Month: February 2014

A New Cousin

When I was a kid a new addition to the family was fairly commonplace.  These days it is not so commonplace.  My kids are not showing any signs of wanting to add to the family, which is fine by me – to each his own.  

So when, out of the blue, a new relative surfaces, it is pretty darn exciting. 

I have been putting together the family tree.  I am loving the challenge of finding all the little branches and twigs littered throughout England and Ireland.  I have discovered that some of my Kirk relatives emigrated from Ireland to the USA but had not been able to find the right connections until yesterday.   

A lady from Massachusetts emailed me saying that she was my cousin, a rather removed cousin, but a cousin nonetheless.  How exciting!   

So now I am able to build a whole new limb for my family tree and, in the process, get to know someone who shares some of the same DNA as me.  

Without the modern miracle that is the Internet, I doubt that this would have happened.  When I was a kid, we relied on snail mail for communication. Searching for family links took ages. It took two weeks for a letter to go from Australia to Europe or the US.  

Whilst I treasure my childhood spent in the fifties, I feel very fortunate to be living in this day and age.

Ever tried family research?   Check out what can be done at


Sleeping in the Steamy Room

When I was a kid I had asthma, although, way back then, they didn’t call it asthma. They called it having a wheezy chest.  

There were no puffers or specific asthma drugs. All there was were big yellow pills which were sulphur based. They were supposed to loosen the gunk in your chest and allow you to cough it up and thereby ease the wheeze.  

I guess they must have helped because, although I remember wheezing and spluttering away on regular occasions, I am still here to tell the story.

I remember lying on my belly on the bed with my head and shoulders hanging over the edge while my mum pummelled me on the back to help with the loosening process.  It was horrible. 

The wheezing was always worse at night when the cooler air came in.  Sleeping became difficult because of the constant coughing.  My doctor advised mum to buy a spirit stove and a big kettle. The little stove was filled with methylated spirits and the flame was lit under the kettle. In the kettle was water mixed with eucalyptus oil.  As the kettle boiled, a cloud of eucalyptus steam filled my bedroom.  The steam made breathing easier and I was able to sleep.


The bedroom door had to be closed to keep the steam in. The shadows rose large as the little flame flickered and it could be a bit scary.   I told myself stories as I lay there in the steamy room.  I would imagine that I was sleeping beside a camp fire.  Sometimes I was a cowgirl like Dale Evans, sometimes a Native American girl and sometimes I was all alone on a desert island. 

Eventually I would sleep, the spirit stove would run out of metho and the flame would die. I remember trying to stay awake long enough to see that, but I never once saw it go out.  

These days, I have my steroid spray thingy and my puffer.  My asthma is well under control thanks to modern medicine.  My back molars are full of fillings thanks to the effects of the sulphur drugs but, I guess, that’s a small price to pay for being able to take a deep cleansing breath whenever one needs to.

Do you have any memories of interesting medical or folk treatments that you received?  I would be interested to know of them.




Couldn’t Resist This

Couldn't Resist This

Good old Foghorn Leghorn. One of my favourite cartoon characters. I loved it when he tried to woo Miss Prissy the elderly hen.
I also liked the sheepdog, think his name was Ralph, who would sit up on the hill and watch his sheep until his replacement clocked in. He could always catch Wile E Coyote in the act.

Who were your fave cartoon characters?

Why Your Child Can’t Skip Reading Tonight.

Every child needs to read, be read to, be read with every night or, at least, every school night.

Here’s why.


This image is also available as a free printable at

Teachers, print it out and give a copy to very parent or attach it to your newsletter.  

We need our kids reading.

Go on…Ask!

When I was a kid, children were supposed to be seen and not heard.  

For a child of inquisitive nature, such as myself, this was a very difficult status to maintain.  

I was a good listener…possibly too good at times…and what I heard often sent a rush of questions cascading through my mind.  I wondered about things.  I pondered unusual place names. I considered interesting words. I contemplated actions.  Well, you get the idea.  My mind was always racing…still is…and the questions would boil over at the  most inconvenient times.

