Sunday, 29 September 2013

The Kindness of Strangers

I can't believe that the weekend has rolled around already and that it is time for the next round of Ten Things of Thankful, hosted by the lovely Lizzi of It has been a hectic week over here: my son packed up and left for a three night Cub camp with 700 other cubs, my partner's good friend from Sicily has come to stay with us and one day I looked after a friend's baby while she had her first day back at work, so I had a tiny taste of what it's like to have twins. Luckily, her baby was very well behaved - not like my little rascal!

The most pivotal part of the week occurred at the end of last weekend, when I called my parents' house in the evening. I had been expecting a call from my mum during the afternoon, but it hadn't come.

"I thought you were going to call me this afternoon", I said when she answered the phone.

"Sorry", she answered, "I had so much to do. Dad was in a car accident this afternoon".

And then she paused for what felt like an eternity, but what I suppose was only a matter of seconds.

Then she said: "He's alright. Both the cars are write-offs, but both the drivers are unharmed".

It was one of those moments where you count your blessings all at once. But out of this accident came a tale of the kindness of a stranger, which got me thinking throughout the week of other times when strangers have spontaneously offered help without expecting anything in return. So, starting with the stranger who helped my dad after the accident, I'd like to share them with you:

1. When my dad had the accident, he was on his way to pick my mum and my son up from the theatre where they'd just been to see Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. A man who lived in the house nearby heard the collison and came running out of his house. Not only did he help write down all the necessary details about the incident, he also offered to drive my dad to the theatre. There he picked up my mum and son and drove all three of them back to my sister's house. From what was an extremely frightening experience, my family has this to take away: for all the violence and greed that there is in this world, there are still selfless, beautiful people in it who step up to help others without even thinking twice.

This is the moment that got me thinking about all the others ...

2. Once I had to drop off my son's dad at the airport. I spent longer inside the airport than I had planned and when I got back to the carpark afterwards, I realised I didn't have enough money to pay for the parking. I turned to my son's grandmother, who had come along with us and asked her if she had any change, and she said no. A young woman who had been paying for her own parking at the time and had heard our conversation, turned to me and said, "How much money do you need? You can have all my change".

3. On the topic of aeroplanes, I was on a flight once with my son and because he was still a baby, he sat in my lap the whole time. When the meal arrived, it was impossible for me to eat because there wasn't room to bring the tray-table down while he was on my lap. The woman sitting next to me said "I'll just quickly have my lunch, then I'll hold the baby for you and you can have yours".

4. When I was around nine years old, I wanted desperately to learn how to rollerskate. It really was the coolest thing to do at the time! One day, to my absolute delight, my mum took me to the skating rink and we hired a pair of skates. Unfortunately, when I hit the rink I discovered that skating was actually a lot harder than I thought it would be. I put one foot forward and fell over. I got up, flapped my arms around like a chicken, and fell over again. And again and again and again. Then two girls who would have been around 12 or 13 and had obviously been skating for years, rolled over to me and said "Would you like some help? We can teach you how to do it if you like." They supported my elbows while I tentatively got used to the wheels on my feet. They must have spent almost two hours helping me and by the end of it, I was zooming along like the cool kids :)

5. My partner was at our local supermarket recently and as is so often the case, he was trying to get the shopping done at lightning quick pace so he could get home and start some other domestic task (bless him). In his haste, he accidentally left one of the shopping bags on the counter in the supermarket. He didn't even realise until a teenage boy appeared beside our car as my partner was packing the boot and said "Excuse me, you left this in the supermarket." There were about $50 worth of groceries inside.

6. I took my son to a wildlife park several years ago. It was a bit of a spur of the moment decision and I didn't pack any snacks because I knew the park had a kiosk and I planned on having lunch there. When we were visiting the kangaroos at the section of the park just about as far away from the kiosk as you could get, my son suddenly became ravenously hungry. A couple with a small baby heard me explaining to him that I didn't have any food and that he'd have to wait until we got back to where we could buy some. "You can have this", the man said, offering my son a banana, "We've already eaten so we don't need it". 

