Life was unsettled when we first arrived in Perth and it took us a while to finally get around to choosing a dog. We talked about it endlessly, debating what size and kind of dog would be most appropriate when we finally got one, how much walking and grooming would be involved and who would take the dog to training. We had previously had Labrador Retrievers, a small mixed-breed (possibly Miniature Pinscher/Terrier mix), a German Shepherd, and a large mixed-breed (possibly Mastiff/Rottweiler).

rsadogs

This time around we wanted a medium-sized dog, about the size of a Beagle. After heaps of research, a friend suggested that we go with her to a dog show. There we’d see a whole range of different dogs in action and be able to compare them. This was a great idea, since that’s where we found and fell in love with Honey – a Welsh Springer Spaniel. It turns out that these are fabulous dogs: not too big, cheerful, good-natured, reasonably smart and very playful. She fitted right in from the start.

A year or two later we happened to watch the pilot episode of a TV series called Dharma & Greg. In this, Dharma explains  to Greg that her second dog (Nunzio) been her ‘bar mitzvah’ gift to her first dog (Stinky). For some reason, this amused me no end. From then on we bandied about the idea of getting a second dog, a ‘bar mitzvah’ gift for Honey. Sadly we dithered for too long and she never did get her Nunzio. She died after twelve years of being an integral part of our family, leaving an enormous gap in our lives.

When we finally decided to get another dog, we turned to the list of what are widely considered to be the 10 smartest dog breeds for some guidance. The list was rapidly whittled down, as follows: Border Collie – too crazy active, Poodle – too woolly and poncey for me, German Shepherd – love them, Golden Retriever – too hairy, Dobermann – well, the neighbour had one and it was kinda nice…, Sheltie – too small and barky, Labrador Retrieve – love them, but… health issues, Papillon – too small and floofy, Rottweiler – too big, Australian Cattle Dog – tend to become barrel-shaped. The choice seemed pretty straightforward.

Several years and two German Shepherds later, we know better. Both our Australian GSD’s were beautiful dogs, bright and responsive – but they also both died from inherited autoimmune related conditions. This effectively removed them from our rather short short-list for future additions to the family. We now share our lives with a young Dobermann – and the whole issue of whether to get her her very own Nunzio is pretty much a daily conversation. As it happens, this Saturday is National Pet Adoption Day  – and the temptation to just get out there and pick out a companion dog for her is huge…

htnm dogs

But this is a forever-decision – or at least one for about the next 10 years – so it’s important to get it right. We – and anyone else thinking about getting a pet – need to consider a number of factors, such as what size pet is appropriate, cost (purchase price, food, equipment, inoculations, kennelling if you go on holiday, etc.), whether to get a male or a female, how much space is available and whether said pet will live inside or outside. Then there’s the issue of how much time can be made available to devote to the pet, who will take responsibility for cleaning up behind it and who’ll do the training.

Having worked through all that, we know we don’t want another big dog… that it does need to be energetic, friendly and happy… and there we’ve stalled out. So this weekend we’ll be visiting some likely candidates… and perhaps one of them will turn out to our Nunzio. Or perhaps it will be like Honey – a surprise choice on the day that turns out to be perfect.

dog options 2016

The last time I caught up with Sibling#3 in person was in 2011 when we travelled around Scotland and Ireland together. That turned out to be fun, so we decided we’d give it another go. This time we chose a destination a little closer to home (for me, at least): Tasmania.

Starting out in Hobart, we meandered around the island for 10 days. Many kilometres, a good deal of walking, lots of sightseeing and even more talking found us circling back to our starting point. A take-home tip for those considering a similar trip: Tasmania is often wet – then surprisingly sunny – then wet… (and so on), so pack a good quality rain jacket and make sure it’s one that has a hood. You’ll use it!

Our adventures took us to waterfalls, lakes, rocky outcrops, rivers and berry farms. In the first few days we went up Mount Wellington, had breakfast and browsed the stalls at Salamanca Markets, picnicked alongside the historic Richmond Bridge and spent hours viewing the fascinating installations at MONA .

