Wednesday, November 29, 2006

House Build week 11: Beer for the Brickies!

Week 11 and the brickwork is all but finished.

The brickies have one day left on site and then move on to another job. Byron got a phone call at lunchtime from the site supervisor saying that today might be a good day to go say "Thank-you"

......In other words to turn up with a case of beer!

It is a hot one today and we are staying indoors with the air-con on full blast. The men on site looked hot and broke out in a grin as they saw Byron crossing the road to them! I hope those last few bricks get laid in a straight line!

Monday, November 27, 2006

Special Rhiannon day!

With such a busy weekend , Gareths Birthday party on Saturday and Sians Communion on Sunday , our piggy in the middle, Rhiannon was feeling a bit left out. At 6 years of age she understood the coincidence of two occasions happening side by side but still looked a little crestfallen as parcel after parcel arrived with things inside for Gareth and Sian but nothing for her. Auntie Carrie and Granny and Grandad Joe picked up on this and set to work planning something....

Special Rhiannon Day!

They sent her an email to be placed under her pillow on Sunday night telling her how special she was, how much they loved and missed her. At the bottom of the email was a "virtual voucher" for a Beanie Kid (I pay and Granny fixes me up next time we meet!) It was to be spent on the Monday when she came home from school!

Rhiannon spent ages looking at every Beanie Kid in the shop before finally choosing "Ellianna the fairy bear" She got to choose what we all had for tea and had ice-cream, strawberry sauce and sprinkles for dessert! After a phone call with Granny, Grandad Joe and Auntie Carrie (Way past bedtime!) she went off to bed a happy "special" little girl.

Thank you Mum, Dad and Carrie for being so thoughtful

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Sians First Holy Communion: The picture Gina doesn't want you to see!

Sian got a lovely First Holy Communion card from Gina's sister Carrie.
It had Sian and me in stitches when we saw it. We asked Gina to put a picture of it on the blog but she said "No chance"......

.............Comments please!

Sians First Holy Communion

It was Sians First Holy Communion today.

It was a very special day for us as a family. She has been attending weekly classes to prepare for today over the last few months. She was very excited going to bed last night.

Before she went to sleep she opened up a beautiful gift from my sister Carrie in Ireland. It was a St Brigids cross pendant. St Brigids crosses are used in many households in Ireland to protect a house from fire. My Dads mother Granny Sheeran used to make St Brigids crosses and sell them. When my Dad was young, he used to have to help collect the rushes from which they were made and when I was a child I went to St Brigids school with my brother and sister. You can see now why she chose this type of cross as a gift for Sian.

We were missing my sister and Mum and Dad because they were originally planning to be visiting us here in Australia for this occasion but were unable to travel because of health problems. Hopefully they will be able to visit us soon.

I was awake early this morning. At 6am I was scrubbing the kitchen floors with nervous energy! Sian wandered out shortly afterwards and we sat down and had a chat while I was painting her nails (Don't worry, just clear nail varnish!) She asked me to tell the story of St Brigid (again) and by the end of the story Rhiannon and Gareth were cross legged on Sians bedroom floor too! It was still only 6.40am but Byron must have heard us so he wandered in with a cup of tea.

We managed to make it into the car by 8.30am all dressed and smart and without any shouting "HURRY UP!!!" We all relaxed a little when we got out of the car at the church. At least we were there in plenty of time for the ceremony.

Sian was allocated a long bench for her to sit with us as a family. We were very near the front and had a great view of the ceremony. Sian looked more excited than nervous and was so pleased to see all her friends arriving in their lovely dresses. She was chosen to be a part of the offertory procession and did really well walking up the aisle to the priest with everyone watching. It really was a lovely ceremony and she had a big hug with Byron just before she left our seat to receive for the first time. I had a lump in my throat as I watched her.

