Wednesday, 28 August 2013

What we didn't expect to see when we went out for a drive ...

Wordless Wednesday

... and just thirty minutes from our local shopping centre! 

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Perspectives on Worry

Isn't it funny how life can be chugging along quite smoothly one day and then all of a sudden, the wheels fall off and we find ourselves in a tangle of conflicts and misunderstandings, feeling simultaneously guilty that we might have unintentionally made poor decisions and hurt that our own perspective has not been fully acknowledged?

It's Friday today and at the end of what has been an emotionally draining week, with more than its fair share of unforeseen challenges, I'm feeling somewhat philosophical. Shall we call this Philosophical Friday? Or Philosophical Phriday perhaps? Anyway, while I'm in this frame of mind, I'd like to share with you a little lesson that one of my sisters, who visited me yesterday, shared with me ...

I told my sister that I was feeling overwhelmed and confused at the moment and that I distinctly felt the need to pray because the challenges in front of me were more than I could handle alone. The only thing was, I had no idea what I was supposed to be praying for. Rather than giving me any direct advice, she told me about a Buddhist teaching based on worry. It is such a simple concept but it has helped me achieve a sense of serenity. I hope that you too will be able to gain something from it, whether it's today or sometime in the future when you need it and remember it.

So here it is, the two most important lessons in dealing with a problem:

So there it is. I understand that some folks won't necessary like it, but for me it's not a simple message of "don't worry, be happy", it's a gentle reminder that worrying only wastes our energy and exacerbates our problems.

What do you think?

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

The Secret Ingredient Gluten-Free Choc Chip Cookies

A couple of weekends ago, we went to visit my wonderful friend Eilish, the one who makes those glorious cakes. On her kitchen table she had a plate of choc chip cookies, all ready and waiting for us.

"Have one", she offered, seeing my eyes bulging, "they're gluten-free".

I took a bite into what was possibly the best choc chip cookie I have yet to lay lips upon: soft, syrupy, melt-in-your-mouth delicious.

Her husband, who was preparing us a coffee with his new best friend, the coffee machine, grinned broadly at my appreciative sound-effects and said "I'll give you $100 if you can guess what they're made from".

Always up for a challenge, I tried my very best to identify what I was tasting.

"Peanut butter?" I asked.

"Yes", he replied, "but that's not the secret ingredient".

"Honey", I tried again.

"Yes, but that's still not the secret".

My next few guesses were futile:

"Corn flakes?"


"Condensed milk?"


I never got to find out if he really would have given me $100 or not because at that point they both said to me "you're never going to guess".

So here is the secret:
The best choc-chip cookies I have ever tasted in my life, which happen to also be gluten free and sugar free, are made with ....

Yep, that's right, chick peas.

So after polishing off about three quarters of the cookies on the plate, I asked Eilish to email me the recipe (I hardly ever ask anyone for recipes, but I needed this one) and because it is just so good, I thought I would share it here too. So here we go:

Chick Pea Choc Chip Cookies


1 1/4 cups canned chick peas, well rinsed and patted dry with a paper towel
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup + 2tbs (165g) natural peanut butter
1/4 cup (80g) honey
1 tsp baking powder
a pinch of salt (if your peanut butter doesn't have salt in it)
1/2 cup (90g) choc chips


1. Preheat your oven to 175 degrees C (approx 350 degrees F)

2. Combine all ingredients except for the choc chips in a food processor and process until very smooth. Make sure there are no chunks left (if you don't have a food processor, you can use a stick blender, like I did).

3. Add the choc chips until they are mixed through.

4. Roll the mixture into balls using wet hands and place them on an oven tray lined with baking paper (this is very sticky and feels like you're making a mud pie. If you have kids - or partners - who like gooey things, this is what they have to do to earn their right to lick the bowl!)

5. Bake for about 10 mins. The balls with still be very soft when you take them out of the oven; they don't set like normal cookies.

6. Store in an airtight container for up to a week. Eat them all up immediately :D

                                        Yum Yum Yum Yum Yum!

Linking up with Amy today at

Thursday, 15 August 2013

The best time to read is now!

Wordless Wednesday 

"We shouldn't teach great books; we should teach a love of reading."

B.F Skinner

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

What's in a Name?

