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Moons and Showers

3 Aug The Three Sisters

Stick the word baby in front of ‘moon’ and ‘shower’ and you have two events, which have become almost rights of passage for women these days prior to having a baby.  Depending on where you live, the nature of each varies, but in Australia, a baby shower seems to be as common and as expected as in the US. The baby moon, previously the time after the birth, is now known as the short holiday before the baby is born.

I have to say I was not planning on doing or having either, but with James back for such a short time before leaving again, I was keen that we did go away, just for a couple of nights. I never thought of it as a ‘babymoon’, but if you are going to adopt the newly-used definiteion, then yes, it was a short break, where we could get away, enjoy some time as just the two of us and try to make the most of that, knowing in a few short weeks, things will change. Time as a couple is becoming precious and now James has gone again, I really have no idea how much more time we will actually have together before we are a family of three.

I booked us into a hotel in the Blue Mountains – a little luxury for a couple of days, to relax, go for walks, indulge in a nice meal and uninterrupted, adult conversations! In many ways it was an early anniversary gift to each other as well.

Lilianfels hotel

Lilianfels hotel

View from hotel gardens

View from hotel gardens

Hotel gardens

Hotel gardens

Admittedly, the walks were a little shorter than they might have been eight months a go but enjoyable all the same and as much as I dislike feeling as if I’m less capable now, there was nothing nicer than getting back, having a warm bath and curling up in the hotel lounge in front of one of the two big fireplaces. It was the first time we got a taste of winter, for it has been fairly warm in Sydney this year, apart from a couple of cold snaps lasting just a few days. Warm jumpers, hats and cosy log fires were just what we were after.

The Three Sisters

The Three Sisters

Blue Mountains views

Blue Mountains views

Blue Mountains walking trail

Blue Mountains walking trail

Admiring the views

Admiring the views

Walking the trail

Walking the trail

Mountain trail

Mountain trail

Post walk drink

Post walk drink

Evening by the fire

Evening by the fire

We couldn’t resist the high tea, offered by the hotel but felt we had earned it after our walk! Well, I am eating for two now… Right?

Post walk high tea!

Post walk high tea!

Relaxing in the lounge

Relaxing in the lounge

Warming up with a hot chocolate

Warming up with a hot chocolate

Sunset from the hotel

Sunset from the hotel

It was just a couple of days after James left again that I had my baby shower. A couple of friends asked if they could throw one for me, which was very touching, and of course, I was delighted, although specified I was not after anything extravagant and was not going down the route of a gift registry, which many people do. The word ‘shower’, implying I would be showered with gifts, actually makes me feel a little uncomfortable.

Initially I was hoping to have a joint party with James for a modern-day twist; less baby shower, more a bit of fun with our friends before the baby arrives. However, dates were limited and eventually we settled on a low-key, girls-only, tea party at our apartment. I have to admit I did enjoy making a cake and putting together some home-made thank you gifts and tags, which involved baking several trays of macarons… Patience and lots of willing later, I think they actually turned out ok!

Macaron thank you gifts

Macaron thank you gifts

To be honest, I could not have asked for anything more and I was completely blown away by the generosity shown by our friends and the efforts they had gone to, to create a fantastic party. Beautiful decorations, flowers, food, activities and gifts; a room full of women, love and general support; a lovely occasion, which given the timing, was a good way to enjoy myself during my first weekend with James away again.

Clouds and feathers

Baby shower decorations

Baby shower decorations

Party details

Cake what I made

Cake what I made

Baby bunting

Baby bunting

Baby clothes

Stringing up the clothes

Fantastic friends & Party Planners

Fantastic friends & Party Planners

Baby shower friends

Baby shower friends

Showing the nursery

Showing the nursery

Everybody who came brought flowers, a tray of food and gifts. I admit I even shed a few tears when they played a short video montage compiled of clips from a few friends and my sister back in the UK, wishing me well. Saying that, I can cry at the drop of a hat these days… I blame the hormones.