Richmond Bridge

An afternoon at the 69th annual Huon Show was an unexpected addition to the itinerary, but provided plenty of local entertainment. I was particularly taken with the wood chopping competitions, a troupe of very interactive acrobats, an exhilarating demonstration of tent-pegging by the Tasmanian Lighthorse and a variety of livestock displays. Sibling#3 was a little surprised at this spur-of-the-moment agricultural show option, but was happy enough to trudge around in the intermittent drizzle and watch me pat goats and dogs (with some amusement).

Huon Show

We visited Mount Field National Park, Russell Falls, Queenstown, Strahan, cruised out on the Gordon River, ate delicious (!) chocolate-coated raspberries, went for a walk at Dove Lake (Cradle Mountain) and stayed overnight at Lake St Clair. The last two were particularly interesting as they’re gave me some insights into the 65km Overland Track that family and friends hiked back in 2013. I was impressed at the time, guys, and even more so after being there myself – and realising that you did some of that hike in the snow!

Lake St Clair / Cradle Mountain

Our final few days took us to Launceston, the Freycinet Peninsula, Swansea, Eaglehawk Neck and Port Arthur before we finally returned to Hobart. Highlights of this section were the vast array of roses at Endelhome Grange and the delicious raspberry pie at Kate’s Berry Farm (after a boat trip out to Wineglass Bay).

Raspberry pie at Kate's Berry Farm

There was a whole lot more to the trip, including our daily hunt for last minute accommodation when we decided it was that time of day. This was occasionally a tad fraught, particularly when Sibling#3’s navigation system (nick-named Susan, for some reason) took us to a number of rather out-of-the way bed-and-breakfast places. A few of these seemed highly implausible – little or no signage and no-one obviously in attendance. A couple of these looked as though they might have potential for duelling banjos in the cowshed – although that may have been the time of day, hunger and tiredness talking. Either way, Sibling#3 and Susan were politely requested to suggest alternatives rather speedily!

Sibling#3 at Freycinet Peninsula

We survived (sometimes despite Susan) and spent a few days together with the rest of the family before Sibling#3 headed home to RSA. I wonder where our next catch-up will be…

Ragamuffin gardenThis week I found an all-but forgotten potted geranium had sprouted the most luscious pink blossoms. The totally unexpected flash of new colour in my ragamuffin garden made me laugh out loud – and then smile on and off for the rest of the day.

Geraniums do tend to look perky and pretty, particularly when in flower. But they were really just so much background scenery when I was growing up. Then I went to Europe, where I seemed to see window boxes full of bright red geraniums everywhere I went.

Seeing them in this new context, I realised that I’m actually rather fond of these hardy little plants. They’re great performers: water-wise, pest resistant, need minimal maintenance and can be relied on to flower regularly and brighten up pretty much any garden.

Forgotten geraniumOver the years I’ve added several varieties to our garden, including the vermillion ones that remind me of Europe, the cerise pink variety that always makes me smile, one with lime scented foliage and lavender flowers, and the stunning big red that I found a couple of years ago.

On Saturday, still full of enthusiasm from my mid-week geranium smiles, I decided to go hunting for some new varieties at the WA Geranium & Pelargonium Society Annual Sale Day. Daughter-dearest and I had great fun trawling through the stalls, ooh-ing and ahh-ing at all the pretties. It was like being in a candy store, rushing from display to display to admire the blossoms, smell the leaves and chat with other geranium enthusiasts.

One of the club members explained that the plants commonly called ‘geraniums’ are, in fact, pelargoniums. Confusion on this point is quite common, apparently, but affected our enthusiasm for plant-hunting not one whit! The sale day turned out to be a great opportunity to find varieties I’ve seldom (if ever) seen in suburban gardens.

