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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Saigon

20170919_171634The view from Lauren’s apartment in District 2 looking across The Mekong to District 1 which is the major centre of Saigon.

I was very happy to finally be on her veranda taking this picture as it took me 30 hours to get there. Having felt pretty smug at finding my budget airfare with Air Asia for a mere $405 return I was devastated to find on landing in Kuala Lumpur that my ongoing flight to Vietnam had been cancelled due to bad weather. Nothing was available until 11am the following day and as it wasn’t deemed “their fault” there was no offer of accommodation or even a food voucher to see me through the next 17 hours. I guess you get what you pay for….. So having decided I was way too old to crash on a bench in the airport terminal I went off in search of accommodation nearby. I suddenly remembered Lauren had stayed in a Capsule Hotel in Seoul (she reckoned it was clean and relatively spacious contrary to my long held idea of it being more like a coffin with bed bugs) and it made me brave enough to check in to one in the airport and to be fair, despite it being extremely tiny, it was clean and the futon style mattress was comfortable. There was no door, merely a pull down blind separating me from the corridor. The ‘hotel’ is segregated into male and female sections with a shared bathroom for each sex and a security locker downstairs for your luggage. If it hadn’t been for my blind/door flapping about all night due to the aircon in the corridor, inconveniently letting a huge industrial light shine directly onto my face, I think I would have slept better but despite that it certainly beat a seat in the airport and cost me the princely sum of $37!!

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I was back at the airport by 8am just to find that my ongoing flight was already delayed 1.5 hours (no reason given) and I was beginning to think I would never leave KL airport but I decided to go with the flow and wandered off to look for something to eat and drink as I had had nothing since brekky 24 hours previously in Sydney. Due to the wonders of technology this is so easy nowadays. The ‘tap and go’ concept with a credit card is easy and safe and memories of having to change currencies several times for different countries in the past is well and truly gone thank goodness. Luckily I had bought a new book in Sydney and it helped pass the time and the free airport wifi kept me in touch with Lauren who was pretty sad that a whole day of our short time together had been wasted.

Lesson 1: Fly direct and pay for a decent airline as a budget fare can sometimes be a false economy.

However once I arrived Loz whisked me off to D1 to have a lovely lunch and the first of our many chats about her new life in Vietnam. The Secret Garden Restaurant was down a (rather dubious) alley and up 4 flights of stairs but it was worth it when we arrived at a little bohemian rooftop complete with colourful paper lanterns, handmade pottery, a resident cockerel who lorded it over the entire space and a delicious menu including those fresh herb laden salads that I love so much. The local Vietnamese are very friendly and hardworking but also know how to relax and can often be found snoozing on anything from a bench to a hastily slung hammock between 2 trees in the street to the top of their motorbikes if there are no customers to have to attend to.

Once home she showed me around her district which has a lovely village feel and is a real mixture of local and expat living. This is the area for all the International Schools and is therefore set up beautifully for  any expat whim that you may have. The locals have worked out exactly what we all like to spend our wages and holiday dollars on and provide it in spades. Beautiful hotels, restaurants, beauty salons, art galleries, homewares shops, florists, cafes with local and western menus and a few gourmet food shops providing all the things you miss from home (at a hefty price of course!) were all here vying for our dollars. There was even a cockatoo in a cage at a nearby juice bar for the odd homesick Aussie!!! In between there are the local Vietnamese shops selling pho, banh mi, sweet Vietnamese iced coffee and fresh coconuts complete with a straw! Back to her complex and a swim in the pool and I’d nearly forgotten about the previous 24 hours!!

The snazzy part of expat life comes in the form of resorts and restaurants on the water. With the understated luxury that tropical architecture brings you can feel very relaxed within a very short period of time as you sip your beverage of choice under a lazy swirling fan surrounded by lush potted palms and water features that gently bubble in the background – the epitome of tranquility. The architecture is usually simple and textural and uses symmetry in a pleasing way and it’s not too much of a stretch of the imagination to feel like you are back in those old colonial days when the French had such a big influence in Vietnam.