Joe and Rhonda were there with Cian and he slept soundly through the service so they were happy. Tenelle drove up from Sydney and managed to sneak into our seat just in time! Anne and Kel sat with us and gave moral support and hugs. We all missed and thought about our families that were so far away and couldn't join us. It was an emotional rollercoaster of pride, loneliness and happiness. After the ceremony we went outside and had tea and coffee and a huge cake to celebrate with all the other families.

We all went back to our house, turned on the air-con and had a really relaxing afternoon eating, drinking and eating some more! Sian opened up the lovely gifts that friends and family had given her and was so lucky to have received so many beautiful things to have as keepsakes. Thank you to everyone from Ireland, England and Wales who remembered her and went to the trouble of sending cards and gifts. They really will be treasured forever.

We put all the lovely cards on display in the living room side by side with all the old, yellowed, aged cards that I had received for my Communion 26 years ago! My Mum had found them during their house move earlier this year and had parceled them up and sent them for me to open when I was missing them. That was a real Kleenex moment!

The day ended like any other family celebration... Cars pulling away down our driveway, the sound of "Drive safe" calling through the still evening air, three tired sticky kids sleeping in their beds like little angels, long distance phone calls telling of the days excitement, a fridge packed with tons of left overs that will feed us for the next week and Byron and myself flopped on the sofa with a cup of tea congratulating ourselves on a busy weekend that will live on in our heads for many years to come.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Gareth's 4th Birthday

It's hard to believe that although we've only been in Australia for just over a year, Gareth has only ever had one birthday in the UK. His very first birthday was in Sydney while we were here for Joe and Rhonda's wedding in 2003.

The evening before his 4th birthday was a little tense...for some reason the little fella decided that he was more than happy being 3 and didn't want to be 4. He was prepared to cancel the party and to take the presents back to the shops ! After a great deal of persuasion we just about managed to convince him that although he would be 4 he would still look and feel the same.

Birthday morning was fairly calm. He was happy to slowly open each present in turn and play with each fully before opening the next. Sian and Rhiannon were bursting for him to open them quickly but he kept them waiting. He didn't want us to sing Happy Birthday though. Clearly, he still wasn't sure about being 4.

Party time was at a local park, and as the weather was superb, we had a good sausage sizzle while all the kids ran around playing. There was loads of food for them to scoff to make sure their sugar levels remained alarmingly high. Gareth soon realised that each time a person arrived at the party he would receive a present from them. Bingo, the penny dropped and he was soon having a great time. He happily let everyone sing Happy Birthday to him and even dutifly obliged by blowing out the candles on his Robot cake (the one I made all by myself...).

By bedtime he was exhausted and wanted to sleep next to his new toys, especially his Robot and Tracy Island kit.

He leaned over and whispered to me "Dad, when is my next birthday ?".


Friday, November 24, 2006

House Build week 10: Brickwork almost finished!

Week 10 and the "brickies" are almost finished! The bricks have almost reached the roofline and the roof tilers are standing by to take over the next stage. We should be seeing some tiles on the roof by this time next week...

Birthday Cake Dilemma...

It is Gareths 4th birthday this weekend.

Last year he had a beautiful robot shaped cake that I stayed up past midnight, baking and decorating. On the day Byron pretended to have made it himself and took all the praise from his adoring 3 year old!

It's birthday number 4 tomorrow. Gareth wants daddy to make him another wonderful robot cake....

Do I ...

A: Tell the truth about last year, show up Byron to be a chancer and shatter a little boys illusions of his perfect Dad

B: Stay up past midnight again, baking and decorating and allow Byron to take all the credit allowing his little boy to think his Dad is amazing

C:Bake the cake myself, put on all the chocolate icing and at the last minute let Byron sprinkle and shake all the little metallic balls onto the robot with Gareth, explaining to him that Mum and Dad want to share the job this year...

This is what I decided to do.... !

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Bushfire Season

Bushfires are a part of every Australian summer here in New South Wales. Every evening on the news there are reports on bushfires raging out of control, sometimes in remote areas, sometimes creeping close to residential areas.