7. When my daughter was just a few weeks old, I ventured out to the shops on my own with her. I didn't have too much trouble assembling her pram, but when it was time to get her back in the car and go home, I could not for the life of me figure out how to collapse it back down again. I was just about at the point where I was ready to leave the pram in the carpark and drive home without it, when a very kind young man whose car was parked near mine helped me to collapse it down and get it into the boot. I wrote about that day here.

8. When I was 19, I lived in the heart of Sydney. At around 10am one morning, I was walking down Glebe Point Rd on my way to uni. On the way, I had to pop into the post office then go and bank my weekly earnings (I got paid in cash). I walked out of the post office with my purse in my hand and was just about to put the purse into my bag when I was knocked to the ground by a man who snatched the purse out of my hand and took off, leaving me stunned and sore on the pavement. A boy who couldn't have been much older than I was who had been waiting for a bus with his aunt across the street, saw what had happened and sprinted across the road in hot pursuit for the thief. He didn't come back for about ten minutes. His aunt came across the street to see if I was alright. She was clearly concerned for her nephew. "He's just a country boy visiting me from South Australia for the week. He doesn't know how dangerous the city can be", she told me. He came back soon afterwards. He had chased the thief down several alleyways and back streets until he had dropped my purse. The boy handed it to me and while the money had all been taken before the purse was dropped (obviously this was a professional thief we were dealing with!) my driver's licence, bank cards and all other  forms of identification were still safe. He did something extremely brave and saved me literally hours of time in phone calls and running around that it would have taken to replace the contents of the purse.

9. I was rushing to catch the train to work once when it suddenly start to pour down with rain and I hadn't come prepared with an umbrella. A lady who was walking in front of me turned around and saw me, stopped and said, "Why don't you share my umbrella with me?". She saved me turning up to work looking like a drowned rat.  

10. Yesterday, I went on a four hour bus trip with my daughter from the town that we live in all the way up to Perth to visit our family. About ten minutes into the trip, a man got on the bus and made his way down to the very back where we were sitting and plonked him across the aisle from us. I suppose the best way to describe his appearance would be to say that if I were to meet him in an alleyway on my own, regardless of the time of day, I would fear for my life. Added to that, he pulled out a bottle of wine from his backpack and started swigging it surreptitiously throughout the journey. He did not smell nice. I avoided eye-contact with him at all costs. I wished he would disappear. After about an hour, the bus stopped in one of the towns and the driver announced that there would be a half hour's rest stop. He also announced that they was a shop nearby where you could buy hot food. My daughter had fallen asleep in my arms by this point, so I wasn't going anywhere. Suddenly, the man across the aisle turned to me and said "Do you want me to get you any food from the shop? How about a pie?" I was a bit taken aback. "Oh, no thanks, I said, "I can't eat gluten". "Oh right", he said, "What about a sausage roll?" "Can't have that either". "A pastie?" he tried again. "It's okay, I'm not hungry", I told him, "but thanks for offering". He got off the bus and headed towards the shop. When he came back, he handed me a bar a chocolate, a triumphant smile on his face. "There you go", he said "I asked the lady in the shop and she said it's gluten-free!" "Thank you", I replied, taking it from him. I didn't really want the chocolate, but he so desperately wanted to be kind. I had been so quick to judge him. As I ate the gift he had given me, I told myself off. You don't know what he has suffered in his life, I thought. Yes, he is clearly an alcoholic and a very intimidating looking guy, I thought. But he is also a human being.

These strangers all walked into my life, or the lives of my loved ones, just for the briefest of moments, never to be seen again. In most cases, I didn't even know their names, or if I did, I have now forgotten.

Each time we turn on the TV or the radio or open the newspaper, we are confronted with stories and images of evil and horror. It's easy to forget that there is still so much goodness in our broken world. Let's spare a thought today for all the strangers who have ever shown us kindness, not because they wanted praise or reward or recognition of any kind, just purely and simply because they wanted to help another human being.

