Words of Wisdom

Youth is wasted on the young.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

What Happened Next In The Garden

Ugh. Dragged myself home from work at 11.30pm today. It was the first day back, sans pupils, so there has been LOTS of organising to do: updating registers, meeting new teachers and giving them the brief on their 'special' kids...In the middle of it all I was fielding calls from carpenters and trying to track down my pool man...yes, the Backyard Blitz continues.

So last time I checked in we had a new retaining wall right? But I hinted at a dark pile of something which was about to cause me grief.........

Well, there it is. Bottom left, looming large. Actually, it doesn't even look that bad here! It was lulling me into a false sense of security....

You see, the next two jobs on the horizon were:

a) laying a small concrete slab at one end of the garden to take the pool equipment

around about where that patch of dubious paving lies......

 and b) removing the old solar heating matting from the roof

(and disposing of it whilst we had still had a skip) to avoid paying the pool man to do it.

There was some discussion over the division of labour. During a food and wine fuelled dinner, No1 and No 2 Sons, with encouragement from me, assured us that they could lay that tiny little, no'count slab in no time, with no problems. Piece of cake.

I was equally sure that stripping the solar matting off the roof would be a doddle.

They started in a frenzy of enthusiasm the next day. Well, the next afternoon. They don't get up until 4pm. They might melt in the sunlight, after all........
They pegged out the space we thought we'd need.

Oh and look where they threw the old pavers......yes, onto my rapidly growing 'dark pile'. Nevertheless, they raced down to Bunnings and bought 10 bags of pre-mix cement, having calculated that 1.5m x 2.4m x 0.15m equalled.....well, 10 bags of premix anyway.....

And then everything stopped. I think it got too hot. Or maybe there was some confusion about where the corner of the pergola was going to go and whether or not we wanted to cement over the marked gas and electricity lines....

Whatever, the hold up, a week went past. There was more discussion and a realisation that the slab would need to be longer. Then No2 Son dug up an IP (inspection point...basically, a manhole cover over a bit of pipe), right near the end of the slab, but right where we needed to extend it to. More discussion and planning.

Meanwhile, I had been on the roof....

And in the space of two days, I had cleared that sucker.

And now I am falling asleep, so I will continue the story tomorrow......

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Quick (and slightly cheating) Crafty Tuesday

Well I gotta be honest and say I didn't do these last week....but I so want to contribute to Crafty Tuesday (and it's been such a  long time!)...so I thought I'd show you what I'd made for our Sunday School Nativity.

I re-introduced the idea of a nativity some 5 years ago and since then I have been building up a store of nativity supplies. I don't know what your Sunday School is like but we never know from one week to the next who will be there! As a result I figured I needed a selection of costumes for those kids who 'turned up on the day' and I set about sewing the same.
Some time ago I complained about the number of children who came supposedly dressed  as 'angels' but looking more like a Walt Disney Tinkerbell animation. The wings were one problem. Supermarkets had started turning out 'fairy' costumes with cheap wings, usually in hot pink with caribou,  but this is not my idea of an angel. To this end I started making wings. I found the pattern in an old magazine and kind of adapted it to my vision.
These wings are relatively easy to make but require a bit of patience and confidence on the machine.

buckram or stiff interfacing, the kind you use to make hat brims
Wadding: I used poly wadding, the type designed for quilting
Glitter glue: choose one which can be squeezed out of the tube at a constant rate
Ribbon: About a meter of 2cm wide ribbon (depending on age and size of children. I used gold.

The key thing in the construction of the wings is to get the shape right in the first instance. Cut two pieces of buckram to the shape and use the ideas from the pictures above to add lines for 'feathers' to one wing of the pair. Once you have marked the feathers, sandwich a piece of wadding between the two buckram wing shapes. Pin.  Cut the wadding to fit the wing shape. Using the machine, sew through three layers to create the feather stitching. I started with a seam stitch all the way around the outside.

Once everything is stitched in place, spray edges with gold if desired and outline feather stitching with glitter glue. Attach a ribbon (folded in half) at top centre back so that wings can be attached by crossing over in front and tying down around the arms and behind the back, or going straight around the arms and round the back.

I've got to say, in my experience, this provision of angel wings has radically altered the appearance on angels of our stage :-)
If you have any questions about the angel wings or any other craft projects, poorly described here on my blog, please leave a comment! I'd love to hear from you.

