Saturday, December 30, 2006

Swimming at Speers Point.

We have discovered a fantastic outdoor swimming pool in neaby Speers Point. It is a public pool with 3 different areas. Adult lengths pool, kids lengths pool and a baby splash pool. It cost the grand total of $9.20 for the whole family to get in (£3.70 Uk!) The kids had a ball. It was safe, clean and had lots of shaded picnic tables where Byron and myself sat and read the paper while the kids splashed and swam to their hearts content. It will be a perfect place to bring our friends Cathy and Derek when they visit at Easter with Alex, Myles and Grace. Roll on March!!!

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Sleepover at Anne and Kels

We have had many good nights at Anne and Kels.

Generally they involve food, kids watching a DVD in Kel's Cinema room and one of us drinking a generous amount of alcohol while the other (designated driver) has to sit back and watch as everyone has a ball! Anne has often mentioned as it gets late into the evening that we should have thought in advance and come prepared to sleep over so that we can both join in the drunken merriment late into the night while the kids sleep through in one of the downstairs bedrooms.

With Joe and Rhonda heading back to Sydney on Thursday, yesterday was a perfect opportunity to try out this plan. We had a great night as Tenelle made many different and very potent cocktails and the evening ended with the obligatory Irish Coffee made by myself. I was drinking my glass of water between each drink hoping to magically avoid a hangover and miraculously this seemed to work as I felt pretty good this morning!

Poor Byron is back in full work mode so I had to drop him home by 8am. He didn't look very happy as I drove away back to Anne and Kels for breakfast. He looked even less happy when 5 minutes later I drove back up the driveway to collect all our swimmers, lifejackets etc for a day of watersports without him. Looks like Boxing day was back on track but poor Mr B couldn't join in.

Obviously I could say that we had a lousy day and that it was boring being whizzed around Lake Maquarie on Kels speeedboat, the kids hated it and I fell out with my brother and his wife, then got sunburned......

Sorry Byron, We had a ball, (Except the sunburn where I missed a spot on my back - Ouch!)

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Blueberry picking.

We were asked to join some friends on a trip to a local fruit farm to pick our own blueberries. The farm was tucked away down a long winding single track road so I was very glad to be following the other cars. I don't think I would ever have found it myself.

When we got there we did a quick check-list... Sunscreen, mozzie repellent, hats, water bottles. It felt like we were about to go trekking through wild unchartered jungles!

A quick hello to the owners who gave some advice to the kids about which berries were ripe, (the blue/black ones) which ones were the sweetest (the big plump ones about the size of a marble) and how to pick them (put your hand underneath the fruit and "tickle" them?!!)

Off we marched with our empty buckets and opened the gate into the blueberry field.

The kids started gingerly, asking advice before picking each berry and not daring to eat any. Over the next hour they gained confidence and were soon pushing their way through the densest corner of the overgrown field.

They were filling their buckets at an alarming rate! And their mouths too! I was paying by weight and had no idea what a full bucket of blueberries would cost. I had brought $50 cash with me. In the supermarket a small punnet costs about $6-$9 and the kids had at least 10 punnets worth between them.

When we went to weigh in back at the farm house I held my breath waiting to hear the final bill. I was wondering which child to try selling if we went over the $50! After an agonising wait while the lady carefully tied up the kids berries in net bags she told me we owed a grand total of $14.50! Bargain! Good job she didn't weigh the kids going in and out. I think we might have owed a bit more!

We now have a fridge full of juicy blueberries. We have lots of plans to bake some wonderful treats. Blueberry muffins, pies and smoothies.....

We had a lovely day and will definitely be making a return trip.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Boxing day V's St. Stephens day

The day after Christmas is known as St Stephens day in Ireland but as Boxing day in the UK and here in Australia. I have got used to calling it Boxing day as I left Ireland in 1996, however I still find myself flipping between the two names depending on who I am talking to.

In Australia it has traditionally become a day of water sports at Anne and Kels house. Whoever owns a boat launches and ties up to Anne and Kels jetty and those that don't turn up by car. Everyone brings a big Esky of chilled food and puts it on the big table near the boat house. The day is spent chatting, eating and taking turns water-skiing or being pulled behind the speedboats in a "biscuit" - an inflatable shape with a hole in the middle! The less adventurous can just sit in one of the speedboats and enjoy feeling the wind in their hair as the driver does his best to shake the poor unfortunate off the back of the biscuit!
This year unfortunately the wind picked up early in the morning and the lake became too choppy for watersports. We had to postpone it until another day in the near future.

