Christmas Spirit of Queensland

T’was the weekend before the weekend before Christmas, which is where I’m considering is the beginning of my Christmas season. We kicked off with a lovely Brisbane “family” BBQ at Mel and Hugo’s.  The highlight for Sophia was definitely the acquisition of bon-bon hats.

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I trudged through the last four days at work, preparing packages of Grandma’s fruit cake for my colleagues and then attending my adopted team’s break up at Malt an amazing whiskey/whisky bar with the only unisex toilets outside of Ally McBeal.

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We had my “home” team’s break up at the Gatsby Lounge at Black Birds.  I’m not going to say much about the event except to show you how I started the evening and how I ended it.

Before

Before

After

After

Not surprisingly, I was desperately in need of coffee and a decent breakfast on Friday morning.  Luckily, I had officially begun my annual leave so Davey could treat me to breakfast at Tutto Caffe in Ashgrove, where they serve bowls of coffee and amazing savoury mince.

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We did a little Christmas shopping and I got a massage to ease into the holidays. On Saturday morning, I stopped by Taren and Marcus’s to have some of Taren’s wonderful scones and give Toby his Christmas present, a drawing of himself with “Home is where your cat is” written in Swedish.  Here he is admiring himself. IMG_9708

I was unreasonably excited for the journey to Townsville because this year, thanks to an archaic employee entitlement, we got discounted tickets on the Spirit of Queensland Tilt Train to Townsville!  We waited patiently at the station for the train to arrive.

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Then, we settled in to the spacious, space-age compartment in “Rail Bed” Class.

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I really couldn’t get over the space!  Our steward was quite a flamboyant chap named Stephen.  He reminded me of a slightly less suave, slightly more pudgy M. Gustave, flirting with all the elderly widows and providing excellent customer service in general.  Stephen informed us that this was only the first week that this train had run, which is why it was so brand spanking new and swish. Stephen served us a welcome drink and, after watching the true story of a mortician turned murderer starring Jack Black and yet another Drew Barrymore Adam Sandler rom com, an amazing dinner of chicken salad, rib eye and mashed potato, and a cheese platter.

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A couple of movies later and a brief stop in Bundaberg and it was time for bed.  The hostesses came around with their remote controls and transformed the seats into beds, complete with fluffy new linen.

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I thought I would find it difficult to sleep while in motion, but it was actually quite cosy in our little pods.  The worst thing was the lady in the seat beside us who whispered in her sleep like some sort of Ring Wraith… We woke early in the morning for a shower, which required more core strength than usual to keep upright and a coffee in the common dining car.  It became evident the different in experience between our class and the unfortunate travellers in economy.  Davey and I were pretty up beat while the other travellers in the dining car snapped at each other about current affairs while holding their sleepy heads in their hands.

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We headed back to the front of the train where our delicious hot breakfast was being served. IMG_9730

Very soon we arrived in Townsville where Davey’s parents were waiting for us.  What a great way to travel, if you have the time!  It did take 17 hours… In the afternoon, we braved the crowds at Stockland to shop a little and Davey won me a purple cloud with arms from a skills tester.  Not being familiar with the Adventure Time series, we have named him Durple the Purple.

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In the evening, Marge treated us to some delicious, comforting curry – an excellent welcome home meal!

Attempting to make the most of my holiday, I awoke insanely early on Monday morning to go on a walk around the river before it got too hot.  I had forgotten what a beautiful area I grew up in. IMG_9739 IMG_9742

I followed my walk with a swim and some Blood Orange tea, a perfectly chosen Christmas present from Taren.  (Those things were not enjoyed simultaneously due to the no glass in the pool rule.)

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Grandma and I went for an excursion to K Mart to pick up some Christmas supplies.  Unfortunately, on the way, I managed to back Dad’s car into a parked car.  Luckily, the parked car was abandoned according to the lovely lady in the house it was parked in front of and that Dad’s old car had a matching dent in the other side so I just succeeded in evening it up…

Davey and I met Kimmi and Damo for lunch at the Vale Hotel, which I hadn’t visited since the current dining area was the location of the bottle shop many years before.  We were hoping to hear the announcement of Kimmi’s baby’s gender but we were informed we’d have to wait til the afternoon. We killed time by attempting to try out scuba diving but being informed that they were too busy unless we wanted to travel hours and hours on a boat to do it. Soon it was time to return to the Cawoods’ for the reveal.  Kimmi and Damo presented the future grandparents with a wrapped gift, which turned out to be a Buzz Lightyear fishing rod – it was a boy!  I stayed for a few more drinks and then returned home to have a dinner of macadamia stuffed chicken with my parents.

The morning of Christmas Eve Eve, I had actually attempted to go for another early morning run but I was having a little Townsville-induced hayfever, so Mum and I decided to just have an indulgent breakfast instead.

While we were dining, a beautiful bouquet of flowers arrived from one of Mum’s colleagues, complete with a new little friend “to add to the parliament”, as the card instructed.  (For more owl-related details of this holiday season, see my mother’s blog.)

