Shrimps on the Barbie.

For the first time since arriving in Australia, this year I wasn’t on holiday for Christmas! Spoiled or what?

Silvio and I started with a pretty awesome Christmas Eve dinner: roast chicken with sage and pistachio butter, Silvio’s Special Roasted Potatoes, and gravy made with quince paste, which was so yum. I did some of the preparation before heading out for a catch up over wine with Bridget, who was in town for a few days, leaving the rest of the cooking to Silvio (who did a perfect job).

Alex and Jen enjoying the Christmas meal

Alex and Jen enjoying the Christmas meal

On Christmas Day, we headed over to spend it with a bunch of friends including Jen, who had arrived from London in October. We were pretty early, with cake and salad, so by the time the other guests arrived (bringing MEAT!) we were already enjoying some Christmas “spirit”. Jen had a K-Mart frozen daiquiri mix turning slowly to icy slush in the freezer, I had my favourite Chardonnay in the fridge, Silvio was eyeing up the enormous ribeye steaks that Brady was pulling out of the bag, everybody was happy.

Cooking the steak

Cooking the steak

The barbie was fired up and the first thing to go on was the massive prawns! Or shrimps, as I believe they are called here. Such an Aussie cliché, shrimps on the barbie, that of course it had to go on to facebook.

Shrimps on the barbie!

Shrimps on the barbie!

While we feasted on the prawns/shrimps, the steak was next. Alex had put together a yummy summer salad with watermelon and pomegranate, mine was spinach with beetroot, feta and sweet potato, and that was also going down pretty well. While the steak cooked, Silvio hovered around the barbie with the meat thermometer, guarding the precious. It really was enormous, but finally it was cooked and Alex carved it up on the table before digging in to what was left on the bone.

Brady and Alex feast on the bones

Brady and Alex feast on the bones

Meanwhile, Kai had put ribs in the oven, but since they take so long to cook, Silvio was carefully leaving room for them when they were finally done.

The massive steak

The massive steak

We finished up with slices of my Christmas cake, finally I got to cut it up! The icing was delicious. Full of food, I was feeling rather sleepy, in fact I think we all were … the lovely warm weather was helping us along to nap time! Jen was first to succumb, heading off for forty winks while the rest of us played Dixit, a game involving picture cards and a scoring system so complex that they have to write the rules on the game board. I won, thanks to a lucky round with a crytic card that Silvio played.

Dixit

Dixit

Jen returned just as we got started on Guitar Hero, and just in time to pick up the microphone! It was really heating up in the house, so she plugged in the air conditioner.

Guitar hero!

Guitar hero!

Halfway through the track, I could smell a bit of a burny smell, but it didn’t seem too bad, so I kept concentrating on the notes, until – POP! The electricity tripped and the game was unexpectedly cut short. We all walked around sniffing and trying to locate the cause of the problem, eventually isolating it to the plug socket with the air conditioner plugged in to it. The plug itself was too hot to touch, but when I pulled it slowly out of the wall by the wire, the plastic oozed apart leaving a blackened hole and a small wisp of smoke. So that was the end of the air conditioning, but at least we got the guitar hero back on!

The burned out plug

The burned out plug

Eventually the food coma hit and I drifted off for a while as Die Hard played in the background. As the sun started to go down, we finally wished everybody a merry Christmas, what was left of it, and headed back home to enjoy the last of the evening.

Sleepy from food, wine and warm weather

Sleepy from food, wine and warm weather

Mmmm cake.

Shortly after typhoon Haiyan hit the Phillippines in November last year, some of my colleagues organised a bake sale at work. At the last minute, Adel (one of my fellow team members and also a very good baker) was talking about the delicious sounding lime and coconut cupcakes she was planning to make, and asked me if I was going to do anything. I was about to chicken out, but I decided to join in and make a typical English feast: scones with jam and cream.

Ingredients, check. Wine, check.

Ingredients, check. Wine, check.

The evening before, I bought posh jam from Coles, went home, set out all of the ingredients (and a glass of vino, of course), and got stuck in with the rolling pin. They didn’t turn out too badly, and let’s face it, most things taste good with a scoop of jam and cream on top :) I always put the cream on first, although I do have friends who’ve insisted this is just wrong!