Instead we went off to our favourite local park in Rathmines and Sian and Rhiannon broke in their new roller blades while Gareth whizzed around on his bike. Byron and myself sat in our fold away picnic chairs and drank a flask of fresh coffee and munched on some cookies that the girls and I had made that morning with my new "cookie-press" Perfect!(except for the waist bands are beginning to feel tight!)

Later in the afternoon we called in to Anne and Kels to say Hi and exchange presents with my brother Joe and his wife Rhonda who had just arrived up from Sydney. We had a great time, chatted, drank, ate more cookies (waist bands are feeling tighter!) Eventually we reluctantly threw the kids in the car and drove home to put them in bed. Byron was trying to hang on to the last few hours of his Christmas holidays as he was back in work the next day. We stayed up another couple of hours, watching a new DVD and eating yet more cookies, mince pies and chocolates (Ouch, those waist-bands again!)

It has been a lovely Christmas. It is so exciting counting down to it but it goes by too quickly.

Gareth is already asking

"How many sleeps till next Christmas?"

Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas Afternoon.

Christmas morning might have been like many other Christmas' past but Christmas afternoon was going to be different from anything we had ever experienced...

...Christmas dinner on the beach! We packed up the Esky with cold ham and turkey, fresh bread, cranberry jelly, not to mention a warm Christmas pudding with a big tub of Brandy custard!!!

Mr B was in his element. He looked like an excited child, racing around in the waves.

He had endless energy dragging Gareth and Rhiannon around on their Boogie boards.

Sian just braved the surf solo looking like a natural Aussie surf chic!

I sat back on the warm sand and made the ham and turkey sandwiches and poured big glasses of cold ginger beer. Delicious!

Not your traditional Christmas spread but good....

..Damn good!

Christmas Morning.

Christmas morning in the Baynham household followed the same pattern of Christmas' before!

Sian, Rhiannon and Gareth were awake about 6am and all gathered in one bedroom to compare stockings. We woke up at 7am and went in to see what Santa had brought.

Outside Gareths bedroom window was an empty bucket that had been full of water the night before. The magic reindeer food (Porridge oats and glitter given to us by the Connolly kids) was scattered all over the driveway and a few munched up bits of Carrots were all that was left from Rudolf's snack.

Out in the hallway Santas tray of food was looking bare. The cookies were gone, mince pie crumbs were on the tray and Santa had managed to knock back a fair amount of Byrons best Whisky!

We all gathered outside the living room doors and went in together. There were the usual squeals of excitement. Gareth got his Thunderbirds DVD's, Rhiannon got her Amazing Allysen doll and Sians surprise was a huge netball stand and a new netball. She was chuffed!

We all tucked into some fresh ham and cheese croissants and then opened the rest of our gifts.

The kids spent the next few hours engrossed in their new toys.....

.....Oh, and so did Byron!

An Aussie Christmas!

Christmas in Australia...

You are wondering how we spent our day.....

Too tired to write all the details right now. It's almost midnight and I want my bed.

Here is a photo to give you a clue about where we had our Christmas dinner...!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas Eve

We have had a lovely start to Christmas with a wander down the street in Toronto doing a last few errands. We stopped and had a coffee in a cafe before heading home to get ready for Christmas Eve mass.

The girls played quite an active role with their classmates. There were loads of Angels in white dresses + tinsel and the boys were shepherds.

The Nativity song was made extra special when a boy and girl from St Josephs school played Mary and Joseph and carried their baby brother as baby Jesus.

Gareth fell asleep for most of it but woke at the end a bit dazed and sleepy. He wasn't impressed with the enthusiastic singing and covered his ears with his hands in protest. Mr B being a very supportive "non-catholic-but-I-will-come-along-if-it-is-important" helped out by sitting with a grin on his face copying Gar! Not sure Fr Tom will be too pleased to see us coming along next week!!! I think Mr B will be banned!!!

Mass was followed by a trip to Anne and Kels house to exchange early Christmas presents and then home to get ready for Santa. A very large glass of Byrons best Whisky, mince pies and some Cookies were gathered together. Rhiannon wrote a sweet note telling Santa to tuck in! They were all put on a tray and then three very excited kids were tucked up in bed with empty stockings carefully placed beside each bed.

