Tag Archives: Christmas

Weekend Coffee Share – Christmas 2020.

Welcome to the Christmas Edition of the Weekend Coffee Share!

Well, to be precise, it’s actually post-Christmas and we’re currently drifting along in the lull between Christmas and New Year where we recover from Christmas indulgence, over-consumption and back-breaking stress and veg out. Well, that’s as long as we haven’t done something stupid like inviting people over on New Year’s Eve. I wouldn’t know anybody who is crazy enough to do that, especially after hosting family on Christmas Day. However, there is this strange logic that once you’ve tidied the house up, get all of your entertaining done immediately before the place does a Cinderella on you and turns back into a pumpkin.

Our local bookshop

Anyway, before I ask you how your Christmas or Holiday celebrations went, I’d better offer you a cup of tea, coffee or perhaps you fancy a cold drink. We’ve had quite a few hot days, so you might prefer something cold. I’ve been doing a bit of baking and we have Christmas cake, shortbread, Honey Biscuits, Mars Bar Slice and Caramel Macadamia Nut Tart. Yum!

Christmas baking.

So how have you been spending Christmas or the Holidays?

We went to the 11.00pm service on Christmas Eve. The earlier services were cancelled and went via zoom instead, as there’s been an outbreak of Covid in Sydney along with a couple of local cases. There weren’t too many booked in for the late service and so it could still go ahead now we’re back to the 4 square metre rule.

The, on Christmas Day, my parents drove up from Sydney for lunch. I did all the cooking, which went surprisingly well. We had a roast chicken, veggies and gravy with the Caramel Macadamia Tart for dessert. We were too full to even consider eating the pudding, but we had a wonderful day which seemed to race past like a bullet train.

The rocking horse has been feeling fairly nervous. It’s seen the piano and the carpet go, and it’s very concerned it’s going to be next!

The prelude to Christmas was crazy busy. After guttering the loungeroom to replace the carpet with a floating floor and finding the room also needed a paint job, we then had a mad scramble to get everything back in situ for the big day. We managed to get there but quite a few things got shoved anywhere they could fit and goodness knows if we’ll ever see them again. However, it was all worth it, and the house was nice and comfy and we could actually spread out.

Miss after her hair extravaganza

Another big development in the lead up to Christmas, was that Miss decided to get her haircut. Indeed, to be precise, she decided to get her hair lopped off and she also wanted to donate the ponytail to make a wig for someone who is experiencing long term hair loss. This seemed like a great idea and something her friends have done before, although I was concerned she was going to regret cutting it off and I also loved her hair being so long and it had become a fundamental part of her. However, it was also very heavy, especially when she went swimming and it also covered her face in the water and might even have been a bit dangerous. By the way, in addition to getting the chop, she also got some foils. She talked me into this, but it was a fun adventure and I emphasised it was a once off. However, it was a lot of fun and seeing her incredible smile at the end, was truly worth it. You see quite a few storm clouds brewing in the teenagers eyes, so it makes it all the better when you see those radiant, sunny smiles and all is good.

Her hair before the chop. She had 17 inches cut off.

Since Christmas, we’ve tried to relax and do as little as possible. That said, we had the big clean up after Christmas lunch and today we headed off to Specsavers to replace our glasses before the annual health fund allocation ran out. I can tell you it was quite an experience getting our eyes tested and trying on glasses with face masks on and glasses fogging up. I hope they turn out okay. However, I thought you’d enjoy this photo of three out of the four of us trying glasses on.

Well, I’d better head off now. Time’s always getting away from me.

Not long now until we reach the end of 2020, but it’s pretty clear to me that there aren’t going to be any instant miracles once we turn the page into 2021. That said, vaccination has started and maybe that will start having an impact soon.

Meanwhile, we hope you and yours are safe and that you have a geat year ahead in 2021. Any resolutions yet? I’m still working on mine. My word for the last couple of years has been ACTION, and I might go with that again. Although when it comes to my WWI research project, the word is now WRITE, and when it comes to going away in January, it’s WAIT. Need to see what covid is up to by then.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Cooking the Books.

We’ve all seen some weird things in 2020. However, things have really gone mad around here now. Indeed, even madder than usual, if that were possible. As you can see, I’ve starting cooking the books, and we’ll be eating words for Christmas.

Well, we will be unless our renovations and reorganizations get a wriggle on.

Indeed, being typical renovators, we’ve taken two steps forward, three steps back, on the hope that we’ll have a place for everything and everything in it’s place by Christmas Day. This hope is now starting to look like a fantastic dream, and I should be a lot more worried than I am. However, I’ve had good training. You can always hide a few things in the oven, the clothes dryer or under the bed at the last minute if you have to. Failing that, there’s the car.

The car bed finally leaving the house.

Of course, the road to renovation didn’t start 5 days before Christmas. Rather, the wheels were set in motion a few months ago when our son’s car bed finally left the house for an extended holiday at a friend’s place.

There’s a bear in there, and a piano frame as well…

Yet, there was still the problem of the old piano no one wanted in the loungeroom. However, it turned out that deconstructing the piano solved that problem and a friend of ours was quite happy to take it away in pieces, although we have kept the pedals and the keys. Then, it was full steam ahead, which also included an incidental painting of the room.