At school asking questions was discouraged.  One was supposed to answer questions, not pose new ones.  I spent a lot of time on the verandah outside the classroom, having been sent from the room for talking. When this occurred, it was usually because I had posed an interesting question to the person next to me or to the teacher. It was not done to be disobedient. I genuinely wanted to know the answers.  Perhaps my teachers didn’t want to be interrupted mid lesson or perhaps they didn’t know the answers to my questions.  Whatever the case, they chose to eject me rather than deal with my curiosity.

Luckily for me, our headmaster, Mr Murray, had time for the little girl with the busy mind.  Along the verandahs of the school he would stride, tapping his cane on the side of his leg as he went in search of miscreants.  He was a very tall man, six feet six inches which, to a child, looked like eight feet eleven inches.

“Not you again, Coppernob,” he would greet me.

“Yes, sir.”

“What did you do?”

“Well, I wanted to know who Weller was, and why they named a hill after him.”

He would nod sagely and take me along the verandah to the library, point out the appropriate shelf and tell me to come to his office when I had found the answer.  He never told me the answers to my questions, just how and where to find them.  How much more valuable a learning experience was that?

When I became a teacher myself, I always carried with me the image of Mr Murray.  His wisdom in encouraging inquiry in children became the inspiration for my teaching practice.  Giving my students the tools for learning through which they would acquire knowledge and understanding of the subject matter became more important to me than merely filling their heads with facts. 

Thanks Mr Murray.  To me you will always be eight feet eleven inches tall.



Will We Ever Stop Bullying?

Bullies have always been around.  There were bullies in the stories of Rome and Egypt I read in Ancient History classes. There were bullies in the Middle Ages. There were bullies in my grandfather’s day and there were bullies when I was a kid. There was none of the insidious cyber bullying that goes on today, just verbal and physical abuse on a variety of levels.

When I was in my first year at school, I encountered my first bully.  I was hanging upside down on the climbing frame with my red pigtails dangling around my face, when another child shouted at me to get off and make way for him.  I refused. He pulled my hair. I cried. He laughed at me.  I told the playground duty teacher. She said, ‘He’s just being a bully. Don’t play with him anymore.’  

Over dinner that evening, I told my parents what had happened. My dad said, ‘If anyone hits you, you hit them back. If he pulls your hair, you pull his. Do not let him think he can do that to you and get away with it. Bullies don’t like people who fight back.’  So, when my bully approached me the next day and tried to push me off the swing, I punched him in the stomach. He started yelling and the teacher hauled us both off to sit on the verandah.  She asked me why I had punched the boy.  I told her he had started it and I had hit him back. ‘Deserved it then, didn’t you?‘ she said to him and left us at opposite ends of the verandah to contemplate our dispute. I was smiling. He wasn’t.

As a teacher myself for many years, I had to toe the education board’s line and tell children that if they were bullied to walk away and tell the teacher on duty. I found this very difficult because I really don’t think that works. The bully will simply deny he has done anything wrong and nothing changes. The victim has established himself and will be targeted again and again. 

I told my own children to hit back and then go to the teacher and tell them what they had done and why. Yes, they had to accept whatever punishment the teacher was bound to hand out, but, in the process, they had achieved two things.

1. They had shown the bully that they were not going to meekly accept his behaviour.

2. They had drawn the teacher’s attention to the issue.

Each of my children was bullied once and once only.

I am not saying that hitting back will eradicate all bullying…of course it won’t, but it will, in my opinion, cut back on the opportunistic type of bullying that is rife in our schoolyards.  You teach people how to treat you.  

A child at the tutoring centre where I work told me yesterday that a boy had tried to steal her hat at lunchtime. He was pulling at the hat and, because the hat had a cord attached to hold it on, was choking her. I asked what she did.  The red mark from the cord was still evident on her throat. ‘I stomped on his foot until he ran away crying,‘ she said. ‘The teacher saw me do it so I didn’t get into trouble.’  

I cheered inwardly.

If you show that you are an easy target, then you will indeed be targeted. I think you need to at least make a show of standing up for yourself even if you are shivering inside.  If someone calls you a name, call them something.  My brother’s favourite retort was, ‘Yeah Fart Face, what would you know?’

How you deal with cyber bullying, other than turning off the device, I have no clue.  This is the most cowardly form of bullying because it can be anonymous and can come in barrages of ego-shattering comments and rumours designed to break the spirit of the victim. 

I know that my Hit ‘Em Back approach to will draw the ire of many.  All I can say is that it has worked for me and for my kids.  

