I have a vivid memory, the contextual details of which are quite vague, of being in the dusty garage of a really old person with my best friend from primary school. We had both entered the garage while her parents attended to the old person who lived in the house with anticipation because we had been told that one of the old person’s cats had had kittens.

I’m sure it suited the adults for the two of us to be out of the way and being entertained in the garage. I wouldn’t have thought that at the time. At the time it was like a magical mystical opportunity to find a baby kitten, hold it and bond with it, love it and be loved by it forever, make it my own.

Imagine a movie set, where the prototypical dusty garage has been constructed. There is probably a penny farthing cycle in a corner, or at least an old sewing machine, everything is the same color, a dusty beigy grey, scant light comes through a moldy window and cobwebs garner corners and window frames. This is the scene Cathy and I entered. We should have been holding hands. That’s how it would have been done if it were a movie.

She spotted the kittens first. They were all in a group on a ledge by the window. We were instantly besotted. They were snuggled together for warmth. It was like a little kitten mosaic. How fortunate we were to be able to enter and choose a little kitten, a disadvantaged kitten, who had never been loved by any person before us. Poor little kitties, lonely little kitties in need of a child to claim them. I could hardly contain my rapture.

We approached the kittens quietly. I can’t remember who reached for their kitten first. We may have reached simultaneously. Upon noticing the extended hand of a grade six girl, the kitten mosaic became a snarling, hissing mass of little teeth and claws. We pulled our hands quickly back. This was not how we had expected it to be.

Together in the garage, Cathy and I reflected upon how the kittens had never known a human from the beginning of their lives and were therefore wild. We didn’t attempt to pick one up. They were pretty bloody scary actually. No one likes to be hissed at. Anyway we didn’t want to contribute to the little kitten anxiety that was clearly being demonstrated. We watched them for awhile, made no headway in being accepted by them and returned to the adults when called without words to voice our collective, unspoken disappointment.

This morning I went to my 19 year old daughter’s shared house to drop off her phone. She’d left it at my place. I’d suffered a bit of abuse from her the previous night but we had sorted it out and I had reassured her that she was loved. She tamed as she sobered up effectively. Anyway, they’d had a house worming party that night. I knocked on the front door and entered when I found the door was unlocked. I tapped on my daughter’s room and left her phone on her bed. She was still in bed closely packed in with another unidentifiable party goer. I’m sure there were heaps of sleeping teenagers and early twenty something’s scattered around the house asleep in clumps (like the feral kittens). There were signs of party everywhere, scores of P-plated cars parked randomly on the front lawn and in the driveway, cigarette butts scattered all over the porch and front yard, an empty bottle.

The feral kittens came to me as a flash back on the drive home. Teenagers are just like feral kittens.

latest news

March 11, 2012

I’ve started full time work. It’s exciting. I’m starting a brand new chapter. And this brand new chapter is no less exciting than the other brand new chapters that get lots of air play as milestones: finishing high school, finishing uni, starting work for the first time, your first home, starting a family… Freshness and challenge are not restricted by age.

I haven’t been working full time since my first daughter was born nineteen years ago. I took the full time parenting route and, after eight years of that, worked sessionally and completed a Masters and (almost) a PhD by stealth.

My youngest started high school this year and I’ve started as a full time lecturer in education. I haven’t finished writing my dissertation yet, but that milestone is very close (I’m tipping within the next week or two).

I’m not sure what life will be like after finishing my thesis. I’m hoping to resurrect some neglected aspects of life: the novel (reading for pleasure), and entertaining. The only novels I’ve read in the last couple of years have been the millennium series, A Spot of Bother, The Slap (couldn’t finish it, but still trying) and Frankenstein. Frankenstein I’ve been reading over the past week. Rosie (daughter¬†number 2) is studying it for English (she’s in year 12 doing the International Baccalaureate). I’m reading it because she said, “Mum, can you read this please I really want to talk about it with you!”. My kids keep me grounded.

Likewise, I’m not sure what life will be like as an academic. So far, its started off wonderfully. I’m very happy in my office and I feel well supported to face the new challenges.

The first of my international conferences for the year is in Vancouver in April! I’ll post a little more on this as the time draws near.