Food and Flowers

Food and Flowers

Quilt made by talented friend

Homemade baby quilt

Special gifts

Baby shower present

Friends

Shan & Sophie

Generous friends

Generous friends

34-week bump

34-week bump

End of the day

End of the day

With so many lovely things, the ‘nursery’ (read corner of our bedroom for now) is now pretty much set up. One of James’ jobs the past fortnight was to build the cot. We have a mini one, which expands to a full size cot when required, and I love it. Now I just need to start washing a few more little clothes and should probably think about that hospital bag!

Just need a baby now

Just need a baby now

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A taste of Summer

8 Apr

Well Summer is well and truly over. Although it officially ended a month a go, we managed to grab on to a few warm and sunny days into March before the storms hit – and boy, have we had some storms. Living up high gives us a pretty spectacular view of the lightning shows and storm fronts, courtesy of Mother Nature.

Storm front over Sydney

Storm clouds build over Sydney

Luckily we had a pretty good Summer, although the oppressive humidity was not always welcome when battling morning sickness!

Now I am back on my feet, I can finally post some of the pictures from our third Summer in Australia. It is incredible how quickly the time has gone. Our third Summer of beach trips and barbecues and our third Australia Day, which fortunately was not as eventful as last year’s camping trip! In fact it involved a picnic overlooking the harbour at Manly – and a few flags just to show willing!

Australia Day celebrations

Australia Day celebrations

Australia Day picnic

Australia Day picnic

Manly for Australia Day

Manly for Australia Day

With James on course, it has meant we have been able to spend a lot of time together before he heads away next month. His routine has been a little more relaxed, which was useful when he had to come home and cook, but he has discovered some new culinary skills, in particular, sausage rolls, which he proudly showed off with the help of our friends’ daughter at their house.

One man and his sausage rolls

One man and his sausage rolls

We also managed a trip down the coast to Kiama and into the Southern Highlands, one of our favourite areas.

Beaching in Kiama

Beaching in Kiama

Lookout point across the Southern Highlands

Lookout point across the Southern Highlands

So, as we start to ‘rug up’ for Autumn, which over here involves wearing a cardigan over a T-shirt, and suffer the temperatures dipping to the low 20s, I will leave you with an image of our local beach where we have spent a few very pleasant Summer afternoons going for  swim.

Shark Beach, Sydney

Shark Beach, Sydney

Creative Christmas

30 Nov

I probably said it last year but I’ll say it again: going Christmas shopping in Australia feels wrong. Despite the shops festooned with Christmas trees and baubles, it is hard to feel festive while wearing a sundress and flip flops and taking refuge in the shopping mall from the 30 plus degrees heat outside. If any further evidence were needed that the Northern Hemisphere rules culturally – just browse the shops in Sydney at this time of year when, in the middle of a heatwave, the tunes are blaring out: ‘Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow’ and glittery snowflakes adorn the window displays.

This year I broadened my shopping horizons from the local Westfield to explore an annual Christmas market, held in a nearby National Trust property. I wasn’t even aware it existed until I saw the market advertised and it was a good way of visiting the house at the same time. Lindesay is a historic Georgian House overlooking the harbour in Darling Point. As I entered the gates, I was immediately taken back to an English summer fete: there was the house with its manicured lawns, marquee, tea shop and ladies selling raffle tickets. Despite the summery weather, it is as close to feeling Christmassy as I’ve yet come. Inside the house, each room had been transformed by lots of different stalls appropriate to the room it inhabited. In the cellar were the gourmet food stalls: jams, chutneys, Christmas puddings, cakes, infused olive oils, vinegars and an English toffee stall! In the dining room, a grand table display showcased everything you could want for your Christmas table from decorations, cake stands, silverware, dainty macaroons and china. The bedrooms housed all the stalls selling clothing, textiles, scented candles, bed and bath wear and toiletries and outside was a large marquee full of other stalls selling everything from gardening dibbers and baby blankets to decorations and jewellery. I could have spent an absolute fortune but it was a lovely setting for a fair and one I’ll definitely drag James around next year!

