Christmas Day was lovely - everyone gathering for lunch at John and Reg's house. We ate seafood, salads, ham and turkey on the new balcony (built by Rob), on a beautiful sunny day. Three desserts - Christmas pudding, summer pudding and lemon tart. Lots of good conversation and company.
Zoe's Christmas present - a new doona cover and pillow case.
We had a lovely Sunday afternoon spent in Yarra Glen with my mother's family - aunts, uncles, cousins, children, brothers...
It was such a great opportunity to catch up with everyone, and to celebrate two 40ths, a 60th and a 70th birthday. There was lots of eating, drinking, laughing, talking and playing.
Yarra Glen was a lovely setting, too.
At our last gathering, I had asked everyone to contribute to a family recipe book that I wanted to put together. This time, I was able to give everyone a copy of the result. I think it looks great and is full of delightful heirloom and modern recipes. I'm going to attach it here.
I'm pretty proud of myself - I completed the Melbourne Marathon this morning. It was very hard going as we had an unusually hot day for October (28 degress C by 11:30 am) and strong winds. These conditions made the run very hard going coming back up Beach Road and the St Kilda Esplanande. I had to make deals with myself - "just run to the next km marker then you can walk for a bit"; "if you start running again, then we won't have to be out here all day". Notice the split personality that drifted into my thinking - there was a split between my mind and my body. And I suspect my feet were on a different being altogether! I now have a hideous blood blister on the ball of my left foot, and blisters on my little toes. I can hardly walk, although I am making myself move around, and sitting is very uncomfortable. My lovely husband and mother were waiting at the finish line, and I vowed to them that I would never run another one! I've achieved this goal - I don't need to do it again!
We have had a lovely few weeks since I last posted. We met Greg in Noosa, after his camp on Fraser Island. In the end, he had a great time, and did so many new things while he was there - camping, hiking, four-wheel drives. For the three of us, Noosa was as beautiful as ever. We love the beach, the National Park, the shops, the pool at our accommodation. Unfortunately, I had a cold for the first five days, and then an allergic reaction to the anti-biotics I had to take, so there was not a great deal of surf or sun for me, but Greg and Zoe would swim at the beach every morning, then hang out by the pool for the rest of the day. Zoe made a lovely friend, Georgia from Geelong. I bumped into lots of students from my school, and an old friend from Balckburn Baptist days.
Now, we are all back at school. Greg has been given a permanent position at Melbourne Grammar, so that is really good news. I have been offered the role of assistant level coordinator for Years 9 and 10 for next year - which should be exciting.
Zoe and I had the great pleasure of reading the "Dragon Moon" trilogy, by Carole Wilkinson. It is a beautiful series set in ancient China. The main character, Ping, is a wonderfully rounded character, showing determination and thoughtfulness, developing strength and self-belief, and remaining loyal to her role as the last (and only female) Dragonkeeper. We were very sad when we completed the last novel! Zoe continues to work her way through the Cherub series by Muchamore. I wonder about its appropriateness but she enjoys them, and they keep her reading.
I read several good books during the holidays. One was "A Long Way Down" by Nick Hornby, which had me pondering life and laughing out loud in turns. I also read the haunting "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy. This was a challenging book set in a post apocalyptic world. Beautiful, frightening and tragic, it reflects on human nature ultimately taking a positive view of the effect of relationships between people and the depth of love. There is film that is due to be released soon that I look forward to seeing.
An old Canadian friend arrived in Melbourne on October 1. The last time I saw Linda was in 1991, and she has barely changed since then. It has been wonderful spending time with her and showing her around Melbourne. She spent last week in Darwin and will spend the next two weeks in Tasmania, then after that she returns to my mum and dad's place to spend more time with all of us.
The next couple of weeks will be very busy. As well as my Yr 12 class finishing on October 22, that day is also my brother Rob's 40th birthday, the Sunday before is my older brother John's 45th birthday, then we have a big Smith family gathering in Yarra Glen the following Sunday. There will be Valedictory Dinners and Staff Dinners too. Zoe's production "Aladdin" is on Tuesday and she and I are now training for a triathlon on November 2. Never a dull moment!
Wow - it's been more than a month since I lasted posted. We have all been very busy, of course.
Greg is enjoying his new job - it is a nice change to be able to focus on teaching rather than administration. He loves the traditions of this new school. Currently, he is on camp in Fraser Island with about 40 Yr 9 and 10 students. It is going well in lots of respects but the other staff seem to be very laissez faire about their responsibilities! Zoe and I are looking forward to meeting him in Noosa on Monday after he has been away for 9 days.
