Friday, December 30, 2011

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The curse of the tiny little plastic toys.

Christmas has brought with it a whole load of challenges in the form of new tiny little plastic toys (TLPT)

TLPT must have been scourge of the family household since a Danish vacuum cleaner first choked while sucking up a stray bit of Lego in 1958. Now some of the Lego blocks (even those fiddly one piece bits) look positively gargantuan in comparison to some of the TLPT available.

Possibly the tiniest were some 3 Playmobil ducks, which all disappeared about 5 seconds after the pack was torn open. I reckon they were about 2mm each. Occasionally one reappears for a few minutes before disappearing in the chaos of the toy strewn living room floor. On Christmas Day not long after opening another packet we spent 20 minutes looking for one of Tinkerbell’s tiny tiny slippers (now securely superglued to her feet) to the background of tragic screams and wails from Audrey which accompanied its loss.

My Little Pony (which themselves are pretty microscopic) came with companions (a dog and a mouse) which are about 1/10,000,000 life scale. As a result on Boxing Day We lost hours of our life looking for a 1cm high plastic mouse and found it long after Eli had given up caring about its existence.

A search for the proverbial needle in a haystack would have been an absolute doddle by comparison. Besides I’m sure Fisher Price would now be able to design a toy which fitted comfortably on the end of the needle anyway.

And if you think your mobile phone is small, you should have seen Barbie's (which of course vanished almost instantly).

I’m not sure about Father Christmas, there are clearly a few things which question his existence (not least the lack of chimneys in new homes) but I'm beginning to suspect he must be real as given the micronisation of the toy box it would only be elves possessing fingers small enough to pack TLPT in boxes.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Happy Christmas!

Bob blows out a tune!

Amazingly Christmas in the Hickman household started just before 7am (Audrey is often awake at 5.30am). Both Audrey and Eli were hyped up about their main presents (a Barbie and fire truck respectively) and so everything else took 2nd place until these boxes were torn open.

Although we didn't go overboard with presents, the packages that had flown in from the UK meant that they had a pile of new toys to play with. Over the preceding couple of weeks (during various tantrums) we had talked to the kids about Santa 'making his list', 'checking it twice' etc and had even had a couple of earnest conversations with St.Nick on the phone (in earshot of both Audrey and Eli obviously) but in the end he came through with the goods, despite the kids being both naughty and nice at various times in the last year.

Here's some pics of the children with their stash.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Update on Amy

Some good news from my doctor today. My tumour marker levels are down again (third time in a row); my organs are all clear and the cancer in my bones has only spread a little. We're very hopeful that this is a sign that the medication I am taking is going to stabilise things for me. Hurrah! A much better end to 2011 than 2010!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Pavlova Magic

Pavlova is one of Australia's national dishes. Unless of course you're from New Zealand in which case it's origin is hotly debated. They both stake a big claim to it. A few years ago I had dinner with a group of people (one of whom was a Kiwi) and she was so angered (and got in such a huff) that I thought the dish came from Australia that I eventually conceded that the dish must surely be from New Zealand even though I didn't really know (or care).

If you want to read Wikipedia's thoughts on the matter you can go here

Amy made a lovely Pavlova on Saturday (thereby underlining Australia's rights to the title) here's a pic.

It's cherry time

I received a box of beautiful cherries the other day which the kids devoured with joy. Here's some pics

Monday, December 12, 2011


We've had an odd start to summer in Canberra. Although the weather has typically been in the low 20's apparently it's the coldest start to summer for 50 odd years. All the climate change stuff people have been talking about is now aligning just nicely.

At the weekend we had been due to go to Carols at Lanyon, an old homestead on the outskirts of Canberra, but a couple of hours before the start we were hit with a huge storm featuring marble sized hail which unfortunately washed the event out. Here's how our vegetable patch looked.

the white on the ground are hail stones

Amy's Gingerbread house

Amy went to a ginger-bread house making evening at Audrey and Eli's daycare. Arguably it was just an excuse for a large group of women (they had 30 people there) to get together and have a natter while eating a multitude of sweets and lollies.
Still I wasn't to concerned as she brought back this marvelous creation which has enough sweets on it to last us until the new year. Here's the house as it was and then as it was destroyed by Audrey, Eli and a couple of their friends.

tucking in with glee!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Mount Stromlo Open Day

The Oddie 2 telescope which we all looked through

At the top of one of the hills on the outskirts of Canberra is Mount Stromlo observatory.

