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Archive for November, 2014

Tara – my faithful companion

IMG_1237  Tara 006

Tara has enjoyed the affection of two sets of grandchildren over the years.

Her patience knows no end!

She was a cute fluffy bundle of black, white and tan, an interesting mix of Jack Russell and Maltese Terrier, with bright little eyes encased in a body wriggling with endless energy. Her razor sharp teeth were ready to pounce and gnaw on any unsuspecting fingers that came within reach. To try to keep her occupied I tied an elastic bandage to the front of the chair, which she took to with gusto, pulling and tearing with ferocious growling. Her energy was enormous for such a small bundle of fluff.

My husband, Terry, was seriously ill, and I thought she might bring some joy into his days which were now wracked with pain from the cancer that had spread throughout his body. And it seemed this would be so as she finally curled up, exhausted, on his chest and he smiled. We decided to call her Tara. Something to do with our Irish ancestry perhaps.

Sadly it was not to be so, as the next day Terry was taken by ambulance to hospital. The pressure of the tumors on his spine had caused paralysis from his waist down and radiotherapy was the only answer. He didn’t come home again. But Tara continued to visit him in hospital. Probably against all hospital rules I carried her through the corridors discreetly tucked into a basket covered with a tea towel, with a biscuit or two to keep her quiet. Once deposited on his hospital bed she would wriggle her way slowly upwards until she was tucked under his arm, with a lick deposited here and there.

Even from the puppy stage she seemed to have an empathy for those who were sick or sad, her soulful eyes conveying a world of sympathy. When my youngest daughter was in bed recovering from having all her wisdom teeth extracted, Tara snuggled up beside her, and didn’t move all day, as if to say, “I’m here for you.” When I was coping with the early days of being alone, Tara was always by my side, following me from room to room, sleeping next to my chair, watching me eat my meals – of course, always hoping for a tasty morsel to drop from my plate. If I wept over some distressing incident, she would hover close, or press up against my legs, to try to comfort me. After I broke my foot and was on crutches, with a boot to support the injured appendage, she was most puzzled and followed me wherever I went, watching my strange efforts at walking.

Most of all she loved playing with the three little daughters of my oldest daughter when they came to visit. She patiently put up with being dressed up, often sitting patiently with the doctors glasses on her nose and stethoscope around her neck. If things got too boring, she would snatch a piece of the dress-ups, and take off around the house, with the grandchildren in hot pursuit. Playing tug-of-war with an old towel was a favourite, with much furious shaking and growling to add to the drama, often with a grandchild being towed around the room on slippery socks. Those grandchildren have grown into adults now, and my younger daughter and her three boys come from Tasmania to visit from time to time. Although Tara is older, she is just as patient and tolerant with them and their games, and they love her with the same passion as their predecessors. Her energy for the tug-of-war isn’t quite as great, but she still trots off to the laundry to get the towel and drag it out to have a go. There isn’t any malice in her little body – in fact she’s a bit of a sook, so can be trusted around little children and is clever enough to dart in and out for a quick look all the while keeping well out of range of those waving baby hands that love to grab handfuls of fur and pull.

It’s 16 years since she joined our family. Now she is old, her hearing has gone and her eyes are clouding over, but she still bounces about with all the excitement and joy of a puppy at the possibility of a treat or a walk. She understands sign language extremely well, and can interpret all my hand waving and thigh slapping without any problems. Her endearing ‘one ear up and one ear down’ look hasn’t altered, and her feathery tail still curves over her back, waving furiously like a banner in the breeze when she is excited.

We are growing old together, and I will sadly miss her when she is gone.

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The pudding that grew.

I grew up with good plain wholesome food. Sunday roast, chops and three veg, rissoles, or sausages and mash. Exotic stir fry’s, curries or laksa’s never entered our kitchen. Not even much rice, apart from creamy baked rice puddings. Rather, we had baked potatoes, mashed potatoes, or potatoes chopped with butter.

When I married at 29 years of age I was still living at home and totally committed to my dream job. I knew nothing about cooking, or much about anything to do with running a household. Consequently, the demands of keeping house, cleaning, shopping, and learning how to cook, as well as continuing with my career, came as rather a shock to my system. This was around 50 years ago, and in those days, as was the norm, my husband, Terry, occasionally lent a hand with the dishes or hung some washing on the line, but largely left me to cope as best I could, despite his pre-wedding reassurances that together we would overcome all these difficulties! I can vividly remember walking into a butcher’s shop, pointing to a piece of meat, and saying, “What is that, and how do I cook it?”

I must confess that cooking was not my greatest joy in life. It was a means for survival, and had to be done, so one just got on with it and did the best they could. But it seemed to me to be an awful lot of work, for something that was gone in less than half an hour, with nothing left to show for all that labour except dirty dishes. So after 20 years of marriage when Terry, who always knew just what herb or spice should be added to my cooking so that it tasted more like his mother’s wonderful meals, sat leafing through recipe books and suggesting some interesting Asian meals I should cook, I went into revolt. He had never made even so much as a vegemite sandwich! “Why don’t you go to cooking classes and learn how to make them yourself,” I declared. “I think I will,” was his surprising response. He began with Indian cooking classes, and then moved on to Asian.

And so began a new era in our life. Our kitchen became infused with all sorts of delectable aromas. Spicy curries blended with that unmistakable aromatic fragrance of coconut milk. The scent of onion, garlic and ginger mingled together to add their touch of magic to Thai Curry Chicken or Sweet and Sour Pork. Tangy yoghurt began to find a place on our table in condiments such as Cucumber or Banana Raita or Tandoori Yoghurt Dressing.

“Why don’t you invite some friends over for dinner, and I will cook for them,” Terry would say. So I did. Nothing was too much trouble if he was cooking. He was happy to spend all day, or even 2 days, in preparation for one meal. Being one for always doing things properly Terry insisted on grinding all his own spices. The bench would be covered with little bowls of ingredients, all methodically chopped into the correct size pieces. When the meal was served he would anxiously await our response, and then bask in our praise. Looking for more affirmation he would often say, “It’s not quite up to my usual standard.” But as long as I didn’t have to cook I thought it was perfect. And what is more, he always left a spotlessly clean kitchen. Why didn’t I suggest this 20 years ago I wondered?

Thankfully it didn’t always go according to plan. He did occasionally have a disaster. One year he decided to cook a Christmas pudding, as I had given up on these after a few disasters of my own. He was muttering to himself about the quantities and I overheard him say – “2 tablespoons of carb soda.” I interrupted him at that moment and said, “Excuse me Terry, but I think it should be 2 teaspoons of carb soda.” His sharp response, “Robyn, I am cooking this pudding. I know what I’m doing. You keep out of it,” put me firmly back in my place. All was quiet for a while, but as the pudding began to cook in its container in the saucepan of boiling water, it took on a life of its own and, like an erupting volcano, it rose up and over the sides of the pan, oozing all over the stove. While Terry frantically scraped up the ever increasing mess, I collapsed in hysterical laughter. Fortunately he also saw the funny side of the situation, and joined in my hilarity. The story of the Christmas pudding that grew, became one of our family jokes to be shared when we reminisced over the years.