Sunday, December 30, 2012

Guest Blog Post: Zachary on American Football

(A couple of months ago, I wrote about my Australian nephew Zachary and his passion for American football. Today, I share with you a short essay he has written about how he discovered American football, the NFL, and the Philadelphia Eagles. I hope you enjoy!  ~~ Clare ~~ )

Hi, My name is Zac.

Anyway, I love American football even though I live in Australia. all my life. I got into football when my friend Harry told me about it about 1 1/2 years ago. He accidentally clicked on the Philadelphia Eagles homepage and I have been hooked since (because Harry supports the Vikings). I love watching the documentary "America’s Game” about the Super Bowl champions. Also I play football at lunch time with my friends. I like playing safety/ cornerback and qb, because I’m the only one who can throw (apart from my friend Danesh, who can throw huge passes). I’m not old enough to play football yet, you have to be 14 or 15, I’m only 13 >:(  I like football because it’s the ultimate team sport and is a lot of fun to play. But it’s my 2nd favorite sport behind cricket (I’ve been playing since I was 4, go figure).

Here is Zachary's "doodling" of the logos for all the
NFL teams (he drew these free-handed)

My favourite team is the Philadelphia Eagles and my favorite player is LeSean ‘Shady’ Mccoy. It’s too bad that he’s injured. The Eagles haven’t been doing too well lately but once we get all our injured players back and get new coaches and better secondary (safeties and CBs) and with Nick Foles doing nicely we will make the playoffs next year. Hopefully.
Here is Zachary with a cool Philadelphia Eagles
logo that he made out of wood!

I have made some cool NFL and Eagles things over this year like: a poster, my own helmet made out of cardboard and a wooden Philadelphia Eagle logo! And during the school holidays (right now), I am drawing the logos of all the NFL teams. I am drawing them free-handed - and when I finished, my mum is going to frame them all and hang them in our house.

This is one of many of the large NFL logos that
Zachary is drawing this summer.
It's worth noting that he is not a Green Bay Packers fan!!

Thanks for reading.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Holiday Gifts - Part 3

In part 3 of my series of home made Christmas gifts, I share with you the adorable toy I made for Desmond.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, Susan B. Anderson's book, Itty Bitty Toys, as become my "go-to" book for knitted toys. And I found within its pages the perfect Christmas gift for Desmond. Our baby will be 15 months old on 21 December and is starting to develop his own personality. He likes to "perform" to see what sort of reaction he will get from me, his daddy or his big brother. But most of all, he seems to want whatever it is his brother has. And one thing that Vincent has is lots of stuffed animals and toys. So I knew that I would be making Desmond a knitted stuff toy for Christmas this year. I chose the baby doll from the "Baby Doll Set" and adapted it to make it gender appropriate.

(Ok, so it is worth noting here that I am not at all opposed to boys playing with "girl" toys - in fact, I think it is a good idea. I don't really want to launch into a debate about boy toys vs girl toys vs gender neutral toys. Suffice it to say, although we have lots of trucks and dinosaurs and tools - traditionally categorized as "boy" toys, we also have lots of gender neutral toys and "girl" toys. And today at the library, Vincent picked up a book obviously marketed towards girls called "Ella Bella Ballerina." He held it all the way home and we have already read it twice. But I thought that Desmond would better identify with this little doll if I made it a boy rather than a girl.)

Meet Norman (Paul picked the name because we think he resembles a character from the children's cartoon series "Fireman Sam.")

Simple construction, not much sewing together or seaming at the end. I didn't do the ruffled pants, sundress, and hat with braids from the original pattern. Instead, I knit up some short overalls and gave him a healthy crop of yellow hair. I think he turned out pretty well - he is chunky and solid. Perfect for a little boy to play with.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Holiday gifts - part 2

Last week, I started a series of blog posts about the gifts I am making for Christmas this year. Today, I wanted share with you my gift idea for the boys' daycare teachers.