One day when I was in hospital last March following the birth of my daughter, a tea-lady came into my room and while she was pouring me a cuppa, she asked me a few run-of-the-mill questions you'd ask a woman who'd just had a baby:

"Is this your first?" she asked.

"No", I replied ,"I've got a son too".

"And what have you called this one?" she inquired.

"Annalisa", I told her.

She made a noise that can best be described as a grunt.

"What's your little boy's name?" she continued.

"Ben" replied.

"Oh I like that name", she said, suddenly chirpy again."I like all those traditional type names".

Is that so? I felt like saying to her. Well next time I have a child I'll make sure I consult you then before naming it, shall I?

I had thought that I had given my daughter a fairly normal, easy-to-pronounce, easy-to-spell kind of name. My partner is Italian and we wanted her to have an Italian name to connect her to her paternal roots but without it being too Italian. By too Italian I mean names like Concetta, pronounced 'Conchetta', and Stefania, pronounced Stef-an-yar, both beautiful names but both, you know, tricky for Aussies. It seems my son sides more with the tea-lady on this one though.

"Why couldn't you just give her a normal name?" he asked me not long after she was born.

"What's a normal name?" I asked him back, and he rattled off half a dozen of the current most popular female names in English-speaking countries, most of which I think are lovely and a couple of which I'd even considered for him if he had been a girl.

It did make me start to think about the popularity of names though. I wondered, for instance, what tea-ladies would have said to mothers postpartum back in my grandmother's day if they had chosen to call their daughters Madison, Isla, Sienna, Ava, Mackenzie, Scarlett, Chloe or Taylor. When my grandmother was born, in 1911, among the top 40 most popular names for girls were Dorothy, Florence, Ethel, Edna, Edith, Gladys, Thelma, Beatrice, Bertha, Gertrude and Martha. Yes, laugh by all means. Just not at the last one; that's my middle name. You'd be hard pressed to find anyone born in the twenty-first century sporting any of these as first names though.

The most anticipated baby naming announcement so far in this century was of course that of the third in line to the British throne, little Prince George. There were no surprises there though, with all betting agencies allocating that time-honoured moniker a top spot in the stakes. Wouldn't it have been delicious, mind you, if the Duchess had gone out on a limb and named her son something a little less predictable like, I don't know, Dwayne?

Image source

In Italy, tabloids immediately began referring to the little Prince as Giorgio, Italianising his name as they did with his grandfather, Principe Carlo, and his great-grandmother, Regina Elisabetta, before him. In my partner's home town in Sicily, the most popular names for boys are Giuseppe, Antonio, Salvatore and Sebastiano, while the most popular girls names are Maria, Giuseppina, Sebastiana, Francesca, Paola and Carmela. But that's not to say that Italians do not embrace English names: in the early '90s, when the American soap opera The Bold and The Beautiful (known in Italy simply as Beautiful) took the whole world by storm, several babies from his town returned home from hospital named Brooke, Stephen and Ridge. The pronunciation of these names from the point of view of the infants' grandparents was understandably challenging, considering that in Italian every letter of a word is articulated. Undoubtedly, a great many of the older generation grumbled at the time that there should be a law put in place against such frivolity.

In fact, some countries do have quite interesting naming laws in place. I have a friend who is a midwife and who practiced for some time in Finland. There, she told me, names are regulated and you cannot simply call your child whatever you so please. There are two ways that a name can be approved:  if you want your child to enter the church, a minister has to approve the child's name before the christening. If you do not wish for your child to enter the church, they must be enrolled on the national census. The national census has a committee which must approve the child's name before they can be registered. The committee has the power to veto a name that is considered too strange and to reject the registration of a name if it violates any of the following conditions:

1. A name should be gender specific, that is, boy's names should not be used for girls and vice versa. Bad luck Cameron Diaz;

2. A last name should not be used as a first name. Bad luck Taylor Swift. Bad luck a lot of people in English-speaking countries actually, considering that James, Paul, Thomas, Scott and John (just to name a few) are all frequently occurring surnames as well as first names; and finally,

3. A child should not be given the same first name as one of their siblings. This may seem ridiculously obvious but in the past, when the rate of infant mortality was significantly higher than it is today, parents sometimes wished to pass the name of their deceased child onto their newborn.