At night the indoors melds with the exterior and you almost feel part of the Mighty Mekong, an entity all of it’s own that supports life and industry for many many people from China to Vietnam. The Mekong River is the lifeblood of Southeast Asia and offers a glimpse into the long history and diverse cultures of the region. The 12th longest river in the world and the 7th longest in Asia, it flows through six countries: China, Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam.

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On a smaller scale expats have become the reason for many co-sharing ventures in Saigon. Lauren is just one of the MANY freelancers that work here and their office of choice is a café. The locals have cashed in on this in a big way providing ‘cool’ hangouts that are comfortable and conducive to a few hours work on your laptop. There is no pressure to buy more than the odd coffee or fresh coconut and in the evenings and the weekends they are a hive of activity as they cater to the Westeners tastes in both food, music, cocktails and even provide the odd pool table!

They have also picked up on our desire for fresh juices, organic food and permaculture, yoga and wellness and these are invariably located in tranquil surroundings which may also provide pods for working quietly and is a good place to share information with like minded souls. In this way it really doesn’t take long for an expat to feel at home and make friends, often far more quickly than you would at home as you are all in a similar shared experience a long way away from both family and familiarity.

As she is still recovering from Dengue Fever my dynamo daughter couldn’t execute her usual A4 list of things to do QUITE as much as she would usually do. We cancelled our overnight trip up the Mekong and instead opted to do a couple of more sedate things which wouldn’t tire her out too much. Number 1 on our list was to attend a ceramics workshop and MAKE SOMETHING! We spent the previous evening looking up various ideas on Pinterest and concocted a general plan for our forthcoming artistic endeavours. On arriving at the studio Alessandro, our teacher from The Virgin Islands, listened carefully to our wishes and got us started. 30 minutes later despite setting out to make different items we both ended up with identical things on our potters wheel, but it was great fun and as ceramics was something I have been wanting to try for ages I was really happy to have given it a go. He told me that if I could find a kiln near to me at home it would be quite easy to make some of the ideas I had come up with so that is now on my list of THINGS TO DO. Loz will pick up our glazed and fired bowls in a few weeks and use them to house her plants and cacti at home. No doubt she will feel very accomplished and creative with our handmade offerings displayed on her shelves!!

The other genteel thing we did was to visit The Saigon Opera house (not a patch on the Sydney version, pre drinks involved cask wine for goodness sake!) to see “The Mist” which is a contemporary dance based on Vietnamese life and which was serene and beautiful in parts and great fun and noisy in others. It incorporated both ballet and Vietnamese dancing and haunting music on local instruments as well as vigorous drumming and clapping which the audience enthusiastically joined in with thanks to the wooden clappers thoughtfully provided on our seats! A good night was had by all and in lieu of our usual after concert drinks we sought out my favourite Asian dessert of sticky rice, fresh mango and coconut icecream which is the MOST delicious combination imaginable and something I never tire of!!

Here is the trailer to give you a little idea …….

Well you can’t write about spending time in Vietnam without eventually talking about the traffic. It’s downright scary to the uninitiated and even on this, my 2nd trip to the country, I still felt unsettled at the mayhem of it all. It appears as if there are absolutely no rules at all, my usual sense of order all shaken upside down and spat out into a heaving mass of people simultaneously moving in all directions, cars, trucks, scooters and bikes all weaving in and out of each other, a friendlyish toot to let them know you are there or that they are about to overtake you, and somehow despite everything, it works !! I was full of trepidation as I hopped onto the pushbike that Loz had borrowed for me but luckily where she lives is a) very flat and b) relatively quiet during the non peak hour traffic. Basically we just peddled at a steady rate and it was up to them to work their way around us. They also drive on the other side of the road which meant I dreaded turning left especially as this meant you just made your way to the middle of the road, picked your course and cycled along it just trusting they would let you in and/or go around you which they did! For a start no one goes fast which helps and they all understand as they are in the same situation. No road rage, no accidents, no speeding and just a great sense of satisfaction at arriving at our destination INTACT! You can park your bikes anywhere, there are even “bike guards” at some of the posher expat venues but it is a really great way of getting about and I loved it!! It was a little disconcerting however when we went into the main centre to discover the scooters come up onto the pavement too!!!!

