Public Speaking is widely touted as being one of the top three fears that people have. It ranks up there with death of a loved one and terrorist attacks  — and well ahead of clowns.

So why did I join Toastmasters when we first moved to Australia?

Mostly it was to meet new people and to try to form connections, both personally and professionally. But it was also my all-or-nothing go at overcoming the shyness I tended to feel when speaking to strangers.

Right from the first meeting I had to work on overcoming the shaking hands, dry mouth and elevated heart-rate that arrived unfailingly every week – but I kept going. Feedback from people who had no vested interest in anything but my ability to speak in public was tremendously useful. I learned to ensure that my prepared project speeches addressed project criteria succinctly, to pace my delivery, and to be able to respond to impromptu topics or questions even when the subject matter was something I knew nothing about.

Much to my surprise, despite being quietly terrified every single time I stood up to speak, it was fun. The techniques for coping with delivering presentations and managing public speaking-related stress proved invaluable and I carried on going to meetings for a number years.

In due course and after conquering various speech challenges, taking part in competitions and so forth, I eventually moved on to other things – but I wasn’t ready to get rid of my file of prepared speeches and very insightful feedback reports, so I stashed the file in a cupboard for later.

Later happened this weekend. My study was due for a clear out and, in the process of sorting, tidying and binning, I unearthed the file… and had to decide whether to just chuck the whole lot out or to have a look. Predictably, curiosity won out.

Although the content is twenty years old, some of it still resonated — so I thought I might share one or two and see what people think 🙂

This one was my first ‘advanced’ TM speech. Entitled Get Personal, the speech objectives are: (1) to learn the elements of a good story,  and (2) to create and tell and original story based on a personal experience. Time: 6 – 8 minutes.

So: are you sitting comfortably? Then let’s begin

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There’s nothing like it

A perfect day. Clear skies, not too hot, and a steady 15-knot wind. What more could a novice windsurfing enthusiast hope for?

In a flurry of enthusiasm I rallied the troops, getting the children organised and hauling my younger brothers (who were staying with us at the time) out of bed. Next I rushed around like a headless chook, packing the car with the essentials: sailboard, picnic and muscle power (the brothers, B & R), then off we went. A day of fun at on the water was less than an hour away…

I’d only been on a windsurfer three or four times before, but I was your archetypal enthusiastic beginner: incredibly keen… but not very competent! I was at that (unfortunate) stage of being able to get a sailboard run with the wind… but turning round and coming back still posed something of a challenge!

After what seemed like an age, we were finally there and unpacked. Once the board was rigged: sail taut, mast secured and fin attached, I dibsed first turn. Squelching out through the muddy shallows, I stepped up onto the board and tipped the sail forward. Ignoring B & R,  who were standing knee-deep in the water behind me chorusing Don’t go too far out! You need to PRACTICE those turns…, I set off across the lake – the wind in my hair, the flies in my teeth, a grin from ear to ear. THIS was freedom! THIS was sheer exhilaration…

After a while I realised just how far I’d gone… oh-oh … time to turn around….
Now, how does it work again??: sail forward? NO! That makes it go faster!
Try sail back? Ooops…… Ka-splosh!

Wrong  choice!

That was the start of a long, frustrating and totally exhausting struggle to get back to shore. Water logged, I scrambled onto the board… got to my feet… pulled the sail up… got my balance… moved the sail….
Ka-splosh!
Right… Clambered onto the board… staggered to my feet… hauled the sail out of the water… slipped on the wet board… Ka-splosh!

And rinse and repeat, until I couldn’t think coherently past the sound of my heart racing… and tears weren’t far off.

What I didn’t know is that my brothers had been taking a keen interest in my activities, watching anxiously from the shore as I drifted further and further away. After a while it was obvious that I wasn’t going to make it back without help. So they flipped a coin as to who’d stay onshore to keep an eye on the children and who’d get the thankless task of swimming out to rescue me.

By this stage I’d given up to have a rest and was lying full length on the board, shivering, wheezing and oblivious to anything but my own sorry state of affairs. So my surprise and delight when a wet (and slightly abusive) younger brother popped his head over the edge of the board was heartfelt. Hero status immediately awarded!

Okay, Nik, you sit on the back and DON’T move: I’ll sail us in, okay?
I sat.

R – a regular and competent board sailor, effortlessly plucked the sail out of the water, turned the board and headed for shore. I sat on the back of the board like a stranded, bedraggled, miserable mermaid.

And it must have been these thoughts that caused me to move — ever so slightly — and catapult us both back into the water!

Even worse, there was no time to avoid the descending boom. It came flying towards me, hitting me squarely on the bridge of the nose as we exploded off the board.

Panic!
I didn’t know which way was up and had a blinding pain in my head. I kicked desperately, hoping to find the surface. The water was cold and murky, and the weeds seemed to wrap themselves around my legs as I struggled to get away.

Finally my head broke the surface and I drew in a giant breath as I was hauled up onto the board like so much limp washing.

Sit still and put that on your face!
R thrust his wet tee-shirt at me and started paddling frantically for shore. Bemused I put the tee-shirt up to my face, pulled it away and looked at it. It was covered in blood… MY blood.

B had been watching the action from the shore and, with rare anticipation, had grabbed all the picnic gear, flung it in the back of the car and strapped the children into their car seats. Then he raced down to the waters edge to help carry me and the board in.

After that things became somewhat confusing for a while.  The boys rushed me to the emergency ward of the local hospital, where people asked lots of questions that seemed totally irrelevant and got me to sign forms, so many forms, in triplicate.