I was trying to get a bit more creative with my gifts this year, especially as around this time we have lots of birthdays as well. (Don’t worry – you won’t all be getting handmade presents, which look as if a five-year-old has had a fit with a paint brush!) As I mentioned in an earlier blog, I wanted to attempt making macaroons at some point but after having read how fiddly they were, I was a little daunted about giving them a go. Anyway, I did, and once the first salted caramel batch were successful, I then went on to make chocolate and pink with white chocolate ganache.

Macaroon cases

The finished macaroons

Salted caramel macaroon

I found they also made perfect presents, especially when presented in a handmade box.

Gift macaroons

On the subject of getting creative and festive, I’ve also been getting the cards underway… Do be expecting one of these. Get your orders in now folks!
Handmade Christmas cards

The Home Front

20 Nov

The men may go out and ‘protect the nation’ and do all the macho stuff but they would not do so well without someone lining their stomachs and so Navy wives have their duties too. This I discovered when asked if I could ‘just bake something’ for when an Admiral comes to visit the base this week and after some subtle hints about how ‘chocolate brownies and cookies go down very well with the guys’.

Further hints were not needed and although I was tempted to point out that he knows where the oven is – go for it – I realise knowing where it is, is different to knowing how it works. So, a tin of brownies and chocolate chip and nut cookies were ready to go on Monday morning and today there is an apple and cinnamon cake waiting for morning tea with the Admiral tomorrow. I can only hope it passes muster but then I did get the recipe from a site, claiming it was the ‘best apple cake in the whole world’. This is quite a claim so we shall see how it goes down.

Unfortunately I can’t slice it open to try it but I thought I’d share it with you because it actually smells delicious and seeing as I won’t get to try any – maybe one of you can bake it and tell me!

http://www.marthastewart.com/351254/apple-spice-cake?autonomy_kw=apple%20cake

Just to note, the measurements are in cups so here is roughly what I’d use:

  •  300 ml oil / 1 1/3 cups (canola or vegetable)
  • 300g flour / 3 cups (I used self raising but the recipe calls for plain with baking soda and salt)
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon
  • 3 large eggs
  • 425g / 2 cups caster sugar
  • 3-4 apples (I only needed 2 fairly large Granny Smiths and it was plenty)
  • 1 cup chopped nuts
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Oven at 180 and although it suggests 75 – 90 min, I found 50 minutes was enough and the batter is quite thick but the water from the apples adds moisture when baking.

Don’t worry – I’m not about to become a cooking blog but I have started enjoying baking a lot more and trying out different recipes. Next to try are macaroons – could be a bit ambitious!

 

Springing into action

28 Oct

James has been on a bit of a winning streak of late: first at the races last Saturday, then at a casual poker game with work friends on Friday and yesterday in his SUP race – winning the entire race overall. The poker could be down to a bit of beginner’s luck and the hard work, training and 6am starts are clearly paying off with the SUP  but there’s also the fact he’s given up alcohol for nearly a month. Coincidence? Well, waking up refreshed, not hungover or dehydrated may be playing a big part in his performance and perhaps a clear head is giving him a better poker face too.

It started off with James taking part in ‘Ocsober’, a nationwide initiative aiming to set a good example to kids and making them choose healthier life choices. As part of his own healthier life choices, he thought he would give it a go, until he then read about ‘Hello Sunday Morning.’ It’s a movement looking to change society’s relationship with alcohol and challenging people to give it up for three months, waking up hangover free and seeing what a difference it could make. So, he has signed up and taken up the challenge and it seems he is already noticing the difference and reaping the rewards.

As I rarely drink, there’s no temptation from my end and for the past few weeks, I have not woken up on a weekend morning to a fuzzy-headed husband, who needs a ‘short’ afternoon nap or a few aspirin to get going. I’d better clarify that James was not a perpetual binge-drinker, downing shots until 3am every Saturday but a few beers seems to take its toll a little more on the wrong side of thirty.

