Wednesday, June 30, 2010


Gareth went on a brilliant school excursion a week ago. There were 4 spare seats on the coach for 4 parent helpers, two from each class. I signed my name on the permission slip and hoped I would get drawn out of the hat. Gareth was utterly convinced that I would be chosen.

His logic was simple:
Excursion is on a Friday + Mum doesn't work on Fridays = Mum will get chosen to go on the coach.
Childhood logic prevailed and I was lucky enough to have my name drawn out of the teachers hat. We packed our joint lunch-box and we were off!

The other Mum from Gareths class was my friend Karen. I got a better seat than her. She got to sit next to the boy with travel sickness... enough said!

The trip was an hour and it was to an old house called Tocal. It was built in 1841 on land taken from the Gringai clan of the Wonnarua Aboriginal tribe and given to recently arrived settlers from the UK. Convicts were sent to work on the farmland around the homestead and lived in small cottages in its grounds.

The children were divided into groups and shown around the inside of the old house and the grounds and were taught the history of the house and the time as they walked. It was photography heaven! I tried to be subtle and intentionally left the flash turned off as we had the guided tour around the inside of the house so I wouldn't distract the kids or our guide.

Out of doors I was less subtle and clicked away while the kids fetched water, washed clothes with washboards and soap and hung them on the line to dry.

Can you see anything in this picture that tells you my Gareth hasn't ever had to hang washing on the line before...?!

Oh if only he could do his modern house chores with as much enthusiasm!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A frosty reality.

Have I told you of my misconceptions of life in Australia? My research into our plans to emigrate to this wonderful land were based on three soap operas. Home and Away. Neighbours and The Flying Doctors. I do not recall ever watching these programs on our TV in Dublin and seeing frost. There were bikinis galore, cold bottles of beer, red dusty hot roads and beads of sweat needing to be wiped from the brow of Sam Patterson, the brave pilot who flew to rescue the sick and the dying in treacherous outback conditions. I spent many a teenage day dream rubbing sunscreen onto his smooth tanned back. I did not day dream about helping him scrape the frost off the windscreen of his sea plane.

Before we left the UK I gave away all of my children's hats, scarves and gloves as well as all our winter coats. We would not need them I smiled smugly. Oh how the mighty fall. This morning at 6am I dragged my tired body with sore throat and aching limbs out of bed and shivered as I dressed in my Nurses uniform. I wriggled my numb toes on the cold kitchen tiles as I waited for the kettle to boil. I rubbed my goose-bumpy arms as I quietly shut the front door behind me and unlocked my car. It was COLD. My windscreen was iced over. It took 5 minutes of hot air blowing inside and me scraping outside before I could see enough to drive.

Tomorrow morning if it is still frosty I have a plan. I shall put a light smudge of ruby red lip gloss on my lips, spray a subtle mist of expensive perfume over my neck and make sure my toe nails are painted like freshly picked cherries. I shall stand at the bottom of my icy driveway and swoon dramatically falling into a gentle faint onto the grass, lips pouting and eye lashes a flutter. Maybe then I will hear the distant hum of the Flying Doctors plane travelling across the lake and I will know that I am about to be rescued by the rugged Sam.

Then and only then, will my faith in my Australian dream be renewed.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The story of the beads...

You left me some beautiful comments on my last post. One of them asked if each bead on my charm bracelet had a particular memory or meaning behind it. Yes they do. I have not bought any of the beads myself. They have all been gifts and I thought I would tell you some of the stories and meanings here...

I got the bracelet for my birthday a few years ago. I have been lucky enough to have been given beads to celebrate birthdays, Christmas, Valentines day and Mothers day since. It has been great fun seeing which beads the kids have chosen and why they thought they were special for me. It has also been fun going back to the tiny jewellers in town to swap a duplicate heart bead bought by Mr B. He was obviously so sure I'd love it so much he bought it two Mothers Days in succession!

Some of the beads have particular stories behind them. The tiny hanging guitar was given to me by Anne when I finished making my own Guitar in Strato's workshop.

The pink ribbon was bought with birthday money to remind me of a special aunt who lives on the dairy farm in Ireland where my Mum was raised. This Aunt is very dear to me and got breast cancer quite a few years back and is thankfully still running the farm and in good health. This charm reminds me to whisper a quite  "Thank-you" for the fact that she is one of the good statistics.

