Thursday, 31 July 2008

Pizza Oven Update 2

Incidentally the concrete slab for the pizza oven only takes 4 days of work! Day 1 as you saw yesterday was digging out the grassy area and forming up the site. Day 2 as seen to the left involves laying the reinforcing metal into the site prior to pouring the concrete. As of the end of day 2 all is in readiness for the pour.

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Pizza Oven Update 1

An historic day for Andrew's pizza! We broke ground on the pizza oven/entertaining area on Wednesday 23rd July. We went from a grassy marked out area to a dug out, formed up area for concrete in just a few hours thanks to a bobcat that can easily dig through pine tree roots.

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Product of the week: Jell-o

When I think of the word Jell-o I think of jelly, that artificially bright-coloured rubbery substance that could almost bounce. Well Jell-0 does sell that sort of product but their range is much wider than that. Today's featured packet is coconut cream pudding. You just add 2 cups of milk to the packet mix, whisk for 2 minutes and then wait 5 minutes and your dessert is ready. With some left over pastry I made some mini pie shells and filled them with this jell-o. Andrew did a blind taste test and concluded that the pies were very good. I then informed him that he had eaten a whole lot of sugar followed by mono and diglycerides, yellow 5, yellow 6, and sodium metabisulfite (retains coconut whiteness). Admittedly there is coconut in there as well but overall two thumbs down on the ingredients list. The packet screams that it is a "good source of calcium as prepared" (ie the milk you add will give you calcium) so you are probably better off just having a glass of the white stuff on its own. Though it did taste ok it had nothing on Jestine's coconut cream pies from Charleston.

Monday, 28 July 2008

Weekend update

With the girls battling head colds it was a quiet weekend - breakfast pancakes at home, gymnastics and church. We did have a lamb roast for Sunday lunch but unfortunately had to cancel our guests so that we didn't spread germs around. They turned up with some flowers and well wishes and we handed over a dairy-free chocolate cake with raspberry coulis for their enjoyment.

In more exciting news we got a parcel from Auntie Julie during the week which contained 'powdered chocolate' and vegemite. We have been enjoying hot milo drinks and here is a video of Lucy with the vegemite. You can decide whether she likes it or not.

After trawling yard sales for months (though the internet!) we finally tracked down a playhouse. They are usually sold within hours of the listing so we have missed out on quite a few. This one is a late birthday present for Lucy and she loves it!

Friday, 25 July 2008

Construction Update 3

The deck is finished and the stairs have been laid. Two wall frames have been put up and the old deck lumber has been taken away. Things are hotting up here at our house and we're expecting a massive Friday effort (hint: there are some pizza oven goings on to report! at 9am there are 3 cars, 3 trailers, 1 bobcat and 1 concrete truck parked outside our house)

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Construction Update 2

After significant rain delays and some worries about water levels work got underway again yesterday. Wilmington has a building system that requires an inspection at each stage of the process and thus the inspector came out yesterday to check the depth of the holes dug for the foundations. The holes passed and work began on the new screened porch. Yesterday the floor screen was laid and then the Trex decking was laid and nailed on part of the deck. And now we can open the back door and not fall into a pit!

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Construction update 1

The deck has been removed! Andrew has had the horrible job of putting in a lot of plastic along the walls and digging a trench in the dirt to keep water from pooling near the house. He also pulled out a lot of weeds that were growing underneath the deck. Not very nice work, not something anyone will notice but essential all the same.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Product of the week: Butter bread (and Irish bangers)

This bread is yellow! (Thanks mainly to turmeric and annatto colourings) The bread does have butter in it but it also has lots of horrible things like high fructose corn syrup and mono and diglycerides. Disappointingly it didn't taste like butter which further adds to our theory that you can't buy edible bread at the supermarket! Lucy is still eating tapioca bread for lunches without complaint (and without butter or margarine) and will continue to do so for a while.

