Wednesday, 31 August 2011

The sun must have his hat on

A stunning spot for reading our books on the way home from
the library
Even though I spend my childhood in a hot, sunny climate on the coast, the majority of my life has been in England, especially my first tastes of motherhood.  Therefore it is true to say that over the last six months we have had to do A LOT of acclimatising. Sydney’s Northern Beaches are so incredibly similar to the Natal Coast of South Africa where I grew up as a kid, that I get hit by a huge sense of nostalgia almost on a daily basis.  It’s funny the things that come back to me – the weather and landscape is an obvious one and I think there really is something to be said about the ocean having a calming effect on ones soul.  Every time I see the beautiful blue, I get this amazing feeling of calm that rushes right through me and just makes me want to smile all day. It’s a feeling that’s quite hard to put into words but it’s almost like my soul has come home.    

The vast and endless blue skies have a similar effect on me, as do the sound of lawn mowers buzzing or humming far away in the distance.   The lawn movers actually take me right back to when I was around the same age as Master J or Miss H and my mum used to make me have a lunch time nap.  I remember hating it and thinking how mean she was to make us go and ‘lie down’ after lunch when we would much rather have been out playing in the garden.  We used to lay on our beds, wide awake for what seemed like HOURS listening to lawn mowers buzzing away in the distance waiting for mum to come and open the bedroom door so we could be free again!!  All I can say now is “Mum, I FINALLY get it”.  Those lunch time naps keep my sanity in check these days and I do chuckle to myself every time I tell Master J “I know you’re not tired, and I really do understand that you don’t want to, but……….we’re still having ‘quiet time’ after lunch!  Poor love, I guess it’ll be another twenty odd years before he gets it too! 
taking in the view

Living in the sunshine has given me a new found respect for it.  Skincare has always been one of my passions and I’m very aware of how dangerous the sun can be.  Working with some amazing skincare ranges in the past,  I thought my skin care knowledge was pretty good and my own skin was well protected and looked after, so you can imagine my horror when only a week after we arrived in Sydney an unexplained rash appeared on my face.  In the worst place too, on my forehead right in between my eyes!!!  At first it was just a small, slightly raised rash (about the size of my fingernail) and I just assumed that it was my skin reacting to the glycolic in my moisturiser now that I was more exposed to the sun (glycolic and UV don’t like each other much).  So I stopped using the glycolic for a few days and it didn’t disappear – in fact it became more inflamed and incredibly itchy.  Thank god for make-up as by this point me and the rash were not friends!  It was really baffling me too as I didn’t know what it was and I’m pretty sure I can recognise most skin ailments by just looking at them.  So one afternoon while the kids were playing in the rock pools I started to Google the rash on my iphone………….this probably wasn’t the most sensible thing to do as by the time I got home that evening I had managed to convince myself that I was dying of cancer!!  Ok, so maybe I was being a little over dramatic but the frightening thing was that it did actually match the symptoms of a form of skin cancer (thankfully not the dangerous one) but still it was CANCER!  Well so I thought anyway.  The next day I booked an appointment with the doctor and off I went with the kids.  I showed the doctor my rash (trying really hard not to rattle off my self diagnosis) and she took a closer look under a big magnifying glass.  She didn’t say anything for what seemed like ages and I just couldn’t help but blurt out “Have I got cancer??”  “Yes” she said, totally matter of factly  “It is a form of skin cancer”.  Oh my god I’m going to die, was the first thing that flashed through my head (I’ve always been a bit on the dramatic side), but “Oh right” was all I could muster.  “OMG– I have cancer!  CANCER!” was what I was actually thinking!!  “It’s nothing to worry about” she said.  “It’s very superficial and it’ll just need to be burnt off”.  I had so many questions – When will it happen? Will I have to go into hospital? Will I be referred to a skin specialist? Will it leave a scar?  Will it come back? 

hat and sunnies on
She then offered to burn it off for me right there and then – which threw off guard a little.  I’m used to the British NHS system where you have to wait at least a month or so for anything and if you’re lucky enough to have private cover you still have to wait a few days for the paperwork to process.  Of course I accepted - no time like the present!!  She took out what looked like a little blow-torch and explained she was going to burn the area with liquid nitrogen (gulp).  I had almost forgotten the kids were with me, until I had to explain to Master J why the doctor was about to burn my face with a torch.  “It’s because mummy didn’t put her sun cream on” I told him.  “Will it be really ouchy?” he asked, “I hope not,” I said.  “It may sting a little,” the doctor then told me!  "Oh great" I thought, as I gritted my teeth, not knowing what to expect.  Luckily I had no time to think about it and it was over in a few seconds, but “sting a little” was a serious understatement!!!!  We then went home to explain to Mr D that yes I did have cancer but now it’s all gone!  

