Saturday, December 28, 2013

Gooey stuff

When I was a kid my Christmas stocking always contained some gooey bubble stuff. I'm not even really sure what it's called other than I know it's made in Germany and sold in a toothpaste-like tubes. You blow it through a straw and can make pretty large bubbles. When I was younger it always provided lots of entertainment on Christmas Day after you had opened your presents, gorged on chocolate and broken your brand new Action Man's arm.
I was therefore so pleased when I found the same product in our friend's toy shop.
The product as a kid always had a really strong chemical smell, but they've obviously changed the formulation. The basic straw has now advanced too so you can't suck back and leave yourself with a plasticised lung. It's good fun stuff.  


Thursday, December 26, 2013

Christmas 2013

We had a quiet Christmas (forced on us slightly, as poor Amy had her gall bladder removed on 19th of December) but enjoyed it nonetheless, in the company of Amy's parents, Ivor and Wendy.

The kids loved opening their presents. Prior to Christmas Audrey had presented us with a long list of gift requests which included an ipad, but fortunately the horseriding Barbie seemed to fit the bill just as well. Eli got a load of Lego including a batman plane which we enjoyed building together. Both of them got presents from around the globe (particularly the UK of course which was so kind).

Even though I've lived here 5 years now a hot Christmas is still a novelty compared to the wet/cold ones in the UK. The kids obviously know no different - one day we'll have to take them to the UK over Christmas so they can trudge round in the rain and see the pre-Christmas sales while listening to Paul McCartney and Wings bashing out another rendition of 'Hope you're having a Wonderful Christmas Time!' and experience what a "traditional" Christmas should really be like.

Here's some pictures

Batman Lego
horse-riding Barbie 

Monday, December 23, 2013

Water Pistols at Dawn!

Canberra's Christmas Carnival in the City

Canberra laid on a whole lot of free children's entertainment in the lead up to Christmas.

There were camel rides (which were ultimately a bit too daunting for our two) as well as a gigantic bouncey/jumping castle, electric boat rides and a harness trampoline.

We spent a sunny afternoon there after school. The event was well publicised last year but hadn't gained so much attention this year so there was hardly any queue for the activities.

Here's a few pics;

Christmas Concert

The kid’s school had put huge effort into organising this year’s Christmas Concert. Eli had a starring role (as a chick) and Audrey was a horse (with pink and grey tail of course).

It was so nice to see them (and the entire school!) on stage. Seating was at a premium and we were lucky to get there early and get seats.

Afterwards there was a small Christmas fayre and we all celebrated the end of the (exhausting, yet satisfying) school term.

Audrey as a horse

Eli preparing to make his entrance as a chick
The grand finale

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Eli's School Christmas Picnic

I took a day off to go and help out at Eli's school Christmas picnic in nearby Weston Park.

Eli loved having me there and we all excitedly boarded the bus which arrived without incident.

Once there we staked our claim on a small area, the kids had snacks and then we headed for two laps of the small model railway that is in the park.

Afterwards it was lunch - which featured a surprise visit from Father Christmas then play time in the water and climbing areas.

The kids had a great time. It was great seeing Eli with his school mates. They're all between 4 and 5 but vary greatly between a few hunking boys and a couple of tiny miniscule girls. I think I was a novelty act who carried none of the weight of authority that the teachers did.

Eloise, Eli's teacher is fabulous. I'm not sure what she's paid but whatever it is she should be about triple of what it is.

Here's some pictures

Eli (4th from left) having his snack

Eli second from left with his mates

Mica and Darcy

Evelyn and Eli

Eli enjoying a sausage

A visit from santa

whacking the pinata

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Dr. Stovepipe

We went along to the final "Guerrilla Gig" of the year - this time in Canberra's North - Corroborree Park. It was our 4th out of 9. It's been a nice series - gigs take place in 'secret' locations around Canberra and you're only given a few hours warning as to where they're going to be.

