Some years ago a delightful young man I know asked if he could photograph my hands for a piece he was writing for a ‘zine.  Now, I’m all for the creative process but, even so, I was suprised that anyone would be interested in my rather weathered appendages. Since I can’t be bothered with manicures, acrylic nails, etc., my cuticles tend towards scruffy. As a hands-on sort of person, I also prefer to keep my nails short to make cleaning them after gardening, painting and the like easier. So the best that can be said for them, really, is that my hands are utilitarian. Definitely not beautiful.

So why photograph them?

Well, this particular edition of the ‘zine was entitled Attrition – and perhaps that says it all, really. Like everything else, hands age. Given enough time they transition from the most beautiful soft little baby bits to worn and wrinkled crone hands. What do they see in that time? What experiences do our hands have? What do they say about us?


Whilst my hands weren’t crone-like quite yet, they definitely had stories to tell – and Mike took a number of shots from various angles to capture some aspect of that. Although he’d assured me that the photo he used wouldn’t be captioned, that my hand/s would be anonymous, I found myself inordinately self conscious during the photo shoot. It was as though I was seeing my own hands for the first time, thinking of them as independent of me rather than part of me.


The identifying (and rather telling) crescent shaped scar on my left palm was acquired when I was about six years old and playing chasey (tag). I ran straight at a fence and hurdled over it by bracing my hand on the top strands. The rip, the blood and the ensuing drama come to mind whenever I notice the scar. It should have been both a lesson and a salient reminder to look before I leap. If so, it’s one I’ve managed to steadfastly ignore 🙂

What brought all this to mind was at least partly as a result of having developed something called trigger finger. This sounds a lot more exciting than it actually is, bringing to mind as it does (at least for me) cowboys and shootouts at high noon. Instead, I unexpectedly found the index finger on my right hand inexplicably locked in place against the palm one morning. I turned a kitchen tap off and my finger simply wouldn’t straighten out, no matter what I tried. I massaged it, put ice on it, tried gentle pressure – nothing helped.

As a writer, crafter, gardener, sometimes-kitchen-goddess and bike rider, the loss of one of my hands – even for a short a time – was frightening. Gradual loss of dexterity due to ageing and arthritis is one thing… this was a whole new ballpark. I finally resorted to soaking my hand in the warm washing up water, wriggling my fingers gently and hoping for the best. This all really (really) focused my attention on the 101 (and more) situations in my life where hands – both hands – are needed.

When the warm water finally did the trick – and my finger finally snapped audibly back into place, the wash of gratitude and relief was overwhelming. Isn’t it interesting how the value of something is so very often only perceived when it’s at risk or lost?

Over a thousand people gathered in Forrest Place in the Perth CBD recently. Strangers, we came together in the hopes of making a powerful statement to government and to the broader population, using silence as a means to protest the Perth Freight Link project and its impact on the Beeliar wetlands.

Beelier Wetlands is part of the greater Beeliar Regional Park, which extends for 25km along the coast, south of Fremantle. It covers about 3,400 hectares and comprises 26 lakes and a number of wetland regions. The Perth Freight Link – known as Roe 8 – has become a major election issue. The current Premier is determined to see it through, despite clear flaws to the planning and tendering process, repeated breaches of environmental conditions and ongoing public outcry.

A range of protest action has been underway for some time and, with state elections less a month away, the pace has picked up. The objective is to halt – or at least slow – the project in hopes of a change in government on March 11 and subsequent policy change on this issue.

What are you watching?’ someone called out from the balcony overhead.
I wanted to shout back, ‘the incremental, ruthless decimation of beauty!’ – but I didn’t.

Standing in that well of silence in the middle of a busy city was a remarkable and humbling experience. The rumble of traffic behind us, the people-noise from the Sunday Hawker’s market on the other side, and a gaggle of happy kids playing in the fountains in the middle – it all highlighted the  well of silence surrounding 1,000 people.

Silent protest isn’t something that comes naturally in this world of constant noise, activity, mobile phones, internet and people – so many people. Can silence work where vocal outcry and physical obstruction appears to have failed? I don’t know. But what I do know is that when that many people are prepared to give up their Sunday afternoon and stand together in silence, it speaks volumes.

At least to those who are prepared to listen.


This amazing street art went up Stevens Street Reserve in Fremantle last week to draw attention to the issue. Sadly, it was defaced by vandals within days of being painted. Perhaps it’s a little too close to the bone for some?