I have since seen a skin cancer specialist (I needed a second opinion) and luckily for me it really has all gone.  I also discovered that having whole body skin cancer checks every 6-12 months for the whole family is as normal as going to the dentist in Australia.  So Mr Sun, I will be having my hat on from now on –thanks for the wake up call!!

Thursday, 18 August 2011


The best thing about this week has been losing the Christmas tree that was growing in the back garden.  Ever since we’ve moved in I’ve hated it.  We have a relatively small patch of garden outside the kids bedroom and this Christmas Tree (well at least that’s what it looks like) is right smack in the middle, making it almost impossible to use the garden properly.  I know I may sound a bit harsh taking such a dislike to a poor Christmas Tree, but this one really wasn’t a pretty looking tree like the ones you have in your home at Christmas time.  It was more like one from the “Grinch that stole Christmas”.  It was HUGE and really ugly and it look up so much room that it literally blocked out the sky.  When I stood out in the garden and looked up it was really dark and creepy up there with loads of dead, sticky branches that looked like they would make the perfect home for many unwanted crawlies!!

Glad we didn't have to clean all this up!
Nicely pruned "council hedges' to the left

It’s no easy thing getting a tree taken down in Sydney, in fact it’s actually a bit of a mission, as all trees (even the ugly annoying ones) are protected by the council.  So much so, that you’re not even allowed to prune anything back more than 10%!  I guess this is ok if you’re a garden lover and take care to prune your garden back every year so that you only need to take off 10%, but when you’ve in a rented property that clearly has not been nurtured for a long time this rule can be a bit of an issue.  Well, certainly to me anyway!  I must have inherited both my grandmother and my mother’s genes as all I want to do is get out there with a huge pair of scissors and chop everything back (or at least supervise Pete doing it).  So we did a little more research and discovered that the only way the council would find out of we did some major chopping was if one of the neighbour’s complained.  Perfect, our neighbour’s are hardly spring chickens and with a bit of buttering up they’d be just fine!!  

 The next problem we had was getting rid of the evidence!!  The council only picks up “green things” once a fortnight and as we had about 10 times the amount that would fit one bin, this was method was going to be a problem.  We couldn’t drive it to the dump either because if you’re not a ‘home owner’ with a permit it costs a fortune to visit the dump.  And besides there was no way those trees cutting were going in my car  - if any spider escaped and decided to make an appearance whilst I was driving somewhere there would be a high chance of a serious accident!!  So back to the drawing board I went and I discovered (thanks to neighbourhood gossip) that a couple of trees on the edge of the garden were actually on council properly and if I phoned the council and complained that they were blocking our light (or something like that) they’d have to come and cut them down.  Luckily for me they agree and when the lovely young lads arrived a week later to do the honors, I made sure I was there with tea and biscuits.   So when I very kindly asked them if they could just take away some of my ‘clippings’ when they cleared up, they were happy to help!  Result!  If only it had been that easy in England!! 

Big bro keeping little sis in check!

The only thing now left to spoil the garden was that damned Christmas Tree.  After much negotiation with the landlord, estate agent and the council, they finally agreed to have it chopped down!  At 7:00 am on Tuesday three young lads arrived with a huge truck, chainsaws and a chipper machine!!  For someone who was supposedly not interested in ‘the big tree chop’, J was dressed and outside within minutes of them arriving. (Wish he’s get dressed that quickly every day!).  I might add that he was wearing his fireman suit as this is obviously the most suitable attire for tree chopping – especially as it had a hard hat!  Mr D was also very reluctant to go to work and was hovering around muttering something about ‘working from home’.  Yeah right, he’d never have got any real work done if he had stayed home. 

At last a little garden for the kids (shame about the grass)
It took them the best part of a whole morning to cut down not one but three horrible trees!!  The poor guys were incredibly patient too - having to stop every 10 minutes to answer another one of J's questions and to let him throw the odd branch into the chipper.  Much to his excitement one lad even found a huntsman spider up the tree and brought it down in his hard hat to show J.  "Mum, mum you have to come and see this spider" he calls "it's so cool - it's a huntsman, come look mum!"  "Oh great" I think, I just knew there were horrible things living up that tree".  Even though I was expecting to see the spider it still made me almost jump 6 feet off the ground (much to everyones amusement I might add).  I can now say that I have officially seen a huntsman and I do not want to see another!!  I also needed eyes the back of my head too, as while trying my best to avoid anything that crawled as well as make sure that J didn't loose an entire arm down the nashing jaws of the chipper, Miss H did her best disappearing act leaving me frantically searching for her under piles of branches while someone was yelling "TIMBER!!!" in the background!!  Enough to get anyones heart racing! 

