Guests Galore

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This week I have felt rather like an extension to the International Airport with guests flying in from both Hong Kong and Indonesia to stay here at The Meadow. Both parties were delighted with the slightly cooler weather and the verdant countryside as they originally hail from England and Germany. A bit of European nostalgia mixed with the delights of swimming in a crystal clear and cool ocean and some fabulous local food and wine and our little house in The Meadow was full of chatter, laughter and happy tourists! Katy and Oli were here for a wedding that was happening locally and looked very sharp as they set off for the celebrations. It was lovely to host them as Katy was Lauren’s bridesmaid last year and is going to be wed herself in June. Weddings are flavour of the month at the moment!

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Dieter is a German chap who has lived in Indonesia for 20 years and met us through the cocoa business. He is very friendly and jocular and a great guest. He is also a chef and Master Patissier and Chocolatier. This brings with it a certain amount of trepidation for the host trying to cook for him! We decided to keep everything very simple and give him some experiences he can’t really get in Indonesia so on our first evning we walked along Werri beach at Gerringong with Bailey and bought some fish and chips to go with our beers and rosé, all eaten overlooking the headland and feeling the salt spray on our skin. He LOVED it!

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The next day he was keen to try out the wood fired oven so we made pizzas and pork ribs marinated in my brother-in-laws ‘Big Daddy’s Smoky Memphis Sauce’ and they were unanimously declared delicious. We had to have a nod to the chocolate that brought us all together so I made a very simple flourless chocolate roulade with fresh raspberries to finish off. Simple and yummy.

During the week I met some old friends, Mandy and Tony, for breakfast at The Berry Sourdough Cafe which is known throughout the land for it’s quaint barn building and it’s delicious pastries. I try not to go there very often for obvious reasons but it is so lovely to have it here in the middle of our little town for when guests arrive or as a wonderful meeting place or a special treat! The fact we can buy such quality products this far out of the big city is testament to the artisans setting up shop (and a lovely lifestyle) in our area. We are lucky bunnies indeed.

My side garden is starting to look less new nowadays with the white iceberg roses really filling in the space well, together with lavender, jasmine and a hedge of camellias keeping them all in line. When I look back at the picture below taken exactly a year ago I am really pleased with it’s progress. and in time the 3 Crepe Myrtles and 2 Jacarandas will provide some nice shade on the westerly side of the house.

We met for our first FUN lunch for 2018 and there were quite a few new faces which was great. I’m pretty sure there is no-one in this group that is younger than 50 and many are considerably older but what a group of inspiring women they are! Still working into their 70’s, many with multiple roles and businesses. From owners of retreats and guesthouses to olive growing, fudge making, specialist cruise travel agents, artists, photographers and stylists, health and wellness councillors and horse riding gurus you can’t help but feel inspired listening to their ideas and plans all being actioned rather than just thinking or talking about them! I left feeling that life is full of possibilities no matter how old you are, in my case only hampered by my own indecision, disorganisation and procrastination. Thanks ladies for showing me that there is plenty of life left for women over 50!!! Deciding to procrastinate no longer I am going to see if I can get involved with the AWCH hospital ward grandparent scheme at our local hospital where you can be of great help to a sick child and their family. A ward grandparent volunteer does the following:

  • is assigned to an individual child for the duration of the child’s stay in hospital
  • visits the hospitalised child on a regular basis
  • performs activities such as nursing, feeding, changing nappies, bathing, playing, talking, singing, going for walks with the child
  • does not perform any medical tasks

I have always wanted to get involved specifically with babies born addicted to drugs through their mothers as they have SUCH a hard time for those first few weeks but there doesn’t seem to be a specific program currently available locally so in the meantime I am going to see if I can be useful in a different capacity. Watch this space!!

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There is a definite sense of the season starting to change. Despite some daytime temps of 36 degrees, the nights have been pleasantly fresh and cool allowing us to have a comfortable sleep unlike most normal February nights. Nature is quite amazing really, Easter is very early this year thanks to the moon and her cycle and nature too is early with the leaves already starting to colour and fall when in other years we have to wait until April for that! The galas are having a grand old time as they party on the seeds and kernels dropping from the trees in our garden and the veggie patch has been cleared of the tomatoes and cucumbers in preparation for silverbeet, brussel sprouts, cabbage and broccoli. We are so lucky in this part of Australia to experience all four seasons, with Summer definitely playing the biggest part with a good 6 months of lovely weather. Winter however is also a great time to get outdoors with blue skies and sunshine together with the crisp temperatures. The Lucky Country indeed.

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The KISS principle (Keep it simple Susie)

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It has been a lovely couple of weeks in The Meadow. Australia Day marked the end of the school holidays and despite some recent controversy about the date it is celebrated most people just carried on as usual, the barbies were fired up, picnics packed, the beach and local swimming pools were full of families and friends all appreciating what it is to be Australian. I absolutely love this photo of my friend and neighbour taking a dip in her “pool” on what was a very hot day. Together with her faithful kelpie and wearing her akubra she is the archetypal country Aussie!! We had a bbq with our neighbours, enjoying a lovely local grass fed steak and way too much vino and went to bed happy and grateful for our new life and friends in The Meadow.

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The next day we decided to brave the holiday traffic and go to Callala Bay, a smallish town on Jervis Bay to see our old mate Nifty who was home alone for the weekend and lives a mere 150 metres from the beach. We all enjoyed a lovely walk with the brown dog and soaked up this glorious beach with the most beautiful turquoise water and white sand. I’m pretty sure The Maldives are the exact same colour! Back to his place for some  of his freshly caught Flathead fillets, cooked simply and served with homemade tartare sauce and a salsa of cherry tomatoes from our garden. Enjoyed with a glass of chilled chardy. Heaven.

 

A certain chocolate labrador was rather exhausted on her return and couldn’t even make it to her favourite spot before crashing out and gently snoring for the next hour or two!

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She certainly knows how to relax!!!

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This month’s book club meeting in Sydney coincided with our little city house being up for lease and I made the most of the opportunity to do some maintenance. It was lovely to be back in our old neighbourhood and to tizz the garden up, check out the interiors and freshen it up with new paint and some new carpet. Hopefully we will attract a great new tenant this week. I don’t know how some landlords can sleep at night with the condition of the houses they rent out. When I see the state of houses costing the same if not more than ours in Paddington and Bondi where the young ones like to live it makes me cranky. Just because the tenants are generally young doesn’t mean you should ignore the aesthetics and the general state of repair of a house. Why is it that tenants have to pass muster but for some reason landlords don’t?!

 

Our book club meeting gave us an opportunity to celebrate one of the girls ‘special’ birthday and we had the best night reminiscing over our last 23 years together! We must be one of the longest running clubs in Sydney, ahead of our time, starting it before it became a trendy thing to do and it has been the most wonderful group of girlfriends to have as we have progressed through all the stages of our life, sharing all the ups and downs as they come, being a shoulder to cry on if necessary and to also sharing the happy times, new marriages, grandbabies and personal achievements. We are indeed blessed. (Incidentally we have just read the BEST book, The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah if you’re looking for a good read)

 

This weekend we finally got to host the Boys Surfing Weekend. It had already been rescheduled 3 times and despite a weather forecast for cool nights and some rain it went ahead and was declared a BIG SUCCESS! Two of the “boys” hadn’t been on a surfboard in 20 odd years and I had to admire their enthusiasm at the early start to the beach (to catch the perfect conditions prior to the breeze coming up) and then their commitment in the water to standing up. It is EXHAUSTING and much harder than it looks. The youngest (and fittest) member of the trio was showing them how it’s done but he is a regular surfer and made it look easy. In the end the other two decided enough was enough and settled for a good body surf instead! Lots of laughs ensued and their aching muscles were soothed by an afternoon beer or two whilst watching the cricket on the telly. An afternoon nap may or may not have been had and was followed by a loin of pork done in the wood fired oven (the crackling was amazing!!) and then a raucous game of ‘cards against humanity’ was enjoyed before tumbling into bed knackered but happy.