This week's gig was performed by Dr. Stovepipe, who played their set from an old car. It was a lovely sunny day and the shady spot they'd picked was fantastic. We sat and listened to the music. Eli made friends with a friendly ladybird who crawled over his hands for quite a while before he let him go back into the grass.
It was a foot-tapping brand of music - the musicians were really accomplished and the lady on the fiddle was excellent. They told jokes and made wise-cracks between the fast-tempo-ed music which was as diverse as 'King of the Swingers' a song from Sesame Street and an East European gypsy song.
Here's some pics.
That's us on the left (in a blue t-shirt)

Me with Eli and Audrey (right hand side)


Christmas Tree

Our friends Belinda and Alistair kindly dropped us off a Christmas tree last weekend and it got decorated in blue (our old red and white baubles now looking a bit tatty). Eli was in charge of the candy canes which got hung at Eli height along the bottom (with a couple eaten along the way).
Our house now has a nice pine smell reminding us that Christmas isn't very far away!

Pleased with their tree decorating skills!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Cicada time!

Every year around this time of year the air in Canberra is full of the noise of cicadas. Australia is home to 200 different species and this year seems to have been a particularly bumper year for them.

I went to Audrey and Eli’s school last week (held outside in the playground) and the noise of the chirruping from the park next door to the school was so loud that you couldn’t hear the teachers speaking.

They’re big insects with large eyes. I imagine they’re pretty harmless and the birds feast on them. They must migrate somewhere I guess as you don’t see or hear them all year round. Here’s one I spotted on my walk home the other day.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Eli shares his Christmas biscuits

Eli's pre-school teacher (Eloise) kindly sent us this picture of Eli sharing his 'topic talk' Christmas biscuits!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Update on Amy

I went to see my oncologist today with a copy of the latest scans (taken on Tuesday) and blood tests.  The scans showed that there was some progress of cancer in the liver and the blood tests show that my tumour markers continue to rise (the last 3 have been steadily increasing).  So, we are now on to the next treatment. 

I will be going back to a chemotherapy treatment starting tomorrow (Saturday).  The chemotherapy is called Xeloda.  The good thing is that it is in a tablet form so I don't have to go in to hospital for IV infusions.  The bad thing is the list of possible side effects (again).  The worst sounds like possible sore hands/feet (peeling of the skin on palms of hands and soles of feet).  I guess the good news is that I shouldn't lose my hair (although this seems to bother other people more than me - I would happily be bald for the rest of my days if the treatment was working!).  I will do 14 days on the tablets and then a 7 day break.  During the break period I will have blood tests done and visit the oncologist to monitor how we are going.  My white cell count is a bit low at the moment so the doctors are keen to keep an eye on that. 

My first cycle I will only take the tablets for 7 days as I am booked in to have my gall bladder removed on 17 December.  An early Christmas present!  One thing is certain, life is not dull here in the Hickman family!

Monday, November 18, 2013


Audrey's dance school organised a huge end of year show at the Playhouse in Canberra's Theatre. There were masses of children (and eager parents) there and all of the kids performed admirably. Because the dance school concentrates on different forms of dance there was everything from break-dancing to tap to jazz.

Audrey loves her ballet classes. Her teacher is excellent and as the class goes on behind closed doors we rarely get a chance to see her practicing her art!

The school did two performances (at 1pm and 7pm) and Amy patiently sat with Audrey through the dress rehearsal the night before as well as helping out with the preparation leading up to the shows.

It was funny watching the kids enthusiasm - one or two plodded around a bit, but others danced frantically and with huge smiles. Audrey's class was (I think) Act 19 (of about 25) so there was a bit of waiting until we watched her 3 minute show.

Here's a few brief clips though together with the finale where all the kids were on stage. Audrey was so hyped up afterwards and talked non-stop for about 3 hours after the show!

Celebrating after the show (girl power!)

Hula Hoops

A friend of a friend sent us some Hula Hoops from the UK. They're not available in Australia (other than through 'English food' shops of which there are a few, albeit none in Canberra). The Australian equivalent are 'Cheezles' but although they're anatomically similar are quite different in taste and texture.

The kids loved the Hula Hoops, although as there are only 6 packets in the bag I hope they don't get too keen on them!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Wonder Woman!

Good use of the indestructible bracelets to deflect the bullets!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Eli and the tadpole skull!

