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!

Walking away from the bus the other day I was shocked by the hot wash of feeling that rushed across me. It was accompanied by the prickle of supressed tears, hunched shoulders and a powerful desire to avert my gaze. What could possibly have happened to produce such a powerful reaction?

Fracturing my kneecap in early December last year is as good a place to start as any.

After six weeks in a very restrictive, heavily padded and reinforced splint, I was more than ready to hear that I could ditch it. The doc said I could also ditch one crutch and start doing physio. All excellent news.

So, as soon as possible, my single crutch and I headed off to the indoor pool. Since driving wasn’t on the agenda yet, the bus seemed a straightforward enough alternative. There’s a bus stop about 250m from our place – an easy walk. The bus would take me the 2km to the pool and then I’d walk about the same distance at the other end before doing my exercises and then heading back. After weeks of being mostly housebound, I was more than ready to give it a go.

Whilst getting on to the bus was easy enough, what I didn’t take into account was the dismount. And that proved to be more challenging than I could have anticipated.

The bus driver stopped a short distance from the kerb, rather than right up against it. Usually this wouldn’t be a problem. But standing at the open doorway, I could see I’d have to take a very big step down onto the road and that, with my limited mobility, I would probably fall flat on my face if I tried. I hovered indecisively in the doorway, effectively blocking the way out for the people who’d politely stood aside for me. It was really quite an awkward-panda moment.

On the upside, the bus was one of the Transperth ‘fully accessible vehicles’ – as designated by the wheelchair symbol on the front windscreen. So the solution was obvious. All the driver needed to do was to lower the side of the bus so that I could step down safely. Unfortunately, he hadn’t noticed my predicament, so I had to turn and ask him to lower the bus. Awkward-panda moment number 2.

But it got worse.

As he lowered the side, he said Oh, do you want the ramp as well? – meaning the ramp for mobility aids, kiddies’ prams and so on. Without waiting for an answer, he closed the bus doors so that he could extend said ramp. Slowly. So very, very slowly.

By now I could feel every eye in the bus focused on me. Embarrassing just doesn’t cover it. But the ramp was finally fully extruded, the door opened and, with a tiny squawked thank you, I fled as fast as my knee, crutch and protectively hunched shoulders would allow.

I thought about my reactions while I was flailing around in the pool a little while later. Since all that had really happened was that I’d found getting off the bus a bit awkward, why on earth did I feel – not just embarrassed – but ashamed? I’d transgressed no social boundaries, knew no-one on the bus, certainly couldn’t describe any of them, and would probably never see any of them again even if I could. So why the hunched shoulders, tight chest, etc.?

But there you go: shame is a tricky emotion. It’s sneaky and can catch you unawares. According to dictionaries it’s caused by feelings of guilt, shortcoming or impropriety. Since I’ve always tended towards a rather casual approach to social norms and not been overly concerned about the opinions of others, this clearly wasn’t a case of guilt or impropriety.

That left shortcoming – and there it is: I realised that I was ashamed of being inadequate. It wasn’t the people on the bus I wanted to hide from, but from myself. My inability to do something as simple as get off a bus, no matter the reason, had made me feel that I’d fallen short of being me. I was feeling diminished by my inability to live up to some internal picture of myself. I wasn’t good enough and had let the side down.

And I think that’s what shame is: an uncomfortably self-focused emotion, resulting from feelings that you’re bad or unworthy in some way. Effectively, it highlights your worst fears about yourself. It doesn’t matter if others see the reasoning as silly, irrational or incorrect; you’ve been your own judge and jury behind the scenes without even realising it.

So how does one go about dealing with shame, whatever its cause?

There lies an entire box of tricks that I’m under qualified to open. All I can say is that, in my case, I think a good starting point was to step back and acknowledge the feelings. Accepting that they’re there and that the source was internal wasn’t all that difficult.

