Thursday, 26 December 2013

A Multi-Cultural, Ninja Turtle Christmas

Christmas has come and gone for another year, and I hope you all had a wonderful day with family and/or friends wherever you may have been, and however you may have celebrated it.

This year, our Christmas was a little different, it was a little extra multi-cultural than usual. Having Dutch parents, but being born in New Zealand has meant that there has always been a mixture of Dutch and Kiwi at Christmas time and sometimes as early as the beginning of December when the Dutch celebrate Sinterklaas on the 5th of December, or the feast day of Saint Nicolas who traditionally arrived from Spain in a boat with his Moors bearing gifts. Christmas Day was then more reserved for the celebration of Christ's birth.

As such, our family in New Zealand, mum, dad, my brother and myself, did not celebrate Sinterklaas, but I did have the pleasure in 1974 whilst in Holland, with my aunt, uncle and cousin. By then, Sinterklaas in our family was more a "gift with a twist" occasion, in which you had one person to gift for, but the gift was hand made and personalised in such a way that it told a story. I believe, if I remember correctly all those years ago, that I received a miniature cardboard constructed town, with painted buildings, people and cars etc and snow, because I had wanted a White Christmas. It was absolutely brilliant, and priceless, without a doubt the best gift ever.

To keep up my Dutch heritage and to ensure my children do as well :), I make a few Dutch Christmas and New Year dishes, see last post, and hang ornaments like this beautiful star in Delfts Blauw (Blue).
But as I was saying, we had extra culture this year, introduced by one of my daughters. It came on Christmas Eve in the form of a magnificent, local Argentinian parrilla, or BBQ, to which we were invited.

We were amongst Argentinians who knew how this was done, and it was done expertly may I say! This backyard parrilla was enormous, big enough to grill a butterflied pig and enough chickens to feed around 60 of us! We all sat around long trestle tables and ate our meal of meat, salad and chimichurri off wooden platters.

The flavours were wonderful, unlike any I had ever tasted before. Here is a short youtube video of a parrilla so you REALLY get the idea. (paint and right click if you can't access the link),d.dGI

It was a very convivial atmosphere with great food, great company and beautiful music. Same time, same place next year? I hope so!

Christmas Day saw us up early to have breakfast with my son and his family. First we collected my mum from the nursing home where she lives. It was already around 27 degrees C at 7.30am so the day was warming up. Mum is wheelchair bound, but we got her inside safely to be confronted by the uproar of 3 young excited boys under the age of 3 (two of whom are twins), Christmas Carols, floor space almost non-existent in the lounge, but the promise of an Aussie breakfast of bacon, scrambled egg, pancakes, berry fruits, pineapple, melon, ice-cream, mango daquiris and champagne.

After all that was consumed and the twins put to bed, the serious business of present opening could begin. (As the boys had already opened theirs from Santa, the twins being in bed was not an issue). As you can see, we had help, expert help.
And, surprise, surprise, this expert help also turned out to be a ninja turtle at one point in the morning. Yes, we have a very devoted ninja turtle fan in the family. Ninja turtle costume, pj's, jocks, figurines, shorts and t-shirts materialised that morning.
By 11.30 it was time to head home. My son and family were heading off to the in-laws for lunch, mum to the nursing home and 4 of us to our own lunch. Although we weren't having an Aussie barbie, our lunch would be a typical Aussie/Kiwi Christmas Day lunch. On our menu were prawns, cold ham and chicken, smoked salmon dip, 2 salads, mango salsa more champagne and pavlova for desert. Yum, yum, As it turned out we didn't eat until 3pm, which is also typical!

After eating and cleaning up, it was time for a movie and total relaxation for the remainder of the day. There was only the 2 of us now, so we settled down to watch Terry Pratchett's "Hogfather".
Christmas on Discworld, an alternate world moving through space supported by 4 elephants standing on the back of a turtle.  Weird? Yes. Wonderful? Yes again, like all of Terry Pratchett's books. He has in fact to date written 40 books in the Discworld Series. Here is his latest.