The teeny little smiley sunshine also has a moon and star on it. It came from my lovely little sister who wanted me to know that the sun, moon and stars shone out of my... I'll leave you fill in the gap that was said by Carrie with more than a hint of sarcasm!!!

The little tea-cup was from an Australian friend who I have had many a fun catch up with in our local cafe. Not so often now we are both working but the charm is a reminder of those days when I was a stay at home mum.

Cupcakes, do I need to say any more? I believe that a well balanced diet is a cupcake in each hand...

The little bead underneath the guitar has three moonstones in it. One to represent each of my kids. Rhiannon my scatty middle daughter dropped my bracelet on the kitchen tiles cracking one of the moon stones. That's ok. It will always be the bead that is her!

The lumpy, bumpy bead above the square "I Love You" is from my Irish friend Nessa who left it hidden in the guest room when she left. It had a note telling me every lump was a story of a funny moment we have had together. She said that she knows that we have had more fun than the bead has bumps but it is to remind me of her.

The "G" and the "B" could be my initials or they could be for Byron and myself. The kids make me place the heart bead between the letters so it says we love each other.

The chain of hearts are from my brother and his wife. It was the bead they chose when they got a refund on the four leaved clover they had searched high and low for but so had my Mum and she got it to me first!

So yes, these beads do have special meaning to me. Each and every one has a story. A modern version of an old fashioned tradition. Hopefully one I will wear for many years into the future...

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The surprise!

We celebrated our 14th wedding anniversary on Monday. It is a day I don't work and normally spend catching up on grocery shopping, laundry and housework. I suggested ages ago to Byron that he might try to take the day off too so we could have it together child-free while the kids were in school. It didn't ever really get referred to again so I assumed it wasn't happening.

I got up at 6.30, put the kettle on and began my normal school-day routine preparing breakfast. There were some cards to open from friends and family overseas. After we had fun exchanging cards ourselves it was time to get up and get ready for school. Byron left at the usual time in his work clothes and took Sian to her High School along the way to his office. I gathered up the breakfast dishes and called out to Gareth and Rhiannon to get dressed before turning on the tv. Same old, same old, a familiar and comforting predictability.

And then I heard a car pull into our driveway. Something didn't feel right. Most visitors pull up on the kerb and walk to the door. No-one normally pulls into Byron's space except.... The key rattled in the lock and in walked Byron! He was grinning as I flustered. "What the..? How the...?"  He told me that he had managed to pull the wool over my eyes, that he had the day off and was spending it at home with me. Rhiannon and Gareth grinned from the top of the stairs. It seems I was the only one not to know. 

We dropped them to school and Byron had to come in to the classroom and stay and help while I swapped over the Year 2 home reader books like I do every Monday. He caused chaos in the all female group of Mums who do this task together each week. I think he secretly enjoyed it! We went for a relaxing coffee afterwards with no kids interrupting or spilling water on the table. We walked up the main street to do a few errands and he surprised me by detouring into the jewellers to let me choose a new bead for my charm bracelet. Normally I pride myself on knowing Mr B inside out and often finish his sentences for him. I threaten him never to try keeping secrets from me because I'll know what's going on before he has even done it.

This week he got one over me.

And I liked it!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

12 week challenge.

We are now 3/4 of the way through the work 12 week challenge. I fell off the diet and exercise wagon so badly the weekend of the Whiskey Bread and Butter Pudding. After a week of eating and not exercising and putting on weight at the next weigh in I got started again and am slowly losing once more.

Sian sat down with me this weekend to add up how much exercise has been logged by the group as a whole and how much weight has been lost. I am proud to say that we have clocked up an amazing 16,352 minutes (272.5 hours) and lost 39.24kgs (86.5lbs) Not bad at all!

As a motivator I will be giving away a bunch of freebies that the hospital donated to us to anyone who weighs in or updates their exercise logs in work this week. I am also going to print a weekly poster showing which staff members are currently potentially the winners of the prizes for weight loss and minutes exercised. I'm hoping that this will keep people motivated as we get closer to the final weigh in!!!

Monday, June 21, 2010

14 years...

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Team photo day.

Today the Lake Macquarie Roos Junior Rugby team of 2010 were asked to arrive early for their match so that a team photo could be taken. Trying to get 13 kids to sit still and look at the camera was a mammoth task. The two worst wrigglers were our two. They poked each other and giggled and wriggled and jiggled as the shot was set up and were almost separated for the final take.