It turned out that the sharp edge of the boom had made a deep ragged gash across the bridge of my nose and, just to make my day, x-rays showed that the force of the blow had actually also broken my nose. Luckily the break was a clean one and there was no displacement, so my nose didn’t have to be realigned.
Whew.

But I did have to have the obligatory anti-tetanus shot and the gash had to be stitched. The duty doctor injected a local anaesthetic into the wound, which was an eye-wateringly painful experience.  Then the stitching started – and I can only imagine what it would’ve been like without  the local anaesthetic!

By the time I left the hospital a couple of hours later my face had started to swell, my eyes were puffy and looked like I’d gone at least a couple of rounds in the ring with Mike Tyson. Not a pretty sight.

The brothers were very kind. They minded the children, drove me home, made me tea and waited until I was safely settled on my bed with an ice pack on the swelling before saying ‘I told you so!’ in many and different ways. They read big sister the riot act about being irresponsible, which was such a role reversal that it was almost – but not quite – funny.

All of the week that followed, as the swelling gradually went down and the bruises on my face went through all the colours of the rainbow, I thought about what they had said and about what had happened. I felt silly — and my nose hurt A LOT, which re-enforced the silly-feeling. But I was determined it wouldn’t stop me from sailing. I’d learn how to turn that board so that I would never get stuck and have to be rescued again!

So, the next weekend, I was out on the water again – battered and bruised, looking like the walking wounded, practising turn after turn after turn, until I had it just right. Then I was off — flying across the water:  a plume of spray behind me — and a wealth of windsurfing ahead 🙂

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!

By agreement, our extended family Christmas festivities are hosted turn-and-turn-about at various family members’ homes. The host(ess) for the year generally decides on the lunch menu, orders the ham/turkey/other, and decides on a few other items to produce in-house. Then she recruits various family members assist with the rest of the catering in some way. Usually this involves someone being asked to bring some nibbles, a couple of people to bring salads, and one or two to get creative with desserts.

Everyone shares the load in some way and fine time is had by one and all. The day itself is usually full of noise and laughter, fun and frivolity. By the time we’ve enjoyed some snacks and a celebratory drink, had a swim and then worked our way through a long, lazy lunch, we’re all pretty much ready for a nap.

But wait… there’s still dessert to be conquered!

To give everyone some time to recover enough to enjoy the tasty treats on offer, this is when we usually get one or more of the youngsters to act as Santa and distribute the gifts. It tends to bump us all out of our food hangovers and generate some renewed interest – which we can then usually all sustain through dessert, coffee and eventual departure home to collapse in comfort.

Several years ago Boychilde came to me with an idea. He said he’d noticed that everyone was spending an awful lot of time and money running around buying gifts each year and that, as often as not, the gifts turned out to be things that the recipients didn’t really want – or already had. He wasn’t sure it was such a great plan and wondered what my thoughts were on introducing something different.

Although I genuinely appreciate the thought that goes into every gift I get, I definitely agreed and was on-side for a change of pace. The question then was how to change the system in such a way as to retain the happy Christmassey feel whilst simultaneously limiting expenditure, gift awkwardness and the headless-chook runaround of last minute gift gathering.

The idea of introducing something along the lines of a Secret Santa or Kris Kringel, where everyone in the extended family only bought – and received – one gift sounded like a plausible solution. The next step was to unleash the idea on the rest of the family. We thrashed out  a few more details and, rather to my surprise, the siblings, nieces and nephews all jumped on board with alacrity. I guess the timing was right for everyone.

As a group, we decided on the budget for the Secret Santa gifts, then agreed that it would be an even better idea we each come up with a list of three items to that set dollar value for their Santa to choose from. This way everyone’d get something they wanted… but they wouldn’t know exactly what until they opened their gift just before dessert-time. Perfect!

We got together for a pre-Christmas afternoon tea about a month before d-day, consumed fruit mince pies and each drew one of the lists out of a hat. Then it was up to each of us as to what we chose from that list. We’d each bring our wrapped mystery Santa-gift (for a specific individual) along on Christmas day, pop it under the tree anonymously, and wait for the before-dessert grand reveal.

And so a new family tradition was well and truly born. This year is our 10th Secret Santa family gathering (time flies!) and I’ve had fun with my Xmas shopping – which is still a refreshing change after years of dreading it! This year my niece and her daughters, with help from my sister and her family, is hosting the event – and it’s going to be fabulous.

Bring it on, Secret Santas 🙂

It’s always deeply satisfying to make tasty things for my family (and pets), and this week is no exception.

With Cassie and Molly both at school this term, we’re going through a prodigious amount of puppy training treats. This week I’m trying out something new: Tuna Fudge. I found the recipe on the dog club’s website and thought it would provide some variation for the (not at all picky) dogs. It’s a much less messy and time consuming option than the liver treats I made a couple of weeks ago, so I may stick to these for a while. I did change the recipe slightly, using one cup of plain flour + (about) ¾ of a cup of polenta (corn meal) in place of the wholemeal flour.  The dogs approve 🙂

tuna fudge_31jul16

While the training treats were baking, I did the final preparation of some Rosemary Seasalt Dutch Oven Bread for our lunch. I mixed up the dough yesterday, using ½ a cup of my excess sourdough starter in place of the suggested amount of active dry yeast. This may be what resulted in the bread not rising a whole lot (and thus turning out pretty dense), but the crust was absolutely delicious!

I’ll do some research into getting the quantity of starter right, but will definitely make it again. So much yum – particularly on a blustery winters day. There’s not a lot out there to beat freshly made (hot) bread with lashing of butter!

rosemary seasalt sourdough_31jul16

What I need now is a really great chicken and corn soup recipe to try out as an accompaniment… Any suggestions?