For more inspiring crafty ideas, click over to Crafty Tuesday at Carrie's blog.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

What Will My Future Be? I Wonder.

Diverting slightly(?) from the topic of backyard makeovers (and God knows my back could do with some diversion... and not THAT kind of diversion thanks!!!) I had a weird and nostalgic moment at dinner tonight.

The Baby Angel has, for a long time now, struggled with the idea of her future.

It starts when you are a tiny tot and someone notices you playing hospitals: "Oh, he/she's going to be a doctor" (the looney parents quip). The child who shows an interest in the recorder...."virtuoso symphonic performer"...the poor soul who wins a race at infants sports day.... "Olympic hopeful!!!"

Through all of this, I always found it very difficult to imagine what the BA would be. She wanted to be a policewoman. Whatever.

As the years passed, the BA's strongest suit was always her ability to understand people. Friends would tell me of it and I would be semi surprised....
"She knows what to say to bring people together."
"She can defuse a situation."
(She could also be a manipulating little toad; I guess that's the other side of the same coin.)

But I really hadn't twigged it myself, not really, until we were living in Australia. At 10 she would accompany me to netball  matches with my team of 15 year olds. Once, after watching me interact with one of my more difficult pupils she said, "Mum, Anne is the kind of person who needs a LOT of encouragement isn't she?" Perceptive indeed for one so young. And shortly afterwards, in a blinding flash, it hit me; the BA was going to work with people. It might be HR, psychology, counselling, marketing;  there were any number of careers which would call upon her talents. Of course there was always teaching......(hush ma mouth). It was several years later however, before she announced that she might be interested in being an aid worker in developing countries, although this definitely came in behind being a TV presenter for a travel program like 'Getaway'.

With this broad spectrum of careers in her headlights, the BA approached that process at the end of year 12 where you list a bunch of nebulous courses, the content of which is a minor mystery and the focus of which is the university with the best campus and the best bar, and try and give them a priority. It's called 'listing your preferences'. Now I remember this process myself. I don't think my Alma Mater, in those days, had much in the way of career counselling. I think we filled in a survey/ questionnaire thing which came back with a list of 'suggested' careers for us, but I have no recollection of what it suggested for me. I do recall what my father said however;
"Do something that makes money, Medicine or Law."
I didn't fancy blood much, so I put down Law. I also vaguely remember putting down Architecture because I quite liked houses.

Of course, I knew what I really wanted to be. I wanted to be an actress. This was no ill informed celebrity-news fed fantasy. I really did want to be an actress. Or at least a performer of some kind. I have talked before about my involvement with theatre in my youth. These productions were professional performances, two shows a day for two weeks through my school holidays, not to mention the months of rehearsal leading up to it. I knew what I was letting myself in for. Needless to say, to my academic father, the idea of 'acting' as a career was nonsense. My previous career choices from nurse (aged 7...I liked the uniform and bossing people around), fighter pilot (I read a lot of Biggles), air hostess (after they told me I couldn't be a pilot), secret agent (except I couldn't keep a secret) and finally astronomer (since I probably wouldn't be allowed to go to space either....>:-(...)  were pretty close to nonsense too. And so I applied for Law.

Himself on the other hand, knew exactly what he wanted to be from an early age.
"I want to design record covers," he told his mother. "What is that job called?"
"That would be a commercial artist dear," she informed him.
And so he knew his future. Right then and there aged about 10. And blow me down if his first job wasn't....yup, designing record covers. Of course he went on to many bigger and better things including producing the branding for a famous South Australian beer and working with the Sydney Olympic Committee to design posters for the Olympic Arts Festivals. It wasn't a picnic for him to get there, after all his 1970s private boys' school didn't even offer Art as a subject, and his father wanted him to be a rocket scientist (like him), but at least he knew what he wanted to do.

I did try to follow my dream. After two years at Law, during which I performed in: two productions with my children's theatre employers; a Footlights' show; a production of The Crucible with a local semi-professional company and a 6 week country tour of a cabaret style show with the Arts Council; I deferred my third year and never went back. I moved to the eastern states and began work in a theatre restaurant two nights a week. Encouraged by this I applied for the Acting Course at the Victorian College of the Arts and after a rigorous audition process, was accepted. I was ecstatic.