Take a look for yourself!!!

This picture below is a typical little local café with it’s plastic chairs, bikes parked on the pavement outside, traditional Vietnamese coffee for less than $1 and you can stay as long as you like!! Vietnam is super cheap, local food and transport in particular and I think we spent on my last night (at a flashy expat hangout) the equivalent amount that we had all week eating local! It’s going to be a horrible shock when the newlyweds come back to Oz and our inflated Sydney prices that’s for sure!

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On this stretch of The Mekong there is a unique phenomena of moving vegetation, they are always moving on the tide sometimes in quite dense patches and are known by the Vietnamese as ‘nuisance plants’!!Nuisance plants, especially water hyacinth, thrive in conditions where the river receives nutrient-rich urban or agricultural run-off from the surrounding land making Saigon a perfect location. The boats often have problems getting through the larger ‘mats’ of plants, larger boats are ok as they stick to the deeper channels in the middle but the smaller local boats often get caught up in them alongside the bank.

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I took this before we knew exactly what they were!

So, after an action packed 4 days I had to go back to the airport and do it all in reverse!! Despite the fact that I was only there for such a short time (even less thanks to Air Asia) I felt that I’d seen a good cross section of their local life and where they lived etc as well as making sure for myself that she was on the mend from Dengue and can now envisage what she’s doing on a day to day basis which for a Mum helps make it seem less far away!

The trip home was bumpy but on time and we landed in huge winds which scared me to death and was a sign of things to come as we have had terrible weather. NO rain, parched dry expanses of woodland and high winds being the lethal combination for bushfires and the local rural fire brigades have been fighting big fires just south of us for a few days now. I even received an emergency text from them yesterday warning us to “seek shelter as the fire arrives” despite the fact it was 5 miles away!! The winds have finally died down today and hopefully some rain is on the horizon soon as things will only get worse as we head into summer. Despite this it is nice to be home and as always my mind is brimming with all sorts of possibilities as travel always opens my brain in a way nothing else can and makes me want to make the most of every little opportunity that life throws my way. It’s an addictive feeling and not one I ever want to give up!

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The wind tunnel that is Meroo Meadow

20170618_143942We live in the middle of a wind tunnel and there is no worse time of the year than now to be living here. As we are surrounded on 3 sides with open paddocks there is no protection from the infamous Westerly winds. I’m pretty sure The Man of the House was only half joking when he told me to phone Raine & Horne and put it on the market the other day. The comment came after a night of us being woken by what sounded like a raging river bearing down on us and a huge scraping of  our (heavy) furniture as it was dragged by 90km winds across and off our veranda to be found lodged in our hedge 60 metres away. Nothing like being outside at 1 am and then again at 3 am to move various bits of our life to a ‘safer’ place on the easterly side of the wraparound veranda. It looked like a junkyard out there the next morning with everything piled haphazardly on top of each other. My solar lanterns that had been a happy reminder of the wedding have gone, no doubt they will be found, glowing orbs in the cow paddocks, causing some confusion to our four legged friends over the next days and weeks or until the next big puff of wind comes along, together with a couple of our cushions that are also MIA…..

Nothing is suffering more than the garden. It has literally been months now since we had a decent drop of rain and the ground is like rock. Despite a constant cycle of hand watering things aren’t happy and although it is Spring and supposedly the time to prepare your garden it’s an almost impossible task right now. Going to the nursery is never a cheap affair but at the moment I might as well just tear up $100 notes for all the good it’s doing planting new things. Last weekend gave us a beautiful day with no wind and I got stuck into some serious mulching only to have it now blown to the four corners of the world on a blustery westerly wind. Sigh………..

IMG_20170905_131249_424It did make for some interesting seas though, whipping up the usually calm-as-a-millpond water around Kiama. The waves were breaking very high and we were covered in spray as Bailey and I walked the coastal path, eyes streaming with the cold wind and looking like something the cat had dragged in with wild hair and about 4 layers of clothing to keep the cold out! It didn’t help when I thought back to this time last year when we were lapping up the golden sunshine in Lake Como whilst sipping Aperol spritz….bring on Summer please!

