Birthday Celebrations

20180329_064806Early Autumn means warm days and cold nights creating amazing morning mists across the paddocks. I love waking with the first light and pulling the curtains to see a rosy sky and a thick mist blanketing the surrounding countryside. Cows lumber out of the mist as if they were in a movie, taking their place in The Meadow to munch happily on the damp fresh grass. This early change of season is always pleasant, a different set of clothes to wear and different menus to enjoy. Not yet that crazy “throw all your clothes off in a hurry and leap into bed before you freeze” scenario that comes later in winter. We’ve had the odd fire at night but just to take the chill off the room and for cosiness rather than anything else.

We have had a lovely couple of weeks celebrating the MOTH’s birthday across the space of 10 days, making up for last year when it was the day before the big wedding and kind of slid under the radar a bit. As we start getting to the pointy end of things it’s hard to buy great gifts, it’s often the small things or the experiences that become the most meaningful so I went with that theory and arranged a trip to beautiful Tasmania for my beau to play golf with his brother at a course he has had on his bucket list for quite a while. Barnbougle in the wild North West of Tassie is a destination for golf lovers the world over. Created in the Links style and with the fresh Autumn temperatures we could be in Scotland or Ireland. Wild and with a rugged beauty that took your breath away. The colour of the grasses, almost orange in the morning sunrise but then bleached like the sand on which they grow later in the day, bending in the brisk coastal breeze that created havoc on day 2 but made me feel vital and alive, taking me back to my days at boarding school in England when we had to go for 5 mile walks at the weekend in the bracing English weather.

While the golfers did their thing I had the best time exploring the local area. Everywhere you looked it was a photographer’s dream with a colour pallette unique to this part of the coast and the moodiness of the clouds all contributing to a visual feast.

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The beauty of Tassie is that you don’t have to go very far to see something completely different. Verdant pasture land scattered with little white dots of sheep (testament to the amount of rain they get here as opposed to the grey Aussie sheep!) one minute and then beautiful wide white sand beaches the next. A tour of the wineries showed us beautiful Autumn colours, the cold local weather making it much more colourful than on the mainland.

The Birthday Boy was in his element and despite losing MANY balls and being totally exhausted walking these big courses in a 30 knot wind he had the best time and actually did pretty well golf  wise too. A big thanks to Rod and Heather for coming along for the ride and for helping tick a much wanted box!

We also celebrated at home with No 1 son enjoying a lovely weekend together planning upgrades to the property, measuring and drawing all the possibilities. The men folk also got stuck into gurneying the house, washing off the accumulated dust from our dry summer leaving it fresh as a daisy and looking like it had had a new coat of paint! A walk along the beach with the Choccy Drop and we were more than ready for a delicious dinner at our local restaurant South on Albany who always manage to give us beautiful dishes created from local produce and make them shine. http://www.southonalbany.com.au

So now we’re back to reality and busy tidying up the garden before those pesky westerly winds make themselves felt. Cutting back the summer flowers and a bit of trimming and pruning but mostly planting the winter veggies. The garlic went in this week, it takes a while before harvesting but is SO WORTH IT! We love having our very own organic garlic hanging in our shed to use over Summer and as we use it in just about everything it is one of our most useful crops. The spinach and eggplant are still in full swing and now we have broad beans, green beans, brussel sprouts, cabbages, broccoli, carrots, onions and leeks all planted with the last of the warm soil and hopefully off to a good start ahead of the cool weather. So we are at that perfect junction of sunny days (but not hot) and cooler evenings (but not freezing) that encapsulates Autumn in Australia, no wonder we love her.

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Autumn is not currently available in Australia……

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Welcome to the hottest April in Australia’s recent history. With temperatures still consistently in the high 20s/early 30’s during the day we are yet to enjoy the spoils of Autumn. Visions of warmer clothes and less salads have gone out of the window along with the weather records and it is only in the evening when the temperatures get down to the teens that we get an inkling that the seasons are about to change. Sadly we have just experienced some really bad bush fires on the outskirts of southern Sydney, coming way too close to houses and putting the fear of God into everyone. It was all the worse as it was deliberately lit. What possesses people?? Because it is so late in the season our BIG GUN of firefighting ‘Elvis’ had already been dispatched for summer fire duties in California three weeks earlier and wasn’t available. Elvis had left the room yet again. (Elvis is a humungous water carrying helicopter that has the capability of putting out big fires in hard to get to places.) We all love Elvis.

