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Leaping and Bounding

3 Mar

“Well, hello Mr Sparkles!”

It’s a nice way for your health nurse to address your 5 month old son, and at the time, pretty apt as the little person on the floor began demonstrating his latest new moves; the sort of downward dog, one leg in the air type manoeuvre that would make the most dedicated pilates practitioner proud. Back down on his knees and shuffling along, he looked up and gave her a winning smile before moving into the plank position and then dragging himself around to do a 180. It is quite exhausting just watching him and in those two minutes of action, you catch a snapshot of my day with my baby son. Baby going on acrobatic action man.

The past month has without doubt been the most challenging and that is even compared to when he was a newborn. Toby has been going through huge developmental leaps and changes, now almost properly crawling and up on his hands and feet, moving on to tasting solids, and sitting on his own for a few minutes at a time. Coupled with minor teething, he has been waking a little more at night and been giving me a few screaming protests when it comes to settling in the cot in the day. The result? One already tired mum finding herself unable to “sleep when baby sleeps” because I’ve been having to pound the pavements to get the little man to have a nap in the day.

Enjoying some apple

Enjoying some apple

If you know anything of Wonder Weeks, all this occurred around the notoriously challenging period of ‘leap 4‘. These leaps are linked to a baby’s mental development and the various milestones and skills they  are achieving. It also coincided with a visit from one set of grandparents and so they experienced a slightly more unsettled Toby to normal. It is amazing how quickly these things change. At just before three months, we seemed to hit a magic moment where he naturally found his routine, slept well in the cot in the day and was only waking once in the night. Hello three to four months and hello to an extra wake up (or two) at night, a sudden hatred of the car seat and massive protests at going down for a nap in the cot too.

His timing as ever was impeccable. The car seat issue reared its head on the afternoon we set off on a 1000km road trip down to Melbourne and when we had gone less than 5km and had had to stop three times to get out and settle him, due to a screaming fit in the back, we began seriously contemplating heading home and looking at flight options. Luckily by 10km, he had worn himself out and slept the rest of the way to our first overnight stop.

Pit stop en route to Melbourne

Pit stop en route to Melbourne

These little things become pretty big things when your day revolves around this one person and without playing the ‘single mum’ card too often, having no respite at all, becomes very draining, especially when I am now trying to find time to steam, mash and puree (and hence why I am inclined to offer more finger foods!) The low point came when I was making dinner one evening and realised that not only was I too tired to prepare anything but a bowl of salad, but it was the first meal I had eaten all day. I think it was around that time that I was thinking he had better be able to hold a trilingual conversation at the end of this particular leap for this to be worth it.

After weeks of little sleep, feeling the exhaustion creep in and with a small concern over his tummy, I went to the GP and I think it was as much for my own benefit as Toby’s. I am sure he is accustomed to sleep deprived, anxious new mums, at least, he was very supportive and luckily very happy with how Toby is doing. He has grown very long and is now above the 90th percentile for length but his weight has dropped off a little, probably because of all his daily acrobatics!

Support has come not only in the form of the health centre and doctor but mostly in the form of good friends and the new mum mates I have made over the past few months. Weekly catch-ups are a therapeutic way to let off steam, discuss the latest concerns and applaud the new milestones only fellow mums can get excited about. “He can now burp/settle/feed himself!”

Enjoying a day out in the park

Enjoying a day out in the park

I must add that aside from the above issues, Toby is generally a very happy and smiley little baby. It is a good thing; being on my own with him for such long periods of time, all the hardships melt away with one big gummy grin. I feel very lucky to spend my days with him, especially as his personality becomes more apparent and as I get to know the things he likes and finds funny. Admittedly, his current likes list extends to raspberries on the stomach, games of peepo and Humpty Dumpty and pretending to fly.

Happy Chap

Recently, I can add to the list: swimming (and avocado)! He absolutely loves it. I started taking him to lessons, something which living in a country obsessed with water and in a city surrounded by it, seemed fairly important. Three lessons in and he is already learning to stretch out horizontally to kick, hold on to the side by himself and has now been submerged as well, as he has learnt to close his eyes and mouth when going under. He came up still smiling afterwards so our little man is definitely growing into a little water baby.

Swimming with Daddy

Swimming with Daddy

A dip in the pool

A dip in the pool

Ready to jump

Ready to jump

I am also pleased to say, the past week seems to have been a bit of a turning point. Suddenly the past few weeks of adapting the bedtime routine, steeling myself not to pick him up at each cry and soothing him in other ways really seems to have paid off. He settles himself after just a few minutes in the cot and is now having two-hour naps in the day. These are the small accomplishments that only another mum can probably appreciate!

We have come through and survived leap four, we are now mid leap five but he has been taking regular day naps in the cot again, which means not only can I occasionally have a nap too, but can actually do laundry, clean the house, make some food, and tend to various admin such as passport applications for a soon to be world travelling baby.

He is definitely coming on in leaps and bounds and I am sure when James next sees his son, he will be amazed at how he has changed. Two and a half months is a huge time span at this age. In fact, it’s almost half his life.

Happy Days

Lying and chilling

Sitting up

Crawling

On the move

He will be reunited with a baby who will be crawling, sitting, eating food and grabbing everything in sight and the small things which change over time, will probably have much more impact. He now sits in a seat, not the pram bassinet; he sits up in the bath; he engages with you; he smiles at himself in the mirror; he knows his name when you call it; he has a high chair; he can play in the pool. Basically from four to six months there has been a monumental change. It has certainly taken its toll on my sleep state at times but I am seeing him grow into a very loving, happy little boy, and that makes it all worthwhile.

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T minus four weeks

19 Aug

It’s less than a month before our little one is due to enter the world and whereas many mums seem to be feeling over it at this point, I am looking at my lists of things to do and hoping I can get it all done in time! Add to that, this baby is under strict instructions to make no attempt at an early arrival before his or her dad is back! I am hopeful that is less than a week away now.

The countdown really is on. The last antenatal class has been attended, the last scan done (all looking good), the things to buy list is dramatically reduced and I am in the stages of tying up loose ends with work and handing over the workload in the coming weeks.

Before the big day however, I have a friend arriving from the UK for ten days and I think my nesting urges are kicking in. I’ve started stocking up my freezer with meals, washing baby clothes, seeing dust in every nook and cranny and suddenly have a desire to clean grouting. Luckily I’m not in too much pain or waddling like a penguin yet, so it’s easy to forget at times that I need to put my feet up!

Tiny little clothes

Tiny little clothes

Nesting instinct

Nesting instinct

The Good…

In fact, the latter half of my pregnancy has been much more smooth sailing than the first. Ironically, it was during those first few paranoid weeks and months, when my body was sent into a spin with soaring hormones and all kinds of unfamiliar changes, when I was left to my own devices to ponder the, “Is this normal?” “What is going on here?” questions. It is only towards the end when the diary suddenly explodes with appointments. Having said that, I seemed to have my fair share of initial check-ups, scans and tests, which eventually eliminated any potential problems, and coupled with the recent antenatal classes, obstetrician and midwife appointments and last minute scans, the drive to the hospital has become pretty familiar.

