11 December 2012

Recipe for White Christmas

In a comment on Our Family Christmas - Then and Now, Donna asked, "What is White Christmas?" and I explained that it is a type of confectionery. This is the recipe I use, but there are many variations.

White Christmas

2 cups 'Rice Bubbles' cereal (overseas readers may know it as 'Rice Krispies')
1.5 cups mixed dried fruit including glace cherries
1 cup desiccated coconut
1 cup powdered milk
3/4 cup icing sugar
250gms white vegetable shortening ('Copha')
2 teaspoons vanilla essence

Melt the shortening. Add vanilla. Place all dry ingredients into a bowl and mix thoroughly. Add melted shortening (not too hot) and mix till well combined. Press into a shallow tin and allow to set in refrigerator. Cut into squares.

10 December 2012

Our Family Christmas - Then and Now

My Christmas candle

In 'Family History Across the Seas', Pauleen invited us to take part in the 2012 Christmas GeneaMeme by describing how we celebrate Christmas in our part of the world. I will answer these questions from both a historical and a modern Australian perspective.
  1. Do you have any special Christmas traditions in your family?  The answers below cover most of them, apart from my father's pre-Christmas tradition, which I wrote about in GenFamilies. On Boxing Day we have a special family lunch with a large selection of cold meats and salads. The highlight is my sister Margaret's potato salad (the best I've ever tasted).

  2. Is church attendance an important part of your Christmas celebrations and do you go the evening before or on Christmas Day?  No, because I have almost always been a long way from a town at Christmas. On one of the few occasions when we spent Christmas in Brisbane, we went to a midnight service. It was a small suburban Anglican church, but the incense was so overpowering that we felt quite ill.

  3. Did/do you or your children/grandchildren believe in Santa?  My sisters and I believed in Santa. We hung a pillow case at the foot of the bed, and we left a note saying that there was a snack in the fridge.

  4. Do you go carolling in your neighbourhood?  No. It doesn't happen in the places where I've spent Christmas.

  5. What's your favourite Christmas music?  Michael Crawford's Christmas album.

  6. What's your favourite Christmas carol?  We Three Kings.

  7. Do you have a special Christmas movie/book you like to watch/read?  No, but if Carols from Kings College Cambridge is on TV I always watch that.

  8. Does your family do individual gifts, gifts for littlies only, Secret Santa (aka Kris Kringle)?  With no children or nieces or nephews, it is not an issue. We give individual gifts (lots of small things rather than something expensive). Even the dog gets a Christmas present - usually a new toy to keep him occupied while we eat!

  9. Is your main Christmas meal indoors or outdoors, at home or away?  Indoors at home, but we sometimes have drinks and nibbles outside at sundown, and occasionally a barbecue on the evening of Boxing Day.

  10. What do you eat as your main course for the Christmas meal?  Dad's mother was born in England and always cooked a traditional dinner, even in this hot climate, so we did the same. In the middle of the day we have roast chicken and roast vegetables - potato, sweet potato, pumpkin, carrot, onion, parsnip and beetroot (try it; it's good!) - with mushy peas and a slice of top quality leg ham. (Do other people have cold ham with a hot meal, or are we odd?!) Several hours later we tuck into plum pudding with or without icecream, custard, cream, and fresh homemade fruit salad.

  11. Do you have a special recipe you use for Christmas?  Yes, my mother's recipe for plum pudding. I will be making it this week. I need to chose a day with no risk of thunderstorms to cause a blackout!

  12. Does Christmas pudding feature on the Christmas menu? Is it your recipe or one you inherited?  The pudding is the highlight of our Christmas meals, so there is a lot of pressure on the cook! I use my mother's recipe. She was a domestic science teacher, and I recently found her rough notes from the first time she made the pudding, when she was experimenting with quantities.

  13. Do you have any other special Christmas foods? What are they?  In recent years I have made Rum Balls or White Christmas. For a historical perspective, see question 16 below.

  14. Do you give home-made food/craft for gifts at Christmas?  I often bake ginger biscuits (Mum's recipe) for my sisters, and sometimes I print personalised calendars using my own photos, or bookmarks with paper that I made myself (a hobby that I rarely have time for now).

  15. Do you return to your family for Christmas or vice versa?  While my parents were alive, I always spent Christmas with them and at least one of my two sisters. Robyn missed a couple of family Christmases when she was nursing in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. We usually went to Mum and Dad (which, before 1990, meant our childhood home out in the bush). When we were kids we spent one Christmas at a motel in Brisbane, because Mum had just come out of hospital after major surgery. I was old enough to appreciate the effort Mum and Dad made to stick to our traditions even in that strange environment.

  16. Is your Christmas celebrated differently from your childhood ones? If yes, how does it differ?  Many things are still the same. We are older on the outside but just the same inside! But nowadays, with shops close by, some things are very different from my childhood. We grew up on a grazing property in outback Queensland, almost fifty miles (on unsealed roads) from town, so we had to be somewhat self-sufficient. Mum made the icecream and custard herself. Christmas dinner was a rooster we'd fattened, plus wild duck. Things that are commonplace now (such as mixed nuts) were a treat that we only had at Christmas.

