My Life Abroad: The Adventures of Two Birds
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Sun
31
May '20

My Last Blog Post

Dear Raegan,

This is my last blog post before I shut it down, further posts can be found on Facebook from 2010 onward.

You, Rae, are the most important thing in my life and although I feel like I have lived many different lives before you came – this is the one I needed and wanted to be living. One with you.  I’m not sure how long we will be together but you should always know that YOU are the most important thing to me, and I hope you enjoy all these great books I made of my thoughts and memories from before you were born through the end of my existence.   You are my best friend, or as you say BFFFF, and I will always be with you, watching over you and protecting you throughout your life. Make good choices and always be your best, be kind, and be conscious and loving.

From this book you will find 8+ 400 page bound books from Facebook to follow this one.  This blog I wrote from the time I moved to Australia through to your birth and a beyond was an important chronicle in my life.

I love you with all my heart.

My little Chicken, Raegan.

I love you,

Mummy

Rae and Mum – Feb 2020

Sat
30
May '20

The Story of Two Birds

How Lainey & Birdie met

My husband (Birdie) and I met about 25 years ago – 1987. At my high school, we sponsored an Australian Basketball team as they were traveling on a playing tour. I was lucky enough to spot Birdie in our first game against the Australians and after the game I went up to speak to him. We were joined at the hip for the entire time he was in town, and then for several years following this chance meeting we wrote long love letters back and forth. It seemed like I had known him my whole life and I always wondered for years  what “could have been” if we just didn’t live on other sides of the world? Through the years, in 92, 94, 96, and 2000 we found each other online, and ended up emailing quite a bit – chatted online and never really found the right time to connect and give things a shot. Both of us being married at one time or another also made meeting impossible. In 2005 Birdie saved up his money to come to the US on an NBA Basketball tour that was going to hit New York, Vegas, LA and San Francisco. He called me up and said “I’m coming to California and I want to see you”. I was flattered, I really felt our time had passed – but I was very interested to connect with him again. We spoke about possibly setting myself up to take a trip to Australia to check it out. On that first trip he asked me to stay, move out with him and get married. Both divorced and neither of us with children, I moved out to Melbourne in 2005 and we started planning our life together. Birdie and I were married on 29 April 2006. I am a dual citizen of America and Australia.

Us Two Birds are happy as clams – it seems like we’ve loved each other our whole lives – what could be better?

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I’ve been blogging since 2005, and since I moved to Melbourne I wanted to continue blogging to have the opportunity to keep in touch with all my friends at home (NorCal), the family, and my new family here in Australia.

Hope you enjoy our Blog, your comments and interaction is welcome.

Thu
4
Sep '14

Raegan’s Medical Update

It’s been a whole year, well more than a year now – Raegan just turned 16 months old. I can’t believe it has gone by so fast! Her first words are forming and she is so close to walking now.  A little over a year ago we were in a bit of strife.  Raegan was diagnosed with left atrial isomerism which is a condition where the organs are not in their correct positions and the heart has some deformities, her heart was looked at from before birth by a Paediatric Cardiologist and we were told that her heart is mid-lined in the body, and that there was issues with IVC, the vein from the heart that drains to the lower half of the body, being blocked.

Long before she was born, at my 20-week scan our doctor used the ultrasound along with an amnio to determine what issues that Raegan may be facing.  We were lucky that things weren’t as bad as initially – we did have a bit of worry in the beginning.

Today we had our one year check up with the Paediatric Cardiologist, he gave us the green light and said he’d follow up again in 1-year.

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Her IVC, which brings blood from your lower extremities and should connect to the right atrium of the heart. In this case, instead of continuing to the heart, this vein joins another vein (hemiazygos) and continues to the superior vena cava which then connects to her heart.

Somehow in utero when the IVC got blocked, her body made up this new way to connect. Apparently it is still working with  no problems.

Left isomerism, is something I’ve been trying to explain here on the blog since before Raegan’s birth.  It is the mirror image of the structures on the left side of the chest along the left-right axis of the body, i.e. patients with isomeric left atrial appendages frequently have bilobed lungs bilaterally and each with a long bronchus. Additionally, they commonly have polysplenia and  pulmonary veins connecting to both atrial chambers.

Left isomerism, also called polysplenia, is a laterality disturbance associated with with paired leftsidedness viscera and multiple small spleens. Left isomerism, heart congenital abnormalities and gastrointestinal malformation are strongly associated. Raegan has 3 spleens.  Many times with polysplenia the multiple spleens do not work properly and it causes a case of immunity to bacterial infections.  It can be a very serious condition, but after  year of testing we have found that the spleen that is broken into three is still working for Raegan.  I couldn’t be more pleased.

In the below diagram, (A) a regular set up for the organs, (B) Raegan’s set up which is a mirror image of the norm.

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And in this diagram it shows how the IVC is interrupted or cut off and the new azygos and hypoplasia that the body created to circumvent the problem.

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Thanks for checking in on my little blog.  I hope that now things have settled, we can concentrate on raising our beautiful daughter and worry less about these issues.  Rae is a wonderful, happy, and loving little girl, and the love of my life.

Fri
20
Jun '14

Recipe’s: Lainey’s New York Cheesecake

I’m not kidding, this is the best Cheesecake recipe I’ve made, and I’ve made a few.  I absolutely recommend you give it a try.  We took it to my inlaws to have them help us finish it off and it was soooo good.  I don’t think I’ll be doing another until a special occasion arises, for fear of attempting to eat it all.