But after having a fairly turbulent first half of pregnancy, it has actually made me extremely grateful for this relatively easier second half. There are certain things I have come to appreciate, dare I say even enjoy, and certain things I am sure I will miss.

For a start, feeling a little person wiggling around inside you is pretty amazing. There have been a few occasions when a little kick under the ribs has sent me reeling but for the most part, I have got away lightly on that front. I am currently experiencing, what I think must be a little hand, tickling behind my hip.

I can still wear non maternity clothes, for that I am also grateful, although admittedly the clothes had to have been pretty big on me beforehand, or just very stretchy!

I have been forced to go out and buy some new clothes – shame. I’m sure the football under the jumper look will catch on!

I have been forced to go shopping for… well, everything! Babies don’t need much but  it’s still amazing just how much you still need to buy. Suddenly, after years of browsing the baby stores, buying cute outfits and little things for friends and their babies, I get to do it for my own. That’s exciting.

My nails: wow! I love my nails. They have never looked better or stronger, and seem to grow overnight.

I have made new friends and seen current friends really come through and support me. This has been particularly noticeable with James away and yes, perhaps they wouldn’t have been so attentive had he been around, but it has been wonderful knowing how much I can rely on them if needed.

The Bad…

As well as hospital time, the past few months have seen me spend too much time online, researching; whether that’s dos and don’ts, baby products and items, or just those weird symptoms that you soon discover are quite ‘normal’. I’ve definitely got better at leaving the internet alone when it comes to self-diagnosing myself with some awful condition and at the same time, have felt a little more reassured when numerous other pregnant ladies have been whinging about a similar complaint!

But there are certain things, which I have discovered can be pretty annoying when it comes to pregnancy and I mean aside from the usual discomfort, aches and pains. I mean, not only are you sharing your body with another little being, but it seems the rest of joe public feels they have a right to ‘share’ in it as well. A pregnant bump seems to give people carte blanche to comment, advise, pat, rub, stroke… When it’s a close friend, I don’t really have a problem and I have been lucky not to experience the stranger on the street coming up to rub my belly (I have heard of this happening) but equally I have realised how freely people seem to think they can remark on my size, indeed anything to do with my lifestyle. I think it’s something every pregnant woman has to endure, and for the most part people are well-intentioned and tend not to make derogatory comments but if you were feeling at all paranoid (and who doesn’t from time to time when carrying a baby), comments on size are never going to go down too well.

“Well, you’ve grown since I saw you two weeks a go!” has been a common phrase. What do they expect? I am not growing a stunted dwarf and the father is 6’3″. This baby is not suddenly going to cease growing (however convenient that might be) at 30 weeks.

There has been the one occasion when shopping for a dinner party, when I bought soft cheese and wine for the guests. I don’t think I’ve ever had so many judgemental glances in my shopping basket at the checkout before. I could tell there was one lady in particular fighting an urge to ask what I thought I was doing. Next time I’ll add in some sushi, swordfish steaks and a kilo of liver for good measure.

… And The Funny

Well, no pregnancy is without its ups and downs, but then that can include a few amusing moments as well. I mean there’s that whole, impressive arm levering manoeuvre I’ve discovered pregnant women have to adopt just to haul themselves out of bed.

I could write an entire page of, “You know you’re pregnant when…” type lists.

They would include the moment I got trapped in my own car because I’d parked too close to a pillar, forgetting I can no longer squeeze out of a space that small and the time we ended up taking our posh Italian meal home in a doggy bag because I was suddenly overcome by nausea (the most expensive takeaway we’ve ever had.) There was the embarrassing moment I was stretchered out of a shopping centre after fainting in the middle of a supermarket, or had to lie down tramp style on a bench in a bus stop  while a dizzy spell passed.

There are the times I’ve arrived at someone’s house only to have to skip the pleasantries and barge straight past them to use their bathroom and how I have slowly edged James to the edge of the bed as the pillows have taken over. It will be interesting to see if he can fit when he’s back.

Oh, and of course, there’s the fact I can start crying at losing my keys, a sad song on the radio, or you know, puppies. There are days I might be going crazy, but then there are days I actually have the evidence to prove it such as leaving the house wide open when heading off for the shops or toasting the bread twice because I’ve forgotten it’s already popped.

Yep, pregnancy has certainly been eventful at times, but I am fully aware the biggest, or at least perhaps most daunting, part of pregnancy is yet to come. Right now I’m feeling quite calm about the whole birth thing – perhaps ask me in two weeks. I am also aware that the real journey is going to come after that. Just four weeks away now – better get on scrubbing that grouting!

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

The Kindness of Strangers

13 Jul

As a military wife, you get used to periods on your own and getting on with the day to day. A lack of companionship aside, you soon establish your routines and develop strategies to get through the weeks and months solo; arranging social get togethers, scheduling catch-ups and making lists of things you need to get done and coming up with little projects you can do on evenings or weekends.

But there occasionally comes a time when that question, “Can I call your husband?” is necessary and that’s when being on your own can prove more difficult.

As ‘deployments’ go, eight weeks is not a long time but admittedly I was a little anxious beforehand this time round because being pregnant adds a layer of vulnerability, and inevitably, the further along you get, the fewer tasks you feel up to doing.

I’ve had my weekly yoga classes, antenatal classes and catch-ups with friends. Periodic check-ups have meant trips to the hospital and GP, which do mean there has been some reassurance on a regular basis as well.

In fact, everything had been going pretty well for a few weeks and I’d only been told to come into the hospital for monitoring and a scan once after questioning how much I’d been feeling the baby move. Of course, as soon as I arrived, it was kicking up a storm again and all was fine.

Then came 28 weeks and my midwife checkup at the hospital. All looked normal and I set off on the drive home, but decided to call into the supermarket en route to pick up a few bits and pieces. It was nearly lunchtime so, being sensible (it happens sometimes), I stopped and had a bowl of soup before braving the crowds in a large supermarket in the middle of a bustling shopping centre.

That’s when I started feeling hot. I began fanning myself, thinking I was having some sort of odd, pregnancy-induced hot flush. Maybe this is one of the joys of the third trimester… But the fanning was futile and I was just becoming hotter and perspiring and started feeling really sick. I looked down the mall to the toilets, thinking I needed cold water on my face but at that point I didn’t think I was going to make it through the throngs to get there. I needed to cool down and so my next thought was the supermarket opposite because supermarkets have fridges and freezers and so that’s where I headed.

It all happened very quickly. I think I had just gone past the Asian dipping sauces and was somewhere between the crisps and the line of cashiers when my hearing went. At that point I knew I was going down and in that split second I just put myself on the floor. I didn’t think there would ever come a time in my life when the cold, hard, tiled floor of Coles would look appealing but in that moment, it won over falling.

