Category Archives: music

Weekend Coffee Share – 8th June, 2020.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

How are you and what is going on in your neck of the woods? I’d like to offer you a slice of Lemon Meringue pie with your cup of tea, coffee or whatever. I made it for my parents who both celebrated their 75th birthday this week. I added some raspberries to it, which made a wonderful addition. The raspberries were a bit light on as I wasn’t too sure how they’d go However, they went really well and I’ll add the full punnet in future. Not that I make Lemon Meringue Pie all that often, but I’ve been doing more baking since Covid 19 came along and Masterchef 2020 is also on at the moment giving me plenty of inspiration and intimidation.

 

If we were to meet up for coffee in person, I know we’d probably be talking about the riots and #blacklivesmatter. I live in Australia. So, I’m geographically removed from what’s going on in America, although the TV brings it into our living room and it’s hard to know how much the news represents what’s going on over there. While I think the original #blacklivesmatter hashtag was a great rallying cry following the murder of George Floyd at the hands of the police, I’m not so sure about using it in such a broad-sweeping sense because every life matters and there are a lot of people who are equally being discriminated against, killed and also dying from neglect. As a person living with a disability, people in my community have been denied access to wheelchairs or basic equipment needs and lack a voice. A woman with cerebral palsy recently died due to neglect by her carer. Aboriginal people here have adopted  #Blacklivesmatter to raise public awareness of Aboriginal deaths in custody which really does need to be acknowledged and addressed. It slips so easily under the carpet, and it’s hard to keep up with all these horrid things in our communities which definitely need to be addressed and fixed now and not consigned to some politician’s eternal inbox where it never sees the light of day. I personally believe that if we treated everybody with respect and applied the Golden Rule and tried to put ourselves in other people’s shoes, as Harper Lee says in To Kill A Mockingbird, that much of the discrimination, inequality and hate would at least be reduced. However, some communities have particular areas where more is focus and action are needed and I understand the need for the slogan #blacklivesmatter even though every life also matters. It’s to draw attention. Have an impact. Make us sit up and notice, and that’s important too because it’s very easy for each and every one of us to get very comfortable in our easychairs at home and be oblivious to what’s going on beyond our own four walls. My own ignorance abounds and I’m generally living back in WWI with my research. It’s such a long way away from the present, that it’s easy to forget anything is going on beyond what I can see.

While it’s important to highlight discrimination, struggles, hate etc certain groups might be experiencing, it’s also important, indeed critical, to keep building bridges between people and we’ve seen so many examples of that during these protests. People coming together across that so-called black-white divide and embracing each other in love (and despite Covid 19 restrictions). There is good and bad everywhere, but it’s important that we stay informed somehow of what is going in the bigger picture and don’t close our eyes to suffering, injustice, cruelty and neglect.

Anyway, I don’t know if you wanted to come over here and talk about all of that over coffee. However, I couldn’t not talk about it and I’d really like to see some really strong role models rise up out of this to lead us forward and on a global scale. Let’s see humanity unite and connect building bridges right around the world and make everyone feel at home, safe, valued and at peace.

 

 

Meanwhile, my photography walks continue. Last Friday, I decided to head over to another local beach at Killcare about a 15 minute drive away. However, in the absence of any signage, I took a wrong turn and ended up at MacMasters Beach 10 kilometres further down the road. It also turned out that the battery for my SLR had failed to charge. That left me taking photos with my phone. Being a committed SLR photographer and unashamed snob, as far as I was concerned, I might as well be taking photos with my shoe. However, while they turned out quite well, and using my phone is certainly much easier than lugging the camera around, I’m not a convert yet.

Despite all these mishaps, MacMasters was breathtakingly beautiful. I stopped off at the Barefoot Cafe for some homemade prawn spring rolls, which were scrumptious and deliciously crunchy and I’ve been plotting my return ever since. Meanwhile, rather than walking along the beach, I decided to walk across the rocks to the headland and watched the surfers as I went. It was all quite mesmerising, particularly as I reflect back on it now from the relative blandness of our lounge room. Indeed, from that perspective, it was absolutely magnificent!! I’d love you to join me at: Surfing Through The Lens.

Meanwhile, yesterday, we drove down to Sydney to celebrate my parents’ 75th Birthdays. It was Dad’s birthday yesterday and Mum’s through the week. Thanks to the blessed coronavirus, we just celebrated with our family and my brother. As I mentioned before, I made an Leon & Raspberry Meringue Pie and Dad picked up a chocolate meringue cake from a local French Chocolate shop. It’s to die for. Except if you die, you can’t go back for a second piece. It was a shame not to catch up with my aunts, uncles and cousins, but getting all of that crew together isn’t as easy as it used to be either. We’ve scattered and outgrown a standard table as well.

MacMasters Beach feet

Lastly, I’m trying to find a way forward for my violin and have taken up the piano again hoping they’ll fuel each other on. I’d like to record my piano playing and accompany myself on the violin and put together a CD just for myself. Something to work towards. The music school has been closed for a couple of months now due to covid restrictions and i’m going to take the next term off as well to fund a keyboard synthesizer. My son who is studying entertainment and sound at school and helping out at Church, tells me that a note on a keyboard is like a button which triggers off a chain reaction of sorts. I’ll be interested to see it in action. Meanwhile, I’ve been playing Leonard Cohen’s Alleluia on my daughter’s keyboard and setting it to tenor saxophone, which sounds very moody and atmospheric. I’m also playing New York and pretending I’m a violin-version of Frank Sinatra in a pink dressing gown, spotty pink PJs and ugg boots. It’s not quite the New York look, but that’s me in lock down.

Daleys Point2

Sunset Daleys Point 

Anyway, it’s really got very late and I need to get to bed.

I hope you and yours are keeping safe and are finding a way to navigate a path through everything that’s going on at the moment.

This has been another contribution to the Weekend Coffee Share hosted by Eclectic Ali

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

 

The Dog We’ll Never Forget!

“What we have once enjoyed deeply we can never lose. All that we love

deeply becomes a part of us.”

Helen Keller

It’s been almost three years since our gorgeous Border Collie, Bilbo, crossed over the Rainbow Bridge. However, today I read a few posts which reminded of him and all these raw emotions and memories came flooding back in a way which caught my defences off guard.