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Davey and Grandma joined us for a lunch of gluten free smoked salmon sandwiches and Davey slept off his lunch while Grandma and I had an intensive cooking masterclass.

Grandma walked me through the preparation of dim sims, which are made more complicated by not actually having a written recipe, and we also managed to slot in some chocolate and ginger balls during particular “downtime” steps in the dim sim procedure.

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My favourite parts of dim sim making are the times where you have to test the mixture, and test the finished product.

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After all the dim sim sampling, Davey and I went for a walk along the river.  It turns out that there is a new hot spot for turtles other than “Turtle Bridge”.  Along the path between Marabou Drive and Aplin’s weir, running alongside Riverpark Drive, there is an area of the bank that was blocked by the residents after council in-action.  This is where any turtle who’s worth his shell mould hangs out for hand outs from joggers.

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Christmas Eve finally arrived, and we spent the morning at Castletown getting some last minute provisions and having roast for breakfast.  We also saw some nipple balls – a definite omen of a good Christmas, I think.

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My hayfever was getting a bit much for me so I slept most of the afternoon and then finished off re-wrapping the presents after the terrible job the charity wrapper did at the shops using some of Mum’s hand-stamped owl tags.

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Davey and I were both exhausted from the day and didn’t even make it past the airport scene of Love Actually.

Christmas was quite a bit more exciting than usual given that we were expecting more than twenty assorted Bailliewoods for lunch.  (I have coined the portmanteau Balliewood to describe Baillie and Cawood shared family members, concepts and/or occasions.)

After a traditional breakfast of rum balls and mince pies, we had a little present unwrapping and then got down to the business of decorating the house.  Damo was good enough to do all the hard work to spare me from the horror of having to touch glitter.

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John and Damo prepared a roast each in their webberques, beef and lamb as I recall, while Marge cooked a third turkey roast in the oven.  Accompanying the triple roast threat were crispy baked potatoes, creamy potato bake, honey and butter carrots, crunchy garlic beans, roast pumpkin, beetroot and pistachio salad, tangy Asian noodle salad, home made coleslaw prepared by yours truly, Marge’s famous damper dripping with butter, dim sims (also my contribution), bruchetta and all the usual roast trimmings of gravy, sauces, mustard, dressings and chutneys.

This description is starting to remind me of the way JK Rowling describes the Hogwarts Christmas feast – but it was just as magical, and didn’t even involve the unfair treatment of house elves.

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I applied my grandmother’s usual strategy of “just have a little bit of everything”.  But this lead me to a piled plate, bowing in the middle (it was a plastic plate) and the disbelieving comment from Damo’s brother (who is unfamiliar with the parity between my eyes and my stomach), “You’ll never eat all that!”  Challenge accepted… and completed!

Lunch was amazing, obviously, but I still managed to squeeze in a sampling of Granny’s pineapple pudding, Emma’s trifle, some pavlova and a creation of Davey’s involving three packets of caramel crowns and a pint of cream.

The remainder of the day was spent swimming, grazing on chocolate and ginger balls, drinking, gossiping, reading the rules of Minecraft with Liam, avoiding two of the Miss Baillies who had been given glittered Elsa costumes for Christmas and napping.  The Bailliewoods certainly know how to do Christmas!

On Boxing Day, we recovered from our gastronomical exertions the day before.  I went for a swim to try out my new strapless heart rate monitor and then began the preparation for the Third Day of Christmas, the day my parents were hosing their celebration.

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I continued on my gadget-induced enthusiasm by starting the following day with a run, anticipating the amount of food I would consume that day.

I was gladly put in charge of the kitchen on the Third Day of Christmas.  Dad even let me borrow his souvenir apron from Diamond Lil’s Floating Pleasure Place…

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I didn’t have my usual project scheduling software available but I made do with a note pad to ensure piping hot food on the table at 1pm.

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The schedule did allow for the opening of presents and a break for cheese, but then it was back to the grind stone to sort out the ham, using Aoife’s brilliant pineapple macadamia glaze.

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Dad prepared the wine, Mr Carson-style.

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I was pretty excited by the food, if I do say so myself.  There was a crispy pork roast with crackling, glazed macadamia and pineapple ham (mentioned previously), baked potatoes, onions, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, honey carrots, cauliflower with dill sauce, bread rolls, gravy, apple sauce and good ole fashioned frozen peas.  I’m having “meal nostalgia” just thinking about it now!

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We recovered from lunch by watching the Doctor Who Christmas Special and then finished off the day with a little pudding.

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Sunday was another lazy day.  Dad and I tried to re-watch The Hobbit: An Unexpected Jouney but Dad kept “watching with his eyes closed” (and snoring).  In the afternoon, we used our Christmas present from Naomi and Paul to go to bowling with Kimmi and Damo.  This was the first time I had ever bowled without bumpers and I was terrible.  I started off with no pins and ended up averaging 1 or 2 pins per round.  Luckily there were delicious Bailey’s cocktails to soothe my disappointment/embarrassment.  We also had a round in the arcade where Kimmi and I kicked butt at Dance, Dance Revolution, horse racing and the killing spiders in a jeep game.