It wasn’t long before a few people had rushed over, asking me if I was ok. At that point I was too hot and dizzy to point out that if I was ok, I would not be choosing to lie there… I would have clearly chosen the ice cream section. I think I murmured something about being pregnant and heard another voice say, “Call triple zero.” I was pretty sure I didn’t need an ambulance but I was equally a little concerned that this might be affecting the baby. I had no idea, I was just aware of a girl, feeling my head, pulling an elastic from round my wrist and tying back my hair.

“Has someone called a ambulance?”

“Yes, they’re on their way.”

A bottle of water was shoved under my nose and I managed to half sit, slumped against a checkout booth and sip water. This is when the reality of the situation sank in and I became aware of several pairs of concerned eyes coming into focus and the ogling faces, pretending they were just stopping to stock up on hot chilli sauce, which had never been more popular.

In the minutes that followed I think I explained the same story of what had happened to at least four or five different people. There was the man, I assume was the floor manager, who suddenly had a legitimate reason to start using the walkie talkie strapped to his belt, there was the shopping centre security manager, who had been called and had come with first aid box in hand, the girl at the checkout who went to fetch me a chair and there were the two girls who had stopped and stayed by my side until they knew I was going to be ok.

One girl, the one who had tied back my hair, had managed to get through to an emergency service I hadn’t even known existed; a local volunteer service, who act as a first response and bridge of medical care before a main NSW Ambulance can arrive on the scene. It meant that within no more than five minutes, someone was there, an oxygen mask was clamped to my face, my blood pressure was being checked, my pulse monitored and my finger pricked to check my glucose levels.

It was around this time that the floor manager returned and cordoned off the area, so I felt more like the victim in an episode of Crime Scene in the Crisp Aisle  than a pregnant lady with low blood pressure.

However, amid all the attention and drama, I was incredibly touched by the solicitude shown by the people around me. As both the medical guy and the centre manager got all my details, the girl by my side was asking who she should call.

“Can I call your partner?”

I shook my head. “He’s away.”

“Ok, what about any family, are they local?”

I probably could have cried at this point but just shook my head. ‘In England.”

I told her I didn’t think I needed to call anyone but when the ‘Ambos’ arrived (you will find Australians abbreviate everything and stick an ‘o’ on the end) and informed me they thought it best I went to hospital to get checked over, I realised I probably should tell someone. I ran through the list of friends, most of whom I knew would be at work and settled on the wife of a Navy friend. The message was passed and I was told she would call to check on me.

The ambulance crew seemed concerned that I was on my own and would be going back home alone and with my blood pressure still “too low” for their liking, they got ready to take me to hospital.

The security manager assured me that they would look after my car and I needn’t worry about leaving it and to come back when I was ready. Just before the ambos decided to cart me away, the girl who had waited all this time, made sure I had all my bags and took my number, saying she would call to check if I was ok and if I needed anything, she lived near by.

If the whole incident of collapsing on the floor in the middle of a supermarket wasn’t embarrassing enough, being wheeled out on a stretcher and into the crowds of shoppers in a packed Westfield was definitely mortifying. I stared at the ceiling and tried to avoid any eye contact.

The ambulance guys were brilliant, although they kind of reminded me a bit of a young Chuckle Brothers (a not-that-funny-comedy duo to the non-English residents). I could almost imagine them saying, “to me, to you,” as they parked me in the ambulance. However, the guy in the back of the ambulance was lovely and explained that his wife was also expecting their first child.

Although still very shaky I was feeling a lot better and I started to realise how lucky I was that I had been in a public place, despite the obvious embarrassment factor! I was also incredibly touched by the number of strangers who had shown so much care and concern: from the girl in the shop, to the supermarket staff, the security manager, the initial emergency response team and the ambulance crew themselves.

I felt completely safe and in good hands and shortly after arriving in hospital (I should have just stayed after my morning check up), my friend and her husband both arrived to see how I was doing and insisted that I come home with them.

So it was that I ended up spending the next couple of days at their house, with their four children, being fed wonderful, home-cooked, family dinners and being able to curl up in front of the TV with their Labrador.

I did call the girl and let her know I was ok and in fact we went out for a coffee a few days later so I could say thank you in person, with a bunch of flowers. I also left with a few more tips about becoming a mum and good shopping advice, as it turned out she has a nine-month old.

It can definitely be hard at times when you are on your own and your husband is somewhere in the middle of the ocean but if I needed my faith restored in humanity, that day was probably it. Now just two more days to go before James is back, but you will be glad to know I have set up online supermarket delivery for the future.

 

The long farewell

26 May

It’s been a long time in coming. Since February, James has been on course to ready himself to become Commanding Officer of a ship but it has been on the cards since July last year when he was on the signal to take command. In fact for James himself, you could argue it has been something he has aspired to for the past 17 years of his Naval career. Well, the time has now come and we have said our farewells. In eight weeks when he returns for the first time, we’ll be able to tell you whether all that preparation has been adequate!

The period of James’ sending off parties seemed to reflect the length of time he has waited for this job. I’m not saying he likes to milk these things but…

It started a few weeks a go when I held a surprise party for him at a bar in Sydney. After scouring his contacts list and asking a few people to pass the word on to Navy friends, more than thirty people were already gathered when we arrived to give him a big cheer. It was a really wonderful evening with so many friends offering a lot of good wishes and congratulations. I had been planning a special gift for him to say ‘well done and good luck’ for a while. It is a naval tradition that only the captain of a ship can write in red ink and so decided it was a good occasion to present him with a Mont Blanc pen complete with red ink cartridges. It went down pretty well!

The following weeks involved drinks with friends, being taken out for dinner, more brunches and evening drinks and finally a lovely Sunday lunch with some good friends.

We have tried to make the most of these last couple of weeks together, particularly as when he returns I will be significantly larger and probably less up for traipsing about or going on long walks. We have stayed local but spent time down at the beach or in the park.

Walking in the Botanical Gardens

Walking in the Botanical Gardens

Autumn in Centennial Park

Autumn in Centennial Park

Bondi days

Bondi days

Drinks at Balmoral Beach

Drinks at Balmoral Beach

We had not been to Cockatoo Island before and decided to take the ferry there to see the biennale  – the art festival held only every two years. Although there were a lot of obscure video installations such as the one involving a man with a bag over his head and people wailing in German, there were also a few interesting and interactive exhibits, including the gym installation and the giant waterfall at the end of one of the buildings.

Harbourside buildings

Harbourside buildings

Working Out the Art

Working Out the Art

Cockatoo Island is a perfect location for an art festival. The once busy boat building hub and former convict prison is now an almost deserted island of old warehouses, sheds and prison cells. There is an eerie sense of abandonment in some of the old work sheds where the day’s tea order is still scribbled on to a blackboard, machinery remains suspended, the pulley systems rusted and decaying and the clock halted at the point when no one returned to repair it. Art installations aside, it is a pretty interesting place to visit and the view from the wine bar at the top of the island is pretty good too!