The boys have been attending daycare here in Australia since July - Vincent goes two days a week and Desmond just goes on Fridays. I wanted to do something simple - yet meaningful - for their teachers for Christmas. I decided to make each of them a dishcloth (there are six teachers in total - four in Desmond's room and two in Vincent's). I then wrapped the dishcloth around a candy cane to make it more festive. This turned out to be a super-easy project!

My "go-to" dishcloth pattern is easy and quick to knit and makes a very durable and useful dishcloth. Plus, I discovered that I could almost an entire dishcloth on my commute to and from the city. I used Lily's Sugar and Cream cotton yarn - each ball of yarn makes 2 or 3 dishcloths (depending on the size of the ball of yarn) and size 7 needles. Here are the results --

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Holiday Gifts - Part 1

I know it has been a while since I have posted, but I have been busy applying for jobs, spending time with the boys, and working on Christmas gifts. Speaking of which, this post is the first in a series of the gifts I am making and giving this holiday season.

This year, I decided that all of the gifts that I/we give will be home made/handmade by me (well, not all gifts...the gift for my nephew Zachary isn't handmade - I couldn't find a Philadelphia Eagles knitting pattern...) Even the gifts from Santa will be handmade this year. Now, before you start calling me "Martha Stewart" or "Suzy Homemaker," let me explain my decision. First, I have found that it is much cheaper to make gifts than buy them. Second, by making all of my gifts, I can ensure that I can get exactly what I want for each person - and each gift is so much more personal. And finally, I genuinely enjoy making gifts - especially knitted/crocheted gifts.

So, I decided that it might be fun to share these gifts with you (the illustrious readers of my lowly blog). If you are expecting a gift from me, don't worry - I won't post your gift here until after you have received it. I wouldn't want to spoil the surprise.

First up - Vincent's gift --

Three of this year's gifts, including Vincent's, come from Susan B. Anderson's book, Itty Bitty Toys. You may remember in September that I made the mama and baby koala from this book for a Relay for Life fund raiser at the boys' daycare. I have really been enjoying working with the patterns in this book - easy to follow, relatively quick to knit, and fun results!

For Vincent, I chose one of the five reversible toys featured in Anderson's book: the elephant and the lion.

Knit separately, each animal has several cute features. I love the elephant's trunk and tail and the lion's mane is adorable (but a bit time consuming to make).

The two animals are then sewn together, with one folded inside the other.

I think Vincent will really enjoy playing with this. I hope that it holds up to his rough play!!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Six Months

Six months ago today, we moved to Australia. On the morning of May 22, Paul, the boys, and I arrived at Sydney Airport with eight huge suitcases, several carry-ons, and two car seats. We moved into a quirky house, generously furnished for us by our family and friends, and settled into our new life here.

In many ways, it feels like we have been here much longer than six months. The boys are now Australian citizens and they have settled in very well - they love spending time with their cousins, Auntie Barbara and Uncle Nick and Granny and Granddad.  We found a great daycare for them, and Vincent has been thriving. It has been so wonderful to see our friends and their kids (and we are looking forward to having everybody - 14 adults and 20 kids - over at our house on Saturday for an American Thanksgiving celebration!) We have taken advantage of Medicare (the universal healthcare system) - it is such a relief to be able to take boys to the doctor and not have to pay anything to get excellent medical attention (yes, we do pay for through payroll taxes, but it nothing like the premiums and deductibles and office visit costs that we had to pay in the States).

And, no, the boys don't have Australian accents yet. Desmond really isn't talking and Vincent still sounds like an American three-year-old (although several Australianisms have crept into his vocabulary).

The house isn't any less quirky, and we will be moving when our lease is up in May. But we have put in a veggie garden (tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, and heaps and heaps of butternut squash) and have adopted a family of lizards (skinks) that live under our front steps and in our back patio - their names are Steve, Betty, and Mike (we think Steve and Betty are siblings and Betty is married to Mike). And we don't have any cockroaches yet (knock on wood) but we do have a sugar ant problem. Still, it is an ok house in a good location with a nice backyard.