While trying to get the kids attention one of the fathers yelled out some questions like "Who is the fastest on the team?"  to get them to face forward and answer him. "Who has the dirtiest knees?" "Who scores the most tries?"  "Who is the ugliest?" The kids yelled out names for most questions until he asked "Who is the prettiest on the team?" expecting silence from the previously all boys team. One little voice chirped up "ME!" It was Rhiannon the only female player! She started the laughter that got the final shot of everyone facing the camera.

Although the actual team photo turned out really nicely I  must say I still like the out-takes!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Separated at birth...

When you are young friendships are simple. You try to be like each other, you copy hairstyles, you play with similar toys and you pretend you are separated at birth. So when two crazy girls born in different countries both emigrate and make friends in their new school then decide to have a sleepover together ....

...only the mums are surprised at the coincidence when they put on identical new pj's at bedtime!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Phonecall....

I never get personal phone calls at work. My kids know I work as a nurse. They know I can't walk off a ward leaving patients unattended. Today I got a call from their school. For the first few seconds a rush of thoughts went through my head, which one was sick? Who had fallen over? It ended up that the school had to close as the water supply to the school had been unexpectedly shut down and there were no toilet facilities. My pulse returned to normal as I arranged to collect them and bring them back with me to the ward. It wasn't ideal but it was only for a couple of hours and everyone made a fuss of them, giving them paper and pens and chatting to them.

While they sat in the corner and played and ate their lunch I heard about another member of staff who had also received a phone call in work that morning. He had got the call I never want to get. His three young kids aged between 5 and 8 had been holding hands crossing the road to school when they were knocked down by a young driver. All three went to hospital by ambulance and the call was to tell him to follow. What must have gone through his head as he left his job in our small hospital to race to the bigger one in town knowing all three of his little kids were hurt. It makes me sick to the stomach. The news that has come back to the hospital is that his kids have bruising and cuts but as far as we know nothing more critical.

I looked down the corridor at my kids up to mischief laughing and drawing and I thanked God that my phone call was not his. I know that his children will be in my thoughts and prayers as I tuck mine up tight in bed tonight.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

歓迎 Japanese Students.

Sian's High School asked for families to volunteer to host Japanese Students this coming August for a few nights. The students will be attending the High School and exploring our area before moving on to Sydney and the Blue Mountains. We said we would love to be a part of this and we have been accepted. It looks like we will have two female students in our spare room a couple of months from now.

Sian had a choice between studying Japanese or French this year and chose French so we do not have the advantage of some basic language but I believe the students will have some English. I am wondering what the experience will be like? Do we cook Australian food to give them our cultural experience? BBQ's and eating in the garden, or do we cook Japanese style food to help them feel at home? What about our Irish and Welsh cultures? I'm leaning towards the Aussie answer. I wonder if they will want to show us how to cook a meal one night? That would be fun!

I know some of our readers are based in Japan. Any ideas? What would you want for your teenager daughter if she were to come stay with us while away from home? Is there any Japanese etiquette we need to know? Looking forward to sharing more of this story as it unfolds...


Monday, June 14, 2010

Happiness is...

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Growth spurt.

Gareth has had a growth spurt. Nothing fits him and because he is the only boy in the family he doesn't have hand-me-downs like his big sister. Being a boy he fails to see why he should get excited about shopping. There was a sale in our local Kmart so I dragged him along to buy some basics. He asked if he could look at the toys while I chose for him... No! I explained he needed to be with me to get the correct sizes.

He showed indifference as I picked up some bargain jeans, long sleeved tops with cool pictures on the front, a cozy fleece zip up top and finally, the dressing gown section... His eyes lit up. He ran his hands over the soft fleece and he deliberated between plain and stripes. This is the first year he hasn't gone for a dressing gown with a Disney character or super hero on it. He chose a sedate grey and navy and we headed for the check-out.

When we got home he ran upstairs and he got straight into his jammies and new soft and cozy gown. He stood in front of the bathroom mirror grinning from ear to ear.

"Mum... Look at me. I look handsome. I look like one of those men on the telly. What do you call them? You know, the ones that have won the lottery...."

"I look like a millionaire !!!"

Friday, June 11, 2010

Sports Carnival

The annual sports carnival is a fun day away from school where the kids participate in a range of track and field events. They get ferried away from school after morning assembly in a line of yellow coaches and travel to a local sports centre. Mums, Dads and grandparents are all welcome to spectate and cheer along as the kids run and jump their way to the finish lines.