Arriving on Cockatoo Island

Arriving on Cockatoo Island

Old machinery

Old machinery

Turning to rust

Turning to rust

Climbing to the top of Cockatoo Island

Climbing to the top of Cockatoo Island

Abandoned and empty

Abandoned and empty

View from Cockatoo Island

View from Cockatoo Island

As you can see we have been enjoying some incredible weather over the past couple of weeks. Autumn has graced us with summer warm days and crisp evenings. It is really a beautiful time of year here.

Heading home

Heading home

When James and I next see each other it will be mid winter and it won’t just be the season that will have changed. I am sure James will have a fair few stories and experiences after his first stint in command and well, I just probably won’t fit in any of the clothes he last saw me wearing!

The Bump!

The Bump!

Sapphires and poppies

8 May

There are many things we’ve got used to after two and a half years in Australia and one of those is the fact a six or seven-hour drive is no longer considered that long or even unusual. When planning a trip away over the long Easter weekend, we decided to venture south to an area we had not yet visited together: the Sapphire Coast. A mere six plus hours in the car, still in the same state and only broken up a few more times than usual to let a pregnant woman stretch her legs and back!

Stopover in Kiama

Stopover in Kiama

The drive was actually worth it for the scenery alone for once you have hit the Southern Highlands, you are accompanied by rolling green hills, dramatic, sweeping coastline, sun-dappled forests and picturesque dairy farm land.

Rolling hills of the South Coast

Rolling hills of the South Coast

 

After a few wrong turns bouncing along dirt tracks, which would end abruptly at a river or some dense woodland, we got back to the road with the Sat Nav insisting we should, “U-turn when possible” and had our first night with James’ step uncle and his wife, who have a property near Wyndham.

It was lovely to visit them, after last seeing them both nearly three years a go at a party, where, to be honest, I met so many of James’ extended family, that I still struggle to remember who is related to who! Their home is set in several acres of land, which we walked around the following morning. It was distinctly cooler being that little bit further south and it was the first time we had to sit round an open fire in the evening.

The house near Wyndham

The house near Wyndham

Grahame, Andy and James

Grahame, Andy and James

The following days we stayed in a B&B near Tathra and explored the beaches and countryside around the Sapphire coast. It really is a stunning area, more remote than the South Coast closer to Sydney, fringed by long stretches of beach or smaller, bays, bordered by bush and forest. The water, unsurprisingly was a clear sapphire blue and in the middle of the day it was still warm enough to take a dip.

Tathra Beach

Tathra Beach

Bega Kiss Lagoon

Bega Kiss Lagoon

Forests along Sapphire Coast

Forests along Sapphire Coast

One of our favourite spots was Nelsons Beach, accessed by another dirt track with ocean one side and a beautiful lagoon on the other, which was perfect for swimming.

Nelsons Beach

Nelsons Beach

Walking along Nelsons Beach

Walking along Nelsons Beach

Lagoon at Nelsons Beach

Lagoon at Nelsons Beach

We treated ourselves to dinner at Mimosa Wines one night and seeing as we didn’t get to see it in daylight, stopped there again on the drive back up to Sydney. Artisan workshops, galleries and foodie joints seem to be springing up along the tourist drive, which winds along the coast and through national park.

Walks near Tathra

Walks near Tathra

Mimosa Wines

Mimosa Wines

Coffee with a view: Mimosa Wines

Coffee with a view: Mimosa Wines

Quaint shops of Central Tilba

Quaint shops of Central Tilba

It was definitely the breather we both needed and possibly our last chance for a long weekend away even before the baby comes along with James going away a few times before the due date.

It was a big holiday week in Australia that week, with Easter falling late in the year and coinciding with the same week of Anzac Day.

Anzac Day 2014

Anzac Day 2014

For the third year in a row, James got to march in an Anzac parade, this year in Sydney again, and a friend and I went to watch and support on what was a fairly wet and dreary start to the day. Luckily, by the time the rain really came down, James had finished his march and we were safely esconced in the officers’ pub of choice on Anzac Day, The Forbes.

Rain fails to dampen Anzac crowds

Rain fails to dampen Anzac crowds

Marie Bashir, Governor General NSW, applaudes marchers

Marie Bashir, Governor General NSW, applaudes marchers

James on parade

James on parade

Navy on parade: Anzac 2014

Navy on parade: Anzac 2014

Remembering the fallen

Remembering the fallen

After a few drinks there, James was clearly up for some stick, as we headed to the bar where some of his Marine friends were meeting up but ‘Jack’ was welcomed in with just a few derogatory comments!

Comrades!

Comrades!

The Anzac parade is always a spectacle seeing the hundreds of men and women marching together in uniform. It is certainly a moment to feel proud of those who serve and an event that equally shows them, the gratitude and support from the public. Every year since living in Sydney I have been moved at how many people, young and old, turn out for the parade, even in miserable weather. Perhaps a glimmer of the Anzac spirit being demonstrated in honour of those who fell.

Friends and family reunited

13 Jan

I found an old jumper at the back of the wardrobe a few weeks ago. I tried it on again; it felt a little odd at first, cold and misshapen, but after a while the fibres stretched and relaxed and it was comfortable and cosy again. Coming back to England felt a little bit the same.

It was always going to happen., it was just a matter of when and for how long. We were both curious as to how it would feel; would that walk along the river still seem familiar? Would stepping back into the house I grew up in still feel like home? It is amazing how much and yet, at the same time, how little  can change in just two years.

Babies have been born, dogs have been bought, walls have been knocked down, rooms have been redecorated, barns have been renovated, but the weather is still wet, the Underground still heaving and the conversations are still the same (apart from when now interrupted by an 18-month old.)

Despite our reservations about how hectic our trip would be, we had a proper break and thanks to so many friends and family who put us up, fed us and basically made the effort to come out on cold, wet and windy days to see us, we had a a fantastic time. It was the people we had come to see and they are what made the holiday, but we surprised ourselves at how much we enjoyed being back in England itself. There was something strangely comforting about a howling gale and lashing rain and there is nothing so good as coming in to a log fire or a glass of mulled wine, which just aren’t appropriate at Christmas in Sydney! In fact, if there is one thing England does well, it is a cosy Christmas.

Our trip took us from London down to the south west, back across to Chichester and Portsmouth, up to Stamford via St.Albans and Bedford, over to Staffordshire, into Wales, down to Bridgnorth en route to London, and ended up full circle, back in Somerset for the last few days.

Although we knew we had missed our friends and family and admittedly, a traditional English pub, we had also missed green, rolling hills; historic towns and churches; and yes, perhaps even the cold! We were lucky to visit some of the picture postcard, quaint English towns and villages, experience London in all its illuminated, Christmas glory and see nearly everyone we wanted to while they were off work and enjoying the holidays.

