Sunday, February 28, 2016

Canberra Show

We spent a fun day at the Canberra Show. It's an annual event and is full of animals, craft, art and of course fairground rides and stalls. We got there at 8.30am hoping to avoid the crowds and ended up staying until 4pm (a long hot day!)

Highlights were probably the lego, the kittens (for Audrey) and the ferris wheel ride!


A lovely post on Facebook described my parenting as, 'brilliant' the other day.

It kind of made my day. I wasn't fishing for compliments and it was nice to receive one.

To be honest I think the actual truth is more that my parenting is better described as; 'capable' or maybe 'haphazard'; I muddle through somehow.

Somehow the kids get meals on the table (I confess that I did burn boiled eggs the other day, but that's another story). Somehow their school uniform is always laid out on their beds in the morning (the way that Amy used to do). Somehow they get packed lunches, and somehow I get to spend a few quiet moments to myself when the hubbub of a day (usually spent chasing round making sure that my two beautiful children are happy and feeling loved) comes to an end. We're getting by, but it doesn't mean that it's easy.

My little boy cried himself to sleep tonight. He told me over and over that he wanted his Mum back. I couldn't really help him other than rub his back and cuddle him. All three of us feel that way and after Eli went to sleep I cried too. The sadness and hopelessness I feel about missing Amy ebbs and flows with me - so why should it be any different with Audrey or Eli?

I put nail polish on Audrey's nails this afternoon (a high fashion electric blue if you're interested) and afterwards played cricket in the garden with Eli.

Audrey no longer has a female role model in our family which troubles me at times; Eli only has me to watch him play soccer or shout supportive words on the rugby field. (Perhaps sometimes I do shout loud enough for two though I guess).

I am 100% sure though that their Mum would be proud of the children they have become since she died.

Both my kids are so kind. We watched a subtitled cartoon this afternoon and without prompting Audrey read the words aloud to Eli as she instinctively knew that (although he can now read) he would have struggled to keep up with the speed of the text. Eli let his friend jump the queue at their facepainting session earlier today as he knew his friend had to leave soon and might miss out. Empathy.

I try my best to keep the memory of their Mum alive, but at the same time always making sure that the enormity of the terrible situation doesn't crush them or define their life entirely.

They are such beautiful and kind children, but equally both hard as nails - they've been able to shoulder the death of their Mum and carry on and done so, in lots of ways, so much more capably and much more 'brilliantly' than me.

I am so proud to call myself their Dad.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Apple picking in Piallago

I'd never been apple picking before, but as Sunday was lovely and warm the three of us headed out to Tanbella Orchard to PYO.

It was a great afternoon - you got to eat as much as you wanted (I guess unlike strawberries you can only eat so many apples!) and the large orchard had three or four different apple trees as well as pears and plums. I had worried about the kids reaching the fruit, but actually many of the branches were weighed down with fruit and picking fruit was easy and fun.

We filled a bucket full and then paid. A couple of friendly dogs came to say hello to us as we left. I always find it amazing that Piallago is next to Canberra airport and yet has the feeling of being in the middle of the country. One of the advantages of the bush-capital I guess.

I read the kids John Keat's Ode to Autumn when I got home. Just because I could(!) and just because I know the first verse off by heart!

Canberra Capitals

I think it's fair to say that Canberra Capitals (Canberra's female basket ball team) has had a miserable season. Beset by the retirement of their most famous player (Lauren Jackson) and a string of other injuries they had the unenviable record of losing 22 games in a row.

As a result we hadn't been particular regulars at the AIS where they play their home games, but Friday was their last game of the season. It was also the final game of one of their stalwart players (Jess Bibby) as well as their coach Carrie Graf after 15 seasons in the job. I thought we should go along (you can get a ticket for 1 adult and 2 kids for $26 which I think to watch top-level sport is a pretty great deal.

In the end (after struggling in the first quarter) the Caps won 78-71 against a Bendigo Spirit team. The AIS is being renovated next season and so some of the games move to the (smaller) theatre venue in town. I'm sure we'll be there to watch them though.

on the court at the end

Jess Bibby gets a send off

Majura Pines

We found a new spot to ride our bikes at the weekend - Majura Pines is to the east of the city and has well defined easy tracks as well as a range of more complex challenging tracks and jumps.

There didn't seem to be any barbecue facilities there which was a bit of a shame, but otherwise we had loads of fun. Eli came a cropper at one point and got a big scar on his elbow (but in truth I think he was happy that he could show it off to his mates when he went back to school).

A well earned drink

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

A Workshop that really resin-ates

Mikaela pipettes some colour!

Ever since I attained grade C in my art O'Level at the age of 15 (for my memorable still life sketch of a school vacuum cleaner) I've considered myself something of an undiscovered artisan.

