Thursday, 31 October 2013

It's Not Okay

Image credits:
Left (Malala Yousafzai) Top right (Rosa Parks) Middle right ( Marion Wallace Dunlop) Bottom right (Pearl Gibbs)

This post is my last minute entry in Amnesty International Australia's 2013 Blogging Competition. The task was to submit a blog post with a human right's theme of no more than 600 words. 

Writing about human rights was easy. Keeping to the word count was not. After cutting my post down to about half its original size, I have finally managed to fit what I want to say into 600 words. Exactly 600 words.


The quest for human equality is a battle which has seen thousands lose their freedom, and even their lives, in its pursuit. We need to remember their selfless bravery and pass their legacy onto our children because, without their sacrifices, we would not enjoy so many of the rights we now take for granted. We need to remember the ones who refused to sit back and wait for justice to be done; the ones who had the courage to stand out from the crowd and say it's not okay. 

We need to remember Rosa Parks, an African-American seamstress who, in 1955, was arrested in Alabama for refusing to give up her seat on a public bus to a white passenger. She consequently lost her job and received a hefty fine, but her bravery initiated a bus boycott in the state capital of Montgomery, which eventually led to a change in legislation thirteen months later, annulling segregation laws on public buses. We need to remember what Rosa did, because discriminating against people on the basis of the colour of their skin is not okay.

We need to remember Marion Wallace Dunlop, a British artist who, in 1909, became the first suffragette to go on hunger strike while incarcerated. Her strength of will became wide-spread and hunger-striking amongst suffragettes quickly became standard practice. Nineteen years later, the United Kingdom achieved universal suffrage. We need to remember what Marion did, because refusing to grant franchise on the basis of gender is not okay.

We need to remember Pearl Gibbs, indigenous Australian domestic maid turned civil rights activists who, in 1941, after years assisting young women to negotiate futilely with the Aborigines Protection Board, broadcast a speech on 2WL in Woolongong; the first ever radio broadcast made by an Aboriginal woman. In her speech, she spoke of the continual atrocities committed unto her people. Twenty-six years later, indigenous Australians were finally recognised as citizens of their own country. We need to remember what Pearl did, because treating a person as sub-human based on their ethnicity is not okay.

And we need to remember Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani school girl who, at the age of eleven, started an anonymous blog in which she described how the Taliban had the power to prevent girls from attending school. In 2012, members of the Taliban attempted to assassinate Malala but although she remained in a critical condition, she survived and continues her fight for universal access to education. We need to support her in every way we can, because denying a person their basic human right to be educated based on their gender is not okay.

Perhaps Malala's dream will never be realised in her lifetime. Some may say that it will never be achieved at all. But we need to believe that it will because once, no-one believed the world would ever see an African-American President, a female British Prime Minister or an indigenous Australian member of Parliament. So maybe not now, maybe not yet, but one day the fruits of Malala Yousafzia's bravery will be reaped.

We need to remember these woman because they are a reminder to all of us that if we want to see real change in our world, we need to be brave enough to be the one who stands up alone - in the boardroom or in the playground, at the Parent Committee meeting or the Town Council meeting. We need to be brave enough to endure the ridicule, the loneliness and the danger of being the one who recognises the presence of injustice; the one who says it's not okay. 

Monday, 28 October 2013

Pumpkin & Rosemary Lasagne

In my blog-browsing over the last few weeks, I have seen some incredible Halloween crafts, costumes and edible concoctions. I have been awed by other bloggers' creativity and talent and even though we've never really celebrated Halloween in my family, with the countdown to 31st October well and truly under way, I thought I should at least get into the spirit of things this year and do something pumpkin-like.

Way back around Easter time, we went to the annual Art Exhibition and Fair run by Ben's school and while we were there, we got chatting to his class teacher who gave us two of her very own home-grown Butternut pumpkins as a gift.

(depending on where you are from, you may actually know this as a Butternut squash. I found a brief, interesting article about the discord between Australia and New Zealand which resulted from the latter country changing the official name of the vegetable from pumpkin to squash and the ensuing bureaucratic repercussions. Who would have thought a name-change could cause such controversy?)

