Sunday, October 22, 2017

Indoor football starts again...

A summer awaits of indoor football - I think they play 14 games in all. Here's a photo following Thunder and Lightning's first game..


Canberra Capitals

Canberra Capitals are Canberra's female basket ball side. They've enjoyed success in the WNBL having won the Premiership no less than seven times. Unfortunately the last of those wins was in 2010 and the last few years following the retirement of super-star Lauren Jackson have been a bit barren.

Sporting attention in Australia's capital city often turns towards the Canberra Raiders (rugby league) or the occasional Aussie Rules (AFL) game at Manuka. Of course there's also two or three decent games of cricket a year. In that respect the Capitals are a bit of a niche market. We'd seen them play probably four or five times at their old home of the AIS (though they also played a few games at Tuggeranong in Canberra's South).

For this season though the games are being held at Canberra's Convention Centre in the centre of town. The idea appears to be to build interest by having a sporting code in Canberra's centre - a precursor to the stadium that may or may not be built nearby in the space currently occupied by the somewhat ancient 'Olympic' pool.

Being predominantly set up for concerts makes the venue a bit odd. Seating is all on one side of the court, though in fairness the seats (being concert seats) are quite probably the comfiest (and cheapest) I've sat in for any sport, anywhere!

In the game we went to Canberra played Melbourne (and sadly lost by 29 points) so the game was all a bit one-sided. I took Audrey along with one of her friends and the two girls enjoyed the spectacle. Canberra have some good players, including captain Natalie Hurst who never stopped running. It was a nice afternoon out and they do their best to build an atmosphere. I hope the team continues to improve, it would be good to see their success return to the Capitals.
Managed to capture a three pointer on its way in!

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Walking to school

When I was about Audrey's age I used to walk to Warstones, my primary school in Wolverhampton. It's probably a similar distance from our current house to the kids school - a ten minute walk. For the last couple of weeks I've been encouraging A&E to walk on their own but they've been reluctant preferring either to jump in our car or ride/walk with me. They've never actually walked on their own until today, but this morning was beautifully sunny and seemed ideal.

I offered to take A&E's bags in the car while they walked and I could then drop their bags with them when they arrived (I could then drive on to work).

They set off towards school. I got caught up in a few of the mundane chores that fill my life. I had a shower, put some washing out, tidied away the breakfast things and loaded the dishwasher. In all I probably took 25 minutes or so. I suddenly felt guilty as I'd promised to drop the school bags and I imagined A&E waiting impatiently for me in the playground.

Quickly, I chucked their bags in the car and set off. About 2/3rds of the way to school I spotted two little figures. They were strolling along, Eli studying the fencepost, Audrey tugging on her brother's hat. They were chatting and laughing as they walked.

It was impossible to get cross with them. Somehow they'd extended the length of their walk - they were certainly in no hurry. They'd successfully navigated the zebra crossing and were basically enjoying the sunny morning.

I waited in the school carpark and they spotted me and ran the rest of the way to join me. I gave them their bags and they headed into school. Crazy (but beautiful) children. It reminded me how hurried my life is and how I cajole them to keep up when we're walking anywhere. No wonder they complain having seen their 'natural' pace!

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Audrey with Holly

Here's a picture of Audrey with Holly - the biggest horse at her riding school. Holly is a Clydesdale and absolutely massive (no I don't know how many hands) Audrey hasn't ridden her (yet!) but she's a really beautiful horse.

Wish you were here

Eli played touch rugby last week. He's suddenly got so tall and gangly. I watched him play with the biggest lump in my throat as I know his Mum would have loved to have seen him. Audrey has a big dance performance this weekend and I know I'll end up in tears for the same reason.