There was a large bushfire in this area a few years ago that people have told us about. It caused the children in St Joseph's school to be evacuated as the school is in the middle of an area of bush. The trees all around the school were on fire and although the school is made of rows of log cabin style classrooms, not a single part of the school was singed.

Since we have lived here bushfires have been in the news but never truly local to us and not affecting us or our immediate town. This Wednesday was the closest we have come to understanding the true impact of a bushfire. In the afternoon there were large bushfires burning in the surrounding countyside. We saw many plumes of smoke in far away gum forests and heard the wail of distant sirens regularly. About 4pm the skies started to go prematurely dark. There were big storms approaching. The sky was a deep dark grey on the horizon. The following 3 hours were bizarre. The effects of the large bushfires on the sky was unbelievable. The skies turned a deep reddish orange colour mixed with the angry grey of the thunderstorms. All the cars had their headlights on full beam even though it was hours before sundown.

I was driving with Gareth home from Newcastle. The radio was warning all drivers of severe storms in between each music track. It seemed as though we were heading into the heart of it. There was a feeling as though we were in a film about the end of time. Everything was still and eerie. My visibility wasn't great out of the windscreeen. I put down the driver window and was overwhelmed by the thick smell of burning wood. It smelt hot and felt as though it was singeing me as I breathed in. It felt as though I was sitting beside a bonfire and I expected to be able to see a fire nearby. I got home just before the thunder and lightning started. The kids were very on edge. They were worried about the house being set in an acre of gum trees and whether we were in danger.

Over the next two hours the wind picked up and blew away most of the smoke and the skies retuned to their normal blue. Apparently the smoke was from the fires many miles away and none were dangerously close. The next day we noticed a fine dust on the car, clothes line etc. It is the ash from the distant fires. If fires that far away can feel so near I wonder what it must be like for people truly caught up in one.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Swimming in the lake

It was a scorcher today. We decided to pack a picnic and go out in the boat for a spin around Lake Macquarie. We spotted Kel on the balcony of his house as we passed by and five minutes later we had two more passengers on board!

We expanded our "comfort zone" that we normally stick to and decided to go a bit further afield for a change. We went across to Belmont which took less time than I expected, but then Anne and myself were absorbed in all sorts off exciting gossip about "The Beautiful People" and time sure flys when you're having fun!

The beautiful people are a breed of people who swan around on fancy cruisers in skimpy bikinis and provide wonderful entertainment for all men with binoculars living on the waterfront. Anne and myself have a misguided notion that with a little dieting and some wonderfully clever "hold-in" swimwear we may become part of their club someday!

Enough daydreaming, when we reached Belmont we tied up on a mooring and ate the picnic I had packed earlier. With 4 adults tucking into 2 sandwiches it was more of an appetizer than lunch so we decided to tie up next to Lake Macquarie yacht club and order some more food.

The kids wanted to try to swim off the boat so we let them climb down the ladder at the back of the boat. It was freezing but they loved it.

Sian got really brave and started jumping in off the side! Gareth was a bit nervous so we tied a rope to his life jacket and held on to it. We knew we could drag him in if he changed his mind. He loved the feeling of bobbing up and down with the life jacket on and soon realized he would have more freedom if we untied him!

Rhiannon took a while to make up her mind. After a lot of toe-dipping she finally took the plunge and swam around with Sian and Gareth.

It was a lovely day. Often the days that you don't plan turn out the best and today was one of them!

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Kid-free Christmas Shopping!

It is a family tradition in Anne's family that every Christmas all the girls go on a family shopping spree together. I am really lucky to have been absorbed into the middle of her family and included in this annual event. On Saturday morning I ran around making breakfast and topping up Byron's coffee cup to prepare him for the day ahead! His football team were playing live on TV and unfortunately they lost about 5 minutes before I was picked up. I felt sorry for him as I ran out the front door and glanced fleetingly at his long face..... Never mind, It's only football. I had more important things on my mind....Shopping!!!

