Monday, 26 May 2014


"a portrait of my son, once a week, every week of 2014"

Jimmy: basically in his happy place, eating a bit of his mumma's croissant, waiting for the bus home after an interesting but annoying experience, as a storm rolls in. Fun times.

Photo credit goes to Michael, who took this in the Dillons East car park and the background is typical of what we see in Manhattan, KS. There is a lot of room for cars to park in this town, there is a lot of grass around the parking lots, not much in the way of gardens, just grass and trees, with big buildings sticking out. We were all tired and ready to go home after our first experience with the US medical system on Friday. What I thought was mastitis turned out to be just that and as Friday morning wore on I knew I was going to have to see a doctor, for antibiotics, before the weekend. The experience is worth its own post (watch this space). It was worth it because I got the antibiotics and the mastitis has cleared up, and the blockages have cleared up too.

21/52 means that we're close to halfway through the year. Eep! Having gone from early Autumn to early Spring and now heading into Summer, I feel the year is just starting up but I guess that's what happens when you grow up in the Southern Hemisphere. In a week or so we'll be another month down in our stay in Manhattan, KS. And before we know it, Jimmy will be celebrating his first birthday...

Saturday, 24 May 2014

The 6 week slump...

The view from our front yard in Vaoala, Samoa, 2008
About 6 years ago I sitting on the grass in our front yard in Vaoala, looking at this view, and bawling my eyes out, crying into Michael's shoulder. He doesn't remember it, but I do because I was the one crying. We'd been in Samoa for 6 weeks and I was hitting the "6 week slump" hard. We had been warned, probably at our Pre-Departure Training (PDT) for the Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development (AYADs) in Canberra, that at about 6 weeks we would probably have a little breakdown, not be happy with things, want to throw in the towel, etc. etc., but this was normal and things would improve.

Looking at this photo, I find it hard to imagine ever being unhappy there. Samoa is a beautiful country, and where we lived for most of that year was possibly one of the best spots around Apia, and for the most part, Michael and I loved it there.

But I was miserable that afternoon. Just plain miserable. It wasn't that I wanted to go home and I wasn't really homesick, but I missed my anonymity, I just wanted to be able to walk around Apia without having guys call out "hey pretty" or "want a Samoan boyfriend"* or similar, I was probably frustrated with our limited internet access, I missed public toilets that came with toilet paper and soap as standard features, I missed being able to go where I wanted when I wanted because I was a little scared of the dogs in the area, I wanted to be able to eat whatever and not have to worry about whether or not it would make me sick, and I was probably a little over not being about to drink water straight from a tap.

Well, I hit slump last night. We've been here for just over 7 weeks, but Michael has been at work for 6 weeks now, so we've been living this new rhythm for just on 6 weeks. I'm still a little that way today, so writing about it at length isn't easy, so I'll be brief: family and friends know that you are missed; JNY, our car, you are missed but not by Jimmy (sorry...); our bicycles, oh how we miss you; Brisbane City Council buses you are also missed, as are you, foamy cafe latte's. It's mostly the physical isolation and not having spent much time with another young mum in a month or more, but a good cry and a pledge to go to bed before 10 pm from now on, plus plans to finally contact the playgroup people and hire a car for next weekend, and I'm getting there. Michael is not entirely happy either, so provided we get work in Australia for next year, we'll only be away from home for 12 months.

Oh and I think I have mastitis, which doesn't help... and Jimmy is a drooling, teething mess with only 2 teeth to show for it...

It's been a rough few weeks, but we're still alive, with food in our bellies and cupboards, a solid apartment to live in, and a good internet connection.

*I need to say that Samoans are lovely people, and that it is a safe country to visit, and that these invitations were always made in good humour and never with any malice, but it was annoying.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Cheap thrills: Oxtail stew

This rich, delicious, definitely not low fat, dish was worth all the time it took to cook, the hours smelling the spices, the rich meat and bone marrow, and... oh let's just say it was yummy and hearty and very, very satisfying. Here's the link to original recipe, because it's not mine.

One lazy Sunday afternoon, a week after this, after waking up from a nap (I like naps, had you noticed?), I started cooking about 0.66 kg of oxtail with probably 0.3 kg beef mince as per the recipe, with a few chances... As I had half amount of meat, I used half of everything else, but without the wine, using vegetarian stock cubes and a few carrots, powdered cinnamon, and fennel seeds instead of star anise. It took a long time to cook, so we didn't have it for dinner that night. But the house smelt great.

Instead, after straining the stock, mashing the onion through the sieve and retaining the carrot, and removing the meat from the bones, the stock, onion, carrots, and meat was combined and stored overnight in the fridge. The sight that greeted me the next morning was lovely: the fat had risen to the top of the container, creating a lovely thick layer over everything else, just like I remember my Mum getting, when she did similar things. Oh the fat was easy to remove! (And save...) Oh and the marrowbone jelly that was under it... wibble-wobble...