Lainey’s New York Cheesecake

Ingredients

2 cups of Graham Cracker Crumbs (Aussies: use food processor to make 2 cups of “Digestive” biscuits into crumbs)
1/2 cup margarine or butter, melted
2 tablespoons Sugar
4 packages of (8oz) blocks cream cheese, softened
1-1/3 cups sugar
2 tablespoons of corn starch
1 tablespoon of vanilla (or for more vanilla flavour, use one vanilla pod)
3 eggs
1 cup sour cream

Directions

1. In small bowl toss together graham/digestive crumbs, margarine or butter and 2 tablespoons sugar.  Press all crumb mixture onto the bottom of a well greased or baking paper lined 9-inch spring form pan.  Chill in freezer while preparing filling.

2. In large mixing bowl beat cream cheese on  medium speed of electric mixer until fluffy. Do not go faster than medium speed as too much air in the cream cheese will make your cake drop.  Add 1-1/3 cups sugar, cornstarch and vanilla. Beat until combined. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until just combined after each addition. Stir in sour cream.

3. Pour onto crust. Bake at 325F or 180C fan forced for 1-1/4 hours or until center is almost set.  Cool on wire rack for 15 minutes. Loosen of pan. Continue cooling on a wire rack for 45 minutes more.

4. Refrigerate at least 3 hours. Garnish as desired.  Store in refrigerator.

Yield: Serves 16

Sun
5
May '13

Introducing: Raegan Christina Bird

Saturday 4 May 2013 @ 8:30pm

Well, the time has come.  Our wonderful baby girl has been born and her name is Raegan Christina Bird. 8-weeks early, a whopping 4 lbs (1.85 kilos) and 17 inches long.  She is a cute little thing with some fuzzy brown hair and a lot of movement.

just born

She was breathing on her own right from delivery and she let out a nice good cry.  Raegan is already a cute and calm little bub born at 32 weeks – now 1 week out of the womb she has really thrived and although she is a premie she really is progressing quite well.

Initially at our 20-week scan were told many things about Raegan’s condition – which of course made us very weary.  After meeting with the Paediatric Cardiology Specialist and having him perform a scan on Raegan’s heart and chest what we know is this:  Her stomach and liver had swapped places, and her heart is midlined, the heart is in good shape structurally, currently the flaps between the two mixing chambers of the heart are supposed to close up after birth but they look like they are not long enough to meet up and close on their own. This will leave a hole in the heart and cause an atrial septal defect.  It the hole is very small it may not need to be repaired, but repair including surgery is available if need be.

diaper changr4One of the things we do know is that she has an Intestional Malrotation of her lower GI tract.  When the stomach and liver develop in the wrong place, it sometimes causes volvulus – when the intestine twists in on itself, potentially cutting off the blood supply, or can also cause an intestinal obstruction.  The surgery, laproscopic surgery, can be performed to pin the intestine into the correct place. We’re hoping to know the results of this test soon, and if it is malrotation, when we might be in need of surgery. We go in for a final analysis in July with the surgeons to make a decision to go ahead or

5 days old_dummy

possibly wait until she is older.  They can do this surgery up to the age of 3 years depending on the severity.  Recovery is just a couple days.

Lastly it seems that Raegan has a missing Spleen called Asplenia. Again with the mixed up organ placement they are unable to locate the spleen.  Tests have been run to detect the spleen function but because she is already on antibiotics and her spleen is not actively fighting infection, it does not give off any secretions.  The Spleen is responsible for protecting the body against bacterial infections.  There is a large regimen of vaccination/immunizations that needs to happen to make sure that she will be protected against infection. The doctor says that many people are born without a Spleen or lose their Spleen in an accident still live full long lives.  From birth to age 5 we must be very careful to not expose her to anything that could cause infection such as whooping cough, influenza, meningitis, etc.

The diagnosis (to date) seems to be Left Isomerism, also called polysplenia, is a laterality disturbance associated with with paired leftsidedness viscera and multiple small spleens. Left isomerism, heart congenital abnormalities and gastrointestinal malformation are strongly associated.  Generally with left isomerism there is a spleen or multiple spleens, so the doctor still won’t confirm that there is no spleen until they can do further tests and possibly look for the spleen during the laproscopic intestinal surgery.  Until then we proceed as if she has no spleen.

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3-weeks old (gassy smile)

Wednesday, 22 June 2013

Today we are 7-weeks old, Raegan has been home from the hospital for about 2-weeks now and she is thriving, gaining lots of weight, eating and sleeping well.  We are all getting used to each other and are enjoying the experience.

In Australia there is great home medical network for babies.  We have a Maternal Health Child Nurse that comes to the house to visit weekly through the first 10-weeks after she is home.  She is weighed and because she need special immunizations they come to the house to administer these for her.  It is risky for me to take her to the doctors office and sit in the waiting room with sick people – so all in all it is best for her health. She really is a blessing and we are so happy that she is doing well.   At least… so far so good.

Our wonderful little girl is happy and content, and will be soon meeting her family in America when we take a trip for a family wedding and visit later this year.

baby

By far, this is the best thing I’ve ever done in my life.  I’m so happy to share this with so many wonderful people who care about and love Raegan and will be there throughout her life.  XOXO

Sat
4
May '13

My Pre-eclampsia, treatment, and our early “Bird”

Certainly after all of the struggles we’ve had in this baby making process, my sickness and chemotherapy resulting in no eggs, finding a suitable donor, doing IVF for 3-years and then with my diabetes and auto-immune disorder it has caused problems for our little bub as well.

So here I sit on the maternity ward, 8-weeks early, waiting for our C-Section surgery.

I know that many have had pre-eclampsia, or maybe of you have no idea what it is exactaly. Before I explain eclampsia and pre-eclampsia I thought it would be an good point to make that everybody is different and every situation is different and as much as I would love to go to term it is not possible for me. I don’t know what this means at this exact moment for our baby bird, we can only intrust in the doctors and specialists that haven been working on our case to make that decision.