A Parent’s Lament

October 23, 2011

When the light mist lifted this morning in Melbourne I had already been riding for half an hour. I’d met two girlfriends and we were cycling a route that one of them had discovered through Balwyn and Lower Plenty. The morning slowly warmed up and before we knew it we were riding in perfect conditions.

We cycled for two hours. I hadn’t ridden since last Sunday’s Around the Bay in a Day. In fact I hadn’t done any exercise other than the odd walk instead of drive. Around the Bay was a 210 km ride and I’d been too tired afterwards to get straight back into running and swimming.

It felt good. There was a pinch of a hill just over the half way mark that got my heart pumping. The endorphins kicked in and I finished the ride feeling pumped.

I arrived home at 10.30am. I don’t think my daughters were even aware that I’d been out. I had a shower and was standing there naked in my bathroom when Kat called out to me,

“Muuum?”

“Yep I’m in here but don’t come in I’m naked – just hopped out of the shower.”

“Oh, okay. Have you got any money?”

I only had two fifty dollar notes. I’d taken them out yesterday doing the “cash out” option at Target, and it was nice to have some money in my purse. Her boyfriend was visiting from Brisbane and they were heading out for the day. She spent too much money for a uni student, but I’d rather her have fun than be too restricted because of cash problems. Take one of the fifties out of my purse I said to her.

Still naked in my bathroom I was cleaning my teeth when Emma barged in and quickly back tracked saying, “Arg, I wish I hadn’t seen that! MUM Close your bathroom door!”

She waited while I threw on a summer dress and some knickers.

“What did you want to talk about Emma?”

“Can you drive me down to Foodworks? I said I’d meet Shari fifteen minutes ago and I can’t ring her because my phone’s busted”.

“Okay”

“And can I have some money to buy lunch with?”

“Um, all I have is this fifty dollar note”

“Well, I have a twenty”, Emma said, “Give me the fifty and I’ll give you the twenty. If I have change from lunch I’ll give it back to you later”.

Foodworks is only a 2 minute drive. I turned around and drove back to our home in less than ten minutes. As I opened the garage I found Sally waiting for me. She gestured with her hand, a stop gesture, to indicate don’t bother driving in.

“Mum, can you drive me down to the local shops. Beck is meeting me there and I’m running late”.

“Its just straight down the hill Sally. Why don’t you scoot?”

“I’m running late. Can you just drive me?”

“Okay”. We pulled out of the driveway.

“Can I have some money to do kid things with?”

“What sort of kid things? and why do you need money to be a kid?” (Sally is twelve at the end of this week).

“I might get a soft drink or icy pole”.

“Oh okay, but I only have this twenty dollar note”.

“Well give that to me and I’ll give you fifteen dollars change”.

This morning I had one hundred dollars. I now only have fifteen. This is my lament.

I’m sitting down now, munching on fruit and nuts, drinking formosan tea and reclining in my comfy chair by the window. The house is very quiet. But Rosie is still upstairs. I haven’t seen her yet today. I’m wondering whether she might need fifteen dollars before she steps out this morning…

Ah here she is! “What are you doing today Rosie?”

“Homework, but I’m going to go for a run first. Its beautiful out there!”

I feel love and pride for all of my daughters.

And I get to keep the 15ūüôā

Highlights of Lyon

October 9, 2011

I travelled to Lyon from Exeter, conference hopping. On the little Flybe aircraft across the channel I sat next to another conference goer. He was leaving Exeter and returning home to France rather than continuing to another conference like I was. (When you have flown the 25 hours to get to Europe from Australia, you may as well make the most of it). He was a PhD student originally from Pakistan, who learnt French to obtain a scholarship at a French University. He knew Lyon. I dictated notes onto my iphone as he told me what to see and where to go in Lyon.

Things to see and do in Lyon:

  1. bellecoeur – beautiful heart, city square – biggest in France
  2. vieux lyon – old city, museums (free), restaurants
  3. cathedral – biggest in Lyon
  4. close to Cathedral climb up small tower and view of whole of Lyon
  5. statue of Mary near cathedral also
  6. Rhone Рthe bigger river, on bank: Quai Claude Bernard, walk on bank in evening (popular promenade in the evenings) Close to this is the old university (conference is in new part)
  7. near Parte Dieu there are two towers: 1. pencil tip, 2. like a half pipe, shopping centre Center Commerciale Parte Dieu – beautiful, not expensive, fountain.
  8. biggest park in Lyon, Parc Tete D’Ore, beautiful lake, underground and come up in centre of the lake.
  9. public cycling stands, 6 euros for seven days: there are machines for hiring, select how many days. if you return to any stand within half an hour there is no extra charge. there are cycling tracks.
I can now add my own reflections to the list.