                                                Ten Things of Thankful

Have you ever been helped by a stranger?

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Zabaione al Caffè

Have you always taken your coffee exactly the same way, or do you find that your style of caffeine intake alters along with your lifestyle changes?

                                                                          image source

As a uni student, I was a double-shot latte kind of girl - I needed that double kick to get me through those all-night essay writing sessions (or should I say to keep me awake during morning lectures after more festive nocturnal pursuits, more to the point). When I lived in Italy, I became a swig-in-back espresso kind of girl - you know, when in Rome and all that. Now that I'm breastfeeding and making half-hearted attempts to cut back on my lactose intake as well, my coffee of choice is a decaffeinated, soy flat white (a permutation which my Sicilian partner attests, frequently and dramatically, is tremendously offensive to the beverage).

But what kind of coffee do you drink when you go to the fridge and discover that there is absolutely no milk of any description to be found and the thought of drinking it black just makes you cringe? The answer is coffee with egg.


Yes, egg. In Italian,'Coffee with Egg' is known as zabaione al caffè (also know as zabaglione al caffè). Classic zabaione is a custard-like dessert, made from egg yolks, sugar and Marsala wine, although it is often made with other sweet liquors too. Zabaione al caffè simply substitutes the liquor with coffee.

The simplest way to prepare it is like this:

1. Get yourself an egg.

(there are easier ways of doing this. I earned myself a nasty little peck just after I snapped this photo. My chickens aren't the most cooperative of creatures).

2. Prepare some black coffee and pour it into espresso cups.

3. Using one egg yolk for every two cups of zabaione al caffè that you will be making, put the egg yolk/s into a bowl or a shaker of some description and add approximately one teaspoon of sugar for each cup of coffee.

4. Beat or shake the egg and sugar together.

5. Pour the frothy mixture over the coffee.

6. Sprinkle some cinnamon or grated chocolate over the top if you feel like it.

When Giuseppe makes this, he lets the coffee cool down a little before pouring the beaten egg mixture over the top. I'm not sure how important this is, but he says it's "so you don't cook the egg".

He got a bit carried away when I was photographing these finished products this morning ... you don't have to stick a floral arrangement on top of yours if you don't want to!

Coffee and egg might sound like an unusual combination, but it tastes fantastic and gives you a real boost of energy. It only takes five minutes to whip up and it's ideal if you are lactose intolerant or trying to cut down on dairy products. And if you are a latte lover and you go to the fridge one morning and discover that someone has drunk all the milk and not bothered to replace it, you now have a handy little trick up your sleeve ...

Do you know any other unusual ways of drinking coffee? I'd love to hear them.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Finally Thankful

I've been wanting to join in with Lizzi and her Ten Things of Thankful blog hop over at for so many weeks now, but every time it's got to the weekend, I've been so tired that a voice in my head has said ten things? How are you possibly going to find ten things to be thankful for?! But today, I was going through the photos on my camera and I realised that I had so many things to be thankful for. A couple of the photos weren't taken this week, but they illustrate some of the beautiful moments that happened in our family over the last few days.

So here they are, my very first

                                Ten Things of Thankful

I'm thankful that the wind and rain seem at last to now be going,

I'm thankful that our vegetables all seem to now be growing.

I'm thankful that it didn't rain when we went on our hike,

I'm thankful for my wonderful, brand-spanking-new green bike.

I'm thankful that my son came home from Cub camp safe and sound,

I'm thankful that the keys we lost were eventually found.
image source

I'm thankful that my Other Half is so happy when he cooks,

I'm thankful that my little boy always reads his sister books.

I'm thankful for my neighbour who gave me this fine wine,

           And I'm thankful for this blog space, the only place that is 
                                                   all mine.

Thank you to Lizzi for prompting me to have an 'attitude of gratitude' this weekend :) Why not head over to her lovely blog and check out her own Ten Things of Thankful and some of the other participants too? 