Luckily we had a mini break from the weather last weekend which coincided with a visit from the boys to celebrate Fathers Day. We even managed to have Happy Hour on the veranda and an after dinner bonfire in the garden. One of his Daddy Day gifts was this fab book by Stefano Manfredi espousing everything there is to know about the pizza which will come in very handy.

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In preparation for the brickie (who was going to make a base for the new pizza oven) we had to lay a little slab of concrete so using a few of the tools that had been languishing in our shed, the help and knowledge from a couple of mates and Cammo in his usual supervisory capacity, we ticked off our section of the job ‘to do’ list.

Then one morning we saw a puff of dust on the horizon and 5 Utes barrelled down the lane to implement stage 2. It was a whirlwind of men in beanies measuring, cutting and laying bricks and 5 hours later it was built and they were gone! The final hurrah occurs when the pizza guy comes down and installs the oven, fingers crossed it all goes according to plan and fits like a glove. Time to start perfecting my pizza base recipe – any favourite tried and true versions will be gratefully received folks….

It has been a fortnight of technical difficulties. Firstly we lost all our free to air TV channels and put it down to the windy conditions and then one night as we sat down to dinner half the lights went off together with what remained of the TV. Candles were lit and conversation ensued but we realised how much of our daily life was influenced by power and what we could and couldn’t do without it. 24 hours later our lovely local Sparky arrived to save the day. He was rather bemused however and after much scratching of heads and following of wires under the house they discovered it was something in the garden that was causing the problem. The only power connections we were aware of passed the test leaving us with only one possibility…..the septic!

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A small dark shadow passed over their faces at the realisation they were going to have to “go in” and after they drew straws as to who dug and who opened up the cover they got to the task briskly. Thank goodness it wasn’t a hot summers day and they found the culprit quite quickly. They most definitely do earn their fees!!

No sooner did the house start running smoothly again when we got a call from Vietnam to say our girl was unwell and had been diagnosed with Dengue Fever. Another mozzie borne disease similar to malaria, this time from a daytime biter which can catch you unawares if you’re not drenched in some form of DEET based product (usually it is dusk/evening that you load up on this to avoid the onslaught of the microscopic assasins!). Two days later she got worse and was ambulanced to hospital where they are giving her IV painkillers and fluids as well as regular blood tests and some much needed healing sleep and assistance to sit up/shower etc as she has been unable to do this for herself. It’s one of those tropical diseases that you have to Google and then wish you hadn’t, but I know she is in the best place and in good hands and we must trust she will turn the corner and start to feel better soon. I am making a flying visit there on the 18th so I will hopefully be able to help her recuperate and give her some Motherly TLC.

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These little buggers can really make you feel sick.

To top everything off I found our new black chooks AWOL in our veggie patch having a great old time munching on our lettuce and spinach and scratching up my new seedlings! As there is no way they can actually get to it through the fence we surmised that their only way must have been ‘up’ and therefore it was time to trim their wings to keep them both in a safe environment and away from our dinner. After a reassuring cuddle Farmer Cam gave them a little ‘haircut’ and we have had no trouble since.

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So all in all I think I’m glad this last week or two is over and we can look forward to some nice windless Spring weather, working appliances and a functioning pizza oven in the next few weeks. I’m off to be a Mum and hopefully our patient will be feeling a lot better and we can enjoy some nice time together..!! No doubt there will be the obligatory Chinese takeaway in The Meadow while I’m gone, together with a furtive trip to KFC (and a certain chocolate drop who will “help”with any extras) and evenings packed with finals footy to be enjoyed completely guilt free. Bring on Mother-Daughter chats, Vietnamese iced coffee, beautiful fresh salads fragrant with herbs and some sunshine!!

