From the playground

By Vita Forest


“Does my hair look good like this?”  Tash flips her head forward and stares up at me, her eyes glinting through the thick strands that cover her entire face.

I am not convinced.

“How about this?”  She tosses the long mess to the right so her left eye and her crooked smile can be seen.

“Much better!” I answer and she runs off to climb up the slide.

Every week I have very interesting conversations on playground duty.  Some of them are non-verbal.  There are a bunch of Kindy girls who know what it means when I look in their direction and pat the top of my head.  “Put your hat back on!”  (The new style of hats at our school are not good at remaining on the head, they can usually be found swinging behind a tiny person, like a large backwards necklace).

I hear a lot about teeth too.  I am shown their wobbly teeth  “ish un is obbly oo!”  (It’s hard to say consonants with your hand in your mouth), and presented with freshly-fallen-out-fangs, their eyes wide with wonder.  “Wow!  You better take that up to the office.”  The office staff have a collection of tiny zip-lock bags, I’m not sure if they are used for anything else but taking home baby teeth.  The children update me how many teeth they have lost, and sometimes the tally for their siblings too.

The Year 2 kids often carry out tests to see if they are still not allowed on the high monkey bars.  (This rule was put in place after one of their classmates fell and broke her arm).  I go and stand in front of them, hands on hips in mock outrage.  They give me a cheeky smirk and drop down.  Instead, they take turns leaping off a low horizontal bar, grabbing hold of a vertical bar and spinning around it with their legs flying.

Five Year 2 girls who were in my class last year, start a circular route.  Down the slide at great speed (often crashing into the person in front), running around to the ladder, dashing up to the top of the equipment, then repeating.  This is the first time that I have been at the same school for longer than a year, and I am enjoying seeing my “old” kids advancing through another grade.  Some of them have become a bit shy with me, but others not so much.  “HAALLLOOOOOOOOOO!!” bellows Mischa and Tash, every time I walk through the playground.  Makoto gives me book reviews on his latest read.  He is never in the playground without a book.  Kenny gives me a quiet smile as he sits down to lunch.  Alan’s jokes have not improved with the passing of time…

Then there are those that another teacher calls “the Lost Boys”.  They much prefer to talk to adults than other children, who they find quite puzzling and unsettling.  The Lost Boys can often be found standing around a garden bed and staring intently into it.  As I walk by on one of my circuits, they give me updates on the spiders and beetles that inhabit the space.

I also learn interesting facts:  “Did you know,” says Bastian.  “That sometimes chocolate is healthy?  It is!  I had chocolate once with no sugar in it.  It tasted like dirt but it was still chocolate.”

and settle soccer disputes: “Pedro said it was in but it was NOT!”

and squat down to check out scrapes and bloodied knees.

It’s never dull.




Saturday baking

By Vita Forest.

IMG_2521 A snippet of the recipe in my Mum’s handwriting

Last weekend I did some cooking.  Not just the usual quick meal assembled fast at the end of a long day, but leisurely weekend baking.  I was heading to Saskia’s place for the afternoon and thought I’d take a cake.  Now as my children will tell you, recipes that require sugar are rarely chosen by their mother and are therefore a cause for celebration.

Which is exactly what sugar should be reserved for.

I perused my pantry and cookbook for a suitable recipe.  My cookbook was a gift from over twenty years ago.  It has a hard cover and colour-coded pages with a different pastel shade for Entrees, Meat and Poultry, Vegetables and Salads and Desserts, Cakes and Biscuits.  It has been filled with handwritten entries, emails, cuttings from newspapers and sheets of paper begged from others to copy a just-tasted recipe while visiting.  It contains a multitude of handwriting samples and the most popular pages are splattered with samples of the recipes themselves.  I leafed through the book, flicking over tantalising headings that were first attempted during my childhood, my mother’s and even my grandmother’s.  Jam drops, Self-saucing Butterscotch pudding, cupcakes.  It really did evoke memories of times past (although there were no recipes for Proust’s Madeleines…)