#Stop Adani

Australia looks set to build what will be the country's largest mine in Carmichael in Queensland. The mine is being developed by an Indian organisation called Adani and will provide coal to India to generate electricity. The mine comprises five underground mines and six open-cut pits.
The good news is that the mine will provide up to 1,500 Australian jobs and will seemingly boost the economy as the coal is dug up, processed and transported overseas. 
The bad news is that Adani has a history (in Africa) of numerous environmental breaches. It's an absolutely huge mine and situated right alongside Australia's Great Barrier reef. The reef is already in trouble with rising sea temperatures and so becoming neighbour to a vast coal mine isn't exactly going to help its future.
Part of the complexity is that a large train line (about 160km) is required to move the coal and (fortunately) the cost of financing that is slowing the project.
Having grown up in Thatcher's Britain and watching (and supporting) coal miners fighting for their jobs and communities I find myself sometimes at odds with myself arguing that a coal mine which will bring economic advantage to the people who live nearby should not be built.
The world HAS moved on though. Sustainable energies are becoming cheaper and much more viable and the initiative behind the mine seems more about winning local votes that boosting the Australian economy.
Added to that having lived in Australia for nearly a decade I see just how beautiful (and yet fragile) the country's natural resources are. Australians who have never left Australia's shores seem somehow blind to that. The benefit of creating jobs always seems to outweigh the permanent destruction of nature. The Green party is margalised and people who have concerns for the environment are frowned upon.
What makes me perhaps sadder is that in a recent survey 25% of Australians hadn't even heard of Adani and the Carmichael coal mine. A Murdoch dominated media has left them ill informed and so the mine potentially could be built by stealth with the population ignorant of the environmental effects of it potentially until it is too late.
The barrier-reef is a truly beautiful place. I'd like it to be there not only for my children but for generations to come. That's not meant to be a trite and throw away statement either. The Adani mine if built will only have a life span of 60 years but it's legacy will last for hundreds of years. I'm puzzled why something would be built that would wipe out one of the Earth's natural wonders for such short term benefit.
We took part in a march to protest. Even if the damn thing does end up being built I want my kids to know that they (through me) fought against it and understood the consequences.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Short break to Dandenong Ranges

The Dandenong Ranges is an area just east of Melbourne, made up of low mountain ranges and rolling countryside. It's very picturesque and at this time of year (Spring) quite green.
I had a couple of days leave booked during the school holidays and had originally planned to go further to the Mornington Peninsula, but someone at work recommended that the Dandenong's which, as well as being a couple of hours closer to Canberra probably had more on offer for the kids.
Nevertheless it was still a fair drive. We headed down the highway and after a long lunch and meander in Albury as well as a couple of other toilet breaks we reached our destination mid-afternoon after probably around 9 or 10 hours in the car. The kids were excellent passengers and we variously listened to audio books or chatted.
Our first couple of nights were spent in a slightly dodgy motel in Belgrave. It was clean, but fairly ancient. The kids laughed at the TV - Audrey remarking that the tele was older than her (which in truth it probably was).
On our first full morning, we caught the famed 'Puffing Billy' steam train from Belgrave through to our destination (Lakeside). Lakeside boasts a (huge) model train exhibition which was situated in a nearby shed/warehouse building near to the (full size) Puffing Billy station. The model train has apparently been there for 30 years. The owners were fastidious in their attention to detail and the model had everything from airports to hot air balloons. The kids loved the eye-spy they'd set up and delighted in spotting things.
We returned to Belgrave by the Puffing Billy and then rushed to Healsville, a sanctuary focusing on Austalian fauna. Incredibly the place was free for kids during the holidays. Often parks like this are fairly mediocre - a few moth-eared koalas and bored kangaroos, but Healsville was wonderfully set up with great enclosures and loads to see and do. I wish we'd actually given it a lot longer than the short afternoon we did.
The next day we headed to Trees Adventure park, a park which offers a series of obstacles/zip lines traversing the trunks and branches across quite a large area of woodland. Visitors are given a harness and instruction and then essentially set-loose to choose their own route and challenge. Everything was colour coded to cater for under 7s right up to adults.
The kids took to it immediately. They were both more flexible (and probably stronger) than me and certainly less worried about the prospect of crashing through the canopy en route to the floor. We were allotted two hours, but in truth I think we probably stayed four.
Afterwards we left Dandenong and drove to the coast - stopping first in a lovely (almost isolated) spot called Golden Beach where we stayed in a beach hut - a lovely family hosted us (they stayed next door) and then from there drove another four hours or so to Marlo (again a beautiful and very relaxed spot) where we stayed in a spacious motel and feasted on local fish and chips.
Eventually we headed for home. A straight drive north through Cooma. We covered 1600km in five days so it was quite a trip, but really good fun and nice to explore a bit of a different part of the world.