Once everything was cleared up I was totally amazed by how much more light was in the garden (and flooding though the house).  I could actually see the sky!!  The only thing that is now posing a problem is the grass - or lack of it!!!!!  Those of you that know Mr D and his mild obsession with 'perfectly level lawns' will know that this is now a challenge not to be taken lightly!  Watch out visitors, you may be put to work...................

Thursday, 11 August 2011

A quick update - almost 5 months in .....

A typical winters day!

I'm sitting on the balcony with a cup of tea (it's the English in me) and the sun is streaming in across what seems like one side of the sky and the other side looks very grey and angry.  Right in front of me is the most stunning rainbow!  I absolutely love rainbows and they seem to just appear every time there is just a hint of rain.  I could stare at them for hours!!  So far the winter in Sydney has been a little chillier than anticipated - for some reason I just assumed Australia would just be warm all the time.  One of the many misconceptions I’ve had since we moved.  I’m certainly not complaining though as this chilly winter weather with it's endless blue skies and sunshine is a far cry from the grey clouds of London.   It actually makes me smile when I look go outside to hang up all my washing – it’s a complete revelation after years of having washing hanging over every radiator and door frame during the endless winter months, waiting days for it all to dry!  Now it's dry and smelling fresh as a daisy after only a few hours!  Listen to me – turning into a proper housewife already.   

Arts and craft in the playroom

Over the last few months we've moved into our rental in Collaroy and I've tried as best I can to turn it into our 'home'.  Having all our own furniture has definitely helped.  Although like most other women, there are already things that I want to change.  Mr D is a happy man living in a rental as he no longer has to do any DIY on the weekends (apart from hanging up pictures and taking them down and then hanging them up again - every time I change my mind!!!).  We've got some really lovely neighbours too.  A few weeks after we had moved in the lady across the road invited the kids and I over for 'afternoon tea' to meet the other neighbours.  When I turned up, I wasn't expecting to be the only person under the age of 65!!   However it was one of the funniest afternoon I've had in a long time - they were all hysterical and had me in stitches!!  The kids love them too - it's like having 4 grannies living next door and they're constantly running over the road to show Elsie or Janine something or the other!  It's great as they have endless patience and will chat with Master J for ages about some lizard that he's captured or a new trick he's learnt on his scooter.  A story that I've most probably heard a hundred times already!!!  I also get all the latest "neighbourhood" gossip so I feel like I've been a part of the community forever.  

Getting Master J a place at a local Kindy was a bit of a mission when we first arrived.  There are waiting lists for waiting lists in all the good ones and people have their  kids names down for years.  I came pretty close to tears and begging on several occasions before we were finally offered a place!  I have since learnt that there is point system here as well as a waiting list and you get extra points if you’re a working parent or if speak another language other than English at home etc etc!!  Had I known that at the time I would have told the Kindy that Mr D spoke Afrikaans at home and blackmailed Master J with a couple of easy words!!!  Desperate measures for desperate times!!   Luckily he has settled in amazing well considering we’ve moved him half way around the world, taking him away from his little buddies.  But he’s all smiles now and we’re even starting to hear the odd Aussie expression!  Next year he’ll be off to “big school” (gulp) and Miss H will join his Kindy. 

Fun on Manly Beach
There have a been a lot of lifestyle changes for us all and so far they have been fantastic!  We are all just loving the 'great outdoors' and really thrown ourselves into the Aussie way of life.  The kids are in the sea whatever the temperature (hence we had to very quickly buy them a couple of wetsuits or 'steamers' as they call them here) and it's just amazing to watch how much their confidence has grown since we moved.  Master J has gone from not liking his bike at all to riding without his stabilisers - he's very proud of himself.  Little 'lazy legs' Miss H is still flatly refusing to pedal her bike and is perfectly happy to be pushed along!!

Mr D has also settled into his new job and it's such a bonus to have him around so much more now that he no longer comutes to Amsterdam.  We only have one car, so Mr D has had to get used to taking the bus or the ferry to work.  We live a little way out of the city so it takes him about an hour to get to work and back.  Initially he wasn't sure he would cope with the commute (having been home based for the last 6 years) but he has found ways of getting a little 'fun' out of it!!  He has a scooter to get to the bus stop and is now threatening to use a skate board (after stealing Master J's one to practise a few childhood tricks)!!!  

