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Posts Tagged ‘family’

We have woken each morning this week to the heavy all-pervading smog of thick smoke.  Not that unusual for this time of the year – they often back-burn the state forests and sometime also on Fraser Island, but this year it is heavier than usual.  The very wet summer last year meant that many of the local sugar cane farmers could not harvest all their crops and were left with a lot of stand-over cane.  This grows thick and full of thrash (outer leaf) to the point where it becomes a thick, matted mess that doesn’t allow the sunlight to penetrate to the ground – and that means that the ground doesn’t dry out.  And the way they deal with it is to burn the cane, something that doesn’t happen too much in a good year much these days.

Hence the smoke.  And of course, where there is smoke, there is increased particles in the air. And of course when this occurs, you get the most amazing red moons rising.  With the full moon this week, the nights were just stunning! 

Reminds me of our trip out from Beijing to the Ming Tombs, with the pink moon just dipping to touch the horizon on our left and the red red sun just having emerged from the horizon on our right!  When we asked our guide about why the sun was red that day, he looked at us most quizzically and said “Today?  The sun is red.  It is always red!” And no matter how much we tried to explain, he could not comprehend that the sun in fact is not red, and that he was always looking at it through a pollution haze.  I felt really sad for him.

Its been a great week.  Monday night saw Don and Catherine visit.  We love their annual stop on their way north or south – they are great company and there are always plenty of travel and family stories to share.  Of course the topic of conversation with any of the family at the moment is the upcoming wedding of Michael and Carline in Jamaica.  We are all frantically trying to find ways to get there!

Last night was our annual fondue party.  Now, this is often a big affair held downstairs with upwards of 6 + fondues and often 30 – 40 guests.  But this year we decided to just go intimate.  So 8 of us sat down first to a Neuchâtel Fondue (cheese fondue to the uninitiated!) then to a Chinoise Fondue (thin slices of meat cooked in broth).  These were followed by a Spiced Dark Chocolate Fondue and a Caramel Fondue (requested by Shayne!)

We dipped sourdough bread and mixed vegetables (mushrooms, asparagus, cauliflower, broccoli, baby sweet corn and potato) into the cheese.  Now, that cheese was the best.  I buy the Fondue blend from Fromart Cheese where they take all the effort out, selling pre-grated, blended packs of  cheese suitable for fondues.  We ate the lot, and yes, we even scraped out that small round disc of baked on cheese from the base!  Then we sat back as chicken, beef and pork simmered away in the broth.  I had made the most amazing chicken stock for the broth earlier – well worth the effort!  These were accompanied with home-made tomato and piquant sauces. Mmmm.  We drowned them with glasses of Vicars Choice Sauvignon Blanc, a lovely Torres Spanish red that I was given for my birthday and an Eaglehawk Cab Sav.

The dessert fondues this year were also great – served with sliced bananas, whole local strawberries at their peak from Boswell Strawberries, marshmallows, cubes of the last piece of pannetonne from last Christmas and for a fun touch, with part mix soft lollies.  Yep, were good – not a single drop of either left!!!  To match them we drank Moscato, some of that magical Francois Peyrot Pear Cognac and more of that rocket-fuel Caol Isla whiskey.

James phoned this morning with another food distributor that sells all the chemicals need to prepare spherical foods – goody goody – more new toys!  And Antony and Amanda are looking forward to Monday when they collect their new car.  Yep, a great week!

And to cap it all off – it is our darling little Mathilda’s first birthday.  I am waiting for Michael to get home from volunteering at the Maryborough Military and Colonial Museum and for Gen to wake up after a nightmare night shift so we can Skype with her and mum and dad, Steph and Felix, loudly singing Happy Birthday.

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Ah yes, Viva la France for a whole host of excellent reasons this week.