Co-incidentally, Daughter-dearest has just recently taken up residence in her new home and it seemed like a good excuse to buy instead of just browse. She certainly wasn’t about to talk me out of shopping for pretties, so we ended up acquiring a couple at each stall until we ran out of hands. We then headed for home, armed with a veritable wealth of geraniums – ten different varieties in all.

Since they’re dead easy to propagate, we immediately set to work with secateurs and potting soil. The process is very simple. First step was to take a small cutting (approximately 10cm) from just above a leaf joint (node) on each of the new plants. We then trimmed each cutting so that there were only two or three leaves on it. This makes it easier for the cutting to thrive, because the plant doesn’t have to work too hard trying to keep lots of leaves alive. Next step was to pop each of the cuttings in a small tub of potting soil and water them lightly. Try it – the results are well worth the tiny amount of effort involved.

Propogating geraniums_Oct2015

I’ll continue to water the cuttings lightly every day and the first tiny roots should start to appear in about three days. After  about four weeks the new plants should be ready to transplant into slightly larger pots or, if I’m feeling brave, straight into the garden – both options have worked for me in the past. Either way, I’m looking forward to even more bright flashes of colour in my ragamuffin garden this summer.

I was up at the crack of dawn yesterday to do some baking for an event at our place. I test-baked an apple/hazelnut cake a couple of weeks ago, replacing hazelnut meal with macadamia meal – because that’s what I had in the pantry (doesn’t everyone?). It turned out pretty well (the texture and taste of the macadamia meal simply delicious) and I was pretty confident that it’d work out okay the second time around too… but, just in case, I prepared a simple vanilla/apple teacake to pop into the other oven as a back-up plan. It never hurts to be a bit over-prepared – and the guests usually eat every last crumb anyway 🙂

I find baking very relaxing – particularly when the house is quiet – and my mind soon drifted onto other things as I pottered away. I measured and mixed, stepping over and around the ever-hungry scrounge that is our puppy and thought about my daughter, fast asleep in the back bedroom. On Friday she received notification that the house that she and her partner have been working towards and dreaming of for so long is finally theirs. From land purchase though design, planning approvals and – most particularly – bank shenanigans, it’s been a long haul for them. The past week in particular had been fraught with anxiety as to whether the house would pass muster, resulting in the funds being released to the builders (by the ever-nit-picky bank). It did – and they both positively glowed as they gave us the news that night – and many spontaneous happy dances of bouncy joy and group hugs ensued. Such happiness all round.

After camping in two rooms at our place for the past 10 months, with a minimum of personal belongings to hand (the rest being in storage), they’re more than ready to move into their own space again. Unpacking all their belongings, sorting through them and rediscovering things they haven’t seen in months will be a bit like Christmas morning. They’ll be able to move their kittens into a whole house (instead of a small cat run), set up chook pens for their gaggle of poultry and plant out the vast array of trees and plants that have waiting in pots outside our front windows. It’s going to be great fun to watch the next stage of their Gallifrey dream take shape and to help out where we can.

Thinking about their unfolding adventure made me reflect on my own dreams and aspirations – and to contemplate where I’m up to with those. Just over a year ago I attended a workshop entitled How to Become a Must-Read Author. The rather ambitious title set the expectations of the attendees fairly high – and  Rachael didn’t disappoint. She entertained and inspired the crowd of writers and would-be entrepreneurs very effectively, telling her personal rags-to-riches story in an inclusive and forthright way, tossing in random humorous anecdotes to lighten things up and to retain audience attention. It was a very polished performance and went a long way to showing why she’s so successful. My friend Karen and I were both quite impressed and came away determined to move forward with our respective book projects, utilising Rachael’s write-a-book-in-12-weeks as incentive to do so.

Part of this 12-week process was to focus on our key objectives for the next couple of years. There are any number of ways to undertake this sort of exercise, but I found mind-mapping worked surprisingly well as a first stage. I wrote down all the things I could think of that I’d like to do, see, be or achieve – no matter how implausible. Then I grouped them into categories and looked at those in an attempt to see what bigger picture I was trying to paint for myself. From there I moved on to hunting down some pictures to represent the various categories and put together a vision board, printed it out and stuck it up in my study to act as motivation to achieve those vision board 2014objectives.

