I’ll Be Home for Christmas.

I am going home for Christmas.  Home to New Zealand, to join with my Mum, Sister, Brother and their families and grandchildren and in-laws.  I am excited to be flying off in 3 days.  I haven’t had many extended family Christmases over the years.  When married to a Pastor, that was our busy time and after those years, it was the most expensive time to travel – so it just didn’t happen.  In the 35 years I’ve lived in Australia, this will be only my third Christmas home.  So I am excited.

Kiwi Christmas

I have always referred to New Zealand as my home because that is my birth place but having lived in Australia significantly longer than I did in NZ, I know that Australia is my real home now.  My Boys are Australian and I always find that as much as I love to visit my beautiful country of birth, by the end of my trip I am ready to go Home!

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*Pavlova Christmas Wreath with fresh berries.

So I am excited for my visit but I can also feel the sadness creeping up on me, as leaving day approaches.  This will be the first Christmas since we became a family, that I won’t be with any of my Boys on Christmas Day.  Some of us have been apart previously, but I have always had at least one of my Boys with me.  This year I could have had all 3 of them with me but circumstances prevailed.  (Story for another post!)   So my Boys will Christmas together and I will Christmas in NZ!

Not that I have missed out.  We have already shared Christmas celebrations with 2 of my Australian families and their kids.

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Typical Aussie Christmas Day lunch.

And I hope to share some Christmas cheer with my BFF  before we go to spend  An Evening with Oprah tomorrow night.  Did I even tell you that? ….. Oprah and Me!!!!!!  Bucket list ticking off happening right there!

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But I digress … It was so great to see my Boys in the pool with our friends kidlets or twirling them around and around or just generally having fun. Backyard cricket was the game of their day – pool cricket was what they were taught by the 3 & 6 year olds last night!!  Surely, it seems only yesterday that they were the ones being tossed in the pool or enjoying their presents.

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So, I prepare for my journey home with joy and anticipation.  Looking forward to making memories and filling my heart with love and blessings.  But each day, I may just be caught in thought of what those gorgeous Men that Adrian and I made together, might be doing at Home?  Knowing they are there for each other and totally enjoying their special Christmas together.

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Illustration by Julie Vivas from the book The Nativity.

*Pavlova Christmas Wreath with fresh berries recipe here.

Driving Mrs Crazy!

I was terrified!   I was in a new country, in the country and I was sitting behind the steering wheel of a car for the very first time. I had no idea what I was doing or if I actually wanted to do it but I knew it was important. It was important to my brand spanking new husband and therefore to me.

Driving, was some place that no woman in my family had ever gone before. It hadn’t been necessary – Dad was a Taxi driver and my friends could drive and there were buses and walking from where I came from. But here I was, in the Outback of Queensland, Australia, having my very first driving lesson!

That first time, is etched in my mind with such clarity, that even though it took place 30 years ago, the fear is recalled easily. I was on a red dirt road with no lanes or lines and certainly no other traffic. It was flat. It was straight. It was sunny. The person I trusted most in the world was sitting beside me and I was still terrified!

I was certain I would crash … into a tree or another car or a person or a kangaroo. My husband assured me that none of the above was going to happen and so I placed my hands on the steering wheel, gripping it so tightly that my knuckles turned white, and whispered that I was ready. I listened intently to the instructions about relaxing my grip, checking my mirrors, putting in the clutch and finding the gear. As I eased my foot off the brake, I felt the car inch slowly forward. It was about this time that a large kangaroo decided to bound across the red dirt road in front of me and into the scrub on the other side of the track. What happened next is a blur but I know that the driving lesson ceased and there was a lot of “I told you so” and “I’m never driving again” and “Take me home, NOW!!”

kangaroo

It took a long time to get me back behind the wheel of a car again.   I did resume lessons and I did eventually get my license but it took many hours of patient coaxing, a visit to a psychiatrist and a bag or three of chips!   As well as anxiety, I am what I call directionally challenged.  My left and right get confused and I have been known to indicate left and turn right ….. which I did during my driving test with the policeman in my car.  It turned out okay, though, because my husband was also in the car when I took my test, as I refused to drive without him being there.  This was lucky as he was able to explain to the cop that sometimes I got a little confused but mostly I was good and he promised him that I would only be driving in straight lines at the beginning!  The country cop gave me a pass and suggested that my husband take me for driving practise as much as possible BUT to always inform the said cop when I would be on the road, so that he could take a coffee break at the precise time!