Firstly there is the Tour de France.  Fraught with all sorts of calamities this year, nevertheless it continues as one of the premier road races that there is.  The commentary being provided by Australia’s SBS is fantastic, as always!  And the scenery!  Well what can I say – magnifique!  Especially at the moment as they are travelling in the French Alps.  Mmm, many great memories there.

Tuesday saw the arrival of Marion and Xavier, a couple of French nurses on a year out travelling.  Lovely young ladies and a real delight to host.  They began their journey in September last year travelling to New Caledonia to work for a spell before spending time in New Zealand and now Australia.  They want to get to Vanuatu before returning home in September.  Both were working in Paris (ah! Gay Paris!) before they began travelling but both are from regional areas and may not go back to Paris when they return to France.  Xavier hails from the Nantes area and Marion from near Mauléon.

They reported that when they were the only ones alighting at Maryborough the Greyhound coach captain asked why on earth they were getting off here. 
“Why, to see Mary Poppins” was their answer.  How disappointed they were when we told them that they missed the annual Mary Poppins Festival by only a week.  They walked in to town armed with my copy of the new Mary Poppins guide, visiting the Information Centre and then walked the trail, ending up in Queens Park and marvelling at the huge Banyan Tree that fascinates all who see it.

Now, with all that interest in Mary Poppins you would think that they would have seen the movie, but no, Marion had not.  So after a dinner of Beef Cheeks with Polenta, we settled in for a couple of hours and watched the Walt Disney version.  There was Xavier and I humming/singing along with the music much to Marion’s delight.

Once the movie was over I flicked on the Tour for a little while.  It was only when she saw the scenery that Marion admitted to feeling a little homesick just then as it was the first time she had seen any of the alpine scenery since they had left home.

And of course yesterday was Bastille Day!  Viva La France.
So Michael made crepe batter before going to bed on Tuesday night and when I had got back from Rotary and everyone was up and moving we had crepes to celebrate.  Michael also opened one of his prized cans of Foie Gras (given to him by earlier couchsurfers Julie and Rafael).  Well, the girls claimed it was as good as Christmas!  We made hot toast and it wasn’t long before the three of them polished it off.  And then to cap it all off, we finished with Tim Tams and coffee.

Marion said that they found Tim Tams when they were in New Caledonia and the chocolate was very expensive.  And they love them (we don’t find many visitors who don’t).  But they had not drunk their coffee through them before – ah, another wickedly wild Aussie vice for them to take home!  So we now have a few more people to post them to occasionally.

Yesterday Gen cooked dinner Thai style.  A sticky pork on cabbage to start followed by a Coconut Chicken Soup with kaffir lime leaves, chillies and glass noodles – it was amazingly good.  Dessert was strawberries macerated in balsamic served with cream puree. So good!!!  She is becoming quite the great cook.

Finally had a phone call from James this afternoon after playing phone tag for a while.  He says that they are very very busy and that he is looking forward to the wet season when it is quieter.  What the??  Evidently Darwin hosted two US Aircraft Carriers recently with combined crew numbers of 6,000.  As James put it – “We got slammed” – yes, it appears that all the eateries were very busy.  At one point Darwin ran out of milk and it was only the quick thinking of his boss who got in the car and drove somewhere (nowhere is close, so don’t know how far he had to go) to get more supplies, coming back with 400 litres.  The other Coffee Club was forced to close because they had no milk for coffees!  He is otherwise happy and was in high spirits.  When I looked at the phone after we rang off, I realised we had spoken for 56 minutes.  That has got to  be some sort of record.

Another milestone down today as I completed and submitted a funding application to Festivals Australia for a the Fraser Coast Cultural Festival.  Always time consuming, this very competitive program requires quite a lot of work.  Start another two applications tomorrow.  Yes, the work is starting to flow nicely.

Tomorrow also heralds me re-joining the Scouting movement at the District level, going back into the committee as Secretary again.   District Commissioner Carole is coming over to do all the paperwork – should I do the CWA thing and bake a cake.  Might if I have time.