Lyon is the second largest city in France. It was the centre of commerce for a region in France settled by the Roman Empire some time BC. The ruins of the largest amphitheatre I’ve ever seen are on the hill in Lyon. If you climb the stairs to the top of this hill you have a vista back across the whole city and can even see the alps in the background. This is where you can go into the cathedral (3). The old town (2) is back down the hill. It has wonderful shops to browse. I had a crepe dinner here on my last night in Lyon. The delicious crepes were cooked on a cart and we sat out of doors.

I found the city bikes (9) on the first day and I’m glad I did. Its unusual when you are in a city for a conference to have such freedom in your travel. I rode the bikes everyday and enjoyed not being reliant on transport timetables. The ride along the river from the city centre (where I was staying) to the conference venue was spectacular (6). The river is wide. There are beautiful public spaces, from fabulous children’s playgrounds to picnic areas to fountains, to grassy enclaves where people in bikinis tanned.

I didn’t go to the shopping centre he recommended (7) but the¬†Parc Tete D’Ore (8) is wonderful. I was surprised to find in the park a free zoo. I came upon the animal cages before I realised I had entered a zoo. (wtf is that a giraffe?) I spent time wandering the gardens with friends from the conference here as well because it was within walking distance from the conference venue.

But the list did not include recommendations about finding good food. Firstly I would add that any bakery in Lyon is a great start, and there are numerous. Secondly, I highly recommend an eating institution which everyone in Lyon seemed to know about, Brasserie Georges. Luckily I have colleagues who always find fabulous restaurants in faraway cities.  The restaurant was a wonderful French experience: the ambience, the food, the service. Getting to the restaurant also turned out to be a French experience for me.

I rode a city bike from my hotel to a bike stand that I now realise was opposite Brasserie Georges, except that the road was split. Between where I parked and the restaurant was a wide motorway and nearby a large rail terminal. Not realising this I walked my half of the road without seeing it and became lost. My French is poor to non-existent but I had a little routine that I could use for emergencies. Upon realising I was lost I approached a woman at a bus stop and said in French,

Bonjour, I am Australian, I don’t speak French.

I showed her the address of where I was going but it was not until she read Brasserie Geroges that her eyes lit up. ‘Ah Brasserie Georg-geh’ she said (I’m trying to capture the accent and you need to pronounce the ‘g’ softly with an ‘h’ sound in there as well). She pointed me in the right direction and told me how to get there (in French). I followed the direction she pointed but because I didn’t understand the directions soon became lost again.

I approached another person. This time I used my routine but added ‘Brasserie Geor-geh’ to it with a little palms up, shoulder shrug. The recognition was instant. Again I was pointed in a direction and given instructions in French. Of course I walked in the direction pointed but soon became lost again. I went through this routine with four more people before finally arriving an hour late. I had walked a large three-sixty to appear upon the restaurant from exactly the opposite direction to which I had parked my bike. But I made it! My friends had saved me some of the antipasto entree (sensational) poured me a glass of wine (also sensational) and I ordered duck (sensational) and coffee icecream parfait for dessert (magnificent but it kept me up way too late that night).

I was proud of myself. As you know its quite stressful being lost. I consciously calmed myself down and thanks to the friendly French people had a wonderful experience of it rather than tears.

The view from the top of the hill in Lyon

The beautiful Rhone in Lyon

My first day on the Lyon city bikes

Eating the sensational antipasto at Brasserie Georges

Yesterday I fell off my bike.

How? The bolt holding my seat on broke in half and my butt was connected to the seat when it hit the ground.