And thanks to Skype, we video chat with my parents and sister quite frequently. In fact, the boys often eat their lunch and talk to Grandma and Grandpa at the same time. Both Vincent and Desmond love chatting with their American grandparents and "playing" with them (this happens when I put the laptop on the floor - Desmond loves to crawl up to the computer and Vincent likes to show Grandma and Grandpa his trains).

I've had several people ask me how it was adjusting to living in Australia again after being gone for nearly ten years. It wasn't as difficult as I expected - perhaps because I was so focused on getting the boys settled and because I lived here before and knew what to expect. It also helps that I was able to get a driver's license and that Paul's family lives close by. The hardest part was suddenly becoming a full-time stay-at-home-mom after working three jobs (one full-time and two part-time) before we left Burnsville.

But there are days when I really miss the States. It's not a feeling of homesickness because my home is with my husband and boys - where ever that might be. This is more a feeling of missing my parents and sister and extended family in Minnesota and Wisconsin. And I often get a strong feeling of longing for the oddest things at the oddest times - like the leaves changing or the crisp feeling in the fall air or my mom's chocolate chip cookies or her apple crisp.

But all-in-all, I am glad we made the move. Paul is really enjoying his job - he has really grown into it and has made it his own. I had the wonderful opportunity to teach at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music this past term, but I am still looking for full-time work (anybody in Sydney need a musicologist??). Nonetheless, know that I am fortunate to have this time with my boys (even if they seriously try my patience every day).

Today also marks four weeks until my parents arrive in Sydney to spend the Christmas and New Year holidays with us. We are all looking forward to it - we are going to chop down a tree, have Christmas on the beach, and spend lots of time just being together.

Here's to the next six months.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

6 November 2012: two races that will stop two nations

On Tuesday, 6 November all eyes in the US and Australia will focus on a race that will likely come down to the wire. In the US, that race is the Presidential Election. In Australia, it is the Melbourne Cup.

A horse race dating back to 1861, the Melbourne Cup is now one of the most important events on the Melbourne social calendar. Anybody who is anybody will be there, dressed to the nines - with the focus on the women's hats. In the state of Victoria, Melbourne Cup Day is a public holiday - no work, no school. Across the rest of Australia, people often wear fancy dress to work and have a small party at race time.

I know we are talking about politics vs. horse racing, but the two are not as different as you might think.
  • The participants in both have been preparing months - if not years - for this single day.
  • The jockeys and the presidential candidates are the "front men" for their respective teams/political parties.
  • Both races are marred by controversy. In the Melbourne Cup, one of the jockeys is under investigation for betting on another horse and jockey in 2010. In the US presidential race, controversy is the name of the game.
  • The amount of money spent by those involved is obscene - a few days ago, it was reported that the presidential candidates have spent $1 BILLION on a million advertisements (most of them negative); last year, Australians bet more than $140 million on a race that only lasts 4 minutes. As Sarah McKenzie points out, "To put this in perspective, Austrlia's total funding in response to the East Africa Food Crisis, in which over 13 million people are at risk, currently sits at $128 million."

Of course, there are also similarities that are far more shallow. For example, all fashion eyes have been and will be focussing on what the women wear.

Nicole Kidman at Derby Day in Melbourne over the weekend (photo:  Getty Images)
First Lady Michelle Obama at the DNC (photo:
Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Romney and the fashion faux pas at the Presidential Debate (photo:
And you have to admit that the names of this years' presidential candidates are unique (I'll bet George Washington never thought we'd be voting on guys named Barack and Mitt) - not unlike the names of the horses in this year's Melbourne Cup field: Dunaden, Jakkalberry, Voila Ici, Zabellionaire, and My Quest for Peace. (I don't think the Romneys have a horse in the Melbourne Cup - that would be way too much excitement in the Romney house - or is that houses?? - for one day!)

Betting on the outcome of the US presidential election is illegal in the United States. But not in Australia. Right now, one Australian betting website has the odds in favor of the Democrats: an Obama win pays $1.22, while a Romney win will pay out $4.33. In the other race, Dunaden is the odds-on favorite for the Melbourne cup.