Customers

Customers

The next day, I took the cream upstairs to ask for a bowl, and instead the chef in our cafe swapped me my pot of cream for a full bowl, ready prepared – bonus! I laid out the scones alongside everybody else’s efforts, all of which looked delicious, then came downstairs a short while later to hand over my money for a good cause: charity and cake. I had to buy one of my own scones, along with Adel’s cupcakes topped with candied lime – it was a bit of a sugar overload, but so yum.

Scones for sale

Scones for sale

As Christmas got closer, I was also determined this year to make a “proper” Christmas cake – a rich fruit cake, topped with marzipan and delicious, naughty, sweet icing. I made the cake a few weeks early, and in the weeks coming up to Christmas, took it out of its foil wrapping to give it a sneaky drink of brandy.

Christmas cake!

Christmas cake!

The marzipan went on a couple of weeks before Christmas. It worked fine, although I only just had enough to cover the cake, and next year I think I’ll get more and do a thicker layer. Sadly I couldn’t find proper yellow marzipan – the white one still tastes the same, but the yellow one looks prettier! Next time I’ll also make sure to put sugary water or something on the cake to make it stick better, the icing falls off when I cut the cake now … although that’s not always such a bad thing, that is my favourite bit :)

Rolling out the marzipan

Rolling out the marzipan

Cake almost marzipanned

Cake almost marzipanned

Me!

Me!


In the last week before Christmas, I made the icing. I had wanted to find a non-edible decoration with the words “Merry Christmas” but I hadn’t found one, but I had bought some star and snowflake cutters and special papery (edible) snowflake confetti. My idea was to make a light blue cake to be like a sky, with snowflakes. I had blue ribbons and glitter to finish it off.

Partly decorated cake

Partly decorated cake

The snowflake cutters proved a bit difficult to use, and I only managed to get two usable snowflakes to put on the cake, so it ended up with more stars! I managed to cut out the letters for Merry Christmas, and pipe icing into little decorations around the edge. The initial icing layer was a bit too soft and runny, so although that made it fairly smooth, the decorations around the edge slipped a bit so the whole thing looked a bit drunk! Apt, maybe, given that I enjoyed a glass of wine while baking it … the ribbons mostly hid the errors, luckily.

Decorated Christmas cake

Decorated Christmas cake

The finished cake looked pretty awesome actually, far from perfect but one of my better efforts :) Next time I will definitely make the icing a bit thicker first, and follow Mum’s advice to let the first layer dry before decorating it! I also got a nice response from Baking Pleasures, the website that I ordered the snowflake cutters from, with some advice to try some different things next time. All in all, it was good fun making the cake and so far, it’s been even more fun eating it …

New Zealand Christmas

New Zealand has always been a place I thought I would go one day, but after seeing Claudia’s amazing photos of her trip early last year, it moved pretty high up on my list!

Beautiful views

Beautiful views

We had booked the flights and organised a camper van while Silvio was away in Bangalore, thinking we’d have loads of time once he got back to research where we wanted to go … well, it didn’t quite turn out that way. With less than a week to go, we ended up spending more time arguing over whether I really needed three pairs of jeans than we did planning places to visit. We ended up with a rough plan to start by heading north, with a few places to stay in mind; to hit a few wineries and spend a couple of days in Queenstown.

After a pretty awesome (and fairly large) meal at Ribs and Rumps on Saturday it was an early start on Sunday, we had to catch the first ferry to make our flight.

Pebbles at sunset in Greymouth

Pebbles at sunset in Greymouth

We got to Christchurch, bought a NZ sim card since we can’t possibly live without the interwebz for a week, and jumped in a shuttle to our motel. The weather was gorgeous – glorious sunshine and almost as hot as Sydney – and it seemed like every other building was a small motel, this place is certainly set up for driving holidays.

We had a moment of panic as the shuttle drove off when I suddenly wondered if we’d remembered the name of the motel right, having booked a different one for the final night of our stay. We hovered outside reception waiting for Silvio’s laptop to start up, where the owner eventually found us and reassured us that yes, we were booked in – thank god!