Are you okay? I took the impact onto my hip. It hurt and I have a fist sized bruise there now. I’m noticing other bruises on my legs where the frame landed. But they’re just bruises. I’m perfectly okay really. I had ridden for two hours and had arrived at Mordialloc. It was when I was hopping back on my bike for the return trip that I fell.¬†I’d only made two or three pedals on a low gear and was going quite slow, luckily. I landed on a flat surface and not in the midst of oncoming traffic! Although a few seconds later the bus parked at the stop I was passing would have been right behind me.

How did you get home? True, you can’t ride a bike without a seat. Knicks are heavily padded but not padded enough for that! Four gentlemen came to my aid when I was lying on the ground in shock – the bus driver, and three bystanders from the cafe in the area. Once they’d collected all of the seat bits off the road they established the cause (the broken bolt) and we realised that more than an alan key was needed to solve this one. I was directed to a nearby bike shop. The bike shop was less than 50 metres from where we were. I hobbled off in the direction I was told to go, reassuring the kind people I was okay and making some sort of joke about the size of my butt (given that I’d just snapped my seat bolt in half).

In the bike shop I met Karlos. Firstly he examined the seat and responded quickly to my repeated joke to compliment my shape and say that my butt size wasn’t the cause of the broken bolt (which was sweet and entirely the right thing to say to a woman whether it were true or not). He told me it was the fourth broken seat bolt he’d had to deal with that day and showed me the marks on the seat that indicated it had been fixed too far back. This put pressure on the bolt – no wonder it snapped. Secondly, he ascertained that it was an aluminium bolt and not very strong.

While he was explaining all this to me in a gentle and caring tone, I started to feel like we all do when someone is sympathetic, a little sore and sorry for myself. I couldn’t help it, a few little tears escaped and ran down my cheeks. “What’s wrong?” he asked. “I just fell off my bike”, I replied. He gave me a hug.

I dug out a tissue and pulled myself together. (I carry a snap lock bag with cash, credit card, bandaids, a tissue, and my garage blip in it.) He was impressed with my organisation. “Where did you learn to do that?” Oh, I’ve been riding road bikes since I was 18 I told him.

He started work on my bike. “Did you feel like you were reaching too far for the handle bars?” he asked. I told him that I had. I’d only had the bike for one year. I bought a carbon fibre bike with Ultegra gears as a package from Melbourne Cycles. It was a lovely bike but I had always harboured doubts about the way they’d set it up for me because I felt as though I had to stretch. On long rides I experienced back pain as never before and I couldn’t comfortably reach the drop position (a position I’d been very comfortable in on my previous bike set up by Ivanhoe Cycles). I’d even asked my bike guy at uni to check the set up. He improved the situation but only slightly.

Karlos’ history was in bike manufacturing. He’d been head-hunted for the job at Mordialloc Bicycle Centre (where I found him) and he’d only been there a few weeks. His sport was downhill mountain bike racing. He was 35 but had the demeanour of a man much younger. He was an adrenalin junkie. Compared to the spills he’d had in his downhill career, my thud onto the bitumen was pretty lame. Apparently he is fairly famous in that circle, known as ‘the jackal’. Despite the thrill seeking, he had a wholesome philosophy about cycling and life. Maybe that’s because he was essentially a country lad.

Apparently my handlebar stem had been put on upside down. By putting it the right way up, Karlos brought my handle bars closer to my reach. Coupling this with the adjustment of the seat position, I felt as though I was on a different bike, one that had been sculpted around my body shape! I was ecstatic. But that’s not all he did.

“You do realise the seat you have on is for males, don’t you?”

“No, it was sold to me as a female seat!”

“Have a look at this. This is a female seat. It has this little gap here. Do you think that would make a difference to your comfort?”

Karlos didn’t realise that he was talking to someone who for a year had been putting up with too much pressure on a very sensitive part of her body, thinking it was just down to getting the angle right, who at the end of every ride regardless of the seat angle felt as though she’d lost a layer of skin from that area and who had gritted through 210 km in Around The Bay last year minus several layers of sensitive skin due to the unnatural pressure and deep bruising around each sit bone.

“WHAT!!!@#*!?!”, I was astonished, cross and relieved at the same time, “Do you think you could sell me a female seat right now?”

“You can have this one for 20 bucks”, he grinned. He ¬†adjusted my handlebars and put a stainless steel bolt in to hold my new seat. I told him to sell my old seat if he could (it was only a year old).

