making progress

Lately life has been a busy back and forth between houses, one for living in and one for dreaming of living in! Progress is happening but often feels painfully slow. There have been many moments when Roy and I have let ourselves wish we had bought a new build ready for living in… but then we have to remind ourselves that if we had it would have been tiny inside and out. We are earning our three bedrooms, off street parking and spacious garden by all the hours, sweat and (my) tears we are investing in it.

We were lucky enough to make friends with a talented carpenter who is steadily pieces together my kitchen dreams and making them real. I loved the process of designing, problem solving and challenging my scatty, creative brain to work in more practical, detailed ways. I have also been playing apprentice carpenter and revived my passion for power tools and become a wood loving geek! We have recycled red wood timber workbenches which were – locally and chunky, old mismatched wood shelves going along one wall (I am too excited about putting my spice jars on them!) Along with the solid Tallowwood floor soon to go down our kitchen will have lots of wood, texture, simple white cabinets and stainless steel appliances. Oh and my very beautiful blue toaster!

When things feel a little bit stressful I like to picture myself in the kitchen looking at it finished knowing that I know every detail of it, that I ground all the sharp edges off the handles, put together the drawers, handpicked each chunk of wood, considered pros and cons of every appliance and found the perfect sink at a fraction of the normal price!

The countdown is on, about a month til move in day… I hope!


Park Life

Today was the kind of day that I needed to get out and about with Dylan. Some Mondays feel a little gloomy, not the kind of Monday blues that result from having to wake up too early to go to work but the kind that come when the week looks a little bleak and lonely. Maybe a little too much repetition. So before I allowed myself any sympathy and about an hour after my hardworking man went off to earn the dollars, I decided to pack a picnic and head to the park. When we got there Dylan said “this is Aedan’s park” because the only time we have been to that one before was with his friend…

One afternoon in Big W (kind of like a cross between Primark and what Woolworths was like) I was hanging out with Dyls while he played with the toys in their packaging and I met Tina who was letting her son do the same. She had only just got to Newcastle for her husband’s job and had a super chirpy way of saying “YEEEAH!” Then shortly after we bumped into each other again at the Hobby toy shop where there are a bunch of train tables and we had both gone to take advantage of the freebie entertainment. The third meeting was at swimming and that was that, we were friends, our boys were friends and when our husbands met, they were too.

Then off they flew back to America to sort out new visas and I’ve really missed having them around. I’m so excited that they will all be back here by the end of the month and sticking around longer this time! As much as I adore Dylan and love my time with him, it’s fair to say we don’t always share the same interests or level of conversation. It is so nice to have a Mummy around who gets me and knows how it feels to be a Little Foreign Traveller down under!

Oh and Dylan took that photo of me, a little photographer in the making!

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I can’t complain


Today was an expensive day. I took a tour of the banks paying out money for a whole lot of goodies… the kitchen units, a recycled timber work bench, 108sqm of Tallowwood timber floor and paid the plasterer for making the kitchen walls crisp and smooth. Our bank balance is significantly smaller but Move In Day is finally feeling real and so much closer. We have such a huge load of work before we get there and Roy is doing a great job of tackling each task, the kind of things that no-one will notice once they are done like plumbing, wiring, guttering. (I will appreciate it I promise!) There are so many tiny things that we have achieved so far, so many holes I’ve patched that have taken time and patience but don’t really feel like solid progress. So now over the next few weeks our house will start to look the way we want it: livable!! Really, I mean it will have floors, walls and a working kitchen!

After running around splashing my wad of cash I took Dylan to the beach and we soaked up the gorgeous winter sunshine and got ourselves all sandy. In the many conversations I have with strangers about being from England I often get asked how I like it here. My usual response is something like “when the weather is like this I can’t complain.” And it’s true. That is not to say that a sunny day can make up for all the things I love and miss in England but seeing a blue sky in the morning is a reminder for me to make the most of the day, where I am right now and be grateful to be able to live here. As the days and weeks go by I am getting more and more excited about getting to make the trip to Sydney to collect my Mum from the Airport. I have been dreaming of all the things I want to show her, where to eat, where to go and what it will be like for her to see Dylan again. It is too EXCITING. Unfortunately I don’t think we will be very settled into our home by then, we will be moving in the week she arrives (fingers and toes crossed) but that’s ok, she’ll be there from the start to help us make it beautiful and plant our veggie garden. :)


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Quiet Little Triumphs







The wind has gone wild here and the rain is heavily crashing on the metal roof. It feels like winter in a comforting kind of way. I still haven’t gotten used to the way homes are built here but I love the sound of the rain on the roof, it reminds me to listen and pay attention to it, to enjoy the changes it brings. Dylan and I went through a bit of a rough patch about a month ago. If he was my boyfriend I would have told him “I need a break”. But, you can’t do that with your own kid you just have to stick at it and evoke the classic parental mantra: “it’s just a phase”.