So its now 10:30 pm.  Michael will leave in a few minutes to collect Gen from work.  So I am going to get ready to go and watch / listen to the daily dose of La Tour.  Au revior!  Bonne nuit!

VIVA LA FRANCE!

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When we moved to Queensland in 1990 and our friends back in Sydney complained how cold it was, I used to joke with them “Winter?  I think that was Tuesday last week!”  And then, over the years we acclimatized to the weather up here in God’s country and after 6 years we succumbed and bought a gas heater.  A big one!

At the moment, we are having that type of beautiful winter weather that brings droves of southerners heading to our shores each year.  The last couple of days have had temperatures in the low 20’s with bright sunshine.  If you can keep out of whatever breeze there is, it is warm enough for even us locals to be hunting out our shorts and shunning the long pants and hoodies.

And then the night hits.  The sun is still sliding below the horizon early and it is dark shortly after 5 pm.   When the days are lovely and clear, it usually follows that the nights are clear and bright.  At this time of the year, that also means that the temperatures plummet.  Don’t know just how cold it is here right now at 10:30 pm as I sit here in my heavy dressing gown writing, but I feel like I should go and find my mittens and the mercury is definitely in the single digits.  But there is one advantage – it is great to get into bed under the weight of 3 winter blankets and snuggle deep to get warm – ah yes, winter.  Bring it on!!!

Gen cooked dinner for us tonight.  “A roast” she announced this morning.  When we got home though, it was seared grilled salmon served with marinated prawns and a great mix of veggies – asparagus, carrots, cauliflower, brocollini, zucchini, brussels sprouts and potatoes tossed in parsley and lemon.  Well done Gen.  That was a meal that any great cook would have proudly owned.

Gen had watched the movie ‘Precious‘ with one of her girlfriends last night.  Bugger, I really wanted to see that one, so after dinner she announced that she had borrowed it again from the video store.  What a story.  If anyone can watch this story about a young girl’s triumph over the most belittling upbringing without shedding a tear, then they have a heart of stone.  Now, if only we all had that kind of courage and some warm people to push us when we have doubts, then I have no doubt that the world would be a much better place.  Watch it if you can  it is well worth the look.

So, my notes for a meeting for tomorrow prepared, I’m off to bed to get warm!  Goodnight all.

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When we arrived back and I decided to continue writing, I had not intended that there be huge gaps in the posts.  But then, life happens!  So to try to pick up where I left off . . .

Bethany from California came and went all too quickly.  She had boasted about being the Cupcake Queen on her profile page and in our reply to her request to stay I had tongue-in-cheek issued a challenge.  So she baked her Chocolate Peanut Butter Cupcakes and they were so good that I was happy to relinquish the title.  Those cupcakes were THE best we had ever eaten and there was a genuine battle to have the last one! 

It wasn’t long after she left that we welcomed Raphael and Julie from France.  They arrived on Raphael’s birthday and we had planned a nice dinner.  Last year Michael had become very partial to fois gras and in our correspondence before they arrived I had asked them to bring him a little as it is so expensive here in Australia.  Lo and behold, they turned up with three tins – now, how generous is that!  They stayed two nights with a night on Fraser Island between.

Most of our couchsurfer visitors are heading to or from Fraser Island and every one of them to date has enjoyed the experience. Raphael and Julie were no different.  They had researched eco-friendly tours well and thought they were experiencing a tour with an eco-sensitive company, so were a little disappointed with the air-conditioned, closed windows type of 4WD tour experience that they received where they visited only the main sites that they could have seen on one of the larger bus tours.  Still, the Island itself amazed them and they wished that they could have stayed longer.

Right about that time, I was struck down with a terrible case of shingles that covered half my torso.  Apart from the excruciating pain, I could not concentrate and so, lots of things I enjoy (including writing) were just put on hold.  All in all, I was home-bound for just under a month and it has taken six weeks to feel good again, although there is some scarring from the rash.