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Needless to say the garden is also thoroughly confused with no leaf colour changes so far and my eggplants and tomatoes are still happily producing loads of fruit in denial of the calendar telling them that they should be done and dusted for the year. I was lucky to be able to salvage some of my apples from the mixed onslaught of parrots, caterpillars and a distinct lack of rain and picked the few remaining good ones to eat in crumbles and pies – well that’s a slight exaggeration, maybe I have enough for one of each? As the weather is currently more suited to ice cream I decided to freeze my crop to pull out when the home fires are eventually blazing!!

The flowers on the other hand are loving this whole balmy April thing and are having a last hurrah, filling our garden with colour and my heart with happiness! The camellia hedge that we planted 18 months ago is thriving and we have a beautiful palette of colours between them and the roses, even the hydrangea and gardenia are still blooming and I love snipping a little selection to pop into the guest rooms at the weekends for people to enjoy.

 

A lovely old home on the outskirts of town has recently been sold and the entire contents went to auction last weekend. I don’t think I have ever seen a normal house so full of such amazing artworks, sculptures, persian rugs and interesting furniture. Every single room was packed with fabulous original pieces, including huge aboriginal canvases, work by famous artists including Picasso and David Bromley, Chinoiserie, modern art and just about everything in between. The sculptures were wonderful and sadly beyond my budget but the entire property was jam packed with people eager to see and maybe buy a little piece of what they fancied. The lady owner, who looked as wonderfully eclectic as I had hoped, was selling up her country property and moving to Sydney harbour and a view across the ocean at Manly. I am sure part of her must have been torn with selling her huge collection but she was full of enthusiasm for her next stage of life and I really hoped she had a very successful day at the auction.20180404_100144

My walking buddy Maryan and I decided it was time for us to attempt to walk to Drawing Room Rocks, a craggy escarpment between Berry and Kangaroo Valley and accessed by a narrow steep path that has amazing views over the surrounding countryside. This rather serious sounding sign greets you at the start of the track and it turned out to be hard in the steep sense but easy in every other way – not too many choices of paths to take or river crossings or jumping over large boulders, just a steady incline with lots to look at along the way. An elderly man did fall off the edge necessitating a helicopter rescue just before Christmas but if you stay on the path all is well. Worth it all for the view from the top and how lucky are we to have all this on our doorstep!

 

We made it!!

Our little choccy dog aka ‘The Flash’ has lately been channelling her inner greyhound as she has discovered she loves to sprint! More to the point she likes to race. Specifically she likes to race our car. As soon as we turn into our lane she jumps up to the window and makes these special whimpering pleading sounds with her nose pressed hard up to the window (rather annoying!) until we stop the car and let her out. She then takes off like the wind, running at full stretch and at roughly 40km per hour down our 800 metre lane to home! She turns her head to check we are racing her and loves nothing more than turning into our driveway first, leaping over the cattle grid and meeting us in the garage, looking pretty chuffed with herself. It’s great to see her so excited to run and it’s a great offset to the times she ‘relaxes’ for hours on the veranda in the sun!

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So life poddles along and it’s hard to believe we are coming into our 4th Autumn in The Meadow. I forget how much has changed until I look back on this blog from the beginning. It has certainly been a wonderful diary for us, reminding us of things we have forgotten along the way and how our journey to the country has unfolded. There are only a few things that make it less than perfect, the biggest of which is the traffic noise. After living in the middle of the inner city of Sydney you wouldn’t think we would notice a bit of traffic noise and we certainly don’t miss the planes but ironically it is the very nature of our location in the middle of the open paddocks that means we can hear the traffic when the wind is blowing in a certain direction and it’s a little blot on my near perfect existence! A new road is promising more noise absorption with its highly technical new surface but we won’t know if it’s true until it’s in operation so in the meantime I try to block it out choosing to concentrate instead on the beautiful sounds of the fairy wrens darting in and out of our rose bushes, punching way above their tiny bodyweight in songs that carry above and beyond that of the pesky traffic! Check out their song here…