  17. How do you celebrate Christmas with your friends? Lunch? Pre-Christmas outings? Drop-ins?  Maybe lunch or dinner a week or two before Christmas. Some of my friends are so busy (have we lost the plot?!) that it is easier to get together after Christmas when things feel a bit flat.

  18. Do you decorate your house with lights? A little or a lot?  No lights - just a candle in a festive lead-light holder (the photograph above).

  19. Is your neighbourhood a 'Christmas lights' tour venue?  Some houses in my suburb in Brisbane take part, but the numbers have decreased since a massive hail storm wiped them out a few years ago.

  20. Does your family attend Carols by Candlelight singalongs/concerts? Where?  Rarely, because we've usually been a long way from a town.

  21. Have any of your Christmases been spent camping (unlikely for our northern-hemisphere friends)?  No.

  22. Is Christmas spent at your home, with family or at a holiday venue?  With family at one or other of our homes.

  23. Do you have snow for Christmas where you live?  No chance of that here in Queensland!

  24. Do you have a Christmas tree every year?  Yes, always (even the year we spent Christmas in a motel room). When we were kids, Dad took us to sandhills on a friend's property where we chose a small pine tree. Occasionally, if it was unbearably hot or if roads were boggy, we chose a different type of tree from closer to home.

  25. Is your Christmas tree a live tree (potted/harvested) or an imitation?  Always live, even if it is just a few small branches cut from a gum tree in the garden and bundled together. That's what it will be this year.

  26. Do you have special Christmas tree decorations?  Nothing elaborate or expensive - just lots of tinsel (red, green, silver, gold and blue) and coloured balls, and a star on top.

  27. Which is more important to your family, Christmas or Thanksgiving?  There is no Thanksgiving in Australia - but writing this has reminded me of how much I have, so before Christmas I will make a special effort to share it with those less fortunate (via Kiva).
When I see my sisters I will ask whether they want to add a comment with their own special memories. I enjoying reading about other people's Christmas traditions (especially those in other parts of the world), so I hope you will write your own story and put a link to it here and on Family History Across the Seas.

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas!
~ ~ ~

17 September 2012


Early Spring is a beautiful time of year at 'Taminga' (our late father's home on 32 acres an hour's drive west of Brisbane). We are having glorious sunny days with temperatures in the mid-20s (Celsius) and nights that are 5-10 degrees C. (cool enough to enjoy snuggling under a doona). On a more worrying note, we have not had a drop of rain here for two months and a bushfire came a bit close for comfort recently.

I enjoy taking photographs that capture the beauty of Nature, and I will share some of them with you. Today's photo shows an orchid (attached to a tree) that was almost invisible until it burst into bloom yesterday.


Stay tuned for more glimpses of the Australian countryside!

03 June 2012

To Citizens of the USA (Humour for the Queen's Jubilee)

This was originally posted some time ago by Diana Christova. I couldn't resist sharing it during the Jubilee celebrations. (No offence to my American friends or President Obama...)
To the citizens of the United States of America from Her Sovereign Majesty Queen Elizabeth II:

In light of your immediate failure to financially manage yourselves and also in recent years your tendency to elect incompetent Presidents of the USA and therefore not able to govern yourselves, we hereby give notice of the revocation of your independence, effective immediately. (You should look up 'revocation' in the Oxford English Dictionary.)

Her Sovereign Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will resume monarchical duties over all states, commonwealths, and territories (except Kansas, which she does not fancy).

Your new Prime Minister, David Cameron, will appoint a Governor for America without the need for further elections.

Congress and the Senate will be disbanded. A questionnaire may be circulated sometime next year to determine whether any of you noticed.

To aid in the transition to a British Crown dependency, the following rules are introduced with immediate effect:

1. The letter 'U' will be reinstated in words such as 'colour,' 'favour,' 'labour' and 'neighbour.' Likewise, you will learn to spell 'doughnut' without skipping half the letters, and the suffix '-ize' will be replaced by the suffix '-ise.'Generally, you will be expected to raise your vocabulary to acceptable levels. (Look up 'vocabulary').

2. Using the same twenty-seven words interspersed with filler noises such as ''like' and 'you know' is an unacceptable and inefficient form of communication. There is no such thing as U.S. English. We will let Microsoft know on your behalf. The Microsoft spell-checker will be adjusted to take into account the reinstated letter 'u' and the elimination of '-ize.'

3. July 4th will no longer be celebrated as a holiday.

4. You will learn to resolve personal issues without using guns, lawyers, or therapists. The fact that you need so many lawyers and therapists shows that you're not quite ready to be independent. Guns should only be used for shooting grouse. If you can't sort things out without suing someone or speaking to a therapist, then you're not ready to shoot grouse.