The local wildlife here is pretty interesting too and most certainly keeps me on my toes!  I am very proud to say that I no longer break into a cold sweat every time I see a spider (unless its a killer one of course) and I've even allowed a few to keep their homes in my garden – I’ve discovered it's far better to know where they are.  The first time I went over to my lovely friends Sophie's house, she said "you must go into our room and look at the sea view - it's gorgeous” She was preoccupied in the bathroom at that moment - potty training! So off I went on my own and as I stepped onto the balcony I felt my heart stop for just a moment, and then I got the cold sweats and the jelly legs.........right in front of me spread across the entire balcony was the biggest web spider I have EVER seen!!!!!!!  I slowly backed off the balcony and into the bedroom.  Soph came bounding in all smiles "Gorgeous isn't it?" she said in her Wolverhampton accent (which I love, reminds me of home).  "Absolutely" I say smiling back.  Little did she know I hadn't even seen the sea - the view was the last thing I was looking at!!  We've both now had a good laugh about that, and luckily for me, she has my back when it comes to the eight -legged creepies!! 

We’ve have loads of interesting birds in our garden too.  Lots of  parakeets and cockatoo's, which are pretty amazing to look at but are unbelievable noisy and drive me crackers first thing in the morning.  It also amuses me to see them all sitting on the ground under trees, pecking for worms as if they are pigeons.  A few weeks ago there was the most amazing bird on my washing line – it looked like a little parrot with it's bright reds, blues and greens, that I thought it couldn’t possibly be wild.  I popped over to my neighbours to see if she knew of anyone who might have lost their pet bird and to my slight embarrassment – she came out to have a look, chuckled to herself and told me it was just wildlife!!! (I found out is was a lovebird and where I come from lovebirds sit in cages not on your washing line).  The other day I saw what looked like a turkey waddling around the garden!  I haven't dared ask anyone if it is as I'm sure they'll just laugh at me - but seriously, I think I've seen it all now!!

So all in all I can happily report that we're settling in really well and have made some fabulous new friends.  Sometimes it feels like we've been here forever even though its just been a few months.  If I could change anything, I wish I could have my family a tiny bit closer!!

Sunday, 7 August 2011

"Can Miss H please make her way to reception"

One Wednesday morning the kids and I arrive a little early at Fitness First (my favourite gym – said with a large dose of sarcasm) for our weekly swimming lessons.  They race into the changing room, strip off and jump straight into steam room to warm up.  Here we go again I mutter “Come on J and Miss H,  (trying not to shout)  – come out of there please – you know you’ll just upset the old ladies”.  I swear kids are programmed to do the exact opposite of what you tell them – week after week!!  “Swimming starts in 10 minutes, so lets start getting organised” I say, trying to round them up like sheep as they dart off in different directions.  I’ve just about got them sorted when I decide to make a quick visit to the ladies while I have the chance.  I have to take Miss H into the cubicle with me, as I just don’t trust what she’ll get up to when I’m not looking.  At least I can threaten Master J with no treat or some other mean thing if he moves a muscle while I’m in the loo.  Unfortunately Miss H is still at the age where no amount of threatening does any good. 

 I did not anticipate what would happen next.....  The little monkey squashed herself flat as a pancake and escaped underneath the cubicle door - whilst I am mid wee!!  “Miss H, I yell, come back here right now, or mummy will be very cross!!!!”  Nothing…… “MISS H, WHERE ARE YOU??? Nothing…….  “J, I yell, (still from inside the damn cubicle) Where is Miss H, can you see her?.  “She’s run away mum” he says “outside the changing rooms and I couldn’t catch her because you told me not to move until you finished your wee!”  Shit I think!! I fling open the door (no time to wash hands) and rush outside where she is nowhere to be seen!
Trying not to panic I start looking around – she can’t have gone far as this is a fitness centre – there are only so many places she can hide right??  “Little bugger’ I’m thinking to myself.  After a couple of seconds I see a Fitness First person walk past, so I grab him and explain that I’ve lost my daughter – 2 years old, about so high with blonde hair???  He helpfully suggests I go to reception and see if someone will make an announcement for me.  Good plan I think and rush over there.  Still no sign of Miss H I might add!!!  I get to reception and there are a couple of pretty young girls sitting there, so I call one over and explain my predicament.  “Could you please make an announcement as I’ve lost my daughter somewhere in the building.  “Of course she says, what’s her name?”  “Miss H d I say and I’m about to explain that she is only two and so high with blonde hair, wearing pink etc ect when this booming voice comes over the loud speaker and interrupts me “ATTENTION ATTENTION CAN MISS H PLEASE MAKE HER WAY TO RECEPTION.  THAT’S MISS H  PLEASE MAKE YOUR WAY TO RECEPTION”

Seriously??????  She’s two!!!  Oh my god, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry??  I look up at the receptionist who’s beaming back at me completely clueless as to why I’m looking so flabbergasted!! Just as I’m about to explain to her that a  two year old is not going to “come to reception when called” J come running round the corner saying “I’ve found her mum”!