But it was the 80s, money was tight and the publicly funded college had already experienced cuts. The previous year they had run an Entertainer's Course alongside their Acting Course; this had a broader focus including, dance, music, singing and circus skills, but this had been axed in the wake of the tight budget. Now, part way through my first year, further cuts threatened the very existence of the college. The College Director, founding Dean of the school, resigned his position under the condition that his salary would go towards making up the shortfall. He was called vainglorious and it was made clear to us that the cuts would come anyway.....but that was in the future. We admired him fiercely and vowed to soldier on. (Interestingly, the problem with funding continues to this day!)

So it was with a completely open heart and unsuspecting mind that I attended my Review Meeting at the end of the term. Unlike academic courses, we had no exams and assignments, but our work was being constantly assessed and instead of a report card, we fronted a table of our tutors and lecturers for a face-to-face review.

I should have heard alarm bells when I was asked to wait an extra 15 minutes before coming into the conference room, but I was so excited about my progress, the positive feedback I had recently received and my future in the theatre. Once they called me into the room, I sat at the end of the large rectangular table and the Dean delivered the blow.
"Arizaphale, this has been a very difficult decision but after some discussion we have decided to terminate your course. Essentially, we can not guarantee that at the end of the course we will turn you out as an actress."
I remember turning the words over in my mind and trying to make sense of them.
I made sense of them. They didn't think I was going to be an actress.
I revisited their sense. they don't think I'm going to be an actress.
I suddenly saw the consequence.
It was over.
I was out.
I had to completely re-adjust my reality. I was not going to be attending college for three years. I would not make a show reel, find an agent, go on to work in the industry......
I started to cry. I tried to hold it in.
"Don't worry," someone, said, "Let it out..."
For a control freak who had spent most of her life holding it in, this was the permission I needed. I sobbed. I howled. I cried my guts out. The grief was overwhelming. To have got this far and have it taken away.......
Many years later I met one of the teachers who had been present that day. "Oh yes, I remember you!" he exclaimed."Do you know what I remember above everything? I remember you crying. I remember your grief."

There was more discussion and feedback. Each teacher had their say. It was pretty evident from their feedback, who had advocated for me and who hadn't. The room was equally divided. At the end of the day it had come down to the Dean, the deciding vote. The man whom I had so admired had not seen a future for me as an actress. He mitigated it somewhat. He said that, had they still been running an Entertainers course, I would have been a perfect fit. He explained that he felt I was unable to let go of 'me' enough to become someone else in a role. He was probably right.
After a while I had calmed down enough and received sufficient warm, fuzzies from my supporters to emerge from that room and face my peers.

A group of us sat on the lawn and as they all fed back their experiences. When it came to my turn I had to admit that I was finished. There was shock, there was sympathy and there was a strange bemused smile from one other young man.
"The same thing happened to me,"  he said. I sat back in amazement, my own situation receding. I had thought he had it all together. I had thought he was ahead of the game.
It became evident that around four of us had been axed and several put 'on warning'. It was strange. It felt like a cull and many people would say to me later that it was a 'numbers game' and we had been sacrificed, but knowing what I know now about tertiary funding, I can't see how that was the case.

My dear, dear friend The Honourable Husband, a fellow Footlights alumni came down to see me the week after the axe fell. I was out in the garden, forlornly digging my petunias.
"WELL!," he announced in his distinctive Pennsylvania accent as he appeared at the proverbial garden gate:
"YOU didn't s*** the right c***s did you?"
I think I bust my garters laughing.

I embraced him for the dear, dear friend he was and for saying what I needed to hear at precisely the right moment in my life. For even if the reality wasn't as crass as failing to provide fellatio, it was indeed an acknowledgement of the fact that I had failed to fulfill their desires, which didn't necessarily mean I was a total failure. And how beautifully he delivered it. Laughter is indeed the best medicine.

Interestingly, Himself was horrified when I recounted this tale. He thought the HH was being completely insensitive. The BA cracked up! "No," she protested, "that kind of humour can lift you out of it when you're at rock bottom (or words to that effect)."
I was so glad that she 'got it'.