Friday, 20 September 2013

Grown-ups Say the Darndest Things!

Time becomes distorted once you become a parent, doesn't it? Sometimes a day can feel like a week. Other times, three years can go by in the blink of an eye. Every mother knows that contorted feeling of time expanding and contracting.

My son, who is counting down the days now until his ninth birthday. started talking this morning about which high school he'd like to attend. Where has my little boy gone? I found myself wondering. It seems only moments ago that he had just started his very first year of school. I have so many precious memories of that first year. And some silly ones too.

I remember one day when he came home from school, I was thinking to myself that I hadn't really asked him enough questions about his new classmates. I wanted to know more about them and I wanted him to know I was interested as well. I knew that he had an enormous six-year-old crush on one of the little girls in his class, but other than that, I new very little. As he was doing a colouring in, I struck up a little conversation:

"Who's the nicest person in your class?" I asked him.

"Mariana", he replied.

"I thought the girl you liked was called Costanza", I said.

"She's the prettiest, not the nicest", he said matter-of-factly.

Oh dear, I thought, why can't he have a crush on the nice girl? 

"And who's the naughtiest in the class?" I tried again.

"Probably me", he said flatly.

Right. Points for honesty, I suppose.

I thought I'd give this mother-and-son bonding conversation one last try; ask something nice and simple that would surely have an answer that could not bother me in any way.

"Who's the tallest in the class?" I inquired.

He looked up from his colouring in and gave me a look that said perhaps you need to go back to the first grade yourself, mum.

"The teacher", he replied.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Stormy Day at the Beach

Meelup Beach, Western Australia

"You cannot catch a child's spirit by running after it. You must stand still and for love it will soon itself return".

Arthur Miller

Linking up today with Trish at My Little Drummer Boys

My Little Drummer Boys

Twinkle In The Eye

Monday, 9 September 2013

As I went down to the Town Hall to vote

If you are an Aussie, past the age of eighteen, then you would have made your way, just as I did, to the polling booths last Saturday, to cast your vote in our 44th Federal Election.

image source

Don't worry; this is not a political post. I am not going to talk about who I voted for or why. I am not particularly political at all actually and usually, just prior to an election, I take a crash course in current affairs to ensure that my vote is not entirely uninformed.

If you are not Australian, I should probably point something out before I go any further: voting in Australia is compulsory.

While over two dozen countries around the world officially employ compulsory voting, less than half of them actually enforce it. Along with Singapore and a handful of South American countries, Australia is right in there in this enforced voting minority.

Being compelled to vote has often meant that I have had to do so at rather untimely moments. When I was nineteen, I was running late to catch a plane out of New South Wales and when I got to the airport, I saw all the polling booths lined up and realised I had almost forgotten to vote in the State Election. I guessed that I would just have time to cast my vote before I had to head to the boarding gate. This was the first time I'd ever had to vote and in my inexperience, I opted to number all the candidates from my most preferred to my least preferred, rather than choosing the second option; to number my most preferred party with a number 'one' and leave it at that. There were over sixty individual candidates on that list and I spent so long deliberating my order of preference that I almost missed the plane.

Another time, an election coincided with a wedding I was invited to. It turned out that I was the only guest disorganised enough to not have voted in the morning before getting ready for the afternoon nuptials. I ended up having to rush off to the polling booth in between the wedding and the reception, looking more than a little overdressed for the occasion.

         (at least she looks like a bride - I just looked dressed up like a Christmas tree for no good reason!)
                                                                  image source

                                          But I shouldn't complain, it could easily have been worse - I might have had to                                                                          pop to the poll in between swimming lessons ...

image source

In our last West Australian state election, I voted in hospital the day after my daughter was born. Eight years before that, I had also voted in hospital during a Federal Election when I had just given birth to my son. I actually enjoyed voting in hospital. It certainly was a bit of a luxury, having the polling officials carry my voting cards to me as I lay propped up in bed. It definitely beats having to leave the house just to perform that one single errand and therefore having to get changed out of oh-so-comfy but oh-so-inappropriate-for-general exhibition house clothes. At least that's what I was thinking as I dressed myself on Saturday and headed out to exercise my democratic right.