Geoff finally cutting through the carpet.

While Geoff was busy there, I started getting quite ruthless with the books and realized we probably needed to halve the number of books in our place. Well, that’s if we were ever going to be able to have people over once again. In other words, be able to open the place back up again, and not be afraid of somebody coming over.

Indeed, it’s been all too easy to forget we used to have people over, including holding the kids’ birthday parties. Whatever happened to us?

It’s called dermatomyositis an auto-immune disease where you’re muscles attack themselves and it’s been compounded by Interstitial Lung Disease, which has left me with 50% lung capacity. We’ve been in survival mode for so long, but with Geoff working from home this year due to Covid, we’ve finally been able to get ahead. Indeed, we’ve even saved money. So, 2020 hasn’t been all bad.

Well, it’s actually because of Covid that the renovations had to get a wriggle on. Usually, we go to my aunt’s place every year for a big Christmas with the extended family. My dad is one of seven, so what with all my cousins and now their kids, it’s become quite a tribe. However, they’re not getting together this year, and so my parents are coming to our place, and there’ll only be the six of us. Indeed, with such a small group, I feel we need to include the three dogs in on the head count. Nine sounds a lot better!

Lady’s keen to join us at the dinner table for Christmas lunch.

This means, of course, that I’m needing to cook, and not just cook the books. However, that can wait at the moment. We have a ham in the fridge, and I’ve made a Christmas cake and there’s also a pudding. So, I’ve made a good start.

All these books ended up in the kitchen while we were moving furniture around. Our dump and run room is now in the process of being cleaned out, and we’ve swapped the lounge and the dining table over so we’ll have two tables for Christmas Day, while creating a potential place for our teenaged kids to hang out. Or, perhaps it will be for us parents when, and if, their friends ever come over. I’m really looking forward to this new chapter, and it feels quite liberating.

Yet, at the same time, we still need to find a place for everything and have everything stashed away in its place by Christmas Day.

What have we done????

How are your Christmas preparations going? I hope yours are a lot less chaotic, and your plans are going well. Yet, at the same time, there’s also Covid to consider and its intent on ruining quite a few Christmases this year. Nearby Sydney has a cluster on the Northern Beaches and they’ve gone into lock down, and I’ve hearing of a few cancelled plans. However, cancelled lunches is nothing compared to the incredible loss of life the virus has claimed on a global scale, and there will be a lot of empty chairs this Christmas Day, and a lot of heart-ache. We are thinking of you and sending our love!

Anyway, I’d better get back to it.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Honey Biscuits – My Grandmother’s Recipe.

Today, the forces of chaos which govern my scrambled egg existence, conspired together to prompt me to sort out my Grandmother’s recipe for Honey Biscuits. I am an Australian of German descent on my mother’s side, and my grandmother’s Honey Biscuits were as much a part of Christmas as my mother’s traditional English-style Christmas cake and my Christmas pudding. The biscuits were round with half a blanched almond stuck in the middle like the star perched on top of the Christmas tree. They lived inside big glass jars from another time zone, which always seemed strangely magical (even when they were empty).

These Honey Biscuits were very special, but they were also my grandmother’s thing. I’ve never seen my mother make them, although she’s always been an accomplished cook and was famous for her Sponge cakes, which were typically served with lashings of passionfruit icing and a thick layer of whipped cream.

Not having the recipe until after my grandmother passed away, I found an alternative in a German cookbook my grandparents had given me. These were very nice, definitely German, and were reminiscent of the Honey Biscuits, but were definitely NOT THE SAME!!

I don’t know if that really matters. Or, whether it’s just the spirit of the thing that counts. Moreover, I guess you’ve got to ask at some point whether you really want to keep on eating food from 200 years ago every Christmas just to satisfy tradition. Or, do you try something new? Indeed, do you make Christmas food that you and your current day family actually likes, and is more in keeping with your usual fare?

Being a lover of history, ceremonies and traditions, I’m all in favour of going retro one day a year and having the same old same old. Without the carving of the Christmas ham and the lighting of the Christmas pudding along with my aunt’s Mango and Avocado Salad with cashew nuts, it just wouldn’t be the same. Actually, you can add scorched almonds and shortbread to the list. However, what I really love about Christmas lunch is catching up with the extended family after another year and seeing how everyone’s changed. Or, indeed, how some have stayed the same. I come from a large family too, so that makes for added excitement, a swag of personalities and stories. Moreover, there’s always one of two who enjoy too much Christmas cheer.

However, this year our Christmas will be rather different, as we will be hosting Christmas Day at our place with only my Mum, Dad and possibly brother coming over. This has sent us into quite a tailspin and we’re currently in the throws of carving up an old piano and trying to vacate the loungeroom to get the new floating floor down in time. It’s a nightmare, but at least I now have a pile of cookbooks ready to exit the house.

It was sorting through these cookbooks, which took me back to my grandmother’s Honey Biscuit recipe. You see I found a recipe book from Hahndorf, the German-Australian village in South Australia which my grandfather and three generations before him called home…”Recipes From My Grossmutter”. I also found “The Barossa Cookbook”, which was published at the end of WWII. The Barossa Valley is best known as a wine-producing region, and it’s not far from Hahndorf. So, when it came to sorting out this recipe, I thought this cookbook was almost a sure fire bet. After all, it’s one of those community cookbooks where people contribute their favourite recipes, and their names are printed down below.