Due to the low levels of sugar in my pantry, I settled on a Dutch Almond Cake recipe courtesy of my mother.  (Don’t be fooled – it still required white sugar AND brown sugar AND golden syrup).  I spent a happy half hour measuring teaspoons of cinnamon, cloves and ginger and watching glossy ribbons of syrup fold over and over themselves, before dissolving into a golden lake at the bottom of a mixing bowl.  The whole procedure became an exercise in mindfulness – grinding the flour and spices through a strainer/come sifter (most of my utensils do at least double duty), listening to the clink of almonds as they toppled into a cup, stirring and stirring and stirring the golden syrup until its sluggish thickness was absorbed into a tawny milk mixture.

For forty five minutes, the apartment filled with the scents of wafting spices, my cats padding into the kitchen to peer in wonder at the show taking place inside the oven.  What was going on in there?  What was that smell?  Their noses twitched as they peered inside the illuminated heated box.

The cake rose and split with a couple of fault lines, then rose some more.  When it was ready, I ran a knife around the tin before upending the cake between two racks.  The tin was gingerly lifted off, the baking paper peeled away, then the cake was flipped over again and set upright to cool beneath a netting canopy (to ward off curious felines).

Later that afternoon, we sat on Saskia’s balcony and savoured buttered slices of Dutch Almond cake with steaming mugs of tea.

Life is good.

Winter picnic

By Vita Forest


Today we had a winter picnic.

The place: Wendy Whiteley’s garden, Lavender Bay.

The Participants: Sui Sui and Allesandro, Saskia and Laura, Lucy and I.

And Rowdy the 5th (dog explorer).

The food: Baba ganoush, cauliflower and hummus dips with breads and vegies

Mini quiches with bacon and parmesan, caramelised onion and cherry tomatoes, pumpkin and fetta.

A crisp crunchy salad with celery and apple.

Homemade cupcakes with raspberry icing and Florentines.

Tea applied generously from two thermoses.

Though the forecast insisted on rain, the winter sun shone brightly, warming our backs as we lounged on the picnic rugs. Rowdy explored the circle allowed by his lead attached to a metal stake driven into the ground. We sat above the garden on a flat stretch of lawn, watching the boats drift by below, and hearing the occasional screams from Luna Park.

We talked books, travel and movies. Laura and Lucy cartwheeled around us. Rowdy barked at dogs moseying by, until an unleashed poodle caused so much excitement, he tore his stake from the ground and raced after it. The girls chased Rowdy up and down the grass, as the poodle’s owner tried unsuccessfully to retrieve a foil cupcake case it had swiped.

Sui Sui made tea, adding milk from a small china jug wrapped in cling wrap that had travelled there inside a lunch box. Laura did a handstand against her Mum’s back, then she and Lucy did them either side of the thick rough trunk of a palm tree.

We swapped and returned books. Bibliophiles all. We planned future reading, we rated recent movies, we laughed. We packed up the picnic and descended into the garden, exploring the narrow paths winding back and forth along the terraces on the hill, holding onto curving balustrades made from fallen branches and climbing steep steps of stone.   We crushed spears of lavender between our fingers. We ran our hands over smooth tree trunks, and a polished granite bust that Laura thought might be useful for practising kissing.

The girls wanted a game of Hide and seek. We chatted for a count of fifty then set off along the paths. Laura was discovered but where was Lucy? We called and called, crisscrossing up and down. I imagined her laughing at us, stealthily sneaking along behind the squawking adults.

“Lucy! Lucy!”

Eventually she was found on the far edge of the garden, having discovered a vegetable plot, containing some plants with usefully large leaves. As we left the garden, Saskia looked up and saw the creator on her balcony.

“Thank you Wendy!” she called.

Wendy waved back.

We walked through the tunnel to the bay. Rowdy raced up and down, the girls disappeared up a fig tree. We stood by the water and talked jazz and road trips and Allesandro’s special diner in Bowral.

Next time, we think we’ll bring some wine.