Driving through the mountains

Driving through the mountains

Armed with leaflets and maps, we meandered down to the local Countdown supermarket for snacks (the logo looked suspiciously like Woolworths) They sell salt and vinegar Pringles here – wow!! Good thing junk food is allowed on holiday :)

Later in the evening we headed out to eat and then watch The Hobbit in 3D – although we could have seen it at home, it was pretty special to watch the scenery knowing that we were in the country it was filmed in, with a week of driving around that same scenery ahead of us. Compared to Australia, the evening stayed light really late, even by 8pm it still felt like 5 or 6.

Monday morning, yawning because with the time difference 9am felt like 7am, we headed off to the Wicked depot to collect our camper van. On the way, our taxi driver told us not to bother with the far south of the island, which knocked a few hundred kilometres off the journey very quickly.

Our camper van at the first campsite

Our camper van at the first campsite

At Wicked, we were bombarded with information. Firstly, I discovered that insurance works differently in New Zealand: although we had paid to avoid any liability for damage to the camper van itself, they didn’t cover us for damage to any third parties. Oh well, better drive carefully then.

She asked where we were heading, and was very concerned when we told her we hadn’t booked a campsite.

Kaikoura in the sunshine

Kaikoura in the sunshine

Brains buzzing and feeling a bit worried already, we trailed after her as she showed us where to check the oil and water, pointed out our small gas canister for cooking and how the sink worked, and informed us where to take it to clean it before returning it. This wasn’t like anything I’ve ever rented before! It was kind of cute though – smaller than we’d thought, just a converted people carrier with enough space for a bed and small shelves at the back, with curtains strung up across the windows for privacy, well almost, since they didn’t quite stretch all the way!

Our van was called Alien Life Forms, painted black and blue with various weird creatures on it. Across the back, it read “Artificial intelligence usually beats real stupidity” … at least it wasn’t rude!

Food store in the van

Food store in the van

At last we were off! We headed north towards Kaikoura, but it wasn’t long before we were feeling a bit hungry and seeing signs for wineries … mmmm! I wanted to stop at one that the taxi driver had mentioned but after taking a wrong turn and ending up in the middle of a vineyard, we finally arrived to find it was closed :( We headed back to the Mud House instead, which turned out to be an amazing place with beautifully cooked food. I tasted most of their wines afterwards, Silvio stuck to the pinot noir, and we left with three bottles including a lovely oaky chardonnay (mmm my favourite) and feeling pretty full and a bit sleepy.

Outside The Mud House winery

Outside The Mud House winery

Despite the warnings, we found a spot at a campsite in Kaikoura fairly easily. They were busy and everybody was fairly packed in – our closest neighbours had a large caravan and seemed to have already consumed rather a lot of wine, they were enjoying a good old sing song most of the evening.

Low cloud across the hills

Low cloud across the hills

More low hanging clouds

More low hanging clouds

Clouds hanging low over the beach

Clouds hanging low over the beach


The clouds were low over the hills, and it was pretty cool out, but we headed out for a walk along the rocky beach. I saw a single seal on the rocks, but it slithered away before I could get Silvio’s attention … meanwhile he found a rock that he could climb and headed up. Despite the grey sky the views were pretty cool, huge hills rising almost out of the sea and draped in clouds.

I'm the king of the castle

I’m the king of the castle

Hmmm how do I get down now?

Hmmm how do I get down now?

Me at the beach

Me at the beach

On Christmas Day, we woke up in a hot tin can! The campsite had a pretty good kitchen – in fact, one family were using it to roast a large hunk of meat for their Christmas dinner. As we sat eating breakfast, they carted bags and bags of presents out to their table and started handing them around.

Christmas Quackers!

Christmas Quackers!

This is as Christmassy as I get!

This is as Christmassy as I get!

Quackers, and our site marker

Quackers, and our site marker


We left the campsite and headed into the town of Kaikoura. The sky was still grey and the town was pretty dead, with only one small cafe and a tiny supermarket open. We wandered along the pebbly beaches watching the seagulls and the scenery, debating where to spend the day and night. The original plan was to explore Kaikoura then head to the wineries in the north, but it didn’t seem likely that they’d be open and there wasn’t much to do in Kaikoura on Christmas Day.

Mine Mine Mine Mine Mine

Mine Mine Mine Mine Mine

Where'd the beach go?

Where’d the beach go?

I'm ready, where to?

I’m ready, where to?