Eclampsia is an acute and life-threatening complication of pregnancy, characterized by the appearance of tonic-clonic seizures, usually in a patient who has developed pre-eclampsia. (Pre-eclampsia and eclampsia are collectively called Hypertensive disorder of pregnancy and toxemia of pregnancy.)

Eclampia includes seizures and coma that happen during pregnancy but are not due to preexisting or organic brain disorders.e

**Pre-eclampsia a medical condition characterized by high blood pressure and significant amounts of protein in the urine of a pregnant woman. If left untreated, it can develop into eclampsia, the life-threatening occurrence of seizures during pregnancy.

There are many different causes for the condition. It appears likely that there are substances from the placenta that can cause endothelial dysfunction in the maternal blood vessels of susceptible women. While blood pressure elevation is the most visible sign of the disease, it involves generalised damage to the maternal endothelium, kidneys, and liver, with the release of vasoconstrictive factors being a consequence of the original damage.

Pre-eclampsia may develop from 20 weeks’ gestation (it is considered early onset before 32 weeks, which is associated with an increased morbidity). Its progress differs among patients; most cases are diagnosed before labor typically would begin. Pre-eclampsia may also occur up to six weeks after delivery. Apart from Caesarean section and induction of labor (and therefore delivery of the placenta), there is no known cure. It is the most common of the dangerous pregnancy complications; it may affect both the mother and fetus.

So what’s happening to me, as we speak, I’m waiting to be taken off to surgery, I’m in te birthing suite now, and my Kidney function is very very bad, almost non-existent.  My blood pressure is fully under control at this point but if my Kidneys fail, it is likely that I will not make it through this process.  So unfortunately there is no option to send me home on bed rest with the current scenario.

Looks like bub is coming tonight.  We’ve prepped for surgery and now we wait for the green light.

Fingers crossed everyone!

Fri
5
Apr '13

Selling our first home

After all of our renovations to our first home, we’ve decided to put it on the market, and downsize for a while so that I can stay home with Baby Bird.  We’ve had a lot of fun renovating – moving the kitchen (which was very small) to a different room and making the house “open plan” was a great achievement.  I learned how to tile and plaster, I did a lot of painting and a lot of shopping for new appliances 😉

Our realestate.com.au ad comes out on Monday but I thought I’d post all of our pictures here for everyone to see our end result.  The home is a 4 bedroom, 4 bath, carport on 1/2 acre plus office, laundry, butler pantry, spa bath, and 4th bedroom also serves as a self-contained unit with kitchenette and bathroom, double shower, and private outside entry.

Enjoy the pics.  If you want to see pictures from our renovations, you can use the search function on the blog above and search on the category: Renovations, and New House.

Click on each picture to enlarge.

Outside1 outside2

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Master Bath/Ensuite – double vanity              TOM_8827 TOM_8828_2TOM_8833

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Just a background on when we bought the house.  There were 2 bathrooms complete, and 2 bathrooms with only a toilet and a small sink, the kitchen was a galley kitchen very small against the back wall of the now living room.  Our now kitchen was an enclosed room that we used as a dining room but could have been used as another bedroom.  Making the house open plan was our primary goal and making a kitchen that would sell the house was a priority.  Creating the master bathroom was fun, we did most of the work ourselves with the help of a great plumber – picking out the kitchen appliances and each piece of the kitchen including colours and textures was really fun.

Looking forward to our next adventure, and maybe someday to build our own house from scratch!

Thu
14
Mar '13

Baby Bird’s Update

Our 20 week ultrasound was supposed to be an exciting day, we had looked forward to it for weeks.  It was scheduled for valentines day and we had very high hopes for a positive outcome.  Our 12-week risk factor test for genetic problems had come back really good so we were anticipating flying through the 20 week scan  without a hitch.   We showed up in the morning for our scan and went through the process of the ultrasound with the technician – the baby seemed to be breach and turned over on it’s stomach so  they couldn’t get a good view of all the organs.  The 20-week scan is also called the anatomy scan, it is the time when the doctors look at the inner workings of the baby’s anatomy, are all the organs present, are they in the right place, hooked up correctly, etc. etc.

Things seemed to be going well, we were asked if we wanted to know the sex and we said we did.  “It’s a girl”, she said, “congratulations”.  They started identifying the organs and we have a, quite long, DVD of our scan – but they were unable to get a good look at the heart and asked us to go walking the hallways to get the baby to turn so they could get a better view. When we came back there was a new doctor in the room with the technician, the scan continued.  It was at this time that we realised that there was something wrong…

Following the scan we sat down with the doctor to discuss the situation and the implications therein.  It seems that what they could see was that there is one vertebrate that is malformed, more in the shape of a wedge than a block.  The doctor seems to think it is a very slight curve and that it could even be so slight that it may not be noticeable – this is one thing that we may not know the full extent of until after the birth.  It is difficult to see the extent during an ultrasound.  In addition the stomach had developed on the right side of the body (the wrong side), this in itself isn’t necessarily uncommon.  There are and have been many people that are born with organs that have developed on the wrong side of the body.  In fact, in the years before ultrasounds, something like this may not be known until someone has surgery or they may never know.  The stomach seems to be hooked up and working correctly even though it is on the wrong side.  Unfortunately, it is not as simple as “it’s on the wrong side but it’s okay” – in many cases when the stomach is on the wrong side, it can mean that there are other things wrong.  It can mean that there is also some heart problems or heart involvement that goes along with it – so because of this the doctor suggested that we try to do an amniocentesis to insure that there is not something that is causing these problems, something genetic, something bigger.  We agreed and proceeded with the amnio.