So that was our Christmas. On to New Year. I usually don't see the New Year in, believe it! Our family is small, the kids celebrate with friends and I find it a real challenge to stay up. However, I wish you all a HAPPY NEW YEAR, enjoy all the parties you'll be attending, and I'll see you in 2014.

Leonie, Winnie and Hunny, Santa's tired helpers.

Friday, 20 December 2013

A Special Christmas Treat

Every year at Christmas time my mum used to make, amongst other treats, a Kerstkrans (Dutch Christmas pastry), a VERY delicious and moreish almond pastry shaped into and decorated like a wreath. I thought I'd share the recipe with all the foodies out there in Christmas land. There are lots of you right? Thought so, here goes.
Oven 220C/400F
500g shortcrust pastry (I use sheet pastry these days, but I used to make my own)
200g ground almonds/almond meal
200g castor sugar
1tsp grated lemon rind
1tbsp lemon juice
Pinch of salt
1 egg
1 tsp water, icing sugar, apricot jam, mixed glacé cherries (for decoration)
Mix together the ground almonds/almond meal, and the castor sugar. Stir in the salt, lemon rind and juice.
Beat the egg a little to combine the white and the yolk. Reserve about 1tsp of the egg to use as a glaze. Mix the rest of egg into the almond mixture to form a stiff paste. Get your hands in there! It's crumbly at first but then firms up like a ball of pastry. Form the paste into a ball, place into a bowl, cover the bowl with cling film and place in the fridge until required. Make a few days ahead if possible to allow the flavours to mature.
On baking day, remove almond paste from the fridge half an hour the next step.
Cut a 25cm/10in square of pastry in two to make a rectangle about 50cm/20in long and about 12cm/5in wide, or roll out your pastry to the same dimensions and 1mm/1/8in thick. Join the two halves of the cut sheet by dampening them with water and pressing together to make a firm join..
Dampen your hands slightly to ease formation of the almond paste. Form the paste into a 'sausage' shape about 2-3cm/an inch (no more) thick, to fit on the pastry rectangle. Place along one long edge of the pastry. It doesn't matter if the pastry is too long, it will get trimmed later. Carefully roll the pastry so that the paste is entirely encased. Seal the pastry with egg mixture or water where the edges overlap, making sure there are no gaps for the paste to escape through during baking. Gently roll the 'sausage' so that the 'seam' is underneath and not showing. You need about 2cm/1in of pastry extending beyond the paste at one end, so cut off any excess pastry now there. At the other end, cut the pastry off close to the paste and 'wrap' it over the end of the paste.
Next, carefully curve the 'sausage' into a circle.  Fit the covered end of the paste into the end with the bit of extra pastry and seal well with egg mix or water, again making sure there are no gaps and the seal is firm and smooth.
Glaze the Kerstkrans with leftover egg mix.
Place the KERSTKRANS carefully onto a cold, damp (not greased) baking tray. Make diagonal cuts in the pastry around the KERSTKRANS. Bake in a hot oven at 220C/400F for around 30 minutes or until the pastry is golden.
Remove from oven and leave on the tray until cool.
Glaze with warmed apricot jam. Decorate with chopped, mixed glacé cherries and dust with icing sugar.
Serve, cut into 3cm/1in pieces, with coffee. Yum, yum. ENYOY!
Zalig Kerstfeest,
Merry Christmas.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Memories of Christmas Past.

The arrival of my eldest daughter on Wednesday has brought my family together for Christmas. With the togetherness comes the usual family banter and walks down memory lane. This year memories are particularly strongly focused on books of Christmasses past, as my focus the past 6 months has been on writing books.

I'm not a traditional Christmas person, come to think of it, I don't really do much 'by the book' at all, pardon the pun. I like to do everything slightly differently from the norm. This year I decided, too late, that I needed new tree ornaments and that what I really wanted was old world fairies, elves, gnomes and suchlike. Why, you might ask? Because I love and like them, as well as a vast array of other worldly interesting, alternative history, science, healing, energy, and environments, to name a few. Check out my Pinterest boards to get an idea!