In the end we decided to skip the north and head straight across to the West Coast, in the hope that we could get to Greymouth that day (an estimated 7 hour drive, although we later found out that was very conservative). By the time we left, the weather was brightening up, and even as we drove out of the town everything was looking very pretty in the sunshine.

Lord of the Rings country!

Lord of the Rings country!

The road was empty. Occasionally we would pass another camper van, but for most of the journey the world was ours alone. We followed a mix of winding mountain roads and single lane highways through the middle of the country, luckily the GPS on the iPhone worked so we could see where we were on the map, but there was no phone signal for most of the way.

We stopped in Waiau to get petrol from an unmanned roadside pump. The town was completely deserted, we didn’t see another soul – it was as though the Mayan predictions had really come true! In contrast to the heavy morning mists in Kaikoura, the sun was beating down by that time and it was lovely and warm.

Quackers in Waiau

Quackers in Waiau

We continued along to Hanmer Springs, where there is a fantastic looking indoor water park with slides and spa pools, unfortunately the one day of the year that they close is Christmas Day :( We stretched our legs and wandered around, but there wasn’t much to see – at least here though, there were a few people milling around so we weren’t totally alone!

Throughout the journey, there were loads of single lane bridges, some fairly long, luckily we seemed to have priority on our side most of the time. One in particular did scare me though: around 200m or more driving along a railway track. In fact, there were a lot of railway tracks, but we never did see a single train :)

Lookout point near Hanmer Springs

Lookout point near Hanmer Springs

Along the way, I tried to listen to some of my Italian recordings, but I struggled with too many words I couldn’t fathom and eventually got too cross with it, deciding to dig out one of the books for another day instead.

We eventually made it to Greymouth and headed to the Top 10 Holiday Park there, it was absolutely lovely, the best place out of all the campsites we stayed at. They were busy but not full, and our camper van site was pretty spacious with walls each side and nobody directly overlooking us.

Campsite in Greymouth

Campsite in Greymouth

The holiday park had a jacuzzi that we could book for a half hour, which was exactly what we needed after the long drive – a huge, hot bath!

The weather was threatening rain, but we were just over the back of the beach and the sun was starting to set so it would have been a waste not to go and watch it for a little while. Afterwards, we made use of the kitchen to cook a Christmas dinner of pasta :) eating outside under a shelter while the rain spattered a bit.

So that was Christmas over for another year!

Merry Christmas!

Christmas Day dawned bright and clear – finally, the beautiful sunny weather we’d been hoping for! We walked up the sandy track to the beach, where the wind was still strong and blowing foam along the shore – it was beautiful.

View across the dunes

Deserted beach

Christmas morning on the beach

After breakfast it was time for presents! I had more than anybody :) As well as a gift from Rachel and Yolly’s mum Claire, my parents had sent me a parcel, and when I unwrapped it, it had a Christmas stocking with four more small things inside! I felt spoilt. It was strange being so far from my family though, and I had a few tears over the card they’d sent, but was glad to have Yolly around – and you can’t stay sad for long around the girls, they usually manage to do something funny.

Yolly and Casey had bought the girls a paddling pool so we set it up and started carrying buckets of water from the sea. Well I say “we” … I managed one, then tried to help carry a bigger box of water, but it was just too heavy! So the others were left carting up the buckets …

We tried to take them into the sea but they were still too scared of it, which probably wasn’t a bad thing given the size of the waves.

It was a lovely day. I can’t say that it felt like any other Christmas Day, because that usually involves far colder weather, mostly staying indoors except for a crisp walk outside, and plenty of bad TV … well, we didn’t have any of that! We did have plenty of chocolate though, which Ivy in particular seemed to love.

Chocolate heaven!

We also had some fun and games with water pistols! Yolly had bought some small ones for the girls, and a huge Nerf water gun for Casey – unfortunately, it turned out to need batteries, and they couldn’t find them in the mountains of stuff they’d packed. Later on, Yolly discovered the batteries, and hunted for a screw driver to fit them – we giggled as she planned to ambush him later on with it. It wasn’t to be though – Casey got the better of us and found the batteries first, so Yolly was the one who got chased across the sand by a stream of icy water. I’m far too lazy, so I just got wet.

Armed and ready

Which way did he go?

Lara Croft!