I learnt a few things in those tough few weeks that really helped me handle things better…

1. Look at him and get him to look at me when I’m talking to him. Simple but so easy to forget.

2. Don’t say things you don’t mean or you don’t intend to do. In the words of the mighty Supernanny, “FOLLOW THROUGH”. Be careful with the words you chose, words are powerful things.

3. He knows so much. He knows when I’m stressed and it worries him too. He knows when I’m angry and he understands that I get sad. It’s quite a lot for him to take on, be gentle with him and reassure him. It is not his fault.

Now that we are settling in to a routine of working on the house and we are a little less stressed we all seem to be getting on grandly. I’ve been putting in extra effort to do fun things with him and his limitless kind and happy words make it all worthwhile. My favourite thing though has been his beautiful English manners and I just burst with a silly kind of pride when someone comments on how polite he is. Every time we get off the bus he shouts out “THANK YOU!” and does a huge, daring jump off the bus to the pavement. The best bit is that I know he shouts it because he is copying me so that would be my number 4:

4. Give yourself a pat on the back when you do something good, feel proud. Being a parent can feel like a thankless volunteer job so it is important to thank yourself and appreciate your quiet little triumphs.

This morning before I left to get to the new house he asked me to make a sign that said “Olympic house”. It has been so fun watching the Olympics together every morning and cheering on both our teams and thinking of all our family in London going to watch the events. We got out his new set of glitter pots, made a big sparkly mess and got to use one of the stack of toilet rolls I’ve been saving for him to make things with. Sometimes it doesn’t take much to make a very special moment, just glitter, glue and the right frame of mind.

P.S. I got an iphone and I love it, finally catching up with the world of technology!


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Shake on it

Dylan making a deal with Roy that his room will be blue and that he would help him paint it. It is so exciting that we will all have a new home together  and we can fill it with beautiful things and happy memories.


the work begins

Roy and I have now been homeowners for 9 days. There was a funny kind of anti climax when the keys were handed over: I spent a bit of time pottering about our new  house, measured the kitchen then left. Since then we have been there at the weekend and evenings, in our empty house working hard to get it to a state where we can move in and really call it home. So far we have pulled up floorboards, smelly old carpet and lino, we have ripped out the kitchen, removed walls, fixed plumbing, guttering and prepped the front two bedrooms ready for painting. I had the pleasure of disposing of a long dead family of rats who had made a cosy little home under the kitchen units and in the walls. They had lined it with shreds of plastic bags, filled it with seed pods and even started saving up some coins which sadly they never got to spend. Along with a few glass jars and some bones (?) the house has revealed it’s fair share of surprises. A few quirks and a few problems but I love her already.

Currently my biggest concern is which floor to put in… Bamboo? Engineered timber? Solid Timber? It seems all have pros and cons and no option will be quite perfect (or at least won’t look perfect in a few years!) I’ve been doing my research but I think I need to get out to a few showrooms and have a good look and walk on some samples.

This weekend we will have the help of Roy’s brother Jye who has been amazing so far, Roy’s Dad who is our hardware supplier and technical advisor and Jay a creative carpenter. We have a lot of work ahead but step by step, one decision at a time we will get closer to ‘move in day’ and fingers crossed it will be before my Mum arrives in October!

the previous tenants!



Priced for Profit… oh yeah!

I’m not sure what being a grown up is supposed to feel like but I think I might possibly be one next week, a little bit. After a few months of spending our Saturdays dashing round the suburbs of Newcastle checking out the ‘open homes’ for sale we walked into a house we fell for. Roy had been checking it out in the local paper for a while and that Saturday he saw the price had dropped just about into our budget and we headed straight there. To us it screamed “I’m a little unloved but I HAVE POTENTIAL, I could be beautiful” so the on Monday we called to arrange a second viewing and the next day we put in an offer just $1 over the ‘offers over’ price. Late that night when I was busy telling the people at my jewellery class that I wasn’t expecting them to accept anywhere near our offer I got a call from the agent who said if we could add an extra $5,000 it was ours. “YES! Hell Yes!”

