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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.

And then there were three

19 Dec

The hiatus in blogging is hopefully understandable. Two days after our last entry, our son, Toby was born. In fact, I’m pretty sure my contractions were underway as I hit publish on the post, as I was in the midst of getting everything ready and doing last minute jobs. Going into labour, for me anyway, is one sure fire way of finishing anything I’ve been procrastinating on.

Thirty-six hours later and two days before his due date, Toby entered the world, weighing a bang on average 7lbs 8oz (not the 9llb plus I was fearing) and measuring a little longer than average 52cm.

Two days old

Two days old

So where did the last three months go? To summarise the time in one post is almost impossible (unless feeding, crying, sleeping, pooing will suffice) and there are too many pictures and moments already to recap in detail. Toby is now almost 14 weeks old and those first few days and weeks are already a bit of a distant memory. My newborn has been replaced with an energetic and active three-month old little boy. Newborn clothes have been long consigned to the back of the wardrobe and the days of him doing nothing but eat and sleep are also behind us. Still, I won’t go into too much detail about a day in the life of Toby as it pretty much involves eating, sleeping, playing, sucking on fists, crying a little, being shushed, patted, rocked and wheeled around in the pram.

My day involves much of the same, perhaps with a little less drool and I tend to be the one doing the patting and rocking, although could probably do with being on the receiving end some days! Who knew smelling of baby sick and analysing nappy contents could bring so much pleasure?

They say babies change and grow so fast but until you live with one 24/7  I’m not sure you can really appreciate just how much and just how fast. It happens right under my nose but it’s gone in a  flash. Each day he seems to do something new. There have been first smiles, first giggles, first rolls, first grabbing of toys and babbling conversations.

10 weeks old

10 weeks old

With James having been away a great deal, the separation has been a lot harder for both of us this time round and even more so for James, who feels he has missed out on a lot of those initial changes. I keep him up to date with daily photos but of course, this is not the same and no compensation for missing out on bath time and cuddles.

I am waiting patiently for him to come home for Christmas and have a few weeks of respite. I absolutely adore being a mum to Toby, but the days are long when there is no one else just to share the load for a little while. (And that load is getting longer and heavier by the day!)

Twice a week I manage to meet up with other mums, now friends, from my mums group and antenatal class. There is great relief in hearing how another mum is coping with a particular feeding issue, or worrying about that weird coloured poo and there is mutual sympathy for the sleep deprived mess you may arrive as, and those non too glamorous moments where your baby decides to release the contents of his bowels over him and you while out and about with nowhere to change, or you realise your bra has been casually exposed all afternoon after you’ve forgotten to do it back up.

Along with the support of these ladies, I also had the luxury of my parents visiting and my mum staying out for the first six weeks, which was a huge help, especially during the first few nights after he developed reflux. Ah, those nights spent holding him upright while he cried and cried… Fortunately another (fingers crossed, touch wood etc) distant memory. With her help I also felt able to get out and about and it was important for me to start doing this early on so as not to become confined to the home. Toby’s first lunch date was at four days old. In his short life so far, he has already visited the Botanical Gardens, Sydney Harbour, the Opera House, travelled on a ferry, had walks along Bondi and Manly beaches and had many a lunch and brunch outing. He is oblivious to it all of course, but we will show him the pictures one day.

First visit to the Opera House

First visit to the Opera House

Luckily these are the moments, which keep me sane, as do the smiles, especially the smiles, which are an utter joy, but needed when you’re surviving on less than six hours sleep from time to time. Six broken and not always settled hours at that. We have had breakthroughs where he has slept through until 5am but we still get the odd night where he wakes a couple of times as well. But on that note, I would like to know where the phrase “sleeping like a baby” comes from because if someone told me they had slept like a baby, I would now imagine they had been snoring, grunting and sighing all night. Things seem to have quietened down recently but why does no one tell you that newborns sound like miniature steam trains and as if they’re always about to take their last gasp of air? Why too, are you not warned about the periodic breathing, that they occasionally breathe really fast and then stop for a few seconds, to resume normally again. “It’s all completely normal” is a comforting phrase and one that became familiar throughout pregnancy as well, but it can be pretty alarming at the time.