......A few hours of blissful silence before bedlam begins!

Friday, December 22, 2006

Gareths Playgroup Santa visit.

Gareth and I go to a Mums and kids playgroup every Friday morning. The kids run around and have a play while the mums catch up over a cup of tea.

If we are feeling really posh we might even have a nescafe Cappuccino stick! (If Maree Newton has been to Woolworths on her way!)

The last Friday before Christmas is the Playgroup Christmas party. All the mums bring some food to share and the kids get dressed up in their Christmas t-shirts and dresses. Just before the end of the session there is always a very special visitor...SANTA!

The kids sit mesmerised on the mat while he calls them up one by one and finds a present in his sack for them. It was a lovely morning.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Early start.

Poor Mr B.

Working from home here in Australia has its advantages. He gets to have breakfast, lunch and tea with the kids, has no long commute to work every day and gets handed numerous cups of percolated coffee by his loyal secretary, Me!

On the down side can be the time difference with his US colleagues. Often they have to juggle meeting times so that people in America, India and Australia are able to join in at a time that is not too anti-social to any of them.

He drew the short straw this morning as the only time they could come up with for an important meeting was 4.45am for him. Because we are renting a single level house and Byrons office is next to the childrens bedroom he knew he couldn't talk from there or else Gareth and Rhiannon would be waking up earlier than their normal 6.30am start. Normally during his working day the kids are all at school and in the school holidays I make sure that we spend most of the day out and about so that he can work uninterrupted.

This morning he had a dilemma. Where to make the call from so as not to wake everyone up? The only answer was the garage! He set up his laptop in the speedboat before going to bed, set the alarm for 4.30am and started his day in a very unusual way, having a conference call with his US colleagues while sitting in the drivers seat of the SeaRay up on its trailer in our garage!

I'm not sure if the Americans thought he was winding him up when he said where he was! Here is the photo I took at 7am to prove it!

Friday, December 15, 2006

House Build week 13: Scaffolding comes down

Week 13 and we were offered another chance to go inside the security fencing with our site-supervisor Paul Jones.

Gareth was very excited and put on his new builders hat and jacket that Auntie Carrie gave him for his birthday! He said in the car "They will think I am the Boss Mum!"

We were pleased to see that the scaffolding was being taken down. The brickwork on the upper level has been fully built up to the roof and had been cleaned down. They are now trying to get the last little bit of brickwork on the back of the house finished and also trying to get the garage roof on before things slow down for Christmas.

The house build is on a 30 week timescale. We are currently week 13. Everything shuts down for 4 weeks over Christmas and Byron and myself were debating if 30 weeks of actual building was needed (meaning a 34 week build) or if the 30 weeks allowed for 4 weeks of Christmas break?

We nervously broached the subject of the timescales of the build with Paul. Of course I didn't ask straight out when we could have the keys, I was much more subtle than that. I told him that Cathy and Derek and their three kids land in Sydney on March 25th 2007...... and that our lease runs out on March 28th 2007..... I think he got the message!

The good news is that the 30 week build allows for 4 weeks of non-activity and 26 weeks of labour.

The even better news is that Pauls crew of workers are not all taking the full 4 weeks of time off and there will be small amounts of work going on in our house during the Christmas/ New Year holidays.

The best news of all is that Paul is still aiming to finish slightly ahead of the contract schedule and so far is on track to achieve this goal! Looks like Cathy and Derek might not be needing the lend of a tent after all!!!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Teacher's presents.

It's that time of year again where you have to rack your brain trying to think of something to give the kids teachers as a Christmas gift. Because December marks the end of the academic year here it is also a "Thank-you" for the year that they have spent nurturing my little angels and managing to refrain from strangling them or throwing them out the classroom window! The usual gifts spring to mind... Chocolates, candles, bath bubbles.....

Today as I walked through David Jones I saw some lovely china mugs. White with little red stars and Christmas trees around the rim, subtle, usable, one-size-suits-all! I bought one each for Sian and Rhiannons teachers and the ladies who work in Gareths Pre-school. A little bit of red cellophane, some silver ribbon and all that I needed were some tags. I had great fun making them on the computer and was really happy with the end result....

