be so happy about it. It was very cute. Jay said he knew that he wanted to get me something from the Body Shop, and his friend Skye went with him and helped him pick something out, since he said he didn't really know what anything was. I was impressed that he knew my favourite scent was coconut or mango and he got me a lovely gift pack with coconut scented products and also the box of chocolates.

It was so lovely  because the boys had made such an effort on their own to do something so special for me.
 I of course would love the boys to do lots on Mother's Day like cooking for me, but they're still kids (and boys at that) so I decided to just be grateful and happy that they made an effort to get me special things, and cooked brunch for all of us.  Milly always sits waiting for me, whenever I am cooking.
I felt sad during the day, but it was lovely to hear the boys running around tonight, having a Nerf gun war together. Because there's such a big age gap between the three of them, they often don't play a lot together, but they always love shooting each other with the Nerf guns.  I think that was one of the best parts of the day - just hearing them having fun together.
I thought about going to the cemetery but decided that it would only make me feel worse, and knew that Noah would be okay with it if I didn't go. I wish so much that he was still here to snuggle and complain about how heavy he was getting.   We didn't get to see my mum today as she is in Sydney for a couple of weeks, staying with my brother Chrish.

I'm grateful to be the Mum of four awesome boys. They are not perfect, but I'm very proud of them and I know that Aaron would be extra proud of them today. 

Friday, 29 April 2016

Sportscraft Mother's Day Lunch for Barnados

With summer gone and school holidays over I was just starting to settle back into 'normal' life (which is anything but exciting and is often quite depressing) when I got an email invite at the end of last week from Barnados, to attend a special Mother's Day lunch in Sydney.  Sportscraft has just become one of Barnados principal sponsors and to celebrate that and inspirational women, they were putting on a special lunch at the Sydney Opera House.

It was lucky that it fell on one of my days off work, so I very excitedly accepted the invitation to go.  I was sad to learn that there weren't any other finalists from last year going, as I was hoping we could have a mini reunion, but was looking forward to meeting the Australian Mother of the Year from 2014 as I was told she would be there.

I guess having a blog and social media presence is good in a lot of ways (not just being my therapy) and I'm happy that I can use it in a positive way to share the amazing work that Barnados and other organisations do.

I had an early flight so I set my alarm for 4:30 am.  Of course I couldn't sleep because I knew that I had to get up early, and I woke up at 4am and figured I may as well get up then rather than trying to get another half an hour sleep.

I had to have a quick stop over in Melbourne, and got into Sydney about 9:30am.  I had a couple of hours to fill in so I jumped on the train and decided to get off in the middle of the city.  Because we go to Sydney so often I wasn't worried at all about what to do, and knew just which train to jump on and where to get off.

This street performer was very clever.

I remember going to the Queen Victoria Building when I was young, so thought I would go and check it out again.

On the way back to the train to go to Circular Quay I went through the Westfield shopping centre which had a huge Sportscraft store in it. 

I had about an hour to fill in at Circular Quay before the lunch was on, and enjoyed just sitting in the sun, enjoying the view.

There were lots of tourists around and three young guys from Switzerland asked me if I would take a photo for them. 

I had to go inside to the information desk at the Opera House to find out where to go for lunch, and was sent back outside again and up some external stairs which led to the northern foyer of the Opera House.  The northern foyer is right at the front and faces out to the harbour and the bridge.

I wasn't sure how many people I would know there, but thought a couple of ladies from Barnados who spent time with us at the Mother of the Year Awards last year  may be there.  I actually wasn't even worried as I knew I was lucky to be there, and just hoped it was going to be a good afternoon.

When I walked in I saw one of the ladies from Barnados that I knew and we said hi and she reintroduced me to Debra Lawrence who is an actress (used to be Pippa on Home and Away!) and is an ambassador of Barnados. She was at the awards last year, so we had already met and she was so lovely and friendly and gave me a big hug and kiss.   We had a lovely chat and she told me how much she loves Tasmania and that she has been down here a lot. She told me she loves the Gorge and I told her that it's only five minutes from home and that we spend our whole summer swimming there.
She also said that she was very tempted to move down here when she was offered a job at the Uni here.

I was introduced to Gloria who was the national Mother of the Year for 2014 and her sister Carmen. They were so lovely and friendly and we straight away started chatting and sharing stories.  Her daughter Cass passed away a couple of years ago at the age of 18 from cancer. 

Everyone was asked to come inside and we were all offered drinks (champagne or sparkling water) and also raspberries. 

There were huge glass stands full of fresh flowers which were so beautiful. 

When I first walked in I saw Natarsha Belling who was also at the national Mother of  the Year awards last year.   A lady from Barnados introduced us again and also introduced me to Jacinta Tynan who is a news presenter and an author.  She has come on board this year as an ambassador for Barnados and was the host at the NSW state awards a couple of weeks ago. She was really lovely and asked me how I became the state mother of the year. I told her my story and Natarsha kept shaking her head saying she remembered my story and can't believe that I had been through so much.
Natalie Barr was the MC for the day. She started the day off by speaking about Barnados and the work that they do. She was even more beautiful in real life than she looks on the TV and spoke really well, and was very friendly.  After she spoke the new CEO of Barnados and the CEO of Sportscraft (as well as other fashion brands) gave short speeches about how important it is to support Barnados and about the work that Barnados do.