I rode the 50k home and arrived just before it started to rain with a few warning drops falling from the sky. Even though my bruises gave me a bit of pain, I was so much more comfortable on my bike. And all this just a week and two days before this years Around The Bay!

On my run this afternoon I saw four black cockatoos, six kangaroo and an Eastern Rosella.

Yep, you guessed it, I’m back in Australia. And despite a little bit of jet lag I have just managed to do my usual 10k run. I think it was the Lyon City bikes and swimming laps in the pool at The University of Exeter that kept me fit whilst away for two weeks despite conferencing during the day, eating out at night and drinking a little bit more and staying up later than I normally would.

The highlights of the trip? Apart from the conferences themselves and the wonderful people with whom I had professional and happy catch-up discussions, the highlights of the trip were:

1. On safari in search of Dartmoor ponies.

2. Exploring Lyon on City Bikes and on foot.

Following is a photographic chronology of my Dartmoor safari:

Firstly it took a little while to find our way onto the moors, but we knew we were there when the trees became windswept, there were no stone fences and we could see tors on the horizon.

It was amongst the tors that I first spotted evidence of the ponies. (So I took a photo of the evidence, just in case we didn’t find any actual ponies).

We sat on the tors for a little while and became very windswept ourselves. Through binoculars we spotted ponies on a far away ridge and some more by a far away road under a tree. It was exciting. We jumped in the car and headed for the far away road. After many twists and turns we passed the very same ponies that we had seen magnified though our binoculars still standing under the tree. I lept out of the car and captured the beasts on film (the photographs I will now share with you).

Wild ponies!

(Although they didn’t look particularly wild.)

They sort of looked tubby and placid.

In Australia we have wild horses called Brumbies. They are legendary and you get the image of them running in packs, tossing their manes in the wind, bucking and such and being quite fierce if you ever come across them. You’d expect a bit of hoof stamping and nostril flaring at the minimum. ¬†I suppose that’s what I was expecting of the Dartmoor Ponies. But on second thoughts, I should have realised that they weren’t quite the same as the wild horses in the Australian High Plains – their title “ponies” should have given me the heads up.

Oh well. We had a fun day and topped it off with cream tea in Dartmouth in the sun. (It was much warmer in Dartmouth than up on the moors).

Stay tuned for more adventure travel stories. Next up, getting lost in Lyon in search of Brasserie Georges.

If you do pump then have a massage at the oriental healing centre at Hong Kong airport 35 hours later it will hurt. Some people would say that if you do pump thirty-five hours later you will hurt. Other people might suggest that pain would be experienced at the elbows of the masseurs at HK airport regardless of what you did thirty-five hours prior. The combination is therefore a no brainer but I can vouch that it is an acute pain that takes training to endure.

My training took place at a very early age and I was coached by my father (a la Pavlov).¬†When I was a kid my father encouraged us all to have¬†our fillings done without pain relief. He’d make light of the drill and reward us by telling us how brave we were.

I endured the pain of the massage by breathing through it. It took quite a bit of breathing. There were times I thought I wouldn’t make it but I’m glad I did because the massage cured my headache and filled in one of the eight hours I have here at HK airport.

I filled another hour by going to Starbucks. There I met a random traveller from India who’s in the logistics business dealing with trade in and out of Russia and China. I think now I might go and find a restaurant for some dinner and some Chinese tea.

Hello blogging world. Thanks for being here.

I must admit I have a bit of travel anxiety building up. I used to think that the anxiety was caused by other people. For example, my husband would insist on the week leading up to my departure that I do extraneous jobs like sort out the children’s wardrobes and be on duty for kids sport and night club pickups all week. I had thought he was intentionally sabotaging my peace of mind. I’d get on the plane wound up after a week of total chaos and tension in the house.

This time he did ask me to sort out the wardrobes but I realised all I had to do was quietly explain that I was busy getting my conference presentations ready and that he please refrain from asking me to do non-urgent jobs for a week at least. He backed off. I’ve had space and time to focus on my work. But with a day and a half to fly out the¬†anxiousness is here – with no one to blame!!

I’ve recognised the issue. When I have trouble concentrating I’ve given myself license to goof off for a little while.

It’s the kind of anxiety that children have leading up to their birthday parties.