In Finland, as in many other European countries, 'name days' are celebrated in a similar way to birthdays. When I was living in Sweden as an exchange student, several of my friends gave me cards, hugs and little gifts on 19th November. My birthday is in March. I gently reminded them of this and they laughed and said "but it's your name day!" Each day of the year has at least one name allocated to it (many deriving from the Feast Days of Saints). In Sicily, my mother-in-law bakes a cake whenever someone in the family has their name day.

I like the idea of celebrating name days; any reason to celebrate and make people feel special is a good reason and names can be fun. They can be funny too.

I once worked with a woman who was incredibly gifted at gossiping. Her last name was Tellchatter. I also had a neighbour once who I knew simply as "Jo". After living next to her for about a year, she told me they were moving house. We swapped details so we could stay in touch and, for the first time, I asked her what her surname was. "King", she told me. You've gotta be joking, I thought (pardon the pun). If that's not the ultimate declaration of love - to change your maiden name to King so as to share your husband's name when you already go by the first name of  Jo - then I don't know what is.

But the most memorable first-last name combination of any I have ever heard would have to be that belonging to a little boy called Jack who came to one of the swimming classes I taught during my university days. When I first looked at the attendance list with his name on it, I imagined that there had been a mistake, a typo perhaps, or somebody playing a silly joke. But then I questioned my colleagues about it and they confirmed that this was indeed his name. So do not even ask me if I'm pulling your leg on this one, because I swear black and blue that I'm not.

His last name, ladies and gentlemen, was Russell.


Friday, 9 August 2013

Question time!

Do you remember in the days before facebook took over the world when people used to send each other little questionnaires via email? I found this over at Stacey's blog theveggiemama. Feel like playing along? Have a little read, then scroll down to the blank template at the bottom of this post. When you've filled it out make sure you put your link in the comment box so I can pop on over to your blog and see your answers!

Here we go ...

Making: as little noise as possible so I don’t wake my children.
Cooking: gluten-free packet mix chocolate cake. Naturally, when my friend comes over tomorrow for morning tea I will hide the packet.
Drinking: raspberry leaf tea, the stuff they recommend for inducing labour naturally. No, I am not pregnant. Two weeks before my daughter was born, I read about its ability to tone the uterus in preparation for labour and that you should start drinking about 2-4 cups a day for the last six weeks of pregnancy. Wanting to make up for lost time, I drank 8-10 cups a day and am still hooked on it 5 months later. For the record, Annalisa was born ten days overdue despite my best efforts!

Reading:  The Group by Mary McCarthy and Mind Maps for Kids by Tony Buzan.
Wanting: sleep
Looking: like a sleep-deprived wretch
Wasting: sleep time playing on the computer. Let’s face it, some things are more fun than sleep.
Playing: tennis without a net in the backyard with my son.
Sewing: a bag without a zip because I don’t do zips (affectionately known as a pillowcase with a handle :)
Wishing: I could touch my toes. I can hardly even touch my knees these days.
Enjoying: my new job at a tutoring centre. I get the satisfaction of teaching without the dreaded behaviour management issues.
Waiting: for the day when I can listen to grown-up music again. I have nothing against nursery rhymes, but lately I’ve found myself singing them in the shower and humming them in public.
Liking: how my son says “I give you a ten out of ten for this meal, mum” every time it’s my turn to cook, even when all I’ve done is pour a tin of tuna over a plate of pasta.
Wondering: if my chickens will ever lay an egg or whether I should find an alternative use for them
Loving: recipes with chicken in them
Hoping: that when Muddle-Headed daddy comes home from work he will look at me and say: “All I want to do right now is give you a massage”. (there was no category for “dreaming impractically” so I had to put it under hoping).
Marvelling: at how my baby girl changes a little tiny bit every single day and how, no matter how many colourful, rattly, expensive, carefully selected toys I put in front of her, she’s always more interested in grabbing my boring old black phone or my book and trying to eat them. Are children born with a built-in desire to rebel? 