But all that jelly had to be reduced... but I didn't do it all at once, oh no. Just about 1/4 of what I'd made when into the first real tasting, another 1/4 went into the freezer for much later, 1/4 went with Michael for lunch the next day (no extra attention), and the final 1/4 went into the fridge for later in the week. It took a while for that jelly to reduce. I can't remember how long for that first night, but the second time it seemed to take forever...

Once the sauce was reduced I sifted a generous teaspoon of cocoa over the stew, instead of the chocolate, and mixed well. When it looked right, and my stomach couldn't handle it any longer, I served it with... I honestly can't remember. I'm sure peas were involved. Perhaps some other greens too... But it was sprinkled with parsley and devoured by all three of us.

Oh it was good... So good in fact, that later that week when I used what was in the fridge, I also used the 1/4 of stew that was in the freezer... Admittedly, as I was a little unwell, my eyes may have been bigger than our stomachs... And I may not have let it reduce long enough, but I did remember to take photos of the stew as it was served, this time with mashed potato, with onion, fennel root, and broccoli stems. We still ate it. All of it. And yes, Jimmy approved.

Jimmy's serve...
... mostly made it into his belly.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

The cost of living...

Metric measuring cups, $2.99 from Goodwill (imperial ones cost $0.49)
When was the last time you took a good long look at your finances? No, not just scanning your bank statement, but actually writing down what you spend on day-to-day living - when was the last time you did this?

Me? I've never really done it, until now. A few years ago Michael spent about 6 months entering every dollar he spent and where it went and came up with a very pretty and interesting Excel spreadsheet, with pretty graphs showing his savings going up. I might have the patience for knitting, but I wasn't really interested in doing something so... tedious?

As the "home maker" Michael has charged me with such a task, because we have been living off our savings for the past 4-5 months, and really don't want to dip into our savings now that Michael is being paid (yay!!). We're actually hoping to save money. Strangely enough, doing it fairly simply, it is actually interesting and reassuring to see where our money is going.

Now, I'm only using broad terms like: food; eating out; rent; utilities; hygiene (although this sort of comes under household items); alcohol; clothes/home (which includes crockery etc, linen, shoes, books, computer and camera bits, wool...); and touristy activities. Initially there was also a column for establishment costs, just to keep a record of how much it has cost to set up our apartment, even in the little we have done, because it'll give us some idea of how much we'll be spending on that sort of thing when we come back to Australia*. There are no columns for: living on a very low income and savings for 4-5 months; US Visa processes. Needless to say these two columns would be scary.

So, after about 1.5 months living in Manhattan, KS, I think we'll be ok... but we've been a little overwhelmed by the whole process and may not have always been thrifty as possible, i.e. we were buying 1/2 gallons (1.89 litres) of organic whole milk for $3.50, when 1 gallon (3.78 litres) of the home brand whole milk costs $3. That's all part of the learning curve, just like finding bread without sugar and learning that Acetaminophen is Paracetamol.

Once we've been here for a few more months I think we'll have a better idea of where we can save money on food and minimise food waste, buy in bulk for stockpiling, and minimise water and electricity usage. For now we're focusing on eating as simply and cheaply as possible without compromising our health, making do with what we have, buying second hand where possible and lower-mid range where it's not (in the hope that these items will last the year), cheap thrills, and, as Michael would say, not dying.

And if we can afford to pay $2.99 for measuring cups, when we already have imperial measuring cups ($0.49 from the Salvation Army shop), for my sanity (not just because they're pretty), I think we might even be able to travel a little outside Manhattan, KS. But we still have to watch the money.

*We have some homely things in storage, so the cost of re-establishment should be less, but there will still be costs involved.

Sunday, 18 May 2014


"a portrait of my son, once a week, every week of 2014"

Jimmy: sleeping, drool and a little milk on his cheek. 

There's not much else in this world like a sleeping baby, and while he looks more and more grown up everyday Jimmy is still very much my baby. He's started having long afternoon naps, and by long I mean 1.5-2 hr naps, which for a baby who would only have 20 mins at a time, it's a long nap. And sometimes I naps with him, something I've been doing a bit of late. Naps are nice.

Jimmy has brought so much light and laughter into what has been a low week, I can't begin to imagine how I would have coped. Michael has been great too, and hasn't complained about me forgetting to make coffee for his lunches, or even failing to cook something that would produce leftovers for lunch. Phone calls etc with family back in Australia have been lovely too.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Take a moment...

