Monthly Archives: January 2014

The Secrets of Staying on Course

When my parents bought this place, the previous owners left behind a couple of kayaks as well as a small sailboat known as a Laser. We were really stoked because Geoff has kayaked since high school and I’ve also enjoyed kayaking but never had access to one. Back in the day, Geoff was quite the “Solo Man” traversing those very same rapids at Cora Linn near Launceston, Tasmania where the ad was filmed back in 1986. He’s also played competitive canoe polo.

These kayaks have not only given Geoff the chance to get back out on the water but Mister goes out there as well…either with us or by himself.  The bay is very tidal and he can stand up out there even at high tide and at low tide the place resembles some kind of moonscape covered in crab holes and frequently beats to the sound of thousands upon thousands of marching soldier crabs. It’s a great place for him to just get out there and he can go wherever he likes in relative safety and have a freedom and independence we don’t want him having on the road quite yet. Independence which isn’t going to cost him his life.

This kayaking trip was about having some one-on-one time with Mister. I’d spent last Tuesday with Miss. Thursday was chemo and by Friday, I’d wanted to spend some time with him. Going out in the kayak is a great way of spending time together away from all the distractions of the house and we’re in our own little bubble paddling along together. That said, I must admit that I was a little circumspect about going kayaking. It was the morning after chemo and even though I was dosed up on prednisone and feeling pretty good, I still had to be sure we could get back. Even when you’re out there in shallow water, you still need to make sure that your kayak doesn’t become a beached whale and you can still get it home. But Mister is pretty good on the kayak and I thought we’d be right. Besides, Geoff was also home from work on holidays if we needed a Plan B.

We were off to the mangroves, which is a reasonable paddle away. While I was enjoying something of an Australian Huckleberry Finn experience with my boy, his gaze was fixed under the water looking for his big, elusive fish…the Mighty Mullet. He had his net in the back and he was prepared. These days I’m not too sure about catching fish with a hook but so far Mister hasn’t caught anything and I would at least like him to catch one fish. It doesn’t need to be a whopper but it does need to be legal.

As much as I love kayaking, exploring all the nooks and crannies  and getting out there on the water, this trip was so much more than that. It was about being with my son and getting to know him and exploring the channels of his heart, mind and soul and for him to get to know me as well. He was the captain perched at the back of the kayak steering, providing me with paddling advice and being the expert. He was chatting away to me about all sorts (especially the mullet) and it was just the two of us together in our own space without all the usual distractions of home. It was just the two of us out there “in our bubble” on the water. his felt incredibly peaceful and comfortable…lovely!

We were paddling along with the Careel Bay Marina in the distance as our goal. It didn’t take long for me to realise that keeping on track required constant vigilance and that we were constantly correcting our strokes to stay on course. This involved doing a few more strokes on either side. We are just novice kayakers. We didn’t have any grand manoeuvres or techniques. We had to keep our eyes on the bow and on our destination to stay on track. I thought about how easy it would be to drift right off course and how much extra effort is then required to get back on track. It is so much easier to gently correct your position as you go.

I mentioned these navigational observations to Geoff back at home. It soon became apparent that staying on track involves technique as well as focus.

Geoff quickly taught me a couple of strokes:

Sweep Stroke: this is a wide paddle stroke where the kayak turns quite a lot.

Power stroke: This is down the side of the kayak with a more vertical paddle. The kayak doesn’t turn as much but you go further with each stroke.

Support Stroke: If you are starting to fall over, you use the support stroke to regain your balance. You slap the paddle blade flat on the water as hard as you can as though you are killing a spider or a snake. Geoff also offered a word of warning regarding the support stroke: to get the paddle out of the water, you must you must twist the paddle so the blade is vertical and then lift. If you leave it flat and try to lift it, the paddle won’t come out of the water but you’ll fall into the water to join it.

Geoff also enlightened me about the J-stroke which is a complicated canoeing manoeuvre designed to enable you to paddle on one side of the canoe. However, I decided to apply the KISS principle and keep it simple stupid. I figured that I had enough to learn with those 3 strokes without trying to canoe in a kayak.

So what are the life lessons of a Solo Man?

Well, first step, you need a destination. This is where I’m going. No detours. No distractions. No alternatives. This is it.

Plan your journey. What are the pitfalls? What’s the easiest, most direct route?

Then it takes commitment. How are you going to stay on track? Again using the analogy of the kayak, it is the small and little things which add up and ultimately make a difference and get you where you want to go. These also take much less effort than a big, strident gesture. It is definitely much easier to correct your strokes as you go than it is to recover from a major detour…getting lost!

I must confess that I’m very good at detours which from a creative perspective are called taking “the road less travelled”. I am still not entirely convinced that being 100% focused on a single goal or destination is such a good thing. That life is as much about the journey as the destination or as John Lennon put it “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans”. I have found some truly amazing places on these detours such as taking up the violin and we do after all need to be flexible and be open to a bit of divine serendipitous influence. After all, how can God guide and enlighten our path if we don’t let him in.

There definitely needs to be some space between the lines and yet somehow we need to be focused enough.

I guess that’s where balance comes in and that all important support stroke. Making sure we don’t get so extreme that the kayak topples over and we fall out. It’s obviously much harder to recover from a fall.

Personally, I use a weekly check list where I list all these things and every day I need to tick off the tasks. All these little steps add up contributing towards my goals.

This is my list:

  1. Read Bible
  2. Practice Violin
  3. Practice piano
  4. Take calcium drink
  5. Take olive leaf extract
  6. Piece of fruit
  7. Pray
  8. Exercise

These are all those little good intentions which are so easy to forget with the busyness of daily life. I want them to shift from the intentions into actions and help me on my way. I have really noticed how much my violin playing improves when I do my daily 30-60 minutes of practice. These small sessions added up and rewarded me with an A in my Preliminary Exam. It wasn’t a fluke or some raw unnurtured talent. It was perseverance, commitment, passion and consistent hard work. Never giving up even though it was very, very tempting especially with the pneumonia. I didn’t have an easy run at all and yet I succeeded. Not because I’m some amazing superhuman. No. I simply stuck at it day after day in these small little ways and kept going. I kept my eyes firmly focused on my destination and didn’t give up.

You can do it too!

What would you like to change about your life and when are you going to get started?

Geoff and I are now racing against the tide to get out in the kayak.

Come on! Last one in is a rotten egg.

xx Rowena

Day 3: Yeast Pizza from Scratch and Quirky Apple Pie

Day 3- Wednesday 16th January, 2014

It just crossed my mind that I should point out that our kids are currently on their extended summer school holidays which has provided us with the luxury of being able to cook leisurely meals together without having to dash off to after-school activities or manage homework.

Cooking with a view.

Cooking with a view.

Our latest cooking experience has served once again to remind me that doing anything with the kids usually comes with its share of surprises even when I try to stay at least one step ahead of them.

Day 3: Wednesday 16th February we had Yeast Pizza from Scratch for dinner and Quirky Apple Pie for Dessert. We’ve given both of these recipes the thumbs up and will be cooking them again but not both on the same night. They are both rather labour and time intensive and would be better matched up with quicker alternatives.

Still in my PJs late afternoon helping the kids with the dough

Still in my PJs late afternoon helping the kids with the dough

Cooking tonight’s meal proved more stressful than previous nights.