So we began what is often described as one of life’s most stressful experiences. During the initial cooling off period (cool? I was not feeling cool!) we received a pest report that said the building was at high risk of termites, though no evidence of any were found. We were then informed the house is in a flood prone area and the building report pointed out everything wrong with the house: the wonky floors, the dodgy roof, the mouldy wall were just a few examples. Trying to process all this information and balance it out with our hopes, dreams and bank balance was all a little confusing to say the least. As it turns out nearly all wooden houses here are at risk of termites, most areas of Newcastle are flood prone, the house needs repiering which is totally common and the roof is nowhere near as bad as it sounded. Ok, it needs a LOT of work but we have a Roy’s Dad’s hardware store to supply us cheaply and plenty of determination. We had seen enough properties to know that anything in our price range needs a good reno (Australian for renovation- shorten it and stick an “o” on the end!) After giving Jessie a Skype tour of a bunch of properties we had viewed she asked if everyone in Newcastle was old. No, they aren’t but most houses in our budget probably had deceased owners and were presented in ‘original condition’… or was a very nice modern studio flat!

After the vendor had cleared up the small matter of the house not actually being in his name yet, our mortgage was approved and the deal was on! On Wednesday we will be the proud and definitely a little terrified owners of a three bedroom home with loads of space, a big garden with parking and a pretty wrap around veranda for which I have already bought a Brighton style deckchair. Today Roy and I went appliance shopping in the end of financial year sales. We bagged some stainless steel goodies for the kitchen and a washing machine, it sure felt good.

Next weekend we will be pulling up the kitchen floor to get it ready for the repiering man to come and sort out our wonky house. I’m still finding it pretty hilarious that most houses here are built on ‘stilts’ and made of wood. Really, wood?? Don’t they know what happened to the three little pigs?? The repiering will involve jacking up the house which I imagine will be similar to jacking up a car and levelling out the sandstone stilts that support the house then adding in some that were never actually there. Then the floor down, kitchen in and…. Then the rest of the house!

All those years of watching Changing Rooms, Grand Designs and 60 minute Makeover will finally be worthwhile. So with a healthy dose of fear about what exactly is around the corner, or under the floorboards, I say… Bring it on!

We took a little trip to check out the SOLD sign


One. Two. THREE!

Three years ago I was probably sat on the sofa crying at the pain of breastfeeding a tiny little boy whose nose was the same curved shape from nostril to nostril as his upper lip. I remember wanting to keep that shape, that small detail of his face in my mind forever. The sound of his heavy little breathes, the strength of his determined grip on my finger and the warmth of his velvety, baby skin. So many sensations, so many memories.

On Sunday my tiny baby turned three which for me feels like he is pretty much grown up and ready to move out!

His birthday started about 6am, he stumbled into our bedroom still half asleep, his over-excited parents burst into a “Happy Birthday to you” and he burst into tears in a sleepy heap on the floor! After a little more sleep he was ready to wake up and we went straight to the arrangement of parcels that had arrived from England weeks before. It was so exciting to Skype Grannie Duck (my mum) and finally get to meet Dylan’s new best friends: Buzz and Woody! The postman told me that every time he went over a bump the parcel said “to infinity and beyond!” Then we got to Skype Jessie (my sister) and open Dylan’s new favourite outfits: Buzz and Woody costumes of course! Then we opened all the small and practical presents I bought him, they all seemed pretty boring when Roy gave his present, an amazing wooden train set with an airport and helicopter-pad. I got out-done but that was fine by me. He opened the rest of the parcels including a lovely t-shirt (thanks Marina!) and got a beautiful wooden car park from his Aussie Nan and Poppy. Lucky boy!

His party was arranged pretty last minute but Dyls had specified a while ago that he wanted a pirate party so I made him a pirate waistcoat with gold buttons out of the fabric I am upholstering the sofa with, some black cut up shorts and an eye patch. We bought a stripy top and found a few accessories but on the day he didn’t want to wear the headscarf or medallion necklace. We picked a park right by the beach and he had his little cousin, some of his Aussie family, my friend Emma and his American best friend Aedan and his parents and Roy and me of course. I was feeling a little homesick when I thought about what a great Gruffalo birthday party he had in our little basement flat in Brighton last year… but it turned out to be a very good party even if it was a bit windy and cold. There were more amazing presents, Roy managed the BBQ, I finally got to make jelly in orange boats (I have wanted to make them for years!) and then there was the cake…