An amnio is something I never wanted to do.  It’s risky and after all our efforts in achieving an successful pregnancy I was so afraid that we could lose the baby just doing the amnio.  An amniocentesis is a procedure involving a long thin needle, that is inserted through the belly into the amnioiatic sac to withdrawl amnio procedure
the genetic material that surrounds the baby.  There is no anesthesia for this procedure because the size of the needle for the anesthetic is the same as for the procedure itself – so you just go without.  It didn’t really hurt and it was over quickly.  They keep the ultrasound on your belly so they can see where the baby is and they don’t get near it.  The risk is that the sac will burst and the baby will not be able to survive, there is a risk of miscarriage.  The results of the amnio comes in two stages:

1) FISH (Fluorescent In Situ Hybridisation) – FISH is a rapid method for counting the number of certain chromosomes within cells. It can be used on an amniocentesis sample to get a faster result. It is always followed by the usual chromosome test. A normal FISH test is about 98% accurate in predicting that a baby will have a normal chromosome result. The results from the FISH come back in 24-hours it checks for major genetic diseases such as down’s syndrome.

2) An amniocentesis is a procedure that allows a small amount of the fluid around the developing baby (amniotic fluid) to be collected. This fluid contains cells from the baby that can be tested for some types of birth defects.  The most common type of test done on an amniocentesis sample is a chromosome test. In some cases, tests for infections, spina bifida or other genetic conditions may be done.  All of the chromosomes are looked at individually and evaluated.

Our Amnio came back negative for any genetic problems.

On one hand this is a good thing, but I have to ask myself “then how do these things happen?” and that lead’s to the next stages of evaluation and doctors.

Due to the stomach condition possibly being related to the heart, we wanted to rule out any heart problems and we called in a specialist, a paediatric cardiologist that specialises in reviewing baby’s heart via ultrasound to look for abnormalities.  We had this appointment at about 23-weeks.  It was a long 2-weeks waiting for this appointment, but we wanted this certain doctor and we just had to wait it out for an appointment. It was a long ultrasound appointment and in the end the doctor met with us to discuss the results.

The diagnosis at this point is an anomalous drainage of the Inferior Vena Cava (IVC) into the Left Atrium.  To explain, the heart has a Single Ventricle Defect –  (IVC) inferior vena cava is a major vein that carries blood from the legs and abdomen to the heart. The inferior vena cava usually connects to the heart’s right atrium, but in Baby Bird’s case it is connecting to the left atrium of the heart.

All blood enters the right side of the heart through two veins: The superior vena cava (SVC) and the inferior vena cava (IVC), the SVC collects blood from the upper half of the body. The IVC collects blood from the lower half of the body. Blood leaves the SVC and the IVC and enters the right atrium (RA). In the first instance this is not detrimental to the baby at birth, but if not surgically corrected there are many complications to follow with blood circulation in the body through life.

heart

We don’t have our next appointment with the paediatric cardiologist until 32 weeks (7-8 weeks from now), at that point we will take another look at the heart and the IVC to see if anything else can be detected. We hope that the doctor will be able to see the IVC more closely and we will discuss our options after birth including surgical options.

For more information, I have attached a couple of journal articles regarding this specific abnormality.

https://www.dropbox.com/s/i8v5geic95xsfer/ICV%20diagnosis.pdf

https://www.dropbox.com/s/bqvcyfd0cv3rexn/IVC%20Article.pdf

I know that the post this time sounds a bit ominous but we have been given a positive outlook on the birth, that we will be able to make it through the birth and then the baby may be in hospital for monitoring while they assess the severity of the situation.  Ultimately if the above proves true it would be likely that we would proceed with some type of corrective surgery.  Our hopes are up and we are staying positive and although everything is not “okay” per se – we are focusing on being calm and waiting for the birth to see what our next steps are.  Your prayers and thoughts are welcome and appreciated, and we will keep you informed of our progress.

Tue
8
Jan '13

The Blessing of a Baby Bird

After 7 years of trying, and 3 years of hard core IVF, a couple miscarriages, and a few embryos failing to meet their potential… we’re finally PREGNANT! Embryo #5 is a success.

Having a child in my 40’s certainly wasn’t plan from the beginning and I still think that it’s going to be a scary road… but, sometimes things work out in different ways for a reason. My husband and I have been trying from the beginning but following my diagnosis of Wegener’s Granulomatosis in 2009 we’ve found that even the prospects of having a baby were going to be challenge, a risk, and may just never come true. My doctor actually discouraged us but we marched in protest – assured that we could find a way.

For those of you that know me, I’ve always been “motherly” – I love to take care of my friends in need. But myself, I’ve never really focused on creating a family – instead only thought about study, study, work, career advancement, study, travelling around the world and more study. I’ve had a few fun years of partying and really feel like I’ve lived the best of my life… until now. Now, the prospect of a whole new life is on the forefront. It’s like someone that changes careers after 30 years. I only know one way… now, I’m going to have the opportunity to learn a new way to live life and I am so looking forward to the challenge.

Wegener’s has been one of the biggest struggles in my life, and I know so many friends with challenging autoimmune disorders that have had very similar struggles to me. Part of my treatment involved a full year of chemo with a very potent drug that threw me into menopause and wiped out my egg supply in a quick 10-months. From that point on we were doomed to think that we had no chance to have children, and in our late 30’s we started looking at other viable options.

Adoption was a no go. Although we would have been more than happy to adopt, in Australia, adoption can take anywhere from 5-7 years – I don’t have that kind of time to wait. And not only that, my medical condition, or in fact – any medical condition – knock’s you off the Adoption list immediately. Goodonya Australia! As citizens of Australia we are not allowed to come back to the US for the sole purpose of adopting – it’s a slippery slope and so we chucked the idea pretty early on.