On board the Puffing Billy
The HUGE model village at Lakeside

Treetop Adventures

Audrey flicking her hair in the sea at Marlo!

The sun sets in Marlo (a pelican perched on a telegraph pole)

Back to Corin

We took the opportunity for a final bit of snow in what has been a really unusually cold winter. Often the ski season peters out around early/mid September (the first couple of weeks of August are reputedly the best time to go) but this year it continued for a few extra weeks.

Here's a couple of quick videos of the kids having fun before the snowboard gear gets put away until 2018.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

A couple of days away with work at Coogee Beach


Before and After haircut...

If the hat fits..

Audrey got a lovely baseball cap for her birthday. It was one of her treasured possessions and she wore it for a few days, only removing it for school and sleeping.
On a sunny Sunday afternoon we went for a walk round Lake Ginninderra with some friends. It was a windy afternoon and Audrey tightened the back of her cap accordingly, so it didn't blow into the drink. About half way round the walk you cross a road bridge that looks back towards Emu Bank. Of course at this point the wind really picked up and flipped Audrey's cap off her head and into the deepest part of the water below.
I could have swum out to get it, indeed I did consider it (until Eli made me see sense - I'd have had to walk back 30 minutes to the car dripping wet - and most likely been a bit stinky too). Of course Audrey was upset - not least as the cap didn't have the graciousness to sink, but rather bobbed along the top of the water where it could be seen but not reached.
I told Robin (who had kindly sent the hat from the UK) the situation and he quickly bought and sent a second. It was a really generous thing to do and smiles followed on the day that the package arrived. I smirked as I thought of the twin of the cap bobbing along in the reeds of Lake Ginninderra somewhere along with a few old Coke cans.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Snowboarding at Corin Forest

We've had an unusually long snow season this year - possibly the longest and best in the time we've lived in Canberra. Unfortunately due to packed weekends, we've not really taken advantage of it and with it all likely to draw to a close in the next couple of weeks I was keen to at least see a bit of snow this winter/spring.

Rather than drive the 2-3 hours out to the snowfields we headed instead to Corin Forest. It's only a short 40 minute drive through picturesque country and seems to be expanding every year. It's at a lower altitude to the snow fields, but still higher than Canberra which means it does experience the occasional natural dump of snow and the owners have established a couple of excellent slopes where they can make snow using snow guns and offer tobogganing and more recently ski and snowboard lessons.

Last year the kids and I had ski lessons (I was rubbish, they were excellent) and this year I asked A&E whether they wanted to try their hand at snowboarding. I'd personally always sworn that I wouldn't try snowboarding until I'd mastered skiing (something I'm pretty unlikely to ever achieve). I've also seen a few people return from snowboarding holidays battered and bruised as although it's undoubtedly a cool and exciting sport - learning does seem to require you to spend a fair amount of time falling backwards onto your bum, or worse forward onto your outstretched wrists.

I opted therefore to watch from afar while the kids had lessons. I hated copping out, but I really couldn't face spending the next week with a bruised bum or in hospital in traction following a spill. The kids cajoled me to join in without success.

As it was they were both excellent. I guess they have less height (and weight) and despite being a bit tentative to get going their enthusiastic teacher taught them well, and by the end they were zooming down the slope unaided.

They both agreed that they enjoyed snowboarding more than skiing which in truth probably brings to end my short lived (and unsuccessful) ski career. I guess I'm condemned (probably not reluctantly) to a future watching them from afar while they hone their snowboard skills. Hopefully we'll get more time on the snow next year.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Nerf Wars

Eli went to a Nerf party at the weekend and took it very seriously indeed..

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Tim comes to visit

Our friend Tim was visiting Canberra with work and we had a lovely evening in Guild - a restaurant set up to serve (delicious) pizzas as well as with a huge array of board games. We played a German wooden animal balancing game(!) as well as the excellent Looping Louie (pictured).