 

At the beginning and the end of the day my favourite place is out here on our front veranda. In the early morning we see mist hanging in the hollows of the hills and the cows moving slowly across the paddocks, following each other in single file as they wander out to start their day. The local hares are often out darting crazily across the dirt road and into the fields in search of goodness knows what, causing a certain brown dog to race to our boundary fence and bark as if to tell them exactly what she thinks of them and to dare them to step foot onto her property! The afternoons are what we refer to as the golden time as the sun starts to lower in the sky and throw shadows across the land and the light changes to the most beautiful golden citrine. I can easily while away an hour watching the willy wagtails dance and dive around the lawn, on the prowl for an afternoon snack of insects. They are so lithe and energetic, dipping and darting at an amazing pace like well trained synchronised swimmers. They really are the loveliest little birds and I’m really chuffed that they make a nest here a few times a year and raise their babies under our very noses.

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Taking a leaf out of nature’s book we have decided that simplicity is going to be the key for us this year. We all know that life can be complicated but we sometimes don’t help the situation by making things more complex than they need to be. After all these years I think we are finally going to eat better, drink less and move more (we must have been reading that same advice for the last 30 years to no avail!!) We are going to take time to smell the roses, chat to our neighbours, read that book or have an afternoon nap. When we work we will work hard and then we will enjoy the fruits of our labours and try to feel less guilty when we have a day slobbing around on the couch! It’s all about the balance!

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ps….we have an exciting little project coming up with plans for a pool and I’m REALLY trying to keep things simple which is proving remarkably hard. A huge Vegas style build is seemingly easier to whack up than a restrained-natural-yet-in-keeping-with-our-house-type plan so wish me luck folks!!!

To have an animal in your care is to open yourself up to the biggest love and the greatest sadness…..

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It has been a hard fortnight in The Meadow. Situated as we are in the middle of Dairy Country we are very aware of the plusses and minuses that come with farming. We love to see the cows, all different shapes and sizes grazing in the paddocks, silhouetted against the morning or evening sky, calmly eating or following in single file the lead cow to the water troughs. We are very fond of them but of course for the farmer it is a whole different story. They too love their animals, selecting stock as carefully as we buy houses. Documenting them individually and caring for them in good times and bad. Extra feed is brought in from time to time when we have had little to no rain or if they are young, sick or in calf. The owners of our farm recently did just that and within a few days cows started getting sick and dying. A dozen, then 40, 100 and now sadly they have lost a total of 220 cows, half of their (bigger than average) herd. To say they are devastated is an understatement. There is a financial cost of course but the emotional burden is far worse. Cows are big animals and to bury one is hard, 220 is unimaginable. Apparently they died of botulism, a form of blood poisoning, that has been traced back to a dead fox, killed by the blades of the hay cutting machine and inadvertently baled up with the hay and spreading the fatal bacteria as it’s body deteriorated spreading toxins rapidly to the unsuspecting herd. It was a week when I saw grown men cry.

In complete contrast we have had a lovely week seeing old friends that we haven’t seen for a while and enjoying some local scenery. Smutzer arrived for the weekend and after the boys did an excellent job trucking in Ute after Ute full of mulch, our garden is much better equipped for this hot weather that we have been experiencing and the weeds have less chance of seeing fresh air!20180120_172251

As a reward we went for a lovely walk along The Shoalhaven River and stopped off for a cold beverage before heading home

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Our previously broody chook has been allowed back into the yard with the others and has seemingly lost her maternal instinct, happily scratching under the trees and only going into the nesting box to lay her daily egg. It was worth her week in solitary confinement  to be able to enjoy the freedom of the chook run once again.

The 23rd of January was the 3rd birthday of our beloved Chocolate Drop! Looking back at her puppy pictures it is no wonder we fell head over heels with her – I challenge anyone not to love that little face!! It’s hard to believe she has now been part of our life for three years but I am very glad she is. Having a dog enriches my life in ways I hadn’t imagined, she certainly gives me a reason to get up and get outside into nature and her company when I am home alone is wonderful, always at my feet as if she knows she is in charge of things!

We headed south last weekend to Ulladulla and to the beautiful Cupitt’s Winery where you are treated to a visually beautiful location as well as immaculate food, presented in an oh so pretty way. A long lunch is one of the true joys and a few hours passed very easily with stories and laughs alongside delicious food and wines. We started with a lovely frosé cocktail of  vodka, watermelon, rosé and mint, perfect for a warm summers day and such a beautiful colour. This was followed by sashimi of tuna and kingfish with citrus pearls and bronze fennel for a light entreé  and a main of pan fried barramundi with risoni, fennel and lobster sauce which was as delicious as it sounds! We shared desserts of dark chocolate ganache with chocolate mousse and roasted peppered pineapple and fresh summer berries with goat’s cheese and Pimm’s sorbet.

Thoroughly recommended!!

They really have the most wonderful location with views over the countryside and a very Frenchified atmosphere. Old stone buildings and rustic decor, with clear louvres that allow the breeze and the perfume from the outdoor lavender hedges to waft through the restaurant. There is also an outdoor wood fired oven that gets a workout while live music plays on Sunday afternoons keeping the kids and adults equally happy. No wonder it is such a popular location for a special birthday celebration or wedding. http://www.cupitts.com.au

Then we all piled into a cab back to the equally charming location of Claydon Park with it’s hand reared cows and pigs, chooks and veggies and sprinkled with the family horses and dogs. A rural scene straight out of a brochure and one I never tire of. Sadly there was one less familiar face on this visit as Corona, the most friendly, calm and adorable chocolate labrador (who inspired me to get Bailey) had passed into doggy heaven the week before and we missed his loving presence very much. There were a few double takes from the farm hands as they saw Bailey running up the drive and they jumped to an obvious although unlikely conclusion…..

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The nostalgia of a simple beach holiday

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I stopped off to buy some milk in the multi functional general store in Shoalhaven Heads yesterday after walking Bailey along the beach and it was like going back in time. Not only did this small shop sell all those little things you need on holidays they also catered to the holidaymakers with fish and chips, burgers, milkshakes and of course ice cream. There was a small crowd of  3-5 year olds with their sandy feet and salty hair fresh from a morning at the beach, all with their noses pressed up against the glass as they got to pick their ice cream of choice. Such a big decision but being on holidays they were allowed to be “naughty” and most chose rainbow or bubblegum or chocolate and they were so engrossed with it all, waiting patiently for their turn. It brought back so many memories of my own children at that age and in similar beach holiday mode at Forster or Noosa and it seemed reassuring somehow that despite the world seemingly crazy and teetering on the edge of so many bad things that here we were almost in a time warp where the world still centered on young children pink from the beach and their special ice cream treat. Some things just never change. On the other hand, I would have loved to have taken a photo of them, noses against the glass, but sadly in this day and age it is frowned upon to take pictures of young children unrelated to you proving that the world has indeed become a weird place!

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We have been spending quite a bit of time at Shoalhaven Heads lately as it is the one local beach where dogs can legally go leash free. Sadly it’s not the best local beach to swim at as it is rough with strong rips that do not entice this little English girl into it’s depths. Just enough to immerse myself is fine and even then I can feel the current tugging at my legs. It’s rather sad that considering we have 7 miles of beautiful beach it is only on this little corner that we can walk Bailey without fear of a $380 fine from the Rangers. I do occasionally risk it at other sections of 7 Mile Beach, always walking her a long way from other beach goers before letting her free but you constantly feel guilty with one eye on who is around you ‘just in case’! The upside of The Heads is it’s great hotel situated just around the corner from the beach on the river and a perfect place to go for an afternoon drink whilst the dog dries off enough for the car ride home! This is where we spent Lozzy’s last afternoon before she headed home to Vietnam.

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Back at the Ranch we are catching up on our garden chores after the festive season and are trying to time it in between the 40 degree days (A suburb of Sydney was the hottest place ON EARTH last week at 47.3) and the thunderstorms, wind and rain! We certainly have been having some amazing weather lately and when the storms come they are magnificent tearing the sky apart with splices of lightening and thunder growling and crackling all around us. We can generally see them coming across the paddocks, menacing thunderclouds and an eerie light before huge downpours, the sound of it on the tin roof deafening and humbling. Nature at it’s bossiest.