Nowadays, apart from helping the kids with the occasional colouring book, I must admit that in truth the only thing I usually ever draw is the curtains (geddit?).

It was excellent therefore (if only to flex my artistic prowess) to get a chance to take part in a resin bowl workshop at the Makers' Hub in Canberra.

The wonderful Mikaela Danvers runs the Makers' Hub, established a couple of years ago in Canberra's north to allow local artists and crafty folk to turn their hand to countless hours of folding, moulding, painting and sticking opportunities. There's big scale arty stuff there too - from a kiln to a 3D printer and a printing press.

I must admit I didn't quite know what to expect when I went along to the workshop. I'd done a glass blowing course a couple of years ago at Canberra's (excellent) glassworks, and had also tinkered with a potters wheel for a couple of terms when I was at school - where I produced a few wonky looking vases (to exhibit alongside my vacuum cleaner sketch). Making stuff out of resin though was definitely uncharted territory.

Mikaela encouraged us all to introduce ourselves, and then acquainted us with a table full of strangely alluring(!) pink latex moulds which would allow us to create an infinite number of bowls, bangles or rings.

I opted to make a small bowl rather than jewelry - (figuring that I usually have a trouser-pocketful of coins or a stray cufflink which needs a home). We then discussed the assorted methods of mixing the resin with colours to create a matt or gloss effect and learnt how to introduce a swirl or pattern into your piece of artwork.

There were eight of us in the class and the conversation excitedly switched to our ambitious projects.

It's possible to hire the Makers' Hub venue, either for kids' parties (which I would imagine would be loads of fun) and also for grown-up sessions which would be great too. It's a bright airy studio and it's casually (but beautifully) laid out with bunting flags at the window and interesting/motivating signs on the wall. There's even a little (cute) crafty fox there!

Mikaela told us that venue hire works really well with small groups and it's a really flexible place as tables can be moved out to accommodate loads of different ideas.

I commenced pouring my first bowl with zeal. I followed our main instruction - 'mix fast, pour slow'.

I had high hopes for my output - it was going to be a trendy, simplistic, little matt number in light green - 'less is more' I figured. I was already day-dreaming about the gasps from my friends as I pulled my stylish, zen-like bowl out of my bag the next morning - people coo-coo-ing as to which gallery I had bought it from and then being able to brag to them that it was entirely fashioned through my own indomitable artistic talents.

The resin poured easily into the pink mould and then half way through went gloopy and then set hard.


I must admit I'd never worked with a material quite like it. Liquid one minute, solid as a rock the next. I was desperate.

My Donatello-esque inspired bowl! Rodin-esque artwork!....(sorry I can't think of any more sculptors) suddenly became completely junk. Half a bowl with a big gloop of hard resin sticking out of the bottom. It would have been difficult even to pass it off as modern art. I don't think anyone would have bought my story about it being an "abstract interpretive piece" and it certainly wouldn't have been any use for loose change. Bugger it.

Fortunately a couple of other people had mucked up their bowls too. Others in the group had of course produced stunning bowls, rings and bangles first time (don't you just hate those people) :)

As it was I cleaned out my pink mould and was soon back to the 'mix fast pour slow' thing. I hid my rubbish first effort under some paper towels.

This time I was successful. I'd resorted to an old gold and black bowl (naturally) and second time around it came out beautifully. I WAS an artist after all!

I'd recommend the workshop to anyone, whether artistically inclined or not. It was great fun and Mikaela was a fabulous teacher and was both amusing and interesting to listen to. You also obviously get the benefit of taking home something you have made. If you live in, or are visiting Canberra and would like to do something a bit unique, then get in touch with the Makers Hub here

* People did like my bowl the next day. It was a bit rough at the edges and I'm sure when I make bowl number three it will be better still.

I guess though on reflection I'm unlikely to get commissioned for my "resin bowl-work exhibition" any time soon, but it was such a fun way to spend a (rare) child-free evening and I created a family heirloom which might show up in a gallery someday (albeit only if dug up out of the ground in about a thousand years time). Thank you Mikaela and Makers' Hub!

pink moulds with glitter!

Love the plastic apron

My bowl in the mould

Crafty like a fox!

objet d'art!
(I got to do the workshop for free. sorry you'll have to cough up and pay - but it's still great value!)

Eli wins Kids Glass Design Competition

Last year it was his sister who took the accolades, but Eli made sure that the Canberra Glassworks Design Competition stayed in the family by winning the 2015 competition (in the 3-8 age category).