While the girls played in the sand and the pool, Casey, obviously missing work, began digging sandy holes around the pool. Of course Mya wanted to join in with everything he did, so he buried her sitting in sand, up to her arms. Mya loved it, but looked quite relieved to climb out at the end.

Where did Mya go? (and what is Ivy eating? Sand ... again?)

Then it was Yolly’s turn – this would need a bigger hole … we decided to bury her all the way up to her neck, and hide her face with the hat. Ivy was quite confused as to where the rest of her mum had gone!

About to put the sand back ...

Sharing secrets

I can still see you, mummy

We headed out in the afternoon to fill the water bottles and buy bread in Eurong – when we visited the bakery the day before, they’d said it would be open – but we didn’t get very far, before a fallen tree blocked the beach at the rocky area. We headed in the opposite direction to Happy Valley, where we could at least get water, but no shops were open. Along the way, we had to take a detour at Yidney Rocks to get around the rocky beach, since the water was too high – although the bumpy track up and around was almost as bad.

Christmas dinner was steak – no turkey in the campsite, but we did have wine. The cardboard wine boxes disintegrated pretty quickly inside the ice box, but that wasn’t going to stop us – we just had to squeeze it out of the freezing, dribbling bags instead.

On Boxing Day, the group was to expand: Steph and Anthony would be joining us with their two young kids (plus Steph’s bump), and Phil and his girlfriend Ploy would be coming with her son Tyler, who would be the oldest at 6. Casey was watching the tide in the morning and trying to guess what time they’d arrive, when suddenly two huge 4x4s and a trailer swung over the sandy track and pulled up waving. They’d arrived!

Phoebe and the other kids have arrived

They piled out of the cars, mostly looking for somewhere to cool down – it was already steaming hot. After the excitement died down a bit, we moved the marquee up to the sandy track and took the kids up with buckets and spades. The boys congregated around the tents to erect two huge tarps across the entire area. I decided it was far better to keep out of the way until the job was done, there were more than enough of them to handle it, and judging by how long it took to decide them how and where to put it, there were already too many cooks … :)

When it was done, it was pretty impressive – three huge tents plus my smaller one, with the area in between all covered so that we had a nice area to sit that would be dry or shady, depending on what the weather was doing.

With the hard work over, plans were made for the next day when we would all head out to Lake MacKenzie. I had seen the photos and I was excited, especially when Steph said it was her favourite place to go. Just one more sleep …

Setting up camp.

By 4:30am the car was packed and ready to go: three adults plus two child seats, a car full of camping stuff and a huge trailer behind it. I was curled up between them in the back with my head resting on the pillows stuffed behind the seats, ready to catch a couple more hours kip before we arrived. We didn’t make it more than a hundred yards though before we had to go back for Casey’s sunglasses … lucky it wasn’t mine.

It rained as we drove through Queensland for a couple of hours before stopping off for breakfast at a little cafe, we were so hungry by then. Casey kept saying how late we were (what? It was still not even 7am! How could this be late?) Yolly and I swapped places in the car, and she stretched her feet out between the front seats while we teased her. A little later we stopped off in Rainbow to buy bread and milk … and Yolly and I found a cute little souvenir shop, we were in there for ages looking at hats, headbands, hippie bracelets and gifts … Casey was not very impressed! I was already leading my cousin astray :)

Just a bit further and we were on Rainbow Beach, where Casey’s father was camping out with some of his grandchildren. He had a great setup with an enormous tent, and even canvas shelves for clothes, so we settled in for a nice cuppa. It was still drizzling with rain and the beach didn’t look too inviting … I hoped the weather would clear up … it didn’t seem to bother the kids though, they were soon running around in the sand. The older ones wound Ivy up offering her crisps through the fly screen, she couldn’t understand quite why she couldn’t reach them, but was laughing along with all the others!

Casey dropped the tyre pressure, and then we were off across a more track that grew steadily more sandy and less road-like. “That’s it now, beach all the way!” he said – we must be nearly there then, I thought, hooray! The barge that would take us across to Fraser Island fitted about ten cars with trailers and we were almost last on so there wasn’t even a wait to leave. It was all open, so we could stand outside the car and watch the ocean (and of course, check in on Facebook).