Fortunately, although I’ve never made my grandmother’s Honey Biscuits, I do have her recipe and I’m pretty sure I’ve seen her make them. However, while this sounds like I’ve got it sorted, the handwritten recipe didn’t inspire me with confidence. Had she left something out? It was also written in pounds and ounces, which always does my head in, and is almost a sure fire recipe for catastrophe.

My Grandmother’s Recipe for Honey Biscuits

1/2 lb Honey

1 lb Sugar

4 eggs

4 teas bicarb soda

a little acid

a few drops of lemon essence

Flour – flour enough to roll out.

After she lists the ingredients, she seemingly inserts herself into the process, and it soon becomes clear that my grandmother is leaving the main road and making her own way cross-country. There’s what the recipe says, and then there’s HER WAY which she introduces as “I use”. She then proceeds to halve the recipe, which seems fair enough, as I reckon the full amount would keep the entire Von Trapp family in biscuits from one Christmas to the next.

However, it’s the next bit which really captures my attention: “I beat the egg whites till stiff, add sugar and beat for awhile then add the yolks and beat again.”

Why does she separate the eggs and beat up the egg whites by themselves? This is what you do for making sponge cakes. However, as I glanced through the other recipes for Honey Biscuits in the Barossa Cookbook, nobody else mentions that. So, why did she do it? Was this her special secret for producing feather-light Honey Biscuits? Or, was she just making more work for herself?

I don’t know, and that’s one of the reasons I’ve decided to post her recipe on the blog. I need help. Do any of you know why this is so? If so, please explain.

The other thing I’d like to address is what constitutes your authentic German-Australian Honey Biscuit, and how does it compare to the German original? Or, is there a German equivalent?

I thought the Honey Biscuits were a form of Lebkuchen. However, Lebkuchen is more of a spiced biscuit based on ground nuts, where the Honey Biscuits are only lightly spiced, use flour and are as the name suggests, honey flavoured. Apparently, the Honey Biscuit is an adaptation to the Australian context, where German immigrants couldn’t access spices easily back in the day, and in a sense developed their own baking dialect in the same way they came to speak: “Barossa Deutch” (Barossa German). That said, there are variations of Honey Biscuit which are a lot more spicy, and more in keeping with their authentic, German roots.

So, there is this sense of recipes migrating from the mother country and being translated and adapted to the new one, with Australian-Germans putting their own stamp on this old tradition. On top of this, you have people like my grandmother who did their own thing, experimented and adapted. For me, this is very much in keeping with the same pioneering spirit, which saw my ancestors embark on ships for an unknown country on the other side of the world and take a chance.

So, which version of the Honey Biscuit is the real McCoy? Which should I bake and carry forward to my own children?

I wasn’t sure. However, an inspiring solution hit me in the face this morning, after I’d had time to sleep on it. That just like Refrigerator Biscuits where you can make variations from the one basic dough, you can also make a batch of Honey Biscuits where some taste more like honey, and others are more richly spiced. After all, nothing is set in stone – even traditions. They can always be taken forward and adapted with themes and variations.

Have you ever tried making Honey Biscuits and how does your recipe compare to my grandmother’s recipe? Meanwhile, in addition to baking the Honey Biscuits, I’m going to have a go at making authentic German Lebkuchen from a recipe over at Daring Gourmet. She even making her own candied peel and spice mix, so it could be a bit much on top of getting the house ready for Christmas, but isn’t Advent the season of insanity where we always do, spend and eat too much? It’s too late for me to challenge that this year, but January is only round the corner along with an end to 2020. I know for many, that will be the be st Christmas present of all!!

Best wishes,

Rowena

Here’s the link to the “Authentic German Lebkuchen Recipe” if you’re feeling daring.. This recipe is based around ground nuts, has no flour, and seems heavily spiced: https://www.daringgourmet.com/traditional-nuernberger-elisenlebkuchen-german-lebkuchen/

Santa’s Australian Post-Christmas Escape.

You couldn’t blame Santa for needing a bit of a break after supervising all his elves and dashing round the planet on his sleigh. After all, he must have the most stressful job on Earth.

So, here he is hiding out at Lennox Head, South of Byron Bay on Australia’s East Coast catching some waves.

Of course, I had to join him. While I’m not much chop as a surfer, today must have been my lucky day because I not only managed to stand up, I also stayed dry. That’s quite an achievement.

By the way, I should mention that I’ve enjoyed feeling 21 again on this holiday. I’m not looking forward to returning to responsibility when the kids go back to school at the end of January. It’s been absolute bliss drifting along for a bit and not needing to be anywhere at a particular time. No lines etched in the sand. They’ve all been washed away.

Have you ever been surfing and do you have any stories to share?

Best wishes,

Rowena

Merry Christmas – Weekend Coffee Share.

This is just a brief message to wish you and yours a Merry and Blessed Christmas and a Happy, healthy and Wonder-filled New Year.

As you may be aware, I live in Sydney, Australia where it’s looking like we’ll be having a scorchingly hot Christmas and Boxing Day. We’re heading out to Church tonight for Christmas Eve and will be heading to my aunt’s my parents and extended family for Christmas Day. We’ll be catching up with Geoff’s sister from Boxing Day.