The next bit was harder though, as it involved trying to figure out what their root cause might be. I’ve had to be both introspective as well as analytical so that I can hunt down the source. I think I’m getting there.

In the meantime, I’ve made a pact with myself to be firmer with bus drivers – and to be a bit kinder to myself as I coddiwomple on through life. Sharing this story is an exercise in vulnerability and acknowledgement to help me along the way. I’ve no idea if it’ll help anyone else, but I think articulating it has helped me. Thanks.

Photo credit: Douglas Linder 2013

Late last year a friend told me he’d decided to focus on being more proactive about finding the good things in life in 2017 and on acquiring some achievable habits to promote that outlook. He’d had a tough year and I was (and am) impressed at his resolve and determination to rise above it all and to chooses to make positive changes to his life.

He later asked me, ‘Are you much in the way of New Year’s Resolutions?’ Well, although I do think about the year ahead, I’m actually not at all prone to making resolutions. Instead I generally just aim to get more things done, to be a bit more patient (!) and to do more stuff. None of these are resolutions, as such, and nor are they life changing, but I find they’re usually achievable. Perhaps because they’re so non-specific?

Then, on New Year’s Eve, my BBF told me about her resolution for 2017. Instead of making a list of wannas and gonnas (and having them turn into shouldas), she’s chosen one word around which to frame her year.

After much thought, the word that emerged was one that’ll encourage her to she achieve her goals and that she believes she can commit to on an ongoing basis for the entire year.

Accomplish 2017

As we talked (and sipped our NYE bubbly), I realised that choosing a word can provide direction, without being dictatorial. It’s both a clear focus and a soft target, covering any number of possible outcomes and thus a wide range of opportunities for success.

I could see that the process of reflecting on what you’d like to achieve, broadly speaking, and then condensing that into one word would be a valuable exercise. Actioning the word across the year… now that would be empowering. I loved the idea!

I went to sleep in the early hours of New Years Day thinking about it – and woke up with it still on my mind several hours later. Since it was pretty clear that inner-me was trying to tell me something, I spent the next few days considering what, in broad terms, I want to achieve this year. Is it the usual ‘get more things done in the year ahead, to be a bit more patient and to do more stuff’ or do I want more from this year?

Since 2016 was a relatively stagnant year, the short answer is I want more. More engagement, more activity, more learning, more fun. (But no more dogs; two is quite enough!)

Choosing just one word to encapsulate all that proved to be surprisingly difficult. It should be both broad enough to encompass many things and specific enough to result in action/outcomes. I need it to be something with direction,  with a certain amount of gravitas. And, whatever word I chose, it should be one that will influence the way I think, the way I behave and the choices I make.

In the end I came up with a short list and noticed a distinct trend in the sorts of words that had popped up: Achieve / Focus / Expand / Purposeful / Learn. All of these are active words, all of seem to want to carry me forward into the year, towards completing projects and starting new ones, into new experiences and opportunities. So, rolling all of this into one big glom, I’ve come up with my word.

This year I plan to be more ACTIVE – in all possible ways. What word would you choose?

Would you choose a word at all? I’m interested to know what people think of this idea.

Active 2017

The first time I watched Fiddler on the Roof  was when I was 14. It made a huge impression on me at the time. I laughed, I cried, and I went away profoundly moved by the story.

Topol’s voice (as Tevye, the narrator) stayed with me over the years, and at odd times I’d find myself saying things like Tradition! – or – On the other hand… usually in a poor imitation of his rich tones and gregarious manner. It always made me smile.

Twenty years later I hired the video and sat my kids down to watch it with me, having told them it was an excellent film. They were 10 and 12 at the time. It may have been a little to soon for me to be trying to inspire their social conscience and historical awareness, because they soon got bored and opted for bed instead. But I watched it through to the end anyway.

I laughed, I cried, and I came away profoundly moved by the story, but with a far more nuanced understanding of the historical context. It reinforced the memes and rekindled my awareness of complex sociocultural issues.