I chose not to be a victim.  I chose to stand as tall as I could, arrange my red pigtails appropriately and give back as good as I got.

Bullying is disgraceful, unacceptable and unnecessary but, it seems, bullies are a fixture in our world. 


Preparations for April

Preparations for the great AtoZ Blogging Challenge  are well underway.

In April I have to put up 26 posts, one for each letter of the alphabet. Thinking of a topic for each letter has proved to be a challenge in itself but I have completed my list.

It starts with A for Ancestors and ends up with Z for Zee or Zed.

Since my husband and I are heading off on vacation midway through April, I have made a start on the posts so that they will be ready, hopefully, well in advance. I don’t really want to be writing blog posts when I should be investigating the tourist traps of Canberra and Tasmania.  We love to travel.

DSCN1133                DSCN0487 (480x640)                   DSCN2281                DSCN2125                 DSCN2053                 DSCN1618              DSCN2039

I have also begun connecting with other bloggers who are participating in the challenge.  I am number 500 on the list of bloggers, so there is a lot of connecting to do.  It is very interesting to see where everyone lives, England, USA, Singapore, India, Scotland, New Zealand and, of course, Australia.  Excellent!

This blogging stuff is still rather new to me.  I started because someone, don’t remember who, told me that authors have to have a blog…something about web presence.  I had no idea what I could write about on such a regular basis. I guess it would be easier if my books were non-fiction e.g. cookbooks, because then I could write about food or restaurants or whatever. But my stories are about an ordinary little girl who has adventures and has to puzzle through mysterious situations. So, the only thing I could think of to write about was another ordinary little girl…me.  Taya Bayliss is the brave little girl that I wanted to be.  She has the adventures that I wanted to be having.  I wanted to be like the kids in the Famous Five, spending my holidays solving mysteries. My life seemed so tame compared with theirs.

I would love to be one of those bloggers who can make a living out of their blogs.  Staying home to write instead of going out to work is my idea of bliss.  How to achieve that is something else I have no idea about…oops, grammar…about which I have no idea.

It’s all one big learning curve….just like life.

Gardening as Therapy

This morning I was sent this picture by a friend via Facebook.  

                  Photo from Generation Alpha




When I was a kid Mum had a vegetable garden out in the backyard.  It ran alongside the fence and originated from a rotten tomato that was thrown in disgust out the kitchen window.  That tomato provided seeds which grew into flourishing tomato plants. Mum then decided to create a proper veggie patch complete with marigold borders to keep the bugs off the plants.  

She grew peas, beans, carrots, lettuce, capsicum, silver beet, pumpkins and chokos in addition to the tomatoes; not in great numbers, just enough for our own requirements.  I remember the vegetables being very tasty. Tomatoes that were sweeter than the ones I buy from the shops now. Peas and beans that were super crunchy and delicious.

Mum was the gardener in our family. Neither my brother nor myself inherited her love of the garden.  For us gardening was a punishment, something that was imposed on us when we had committed some crime against household management.  

Pulling weeds, separating the lettuces or picking out less than perfect specimens that would be used solely for seeds were jobs we loathed but they gave us time to consider our actions and to formulate a decent apology.  Many a weed felt the force of my wrath as I ripped it from the earth and hurled it into a bucket. Stress release therapy in action!  Definitely better than being sent to one’s room to fume over injustice and repent at leisure.

Watering and picking veggies for dinner were the best jobs.  Mum figured out pretty quickly that it was not a good idea to give me the job of harvesting the crop. I ate more than I put in the basket.  So i usually ended up doing the watering and my brother had to pick vegetables.  He hated vegetables. Mum was hoping that he would follow my lead and munch on them as he picked and so develop a liking for healthy foods, but it never happened.  He is in his late fifties now and still isn’t a fan of vegetables.  

The only gardening I do now is throwing the fallen palm fronds into the garden bag. My garden is a masterpiece of low maintenance….lots o mulch and hardy plants. I don’t even water it, except in extreme circumstances. It is every plant for itself.  

Each week when I shop for fresh vegetables, I tell myself that I should set up a veggie patch…some nice raised beds where I could grow tomatoes that taste like tomatoes used to…but I never seem to get around to it. I wonder if deep seated memories of childhood punishments are holding me back?  Hmmmmm.