Sloane Square at Christmas

Sloane Square at Christmas

 

Eccleshall Church

Eccleshall Church

 

View from Bridgnorth

View from Bridgnorth

Stormy Lyme Regis

Stormy Lyme Regis

As we headed back to the airport for the final leg of our trip, we had to remind ourselves that we had come at a very special time, that the things that frustrated us two and a half years a go still existed and that ordinarily we would not be seeing ninety of our friends and family in three short weeks. Even the thought of heading back to summer did not appeal that day; we were leaving again and the only thing that made it a little easier to say goodbye was driving back in the grey, the Christmas lights extinguished, the trucks towing away the town Christmas trees and seeing the resigned faces of those returning to work for the first Monday back after New Year.

For our friends and family who read this, thank you for your hospitality and for looking after us so well!

Friends Reunited

Grandad

Family walk

New Year friends

Father and son

Edmondsons_photo

Despite having established a new life in a new country with new jobs and friends, when coming back it really felt as if we had never been away and just like an old jumper, England was cosy, comfortable and it was really good to be reunited.

Mulled cider

LA LA land

12 Jan

“Do you carry guns in Australia?”

“No, do you carry one?”

“Nah, I leave that to everyone else, but it’s good to know they’re out there, to keep you safe, you know.”

We look at each other but seeing as this guy has us in the back of his car, taking us through rush hour downtown LA, we don’t want to aggravate him too much.

“Do you have many blacks in Australia? What about Muslims?”

We are tired, we have just got off a flight after two nights Vegas promoting a new business, following a 13 hour flight from Australia three days earlier and the exhaustion is kicking in. We don’t want to start debating gun laws and immigration with a Ukrainian taxi driver who appears to forget that he too, is actually an immigrant.

It seems America has swallowed him up, as it can, as it does.

He seems to know all there is to know, which amounts to very little and we are grateful when he finally drops us off at our accommodation in Los Feliz, which was an area of LA recommended to us as it is one area you can walk around and, importantly get a really decent coffee!

I guess there are certain things you have to do when you’re only in California a couple of days, one of them is not necessarily to to hire a Ford Mustang. There must be something quite exhilarating about driving a Mustang, engine giving that satisfying roar, pedal to the metal, Santa Monica palm trees slipping by the window. That is until you realise you’re stuck in the middle of the sprawling car park that is LA and a glamourous drive down Sunset Boulevard rarely gets above 30mph. We hadn’t intended to go for the Mustang but when the little compact was unavailable and the rental guy offered us the Mustang for just $10 extra, well, why not, and to be fair, it was quite fun, driving up into the hills and then down to Sorrento for a quick spin down the Pacific Highway.

Mustang Sally

Hollywood Hills

They call it La La land and that is perhaps because the city of dreams and promises leaves many with their head in the clouds, or just being pumped full of botox. There is an energy on the streets but a slumber in the traffic queues, a neatly polished facade to the Beverly Hills houses yet an air of despair in parts of run down Hollywood. The palm trees grow high, like everything else in LA, perhaps they just want to be seen above the crowds, but the glamour of Hollywood comes by looking down, at the names of the famous movie and music stars beneath your feet, a distraction from the tobacco stores and cheap lingerie shops lining the pavement.

Santa Monica sunset

Walk of Fame

We enjoyed walking around Santa Monica and we loved meeting up with my friend, and her boyfriend for dinner. She had been on a photo shoot that day and just signed to an agent. She is taking a course in music production and doing voice overs for a company in Sweden. It was refreshing when she told us she loves watching Monty Don!

And so it was, we left Los Angeles for London but this time we were heading to some very familiar sights and some very familiar faces and really, that was the main reason we wanted that flight out of LAX.

 

T minus 10 days

6 Dec

At the risk of sounding like my mother, where has the time gone? It seems hardly any time ago that we were talking about coming to the UK for Christmas “next year” and now it is ten days until we actually land back in the Mother country! It will have been almost two and a half years since we have seen some of our friends and family so we are, undeniably excited. However, ten days before we arrive means only three short days before we actually fly and that means a sudden panic about what I need to pack, buy, sort, post and finish before we head off.

With our birthdays both happening this past week, a huge amount to do for the new business, especially prior to leaving, and trying to arrange seeing people before Christmas and buying Christmas presents in time, the past few weeks have been hectic and at times, stressful.

With so much else going on, we kept our birthdays simple and organised a picnic with just a few friends on the beach last weekend. It was a lovely day and probably the first time we have purposefully gone to the beach for the day this Spring/Summer, as well as hung out with some of our friends for a while. Having Shan’s baby there kept everyone entertained as well!

Birthday picnic

Birthday picnic

Picnic in the park

Picnic in the park

James and Ash

James and Ash

On the days themselves, we went out to one of our favourite restaurants for dinner for my birthday, followed by ice cream at our favourite gelateria (both have coincidentally just opened up shop a short walk from us near Bondi – dangerous for the wallet and the hips!)

On James’ birthday I surprised him with some cake at the beach after work but these days it’s about as exciting as it gets!

The really exciting news is that Apple have approved the app and as soon as we give the green light, it will be available for sale in the App store… I have yet to break open the bubbles because the website and back-end functionality all needs to be smooth and fully operational before we do this and there are a few adjustments that need making. To add to the drama, a few weeks a go we learnt about the Inside Bitcoin Conference, taking place in Las Vegas and decided the timing was perfect to coincide with the app being in the store and for us to start promoting. So, we are now heading to Vegas for a few days before returning to LA and jetting off to London as originally planned.

Work aside, and it has been busy for both of us, it had almost escaped our attention that it is in fact nearly Christmas. It struck me as I walked into the Westfield mall the other week and heard ‘We Wish You A Merry Christmas’ cheerily jingle out against the other sound of the slip-slap of flip flops walking along the ground. The wreaths, however beautiful, jarr against the stark white, sunlit walls as does the juxtaposition of the Polar Bear, pointing his way toward Santa’s grotto, while all around his frosty podium the shop windows display summery brights and neon prints. I never thought I would say we are looking forward to the cold and dark but at this time of year, it just seems right!

Having said that, once night falls and the lights come on, Sydney still puts on  a good effort and we went to see the Martin Place Christmas tree in all its glory when we met up with a couple of friends for a drink last week – as you can tell from the picture, the tree was perhaps not that interesting!

 

Martin Place Christmas Tree

Martin Place Christmas Tree

The traditional arcades, such as The Strand arcade also look lovely at Christmas and if it wasn’t for the 27-degree sunshine, you might almost believe there was a quaint English town outside.
Strand Arcade

Strand Arcade

 

As I mentioned, we have been trying to fit in seeing people before we fly off, and so last weekend we drove up to see James’ dad’s cousin out in Windsor. Ibby moved a year a go and has done a huge amount of work to the house and garden, which, looks out across the flood plains of the Hawkesbury River. We also managed to catch up with her daughter, Liona who popped in for tea as well. We were particularly impressed by Ibby’s sunflowers!