Whether the combination of our silent protest, the wall art, the determined and committed protesters on the ground on the Roe 8 site and support in the Senate in Canberra make a difference, the reality is that nothing fails more surely than NOT TRYING.

Despite my best intentions, this Sunday morning saw me up (and dressed) by 6am. The plan was to sleep in, have a lazy breakfast in bed and read my book for a while. But the sleep fairy scampered off at the usual time, leaving me wide awake – so it was clearly tea o’clock, followed by an attempt at blog o’clock, despite being rather low on inspiration.

Returning to (almost) full-time work this week has stretched me in numerous ways, not the least of which has been the impact of daily interaction with large numbers of people and the need to present a happy-smiley-helpful face to them all. Every day. After a year of semi-hermiting, this required some internal adjustment and quite a few early nights to recharge.

Glyde-In Community Learning Centre

There are upsides, of course, ranging from increased income for a few weeks (always useful) to the delightful work environment and the extraordinary community spirit I encounter on-site daily. It really is a lovely place to work.

But, whilst it’s all good fun, the daily rush has reduced my contemplation time to the drive to and from Fremantle each day. Since the 20 minute commute each way is mostly spent either mentally preparing for work or recovering from it, I completely failed to come up with a blog-topic. A cool, quiet house and a cup of tea in the early hours of this morning made me introspective, however, and my mind started to fill up with various things from the past week – so I’ll share those.

  • Being a grandparent can be an emotional rollercoaster. My grandies are fur-babies: two adorable Ocicats, Cloud and George, and their very cute (pure black) companion-kitty, Corvy.  They’re usually a source of endless entertainment, amusing stories and cuddles, but last week was rather different. Over the space of four days we all went from anticipation to worry, dismay to serious concern, followed by relief, elation and – finally – crushing disappointment. and sorrow. I can only guess what Daughter Dearest and K went through as they assisted Cloud to give birth to one kitten, which came out backwards and didn’t survive. As if that wasn’t enough, after an extended labor they then rushed her off to the vet, where a second kit was delivered by caesarean. That little girl only survived for two days. *Much sad* Cloud’s recovering well and her parents are bouncing back slowly, but it’s been a rough week for them. *All the hugs*

  • I love the rain, particularly when its accompanied by cool weather. But this time of year is usually very hot and dry, with average highs of 31.7 and lows  of 18.3 degrees. Despite bracing myself for it, I generally find the unrelenting heat (particularly at night) oppressive. So the local impact of a tropical low over the western Pilbara provided a very welcome respite this week, delivering record rainfalls and the coldest February day on record. Hurrah! Of course it helped that flood waters weren’t an issue locally, for which I’m grateful – but it was good to see some people able to make the most of things!

  • Compost bins are a combination of ghastly-eek and great satisfaction. The eek is the occasional wriggly or scuttley thing, along with the somewhat squishy texture of some of the compost. Rubber gloves are the answer to all that and reduce the aargh-factor substantially. The satisfying part is filling six big bags with compost – and using four of them when planting out our fig tree and transplanting our rose bushes later in the day.

  • Flying trees are rather exciting! It was pretty amazing to see just how efficiently two people could dig up our 3.6 metre Ugly Tree (aka Dragon Tree / Dracaena Draco) and remove it. We’d advertised it as ‘bring your own crane for removal’ – and they did! We were happy to bid the Ugly Tree a fond farewell and will be planting a Persimmon in its place – along with some more of our home-grown compost 🙂

  • Finally, I stepped up and  joined a newly formed writing group at the local library this weekend. My objective is to challenge myself to write different things and in different ways. As a warm-up exercise, we each chose a writing prompt from a set of cards (provided). My prompt was Open your mind to new ideas – which was rather amusing under the circumstances. Our homework assignment for next time is to write a short piece, focusing on a specific word. In this instance the word is decayand it’ll be interesting to see what responses emerge.

There were other things (it was a busy week), but these are the ones that floated to the top. How was your week?

I’d never heard Napoleon Cake until Ma-in-law put in a request for one for her 80th birthday. I can see why her mum only used to make it on rare (and very special) occasions, despite it being a much-loved treat. Whilst the cake part is simple enough (it’s just a sponge), the surrounding layers are what make it a bit of a challenge – the first time round anyway.