Bilbo was every bit a part of our family as the rest of us, and there’s a dreadful sense of loss when you lose someone in your family. Human or dog, you just can’t replace them straight away and they leave behind a hole like a cookie cutter in their very own shape, which can not be filled. However, although it can be painful to remember, it’s ultimately worse to forget, which is why I wanted to share this moving story.

Just to put you in the picture, it was mid-January 2012…eight years ago. It wasn’t New Year’s Day when every other human and their dog automatically go on diets to welcome in the New year. Rather, it was two weeks later. I was the first cab off the rank, Geoff was second and Bilbo was lucky last.

Bilbo + Amelia

Bilbo with the kids when he first arrived.

Starting with yours truly, just before Christmas, I’d found out that my auto-immune disease was affecting my lungs and I was showing early signs of Institial Lung Disease(ILD) and fibrosis. I couldn’t get an appointment with the lung specialist until mid-January, the day before we were due to leave on a family holiday to Byron Bay. I was absolutely distraught over Christmas and New Year and vowed I’d do anything to keep myself alive to be there for the kids. They were still only seven and five and still so young and naturally I vowed to do everything I could to get more time with them. Fight right to the very and if I had to. Indeed, I would do anything for love and the song became my song and mantra through this truly excruciating time:

Jonathon Amelia Bilbo

Taken on our son’s first day of school in 2009.

However, there’s a key line of the song undermines all that devotion….”but I won’t do that”.

What was it I wouldn’t do? Where was my breaking point? Where would I draw the line when it came to self-sacrifice to be there for my kids?

It was funny because I remember looking into the pantry and seeing a packet of Tim Tams sitting in there, and it was calling out to me. It was like they’d come to life and were asking me if I could give them up. Could I give up my beloved Tim Tams to buy extra time with my kids? Or, was the packet of Tim Tams going to be my Achilles Heel? My “but I can’t do that”?

Of course not. I was made of stronger stuff than that. Well, at least I hoped so.

Bilbo Lady Ro kayak

Only a lunatic would go kayaking with two dogs on board, especially Bilbo who is sitting right on top of me. He never really found his sea legs and tried to keep his precious paws well out of the water.

Well, I was lucky. The lung specialist felt that the Institial Lung Disease was mild and dormant. I was not in any imminent danger of dying, although he told me exercise and losing weight could help my breathing and quality of life. The next day, we left for my in-law’s place just outside Byron Bay, Australia’s alternate health capital and found myself sugar-free on the Caveman Diet and drinking gurgling spirolina smoothies. Over the next few months, I lost ten kilos.

Meanwhile, my husband, Geoff, was diagnosed with high cholesterol, and the doctor wanted to see whether diet could avoid medication. So, while I went sugar free, he went low fat and with all of us eating the same food, we were both losing weight.

That is, all except Bilbo.

bilbo BW dog food

The dog really must be sick…he is sleeping in the trail of dog food Miss left for him.

However, that didn’t last very long. Soon, Bilbo went off for his annual trip to the vet’s, and boy did I get a talking to. I don’t know if any of you have ever taken an overweight pet to the vet. If you have, you might’ve found yourselves in a similar spot where you’re much loved pet is unceremoniously called: “FAT.” If they’re being nice, they might tell you: “You’re killing your pet with kindness”. However, they could also be brutally direct, and speak to you in a way that no paediatrician would ever use to a parent of an overweight child. Indeed, they can hit you where it hurts just like a well aimed ruler across the knuckles. Actually, make that the heartstrings. There’s not much worse than being told you’re a bad parent of child or dog.

Bilbo & Lady

Bilbo & Lady

To be fair though, Bilbo did hit the scales at 42 kilos, and although he’s tall for a Border Collie, he wasn’t that tall. Of course, I should’ve known and done something about it myself, without needing the vet to point it out. A friend had referred affectionately to his “love handles” as she was feeding him her left over gravy. Moreover, while he could somewhat conceal all that excess over-indulgence beneath his woolly coat, we weren’t stupid.

Bilbo Lady Ro kayak

Reality really hit home, however, when the vet asked how many meals a day he’d been having. That was the very first time I’d really become conscious of the mind-blowing volume of leftovers I’d been feeding him. Both of our kids were non-eaters and it wasn’t unusual for him to get both of their leftovers breakfast, lunch and dinner. After all, I hate waste, and we even have a worm farm to consume what the dogs don’t eat.

Bilbo was put on an instant diet. No more snacks, treats, leftovers.

Zip.

Fetching Bilbos Ball

Finally some assistance. Miss puts Bilbo out of his misery!

The trouble is, how do you tell a dog that he’s on a diet? How do you explain that you’re just not being mean, when you no longer give him that tasty morsel of fat off your steak? He was so used to getting all of our left overs that he had expectations – a sense of entitlement. So, naturally he looked at me through those huge, soppy puppy dog eyes as though I’d ripped his heart out. I was being so mean, and he knew nothing about the virtues of tough love. Was it too much to ask for Mum to have her cake, and for him to have some too? He certainly thought nothing of it. However he was a slow learner. A few weeks later when the kids went back to school, Bilbo spotted the lunchboxes and knew there would be leftovers for him inside. You could just imagine the look on his face when they bypassed his bowl and went straight in the bin.

Bilbo staring out to sea

I’m surprised Bilbo didn’t record his own sob song and post it on Youtube. His nose was very out of joint. After all, he knew food and love went hand in hand, and straight into his mouth.

“They say you die twice. One time when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when somebody says your name for the last time.”

Banksy

The only other time I’ve even seen Bilbo look at food in quite the same way was when he was put on prednisone for an infection. He was absolutely ravenous (prednisone is like a hunger drug and it makes you eat and eat and eat).

It really was hard putting him through this diet, but he lost weight, even if he was never going to make Slimmer-Of -The-Year.

Losing his appetite was the first sign Bilbo wasn’t well at the end and not being able to chase his ball was the second. Even still, we hoped for a miracle.

It wasn’t meant to be.

“Goodbyes are only for those who love with their eyes. Because for

those who love with heart and soul there is no such thing as

separation.”

Rumi

However, as the song The Way We Were reminds us:

Bilbo shadow Palm Beach

Our Philosophical Dog walking along beside the tide. He doesn’t like getting wet paws.