IVF was a good option for us and first we tried to find out if there were any eggs salvageable to use. Knowing that there are no eggs really throws you for a loop. I started seeking out more alternative forms of IVF, including an egg donor. I must say that it was a tough road ‘asking’ for someone’s eggs but in the process of seeking out that right person – SHE was seeking ME out. The most selfless act anyone could give is part of themselves. I am blessed to know someone like that, who has given us a chance at having a family and has been supportive and involved in our family process.

To my egg donor (you know who you are):

You are the most special person I have ever met and I don’t know how I will ever repay you for your loving me so much, that you could ‘offer’ me the chance to be a Mother. Although I live in a land far, far away, I know that you will always be a part of my life and my child’s life. I love you so much. Thank you for the gift that you have given us. I love you more than words can ever say.

We still have a long road and 6-months of struggle ahead of us to get to our goal. Medical problems can be the root of all evil when it comes to having a baby so from this point forward we work at staying healthy, in remission, sleeping A LOT, and controlling my blood sugars to give #5 the best chance at a healthy life.

I pray for all my friends out there still struggling with getting pregnant or trying to adopt, the pain in waiting can sometimes break your will, but be strong and continue on your path. From experience I can tell you… “it’s never too late”.

Lainey & Birdie

Sat
3
Nov '12

Recipe: Baked Pumpkin Cheesecake

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Prep time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 60 minutes
Chilling time: 3-4 hours

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Ingredients – BASE
3/4 cup Digestive biscuit crumbs (or Graham Cracker crumbs)
1/2 cups brown sugar
60g butter

Ingredients – CAKE
3 x 250g blocks Philadelphia Cream Cheese, softened
1-1/2 cups mashed cooked pumpkin (or Libby’s canned pumpkin – unspiced)
1/4 cup caster sugar
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 tbsp thickened cream
1 tbsp corn flour
1/4 tsp salt
3 eggs (size 60, or medium)

Ingredients -TOPPING
2 cups Sour Cream
2 tbsp caster sugar
1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
Maple syrup to drizzle

Directions
1. Combine biscuit crumbs, brown sugar and butter. Press into a greased 24cm (9″) springform pan. (Any variety of biscuit/cookie crumbs can be used – plain sweet, coconut, chocolate.)
2. To soften Philly, allow to stand for 1 hour at room temperature or remove foil from Philly, place in a microwave safe bowl and microwave on high for 30 seconds.
3. Beat the Philly, sugars and vanilla using an electric mixer, until smooth. Beat in the eggs and cream until well combined. Add the pumpkin, sifted corn flour, spices and salt and mix on a low speed until well mixed (do not over beat). Pour filling into crust and bake at 160 C (do not use fan-forced setting) in the lower rack of the oven; for 50 minutes until just set. Allow to cool 5 minutes.
4. Whisk together the sour cream and sugar then pour over the top. Bake for a further 10 minutes then allow to cool completely in the oven with the door ajar.
5. Refrigerate for 3-4 hours before serving.
6. Garnish with maple syrup drizzle over the top, and of course whipped cream.

Tue
4
Sep '12

Tall Poppy Syndrome

Albeit an unknown saying in America, ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’ really does exist in Australia.  It is a common occurrence in Australia and for some reason it is justified here as a way to put someone back ‘in their place’.  As an American, I had never heard of this phenomenon until I moved to Australia and I can confidently say that it is non-existent in the U.S., sure there is a one-off occurrence of cutting someone down but not so much that there is a “term” for it.  I find that in American we tend to build people up and pride is something that we are known for.  This is a story of the opposite.

“Tall Poppy Syndrome” is Australian slang for the tendency to criticise highly successful people (i.e., tall poppies), and ‘cut them down’.  I almost can’t believe that something like this exists.  I find many think of this as an acceptable way to bring someone with a high ego back down to earth, via put downs, by their peers.

Australians (New Zealanders, English, and the like) do have a tendency to criticize their own – that those that have become successful somehow need to be criticized by those that have not. You’re head too big because you’ve made millions or have had great success in business? Really?! Let’s cut you down to size.  Great idea!

Just a couple of examples:

1)  This year, on ‘Australia Day’ – January 26th – the national day of Australia, it was announced on in News that flying the Australian flag on your car was considered ‘un-Australian” and of all things “racist”. The Western Australia News (Perth, WA) made sweeping generalisations as to the meaning behind the flying of the Aussie flag in their article Australia Day Car Flag Flyers Racist. Flying of the flag to mean not pride, but in making a point that the white Australian culture, and more importantly its values, are in danger from immigrants to Australia.  I’ll tell you what, I really think that words like “racist” and “racism” delivered by our own country’s news source forces the issues and really brings the country down to the bottom rung – sometimes I feel like the media here really pounds home the sore spots in an effort to make them worse, to spread the downward spiral. Negagive news brings negative feelings throughout the country.

Is there something I am missing here?  I’m from America, a country made of immigrants – my family came from Italy, and Scotland, and it is likely that your family whether you be an American or Australian came from another country as well. Even I find it hard at times to accept all Australian ways and culture as an immigrant to this country, I can’t imagine in coming from a completely different kind of culture, religious background, or completely different country where people are looked at and treated completely differently, then fully taking on Australian culture and values.  Still, becoming an Australian citizen hold a great amount of pride for me personally, it is not going to make me change my religion, change how my values were formed, and make me a different person – so why should it do that to anyone else?  Becoming an Australian shouldn’t mean that you cant wear your head scarf to school, that you have to stop speaking your first language, or that you have to change your religion, it’s suppose to mean that you are willing to accept some new values in your life. Somehow I don’t always feel like the Australian Values are all that Australians expect from their new citizens.