Maybe it’s a result of all this volatile atmospheric stuff but we have had a broody chicken who wouldn’t leave the nest thinking she could hatch her eggs despite the lack of a man in her life. On the advice of our farmer neighbour she has been segregated in a large cage for a week to break the habit and hopefully her motherly desires will be curtailed and she will resume her normal life happily pecking in the chook run again once we let her out. It seems a bit mean but saves her from a pointless and disappointing few weeks on the nest I suppose.

The veggie patch is off the Richter Scale at the moment with a very pleasing crop of tomatoes, as good as the first year we were here and with very few bug, caterpillar or fungus issues. We are literally picking 20 a day of large sweet meaty tomatoes as well as loads of  the little cherry variety. Eggplants, zucchinis and beans galore and despite the extreme heat killing 2 of my cucumber plants we have dozens of cukes as well. We don’t eat enough meals a week to be able to use it all so we have been ‘sharing’ with neighbours and friends who pop in to see us on their way to and from their hols! We swopped some beautiful sweetcorn for some tomatoes the other day and I’ve bottled as much as I can too. I need to buy more jars as I finally managed to harvest enough apricots from our tree to make some jam! I managed to beat the birds to it this year and I was rather chuffed that my 1st ever batch of homemade jam turned out splendidly! The colour is divine, glowingly orange, and my chest puffs smugly every time I open my cupboard door. Beginners luck I suspect!

Before our expat went home she ticked off a very important item on her list which was to visit her Pop who has recently moved into a retirement home in Sydney. A big change from living in his own home in Forster but one that he has embraced with dignity and gratitude making it a bit easier for the rest of the family to see him with seemingly less independence. He is very well looked after in a wonderful Village which is reminiscent of a resort in parts. Pop was very happy to see her and his newest grandson-in-law as well as Tom who towers over his Pop but has a very soft spot for him. A good hour or two spent together will keep Loz going for another year with the odd letter in between ♥

During this hot weather we have to consider the animals within our care. Obviously we don’t leave our dog in a hot car and we make sure that both she and the chickens have plenty of water (they prefer it cold so I add ice cubes on very hot days – so spoilt!!) and give them scraps with a high water content, cucumbers and watermelon are especially popular! A birdbath is a nice idea if you have a good spot but something I hadn’t thought of until recently when I read about it on a gardening site is a little safe spot for bees to have a drink. They need a lot of fluids as they really do exert themselves a lot as they cover a 3 mile square radius searching for nectar. To help them I have placed this little bee bath/drinking spot near some plants that they love so they have an easy place to have a little drinkypoos on their daily rounds….

Image result for pictures of bee bathsBailey has been on somewhat of a ‘regime’ since we got back from the USA. She had put on 3kgs in our absence mainly due to my rather ambiguous feeding instructions I think! I felt really mean cutting out all breakfast, bones and halving her dinner but it has all been worth it to see her back to her svelte shape and the vet is now super happy to see her waist back on show and she has the green light to resume ‘normal’ eating. Obviously with all our house guests over Xmas she did get a few treats but as usual we make her work for it. Her most disciplined trick is when we put chips/nuts/crackers on her paws and make her wait (for up to a minute which must be torture for her) before she gets the go ahead to enjoy them. We have the Power…..poor little Bailey.

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As it’s a new year and we have an overflowing veggie patch we have decided to have a more healthy eating program incorporating loads more veggies and less of the naughty stuff. It hasn’t been half as bad as we thought it would be although happy hour with a sparkling mineral water or a glass of kombucha just doesn’t quite hit the mark. We have really enjoyed some of the salads and different dishes that we have been creating though and we are gradually getting used to a different way of eating. Let’s hope it pays off!

Today is the 3rd anniversary of the day we moved here. It has gone SO FAST and we have loved mostly every minute (those blustery westerly winds mid winter are one of the bad moments that come to mind!) and it feels like yesterday that I drove up the driveway for the 1st time and had an hour by myself before the removalists and helpers arrived. I sat on the edge of the veranda and took this photo….

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Three years later it looks like this……

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It is a very happy home and always open for friends and family who wish to escape from the city or the grey skies of England! The wedding has been the icing on the cake but also we have enjoyed 3 wonderful Christmasses and Easters with a house full of chatter and laughter and our new life in the country has turned out every bit as good as I had hoped it would. Follow your dreams folks, you never know where they will take you and what sort of life is out there if you just take the leap!

 

Trust in the magic of new beginnings…

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Another year begins and with it all the infinite possibilities of a fresh start, a clean slate, renewed intentions and new beginnings. Is it clichéd ? I don’t believe so. Throughout time people have revered the new year, symbolism is strong for a new start after the largesse of the Festive season – all that eating and drinking and very little sleep!! The fact we also currently have a powerful super moon and all the signs point to us being able to find the power within ourselves to achieve what we need and want if we really put our minds to it. 90% of the time it is our negative head space and mental chatter that holds us back and stops us achieving our dreams so let us listen to our inner voice and have a go at all those things we’ve talked or thought about for so long and JUST DO IT!!! What’s to lose?

To be honest 2017 was a weird year. We had the happiness of a wedding in the family and the gathering of loved ones from near and far to help celebrate, certainly a day I will never forget. We also lost beloved family members to illness and big holes have been left in their going. Friends also had close calls and the realisation that we are no longer spring chickens can be a bit scary, we are closer to leaving this world than arriving in it so there is a sense of doing it all now while we can and being grateful for what we have. In a way it is empowering as we know we need to make hay while the sun shines and make the very most of every day. Having my family around me this Christmas has been truly wonderful as we make memories to last a lifetime. Some came for extra days before the Big Day and others stayed longer afterwards and great fun was had by all.

 

Afternoons spent under the shade of the trees with a chilled rosé and lots of chatter or walks together along the beach with the chocky dog were equally meaningful and time to be cherished.

 

This time constantly full of food was a little challenging for one little brown dog who seemed to materialise out of nowhere once plates started being stacked and cutlery assembled. She figured that stealth and sitting quietly would be rewarded. I had severe concerns that our mince pies were not going to survive……

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There was loads of delicious food, including a home grown ham from our lovely friends at Claydon Park in Milton which was lovingly prepared by our youngest and cooked in our new wood fired oven along with the pork and the turkey to perfection by the Man of the House. He has really got the hang of it now and we found cooking outside kept the heat out of the house in our Aussie Summer and freed up the kitchen for all the other delicacies.IMG_2445

The ham all glazed and ready for the oven. Please note the beer coolers made by our very own expat to celebrate the season!!

We eat our hot dinner on Xmas Eve nowadays and it gives us an excuse to decorate our formal dining room and go a little over the top! This year I ordered some individual ceramic name tags from the very talented Marley and Lockyer  in Tasmania (www.marleyandlockyer.com) and they added a lovely touch to our table.

 

Christmas Day itself dawned rather cool and a little overcast and drizzly but it didn’t stop our intrepid crew from a morning swim at the beach before heading home to a brekky of salmon, homegrown asparagus and eggs, mangoes and cherries all washed down with mimosas prepared by the oldest son (I love how everyone has their own area of responsibility!!)

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Ironically we had a “tropical” theme this year and despite the cool conditions we dressed up in our brightest loudest shirts, leis provided by Tom and some fabulous over the top tropicana specs from Livvy. Thus our Christmas photo this year looks like this….

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After our feast we adjourned to the garage where we had set up a games room complete with couches, table tennis and darts. Bocce was played outside when the weather allowed and for this sport loving family (aka competitive) it was all enjoyed immensely. The patriarch of the family presided over it all from the comfort of his ride on mower and we had a great afternoon together with lots of laughs.

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King of The Garage presiding over his minions.

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Having the Newlyweds to stay was very special. They appreciated more than any of us the beauty in waking up in the verdant countryside and breathing in the clean air. After the tropical humidity of Vietnam they were definitely chilly and spent Xmas Day with their puffer jackets firmly done up over their summery clothes! On Boxing Day we enjoyed the fun of board games (without killing each other) and the simple pleasure of a bonfire in the garden under the stars.

 

Loz and I couldn’t resist a visit to my friend Leanne who received the best present in the form of “Geoffrey” a beautiful little golden labrador puppy who will help her through the pain of losing her beloved golden retriever Cooper earlier this year. He was soooo soft and adorable and it was hard to tear ourselves away…

 

We had some lovely surprise overnight visits from family and friends and many an hour was spent on our back deck overlooking the paddocks talking about everything and nothing. My absolute favourite kind of catch up.