The night before I spent hours watching the oven and went through every emotion it is possible go through when baking. Anticipation when I got all the ingredients out, panic when the inevitable bit of egg shell goes swimming around the mixture and gets lost, bliss at licking the spoon after stirring the melted rich chocolate. Then fear when I realised that due a lack of organisation I had hastily picked out a more dense fudge cake that wasn’t going to rise big enough for my birthday cake plans. This turned to utter despair when I dropped one of the two cakes on it’s way out of the oven and was left with so little cake that Roy dashed out to get extra chocolate so I could make another batch. After helplessly watching the oven for the second stint I realised something was terribly wrong, there was no cake just brown sludge boiling away in the tin. I felt numb by the time I realised that I had done the recipe all wrong for both batches; I added the egg whites where it was supposed to be yolks and the yolks never made it into the mixture at all! Somehow the first had turned out ok looking but the second was a complete disaster. Screw Masterchef, Cooking doesn’t get tougher than kids birthday cakes!

I like to think I am an optimistic person but that optimism has to be at least a little bit realistic to be honestly felt. I know myself well, I know my cooking is always enthusiastic but fairly often ends up similar to Bridget Jones’ meal of blue soup and marmalade. I was prepared for the worst, I had bought a packet cake mix as a back up and it was a good move. The final, third, packet made cake was a winner and I was back in happy, baking, mummy mode.  Soft, spongy, moist and big enough to be but and crafted into the cake I had in mind. Phew. Relief.

With a bit of extra help from Betty Crocker’s milk chocolate ready made icing and some chocolate biscuits I turned it into a (kind of) Pirate ship complete with a sailor toy transformed into a pirate with a felt eye patch and “Captain Dylan” sails.

Dylan said before he went to bed that the best part of his birthday was his chocolate pirate cake. It was so worth it.

T.H.R.E.E. Wowee!

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Jack of all Trades

The Little Seeds

My degree was great, it was inspiring, provoking, challenging and valuable. BUT a degree in Critical Fine Art Practice doesn’t entitle you to an easy-to-pin-down job title or even necessarily career path. In fact, we spent three years talking about what CFAP actually means and at the end of it all I am still not totally sure how to encapsulate what it was, is or has the potential to be. It was not Painting, Printing or Sculpture. It was thoughts, ideas, discussion, understanding, questioning, critique, philosophy, painting walls white, scrubbing floors and sometimes eating teacakes.

None of those quite fill an “occupation……” box on application forms.

So here I am Rebecca Stern BAHons Mother Of One and since arriving in Australia (now half a year ago!) I have test-driven a range of careers for size. First there was the initial Art’s Volunteer roles which I thought was a good way to meet some people and get to know more about the local arts scene. I began volunteering at Octapod a multi-limbed arts organisation that runs a good range of projects. My Job is to create a project to celebrate their 15 year birthday. Then I joined the Newcastle Art Gallery as an Art Cart volunteer where I help out with the free activities for children held in the gallery every weekend. It is inspiring to see the tiny people getting their pastel covered hands stuck right in to creating their own artwork based on the current exhibition around them.  I do that once a month and really enjoy being a part of such a well established gallery  in a fun way! More recently I have helped out at the brand spanking new Curve Gallery whose older sister gallery is in Liverpool, UK. It is exciting to be in a city that is growing so fast.

Next came my venture into papercrafts. I filled my evening hours making cards, cupcake flags and pinwheels, mini luggage labels and strings of hearts with bells. I felt like a Chinese migrant worker in an Ipod factory fiddling about with teeny bits of floral paper but it was good to be so focused and to really make something pretty with my hands. Unfortunately the day I chose to do a stall at a Saturday market nearby it happened to rain all day and it was not only quite depressing sitting in the cold all day but also financially a flop. I made enough money to cover the cost of the stall but it really didn’t feel worth giving up all those valuable evening hours and my weekend again.

Then I picked up a leaflet advertising yoga for children and when I was looking for class times online I saw an advert seeking new yoga teachers. I have never done any formal yoga training and have always been on and off in phases with attending classes but I figured that having began doing yoga with my mum at around age 13 I have been doing yoga in some form for over 10 years. So, I braved it and applied for the job. After an interview in a café which felt scarily like a blind date I agreed to head off to Melbourne for a weekend of intensive training which involved a class of fully grown women jumping around pretending to be gorillas or some other posture inspired animal. So now I am a Yogabugs teacher and though a stroke of luck and perfect timing I was able to get  Dylan a place at the Daycare where I teach my class. I was excited to think that I was getting $30 per class but then was informed that it was actually $30 per hour and since the class is only 30 minutes I only earn $15. More than anything I just felt embarrassed that I put so much into my class and my weekly wage is enough to buy two drinks in a pub. There was talk of taking on some more classes but due to the times and locations it would have been a bit complicated and since I was so deflated about my meagre income I wasn’t too keen on taking on more anyway.