But I'm wandering and beginning to obsess. Back to Christmas tree ornaments. Living in a small town meant my local stores had nothing, so I began an online search. Dissapointingly, and unbelievably, not much of what I like is available in Auatralia, so my search took me to the U.S and the U.K. It was then that I hit the jackpot, and ultimately a most wonderful surprise with multitudes of memories, books taken off bookshelves, texts and photos sent to my daughters and son and a fairy purchase of $45.

I found a gorgeous Sugar Plum Fairy, but didn't buy her because even though she was only $10 or so, postage from the U.S to Australia is in the order of around $25 to $30, so I decided to pass for the moment. Bother. Looking further I found my treasure. A Cicely Mary Barker Christmas Tree Fairy from Flower Fairies of the Winter book! Now this is no ordinary Flower Fairy. This Flower Fairy is very special. When my children were young in the late 1980's, early 1990's, we had all the Flower Fairy books and the girls in particular, of course, loved them so much I was commissioned to make each of them a Flower Fairy dress. My elder daughter who was 6, chose the Blackberry Fairy, and my younger daughter, 4, chose the Christmas Tree Fairy.

So not knowing these Flower Fairy ornaments existed, imagine my surprise to find them. I ordered the Christmas Tree Fairy on the spot, $45 delivered to my front door, after Christmas, but I didn't care about the price or the lateness.

Off I went to get the Flower Fairy books off the bookshelf. The dust covers had long gone, some pages were more worn than others, but I sat there for an hour, going over every image again. Down came the photo album, and sure enough, late 1992 had photos of my girls in their dresses, with my 2 year old son in an elf costume. I was over the moon with joy and happiness. I immediately mms'd my kids and we all OMGoodnessed over the memories. It's wonderful to be family, and for me it's been great that these memories surfaced at this time of year. They've even given me an idea for a book!

And speaking further of books, I then went and retrieved the Christmas books from the bookshelf. "Father Christmas" by Raymond Briggs, "Letters from Father Christmas" by J.R.R. Tolkien, and, just for fun, "Fairy Book An Anthology of Verse" by Shirley Barber and last but not least, one of my favourite books, Brian Froud's "good faeries - bad faeries".


All of these books are available on Goodreads. So it's that time of year when, after the Christmas feast is consumed and all the guest have departed and all you want to do is curl up with a good book and 'quietly' spend a few hours reading away from the hustle and bustle. Transport yourself into another realm with a browse through the Goodreads Choice Awards 2013 for best voted books of the year

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas, relax, enjoy the holidays, be safe.

See you next week.

Love and best wishes, Leonie and family from hot Australia.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Views? News? Information? What do readers want?

For the past week I've (naturally) been thinking about the topic of today's post. This is how it usually works for's a process of evolution over several days as it gels in my mind rather than a set plan and structure. Since starting this blog in August, I've talked about several topics, as I wasn't certain where the blog might go.

I started with a little background history, then Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS/ME), because that was the hot topic for me then. Next it was my Doods, ebooks and writing generally. I'm still wavering on direction, and since I don't want to be boring in my posts, but informative, engaging and responsive, I thought to ask you what you like reading the most about my blog.

a) life with CFS
b) life with Labradoodles Winnie and Hunny
c) ebook writing life/progress/pitfalls/tips/
d) all of the above
e) something else you've noticed in my blog 
f) added snippets on my neck of the woods
 For example for (f). I live on the doorstep of the Great Barrier Reef. My background photo is of the supermoon rising on June 23 this year and was taken with my cell phone (not the best device for such a photo I know, but hey, I got a shot). The view is looking over Great Keppel Island from Yeppoon. GKI lies near the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef. As most people know, the Great Barrier Reef is World Heritage Listed and is and extraordinarily beautiful natural world treasure. What many people may not know is that it is in serious danger of serious damage from dredging and port expansion. Major harbour dredging already occurs at a large port about 150km from my home and more is planned up and down the reef.