It was a lovely day. Auntie Louise (Anne's sister) is a real character and had James the waiter in the coffee shop tied up in knots trying to write down a complicated order of half strength lattes and well-done-but-not-quite-burnt date loaf! The poor guy nearly did a runner when he saw us coming back into the cafe for lunch!!!

It was great fun helping other people spend their money and trying to pick up on hints if any one of us admired anything. I quickly realized that it was very dangerous to agree that the multi coloured and mis-shapen vase in the window of a homeware shop was divine if you didn't really think so. Before you could say "only kidding" it could be next to the cash register being wrapped in three layers of Christmas paper with your name on it!

There was also the added excitement of Tenelle my sister-in-law getting text messages from a gorgeous guy she had met earlier in the week and trying to help her think of witty, flirty but "not too available" replies!

I really enjoyed the freedom of a days retail therapy surrounded by girls. Girls understand that when you need a pair of new shoes you have to wander around every shoe shop in the centre and try on every pair in every shop, even if the first pair in the first shop was lovely and ends up being the pair that you buy!

Byron came to collect me and although I had enjoyed my freedom being away from the kids for the day it was a great feeling to see them running towards me with arms up for a big hug!

Thanks Byron for the little bit of "Me" time and Thanks Anne and her crazy relations for including me in their family day.

Friday, November 17, 2006

House Build week 9: Scaffolding climbs higher.

Week 9 and the weather has been quite changable over recent days. We have had scorching sunshine and crazy thunderstorms that appear out of nowhere and then disappear just as quickly. We have also had some really high winds that have moved our heavy patio furniture around the deck of our rental house.

I think the weather has slowed the house build down a bit. The scaffolding has gone up to the upper floor and a bit more brickwork has gone up. The most exciting change has been to the front of the house where you can see an extra "H" shaped piece of brickwork in the center. This will be our porch and part of our upstairs balcony.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Adieu, Cliffes !

It's a sad day.

Our good friends Charles, Sue and their children are heading back to the UK in a few days time.

Today, they had a leaving party complete with the usual bbq sausages, chicken and plenty of beer. To mark this momentous occasion they also had numerous bottles of expensive champagne...

Charles and Sue have been very helpful to us over the past 12 months, and have been good friends for many years. They arrived on a work visa a few years ago and we looked forward to seeing them again when we arrived last year. They gave us loads of good advice when we arrived and have been great at bouncing ideas off. We've had fantastic times together: in the pool, touring Sydney, on the speedboat, cycling (!) and always having superb food and grog...

As we'd known them for a long time before we emigrated, they were also our only tangible link with the UK. We've tried to persuade them on many occasions not to go back to ol' blighty, but their English blood runs true and strong and they've taken the decision to head back.


We wish them good luck in their new adventure ! They'll be missed here in Oz.

Coffee at Cian's

We had an emotional day saying our final goodbyes to Charles and Sue in Sydney this weekend. Byron will write a separate blog about their return to the UK later.

Before starting our two hour drive home we rang Joe and Rhonda and invited ourselves in for a coffee! We had a very overdue birthday present for Rhonda and it seemed as good an excuse as any!

Cian was the main excitement for the kids and they had their shoes off on the mat outside the front door before Joe even got it open. A quick hug for Uncle Joe and they went flying up the stairs looking for baby Cian!

He was as gorgeous as always and was full of smiles. Rhiannon found his tickly spot under his chin and he "goo"ed at her for ages.

Gareth had great fun making coffees with Joe using their fancy coffee machine. They both looked happy fiddling with all the buttons and steam jets while making our cafe lattes and baby cinos!

Sian got a cuddle with Cian before he started crying for his next feed. Rhiannon didn't want a cuddle while he was crying but then regretted it after he settled in for a long feed and showed no sign of finishing before we had to head home. She is first in line for a hold when he comes up to Toronto for Gareths birthday party in 2 weeks time!