The second favorite to win is Americain.

How apropos.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween!

31 October. Just another day, right? Well, I guess that depends.

As far as most people here in Sydney are concerned, today is just another Wednesday. The last day of October. For my students, the last Music History Tutorial of the term. And it was a beautiful spring day - sunny, blue skies, highs around 28C (82F).

But, as every American knows, today is also Halloween. Dressing up in costumes to go door-to-door saying "trick-or-treat" and collecting candy. As a kid, I remember dressing up as a monarch butterfly, a tree, a painter and a princess in a light blue dress and a tall pointy hat with a light green and cream semi-sheer flowery veil attached (that was my favorite). I know my mom hates this holiday, but she always made sure that my sister and I had great costumes to wear - and almost all were home-made and/or made up of a hodgepodge of dress-up clothes from our own dress-up box or the second-hand store. Then, in the early twilight of the late afternoon, we'd go door-to-door in our neighborhood collecting candy. Afterwards, my sister and I would dump out our haul on the kitchen counter top and divide our goodies into two piles - the candy we wanted to eat and the candy that dad could have.

That's not to say that Australians don't know what this holiday is - they do. Early in October, small displays of Halloween decorations and racks of costumes began to appear in some of the stores (K-Mart, the $2 shop, the grocery store). There are a few Halloween parties here and there. And some kids here do go trick-or-treating, but on a much smaller scale. Late in the afternoon on Sunday, Vincent joined his cousins in a neighborhood trick-or-treating party on their street (a cul-de-sac). It was a low-key event - about 10 house participated. Vincent dressed up as a knight.

We also carved a pumpkin.

But this holiday is not celebrated in the same scale here as it is in the States. I imagine this is due to one main reason.

Although the roots of Halloween are religious, it has morphed into a commercialized autumn/harvest holiday - pumpkins, candy corn (I didn't see any of that in the shops), bobbing for apples, hay rides, bare trees, short days, brisk nights. Here in Sydney, spring is in full bloom - spring flowers, strawberries, warm days, late sunsets. I was able to find a pumpkin to carve at our grocery store, but the "who-can-grow-the-largest-pumpkin" contest is held at the Sydney Easter Show in March/April (i.e., fall) - not in October (i.e., spring).

There was no Halloween party or dress-up day at the boys' daycare. Most of my Music History students didn't even realize that it was Halloween. And tonight, we had one lone trick-or-treater.

I think that next year, instead of carving a pumpkin, we will carve a watermelon. It would be more seasonally appropriate.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Cooking with Clare: Vincent-friendly Sugar Cookies

As the mama of a child with a wide variety of food allergies, I am always on the lookout for new recipes that are as close to "normal" as his diet allows. A couple of years ago, I found a pretty decent chocolate chip cookie recipe that has become a standard in our house. But with the holidays (Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas) coming up, I started looking for a Vincent-friendly (read: "dairy-free, egg-free, wheat-free, sesame-free, nut-free") sugar cookie/cut-out-cookie recipe.

If you aren't familiar with allergen-friendly cooking, I want to let you in on a little secret: although there are some great products on the market that can be used to substitute in a "normal" recipe, it often isn't that simple. The chemistry changes when non-wheat/gluten-free flour is used, and although I use a great egg-replacer, it really doesn't cut it in heavily egg-dependent recipes.

Earlier this week, I came across a simple and straight-forward recipe for Cut-Out Sugar Cookies (Allergy-Friendly). They looked great on paper, but, as they say, the proof would be in the pudding (or, in this case, the cookie). Fortunately, they turned out great - Vincent loves them! And, as an added bonus, Paul, Desmond, and I think they are pretty yummy too. If you are used to a wheat flour-based cookie, the texture is a bit different when you bake with gluten-free flour. However, the texture of this cookie isn't too foreign to those of us used to a "main-stream" cut-out cookie.