I was definitely being over-ambitious making Pizza and Apple Pie both from scratch on the same night, especially when I have an early start getting to chemo in the morning. It also just occurred to me that I hadn’t cooked either of these recipes before and so I was also on a learning curve along with the kids. That said, they were most fairly simple dishes in themselves but having to explain seemingly steps in intricate detail for the kids and demonstrate how to do things like peel and cut the apple, did complicate things and added significantly to the preparation time.

Dinner ran late and the kids went to bed before Geoff and I sampled the pie. The kids had their for afternoon tea on Thursday after I’d arrived home from chemo.

The cooking plans were further over-stretched by what has become our routine pre-dinner swim in the pool. I had been promising to take the kids for a swim in the pool most of the afternoon but had a nap and their swim just kept getting pushed further out. Unfortunately, this promise was wearing rather thin and looking threadbare by late afternoon when I told the kids we needed to make the pizza dough first. From my point of view this was good planning and time management. The dough could rise while we were swimming but the kids weren’t convinced. They could sense a fob off a mile away but they reluctantly acquiesced.

However, then I remembered that we also needed to make the pastry for the Apple Pie and it needed to go into the fridge for 30 mins to rest. In terms of trying to have something resembling time management, that also meant making the pastry before we hit the pool. By this stage, the kids were staging militant protests. They weren’t happy at all!  My promises had gone from stretched, to threadbare and were now stark naked and I was bluntly accused of “lying”. I immediately leaped to my defence and did some exceptionally fast back-peddling explaining and they caved in. Somehow I was going to take out the Guinness Book of Records title for making the world’s fastest pastry.

I must admit that I was also keen to get into the pool. I’d missed out on my laps on Tuesday and I needed to get them in today. Aside from medical intervention, this swimming is my best shot at improving and conserving my lungs. It is essential.

Of course, with my little apprentice chefs focused on swimming, they weren’t at their enthusiastic or focused best. They were also starting to bounce off the walls a bit too. It was a hot day and they had been cooped up for too long inside to stay out of the sun.

Making the Pizza Dough

Ingredients:

1 sachet of dried yeast (7g)

1/2 teas salt

2.5 cups of plain flour

1 cup of warm water

1 tbl olive oil

Directions:

  1. Sift flour and salt into a large mixing bowl.
  2. Using a pair of scissors, snip open the packet of yeast and add it to the other dried ingredients. Ensure the kids don’t tear the packet open as the yeast will spill everywhere.
  3. Stir the dough with a spoon to mix the ingredients together and use hands and tip the dough onto a floured board. Knead the dough adding flour or water until the dough is dry to touch yet elastic. It needs to look like the dough you see in the pizza shop window.
  4. Place it in a large, deep bowl and put it in a sink with warm water, ensuring the water level is well below the top of the bowl. Leave for around 30 minutes until the dough has doubled in size.

Comments

This recipe came from my Australian Women’s Weekly “Kitchen” Cookbook.

Making the pizza dough is a great educational opportunity to teach the kids about the properties of yeast, its history  and how it works. I found this fabulous web site which does a wonderful overview: http://www.breadworldcanada.com/sciencehistory/science.asp

Hands only Grandma could love!

Hands only Grandma could love!

If you are making the dough with more than one child, I strongly recommend that each child makes their own dough. It was an exceptionally fun, very tactile, creative experience for both children and they loved delving both hands into the flour, kneading the dough and getting the right consistency. They were also quite possessive of their dough and there really wasn’t room for two sets of hands. Grin at the mess and bare it.

Just really make sure they wash their hands well before and after. Mine needed to use the scrubbing brush to get it off. If you are worried about germs, you’re better off buying a pre-made crust or doing it in the bread maker. We’re building up our immunity in this household.

Making the pizza dough was definitely what you would call “an experience”. The dramas began when the kids ripped open the little metallic sachets of dried yeast and the yeast spilled all over the table, chairs and onto the floor. To make matters worse, the balcony doors were open and there was quite a sea breeze and the yeast started to blow everywhere. This naturally made the kids rather upset, not to mention me! It was time to start practicing my deep breathing techniques before I lost my cool.  I am finding throughout this cooking project that the kids manage to do things I’d never even considered. After all, who would think about the yeast blowing away?

DSC_7463

Miss turned sifting the flour into a creative exercise. As she was sifting, she announced: “Pat, pat, pat I’m making a mountain…It’s snowing and I’m at the Snowy Mountains”. She then went on to draw faces in the flour: “Time to make an alien face”.

Such cheap and expressive creative entertainment...and fun!

Such cheap and expressive creative entertainment…and fun!

While I was pursuing culinary excellence, the kids had discovered the age-old wonder of flour, yeast and water and the wonderful squish of dough between your fingers. Miss announced: “No point using a spoon to stir it. Let’s get messy!” Meanwhile, Mister managed to coat his hands in wet, sticky dough. He was having a ball playing with the stuff. It was great entertainment even though it was a very sticky, messy blob bearing no resemblance whatsoever to the neat little ball you see in the pizza shop window.

The Abominable Doughman

The Abominable Doughman

We managed to make the rest of the dough without incident although Mister’s dough was too wet and Miss’s dough was too dry. Go figure? They were made using exactly the same recipe and I oversaw the ingredients. It is another one of those great mysteries of science. This is where a bit of improvisation comes in and knowing what that lump of pizza dough looks like at your local pizzeria and adding water or flour until the consistency looks right.

The dough looks surprising "normal" rising in the sink after all that action from the kids.

The dough looks surprising “normal” rising in the sink after all that action from the kids.

We put the dough in a large bowl in a sink of warm water to help it to rise.

Meanwhile time to make the pastry for the apple pie.

Quirky Apple Pie

I don’t know why I felt such a burning desire to make apple pie with the kids. I’ve never made apple pie before unless you count the one I made in the pie machine recently which was simply puff pastry filled with grated apple sprinkled with brown sugar. It tasted great and was super quick but it was hardly authentic.

The Quirky Apple Pie isn’t what I’d call a traditional Apple Pie either but at least we’d made the pastry from scratch and it was baked in the oven with real apples. Geoff said it reminded him of his mother’s apple crumble recipe and with all the brown sugar and cinnamon in this recipe, that’s more the flavour we experienced.

Choosing a recipe for our Apple Pie was quite a stressful, confusing business. There are millions of recipes out there and I just wanted to get it right the first time. I didn’t want to go on some crazy apple Pie baking crusade spending the rest of my life trying that elusive perfect recipe…the Holy Grail. Life’s too short. I was intending to make a more traditional English style Apple Pie, however, I came across a pie plate at the Red Cross Op Shop in Avalon and it had a recipe printed onto the dish. This seemed like a bit of fortuitous serendipity to me. It was meant to be. This would be our Apple Pie.

However, upon closer inspection, it turned out that the recipe didn’t include a pastry recipe so I needed to consult Google on the fly ensure I had all the required ingredients. The kitchen here is very rudimentary.