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Hairy legs.

It's Saturday afternoon. We are all tired from our busy morning at Rathmines park.

Byron had just downloaded the latest version of Google earth and I was sitting on his knee having a look at aerial views of our old house in Northampton.

Sian wandered into the room and burst out laughing...... "Mum, your legs are so hairy" No chance I thought. I only waxed them for Melbourne Cup.

I looked down and saw that she was seeing Byron's ugly feet! She took a photo for you to have a giggle!

Rhiannon learns to cycle!

Rhiannon is 6 and still has stabilizers / training wheels on her bike. Yesterday we watched as our friend Peter taught his four year old to cycle properly. It made Rhiannon think "If Owen can do it I can too"

This morning we packed up the car with bike (minus its stabilizers) helmets, knee pads and band-aids! As we were closing the front door I dashed back for the camera. Byron called out not to bother, he never thought she would learn to cycle properly in one morning. I didn't listen (as usual!)

It was a scorcher in Rathmines park, not a cloud in sight. We had the place virtually to ourselves, perfect! Rhiannon was raring to go so Byron got all the equipment on her and I did a bit of running up and down hanging on to the back of the saddle. Within ten minutes she was whizzing off faster than we could keep up with her! Good girl!!!

I was exhausted and sat under the shade drinking some icy water. Gareth and myself messed around with the camera taking self portraits, Rhiannon couldn't be seen for dust! She spent the next two hours going up and down the paths and doing laps of the playground. Byron had to chase after her with a big branch shooing away the magpies who were swooping on her to keep her away from their territories. We will all sleep well tonight!!!

Friday, November 10, 2006

House Build week 8: Open security fence!

Week 8 and we decided to do a drive past the block so we could take a photo to put on the blog. It was 6pm so no builders on-site.

Officially we have signed a legal contract to say that we will not be allowed to enter the site unless we are with the site supervisor. Normally out of hours the security fencing is padlocked preventing us from having a wander around..... Today we noticed that the back of the security fencing was left open accidentally....

Byron rang the site supervisor to ask his advice. He was told that it was a mistake and that it would be helpful if we could pull it closed. Not a problem. However, while it was open it was a perfect oppportunity to have a little wander around and see up close what the latest changes were!

Sian and Rhiannon were very excited as they have never been within the security fencing. We had the camera with us and took lots of photos.

The biggest un-known to us with building a two story house is what our views from our windows upstairs will be. I scaled the wobbly ladder in the name of research and was delighted to see that we will have lake glimpses from our en-suite bath and some lovely views from the upstairs living areas! (Shown in this photo) Here are the latest pics!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Melbourne Cup.

Melbourne cup was a great day. First the usual rushing around getting the girls to school and Gareth to Carey-Bay pre-school. Then home to make some food to bring to Marees' lunch, coconut cous-cous salad + Chocolate Baileys cake. The icing on the cake was dripping and running and didn't quite have that "perfect" appearance so I followed Monicas advice and hid the damage under a handful of plastic horses rescued from the toy box, surrounded the whole thing with some chopped up green paper (grass) and voila!... a horse race cake! No-one was any bit the wiser (till they read this of course!)

Before I left the house I presented a very lonely and abandoned looking Mr B with a lunch tray. Just so he didn't feel left out I had made him a sandwich and stuck another toy horse into it! Here he is with his bottle of chilled beer and a bowl of salted nuts. He doesn't know he is born!

I had all of 10 minutes to change, do my hair, slap on some make-up, and the final touch.... put on my fascinator! It was a great day with everyone bringing some food to share and the obligatory bottles of champagne.

We did mini-sweeps on the race with bets of $1 + $2. Despite empting my purse I didn't pick a winner. Better luck next year!

Everyone's kids got the same school bus home and got off outside Marees house. It was bedlam as they raced around finishing up all the left-overs and racing around the garden. It was a fun day and ended all too soon. We have already started speculating as to who's house will host the 2007 Melbourne cup lunch... Roll on next year!