We have had a lovely time while he has been gone (although we have missed him). We went to Mt Buller earlier in the week and had the most amazing weather - blizzards a fresh snow, so we were skiing on powder on Tuesday. Imagine that in September!
We have also been working hard - Zoe is enjoying preparing for the school's production of Aladdin (we had a sneak preview on Thursday night and it was great). She also continues with ballet, flute and piano. She has recently finished "Peter and the Starcatchers" which she said was quite good but needed to be trimmed - it went on far too long in sections. She is now reading another in Muchamore's Cherubs Series, which she loves.
I have read the wonderful "The Uncommon Reader" which put me onto Nancy Mitford's "Love in a Cold Climate" - what fun! Loved it! Now, onto another Dalziel and Pascoe novel - "Pictures of Perfection".
I organised the UNIFEM Spring Walk for our Student Council, which went very well, and an Art Competition, so I feel like I have been very productive with work. My Year 12 class has completed the course and are now into the revision process - I hope they manage to do well.
We are looking forward to a visit from an old Canadian friend in early October, Linda. More about that when I next post on this blog.
So much has happened since I last updated this blog.
Greg "retired" at the end of Term 2, amid many tears and compliments. He had a wonderful time at Blackburn High in many ways, but was ready to move on. He is enjoying his new school, although he finds the gung-ho, boys-own atmosphere a little surprising. He is also surprised to find that the technology doesn't work as smoothly as he thought it would. His classes are going very well - the boys work hard and the standard is good. He hasn't yet had to take Saturday sport (which will be tennis), so he has been able to settle in a little. He has to attend a Yr 9/10 camp in September - ten days on Fraser Island! To prepare for this, he has had to upgrade his First Aid qualifications and will have to complete a four-wheel drive course. The camp is no picnic - roughing it in tents and cooking all meals. Still, it's much better than the cross country ski camp where they camp in the snow!
We all attended the Grammar vs Scotch football match at the MCG - the 150th anniversary of the first Australian Rules football match ever played. Grammar won - and with it the premiership. Very exciting!
At the start of this term, we hosted Tara and Peter from Chelmsford Girls' High School in England. They were visiting my school for a week, viewing classes and getting to know our programs. We had a great time taking them to football matches, the Windsor, shopping and showing them around our gorgeous Melbourne. They were lovely people and we had a lovely time getting to know them. I'm now hoping to do an exchange to their school at the end of January, and hopefully, this will include Zoe and Greg. Zoe might be able to attend the school for the time we are there - Year 7 before she has even started Grade 6 here!
Zoe had a fabulous time on her first horse-riding camp with Bella D. It was freezing cold, but a great experience. They camped in tents, cooked over an open fire, and learnt to ride. She said she had to sleep fully clothed in order to be warm enough!
I have been busy with my knitting - I have finished a long cardigan for myself which I just adore. I completed a vest for Greg for his birthday, and some fingerless gloves which were almost complete for Zoe for her camping adventure.
Zoe has been reading the Cherub series of books, and she loves them. They are rather challenging for an eleven year old, but very exciting.
I am reading "The Household Guide to Dying". I read some very positive reviews of this book before buying it, but I don't think it is very good. It seems to be rather forced, and Delia, the narrator, is irritating in her smug cleverness. The emotions seem to be manufactured, and I feel as if the author is trying to manipulate my response. It has taken me ages to read because I just don't find it appealing.
Sadly, our friend Gavin died on June 30. His funeral was in the same week, and it was beautiful. Hundreds attended, including many from his cycling group, the girls' school, their church, and many other old friends. It was a very Christian funeral, and all the more moving for that reason. I can't believe how Louise is managing to hold up. She is so pragmatic and practical. I can't imagine what it would be like to lose your spouse, and the father of two children. Of course, Jessie and Georgie don't seem to have understood the magnitude of it all, although they must certainly be feeling his loss. He was such a lovely man, with a wonderful approach to life and love.
I have been training for a full marathon. I am following a training plan from Runners' World magazine, and have to run five times a week. On Sundays, there is a long run that varies in distance each week. Last week I ran 26.5 km! So far, I feel strong and comfortable. I have bought new runners that seem to help my achilles, and I have a Nike+ sportsband, which I love. The marathon is on October 12 - still some time to go!
No photos today - but I had to write that I completed my fourth half-marathon this morning. It was a hilly course around Melbourne, and in drizzling rain, but beautiful. Along Southbank, around the Tan, the MCG, Fitzroy Gardens, and then the same again. There was a lovely sense of comaradarie too, and with my iPod on my favourite running tracks, I nearly burst into song a couple of times.