Unfortunately we were in New Zealand at the time of the presentation, but like Audrey he'll get to keep the glass work that was based on his design. It was made by talented glass artist Annette Blair

The candle was to celebrate the Kingston Powerhouse building which houses the glassworks and which is 100 years old this year. There is a tall chimney as part of the structure which formed the idea behind Eli's candle. Here's some pics of our clever boy and his sculpture.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Multi Cultural Festival

This weekend marked Canberra's Multi-cultural festival. It's a big event in Canberra's calendar and runs from Friday evening until Sunday. We've never been in the evening, but apparently the atmosphere gets fairly electric as there are several stages as well as roving entertainment and unplanned events (like a couple who had set themselves up this year in one of the main walkways with a big sign offering people free hugs!)

First on most people's list though is the food - a vast array of stalls selling everything from Beirut street food to countless noodle stalls and a perennial favourite of chips on a stick!

We stayed for quite a while - it was really hot on Sunday morning, but the 'old' part of the town centre where the festival is held is actually quite leafy and so the trees serve to keep the temperature down a bit. If you do get too hot there's hundreds of stalls willing to sell (or in the case of a lot of friendly Sikhs) give, you ,a bottle of water.

Despite a mass of embassies, day-to-day Canberra is actually pretty white/european, so it's nice to be reminded that under the surface there are actually a host of other cultures living in our city.

just some of the throngs

Audrey and I taking a selfie on the carousel
Tibetan Momo dumplings washed down with Sri Lankan beer
our beautiful daughter enjoying the sunshine

New School Term

The new term began at the start of February. I was so grateful for the help given by friends during the school holidays. The logistical planning of juggling six weeks holidays while working full time was fairly overwhelming at times.

We did the annual school photo (camera balanced on the wheely bin).... in fact I still maintain that the wheely bin is probably the best photographer in the family. I told the kids that even though they hated posing for it, when the time comes they'll do the same with their kids if/when they had any. They asked me why and I answered; 'You just will'. A range of images of me and my brothers stood next to a blackboard with the date on it bears testimony to my answer.

As well as a lot of other things, times like this are hard as I can't help thinking that Amy is missing out on things like this. She'd have loved seeing how 'grown up' the kids are now and she'd approved that I shelled out on Clarks shoes this time around (rather than the Aldi ones I made them wear last term).

I like to think Amy's still watching out for us.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

New Zealand

Just before Christmas a friend of ours pointed out that Virgin Australia were running a sale on flights to New Zealand and so I booked a short break for the three of us to visit our friends Pene and Mike as well as take a look at one of Australia's near neighbours.

I've always thought of New Zealand as being on the 'other side of the world' but from Sydney(!) it's only a short three hour flight making it much closer than other parts of our own country. It was the first time I'd travelled abroad on my Australian passport - and given 'Australian' as my own nationality. Fortunately I wasn't asked my cricket allegiance at customs.

Pene and Mike were fabulous hosts. They had a lovely house and the kids loved Missy - their placid labrador who adored the attention they gave her.

We were treated to a trip to Pallister Light House and a lovely pub lunch as well as a trip to the excellently appointed playground (which the kids loved) in Masterton not far from Pene and Mike's house.

After finding our feet I hired a car and drove north to Tapau (a vast inland volcanic lake) and then after we'd had a night there, further on to Rotarua. We completed a circular route by driving back through Napier.

We had an afternoon of white water rafting south of Tapau - which had so many thrills and spills and then the next day Audrey got to enjoy an afternoon pony trekking on a lovely mare (Cisco).

Rotarua was stunning - I've never really been anywhere like it before - it was full of geo-thermal activity and geysers spurted near to bubbling mud-pools. The kids were less keen on the sulphur smell which pervaded the whole area, but you did get (kind of) used to it after a while.

We drove back through the seaside town of Napier and visited the small but nicely presented aquarium where we saw our first kiwi bird!

It was a lovely break. It would be easy to spend weeks (rather than a week) in and around New Zealand. I really felt like we only scratched the surface of things and I left with the feeling that there were multitudes of galleries, museums and beautiful vistas just waiting to be 'discovered'. I'm sure we'll be back for more.

[A quick funny story was that while waiting in Sydney airport on the way out a "Mr Husair" was paged and the kids rolled around saying "Mr Husair?" and when I asked them why they (both) answered "Knock, knock...'Husair'" - who said travelling with children was dull!)]

Here's a few pictures (I took many more!)

Pene and the kids in Masterton

Cape Pallister Lighthouse
up close and personal with one of the many seals in Cape Pallister

Audrey on Cisco
Eli on the luge

Wairakei thermal springs

Sunset in Tapau (we stayed just over the road)
the kids enjoying(?) the smell of one of the mud pools

White water rafting on the Tongariro River

white water!
me and my little crew - I think their smiles tell the story