We bought this butter bread for our sausage sangers. Aahh sausages! We haven't had sausages since we left Oz over 16 months ago. The reason is that they are not readily available. There are sweet and spicy Italian sausages at the supermarket but no regular plain meat ones. I finally found 'Irish bangers' at Fresh Market and can recommend these as good sausages. Unfortunately Lucy has eaten far more hot dogs than sausages so we will have to remedy this soon.

Monday, 21 July 2008

It's raining, it's pouring, the old man is snoring

Hurricane season has started and we are in the midst of Tropical Storm Cristobal which is our first taste of a hurricane since we moved to Wilmington. This means that is has been raining alot during the weekend but with patches of sun and blue skies in between the downpours. The humidity rose to 97% yesterday and our temperature sensor reached 106.5F so although it is raining it is still extremely hot. It is so humid you could cut the air with a knife and we are expecting great swarms of mosquitoes to arise from the waters in the next few days.

"Mummy, raining, pouring, old man snoring!" Lucy has been begging for gumboots for months ever since we got the book 'Ladybug Girl' as a present. I found these awesome ladybug rain accessories last week and knew they were perfect. As soon as Lucy woke up on Saturday and saw the tropical downpour she insisted on getting out there. Here she is exploring one of the huge puddles which become even larger with the 2nd and 3rd downpours and eventually formed into Lake T.

Friday, 18 July 2008

A different kind of normal

I mentioned at the end of the Williamsburg blog that things were getting back to normal. Well a sort of normal. This is what 'normal' looks like over the past few days:

Tuesday night - Andrew visits a friend having some issues. Whilst there another friend is in a minor car accident so they go to help out and put a tarp on the car.

Wednesday - Andrew leaves for work at 7am and gets home at 7pm. Potty training starts for Lucy. Drop over to Gabriel's to give him a birthday present. Get home. Lucy pees in toilet 6 times during the day. Pees on floor 4 times. Poops on floor once. Ava comes over to play. Lucy and Ava take turns using the toilet. Invite Margaret and Ava to stay for dinner. Cook dinner. Eat dinner. Clean house. From 8pm-10pm Andrew digs out grass from the driveway so that concrete can be laid in the morning.

Thursday - Andrew leaves for a prayer group at 6:15am and gets back at 8am. Waits for concrete guy to turn up. He's running late so Andrew heads for work. Lucy pees on the floor after breakfast. We get ready for a pool party. UPS guy turns up with outdoor furniture. Lumber delivery truck arrives. Dilemma as to whether forklift will fit through gate. It does. Lucy plays with Ava on the swing while lumber guy is working. Takes 45 minutes to get lumber into place. Then since we are only 1 hour late we head off to a pool party in Castle Hayne. Play in pool. Pat horse and get a shock from the electric fence that was supposed to be off. Pick blueberries and one of the children steps on a beehive and gets bitten 5 times. All kids start crying and pandemonium ensues as we deal with a bitten child and mother. Drive home and get lunch on the way. Lucy pees on the floor of the lunch place. Eat lunch at home. Lucy sleeps and I blog. Builder expected this afternoon. Cooking a lamb roast tonight. Andrew is going out with friends afterward etc etc

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Construction commences

This is the time that Grandad is sitting back thinking that he is very glad to be in Bexley and not in North Carolina. We are getting a screened porch built onto the back of our house! We have an existing deck but there are so many bugs in summer that the deck is unusable. So Steve the builder will be here over the next few weeks working on it. Here is a 'before' picture and I'll keep you up to date with the progress. The wood, concrete and screen were delivered this morning so we are ready to go.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Yes I gave birth to her!

We went to Lewis strawberry farms the other week. Unfortunately there were no strawberries left 'all brown' according to Lucy but blueberries and blackberries are still available. Lucy, who is shy with strangers, wouldn't talk to the lady serving us. The lady asked me 'are you the mom or the nanny?' I was shocked. Why would you ask such a question and why would you frame it in that particular way? I don't know anyone who has a nanny, do you?

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Product of the week: Hamburger Helper

I haven't purchased this product so I am relying on Wikipedia to provide you the details. Once you've read the description below you will understand why the packet remains on the shelf of Food Lion.