So now with Daylight Savings finished and darkness drawing in around 5.30pm our thoughts turn to snuggling up in front of the fire and heartier food, a glass of rich fruity red in hand or bracing walks in the cold, bundled up in jackets and boots before returning to some home made soup with veggies from the garden. Sadly it also means that the never ending football season has also arrived…………

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Guess I’ll be seeing the Man Of The House in about 3 months then………!!!

Easter Shenanigans

The caravans, boats, trailers packed with all the paraphernalia necessary for a good holiday weekend away – surfboards, bicycles, fishing rods, kayaks etc have left our roads and the heaving mass of humanity that invaded our little country town has dispersed, back to the 9 to 5 of everyday life and leaving us feeling slightly discombobulated after the sudden change to our usual life. The shops and cafes are no doubt simultaneously overjoyed at the influx of cash and in need of a holiday themselves after a 4 day invasion of out of towners.

We personally spent a lovely few days with the Swiss side of our family who came to visit The Meadow complete with a tent, slackline, raclette machine, plenty of the bubbly stuff and even cheese all the way from Lausanne!! Michel very kindly offered to cook us lunch and we enjoyed the very traditional, simple and tasty raclette overlooking the paddocks. My nephew LOVES the great outdoors and chose to camp in the garden and make the most of it while he could. He also practises slacklining which is fabulous for your core strength and he even managed to get Tommy up for a trial, beer in hand for balance!! We enjoyed some great food, lots of laughs and chats about “the old days growing up” and were grateful to spend some time together with family over the Easter long weekend.

 

I had spent a lovely week prior to Easter enjoying a real variety of activities, I seriously think there is more to do down here than in Sydney sometimes! We went to a concert at The Shoalhaven Entertainment Centre to see James Reyne, the lead singer of the popular band from the 80s/90s – Australian Crawl. We really enjoyed the evening with him singing acoustic versions of his old songs. He is still a great singer and managed to get everyone joining in, including a whole load of young people who wouldn’t have even been born when he was at the height of his fame!!!!20180323_211530

The very next day a few of us ex Sydney girls decided to ‘get our culture on’ and went to an enjoyable afternoon organised by a local organisation called Berry Conversations. They arrange for people to come and ‘converse’ with the audience from very diverse backgrounds, politicians, historians, artists, actors and in this instance journalists – Charlotte Wood, a prize winning author and Susan Wyndham, the former literary editor of the Sydney Morning Herald. They chatted about how their careers evolved and the opportunities that came their way in an era of women struggling to reach the same heights as their male counterparts. It was a very interesting afternoon, not the least for me because they both talked about HOW they started writing, how to get to the NEXT stage and eventually produce a novel. I came away inspired to perhaps at least go to a creative writing workshop and see what I can come up with!! Thanks Girls!

The next day I was back on the road as I had to see someone in Vincentia, a little town on Jervis Bay that I had so far not visited. As it was so close to Hyams Beach and it was a mid week day prior to the hordes arriving for Easter, I took the Choccy Drop down for a walk along it’s pristine white sand beach. Touted as one of the whitest silica sand beaches in the world and truly beautiful. Sadly it’s very beauty is almost killing it as the crowds arrive en masse most weekends and EVERY major holiday this tiny village is bursting at the seams with people and cars. There are in fact many many other pristine white sand beaches down here and the 100 beach challenge has been set up to encourage people to explore some of the other Jervis Bay beaches instead. So many equally beautiful beaches to choose from….Wairo Beach, Burns Bay, Snake Bay, Meroo, Culburra, Callala, Depot or Cave Beach. However, you can see from these pictures why Hyams is so well loved, the colours are truly amazing.