Pastry for our Apple Pie:

1 3/4  cups plain flour

1/2 cup  self-raising flour

185g unsalted butter, chilled, cut into small pieces

1/3 cup caster sugar

1 egg

1 tablespoon chilled water

Directions

  1. The kids need to measure and carefully slice off 185g of butter making sue they  keep the knife straight to ensure measurements are accurate. This proved tricky.
  2. Beat egg and chilled water together with a fork.
  3. Combine all ingredients in a food processor until a dough is formed.
  4. Adult removes the blade and the child can scoop the pastry out with a large spoon and transfer it to a bowl or plate.
  5. Divide the pastry into 2 balls one larger than the other. The larger ball will form the base and the small one will be the top. I asked Miss to put some flour over the pastry. In keeping with the pizza making efforts, however, she buried the pastry in a blizzard of flour so you need to emphasise that the children only use a little bit of flour…a dusting. I pulled out the cling wrap and passed it to Miss who wrapped the pastry up. While she made a comment about “not being a very good wrapper”, she did a great job.
  6. Keep handling of the pastry to a minimum and keep it as cool as possible. Pastry doesn’t like hot weather.
  7. Refrigerate the pastry for 30 minutes.
The difficulties of cutting the butter in a straight line.

The difficulties of cutting the butter in a straight line.

The pastry is ready to go in to the fridge. Hadn't noticed my paint brushes on the bench...oops!

The pastry is ready to go in to the fridge. Hadn’t noticed my paint brushes on the bench…oops!

Swimming Time!

So we were now at the stage where we had the pizza dough rising in the sink and the apple pie pastry chilling in the fridge. It was finally time for our swim. We really didn’t have time for a swim but I’d promised and promised and promised. The kids really love our time together in the pool. They were racing me as I did my laps and instead of the piggybacks I gave them the other day, I was their dolphin and they sat on my back while I largely swam underwater. I did my 20 laps and also played mermaids with Miss and raced Mister. I am quite amazed at what was possible despite my muscle weakness and dodgy lungs. Surely, the treatment has to be working?!!

 Back to Dinner…Pizza Time!

Ingredients

Pizza dough

Tomato paste or pizza sauce

Teaspoon of crushed garlic per pizza

Grated mozzarella cheese

Diced leg ham

½ tin of diced pineapple

½ punnet cherry tomatoes

2-3 slices of wasabi cheese sliced into small cubes about 5mm across

Fresh rosemary

Roasted diced sweet potato

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 200 °C.
  2. Grease 2 x pizza trays with spray oil.
  3. 3.       As each child had made their own pizza dough, we had enough dough for two thick-crust pizzas…one for the kids and one for the adults. The kids had a Ham and Pineapple Pizza and Geoff and I had Ham & Veggie Pizza with Wasabi Cheese. As we didn’t have a rolling pin, the kids simply pressed the dough into the tray.
The kids' Ham & Pineapple goes into the oven

The kids’ Ham & Pineapple goes into the oven

Kids’ Ham & Pineapple Pizza

  1. Spread the tomato paste and crushed garlic over the top of the pizza base until well covered.
  2. Sprinkle the mozzarella cheese over the top until it is about 2cm thick.
  3. Scatter the pineapple over the top of the cheese. Make sure the pineapple is spread evenly across the base to ensure good coverage.
  4. Dice leg ham into 1-2 cm cubes and spread them evenly across the base again ensuring good coverage.
  5. The kids sprinkled a layer of grated mozzarella cheese about 2 cm thick over the top and then scattered about 125g of pineapple pieces over the top as well as pieces of leg ham. Had to remind them to spread the toppings evenly over the top. That went into a hot oven for roughly 15 minutes. Aside from making the base too thick and giving it more of a foccacia appearance it went well.
The Parents' Pizza

The Parents’ Pizza

Parents’ Pizza

Geoff and I had ham, roast sweet potato, cherry tomatoes, grated mozzarella and small cubes of Wasabi cheese on ours.

Kids' Pizza

Kids’ Pizza

The Results

The pizzas turned out very well. The base of the kids pizza was too thick and more like foccacia but aside from that it went well. There was plenty leftover for lunch on Thursday for Geoff and the kids while i had my hospital sandwich.

Back to the Apple Pie…Apple Pie Filling

Ingredients:

1.5 tablespoons white sugar

1.5 teas cinnamon (original recipe had nutmeg)

4 large granny smith apples (the green ones)

¾ cup light brown sugar

2 tablespoons of butter (60g)

2 tablespoons of plain flour

¼ to ½ cup of grated cheese

  1. 1.     Directions:
  2. Pre-heat oven to 200°C.
  3. Grease a deep 9 inch pie plate with spray oil.
  4. Take the larger ball of pastry. As we didn’t have a rolling pin, we simply pressed the pastry into the pie dish. However, when I pressed the pastry into the pie dish, I forgot that the recipe for the apple filling was printed on the surface so I hastily had to excavate and retrieve it. It was a hot day and the pastry didn’t like being handled but it survived.
An impromptu scavenger hunt searching for the recipe through the pastry.

An impromptu scavenger hunt searching for the recipe through the pastry.

5.Sprinkle the top of the pastry with white sugar mixed with a dash of cinnamon.

6.In a large mixing bowl, add brown sugar, flour and 1 teas cinnamon.

7.Peel apples and cut into quarters and remove the core. Slice each quarter into 3-4 slices. I gave each child an apple to peel. Peeling the apple took a bit of patient effort but after a few demonstrations and “can’t do it”, they both succeeded but it was quite a slow process. I tried Mister out on cutting the apples. He couldn’t cut through the apple but managed to cut the halves into quarters but then he cut his finger. Realised I shouldn’t have given him this knife and he should have had something like a standard dinner knife. Wanted to see how he managed. I peeled and sliced the rest of the apples.

8.Add sliced apples to the flour and sugar mix. Toss together with a spoon until the apples are coated by the mix.

Just look at all those scrumptious apples with all that seductive brown sugar.

Just look at all those scrumptious apples with all that seductive brown sugar.

9.Add the apple mix to pastry. Arrange the apples slices so they sit as flat as possible to conserve space. The top layer of pastry just managed to stretch across the top of the apples.

10.Cut the butter into bits and dot the apples with the butter.

Rolling out the pastry using Geoff's bottle of wine.

Rolling out the pastry using Geoff’s bottle of wine.

11.As I mentioned before, we didn’t have a rolling pin to roll out the top so I decided to improvise. Geoff had a bottle of wine on the bench. I coated it in plastic wrap and used it to roll out the pastry with a bit of assistance from Miss. The pastry broke into a few pieces and I wasn’t sure that there was going to be enough to deal the top but we just made it. It actually looked quite respectable… rustically homemade. Not a perfect job but it was good enough.

12.This recipe says to sprinkle the top of the pastry with grated cheese. Now, this seemed a bit odd but it is a bit of a Canadian thing to add cheese to apple pies so I thought I’d give it a try.

13.Put the pie into the oven at 200°C for 30-45 minutes and said a few prayers. It all seemed pretty dodgy to me. Did not feel at all confident that this pie was going to work out at all. Geoff wasn’t too encouraging either. Thought I should pre-cook the apples.

The Results

Our Quirky Apple Pie is finally done.

Our Quirky Apple Pie is finally done.

Despite all my misgivings, I was absolutely stoked with the results. The pie totally exceeded my expectations. It certainly wasn’t your conventional English Apple Pie due the brown sugar and butter content which gave in a flavour similar to Apple Crumble, which we all loved. The apples were quite firm and Geoff felt could’ve done with a quick zap in the microwave but I liked that and when we reheated it today, the consistency was great.

We will definitely be making the Quirky Apple Pie again.

Tomorrow night, Geoff and the kids will be cooking Roast Lamb and veggies. This seemed like a quick and easy meal while I’m recovering from chemo.

Inspired by an Astronaut- Life Lessons from Daddy.