I’ve written a few Christmas posts in the last week which may interest you:

Silent Night

A Stinking Hot Christmas (written 2015 for Solveig Warner’s Advent Calendar)

A Sydney Christmas

Christmas Door – David Jones

St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney

 

We would like to wish you and yours a Merry and Blessed Christmas. Happy Holidays isn’t a phrase we use here in Australia, but I understand it’s used a lot in USA and has its place.

Yet, at the same time, we understand that this time of year is very difficult for many for a variety of reasons and we would also like to acknowledge that. We hear you and I put my hand on your heart and stand alongside you. It’s not easy and while I’ve experienced the most amazing miracles myself, they haven’t come about like clockwork. I haven’t clicked my fingers and hey presto, pulled a rabbit out of my hat. I’ve also found there’s a lot I can do to both improve my lot and also completely shoot myself in the foot and make things worse.

“I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.”

-TS Eliot

Well, that’s a rather large dose of philosophy and reflection for what’s supposed to be a coffee share. However, so much is shared over a cup of tea or coffee in the real world. Why shouldn’t that be a part of our virtual coffees?

“Way too much coffee. But if it weren’t for the coffee, I’d have no identifiable personality whatsoever.”

-David Letterman

Best wishes,

Rowena

This has been another Weekend Coffee Share, hosted by Eclectic Ali.

PS The photo of me as the elf was taken in the Cancer Centre at Royal North Shore Hospital. I popped down there to pick up some resources for a friend. However, 6 years ago I had a round of chemo (cyclophosphamide) to treat my auto-immune disease, which had started attacking my lungs. Treatment began the week before Christmas with my second dose on Boxing Day, when there was plenty of parking for a change. The treatment worked and I’ve been in remission for 6 years. So, I have much to be thankful for and it’s a reminder not to take the seemingly hum drum and every day for granted.

A Sydney Christmas.

Although it’s not quite Christmas yet, I thought I’d share some of the Christmas scenes I encountered on some recent trips into the Sydney CBD. To be honest, by day these decorations as a whole, are very lack lustre compared to what I’ve been seeing from friends currently touring Europe and New York. Indeed, I feel a bit sheepish about presenting them at all, and rather apologetic. However, our beaches are beautiful this time of year, and who needs Christmas lights when you can have the sun.

My personal favourite has to be the window displays in David Jones’s Elizabeth Street Store. Although to be honest, I’ve only viewed them twice and haven’t entered the realms of Christmas traditions, even though I vowed they would when I took the kids there for their Santa photos when they were very small and our daughter was still terrified of Santa.

Here’s a few of my pics this year:

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Star Wars Display at David Jones

 

Walking across Hyde Park, you’ll come across St Mary’s Cathedral with it’s large nativity displays both inside and out:

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St Mary’s Indoor Nativity Scene 2018

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St Mary’s Outdoor Nativity Scene 2018.

Above: the dazzling Christmas tree in the Queen Victoria Building at Town Hall made of Swarovski crystals.

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The two photos above were taken at Haig’s Chocolate Shop in the Queen Victoria Building. As much as I was tempted to but a chocolate bell of Christmas tree, I was concerned about them melting in the heat going home. That’s an unfortunate reality of a Summer Christmas.

Last and perhaps least and I hope it truly lights up into something dazzling as it currently looks very small and pathetic, is the Christmas Tree at Sydney’s Town Hall.

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After all that walking around, Elf and I needed to sit down.

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Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed this glimpse of a Sydney Christmas by day. It doesn’t look like we’re going to get in there to view the lights.

Wishing you and yours a very Merry and Blessed Christmas and a wonder-filled New Year.

Best wishes,

Rowena and family

Christmas Door…Thursday Doors.

Well, I couldn’t resist returning to Thursday Doors this week with a photo of Elf trying to open the door at David Jones’s flagship Elizabeth Street store. Elf said he much preferred the good old days, when they had doormen on hand, but understood that this is just one of many sacrifices to modernization and economy.

Celebrating its 180th birthday this year, David Jones was established on the 24th May, 1838, when a Welsh migrant named David Jones opened a department store on the corner of Barrack and George streets. His aim was to offer luxury goods in a commodious space. The store was located opposite the General Post Office and the small store prospered. David Jones and Co. received patronage from not only the Sydney gentry, but also the country settlers. Everyone flocked to the store to buy buckskins, ginghams, waistcoat fabrics, silks and cotton tick. The flagship Elizabeth Street store opened in 1927 opposite Hyde Park.

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Queen Elizabeth II at David Jones in 1954

For those of you who haven’t been to Australia and are unfamiliar with David Jones or “DJ’s” as it’s affectionately known, it could well be described as Australia’s interpretation of Harrod’s and has always been considered exclusive, and a place where shopping was an experience where only the best would do. Indeed, in 1954 when Queen Elizabeth II became the first British Monarch to step foot on Australian soil, the Great Restaurant on the 7th Floor of David Jones Elizabeth Street was chosen as the venue for a State Banquet in her honour. Indeed, the largest Union Jack in the world, measuring 50ft x 100ft was hung from the Elizabeth Street wall of the main store…no doubt part of its history which would make many more republican-minded Australians cringe to their bones. You can view the Union Jack in situ HERE

One of the seemingly timeless features of the Elizabeth Street store is their in-house pianist and the Steinway grand. Indeed, you can see pianist Michael Hope through the doors down below.