Australian Values: Australians respect women, other people’s beliefs, democracy, and our mates and we always give each other a fair go.

America has about 100 years on Australia as far as ‘creating a new country’ goes – from personal experience I can say that Australia is far from accepting of other cultures.  Personally, being white and speaking English has made it easy for me but for those that come from foreign lands, from oppression, and across oceans – wanting to make a better life for themselves and their families, it’s a very difficult process.  To me this is what America is all about.  Why is Australia different?  Because they never became independent of England? and never had the opportunity to create something for themselves?  Maybe I’m far reaching but from what I can see, the fear of the threat of immigrants in this country is sad.  I would never be here if it weren’t for the ability to become an immigrant.  And just to be clear… I’m not speaking of illegal immigrants.  For those that immigrate to this country as I have, I hope that you are greeted with open arms and acceptance, and I hope you are able to take on Australian values and make a go of it here.

Lady Liberty says “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” 

The feeling is… you’d better knock twice, and then piss off if you don’t like it here – because this ain’t America, mate.

I absolutely don’t like being referred to as a racist for having pride in a country that I live, love, and am a citizen of. With an American background it’s hard to understand how flying a flag could mean anything other than pride… unfortunately racism still runs rampant here. Australiais a country of immigrants too, and I find that is what makes this such a wonderful place to live.  I work with people from all over the world, I have an English neighbour, people from other countries bring their cultures in the form of entertainment, food, cultural diversity that is different than anywhere I have ever lived before. It is one of the reasons that I never want to leave here – for me it has been a wonderful, exciting, and life-changing experience.  I sure hope it won’t take 100 years for Australia to catch up.

2) Yesterday I heard that a public figure here, Charlotte Dawson, a Model and Television Personality, has been bullied on Twitter to the extent that she tried to take her own life.  I can’t tell if this is a “Gen-Y manners thing” or if it is a matter of this Tall Poppy Syndrome.  I can save me Gen-Y/Z rant for another blog but just to touch on the ideals of our young people today makes me want to vomit.  How can people be so insensitive – has the Internet really come down to tossing all your common sense and humanity out the door?  Just because you can’t “see” the person you’re talking to – doesn’t mean that there isn’t a real human being on the other side of your computer.  Cutting down a person that has built up a successful career – Charlotte Dawson – is suffering the wrath of Tall Poppy Syndrome in the worst way. I hope that she can be strong and I also hope that she cancels her Twitter account.

For all of the cultural diversity that Australia holds I find that people become citizens here because they enjoy the life here and want to offer their children opportunity that they could never find in their home country.  I also find this the same for myself – granted we have no children – but the lifestyle here is different, relaxed, less violence, no guns, they have things like “work / life balance” and Christmas in July, we get a public holiday for the Melbourne Cup (horse race), a 12-month maternity leave, and we have a booming society and the ability to be highly successful.

I can only hope that Tall Poppy thinking finds it’s place in the rubbish bin (that’s the trash) – where it belongs.  Be happy, be proud of your country, be happy for people that succeed, they are your people and just like everyone else, they need your support in order to succeed.  Success is nothing to be afraid of and is no reason to bang on in this disgraceful manner.  Get over it Australia, if someone is successful and you are not, don’t be a poor sport, pick yourself up and try and do something meaningful with your life.

Sun
26
Aug '12

Laura Swanson

LAURA SWANSON

I must take the time to say goodbye to one of my long-time friends, unfortunately she passed away earlier this year and I was very saddened to hear this.  I met Laura when I worked at Feather River Hospital back in 2000, we worked together for about 4 years and we became fast friends.  She was so funny, I can remember so many things about her and her vivacious personality.

We spent a lot of time together back then and even after I moved to Australia in 2005, she and I kept in contact. We chatted online a lot, and I helped her out with her dog breeding website here and there.  I visited with her on every trip home and she always made an effort to come out and see me – even if she didn’t really like leaving the haven of her home.  What I know about Laura was that she was a kind and loving friend, mother, and grandmother.  She loved the ocean, her dogs, and she loved her daughters like no-one I have ever known.  She was proud and stood up for what she thought was right. An injury left her in quite a bit of pain and unfortunately left her in a state that dramatically effected her life for years to come.

At a dinner in 2007, in Chico, Laura came down to spend time with me and Rod – with a group of friends – I was grateful to see her, on our 2010 visit I made it up to her place to see her and unfortunately it was the last time I would see her.  I think of Laura when I think of good rock music, tie dye, the love for animals, and loyal friendship.

I know I’ve said this a million times before, but you never know when someone is going to suddenly leave your life.  You must take advantage of the time you have with your loved ones. Losing my father has had a dramatic impact on my life and my heart is full of sorrow for Laura’s daughters, and grand-daughter, that she will not be there to share the rest of their lives with her.  I only hope that they are able to stay strong and carry her memory on with them through life.

Laura, I will miss you. Your daughters miss you so much. I’ve seen a lot of old pictures pop up on your Facebook page in the last few months – everyone is sharing their memories of you.  It makes me happy to see your face and it is a reminder to me of the friend that I cared for so much.  I hope that you are in a happy place and that someday our paths will cross again. And I hope and pray that your children will heal and only remember the best memories of you as they make their own journey through life.

I love you.  RIP.

Mon
13
Aug '12

Miscarriage

This is a private blog post for friends and family that are sharing our IVF experience. It’s sometimes difficult to talk about so it seems easier at times to write about what’s going on so that everyone can understand what we are struggling with.

This year has brought us another miscarriage while attempting our 3rd and 4th try at IVF conception. Miscarriage is a very difficult thing to deal with and many times I feel as if “what’s the use, this is never going to work”. But we do continue. Many times it feels like a roller coaster, up and down, up and down, you’re pregnant, you’re not, you’re pregnant, you’re not – mentally it is the most challenging thing I think I’ve ever done.