The 10ft sunflower

The 10ft sunflower

Liona, Ibby and James

Liona, Ibby and James

 

I expect this will be the last post before we land arrive in England and this has been a bit of a rushed summary of everything that has happened over the past month. One thing I should mention, as you have probably noticed, James is sporting a little more facial hair than normal, which was his ‘Movember’ effort, seeing as they can’t have moustaches in the Navy. He reckons he is keeping it. I gave him a really nice shaving set for his birthday…

 

Finishing Lines

8 Nov Credit: BitScan Pty Ltd

There are two kinds of lines where meeting one automatically means meeting the other, but the reverse is not trrue. I’m talking deadlines and finishing lines. Meet your deadline and you’ve crossed the finishing line, pass the finishing line but the deadline may well have past long a go. With most projects, deadlines seem to act as a vague guideline because invariably they keep getting pushed back. Construction projects and house building seem to be a prime example. How often do Kevin McCloud or Peter Maddison revisit a build to see months have slipped by and they are still awaiting planning permission for a crucial feature wall? Well, it seems building an app is no different.

The past few months have involved dozens of meetings, where we have asked the question: How long now, two weeks? Do you think we’ll be ready by September.. Make that October? Mid October? Oh…

 

There is never one person or company to blame; as with all things technical, issues arise, things breakdown, pieces of code don’t work, updates are always available; as with all things human, people fall sick, people do make mistakes and people underestimate how long a ‘relatively small job’ will take.

However, the months, weeks, days and hours of talking, researching, planning, designing and head-scratching is coming to a close and we can now talk about the launch of our new app in matters of days. It is exciting. It’s exciting because we are, currently, first to market with anything of this kind, and because we are actually pretty pleased with the result.

Without attempting the bitcoin explainer again (see previous posts), the app has been designed as an interface for all and any users of bitcoin. It is packed full of features and we hope offers a sleek, user-friendly and fully functional application whether you want to trade, invest, analyse, inform, sell, promote or spend. It is, as we like to say: The World of Bitcoin in the Palm of Your Hand. For details about what it does and all its features, if you are interested, you can read more here. What might encourage you is that bitcoin is growing in value steadily again. Over the past few weeks it has grown in a fairly sustained, measured way and the price is now at an all-time high of around $300 a bitcoin. It has proven resilient to the Silk Road bust and resistant to attempts by the FBI to crack its code seeing as even they cannot access the almost 489,000 bitcoins it seized as a result, safely stashed in an encrypted wallet. With China now entering the picture, it is unlikely that bitcoin is going to disappear for a while. It seems a prime time to be launching the app. The finishing line is in sight.

Credit: BitScan Pty Ltd

The new BitScan app

I happened to cross another finishing line a couple of week’s ago. That of the Sydney’s Rebel Run half marathon at the Olympic Park. It was not an easy run and for whatever reason that day, I really struggled. I tend to be able to pace myself quite well and have enough in reserve for a bit of a spurt at the end, but not this time. Training had not been easy due to the searing temperatures we had been having. 30-degree plus days in October are not what I’m used to and the atmosphere for a few weeks has been hazy at the best of times with the smoke from the bushfires blowing over. Most mornings I felt I could have been training for the Sahara desert run! I had done a few long runs in preparation and had managed a sub 1hour 50minutes in training.

The weekend in question, our friend Will came to visit from Melbourne, which was brilliant and great to catch up with him. When the sun’s out and there are beers to be had (it was the Sydney Craft Beer Festival that week) Will and James were keen to head out. I joined them for a hog roast on the Saturday afternoon, although no alcohol, plenty of fluids, and plenty of pasta that night was order of the day for me!

As with all race mornings, I felt a little nervous with the anticipation of the 21.1 km ahead of me. A little tired as well, but only to be expected when you have to get up at 5am to make the 6.30am gun. I set off well, but possibly a little fast. After 11 km, the distance markers disappeared because we were running along track by the river and through parkland. I do not own a Garmin watch, and wasn’t running with my Nike Plus, so was having to estimate how far I had gone, but by what must have been about 16 km, I was starting to flag. The day was already warming up and a grey, smoky haze suddenly wafted over, which is never helpful when you’re relying on oxygen! Apart from once when training too late in the day and it was nearing 26 degrees, I have never had that urge come over me to stop like I did then. Of course, I couldn’t. If I stopped or walked, I knew I’d never get going again. I felt as if I was staggering along, forcing one foot in front of the other, not feeling breathless, just lethargic. My energy was completely sapped. Despite my little jelly bean stash for a glucose hit as I went round, my blood sugar must have taken a serious dip because at one point double vision set in. Dreams of making it anywhere in near 1 hour 45 vanished, I knew 1 hour 50 was going to be highly unlikely and I had to hope I could still finish in under 2 hours. I just kept telling myself to keep going. My muscles, which never usually suffer from lactic acid build up, were suddenly screaming, and my head was screaming at me in a different way. I have never had such a mental, let a lone physical, struggle during a run.

When the stewards in the sidelines yelled, “3km to go” I think I deflated even more. In the grand scheme of things, it was a short distance and this was usually when I would have started to increase the pace slightly if I had anything left. I didn’t. In fact, one man, running by, must have seen me wilting and said, “We’re nearly there, come on.” I had no intention of stopping but I think the feeling of disappointment that my goal times were a distant memory was an extra burden I was dragging along!

The last stretch along to the Olympic stadium felt never ending but even in the state I was in, there was something about running through the tunnel and into the stadium that meant the struggle was forgotten for a brief few seconds. Any fantasy of sprinting over the finish line with my hands in the air remained just that. As soon as the line was crossed I staggered to one side, collapsed in a corner and did not stand up again for a good five minutes.

Finishing the Rebel Run half marathon

Finishing the Rebel Run half marathon

Amazingly by the time I was home half an hour later, I felt fine. No aches, no pains, just ready for a nap! There was no stiffness over the following days either but the thought of running anything over 10km didn’t appeal so much!

Oh, and you’re probably wondering how I did… Well I crossed the finish line in 1 hour 52 minutes, which given everything, absolutely amazed me. Not my finest hour (or two) but it’s one finishing line I don’t have to worry about again.

City2Surf 2013

14 Aug

Last year I waited anxiously on the Saturday evening before my first City2Surf as the wind howled around the house and rain battered the windows. I was hoping the following morning would at least stay dry. It did, thankfully, and I completed my first City2Surf run in a fairly respectable time of 73 minutes. What a difference a year makes. Clear blue skies and temperatures well into the double figures greeted us for City2Surf 2013 and it was not just me running but James and five other friends as well.