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Michael was not only a fantastic and entertaining pianist, he was also very obliging. When I asked him if I could photograph him, he pulled me alongside him and I was to pretend to play while a complete stranger filmed me on my phone. He even gave me directions. Then, being the complete nutter that I am, I pulled Elf out of my bag and Michael played along with him. Indeed, it looked like Michael had spent years working on a very popular Australian children’s show called Play School. It is actually quite difficult to get a gig on Play Group and it attracts the cream of Australian talent. So, that endorsement is a real feather in his cap.

I know how much you people love doors and it might be stretching your outlook a little. However, David Jones’s Elizabeth Street store has the most amazing Christmas windows and I just couldn’t resist sharing a few from the Nutcracker Suite.

 

Lastly, a few of you might like to read Australian Vogue’s article on 180 years of David Jones: Vogue Australia- 180 Years David Jones

SodaRoom

The Soda Fountain in David Jones’ Sydney c.1928 photograph by Cecil Bostock courtesy of David Jones, Australia

This has been another contribution to Thursday Doors hosted by Norm 2.0. Why don’t you come and join us and share a few of your favourite doors. It’s a lot of fun and helps you see parts of the world you’ll never get to visit.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

 

Waiting Out The Storm…

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

Nelson Mandela

Yesterday, my daughter and I were caught in a horrific, violent hail storm down the street at the local shops and we were absolutely terrified.  With six sleeps til Christmas and desperately trying to find something, anything for our 14 year old son, we’d trawled through almost every local shop, and were heading back for the car when the storm hit with unanticipated fury. By the time we realized how dangerous it was, it was too late. My daughter was telling me to walk faster, the same way I must’ve done when she was smaller. However, due to muscle weakness in my legs, I couldn’t. I could only go at my own pace. She might’ve only been a step or two ahead, but then she decided to cross the road at the pedestrian crossing, and that was when the hail started to fall. I have an performance enhancement device in my skull (otherwise known as a shunt) and I couldn’t chance it been hit by a hailstone, quite aside from the fact that hail can even kill your average Joe. Well, it’s probably more likely to kill your average Joe teenager, because I saw a few of them running across the road during the storm. Anyway, this all meant that my daughter was across the road by herself, while the sky was throwing a massive tantrum and pelting hail like an angry toddler. Although she’s now 12 and in high school, I knew she was terrified and wanted me with her but it was too dangerous. Fortunately the owner of the $2.00 shop took her under her wing and brought her inside.

As a writer, I know how to dramatize a story, inflating and colouring in the facts in lurid technicolour to ramp things up. However, this storm didn’t need embellishment. It’s terrifying violence and the deafening din of thousands of hailstones beating against the tin roofs of the local shops, spoke for themselves. Indeed, it reverberated through you like the sound of a thousand timpanis all beating at once.  The hail was really pelting down too, seemingly angry and lashing out at the earth. These hail stones ranged in size from about 3cms to tennis balls size around 8cm and some were even shaped like a cauliflower. At 5cm diameter, hail travels at 115kph and at 8cm it’s travelling at 175kph. So when you think about what all of that was doing to my heart rate along with being concerned about my daughter, our son at home and how the car was faring out in the open, a few Italian musical terms come to mind…accelerando, affrettando, prestissimo and forte! Forte! Forte!

Yet, right along the street, there were people photographing the storm with their phones, the same way we also photograph bush fires dazzled by the exquisite beauty of the flames, experiencing the intensity of nature’s fury and also that sense of hovering right on the very brink of destruction. That as much as we might want to turn our back and run, it lures us in…especially anyone passionate about photography or film. We’re in without even considering the cost.

“The fishermen know that the sea is dangerous and the storm terrible, but they have never found these dangers sufficient reason for remaining ashore.”

– Vincent Van Gogh

dog in the storm

Taken just before the 2015 hail storm hit. Not a good time to walk the dog! It wasn’t one of ours.

This little black duck might’ve got caught out photographing a hail storm at our local beach a few years ago, and a massive rain storm in between. I don’t do this anymore. Well, not on purpose. This time I was simply caught out.

Anyway, naturally the hail stopped and it was safe for me to cross the road, collect my daughter and drive home. This is in the middle of a hot Australian Summer and yet here we were in a magical Winter wonderland. It was an early white Christmas.

However, this has turned into more of a Christmas subtraction for a lot of people, than a Christmas gift. We arrived home to find the roof of the office had been peppered with holes and the rain was getting in. It was nowhere near as bad as the last destructive hail storm three years ago where a tree also fell down. However, the rain was getting in and computers and paperwork were at risk. The car didn’t fare too well either. While we have friends with broken windows or a windscreen, our car is covered in pock marks, especially the bonnet. We’ve only had this car for a few weeks after I drove into a concrete divider in the hospital car park and that car was written off. It seems like I’m not having a good run with cars, although I wasn’t driving this one and the important thing is, that we’re all safe.