However, I have been suffering dreadful gastro for the last couple of hours. I think it's from the meal I ate last night. My whole family met at a bistro in Ringwood to celebrate my eldest nephew, Cam's, 17th birthday. I won't recommend the Moroccan Lamb. It was a great night otherwise.
There is no good news for Louise and Gavin. He has detriorated and they thought he had only a few hours on Thursday night. He is being moved to palliative care in a hospital closer to home today. Louise and the girls are holding up surprisingly well. We are all rostered on to provide a meal for the next four Wednesday nights.
This is Greg's last week at Blackburn High - it is tempered with stress, excitement, and sadness. Like life.
I was going to write about our lovely weekend making chocolate inspired things, but before I got around to putting fingers to keyboard I heard some dreadful news about the husband of a friend.
After being diagnosed with advanced bowel cancer, Gavin bought a Harley Davidson as this had always been something he wanted to do. In the weeks leading up to beginning chemo, he was hit by a car while riding the bike, and suffered head injuries. He has been unable to begin chemotherapy, and is unlikely to live out the year. Gavin is one of the fathers from the group of friends we made in our antenatal class, just before Zoe was born. He has two daughters, Jessie and Georgie, 11 and 9 years old. His wife, Louise, is just getting by. Greg and I have been shocked and saddened by this news. It seems that the course of our lives can change so dramatically in such a small amount of time. We wish the whole family much love.
I had been excited about our productivity, so I will include it here - Zoe's chocolate chip cookies that had almost more choc chips than dough, and a chocolate coloured dress that I made a love wearing (inspired by "A Friend to Knit With").
It's the Queen's Birthday long weekend for us all, and so far it has been delightful.
Greg has been busy with work, taking the role of principal during the week, along with all of the organisation and marking that goes with exam time. He has also completed most of his reports, so he has been very efficient. He went shopping for new clothes for his new job today, but didn't have a lot of luck.
Zoe went to a friend's house for a sleepover. They watched DVDs and stayed up far too late! At least it wasn't the 4 am bedtime that they all had last weekend at Mia's birthday party! Here is the very stylish cushion Zoe made for Mia. Mia learns piano with Zoe's piano teacher (and our very good friend) Leonie, so you can see she has piano keys on the fabric. She also barracks for Collingwood, as do we, so the black-and-white theme is very appropriate.
I made Zoe some pyjamas today - they are a little large! It's always hard to work out what size to make her clothes. She is quite small for her age, so I chose a smaller size, but it was obviously still too big in this pattern!
My gym hosted a premier of "Sex in the City" on Thursday night - lots of fun. It's not the cleverest or most original of films, but it pushed all the right buttons for me. It sparked a lot of discussion amongst the girls in my Yr 12 class on Friday. (The boys thought they were in heaven: Amelia had made choc chip cookies AND cupcakes, then Antra came in with more choc chip cookies still warm from the oven! It took a while to get them all on track with the task!)
Went out for dinner with my old school friend, Yvonne. It was lovely to catch up with her, and fun to see how much we've changed but how much we've also stayed the same.
I ran 21km this morning! The half-marathon is in two weeks so I left Freckle with Greg and ran along the bike path by the river into the city. I think I kept up a good pace, but I became very weary at about 16km. The rest of the day I have spent being very gentle with myself!
Besides all of this, I am keeping up with my marking, report writing and preparation, three knitting projects (!), and I have cut out a dress and skirt this afternoon.
Of course, we have all still had to keep up with the washing, vacuuming, grocery shopping, lawn mowing, cleaning, cooking....
It's been ages since I last posted on this blog. We've been busy with work, as usual. Greg is only just beginning to feel like he is recovering from pneumonia, and he has taken today off to rest and to get correction done. We are both heading into exam time at our schools, and my Yr 12s have a SAC tomorrow. The students are becoming rather stressed and anxious!
I made my Yr 12 class some flourless chocolate cakes, and the reaction was a unanimous "OMG These are amazing!" Greg had one in his lunch too and his reaction was exactly the same. So, I am including the recipe here:
The amazing flourless chocolate cakes 180 g butter, chopped 220 g quality dark cooking chocolate, chopped 1¼ cups caster sugar ¾ cups almond meal 1 cup cocoa powder, sifted 5 eggs Preheat the oven to 140⁰ C. Place the butter, chocolate and sugar in a saucepan over low heat and stir until melted and smooth. Place the almond meal and cocoa in a bowl and whisk in the chocolate mixture. Add the eggs gradually, whisking until well combined. Grease or line muffin tins. Spoon in mixture and bake for 30 mins or until firm. Allow to cool in the tins. Serve warm or cold.