Take a moment to remember family and friends. Take a moment to tell them that they are in your thoughts, that you love them. Work out how to spend more time with them, if you don't see them as often as you think you should. And take a moment to remember those who you can no longer spend time with.

A very special man passed away this week and because he went out on limb 18 years ago (yes, Dad, I worked it out), my family and I, had the privilege of knowing him. One phone call was all it took. I am very glad for that phone call, and I think my father, mother, brother, and sister are too. Our lives are richer for the actions of this man, and the warmth he and his wife, and their daughters, brought with them on our first meeting. There are many, many fond memories.

Michael and I are thinking of you all, our family back home in Australia. Ursi, Nick, Juliette, Lani, we wish could be with you, and the rest of the family, to help celebrate David.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Mother's Day...

It's Mother's Day, but I've never really done much for it. Ever. It's just something my family doesn't really do. Same goes for Father's Day. My parents aren't overly fussed because both my Dads' and my Mums' parents thought both were "too American", plus Mother's Day always falls close to my brothers' birthday, so that weekend is usually spent celebrating him. (Here are more reasons not to make too much fuss.) We still say "Happy Mother's Day" and "Happy Father's Day", but we rarely do anything more than that.

This isn't to say we don't show our appreciation for our parents, we just did it everyday, while we were all living at home, usually more than once a day. Everyday was ended with "G'night, love you", unless Dad had slipped off to bed while we were watching something he didn't want to watch. Birthdays were, and still are, celebrated, my parents wedding anniversary is always marked in some way or other, and Christmas is always a family day, where presents are thoughtfully chosen to help us show our appreciation. I still tell my parents that I love them at the end of every phone call. If it's done daily, why go to all that fuss and stress because someone in a marketing department decided it was a good idea?

While Michael and I were in Samoa as Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development, way back in 2008, we saw how the Samoans do Mother's Day and Father's Day. Mother's Day was huge. Just huge. There was cake and celebrations and gifts. Father's Day was a little quieter, but it was still bigger there than in Australia. Bigger still was White Sunday, or Children's Day. It was really, really huge. Everyone wore white, the children put on a show for their parents at their churches, the children were given new clothes and shoes, and just generally showered with attention. And Christmas Day? It was a religious celebration, nothing much more than that, because all of the present giving had been done during the year. There's a part of me that likes it that way. Birthdays are still celebrated in Samoa, but Mother's Day, Father's Day, and White Sunday are national celebrations, and the fuss seemed welcome and truly festive.

So, what are we doing? Well, I've been feeling a little run down, I think it's a cold, and Michael is a bit tired, so we're keeping things to a minimum. Friday evening we talked to my brother, sister, Mum, and Dad, because they were all together for my brothers' birthday. Saturday saw Michael looking after Jimmy for 30 minutes here, an hour there, giving me some alone time. And it's been lovely. I'm still a little run down, but I've been able to nap with the whole bed to myself, clean the bathroom without worrying that Jimmy will wake up when I turn on a tap (it happens...), and cook dinner without constant interruptions requests for my attention. Plus Michael made me pancakes both Saturday and Sunday. Me time, plus pancakes? It's the best Mother's Day gift.

Hope you're having a lovely weekend, whatever you're doing.

Sunday, 11 May 2014


"a portrait of my son, once a week, every week of 2014"

Jimmy: discovering dandelions and learning how to blow the seeds away.

Our crawling boy. Our darling, sweet, pink kneed, crawling boy. There is so much world to discover. 

Photo credit goes to Michael, who has been entertaining Jimmy today (Saturday) while I try to not get any sicker than I already am. I've been a little run down, probably has something to do with getting 6 hours sleep a night and the crazy weather here - it can be hot one day and chilly the next. And don't get me started on the north wind... 

Happy Mother's Day! I know it's a bit of a big thing in Australia, it's supposedly a big thing here in the USA, but it's huge in Samoa. Absolutely huge. Lots of love to all my mummy aunties, cousins, and friends, and to my own Mum - come visit, ok? 

Friday, 9 May 2014

Our first month in Manhattan...


One month down, 11 to go! (Unless we stay here for a second year.)

We're still finding our feet, working things out, finding our way around town, and getting our heads around the local climate. We have seen trees blossom and watched the blossoms fly away, managed to get phone numbers, seen snow, watched squirrels and rabbits running around, listened to the local thunder and explosive type noises from Fort Riley, acquired internet with the installation taking place on a Sunday during a storm, found bread that doesn't have sugar, found a good local beer or two, and just today we were taken to the local Asian supermarket where they sell fresh curry leaves amongst other things.