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In the evening, we had a BBQ with the Cawoods and Davey showed us how to play the dice game, Greed, at which Marge was particularly successful.

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On Monday, I woke up to Mum’s sudden burst of kitchen creativity where she had created us cut out scrambled egg sandwiches for breakfast – hers in the shape of owls and mine in the shape of trains!  Delicious!

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I spent most of Monday preparing some artwork for John’s 60th birthday – a drawing of Cawood Castle in Yorkshire and a matching drawing of the Cawood home in Townsville.

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But, I did have time to enjoy a break of French Earl Grey tea and a read of my Everything I Know About Christmas I Learnt from a Little Golden Book book, both gifts from my aunt and uncle.

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I had really been craving a hearty, hobbit-ish stew since watching The Hobbit the day before, and it seems that Kimmi had read my mind.  We went over to her’s for dinner and were served a really filling, meaty stew with some incredible mashed potatoes and crusty bread.  Hobbit heaven!

On Tuesday afternoon, Kimmi and I were treated to massages in a funny little place in the city run by an ex-cane farmer.  This was Kimmi’s Christmas present from us.  Here is an artist’s impression in the form of an IOU.

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In the evening, my parents cooked up a stuffed turkey roll which had missed the Christmas line-up and was languishing, unappreciated in the freezer.  Lucky, Davey and I were there to help with eating the “leftovers”.

On Wednesday, we drove to Ayr to visit my paternal grandparents for morning tea.  Here’s Grandad being overwhelmed by the spread!  (My favourite was the cheese cake.)

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It also appeared as though I missed the memo to wear blue.

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Wednesday also happened to be New Years’ Eve, and so, John’s 60th.  If you thought that I described a lot of food for the Christmases, that was nothing compared to the NYE spread!

There were 5 spit roasts which Davey managed throughout the afternoon while we watched The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.

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The party kicked off in the early evening and we took some photos to mark the occasion.

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Marge and Kimmi had had a special cake made incorporating a base of sticky date pudding, a white chocolate covering and a bottle of Penfolds – all of John’s favourite things.

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Dinner was pretty amazing again featuring turkey, two lamb, pork and beef roasts with roast veggies and countless salads.

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But the cake really was impressive both in appearance and taste!

Davey and I didn’t actually manage to make it to midnight (again) but Kimmi and Blu woke us up to ring in the New Year.  Blu’s celebratory action of choice was to delicately chew at the mattress edge.  So long, 2014!

We began 2015 with heavy heads and still-full stomachs.  Later in the afternoon, Mum and I went to the new cinema to see The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.  I dressed for the occasion with my Legolas-inspired braid.

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I think the cinema was very very new because the staff seemed confused and the session times screen was still on the floor.  Nonetheless, the screen was in focus, the popcorn edible and the other patrons quiet, which makes it better than the Mount Isa cinema (which I boycotted between 2009 and 2010 in protest).  I had forgotten, or was in denial, about the ending of The Hobbit so it was a bit of a teary experience.  I fear that I might re-watch this trilogy the way I watch Moulin Rouge or Season 3 of Downton, that is, stopping the disc before the demise of the favoured character and convincing myself that this point was actually the end of the story.  I will always mourn the lost life that Tauriel and Kili could have shared, and their little dwelf babies that were never born.

Grandma joined us for dinner.  Here is proof of Grandma and I being related, both performing our classic trick of blinking while being photographed in the first picture.

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We were intending to have fish and chips but they were closed so we ended up with KFC, one of the very few places open, as my last dinner in Townsville.

We were scheduled to leave on the southbound train on Friday afternoon.  In the morning, we packed up all of our presents and possessions, taking an additional suitcase due to a surplus of swag.

The train was running a little bit late and we sat in the dry heat against Davey and John’s insistence that we go to the pub instead of waiting.

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We boarded eventually and were assigned similar seats in the same carriage. 

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We had a dinner of roast lamb with a stemless glass of red wine followed by a cheese platter. 

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I watched Jersey Boys, the concept of which I had previously protested against thinking that if you weren’t going to see it live, why not just listen to old Four Seasons records?  It did actually turn out to be a good film and an excellent catalyst for falling asleep in my space-aged pod.

It was quite a humid morning when we arrived in Brisbane, following our lovely cooked breakfast, of course.

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We dragged bags to a taxi and very soon we were home, ready to unpack and spend some time taking stock of all our Christmas goodies.

Some presents that were waiting for me at home included yoga pants (a pair each from Grandma, Dad and Davey) and a willow ware dinner set (from Gran and Grandad).  It was like Christmas all over again!

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It really was lovely to visit Townsville to see the Bailliewoods, Griggses and Chock Mans but at a rate of 1 roast a day (13 days, 13 roasts) my waistline just can’t sustain more than periodic visits to the ‘Ville.

Merry Belated Christmas to all my Lords and Ladies! downton all

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