It was all over very quickly, and we were on the Island, driving along the beach! This was pretty thrilling, especially since there were actually speed limit signs on the edge of the dunes (80kph) – I’d never been on a beach highway before. It was kind of bumpy when we hit little streams of water, but still raining and low tide so the sand was fairly hard packed. Still, it wasn’t driving for wusses – or ordinary cars either, all the ones that we passed were large 4x4s.

To my surprise, we had about an hour to drive before we’d reach a campsite – the first part of the beach was wide open to the tide and the sand was washed up and back all the time, so camping wasn’t really advisable … finally after checking out a couple of sites, Casey discovered one that they had used before and enjoyed, and Yolly drove the trailer into position. It was raining buckets, and we were about to start putting up the tent.

The main part of the tent unfolded from the trailer, and once it was up, the kids could get out of the car and sit in it while we put up the rest of it. Poor Yolly was freezing, and had to go for a quick run to try and warm up, but it wasn’t until we could get under the tent and get dry clothes on that she stopped shivering.

Our camp was finally all set up - my tent on the left, Yolly and Casey's on the right and the shower in the middle!

Finally, though, it was all done! I was actually looking forward to sleeping under the sound of the rain. My smaller tent was put up close by, and the shower tent (oh yes, people, this was luxury camping) just around the back. Casey rigged up the generator, and we even had electric lights!

The rain stopped in the evening and we sat outside for a while, but it wasn’t really very warm and we ended up inside the tents. After the early start, and a cheeky glass or two of wine, we were all off to an early bed. Before I headed out to my tent, Casey asked me if I knew about the dingoes. I thought he was kidding … “You probably won’t see one, but if you do, just stand your ground and he’ll run away. They’re more scared of us than we are of them. Just don’t run … ” Yeah right, I thought, I just won’t leave the safety of my tent!

Mya peeking out from behind my tent

The weather wasn’t done with us. There was a cyclone off of the coast whipping up huge waves, with swells up to four metres high, apparently. The wind was furious. Just after I set off to my own tent, I heard the pattering of rain on the roof, and snuggled up in the bed to go to sleep to it …

… but not for long. In the small hours of the morning, I woke up to rain hammering angrily on my tent, the wind howling and soon after, thunder and flashes of lightning. Without quite enough pegs, the fly was sagging on to the inside of the tent and dribbling water down the sides, so that the edges of my bed were starting to get damp. I debated whether to try and get into the bigger tent, but it wasn’t cold and I wasn’t really wet … although as the rain continued to splatter me, and I had to move my pillows to avoid the odd drip, I almost did.

I heard movement and saw lights outside of my tent around two AM, then Casey shouted in to ask if I was dry. “Mostly!” I said, “But I bet you’re not …” I couldn’t work out what he was doing outside, but he seemed to be dragging something, and he was out there for ages, as the thunder cracked and the rain continued to pelt on all of us. Finally it seemed to ease a little, and I fell back to sleep.

The next morning, there was a huge tarp stretched across the big tent that hadn’t been there the night before. So that’s what Casey had been doing during the night … it turned out that the bigger tent had been leaking quite badly, and they’d had a couple of inches of rain on the floor. It was still soaking in there, although at least with the extra protection over the roof, no more had got in. We spent the morning emptying out the water and wet sand, first of all with buckets, then dustpan and brush and finally rags to clean out the last of it. There was no lasting damage, just a damp start to the holiday.

Christmas Eve continued to be grey and windy, with huge waves. It was a spring tide too with no moon, so at high tide the waves were crashing right up to the dunes. We did manage to get a bit of a paddle in the ocean, but both of the girls were scared to go in.

As the day drew to a close, we watched the patches of blue sky that were slowly appearing, and hoped that Santa would bring us sunshine for Christmas Day :)

Jetting off to Brisbane!

“School” is out, my birthday’s over, that must mean it’s nearly Christmas …

I’d been warned that having Christmas in the middle of summer would be weird, but I couldn’t quite understand why until I started seeing decorations around in Sydney. It just doesn’t feel like Christmas – usually, cold rainy weather and early darkness lit by lights twinkling in the streets would trigger thoughts of Christmas. In the (albeit relatively cool) early summer weather I kept forgetting about Christmas, until I saw a decorated tree or something looking strangely out of place in the sunshine.