Memories
May be beautiful and yet
What’s too painful to remember
We simply choose to forget

So it’s the laughter
We will remember
Whenever we remember
The way we were
The way we were

Best wishes,

Rowena

Bilbo with ball

Bilbo appropriating another dog’s ball.

 

V- Places I’ve Played My Violin.

Welcome back to Places I’ve Been, my theme for the 2020 Blogging From A to Z Challenge, which is rapidly drawing to a close. I had considered heading to Victoria, and was going to write about visiting the vineyards of Australia’s Hunter and Barossa valleys. However, as experienced in previous posts, I’ve been having a lot of trouble digging up my old photos and so I decided to bail. So, instead, I’m writing about where I’ve played my violin, although I’ll also throw in my daughter’s grand violin performance, which humbles mine completely. Indeed, I’ve become her humble shadow.

Violin & concert violinist music

My violin journey began as a child when I was learning Suzuki violin from Yvonne Gannoni, who I recently found out had studied at the Royal Academy of Music and had stellar talent. In the 1970’s, she was teaching Suzuki violin from her home in Pymble on Sydney’s North Shore and also at Glenbrook in the Blue Mountains. What I remember most about her, however, is her bright blue eye shadow and colourful kaftans. At least, I think they were kaftans, and they sort of fit in with the era. She was a larger than life, flamboyant figure who held her annual concerts at nothing less than the Sydney Opera House, where groups of students would perform the Suzuki repertoire. It was in hindsight, absolutely fabulous.

It was my brother who was truly learning violin from Miss Gannoni, while I was learning the piano from my beloved Mrs Gaut. However, I had to wait for my brother’s lessons to finish and somewhere along the way, I decided to take up the violin. Unfortunately, my efforts at the violin were very short-lived as I couldn’t get either my head or my fingers around how to hold the bow. I think I stuck at it for a year and that was that. Unfortunately, in that very short time, I never made it to the Opera House.

family playing violin

The family playing violin from Suzuki Book 1 in 2012.

That could well have been the end of my love affair with the violin. However, when I was around 25 and working in the city, I was walking through Sydney’s Queen Victoria Building and heard a busker playing Meditation By Massinet. Ever reflective and tinged with melancholy, this piece of music was absolutely magnificent and seemed to be playing my soul song at the time. I even bought his CD, which was very unusual for me.

violin birthday cake

I was quite surprised when my mum ordered me a violin cake for my birthday in 2012. It was something of a premonition! Good on you Mum!

Fast-forwarding to 2012, our daughter begged us to learn the violin. I wasn’t altogether sold on this, because the general consensus was that the piano would be a better first instrument. Moreover, with my mother being a piano teacher, accompanist and former student of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music and my grandmother being a concert pianist, the piano was a natural destination. However, the piano never really spoke to me in the same way it moved my moher and grandmother and my cousin is a cellist. So,  contrary to my upbringing, there were other instruments and you didn’t HAVE to learn the piano. You could diversify.

Amelia Violin

That’s how we found ourselves one afternoon in term one 2012 with my daughter kitted out with her eighth size violin. At least, I’m pretty sure it was an eighth. The teacher offered for me to sit in. I didn’t know this at the time and her teacher wasn’t Suzuki trained, however, part of Suzuki’s approach is for the mother to play and for the child to play alongside the mother and learn music in the same way they almost seem to absorb language. Anyway, when we came home, it soon became clear that my help was required and that year of Suzuki training I’d had under the Great Yvonne Gannoni was being summoned back from the very deepest depths of memory. We pulled Geoff’s grandfather’s violin out of storage and that was to be my instrument until the Ebay violin arrived from China and I later moved onto the Stentor I still play today.

As it turned out, our daughter’s relationship with he violin at age 6 was short-lived. After a very passionate start, we went way and when she came home, her violin was screeching like a dying cockatoo, which not only assaulted her ear drums, but also her pride. The end didn’t come quietly or through neglect, but rather stormy angst and heartfelt tears. I continued on with her lessons until the end of term and kept going.

At the end of the year, the music school held their annual concert at a rather impressive local music venue, Lizottes, which was owned by Australian rock legend Diesel and his brother and all sorts of famous local and international acts had performed there…along with little old me in our violin ensemble. As we hung out together in the “red room” downstairs, we had a taste of the big time and boy it felt good, even better once we hit the stage. It was exhilarating. I even won an award.

Perhaps, it was the thrill of this success, which gave this novice and not very proficient violinist the pluck to pose with her violin outside Byron Bay Lighthouse. Indeed, this was actually more the photographer in me than the “budding” musician. Aside from the Sydney Opera House, what better backdrop could you ask for? I was just hoping against all hope, that nobody asked me to play. Boy, that would’ve had been scuttling off for cover, which of course they did. OMG!!! What was I thinking?

Anyway, I still haven’t made it to the Sydney Opera House. As the years go by, and my hopes rapidly fade of ever pulling off that much needed 10,000 hours of practice before I’m beyond a Zimmer frame, I’m now needing to find a fresh sense of purpose for my violin. Indeed, I need to find a tribe, which is not so easy where we live, especially when I’m not getting a lot of practice in.  My lessons are currently on hold due to the coronavirus, and I’m reconsidering everything. I need to find a way forward, which is seriously heading off along the road less travelled. It would be so much easier if I played the guitar. However, I’m a violinist. It’s a different sound, which comes from a different place, and I don’t want to lose that precious part of me. Somehow, I need to hold on.

Rowena on stage

Performing at an in-house concert last year.

Have you ever learned the violin? Or, perhaps you have a favourite piece of violin music? Or, you play something else? Or, you might even hate the violin and it’s dreadful screechings and squarkings. You don’t need to tell me just how vile a violin can sound, particularly in the early days. I know!!!

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

L – London…A-Z Challenge.

“London goes beyond any boundary or convention. It contains every wish or word ever spoken, every action or gesture ever made, every harsh or noble statement ever expressed. It is illimitable. It is Infinite London.”