I’m not sure that having the print out on the back of my door helped in any real sense, since that sort of affirmation isn’t generally something that spurs me on. What was valuable, however, was the exercise of creating the vision board. It focused my attention on my wants and needs in a positive and proactive way. It made me actively consider how I could achieve the outcomes I wanted, rather than just dreaming about them.

So what have I achieved since then? It doesn’t feel like an awful lot, really – not until I stop and take an objective look at the past year. In reality, each of the key objectives on my two-year vision board has been addressed to some extent. From saving money to kitchen renovations, exercise to travel, hobbies to getting a puppy, completing my memoir to spending more time relaxing with people who matter to me – the current round of hopes and dreams is well on the way to being realised. Perhaps now that our house will be a little quieter, it’ll be time to set about a new round of mind-mapping and to come up with a whole new round of hopes and dreams to aim for.

For the first time in ages, I had pea and ham soup last week. It was ‘soup of the day’ at the pub we frequented for dinner one evening while we were away on our knitting adventures in Bendigo – and it was certainly the weather for it.  Soup is my comfort food in winter – it’s hot and filling and comfortable and easy. Pea soup in particular brings back happy memories of my childhood, of our family sitting around the kitchen table chatting, squabbling and vying to be the first for seconds. Not that my Mum actually made pea and ham soup, mind you, but she did make split pea soup. Instead of a ham hock, she used some beef shin – which essentially performed the same task. It’s not so much about the meat as about the taste, the beefy (or smoky ham) flavour that permeates the soup and enriches it. Delicious!

Having enjoyed the pub-version immensely, I set about trying to recreate it – and a little slice of childhood – this week. I found a ham hock in the freezer (score!) and a packet of split peas with recipe on the back in the pantry (everyone has a packet of split peas in the pantry, right?). Next I hunted down the biggest pot I own, selected some appropriate veggies (from the over enthusiastic market purchases made on Saturday) and then set about making my first ever attempt at the iconic dish that is pea and ham soup.

Munching my way through cheesy toast and what I think was a fairly reasonable rendition of the dish that evening conjured up thoughts of other meals from my childhood. I found I could only remember happy, tasty things – other than the rare visitation of the dreaded liver-and-onions and the all-to-frequent boiled cabbage. The former was an occasional request from my father (and enjoyed by no-one but him) and the latter I must assume was simply always in season – it certainly felt that way! However, overall, my conclusion is that I either didn’t bother to remember the things I didn’t enjoy or that my Mum was a canny housekeeper and knew her family’s preferences all too well 🙂

Either way, it feels as though my childhood was filled with mealtimes sitting around the kitchen table enjoying plates of oxtail stew, split pea soup, shepherds pie, macaroni cheese, roast chicken (on Sundays), jam roly-poly with custard (a particular favourite), pineapple upside-down cake, flapjacks and eggy-bread. This last was our version of French toast, which was bread lightly smeared with bovril, dipped in egg, then briskly fried in a little butter – and never (ever!) served with syrup, cinnamon or sugar – a taste preference I still cling to, I may add.

Most of these dishes are winter foods, things that fill hungry children and are relatively inexpensive to prepare, which confirms my belief that Mum was a canny housekeeper. I actually have no idea what we ate in summer – the only things that come to mind is watermelon and tomatoes, but I’m pretty sure there was more to it than that!

Whilst I’ve an idea that Mum used to make her version of split pea soup in the pressure cooker (and I may give that a go next time to speed up the process a little), it gave me enormous satisfaction to recreate this much-love childhood staple in my giant stock pot and to share it and my ramblings about childhood food with my family. Best of all, there was some of the soup left over for lunch for today 🙂

tastes of childhood