It starts with a layer of baked puff pastry, topped with a generous layer of butter cream (aka ‘mock cream’). Next comes a layer of raspberry jam, the sponge cake, more jam, more ‘cream’ and then a second layer of baked pastry. On top of this little lot goes a layer of sticky super-sweet pink icing to finish it off.

Protip #1: Back in the day, Ma-in-law’s mum used to actually make the pastry by hand, as it was well before the days of the frozen store-bought variety. Seriously, just use the frozen variety! It cuts down the construction time and simplifies things a whole bunch. Besides which, when she tasted the test-run, Ma said it was much nicer and lighter than the pastry her mum used to make 🙂

The cake took a whole afternoon to prepare and construct, but looked amazing in the end. The tricky parts were the butter cream, the bake-time for the pastry, the sheer stickyness of it all – and bringing it all together.

Protip #2: An extra pair of hands is essential at the end point. Himself was calm throughout my sticky dramatics and his help really was invaluable for the final assembly stage.

The response from visitors here for the afternoon ranged from Delicious! More? (Suz) to OMG! Instant diabetes… but sooo good! (K) 🙂

Daughter Dearest suggested we try a cream cheese icing in place of the butter cream to cut down on the sweetness factor, which might be worth a try at some point.

But not for Ma-in-law’s birthday party. What we made was exactly what she wanted, sweetness overload and all. It was 100% worth it when we took some of the finished product round to the Parents’ place that evening. Ma opened the front door and her whole face lit up.

Oh!, she said. Napoleon Cake! How Wonderful!

She enjoyed every delicious morsel – and has put in a firm request for a super-sized version for her birthday. So we’ll be having a Napoleon Bake-a-thon here in late February to construct the one cake to rule them all. If anyone wants to give a hand, let me know. 🙂

Here’s the recipe in case you’re interested in giving it a try at home. It’s based it on one provided by Sharen from Bundaberg, Queensland.  Her recipes range from pure indulgence to plain comfort food. They’re all traditional family favourites and she’s well and truly tested them all. I’m going to give her breakfast bake a try next.

For your Napoleon Cake you’ll need:
2 sheets of frozen puff pastry
½ cup raspberry jam – and everything listed below for the other layers.

For the Sponge Cake
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
⅓ cup caster sugar
⅓ cup self raising flour
2 Tblsp cornflour

For the Butter Cream:
125g unsalted softened butter (½ cup)
2 cups icing sugar, sifted
2 Tblsp milk
¼ – ½ tsp vanilla bean paste / vanilla essence

For the pink icing
1 cup icing sugar
1 tsp soft butter
A dash of red food colouring
2 tsp milk (approx)

Protip #3: Start by making the sponge cake layer; it’s the easiest bit!

The Cake Layer
•    Preheat oven to 180C
•    Line a square cake pan with baking paper – mine is about 20cm and it worked well
•    Beat eggs and vanilla (use an electric mixer!) while you gradually add the sugar. Continue beating until the sugar is all dissolved and the mix light and fluffy
•    Sieve the flour & cornflour, then gently fold it into the mixture
•    Pour the mix into your prepared cake pan and bake for approx 15 minutes. The cake should be golden and springy to the touch when you take it out
•    Remove the cake from the tin and place on cake rack to cool completely **

The Pastry Layers
•    Increase your oven temperature to 210C
•    Line 2 baking trays with baking paper and place one puff pasty sheet on each
•    Bake for about 10 minutes, until the pastry is well risen, golden and crispy looking
•    Leaving the hot pastry on the trays, gently flatten each sheet with the bottom of the (now empty) cake tin**
•    Using the cake tin as a template, trim the pastry sheets to the same size as the cake
•    Now leave the pastry on the baking trays to cool
Protip #4: Don’t take the pastry out too soon or you’ll need to redo this step. #life lesson!

The Butter Cream Layer
•    Beat the softened butter until smooth; use the paddle attachment of your electric mixer
•    Gradually beat in the icing sugar until well mixed & fluffy
•    Add vanilla to taste
•    Add the milk and beat again until a smooth consistency and texture is achieved
Protip #5: My first attempt at this was an epic (!) fail. Be patient. Taste as you go and make sure the end result really is smooth.