Compared to some of my previous voting incidents, Saturday's voting experience was really quite unremarkable, except that I do consider it a rather commendable achievement in multi-tasking that I managed to do so while bouncing my baby on my other hip while trying to stop her from eating my how-to-vote card. But as I went down to the Town Hall to vote, I thought about how unenthusiastic I was about this whole election business and I suddenly started to feel guilty. I have spoken to many people from Europe who cannot believe that it is compulsory to vote in Australia, but despite how indifferent I was feeling about the election itself, I knew in my heart that it was important to vote and important to do so without complaining.

Why was I thinking this? Because at that moment, two things crossed my mind which made me remember that voting is not just an obligation; it's a privilege.

The first was a conversation I had with my son a couple of weeks ago. We were watching Mary Poppins together for about the eleventh time and he turned to me and said "Mum, why is she singing and dancing about women voting?"

                                                                     image source

"Because women haven't always been allowed to vote", I told him.

He looked at me as if I'd just said "women weren't always allowed to sit at the dinner table and eat with the rest of the family", and I am happy that what I said seemed so incredulous to him; it's living proof that our social belief systems surrounding women really are changing. It also made me think of the incredible lengths that the suffragettes went to to ensure that their daughter's daughter would be able to head to the polling booths on election day as if it was the most natural thing in the world. And here I was doing just that, taking the whole thing for granted.

The second thing that I remembered (and that I doubt I will ever forget) was a story that a man told to my Politics class in my second last year of high school on an excursion to Parliament House. He said "whether or not you agree with compulsory voting is entirely your opinion, but I want to tell you story about a friend of mine who was a journalist in South Africa covering the 1994 general Election, the first non-racial, democratic election ever to occur in the country:

From the 26th to the 29th of April, almost 20 million people passed through the polling booths. People queued for hours in the blazing sun just to cast their vote. Some of these people had been waiting in line for over nine hours. My friend started to talk to some of the indigenous men and women. He wanted to know how they were feeling on this momentous day.

                                                                    image source

'I admire your enthusiasm so much', he said to an old man in the queue, 'I can't believe you have been waiting to vote for nine hours'.

The man looked at him and replied:

'We have not been waiting for nine hours, my friend. We have been waiting for three hundred years'. "


If you were one of the lovely people who previously commented on this post, I just want you to know that I did not delete your comments. I transferred the URL of my blog and in the process lost every single one of the comments ever made on my blog. I transferred it back to blogger and the comments returned, except for the ones made during the time I had a .com address. Learn from my mistake - if you have google+ comments enabled and you transfer your blog domain,  you will lose all your comments! 

Friday, 6 September 2013

The $1 DIY Cupping Therapy

Have you ever tried cupping therapy? Like so many other alternative therapies, it has intrigued my experimentalist spirit for a long time, but one of the things that had always kept me from trying it (besides the cost) were photos of celebrities I'd seen sporting enormous red welts on their backs post-treatment. I remember seeing a photo of Gwyneth Paltrow wearing a backless top and sporting some very odd circular marks on her back.
                                                                          image source
What has she done? I remember thinking, and more to the point, why did she do it? 

Curious, I looked into it further and discovered that cupping therapy is a form of traditional Chinese medicine that can significantly improve blood flow by focusing on the five meridian lines on a person's back. It works a bit like a massage in reverse  - drawing toxins out of the body. Like acupuncture, traditional practitioners also believed it improves the flow of qi (vital energy) in the body.

As well as increasing circulation and easing back and neck pain, cupping can also help to:

* ease anxiety and fatigue

* relieve migraines

* reduce symptoms of rheumatism

* improve the symptoms of gastrointestinal disorders

* improve the symptoms of respiratory conditions such as bronchitis and asthma

* ease the pain experienced by arthritis sufferers and

* improve the appearance of cellulite

Sounds pretty good, doesn't it?