My driving improved with practise, a bag of chips to munch as I drove and the purchase of an automatic car!  I still had trouble with overtaking for a long time, especially the trucks and road trains that used to frequent the country highways.  I can remember, many times that Adrian and I would swap seats when we caught up to a large vehicle and he would do the overtake and then put enough distance between the truck and our car, for me to jump back in and drive the long straight road until we caught up with another one!

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And today, 30 years later, I am a confident, competent driver, who can do her own overtaking.  I am forever grateful to that policeman and my husband for keeping me driving.  Driving has given me a freedom and independence that I would never have known.  It meant that when my husband died, I was still able to maintain many of my activities and lifestyle.  For the last 25 years I have lived in the city, which means driving in busy traffic conditions but not so many road trains and trucks. For that I am grateful.  I do, however, live in close proximity to Pooh Corner, which is home to one of, if not the last population of Eastern Grey Kangaroos in Brisbane.  Each time I come across a Roo or a Wallaby, my mind returns to my first ever driving lesson in Outback Queensland, Australia and think about how far I have come!

After the Game.

Monday Morning Postscript:

The game has been played and won by the Aussies.  The Black Caps caught Australia on a day when they lifted their game to the highest level – they had no answer for the Aussie bowling attack.  Both sides wanted to win – desperately,  one fell short while the other didn’t.  Both Captains praised the opposing team for their play during the six-week tournament and both were extremely proud of their own ‘boys’.

I refuse to get caught up in the sledging/send off  furore (that is raging on social media & to a lesser extent in mainstream media)  other than to say, there are different sporting cultures in these two neighbouring nations.  Each culture suits the nation that has embraced it.  Neither will be convinced by the other’s stance, as each feels strongly, that their way is the better way to win!  Sometimes the Aussie way looks ugly and sometimes the Kiwi way looks weak, to the other nation across the ditch.  Sometimes it is ugly and sometimes it is weak!

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Michael Clarke was not my favourite cricketer before this year.  I feel differently about him these days.  How wrong of me to judge his character from media snippets and huge assumptions on my part?  With the burden of the death of his “little brother” Phillip Hughes and the constant threat of career ending injury, he captained his country to a World Cup Final win.  He did it with his bat and his captaincy – in aggressive field setting & clever use of his bowlers.  And all the while, he did it with a black arm band with the initials PH written on it.  By carrying Phillip Hughes on his arm and in his heart, he reassured nervous parents that cricket is a great game to play and friendships made on the field can and do stay with you forever.  I remember my Dad, who passed away over 8 years ago, saying what a wonderful young cricketer Michael Clarke was and would be.  And that he would make a great Australian Captain!  He was right, my Dad!  After the year he has endured, Michael Clarke deserved to retire from One Day cricket with a great win and a great celebration!

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I hope the cousin banter across the ditch by text was not too savage.  I suspect it may have been!  But I’m sure it was expected and accepted, as it had been on that fateful day at Eden Park just over a month ago.

Lastly, yes, Shane Warne proved himself to be a dinosaur.  His interviews were embarrassing and inappropriate ….. but I did call it before the game!

Team win

Sheep Stations – The Final!

The day that we all hoped for has arrived.  Australia (Aussie) plays New Zealand (the Black Caps) in the World Cup of Cricket, in the final!  It’s the match that all the Aussies have been waiting for since that fateful day earlier in the tournament at Eden Park.  Because this time the match will be played at that Australian cauldron – the mighty MCG!

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new-zealand_650_012115100700 Now there are all sorts of reasons that each country thinks that their team will win – the Black Caps are unbeaten in the tournament but this will be the first game played outside their home country; the size of the ground should be on the Aussie side because the Black Caps haven’t played on the MCG for 6 years; the Aussies have got Davey Warner but the Black Caps have got  Martin Guptill; the Black Caps have got in form bowlers Boult & Southee but Aussie has got the vicious Mitch’s – Starc & Johnson; the Black Caps have got the extraordinary Baz McCullum as their captain and the Aussie’s have the amazing Captain, Pup Clarke, who has announced that this will be his last game in this format!