Anyway, by whatever name you wish to call them, they'd been sitting up on a self in our kitchen for the last six months waiting for me to think of a special use for them until his morning, when my endlessly exploring but not-quite-yet-walking baby girl went rampaging through the bookshelf and pulled out a whole heap of books. You know sometimes you find things on your bookshelf that you'd completely forgotten you ever had? The positive side of the chaos she caused was that I ended up revisiting loads of long-lost treasures. Among them was a recipe book which was compiled from recipes submitted by uni students at the University of Sydney in 2002, titled International Cookbook 2002. I didn't submit a recipe to it myself (quite possibly because the only recipe I knew back in 2002 was the one for disaster), but I bought a copy to support the Student Union.

I opened it up, started leafing through and stumbled upon a recipe for pumpkin and rosemary lasagne. I read it and immediately had an I have to make  this NOW moment. I followed the recipe more or less accurately, but since I don't really like being told what to do - in or out of the kitchen - I wasn't really particular with the quantities: I couldn't measure the exact weight of my pumpkins because Ben broke my kitchen scale weighing all his library books at once, but I guessed they weighed about a kilo each. I used about twice as much rosemary and garlic than it said to use, because we love both these ingredients and I absolutely doused the pumpkin in olive oil because, if there's one thing I learnt from living in Sicily, it's that you can never use too much olive oil.

When I took the cooked pumpkin, rosemary and garlic out of the oven, the most heavenly smell spread right through the house. I wish there was some form of olfactory technology available that could have let me bottle it and share it on this post. If you love your pumpkin and you love your lasagne, you're going to love this recipe too.

What you need:

2kg butternut pumpkin
2 sprigs of rosemary
3 pieces of crushed garlic
2 tbsp olive oil
salt & pepper
60g butter (4 tbsp) 
4 cups milk
2 cups grated cheese
300 ml thickened cream
1 packet lasagne sheets (about 350g) *
6 tbsp flour *

* I used gluten-free lasagne sheets and gluten-free flour and they worked out fine.


1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius (350 Fahrenheit)

2. Peel and cut pumpkin into 2cm cubes.

3. In an oven tray, mix pumpkin, oil, garlic and torn off rosemary leaves and salt and pepper to taste.

4. Bake this mixture for about 30 minutes or until pumpkin is a little browned.

5. In the meantime, prepare the white sauce: Melt butter in a saucepan and add flour. Cook for about 2 minutes. Add the milk gradually and whisk all the while. Stir over medium heat until the sauce boils and thickens. Continue stirring while simmering for about 6 minutes.

6. Mix well with pumpkin mixture.

7. Assemble the lasagne, pumpkin mixture and cheese. There will probably be 4 layers. Finish with lasagne.

8. Sprinkle remaining cheese over the top. Whip cream up a little then pour over the top. 

9. Cover dish with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake for another 15 minutes. 

The best part of all was seeing and hearing the reactions around the table when I served it - who would have thought that the two-and-a-half carnivorous men that I live with would appreciate a vegetarian meal so much?

So there it is: a divine pumpkiny treat, just in time for Halloween.

What's your favourite pumpkin recipe?

Linking up today with Alicia over at     Grab button for one mother hen

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Once, on Halloween ...

Today I'm joining in with Kate, JanineStephanie and Kristi for the Finish the Sentence Friday blog hop, where the prompt this week is "One Halloween, I ..." I'm pretty excited to read what the other blog hoppers have got to say about this one. For me, growing up in Australia where Halloween isn't really celebrated by many people - at least not when I was a kid - I don't have any distinct Halloween memories. But there was one 31st October that I'll never forget ...

One Halloween, I scared myself half to death. It was the year I turned 18 and I was living in Sweden as an exchange student in a house that was about a 45 minutes drive from a town of 9000 people, situated 500 km north of Stockholm. By the end of October, it got pitch dark in the afternoon and stayed that way till late morning. The house itself was quite isolated. There were a few neighbours in walking distance (assuming these were very fit neighbours), but nobody who you could call a 'next door' neighbour. To put it into perspective, if you were to stand on the front porch and scream at the top of your lungs, no-one would hear you.

When the night of Halloween came round, it just so happened that the family I lived with all had to go to another town for some sort of family reunion. To keep me company, they suggested that I invite a friend to stay with me for a few days. I had a good friend at the time who was also an Aussie exchange student who was living in a city about three hours north. She came down on the bus on the morning of the 31st. We were just about bursting at the seams with excitement at the prospect of having the house all to ourselves.