A couple of notes: I used Nuttelex instead of shortening. I can't seem to find decent shortening here - no Crisco! And I have used Nuttelex in Vincent's favorite chocolate chip cookies, so I knew it would bake up nicely. Also, I used Orgran Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour and Orgran No-Egg. I didn't make any icing for them this time, but I will when we make them again in the next few weeks. I am planning on trying this icing recipe.

I just did 3 basic shapes - circle, star, and square. I got just over 2 dozen cookies from one batch of cookie dough.

Here they are cooling - I don't have a cooling rack yet.

"Here Dad - you try it. It is yummy!"

Yeah for cookies!!

Monday, October 15, 2012

American Football in Sydney

My nephew Zachary LOVES American football. And by "LOVES," I mean that he knows stats and players and rankings and details from the NFL - not just from this season, but from last season and the season the before that and the season before that... He plays football with his friends at school during the lunch break and plays catch with anybody who is willing to stand there and throw the ball back to him. For his birthday in March, we got him a Minnesota Vikings jersey. He wears it almost every single day.

No big deal, right? What 13-year-old boy doesn't like football?

The thing is - Zachary has lived in Australia his whole life. He learned everything he knows about football from the internet, NFL websites, and watching a few games on TV. His favorite team is the Philadelphia Eagles and his favorite player is LeSean McCoy. He throws an amazing spiral. I asked him where he learned how to do that. His answer? "YouTube." 

But he had never been to a game in person - until Saturday afternoon.

The state of New South Wales in Australia has a Division 1 American Football League (here this sport is called Gridiron). There are nine teams that make up the division, and they play on Saturdays in venues around NSW from September through December (even though that is "football season" in the States, those months are Spring and Summer here). It is a "club" sport. The guys who play it do it for fun. They have practice a couple of days a week. They range in age from their late teens through to their 30s. And I didn't hear a single American accent when I was at the game on Saturday. Everybody I heard sounded like an Aussie.

On Saturday, there were two games scheduled for a venue near where we live. So, Paul and I invited Zachary to come along with us to watch the early game (it started at 4pm). It was between the Central Coast Sharks (from north of Sydney) and the Wollongong Mustangs (from a city south of Sydney). The venue was a field hockey field - artificial turf and quite a bit shorter and narrower than a regulation American football field. We estimated that it was only 80 yard long - including the end zones. And there was only one field goal post - and one arm was broken off. That meant that there were no field goal attempts and no extra point attempts. All extra point attempts following touchdowns were 2-point conversions.

Nevertheless, Zachary was in seventh heaven!

It wasn't a very good game - neither team was very good. It was maybe the level of a high school game. But that didn't matter. The day was beautiful and we had a lot of fun.

Wollongong was the better team - they scored so many times that we stopped counting. In fact, I have no idea what the final score was. The Central Coast scored twice - and by far the best and most exciting play was their final touchdown - a Hail Mary pass caught just short of the end zone and then run in for touchdown.

Here are some pictures from the day - Central Coast is in orange and Wollongong is in maroon.

The half time entertainment was the spraying of hockey field with water...

And what game wouldn't be complete without a hot dog??

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Desmond's First Haircut

Desmond was born with a full head of hair. Beautiful reddish-blonde hair. Unlike Vincent's coarse dishwater blonde hair which sticks straight up if it is not kept short, Desmond's hair is fine, slightly wavy, with a bit of a curl when it gets damp.

We had trimmed the front of his hair a couple of months ago because it was starting to hang in his eyes. But, in recent days, we realized that his hair was getting a bit shaggy and it was probably time for his first official haircut. And since the "buzz cut" look works for Paul and Vincent, we thought we'd try it on Desmond. The longest adapter Paul has for his cutter is a number 4. So we thought we give it a go.

We stripped Desmond down to his diaper, and I sat on the edge of the tub with him on my lap. Vincent brought a constant supply of toys to keep Desmond occupied. And Paul was armed with the electric razor/hair cutter. Desmond sat very still and took it all in.