We are down now, to our last two embryos, these two the least viable of initial six. After the last miscarriage we decided to go in and have a look around inside the uterus – a curette to clean the inside of the uterus and make it a more welcome place for the embryo to implant. During this surgery, in July, we found that there was an obstruction in the uterus that was keeping the embryos from implanting. I don’t know that it has always been there – taking the hormone drugs that I do, can make this obstruction grow larger and larger; this could have been happening over the course of the last two years of hormones in preparation for IVF. It’s called a uterine septum.

Your uterus (womb) is a pear-shaped organ, tucked away in your pelvis. A normal uterus is about 7.5cm long, 5cm wide and 2.5cm deep. Inside, it is hollow with thick muscular walls. The lower part of the uterus dips down into the vagina and is called the cervix. The upper portion is called the fundus and this is where the fertilised egg grows into a baby.

A small number of women have a uterus (womb) that differs in shape or structure from the norm. This is called a uterine abnormality. It is a bit of a catch-all phrase, and the figures reflect this. Between one woman in 100 and one woman in 30 has a uterine abnormality (Nahra-Lynch and Toffle 1997).

It’s also difficult to know how many women have an abnormality, because it’s possible to have one without knowing it.

The wedge-like partition may involve only the superior part of the cavity resulting in an incomplete septum or a subseptate uterus, or less frequently the total length of the cavity (complete septum) and the cervix resulting in a double cervix.

The resolution for this septum dividing my uterus is to have it surgically removed, which will happen on Wednesday the 15th of August. Once I am healed from this surgery we will try another IVF cycle, around the end of October. It has been said that this surgical procedure varies but in most cases provides an increased chance of conception.

We are hopeful of course, but our IVF adventure is coming quickly to and end. With only two embryos left the chances are getting further and further away. Let’s hope that this does the trick.

Article: http://miscarriage.about.com/od/problemswiththeuterus/p/septum.htm

Sun
12
Aug '12

Expat life in Melbourne

I don’t often talk about how I came to live in Australia, but a recent email from one of my readers has prompted thoughts about how I got here and how I have gotten to where I am today in general – from a “mindset” perspective.

I suppose I easily could have stayed in beautiful Chico,California– the Sierra Nevada Mountains– and continued partying with my same old friends, playing on the pool league with my best girlfriends, singing in a band, and ultimately going no where in “life”.  Fun is one thing but I think I was definitely dying to have my own life, career, and be in love with someone that loved me back exactly the same as I loved him. All of the things I was desperately missing in California.

I’ve always loved travelling. From the time I joined the US Navy in 1988 – I knew I really wanted to get out and see a bit of the world.  I was lucky enough to have travelled quite a bit while I was in the military and I loved every minute of it. My favourite places were Italy and Bahrain.

But, when I met up with Birdie in 2004 some 18 years after we first met, I knew it was meant to be. His offer to come visit turned into what I hoped for – an engagement and invitation to come live in Melbourne permanently.  I do think that we considered living in California but with the job market, cost of living, and economy in a downturn it was the best choice to move to Melbourne.  In my mind it was never a choice.  I don’t think once that I have regretted coming here.  Certainly the support of Birdie’s family and friends made it easier for me and the support of my own family was important to me as well, they wanted me to “be happy”, and sometimes being happy means you have to go far, far away.  I think each year they are finding out that I am not so far away, we visit, and my Mother comes to Australia to visit often.  My best friend in Cali comes to visit and I keep in touch with my friends on FB and through this blog. I will have to say that this blog for me is therapeutic – it is a way for me to share my life with my family (as meager as it is). I believe some think my blog is a bit indulgent, but for me it’s a way for my family and friends to know what I’m doing and know that I am okay here.  I recommend to my expatriate friends to keep a blog and open a portal of communication with your family if you can.  It’s been one of the best things I’ve done for myself since I have come to live here.

My visit to Melbourne for the first time, a 2-week visit, was the most awesome experience I can remember.  Birdie was so good, he took me out to see every part of the city, and we did all the touristy things here and went out to eat in the city and suburbs every night.  He did however, remind me that “it’s not going to be like this if you move here” meaning getting the extra special going out every-night treatment.  But it was a great experience to see a good chunk of where I’d be living.  Melbourne is a metropolis, densely populated with immigrants from all over the world and certainly the South Pacific region. The food here is incredible, some of the best from all over the world – for sure, it’s a foodies paradise. Melbourne hasn’t let me down once, there’s so much to do here and it is by far the best destination in Australia (yes I’m bias).

When I left, I remember giving my car away, packing my things, choosing what to keep and what to get rid of, I even kept some things in storage for over a year in Californa.  Cleaning out that storage unit was a nightmare – Suggestion #1 – don’t keep things you don’t need in storage for over a year especially if your not planning on definitely coming back to live.  We lived in a very small second-rate apartment when I got here… but after I started working and Birdie got a new job we were well on our way to acquiring the things we needed to make our house a home.  It only took 5-years to collect enough shit to furnish a 4-bedroom 3-bath home, and we bought our first home after being in Australia for only 4-years.

My friends, they are still around, some are in my life more than others.  Some I wish were in my life more but ultimately people deal differently than others when “someone is leaving”.  Some didn’t want me to go, some probably couldn’t wait until I left but ultimately you find out who your real friends are when you leave.