– PETER ACKROYD, London: The Biograph

Welcome to London on Day 12 of the Blogging A to Z April Challenge. I spent a week in London in August, 1992 while I was “backpacking through Europe” (but mostly based in Heidelberg). Clearly, I don’t know much about London at all. Moreover, I have absolutely pathetic map-reading skills. So, even if I knew the place, I’d still get us lost.

Yet, forging ahead under the stressful demands of the A-Z Challenge, I still had to come up with the goods. So, for awhile there, I was longing for the foolhardiness of youth, where you can know absolutely nothing about a subject, and yet still present yourself as a fully-fledged expert.

So, rather than taking you on an actual tour of London, I decided to focus on what London meant as a cultural epicentre for generations of Australians who went there to get their big break. These included the likes of Dame Edna, the Unmentionable, Clive James and Germaine Greer. It also included my grandmother, concert pianist Eunice Gardiner, who was awarded a scholarship at the Royal Academy of Music, and became part of this cultural exodus. 

1937 London Debut in June

Eunice Gardiner was born on the 24th February, 1918. At the age of 16, she won a scholarship to study at the Royal Academy of Music in London. However, the scholarship didn’t include her living expenses. An enthusiastic fundraising effort was launched, led by Lady Gordon and supported by pianist Frank Hutchens. These efforts culminated in a Testimonial Concert at the Sydney Town Hall on the 6th June, 1935 where she performed  Beethoven’s Waldstein Sonata and works by Liszt. There was never any question of Eunice travelling to London alone. Indeed, her father said he’d “rather throw her to the sharks in Sydney Harbour”. So,  on the 3rd December, 1935 she set off with  her mother on board the Esperance Bay. Four months later, her father died of a heart attack back in Australia, giving some idea of the incredible personal sacrifices performers and their families made to pursue their careers in London. You couldn’t have a foot in both camps.It was all or nothing, and for many that also included their sanity and their very soul.

FT25 Ruby and Eunice

My grandmother (right) and her mother, Ruby Gardiner (McNamara). Ruby was very much the wind beneath her wings!!

Eunice and her mother lived in London for around four years. During this time she performed for the Queen (who we know as the Queen Mother), her hands appeared in the movie Black Eyes and she also had a regular spot performing on BBC TV which came to an abrupt end, when the BBC shut down as soon as war was declared (humph sounds a bit too familiar during this coronacrisis!!)

Pix Eunice TV Screen Test

Press coverage of her time in London on her return reported:

“The highlight of her tour occurred when she played before Queen Elizabeth at a private reception at the home of Lord and Lady Howard de Walden; the function was arranged by Miss Macdonald of the Isles for students and Empire visitors. Miss Gardiner said the Queen was extremely charming , and complimented her on her playing and choice of music. Broadcasting, televising and film work have also come within Miss Gar-diner’s ambit. Miss Gardiner’s film experience was a strange one, as she did not appear on the screen, and her name was not even mentioned. She .provided the music for Mary Maguire in a film entitled Black Eyes, in which Mary, who was supposed to be learning the piano, was playing badly at first, and a three-minute shot was taken of Miss Gardiner’s hands as she played. At first she found she was not playing badly enough for the part ! In the same film she also provided music which the music master was ostensibly playing. In London. Miss Gardiner, said, the midday concerts arranged by Myra Hess at the National Gallery were extremely popular, and only one shilling was charged. Miss Gardiner played at one of these concerts only the day before she left England.” 1.

Eunice crochet group

The Crochet Circle, London. My Great Grandmother (second from the left) is crocheting a shawl for her first grandson, who was born back in Australia while they were away.

Eunice and her mother returned to Sydney on the 23rd March, 1940 partly to escape the war, but also because Eunice was under contract to the A.B.C. for three months, and would be touring Australia with the famed English conductor, Sir Thomas Beeeham.

When my grandmother returned to Australia, I doubt she had any idea of just how long it was going to take to get back to London. Indeed, a full decade had passed. Although she’d planned to go to London in 1948 on her way home from a 12 month stint in New York, a bout of appendicitis and consequent surgery, destroyed those plans.

Of course, there were regrets. London was LONDON.

Eunice returned to London in April 1951 as a music critic for Australian Consolidated Press, and she was one of only two Australian journalists covering the opening of the  Festival of Britain. She was away for three months, and I should also point out that at this point of time, she was married with four children and her mother back home in Australia. I clearly remember her telling me when she was well into her 80’s, how much she loved being spoiled over there. She specifically mentioned having a doorman to open the door for her at the hotel, which clearly didn’t happen as mum back home. As much as she loved her children, she was incredibly driven by her love of music, her career as a pianist and was never one to simply be absorbed by osmosis into domesticity. She ultimately ended up with seven children, and these tensions stayed with her for life, and possibly even beyond the scope of her failing memory. It was never an easy balance.

By comparison, my trip to London seems rather trite. I was only there for a week, and I was only doing touristy things. So, my time in London lacks the gravitas of my time in Paris, which still resonates almost thirty years later.

Geoff Le Pard

Geoff Le Pard and Dog out walking through London. 

In recent years, for me London has become associated with my long-term blogging friend, Geoff Le Pard. I’ve thorough enjoyed his tours of London mostly with Dog. He would clearly do a much better job of guiding you around London. Indeed, a few years ago, we were looking at doing a joint blogging tour of London, after I found an old letter in a London guidebook. I’ve been thinking with the current travel bans, we should resurrect this project and see how far we can take it. After all, it is a rather quirky story of an Australian and an Englishman who’ve never met retracing the footsteps of a mysterious Australian tourist who visited London back in the 1960’s or thereabouts.

Above: Photos Geoff Le Pard.

Anyway, I thought I’d share a few links to Geoff’s posts. Firstly, Geoff and Dog went on their Thames Bridge Walk, from Putney to Tower Bridge. I also love his posts covering London’s street art and thought you might enjoy: Street Art in Shoreditch.

There’s much more of London on Geoff’s blog. However, I’ll have to leave you to it. Daylight is rapidly fading and it’s been a few days since I’ve been on a walk. With all this social isolation, I’ve been going a bit stir crazy as soon as the typing stops.