Usually I have had three kids at this event and have spent half my time running around trying to find them amongst the sea of uniforms and sun hats. Sian has moved up to High school so today was a breeze with only two kids to chase after!

The best part of the day is at the end of the races when the kids line up to get the buses back to school or if they prefer they can get signed out by their parent and head home early! Bonus! What better start to a three day Public Holiday weekend than signing out of school early!

Let the chill-out begin....

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Orange 'ya glad I went shopping?!

These were on special at a local fruit farm. I couldn't resist them. They are truly huge oranges. More like the size of a grapefruit!

Byron thinks I'm mad and is wondering what I'm going to do with them all. I am resisting the urge to make my favourite Golden Orange Poppy-seed muffins and plan on just eating them!

I wonder how long it will take me to get to the bottom of the box... or how long till I cave in and start baking!

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Irish Whiskey Bread and Butter Pudding.

My family in Ireland gave me a cookery book a few years back and it is where I found the recipe for last weekends amazing bread and butter pudding. It is written by Kevin Dundon who is the chef and owner of a beautifully restored old country home called Dunbrody House.

If you are ever fortunate enough to be travelling through County Wexford in Ireland you will have to stop and call in to this magical hidden away treasure in the sleepy village of Duncannon. If your finances stretch to it then stay as overnight guests or if (like us!) they don't then just call in for afternoon tea and soak up the luxury and old fashioned elegance of this once in a lifetime place.

Begin by soaking the sultanas (I used these instead of raisins) for at least 2 hours or preferably overnight in Irish Whiskey. Generously butter an ovenproof dish. Remove the crusts from the bread and using the remaining butter butter, both sides, then cut each slice into quarters.

Arrange a single layer of the bread triangles, slightly overlapping in the bottom of the buttered dish. Scatter over some of the raisins and place another layer of the bread triangles on top and scatter over the remaining raisins. Press down gently with a fish slice or spatula.

To make the custard, heat the cream and milk in a pan until it almost comes to the boil. Remove from the heat. Meanwhile, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar in a large heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water until thickened and the whisk leaves a trail in the mixture. Remove from the heat and beat in the cream mixture until well combined.

Pour two-thirds of the custard over the layered-up bread triangles and leave to stand for about 30 minutes or until the bread has soaked up all of the custard.

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4. Pour the remaining custard over the soaked bread and butter triangles and arrange the rest of the bread triangles on top. Press down firmly with a fish slice so that the custard comes halfway up the bread triangles. Bake for 30-35 minutes until the custard is just set and the top is golden brown.

One extra modification I made was to pour a generous amount of Baileys onto the top layer of bread slices prior to baking it in the oven. A final sprinkle of brown sugar for texture and you will have a dessert to die for!

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

The mess before the fun....

I gave you a sneak preview on Sunday of our Irish meal. Here, after a few good nights beauty sleep, is a little more detail. The food had all been prepared on the day before while I was on a day off work and the kids were in school. I had completely trashed my kitchen making brown bread, wrapping sausages in bacon, soaking sultanas in whiskey ahead of preparing a Baileys infused bread and butter pudding, chopping, dicing and slicing all the ingredients for the Guinness Beef pie, peeling about a million potatoes for the mountain of heavily seasoned mash and whipping copious amounts of cream in preparation for the Irish Coffees.

By the time the kids got off the school bus you couldn't see any kitchen surface and the floor was covered in potato peels and bits of brown sugar and egg shells. I'm not the tidiest of cooks. The whole "tidy as you go" idea just goes in one ear and out the other. Luckily it was a whole day before the guests were due to arrive. Just barely enough time to undo the chaos I had created!

And so 24 hours, a tidy kitchen and an overworked dishwasher later we opened the door to our friends wearing every shade of green they owned. They came laden with Irish Whiskey and Guinness hats, printed jokes and crazy green floral arrangements! It was a chaotic, noisy, laughter filled house for the next few hours. The kids ran around screaming and having a ball while the adults raised glasses and toasted each other with the old Irish toasts I had found in a little book. The toasts had been written on small rolled up pieces of paper and placed randomly at each place setting. I had considered engineering which person should get which toast but decided it would be too hard and yet in the end every person got the toast that I thought matched them perfectly! The toasts ranged from traditional to cheeky and each person read theirs out loud to howls of laughter and cheering and the clinking of glasses. 