[I've not needed to write today's post as it was written by Eli's pre-school teacher, Eloise!]

Eli and Sam discovered a 'tadpole skull' at the bottom of the tank today. They decided to organise a survey and find out what the class thought so they asked each student if they thought tadpoles have skeletons. I wrote out their questions and they placed a dot next to either yes or no depending on what people thought.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Local Gold Guerilla Gigs

Amy was quite ill this weekend. It's worrying for everyone when she's sick and we were visited by amazing nurses late on Saturday night who looked after her.

She was really drained on Sunday and so I took the kids out for much of the day, allowing Amy to stay and rest.

We scooted to our usual Sunday morning haunts of the Southside Farmer's market as well as to Audrey's ballet dress rehearsal. It's never as much fun when there's only 3 rather than 4 of us. Bizarrely our kids have got a fixation about Bunnings - the DIY warehouse chain and they nagged me all day about going there. I think the fact that I've spent so much time and money there during their short lives means that they see it as some kind of home-from-home!

There's always some kind of face-painting, craft workshop going on there, or if not there's always the tiny shopping trollies for them to push round and the well equipped play areas. The people at Bunnings know how to sell paint and nails but also how to entertain little kids.

In the afternoon we went to a Guerrilla Gig. They've been running all year and are funded as part of the Canberra 100 celebrations. They're hosted by the Cashews who I've seen quite a few times (sadly now approaching groupie status) a humourous/light hearted twosome who play guitar, accordion, trumpet and the occasional child's instrument! The essence of the event is that you don't know where it's going to be held and they announce (via Twitter, facebook, radio) in the morning of the event where it's going to be, allowing you a couple of hours to plan to get there.

We tuned into local radio and found the event was going to be at Dickson wetlands and also feature the duo of 'The Sparrow folk"

There were already quite a few people when we arrived and we joined them on a huge picnic rug near the water.

The bands played their jaunty music and we all sat in the sun and ate cake served by a guerrilla coffee shop who had joined in the fun.

We were there just over an hour. Audrey loved the Sparrow Folk.

We went home to Amy who was by the time we got home, feeling a bit better.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Amy's brother comes to visit

Amy's eldest brother, Ivor, came to stay for a few days last week. It was great to see him not least as it was over five years since we'd last been together.

Amy's parents came to stay as well and Amy enjoyed showing them the sights and sounds of Canberra. Audrey had made a big 'Welcome' sign for him (including a number of places to visit) and she delighted in ticking off the places as they visited. One morning was spent at the arboretum and a morning at Canberra's impressive war memorial.

Everyone also came along to Audrey's school assembly where she opened occasions with a short (but confidently delivered!) introduction.

Here's some pictures.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Frogs and Bats

The cry of the frogs was so loud. A lot of shrill ones a few some ‘creaky ones’ and one that croaked with a deep rat-a-tat-tat.

I had come along to a frog survey – part of the ACT’s bioblitz. The event hadn’t been widely advertised so I felt privileged to be amongst the 15 or so of us sat on the bank of the small pond (dam no.4) on Canberra’s Black Mountain.

Our guide had led us there from the car park and even though the rumble of lorries and cars going along Belconnen Way was still audible, we found ourselves sat in a little oasis of frogdom. I reckoned I counted three different croaks, others thought four. We sat for ten minutes or so and recorded the noise before walking round the pond to observe the little frogs who had been making such a noise. Some of them were tiny (barely bigger than a thumb nail) some more substantial, but none really much longer than a little finger.

Our guide talked us through the different sorts and we discussed their commonality, loss of habitat and whether we’d be able to get back to the car park without being attacked by drop bears!

Click here if you want to listen to the frogs!

Enthused by my encounter with frogs I took Eli (together with Amy's Dad, Ivor and brother, Ivor) along on Sunday evening to a bat census on the other side of black mountain. This time the animals would be flying and swooping rather than hopping.

I’d never really thought of Canberra as having bats – there’s a group of fruit bats who regularly nest in Commonwealth Park during summer (and whose arrival is met with a variety of joy or distaste depending on your point of view – they have bright green/yellow poo and cause damage to trees) but aside from that I don’t recall ever seeing any flitting around in the night sky. I was to learn though that there are something like 30 different species – mostly in the classification of ‘microbats’ who inhabit Canberra and its environs.