I also enjoyed a fun day with my friend Leigh on a Mushrooming Foraging trip with wild food educator Diego Bonneto. He is a jaunty little Italian man with a passion for plants as medicine and seasonal wild food eating. We met him in The Southern Highlands in Penrose State Forest for a very interesting talk about the how, why and where of wild mushrooms. I never knew that mushrooms were actually the flowers of the mycelium fungus which runs underground and then when there is a perfect syncronicity of dampness and nutrients the mushies appear! We were specifically hunting for pine mushrooms as we were in a pine forest and were amazed that they were popping up everywhere, even in and around the carpark area! We found saffron milk cups, slippery jacks, grey nights together with a few miscellaneous and non edible types.

Then we trotted off to The Balangalo State Forest, a normally reliable source of the pine mushroom but our dry and very warm early Autum meant we found VERY FEW of the little darlings. Our vision of going home with our baskets weighed down with several meals worth of mushrooms went out of the window and we realised that wild food foraging is actually hard work. You could spend hours searching for very little gain. We found some chestnuts and wild fennel and one of our group found a ghost mushroom. These are considered powerful by aboriginal people as at night, the fan-shaped mushroom gently glows a spectral green due to a chemical reaction between fungal enzymes and oxygen. This only happens for a few weeks a year, usually in mid Autumn and I can only imagine what the first people would have made of it thousands of years ago! The glow attracts bugs which then spread the spores thus ensuring its future.

So in lieu of overflowing baskets of foraged delights to take home, we ended up pooling our finds and enjoyed them sliced and fried in olive oil, garlic and parsley on top of some bread from the always amazing Bourke Street Bakery. Simple and bloody delicious!

 

So in the space of a few days I enjoyed a huge variety of different activities which were all very enjoyable in their own way. How lucky we are to be able to continue to learn new things (and re learn old things such as food for medicine and foraging) as well as enjoy such a naturally beautiful part of the world as the South Coast, from the shady pine forests to the green fields of our local dairy country and the white sands and azure ocean of Jervis Bay. I pinch myself every day that this is my new home. Life doesn’t have to stagnate as you age, you just have to keep connecting to new adventures and embrace all that life has to offer. Sieze the day people for you never know what lies ahead…..

I love this quote………………

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Autumn what Autumn?

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So much for the change of season….
We have been experiencing high temperatures more reminiscent of the height of summer than Autumn. Last weekend it reached 40 degrees which is frankly ridiculous and not conducive to having fun, unless you are immersed in a pool or the ocean with an icy drink in hand and slathered in an inch thick layer of sunscreen.

We however were in Sydney for a wedding and for once I was glad to be a girl with our sleeveless dresses as opposed to the boys silently sweating in their black tie suits. The church was beautifully cool though which made the whole occasion even lovelier. The bride looked radiant and it was a great party on the harbour later that night with all their friends and family kicking up their heels and celebrating The Barnes/Conacher union. Little Matilda the 3 year old flowergirl was perfect in her role and took every photo whilst loudly saying ‘cheese’. Something tells me she had been practising!!

As the reception was being held in our old stomping ground of The Rocks we decided to make the most of our local knowledge and opted to stay in a lovely old pub that was refurbished in 2015 just after we moved from the area – The Hotel Palisade. From it’s working class roots it has blossomed into a hipster venue appealing to a large cross section of people. Despite it’s bustling pub and cocktail lounge with it’s AMAZING view across the harbour, our room was quiet and very comfortable. If you, like us, are NOT fans of the generic hotel room please keep this iconic little hotel in mind for your next out of town visitors. Right in the middle of the action but with a whole lot of soul and a real sense of the history of The Rocks.

After our swanky city break we were happy to return to the easy life in The Meadow and all it’s natural beauty. Ever since we moved down here I have been wanting to do some of the local walks. There are so many varied and beautiful walks in The Shoalhaven but somehow it’s always been too hot, too cold, too windy or whatever and I have never quite got around to it. Not having a walking buddy probably hasn’t helped so it has been lovely to pal up with my mate Maryan and start on the long list of places TO GO. We thought we’d start locally with a 5.5km walk in Nowra called Ben’s Walk which runs alongside and over The Shoalhaven River. It was hard to believe we were so close to the town as we felt completely isolated, but in a good way, and we are attempting to do a walk a week now especially with the weather supposedly cooling down.