Monday, November 06, 2006

Melbourne Cup: The build up!

It is Melbourne Cup tomorrow.

Historically here in Oz it is a ladies day of leisure. Women all over the country take the day off work, abandon their families and sip champagne all day leaving their husbands to look after kids and make tea!

When in Rome......!

I have been invited to a Melbourne Cup lunch at a friends house. Dress code is posh frocks, heels and hats. This sounded like a perfect opportunity to me to go shopping! I came home having bought something I never new existed... A fascinator!

I will post a photo of it tomorrow after the race but thought I would ask you to post comments guessing what it is!
So get those brain cells working overtime and then click on this button and tell me what you think!


Stefs comment: "something for the bedroom!"

Good guess! I have to admit, that is what came to my mind when I first heard about it!

Josies comment: "A posh hat or feather hairpiece worn by ladies that lunch and watch races whilst sipping champagne!!!"

You are a classy bird! You obviously move in the right circles and sip the posh bubbly!!!

......And now for the photographic evidence!

Friday, November 03, 2006

Christmas countdown.

7 weeks till Christmas.....

We are still trying to get used to the concept of Christmas being hot. There was a photographer at Gareths playgroup this morning. She was taking photos of the kids wearing Christmas hats in time to be made up into calenders, mugs etc for grannies + grandads.

In the Uk we usually buy the kids a nice new outfit for "good wear" for Christmas time.

Here because of the heat everyone buys their kids Christmas themed t-shirts. Our friend Monica dropped a bag of different t-shirts around so that the kids could wear one this morning for the photos.

They had great fun rummaging through and trying on different combinations and I took a few snaps while they were giggly and in the mood.

They were quite shy this morning having the proper photos taken. We will have them back by next week and are looking forward to seeing them. Expect one in your Christmas cards!


The kids found a scorpion this morning. IN THE HOUSE!

We were getting ready to go to school and were running late (Shouldn't have nattered to Carrie on Skype for so long...) Rhiannon called out that there was a scorpion in the hallway. It looked dry and dead and we scooped it onto a piece of paper, not a move out of it. Yeah, it must be dead....

We decided we would keep it and ask Kel about it later (he is the fount of knowledge on all questions relating to spiders, kangaroos, bugs and anything Australian)

Ran to the car (running later than ever now) Dead scorpion wasn't on the piece of paper in hallway anymore. I shouted at Mr B "Did you move the scorpion?" "No, it must have fallen on the ground" Didn't have time or enthusiasm to go looking for it (running seriously late by now) Did the school run and came home with all thoughts of dangerous bugs pushed to the back of my mind.

A pretty bothered Byron met me at the front door.

"It wasn't dead"

What wasn't dead? My head was full of all things school not bugs.

"The scorpion, IT WASN'T DEAD"

Mr B had gone looking for it while he was making a cup of coffee. Not on the paper, not on the ground, nothing but a pair of Gareths shoes in the hallway, tap, tap, out falls the dead scorpion. Scoops it back on the paper. Did it just move? Silence as Mr B stays still. Nothing. Prod it with a pencil and, oh boy, was it alive. It reared up with pincers open and tail poised in defensive mode.

By the time I got home it had been thrown hard and fast out the front door into the garden. Apparently it is not uncommon in this area. It is not dangerously venomous but gives a very painful sting that lasts about 6 hours and you are recommended to seek medical help....

Never trust a still bug!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

House Build week 7: Brickwork started!

It's been a hot week with lots of threats of storms. Luckily the rain has stayed away and the brickwork has started.

We have chosen a very pale sand coloured brick and have opted for a matching mortar to be applied flush with the bricks so that the brickwork will merge into a solid sand coloured wall.

When we drove past today the brickwork had reached about chest height. Here are the latest photos....

The top photo is from the road, the bottom one is from the block behind.