So what am I getting at here, with this rant about futures and disappointments? Well, I have to admit that re-telling that story, which I don't think of often, and which I generally think I have 'got over', opened an old wound. I got quite teary and felt the old tug of 'what if'..... but then I thought about this:

a little girl with severe dyslexia and language disorder; a girl whose spelling score I have managed to advance 2 years in 12 months, who has learned cursive (a great boon for spelling btw) and now wants to read books......

God has a place for you in the world. It may not necessarily be the place you thought would suit you and it may not come with the trappings that may have appealed to you when you were a shallow youth, but you can be sure that the rewards are there. Small, smudged...but right there.

Footnote: The young man who was kicked out of VCA at the same time as me went on to be a well known face on Australian (and UK) TV screens!
Stefan Dennis

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Just Another Brick In The Wall

So, when we last spoke, I had been clearing the back garden ready for the builders. Note the thickness of the stem of this ivy. That is some serious gardening neglect you are looking at there.

There was also a bit of paver lifting to do as we decommissioned the automatic irrigation system. The control box was set into the paving precisely where the new wall was planned to go.  Check the lean on the pier at right there....

 The bobcats did their job.

That would be a hole.

This is how the bobcat got into our backyard.

And we thought there would be a demure ramp like structure. Pfffft.

Here are the builder/s bringing in the RSJs for the uprights.

And here they are, all in place waiting for their sleepers.

I hope you are noticing the state of our backyard in the interim?????????

Next day, the sleepers arrived. Unfortunately the automatic 'lifter' could not access our steep garden so the lads had to heft them down the stairs, one by one. 100kg each. 38C.

I knew there was a reason I went to University.

 Here, the first sleepers slip into place.

By the end of the day...

Now here is a challenge. Spot the difference between this picture....

And this one....

And the answer is.....significantly less dirt over the lower level (oh and they had started the return on the stairs). They used the dirt to backfill behind the new wall. Sadly for any future gardening plans, it was depressingly white.

So here is the finished wall. I'm afraid the overall effect is not all that pretty...yet. But what I want you to focus on is that rather dark pile in the top left hand corner of this last photo. That one was going to come back to bite me in the coming days.

Monday, 14 January 2013

'Neath The Dear Garden Wall


Those of you who are family or at least longtime readers, may remember the makeover my dad and I did on the garden at Australiana House. Well, Himself and I are about to work some magic on our back garden right here and now! Here is the old garden.


 This was taken about 5 years ago when it didn't look quite as bad. Nevertheless there were roses in front of the retaining wall which grew up viciously in summer and stabbed anyone walking past the pool (on the upper level). There was also the Alcatraz like pool fence and the lack of any obvious place for entertaining. We tried putting a table and chairs down on the pavers at the far end, but it was in a traffic corridor and did not work.

In addition, to the extreme left of the above photo you would find the delightful patchwork shadehouse and paved BBQ area Himself created.

 With the two foot of dirt where the lawn refused to grow.

A few years on and you can definitely see the bulge in the middle pier of the retaining wall. Termites were at work.

Here's the view from the pool looking back towards the house. Yes, that would be the entire, unsightly collection of pool workings, there on the right of the picture. Nice.

After a few years, during which we realised that we rarely used the seating up on the pool level (well you have to climb over a bunch of rocks to get there...)

we moved the table and umbrella down to the lower level.

As you can see, it is cramped and inconvenient as Himself will not let us leave chairs and tables on the grass (because it kills said grass).  Note also the infamous retaining wall, now swathed in roses, ivy and sword ferns; leaning precariously, well off vertical, in places!

So, with the arrival of our second, undeserved but incredibly appreciated, windfall, we have commenced the garden makeover.

Our aims are to:
 a) obviously, replace/repair the retaining wall
 b) create an entertaining area
 c) make better use of the existing space
 d) replace the existing ancient pool workings with smaller, more efficient, modern gear which will 
     hopefully lower our power bills and reduce the amount of time Himself spends trying to keep it
     from going green. At the same time we hope to re-site the equipment so that the area around the
     pool is clear.
So the first step was to deconstruct the shadehouse. No2 son actually proved useful for once although he left the  mass of ivy for me to deal with.

The shot above was taken after I had dealt with the ivy that came down with the shadehouse. Now to deal with the wall....

Two hours later:

Later that night No2 Son again made himself useful and took down the Alcatraz fence. Once it was gone I was more determined than ever that it would NEVER go back up!!