My neighbour Sheelagh does an amazing job each year putting on an afternoon/evening of entertainment with talent from the local area to raise money for melanoma. Her son died from it 5 years ago and so this is something she can do that both acknowledges his memory whilst simultaneously raising money and I think she should be very proud of her efforts. This year she was fretting that it may rain and spoil the show but it ended up being one of our very hot days (about 36 degrees) but as all good things do, THE SHOW WENT ON, and lots of people gave up their time to show off our local talent. One Voice Shoalhaven was a success with lots of people venturing out and setting up tents and rugs in the shade, enjoying their picnic along with the entertainment.

As the weather has still been quite summery veggie patches all over the coast are still full of tomatoes, eggplant and zucchinis. I found this recipe in my favourite cookbook “In the kitchen” by Simmone Logue who catered for our wedding last year. It is rare for me to aspire to cook nearly EVERY recipe in a book but that’s exactly what this book does. Tasty, doable and reliable recipes. I thoroughly recommend it. This was a hit and used up some of those neverending zucchinis, I didn’t make the candied lemon nests but they do make it look pretty…..

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 Zucchini and pistachio cake with zesty lemon icing

Serves 12-16 and keeps well for a few days if you can resist eating it all at once….

300g caster sugar
5 eggs
350ml vegetable oil
11⁄2 tsp vanilla extract
100g pistachio nuts, chopped
80g ground almonds
650g grated courgettes
300g self-raising flour
100g plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
11⁄2 tsp mixed spice

for the candied lemon zest
3 lemons
100g caster sugar

for the zesty lemon icing
125g unsalted butter
250g icing sugar, plus extra to dust 1 tsp vanilla extract
40ml whipping cream
zest and juice of 1 lemon

1 Preheat the oven to 170C/Fan 150C/ 325F. Grease a 23cm cake tin and line the base with baking paper.
2 In a mixing bowl, beat the sugar, eggs, vegetable oil and vanilla extract until thick, using an electric mixer. Fold in the pistachios, ground almonds and grated courgettes. Sift in the flours, bicarbonate of soda and mixed spice, then stir until well combined.
3 Pour the cake mixture into the prepared tin. Bake for 1 hour in the preheated oven, or until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin for 5-10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and leave to cool completely.
4 To make the candied lemon zest, use a zester to peel the lemon zest into long, thin strands. Transfer to a small saucepan, add the sugar and 300ml water and bring
to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes, or until the lemon zest is translucent. Remove the zest using tongs or a slotted spoon, then spread out on a tray lined with baking paper and leave to dry for 10-15 minutes.
5 Make the zesty lemon icing by whisking the butter with an electric whisk until light and fluffy. Add the icing sugar and vanilla and whisk again for 3 minutes. Pour in the cream and whisk for a further 2 minutes, or until the icing is light and creamy. Mix in the lemon zest and juice and, using a spatula, spread the icing over the cake. Garnish with little nests of candied lemon zest, dust with icing sugar, then slice and serve.

Enjoy people!!

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As Summer draws to an end…

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We celebrated the last of the summer at a beautiful long table lunch in the paddock of a local farm. Our friends Steve and Sue who are former winery owners came down from the Hunter Valley to stay for a few nights and were informative guests at the lunch with their hands on knowledge of all things wine. The location, delicious food and quality wines made for a lovely afternoon and the ‘wear white’ theme made it feel special. As we very rarely get a photo of us both together this is going straight to the pool room!

long lunch

Three young local chefs collaborated on the menu and after canapés on the lawn we enjoyed burrata cheese, roasted grapes with charred radichio, shaved fennel and flatbread which made for a delicious entrée. The mains were shared platters of slow cooked lamb shoulder with roasted local garlic, lemon and chimichurri and Bangalow pork belly baked in local milk with bay, thyme, garlic and ginger served with nashi and watercress salsa verde. The meats were accompanied by charred broccoli with chilli, garlic and yoghurt sauce and black sesame seeds; roasted and raw fermented carrot salad with tahini dressing and smoked beetroot marinated in citrus oil with roasted hazelnuts. Bloody delicious!