Night feeds

Night feeds

Just hanging out being cute

Just hanging out being cute

It’s amazing how these precious little bundles, so small and cute can be actually quite daunting and cause all kinds of anxiety. A friend described it well when she told me “he scares me because I love him so much.” Only in the last few weeks have I started to feel less worried than those first nights, lying awake, checking that he wasn’t too hot, too cold, breathing, sleeping… And as he grows, there will be more concerns than basic survival to add to the list.

With Toby asleep, I have managed to grab a few spare minutes to write this finally, as we have got our day naps in the cot sorted. Yes, these are the things in which only a mother can feel achievement. Of course I’ll be dashing away periodically to check on him as he has taken to lying on his tummy. This is the latest new thing; he has learnt to roll from his back to his tummy so gone are the days of lying him down and knowing he’ll be in the same position a minute later. Sleeping now takes place on the stomach, whether I like it or not, so to add to any other worries I might have, the “is he breathing?” one has just ramped up a notch.

Having to look after him on my own has helped me to grow in confidence with him; knowing you are solely responsible means you get on with it and do what is needed and muddle through somehow, but having to take care of yourself and the house at the same time means there are probably moments when I coddle him less than perhaps I would have otherwise. He is already learning that sometimes Mummy has to put him down so she can have a shower, get dressed, do the laundry, take the rubbish out, make some dinner…! But we do have lots of cuddles in between and I have been blessed with a happy, smiling and tolerant little baby.

Smiling for the camera

Smiling for the camera

He loves his milk, likes looking at books (I like to think) and the pram and car have the bonus effect of sending him to sleep. So if I were to do a day in the life of Toby in pictures, it might look a little like this:

Milk Drunk

Milk Drunk

Enjoying Noddy

Enjoying Noddy

Loving my car seat

Loving my car seat

Me like milk

Me like milk

Daddy comes home very soon and we have our first Christmas to look forward to, together for the first time as a family of three.

Family selfie

Family selfie

 

 

 

 

 

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!

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

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.

Marking a milestone

25 Jun

My 100th post! Wow – it seems a long time a go since I wrote the very first post on this blog, documenting our move from the UK to Australia. Since then we have also moved within Australia, although not too far! What is a few kilometres up the road compared with thousands of miles around the globe?

So I did wonder what I should write about for the 100th post. It feels like a kind of milestone and so the post itself should reflect this. I thought and then decided I would write about a special someone. I say someone, but actually, I’m talking about my dog, well, my family’s dog, who sadly had to be put down last Monday. I was hoping I would get to see her again when we come back to visit but it was not to be and at 14 ½, her time had come.

I suppose living so far from family means these events do happen and pass by without you being there and over the past 100 posts I have had to learn about the death of my Gran, the marriage of friends, the births of friends’ babies and now, the death of my dog.

I know she was only a dog, but you know, if you have one or have ever owned one, you know, they are not just dogs. Like all pets they become a member of the family, the friendly, familiar face that greets you when you come through the door, their tail wagging and in Jess’ case, a blanket or some such gift in her mouth.

This is not a Jess autobiography — I mean, she was a dog, a Labrador; she ate, slept, ate, walked, ate, played and ate some more.

©Louise Edmondson

I was a teenager, still at school when we went to the farm to choose a puppy from the litter and Jess was the one that scrambled on to my knee and sat there contentedly as a tiny, furry black creature that fit in the palm of your hand. One of my last memories is of her running across the fields near the reservoir, trying to chase the kite we were flying.

She had a crazy run, her ears always flew up in the air when she bounded through the corn fields so you simply saw a funny black head randomly appearing above the corn ears. As a puppy she licked everything and everyone in sight and as a dog she ignored the garden boundaries and saw the entire village as her back yard. A call from the local shop, a neighbour, or even the pub, was not unheard of. Jess was notorious, but if you were ever out walking her, somebody knew her and she was all too happy to receive their pets and strokes.

She was the most good-natured and friendly dog I knew but she had her mischievous streak. If an angler on the river made the mistake of leaving his bait unattended, Jess would have it; if a farmer left a brace of pheasants hanging in his shed, well, the contents might end up in Jess’ stomach and if someone accidentally dropped a Cornish pasty in the verge, it would be Jess’ next meal.

Incidentally, that was Jess’ last meal. On the way back to the vet after a walk in the sunshine, she came across said pasty and devoured it with the same gusto as when she was a sprightly, waggy-tailed pup. Some things did not change.