Now its, ‘hello weekend,’ and ‘what shall we do today?’ and with Sydney alive with a festival or event every few days at the moment, there is always something to do.

The annual ‘Sculptures by the Sea’ has been running for the past week and this year is showcasing some incredible works of art from the weird and wacky to the bold and the beautiful. The more than a hundred sculptures are displayed on the 2km stretch from Bondi Beach along the cliffs to Tamarama.

The coastal path around there is heaving at the moment as tens, if not hundreds of thousands descend on the free public event. It’s another thing we love about Sydney; the number of cheap if not free events and festivals  taking place throughout the year – but particularly in the lead up to Summer.

Yesterday we met up with friends at the Surry Hills Festival. For a small donation to enter, there were dozens of food and market stalls, live music on stages and various activities to try out – including giant, inflatable Twister!

Today, we went for a picnic with Nicky and Matt, walking along the cliff tops in the other direction from Bondi, towards Vaucluse. Matt is vegetarian and I have been experimenting with a few veggie recipes so decided to get up and start baking first thing this morning. The result was Spanish tortilla, ratatouille quiche, tomato tartin and smoked cheese and herb muffins, which beat a curled up sandwich.


The herbs for the muffins were from our ‘garden’ which has suddenly shot up during the last few weeks of warm, sunny weather. There are a few strawberries showing as well now and we have just acquired some tomato plants from a friend, so if they work out, we may not just be self-sufficient in parsley.

It seems, it’s not just James who is feeling perkier – the front flower bed too is starting to wake up with our first rose blooming 🙂 and now he is on this current winning streak, I think it might be time to buy that lottery ticket for this week’s $70 million jackpot…

 

 

Friends Reunited

15 Oct

A week a go we had just got back from spending five wonderful days down in Jervis Bay and ten fantastic days with great friends. I have only just got round to writing about it but after days spent writing letters, synopses, CV tweaking and internet research, I had to step away from the computer!

We have been to Jervis Bay a couple of times before (and James even more due to work) but you can never fail to be impressed by the beauty of the place, however many times you visit. The whitest sand, the clearest, turquoise water and abundant wildlife make it a true paradise less than three hour’s drive south of Sydney.

Will, Is and their children made the trip from Melbourne to Sydney and stayed with us for a few days before we all drove down to Jervis Bay. This meant the days before their arrival saw me baking blueberry muffins and scouring the supermarket aisles for tube yogurts, children’s cereal and child-friendly bread and sandwich fillings. It is a funny thing when, with visions of scowling faces, bluntly stating “I don’t like this,” you start dreading the harsh critique of a meal by a four and six year-old. Archie and Bella were great and luckily it was not my cake, which got the hilarious six-year old’s verdict: ‘This is so toxic I had to spit it out.” I also learned a lot can be solved with pasta and cheese.

The weather gods were kind and the ten days with them were, for the most part, dry, warm and sunny. James introduced Will and Is to Stand Up Paddle (SUP) on the harbour at Rose Bay and then we were all having a go down on the beaches at Jervis Bay.

Even I got up and did some long paddles, although I have not quite got to the standard of racing and sharp turns, nor, for that matter, of going out much deeper than standing depth!

Having a couple of children to entertain was a great excuse to keep the ‘bigger boys’ amused with sandcastle building, although I’m not sure who actually had more fun, when all I could hear were military-style commands being handed out about where the defences were to be best placed.

After the children were in bed, the adults had their fun, usually by way of competitive games of scrabble and contract whist (yes, we were that rock n roll) but all washed down with Is’ mojitos.

All in all it was a very relaxing week of sun, sand, walks around the bays, runs on the beach, good food, copious amounts of wine (did I mention W&I brought the contents of a winery with them) and the best company. Having children meant it was a holiday with a bit of  difference for James and I. James did not get quite as much reading done as he would have liked but secretly loved having to watch Kung-Fu Panda and I got to read about the exploits of a road-safety conscious dog.