Needing: to learn how to operate her pram. They should offer courses to pregnant women in pram operation. If you don’t believe me read this post.
Smelling: like I should get off the computer and go and have a shower.
Wearing: my partner’s tracky pants, an ancient singlet top, a cardy I got at a second hand shop and a pair of ugg boots. 100% class.
Following: my intuition. Such a pity I don’t have more of it.
Noticing: that my house looks like a bomb hit it. You only just noticed? I can hear my mother say as she reads this. 
Knowing: nowhere near as much as I once thought I did.
Thinking: that I should have explained to my neighbour that there was a very good reason why I walked into my front yard in my pyjamas one day last week, crouched down by my letterbox, pulled up a handful of weeds but left another 250 handfuls exactly where they were, took a photo of the ground then turned around and walked back inside. I needed to take a photo for this post and I needed to do it immediately while the motivation was pumping. Unfortunately, she’s been eyeing me suspiciously ever since.
Feeling: like a nincompoop because a few days ago I saw the most incredibly beautiful bird in my garden. It was the most spectacular combination of colours. I rushed inside to get my camera and managed to snap a shot just before it flew away. Then I looked at the photo and realised the camera was set to black and white mode.
Bookmarking: my favourite blogs.
Opening: the presents I bought myself from the Book Depository for my unbirthday
Giggling: at this conversation I had today with my son:
Ben: “Mummy, who’s Frankenstein?”
Me: “It’s a book and a movie about a scientist who makes a monster”.
Ben: “What are you talking about??” (then he says the next two words really slowly as if he’s addressing to a complete fool): “Frank Einstein. He must be Einstein’s brother or something”!

Linking in with Jenny at thejennyevolution and Kaz & Ang at

Now here's the template for you ... have fun! 

Making :
Cooking :
Drinking :

Saturday, 3 August 2013

It's not every day your best friend turns 30!

That's a pretty amazing cake, isn't it? My best friend, Eilish, turns 30 today. But no, I didn't make it for her. She made it for me.

Two weeks ago, she packed up her car with her three kids, their mini-suitcases and their sleeping bags and drove the three hours down from the city to come for a sleepover visit and to bring me a belated birthday cake. It was worth the four month wait. In fact, I'd give up eating cake altogether for four months just to get my hands on one of her cakes. You see, Eilish is a goddess of cake making. In the last three years, she has made literally dozens of unique and incredibly creations. But I'll get to that in a little while. First of all I want to go back in time. Right back to as far as my memory will take me; to 1986.

The first time I saw Eilish was on a Sunday morning in the summer of 1986. I know it must have been a Sunday because we were outside church and I know it must have been 1986 because that was the same year we did the church musical and I know it must have been summer because we were both wearing shorts and sandals and little summer tops. Her family had just moved up from the country, all nine of them - mum, dad and seven kids. She was the second youngest at the time. In the days when it was still legal to travel in the back of a ute, they turned up to church en masse, mum and dad in the front with the baby, the other six all piled in the back.

As they all piled out, I stood there open mouthed, wondering who these people were and wishing that I had as many siblings as that to play with. Afterwards, standing outside the church, we noticed each other: we were both wearing the same identical outfit: the same pink summer top, the same pink sandals, the same pink and white spotty shorts. And we stared at each other the way a small child will stare when she recognises another child the same size as she is. And recognising that we were dressed exactly the same, we smiled at each other as if we already shared some sort of bond, a secret between us that no-one else could share. 

Two years later, her family bought the block of land across the road from my house and began to build what to me seemed like a palace - a home for nine people. Sometimes I have wondered how different my childhood might have been if they had not come to be our neighbours. It is not a thought I enjoy because, in doing so, there began an incredible friendship. With the hindsight of many years, can I look back and recognise what a wonderful childhood we had growing up together. We were not exactly girly girls and we spent the best part of the next decade barefoot, up trees, climbing all over the roof, swinging of her mum's clothesline until it broke, playing cricket with a tennis ball in the middle of the road with her brothers and giving each other dinkies to the shop to buy lollies.

Hardly any photos exist of us together during that time in our lives. Parents didn't take as many photos back in those days and we were having too much fun anyway to ever stop still for long enough to have our photo taken. This one here was taken at my eighth birthday party, me on the left, Eilish on the right. The day after it was taken, her mum gave birth to her ninth (and last) child.

Despite having a house packed full of children, her mum never seemed to mind having extra children over to stay and I spent thousands of hours playing at her house. Sometimes, we just couldn't see enough of each other even after playing all day and we would beg our mums to let us have sleepovers. We sometimes had these in her basement and sometimes in the caravan at the back of my parent's block. We made the most of these sleepovers when we were allowed them: we'd stay up until we were so tired our eyes felt like they were about to fall out of our heads and ate midnight feasts that we'd stashed away in our pillow cases.