Like all animals, she had her own personality, her own quirks and plenty of endearing traits, which mean now she has gone, I know the house feels very quiet and a little empty. There is no longer a little dog padding about, sniffing the kitchen floor for any crumbs, sun bathing in the window or curled up asleep next to the armchair.

Although I have not been around to see her these past two years, I still miss her and have an abundant supply of memories, which I will not go on about here.

A sweet, funny, lovely dog and greedy to the last. She had a final walk in the sun on Monday and then fell asleep peacefully.

jess

Onwards and Upwards

24 Jun

Apologies for the lack of update recently but moving house here (apart from stressful and time-consuming) means no internet connection for weeks! I’ve no idea why it takes a month to switch an account from one address to another but the library and wifi cafes will be getting a lot of business from me over the coming days.

So, apart from lack of connectivity, it is onwards and upwards and when I say upwards, I mean it literally: seven floors to be precise. From ground floor to top floor and with that move, some amazing views to boot. Sadly, the past few days’ weather in Sydney has meant I haven’t been able to take full advantage of the panoramic harbour and city vistas, which have been masked by a low cloud and teaming rain but being able to see the skyline lit up at night still blows me away.

Sunset view of SYdney skyline

The weekend before the move we spent packing up, chucking out and making trips to and from the new unit with some of the smaller and breakable items.

Moving mayhem

Luckily, James was able to take a couple of days’ leave to help with the move, which took a lot of stress off my shoulders but having said that, the three guys who moved us in worked so fast and efficiently and took such good care of our furniture and belongings, it probably would not have been as bad as we thought. When one of the men picked up a large, solid, wood chest of drawers with one arm, we knew we were in good hands. Turned out they had us out, in and unpacked in less than five hours and after a 6am start, we were having lunch in the sunshine in one of our new local cafes by 1pm.

Then the hard work began: the box emptying, the tidying and sorting, the rearranging and organizing and learning where things went and how our new home worked. That’s when James had to fly off back to Melbourne!

The next forty-eight hours I spent thirteen-hour days cleaning and putting everything in its place and traipsing the homeware stores to buy the bits we needed. One of the items, one of my favourite pieces, was my new desk. It fits into our new study area and with a view across to the city, I’m not sure I’ll be getting too much work done! I love it and with our new sofa, we’re beginning to find we’re slowly getting pieces that resemble our style and making our new place feel like our home.

Study area

As pleased as I am with the desk, buying it was a different matter. When I got to the loading bay, the first thing the man said to me was, “Do you have a big car?” Followed by, “Is there anyone who can help you with this at the other end?”

Several minutes of heaving this enormous box out of the car and shuffling it with my shoulder against it into the lift, I managed to get the box into the unit. Thinking the worst was over, I cut open the box, looked at the instructions and for the first time ever on an assembly manual, saw the words in big bold font: Two People Are Required For This. Oh well, a two-person job became a one-person struggle but eventually, a rather heavy and cumbersome desk was assembled!

In fact, buying furniture for a new place, especially an apartment that is not ground floor, can prove tricky when there are no large patio doors for access and the only way in is through a rather narrow security door. Then there are the limitations of the lift dimensions to consider (although thank God for the lift!), so carrying a tape measure in my bag has become common practise for the past week as has learning special sofa manoeuvres that seem to defy the laws of maths.

Now it is finally all sorted, this weekend has been about seeing friends, catching up on sleep and having something more than a bowl of soup to eat each day! Onwards and upwards…

Sydney harbour views

Light at the end of the tunnel (VIVID 2013)

14 Jun
The Opera House illuminated during the Vivid F...

The Opera House illuminated during the Vivid Festival (Photo credit: JAM Project)

In the midst of an ongoing  and seemingly ever-growing mound of admin, there has been a beacon of light – or several lights – in the form of Sydney’s annual Vivid Festival. It is no overstatement to call it spectacular. The entire waterfront comes alive with light displays, music and fireworks from Circular Quay round to Darling Harbour.

Skyscrapers of concrete and glass are transformed into pieces of artwork; canvases for lasers and projected light installations. Entire buildings look as if they are moving in time to the music thanks to the illusion of light; optical fibre art work is suspended from archways; glittering tunnels lead people along footpaths; light fountains dance along to the beat and the iconic sails of the Sydney Opera House are illuminated in a rainbow of colours and light effects.