After the first pass of the razor, Paul and I looked at each other in a bit of shock - this was VERY short. But he had to keep going. In the end, it turned out alright...but it will take some getting used to. Now my sweet little cherubic-faced Desmond looks like a bit of a tough guy!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Five Random Things I Miss

We have been living in Sydney now for just over four months, and I think we are finally settling in. But this week, I was hit with a wave of longing for a few things that we don't have or can't get here in Australia. Admittedly, it is a random collection of things. Nonetheless, here's the list - in no particular order:

1. General Mills Cereals - specifically Cheerios, Honey Nut Cheerios, and Total. General Mills produces food here in Australia, but not cereals. And we can get a type of Cheerios in the grocery store, but it is not the same. But there may be hope - according to the General Mills Australia & New Zealand website, "General Mills Australia and New Zealand is a growing consumer food business." Hopefully that means they will be expanding their cereal selection soon.

2. Pay at the Pump - Using a credit card to pay for gas (petrol) at the pump was something I had taken for granted. Here, drivers have to pay for all their gasoline purchases inside with the clerk. Not that big of a deal, unless I have the boys in the car...then we all have to tramp into the store together to pay.

3. Caribou Coffee - or American coffee shops in general. Australians love their coffee, but it is nearly impossible to get a regular, boring, no-frills cup of (filtered) coffee. I remember missing this when I lived in Sydney 10 years ago - I asked for a cup of filtered coffee and the barista looked at me like I was crazy and then told me that it would be a 15 minute wait while they made a pot of coffee just for me. In the coffee shops here, there are a variety of coffee drinks on the menu - espresso, cappuccino, flat white, short black, long black. But no plain coffee. For many Australians, plain coffee = Nescafe Instant Coffee. Trust is NOT the same thing. And specifically to Caribou - I miss their hot chocolate and their mango black tea. But thanks to my mom for bringing me several bags of the mango black tea when she came to visit in July. Yum!

4. Food Co-ops - We were spoiled living in a metro area (the Twin Cities) with so many food cooperatives. And there is a great co-op in Decorah. In the Sydney area, there are a couple of food co-ops, but none of them are near where we live - the closest one is at least 30 minutes away (in no traffic). I miss being able to buy food in bulk. And the co-op was the place where we bought most of Vincent's allergy-free foods. Fortunately, the grocery stores here have a halfway decent supply of foods he can eat.

5. Culvers - We are not a fast food family, but we did eat Culvers on occasion when we lived in the Twin Cities. There is something special about their burgers and frozen custard. mouth is watering just thinking about it.

Of course, we miss our family and friends. And I'm sure there will be other things that I will find that I miss. But all-in-all, we are very happy to be living here. And there are lots of Australian things that we missed while we were living in the meat pies, lamingtons, Cadbury chocolates, and my sister-in-law's spinach pie...yum!!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Knitting for Charity: a mama and baby koala

In mid-October, the boys' daycare centre - Kids Academy Hornsby - is participating the Australian Cancer Council's Relay for Life. The centre is holding various fundraising activities in hopes of reaching a $2000 goal. I'm not big into selling/buying chocolate bars, but when they notified us that they were looking for donations for the raffle, I decided that I would offer to provide a knitted contribution. I knew that Susan B. Anderson's book of knitted toy patterns, Itty Bitty Toys, would be the perfect place to look for a pattern. (By the way - I am totally in love with the giraffe on the front cover and am hoping to make it for Desmond for Christmas. And I think I am going to make the snake pattern from this book for Vincent's Christmas gift.)

In the end, I decided on her pattern for a mama and baby koala. I figured that it was very appropriate - not only because we now live in Australia but because Desmond's classroom at Kids Academy is the Koala Room! It took just over a week to complete the two stuffed animals. I learned one valuable lesson - it is really not a good idea to work on knitted toys on the train - too many small pieces, too many double-pointed needles...just not worth the hassle! It was a fairly easy and straight forward pattern. The only downside was all the bits and pieces that had to be assembled in the end. But that is what happens when you knit toys!

I dropped the mama and baby koala off at Kids Academy earlier today and the staff just love them. I hope that who ever wins them in the raffle loves them too!