"Hamburger Helper is a brand of boxed meal product produced by General Mills and sold under its Betty Crocker brand. It consists of a starch (most often pasta, but also rice or potatoes) and specially measured dried sauce packets separated in a single box. The remaining ingredients must be provided by the consumer. The consumer browns the hamburger meat in a skillet and then adds water, noodles, milk and the seasoning packet(s) to create the complete dish. There is as well an "instant" version of Hamburger Helper which contains dehydrated meat, noodles and seasonings in a small pouch — instead of adding meat, milk and water, the consumer only needs to add a small amount of water to a bowl containing the helper pouch contents."

Monday, 14 July 2008

short and sweet

After a week of thunderstorms and high humidity the weekend returned us to our North Carolinian blue skies. So we gardened, went to church, gardened and went to church.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008


Washington, Williamsburg and Wilmington. 10 days of driving, walking, and bike riding but most importantly 10 days of ingesting American history.

Washington was hot and crowded with tourists but historically entertaining. It is a planned city with vast tracts of land dedicated to the people of the United States. A stunning vista has been created along the corridor of the Mall providing an uninterrupted view from Capitol Hill all the way through to Lincoln Memorial. Due respect is paid to past great presidents whilst ongoing goverment business continues to be conducted in the corridors of power (sometimes underground). Whilst there are metal detectors and security guards everywhere there is still access to most buildings. One of the funny things we noticed was that most American families stopped by the tshirt vendors and purchased matching tie-dyed shirts and then proceeded to wear them around each day. Not a good fashion look and not a good safety procedure either as every single other family was doing the same thing!

We visited a lot of sites whilst in this capital city, that makes it protest so eloquently on its number plates by stating 'Taxation without representation', so let me categorise the sites so I don't go on too long.

Popular museums (Air & Space, Natural History, Botanic Gardens) - these sites were totally crowded, littered with garbage and somewhat dark (with the exception of the gardens). Lucy lost it in the Natural History museum as there were just too many people and it was extremely noisy. Dozens of tour buses line the mall dropping off school children and primarily Asian tourists for the obligatory visit to these museums. Unfortunately we didn't get to the Dulles site of the Air & Space and thus missed 'the Enterprise' but we did see the original 'Kitty Hawk' having seen a replica in Kitty Hawk. Go figure!

Ticketed museums (Capitol, White House, Bureau of Printing and Engraving) - these sites required a timed pass to visit and thus the number of tourists entering at one time was minimised. Our Capitol tour was a private tour in one sense as we were the only North Carolinian family visiting that day and thus the lovely intern from Senator Dole's office was our private tour guide. But it was not so private in that the other 49 states had tours going on at the same time! However we got to see the 2 NC statues, the Wright Brothers fresco and stand on the star in the centre of DC. The BEP was a truly awesome visit. Andrew headed over there and lined up at 8am for tickets snagging us a gig at 9:30am. We drank Starbucks(!) while we waited and saw how large $1M looks in $100 notes. The tour took us into the real facility for printing notes and we could smell the ink and hear the paper rushing through giant machines as we walked through. As you know we didn't make it into the White House but we did see a cool cavalcade of cars with ambulance and police in tow leave the grounds.

Outdoor attractions (Monuments, Arboreteum, Eastern Market) These three sites were amongst our favourties. We rode bike around the monuments and memorials with Lucy riding around in a burley. She thought is was great fun to sit back with her snacks and drinks and was sad to give the bikes back. Our tour guide explained the underlying history of the sites to us and we enjoyed learning about some of the early presidents as well as understanding more about the casualties of war. Lucy enjoyed running around the Korean war memorial and spelling out the letters on the wall "Freedom is not free". When I called her back to stop touching the letters and move out of peoples photos some of the other tourists said that she should stay at the wall as she actually 'made' the photo by representing the freedom that was fought for. Check out the video from last week to see those photos. The Arboreteum is on the outskirts of the city and features the National Herb Garden and National Bonsai Collection both worth a stroll around. We also saw the original Capitol columns now housed there. Eastern Market, Eastern Market, can you please move to Wilmington? The fruit, the crepes, the meat, the artwork all together make me rue living in a small town.