I find it a fascinating place to visit. You ascend up a winding road where you're often watched by kangaroos and then, just as you're looking down admiring the spectacular view of Canberra and the surrounds, you come upon a whole village of university buildings, academic blocks and white observation domes.

I learned this weekend that one of the buildings up there lays claim as being the oldest Commonwealth building in the ACT - the Oddie Observatory which was erected in 1911.

Unfortunately the bush fires which gripped Canberra in 2003 have burnt out a lot of the buildings and there are numerous skeletons of buildings and observatories which have either burnt to the ground or are shells of their former selves. It is a true phoenix from the flames though and there are plenty of new buildings and a really nice cafe which has just opened to serve the many mountain-bikers who plummet from the top of the hill to Stromlo forest below.

Sunday was the anniversary of the placement of the Oddie telescope. James Oddie was an intriguing man in Australia's history who made (and then lost) a fortune. If you want to read more about him this is a good link and here is an excellent short TV clip about him too!

There were numerous astronomers and astrophysicists on hand and it was a really interesting trip. There was the obligatory sausage sizzle and balloons and a bouncy castle for the kids.

Audrey had entered a colouring competiton. She didn't win, but being proud parents that we are we thought her entry was just as good as the 10 year old who did win.

admiring Audrey's colouring

There was an opportunity to touch a meteorite as well as look through a re-constructed telescope. I headed back there after dark to look through some powerful telescopes and as well as several planets admired a globular cluster.

An old Australian (Dennis) fire engine

This bit of kit looks for 'space junk' using a laser
We stood in this looking out to space - a great evening

Where it all started - view from inside the Oddie observatory (sadly now destroyed by fire)

Young Cherry Festival

Audrey tucks into a plum

A date that had been on our calendar for a while was Young Cherry Festival.

Young is a 2½ hour drive north of Canberra, but the scenery en-route is beautiful. Miles of wheat fields and orchards. Think Wiltshire, but bigger and with gum trees rather than the chalk.

The kids slept in the back of the car, a night of Justine Clarke behind them followed by a morning of swimming. We arrived in time for lunch at the excellent bakery in the high-street

The actual festival itself was slightly disappointing. We'd loved Boorrowa's Irish Woolfest where the whole town had been involved in some way, but this one didn't seem as much fun somehow, country town life was still going on despite the festival.

Young itself has a questionable history. Anti-Chinese protests had been held there in the 1860s as the town grew out of the gold rush era. If you want to read more about this then click here

We stayed in town for a little while but then headed back (after getting hopelessly lost due to diversions) to an orchard where we enjoyed pick-your-own cherries and plums. I think if we head that way again (which I'm sure we will) we'll give the festival a wide-berth and head straight to where the action is - the many orchards which surround Young.

The guy in the fluro jacket (back of picture) had just won the annual cherry pie eating competition
Cherry orchard

Lighting of the Christmas Tree, Civic Square

On Friday night after a Christmas party we headed out to Civic Square in Canberra.

Architecturally-wise Civic Square is a bit of an odd place. Somewhere that probably looked good in the 'artists impression' when it was conceived in the 70's and now looking a bit tired as similar concrete-laden squares in Telford, Basingstoke, Bracknell, Townsville etc.

The occasion was the lighting of the Christmas Tree together with a free concert.

The shopping trolleys had been hauled out of the fountains and the place given a spruce up (no pun intended)

The main attraction for the night was Justine Clarke. We'd last seen her two months earlier, but this time she had license to sing more Christmas-ey numbers as well as our favourites.

Dreadful DJs Joe and Biggsy compered the evening and there was a painful 45 minutes of carol singing lead by Mrs Santa Claus (toe curlingly unnecessary) but Justine was just great. The kids kept going until 9pm and the tree lighting was fantastic.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Open Day at the National Zoo and Aquarium

The National Zoo is only a short 10 minute drive from our house and earlier this year we took up the offer of an annual pass. It means we can call in whenever we like and it's a nice place to spend an hour or two. Amy has taken Audrey and Eli a few times since we've signed up for the pass, and the children have now developed their own routine in terms of which animals they see and in which order. Every trip ends in a milkshake in the cafe.

Sunday was an open day for members, which gave you the opportunity to feed a number of the animals. Amy and I fed a (very sedentary) lion with some bits of meat while he lay on the sun.