This is a very hot issue in Australia right now, not only for Australia, but for the environment, the planet, for us. Now I'm no political activist, but I live in a beautiful part of the world and what I'm saying is this is going on in my neighbourhood. Maybe there are other snippets I could post about my beautiful neighbourhood, as well as what I otherwise write, that you'd like to read?

Now for those of you who like to read about my ebooks, "Labradoodle Fun and Facts" is near completion. Seriously! It's electronic snail's pace I know, but as you know, I have (CFS) reasons...I've re-arranged the book this week with a better structure, and it's feeling more "comfortable" as a fun and informative read, rather than a mess on my laptop. But that's often how books start out anyway. You start writing from an idea, even if it's a mess and doesn't make much sense or feel right. Better to start and get something on the page than to procrastinate and give up in frustration while trying to get it right from the beginning. It's always a jumble for me.

I SERIOUSLY DISLIKE (hate is a word too loosely used) how at first it's hard to start, but I LOVE how at some point, a warm and fuzzy sensation comes along and I know the book is turning into what I wanted in the first place, that I'm getting my chapters sorted, my headings feel right and everything is beginning to flow. It's a real knowing in my guts that I'm on the right track. And that's what keeps me going. I'm not sure about how it works for other writers though!

AND ta da, ta da!!!! I have some NEWS on my first ebook in the "Winnie and Hunny Speak" Series, Hi, I'm Winnie. It is now permanently $0.99 on Amazon (Kindle), Barnes and Noble (Nook), Kobo and Apple. I wanted to make it free, but I couldn't on Amazon without too many changes, so $0.99 was the lowest I could go. Check it out for Christmas, it is a fun read :)

Speaking of Christmas, how are your preparations going? Trees and decorations up? Gifts bought, food sorted? I've done my gift shopping and that's it so far. The tree is still in it's box as are the decorations. I've at least brought them in from the garage! On the food front, I'm waiting for my eldest daughter to arrive next week from Townsville, about 800km to the north. I haven't seen her for 6 months and am very excited to have her home. Then we'll get together with my other daughter and browse recipes. For us it will be cold meats, seafood, salads, as Christmas day is usually a scorcher here. There will also be one or two traditional Dutch dishes that we always have, because my parents hale from the Netherlands.

I hope you all have a relaxed as possible week for this time of the year. Please do leave a comment for me so I can improve your reading time and value. It will be very much appreciated.

'till next Thursday/Friday

Leonie, Hunny and Winnie

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Write 80%, Promote 20%.

These days, with the written word immediately accessible and competition for our voices to be heard growing ever stronger, it's no longer enough to just write. Promoting what we write has become part of the writers' lot, especially when going it alone with ebooks and self-publishing like I am. And that seems right, because I'm unknown and need to establish a platform from which to make my voice heard. Alternatively, I could write 50 ebooks next year, not impossible actually, but no, not for me. 

I have it on the highest authority that the best strategy is to write 80% and promote 20% or close to that. Promotion means making yourself visible, very visible, in the best way possible and social media is the obvious means to that end.

Now, for someone who had never blogged or tweeted until several months ago, I quickly found myself spending more and more time on promotion and less time on writing. For a newbie to the realms of social media, I had no idea how many blogs there were in the world, or how much twitter traffic there was every minute of the day and night, let alone where to start and who to follow. 

I'm not sure if there's a quick-fix solution here unless you're online 24/7 trying to see the wood for the trees. Maybe age is against me, and I came to social media too late, but several months in, I still find it all extremely time-consuming, mind-boggling and wearying!  I was spending 80% of my time promoting...writing this blog, tweeting, reading other blogs, searching more blogs and tweets...and 20% or less writing. 

Promotion was taking an hour or two a day. Not a lot when I "work" from home, but as some of you know, I have Chronic Fatique, and after two hours of concentration, my brain tells my body that it's had enough for the day, go and rest. So I do. I must, or I burn out. Before I started promoting several months ago I spent all my time writing. That was cool, now it's not, as I need to get the balance back. The answer: Write more, promote less. So from next week, this blog will be a once-a-weeker and will be written on Friday. 

