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

Graffiti masterclass!

The kids and I went along to the launch of an amazing mural in the city next to a skatepark. As part of the launch the kids were allowed to practice graffiti on one of Canberra's (26) legal graffiti walls. Here's some pictures of our morning.

The real artists in front of their mural!

Balloon Flight over Canberra

Nearly two years ago we won a balloon flight when we entered a (25 words or less) competition at the Canberra Balloon Festival. The kids and I had taken some time with our entry and written a little poem (sorry I can't remember how it went!) but it was clearly good enough for us to collect first prize.

I had been worried about taking A&E on the flight as I wasn't sure their disposition to heights(!) nor whether they'd be able to see over the basket. As it was I needn't have worried - they took the whole thing in their stride and all three of us loved every minute.

The balloon took off from Narrabundah in Canberra's south, and we drifted for probably an hour and a half over Canberra - past the embassies, over Parliament House and the lake eventually landing in a paddock near Higgins in Canberra's north.

The pilot took a relatively low flight path (although Audrey reminded me that we flew high over Telstra Tower) so it can't have been all that low as the tower itself is 195 metres high. Nevertheless at the start of the flight at least we seemed to skim the top of some of the houses allowing the kids (with great glee) to shout to people down below who were in their gardens or walking their dogs.

It was an early start (we had to arrive at 6.30am) and landed sometime around 10am. There were two balloons in our party - we flew in a yellow Questacon balloon and our partner was a black balloon.

Here's some pictures of our morning which probably tell the story of our morning best of all.

waiting for the balloon to inflate
big fans blow the hot air into the balloon
big Ted stowed on board
Audrey smiling over Canberra
Manuka oval
Lake Burley Griffin
DFAT and Parliament House
Parliament House
Parliament House
Old Parliament House
Lake Burley Griffin and the National Museum
Hickman selfie
Flying high over Telstra Tower
Lake Burley Griffin down below
Warming up
Coming down to land

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Raiders meet the players

As a family of three we've become passionate Canberra Raiders fans. It's an interesting one as up until 2014 (when I was generously given a family membership as part of my Human Brochure membership), I'd never really paid much attention to Rugby League.

In the UK, League is very much a 'northern' thing. A flat cap and pint versus the allure of rugby union's spiffing top hat and gin and tonic. I don't think I'd watched a single game of rugby league growing up - apart from perhaps the odd foray into Eddie Waring's 'up and under' on tele on a Sunday afternoon.

In truth football and cricket dominated my youth. Rugby union did pop-up occasionally with the six nations. Bill Beaumont et al then Jonny Wilkinson's world cup winning drop goal with 20 seconds to go in 2003. I knew nothing of rugby league though.

Our free ticket (and subsequent paid renewals) has brought us into a world of Rugby League. A frantic running and pushing game, sometimes brawl over brains, but nevertheless an exciting game with (fairly) straightforward rules, that unlike Canberra's rugby union team (Brumbies) attracts more of a crowd and a noisy one at that.

The scheduling of Raiders games is odd - sometimes there may be two in a week, at other times there's a month or more between home games. Nevertheless the games are often exciting and both Audrey and Eli love the noise of the crowd and celebrate victories as much as they bemoan the defeats. A loss can cast a shadow over our household for an entire week.

Ricky Stuart, the Raider's coach has built a young squad with plenty of guile. What's more they seem to be really nice guys. Rugby league in Australia is beset with a bad reputation - players with drug habits, tattoos, philandering relationships and misdemeanours both on and off the pitch. Of course I'm looking at things through green tinted spectacles, but by comparison Raiders seem to play fair and are good role models. We've been along to a couple of 'meet the player' sessions recently and I've been so impressed by how down to earth the players have been and how giving of their time they are to my kids.

In the absence of a football (soccer) team in Canberra, Canberra Raiders certainly fills a hole. The kids mock their fellow pupils who claim to be fans but have never actually been to a game, whereas they've sat shivering on Friday nights watching second half collapses or celebrated late tries that claimed victories when all hope was lost. I hope like me the kids #bleedgreen for the rest of their days.

Jordan Rapana - a kiwi who is an incredibly fast and skilful player

Eli's two heroes - Jack Wighton and club captain Jarrod Croker

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Saturday afternoon horse riding

Audrey on Romeo (her favourite pony)

The beautiful Brindabella Mountains in the background
Things have turned a bit chillier now and so Audrey's horse riding lesson (which has taken place in extreme heat with ponies bothered by flies) is now 'crisp' and chilly. Canberra is characterised (usually) by lovely blue skies though - so even though the weather is cold we still get a fair amount of sunshine and daylight. Here's some pictures from Saturday's lesson.