Heading into the New Year, these are the things on my mind. I’ve realised that it’s not about resolutions or making changes, it’s about awareness of my core values and an understanding everyone in this world is a brother or sister and should be treated as such.

When I watched Fiddler on the Roof for the third time this week, fully 44 years since I first sat in a darkened cinema and fell under its spell, my puppies kept me company. They were only slightly confused when I laughed, cried, and sang along to every tune.

Once again I was moved. If anything, I was more moved by the stark realisation that some things never seem to change. Details, certainly. Situations, of course. But whether it’s in Antevka (Tevye’s village in pre-revolutionary Russia), in Turkey, or closer to home in Papua New Guinea, whether it’s religious, ethnic or simply a struggle for power, people face discrimination, oppression and isolation. And they cope with strength, courage and determination. These appear to be universal themes across time and space. Sometimes the good guys win, but often they don’t.

So I end this year as I started it: with the words of one of my favourite songs as my New Year’s wish to all for 2017. I do hope that the good guys win more often in the year ahead and that you all travel safely through it.

Let the Good Guys Win (Murray McLauchlan)

May I get what I want / Not what I deserve / May the coming year not throw a single curve / May I hurt nobody / May I tell no lies / If I can’t go on give me strength to try

Bring the old year out / Bring the new year in / Bring us all good luck / Let the good guys win

May the one you love / Be the one you get / May you get some place you haven’t been to yet / And may your friends around you / Never do you wrong / May your eyes be clear / And may your heart be strong

Bring the old year out / Bring the new year in / Bring us all good luck / Let the good guys win

May the times to come / Be the best you’ve had / May peace rule the world / Let it make us glad

When you see something wrong / Try and make it right / Pull your shadowed world /Into the bright sunlight

Bring the old year out / Bring the new year in / Bring us all good luck / Let the good guys win.



One of our longstanding household Xmas traditions has been to host a ‘waifs & orphans’ gathering on Boxing Day. Various people (not necessarily waifs or orphans) drop in throughout the day, starting mid-morning. Some stay just long enough for a slice of fruitcake and a cuppa, others stay on for lunch, and the late arrivals eat the leftovers. It’s a relaxed sort of day and usually includes random frivolity around the pool, games of boules and whatever else comes to mind. Much low-key fun.

This year, mostly because of my fractured knee, we decided to shift gears and introduce a pre-Xmas gathering instead. The idea was that this’d encourage me to have some (highly desirable) R&R on Boxing Day. In theory at least.

Plans were hatched and we invited a selection of family and might-as-well-be-family to join us for what we called our Inaugural Eggnog Night.

Now, the last time I tried eggnog was many decades ago when my housemate and I found a recipe in a cordon bleu Xmas book I’d been given. Having no idea what to expect, we made a batch… and both thought it was dreadful stuff! The raw egg taste, loosely concealed by the taste of student-affordable rum, was dire in the extreme.

So I guess this does beg the question: Why eggnog?

And the only answer I have is: Eh, why not? It’s the silly-season, after all 🙂

Besides which, every gathering needs a focus – and I’d just found an oddly intriguing recipe for a cooked eggnog. With years more kitchen experience under my belt than in those far-off student days – and better quality rum in stock – it sounded plausible. Since ex-housemate (now sister-in-law*), would be coming along we’d be able to compare notes.

For those who’ve never tried cooked eggnog, it’s essentially a rich egg custard made to a pouring consistency. The rum (or brandy, if you prefer) is added just before serving and there is no raw-egg taste at all. In fact, it’s both very tasty and deliciously rich and creamy – rather like a cream-based liqueur.

The test batch worked well, so I made a veritable vat-o’-nogg for the night. Both it – and the eggnog pie I made with some of it – proved very popular with all, including *SiL. Half the mix was left rum-free for those who’re not that way inclined and they enjoyed it too – which tells me it wasn’t just the better quality rum at work!