I feel like I’ve already left in my head but I’m still here.

It’s an unreality.

I’m blogging to maintain a tenuous link between here and there. I’m here. My head is there.

I’m heading to Exeter and then Lyon. Its low twenties (Celcius) in Exeter and thirty-five in Lyon! I’ve set myself the challenge of bringing carry-on luggage only. The reasoning was to avoid the ten pound surcharge with Flybe.

But what’s ten pound? … my excuse for taking on the challenge. (Its something I’ve been able to focus on.)

I’m the kind of consumer who buys random items without considering how well they fit with already acquired stuff.¬†In our first home I made the curtains and chose a floral fabric for its solitary appeal. The fabric didn’t match any of the hand-me-down furniture we had acquired from grandparents and sundry. When we sold the place we moved out and a professional decorator did it up for sale. My girlfriend who’d been in the house almost everyday for ten years said,

“Oh new curtains, they look great”.

They’d been there for the ten years. She just handn’t noticed them because they clashed.

It has therefore been quite a challenge to match tops with pants and shorts in an economical fashion. I’m hoping the silk dress I bought on sale at Sportcraft at the DFO centre will do for both climates. Oh! I don’t have any shoes to match it…

Dang.

the snow is calling

June 12, 2011

Its mid June. First semester at uni is over, the mornings are getting foggy and I’m thinking about the snow. We don’t get snow in our cities but for the first time in many years, the opening of the ski season has begun with skiable mountains.

Before I had my children, going up to the snow fields on Queens Birthday weekend was a given. These years were followed by years of pressing parental duties with babies, which were followed by years of ignoring the snow while the drought took hold and snow in time for the opening became a thing of the past. Those years of ignoring the snow were spent in the Grampians with friends who we would have skied with in the old days. Instead we tramped the Grampians by day: one group on a child-friendly walk and another doing a more challenging walk for adults-only.  The adult walkers would often return well after dark feeling as though they had survived an expedition. Evenso, the day walks ended in comfort, which was very unlike the trips we all used to do hauling tents to remote places for a taste of wilderness and snow camping. Our accommodation in the Grampians was a large farmhouse that felt roomy even with four families staying together and it was a working sheep farm. There we regrouped in the evenings over the massive dining table and shared tales from the day while the kids ran amok in the corridoors or played in one of the large unused rooms. It became a tradition that the kids would plan a show and put it on for the adults in the sitting room on the last day of the weekend.

The weekends at the farmhouse in the Grampians ended for us when our children became teenagers. The drought continued and the long weekend passed by unremarkably. Even this year we planned a weekend of rest. Rosie is studying for exams. Emma has returned from a 3 week choir tour of the US. Kat has been nightclubbing. I’ve been out with friends and doing the night club run at the end of the evening. But the snow fell early and I can feel the mountains calling!

Emma took up cross country skiing with a passion last year. She competed in the schools’ XC ski championships. I spent a weekend up on Buller with her and found my ski legs again. This year I’ve been caught by surprise. ¬†But next Queens Birthday weekend you know where you’ll find me !

I’ve returned to Melbourne from New Orleans with a little bit of New Orleans. The little bit of New Orleans that I have taken with me is intangible but represented by one Magnetic Ear CD.

I purchased the CD after spending my lunch hour in front of one of the outdoor stages set up for the French Quarter Festival. The Mississippi River was the backdrop. I sat in the sun and ate falafel from one of the many outlets set up under tents by local restaurants. Magnetic Ear were playing. I hadn’t heard of them before. They are a band of two saxophones, two trombones, a tuba and drums. Their sound was intoxicating. Their talent was astounding. And they could move. I’ve never seen trombone players move like these lithe musicians. I watched the crowd. People were dancing and moving. It was hard not to. The dancers ranged from baby boomers in long shorts and socks with travel belts strapped around their waists to pierced and tattooed twenty-somethings in summer dresses. It was a diverse, relaxed and gracious crowd. Everyone was accepted and music was the unifier.

I’ve been listening to their CD almost by addiction. The music brings back the sun and the feeling of adventure in another country as an independent soul. Their sounds colour my dreams as I fall asleep. I can’t get enough. I should have bought the 3 CD pack for $25 instead of going for the one for $10!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.