By the time it got dark, we had already gossiped ourselves hoarse and decided we should do something in the spirit of Halloween. Being isolated and not having any access to a car, going out anywhere was out of the question, so we decided it would be fun to watch some scary movies. We raided my host family's video cabinet and found Silence of the Lambs and The Exorcist, both of which neither of us had ever seen.

What exactly had convinced us that this would be 'fun' is still a mystery to me. Neither of us had ever seen any films even half as scary as these and we spent the next four hours gripping each other's hands so tightly the circulation almost stopped and shrieking and jumping off the couch every time we got scared. Which was often.

When the films were over, it would only have been about nine o'clock at night, but we were too frightened to even move. The thought of getting up off the sofa and walking up the stairs to bed was almost too terrifying to contemplate. So we both agreed we would sleep on the sofa, holding hands to make sure neither of us got skinned alive or succumbed to demonic possession.

Of course we couldn't sleep. Every few minutes, one of us would say, "I'm scared" and the other would answer "me too".

Then the unthinkable happened.

There was a knock on the front door.

We both froze in terror. Who would be knocking on the front door?? We weren't expecting anyone, we had not heard a car pull up and it was late. We lay there squeezing the living daylights out of each other's hands.

Then there was another knock.

We didn't even discuss whether to answer or not. There was no way either of us could even move, we were so paralysed with fear.

We waited and waited. Would whoever or whatever it was knock again? Or would they break open a window? Or perhaps they would sneak down the chimney? But we heard nothing else all night. I suppose eventually we did sleep, and when we did wake up, we were stiff and sore and both as white as sheets.

We had just enough courage to tiptoe into the kitchen and make some breakfast. The kitchen window looked out to the front of the house and as we sat down to eat, my friend gasped.

"Bloody hell", she said (actually she probably said something far worse, but let's just keep it at bloody hell).

"What?" I asked.

"There are no footprints", she said, pointing out into the snow outside the window. "Somebody came up to the door last night and knocked", she continued. "There should be footprints".

Now I'd never been one to believe in ghosts, but at that moment I felt every hair on my arms and my neck stand on end.

"What should we do?" I asked her.

"I don't know", she said, "Can we call someone to come and pick us up. I'm too scared to stay here any more."

We sat at the table discussing how we were going to evacuate from our haunted house for about another hour or so and then suddenly, we saw a figure appear near the top of the road, turn into the driveway and walk towards the house. As it came closer, I could see that it was Malin, a girl from school who lived about a twenty minute walk down the road.

She knocked on the door and we let her in.

At breakneck speed, we recounted for her the horror of the night before and the terrible discovery just minutes ago that there were no footprints in the snow and that we had therefore been visited by a ghost on Halloween.

She looked from one of our petrified faces to the other then burst out laughing.

"Why are you laughing?" I asked her angrily, "It's not funny at all".

"That was me", she said when she came up for air.

"What do you mean it was you?" I snapped, "You're not a ghost".

"I was going to call you first but our phone was down, so I thought I'd just walk over and see what you were up to. I thought you'd both still be up".

"But what about the footprints?" I asked indignantly, "You're just saying this to make us feel better. If it really was you there would have been footprints in the snow".

She erupted in a fit of laughter again.

"It snowed last night, right?" she said between guffaws. "So you know what that means?"

"That you're a lunatic for going for a walk?" I asked.

"You Aussie girls are so funny", she said, "I'm sorry to ruin your ghost story ...  but it means the footprints got covered up when it snowed".


So how 'bout you? Got any Halloween memories? Ever scared yourself out of your mind watching a scary movie? Please tell me it's not just me!

Finish the Sentence Friday

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Friends, Food, Fish, Family, Photos (rhyme time again on TToT)

It's been an interesting week. My partner sprained his ankle doing long-jump in the back yard with my son (it seems the male competitive streak does not decrease with age). Then, while he was still in the process of nursing his wound and feeling very sorry for himself, he managed to lose his wallet too, just for good measure. After we'd gone through the process of cancelling all the cards that needed to be cancelled and re-ordering the ones that needed to be reordered, he found it underneath the front passenger seat of the car. I swear I'd already looked there twenty-seven times.