5. Therefore, you will no longer be allowed to own or carry anything more dangerous than a vegetable peeler. Although a permit will be required if you wish to carry a vegetable peeler in public.

6. All intersections will be replaced with roundabouts, and you will start driving on the left side with immediate effect. At the same time, you will go metric with immediate effect and without the benefit of conversion tables. Both roundabouts and metrication will help you understand the British sense of humour.

7. The former USA will adopt UK prices on petrol (which you have been calling gasoline) of roughly $10/US gallon. Get used to it.

8. You will learn to make real chips. Those things you call French fries are not real chips, and those things you insist on calling potato chips are properly called crisps. Real chips are thick cut, fried in animal fat, and dressed not with catsup but with vinegar.

9. The cold, tasteless stuff you insist on calling beer is not actually beer at all. Henceforth, only proper British Bitter will be referred to as beer, and European brews of known and accepted provenance will be referred to as Lager. New Zealand beer is also acceptable, as New Zealand is pound for pound the greatest sporting nation on earth and it can only be due to the beer. They are also part of the British Commonwealth - see what it did for them.

10. Hollywood will be required occasionally to cast English actors as good guys. Hollywood will also be required to cast English actors to play English characters. Watching Andie Macdowell attempt English dialogue in Four Weddings and a Funeral was an experience akin to having one's ears removed with a cheese grater.

11. You will cease playing American football. There are only two kinds of proper football; one you call soccer, and rugby (dominated by the New Zealanders). Those of you brave enough will, in time, be allowed to play rugby (which has some similarities to American football, but does not involve stopping for a rest every twenty seconds or wearing full kevlar body armour like a bunch of nancies).

12. Further, you will stop playing baseball. It is not reasonable to host an event called the World Series for a game which is not played outside of America. Since only 2.1% of you are aware there is a world beyond your borders, your error is understandable. You will learn cricket, and we will let you face the Australians (World dominators) first to take the sting out of their deliveries.

13. An internal revenue agent (i.e. tax collector) from Her Majesty's Government will be with you shortly to ensure the acquisition of all monies due (backdated to 1776).

14. Daily Tea Time begins promptly at 4 p.m. with proper cups, with saucers, and never mugs, with high quality biscuits (cookies) and cakes; plus strawberries (with cream) when in season.

15. You must tell us who killed JFK. It's been driving us mad.

God Save the Queen!

26 May 2012

How My Cousin Helped

Many of you will have heard the story of my father's 'Do Good Money'. This was money he set aside and periodically loaned to a hard-working person in need of help. When Dad passed away, my sisters and I decided to continue his tradition.

On the user-friendly Web site of Kiva, a non-profit organisation working with microfinance institutions around the world, we choose a borrower to support with a loan of just $25. Similar loans by other lenders are combined until the required total is reached. In this way we enable people without access to traditional banks to expand their businesses, support and educate their children, save for the future and raise themselves out of poverty. My sisters and I have now made over 40 loans. As the money is repaid (often in monthly instalments) we could withdraw it, but we always lend it to someone else. A small sum that is loaned over and over again helps more people than a one-time donation.

Some of my family and friends do not like transferring money via the Internet. To avoid that problem, one of my cousins posted me a cheque for $100 and asked me to make loans on her behalf. I chose these four borrowers:

1.  Gulchehra (Tajikistan)

Gulchehra has four children, and her husband is a taxi driver in the Russian Federation. Since 2004 Gulchehra has been making gold embroidered capes for brides. She does this at home and sells the capes at a market. She asked for a loan to repair her house, specifically to buy plastic windows, doors and fibreboard. (This made me realise how lucky I am to have a house with windows!)

2.  Bordados Mazahuas group (Mexico)

The group consists of three women and one man who business is agriculture. They needed a loan to buy chickens and sheep. One of the women, Doña Soledad, is a 59-year-old widow whose profits are used to buy food, shoes and clothing for herself and her daughter. The other members of the group are Olivia and Juliana who raise chickens and Don Mario who has sheep.

3.  Mujeres Emprendedoras group (Paraguay)

This group has 22 members, all women. One member of the group, Alana, applied for a loan to invest in her tailoring business. She wanted to buy more fabric, buttons, glue, zippers and other materials so she could fill her current orders.

4.  Mirador De Yahuarcocha group (Ecuador)

This group consists of five entrepreneurial women with the same goal, which is to move forward with their business and improve their quality of life. The group's president, Paola, lives with her parents. She and her co-workers make shirts of Indian fabric. Her loan was used to buy an industrial sewing machine to increase productivity. Paola dreams of having a large workshop and employing people who need a job.

You can help!

At any given time there are thousands of individuals and groups listed on Kiva. Please join me in making a difference through small loans (not handouts). You can choose a borrower from Kiva's Web site - or if you don't want to make payments via the Internet, follow my cousin's example and send me a cheque for any amount you chose (it can be less than $25) and ask me to put it towards a loan on your behalf. When I do so, I will send you a link to the borrower's profile so you can follow their progress.
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