Life lessons seem to be contagious around here and why not? We’re a switched on family. Well, at least we’re as switched on as anyone else you’ll find out there only too willing to tell you how to live your life!

Well, now Geoff’s jumped on the bandwagon and as usual has completely dwarfed all my efforts. He struck the jackpot. He found the life lesson of life lessons to pass onto our son and for once it seems it went in one ear and actually somehow managed to stick inside of his brain…at least for now. I’m going to type the story up and stick it on his bedroom wall right where he can see it along with a photo of Astronaut Chris Hadfield if I can find one. I might just have to send off a request.

Geoff is currently reading Chris Hadfield’s: An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth.  You might have seen Chris Hadfield on youtube singing his great hit: Space Oddity…a tribute to David Bowie’s legendary space song: Space Odyssey:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KaOC9danxNo

He’s also been featured on 60 Minutes. He’s an incredible guy, which of course, all astronauts are. They are some kind of supreme being having been among the very privileged few who have viewed our beautiful planet from space. The rest of us can only dream and surf the net for second-hand views.

I hope I don’t get busted for breach of copywrite or anything nasty like that but I found Chris Hadfield’s reflections so inspiring for kids that it is worth the risk.

It was July 20, 1969 and Chris Hadfield and his brother had just seen Neil Armstrong land on the moon. He writes:

“Slowly, methodically, a man descended the leg of a spaceship and carefully stepped on the surface of the moon. The image was grainy, but I knew exactly what we were seeing: the impossible, made possible…Later, walking back to our cottage, I looked up at the moon. It was no longer a distant, unknowable orb but a place where people walked, talked, worked and even slept. At that moment, I knew what I wanted to do with my life. I was going to follow in the footsteps so boldly imprinted just moments before. Roaring around in a rocket, exploring space, pushing the boundaries of knowledge and human capability – I knew, with absolute clarity, that I wanted to be an astronaut.

I also knew, as did every kid in Canada, that it was impossible. Astronauts were American. NASA only accepted applications from US citizens, and Canada didn’t even have a space agency. But…just the day before it had been impossible to walk on the Moon. Neil Armstrong hadn’t let that stop him. Maybe someday it would be possible for me to go too, and if that day ever came, I wanted to be ready.

I was old enough to understand that getting ready wasn’t simply a matter of playing “space missions” with my brothers in our bunk beds, underneath a big National Geographic poster of the Moon. But there was no program I could enrol in, no manual I could read, no one even to ask. There was only one option, I decided. I had to imagine what an astronaut might do if he was 9 years old, then do exactly the same thing. I could get started immediately. Would an astronaut eat his vegetables or have potato chips instead? Sleep in late or get up early to read a book?

I didn’t announce to my parents or my brothers and sisters that I wanted to be an astronaut. That would’ve elicited approximately the same reaction as announcing that I wanted to be a movie star. But from that night forward, m dream provided direction to my life. I recognised even as a 9-year-old that I had a lot of choices and my decisions mattered. What I did each day would determine the kind of person I’d become.”

You read this and you can understand how he reached his goal. That’s incredible insight for a 9-year-old.

Geoff read this out to Mister and half-way through Mister said: “I can become an astronaut”. Geoff kept reading. Mister had the right answers. He knows what he needs to do.

Now, this story has particular relevance to Mister because he is also 9 years old. It was priceless for him to hear such wisdom from a peer, another 9 year old boy who had since gone on to reach his impossible dream and be an astronaut in space.  That is certainly worth far more than a mountain of talk from his Mum or Dad. Geoff and I were both so thrilled to be able to pass this onto our son. A legacy far greater than gold.

Today, I asked Mister what he wanted to be and he muttered his reply so quickly I couldn’t understand him. I asked him to speak more clearly. There was much excitement and animation in his voice as he replied:

“I have to talk really fast. There are 600 things I want to do and I only have three minutes to talk. ”

It looks like he’s taking after his Mum.

xx Rowena & Geoff

Reference:

Chris Hadfield: An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, Macmillan,  London, 2013, pp 3-4.

Day 2- Atlantic Salmon and Salad

Tuesday 14th January, 2014

Atlantic Salmon with Salad

Whoever mentioned the health benefits of omega 3 forgot to disclose the price tag…$26.00 for three somewhat modest fillets to feed our family of four. For that sort of money, I’d be wanting the whole fish and its mate included. I was mighty thankful, therefore, that our kids only peck at their food like sparrows and aren’t ravenous teenagers yet. Otherwise, we’d be taking out a second mortgage (Geoff said we still might have to stick our cap out on the street after my visit to the op shop. My claims that I was actually “saving money” fell on deaf ears!!)

Although I flinched at the cost and almost went into cardiac arrest, I re-directed and focused on how this miracle fish bursting with omega 3 was going to save my life. After all, I am on chemo and I have a nasty auto-immune disease which has flared up. I need to be very, very healthy indeed. Health is my new mantra. This fish was literally what the doctor ordered.

As the salmon only needed a very quick pan fry, we started off by making the salad.

Here’s a rough recipe:

Snow Pea Salad

Approximately 2 handfuls of snow peas strung and sliced into thirds

Diced sweet potato roasted

Cherry tomatoes sliced in half

Grated carrot

Grated cheese

Small cubes of Wasabi cheese 5mm wide.

I started Mister off on grating the carrot. Grating always seems simple enough to me and yet the kids struggle with it. It was yet another instance where I came to realize how much the kids still have to learn and the importance of patience and a supportive, guiding hand on my part. Of course, Mister complained about grating his fingers and I repeatedly had to show him how I held the carrot with my fingers up the top with the top of the carrot pressing against the palm of my hand. Then I noticed the grater sliding around the chopping board in his left hand and reminded him to hold it down so it wouldn’t slip around. More than once Mister said he couldn’t do it but I showed once again and he had another go…persistence! He was all smiles and his growing confidence shone like the sun.

Next we moved onto the snow peas. Last night it was Miss’s turn and tonight Mister was having his lesson with the snow peas. Once again, I had to explain how to find the string. This can get a bit tricky and even I can’t find the string on every snow pea. I’ve never really looked so closely at a snow pea before to work out where all the bits are. Anyway, the string is on the side which has the peas in it, not the flat side.

Then slice the snow peas into thirds. I recommended cutting about 4 snow peas together at a time to speed things up. Mister was looking to cut up one snow pea at a time into fairly small pieces.

Miss had it fairly easy slicing the cherry tomatoes in half.

Couldn’t buy a ripe avocado for our salad tonight. Apparently, the avocado I bought will be ready for Friday.

The advantage of this salad is that if there are bits which the kids don’t like, you can do an adult version after you have dished up for the kids. We added small squares of Wasabi cheese and diced roasted sweet potato to ours. When I am organized, I try to keep roasted sweet potato and pumpkin in our fridge. It keeps for a few days and you can add it to so many meals. To roast it up, I simply spray the tray with oil or use olive oil add some crushed garlic and toss the pieces around in the oil and bake at 200°C. Easy peasy!

This salad would also be great with some roasted macadamia nuts and some olives.

Atlantic Salmon

I cooked Atlantic Salmon for the first time last week. It was a bit of a daunting process. You could say that fish was fish. Mum just coats both sides in flour and then cooks it up in a hot pan with butter. However, Atlantic Salmon seemed a bit special and so I wasn’t sure quite how to cook it. Mum was busy cooking dinner for the kids at the time and so I resorted to Google instead. That recommended a very quick 5 minute fry on each side and it was cooked to perfection.