 

So, as all good things do, our family time together came to an end and they all scattered back to their lives in the city and overseas. It was wonderful to spend some good time with them all and for us to have some one on one time with our new son-in-law Berry. We are planning a trip to Vietnam to see them in April so at least I don’t have to be too sad when we say goodbye this time!

The Last Supper

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So from the green fields of The Meadow I wish you all the happiest 2018. Make it the year that you follow your dreams, we are capable of so much if we believe in our own power. It’s so easy to say things are too hard, too expensive, too challenging but is there anything better than achieving something you’ve worked hard for and striven for? To find you can paint, run, write, swim, cook, get fit and strong, dance or sing? You’ll never know if you don’t give it a go! We can all find a bit more kindness within ourselves too, pay things back or forward, smile at a stranger, hold the door open for people, help old people and chat to them – you may be the only person they speak to all day or week. How you treat people ultimately tells all and as the saying goes “Be the person that you want to see in others.”

C’ya 2017….Over and Out…..

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The good and bad bits about Christmas

As the sun is beaming, the jasmine and roses are out and passionfruit are being squeezed over just about everything as they fall off our vines we know it is summer and therefore nearly Christmas in the Land Down Under. Despite it apparently being perfectly acceptable come December 1st to decorate your entire house including the tree this does NOT HAPPEN IN THE CAMERON HOUSEHOLD. I put the front door wreath up and decorate some of the rooms around now and a week to 10 days  before Christmas we buy a real tree so it smells divinely piney and is full of zingy freshness for the Big Day. Obviously you can’t decorate it without having a silly santa hat on and belting out a tune to Bing Crosby as you go. If there are mince pies and a glass of something festive all the better. If there are members of your family to share this with, better still. We have progressed well past the point where we hung all sorts of handmade decorations that the kids made (mostly squiggly bits of broken pasta glued into some Xmas shapes) and instead I attempt an adult type theme. Some years it’s all traditional red and green, others gold and black or silver and white. Some years we go a bit folky and have wooden reindeer and stars and a bit of a Scandinavian type look. Whichever theme I go with I try and continue with the wrapping paper and ribbon. It gives me great pleasure to see it looking pretty and dressed and a bit co-ordinated!! (However I’m pretty sure if and when I get any grandkids I shall enjoy their wonky decoration of the bottom metre of the tree in any mismatched way their little heart’s desire!!)

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Christmas is a lot more tranquil nowadays, as most of my gift receivers are now grown up. The wish list is smaller (yet more expensive) and it’s much harder to surprise people with something special. My overseas prezzies have already been sent and I literally only have a couple of things left to get so it’s now all about planning THE FOOD. This is a highly enjoyable part of the season for me. Although we do mostly follow tradition I like to drop in the odd new recipe to see if it becomes our new favourite. The fact that I have my family for 3-5 days now we are here in the country gives me an excuse to spread out the yumminess over several days and between us we leave very few leftovers! This year however we have been warned that we may have an ‘issue’ with our beloved seafood. Two diseases have been affecting our prawn and oyster industry. White spot is a highly contagious viral infection that affects crustaceans.  White spot disease is widespread throughout prawn farming regions in Asia and the Americas where it has caused severe losses on prawn farms and it is now crucial that people fishing or crabbing anywhere in Australia’s waterways do not use prawns intended for human consumption as bait. Prawns sold in supermarkets could potentially spread the virus in waterways despite not being dangerous to humans. Outbreaks of white spot disease can have devastating impacts on aquaculture businesses and potentially harm popular commercial and recreational fishing areas. Once identified all the prawns have to be removed from the farms which then lie fallow for a year to help eradicate the virus which obviously has devastating financial effects on the industry. Needless to say that the prawn price will skyrocket if supply is low so we may be in for an expensive lunch….NicholasSeafood_Platters_PrawnOyster_WEB_900xPacific Oyster Mortality Syndrome (POMS) is a disease which affects Pacific Oysters. The virus is harmless to humans but kills oysters in days. The virus attacks the gills of the oyster and in layman’s terms suffocates the oyster. The demand over the Christmas period will no doubt put the price through the roof as supply may be compromised. This does not bode well for our family for whom seafood on Xmas Day is compulsory (even this little English girl adores this tradition) and as we have a lemon and lime tree laden with fruit a large platter of these delicious molluscs simply served with lemons from the tree or this fresh tangy Thai style dressing is a wonderful start to our lunch. So easy and you can still taste the briny oysters underneath. Enjoy!

  • 3 tbsp lime juice
  • 1 tbsp palm sugar
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 tbsp chopped coriander
  • Mix together and drizzle over oysters immediately prior to eating them.                                                                   **********

The Festive Season can certainly be tricky. It’s something we have all been brought up to look forward to and there is a certain amount of pressure that goes along with all the expectations. The combination of these high expectations, often copious quantities of alcohol and family members from near and far being flung together can be a recipe for disaster. Chuck in some discussions on politics, religion or housing affordability or throw a newly fledged vegetarian into the midst of the pork crackling and things can go off the Richter Scale.  When there are littlies are around it’s easy to keep the whole day magical but for us it’s mostly a wonderful rare opportunity to have our immediate family all together, enjoying each other’s company in a relatively relaxed way. This year we are going to embrace lawn games. Our traditional annual cricket game (with a freshly mown pitch courtesy of the MOTH), croquet, boules, petanque and in case of rain we have table tennis and darts in the garage too! This will interrupt the chilled prosecco and icy beers long enough for everyone to fight about ‘cheating’ siblings or to tease each other about skills that could do with some help. It will be loud, chaotic and wonderful and I am looking forward to it immensely.

2015-12-25 14.51.152015-12-25 15.13.49However for lots of people it is going to be more like a day or two to be ‘got through’ as they do not have the luxury of family or sometimes even friends to share it with. It is a huge pressure for households that literally have no extra money for gifts or festive food. For those people that struggle with anxiety or depression it is a real trigger with more suicides occurring at this time of year than any other. It is also a very hard time of year for those that have lost their loved ones with memories of previous happy years running through their heads, a bittersweet day. Sadly this week we said goodbye to my Sister-in-Law. She was a tiny girl, less than 5 foot tall but with a strength and tenacity that constantly amazed me. Her great sense of humour and quick wit helped us all to cope with her long term illness and she is an inspiration as to how I wish to look at the world. I’m an optimistic person but I don’t know if I could have laughed at things as she did whilst struggling on a daily basis just to breathe. I never heard her complain once even when things really started getting tough.  She really wanted to hang on for Xmas for her young son but it wasn’t to be. We salute you Fi and your brave struggle and we will raise a glass in fond memory to you on the Big Day.

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On a different note, our pizza oven is finally finished and looks splendid lording it over our back deck as if it has always been there. This has been the Man of the House’s project from start to finish and he has done a grand job. We are having some friends to dinner tonight for our first ‘public’ pizza night so I really hope that works out okay. Our 1st attempt failed miserably with soggy uncooked offerings and the 2nd time we only just caught them before they were burnt! Let’s hope that the 3rd time round we get them just right! As they take all of a minute or two to cook and we have to light the fire hours before to get the required coals for cooking it is not exactly a quick or convenient way to cook. To make all the effort worthwhile I am going to try and make some bread to pop in after the pizzas come out as well as leave a lamb shoulder in overnight to slow cook.  Fingers crossed at least one of the three dishes will be edible!!!