Have you ever been to London and have something to share? Or, perhaps you call London home. I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

 

 

References

 

  1. Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), Thursday 21 March 1940, page 4

Weekend Coffee Share – 6th April, 2020.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

This week you’re in luck. I can offer you a lusciously fresh, Orange Buttercream Cupcake with raspberries on top. My husband dropped off a box of three to my parents and brother in Sydney on his way to work this morning. In keeping with social distancing regulations, he simply left the box on their doorstep, knocked on the door and was off. Mum had a lovely surprise. My Dad doesn’t like icing so his was plain, which looked like he was missing out alongside the rest. Dad was pleased I remembered, although Mum said she could’ve cut the top off. I warned her all that icing could have made her sick. It’s very rich.

cupcake box Pymble

Mum sent us this photo of the cupcakes we dropped off. As you can see, two of them had evaporated soon after delivery.

I’m pleased we got in touch. I haven’t seen them for a couple of months. We had to cancel a get-together for our kids’ birthdays because we had colds, not knowing what was to come. I should’ve pushed a bit harder and got something organized. However, you know how it is. You always think you have forever. Who could’ve predicted this was just around the corner?

I obviously don’t know how the coronavirus is impacting on you, your family and friends and community. However, I would love to hear from you and come together around this online cafe and share our experiences. I live at Umina Beach, just North of Sydney, Australia. The whole country is close to being at home. Most state borders have closed and in Western Australia, they’ve even set up regional zones for containing movement. This is really good, and it’s making life a lot easier for people who are at high risk of not only catching the virus, but also having a dire outcome. This, unfortunately, includes me but for once, I’m not alone. Most of the country is in the same boat and people are rising to the challenge.

At this point in Australia, the impacts have largely been economic and around 1 million people have lost their jobs. The government has responded by increasing welfare payments, but it’s hit some people very hard and losing your job is always painful. Fortunately, Geoff works in IT for a university and so far, so good. He’s an essential worker. He lost his job back in the GFC, so we went through this back then and know that pain and hope you and yours have managed to avoid it.

While still on the subject of Coronavirus, I also wanted to share something I posted earlier tonight….Every Home Is Now A Stage. As you may be aware, musicians and performers around the world have been posting free performances online with a view of lifting our collective spirits and so I decided to put a selection of these together to share with you. There are contributions from Jimmy Barnes, Andrew Lloyd Webber, the National Gallery and I had to include a clip of feeding a baby koala at Taronga Zoo, which made my heart sing.

KLM

Meanwhile, I’ve been taking part in the annual Blogging From A to Z  April Challenge. My theme this year is “Places I’ve Been”, which has a travel and photographic feel to it with a bit of introspection and philosophy thrown in. The alphabetical aspect to this challenge always makes it interesting, because there are always some letters where you have a plethora of options and it’s really hard to boil it down to one. Then, there are other letters where you really have to struggle to come up with anything and the results can feel quite random. I chose this theme, due to the current travel restrictions and I wanted to spread some joy. It’s also been very therapeutic to revisit these places myself and to realize that despite illness and parenthood, I am still a traveller.

Here’s are my posts for week 1:

Amsterdam

Berlin

Canberra

Devonport, Tasmania.

Have you been to any of these places? Or, perhaps you’ve lived there? I’d love to read any reflections in the comments below.

This has been another contribution to the Weekend Coffee Share hosted by Eclectic Ali.

We hope you and yours stay safe and well.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

 

Last Weekend Coffee Share 2019

Welcome to the Last Weekend Coffee Share for 2019!

My apologies for taking an unscheduled blogging break over the last couple of months. It hasn’t been intentional, and I haven’t fallen off the perch. Rather, I’ve been deeply immersed in a research project which could well turn into a few books, articles and goodness knows what. I’ve also been having serious breathing difficulties from the bush fire smoke. However, that’s cleared up lately. Well, at least it has for me. So much of NSW on fire and it’s absolutely devastating.

As you may recall, I’ve been working on writing up some historically based family stories and while I’d been trying to work through them chronologically, I ended up taking a serious detour and researching a few family members who served in WWI in the Australian Army. Their service records were rather scant and so I’ve filled the gaps by reading letters sent back from the front by other soldiers and I slowly started getting the picture…along with being seriously distracted. I periodically try to remind myself that I’m a writer first researcher second. That while research for research sake can be edifying, that my mission is words on the page. With so many material being available online these days, I find it very easy to move dart around and not actually document my findings as I go. Of course, that’s way more methodical, and like tying  lead weights to your wings , which really slows down the flow. Yet, somehow when you’re writing history, you need to do both. Multitasking has never been my thing. Anyway, that sort of explains where I’ve been.

Geoff Amelia Jonathon

This brings to up-to-date. Time to wish you all a belated Merry and blessed Christmas. What did you get up to? Christmas is such a varied time for people and it can magnify that sense of grief and loss along with feelings of self-doubt and criticism.

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Caught Santa red handed leaving sticks for the pups.

We had a wonderful Christmas Day. We attended Church on Christmas Eve. On Christmas Day, we opened presents at home. This year we had our first ever fake Christmas tree, which has taken some getting used to but it was better than nothing and the real real was very expensive this year thanks to drought and bush fires. Our kids are now 15 and 13 and so Christmas has matured with them and we enjoyed something of a sleep-in. We drove down to Sydney to my aunt’s place for Christmas lunch, which the kids invariable spend in the pool. I always pack my swimmers just in case but never get in. I’m too busy listening to family stories and talking. Naturally, food is also a priority and this year I took down my Caramel Nut Tart, which really was a sensation. We also had traditional Plum pudding, hard brandy sauce and custard. It wouldn’t be Christmas without it. This year Mum wasn’t feeling well and didn’t make it to the big family Christmas and Dad left early and had clocked off by the time we reached their place. It’s hard to get everyone coordinated.

Since Christmas Day, I’ve gone into some kind of comatose inert state. All that end of year stress has wiped me out and I feel exhausted and the cogs need to start unwinding and returning to normal. Doing my research or curling up with a book is ideal for this time of year. I’m sure some of you must relate to that!

This brings me to the New Year and that dreadful process of setting goals, making plans and hoping that you’ll wake up January 1 as someone else…an entirely new and improved version of you! It’s never happened before and yet I live in hope. The only trouble is that some of my goals, objectives and fantasies clash with each other. I want the house to organized and clean without spending my entire life doing housework. Indeed, my main goal is to get a book published next year. That one has carried over since forever. Indeed, I might actually get somewhere if I do go with keeping the house clean. It does seem to be more achievable and if you saw our place, you’d be shaking your heads…”Are you really sure about that?!!” I think if I got everyone else to move out, I’d probably succeed on both fronts but I’d be absolutely miserable. As they say on Facebook, life is complicated.