I love teaching my little yogabugs and it amazes me how much they really engage with what I teach them. I have a collection of feathers I hand out at the end of our yoga adventure and they practice their warming and cooling breathes by blowing it and hold it on their bellies while they shut their eyes for relaxation. Sometimes teaching Dylan is a little tricky, whenever I do ‘Buster the Dog’ (woof woof) he climbs on my back, but he is getting better at understanding Mummy is teaching. At the end of the class today he gave me the biggest hug and said “well done Mummy, you are the best at teaching me yoga!” If only every job could offer such positive forms of feedback! Talking to a friend of mine who is doing a Primary teaching course I came up with a long term plan: I can do a Masters in Primary teaching in two years and get a full-time job with real hours and real wages. So this is on the cards for 2013…

Another strand of my career experimentation is my jewellery-making course at Studio Melt I am doing. I have been loving my Tuesday night out to learn something new and rewarding  where I can indulge in my love for chunky silver rings. The course is run by a brilliant teacher in her new shop and studio which will be offering space to workshop graduates to sell their designs. So in a few months I may have my own collection of bling for sale. Watch this space!

It was at the class that I was offered my first photography commission by an Architect (the only male on the course) to photograph stylish Snow’s Patisserie that he designed. I was just taking photos of everyone working when he said he was looking for someone to photograph his work for his website so I said I would do it, show him the photos and if he liked them we could take it from there… He loved them! And so my measly $15 dollars has been trumped by a healthy three figure number. YAY! I was asked to do a family photoshoot for my friend on Friday so we will see how that goes!

Then there is my part-time career as a magazine editor, an extremely exciting venture with my friend Rachael in London called The Little Seeds. It is a magazine for children and parents to explore together and we have been busy bees creating each page and filled with ideas that will encourage little and big people to open their eyes to the world around them, get stuck into something fun and creative and hopefully make them smile too. It is stretching us both out of our comfort zones and pushing us into unchartered territory but I’m loving the process and the joy at watching an idea grow. I will let you know when it is ready for the big wide world! Eeek!

Then just to keep things interesting I braved my nerves and unhelpful feelings of inadequacy to approach a new collectively run gallery and studio space about joining them. So I am now a member of Time & Place and I was over the moon to be referred to as “thought-provoking”, I felt like I had forgotten was exactly what I’d like my work to be. As the little quirks of life would have it the weekly fee for the studio is a modest amount thanks to the incredible Renew Newcastle Project it is a part of… just the right amount: $15. In fact it might soon be dropped to $10 so then I will have enough change in my weekly earnings for a macaroon each for Dylan and I from Snow’s Patisserie!

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a good little sick day

It is nice to be needed sometimes, to feel wanted and important, but it can be equally heart warming as a parent when your child shows you they are separate and independent of you.  You are a parent not an owner and they have a life of their own to figure out for themselves.

It was a small sweet thing that made me appreciate this thought today…

Dylan and I have been a bit ill over the last week, I seem to have pulled through the worst of it but Dylan was hot and extra rosy cheeked this morning. I left him snuggled up in an armchair with a blanket, his special cup of  water and a heater next to him. He looked just like a minature old man with his crazy, fluffy curls watching Thomas and his friends toot tooting around Sodor Island. I wanted to make a smoothie for breakfast (banana, greek yoghurt, oats, honey and cinnamon if you’re interested!)

I heard a noise which I thought was Dylan, but I looked around and couldn’t see him, just the dog  so I assumed he had just made a very human sounding bark and carried on smoothie making. When I put the blender on I heard Dylan (definitely not the dog!) say “that’s too noisy, I’m trying to sleep!”

I hadn’t even noticed that he had quietly crept through the kitchen which leads to his bedroom and tucked himself up in his big boy bed all by himself. He said he was feeling tired and he just needed a rest. It seemed like such a mature and sensible decision that he made independently, without me. He dozed off quickly and I had a few unexpected hours to myself.

The rest of the day he said he didn’t want to go anywhere “maybe tomorrow we will go out,” so we played with his playdough, made his name in cardboard covered in glitter, made him a pirate waistcoat with golden treasure buttons and an eyepatch. We went in the garden for a treasure hunt and he went fishing in his washing basket boat with his bamboo fishing rod.

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