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Audrey's (snowy) birthday

I'd done quite a bit of preparation for Audrey's birthday - from making the horse cake, to preparing 'Frog in a Pond' (blue jelly with a jelly frog at the bottom). The plan was to have a 'Pony Party' at the riding school where Audrey learns to ride.
On Saturday Canberra's weather had been glorious. The last chills of our (long) winter seemed to be disappearing. I'd sat outside without a jacket and things had looked rosy.
On Sunday morning (the day of Audrey's party) I'd checked the weather and noticed that they were forecasting a 70% chance of rain in the afternoon. The weather forecasts in Australia tend to be remarkably accurate. There's not so much 'chance of showers' which is the line almost every UK forecast trots out with annoying regularity. I guess the size and scale of the country allows forecasters to see fronts appearing more clearly.
It was dry all morning but then as we drove to the riding school (car boot full of precariously balanced party food) it started to rain. By the time we'd driven the 15 minutes out of town to the centre it was bucketing it down and by the times we were at the car park for the riding school the rain had turned to a frosty mix of rain and sleet.
After speaking to the staff along with a slightly crestfallen Audrey we decided to cancel the riding. I quickly googled films showing that afternoon, but unfortunately there was a range of 'contains violence' movies. Eventually I found Dendy in the city had a series of Ghibli films showing. They're anime Japanese films (mostly) for kids. We've seen a couple and they're good (albeit weird at times) so we headed there as an alternative.
Sure enough the film was weird (and loooong) but everyone feasted on popcorn and Fanta and we got to sing and cut the cake at the end so it was all ok. We'll do the horse riding another time, perhaps in a few weeks when the chance of snow(!) has passed.
The birthday crew
the cake


Friday, August 25, 2017

Jo visits!

Our friend Jo visited from Adelaide and we had a nice sunny walk to the kid's school together. Unfortunately Audrey was on school camp, but Eli was chuffed to see her nonetheless.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

"I've just pulled my tooth out!"

Conversations you have with an 8 year old during breakfast....

Sunday, August 20, 2017


The daffodils in our garden seem to be out unseasonably early this year. I had a friend in the UK who used to hate daffodils (they felt they had too much of a weed like quality) but I've never agreed. I really like the dash of colour they provide at the end of winter reminding you that Spring and Summer are only round the corner.
I'm always surprised that there aren't more growing in and around Canberra as certainly the city seems to have the climate for them. Perhaps I'll do some guerrilla plantings next year!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Mulligans Flat Twilight Tour

The kids and I went to a fabulous night tour around Mulligans Flat in Canberra's north as part of Australia's Science Week.

Mulligans Flat is a large sanctuary encircled in a highly scientific (and quite brutal) electric fence that is designed to prevent feral predators, particularly foxes and cats entering the reserve. The entire area has been cleared of them as well as rabbits and huge efforts taken to return the woodland back to a pristine condition.

In the place of feral predators there are now reintroduced native species - quolls and bettongs as well as native mice, wallabies and birds. Of course many of Australia's animals are nocturnal and so viewing them at night time is perfect.

A fair number of people showed up (probably nearly 60) and we divided up into three groups led by three Phd students. Our guides were both passionate and well informed. We were led to a wonderful sheep shed which now serves as an information centre and told the history of the centre. A bushtail possum (who lives in the roof) stretched out through a hole to observe us with perfect timing.

Afterwards, and armed with torches we walked round for probably nearly an hour. We spotted three or four bettongs scurrying in the undergrowth as well as hearing the piecing and shrill call of a curlew (strange looking birds). Our guide explained that curlews are actually quite delicate/stupid. She told us that one of the introduced birds had killed itself by falling on a stick! We were led round one of the number of dams and Eli delighted in the fact that he was first to spot a (tiny) frog on the bank. Croaks of other frogs joined in with his excitement. Towards the end of the tour we spotted a ringtailed possum. Much less common than the brushtail it didn't seem to mind that we were all shining torches into the branches that it was resting on.