And then there is the X Factor in each team.  The non – playing 12th men for each team.

For the Aussies, the memory of a long hard season that began with the tragic death, on the cricket field, of their much-loved mate Phillip Hughes.  They will want to complete this season with a win for their country, themselves and their little mate.

For the Black Caps, the very public battle of the former New Zealand captain, Martin Crowe, who has been mentor to so many of the batsmen in the team. His column written for espncricinfo was nothing short of gut wrenchingly beautiful.  They will want to win for their country, themselves and their great mentor.

So, I have to make a decision on which side of the family fence I will settle on!  That is a very complicated thing to do for the following reasons.

  1. My mother was born in Australia but my father was born in New Zealand.
  2. My mother has lived in NZ for three times  as long as she lived in Australia and is a one-eyed Black Cap supporter.
  3. I was born in NZ but I married an Australian and have lived in Australia ten years longer than I lived in NZ.
  4. I have three Australian sons that support the NZ rugby team – as do I.
  5. My sister & her hubby lived in Australia for around five or so years, during which time they produced a son that was born in Australia but has a Silver Fern tattooed on his shoulder.
  6. I know this means the world to my homeland of NZ, having never even made the final before.  With special mention to my nephew and his mates, known as The Troopers, who attended every Black Cap game in the competition but could not make it to Melbourne for the final.

The Troopers

I could go on and on forever but I have decided to go for my home for 30+ years and support Australia!

I will not be sad if the Black Caps win.  The two best sides are playing attacking, aggressive cricket which is a delight to watch.  It will hopefully be competitive right down to the last over.  I hope it is so close that my mother, brother-in-law & brother all need to walk away from their TV’s at some point because they can’t bear to watch.

There is only one thing that could destroy it for me and that is Shane Warne’s commentary.  Let it go, Warnie!  Let it go!

Sheep Stations – a Follow Up!

Well, the game was played and won by the Kiwi’s …… just!

The cousins are still talking to each other ……. just!  Gracious winning, it seems, just doesn’t run in some parts of the family – no matter which side of the ditch you live on!  Rightly so I say!!

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The enjoyment felt by the New Zealanders watching the Australian batsmen marching back to the pavilion with little or no runs, was only matched by the enjoyment felt by the Australians watching the New Zealand batsmen doing the same!

It was close – really close! And it will all happen again at some time in the semi finals or maybe even the final!  It will most likely be played in Australia for the next meeting, where 90,000 screaming supporters will well and truly match the 40,000 that showed up in New Zealand for the last match!  Then we will really know who the best is!

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Then there is the Kiwi / Indian brother from another mother, who is hoping for something quite different.

p.s. Sorry for the late follow up report but I have found writing more difficult when not in my own, quiet space.  Back home now, so be prepared for more regular Mandy Diaries!

Playing For Sheep Stations ….

I’ve been on holiday in New Zealand for just over a week now.  BossBoy & BabyBoy came with me and we attended a lovely family wedding which was so full of fun and happiness, that it deserves its own blog later. The weather has been sensational and we have mixed and mingled with our New Zealand family or whānau, in all sorts of happy gatherings.  We missed BerlinBoy and BabyBoy flew home last night – leaving BossBoy & myself to fly the Australian flag for the most important cricket match for a long, long time!

We love cricket in our family!  It doesn’t matter what side of the ditch we live on, we love  it!  We don’t always love the way the others love it but what is life without a bit of competition?

So the Kiwi cousins and the Indian/Kiwi brother from another mother – have taken the Aussie cousin to Eden Park, to cheer on their respective teams live!  While the older generation has been split up for their own relationships safety, to watch at different homes, on TV.

Some of the New Zealand cousins and their friends, caught on TV, supporting their beloved Black Caps!
Some of the New Zealand cousins and their friends, caught on TV, supporting their beloved Black Caps during a previous match!

You see, although some supporters of each country were born in or have lived in the opposite country – there is a fierce rivalry and eyes become one eyed and feelings are high!