Preparing the Pink Icing
•    Sieve the icing sugar into a microwave safe bowl
•    Mix in the butter and enough milk to form a stiff paste
•    Add food colouring until you have a nice shade of pink 🙂
•    Microwave the icing 10 seconds, then stir well
•    Repeat this step until the icing mix is runny

Assembling the Cake
•    Place one baked puff pastry sheet on a serving plate & spread it with half the butter cream
•    Now spread half the jam on top of the cake and invert the cake onto the butter cream layer
•    Carefully spread the rest of the jam on top of the cake layer
•    Next spread the remaining butter cream on one side of the remaining sheet of baked puff pastry, then invert and position the pastry sheet on top of the other layers.
•   Pour the icing onto the top of the cake (slowly and carefully) and smooth with a knife / spatula
•    Pop the cake in the fridge to let the icing and mock cream firm up a bit

To Serve
•    Cut the cake into rectangles to serve
•    Use a serrated knife to do this. ‘Saw’ through the pastry gently so that you don’t squish the filling
Protip #6: This cake is SUPER sweet, so don’t make the slices huge!

The first quarter of our year always seems to be crammed with more birthdays than any other time.

So far we’ve celebrated:
– an excited lego & star wars crazy five-year old grand-nephew
– two of my siblings, both happy enough to just let the day pass without much fuss
– an evening of mango-madness to celebrate friend’s 35th birthday
– my BFF’s special day (although having the ‘flu did put a bit of a damper on things for her)

Still to come we have:
– Nunzio-puppy will be a year old 🙂
– a cute little grand-niece turns two
– her dad celebrates his birthday soon after
– two of our close friends each notch up another year
– a niece, a nephew and an honorary grandchild likewise
– and Ma-in-law turns 80

Birthdays are usually fun, particularly for kids. They enjoy the anticipation, the excitement, the tasty treats, and, of course, the presents. Although I have no specific memories of my childhood birthdays, I do remember an overall sense of wellbeing. I guess I simply took it for granted that the day would be special. Mum always made a yummy cake, there were gifts from my parents and (sometimes) my siblings – and the pile generally included a much anticipated book. Occasionally I’d be given lunch money to enjoy some tuckshop marvel instead of the peanut butter and syrup sandwiches that Dad usually made (!). Happy times.

It wasn’t until I moved out of home that it occurred to me just how much time and effort Mum must have put into ensuring that each of us felt special on that one day of the year. Not an easy task with six kids and a full time job to wrangle, I imagine. I wonder who made her birthdays special when we were little…?

Thinking about this, particularly with Ma-in-law about to turn 80, I’m conscious that we tend to rely on our on close family and friends to fill the niche of organiser/facilitator of birthday-happies and to add sparkle to our day. But like many mums, Ma-in-law’s not one to like a fuss – even on her birthday. She would like to feel special and perhaps even have a small gathering, so plans are afoot and troops are being rallied to ensure that her day is memorable (in a good way). She’s asked for a Napoleon Cake, which is something her mum used to make when she was a kid. I’ve managed to hunt down a recipe that sounds like it’s what she’s after: sponge cake, surrounded by raspberry jam and mock-cream, encased in baked puff pastry and then topped with very pink icing.

Luckily birthday cake experiments are nothing new around here. DaughterDearest and  Boychilde have generally chosen their cake each year – until quite recently. Some cake requests have been trickier than others and the challenge has been to come up with a plausible version of what they selected. We’ve had all sorts, including adventure cakes, ponies, clowns, fish, kites, farmyards, lions, an Inca temple and a giant apple. So a Napoleon Cake doesn’t sound like too much of a challenge. Even so, a trial run is probably a good idea – perhaps even this weekend.

Whether or not there’s someone to step up and make the day as sparkly as we’d like, everyone deserves to have a good day. So  this is a list of pro-tips I’ve collected from people who, for a variety of reasons, often end up taking their own birthday-planning on board:
– everyone gets older (if they’re lucky!) – so make it work for you
– decide to have fun, whether it’s with others or on your own
– prioritise yourself all day
– take the day off work (!!)
– plan a gift – something you’d really like – and then buy it for yourself
– go to a movie / the beach / have a massage – basically do something you enjoy
– avoid entertaining on the day… unless your guests offer to cater AND to clear up afterwards!
– don’t feel guilty about anything!

Even though my family does make me feel special, this has become my standard birthday to-do list. It’s actually jolly good fun – and, yes, I do all the things!