I have now run this event twice and feel qualified to say, I love this race. There is a real buzz and sense of fun that you do not always get with more competitive, accredited races. With a previous qualifying time, I was in a different start group to my friends and just after 8am, my gun went off, followed by James’ 20 minutes later. The nerves may not have been as bad as last year but the pressure was on. Last year, it was about finishing and experiencing the atmosphere that you can only get in amongst 85,000 runners, pounding the streets of Sydney all the way to Bondi Beach. This year I had different expectations and a time to beat. I had not put in as much training and I knew heartbreak hill was going to prove more of a struggle than I wanted but I thought a 70-minute race might just be possible if I didn’t let the muscle burn get the better of me.

I started well but it was hard to tell how I was going (I do not have a Garmin or timing device) and in amongst faster runners, I was very much ‘one of the pack’. If anything was going to spur me on, it was knowing James was going to be on my back, and although starting well behind me, I admit there was a little competition going on between us, as well as with myself!

©Louise Edmondson

©Louise Edmondson

©Louise Edmondson

©Louise Edmondson

There are not many timed running events where you can high-five children lining the street, pass a man running in a policeman’s helmet or dressed as a smurf, get sprayed by water pistols by onlookers and feel the mutual sense of pain as you all dig deep to get up that hill. The urge to pat people on the back and just say, “keep going, you can do it,” was quite strong!

Once heartbreak hill is conquered, it is not, as some people like to believe, “all down hill from then on” in fact there are a couple of pretty sneaky but nasty ascents along Military Road before Bondi comes into view. The approach to Bondi is always the hardest part. You are so close and the finish is in sight yet the course, parallel to the beach, seems to go on forever and then you have to double back on yourself to the finish line. I saw a friend among the spectating crowds and gave a yell and a wave as I ran past and then it was the final stretch to the end.

It’s a tough course, no doubt. Need to see the faces on people as they finish?

Finishing relief!

I did not feel too bad after crossing the line. There was the sense of achievement at having finished and kept running and there was the knowing I had raised over $400 for my chosen charity, The Butterfly Foundation.  I had no idea of my overall time but I knew it would be close whether I had cracked my sub-70 goal.  Fortunately, James and I managed to meet up and walked home (up another hill), feeling a little tired but proud to have completed the, let’s say, ‘undulating’ course! A sunny Bond is not a bad place to end:

James_medal

IMG_0352

Once home, as much as the temptation was to have a soak and fall asleep, we had a party to prepare for. We had decided it would be a good afternoon to have our belated housewarming party so there was no time to sit and relax. There was food to get ready, barbecues to light and a house to clean. We were so lucky with the weather: sunny, cloudless skies and 22 degrees, perfect for taking advantage of the views and getting use out of the balcony. This became not just a sun trap but a tourist viewing platform, with everyone getting out phones and cameras to take pictures!

Our View!

Our race times came in by text. James, 76 minutes – very impressive considering just a year a go he was hobbling about after a knee operation and myself…. 71 minutes, a minute over my target so a little disappointing but at least a bit quicker than last year. When I thought about how I could have shaved off the minute, I started blaming that brief stop at the water point, the zig-zagging between people at the beginning, the seconds spent waving to my friend in the crowd… At the end of the day, I just needed to run faster!

Next year, there is always next year… But first, there is the Sydney Half Marathon in just over one month’s time.

A very Blue evening

22 Jul

If you are an Aussie, and particularly if you are an Aussie guy, (at the risk of stereotyping) you will probably have been watching a game last Wednesday night. That is, the game: State of Origin. The Blues (NSW) vs. the Maroons (QLD) and it was a crucial decider in the Rugby League competition too. As a non-Aussie and female, I, (at the risk of a backlash) was not watching it and was not too bothered about it. I might have tuned in if I had been home that night, but as it was, I had my cocktail dress on and had a date with another blue of sorts, Blue Ridge. Blue Ridge is an US Navy ship that was berthed in Sydney as part of a joint forces exercise between the US and Australian Navies. Talisman Saber is the biggest of its kind in the world, and the reason James happens to be over in San Diego.

As luck (or non-luck in James’ case) would have it, the Admiral on board, VADM Swift, knows James and had invited us both for a cocktail party. In James’ place, I took along my friend, Katie, who is also a Naval widow, in that her fiancé happens to be on deployment right now. There have to be some perks to this ‘Navy wife’ lark I suppose. The Ship was enormous and the dress and heels were not the easiest attire for climbing up a steep gangway, nor to make any sort of seamless entrance without tripping up ship’s ladders. Anyway, we made our less-than-elegant arrival just in time for the ceremonial aspect at sunset, the speeches and the cake cutting. Despite the thrust of the speeches being about the importance of building on the US-Australian relationship, the stunning location did not go ignored, especially with Sydney’s skyline in full illuminated glory from the deck.

Blue Ridge cake

Cutting the cake

 

I then made my way over to battle the crowd to speak to Admiral Swift. I was there really to show face on James’ behalf and I was not quite sure what to expect. I had never met Admiral Swift myself so envisaged a quick introduction, make James’ apologies, a quick drink, and then be off.

There were plenty of people milling around and a large crowd surrounded the Admiral as people went to introduce themselves and have a chat (and if they were lucky, a photo!) As it turned out, I did not have to wait too long to speak to him and as soon as I told him who I was and mentioned James’ name, his face lit up. Whatever James had done to impress this guy in the past, it had worked. I was handed a coin souvenir from the ship, Katie and I had a few pictures with the Admiral, taken by the official photographer, and during the evening, he came across several times to talk to us. He made us feel extremely welcome and despite not having our Navy partners, Katie and I had a great time, speaking non-Navy and chatting to the officers who came over to see us.

Louise and the VADM

130717-N-GR655-080

There was a fantastic spread of hot and cold food and a huge cake and chocolate chip cookies, even more impressive by the fact it was all cooked and baked on board in the galley. We had not got round to having any when the time came to leave but Admiral Swift ensured we both went away laden down with a goodie-box full of cake and cookies! He then also invited us to see his quarters and both had photos inside his cabin. Basically, we were very well looked after and the night totally exceeded my expectations. I might have been mixing with a bunch of guys in blue uniforms but I have to admit, it was more fun than watching the other guys in blue getting beaten by the Maroons that night.

The best kept secret

8 Jul

I walked up to the trees, twinkling with fairy lights, candles suspended in pretty, glass jars and orchids entwined in the branches. There was soft music in the background and the clink of glasses and low voices. From the light and noise of the main road, I had walked through the park and arrived at the bar and knew instantly it was the perfect setting. The perfect setting that is for our friends, S and A, to be holding their baby’s Naming Ceremony. It was very them , especially S, who has been accused of being a bit of a hippy in her time but definitely has a spiritual, nature-loving side.

Celebrating the arrival of a new baby is always a happy occasion. Baby Ash arrived into the world just over two months a go and her Naming Ceremony was held yesterday. With James now away again I was flying solo to the event, which we were told would be a formal, evening do with a celebrant. It was held at the Bodhi Bar in Sydney, which specialises in vegan dim sum and Chinese style food.