At the tail end of all of that Michael’s mum arrived for a visit.  She is always fun to have and we try to spend as much time as we can just enjoying her company and doing fun stuff for the two-week stay.  Of course, we still need to do all the work stuff though, so it required a bit of juggling.

On her first Saturday here, in the most beautiful early winter weather, we took a trip to Gayndah in the Central Burnett area to buy oranges and mandarins.  This used to be an annual pilgrimage for us to buy the sweetest new season oranges, mandarins and lemons.  But with our travels, we had not been out for the last couple of years.  We have had a decent amount of rain in the region this year and for the first time in many many years, the land looked lush and green – really lovely indeed.  We took the back roads out through rural areas where a gathering a 3 or more houses warrants a town name – places like Degilbo, Didcot and Gooroolba!  Bet you can’t find them on too many maps!!!

Anyway, with the boot (trunk) loaded with boxes of citrus fruit for us and our friends we travelled into town for a pie for lunch and then out to Mt Debatable so I could show Michael and Mum Gayndah from on high before we went on to Mundubbera and Eidsvold before again heading for the coast and Gin Gin through the State Forest and via Mt Perry.  It was after dark by the time we got home, tired but happy. 

Then I am back into it, trying to catch up from all that unproductive time.  We manage to squeeze a visit to the movies to see Sex in the City II with Meredith (who had won tickets!)  Not something that I would normally go and see, but it was quite good – witty and cheeky, if not all unbelievable.  Gosh, if we had ever behaved like Kim Catrall’s character Samantha Jones on our trip, I would have expected to be rightly thrown into some dark dingy prison!  Still, good for a laugh and it was nice to catch up with Meredith.

In the middle of her visit, I left for our annual Scrapbooking weekend retreat at Mapleton with Helen and the girls.  Now in our ninth year, this has been expanded to include all things crafty and gastronomic and is more like a girl’s weekend away.  I was very good this year and did not venture out to the markets, or even to have a coffee and cake at one of the amazing little cafes that line the streets of Mapleton, Montville and Maleny.  Instead, I concentrated on condensing more of the Europe photos and in scrapbooking the many postcards that we bought home.  The result was that I got this album completed!  Very satisfying.

While she was here, Mum’s younger sister Poppy suffered a stroke and as they are very close, this devastated Mum.  Just goes to show you that none of us are immune from such episodes – in her mid 70s, Aunty Poppy is otherwise very healthy and fit and has eaten a vegetarian diet for as long as I have known her.  She is recovering well and Mum will visit her in the near future.

At the end of her two-week visit we got into the car for a road trip to Wagga Wagga to visit the latest addition to our family – our ‘new’ little grandson Thomas George.  Well, he is not exactly new, he is actually 10 weeks old (gosh, where did that time go?) and we thought that if we didn’t get down there soon, he might start school without us seeing him as a baby!  Now, for Mum especially this was a mammoth trip.  We left here on the Thursday evening around 5 pm after I got back from working at the Bay and drove on through to Goondiwindi on the Queensland / New South Wales border, arriving at about 11 pm.

On Friday we tried for an early start, but by the time we had breakfast at the motel it was 7:15 am before we got away.  Driving all day with only fuel stops and an hour stop for the most amazing Guiness Pot Pie at the Hog’s Breath Cafe in Dubbo for lunch.  Michael and I agree that this is the best Guiness Pie we have tasted outside the UK!  One other quick stop to see ‘the Dish’ at Parkes (tell you more later). 

We finally pull into the drive at Antony and Amanda’s home in Kapooka just as the rain starts again around 9 pm.  Both the kids are in bed asleep, but it isn’t long before Thomas is awake for a feed and not long afterwards, Izabella (maybe sensing different people in the house) is awake as well.  It is so lovely when she recognises us and runs with open arms – aw shucks, we are suckers for the babes!!!