We finally got some rain. A wonderful 2 inches fell in 2 days and our tank is now 1/3 full and our garden a lot happier. However the nor-easterly sea breeze that blows strongly every afternoon has probably negated most of the benefits and we are back to hand watering until the next downpour. I am on the cusp of being the proud owner of a gazillion tomatoes. We have had a couple already and they are so sweet and delicious, absolutely nothing like shop bought tomatoes and our cherry tomato bush has gone crazy with tentacles spreading out far and wide, greedy for the sunshine and producing hundreds of sweet little morsels that we pop into our mouths like smarties. The zucchini and cucumbers are starting to fruit and the eggplant aren’t too far behind. Our apricot tree is laden with golden fruit and I have picked some with the intent of making my first ever batch of jam.20171210_103020I popped into my local IGA the other day and noticed a new machine in the car park and was very surprised to see that it dispensed both frozen and LIVE fishing bait. Goodness knows how they keep that stuff alive! It is quite amazing what they can dispense in a machine nowadays. They are no longer reserved just for potato chips, soft drink cans and candy bars. Higher-end offerings are springing up across the globe; some of the more bizarre examples to make headlines over the years: a live crab vending machine in China, a banana vending machine in Japan, a burger vending machine in Moscow and a sake vending machine in Japan.  When we were in Amsterdam we were impressed with the Dutch Fries machines located in train stations that popped out hot golden fries together with your sauce of choice (mayo, ketchup, peanut sauce, chopped onions or cheese sauce) in about 2 minutes flat. In Sydney at the race tracks and in the City there are now Champagne dispensing machines with mini Moet bottles ready to go and also a machine selling Havaianas (a brand of flip flops) for those poor sore and swollen feet after parading around in high heels! Ingenuity and marketing rolled into one!

I heard a silly Aussie version of Jingle Bells on the car radio this morning and I’m sharing it here especially for all my non Australian followers. It’s a bit old but a lot of it still holds true as celebrating in a basically northern hemisphere fashion on a hot summers day Down Under does present it’s challenges! Click on the link and you will see the song AND the explanation of all our weird words are there for you!

http://alldownunder.com/australian-music-songs/jingle-bells.htm

No matter if you have been naughty or nice I wish you all a very happy Christmas doing whatever makes your heart sing and most importantly doing it with the people you love.

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It’s that time of the year again

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Summer arrives in The Antipodes this Friday. This traditionally means that the sunshine arrives, together with mangoes, expensive prawns, not quite ripe avocadoes that cost the GDP of a small country, our bbqs are back in use, the passionfruit vine is pumping out it’s fruit, the baby zucchinis are flowering and in our little patch of the South Coast our chooks are laying and the flies are out in force. We have social gatherings left right and centre, there are various lists of varying length and importance outlining Xmas gifts and copious quantities of the festive food and drink necessary to make it “feel like Christmas”. This involves a disgusting amount of squishy cheese and an embarrassing amount of prosecco. Aaah it’s definitely the most wonderful time of the year!

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All of these things have an impact on life in The Meadow but annoyingly I think the flies are winning this week. The new farmers have in their wisdom placed 4 grain feeders for the heifers within 200 metres of our house. This is convenient for them as the trucks can easily access the paddock to refill the feeders but for us it is rather annoying seeing as they have 300 acres they could have used. Needless to say the little cows are quite pleased with the extra feed in their diet and congregate, mooing and eating as if it was their local pub. This is all well and good but where cows congregate, flies gather in droves and on their way to and fro from the cows they pop into our garden to investigate any potential delicacies that we may have for them. We are forced to wear the very latest in headgear as we work outside, looking very fetching in a fly net as we sweat and toil. Thank goodness as darkness approaches the little buggers leave us in peace although it won’t be long until the mozzies come out to play! Am I selling the Aussie Country Life to you all yet???

Despite the flies there is a sense of excitement (or for some people it’s more a sense of dread) about the impending Festivities and all that entails. I’m feeling quite smug this year as my gifts have already landed in the UK a whole month prior to the Big Day. I was spurred on by my BIG fail last year when my gift for my dear little Great Niece aged 5 didn’t arrive until January and I was deemed unworthy (not by her but by me). I have lists for my immediate family that are gradually getting crossed off and next week I will venture up into the loft in the garage to find all the Xmas decorations and dress the main part of the house with jaunty baubles and felt gnomes and elves! The tree (always a real one) will be installed about 10 days before Jesus’ birthday and then as we smell the pine needles it really does begin to feel a lot more like Christmas.

So for now it’s more about the Christmas parties, lunches and dinners that all need to be squeezed in with people we either don’t see all year or those that we hang out with all the time. Slightly crazy but hey, it’s that time of the year. We started the ball rolling last week with a Xmas lunch with my FUN (Females United Networking) ladies in beautiful Kangaroo Valley at the tranquil and beautifully put together Jacks Corner Retreat which is available to rent for weekend or weekly retreats or family get togethers. This is owned and run by our fearless leader Belinda and she put together a lovely lunch for 21 of us followed by a raucous Secret Santa where we all nicked each others prezzies or hid those that we didn’t want to give away!  http://belindaestate.wixsite.com/jackscornerretreat

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The main reason we were all getting together, apart from to celebrate the season, was to hand in our bags for Share The Dignity. This is a charity that came about because women and girls who were doing it tough or were in homeless shelters had no money for food let alone sanitary products so for the past few years this charity has provided these items to help improve the dignity for these women.

The ‘It’s In the Bag’ Christmas campaign is one of their major appeals, collecting donations of pre-loved handbags filled with essentials and a few little luxuries, which are then redistributed to women’s shelters and charities who work with homeless women. They are generally filled with essentials such as shampoo and conditioner, deodorant, soap, toothpaste and toothbrush, tampons and pads. And then add a few little luxuries that would make someone smile such as a lip balm or moisturiser, book or magazine, a scarf or pair of socksIndividuals are also asked to add a message of support to let the girls and women know that they are special and someone cares about them.

It was a great day and hopefully our bags will make a small but helpful difference to some of the many women and teenagers suffering in refuges around Australia. Next year I will start collecting items much earlier and will include a few more meaningful items to my bag. http://www.sharethedignity.com.au

From Kangaroo Valley to Melbourne…My husband’s company had generously invited me to their work Xmas party at the iconic Donovans Restaurant on St Kilda Beach. As I had only previously met a handful of his colleagues this was a wonderful way to get to know a few more of them and we had a fantastic night in this beautiful restaurant with great food and wines. Thanks so much for including me guys.

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We had spent the previous couple of nights in Melbourne while he worked and I had an opportunity to catch the tram into the City and do a bit of Xmas shopping. It is a great town and they certainly know how to dress it up for the holidays. It has a European flavour and the public transport makes getting around a breeze. I can see why people love living there despite the changeable weather. We were so lucky with temps of 28-32 every day we were there!

Then it was back to Sydney just in time to celebrate a good friend’s 80th birthday. He was one of Wayne’s first bosses and really taught him a lot about trading and sales and we have witnessed their children grow up and become parents themselves so this was more like a family occasion to us! They live in a lovely home with a glorious outlook to Sydney harbour, a great spot for a party! Our 1am finish is testament to the fact that you don’t have to be young to know how to enjoy yourselves – those octogenarians have staying power that’s for sure!

After all this socialising and travelling we were happy to get home to our little patch of serenity. I couldn’t believe how much the veggies had grown in 4 days – the tomatoes were a foot taller and we had a forest of asparagus!! We are finally eating our own tomatoes (soooo different from the supermarket variety) and the baby zucchinis are prolific so we will be able to eat from our own crops again soon. Eggplant, cucumbers, capsicum, beetroot, beans, radishes, lettuce, herbs, spinach as well as a tree laden with apricots, passionfruit, rhubarb and a gazillion baby apples all potentially up for the dining table in the coming weeks and months. We occasionally let the chooks out into the garden (except for when we have recently mulched as they LOVE digging it all up!) and they wander around as if they own the place! I love seeing them pecking away making their little happy noises as they go…

Our garden is coming along although we could do with some consistent rain. Our hydrangeas have finally started coming to the party with some magnificent blooms although our acid soil is making a lot of them pink. I had bought a range of colours to ensure I had lots of choice for cut flowers but apart from the white ones and the red ones that don’t change colour they are much more on the pink side so I am going to artificially meddle with a few of them to “blue” them. Watch this space…..

As we gear up for another solid weeks of lunches and dinners (my waistline is groaning already) I still have a childish excitement for Christmas, made even more special nowadays as it is the one time of the year our little travellers are guaranteed to return to their homeland and we all have some real family time together. In the end the food and drinks, prezzies and parties are all just the icing on the cake. It is the sharing of special times together and the making of our own family traditions that really makes us happy. As they all get older and our family widens to include partners it is harder to spend this time together but it makes my heart glad that they all prioritise this and somehow make it happen. A Mother’s heart is really happiest when surrounded by her family – nothing beats it in my book ♥♥♥

 (except maybe winning the lottery – hahaha!! )

 

Back in The Meadow

20171113_130114This lucky paddle boarder has the whole beach to themselves!