The night passed in a blur of food and drink, kids running around and squealing over the Irish music coming out of the stereo. The Irish flag jellies seemed to refuel them and sent them on another sugar high race up and down the stairs. It was a brilliant night. Successful because of the great company and the effort they put in to sharing our culture with us. I can't wait for the South African and Australian evenings. Bring them on!!!

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Irish meal.

There are two women that I sit side by side with on a wooden bench from 4pm to 6pm every Monday afternoon. We watch our kids swimming in squad and get dripped on by the condensation running off the roof. We put the world to rights because we are so perfect! ahhhem, well in our eyes anyhow! 

Then on a Tuesday we all meet up again as our kids practise Rugby training, and again on a Saturday morning as we cheer the kids through their match carrying water-bottles, orange wedges for half time and mouth guards. 

The conversation carries on from the start of the week to the end and then the following Monday we find ourselves back on the wooden benches, avoiding the drips, carrying on the conversation and never actually running out of topics to talk about. 

We have lots in common but are also distinctively different. One friend is Australian, married to an Australian with kids that are Australian. One friend is English but married to a South African and spent many years living there and bringing up her kids there so we think of them as our South African friends. I, if you haven't already worked it out, am Irish, married to a Welsh man, kids born in England and now Australian Citizens. 

On one of our many Monday conversations last year we talked about our favourite meals. By the end of the swimming lesson we had hatched a brilliant plan. To have three dinners over the year 2010, one in each house, entirely catered for in the nationality of that family. 

It is now June so I finally set the date for our Irish night. It was yesterday and we had a wonderful time. I'm going to be a tease and just show you the menu because I am falling off the computer chair with tiredness and I will follow up with part two tomorrow night!

You are cordially invited to an evening of Celtic food, 
music and entertainment this weekend only 
Baynham Manor
Saturday evening
Entrees served from 5pm
Children are admitted at the discretion of the Maitre D. 
Must be toilet trained and able to tell good quality Irish Jokes

Home made Brown Bread 
served with cream cheese, smoked salmon and fresh  chives

Beef and Guinness Pie
Topped with a crisp pastry lid, bacon and leek práta bruig 
and a side serving of steamed vegetables

Irish Whiskey Bread and Butter Pudding
served with Vanilla Ice-Cream and a Baileys Butterscotch Sauce

Irish Coffee
Whiskey, coffee, brown sugar, topped with double cream

Irish Tea
Tea leaves, water and milk...

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Sians Coconut Slice.

Since trying to eat a more healthy diet there has been a change in our house. A change I was unaware of until my daughter Sian pointed it out. She demanded to know why she no longer walks in the door after school to the smell of cookies or fresh muffins on a cooling rack.

So remarkably unimpressed is she with this unexpected negative impact of her healthy Mum that she has decided to make a few changes of her own. She has started to learn how to use the oven! It all started with a friend emailing her a recipe for chocolate chip cookies and was sped on by a recipe magazine that fell out of the weekend paper.

First thing she cooked out of it was a kill-me-now-and-let-me-go-to-heaven Lemon Curd Squares.

The next day was go-straight-to-my-hips-I-don't-care-about-my-diet Raspberry Jam and Coconut Slice.

Tomorrow she plans on trying out the diet-what-diet?-I-have-no-idea-what-you-are-on-about Chocolate Swirl Cheesecake Brownies.

I'm not all that happy. For the first time in my 12 week challenge I have put on weight. It's almost impossible to work out on the cross trainer with a crumbly piece of slice in one hand and a cup of tea in the other.

In order to make me feel less guilty about falling off the diet wagon I thought I would help to corrupt all of you too. If you are connected to my 12 week challenge I implore you to make some tonight. I need company to commiserate with on next weeks weigh in.....

Shortbread base
1 cup (220g) castor sugar
1 cup (80g) desiccated coconut
2 cups (300g) plain flour
200g butter, melted
1 cup (320g) store-bought raspberry jam

Coconut topping
3 cups (225g) shredded coconut.
2 egg whites, lightly beaten

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.  Mix sugar, coconut, flour and butter in a bowl and then press into the base of a lightly greased 20cm X 30cm tin lined with non-stick paper. Bake for 20mins or until golden. Allow to cool slightly. Spread the base with jam. To make the topping, place the eggs and coconut in a bowl and mix well. Spread over jam and bake for 25mins or until golden. Allow to cool completely in the tin. Slice to serve. Eat. Eat. Eat!