Making friends in Australia is something I’ve talked about in detail before – it’s a hard task.  Things are just different here, attitudes are different, and it’s culturally different. – Suggestion #2 – don’t expect Australia to be just like the U.S. (so far from it), it’s a foreign country and just because they speak English (sort-of) here,  doesn’t make it anything like America.  I’m talking about making friends, but also in general – things are just plain different.  I don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t been so career focused when I got here.  I easily adopted Birdie’s friends, girlfriends, and wives – and some are still around.  But making friends for yourself is something I found hard here, and something that came very easy to me at home.  It’s taken me the entire 7 years to figure out how to make friends here.

Here’s my two cents of good wisdom for finding friends in Australia (this is what I did):

~ Don’t depend on your partner.
~ Get out of the house and find a hobby, club, or other way to meet new people.
~ Get involved in sport, either playing, or participating as a board member.
~ Work!  Even if it’s only part-time.
~ Once you find a friend, hang on to them – arrange a coffee meet up once a week/fortnight.
~ If you have a child join a local “mothers group”
~ Join an Expat group on Facebook or MeetUp, there are tons online, it enables you to make some friends or connections from your own country – this can make things much easier when it comes to needing a shoulder to complain on… er, I mean cry on.
~ Let your guard down a little, I know you don’t want to get hurt but if you can’t let your guard down and open yourself up to making new friends – it will never happen.

I never would have made it if I didn’t have the friends I have now.  And although most of my friends are expats from other countries who understand the pain of leaving their home country – my Aussie friends are as important as anything to me  – Suggestion #3 – if you think you can make it here with no friends, your kidding yourself. I’ve seen American expats come and go and the ones that make a good go of it would swear by this – you need friends to help you get through the hard times.

I’d say I struggled for about the first 2-3 years.  I start out working a job way below where I was in the U.S.   Until I got one job under my belt, figured out how to put together CV (resume) to work in Australia, and got the courage to go out and look for a new job (which was hard and outside my comfort zone), I really didn’t have much of a chance. Finally, I got a job that enabled me to travel for about 10-months straight all over Australia.  I started getting to see more of Australia than my partner had seen.  Perth, the outback, Sydney, and Tasmania… I’d been everywhere!  I started having to make friends on my own because I was spending weeks away from my husband.

I used to remember flying home on Friday nights to see Birdie, and as I was driving from the airport toward the city, I would see the buildings of  Melbourne and think “Ah, I’m home”.  That’s when it finally hit me that Melbourne IS MY HOME.  I love Melbourne.  And as much as my husband wants to live in the U.S., I can’t imagine living anywhere else right now.  Someday I guess I’ll give up those dreams to go live in America once again to give my husband the opportunity to live in America and have his own expat experience there… but not for many more years (I hope).

Ultimately, I am not disappointed with my decision to move here and I made such a good choice in my partner, Birdie has been so supportive of me in this new country.  He understands my plight, when I have to have a good cry – I have his shoulder, good times or bad he’s there for me and I have to give him props for that because I’m not the easiest person to understand – Suggestion #4 – pick a supportive partner, and know them well before you make a move so far away from everything you know and love.  

When I first came over to live, Birdie and I made an agreement that we would live together for a year before we got married.  I wanted to make sure I wasn’t making a mistake that would land me alone in a foreign country with no way to get home, no family or friends. Our agreement included that he would pay for me and all my crap to fly home should things not work out.  Luckily, after being apart for 19-years it felt like we were able to pick up where we left off and create a life together. I am thankful every day for our meager beginnings here, because it meant that we had to rely on each other and it gave us the struggles we needed to make sure that we were a fit.

Ultimately, to all expats planning to move to Australia in the future… ensure you have a good support system outside of your relationship with your partner and be willing to be open to change, think outside the box and be prepared for everything to be different.  It truly is mind over matter!!

Sat
19
May '12

Recipe: Italian Wedding Soup

This is my all time favourite soup and once in a while I like to make a big crock pot full and make it last.  This is a quick recipe, the soup is a chicken stock base, with tiny italian sausage meatballs, spinich, and orzo pasta (a small type of macaroni).  Good spices make this a great tasting soup and even better the second day.

INGREDIENTS

Tiny Meatballs:

– 1 (19.76 ounce) package Mild Italian Sausage, decased
– 1 egg, lightly beaten
– 1 cup bread crumbs (plain or seasoned)
– 2 teaspoons fennel seeds, crushed or chopped
– 1 tablespoon fresh Italian parsley, minced
– 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

    

Make tiny meatballs                                       Cook in oil, spices, onion and garlic

Soup:

– 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
– 1 medium onion, finely diced
– 1 teaspoon dried thyme
– 1 teaspoon dried sage leaves
– 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
– 1 small carrot, finely chopped
– 8 cups chicken stock
– 1 bay leaf
– 8 ounces orzo pasta, cooked
– 1 cup spinach, roughly chopped (I use frozen)
– 1/3 cup shredded parmesan cheese

  

Orzo is a small macaroni                             Cook your Orzo with spinich

Mix meatball ingredients together and roll small meatballs the size of a marble. (If forming the meatball is difficult, cover and refrigerate first.)

– In a medium pan, cook orzo al dente, according to package directions, drain and set aside.
– Prep the vegetables.
– In a large pot, saute onion, thyme and sage in olive oil.
– When the onion starts to turn a golden color; add garlic, carrot, celery and cook for about 5 minutes stirring occasionally. Set the vegetable – ixture aside on a plate.
– In the same pot add all the meatballs and cook for 2-3 minutes before stirring (this will keep them from breaking). Gently toss with a rubber spatula to brown on all sides.
– Add reserved vegetables, chicken stock, and bay leaf. Simmer gently, (do not boil) until vegetables are tender and meatballs are cooked through.
– Add cooked orzo and spinach, stir together. (Adding spinach right before serving will help it maintain its rich green color).
– Garnish soup bowls with parmesan cheese.