Quiet attractions (Library of Congress, Supreme Court, American Art museum and National Portrait Gallery) The Library of Congress is the world's biggest library, can be used by anyone over 16 and is free. It houses some of the original books donated by Jefferson to start the Library and there is a special exhibition with the original Constitution, Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independence documents. One of 3 existing perfect Gutenberg bibles in on display every day. What more can I say? Go there. And if you can't go there in person go to The Supreme Court building is impressive and the Art musuem holds some great paintings (focussing on US Presidents)

Not-so-crowded museums (Old Postal Pavilion, Postal Museum) These museums are great spots but not popular with the tour buses and thus great for us. The Pavilion provides an awesome view of the city and hardly anyone seems to know about it. The Postal museum was highly interactive and Lucy even got to buy a book about 'Clifford goes to Washington DC'. She drove the purple delivery truck, wrote a postcard to Grandma and we looked at lots of really old unique stamps (mostly with errors and thus very rare)

Expensive attractions (International Spy museum) At $18 each and no strollers allowed, Lucy slept whilst Andrew entered the murky world of espionage. Lots of cool gadgets and stories but none that I can tell you here, or I'd have to shoot you!

Child friendly (National Zoo, Smithsonian Castle carousel) The Zoo was okay but is undergoing major restructuring by building a large elephant area. Also most of the animals are asleep during the day so action at the panda station was fairly low. Lucy enjoyed the honking flamingos and seeing an elephant having a bath (or as she keeps telling me, he was technically having a shower). The carousel proved a big hit and we went there on two separate days for a ride.

Out of Washington (Arlington National Cemetery, Mount Vernon, Annapolis) The cemetery is extremely large and it is eerie how many headstones can be seen. We saw the major sites along the bus tour route and can recommend going early before the hordes arrive. Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington and the only president not to live in the White House, was a very fun day trip. His house decorated in a stylish vivid green is a must see as is the stunning view of the river. A highlight here was eating at the Mount Vernon Inn where we encountered delicious peanut soup with chestnuts, pork pye and duck & sausage cassuolet. Annapolis, the original capitol is a cute red brick town. We dined very well along the river front and now we can say that we have stepped foot in Maryland (I think we are up to 12 states.

Eating (Bistro Bis, B.Smiths, Trader Joes, Ebenezers) We LOVED LOVED LOVED Bistro Bis and Ebenezers going back to both of them multiple times. Ebenezers is a church cafe ie a church owns the cafe and runs meetings there but apart from that it is a regular cafe and it was literally 3 houses down from our accommodation. We taught them to make babyccinos and we went there almost everyday! Bistro Bis is a well connected French restaurant with awesome food. The chef sent a message to me that he wasn't prepared to serve the duck consomme that I had ordered. Disappointed I accepted the vichyssoise he offered in replacement. Absolutely divine. I could eat that soup forever. Forget the sea scallops, the french onion soup or Lucy's 'mac and cheese' made with gruyere. The vichyssoise was to die for. We finally visited Teader Joes and had fun roving the aisles until we encountered a 150 person checkout queue (no exaggeration!) Thankfully 15 cashiers moved us along. B.Smiths was a little disappoitning. Advertised as southern food, the bread served was regular rolls rather than biscuits! We know our southern food by now and obviously this is catering for a northern audience.

I will leave you with one strong impression that I had during this trip and that is the American penchant for painting history in a different light. Changing the facts, well changing the appearance to make things look like you think they should. We encountered this several times. Firstly at Bentonville Battlefield. The original slave quarters were demolished. An old outbuilding was still standing and thus the National Parks decided to portray this building as the slave quarters. No matter that it was half the size of the original and no matter that it was in the wrong spot, it was given the okay because it "looked like what you expect a slave quarters to look like". In the Capitol building dome there is a painting of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. All the signors are sitting in benches watching one of their number sign. No matter that the signing did not occur this way and each signor rocked up to DC when they could and signed the document alone. History looks better painted this way. This is dangerous people!