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Au Revoir

sunsetFor the most part I have absolutely loved living in Australia over the past 30+ years, especially with the progress of technology allowing easy communication with my family in the UK. The old days of waiting in the queue at the main GPO in Sydney’s Martin Place to place an overseas call seems to belong to another world and with the advent of Facetime, Skype, Whatsapp and mobile phones the world has shrunk to feel like we are almost next door to each other. However, when BIG things happen and you can’t hop in the car and drive to be with each other you really feel the tyranny of distance. I have to keep reminding myself that it was my choice to come and live on the other side of the world and that it would inevitably bite me on the bum at some stage but mostly I have been able to be there for the special things – weddings, milestone birthdays and when our lives were turned upside down when my nephew died. This time though I have had to just watch as things played out without me being there and sadly when my lovely, twinkly eyed, rugby mad, pie loving, computer whizz, music lover and family loving Brother-in-Law lost his battle with pancreatic cancer last week I couldn’t be there to comfort my sister in person. Luckily she has many wonderful friends as well as her daughter and grandkids to help her through, as well as Mum who is still looking after us after all these years through good times and bad, and I know that my sister medicine will be needed in the months to come when hopefully her work allows and she can come out here to The Meadow to heal and enjoy some sunshine. JC will be farewelled tomorrow in what I know will be a huge send off with all those beautiful Welsh voices raising the roof with his favourite “Bread of Heaven” and we will raise a glass to him from here as we remember all the fun times we shared both here in Australia and in Wales and France on holidays. A good man through and through and gone way too soon. Adieu JC, we will miss you   xxx

Luckily some distraction came with the arrival of our dear friends from Forster who had been so hospitable to JC and Sandy when they visited a few years ago, JC declaring he loved Forster and could easily retire there! They kept me company as the man of the house was away in Singapore and we reminisced about times gone and times to come, reinforcing the fact that we must make the most of every day no matter how simple and be grateful for our health while it’s good. We ate the last of the mulberries I had frozen from last years bountiful crop in a pie with lashings of cream and with a blazing fire as things have definitely regressed a little to winter temperatures! Mother Nature does this every year as we prepare to put away our winter woollies, teasing us with warm sunshine and spring blossom before she turns the table and chucks in some icy 100 km westerly winds and laughs at us as we scramble once more for our jumpers….

Speaking of cold, we and about 20 of our friends made the trip to Crookwell in the Southern Tablelands of NSW to commemorate our friend Greg Cleary who lived there most of his adult life teaching and enjoying this close knit community who are crazy on sport. We have an annual golf day in his honour and it is lovely to meet up each year and chat about the old days. The boys all went to school together from junior school and as they are all in their latter 60’s it is amazing what they can all still remember in such detail about their childhoods. They were very lucky with their golf day, cold and clear but with sunshine and blue skies. The next day the wind was blowing straight from The Snowy Mountains and an hour after we left it snowed!!!! So much for Spring!

It was especially lovely to see Greg’s kids (who now live a few hours drive away) come home to share such a special day in their Dad’s honour and Crookwell really turned it on for us with the locals becoming as much a part of the day as us. A real Aussie country town with all the friendliness and support for the family that you could hope for and I’m sure Greg was helping his mates from above as they won the local trivia night, something he was always fond of and good at “smashing it” as his daughter put it!! A great weekend with some lovely people and Greg would be very chuffed to see so many of his old mates gathering together in his hometown to remember him.

Last week I visited Merribee House, a lovely property the other side of The Shoalhaven River from us and somewhere we had looked at to hold Lauren’s wedding before deciding to take the plunge and do it at home. It’s an historic house within 7 acres of ornate gardens where 1000 David Austin, Old English and Old French roses beguile with their fragrant aroma, and a lavender paddock which transport visitors to the fields of Provence . They have a gorgeous renovated barn and an old silo which has been beautifully converted for wedding accommodation. Wednesdays are Open Days and you can wander around the gardens and enjoy morning or afternoon tea with their home made produce and flowers available for sale. My friend Sue and I enjoyed a couple of hours admiring the different garden ‘rooms’ and some hummingbird cake and coffee before heading home with my head buzzing with ideas for our garden. Of course none of them will happen because I have been told in no uncertain terms that no more flower beds necessitating whipper snippering will be planted and unless the ride on mower can glide over it I’m not allowed to do it! I must admit that what we have is more than enough work especially when we have no rain and loads of wind, both enemies of a happy garden but a girl can dream!!