Last week when I was on my own, I had ordered the somewhat cheaper steaks and the bones were a hassle. This week, however, I ordered the bone-free fillets to keep Geoff and the kids happy. These fillets were quite thick and a challenge to cook. Geoff likes everything cooked to well done and raw patches wouldn’t go down well at all with him although I didn’t want to destroy it either. Salmon does seem a little delicate.

Each of the children rolled their piece of fish in flour and dropped it in the pan. I cooked it on the hotplate in my Dad’s grilling frying pan with plenty of butter. Cooked skin side down first. Cooked each side and turned down the heat to cook it through. It was perfect. Served it with fresh lemon juice. Miss added tartare sauce which was a bit disrespectful. Even Geoff said he liked it and he’s not much of a fish eater so that was quite encouraging.

Somewhere around dinner time, the sun started to set across the bay and I couldn’t help reaching for the camera to capture the golden sun setting behind the gum trees. It is also around sunset that the local cockatoo population goes crazy and starts doing kamikaze laps overhead squawking and screeching in a dreadful chorus.

So it seems that we have now passed the fish test. Tomorrow night, we will be cooking pizza from scratch and from scratch I mean using dried yeast and watching the dough rise the old-fashioned way in a sink filled with warm water instead of using the bread maker. I thought the kids would enjoy watching the dough rise. I’ve always loved it. Another moment to share with the kids although I have to be honest that writing up about our cooking project is taking up a lot of time that I should actually be spending with the kids.

We will also be baking an Apple Pie.

I’ll looking forward to our next culinary adventure.

Xx Rowena

Monday Night: Getting Started

Day 1- Monday 13th January, 2014

Lamb Chops with Snow Pea Salad and Roast Potatoes.

As everybody knows, Monday is always D-Day. No! You can’t change your life or turn over a new leaf on a Tuesday, a Wednesday or especially a Saturday. No! Everybody knows that your new life can only begin on a Monday. If you forget to get started, slip up, break the rules or totally crash and burn, everybody knows that you have to wait a full week before you try again. It’s an unwritten code…an understanding. A new life can only ever begin on a Monday.

I learned these life principles going on “diets” and have since discovered that the Monday rule applies to all life changing goals.  Monday is a new day…a clean slate. It’s like you somehow become an entirely new person and all your weaknesses and foibles are gone. You can do anything and even achieve the miraculously impossible. Scientists might disagree but I’m sure there’s even some change to your very DNA but only on a Monday.

Well, this Monday my “Teach the Kids How to Cook” project went into full swing after a bumpy introduction or preamble over the weekend.

Our first dinner was going to be relatively simple:

Lamb Chops

Salad

Roast potatoes

Roast Sweet Potato

A cutlet smile from a cheeky lad.

A cutlet smile from a cheeky lad.

I’m not going to go into the ins and outs of cooking lamb chops. That’s straight forward although we did add some rosemary from the garden. It was the kids’ job to go and pick the rosemary and this provided them with a bit on an introductory lesson on herbs. There are a couple of huge rosemary bushes here so we are rather blessed with vast supplies which we can generously add by the handful.

The focus of this cooking exercise was making the salad. It is summer time here in Australia so it is essentially salad season. Learning to make any kind of salad has been an extensive learning curve for me over the last couple of years. While I did grow up with coleslaw and a rather exotic (at least for the 1970s) mandarin salad which my grandfather made, salad was an iceberg lettuce, tomato and cucumber drowned in some kind of dressing. I haven’t really mastered lettuce. I tend to feel that I look at the stuff and it shrivels up and dies. Consequently, our salad was based more on snow peas which we strung and sliced into thirds. It was challenging getting the kids to string the snow peas and having to work in slow motion to explain where to find the string and how to pull it off. As adults we do all these things on auto-pilot but for the kids, these activities need to be broken into much smaller nibble bites so they don’t just give up with an “I can’t do it”.

Our avocado was perfectly ripe and ended up becoming a sort of dressing over the snow peas.

Cherry tomatoes were cut in half and added to the salad.

At home I would have added some balsamic vinegar but we didn’t have any and with the avocado, the salad didn’t need it.

Both kids asked for more salad and were fighting over the dregs. That is very encouraging. My kids are not great eaters.

We also had roast potatoes. I boiled up about 6 potatoes in their jackets for 10 minutes in the microwave. At home, I would then squash and roast these in the sandwich press or waffle machine with a minimal amount of oil but I was a bit naughty and fried them up in the chop pan with more rosemary. I was using a special griller pan with a ridged surface where the fat drains away from the cooking surface so it wasn’t perhaps as unhealthy as it sounds. I cut each potato in half and roasted the skin-free side. Yum.

While I was in a chopping and roasting kind of mood, I peeled and diced a sweet potato and roasted it at 200 degrees in the oven with some rosemary and crushed garlic. You can spray the tray with oil or drizzle with olive oil and I usually use baking paper to reduce cleaning. Our kids don’t like sweet potato and I don’t always push the point. Tonight, Geoff and I had ours hot with a bit of honey drizzled over the top. I made a mental note that macadamia nuts would also go well with this. The idea with the roast sweet potato is to keep a container of it in the fridge to add to salads and Wednesday night’s pizza. I love such quick and easy nutrition.

Congratulations Rowena and kids. You have passed the Monday test. You can proceed to Tuesday…Atlantic salmon and salad.

Welcome to Rosemary

Monday 13th January, 2014

Teaching the children how to cook is just as much about learning about the ingredients as the processes…the “how to”. We used rosemary in the lamb chops in Monday night’s meal and on the potatoes and sweet potatoes. I wouldn’t add it to everything but I do like my rosemary and have killed many bushes at home through over-zealous picking. This provided a great opportunity to introduce the kids to “Rosie”.

The kids with the monster-sized rosemary bush and cobwebs.

The kids with the monster-sized rosemary bush and cobwebs.

I have always loved growing herbs and as a child was quite attracted to their fragrant leaves and medicinal properties. I brewed up special rosemary “shampoo” which was supposed to give my hair added fragrance and shine. It was also fun.

As much as parents like to introduce their kids to the fun of growing your own veggies, I am also keen to introduce the kids to herbs.

A solitary flower on our rosemary bush. The neighbour's bush is covered in flowers.

A solitary flower on our rosemary bush. The neighbour’s bush is covered in flowers.

Herbs aren’t just about eating. There is also the mythology, symbolism, history. In Australia, sprigs of Rosemary are worn on ANZAC Day as a sign of remembrance to our fallen soldiers. But historical references date back. According to one legend, the rosemary bush opened to hide the Virgin Mary and the infant Jesus from King Herod’s soldiers. Another legend says that during the flight of the Holy Family to Egypt, Mary threw her blue cloak over a bush of rosemary when she lay down to rest, and ever since, in her honor, the flowers have been the heavenly blue  of her mantle[1]. Historically, rosemary was also connected with love and was always worn at weddings and a sprig of rosemary was thrown into the grave “for remembrance”.

On a more serious note, according to Wikipaedia, rosemary is high in iron, calcium and vitamin B6,[13] 317 mg, 6.65 mg and 0.336 mg per 100 g, respectively.[14] Rosemary extract has been shown to improve the shelf life and heat stability of omega 3-rich oils, which are prone to rancidity.[15] (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosemary.