.......Gareth wasn't. He failed to see how sticking his head on a flying elf was in any way humorous. I've had to hide them in a cupboard to stop him picking his photo off the label!

Well done Byron!

I enjoy telling you how wonderful our kids are on this blog but I don't often get a chance to brag about Mr B! He has just finished another term of Saxapohone lessons and came in the door last night with a spring in his step. It was report time and didn't he do well!!!......

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Well done Sian!!!

There is a New South Wales initiative to encourage kids to read books. It is called the Premiers Reading Challenge (PRC). The school librarian keeps a record of the books that the kids in school read from a list of recommended titles and the kids try to complete their record sheet over the academic year.

Sians teacher Mrs Merrick has really encouraged her class to participate and has had her class turn into mini bookworms! Sian loves reading and is a competitive kid so this is a dream come true for her. She has been reading books at a ferocious rate and in the last few months has managed to complete 3 PRC's.

After Sian and another pupil completed their 3rd PRC the librarian suggested to the head teacher that they deserved a Principals award to recognize their effort. These awards are very special as only a very few are handed out in any school year.

Byron started work a little later than normal this morning so that he could be there to see her be given it and to join in the applause. We are very proud of her!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Santa Visit.

It's been a very festive weekend.

On Saturday we put up the Christmas tree. Not without drama I might add! Damaged tree branches needed gluing, UK plugs needed rewiring to Australian ones, lights not working anyway when the rewiring was done! Isn't that what Christmas is all about...?!!

The kids were very excited as they decorated the tree. There were the usual arguments, sorry, discussions, about who made the various home-made decorations that have come home from pre-school over the years. The finishing touch was bringing all the brown paper parcels in that have arrived from friends and families overseas and opening them up and putting the gifts inside underneath the tree. The kids were very excited squeezing and shaking the various presents as they lay them down, hoping for an idea of what is inside!

Sunday was the day we decided to visit Santa to tell him what was on the kids lists. They were very excited waiting in the queue. They had their faces painted while they waited. Sian was painted as a reindeer and Rhiannon was a Christmas fairy. Gareth wasn't letting the lady anywhere near his face with paint or glitter! They were able to sit down and do some colouring in while Byron and myself waited patiently in line. It was funny watching the families in front have their turn with Santa. There were the usual shy smiles from the younger kids, a 2 year old who took one look at Santa and screamed till she was blue in the face, and a tiny baby girl in a pink dress who must have been about 3 months old, whose Mum walked up to Santa, passed her over and stood back while a bemused Santa posed cradling this tiny blob in his his arms for her first official Santa photo!

At last it was our turn. The kids walked up timidly holding hands and then turned and smiled shyly for the official photo. They told Santa what they wanted and he chatted back to them making them totally at ease. By the end he had them in stitches laughing. He was admiring Rhiannons face paint but asked Sian if she had got brown mud on her face! When Sian said she wanted a surprise for Christmas he said he would give her a surprise alright... a face-cloth and soap to clean the mud off her face!

Back home at last, A quick bath, into pyjamas, they wrote their official Santa letters and then an extra surprise. Granny had sent over a present to be opened before Christmas, a Christmas pop-up book! They sat around the tree in their p.j's and we read and re-read the book before they were thrown into bed. The Santa letters are under the kitchen table (Gareths idea!) next to the glass of milk and cookies for Santa when he collects them.

All is quiet, not a sound from the bedrooms, 3 kids sleeping fast.....

I wonder if Santa will have been when they wake up in the morning?.........

Thursday, December 07, 2006

House Build week 12: Roof goes on!

Week 12 and the roof has gone on!

We are very excited as this is one of the last external changes before the interior of the house gets started. We will keep blogging about the house build but it may not be every week. We don't have access to the inside of the house for health and safety reasons and only get to have meetings with the site supervisor ever 4-6 weeks. Everything shuts up over the Christmas holidays here in Australia so I think we will have to be patient. We are so excited and are like children waiting for Santa. We want to be moving in next week!

Our time scales for the finishing up date are very fraught. Our friends Cathy and Derek arrive for a three week trip on March 25th with their three kids, Alex, Myles and Grace. Our lease runs out in our rental house 3 days later on the 28th and the estimated date for completion of the house is mid-April..... The builders are working slightly ahead of schedule so fingers crossed!!!

Deep breath... and relax... deep breath... and relax... deep breath... and relax!