The outside spectacle begins once the sun has gone down, but other events take place throughout the day during the two-week festival billed as ‘Light, Music and Ideas’. There are workshops, talks, exhibitions and presentations on subjects to do with photography, movement, reportage, film and even happiness. In fact, everything I love. Sadly I could not attend the daytime events but James and I did manage to escape for one evening to catch the lights. It was light we both needed as you will read…

VIVD 2013

VIVID: Sydney Opera House

VIVD: Customs House

VIVD: Opera House

Moving house, starting a business, getting involved with another business (can’t say too much about that here but stay tuned…) losing a wallet and getting a new phone has, as you can imagine, seen us swamped by the tedium and minutiae of updating details, renewing cards, informing everyone of new phone numbers and then add to that meetings, rental agreements and trying to keep on top of the writing. Moving house is normally a stressful and chaotic time but when there are several extra parties involved and Defence have to come and inspect your house (twice) and the owners also want to come and inspect it and the removal guys are one body but Defence provides an extra ‘liaison’ guy to help out (who also wants to come and inspect your house) well, yes, the diary is full and thank goodness for the new phone because at least I get an alert every half an hour reminding me who is due next to inspect or call! I’m grateful for the Defence assistance we get but sometimes, the saying ‘too many cooks’ springs to mind.

Did I also mention we’ve been selling some of our furniture and trying to coordinate pick-ups from online buyers? Oh and then to add to it all one of the units above us had their hot water system burst last night so two floors of the block are flooded. I woke up and was greeted by an internal stairwell of wet carpet and a neighbour above us wringing out towels and paddling about on his carpets, which have all had to be removed. So far, nothing down here, but I am watching and waiting for the damp patches on the ceiling and for the water to eventually seep through into our unit. I say ‘I’ because, yes, as luck would have it, James finds himself away with work! Ah yes, they have a cunning way of planning these things, I am beginning to suspect a conspiracy. I will be moving out and moving in alone for the third time and while James flits between Melbourne and San Diego, I shall continue to drown in a pool of admin (and possibly an actual pool of water as well.)

Looking forward to being settled again… There is light at the end of the tunnel!

Application: successful

3 Jun

So, it turns out they’re not all the same. Estate agents I mean. I’ve come across some real weasels in my time and I know to translate their descriptions of ‘cosy apartment with leafy outlook’ as ‘cramped space with a view of the overgrown hedge.’

It took me a few goes getting it very wrong before I wised up. For instance a few years a go in London, I optimistically headed to view a flat that was not only ‘cosy’ but also ‘convenient for transport links’ and had ‘park views from the balcony’. I turned up to a high rise overlooking the Vauxhall train tracks at one side and from the fridge-sized balcony (I use fridge as a comparison as it was the object which filled the space as it didn’t seem to fit in the kitchen) I saw a small patch of grass, mostly weeds and littered with syringes, which constituted the ‘park’. Never mind the fact the bedroom walls were painted a dark purple, had bars on the windows, and the access to the entrance was via a stinking stairwell. I decided it was not for me and perhaps I should raise the budget.

Move to Australia and we’ve found the flagrant disregard for accuracy has actually been relatively small. It is more a case of reading between the lines and looking for what they omit rather than what they promote. An apartment may well have lovely views from the balcony but if the drain is backed up in the bathroom, there is mould in one corner and the ‘double’ room fits the bed and nothing else, well, you have to weigh up how important those views are (probably very in that place because let’s face it you’re going to want to spend most of your time outside.)

The last few weeks have been our first experiencing the rental market in Sydney. As a Naval household we were living in a defence apartment but then we got told the lease was expiring and we had to leave. Forward through several weeks of waiting to see if we could get approval to go and rent our own place and finally, we got the go ahead. My days were spent trawling the real estate and domain web pages for listings, hoping to find something in the same area where we have settled and made friends. Prices are astronomical. I thought London was expensive with two-bed flats renting at over $1500 a month but then the same in Sydney can set you back the same price each week.