I found this little excerpt in Australian Town & Country Journal, Saturday 16th February, 1901 p 44:


[1] The Land Friday 25th December 1953 p 18.

Teaching the Kids How to Cook

If you have been following my blog, you will know that I am currently having chemo to treat a rogue auto-immune disease. The chemo is going well and apart from some fatigue, I am largely feeling quite well. I am also starting to feel that the treatment is working and that my lungs are slowly improving…at least a bit. I’m still walking. Still breathing. Yesterday, I was bouncing around in the pool with the kids giving them piggyback rides. I certainly don’t look sick at all!

While chemo is going so, so much better than expected, it has been very thought provoking time and my entire life has ended up on the dissection table. Where am I going? What is important? What stays in and what goes out? It has been very intense at times.

However, while I’m naturally concerned about managing my own life and health, the kids are virtually my all-encompassing consideration. Mister is almost 10 and Miss is almost 8. They are too young to be faced with losing their Mum. That said, they’re not as young as they were. I’ve almost been fighting this disease for 8 years and am thankful for each and every extra year that we have together. Thankful that they are older, stronger, more independent and more likely to remember Mummy than the year before. This isn’t a morbid thing. It actually makes me really appreciate life more as well as the need to carpe diem seize the day. Squeeze each and every last drop out of everything. No waste! We really enjoy life most of the time.

Yet, while there is every likelihood that I’ll get through this crisis and be fine enough, the shadow is still there.  I feel very strongly that I owe it to Geoff, the kids and also to my parents to have my shit at least somewhat sorted out. I don’t just want to leave them in the lurch and make any bad outcomes any worse than they need to be. We all need to be somewhat prepared for when that mythical bus finally comes to get us and I want to leave a legacy, some memories, something for them to hold onto and not just an empty space. That is really, really important to me and I believe even more important for them!

Just before I was diagnosed with dermatomyositis 6 years ago, I read a book called Letters to Sam by Daniel Gottlieb, which was a series life lessons written in a letter format to his grandson. I was incredibly moved by this book and inspired to write something similar for my kids. I pounded the keyboard and wrote something like 40,000 words stopped and walked away. I decided it was crap which was probably me just being overly critical again although I had also read The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran and he put things so beautifully that anything else seemed quite redundant. Besides, I went into remission and it seemed like life lessons could wait. I’d become immortal!

With my recent health setback, I was more concerned about the practicalities of life rather than philosophical issues. After all, not all life lessons come in a book. They’re also hands on and tactile, developing our bodies as well as our minds.  I realized that the kids needed to become independent, responsible and stand on their own two feet and that cooking teaches these skills. These are skills they need to develop regardless of my health status. After all, cooking and cleaning up after yourself are essential, survival skills.

The further I progressed, the more I came to appreciate that cooking actually covers a whole range of life lessons. Cooking teaches the kids how to:

  1. Plan an activity.
  2. Follow procedures.
  3. Listen to instructions and follow through.
  4. Learn by example.
  5. Time management
  6. Work as a team
  7. Experiment
  8. Clean up after themselves.
  9. Have fun!

They also learn about the ingredients, their nutritional values and how they work together (or not).

Cooking and food preparation, also teaches them about their own bodies and how they operate and how food establishes and maintains good health, preventing disease. It also teaches them about the environment, preventing waste and issues like ethical food production and reducing food miles.

For our family, meal time is also a time of prayer when we give thanks to God and also pray for people in need.

Another huge bonus is that we are cooking together and bonding as we go. As the kids gain new skills, their confidence increases and they feel I trust them. That I believe they can do it and that goes a long way in helping them believe in themselves.

I am the chef and they are my eager apprentices. They love it and are keen to help, be included and have fun!

I never realized the simple act of cooking a meal could be so educational!

The cooking project has evolved as I’ve gone along. What started out as a desire to share special family recipes evolved into teaching them how to bake basics like Chocolate Crackles. As I faced chemo, I realized that they really needed to learn to cook nutritious meals, not just cakes. Life had taken on a more serious tone.

However, like most of my “educate the kids projects”, I had to bring myself up to speed before I brought them onboard. After all, I had to provide clarity, direction and leadership. I need to have clear directions in mind and know where we’re heading. This cooking project was never going to work as some horrible variation of Blind Man’s Bluff. That would only lead to fights, frustrations and destruction. The outcome would be negative instead of positive.

I had a lot to learn! Although I am a good cook especially when it comes to baking, I’ve been sick for quite a long time and my cooking has ended up in an extremely narrow rut. Every time I visit the butcher, I stare blankly at what really is a smorgasboard of choice and order chicken schnitzel or a leg of lamb yet again. My niece recently shared her secret of roasting boiled potatoes in the waffle maker and that’s bailed me out too. I also keep peas and corn kernels in the freezer which have been a salvation as well. As bad as things have been, I’ve never resorted to tinned spaghetti and there’s always been the local Thai takeaway. They know us well and produce a good, nutritious meal! We’ve also been given a few meals too thank you very much!

Back to the Cooking Project.

Step one…planning.

Last week while the kids were at my parents’ place, I started the preparation process. I went searching for recipes and expanding my own horizons. It’s seems that in the many years since I last really went looking for meal ideas in recipe books (in contrast to baking which I’ve steadily maintained), the whole landscape of Australian cooking has changed. In my day, the Australian Women’s Weekly had an international cooking series where each nationality was kept distinctly separate. Italian was in the Italian book. French in the French book and Chinese in the Chinese book. Thai was a relative late comer to the series. They’ve recently put out a recipe book called Kitchen where the recipes are organized by cooking utensil. Under “The Saucepan” for example it includes: Beef Massaman Curry, Lamb Meatball korma, Baked Pumpkin and Spinach Risotto and Fettucino Alfredo all in the same chapter with all the nationalities mixed together under the unwritten banner of “modern Australian”. Don’t get me wrong. This is a great development. Australian society isn’t always such an integrated, cultural melting pot but it does show me that we’ve come a long way!

I developed a menu for the week, which has needed to become more flexible after my Dad bought us some chops and we’ve been out to dinner as a family and had a friend over for a rather unhealthy lunch of fish and chips. A friend also popped over with four of her kids and her daughter largely made the pancakes for lunch with me so that was another variation on a theme. Hmm…flexible focus. I’m learning on that front as well.

Here is our proposed menu for the week:

Monday night: chops and salad.

Tuesday night: Atlantic salmon and salad

Wednesday night: Pizza from scratch with Salad and Apple Pie for dessert.

Thursday night: Roast lamb with roast veggies (this is my chemo night).

Friday night: Lamb salad.

Saturday lunch: pancakes. We serve these with grated apple and I quite like blueberries as well.

Stay tuned.

Best wishes,

Rowena xx

Flirting with Elise

Although we never quite said: “I do”, my violin and I have had an unspoken understanding that we were together. That it was just the two of us and I had forsaken all other instruments. That I was done with the piano and had well and truly moved on.

That is, of course, aside from my occasional and very brief flirtations playing Moonlight Sonata on Mum’s grand piano when I visit my parents’ place. The piano was a memory, a relict from my past. While it’s nice, the piano has never spoken to me, connected with me or lit my flame the way the violin does.

However, life often has a habit of taking me by the hand and leading me along different and often deeply shaded garden path when I was just minding my own business happily heading somewhere else. Some people would call this “distraction” but as John Lennon sang in “Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)”: Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

While I’m still loyal to my violin, the piano and I are now having something of an affair, a flirtation, a dalliance. Perhaps, even a come back.