This little cottage is available for functions amongst the lavender

Some wonderful garden rooms and an alfresco dining area to lust after, especially once that wisteria comes into bloom

Their horticulturalist gives lessons on veggie gardening, topiary and fruit tree pruning and they also host an open air film festival in the summer which is great fun with a picnic on a balmy evening. I absolutely love their artwork for these events, done in a beautifully detailed old fashioned way. Lots of work but worth it, I think you’d agree.

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So as the wind has temporarily disappeared I better go and mulch the garden to preserve what little moisture is left in the soil and take the Chocolate Drop for a walk in the sunshine and I will be thanking my lucky stars to be healthy enough to do so whilst remembering a certain Welsh Boy with that gorgeous accent that I am so glad came into our family and who will be very much in our hearts and thoughts every day but especially tomorrow….

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Xmas in July in August

 

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I feel that Christmas was something the British pretty much invented. Obviously it stems from a religious origin but the way in which it is celebrated by the western world is essentially British. When those first intrepid travellers hit the shores of Oz back in 1788 they were desperate to bring a bit of the old country with them, nostalgia forcing them to ingest hot turkey and Xmas pudding in the heat of an often 40 degree summer’s day. All this in an age of long dresses and suits, no aircon and cooking over open fires. They must have been VERY homesick to recreate what is a lovely meal for a winters day all snuggled up inside out of the weather as opposed to in searing sunshine and with flies swarming at the mere sniff of meat in the Antipodean sunshine…..

All of this has led to the increasing popularity of Christmas in July here in Australia. We’re cold(ish) and inside for a change and wearing big jumpers that cover up a multitude of sins (as opposed to December when it’s beach weather) and we’re definitely ready for some good grub and a vat of Cab Sav. If you can share this with some of your nearest and dearest all the better so in this vein we invited as many people as we had beds for to come and enjoy a Winter Weekend in The Meadow with a festive meal thrown in for good measure. The Man of The House excelled with his rolled stuffed pork which we enjoyed alongside duck breasts in cherry sauce and loads of veg and copious quantities of homemade gravy all washed down with the aforementioned vat followed by a moreish Xmas pud with custard made from our own chook eggs. Yummo and thank you Jesus for being born.

After a late lunch we removed ourselves from the table and headed outside where Cam got a lovely bonfire going and the last of the vat was imbibed under a blanket of stars.

 

I have had some more gaps in Germania’s family tree filled in with the entire list of owners now ticked off and we are officially the 7th owners! Johan Morschel bought it from Charles Lamond (the original owner) in 1914 and his daughter Lillian lived there from 1917 to 1933 with her family. I’m pretty sure that this photo (below) was from that era as when we blew it up we could see a child playing on the front steps. The original was actually a black and white photo that had been made into a postcard by Kodak. On researching we found that Kodak only did this between 1902 and 1930 and as there is no mention of Charles Lamond having any further children whilst at Germania we think it is probably Lillian Lyndbery’s child. They are still alive and I’m hoping to get in touch with them through the local network that seems to be have very strong links as many families intermarried and mostly stayed in the area. Only 2 degrees of separation around here folks!!

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When Lillian’s Dad died he left the house and farm to his son Len, who rather than move in chose to stay in his family home with his brother, neither of them married but they continued to farm. During this time he rented our house out for 20 years until 1953 when rather than do some repairs and maintenance to the old place Len allowed a local farmer, Frank Bell, to use it to store his hay. This continued until 1973 when Ray and Marcia came along with their dreams to return it to a beautiful family home. I’d like to see if I can find out a bit more about the years Johan lived there 1914 -1917 and see if we could find any old photos from that era so my next project is to contact the living family members and quiz them!!