We need to be more organized next year. Our son is going into year 11, which is his second last year of school. So, this place needs to transform from Chaos central into a well oiled machine.  I’ve bought myself a diary and calendar. He’s actually reorganized his room after weeks of refusing to tidy it up. So, that’s looking very promising. We still need to get rid of a lot of stuff.

Anyway, that’s enough talk about being organized. We’ve also been enjoying the festive spirit. Last night, we saw Jumanji with friends and had dinner at a local Chinese restaurant we hadn’t been to before. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy the movie and was mainly going to hang out with my friends. However, I really got into it and it was probably good for me to give a movie all my attention instead of half watching it while I’m researching or writing on my laptop. Dinner at the Chinese restaurant felt like a trip down memory lane. It’s been close to 20 years since I last had dinner at an authentic Chinese restaurant and by that I mean one with the red covered menus and serves Fried Ice Cream. I was full to exploding and yet I had to share a Fried Ice Cream with Geoff for old time’s sake. It was divine.

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve also been going to trivia nights with a friend and we’ve won a couple of meals and drinks. The categories don’t really suit me. I’m great at history (no surprises there!), but am hopeless at sport and music questions and bomb out completely. However, as a team we perform well and have won a few dinner vouchers and Geoff and I went out for dinner there last Saturday night.

Violin & concert violinist music

The other news is that I performed at my end of year violin concert. This year I played Where Is Love from the musical Oliver. We chose this piece because it wasn’t going to over-stretch me and I was really busy at the end of the year and not in good shape to conquer something challenging. The plan was to play it as a duet. However, the day before I received a text from my teacher saying she was in hospital with a kidney stone, but that I “could do it”. Humph! Fortunately, I was playing the melody for all but one line of the piece and so a tweaked that and said my prayers. The violin can be a  very disagreeable instrument prone to terrible squeaks and it doesn’t care that you have an audience. It likes to remind you who’s the boss. With this in mind, I gave my performance a brief intro and said that I usually go for safety in numbers, but that hadn’t worked out this year. I also mentioned that many of us have asked “Where is love?” or “Where is hope?” “Where is good luck?” Some times, you just need to open your eyes, turn a corner or keep your fingers crossed…like I’m doing now.” Phew! At least I had the audience on side. It didn’t really matter how I played now, although it did and I was told I gave my best performance yet. What a relief.

I’m sorry my thoughts are all over the place tonight. It’s been such a long time since I’ve even checked in on my blog and I had a lot of catching up to do.

Anyway, this has been another contribution to the Weekend Coffee Share hosted by  Eclectic Ali. We’d love you to pop round and join us.

Best wishes and Happy New Year!

Rowena

Sunset Through the Wires…the Aussie Fires.

Last night, I took a series of photos of the sunset through the overhead wires from our driveway. We don’t have any local fires blazing and yet the smoke is very thick and ominous.

Naturally, I was annoyed these wires were in the way. Wanted a clear view of the blazing sun glowing like melting cheese just above the horizon. However, as I peered through the lens, I thought the wires told a suburban story. I also remember how my childhood piano teacher who went on to get her PhD in Creative Writing told me how she used to see the five parallel wires of the overhead wires resembling the musical staff and the birds were the notes and she used to try and work out what tune they were playing.

So, there you have it. My blazing sun seemingly shooting across the musical staff playing a tune of its own.

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Meanwhile, I am contained in the lounge room with the air-conditioning on which is filtering the air. I went out into the kitchen and made a couple of pancakes and was almost a hospital job. Our son arrived home from school and said the smoke was so bad that you couldn’t smell people smoking outside. That’s a pretty good indication of how bad it is.

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A broader perspective of the sunset  through the wires and over the roof top. 

Please keep us in your prayers. We have the television updates running and it’s just terrible hearing about the destruction and loss of bush land and homes. I am equally conscious that the burning of our bush is killing animals and their habitat and not something to be glossed over either.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Weekend Coffee Share – 11th November, 2019.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

I’m not so sure you’ll be wanting to come round to my place this week. Not only is the house a disaster zone, but the air is redolant with the aroma of choking bushfire smoke and while I was  picking our daughter up from school today, a warning siren sounded on the radio from the Rural Fire Service warning that the fire status is catastrophic for Greater Sydney tomorrow. People have been warned to get out and not to expect assistance from fire services. They could well be overwhelmed with not enough resources to go round. Many schools will be closed and there really is that sense of Armageddon in the air. Meanwhile, I’m trying to “Keep Calm & Carry On”. We’ve had dire warnings like this before about others pending catastrophes (Y2K for example) and nothing’s come of it. Just because the conditions are condusive doesn’t necessarily mean disaster. That said, there have been over 70 bushfires raging over the weekend. However, aside from the smoke, they haven’t impacted on us here.

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This photo was taken later in the afternoon just as we were leaving. The Jacaranda tree has a very special place and was in full bloom and absolutely stunning. 

The highlight of the last week was heading down to Sydney on Saturday to attend The PLC Garden Party. That’s what my old school calls their annual fete, which pretty much gives away that I went to a high faluting school. I met up with a group of friends for traditional lunch of champagne and chicken sandwiches at the ex-students stall (usually known as the “old girls”). I skipped the champagne and bought myself a $6.00 chocolate cupcake with a mountainous swirl of butter cream on top. It was interesting trying to eat that elegantly in front of my friends as I face-planted into the icing, resembling a grubby two year old. Of course, I should’ve known better but clearly my sweet tooth overrode all sensibility.

The cake stall wasn’t my only point of weakness.

There was also the book stall. No doubt many of you have also succombed to this weakness and like any other form of addict, really should go cold turkey and implement a firm policy of total avoidance. 100% abstinance. However, when it’s the end of the day and you can fill a box for $10.00, practicality sets in although many would see this as a guised form of FOMO (fear of missing out).