Rental map

Then there is the application process. The market can be tough, especially as rentals don’t seem to hang around for too long and if there are lots of people wanting to rent the same place, don’t be surprised to find a bidding war on your hands. We were lucky not to get to quite that stage although I think this might be a fairly quiet time to be looking. If it’s a newly renovated property with half decent space, light and airy and in a good location, people arrive, application forms ready to go, to submit to the agent at the viewing. Viewings are mostly done at open house inspections at one set time, for about 15 or 20 minutes and unless you’re on the ball and see a property online and manage to get the agent to show it before the inspection, you can be up against lots of other potential tenants vying for the same property. Then it is down to the agent and landlord as to who they like best and who gets the lease.

Two weeks a go we fell in love with a place. It was large, ridiculously so, with 1930s proportions you don’t get in the more modern units and what they call ‘ocean glimpses’! We were rejected. It’s that word, which stings. You can’t help but take it personally. It turned out the other applicant knew the landlord so we never had a chance but still, we lost out and it was back to the drawing board. Then I came across another place, smaller but from the photographs, filled with light. It was newly listed and the inspection was not even scheduled. I contacted the agent and managed to view it the following day. Perhaps it was being the first in or perhaps it was striking up that rapport with the agent but a few days later we decided to apply and even though another application was submitted, we were the chosen two! Relief – and what is more, an agent who fought our corner and didn’t play games and even pointed out something that needed fixing, rather than glossing over the fact (as often happens) that a cupboard hangs off its hinges or the ceiling is about to fall down.

We have survived our first rental process in Sydney (almost). We still have to sign the actual lease but it’s ours and it was not too painful. For the future, we know it’s all about getting ahead of the game; trying to view places before the inspections, having application forms and ID ready to go and perhaps sometimes, having your husband turn up in uniform to an inspection doesn’t go amiss, well, you know, just a thought…

Curve balls

24 Apr

Life sometimes throws a few curve balls around. They come as a surprise, they can often be unsettling or  they can be viewed as a positive thing. For about, let’s see, almost four months, we’ve escaped unscathed from any curve-balls until I got that phonecall. The one you always risk as a  tenant but one I have so far avoided in all my time renting houses and apartments. It came the other day, the news that the owner wants to move back in and so, we have three months left in the lovely place we’ve called home for the past twenty months. What we do next is wait. The Navy may have other properties, although inevitably not in this area or we may find our own place to rent. Either way, the time has come to move on out and then of course, once we have found somewhere, in a couple of months we also find out James’ next posting so who knows  whether we’ll be on the move again later this year. It’s part and parcel of being married to the Navy but we are viewing this particular curve ball as an opportunity, a chance to find a new place and having twenty month’s worth more knowledge and experience of Sydney than last time, it should make the hunt a little less daunting.

 

 

A little update

22 Mar Sydney Opera House

It seems the great and good of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship have looked through my mountain of paperwork and deemed me a suitable person to reside in Australia PERMANENTLY. I am officially a Permanent Resident; here because someone believes I deserve to be, without need for sponsorship or time limits. Pressure’s on then… Better get proving I’m worthy of their faith in me 🙂

Permanently changeable

23 Jan

Permanence. It means ongoing, ever-lasting, unchanging for an indefinite length of time, forever… It amounts to stability and certainty. Why am I mentioning this? Well, just the other week, it came to my attention that I am now entitled to apply for my permanent residency visa (where did that two years go since first lodging my visa application?!) Also cue lots of thoughts back to the weeks of collating an encyclopaedia’s worth of information documenting the legitimacy of our relationship. So now, I am at that stage again – requesting a police check from the Australian Federal Police, asking friends to make declarations as to the ongoing nature of our relationship and writing our own personal statements about how we financially and emotionally support each other. Fun times ahead. It also struck me then how at the moment, I am not permanent: not in Australia, no longer in the UK and perhaps not even in Sydney (although that all very much depends on James and his work and the next move, which I am sure will be mentioned further down the line.)

It doesn’t really matter. I mean not being ‘permanent’ does not really change anything for me at the moment but it did get me thinking how it would be nice to have something certain and unchanging for a while. We have each other and that of course, will always be the constant, but having no permanent job, not even a ‘permanent residence’ can make the idea of permanence (previously something to be looked down on with derision as boring and unadventurous) suddenly quite appealing.