The next day this little beauty turned up in my yard.

And the trashing began.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Closing Time: In Which The Dysfunctional Family Pulls Together For The Sake of the BA. Almost.

Occasionally I wish I could assign background music to blog posts. This track would be my choice now.

On the 11th of December the BA attended her last function as a student of St Saviour's College.

On the 12th of December she became an Old Scholar.

Her Dad and Stepmum flew over from Sydney for the occasion. There was much excitement. Having worked until 5.30pm that day and, given we were due at the function centre by 6.45pm, I flew into the house in a state of high anxiety to be confronted by these scenes:

 (She really liked her pockets).

After the obligatory photos the BA, her Dad and Stepmum headed off to have the group photo taken at the venue while the rest of us wrestled with our attire. Himself had to squeeze himself into an aged dinner suit coat and tie, Grandma and Grandad had it all sorted...and I had a complete hissyfit breakdown.

Interestingly, one of the things which has impacted upon my blogging this year is my midlife, torn tendon impacted, weight gain. Having been a consistent 53kg for a majority of my adult life, up to and including the aftermath of chidlbirth, I have been gradually stacking on weight since I turned 40. At 50 and running out of girl germs, I moved into yet another new dress size and a hitherto un-experienced inability to easily touch my toes.
Now don't get me wrong. I know that, for some of my friends, my plaintive wails of weight gain fall on intolerant ears. But it's all relative when an older counterpart looks like this:

and your own attempts to squeeze into something flattering render one desperate. After a small meltdown, my mother patted me on the back sufficiently to get me out of the door. Needless to say we were running late.

We arrived on the banks of the River Torrens and found Dad and Step-mum at a lovely alfresco bar, on the same level, but tucked in behind, the multi-entranced, multi-roomed Convention Centre.

Here is the BA's step-mother again, looking exceptionally beautiful and elegant, while Her Dad, in typically over effusive fashion, offered to buy us all champagne. I looked dubiously at my watch; considered our location relative to the entrance to the function centre and the complexity of the inner layout; and decided we probably shouldn't bother. Too late. We were all raising our glasses to our girl when my phone whistled a message:

     Typical, it's starting and you're the last ones here.

We all bolted down our drinks (I felt sorry for the boys as they had pints of beer....I'm pretty sure Himself was the only one who actually finished his in the 45secs we gave ourselves. Not sure if that's a good or bad thing) and flew to the nearby entrance, to find it locked.

There ensued a scene of typical family chaos, the kind you get when the family in question consists of two Principals, two ex-Principals, one ex-Dean of Science and a company director. Leadership flashed from person to person at the speed of light and the mob changed direction just as quickly. Not to sound my own horn here, but my move of asking a staff member from the bar to let us in, was an intelligent one, I thought. Shame her swipe card didn't work. In the end, another bar staff member ushered us through a hidden door and we followed the signs through lofty, glass corridors

 and up stairs (ok so we weren't on the right level) to the 'St Saviour's 2012 Graduation Ball' room. All the while the text messages flew backwards and forwards between the BA and I:

   We are here, the door was locked!
   The doors aren't locked! Come to the front entrance!
   We would if we could FIND it!!!!
   hkjluoijyufrtdrefgshdh!!!!!!!!!!!!!! You are hopeless!!!!!!!!!!!

Of course we got there in the end, only to find that our large group had been split across two tables! Two seats on one table and five on the other!! Now, how to work that one out given the dynamics of the group!!!????

In the midst of all this, Himself had been getting crabbier and crabbier. Not known for his patience, the events of the night had been stacking up against him. Let's start with the fact that he thought he'd attended her Graduation the previous week.

In its wisdom, St Saviour's has an end of year Graduation Mass in the last week of school, and then follows it up with a Ball the week after. Himself had been told about these two events, but in his very visual mind, he had merged them into one. One which, on the morning of the Grad Ball, he believed he had already attended.

Himself: What do you mean there's a Ball tonight?????
Me: The Grad Ball! You know, we've talked about this!
Himself: I thought that was last week!
Me: That was the Graduation Mass! What did you think I was making the dress for????
Himself: Huh. Well, I don't know...
Me: And anyway, Her Dad even said to you, 'see you next week'....
Himself: Well, do I have to go?