The other aburdity of bringing home even just this relatively small box load of books, is that I’ve put the house on a diet and I’m actively putting this bookcumulation process into reverse and clearing the shelves, piles, columns away so we can aquire that very rare commody…breathing space.

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Before I move on from the school Garden Party, I wanted to share one of our important annual rituals. Every year the Knox Pipe Band plays at the Garden Party. They’re our brother school and that also btw was where actor Hugh Jackman went to school and I’m not sure if he was the only lure for some of my school mates to audition for the Knox Musical, but he was the lead male back in the day and not a bad incentive. Thoought you’d appreciate a few photos. BTW I should also point out that my school used to be the Presbyterian Ladies’ College and both Knox and PLChave Scottish heritage hence the pipe band.

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It was actually quite a social weekend. It started on Friday night when we attended a birthday party at the “The Treehouse”. That’s what my friend calls his pole home up among the gum trees and it appears that the local wildlife have also made themselves at home, which includes at least one possum, rainbow lorrikeets and cheeky sulfur-crested cockatoos which my friend refuses to feed because they’ll chew up your house. I made an ambitious Caramel Nut Tart. It’s taken me two years to muster up the courage to make it. We have it at the Macadamia Castle up near Byron Bay and the recipe was published in a local cookbook. Yum. So proud of myself for doing this and I’m planing to make it for Christmas Day.

Rowena Japanese dinner

Out for dinner at a Japanese restaurant with a friend.

I stayed with my parents on Saturday night and spent the day in Sydney. I went back to the Church I grew up in on Sunday morning nad chilled out for the rest of the day with my parents and brother and even tinkered away on the piano. I’m rather deluded when it comes to these piano efforts. I expect to be able to pick up the music I used to play back in the day and play it like no water’s passed under the bridge and I’ve been keeping up my practice. Yes, very deluded. However, I’m adding ambitious to that description because I’ve photocopied the music for Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody and Phantom of the Opera’s Music of the Night. By the way, I probably should mention that my mother is a piano teacher and accompanist and has loads of music at my fingertips. Indeed, her loungeroom with the grand piano and all the music is a musical bonanza. I often take my violin down but didn’t this time as it would’ve spent the day in a hot car, which it doesn’t like. 

Jack Quealy WWI

Private Jack Quealey

Lastly, I’m still deeply embroiled in my research. The twists and turns keep changing. However, I’m fundamentally researching my Great Grandmother’s family, the Quealys of Lisheenfurror, Moyarta, County Clare. My Great Grandmother’s brother, Jack Quealey, served in WWI and I was researching his war service in more detail this week. Trying to nut out even a general idea of what he went through is very difficult , despite reading through his service records with a fine tooth comb. However, they mentioned he was wounded and that put a sort of stake in the ground. I was able to work out that he was was most likely wounded in the battle of Mouquet Farm near Pozieres. I then turned to the old newspapers which are online and found some gripping letters home which were published in local papers, which gave incredible insights into what our soldiers and my Great Great Uncle went through.It was incredibly humbling and I don’t know how anyone made it out alive. By the way, working on these war records atm has been great timing. Today, is Armistace Day. 

So, that sums up last week.

How was your week? I hope you’ve had a great one.

This has been another contribution to the Weekend Coffee Share hosted by  Eclectic Ali. We’d love you to pop round and join us.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

 

 

 

Weekend Coffee Share – 7th October, 2019.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

My profuse apologies. If I’d invited you round earlier this weekend, you could’ve been having some caramel slice with your beverage of choice. Unfortunately, the last piece went last night so I can only offer you Vegemite on toast, which for most of you will evoke grimaces of torture.

How was your week?

Last week, was the first week of school holidays. Our daughter spent much of the week in Sydney with my parents. This is code for going shopping with my mum, and they seem to get caught up in the moment. My daughter doesn’t go completely overboard, but she gets mighty close and there always seems to be something my mum doesn’t quite get her head around. This time it was ear pods. The teenager is an expense beast.

Meanwhile, her brother was sick at home and was very kind to share his bugs with me. With my health issues particularly the lung disease, chest infections can become life threatening but there’s also a lot that can be done to ward them off even without taken antibiotics. So today, I took my spoonful of olive leaf extract and I’ve also got a few other tricks up my sleeve. Wish me luck. I’ve dodged a few bullets over the last couple of years, avoiding a serious problem. Phew!

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On Friday, our nephew was visiting from Canada. We took him for a bush walk with magnificent views over Pearl Beach and Broken Bay, which is just around the corner from our place. Towering over steep bush-covered cliffs tumbling down into the ocean, the views are absolutely majestic.

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Paradise. Pearl Beach is in the foreground looking out towards Lion Island. The body of water RHS is Pittwater.

You really get that sense which Keats describes so beautifully in: On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer:

Then felt I like some watcher of the skies

When a new planet swims into his ken;

Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes

He star’d at the Pacific—and all his men

Look’d at each other with a wild surmise—

Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

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Our daughter is in the front row second from the left.

Friday night, Mother Swan was back for the Central Dance Company’s final performance of Swan Lake & More. In case you’re the only person on the planet who doesn’t know our daughter was part of the corps de ballet, now you know. Being the third performance, I went solo this time, although the dance school filled the row behind me. It did take me long, however, to strike up conversations with the four people beside me. That’s what I call my gift of being able to talk to strangers. It comes in handy and we were all quite friendly by the end of the show.

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Guest Artists Cieran Edinger, Gary Bowles and Rebekah Petty photographed with Artistic Director, Patti Gleeson (second from the left).

They had the cast party afterwards. At this point, I became official photographer. We were also celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Central Dance Company. So, I was photographing dancers, the cutting of the cake and that’s when my daughter pointed out that my camera lens was smashed. Yikes. My anxiety almost hit the roof, except the lens has a lens protector and I was fairly sure that the lens would be okay. However, I couldn’t work this out at the time because the lens protector was jammed onto the lens and wouldn’t come off. I had to confess all to my husband when I arrived home and he asked: “What have you broken this time?” Phew. It wasn’t the lens.

After watching three shows of Swan Lake & More what with the sensational dancing, magnificent music and all those emotions both on stage and watching our daughter and her friends, I was completely overstimulated on Saturday and my mind was flying. During the last week, I’ve written two skits for the Scout Gang Show, 3 poems and a short story for the Australian Writer’s Centre’s Furious Fiction Competition.

Speaking of of the Furious Fiction Competition, I’m furious with myself. I misread the deadline and was also second-guessing myself and caught up in my perfectionist nitpicking and I missed out. That’s particularly annoying because the competition has a setting and a list of words which need to be included. There’s also a $500.00 prize. I’d have been lucky to win the prize, but I was pretty pleased with my effort which I’d set in the Shakespeare and Company Bookshop in Paris where I’d done a poetry reading in my early twenties. Oh well. All is not lost. I’ll have to see what else I can do with it. Perhaps, it will suit another prompt down the track.

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Jazz in the Arboretum, Pearl Beach.

In addition to going to the ballet and doing so much writing during the week, I also managed to go to Jazz in the Pearl Beach Arboretum yesterday. My school friend’s son was performing and she initially invited me out for coffee, but a free ticket came up and off I went. That was great, because although this annual concert is local, I’ve never been before and it was great to check it out. The show was essentially John Morrison with the All Stars and the Australia Institute of Music’s Big Band (which included my friend’s son). In addition to the fantastic music, the bush setting was wonderful sitting on the grass surrounded by towering gum trees. At one point, a kookaburra appeared and was working hard to extract a large morsel from the ground, which might have been a beetle. Of course, the kookaburra thought he was the star of the show.

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Performers Jazz in the Arboretum, Pearl Beach.

So, as it turns out, I had an eventful week.

What did you get up to? I look forward to hearing from you!

This has been another contribution to the Weekend Coffee Share hosted by  Eclectic Ali. We’d love you to pop round and join us.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

Our Sojourn At Swan Lake.

“Being born in a duck yard does not matter, if only you are hatched from a swan’s egg.”

– Hans Christian Andersen

On Saturday, we were lined up in our seats anxiously waiting for the curtain to rise. Our daughter was performing in Swan Lake & Beyond with the Central Dance Company at the Wyong Art House, North of Sydney. Not only that, she was going to be a swan and I couldn’t wait to see her appear like an apparition in that voluminous white tutu elegantly flapping her wings across the stage.

There is such an absolute silence…that pregnant pause… just before the curtain rises which seemingly lasts for eternity. We, the audience, is waiting in suspended animation, while anything could be happening behind the curtain. Like a bolt of lightening, the curtain rises and an explosion of colour, movement and sound grips our senses. We’re not on Swan Lake yet. Rather, the opening number is  called Hooked on Tchaikovsky.  The music reminded me of a cassette we used to have: Hooked On Classics. Those of you of a certain age, might recall it. Otherwise, just  think of fast-paced classics. I don’t know what to say about the dancing, except that I was wowed and I remember actively trying to expand my perception to take it all in, as I’m better at focusing in on a detail than absorbing the entire scene.

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Our daughter in Swan Lake Act 1 Waltz of the Swans.

Keeping track of our daughter during the opening number was difficult. Given their hairstyles and costumes were identical, all the dancers almost looked the same, and unless your dancer is extremely tall or short, it was down to hair colour. I always find my daughter has an identical twin in these performances and I forever mix them up. Once I spot her, that’s it. I have to keep my eyes fixed and I can’t even blink just in case I lose her. That’s why I’ve booked myself in to watch all three shoes. I figured I’d only be watching our daughter for the first show, and could then take in more of the bigger picture for shows two and three. After all, I do want to see the show in all its glory and not only through my blinkered, crazed-Mum-vision. Besides, the third show will also be at a different venue and I don’t want to miss whatever that means and that show will also be the finale. Besides, I know I’m not fooling anyone. We all know I’m a parent tragic gazing longingly up at our daughter as though she’s the star in the night sky. However, I make no apologies for that. Every performer needs their greatest fans. It’s not easy getting up on stage with a million and one things on your mind and having to hold it together on the pointe of your shoe. You need to know someone believes in you, especially when you’re pushing through into so many new frontiers, which are all deliriously exciting but equally terrifying and formidable.

“He had danced with fair maidens before, but Odette was different. She was graceful and beautiful, but there was something in her eyes and in the things she said, an intelligence and a boldness that belied her quiet demeanor.”
― Melanie Dickerson, The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest

However, this is not a review of the show or even our daughter’s performance within. I know professional critics do it all the time. However, I haven’t yet mastered the ability to condense something so mind-blowingly spectacular into a handful of words. I make no apologies for that. After all, Swan Lake is silent. There are no words at all. Yet, even as a wordsmith, I didn’t even notice they were missing because the movements and expressions of the dancers along with Tchaikovsky’s incredible music said it all. I was transfixed.

Yet, within all of the movement and the spectacular music, there was our daughter. Finally, almost at the end of the show, she appeared from left stage in her white tutu and she was a swan. You’d think I would’ve etched those moments into my retina forever so I could just pull up a seat and play it again Sam over and over again. However, I was also dazzled by the performances of the featured artists. There was Rebecca Petty as Odette and Cieran Edinger as Siegfried and I would have fallen deeply into their intoxicating love story if it hadn’t been for the diabolical Von Rothbart (played by Gary Bowles) who kept tearing them apart. Gary played this dastardly villain hauntingly well and  had me shaking in my shoes, even though I’ve met him quite a few times at rehearsals.

Amelia and Rowena

After the show with our daughter.

However, all too soon, the performance was over and we were left at Stage Door holding our flowers waiting for our daughter to appear. This reminded me of waiting at Arrivals at the International Airport where you’re waiting for this person you haven’t seen for a very long time to appear. However, there’s this dribble of people coming through and you’re waiting and waiting. When they finally appear, there’s almost an explosion of emotion. That uncurtailed excitement! No doubt that weary traveller was not unlike our petite ballerina who just wanted to get to bed and rest her feet. Well, she did have a her tales to tell and agreed to a few photographs, which wasn’t going to be a given. It wasn’t quite “Go straight to be, directly to bed. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.00”.

As we were driving home, I could almost shed a sigh of relief. The first two shows were done and dusted, and there’d barely been a ripple in the pond. Indeed, we were floating along on swan lake.

Best wishes,

Rowena

PS I hope to get a photo of our daughter in her Swan Lake tutu soon.