Even at the start of the year, as I was looking to make myself a permanent resident here, I was further disentangling myself from the UK Inland Revenue, filing my final tax return (which incidentally took five times longer than usual for a poultry four-month period because I had to get my head around what defined ‘non-resident’, ‘ordinarily resident’ ‘non-domicile’ and not to mention split tax-years and remittance claims… I still don’t know so don’t ask.)

So the start of 2013 has been busy: not just with flitting between UK and Australian admin but about looking at finding a route to publication for my novel, looking at a permanent job and looking at longer-term plans and investments for that stability and certainty in our future. It is easier said than done and in itself, quite time-consuming but hopefully will lead to a sense of permanence at some point!

Not that being married to a Naval officer will ever really allow for that and this then begs the question: is there any point applying for the ‘permanent job’ if you’re not hanging around? (And yes, I have had the internal conversation about not living life on ‘what-ifs’.) But it can be hard to really have that focus and motivation to apply for a dream job if you’re going to uproot in the near future. (I’m imagining the interview: Q. ‘And where do you see yourself in five years time?’ A. ‘Um… Maybe not even in this city, or country or…’ Probably not the ‘progressing nicely through the company, taking advantage of training opportunities and blah blah’ answer they were expecting.)

So, a busy few weeks but hopefully constructive and you know, they say a change is as good as the rest and right now, things are well, permanently changing!

Fireworks and reflections

2 Jan

We played a few Christmas songs, I made some mice pies, we decorated our tree, put up the cards and wrapped our presents and so despite the sun blazing through the windows, Christmas Eve was fairly festive. When we woke up on Christmas Day, the sky was grey and the rain started an hour later. It did not stop and so for our second Christmas in Australia we felt quite ‘at home’ in the decidedly British weather, had a roast turkey dinner, watched Christmas films and eventually went for a walk in the rain!

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2012-12-25 17.11.35

2012-12-25 17.24.38

It was our first Christmas in our own home in Sydney and our first (and possibly only) Christmas spent with just each other. We were joined by families via Skype later in the evening but all in all it was a very quiet day. I suppose we did miss some drunken relation falling asleep during the Queen’s speech or the dog eating all the mince pies and a family argument over a game of charades but I suppose there were no risks of typical family tensions. In fact  just to make sure I gave James a book and he gave me a jigsaw so conversation was pretty minimal!

New Year’s Eve was an entirely different affair. The sun was out, it was hot, James’ dad and Lindy had arrived, a feast had been prepared and a group of our friends and their families had assembled at our house for the pre-fireworks barbecue. As usual, there were too many sausages, plenty of beer and as the sun went down we enjoyed a bit of a party on our patio. Then it was an organised procession to the bus and up to HMAS Watson for a view from the wardroom for Sydney’s famous NYE fireworks display. The champagne was flowing and the display did not disappoint.

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It is strange to think we have now had our second Christmas and another New Year in Australia. Last year we were still growing accustomed to life ‘down under’ having only been in the country four months. This year we’re almost ‘old hands’ and have a brilliant bunch of friends to show for it. As usual, New Year is a time when many people look back and reflect on the past twelve months. For us, 2012 was the year of settling and exploring! After a hectic 2011, a year of change and upheaval, this past year has been about establishing a home, a network of friends and some kind of routine. I started the year freelancing and ended the year having written a novel. James started the year on a ship and spending months away at sea and ended it in a shore-based job just a few kilometres from home. Our friends have actually changed very little but we have met some new ones and grown closer to our other ‘less new’ ones!

In 2012 we had visits from my parents, my friend, my sister and currently, James’ dad and step mum. We have had holidays in Margaret River, Jervis Bay and Tasmania. This year we may do a little less travelling but James has several trips away with the Navy and we look forward to a visit back to the UK towards the end of the year. It will inevitably be a busy one, particularly with James’ job this year and hopefully I’ll find something new and try to persevere with getting my novel published. We shall see…

A devil of a time

24 Dec

We weren’t quite ‘driving home for Christmas’ but we were flying –  back from Hobart after a week’s trip to Tasmania. With only half a million people populating this entire island state, we expected it to be a fairly quiet, laid-back place but were not expecting it to be quite so empty. Picture England several decades a go and you have a rough idea of what Tasmania is like.