It was a shame to leave the animals at the end of the tour. We stopped at a really nice cafĂ© (Frankies at Ford) for a (late) dinner on the way home. A late one for a school night, but definitely worth it.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Clearing out stuff

One of the parts of my widower status that I've liked least of all is clearing out Amy's 'stuff'. 'Stuff' has got a broad definition from hats and shoes to photos and ornaments.

I'm a member of a couple of on-line widow/widower groups and it is a common theme that comes up on the discussions that people in my situation have. People have differing approaches; from clearing everything all out straight away - 'a fresh start' if you will, to putting everything in boxes and putting it in storage.

I must admit I've been pretty slack, driven in part by laziness (as well as the constant demands put on me by an active 8 and 9 year old) but also because every item I find, every shoe, hat, glove, lip-balm of Amy's that I find seems to carry with it some kind of sentimental attachment. Ridiculously even old jotted notes and shopping lists which I know can never be replaced. It's not helped by the fact that I'm a bit of a hoarder at heart anyway(!)

I did a (very small) spring clean today and cleared out assorted clutter from the house. I chucked out a few bags of outgrown childrens' clothes, an work old suit of mine which I hadn't worn in years and reluctantly made space in the cupboard which holds our coats by sending one of Amy's old jackets to a charity shop.

As I folded the thick black coat into the bag I could remember Amy wearing it and I almost put it back on the hanger, there were a couple of bits and pieces in the pocket, a button and an unused hankie. I could find every reason to hold onto it - perhaps Audrey would like it when she's older?

In the end I was able to let go. In truth it was an old coat, not even one of Amy's favourites. If she'd have been around I suspect Amy would have tossed it out without a second thought. It'll go to someone who needs it, keep someone warm from Canberra's chill, someone unaware of why such a nice coat should end up in charity shop.

In part I guess it's the feeling, the knowledge that Amy won't be coming back to wear the coat again and the memories that possessions hold.

91 Storey Tree House book launch

The Tree House series is quite an institution in our household. It's a series of books written by Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton. They've clearly hit on a winning (and lucrative) formula and are pumping a book out annually. Andy does the stories and Terry does mad-cap illustrations. The kids love the books and they clearly are well pitched to appeal to the sense of humour of a 7-11 year old.

We went to a launch of their latest book (the 91 Storey Treehouse) on Saturday. I bought our tickets early(!) courtesy of a friend I have at the theatre box-office, so we had seats on row A in the middle. The kids are becoming accustomed to great theatre seats and seemed not to notice the throngs of other kids and their families sat behind us! Audrey seems to think anything further back than the stalls are just seats reserved for 'poor people' (I think I might have been guilty in teaching her that).

It was a great show, pretty much adlibbed I'd have thought. Audrey got called up on stage which made her a brief mini-celeb as among the audience were a number of her school mates who knew her. We got signed copies of the book to take home.

This is what seat A21, A22 and A23 look like!

Audrey tangles her hair on some barbed wire

Yes I know I should have helped out rather than snapping a photograph, (but it was a little bit funny)



Sunday, August 6, 2017

Towers of Tomorrow

We went to a really cool exhibition at the National Museum; 'Towers of Tomorrow' which was a representation of all of the world's largest (and landmark) buildings entirely made out of Lego. It was the work of one man (Ryan McNaught) who designs models for Lego (for a living). In all there were 12 buildings.
Most remarkable was the length that had been taken to ensure all buildings were architecturally correct - McNaught had worked with architectural drawings, as well as architects themselves to ensure that all of the dimensions and quirks of each building was accurately captured. Lego of course comes in a large number of colours (23 I think, but don't quote me) and on one building because the grey brick colour had been slightly 'off' they had lit the building differently to ensure it was as close as possible to the real thing.