Yesterday, while I was at the op shop in Avalon, I found an old vintage copy of Beethoven’s Fur Elise. Suddenly, in the words of Martin Luther King: I had a dream. I was going to master Fur Elise over the holidays.

While I had learned it many, many years ago and am not starting from scratch, this is still a fairly ambitious project and I’m already rather inundated with projects at the moment especially when you consider that I’m currently going through chemo. This should probably be a time of rest and relaxation and certainly not taking on more.

At the same time, it feels good to practice, improve and feel myself starting to succeed. That sense of achievement might even be more important than ever at the moment when I am feeling quite overwhelmed at times and so much is beyond my control. I can sit down at the piano and repeat and repeat and repeat those notes and there’s noticeable improvement. I have no idea whether or not the chemo is working and while I’m doing exercise and eating healthy, I don’t know whether they are helping either. I need something a bit more concrete.

While all these medical things are up in the air at the moment, we all know that practice makes perfect. The more I practice Fur Elise, the better I get. It’s not just a matter of talent. You have to apply yourself. When it comes to the medical world, these types of certainties just don’t exist. My disease is such a mystery, an unknown. The lines of Fur Elise on the other hand are so well-known, reassuring, predictable. I know what’s happening. I understand that certainty and being in control has only ever been an illusion but that illusion fitted like a glove and I was comfortable…at peace.

Fur Elise seems to be pondering some sort of imponderable question as well going over those same phrases over and over again like trying to remember something. Find something that’s been lost. It’s like the waves of the ocean constantly rolling towards the shore in their rhythmic, predictable way so unlike the twists and turns of life.

Even after all these years, I still don’t know who Elise was aside from my piano teacher’s teenaged daughter.

Given our new relationship status, perhaps, it is time I found out.

/

Chemo Sonata

Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata is almost fused to my path, my journey, memory. Well, to be perfectly honest, we’re only talking about the first movement. It seems to be a genetic family trait that we only manage the first movement and don’t seem to progress.

My childhood resonates with Moonlight Sonata. It is my father’s piece…his song…his dance. Dad runs like clockwork. He’s largely methodical. He has his routines and used to have “a place for everything and everything in its place” once upon a time. Dad didn’t concern himself with the things like feeding children and dogs, closing windows, settling rowdy children for babysitters or applying makeup before it was time to go out. He was just ready. This meant that while Dad was waiting for Mum, he sometimes calmly and often impatiently, sat down at the piano and played Moonlight Sonata its soft rhythmic tones contrasting with my mother’s rush and bustle.

One of my most precious memories of my grandmother Eunice Gardiner  http://www.smh.com.au/comment/obituaries/a-musical-career-honed-in-the-laundry-20090823-ev2w.html who was an accomplished concert pianist also involved Moonlight Sonata. She was in what you would call her twilight years. Her memory was failing in all sorts of ways as her bright intelligence and wit were not so gradually being attacked by the cruel ravages of Alzheimer’s Disease. She told me a story about how her older brother Les had asked her to play Moonlight Sonata at a party he was having when they were young. Although she was a brilliant pianist, apparently she too only knew the first movement of Moonlight Sonata at least from memory and when she didn’t play on, he brother apparently remarked “even I can play that”. After telling this story my grandmother went across to the piano and tried to recall Moonlight Sonata and instead went on to play a patchwork of snippets from a range of highly complex pieces including Chopin’s Raindrop Prelude. I wasn’t really into music at the time and didn’t know what any of the pieces were but I was amazed at how she’d somehow stitched all these complex pieces together like the squares of a patchwork quilt. Strangely, I somehow loved her more than ever then and was very touched by a musical gift that somehow transcended human frailty and the ravages of disease.

I learned the piano for many years and while I haven’t kept it up, I will usually sit down and play Moonlight Sonata on what used to be my grandmother’s Steinway Grand piano whenever I visit my parents. I tinker away from memory with many repeats and returns trying to kick start my memory and faltering fingers. I still like to believe I can play even though putting two hands together to even play C Major scale these days, is a challenge.

Playing Moonlight Sonata after chemo.

Playing Moonlight Sonata after chemo.

Quite often, I visit my parents  after trooping down to Royal North Shore Hospital for medical appointments and treatments. I was playing Moonlight Sonata after my latest chemo treatment last Thursday when I noticed my hands on the keyboard with the tell-tale bandaid “spots”. It had taken three attempts to get the canula in, largely because we were trying my more resistant left arm so I could write with my right. In the end, we gave up but I was lucky because I was still able to write. I am a determined soul and like most writers, quite the addict. I must admit that it does seem rather crazy now…pen pushing while you’ve having chemo pumped into your veins which perhaps could have used a little rest. All the same, you are who you are.

Anyway, I asked Geoff to photograph me playing the piano with my hands covered in my spots. It was another one of my laugh or cry moments and I mostly saw the humour of the situation. I love photographing hands and also love using the piano as a photographic prop. I have numerous photos of the kids’ hands in various sizes tinkering away on the keys.

Miss aged 15 months at the piano.

Miss aged 15 months at the piano.

A duet Easter 2007

A duet Easter 2007

I also asked Geoff to film me playing.  Not a perfect Moonlight Sonata but my version just how I always play it going over and over and over the various bit of the first movement and back to the start stumbling through the notes in a fusion of emotional expression, a question for perfection and even a touch of moonlight on a dark night. Another reminder that things don’t always have to be perfect and that it’s more important just to have a go and do what you can.

Seeds for the New Year

January 2, 2014

Seeds in anybody’s language spell hope, new beginnings…the start of a dream but for me there was an added resonance.

Yesterday, I received the ultimate New Year’s gift.

It wasn’t expensive or luxurious.

In fact, it was deceptively simple and it cost its giver nothing.

Not even a cent.

“How is this so?” I hear you ask in a very Professor Julius Sumner Miller tone of voice. Perhaps, you haven’t heard of him but he used to host a science show called “How is it so?” and he also did an ad for Cadbury Dairy Milk Chocolate where he managed to get a boiled egg inside a milk bottle. It was pretty impressive stuff.

Julius Sumner Miller

This was in the days before a more recent Australian politician, Pauline Hanson, made the phrase: “Please explain” legendary.

Well, I am overflowing with explanations.

The kids and I were visiting some friends. All the kids were playing. I’d brought my friends some of my White Chocolate Rocky Road and she’d given me a slice of her Wild Strawberry Cheesecake, which was incredibly lush and made completely without additives and nasty chemicals. Wow! It was exceptionally creamy and I must admit I was feeling rather spoilt. This is the sort of thing you usually have to go to a café or gourmet bakery to find….very, very nice. My friend also made me a cup of tea and there is always something particularly healing and soothing about someone else making you a cup of tea, especially when you are a busy Mum and always seemingly looking after everybody else. She was an angel.

While the kids were bouncing round in the pool, I couldn’t help notice all their veggies. They grow their own tomatoes, beans, beetroot and more in garden beds raised above the ground. All these veggies, which could almost amount to a small market garden, are growing slightly more than a stone’s throw away from the beach on a standard suburban block. Quite a miracle really except you can see this garden is very well-maintained and cared for. Loved.
I was incredibly impressed and inspired.