About a year before the photo below was taken, we made a time capsule. We each got a piece of paper and a pen and wrote down what we were going to become when we grew up: Eilish wrote that she wanted to own a bakery or become a teacher. I wrote I wanted to be a doctor or an actress. Then we wrote that we promised we would definitely never get married before the age of 21 (a promise we both broke) and that we would definitely always be friends forever (a promise we both kept).

(that's Eilish's little brother who snuck into the photo - hi Josh! We were at her second oldest sister's fancy dress 21st birthday party.)

We folded up the pieces of paper and put them in a glass jar and buried it underneath the rubble that was at the back of Eilish's house. I can't remember when we said we would open it. Actually, we pretty much forgot about it. Adolescence is a busy time and you rarely step back to look over your shoulder during those years. Our friendship remained just as strong throughout high school and although we eventually stopped climbing all over the roof and swinging on her mum's clothesline, we spent hours and hours just talking to each other, about everything and nothing. Like two old ladies, we'd make ourselves cups of tea and imitate the way we had overheard adult women gossiping kindly about each other. "Is she's coping??" we'd ask each other with mock looks of concern on our faces, nodding our heads, sometimes to pretend we were adults with serious issues in our lives and sometimes just to make fun of adults and how serious they always seemed to be.

Several years later, her dad had a swimming pool built over the spot where we had buried the time capsule. Then another few years passed and one day over summer when we were both home in Perth for the Christmas holidays with our families, Eilish asked me over to her childhood home for a swim. By that time, she had two kids and I had one and while all five of us were splashing around together, I suddenly realised that we were swimming around on top of that time capsule and we talked about what we had written and laughed about how things don't always turn out how you plan.

There are so many reasons why I liked Eilish so much when I was little and why I love her still today: she was gentle and patient and hated to ever see anyone being left out. I grew up in a house without a TV and was therefore quite naïve when it came to popular culture. If I asked anyone else at school who some celebrity was, or what some TV show was like or what some particular risqué word might mean, they would tease me for asking such a stupid question. Eilish would just tell me the answer and never once made me feel stupid for asking.

But what I admired most about her was how brave she was. When she was just seven years old, for example, she climbed to the very top of the Gloucester Tree. For those of you who are not from Western Australia, allow me to fill you in here: it is one great big mamma of a tree. The second tallest fire lookout in the world, it stands in a karri forest in Pemberton, in the south-west of Western Australia. Different sources give varied indications of how tall it is, but its official height is 61m (200 feet).

 (image courtesy of

(image courtesy of

I saw and climbed this tree for the first time when I was 21. The only thing that kept me going all the way to very top was knowing that my best friend had done it when she was half my height and a third of my age. I've seen grown men climb about ten metres up then change their minds and come back down. It's scary.

I have many other stories to illustrate how brave Eilish was and is, but I must definitely include this one so I can share the photographic evidence! When we were 17, just after our final high school exams, Eilish shaved her head. Now that's a pretty darn brave thing for anyone to do at any age, if you ask me, but at 17 it's almost unheard of. I was there with her to capture the moment:

Going ...



Even without her hair she was still as gorgeous as ever.

Some people become brave through the experiences they encounter but I believe others are just born that way. I think God made Eilish that way because he knew she was going to have to be brave to overcome the hardships that life had in store for her: she became a mother for the first time when still a teenager and two years later, she suffered the tragic loss of her own beautiful mother.