There was a ton of lego bricks as well, so you could try your hand at making your own building which the kids loved - Audrey and I built Big Ben. The exhibit has been travelling around Australia and was extremely popular. Lego is so ubiquitous and its popularity is so broad that there was queues of people there when we visited the exhibition on the first weekend, and I was glad we had booked ahead.
a model of Burj Khalifa (in Dubai)

Our model of Elizabeth Tower (aka Big Ben)

Empire State Building

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Times when I miss you most

It rained on Sunday when we were outside and some distance from our car, I grimaced and pulled my hood up, but as the wet drops fell onto our heads Audrey turned to me and said, "I love the way the rain smells."

Eli and I had a lengthy kick around with an AFL (Aussie Rules) ball on Saturday afternoon. It didn't matter to Eli that the other two boys who joined in with us, Matt and Max were three or four years older than him. It mattered even less to him that they both had down syndrome (Matt could kick the ball a hell of a long way, even though Eli often scampered to get to stray balls quicker than both of the other boys could).

It's times like this when I miss you most dear Amy. I know you would have been so proud of our children.

I often think of you 'watching over us'. I sometimes look up when I pull our car onto the driveway of our house expecting to see you waiting for us at the window, or bending over, pulling up weeds from our lawn. But of course I never get to see you smiling back, and my heart sinks again for the millionth time.

On occasions though I realise how much you live on through the kids my love, I can see so much of your beauty in their characters and how much they are shaped by you.

Jam Time

Audrey made a lovely batch of strawberry jam on Friday night. We'd printed up special stickers too, should keep us in supplies for a few weeks! (nb still shop-bought strawberries at this stage of course).

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Kathy and our strawberry patch

Our good friend Kathy (who used to be Amy's boss) is our jam guardian angel. A few months ago, she taught Audrey how to make our/her own strawberry jam and Audrey really took to it.
Last weekend, armed with two buckets of strawberry plants Kathy came round and helped us build our first strawberry patch. There's a fair amount of horse poo in there and I'll have to make sure there's plenty of mulch in the summer to prevent it from drying out, but hopefully...come the summer we'll have our own strawberries to make jam with. Watch this space!

Another shot of Eli with our fidget spinner cookies

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

If you buy a drone, learn to fly it first

This was my second drone I've stuck up in a tree. Fortunately this one still worked when I got it down...

NAIDOC by the lake

I really like Belconnen Arts Centre. One of my favourite jobs was working at Disability ACT and the window by my desk looked out both over beautiful Lake Ginninderra but also over the fabulously appointed Belconnen Arts Centre. It's not the Louvre, as it's only a small centre, but it has some great exhibitions and it sits right on the banks of the lake which I think is more natural, calming and somehow more beautiful than its bigger brother Lake Burley Griffin in Canberra's centre.
NAIDOC is a week long celebration of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture. It's not particularly strong in Canberra compared to other parts of Australia, but the city still goes to some effort to recognise the valuable part the culture plays both historically but also in present and future Australia. I think it's an important part of Australia's make-up that the kids should understand, learn from and respect.
We spent a lovely Saturday morning at a NAIDOC celebration at the art centre. It included face painting, craft as well as damper making/cooking. The wind blows in off the lake but there was enough fun, with music and laughter to make light of the chill.

Audrey and a Bogong moth
Eli made a Wolves boomerang which while not entirely culturally sensitive was pretty good.
Chilly (but sunny) Canberra day

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Skating in Garema Place

Audrey's quite a decent skater (I'm not). Amy skated pretty well too - I remember skating together one snowy evening in Warsaw by the rink that is set up by the Palace of Science and Culture every year.

Canberra now has its own outdoor rink (running until the end of July) and Audrey skated around with some competency (while Eli and I watched on the sidelines)

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Kata Tournament

The kids took part in a Kata tournament against another Dojo in the north of the city. It's a pretty friendly (but serious!) affair. For the uninitiated a kata tournament is non-contact, but competitors go through a series of routines against another participant. It makes it interesting as bigger/stronger competitors don't always win if their younger rival has perfected and timed their punches and kicks more appropriately.

Both Audrey and Eli did ever so well. It's the second tournament of this type that they've entered (they now have 'orange senior' belts) and they look forward to it ever so much - their competitive nature is never more evident. Audrey only just missed out on a position but Eli came away with a very creditable third place in his category.

Eli with his winning ribbon