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I must admit that I’ve felt very shaken up by this storm. When you think about the effects of a relaxing massage, this was more like a jack hammer and quite the reverse. I also felt very unsafe walking through the heavy rain and my legs felt quite inadequate and like they couldn’t grip and I was wearing ice skates. I slept through much of today and really didn’t feel like getting out of bed. It felt safe. Fortunately, I didn’t need to go out and I just stayed home to chill out and clean up. It was my daughter’s first day of school holidays and our son’s had a few extra days. Not a great start, and we’ve been trying to see The Grinch. Maybe, tomorrow.

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“Remember, the storm is a good opportunity for the pine and the cypress to show their strength and their stability.”

Ho Chi Minh

“It is not light that we need, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake.”

Frederick Douglass

After every storm the sun will smile; for every problem there is a solution, and the soul’s indefeasible duty is to be of good cheer.

William R. Alger

Yet, reading through motivational quotes about storms, I realize that they’re a necessary part of life. That they don’t last forever, and it wasn’t long before the sun came out. However, there’s no denying the damage. You can point to the sun, the rainbow, but you can also point out the smashed windows, terrified people and animals and you can’t just wave a magic wand and it all disappears without a trace. Yet, every time you survive either a physical or psychological storm, you’re better equipped to deal with and overcome the next one. You have experience and you also have this much valued thing called resilience. You don’t get that by sitting in your armchair and watching the storms pass by on TV or your phone.

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“Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add color to my sunset sky.”

Rabindranath Tagore

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Sunset after the storm viewed through our Norfolk Pine tree.

How do you feel about storms, both of the weather and psychological variety?

Well, it’s well past my bedtime so it’s time to stop philosophizing and start snoozing.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Thursday Doors – St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney.

Welcome to Another Thursday Doors.

This week, we’re heading off to St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney. Somehow, St Mary’s has managed to remain a striking architectural and spiritual beacon, despite the urban jungle’s concerted efforts to smother and suffocate architectural relics beneath  with its towering canopy.

 

Eunice & Robert Wedding

My grandparents on the steps of St Mary’s on their wedding day.

With my usual propensity for ending up in seemingly random places, I ended up at St Mary’s on Tuesday afternoon when it became the central point for me to meet up with my Mum and her brother and sister. Mum’s sister was visiting from Fremantle in Western Australia and for a brief moment in time there, all our roads led to St Mary’s Cathedral.

This was strangely more in keeping with my Dad’s family who is Catholic and his parents actually got married there in 1940 during WWII and the first Curtin to arrive in Australia from Cork, County Cork got married in the original St Mary’s Cathedral in 1855. My Great Grandfather’s funeral was also held at St Mary’s in 1936.

However, we are Christian and as far as we’re concerned, those old boundaries don’t matter anymore. We have one faith and being inside St Mary’s Cathedral with it’s incredible stained glass windows and reverence to God, was incredibly spiritual. Of course, you don’t need all of that to hear and talk to God, but it can be like putting on a beautiful dress. It doesn’t change who you are, but it lifts you up.

Our visit to St Mary’s was more of a time of reflective prayer and gratitude, than being there to do the touristy or photographic thing and admire all the architectural details. I did that a few years ago and am currently cursing my photo filing system, because I can’t find the photos anywhere and I wanted to share them with you.

However, what I did find, was the aerial perspective above which was taken from Centrepoint Tower.If you look carefully out the front of St Mary’s you’ll see a funeral cortege and I was reminded that the State funeral for Australia’s most successful and iconic horse trainer, Bart Cummings, was in progress at the time. Our daughter was auditioning for a role as one of the young Von Trapp children in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s production of The Sound of Music in Sydney that day, and I took her up Centrepoint Tower afterwards as a treat. For better or worse, she didn’t make it into the next round but even getting to the audition stage was an experience of a lifetime.

Map Showing Location of St Mary’s Cathedral

By the way, before we move inside the Cathedral and I do understand that I’m supposed to be showing off a few doors, and not just giving you the grand tour of everything but. However, I’d also like to point out that Sydney’s famous Hyde Park is in the foreground of that photo, and you can also see the striking Archibald Fountain by French sculptor Francois Sicard, which commemorates the association between Australia and France in World War I.

We all arrived in the city a bit early. So, I ended up meeting Mum and my aunt at the Archibald Fountain. We are all renowned for running late, and just when we thought we might be able to sneak in a quick coffee and raspberry tart at a French Cafe at St James Church in Macquarie Street, my uncle was also early and those ambitions were put on hold.

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St Mary’s Cathedral.