The event was run by wine importers ‘Decante This’. They are French and German wine specialists focussing on family owned small producers who create sustainably made, bio-dynamic and organic wines and champagnes. They had a small but interesting range of wines for us to try and we are now trying to track down a few bottles of the ones we loved in the hope there may be some still available in Australia!

It was a pleasant distraction from a very busy couple of weeks as we prepared our Sydney house for sale, madly scanning documents and contracts to and from the Big Smoke and organising to pretty it all up for the next owners to fall in love with it as we did! Luckily we were in Sydney for a work function for the cocoa trader so I could do a bit of work in the garden before changing into my glad rags for the big Arnotts Gala Charity Ball. This is an annual affair and gets bigger and better every year. They put on a great night of entertainment and food and wine and in return people dug deep and this year they were super happy to announce they raised over $500,000 on the night for Camp Quality and childhood cancer. They have a family or two speak to us all every year about their individual cancer stories and it never fails to bring a tear to the eye and makes us realise what the entire family has to endure when their lives are turned upside down with this disease.

  

As it was my birthday weekend we managed to coerce the sons into meeting us for yum cha the next morning which was a perfect cure for the late night and slight headache! One of Cocoa man’s colleagues from Singapore joined us as he was in Sydney alone and he introduced us to a few different dishes which was great as it’s so easy to just order those things you know and love and I think we may have found a couple of new favourites! So I had a lovely few days celebrating with some gorgeous gifts from friends and family and a welcome change from the routine with a trip to the movies and dinner out. Thanks Guys!

One of the best gifts turned out to be free, with our first decent rain in a LONG time and our rainwater tank is now at least 2/3 full with forecasts predicting another couple of days of rain next week to top it up. It was so lovely to be surrounded by gentle rain for 36 hours and all the plants were happy for a good drink.Bailey had been rather concerned by the absence of her master while he was showing the Singapore mob around Melbourne and Sydney. Every morning she refused to believe that he was still away and lay outside our bedroom door waiting for him to appear. Their loyalty is amazing. Thank goodness he eventually came home!!20180220_072146

She has been quite amusing lately. Wayne has joined the local golf club and sometimes spends 20 minutes in the evening chipping balls into a bucket on the front lawn. Our ball obsessed dog cries at the door to be let out and join in the fun. She sits quietly until he’s hit the ball and then she runs and collects the ones that don’t make it to the bucket (quite a few!!) and brings them back to him. She LOVES it. She also finally got brave enough to go into the pool. We have been using our neighbours pool in the hot weather and she runs around and around it crying and ‘talking’ as I think she is a bit worried about us and despite absolutely loving the ocean and river she wasn’t game to get into the pool, until Tom came to stay and encouraged her in. She would immediately swim into his arms where she was happy to stay until he popped her back on the edge when the whole thing would start all over again. I so hope she works it all out before we get our pool installed as it is NOT relaxing to hear her so upset!

As the MOTH revved up the whipper snipper the other night to trim our messy lawn edges a tiny little bundle of fluff hopped out from the hedge and sat petrified in the driveway. Bailey immediately went to investigate but she was so good, just standing quietly sniffing this strange little visitor. The poor tiny thing couldn’t have been more than a day old and happily let me scoop it up in a teatowel and relocate it to a safe pozzy under some greenery. I left it some water but I have no idea if it knows what to do. Hopefully Mum found it and they are living happily somewhere in the garden, most probably eating my veggies!!20180227_172317So as the sun sets on another summer we slide quite happily into Autumn with its cooler weather, golden leaves and some different food options. A time to enjoy working in the garden or walking in the countryside without sweating to death and a time to appreciate all that we have here in The Meadow.20180217_200310

 

Guests Galore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The KISS principle (Keep it simple Susie)

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

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

 

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

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She certainly knows how to relax!!!

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thoroughly recommended!!

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

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

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The nostalgia of a simple beach holiday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Three years later it looks like this……

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

 

Trust in the magic of new beginnings…

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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King of The Garage presiding over his minions.

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

The Last Supper

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

C’ya 2017….Over and Out…..

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