It’s so lovely to be back home in our little white house in The Meadow. I have fallen in love with where I live all over again. Maybe it is the time of year? Spring is so beautiful in this little corner of the world. The rolling green hills have brightened with a couple of good downpours and the plants have all sprung into flower, the jacarandas are in full throttle, purple puddles amongst the green and the roses are blooming profusely. The temperature is perfect, the skies are blue and it’s hard to find fault with the world.

Except of course that sad things happen on a daily basis. My lovely friend Leanne lost her beloved golden retriever Cooper while I was away, sadly run over by a neighbour – surely one of the most traumatic things for EVERYONE concerned and VERY hard for both his owners and his four legged companion, another chocolate Lab called Captain who has been his best mate for a couple of years, always there to play with and to just hang out with. In their usual instinctive way Captain ‘found’ Coopy and lay on his grave crying and whimpering which broke Leanne’s heart. As a result Bailey has been going over for some doggy play dates to keep him from being too lonely and they have a marvellous time running and scampering around their garden and rumbling in the bushes for an hour or two of unadulterated fun! Bailey also enjoyed an afternoon of fun with Gloria, the not so little puppy down the road. I love to see them tearing around like idiots until they drop like a ton of bricks under the shade of the huge pear tree, panting and content.

On the 2nd Tuesday in November we enjoyed The Melbourne Cup function put on by The Shoalhaven Heads Hotel, a lovely pub right on the river and about 70 odd people came to enjoy the lunch, the races and a tongue in cheek fashion parade with some fun girls modelling clothes found at the local St Vincent de Paul op shop. There was actually some amazing outfits which were sold off at the end of the day with all the money going back to the charity. It was great fun and some men and women also received a ‘best dressed’ award after going to some considerable trouble to look the part on our biggest race day. Incredibly I somehow managed to back the winner of the cup!! As usual with me it wasn’t because of it’s recent form, the jockey, or anything else other than the name – Rekindling. This name leaped out at me as there is an ongoing battle between the Man of the House and his sons re kindling for the fires. He spends ages collecting it and they burn it all within 5 minutes when they come down in our absence! Anyway, however it comes about, Winners are Grinners!!

We had a lovely weekend with the boys, catching up on all the holiday news and they lent us a hand in the garden, cutting back errant branches hanging so low they scratch and cut the ‘Man who Mows’ as he sails by on his favourite toy (the ride on mower). They also helped with the final coat of paint on the wood fired pizza oven. It was installed before we left but there was quite a bit of work to do curing it gradually and then sealing and painting it etc before we could put it into action. We decided to give it a whirl this weekend and using a tried and true pizza base recipe courtesy of Jamie Oliver we whipped up a batch for dinner. The fire was lit around 5.30pm and with much anticipation we checked on it regularly waiting for it to reduce to coals instead of leaping flames and smoke but we had completely underestimated the size of the fire needed to heat the oven to the required 350-400ºC and the 1st pizza languished in the oven for 10 then 20 minutes and still didn’t do it’s stuff. Luckily I had put the electric oven on indoors in case of disaster and we ended up cooking them in there. I must say they were delicious, we just need a bit more practise to get the cooking side of it up to par and we will be laughing. The idea is to blitz the pizzas in the initial heat and then pop in a roast or some bread to take advantage of the heat of the oven to the fullest. It retains the heat so much that it was still registering 50 degrees the following morning!

As usual when you have a productive garden you really pay the price when you go away on holiday. In a blink of an eye (and especially in Spring) the weeds will outgrow the plants and the veggies will bolt and go to seed, the crops you had so lovingly nurtured over many weeks peaking and dying before you get a chance to use any of it!! Our wonderful house sitter, Smutzer, had listened to my beseeched pleas to water my newly planted tomatoes and they were alive and already starting to fruit on my return much to my delight. I have spent many, many hours since returning home in the veggie patch and the beds are now wrangled into some sort of order, freshly planted with the summer herbs and veggies. The garlic has been harvested and we have a small but tasty crop to use over the coming months. We also have apricots, plums, lemons and limes, rhubarb, blueberries and apples all happily growing on our trees. Fingers crossed we get them before the birds or the bugs do! We have another little mouth to feed in the garden too. When I was watering the garden the other day the tiniest little baby rabbit hopped out of the bed and lay quivering in the sunshine. It didn’t run away when I came up to it and I managed to pick it up and move it to another part of the garden but the next day it was back when I watered the veggie patch. I hope it’s ok, it looks so tiny and of course the MOTH (a.k.a the voice of doom although he calls it realism) says it will eat all our veggies, and that it will probably die as it’s so small and has no survival tendencies. I really hope he is wrong on all counts…..

It was really nice to catch up with some of my city girlfriends down here whilst they were staying in Kangaroo Valley. They popped in to see the house extensions before we toddled off to Wharf Road for lunch. Located right on the banks of the Shoalhaven River it has a beautiful outlook and a nice menu to match. A simple meal and a couple of aperol spritz later they were beginning to appreciate the life we have down here!! Not as much of a backwater as people may think!!IMG-20171102-WA0017When we announced we had bought a house in the country the number one response that most people had was “What on earth are you going TO DO down there????” Needless to say we have never been busier, but in a nice way; enjoying the fruits of our labour in the garden and in the kitchen, walking on glorious 7 mile beach, eating at local wineries or with family and friends in our garden and counting our lucky stars that we plucked up the courage to Move to The Meadow!!

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The Land of Stars and Stripes

“You are so LUCKY, I just love love LOVE New York” gushed the Qantas ground staff as we checked in. This was something I had been hearing repeatedly for weeks now as seemingly EVERYONE loves NYC. Not one person had said anything to the contrary and I guess it is just one of those cities that has a beloved personality all of its own like Paris or Rome. We had a sense of what was to come before we even stepped onto American soil. As a first timer in the US of A I was guilty of several preconceived ideas about the place, most of which proved to be wrong in reality, but it was with much anticipation and a little bit of trepidation that I arrived at JFK airport ready to immerse myself in everything that is New York.

We had arranged to stay in an Airbnb (our first time) and it was a perfect decision. We had a real sense of what it would be like to actually live in NYC and we had a load more room than we would have had in a hotel. My cousin lived a mile away in a lovely old brownstone in Brooklyn and we had a great first night with her and her hubby in a little gastro pub around the corner. They were able to give us a ‘locals’ view of what to do and where to go and it was lovely to be with my English family in their adopted homeland. As I know only too well, visits from people from home are always few and far between and are to be made the most of!! I could really see how you could soon feel at home in Brooklyn and Williamsburg as they both had a nice villagey feel. A real neighbourhood.

Neighbourhoods, as it turns out, are what it’s all about.

New York is huge yet small. People seem to mostly stay in their own neighbourhoods and eat, drink and shop locally. We repeatedly found when talking to people that they hadn’t quite got around to visiting  X or Y yet, even after living in NYC for years! We were full of questions and once people heard our accents they were eager to answer them. We found the best places to meet people were in bars. We met so many great people when sitting at the bar, especially once they heard our  voices, as my sports mad husband wasn’t shy about asking a gazillion questions re the baseball that was on, The Yankees were in the playoffs and there was a lot of passion and noise gathered around the bar TVs. It was nice to talk to local New Yorkers about their lives and they were eager to hear about ours in Australia. Almost to a man they said it was way too far to visit especially as the average American only gets 2 weeks annual leave. They thought we were incredibly lucky to get 4 weeks!

We stayed in the Upper East Side for our first week so we were in the middle of a large Hasidic Jewish population which was interesting as it was one of their big holidays and they were all dressed in these massive furry hats called a shtreimel and sharing prayers and harvest type gifts with people. The Jewish delis are a thing of beauty. I could have stayed there for hours but we bought our pastrami on rye and an amazing goats cheese and escaped before I spent the equivalent of a months wages on all the beautifully displayed goods. Again, all those words you’ve heard throughout your life – matzoh balls, knishes, lox on bagels, latkes etc. Lots of little old ladies impeccably dressed with their hubbies in suits just doing their groceries, a contrast to the tourists in their Nikes pounding the streets busy getting to and from wherever.