On Tuesday, I headed out to the airport to catch a flight to Brisbane, where I was planning to spend Christmas with my Aussie cousins, Yolande and Claudia. I haven’t caught a flight since I arrived here over six weeks ago, which is quite a long time considering I’d flown so many times to Berlin and Edinburgh earlier this year for work. I wasn’t really looking forward to the flight, just relieved that it was such a short one, and I couldn’t wait to just get there.

I arrived at Brisbane airport to find Yolly looking cool and summery, and waiting with a huge double pram right outside the gate – she’d left her phone behind so it was lucky we found each other. Her girls looked at me shyly and Mya (aged 2 and a half) chewed her fingers and stared as I dragged my case off of the belt. She soon found her tongue when we got in the car – Yolly and I had loads to talk about, so she kept butting in with “Coos me mummy” (she can’t quite get the hang of “excuse me”!)

Bouncy bouncy!

It took a while to get back to Fernvale, where the girls had a huge new trampoline that Mya wanted to show me. Of course, I had to get on and have a go – well, they seemed to enjoy it far more when somebody else was jiggling them around instead of jumping on it themselves.

Mya announced that I was sleeping in her room (on a cute pink bed!) and she was excited to be sleeping on a mattress on the floor in her sister Ivy’s room. I got to help bath them, then Yolly and I cracked open the wine …

I met her husband-to-be Casey, who – when he found out I was living in Manly – declared “that’s not a real beach!” He’s never seen the UK beaches though :) The family were heading out to Fraser Island to camp on the beach after dropping me in Brisbane early Friday morning – “That’s a real beach!” – and we got Mya to say in a silly voice “we’re going to Fraser Island beach, yeah!”

Presents!

Mya makes short work of unwrapping her gift

Ooooh, shiny ...


Enjoying some lunch

The next morning, we had a grand opening of Christmas presents – since I wouldn’t be with the family for Christmas day, and I desperately wanted to see the girls ripping open their gifts. It was so much fun, and I was delighted that they seemed to like all the presents!

Later we were planning to head out to Queens Park in Ipswich – Yolly promised me native Australian animals – then ice cream afterwards at Cold Rock. I don’t know who was more excited, me or Mya … actually I do, it was me.

As we were preparing to go out, Casey decided to show me photos of this “real beach”. He ran through fifty or sixty shots from previous years’ holidays of beautiful white sand, sun blazing across huge dunes and clear blue water – including photos from the beach on Fraser Island, camp site and days out at Lake MacKenzie. It was gorgeous, and somewhere deep in my subconscious, the wheels started to spin.

Ivy having a stroll

The weather was a bit unpredictable, so we headed to the park first before it rained. We sat down to eat – one minute Mya was sitting on the grass happily eating, then she suddenly said, “itchy, mummy …” – the next thing we knew, the poor little thing had ant bites on her bum! She was so upset, but after a few cuddles she cheered up and we wandered around the animal enclosures – there were wallabies, emus, kangaroos and some more familiar animals like pigs and ducks (I said they should have called the pigs Ham and Bacon).

Baby Ivy wanted to walk, which she can do pretty well while holding on to somebody – I was desperately hoping she might take a couple of steps alone, but she’s still a bit too young.

Cold Rock - Yum!


We got the massive pram out to go to Cold Rock, where we all ate far too much sugary ice cream (including Quackers who had come along for the trip)! We then fought our way through the Christmas shoppers to find shoes for Ivy, and I began to see why Yolly doesn’t really like shopping with the kids in tow! On the way in, we ran into their friends Anthony and Steph and their kids, who were also going on the Fraser Island trip. “We’re dropping Jo back to Brisbane before we go,” Yolly said, “but we wish she could come!”

I bet you can guess what’s coming … on our way out of the mall I turned to Yolly. “I bet it wouldn’t be too expensive to just change my flight home so I could come with you to Fraser Island …” Those photos were still flashing through my mind like a slideshow. “I actually brought the right kind of clothes – I even have two bikinis …”

Yolly didn’t need any convincing, and on the drive home we were already checking flights and making plans. We had one more stop to make though … there were some hungry chickens at Casey’s dad’s house, needing feeding while he was away. It was quite an adventure getting them all fed, and finally getting them back into their coop – Yolly had to entice them back with a bucket of food.