Ash looked gorgeous in a little dress, both S and A looked very smart and the grandparents were there along with a small group of close friends. Just after 5.30pm we were asked to gather outside under the trees where the celebrant welcomed us. That is when after a few introductory words she announced that with all their close friends and family gathered, this ceremony was not just going to be about welcoming Ash to their family, but making that family complete. At this point, I think I might have let out a little squeak. I knew what was coming.

We had not all just been asked to come for Ash’s Naming Day but in fact to celebrate their wedding!

You can imagine the surprise from all the guests as not a single person (bar the parents and A’s brother) had known this was going to happen. There was a lot of cheering and applause and of course, open-mouths and dismayed faces! From the laid-back atmosphere, to the outdoor setting and the intimate gathering, everything was perfect. Our small group parted to let S walk through with her mum to the front where she an A said their vows and became husband and wife. We had not been totally duped for once the rings were exchanged, they took Ash and under the lights, candles and stars she was officially named and a candle lit in her honour.

This has to have been one of the hardest secrets they’ve kept because despite a few of us (myself included) knowing they were planning on getting married one day and knowing A had asked S to marry him, none of us believed that would be the night.

Sadly, James missed it but  funnily enough was still part of the celebrations. After drinks and speeches in the bar, A’s brother produced a brilliant video montage of clips from friends who could not be there. Those people had been given a few days’ warning and let in on the secret and James was one of them. I don’t know whether I was more shocked to see his face pop up on the screen, unamused at the fact he was in an airport car park, or at the fact he had been told and managed to keep it a secret for a full 24-hours!

Anyway, it was nice to see him because at that point I had gone nearly 30 hours without hearing anything from him and was getting a little worried. (Turns out their flights had been diverted and delayed due to the crash in San Francisco, which was not news I wanted to wake up to when I knew he was due to be on a plane heading that way overnight!)

All’s well that ends well and I feel very honoured to be one of the people present to witness their new family becoming complete. Here are a few of the pictures from a very magical evening.

Happy Couple

'I do'

Family complete

Naming Ceremony

Sydney through a lens

31 May

How do you walk for miles and actually not go very far? Don’t worry, I’m not challenging you to a riddle. I discovered the answer on Wednesday when I walked ten miles (about 16km) yet never left Sydney. It was me, a friend, our cameras and a whole day taking hundreds of photographs. She was doing a project for school and I had been asked to help her.

We’ve got to know her family pretty well over the past few months. A fellow Navy family, they shared our leech walk, (James and Rob shared a little more), we have had barbecues and dinners at each other’s houses and we have been a source of mutual support for one another since they are also RN transfers. However, I was still surprised when asked to help out their daughter, mainly because I am not an expert photographer and I hardly felt qualified. Still, I was happy to help in any way I could and that is how we came to walk for seven hours straight from Sydney’s Circular Quay and back again via the CBD, Botanical Gardens, Hyde Park, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, many alleyways, and Darling Harbour.

Her aim was to produce a final project called ‘Sydney at Work’. My aim was to supervise, give her any pointers, any advice or suggestions and be a bit of a guide. In the meantime: have camera; will shoot. It was actually great fun for me too.

There was a real atmosphere that morning with a low fog suspended over the city, seeming to render it mute and deserted. Boats and ferries emerged, ghost-like, from the mist, the wharves were silent and the tips of buildings faded into the clouds with an ethereal quality. We snapped away and set off for our day, unsure of what we would find and how successful we would be.

In the centre, the morning coffee rush proved a good source of shots of waiters, baristas and business suits. Construction sites and road works dotted around the city suddenly became interesting, and window shopping became window shooting. People seemed very accommodating that day; the kiosk vendors, buskers and workmen all seemed happy to have their pictures snapped and even a couple of chefs, spotted through the swinging door of their back-alley kitchen, posed for a shot. I was not there to take pictures of working people but if I saw something that caught my eye, I clicked. So, here is a selection of my shots: Sydney Glimpses.

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Bloodsuckers

30 May

Autumn is here. The leaves are changing and we have to wear a coat in the evenings (inside.) Yes, the time has come when it is colder inside than out. Most days I try to head to the library to work where I can still feel my fingers and in the evenings, come 5pm, the lights and heating are on. Despite the chill, the days have for the most part been sunny and you can’t complain when it still reaches 22 degrees.

To make the most of this, we met up with some friends of ours for a picnic last Sunday in the Royal National Park. They are a brilliant family with four children so life is never dull. There’s the artistic one; the bookish one; the quieter, balletic, forgetful one; and the cute, cooking-mad one and combined, all a lot of fun, extremely polite and sometimes a bit mad! That’s before you get to the parents.

Royal National Park

We set out on a walk, not sure exactly where we were going but following a track along a river, which was all very pleasant. When the track petered out we stood, looking for options other than doubling back and realised it either meant going for a swim or heading up. Onwards and upwards won the vote so we scrambled up the bank until we came across a flat section, which could vaguely resemble a track.

Uphill scramble

The overgrown ferns, brambles and tree branches, which slapped us in the face every few minutes did not deter us. Neither did the sludge, which squelched underfoot. We were dressed sensibly enough; long trousers, walking boots or sturdy trainers and light tops. Then came Rob, bringing up the rear in shorts, T-shirt and laceless deck shoes. It’s all very well embracing the ‘She’ll be right, mate‘ Australian spirit until I peered at his leg, at the speck of mud, which as I looked, seemed not to be a speck of mud at all but something a little more bulbous, more muscular, oh and… expanding.

“Is that a leech?”

He looked and we all looked and yes, it was definitely a leech and with some difficulty he managed to yank this thing off his leg and that’s when we all looked down and the realisation dawned and a wave of disgusted noises rippled through us. I saw the leech on my trousers, which despite having no blood, had well and truly latched on to my leg and took James and a stick to eventually get it off. My boots had several of them clinging on, which luckily were easier to remove. We each spent a few minutes batting away these blood-sucking parasites with sticks, with fingers, scratching, scraping, pulling, rolling them up and flicking them away. Then Rob, with blood coursing down his shin, took his shoe off and that’s when even he turned a little green at the sight of the feeding frenzy taking place between his toes.

Two of the children had run off so it was mum who dashed off to go and inspect their shoes and socks, while James then got down on his knees and yes, started pulling leeches from our friend’s feet. I expect it is a scene that will remain forever imprinted on my mind. Luckily, despite a couple of sore patches and some fairly bloodied toes, there was no harm done.

Post-leech picninc

We ambled back towards the main path and the river and out of the wet, leech-friendly gloop, and made our way back to a flat, dry area, bordering the water for our picninc. By the time the bread, cheese, dips and biscuits were brought out, we were all laughing about it. James and Rob sank a beer each and no more was said of their intimate foot incident. Australian bushwalking great fun — just remember your boots.

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