Jim and I normally have a very quiet Christmas. But this year it was simply wonderful. I'd been a bit apprehensive about Christmas in the heat - we are used to the weather being cold and damp - and wearing shorts, t-shirts and factor 50 sunscreen at Christmas seems completely unnatural to me!
Jim and I were invited to spend Christmas Day at my cousin Ian's home. He and his wife Susie had a houseful of guests, and Jim and I brought numbers up to 12. Jim and I travelled by public transport to get there - this is very unusual for us, as in England there is no public transport on Christmas Day. The buses and trains ran perfectly for us. The weather was beautiful - I think it reached about 30 degrees.
We had lunch sitting in a covered courtyard area - shaded by trellissed virginia creeper and wisteria. It was absolutely wonderful to have lunch outside on Christmas Day! The meal was much more imaginative than anything I've ever managed for Christmas. Susie's sister had made a wonderful prawn cocktail for starter, with a fantastic salsa made from watermelon, cucumber and olives. Yummy. Then the main meal was roast turkey, roast duck, and roast gammon ham, with roast new potatoes, and some really imaginative vegetable combinations. The two that stick in my mind, are sweet potato, parsnip and pear; and asparagus, green beans and garlic cloves. I'm not sure how they were cooked - too much else going on for me to ask. The sweet potato looked roasted, whereas the parsnip looked steamed and I'm not sure whether the pear was cooked at all, but Jim was a big fan of the combination as they were all lovely sweet things melded together. The asparagus and beans tasted steamed, and the garlic clove was roasted I think, and this was an exquisite combination. Yummy! I could have eaten a plate of this on its own - I love asparagus and it's so expensive in the UK. The food all made my Christmas dinners look really pedestrian!
Then we had a selection of puddings - again more imaginative than I've done in previous years. There was a chocolate roulade with strawberries, fresh exotic fruit, Christmas pudding and ice cream. Jim and I each restricted ourselves to the chocolate roulade and icecream, although sheer piggery meant I wanted to eat large quantities of all of it.
Then after lunch we had "christingle" presents. Each person was invited to choose a Christmas present from a selection on the table. But not only could you choose from the wrapped ones on the table, you could also choose one that someone else had already opened!! The gifts ranged from chocolates, toileteries, garden items, to photo frames. Jim chose some lovely slate plant name tags with a white pencil (just right for the leek seeds he will plant when he goes home). Grandma Leila chose a silver photo frame, and we found the perfect photo to go in it. At their daughter Virginia's recent wedding someone had taken the most brilliant photo of Grandma Leila (aged 102!), her daughter, and granddaughter Virginia in her bridal gown. Three generations of James women which made a truly delightful shot. It really was the sort of image that you would keep on your bedside table, and be glad to wake up and look at it.
When it came to my turn to choose my Christingle gift, I chose a box that contained a porcelain mug with a hand drawn owl on it, that had a "keep-warm" drinking lid on it. It was lovely. Then it came to Katherine's turn to choose her gift, and she chose mine!!! So I had to choose another gift and this time had Guide Dog for the Blind bodywash and coral nail varnish. (When we got up this morning, I discovered we had run out of shower gel, so I think my present was the fastest to be put into use). And I also have very pretty toe nails now!
We spent some time looking at Virginia's wedding photos. I have to say I was really taken with the wedding dress. It looked like white draped silk, with a flowing skirt, and ruched strapless, backless, bodice. Except the ruched bodice had a cutaway V at the cleavage, cleverly edged, each side, with an inchwide strip of pearl beading, that looked as if it made the dress into a halter neck. When viewed from the rear, the halter neck had an inchwide strip of pearl beading running right down the spine of the backless gown to the waistline. Absolutely stunning. And the sort of dress where you need perfect posture, perfect tan, not a millimetre of excess fat, and toned musculature to carry it off - which Virginia did absolutely faultlessly. If her father Ian sends me a photo, I'll add it to the blog.
By this time it was approaching 5pm, so Jim and I took our leave and returned to Salter Point, where we had been invited to join our landlords, Richard and Tangea, for Christmas evening. This was a lovely seafood evening meal, with Tangea's sister Toni and partner. I'd only had lobster once before, many years ago when something was served in lobster sauce. On that occasion I found it to be unpalatably rich and I now suspect the sauce had some cheap saturated fat affecting the taste. But yesterday's meal was an eye-opener. The lobster was fantastic - a delicate flavour which felt light on the stomach - totally different to my previous experience. The prawns were their familiar self - light, cool and delicate, delightful when enhanced with yoghurt dressing (again a combination I'd not tried before) and finally, Moreton Bay bugtails - I'd never come across these before. According to a website, they are a member of the lobster family and have a fairly strong flavour - but I found them to be a delicate palatable taste, with a firm meaty texture. And all balanced with an imaginative tasty salad. I've never been so well fed!
Toni and her partner had brought their young West Highland terrier, Robbie. He is only 9 months old and not quite clued up on how to ask mature chihuahua's to come and play! Miggie and Zorro, the two resident dogs, were very effective at showing Robbie that he was bottom of the pecking order, mostly by firm use of eye contact, and by sitting on the furniture to be able to look down at him! I think Robbie, as a more sturdy breed of dog, was also a bit boisterous for the dainty chihuahuas, but they certainly did not let him get the better of them.
The conversation flowed well - I probably told everyone more than they wanted to know about incidents on an operational railway; we talked about different countries each of us had lived in and the places we had travelled to and to which we aspired.
When I woke up this morning, it was to a true feeling of being blessed. Christmas Day was simply lovely - meeting distant family members, seeing different ways of celebrating Christmas, being part of different communities. Being able to reflect on the interesting jobs I've had over the years (and the stories associated with them) and listening to other people's life experiences. Being able to reflect on my 6 months here in Australia and the experiences and opportunities so far, and yet to be realised. I really feel I've got it all!