After finding out all of this, I wanted to try it even more, but there was always the question of cost. Alternative therapies don't come cheap and because I didn't need it desperately, I could never justify spending the money.

So I put the idea in the back of my mind and it stayed there. That was until my mother-in-law, Maria, came to visit from Sicily to visit her first grandchild ...

During the time of her visit, I was experiencing quite bad back pain, mainly due to breastfeeding and sleeping in awkward positions. She kept saying that she should do some ventosa on me to help the pain and I kept thinking what is this ventosa? I'd never heard the word before and was slightly worried that it may be some form of witchcraft :)

Then one night she described it to me and I realised she was talking about cupping.

"We've been doing ventosa for centuries in Sicily", she told me. "I remember my mother would do it all the time for my father when he came home from work all stiff and sore".

"But you get enormous bruises all over your back", I said, worried that a DIY version might result in something even worse.

"No no no", she laughed, "that's only if you leave the cup on for a long time. Go and get me a bit of old cloth, a glass, some matches, some thread, some olive oil and a gold coin".

The glass, the matches, the olive oil and the thread were easy enough to find. I had to borrow the coin from Ben's money box though and for the cloth, I brought her one of the baby outfits I'd ruined during my washing disaster.

She cut a small circle out of the cloth and wrapped it around the coin. Then using a bit of thread, she tried the cloth around the coin.

She got me to lie on my stomach on the sofa and rubbed olive oil onto my back. Then I heard her strike a match.

Oh dear God, I thought, is this how one gets revenge on difficult daughters-in-law in Sicily?

"What are you doing?" I asked her hesitantly.

"Just lighting the tip of the cloth with the coin inside it", she said calmly.

She placed the lit cloth-with-a-coin contraption on my back and then placed the glass immediately over the top. Even though I couldn't see it at the time, she explained to me that when the glass is placed over the flame, the skin rises up into the glass and the flame goes out. This happens in a matter of seconds.

I know, it looks like I've grown a breast on my back.

She left the glass there for about a minute and then repeated the process several times on different points on my back.

When she had finished, she gave me a big glass of water to drink and told me to lie still until I felt ready to get up.

When I did get up, I felt like the pain in my back had been sucked out. I felt lighter and much less like a crippled old woman. I even slept well that night. Well,  as well as you can when you have just had a baby :) And all it took was a few everyday household items and a $1 coin.

Since Maria's visit, Giuseppe and I have done DIY cupping on each other several times. It's a lovely way to ease your partner's aches and pains and get them to do the same for you because, unlike giving someone a massage, it requires hardly any effort or energy on the part of the person doing the cupping. If I ask G for a massage, he instantly moans that his hands are seizing up with arthritis (he's rather gifted in melodrama I'm afraid), but if I asked him to do ventosa, he always agrees (I always have to be the patient first though and the therapist second ... that way he gets to go to sleep while I'm doing it!)

(insert loud snoring sounds) 

I sometimes do it to myself on my thighs as well because since it improves the circulation on the blood, it's useful - as I mentioned before - for improving cellulite. I'd stick in a photo of that too, but because there's a chance that you may be eating your lunch as you read this, I'll save you from the trauma of seeing my dimpled white leg suctioned into a glass in case it causes you to lose your appetite and possibly never find it again.

So that was the tale of the DIY cupping therapy. Give it a try if you like and let me know how it goes! Do be careful though, you do have to light a match remember, so I don't recommend you do it when you've had too much wine! And if you've already tried cupping therapy in any of its forms, I'd love to hear about that too :)

If you were one of the lovely people who previously commented on this post, I just want you to know that I did not delete your comments. I transferred the URL of my blog and in the process lost every single one of the comments ever made on my blog. I transferred it back to blogger and the comments returned, except for the ones made during the time I had a .com address. Learn from my mistake - if you have google+ comments enabled and you transfer your blog domain,  you will lose all your comments!