Not that I looked at their set-up thinking: “if they could do it, I could do it”. Not on your life!!! However,  I did consider that just maybe we could manage one tub…a veggie patch on a smaller scale and actually grow something! The rest of our garden might be derelict but perhaps we could manage to look after this small patch of soil and develop our own backyard “oasis”.

Actually producing veggies we could eat would be nice but that would be more of a by-product. I was equally interested in the gardening experience in itself and all that excitement that comes with planting seeds and waiting, waiting, waiting for that very first green shoot to finally poke its head through the soil to greet the sun and a whole lot of eager watching eyes. The kids would love it. I remembered picking beans straight from my grandfather’s vine and just how amazing that was. As a child, it was a veritable miracle!

Moreover, being somewhat of a life-lesson addict, I thought the routine of having to water our plants was going to be good for the kids as well. Routine, responsibility, nurturing…these are all important life skills. Things perhaps you could learn from books but I really doubted you could learn them from playing Minecraft, even if you do get to grow virtual crops!  They need life experience as well. To do things with their hands aside from pressing buttons all day.

There was only one drawback to my veggie garden scheme.

Me!

Although I’ve always loved gardening and used to have quite a green thumb and have grown my own herbs, bulbs etc even in our exceptionally barren and sandy beach soil, I’m not good at keeping up the watering and so many, many plants have died from thirst.

In other words, I’ve become a plant killer.

Now, being a loving, caring and nurturing person at heart, I’ve had more than a little guilt over this and stopped buying plants until we could get the watering system going again. We’ve been on drought status and water-restrictions for many years but now we have no excuse. Water restrictions have eased and while we still need to be responsible about our water consumption and I do tend to re-use water at home, we can actually water our plants.

However, I have a very bad track record. It all starts out alright but slowly but surely the watering tapers off and without rain, we all know what that means.

But I am always a firm believer in change. Personal growth. After all, we are fluid, flexible beings. We’re not set in stone.

So after expressing my interest in starting our own veggie patch, my friend gave me a handful of dried beans filled with seeds with the potential to create our very own bean plantation in our small, yet to be constructed, backyard tub.

I carefully, put the beans in my handbag trying to think of the right words to tell Geoff, ask Geoff, to build our veggie patch. It wasn’t exactly the best timing but it was something we could do together as a family and I wanted the kids to learn all about gardening, soil, watering, worms…our environment. We have had a worm farm for 4 years and so this would just be an extension of that and indeed it would be a great use of all our juicy, fertile worm dirt. It no longer go to waste just sitting at the bottom of the tub. We would convert it to lush, fresh produce oozing with vitamins and none of the horrible chemicals. Perfection, in other words.

But as I said, this isn’t exactly the best time to launch into new gardening project even a small-scale because we are currently struggling to manage the everyday stuff and when you consider Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, growing your own veggies is more of a luxury not an act of survival. At least, when you live walking distance to at least three huge supermarkets and a great fruit and veg shop, it is.

I guess this is where I really have to stop being cryptic and answer your “please explain”.

You see, I haven’t really explained or updated my health status for some time. Even though I am fairly open about my life, I have struggled to find the words and it is difficult to tell people when things get worse, when I have a setback because I know that even people I haven’t met in this weirdly intimate world of blogging, care about me.  We are only human and you don’t need to meet in person to be a friend, to love or to care. My situation is also quite emotionally charged because I have young kids and it’s not nice having to think about children potentially growing up without their Mum but that is what we live with. We are conscious of this as a possibility as it is for any one of us. We are just more conscious of this possibility than others and can actually take steps and plan ahead. Not for the eventuality but the possibility. While this shadow lurks around,it also enables us to capre diem seize the day and squeeze the marrow out of life. We have fun!

Anyway, a few months ago, I developed pneumonia. This wasn’t as bad as pneumonia gets but it was pretty awful and I spent 3 weeks in bed and was coughing so badly that I pulled muscles in my stomach. That’s never happened before and that was really scary and it hurt. We put the kids in before and after school care for 2 weeks straight…something we’ve never done before. It was a big deal. Things were pretty serious and we were considering hospital but there was also the risk of catching something else in there so Geoff wanted to keep me at home.

My GP sent me off to get lung x-rays and these showed some issues so I went for an updated CT Scan. I’d had my last CT scan two years ago and it had shown mild institial lung disease, which is a form of fibrosis. This wasn’t considered a problem at the time but they started monitoring things more closely. This is a nasty disease and it kills. But treatment is available and of course, works better when you catch it early, which we have. Monday I saw my rheumatologist. Tuesday his secretary called and Thursday I started chemo along with transfusions of methyl prednisone, which has all the reverse side-effects of the chemo and makes you really bouncy, euphoric and unable to sleep. It’s like buzz! Buzz! Buzz! All this steps are designed to reduce inflammation and gain control of my disease.

This situation may not be ideal but I am certainly in the best position to mount a counter offensive and I am also looking at other ways of improving my lungs such as swimming and playing the recorder.

Of course, the side-effects of the chemo can include losing my hair. I almost had to laugh at that because after taking 6 years to finally get my hair cut off and being really pleased with the results, now I was being threatened with losing the lot. 90% of me didn’t care as I had no doubt that losing my hair was nothing compared to saving my lungs. I need to breathe. But at the same time there was still a residual “growl”. I figured that it would be just my luck for my hair to fall out just when I’ve got it all sorted.” I really do love my new hair.

So far so good. My hair has stayed put and I’ve had none of the expected side-effects from the chemo aside from fatigue. I have a few buzzy days after my treatments from the prednisone and then a few days feeling wasted and then I’m back on deck for the next one.

While chemo might and I guess certainly does sound depressing, right from the start I have been telling myself that it is only six weeks. Being in the lead up to Christmas, I thought of the kids countain down the number of sleeps until Santa arrived and I would do the same…6,5,4,3,2,1…blast off!

This really helped me face my first treatment and now that the side-effects are nowhere near as bad as I’d expected, the countdown isn’t really an issue. I had my third treatment today so now I’m officially halfway. It’s all been going so quickly.I also made jokes about getting chemo for Christmas, which in reality is the best Christmas present I could have. Treatment and hope. These are a gift.

Yet, to be perfectly honest with you, the important thing isn’t just surviving chemo and getting through.

What matters is that it works. That my auto-immune disease responds and goes back into its cupboard and doesn’t come out.

A rainbow of hope.

A rainbow of hope.

That’s the real waiting game. My cough has dramatically improved. Yet, as positive as I am, I still have doubts. Just like the seeds of faith, the seeds of doubt can also germinate and grow like crazy…the weeds in the garden of hope.

That’s where my ultimate New Year’s Day present comes in…those bean seeds.

It didn’t hit me straight away but those seeds were almost like a promise ….a hope. I will get better. Those seeds are offering me the vision of a brand new life and healing…renewal. I cling to that hope and pray!

Now, I don’t know that for sure. My disease has been pretty resistant in the past but it has also responded…eventually. I like the science behind my new treatment. I will also be treated with a drug called rituximab after the chemo and it is a much more targeted therapy without the toxicity of the chemo. It really could be the treatment that will ultimately work for me and you can only access it after other avenues have failed due to the cost.

So it could be that while this setback is serious, it could well be that coldest time of night before dawn. That this new treatment should and could be the solution!

That is our prayer and our hope.

I would love to receive any words of encouragement or stories of overcoming the odds. It would mean the world to me.

Love & best wishes,
Rowena xx

I was given a handful of dreid golden beans filled with seeds….the makings of our new veggie patch.