I found an old photo from when Ray started renovating it, installing the fence that we still have today and planting some trees and hedges on the boundary which have continued to thrive. Happily I also found the original concrete planters from this picture buried in a heap of rubbish behind the garage and they are now restored to their rightful place on the front steps

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Then and Now

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I have been enjoying some local walks lately. The weather has been pretty good with the exception of our arch enemy – the westerlies, and the clear blue sky days have encouraged me to take the Choccy Drop and head towards the river. Any opportunity to swim or immerse herself is gratefully taken by our water loving hound and her ears prick up as soon as I mention ‘swim’ or ‘river’ and most especially ‘beach’ but it has been too windy for that. It is a lovely time of year to walk as it is still not too hot to go in the middle of the day and therefore there is no pressure to go at a certain time. The spring blossom is everywhere now – cherry, magnolia, pear and jasmine. Despite the fact that Spring doesn’t officially arrive for another couple of weeks our resident birds are all starting to collect bits and bobs to customise their new nests which is a sure sign that the seasons are once again on the move in their ever changing cycle of life.

 

There is something however that despite looking pretty is really NO GOOD AT ALL. If you look at this photo you may enjoy the scenic beauty and think that the yellow flowers are pretty as I did. WRONG. Apparently it is fireweed, a noxious weed that seeds VERY well and that no animal will eat as it makes them sick. You can’t spray for it (even the dreaded and very effective roundup doesn’t eradicate it) and the only way to get rid of it is to pull it up by hand. If we had had some decent winter rain that may have been feasible but the ground is rock hard and NOTHING is coming up easily. You could spend 5 hours doing one paddock and in the space of one puff of wind 300 more seedlings could establish themselves. It really is a thankless task but one that needs to be done and if you are relentless and do it regardless of the rather discouraging statistics you may live to win the battle. Perserverance is the key….

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These are the inocuous plants that can ruin paddocks for miles around if left to their own devices. Not your pretty canola, mustard or rape seed but the dreaded Fireweed.

 

We have a couple of new residents in The Meadow. Cammo has named them The Pointer Sisters and bought them on a whim last week as our ageing chooks are a little low on the egg laying side of things. Despite looking a bit scary (black and Gothic-cy) they are actually the sweetest and gentlest of the lot! Still too young to be laying they are immediately at the whim of the hierarchy in the Chook-Mahal. I seriously doubt if any other animal can be as mean as a chicken is to newcomers. Despite being the same species they are constantly run at and pecked just for daring to be in the same yard/area as the others and heaven forbid if they want to eat or drink – the older chooks ensure that THEY are numero uno at all times. The whole pecking order thing was definitely invented by chickens. I seem to spend a lot of my day ensuring that the black ones are allowed outside (and not harassed by the others) or conversely allowed inside to eat and drink. I may have even armed myself with a big stick to fend off the unwanted attention of the head chooks as they try and charge the newbies. Life’s tough in the Chook Pen.

 

Our new girls spend most of their day avoiding the others

This was their first introduction to their new home…..

he others 😦

 

So the next project we are attacking is the installation of our wood fired pizza oven. Cam has had the old doors of the original oven from the house in 1896 restored as we are going to utilise them in the new setup and they look as good as new! A hole has been dug ahead of laying a concrete slab to support the oven’s 180kg weight and next weekend we will have it all finished ready for the bricky who is going to punch a 1.4m square hole into our existing curved bbq area to create the new space and finally the oven gets built into it by our little Italian man who knows everything there is to know about pizza!! Fingers crossed in another month it will be up and running and then the fun really begins! I have visions of pizza, slow cooked roasts and homemade bread….

 

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Mmmmmmm…………………….pizza ♥♥♥

Germania 1896

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Germania is teasing me, whispering softly “find out about me if you can…”

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If these old walls could talk I’d be in heaven.