Ther eare many more details but all I can say is get ye to DC! (preferably in fall when school is back in session)

Monday, 7 July 2008

Independence Day weekend

Well we didn't have much planned for Independence Day but it turned out to be a 'big' as well as a 'long' weekend. Americans don't like you to be alone on holidays so we were invited out!

Saturday morning we decided headed down to Wrightsville beach which as it turns out this was the same thought everyone else in Wilmington had. After 30 minutes of circling the parking lots for a spot and someone in our car continually moaning 'beach, beach, car spot, grammy lou, poppy' Andrew decided to drop us off and then continue looking. After another 25 minutes he found a place to park! It turns out it is more economical to park illegally and pay the parking ticket of $30 than drive around for 1 hour wasting money on gas/petrol! In the end we met up with the extended Mahlow clan for some beach fun making sand castles and frolicking in the tidal pools.

After swimming we made a 'nap stop' which also involved making a patriotic pavlova. Andrew decorated the square meringue in the shape of an American flag with blueberries in one corner and sliced cherries to make the red stripes. Saturday night we were at the Mahlows again eating hot dogs, baked beans and peach cobbler. We were a little out of place, in more ways than one, as everyone else was wearing a red shirt of some description but they all appreciated the Australian dessert with the salute to the flag. After dinner and toddler time in the pool we headed over to our prime viewing spot for the fireworks.

The fireworks are launched from the battleship in the Cape Fear river and we had a good view from the Leland side. We weren't expecting much (again underestimating American patriotism) and so we were surprised and delighted at the massive 20 minute firework display somewhat choreographed to music (including Springsteen's 'Born in the USA'). It was very fun and Lucy got to stay up until 9:30pm!!! (The fireworks started at 9:05pm as it was still light until 9pm)

Saturday brought gymnastics, blackberry picking and a Double Happiness Chinese dinner. Sunday brought the agonising Wimbledon final that we thoroughly enjoyed over many hours and rain delays! We even had some fireworks of our own in the backyard (they are legal as long as they don't leave the ground)

I think life for us will be getting back to normal tomorrow - no more vacations, holidays or tennis for a while. Phew! But I still have a few more vacation blogs to bring you up to date on.

Friday, 4 July 2008

Independence Day

It's the 4th of July and thus the whole of America is celebrating Independence Day by eating hot dogs and potato salad whilst lighting technically illegal fireworks. Of course they'll be dressed in their red, white and blue. We are a fair bit more educated in US independence history having just visited Colonial Williamsburg. What will we get up to? Find out Monday. (That sounds a lot more dramatic than how the weekend is likely to pan out - we may just open and read the Declaration of Independence that we picked up in Williamsburg)

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Fiona's Top 5 Washington moments

1. Touring the Library of Congress sans toddler and seeing the $10million map with the first reference to 'America'

2. Bike riding around the Washington monuments (Lincoln, Jefferson, FDR, WWII, Korean War, Vietnam War)

3. Eating crepes at Eastern Market, shopping at Trader Joes and tasting cheese at the Cowgirl Creamery

4. Discovering that the old Postal Pavillion has an awesome view of DC so that we didn't have to wait in a huge line to climb the Washington monument

5. Making a venus flytrap with Lucy at the National Botanic Garden and getting free southern wildflower seeds

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Andrew's Top 5 Washington moments

1. Having a private Capitol tour (including riding the special underground train from the Senate offices to the Capitol building)

2. Seeing how paper money is made at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing

3. Wandering around the National Bonsai Collection and National Herb Garden

4. Visiting the International Spy Museum

5. Eating awesome French food at Bistro Bis (where the speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi eats) including french onion soup, vichyssoise, scallops, crab, creme brulee etc etc (we ate here twice!)

Sorry that there are no photos for the last 3 items as we just didn't taken any at these places!