Our guide was a hugely knowledgeable guy called Michael Pennay who is the President of the Australasian Bat Society. Michael and his band of followers had set up five “harp traps” the previous evening and had caught around 30 different bats. They were now safely stored in small cotton bags.

One by one we got the bats out, Michael measured them, highlighted their differences to us and then re-bagged them. It was so interesting to see the small differences. Some with long ears, some with bigger mouths. Michael said a key identifier was often the bats’ penises which meant that often emailing bat experts created problems as spam filters often took over with the mention of the ‘p’ word!

After watching them for a while (Eli sat enthralled) we went to an area of open ground where we could release them. Many of us, including Eli, were armed with small sonar devices for tracking the call of bats (their sounds not audible to the human ear) and we released them into the darkening evening where many of them started instantly hunting the midges that flew around us. It was so interesting.

Afterwards we walked through the nearby woods trying to listen to other bats in the neighbourhood – everyone picked up lots of activity on their devices.

It was a fascinating evening. We walked back to our car around 8.30, reflecting on our evening spent with bats and Eli full of stories which he was keen to tell his big sister. Mine was only a brief encounter with bats and frogs, but so worthwhile and I hope I get more time to learn about them and see them again. Thanks ACT Government for making bio blitz possible!

Frogs in Dam 14
Michael Pennay allows us to come up close and personal with some microbats
with our sonar devices
Releasing the bats into the night (it was a lot darker than this picture looks!)

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Jumping in puddles!

We’ve had a few torrential downpours over the last few days. Hopefully they’ll help extinguish the fires which continue to burn in NSW.

Beside that the beauty with lots of rain is that it creates lots of puddles.

I picked Eli up from pre-school yesterday and took his spider-wellies with me. He loved jumping in puddles all the way home.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Dragons Abreast Corporate Regatta

Amy's breast care nurse from the hospital worked incredibly hard to put together a team of us to take part in the Dragons Abreast Corporate Regatta.

It involved dragon boat racing on Lake Burley-Griffin. It was a big (and well hosted) affair with 32 (mostly corporate) teams taking part.

Our team was different to the rest in that it was a bit of a hotch-potch of people undergoing breast cancer treatment, their friends and spouses and a number of ladies who make up Dragons Abreast - a fundraising team who regularly organise and run dragon boat events - made up of cancer sufferers and their friends.

We were fortunate that we'd had a couple of evening's practice in the lead up to the event - so we weren't complete novices, but our practice had only been around technique and timing and nothing really prepared us for the thrill and drama of a 'live' race.

The day began early by the lake. Canberra is experiencing a fair bit of smoke in the air at the moment from bushfires in nearby NSW and the smoke hung over the mountains in the distance. The lake was still though and it was beautiful as the day warmed up.

Our moment came at 8.30am and we put in an admirable effort of finishing 5th in our race (ok 5th out of 6). The second race came hot on the first races heels and we were prepared the second time round, hurling ourselves down the long course.

I shouted myself horse during the race - it was so much fun. Again we finished 5th, but the second race was so close and we could easily have come 3rd. It was an admirable achievement considering we had thought we were going to be nothing more than also-rans. The score chart also (incorrectly) recorded us as 2nd in our first heat (a case of mistaken identity?) so we actually did pretty well in terms of ranking.

Still, putting my insatiable competitive spirit aside in reality the day was much more about the fact that we WERE there and we did HAVE a team. Many of the ladies in the boat had quite frankly been through shitty times with cancer and its treatment and the fact that they were able to sit in a boat and see the beautiful lake was a success in itself.

The day was wonderfully organised. Afterwards Amy took part in "flowers on the water" in memory of those lost to cancer. It left a huge lump in many throats including mine.

I hope we'll be there next year and most of all I hope that all those who took part are able to be there too.

Audrey by a tree

Lake Burley Griffin

Eli and Jack

Barb and Amy

Dragon Boats on the water

Pirate Audrey

Jack and Barb

Eli and his pirate chums

Amy getting on board