In a very coincidental and “as if it’s meant to be” fashion I have started getting some interesting information on the history of our house including some amazing photos from when it was delapidated after being a hayshed for 20 years. Swaggies used to stay here on their way through the countryside and if it wasn’t for a certain Ray Collins it would still look like this…

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In 1972 Ray’s fiancé Marcia voiced a desire to do this old house up and make it their marital home. Ray thought she was bonkers but being young and in love he wanted to make his new bride happy and he started to look into the enormity of renovating the old house. Apart from it’s dilapidated state it was on a huge parcel of land and a lot of work was done to merely create a sub division and make the land available for sale let alone tackling the restoration of the house itself. As it was riddled with white ants no bank was prepared to lend him any money and it was only through hard work and diligence that he managed to make the house habitable, doing things one step at a time and finally moving in in 1974. Talk about patience!!

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It took me a while to even recognise which bit was what, but in the above picture taken from the back of the house the kitchen was a detached outbuilding to the main house, mainly as a kind of insurance against fire (it being a wooden house and the cooking being done over live flames back then.) Sensible really. This is the old oven, the last thing standing before the old kitchen was totally dismantled. The big slab used as a hearth in the original kitchen is now a seat built into the wall on our back terrace and the oven doors have now been sandblasted back to their original silvery colour which we are going to use in our new outdoor pizza oven. It makes me happy to think that part of that original kitchen will live on 2017 style.

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Here is our little friend Tonic sitting proudly on the old hearth.

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After a lot of hard work Ray’s efforts started paying off…

We wonder what would have happened if Ray hadn’t come along. I’m not sure how many other people would have had the tenacity and patience to go through with the project and it may well have fallen into such disrepair that it couldn’t be revived. I feel like the house has a will or force of it’s own that “finds” people to love it and live in it, each owner giving it some love and the next chapter in it’s story. All we knew about the house was that it was built in 1896 for Charles Lamond, the owner of a bacon factory and tannery in Worrigee. When his wife died he married his children’s governess who was German hence the name of the house. The missing link is who owned it in between Charles and Ray so I am trying to trackdown the Certificate of Title to see if we can fill in the gaps. The local Historical Society and The Berry Museum are also both keen to help in any way possible. Watch this space!!

I was quite concerned when we invited Ray over to see the house that he may not like what we’ve done to the place. He was quite fascinated to see the changes and gave us his tick of approval. An orange cake using our own eggs and oranges helped seal the deal! (recipe in the kitchen section together with a couple of winter favourites.)

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While I have been excitedly uncovering the past, the garden has started to blossom. Literally. Our pear trees are in full flower and the bees are loving it. There is a constant hum as they busy themselves collecting pollen. I have a desire to create a meadow section in the garden, sewn with wildflowers and then pop in a bee hive. A nearby winery is holding a workshop soon on all things bees and hive related which I am going to go to and then I will see how doable or otherwise the whole concept is!

I thought this area would be perfect for my mini meadow and bee hive.

We had a lovely mid week overnight visit to our friends in Callala Bay, about 30 minutes drive from us. They go back a LONG way and we always have fun eating, drinking and chatting about everything under the sun. We had the most DELICIOUS meal and the next morning we took a walk along the beach which was deserted except for a set of pawprints!!

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It’s a beautiful part of the world on pristine Jervis Bay and a better start to the day you cannot get!

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This weekend on a glorious sunny day I headed up to Upper Kangaroo Valley where my friend has the gorgeously rustic Old Koonabulla Dairy which nestles in the folds of the valley. I had borrowed a few things for the wedding that I still hadn’t returned so Bailey and I drove up marvelling at the riot of blossoms – cherry, pear, magnolia and jasmine that we saw along the way. Still a month away from the 1st day of Spring and I was in a tee shirt enjoying the balminess of it all. This often happens though and just as we contemplate putting away our winter woollies the cold comes back with a vengeance, usually together with gale force winds, just to mock us. Today however was wonderful and everyone was out in the garden or walking in the sunshine and making the most of it all.

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Such a beautiful part of the world

As summer clothes are just around the corner we have been eating healthily Monday to Friday so that we can let our hair down at the weekends! My partner in life isn’t too keen on fish so I have to find ways to make it tasty and appealing to him and I must say he is starting to enjoy it despite himself! Last night I literally threw some ingredients together à la Jamie in a traybake in the oven and served it with coconut rice and it was yummy, fast and healthy!

 

(This is us but with less salads….ooops!!!)

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