So for better or for worse, we've made it to the weekend and even though the weather was vile today, we had a wonderful day at the local indoor pool with Ben and a handful of his friends.

I'm well and truly ready now to take a step back from it all and reflect on what I'm thankful for this week. Just like the first time I took part in Lizzi's Ten Things of Thankful, I feel like using ten of the photos I took throughout the week to make a little poem. So here we go ...

I'm thankful for our four new friends who came and cooked us yummy Chinese food,

I'm thankful for my garden, which always lifts my mood.

I'm thankful for my wind chime, that tinkles in the breeze,

I'm thankful that Ben still finds wonder and excitement in everything he sees.

I'm thankful for my little fish, who make me feel at peace.

I'm thankful that my little girl has such a special friendship with my niece.

I'm thankful for my old guitar that calms me as I strum.

I'm thankful Annalisa has just started to say "mum".

I'm thankful that I am blessed to have the ocean right at my front door,
for in front of its vast majesty though I'm not rich, I never can feel poor.

And I'm thankful for my camera which is helping me to learn
that there are endless possibilities for beauty in each direction that I turn.

Have you linked up with Lizzi for the weekend Ten Things of Thankful blog hop? Go on, it's scientifically proven to increase your happiness by 350%.

Ten Things of Thankful

Friday, 18 October 2013

The Best Part of my Day

Today I'm linking up with some lovely ladies for my first Finish the Sentence Friday bloghop.

The prompt for today is "the best part of my day is ....."

As I was thinking about this, I wondered:

Maybe the best part of my day is when I put my baby girl down for a nap, make a cup of coffee and go outside in the fresh air. I spend five or ten minutes just wandering through my garden, observing the way the seasons change the flowers, the vegetables and the trees one minuscule bit each day. I look up at the peppermint trees swaying the breeze, see the willy wagtails hopping from twig to twig and marvel at how enormous our lettuce and broccoli have become. It's like a mini meditation every morning.

And then I thought:

Maybe the best part of my day is when I finally get the chance to have a shower and, if I am especially lucky, my partner will be home to look after our baby and I can even have that shower all to myself. We both joke that we each feel like we've been on a holiday after we've had a shower all alone without anyone banging on the door or barging in unannounced. For some reason, under the water, five meters away from the chaos of everyday life, but five hundred miles away from it all in my head, I am able to think my clearest thoughts and rationalise some of my biggest problems.

And then I thought:

No, maybe the best part of my day is right at the very end, when my children are in bed and I go outside and sit in the silence with a cup of tea  glass of wine and just listen to the waves rolling in on the beach. It's the most calming sound I know.

But then I realised:

Yes, all these moment in my day are beautiful and essential for my mental health, but none of them are the best part of my day.

Because the best part of my day is when my baby girl first wakes up in the morning and smiles huge wide-mouth smiles at me and crawls all over me, blowing raspberries on my cheeks -  her way of giving kisses. Of all the times of the day, she is happiest in these first moments of the morning, when she wakes up beside me and coos and laughs and gurgles and sings, in that precious uninhabited way that babies sing. No matter how tired I am, when I open my eyes and the first thing I see is her smile, I can't help but feel ridiculously happy.

Yes, that is definitely the best part of my day.

Finish the Sentence Friday

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Sharing some sisterly love

Today I want to send a big shout-out to my sister, Rosalie, who's celebrating her birthday. I won't tell you how old she is because if I do, she might stop reading my blog and if she does that, I'll have no-one there to send me urgent text messages alerting me of the typos I've published, which could make things quite challenging (like the time I typed 'not', when I meant 'now').

There are so many stories I could share with you about Rosalie: silly stories, sentimental stories, hilarious stories, inspirational stories. She is one of the very few people that I have known intimately my entire life. But because I am time poor, my birthday wish for her today comes in the form of a short poem which I wrote with the aid of some old photos. If she does decide to ever speak to me again, it will be testament to our sisterly love :)

An Ode to Rosalie

R is for rushing, she never does rest.

O is for optimist, she always looks for the best.

S is for singing (she's quite good, I must say)

A is for agile, she still dances ballet.

L's for her laughter and the joy that it brings.

I's for intelligent; she's read so many things


E is for elegant because, as everyone knows, Rosie looks lovely wherever she goes.