I’ll have to experiment with lactose-free milk and cream to see if I can make a batch that works for my lovelies who’re lactose intolerant – but that’s for next time. And yes, there will be a next time. Things are shaping up for Eggnog Night to be the new item on the calendar at Menagerie10 (our place).

If you’d like to make the eggnog and/or the pie, here are the recipes. Let me know how you go and whether you enjoyed them as much as the waifs-orphans-and-others did 🙂

The recipes

1. Cooked Eggnog (this quantity serves 2, but can be scaled up very successfully. I’ve based it on this recipe.)

NOTE: be patient when you make this. Just as with any cooked custard, rushing will do little other than ensure that the mix either curdles or scorches. Just keep the temperature low, stir continuously to ensure even heat distribution and think happy egg-boggy thoughts 🙂

You’ll need: 2 large eggs, 1/4 – 1/3 cup white sugar (depending on how sweet you want it), 2/3 cup full cream milk, 2/3 cup regular whipping cream (NOT thickened cream), ½ tsp vanilla bean paste, about ¼ tsp ground nutmeg. You’ll also need a heavy-based saucepan, whisk, metal spoon, 2 mixing bowls, a metal sieve, and a food/candy thermometer.

  • Break the eggs into the bowl; add the sugar and whisk well. Pour the milk into the saucepan and heat over a low heat to 160F – do NOT boil. Remove from the heat when it gets to 160F.
  • After a quick re-whisking of the egg/sugar mix, SLOWLY pour the hot milk into it. It’s really (really) important to do this slowly and to whisk the mix continuously while you’re doing it – otherwise you’ll end up with little lumps of cooked egg in the mix.
  • Pour the combined mix BACK into your saucepan and return it to the stovetop. Bring it back up to 160F, stirring continuously. This will ensure that your mix doesn’t stick to the edges, or scorch/burn on the bottom of the pan.
  • Bring the mix back up to 71C (160F), stirring continuously to avoid it sticking or burning. Your aim is for the mixture to thicken slightly, to the point where it will coat the back of your spoon. Be patient, as this takes a while, and keep the heat low/medium-low while you continue to move the whisk around the sides and bottom of the pant.
  • Once you’ve reached spoon-coating stage, stir the mix really well and remove the pan from the heat and set aside.
  • Pour the cream and vanilla into a clean mixing bowl and whisk until the cream thickens slightly (use an electric whisk if you have one – it’s much quicker!). Stir in the nutmeg.
  • Stir your still-hot egg mix, THEN slowly pour this into the cream-vanilla mix, whisking lightly to combine as you pour. Now pour the mix through a sieve to strain out any lumpy bits.
  • Refrigerate the eggnog, preferably overnight – or at least for several hours, until cold. Stir in 30- 50ml of rum per cup of eggnog just before serving , depending on preference.

2. Eggnog Pie

This is based on this recipe and is rather like a traditional South African milk tart, but is firmer, less milky and has a delicious ginger crust that makes it even more tasty. It’s also super easy.

The piecrust: 1½ cups ginger biscuit cookie crumbs (the Ikea ginger biscuits work well, but any will do), 1 Tblsp brown sugar, ½ tsp ground ginger, 100g melted butter

  • Combine all ingredients in a medium sized bowl, then press the mix into the bottom and sides of a pie plate.
  • Bake at 350F / 180C for 10 minutes, then cool completely.

The filling: 1 standard vanilla instant pudding (about 100g), 1½ cups eggnog (you can use the bought stuff, but why not just make some?), 2 cups regular whipping cream.

  • Whip the cream until it’s thick and fluffy, but not too stiff.
  • In another bowl, combine the instant pudding mix and eggnog.
  • Fold the whipped cream into the pudding/eggnog mix and combine well.
  • Spoon this mixture into the (cooled) piecrust.
  • Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar, then refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving.