This week

By Vita Forest

This week I have been

READING Unpolished Gem by Alice Pung

WRITING my novel

CONDUCTING 27 parent teacher interviews! (Nearly finished) while

CONTINUING to teach 28 children and therefore

FEELING exhausted…

ATTENDING a local writers circle (which was very inspiring)

SLEEPING in on the weekend and

SWIMMING at Balmoral Beach (the hottest temperatures in April for forty years)

MEETING for a coffee with Vastra and Saskia

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No princesses around here

By Vita Forest

On Wednesday we had school photos.  We were called out during my maths lesson and marched up to the top grass under the trees.  We were arranged in three rows with me slotted in at the side and Milly gamely balancing on a high step brandishing her broken arm in front of her.  We were adjusted and readjusted – some children just did not want to be that close to certain other children and of course the child who has been known to lash out at others when he gets riled up was placed right in the centre of the group with bodies pressing in on him from all sides…

The camera snapped away and before anyone came to any harm, it was over.

Then we lined up again to have individual photos. On the way we checked our hair and our shirts and our collars, and tried to get our fringes to behave, and tried to decide whether plaits should be swept forward or behind our shoulders, and whether glasses should be left on if they catch the light, and whether the boys shirts should really be tucked in when they really look so much better tucked out…

I led the class in its snaking line down past the play equipment and up the ramp into the hall.  I sat on a stool  with my kids looking on and smiled at the camera and was asked to repeat ‘Cocktails!’ and ‘Holidays’ and ‘Weekend!’ (that is what teachers like apparently).  When I was done, I went out of the hall and found some shade and waited for my line of kids to feed into the production line for their photo and get popped out the other side.

A boy or two ambled up and sat down to wait and then a rather cranky looking girl.

‘What’s up T?’ I asked.

‘She made me say “Princess’” she scowled.  ‘Then “Cheeky Monkeys” but “Princess!”  Alan did you have to say “Princess”?’

Apparently not.  Apparently the boys got to say “Elephant’s Undies” and other such manly things.

The survey continued as the rest of the class trickled out, there were no “Princesses” among the boys, only the girls were asked to say that word.  My sassy girls of eight and nine continued to discuss the outrage of being asked to say “Princess” – I mean, As IF!

We went back to the classroom and continued on with the presentation of their free choice speeches.  The best speakers will go on to the next round and may eventually represent the school at an inter-school competition.  There were some excellent speeches from some of the little characters in my class.  Some of the topics chosen included – ‘why our school should not get a pool’ (the rest of the class took some convincing), ‘Termites and how great they are’ (after this girl’s garage collapsed after, you guessed it, termites destroyed it), and my personal favourite – ‘why this public speaking competition is ‘the worst’’.  Stacey, who wrote and presented this gem ended it by saying, ‘But Ms F, I really would like to get through to the next round!’ (and she did.  She’ll get a merit award for it next week too).

Later that day we were hunted down in the computer room.

‘Come quick Ms F!  We want you to hear the band!’ (The band for our performance group, the band who are rehearsing together for the third time).  Again we left our tasks, again 28 children lined up in two rather wonky lines and again we left the great indoors and wove around buildings and play equipment and garden beds and bins, lured by the fabulous music that wafted through the empty playground beckoning us on like the Pied Piper.  My class sang and even danced as they recognised the song and we moved ever closer to the source of the music.  The band was arranged outside of the hall under the trees (they couldn’t be inside today  – it was School Photo Day) and when we arrived, they began again, with my pal, the fabulous band teacher, conducting them with gusto.  It was peaceful under the trees, the bass player lounging against a wall, the saxophonists blowing gamely into their instruments.  The tune was there and the tempo, it was an exhilarating start!  We all applauded and I told them how thrilled I was.  And then we stood up again and lined up again and walked back to the computer room for a very short lesson…

And later that afternoon we were outside again with our lovely art teacher (because she couldn’t be in the hall because it was School Photo Day – very tolerant, flexible people are teachers) and the kids were painting trees and lying on the grass and talking about mixing colours and the shapes in the bark and how one tree looked like a person or maybe a peace sign and some kids painted the trees red with yellow leaves even though they are brown with green leaves and I just thought, despite how tired I felt, that this was, after all, a good day.

Creatures of Kiama Part 2

By Vita Forest

More creatures seen on our recent holiday in Kiama and its surrounds…

  • On Blowhole Point… my mother delighted in sighting two willy wagtails, black tails swinging sideways as they called to each other and hopped about on the grass.  A bird she remembers seeing a lot as a child in Sydney but hasn’t seen locally for years.
  • On a few of our walks, we saw long-legged herons with blue-grey feathers picking through the wet grass, or rising heavily into the air.
  • Climbing up the hill towards Minnamurra… Lucy stooped to watch an orange ladybird exploring a blade of grass. We had just come from a lookout and read about the whales that migrate past that point, not right now though, we were either too early or too late.  From thinking about the blue whale – the largest animal in the world, to a tiny ladybird.
  • As we neared Gerringong on the Kiama Coast track… we came upon a field of black and white cows – Friesians, straight off the picture on the milk bottle. We were in dairy country after all, the lush green hills ridged with meandering bovine tracks beneath the long grass.
  • Driving up to Saddleback Mountain… we saw honey-coloured horses leaning over white timber fences, manes shaking as a woman walked toward them, hand outstretched. And later as we returned, we wondered if they admired that view all the way to Wollongong, or liked the cooling wind straight off the ocean.
  • And on that same trip… before we got to the top of that long ascending road that followed the spine of the hill, we had to pull over, stop the car, open the door and ‘encourage’ a large green stick insect (or was it a cricket?) to join the wide green world outside again. It leapt out the window, flinging itself back toward the grass with whirring wings, much to the relief of the rest of us.
  • At the summit of Saddleback Mountain… after parking the car, we walked through fluttering butterflies and hovering dragonflies, straight out of a scene from a Studio Ghibli film.
  • On the second last day, my sister Molly and I were walking back from Blowhole Point, around the headland toward the Surf Beach… when all of a sudden, a girl in the group just ahead of us pointed towards the water, “Dolphins!” and there they were. Three of them, black-bodies arcing out of the water then diving back again.  We stood and exclaimed as they reappeared again and again, chasing a school of fish.
  • And on the last day, taking one of our last swims in the Continental pool by the harbour… we swam out from the bay in the direction of the sea, and as we watched, a crab reared up above our heads and scuttled sideways along the edge of the pool, silhouetted against the blue water behind. Lucy lurched forward and it disappeared again, down over the side of the seawall, under the waves that the sea sent over the edge of the pool to splash us.
  • And heading toward our very last swim in the rock pool on Blowhole Point, we walked around the harbour and stopped near the boat ramp… and saw the most enormous blue and black spotted stingray with a long tail and huge eyes, dredging the shallow water for discarded fish with a pelican keeping it company. We had missed the stingray show (a new development since last we visited) but it seems the stingrays know the place to be for tasty treats in the harbour.
  • Arriving home later that day… we found two little cats very pleased to see us again.IMG_3053

Holiday at home

By Vita Forest

With the children spending some time with their father, and myself still feeling rather worn out from the year that has passed, I recently spent a very good day doing really not much at all and feeling a whole lot better for it.  My day included:

  • Sleeping in then making a gourmet breakfast for one.  This included hot sourdough toast (which the butter melted into), a handful of spinach and rocket leaves drizzled over with Persian feta and olive oil and  a fried egg whose yolk broke and ran over the top of it all, orange juice made from a real orange and, of course, lashings of tea!
  • Reading, reading and more reading.  Finishing one book and immediately picking up another from the pile gathered from the local library from my To Read list.
  • Reading sitting at the table, reading lying on the sofa, reading lying on the booth seat with a cool, refreshing breeze brushing into the room through the open windows.
  • Later, much later, later than you would ordinarily expect to have lunch, I tied my favourite apron around my waist (a thick olive-green drill affair with pockets for any tools I might need – nothing dainty about it) and layered up, in my lovely Marimekko bowl of just the right size and proportions: segments of oranges with the skin removed, slivers of green kiwi fruit, slices of white nectarine with its blushing scarlet skin intact, the luscious contents of two passionfruit, three lychees which I broke apart with my thumbnails, nectar dripping over my hands and into the bowl as I tore the opalescent fruit away from the smooth brown seed inside and the gorgeous jewel-like seeds of a pomegranate falling over it all, as I held half a pomegranate cupped in my hand and whacked it with the back of a spoon, watching the seeds and juice splatter into the bowl below.
  • Occasionally the cats would chase each other across the mountain ranges of the furniture.  Brief bursts of scrambling, skittering and sliding before relapsing into their more usual tranquil resting that added to the atmosphere of peace and contentment.
  • Later again, I drove to the beach and plunged beneath the surface of the water, waking up every cell in my body in the salt water.
  • Later again I watched a few episodes of my latest crush on SBS On Demand and then went to sleep at a decent hour.

It doesn’t take much to have a deliciously decadent delightful day.  And that is what holidays are really about.

Some good news from America

By Vita Forest

Though we risk being trampled

By updates on Trump,

The doom that is looming,

The lies, fear, rage, talk of war, catastrophes, down-turns and dire warnings.

 

Yet even now amid the screaming headlines

I find

Good news from America.

 

It seems that

after five years of drought

then welcome winter rain

the hills of California are blooming,

festooned with orange poppies,

waving on the hills

beaming up at the sun

so many of them that they can be seen from Space.

 

Think of those aliens looking down at the tangerine glow

At humans taking time out to wander in fields of flowers

That go on and on

Further than the eye can see

Imagine walking those hills, hands outstretched

Getting lost amongst the beaming, bobbing poppies

Simple pleasures

Lying back and looking up at the blue sky

Sight fringed by golden flowers.

 

And though the world rolls on

And it appears that disaster cannot be avoided,

Remember this is happening now too.

So clutch your bouquet of Californian poppies

Close to your heart.

 

A big space full of nothing

By Vita Forest

View from Barangaroo

View from Barangaroo

“Smog is a mixture of smoke and fog,” Lucy informed me today as the train sped into the city through the smog.  They are doing a lot of back-burning around Sydney at the moment and the smoke was thick again.

We walked down to Barangaroo to meet our pals for a picnic, the smell of smoke in the air.  But over the course of the day, the air cleared, the sun shone, the sky was blue.  Another summer day at the end of autumn.

“Is this north?” Lucy asked, pointing forward.  When I answered in the affirmative, she observed, “So we are walking towards the Arctic circle.”

Which we were, I supposed.

We waited near The Cutaway.  Lucy saw something bright and yellow floating in the water and bounded down the sandstone blocks to see what it was.  When she reached the sometimes-submerged rock, she kept going, despite the green moss, despite the slipperiness, and so slid and fell.  She stood up gingerly and inspected her hands and her seat as she climbed up again.

“It was a lemon,” she announced as she watched the heel of her hand swell and purple into a bruise.  She’s a tough one.

We sat in the sun and waited for Sui-Sui and Alessandro, for Saskia and Rowdy the dog.  The phone pinged, updating us on their progress, closer and closer.  Sui-Sui and Alessandro arrived first, hauling treats in an esky.  It was their first trip to Barangaroo.  I advised them to check out The Cutaway while we waited on Saskia, and in they went.

“What’s so good about The Cutaway?” asked Lucy, “It’s just a big empty space full of nothing.”

“Like my life… ” she added,  “Just kidding!”  Brat.

They returned and the phone rang again, Saskia was around the coastline minding a shady picnic spot by the water.  We joined her and Rowdy, spreading out picnic rugs and food.

Our colourful lunch

Our colourful lunch

We lazed in the sun or shade and watched the boats streak past around the headland and caught up on news.  We ate quinoa salad, tuna and corn fritters, mandarins and grapes and my new favourite chocolate cake that Lucy and I had made yesterday.

Rowdy made friends with the steady parade of promenading pooches and their owners that passed by.  Lucy recovered from her fall and climbed trees, leaped on rocks and did cartwheels.  She took Rowdy for runs around the headland and up and down stairs.  In the process she earned a fourth piece of chocolate cake (it was very tasty).

We talked about books and movies, parents and friends with babies, markets, studies and future trips.  The cake got smaller and smaller.

That pretty salad

That pretty salad

“Look!” shouted Saskia pointing behind us, “A native mouse!”

“It’s a rat!” corrected Alessandro.  But we agreed it was still cute.

The thermoses were empty, the tea was drunk, the last slice of cake disappeared.  We rolled up the picnic rugs and said our goodbyes.

“Now we are walking towards Antarctica,” said Lucy.

And we were.

Barangaroo

Barangaroo

Z is for… Zone

By Vita Forest

IMG_4093[1]

The shoes!  The shoes!  What was she thinking? How did people stand up in them?  Let alone walk.  Let alone dance.  They had to come off!  Pip pushed her way through the people, and the thudding music, which seemed almost a physical presence, and left the lounge room.  She blinked in the brightness of the hallway and bent down to wrench off those high heels.  Those stupid sexy shoes she had been talked into buying in a moment of weakness.

“Sitting down shoes,” her sister called them.

Indeed.

Pip found her jacket and hid her fabulous sitting-down shoes beneath it.  She wriggled her toes and arched her feet.  Much better.  She would simply go barefoot.

Pausing just beyond the doorway, Pip let her eyes adjust to the dark again.  The room was full of dark shadows, dark figures lounging around the perimeter against walls and windows, the centre full of bouncing, flailing dancers.  Her hips starting moving again.  Then her shoulders.  Then Pip’s arms flew above her head, and in the next instance she was dancing in amongst them again.  Who knew where her friends were?  At this point it didn’t matter.  If you were dancing, if you were in the zone, you could dance anywhere, with anyone.  So she did.  She did her hip hop moves.  Some salsa.  Joined a conga line.  She was up for anything.  Any song that came on was her favourite.  Was the cause of whooping and cheering.  She was in “the zone”.  She found her friends again, held Sophie’s hand, mirrored her moves.  Led Sophie through her own.

A searing pain in foot.  Burning.  Pip’s eyes widened and she fell to the floor in a heap.  Jonny lifted her up and carried her out of the dark into that blinding light again.  Through to the kitchen.

They all groaned as they looked down at her foot.  A red welt slashed into the skin above her toes.  A hole.  Purple around the red.  Pip stared at her foot and felt the pounding of her blood through her whole body.  Her vision began to blur and whiten, she stared and stared, as if falling back into a tunnel.

“Let me through!” someone shouted vaguely from a distance.

She felt someone lift up her foot, her poor fragile foot and slap something cold over the top of it.  Pip breathed out through her teeth and felt the whiteness retreat.  Felt her mind return from that tunnel.  Come back to her.  The hot burning was fighting against the cold burning.  It was spluttering.  The fire was going out.

“What is that?”

“Just peas,” someone said.  “Mint peas actually.  Shelled and snap frozen.”

“Do you want to go home?” Sarah brushed Pip’s hair out of her face with gentle fingers.

“No.  I’ll just sit with the peas.”

They carried her back into the darkness (Make way!  Make way!)  and found her a place on a couch.  Sarah piled up the cushions behind her back.  Jonny nursed her legs.  Mira held her feet and draped the peas over Pip’s foot, now only dully thudding.  Sophie brought her a cold glass.

“Just water,” but who knew “Just water” cold from the fridge could taste so good.  Pip leaned back and peered out into the dance.  From the friend zone.