As the Cathedral’s web site explains:

“Today St Mary’s Cathedral is one of Australia’s most beautiful and significant buildings but it did not happen overnight. The Cathedral evolved through a long and patient timeline following a fire which destroyed the first St Mary’s Cathedral in 1865. As Australia’s largest Cathedral building, this English-style Gothic revival building constructed of honey-coloured Sydney sandstone, is regarded as the Mother Church for Australian Catholics. Its central Sydney location ensures a strong and visual presence of the church in Australia’s largest city. Architect William Wardell was commissioned by Archbishop John Polding to design a new St Mary’s following the devastating fire in 1865 razed the original Cathedral. According to Archbishop Polding to Wardell in a letter dated 10 October, 1865: “Any plan, any style, anything that is beautiful and grand. I leave all to you and your own inspiration”. Despite the building’s European origins, Wardell used Australian native flora throughout as a decorative element to ground the Cathedral in its local setting. It took close to 100 years to finally complete St Marys with the first stage constructed between 1866 and 1900 and stage two between 1912 and 1928. However, the original Wardell design was only finally completed in June 2000 when the metal frames of the imposing Southern Spires were lowered into place by helicopter and then sheathed in Gosford sandstone. According to the former Archbishop of Sydney George Pell: “This beautiful Cathedral Church is many things: a historic building, an architectural wonder, a monument to the role which Christianity and especially the Catholic faith has played in Australian life from the first days of European settlement and a magnificent tribute to the faith and commitment of generations of Catholics.” Dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, under the title of Immaculate Mother of God, Help of Christians, the Cathedral will celebrate its Sesquicentenary in 2018, 150 years since the laying of the foundation stone of the new Cathedral by Archbishop Polding.”

 

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Door St Mary’s Cathedral.

While we were visiting St Mary’s on Tuesday, I spotted the ancient-looking doors to the cathedral and thought they’d make a very respectable contribution to Thursday Doors. Moreover, with only five sleeps til Christmas, it’s quite apt to visit a Church this week and in addition to the Cathedral’s doors, I also wanted to share the nativity scenes and other Christmas decorations.

Side door St Marys

I also spotted these doors for confession:

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I couldn’t help wondering what was being concealed behind this door. It looked rather mysterious.

Before we leave St Mary’s, I would like to share both the indoor and outdoor nativity scenes out of interest, but also to give our visit a touch of the Christmas spirit.

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Lastly, when it comes to Churches, I also think it’s important to talk about them having their doors open and welcoming people in, as well as them being closed for whatever reason. When I was a child, the doors to Catholic Churches were always open. However, that is no longer the case. The doors to St Mary’s Cathedral are open from 6.30am to 6.30pm and longer around Christmas.

For those of you interested in the musical side of things at St Mary’s, here’s a few links:

Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed our visit to St Mary’s Cathedral. This has been another contribution to Thursday Doors hosted by Norm 2.0. Why don’t you come and join us and share a few of your favourite doors. It’s a lot of fun and helps you see parts of the world you’ll never get to visit.

Before I head off, I’d like to wish you and yours a Merry and Blessed Christmas and a wonder-filled and happy New Year.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Weekend Coffee Share…December 17, 2018.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

Being so close to Christmas, I should be able to offer you a slice of home-made Christmas cake. However, I haven’t gotten around to that yet. Or, writing more than a couple of Christmas cards. Had you popped round yesterday, you could’ve had a slice of the All Bran Cake I made, which loads of dates, apricots and pecans and is best straight out of the oven covered in lashings of butter…yum. Yet, all is not lost. I have some scorched macadamia nuts from Haigh’s Chocolate Shop in Sydney. They’re very yum!

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All Bran Cake…My Grandmother’s Recipe.

Well, there are only eight sleeps til Christmas and the last week has been hectic as expected. I think it was Tuesday night, that we attended the End of Year School concert, where our daughter was dancing with her dance class and also performed a contemporary solo, which she’d choreographed herself. Our son was also working backstage and we saw quite a lot of his black shadow lurking in the background. That was a fun night which climaxed with the teacher’s band, which was a lot of fun. Even as a parent, I find it intriguing to see teacher’s actually unwind and party.

Tuesday, I headed down to Sydney to meet up with two school friends. One of them is living with Motor Neurone Disease (MND) and is currently in intensive care after major surgery, and we wanted to touch base. I was expecting this to be a challenging visit and very confronting, although I’m quite used to the hospital environment and being the patient. The shoe was on the other foot this time, with my friend and I wanting to give our friend respect and dignity, but not too sure about what to say or how to listen given her speech difficulties. Although we all go and visit people in hospital, most of us have had no training or preparation for it and feel very much out of our comfort zones. Dread knowing what to say, even though just being there is enough. No doubt they just need to feel loved and see a familiar face.

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Elf meets pianist Michael Hope at David Jones’s Elizabeth Street Store. He even got to have a turn.

On my way home, I stopped off at the Gordon Violin Centre looking for a new bow for my violin. Replacing your bow is a major decision for even an amateur violinist and there’s a lot to think about in terms of the weight of the bow. Do you prefer a light or relatively heavy bow? Well, I thought I’d go in there and try a few out. This was quite a big step for me, representing a transition from mediocre violinist, to someone progressing and taking their instrument more seriously. However, I wasn’t quite prepared for what a leap this would be. As I walked up the stairs, I found a metal security door with a violin shaped into the framework. You had to press a buzzer to get in, which seemed rather formal and I had a feel I was about to step into very expensive, upmarket territory way beyond the $100 mark I was thinking of spending on my bow. Life at our place gets rather crazy and bows do get sat on. I’m not quite at the point of making a big investment. Not yet, anyway. So, you’ll understand that I was feeling rather sheepish when the door answered and I entered into this incredible salon environment which could’ve been in Paris, London, New York. There were rows of cellos and the decor was antique and 1920s-1940s and my grandparents’ era. I was spellbound. Yet, the best was yet to come. There was a room within the room, which was absolutely immaculate and there was a chaise longue and an upright piano inside. It could well have been a practice room or recording studio. I was in love! Meanwhile, I’ve found an $85.00 bow and he recommended I brought my violin in and tried it out. Ouch! I was left stammering but grateful I’d moved on from the $50.00 violin I’d first bought on eBay and at least had a Stentor. I’ll have to keep you posted on that in the New Year.