We enjoyed three totally different evenings of entertainment that our lovely friends Dean and Nicki had arranged for us all. The 1st was at the beautifully appointed NoMad hotel with an exquisite dinner followed by a very entertaining and extremely clever show by magician Dan White. The 2nd was a play at The Lyceum called The Play that went Wrong and it was hilarious and very interactive and on our last night with them we went to The Lion King which was every bit as colourful and energetic as I had imagined. We followed this up with a trip to Blue Note, a jazz club in the West Village and a 10.30pm show from an 80 year old prominent jazz pianist and his band. It was pretty obscure to be honest with lots of discordant notes and not exactly musical but an experience nonetheless!!  Seeing all the things and places that we have grown up hearing about is weird. As if you already know them but you obviously really don’t, we hadn’t realised how much of America is in our psyche through TV and the movies and as we walked over Park Lane, Lexington and 5th Avenue it felt like we were in the middle of a monopoly game!

There is plenty to do in NY, loads of touristy places to visit and we did end up going up to ‘The Top of the Rock’ to see the amazing view over Manhattan, you can truly see how vast the city is from up there and the ice skating rink in the Rockefeller Plaza had just opened for the winter season and although it was still warm enough for us to just wear a tee shirt we could imagine people in a few weeks time skating in their winter coats under the huge Christmas Tree that epitomises Xmas in NYC. We walked the Brooklyn Bridge and marvelled at all the sights, we ate pizza and burgers, chilli and fried chicken and walked kilometres every day, by far the best way to experience the city. Central Park was a huge beating heart in the middle of the city and we had a lovely day cycling around it and chatting with an old gentleman in his nineties about the changes in the world and even about the Central Park robins who no longer migrate due to global warming. His rheumy eyes and mottled skin had seen history come and go but he still loved to sit in his beloved park and watch life go by and to chat with people from all over the world. These things made me happier than whizzing up 80 floors to take a picture from the top of a building or shop for yet more “stuff”.

The things that will forever stay in my head are the stories from New York such as the stories of the ‘peopling of New York’ from the early days of immigration. A trip to Ellis Island, which was the gateway to America for so many people giving up everything they knew in the hope of something better, is unmissable. These people arrived after weeks and weeks being cooped up on ships crammed together dreaming of a new life after much adversity, sometimes to find that their families had to be split up on arrival due to health problems or they were shipped off to Texas instead of staying with extended family in the city. Our favourite places were those that evoked emotion like Ellis Island and of course the 9/11 memorial and museum.

I will NEVER forget the  museum at Ground Zero and the stories within. A few hours spent here makes you remember both the best and worst of humanity and I challenge anyone to leave it unmoved. It’s still hard to believe that 9/11 ever happened, especially when you’re walking down the same streets that were engulfed in so much choking dust and debris that no one could recognise their everyday environment. As always the human stories that came out of that tragic day are overwhelming and after a few hours I literally couldn’t take anything else in. A later visit to the Fire Museum gave us additional insight into the day with the NYFD’s own memories of the day when they were heroes to so many and where so many of them lost their lives. Ordinary men in the most extraordinary of circumstances. A day that forever changed our world.

A few things surprised me…. The amount of beautiful old buildings when I had imagined they would all be modern, the amount of really good food there was to be had (at a price I may add, I’m never going to complain about Sydney being expensive again after this trip!) A particular favourite for everyday was the wonderful Eataly. A whole block dedicated to Italian food of every description. A food Hall, deli, fishmonger and butcher all rolled into one. We had the best pasta I think I’ve ever had with a great Pinot from Oregon for US$18 and that my friends is about as cheap as it gets in The Big Apple.

After a big week in The Big Smoke we rented a car and escaped to New England. My chauffeur did very well driving out of New York, which is not anything to relish considering they drive on the other side and the car was a left hand drive and we were in the middle of about 12 different roads. Miraculously we were out of the city before we knew it and bowling down the Interstate 95 with our roof down and feeling the fresh air on our face. All was well until the Sat Nav decided to stop communicating with us and we had to rely on an old fashioned road sign to Newport RI. A tiny one pointing to the Newport Uni was all we saw and by the time we reached Providence we realised we had gone too far and then had to turn around and head 40 miles back! Now in the rush hour and with the low afternoon sun in our eyes as well as not having the faintest clue as to where we were, we were forced to turn on our Aussie phones and rely on Google Maps to get us there. Guessing that’s going to be a nice bill when it arrives.

However once we arrived at our little guesthouse we were thrilled by the quaintness of everything and our lovely Attic bedroom with a view of the rooftops and the local church. We could finally put some of our warmer clothes on as the evening was cool (New York had been unseasonably warm and we hadn’t even had a long sleeved tee shirt on thus far.) So dressed in our jackets we took off to explore and loved what we saw. The next day we left the car at home and walked along the famous cliff walk where you can see the mansions from the late 1800s onwards belonging to the likes of the Vanderbilt and Rockefeller families. They were a statement in opulence and a show of their great wealth. Their great lawns rolling down to the ocean must have been a welcome respite from the overwhelming summer heat in NYC with the sea breeze keeping things cool and fresh.

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For my erstwhile travelling companion and chauffeur this was a trip down memory lane as he had spent a few months here in the summer of ’83 as a young man. He had bought a Harley Davidson and was travelling around the country and as The Americas Cup was on here (and The Aussies won it) life was just one huge party. With his partner in crime, a cartoonist from NYC, they jumped the fence at a huge lawn party at no other place than the Vanderbilt Mansion, The Breakers, and soon they were mingling with the crowd and enjoying the hospitality of Mr Alan Bond. Eventually the security guys suspected that the story that the boys had told them saying that they were from the company that erected the marquee and were here to “test the tension of the ropes” was completely fictional and they were rather unceremoniously escorted from the premises! All these years later he was back, this time as an official ticket holder as we toured the most incredibly opulent house he broke into 34 years ago, an example of ‘The Gilded Age’ it was very over the top and I couldn’t really imagine living there, curled up on the sofa with a good book! The kitchen however was amazing, with a beautiful collection of copper pots and the biggest oven I’ve ever seen!!

Before a wonderful Mexican meal of lobster quesadillas and watermelon margaritas (a wonderful recommendation from the beautiful Matilda Meakes) we popped into a local bar (seems to be a recurring theme!!) and there was a group of a dozen young trainee naval officers enjoying a 4 hour leave pass after a 10 week stint on duty. In Australia that situation would have got messy pretty quickly but these young men were SO SO POLITE. It happened to pop up in conversation that I was from a naval family in the UK and a few minutes later two of these fresh faced boys came up to me and said “excuse me Ma’am but we’d just like to thank your Father for his service!” Needless to say I was gobsmacked (and was it wrong that I loved the Ma’am bit?) Service personnel are quite revered over here nowadays and they are very upfront about thanking everyone. The combination of the fresh air and sunshine from the cliff walk worked it’s magic and we really started to relax and feel like we were on holiday. So much so that we started wondering if we really did want to go to Boston and another big city after all or maybe instead we could stay on The Cape and enjoy the tranquility? We had a couple of nights booked in Martha’s Vineyard to make up our minds….

We experienced the only bad weather of the trip in Martha’s Vineyard but I actually think it enhanced the experience for me. The colours were amazing, unique and misty and of an appealing monochromatic palette. We stayed in the fabulous Nobnocket Inn, let’s face it folks the name alone is unforgettable! This was special as it was recommended by a close friend of my sisters in Wales and once again I had the sense of being in such a small world, united by friendships. Annabelle and Simon were consummate hosts and we LOVED our room and all the luxurious little touches such as a  choice of nightcap and beautiful sweet treats waiting for us on our return from dinner. The next day we borrowed their bikes and cycled around the island enjoying the mizzly rain and then after 20 miles REALLY enjoying the bar we found with a great lunch AND the footy for Cam!!! We explored the little towns with their patriotic flags flying at every possible opportunity and the little gingerbread cottages that originally housed people from religious groups that came for summer camp. Everything was so cute, almost like a little model village.