Sending you a great big kiss,

Love from your baby sister. Mwah xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx 

Linking up today with Grace

Friday, 11 October 2013

Backyard Birthday Treasure Hunt

Every year, I always organise a little Easter egg treasure hunt in the backyard for Ben. He turned nine this week while we were up staying with my parents and because their backyard is full of all sorts of nooks and crannies, I thought it would be fun to organise a treasure hunt that the kids (and some of the 'big' kids) could do in teams. I think I had just as much fun preparing it as they had doing it!

First of all, I worked out where they were going to start and finish and then thought of nine other locations in between so that they had a total of ten clues.

Next, I wrote out ten rhyming clues. I didn't want to make them too hard because I wanted the kids to be able to figure them out without having to ask for any help, but I did want some of them to be a tiny little bit cryptic to make it a nice challenge for them.

I decided their starting location would be with me (I would hand them their first clue) and the end would be a little box in the wall between the front door and the front security screen doors, where a lolly bag would be waiting for each of them (that's a bag full of candy, for my American friends).

I thought it would be better for the kids to do the treasure hunt with a partner because two of them are still quite little and would need help reading. I also thought it would be fun for my partner to participate and for his friend, who's recently arrived in Australia from Italy, to do so too. Actually, I thought it would be fun to watch the two of them run back and forth around the garden so I didn't actually give them a choice. One of them has a limited reading knowledge of English and the other has hardly any English reading knowledge at all yet, so I made sure I paired each of them up with one of the older kids.

The part that took the most organising was working out a separate route for each of the teams to take. In total, there were going to be eight participants and I thought it would be better if they weren't all running and crowding around the same spot each time. If they took different routes from each other, then that would also mean that the kids would have to figure out the location of the next clue for themselves because they wouldn't just be able to follow another team who was one step ahead of them. The first location was the same for all of the teams but after that they branched out in separate directions.

Here's the list of clue locations divided up into the different team routes:

                 Team 1:                           Team 2:                          Team 3:                             Team 4:

1.           Start                                 Start                                    Start                                    Start

2.           Cumquat tree                    Cumquat tree                      Cumquat tree                     Cumquat tree

3.           Caravan                           Sundial                                 Lemon tree                         Shed

4.             Garage                           Pizza oven                            Letterbox                           Caravan

5.            Sundial                            Lemon tree                            Shed                                 Garage

6.            Pizza oven                       Letter box                              Caravan                            Sundial

7.           Lemon tree                       Shed                                     Garage                             Pizza oven

8.            Letter box                        Caravan                                 Sundial                            Lemon tree

9.             Shed                               Garage                                  Pizza oven                       Letterbox

10.   Gammer (grandma)         Gammer (grandma)             Gammer (grandma)       Gammer (grandma)

11.           TREASURE!                  TREASURE!                      TREASURE!                   TREASURE!

Before the party started, I went around and took photos of the clues and the clue locations and I'm glad I did because when it was time to do the actual hunt, I was left holding the baby (literally) so I couldn't take any pictures of the hunters in action.

Here's a little illustrated guide to the route Team One took  ...

They started with this:

Where they found this:

So they went here:

Where they found this:

They dashed off here:

Where they opened a clue that said:

So it was time to go here:

and open this:

That meant to run over to here:

(a pizza oven my partner 'upcycled' for my parents from an old brick BBQ - the 'young' part is only a slight exaggeration!)

where they discovered this:

So it was time to visit here:

and open this:

So off they sprinted to this spot:

Where they discovered this:

('Gaffer' is what the kids call their grandfather)

So it was time to run over here:

and decipher this:

(sorry mum, now everyone knows how old you are!)

So they went hunting for their grandmother:

who gave them their last clue:

which made them scratch their heads for a little while before it clicked and they hurtled through the house to this little place here:

Where the treasure was waiting for them!

I was so worried that I was going to muck up one little thing and it wouldn't go according to plan, but it all worked out exactly how I'd imagined and they all loved it (including especially the 'big' kids who were great sports even though they didn't have a clue what any of the clues meant but dashed around behind their partners having a great old time nonetheless).

I asked some of the kids afterwards what they thought of it.

Have you ever been on a treasure hunt or organised one? What do you remember?

 Linking up with Grace