I'm sure you'd all agree that good health is a priority in life. I LOVE writing and I FEELING like writing. So stay well everyone, and have a great week.

See you next Friday,


Tree of Life.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Abandoned, Abused, Broken and Lost.

I receive posts, tweets, pins and emails about pets in general and dogs in particular because I have two and because I express interest in them. For some reason today, a tweet from Animals Abused and Abandoned struck a chord and I decided to talk a little about animal rescue.

We all know there are thousands of abandoned, abused, broken and lost dogs, pets and animals. We also know there are many organisations and many more wonderful, caring, loving, giving people who share willingly and freely of their time and expertise, not to mention money, to rescue, love, heal, re-train and re-home these amazing animals which unconditionally give us so much.

To all those people and organisations I'd just like to say Thank You for what you do for our four legged friends that can't help themselves, don't understand what has happened to them or why. And just to prove that even saying thanks works, as I was writing this I received an unrelated thank you of another kind! What goes around comes around!

It seems pertinent to write on this subject at this time of year as we become enveloped in the festive season. Have you added pet gifts to your Christmas Wish List? Every year my family attaches a Wish List to the fridge with our names and wishes, including Winnie and Hunny. Because the family has grown to include spouses and grandchildren, we do Secret Santa for the adults and buy freely for the children. The "children" include the Doods.

Having a pet means that being part of the family, they should receive a gift too. This year Winnie and Hunny can expect, (but don't tell them), a new bed each, some new toys, some tasty dood treats, and lots of Christmas love and attention. They even get to open their own gifts, a very fun time all round.

Also, this year, if you are thinking of a puppy or a kitten for Christmas, why not consider a rescue pet? After all, they have been loved and cared for by people who truly give from their hearts. They have been healed, trained, vet checked, and rehabilitated. Perfect.

Certainly there is one out there just waiting for you. Why not check it out?

Until Friday, when Hunny will be brand new after her grooming sesh tomorrow,

Looking forward to seeing you, Leonie.

Christmas 2008, Lea opening a present.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Labradoodles or Australian Labradoodles?

Let's say you were to do an online search for Labradoodles. You'd scroll down and soon come across sites for Australian Labradoodles as well. What's going on? Aren't Labradoodles all the same, just like Afghans for example? There IS a difference, and not because some are born in Australia. It has to do with the fact that Labradoodles are a developing breed. Australian Labradoodles in particular are being bred to strict breed standards, which is outlined and explained in my upcoming book "Labradoodle Fun and Facts".

To assist the establishment of the Australian Labradoodle as a pure breed, the Australian Labradoodle Association was created as a guardian organisation in Australia to help breeders and owners worldwide to share information, and to give support and advice for the Australian Labradoodle breed.

Now, you may be thinking that's all well and good, but so what, I still don't know what the differences are?
Well, originally there were none. The Australian Guide Dog Association was approached by a blind woman in Hawaii to breed an allergy friendly dog. Australia's quarantine laws were such, being an island, that guide dogs didn't need quarantine after leaving Australia.

A Labrador and Poodle cross was perfect, and the puppies eventually became so popular with families that Labradoodles became a world hit.

But then a dedicated group of "forward thinking" breeders with a vision for the future recognised that the allergy friendly Labradoodle with its "wonderful disposition and kindness" could be "an all-round great dog". Thus was born the Australian Labradoodle Association, and with it the Australian Labradoodle.

Today, with a governing body for the breed, there are guidelines on genetics, that is, size, coat type and colour. There is a Code of Ethics and a vision for the future. In other word, there are regulations to determine what makes a dog an Australian Labradoodle as opposed to a Labradoodle. For Australian Labradoodles, it's no longer a matter of crossing Labradors and Poodles.

So there's the clarification for you. I'm not saying one is better than the other :), I'm just making the distinction, as it can be a bit of a grey area.

Until Wednesday

Winnie, Hunny and Leonie