Sportscraft have started a campaign called the 'Raspberry Challenge'.  They will be donating up to $50,000 to Barnados and will give $5 for every 'raspberry' that is posted online with the hashtag #scraspberryforbarnados    Before we sat down to lunch they showed this video and asked everyone to get on board and post a 'raspberry' online. If you're on Facebook or Instagram you can join in - it's so easy to do and it's for a great cause so get on board and join in on the fun :) Just make sure you use the hashtag so it counts.

I wasn't really sure what to expect at the lunch, and thought that maybe it would be finger food and we would be standing around mingling while lunch was served, or I thought that maybe there would be different tables around the room and speeches going on while we ate, but there was a massive table set up with the most incredible flowers and setting I had ever seen. It looked like a very, very posh wedding.

I couldn't believe that I was standing IN the Opera House, about to sit down to eat lunch with this view in front of me!

We were told what section we were sitting in, and we were all oohing and aahing over our personalised serviettes.

I believe that Aria Restaurant did the food and it was an amazing menu of things that I had seen on cooking shows, but had never had myself.  I was sitting in between Gloria and Irene who works for Barnados.

While we were waiting for our entrees to come out I spotted James Mathison.  Jay loves him and I told the Irene from Barnados that I wanted to meet him, but didn't want to seem like a stalker. She was more than happy to take me over to meet him and he was so friendly and his partner was beautiful too and gave me a hug and kiss. She told him that I was the Tasmanian Mother of the Year and he was very excited and said 'this year!?' and I told him it was last year. He cracked me up and jokingly said 'so why are you here then!? It's all over! You've handed over the sash!'. It cracked me up and I agreed and said I couldn't believe that I was there when I had already handed the crown on. Irene then told him that I am an amazing ambassador for Barnados and am always one of the first to be posting about them, tagging them and spreading the word about what they do.  I said that I am more than happy to talk about Barnados because they do amazing work for children and families.

I told him that my eldest son loved him and he said 'let's get a photo then!' and I told him I would send it to him while he was at school and he would be very excited.

It was so fun sitting with Gloria and Carmen.  We had so much to talk about as even though our stories are different, we understood what each other had been through.  I was introduced to some ladies across the table as the Tasmanian Mother of the Year and one of them asked me if I foster children. I wish that was my story rather than the one I'm living. 

There were so many people there and I wanted to know why everyone was there.  There were a lot of celebrity ambassadors, TV chefs, magazine editors, TV presenters, models and I even spotted Jules Sebastian (Guy Sebastian's wife) right at the end.

It was such an amazing place, but it was SO hot. We kept saying we didn't want to complain though as we knew it was a once in a lifetime experience to be sitting there having lunch. 

Before the food came out I also got to say hi to Natalie and she was so lovely and friendly. 

The entree looked too pretty to eat! Carmen actually didn't eat hers and cracked us up as she kept complaining about it.  I wasn't even sure what half the stuff was that I was eating, but it was really yummy. 
Between courses Natalie Barr would speak and let us know about things that were going on during the afternoon.
To raise money for Barnados, Sportscraft have released the 'Naomi Watts Coat'. Naomi Watts is a Sportscraft brand ambassador and was one of the first ones to do the 'raspberry challenge'.  At the lunch they had 25 limited edition coats in the blonde tone up for silent auction. They are worth $799!

Some models came out to model them for us, before everyone was asked to place a bid in the silent auction.

They raised over $21,000 for Barnados through the auction and Carmen won one of them! 

Gloria and I were wondering how Carmen would go with the main course, but she liked it a lot more than entree :) It was very yummy but we weren't at all keen on the crisp kale.

Dessert was definitely our favourite and was a raspberry theme.   The 'raspberry glass' was amazing and it was really hard on the outside and when you cracked it, it was full of a raspberry mousse.  It was amazing food.

Before I left I got to chat to Debra Lawrence again and she was just so lovely. She's such a genuine, down to earth lady.

Carmen, Gloria and I left together and had to get a selfie before we said goodbye. It was such a beautiful afternoon and  I couldn't believe that I went there not really knowing anyone, but had such an amazing time.

Everyone was given a gift bag from Sportscraft as we were leaving and they had some beautiful flowers in them (I wish I took a photo!) which I knew I couldn't bring back into Tassie, so on the train back I offered them to a teenage girl who was sitting next to me. She was so surprised and excited about it and kept looking at her boyfriend and saying 'how nice is that!?'.

When I got to the airport I pulled the rest of the things out of the bag and was so excited to find this inside!  I felt very, very spoiled and lucky to be able to go along to such a lovely event.  I got home late last night, and couldn't believe the whirlwind of a day I had just had. 
I went into town the day after and very happily spent my voucher on a new pair of pants. I was showing Jay them and he cracked my up when he said 'oh so Sportscraft isn't a sports store then?!'

I'm so grateful to have some awesome experiences over the last year or so, as it has given us such a boost.  It's so hard to come back to reality after another amazing experience, and I keep thinking I need to plan something so we have something to look forward to, to keep us going. 
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