A while ago someone gave us a giraffe fancy-dress costume which Audrey decided to wear to celebrate the occasion. She got a number of admiring glances and it made a nice change from her usual fairy attire.

me feeding Christian the lion. I opted not to go in the cage and give him a hug afterwards.

Eli by the monkey enclosure
Audrey as a giraffe
Sign reads: Please do not touch the glass - National Zoo and Aquarium a touching experience

Our local park

Here's some (perhaps uneventful!) pictures of our local park. It's only a short cycle from our house and the kids love riding there while I pull them in the bike trailer...who wouldn't?

Last week's rain gave way to some lovely sunshine on Sunday.

A really nice thing about watching Audrey and Eli growing up is seeing their imaginations run wild. The slide in the park sometimes doubles as a rocket-ship, the area under the slide is almost always an ice cream shop and we invariably meet dinosaurs there. On our latest trip Audrey sold me an (invisible) raspberry ice cream for $110. It seemed a bit on the expensive side, but it tasted divine.

ChloƩ's 3rd Birthday

Lots of fun was had as well as a lovely birthday cake!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

An audience with Princess Mary

On Tuesday Crown Prince Frederik and Crown Princess Mary of Denmark were in Canberra for the day. Audrey is quite smitten with princesses at the moment so I decided to take her and Eli to the National Art Gallery to see if we could catch a glimpse of Princess Mary. I couldn't believe it when we arrived - there were not many people about and we got prime position to see the royals arrive.

To top it all off, Princess Mary actually stopped to say hello to Audrey and Eli. Eli had taken along his Big Ted and dancing card (which he'd just got that morning at dance class and was well chuffed with) and Audrey had her favourite Barbie doll, nicknamed Princess Catherine. Princess Mary was rather bemused with the name of the Barbie doll!

I think I was rather more in awe of the royals than Audrey and Eli. The following day when our neighbour asked who Audrey had seen on Tuesday she replied, "A brown and ginger cat"! I had to prompt her again before she remembered her audience with Princess Mary.

Here's a still

Audrey, Eli and Amy appear about 1.30

Monday, November 21, 2011

Pat Cummins

It’s not often I have admiration for an Australian cricketer. There’s one or two I enjoy to watch but on reflection the last time I think I really ‘admired’ an Australian cricketer was Brett Lee at Edgbaston in 2005.

I’ve been following the Test Series in South Africa (a terribly short 2 test series), South Africa v Australia with interest and found myself actually cheering an Australian cricketer’s success.

Pat Cummins was the stuff of Victor comics – an 18 year old plucked from obscurity (after only playing 4 first class games) who then took 7 wickets in a match and hit a four for the winning runs (recording his highest batting score in the process). It was the stuff of dreams. Australian cricket has struggled for the last couple of years as old-hands retired or were dropped and mediocre or inconsistent players took their place. Throughout it all I haven’t shed a single tear at the team’s demise but I remember an Australian telling me (after Australia had drubbed England at cricket a few years ago) that things are cyclical, and so it appears.

It’s always great when young players ‘come through’. Whether it’s a 22 year old Gazza a youthful Ronnie O'Sullivan, David Gower, Andy Murray, Robbie Keane, David Beckham and even dare I say it Wayne Rooney. Some rise and then fall, some become sporting institutions and some get extensively tattooed.

It’ll be interesting to see how Pat Cummins fares, and probably I’ll change my view of him if he takes 7 wickets in his first game against England

Pat Cummins biffs a four

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Swimming+Tennis = tired children

After our weekly Saturday morning swimming lesson this morning we headed off to Lyneham Tennis Centre (National Sports Club) for their free tennis fun-day morning. It was a beautiful sunny day and we made sure the children were well basted in sunscreen. The morning was led by a friendly bunch of coaches and even though it wasn't hugely attended by the general public there were enough people both adult and junior on the courts to make it worthwhile.

Audrey and Eli took part in a junior coaching session. It was Audrey's second try at tennis, but although she really enjoyed it she didn't share quite the same enthusiasm as her little brother who tore around the mini-courts with a really determined look on his face. Both of them earned new racquets (given by the National Sports Club) for their enthusiasm and hard work. Here's them finishing their session followed by the drive home.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Garden Party Pics

We went to a really lovely BBQ/Garden party last weekend at some of Amy's friends.

They've got a beautiful garden with big trees a cubby house and a hammock which Audrey loved. I tried to sneak off to lie in it for a few moments peace myself but was thwarted by children taking turns to have a go. Here's some pics..