Australian & New Zealand cousins before the match, at the wedding!!
Australian & New Zealand cousins getting on well at the wedding a week ago!

So the proclaimation being heard around the homes & at the pub & at the ground, the hour before the game has started, is “I don’t mind who wins, as long as it’s a good game!” and “I just want us to be competitive” and “I don’t expect us to win but …” and “Your team must be the favourite!”

Each is secretly hoping that their team will win and win well!   And each Mother is hoping that their child is a gracious winner/loser …… and then there is the Aussies!!!!!

See you after the game for a follow up.

p.s. Sheep Stations for those that haven’t heard it before –The phrase ‘playing for sheep stations’ has both a literal and ironic usage. Literally, it is used to encourage participants to play in a friendly and not too competitive manner. Playing sport or cards or a game of some sort, but not for prizes, one might say ‘take it easy, we’re not playing for sheep stations’. It could be used starting a game of cards or pool for example, to check whether the game would be played for money, beer, or just pride, asking ‘so, are we playing for sheep stations or what?’

Thanks Wikipedia!

Breaking the Drought with a Net.

After days of intense heat and months of dry weather, the city of Brisbane finally, got a decent storm that brought thunder, lightning and most importantly rain!  Of course, this also meant flash flooding, high winds and power outages but we Queenslanders know that this goes with the territory.  Last night the air was crisp and clean – a real relief from the muggy, humidity of the past week.  Sleep was a much easier prospect and this morning has dawned clear and sunny but the ground definitely has a tinge of green already.

Brisbane downpour!
Brisbane downpour!

While I definitely feel joy and relief, my celebrations were immediately curtailed by the heart wrenching comment posted by my dear farming friend who is smack bang in the midst of a drought – big time.

“those pics make my mouth water…we just have the heat and now wind thankfully to get some water pumping….glad you guys got under some as Brissy looks pretty ordinary too.”

A drought for us city slickers is an annoyance – our gardens require more attention and many plants don’t survive and our lawns become dust bowls. But a drought for our farming families and associated industries, is a whole other ball game.

Most of my farming friends are dairy farmers. The Australian ones have had more drought  than good years in the thirty plus years we have been friends.  In the past, they have always managed to keep positive and continue to look with hope and prayers towards the next sprinkle or storm.  They have always been circumspect.  Knowing that with the land comes challenges.  They have continued to push on day after day to put food on our tables.

But this time I can feel a difference.  A despair that I haven’t witnessed personally before.  This drought hasn’t been as long as some others but I think it must be the constant wearing down of having had 11 years of drought, only to be followed by 2-3 reasonable years, then to be thrown right back into drought again!  The recovery time might have been enough for the land to semi bounce back (I have no technical knowledge here so don’t quote me) but it does not seem to be enough for the exhausted minds and bodies and souls to recover. They are tired and downhearted and struggling to find the energy and will, let alone the finances to keep going.

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I have felt helpless to know what to do to relieve their burden for some months now but I continue to do what I can.  I never buy Supermarket brand milk (every little bit helps); I give when & if I can; I sign petitions and I pray.  Another thing I try to do is to encourage and validate  my friends importance to me personally and as a community, by sharing their stories and struggles with whoever listens or reads my facebook and blog posts.  As I have found with my personal struggles, just knowing someone cares about you; is thinking about you; is praying for you – can give you an amazing boost!  For the farmers to know that when we get rain, we are still thinking about their plight, is greatly appreciated.  And the big one …. when they get rain – it doesn’t mean the drought is over for them.  They will still need, the often elusive gift of follow-up rain, to really make a difference.  They don’t need to be told that they are never happy!!!

So make contact with a farming family today.  Tell them you are thinking about them and their important, life-giving work.  Show them that you appreciate them and encourage them by prayer and any other means you can.  Talk to them, ask them how they are going and if there is anything specific you could do to help.  Then follow through as best you can!  They will appreciate your thoughtfulness and together, one at a time, we can become the soft place for them to fall and the safety net necessary to keep going.

All in this together

I wish to acknowledge Amie Ballon for the use of the gorgeous photographs of her family property.

You can see more of her work on Instagram on http://instagram.com/amienicolephotography