Got to love bedtime stories.

Dragons and skeletons

30 Oct

In a rare moment of domesticity I decided to attempt making a pumpkin pie, primarily because we were having a bit of an impromptu Halloween/housewarming party and because now we have a kitchen full of cooking utensils (arrived in the shipping) I had a sudden urge to use them!

Friday night had been spent cooking the sweet pumpkin we managed to track down and making the pastry. Saturday morning I got up early to make the filling and bake the pie so that we could go down to the bay to go dragon boat racing.

That’s when ten minutes before we were due to walk down, as I was proudly taking this pie out of the oven, James offered to help me.  Usually I’d think James, kitchen, let’s keep them separate but we were in a bit of a rush so taking a pie out of the oven – what could go wrong?

One minute later – there was an empty pie crust and a pumpkin mess all over the hob.

I stared around at the other mess, which had gone into making this thing: several bowls, sieves, spoons, whisks, pots and pans, all testament to the hours gone into creating what now sat in a sad, orange heap in front of us.

Silence.

There were words, I won’t write them.

Luckily, it was just about salvageable and I scraped together the remains of this pie and popped it back in the oven.

Dragon boat racing soon took our minds off it! We decided to go after picking up a flyer advertising an open day. About twenty people showed up, perfect for a complete crew and the team members took us out, taught us how to paddle, swap positions in the boat and a few basic instructions. It was great fun to be part of the boat and rowing out into the harbour and a really good way to meet lots of people if we decide to do it again. We were both pretty tired after an hour, with the last few minutes spent upping the tempo quite a bit but they even put on a ‘sausage sizzle’ for everyone afterwards.

 


 

We headed home (via the toy shop to pick up a few plastic skeletons and bats!) The pie was done – a little less ‘smooth’ than intended but nevertheless in one piece!

Saturday afternoon I got over my vow never to look at a pumpkin again and discovered my inner child and carved a pumpkin for the party. We set up the outside terrace and with a few lights, candles and seating, it was all set.

Some people couldn’t make it but around twelve people came  – roughly the total sum of everyone we know so far over here!

It was a lot of fun. We even had some real bonafide Aussies  – so the pressure was really on for the barbecue! James did a wonderful job – snags and kebabs all round.

Everyone bought some drinks, Pippa bought some home baked Anzac cookies and I’m glad to say the pumpkin pie went down well (this time not over the hob).

Christening the barbie

23 Oct

Saturday was a big day at the new pad and a day of firsts. It was the day the first picture was hung (and subsequently fell down), the first guests arrived and the first barbecue was lit –  and with that came a few other firsts: the dining table used for the first time, the fridge full of beer for the first time and most importantly – James’ cooking skills tested for the (very) first time!

With the apartment now unpacked, put away and tidy, it was ready to receive guests; six others to be precise: Pete, Sophie, Andy, Shannon, Nicky and Matt. The latter couple we had never met before but in a parallel situation find themselves newly moved over due to Matt’s job, having just found somewhere to live with Nicky looking for work and awaiting their sea freight, we were able to fully empathise with their situation. As friends of the others – a really good group we have got to know over the past few weeks and can now call friends – the house was full and it was time to get the barbie going.

In order to christen the flat and the new barbecue, we had two butterflied legs of lamb, salads, breads, booze – and plenty of it. It wasn’t quite ‘shrimps on the barbie’ but it was edible and no one got sick (we haven’t heard any reports otherwise so far!) and within half an hour of grilling, two wonderfully cooked pieces of lamb were produced, much to our delight – and James’ relief!

It was a lovely feeling, having our new home ready to be lived in, enjoying the outside space and finally settling into Aussie life. Suddenly it really did feel as if we had a home.

Judging by the time everyone left and the amount consumed we can call it a success and hopefully the first of many.

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