Thursday, I headed back down to Sydney for a lung function test and appointment with my lung specialist. This was just a routine thing, and I did a brief post showing some of the lengths staff have gone to spread some Christmas cheer: Hospital Cheer: Thursday Doors.

Whenever I have these medical appointments, I usually go on a little detour afterwards as a pick-me-up. After my appointments on Thursday, I headed into the city and ended up walking up to David Jones and checking out their Christmas windows, which have a Nutcracker theme. I had the elf with me and photographed him in the Queen Victoria Building and various other locations. However, he really had his real moment of fame when he played the piano alongside pianist Michael Hope at David Jones’s Elizabeth Street store. They’ve had a pianist in there as long as I can remember, and it’s just another reflection of the store’s prestige and tradition. Anyway, I asked Michael if I could take his photo, and he invited me to sit alongside him and we passed my phone onto a total stranger to film me “playing” beside him. Then, I produced elf and Michael played with him. It was the sweetest thing. By the way, Elf is slowly heading towards Afghanistan where my cousin is currently serving in the Australian army but I have ordered some reinforcements. We’ve become rather attached.

Family zoom

Friday, we were back at the school to attend our son’s Year 9 Graduation. This is a celebration, which is quite unique to our school as Year 10 and Year 12 are when students actually leave school, and in this instance, the kids are simply moving from the junior campus to the senior campus which is about a five minute drive down the road. Yet, it does mean leaving their teachers and siblings and friends in the junior years behind. So, it did get a bit emotional. It was also another reminder that our son is rapidly growing up and about to get into the serious end of school. Next year, he’ll need to knuckle down. _DSC7837

Friday night, a huge storm hit. Geoff rang me and said they were expecting hail so I decided to take the car to the local shopping centre and park it undercover. AS it turned out, there was no hail, but the shops had no power and the water was pretty deep. Should’ve stayed home, although I did manage to buy a scrumptious berry cheesecake.

Saturday night, we all headed off to the sailing club for the annual Christmas party. That was when a second storm hit. No hail, but heavy rain and flashes of lightening which I didn’t even try to photograph for some strange reason, but I did photograph the sunset afterwards. The air felt so crisp, clean and refreshing and I was stoked with the photos. It looks like the sky is on fire. However, we arrived home to find another blackout and they couldn’t say when the power was coming back on. Naturally, that was alarming and there have been local black outs (thankfully not at our place) that have gone on for a few days. My parents and aunty visiting from Western Australia were coming over on Sunday and the house was suffering from dreadful neglect. So, I needed this blackout like a hole in the head. It’s not easy trying to clean the house by candle and torch light. The power came back on about 11.00pm and By the time they’d arrive lunchtime Sunday, I’d baked a cake, set up my vintage chine tea set and given up on the rest of the house. That’s what doors are for. We had a great visit with my aunt, and I must tell you that I actually played Danny Boy and O Holy Night on my violin for them, which was a first. I call myself “The Closet Violinist” for good reason. Either I’m playing behind closed doors, or the door’s being shut to block the noise. However, I’ve been practicing a lot more lately and really getting into a rhythm and went for it. I was pleasantly surprised and my mother even said I had good legato. So, it looks like I might not be staying in the closet anymore.

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By the way, before I head off, I wanted to share a stroke of good luck we had tonight. We’ve been needing a new lounge suite for about the last five years. However, we haven’t found anything we liked and finances have also been tight. A few years ago, we found a lounge suite at the op shop which had two manual recliners. We bought this as a stop-gap measure. However, these had become stained and the springs had worn out. I’d thrown covers over them but they really needed to go. Then, our stoke of good luck. Our son and I were out walking the dogs when we spotted a blue leather suite with two single recliners beside the road. We dashed home and fetched my husband and the car and then I was left sitting beside the road minding our stash while they drove back and forwards. The old one is now out the front but will need to wait a week for collection. We’re stoked. We’re planning to replace the flooring in January so this was a great morale boost. My Dad also won a leg of ham at golf today, which he’s sending our way. So, that’s meals for January taken care of.

It’s funny how things work out. I’d been planning to have a garage sale for some time and have had loads of stuff stockpiled ready to go only I haven’t been able to get my head around holding on. I’ve no doubt complicated things way too much in my head. However, it’s been looking like it’s not going to happen and so I dropped a few large bags of clothes at the charity shop. I thought I’d go with more of a spirit of generosity, rather than holding onto things and more than likely applying a false economy. There are probably much better ways of making money than a garage sale. So, from where I’m sitting, it looks like a case of clothes out, lounge and ham in. Not bad!

What have you been up to lately? How are your Christmas preparations going? Hopefully better than mine!

Anyway, I’d better get to bed. I hope you’ve had a great week. This has been another Weekend Coffee Share, hosted by Eclectic Alli.

Best wishes,

Rowena