Our travels from Hobart, up the east coast and back down through Launceston took us through some stunning rolling countryside, beautiful white sand coastlines and picturesque old villages. They say Tasmania is as close to England in Australia as you can get. The scenery was certainly reminiscent of areas of rural England and Scotland, the old English-style villages with their Georgian architecture were also reminders of the ‘motherland’ and yes – even the weather, with one day of rain and a couple of overcast mornings, bore some resemblance to the UK!

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We had hired a campervan for the trip, well camper-car would be a more accurate description, but it had everything we needed, including a fold down sofa-bed in the back, a compact ‘kitchen’ in the boot and the Huntsman spider (perhaps not so necessary and certainly more scary on the first morning.) Fortunately we got to spend our final two nights in Hobart in the relative luxury of a friend’s house because five nights is probably the most you could do on that bed without really testing the relationship…

The iconic Wineglass Bay was our first stop after arriving and the hike up the hillside was worth it for the incredible views.

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We headed north up to the Bay of Fires and at the risk of repeating myself, there were more gorgeous beaches. Then it was on through Bridport and Georgetown, via the Bay of Fires winery for a quick tasting and ending in Launceston.

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We loved Launceston with its Victorian buildings and the old industries, which are still operating along the river such as the James Boags brewery.

The following day our journey took us straight down south via several very quaint villages including Oatlands with its fully working windmill and Ross with its village green, stone cottages and tree lined streets. The things you notice when you’ve left, which epitomise England, are the gardens and hedgerows – and in Tasmania, we saw plenty; proper hedges and even the odd dry stone wall (built by the convicts of course.)

On the subject of convicts, which form a substantial part of Tasmania’s heritage, we drove all the way down to Port Arthur, south of Hobart, a former penal colony where the hardened criminals and reoffenders were sent after being shipped to Australia. Home to some of the ‘most haunted’ buildings in Australia, James and I had to brave the night time ghost tour round the site; standing in the shadows of ruined churches, by the fire place in the lounge of the old parsonage and wandering around the old solitary confinement prison, lit only by lanterns. We saw no ghosts, felt no presences and even had a bit of a laugh at the barely-out-of-school guide who sadly lacked the gravitas you might expect when recounting ghost stories. We may not have had a salty old bearded raconteur but it was definitely atmospheric and quite good fun. We went and saw Port Arthur in the daylight the next morning with the old prison, the Commandant’s house and a boat trip around the bay, passing Isle of the Dead. It was certainly an interesting and worthwhile stopover.

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From a convict settlement and sleeping in campsites, we headed back to Hobart to meet Hugh, a sprightly septuagenarian who met James when he was last in Hobart for a run ashore with a ship. He invited us to stay with him and his wife, Gail, for our final days in Hobart and made us feel very welcome in his home, situated right on the beach at Sandy Bay. He is one of those men who knows everyone and made his fortune in the antiques trade and in various businesses he dabbled in around Australia. He’s a lifelong member of any club you care to name in Tasmania and his runaround is a 1954 Bentley. He has raced in the Sydney – Hobart yacht race more than a dozen times and now he is approaching eighty, he says he is too old to keep up the sailing so has got his pilot’s licence instead.

Gail was a very kind and elegant lady, who apologised in advance but she hadn’t realised we were ‘so young.’ Had she known, she said she would not have invited her recently widowed friend and fellow seventy-year old friends for dinner with us that evening. Still, the ‘oldies’ always have a few stories to tell to be honest, they can probably put away a fair few more than either of us can so it made for quite an entertaining evening.

Salamanca markets are held every Saturday and are a major tourist attraction in Tasmania, being Australia’s biggest outdoor market. When we got down, it was buzzing with two long rows of stalls, selling everything from fruit and vegetables to clothes, pottery and toys. We walked the length of the stalls, picked up some rocky road and a milk jug (!) and headed to the waterfront for fish and chips. That evening, we met up with a few friends who happened to be in Hobart at the same time. In fact in total there were about eight of us who had decided to head to Tasmania just before Christmas and six of us all went out for a few drinks and a meal on our last night. It was a brilliant evening and for us a bit like a pre-Christmas Eve as it is just the two of us for Christmas this year.

On that note, the tree is now up, the house has a few decorations, the mince pies have been made and the presents are wrapped.

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Merry Christmas!

(More Tasmania photos will be posted at a later date!)

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
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