Of course, had the experience of the previous week been less traumatic, I probably would not have had to deal with all this angst. But having survived this other rather stressful occasion, Himself believed he had fulfilled his commitment to the BA's Graduation. Imagine his horror when he discovered (now hang on, I had hardly been hiding it from him...after all) that he had yet another event to attend. And this time in 'formal' attire! Add to that our late arrival and the fact that our party had been split, and you can imagine the state he was working himself into.

Given Himself's high dudgeon, I elected to stay at the table with him in the split table scenario. This could have meant that Himself and I sat at a table on our own whilst the BA and the rest of the family sat at the main table. It could have meant Mum and Dad being sectioned off onto the separate table, or Her Dad and Step Mum being separated from us. In the end we put the BA and her dad (who had travelled a long way to see her) on the smaller table and the rest of us sat together. It meant Her Dad and her Step Mum were separated, hardly an ideal situation, but Step Mum handled everything with her usual grace so we moved on to the first course.

Himself had steak which I thought would please him.
"How's your steak?" I inquired cheerfully.
"Average" came the curt response.
It was going to be a long night.

The BA wasn't that far away though. Here she is taken from my seat at my table.

(I often wonder whether the BA and her generation will look at photos like this and wonder what the h*** they were doing. But here it is for posterity!)

Fortunately there are others.

One of the key elements of the Graduation Ball is the act of being presented by your father to receive your Graduation Ring.

This is a hugely important moment in the life of any St Saviour's graduate. Unfortunately, (particularly as far as Himself was concerned) there were 84 Graduates. The BA was not amongst the first. A quick glance at Himself's visage was sufficient to convince me that he was not loving this process. Whereas my mother and I enjoyed hearing every girl's story, checking out her dress and wishing her well with heartfelt applause, Himself became more and more resentful. Well, it did take over an hour. Half way through he marched out for a cigar.

Once the presentations were over, the formal 'dance' part of the evening proceeded. This was the one thing Her Dad had been looking forward to for ages. When we separated in the third year of our marriage with the BA still just a positive result on a path test, he never believed he would be involved in her life to this extent. He was radiant, if intense.

As the mass of white satin, diamante and serious old serge processed around the floor, the MC asked people to remain seated so that everyone could see (bear in mind that there were 168 people on the dance floor!).  Himself prepped his fancy, schmancy camera, I got my PAS ready on video mode and the music began........ and 140 people leaped from their seats and rushed to the edge of the dance floor for a better look!

Himself was furious. I can't recall his exact words as he ranted at me, but they involved 'selfish a*******s', 'pathetic organisation' and a 'waste of a $100 ticket'. He stormed off again to attack yet another defenseless cigar whilst Dad and I were left to crawl (literally) through the ranks of spectators to try and get a glimpse of our two on the dance floor.
Eventually the dads dropped the daughters off in a long line in front of the stage and we had genuine photo opportunities.

Eventually, the BA raced over to us and asked that we come out to the 'photobooth' to have a formal family shot taken. 
"But I'm not part of the family," grumbled Himself, "I don't want to be in the photo."
He could not protest for long as the BA draped her arms around him and literally begged.
"Puh-leeeeeease Himself? I reeeeeeally want you to be in the photo. It's important to me!"
It's difficult to resist a line like that so he capitulated and followed us out to the foyer where the professional photographers were making money like a well oiled machine.

(Perhaps, in retrospect, that's what really annoyed him?)

Having joined a queue, we had been waiting a bare 5 minutes when Himself again flew into another rage.
"This is ridiculous having to wait like this! I don't want to do this!!"
He was halfway out of the area in high 'stalk' when I caught up with him and read him the riot act.
I got him back. He is smiling, but look at the body language!

Some of us managed to enjoy the rest of the night.

There was dancing, for many of us,

but in the end I suggested Himself take the aging parentals home whilst Her Dad, Step Mum and I finished the night off with pancakes.

He was delighted to comply.

On the 19th of December we received the news that our gal had finished her schooling in the top 10% of the state and was positioned well for entrance into the Uni course of her choice.

On around the 22nd of December, the Baby Angel's immune system collapsed under the weight of all her recent excitement and she was laid completely flat with suspected Glandular Fever (aka mono).

She is still resting up.