Zoe and I finished reading "A Wrinkle in Time" by Madeleine L'Engle. It was an exciting book to read, including lots of science and adventure. I can see why it is a classic fantasy novel for children. I suggested we use "A Wrinkle in Time" as the stimulus for my school's Art competition, and the girls thought it was a great idea.
I am knitting a couple of things at the moment, so nothing is finished yet, and am looking forward to getting some sewing done once school becomes a little less demanding.
I am doing lots of running in preparation for the Melbourne Run half marathon. June 22 is the date and I am now up to about 16km on Sunday mornings.
Zoe has been cast in the role of narrator for her school musical, Aladdin. It has really inspired her to sing, and her voice is developing a character and sweetness that was unexpected.
Perfectly selected gifts - bedsocks, a padded coathanger and a box of Haigh's chocolates (my favourite);
7:45 am start for the Melbourne Mothers' Day Classic 4km run, which Zoe and I did in under 24 minutes (and a cute pink Tupperware sandwich container in the showbag);
Breakfast at Laurent (chocolate croissants and a bowl of coffee);
Jaffa muffins made with Zoe for my mum;
Lunch at Mum and Dad's;
Zoe off for the afternoon at a friend's house;
Some knitting and maths while she is gone!
Zoe has finished reading "The Recruit" by Robert Muchamore. Here's what she has to say about it:
This book was definitely for 11 year olds and older because the themes of the book are not suitable for younger children. I found the book very interesting. I liked the main character because he had to be pushed to do things but he liked the things that he had to do in the end. This is the first in the Cherubs series and I want to read more!
I finished "Magician" by Raymond E Feist yesterday. I am reading it for book group - fantasy is not a genre that I get excited about. This one didn't grab me for a while as I really dislike the cliched stories of dwarves who live in mountain mines and elves who are beautiful and live in trees. Also, the formal style of the dialogue I find irritating. However, the range of this novel is better than I expected because the perspective varied from both sides of the battle (of course there is a battle) and neither side had all the right or moral high ground. It wasn't a simple tale of good triumphing over evil. There was also an exploration of different political systems which held my interest. Several of the characters were appealing and I did end up caring about what happened to them. I might even read further into the series.
Greg is reading "All Quiet on the Western Front" and finding it very depressing. Another book for work, of course.
We had a very busy and creative weekend. Our friend, Christina, is expecting her first child in mid-June and we offered her our old Emmalunga pram. It's a beautiful thing, with bassinet and stroller components. Used by only one child! But what a lot of use - lots of walking as we only had one car when Zoe was small, and I even used it when I went running. This pram participated in the Mothers' Day Classic around the Tan in Melbourne!
So Greg spent the weekend cleaning it, and I made a new cover for the stroller bar which was somehow lost at my sister-in-laws. Look at it now, beautiful, hey?
In the same weekend, I also finished the little jacket I am knitting for the baby. Since we don't know its gender yet, I thought this lovely pistachio green might do for either sex, and when it's born, I can choose which ribbon is best for the tie.
Zoe was inspired to bake her first cake, entirely without assistance. It's a lemon-iced ginger bread cake. Very yummy.
I have been collating recipes given to me by my aunts. I hope to make a family recipe book with contributions from everyone, as a means of recording and preserving all of the old recipes from cakes, slices, chutneys, jams and meals that we have enjoyed since we were children. My aunts have been very generous and given me some gems, including a number that my grandma used. It's taking a bit of time to type them all up but I am enjoying it immensely! This is my banana bread that I will be including in the book. I cut it up and freeze it in slices for Zoe and Greg's lunches. Healthy and delicious.
Both Greg and I are unwell now. He has pneumonia and I have an ear infection. Poor thing - he's been home for three days already, and he hates missing his classes.
It's been a quiet and reflective time here at Littlecote, as the summer eases into autumn. I love it when we turn the clocks back for the end of daylight saving - the afternoons seem so mellow and soft. It feels like the day wind down into night.
Zoe was not successful with her audition for role with the Kiev Ballet. Although she was very good she was too short. Several of her friends from ballet have gone onto another round of auditions, but they are taller than her by about 15 cm. It was disappointing, but Zoe has been philosophical about it.