Three years ago, her husband was sent to Afghanistan on his second tour of duty with the Australian army. By then, Eilish had three children and was left alone for more than half a year to look after them. A challenge as great as this would be stressful for anyone. Add the fact that she no longer had her mum around for support and you could understand any woman in that situation crumbling under the pressure. But instead, Eilish decided that to make the time go past faster, she would enrol in a cake decorating class with the goal of being able to make a cake for her second youngest sister's 21st birthday. In just a couple of months, I'm pretty sure you'll agree she went above and beyond what anyone, even herself, could have expected. This was the result of her endeavour:

Quickly recognising her talent, people started asking her to make more and more cakes and suddenly, she had a business. She challenged herself to venture into 3D creations. This was the first 3D cake she ever sold:

Before long, she was making up to three cakes a week. Cakes for her sibling's spouses, for her in-laws' siblings, for her cousins' friends and for her friends' cousins. One of her favourite projects was making the 90th birthday cake for the nanna of a girl we went to school with:

Requests came in for every kind of cake you can imagine and she made them all in her own kitchen in the spare hours she could find while being a full-time mum (often meaning she would stay up to 4 in the morning baking, icing and decorating to get a job done). Orders even started to come in for wedding cakes and she made some exquisite classic ones:

and some very original ones too!

The variety of requests people made for different cakes extended her imagination and creativity enormously and she found a depth to her artist ability she never knew she had. Take a look at this for example:

Many of the cakes Eilish made also have wonderful stories behind them. She made the cake in the picture below for her youngest child's first birthday. The bath theme is significant because Lucy was born in the bathroom at home. Eilish had not planned to give birth on the bathroom floor, but the baby came before the ambulance did and Lucy was delivered into the world by her dad. Her other daughter was at school at the time but her son was in the next room doing a puzzle. Despite her only pain relief being a wet flannel, she stayed quiet during the labour so she wouldn't scare him. I know. I told you she was brave.

In three short years, Eilish brought so much joy to so many people through her edible art. Once, an old school friend of ours who migrated to Australia from India when she was 15 and now lives on the other side of the world in Boston, contacted her over facebook to ask her to make a surprise birthday cake for her mum because she couldn't be there to celebrate with her. Eilish turned up at the lady's house at 8am while the girl's mother was getting ready to go to work. It was the first time she had ever met her. Eilish told me that this will always be one of her favourite cakes because our old school friend's mum was so ecstatically happy that her daughter had organised this surpirse.

And it's true. There is something so delightful about someone making a cake just for you. That's exactly how I felt when she turned up at my house two weeks ago with my cake: ecstatically happy. We had such a lovely day together and later that night we had a sleepover. Just like old times we talked until we were so tired it felt like our eyes were going to fall out of our heads. We had a midnight snack too of course - enormous slices of that cake I showed you right at the beginning.

And while we were talking and eating cake, she told me that she's had enough of making cakes now and is just going to make them for family and friends from now on (although with 8 brothers and sisters, plus nieces, nephews, in-laws and many, many friends, I think that will keep her more than busy!). Then she told me she's  moving onto her next challenge; she's enrolled at university this semester to start studying towards a Bachelor of Arts. After that, she plans to do a Graduate Diploma in Education and become a high school teacher.

I couldn't help thinking back to the time capsule. Maybe she didn't quite own a bakery, but she did an awful lot of incredible baking and brought an incredible amount of joy to so many people in doing so. And now she's going to fulfill the other goal she wrote on the list. It's funny how things sometimes do turn out the way you planned.

As for me? Well, I once played a very clumsy ballerina with disillusions of grandeur in a staff play at the first high school I taught at, but that's a close to being an actress as I ever got. And as far as becoming a doctor is concerned, let's just say that nothing even remotely close to that ever happened. I do know a very good home remedy for warts though!

As we licked our lips and our fingers and mutually decided that we'd better stop eating cake or we might actually explode, I asked her "what are your favourite cakes out of all the ones you've made?"

"My favourite cakes", she answered without hesitation, "are the ones I made for people I love".

So here are some of those:

(her youngest sister's 21st birthday castle cake)

(a chessboard cake for her son)

 (a Baptism cake for one of her nieces)

(a First Communion cake for her daughter)

(a juicy steak for her hubby)

(and a magnificent birthday cake for her nonna) Rest in Peace, Mrs Russo.

And here it is again, my very own cake, complete with our private little joke from our adolescence. I know it's a joke and it doesn't need answering, but yes, I am coping ... I'm coping because I have beautiful people in my life, people like Eilish.

So now, Eilish, I want to wish you the happiest, happiest birthday you have ever had in your life. 

I can't make you a cake for your special day, I can't see you to give you the enormous hug I want to give you and I can't give you any gift that could possibly symbolise how much your friendship means to me, how much it has always meant. But I can leave you with these words:

I am a better person for having known you. Thank you for your friendship.