Oh and Jimmy has gone from not crawling to crawling and trying to stand whenever possible. In the last week he has started pointing at things, wanting to know what they are, he's also becoming increasingly talkative, even though he mostly says "boohk" (book), "gooh" (good/yes), "poo" (poo), "yeh" (yes), along with lots of "mumumum" (Mum) and "dadadadad" (Dad) and "yayayayayaya" (anything he doesn't have words for). But he still likes to play "Where's Jimmy?".


Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Cheap thrills...

In a bid to save money and to stave off boredom, Michael suggested that each weekend we cook something we haven't cooked before from one of the cook books I brought with us. Genius! We both like cooking and all three of us enjoy eating, and with two adults around for the whole weekend it's easier to take the time to cook something unfamiliar. As an added bonus we might even get some leftovers for lunches or the freezer for emergencies...

So we started last Saturday night, looking at recipes in River Cottage Everyday Cook Book. With our selection made and shopping list written, we made an evening run to our local supermarket. Yes. You read that correctly. And it's open 24/7, probably with a few exceptions, but still. Saturday night food shopping, with a baby! I digress...

It was a good thing we went when we did because we wouldn't have been able to walk to the shops until Sunday afternoon because it rained, and rained, and rained. There was thunder and lightning too and a National Weather Service warning for flash flooding in the area. So, it was good weather for soup...

A thrifty fish soup! Follow the link - it's worth it!

Now, I had to change it a little... We don't live near a proper fish monger, so instead of whole fish, I used about 1.5 kg catfish fillets, with one fillet going into the stock along with two chicken drumstick bones. Dry thyme was used instead of fresh thyme (about 3 pinches). There was also no wine in the stock. I also retained the carrot from the stock and put it in the soup, along with the well cooked fillet of fish. The leeks were kinda huge, so I needed to add water to cover everything. Instead of cleaned squid I used 200 g of frozen mixed seafood. And because I'm a mum, I added a bit of chilli and garlic to store bought whole egg mayonnaise.

The apartment smelled delicious, making stock was fun and a little therapeutic, having lunch simmering away during the rain was a little romantic, and Jimmy's enthusiasm for it was just wonderful. Ok, so I drained his so that he could eat it with his hands, that way it was a baby friendly meal too! And the store bought mayo? With the chilli and garlic, it made the meal, although home-made mayo might be better.

I'm looking forward to eating the last of the thrifty fish soup that's in the freezer and when I remember to take photos, I'll share the results of my variation on oxtail stew (also from River Cottage Everyday Cookbook). In the meantime, here's our resident food critics' response to the thrifty fish soup:

(The bowl of drained soup was eaten by the handful and there was hardly any mess.)

Sunday, 4 May 2014


"a portrait of my son, once a week, every week in 2014"

Jimmy: with a belly full of food, Mumma and Dada giving him their full attention, and enjoying the afternoon sun after a morning of thunder, lightning, rain and being told "no" a lot while the internet was installed.

This was Sunday last week, here in Manhattan. We didn't know it at the time but the tornado that was predicted to be in the west of Kansas took place in Arkansas, which is to the south-east of us. It would have been nicer if it hadn't developed at all. Meanwhile we were unaware of the situation as we enjoyed the sun light, while getting a little damp out on the grass.

Friday, 2 May 2014

My favourite time of day...

Back when Jimmy was very new, I loved those first few minutes of the morning: waking up to his little face on one side and Michael on the other; we were all cozy and warm and still a little sleepy (ok, Michael was usually still asleep). It was just lovely.

I still like mornings, but I'm usually squished up against the wall and Michael has probably spent half the trying to avoid being kicked off the other side of the bed... Jimmy has slept soundly... kicking Michael and headbutting me. Yeah, not so lovely.

Just this week I have really started to notice afternoons, particularly the moment Jimmy realises his Dada is home: Michael stomps up the stairs to our apartment, but Jimmy still has no idea what's coming, then Michael puts his key in the lock and Jimmy looks a little worried, Michael unlocks the front door and Jimmy stops what he is doing and whips his head around in the direction of the front door and then he looks at me, almost in disbelief, asking "is it really Dada? Can I get excited?", and then he's off! Jimmy crawls from where ever he is in the house to the entrance hall and all he wants is to be in Michael's arms. It's so incredibly sweet.

But it gets better. On Wednesday we had lunch with Michael at uni, because that's what we've started doing, and when Michael came home that afternoon Jimmy was super excited, why? I really don't know, but it was lovely. Jimmy and I were sitting near the entrance hall when Michael turned the lock, Jimmy looked in the direction of the door, turned back to me, flapped his hands to say "pick me up so you can pass me to Dada", but there was a little "I'm so excited, I think I did a little wee".

A close second is bath time. Jimmy's bath time to be precise, although I like bath time too. But that's a story for another time.