Back home, we still had a couple of people to check with before I could confirm the trip to Fraser Island, since I was supposed to be spending Christmas with Claudia … she told me to take the chance to go, and hopefully we’ll see each other in Sydney sometime soon :)

Flights sorted, I was getting excited, and then Casey decided to enlighten me about the toilet arrangements on the beach … or rather, the lack thereof. Yep, we would be taking a shovel and toilet roll into the sand dunes … enough said! Other than that though, this would be luxury camping :)

Meeting the family!


The next day we headed into Brisbane to meet Yolly’s mum Claire, and the rest of her brothers and sisters, who I’d never met as they all live in Oz. It was fantastic to meet a whole part of the family I never knew before, although a little bit intimidating – especially as I was not exactly dressed to impress, with casual shorts and no make up! They were all lovely (of course) but all too soon we had to go and finish getting ready for the big trip!

Yolly and I headed off for more shopping and found some cool floaty toys and a body board in K-Mart, then it was home then off out again for the big food shop.

I love shopping, any kind of shopping, but pushing two trollies around Woolies with two small children was definitely a different kind of shopping experience. Having never planned for a ten day camping trip for five people before, I was next to no help (except perhaps in the chocolate aisle, where I may have been a little too MUCH help). We left with two massive trollies of food, and then I got boxes of wine from the liquour store!

Back home, Yolly and Casey were rushing around trying to sort out the packing, running out for ice boxes and making arrangements for the dog, and we managed to squeeze some dinner in somehow. I lazily headed off to bed while Yolly finished off the rest of her packing, and she and Casey packed the trailer. Just time for a few hours’ sleep before getting up to head off for the big adventure …

Hello… hello? Anybody there?

View from the train station on the way to work

Yes, I’ve been a bit quiet over the last couple of weeks. Sorry about that … since starting a real project, work’s been taking up a lot of my time and energy. It’s going great so far and I’m really enjoying the project, but as usual when that happens, I’ve been working slightly longer and by the time I get home at night I don’t have much inclination to get the laptop out, or much to write about!

On top of that I’ve been shattered all week last week – finally realised why this weekend, when I’ve come down with a sniffly cold :(

With Viv and Rachel at the opera bar, with the Harbour Bridge in the background

In case I’ve not lost you already with that fascinating start … over the last couple of weeks, I’ve also had a couple of Christmas parties – starting with a pre-party Party last Friday night, at the Opera bar with Viv, the night before our ThoughtWorks party on Saturday. Friday evening was beautiful, with great weather and amazing views across the harbour but also incredibly busy – so we headed off after a drink, to get some food and meet the boys (Fabio and Jules) at another bar.

On Saturday I was out diving in the afternoon (more about that later) so I was very fashionably late to the ThoughtWorks party, most people were already having a good time when I got there. Our MD was even wearing a white halo.

I missed most of the food but managed to salvage a bit before they took the plates away, and we even got brownies to take home! Rachel and I had a couple each, and I think we gave away one bag to the man at the ferry gate on the way home … Definitely a fun night, and nice to meet some of my colleagues’ wives, it’s a great way to get to know people better :)

On Thursday this week, I was thinking all the way home about going for a run. So much so, that by the time I got there I was really not feeling up for it – I was so tired and already a bit sniffy. I walked in the door to find Chelsea putting together some delish looking salads, the back doors thrown open to a fairly warm evening, and the table outside decorated for Christmas. A couple of her friends had already arrived for dinner, and she immediately told me not to even think about cooking, there was far too much food … have a glass of wine and pretend to be a guest! Well, I don’t need telling twice :) That was the end of all thoughts about a run. When the last guests left at midnight, I crashed in to bed tired, tipsy and happy.

By mid afternoon Friday I realised that the reason I still felt headachy and fuzzy wasn’t just Thursday’s over-indulgence, I was actually ill. Dammit – I was supposed to be out diving on the boat over the weekend, and I’d been looking forward to it all week! I spent Friday night curled up on the sofa with comfort food (fish and chips, yum!) but it wasn’t enough and on Saturday morning I had to admit I just couldn’t dive.

It’s been a weekend of mostly rest, crappy tv, and also a little gardening … more about that later too! I’m still pretty stuffed up but hoping to feel better for my birthday tomorrow. After that I’m off to see my lovely cousins Yolly and Clauds in Brisbane – and so excited about meeting the rest of their family, including Yolly’s little children. I better get well by then!