My Uncle Jack died on Thursday. He was my father's brother. Dad's siblings are much older than him; Uncle Jack was 15 years older and Aunty Dorothy is 13 years older. Dad was too young to have any recollection of Jack when he went off to the Second World War but he remembers a day when a strange man walked up the driveway. Dad ran in to tell his mother, and it was only then that he discovered that the strange man was his brother. From that moment, Dad followed Jack around everywhere. I remember my brothers doing the same when we were younger and we would go to Ballarat to visit him. Uncle Jack was 87. He had been hoping to outlive his legendary aunt who had lived to be 87 and about 2 months. If he had lived for another week, he would have done so. He didn't quite make it. We are all going to the funeral in Ballarat on Tuesday.
There hasn't been a lot of creating here in the last couple of weeks. Zoe came up with the design of this apron, and I sewed it together. We found the fabric at the Stitches and Craft Show. It 's cute isn't it?
The autumn weather has been just right for the quiet, peaceful, slow time we have had. Cheers!
More excitement at Littlecote! Zoe's ballet teacher wants her, along with two other girls, to go "en pointe" so that they can prepare for an audition with the Kiev Ballet. Zoe is naturally delighted as it takes a lot of training to go en pointe and this indicates that the ballet teacher thinks she is progressing very well.
So, most of Saturday was spent driving around Melbourne trying to find a shop that sold pointe shoes in her size, and where the shop assistant knew how to fit her properly. Not just anyone would do, according to the ballet teacher! After several hours, visits to three shops, and over $100 later we have the shoes!
Since getting them, Zoe has hardly been off them. Luckily she is still on cloud nine, so the pain has not set in yet!
Zoe also went to her friend, Jaz's, birthday party on Sunday. As a gift, she made a really cute sit-upon, and another for her friend, Bella, who celebrates her birthday next week.
I just wanted to include some images of the beautiful art we saw at the Gallery of New South Wales. The one above is huge - it hangs in one room in such a way that you can see it through the arched doorways of two other rooms. It is titled "Vive L'Empereur" 1891 and the artist is Eduard Detaille. The colours are gorgeous and the subject is magnificent.
This one is by Edward Poynter; "The visit of the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon" 1890. It is also huge. Beautiful, isn't it?
This last one is a stunning sculpture from the Chinese collection. Zoe is studying China in her class this semester, so we wandered through the Chinese section of the gallery. So many beautiful things to see, and dating so far back. This sculpture was particularly impressive.
We also looked through the Archibald exhibition. We were impressed by a number of the portraits.
It's a lovely thing to have time to wander through an art gallery, isn't it?
I have just finished reading a wonderful book - Geraldine Brooks' "Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women". It's a fascinating account of the stories of Islamic women encountered by Brooks during her six years as a foreign correspondent in the Middle East. It's told with compassion and intelligence, frustration and clarity. Brooks' overwhelming desire to understand the women of the Islamic world and to tell the stories of their lives has given me an understanding of their beliefs and the effect of a beliefs system that extends to governance and power over every aspect of their lives. Prior to reading this book, I had almost no knowledge of the Islamic world, now I feel that I know a little at least and would like to learn more. This book is a window onto another culture. Brooks makes effective use of her access to both powerful and powerless women; the result is informative and challenging. I highly recommend it.
The impact of this book is such that I had to begin this blog with a note about it, even though we have also had a very exciting and enjoyable long weekend in Sydney. We flew into Sydney on Thursday to celebrate Zoe's 11th birthday. We stayed at the Sir Stamford, where Zoe was given a special welcome gift of chocolates and we had complimentary cocktails. Luxury! We tripped around the city for three days, delighting in visits to the Art Gallery of NSW, the National Maritime Museum, Woollahra, Chinatown, the gardens, Circular Quay and Kirribilli. We also walked across the Harbour Bridge and climbed a pylon for a wonderful view of the harbour. Each afternoon we swam in the rooftop pool. The weather was as beautiful as Sydney. You can see a photo journal of our holiday in the link.
I did manage to complete something for Project Spectrum: Fire - a ski hat for Zoe that was almost complete and just needed some tassels. Quirky but cute, hey?
We have had wild winds this afternoon - one of the pots at our front door was knocked over and smashed and one of our fences fell down. Poor Greg had quite a task to prop it back up. Across the city, trees were uprooted, bringing down powerlines and brick walls, and smashing onto cars. We got a little bit of rain and there is supposed to be more but it has not eventuated yet. It's the rain we need - the wind raised dust storms across the state and made the sky a dirty, dusty colour this evening.
I am learning more about how to blog - hopefully The Littlecote Times will improve as I gain more skills.