Thomas is like Izabella as a baby, and then he is not.  While he wasn’t named for anyone in particular, it is nice that he bears the middle names of his two paternal grandfathers (James Thomas and James George).  We did some shopping with Antony and Amanda on Saturday and on Sunday headed to the Botanical Gardens for a miniature train ride and a pony ride for Bella.  Despite the drizzle we crammed a heap in and Bella even got to run around the playground like a crazy whirling dervish!

All too soon, the weekend was over and we were back in the car for the long drive home – straight through this time, all 1,415 kms of it!  Next post I’ll fill you in more on our trip through western New South Wales.

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Well, here we are!
After a year conversing with you all during our travels (www.maria-and-michael-on-the-road.blogspot.com) I have come to miss my daily conversation with the world.

So, here goes . . .

Taking the leap and journeying as we did has made us question how and why we do the everyday of life.  As many of you will know, I resigned from a safe secure job that I loved to take the journey of a lifetime with the love of my life.  That was the first foray into the unknown.  Given the time over, I would have made exactly the same choice – hmmm, a year travelling in Europe or staying in a job where they (the organisation, not the individuals) do not know the value of what they have?  The choice was easy!

So when we arrived back just before Christmas, there was no job to go back to, no plans locked in – just an array of options opening up.  Michael had retired and his superannuation funded our year away, so it is up to me to now generate sufficient income to support us.  I have lodged a number of applications for jobs, interviewed for one (bombed out – probably a psychological thing happening cos I wasn’t sure it was the right job anyway).  You hear how disheartening it is for young people who say that they apply for job after job after job and never hear anything back.  Couldn’t believe it, but that was exactly what has happened to me.  And these were not just any run of the mill job, all were government based, high level jobs!  What hope do our youngsters have?!

So, nothing exciting opening up – ahh, but then a phone call from my previous employer!  Can you write a grant application for us – well, three!  So, there was the final piece of the decision jigsaw falling into place – YES, there is demand for me to establish a small home based business!

And so FUNDING POWER (When your project needs to stand out from the crowd) was born.  And although it is a little slow to start, the jobs are beginning to filter in.  Could be that I might get busy, very very busy!  But this is what I am passionate about, so it is all good.

I’ll talk a little more about it in the coming week and it will eventually have it’s own page.  But suffice to say, I am tickled!  My hours are now mine to plan, my energies now mine to direct.

And good friends Shayne and Vicki bought a pawnbroking shop while we were away and I work with them two days a week at the moment just to make sure that that wolf doesn’t get too close to the door!  I’m telling you – that is a whole new world.  There is another subset of society that is just so different from the mainstream that we have always known.  They have very different priorities and approaches to life.  They reason and rationalise very differently to what I am used to.  I know that I could never live the way they do, but hey – they have little stress!

And lots more has happened too.  Antony and Amanda have moved to Wagga Wagga in New South Wales where Antony is now a cadet trainer.  They welcomed gorgeous Thomas George on April 6, a big little boy weighing in at 8lb 3 0z and 23 inches.  Big sister Izabella (now almost 2.5 years old) has forgotten all about the terrible twos and is revelling in her important new role in life.  The photos of them together are just beautiful.  Amanda’s family travelled down over Easter and were there for the birth.  We will wait until June to go down.

James made a move to Darwin while we were away and is Head Chef at the new waterfront Coffee Club Restaurant in Darwin – and loving it.  Gen is back working at the Telstra Call Centre here in Maryborough and has grown up so much!

After 7 months without ANY rain last year, we have had rain almost non-stop since Christmas.  Lost one of our lime trees and the back yard is just a mass of thriving weed.  Every time Michael sprays, it rains again, so the herbicide has been banned for the moment!

We are getting ready for a few couchsurfers over the coming weeks – kind of keeps us in the mode of learning and sharing.  Oh, and remind me to tell you about the visitors from Kasukabe next post.

Anyway, its late now and as I have to go the Hervey Bay to work tomorrow, I had better sign off and get to bed.  Nice to be chatting with you all again – and welcome back into my world!

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