Our lovely hosts waved us off with a recommendation to stay at The Chatham Inn on The Cape and as we drove away the sun came out and we were so happy that we had changed our plans from Boston where driving is apparently worse than NY, I’m pretty sure our holiday feels would have flown straight out of the window if we’d continued on there!! As it was we had the top down on the car and we were feeling pretty happy as we cruised into Chatham. We’ve grown up with movies showing off that beautiful Cape Cod style of house and the reality certainly didn’t disappoint. Everything was immaculately presented and as neat as a pin. I would happily live in the garages of these homes they were so beautiful! Halloween and Thanksgiving were two themes that were being fully embraced everywhere we went. Pumpkins, corn cobs and orange and yellow flowers were displayed everywhere, even if the house only had a small window box! In Manhattan we couldn’t avoid Halloween, scary witches, possessed babies, laughing clowns and spider’s webs stretched as far as the eye could see. They certainly do love a theme!!

We stopped off in Falmouth for a genuine American Diner experience  at Betsy’s which looked straight out of a sitcom with the original chairs, a jukebox and neon signs. We loved it (well everything apart from the brown water that they call coffee) and dutifully complied with the sign telling us to ‘EAT HEAVY’

One of the quaintest things particular to the Cape is that the cars stop for you. I’m not talking about when you’re at a crossing, I mean literally everywhere. If you stop anywhere at the side of the road waiting for a break in the (sparse) traffic, the cars just stop for you to cross. It was lovely, a small town nicety that respected pedestrians and visitors to their town.

On the way back to NYC we stopped off to enjoy one more night with our friends who had now rented a beautiful house in Westerly, Rhode Island that belonged to the Relais Chateaux group operated Ocean House, a stunning old Victorian hotel that has been renovated to a very high standard and sits majestically on top of a hill overlooking the ocean. We took a drive to the nearby town of Mystic where they filmed the 1988 film Mystic Pizza starring a young Julia Roberts and we ate at that very same pizza restaurant where they still have the film playing on a constant loop. Not a bad pizza either I must say!

We farewelled them as we made our way back to Manhattan in the Mustang, a lot more relaxed than when we’d left a week prior and Cam feeling quite accomplished driving like a pro right into E64th street!! A quick trip downtown to our last little Airbnb sojourn in SoHo where we found ourselves in a charming studio with a terrace (an absolute find in the middle of the action). It somehow managed to be quiet whilst being surrounded by bars and restaurants and a mere 5 minute walk to Broadway and all the big, shiny shops! We took advantage of it’s location, walking to The High Line which has transformed the old rail line in the meat packing district into a little piece of nature in the midst of the skyscrapers. A different style of architecture every 5 minutes and a birds eye view of the city.

We were also a hop skip and a jump from Wall Street so we hopped on the subway to check out the Cocoa Exchange. My very own Cocoa trader was pretty excited to be in the midst of the action as you can see….

A trip to the Smithsonian Institute to see the history of the American Indians was interesting and also to the Fire Museum, MOMA with it’s modern art, The Flatiron, Grand Central Station, the beautiful Public Library and a walk along The Hudson River and we were almost ready to hop on the plane home. We managed to catch up with some other Aussies who now call New York home, enjoying a brunch with Jack and a dinner with Nic at The Odeon. So good to see them both enjoying all that this amazing city offers.

So to summarise our trip to the USA, it was WONDERFUL to see another country, how other people live and to see all the places we have read and heard about. The people were NOT loud and obnoxious, the food was loads better than I had imagined, the bistros and bars were fantastic, the public transport, Uber and Airbnb all made life easy and convenient and there was something to look at on every corner. We saw some poverty, especially on the way to and from the airport and I’m sure if we had visited different areas we would have seen a lot more and I can understand why – this place is EXPENSIVE!! Our exchange rate didn’t help so we tried not to think about it too much or it would have spoiled things. We didn’t shop much but I could have gone crazy with sneakers – a third of the price they are in Oz and very tempting! It is a vast country and even in the little pocket of land we covered things varied enormously and it would be fun to see a bit more of it one day. The Man of The House is making noises about a road trip on a motor bike but that may be a step too far for this little yellow duck!

As usual, stepping out of your comfort zone and seeing the world also makes you realise how lucky we are to call Australia home. The things we take for granted – our wonderful clean cities, amazing beaches and gorgeous countryside are truly to be appreciated, it’s so strange that we have to go away sometimes to appreciate what’s in our own back yard! So we are now home, reunited with the Choccy Drop back in our little white house in The Meadow being woken daily at 6am by a flock of screeching cockatoos and I wouldn’t have it any other way ♥♥♥

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A Snippet of Spring

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It’s one of those langorous Spring days where the cloudless sky is the perfect shade of blue and the sun has just the right amount of heat in it. After a few hours working in the garden (the wind has finally calmed down after literally WEEKS of blowing) I am treating myself to a little walk down the lane with Bailey. She walks ahead of me her bottom swaying rhythmically until she stops to sniff the air, our local hares love this lane and she spends a lot of time criss crossing it as she follows their trail. The magpies are calling from the tops of the gum trees with their glorious throaty song and the fairy wrens and finches chitter chatter in the hedgerows. I am content.

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(You can hear the magpie song here, for any homesick Aussie who may be reading this…)

We are a sleep away from travelling to New York and despite my excitement at seeing this amazing city I am already aware how much I will love coming home. Travel is certainly an eye opener, seeing how other people live, eat and interact is always fascinating but the other half of the equation is it also makes you appreciate what you have at home, sometimes you literally have no idea how good you have it until you see how it’s done elsewhere. So today I am taking some time to look, really look, around me at what we have, the simplicity of living amongst nature and eating food we’ve grown ourselves and appreciating it with “outside” eyes.

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Spring has arrived despite the lack of rain and our garden is limping into flower with the help of some time consuming hand watering. Somehow our old established roses are in bloom despite the ground being like rock and the lavender and jasmine is in full throttle. Our wisteria has had to withstand winds up to 60km per hour and has therefore very little of its beautiful pendulous flowers left, most of them having been blown to the surrounding paddocks, little purple patches amongst the yellowing grass. There are talks of water restrictions before Christmas if we don’t get some serious rain soon and our usually vibrant green surrounds are certainly faded and the lane has giant jagged cracks throughout it’s parched surface. To think we were panicking just a few months ago when we had floods before the wedding. Always a feast or a famine in Australia.

We have left the planting of the summer veggies partly because we will be away and partly because it’s been so dry and windy. Of course after weeks and weeks of nurturing my broad beans and sweet peas both are now deciding to flower and produce fruit just as I disappear!! The asparagus is producing about 6 stalks a day and the spinach continues to be the gift that keeps on giving. Our two new black chooks are finally being semi accepted into the gang and are starting to lay but sadly we have also recently lost a couple of our original ones so the egg situation continues to fluctuate and the size too. I found the tiniest egg ever the other day……

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Our Mulberry tree is heavy with fruit at the moment and I’m gathering a big bowl every day. Bags of them are being given as gifts to friends and neighbours and Bailey is constantly mooching under the tree enjoying the fallen berries. Our usual trick of cutting off the branches quite savagely in Winter and then bending the new supple ones in Spring and tying them around the trunk has worked beautifully with the new fruit protected inside the large leaves and away from the eagle eyed birds that also enjoy them!

We had a quick overnight trip to Callala Bay to see our friends and it was lovely to wake up and be so close to the water. Literally 150 metres walk and there is the Bay twinkling in the early morning light, boats bobbing gently and the beach curving out ahead of us invitingly. Having a dog is always a good reason to get up early and enjoy it before the holiday boat people arrive, fishing rods slung over their shoulders and eskies full of treats for the day ahead.

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I will miss my little Chocolate Drop but she will be well taken care of by our house sitter extraordinaire and will probably barely register that we are gone! Hopefully the heavens will open in our absence and we will return weary from our travels to discover a GREEN lawn and an abundance of fruit, veg and flowers and we will appreciate it all the more for our eyes having been opened to new things. Next stop The Big Apple….

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