Monday, June 22, 2009

The Dog Days of Winter

Don't know why I think these are the dog days of winter. Everybody tells me the "worst is still to come". In August. Colder, windy and mistier. But this feels like the dog days of winter. That term is usually used with summer, but there's something similar happening here. Maybe it's more like the doldrums of winter. We are half way through our exchange, our epic journey, and it feels as if things are slowly swirling, not moving forward or backward. But I'm thinking it will soon speed up, or seem to speed up.

I'm turning 50 in a few days. I thought it didn't have anything to do with that, but maybe it is. That's a good age. Several other acquaintances are turning 50 soon. And I'm getting a winter birthday for the first time. We'll be somewhere on or near Kangaroo Island for June 30. Must find some champagne somewhere. That's always a birthday requirement. When my mum turned 50, I was finished with University and starting on a "professional" job. That job was another epic journey. Half my lifetime away.

Tom has been slogging it out, with several weekends spent adding and changing comments on student reports and grading exams. More than 200 reports to do, with comments coming back to him about 2 spaces following a word, not one. "Duty of care" is a theme of the private school. The reports are for parents, not for the students. And the students' full names are to be recorded, not the familiar version most kids use -- Thomas, not Tom. Nicole, not Nicki. (Nicole is being called Nick or Nicki a lot and I like it. She's starting to like it...) And here we are, in the last week of the 2nd term, and he started with another set of 8 classes last week. A bit of overlap, but mostly new topics and areas to deliver. At least the year 11 VCE students continue through all four terms. He had an interview with an admin person in his school, and was able to discuss a few of the issues -- bus, yard and lunch duty, "extras" (replacing other teachers when they are ill or away in lieu of calling in substitute teachers) and all teachers scrambling to teach their 9 classes per term. 80 meetings/year, not 10. A host of differences. He is grateful to have teaching experience under his belt, or he knows he would be floundering, not just swamped. On a very positive note, the students are certainly producing some gorgeous art work. One group drew their shoes, then enlarged one section, then reproduced that section on a clay tile. Fired with a green glaze, pooling black in the edges, they are gorgeous and abstract and will become a ceramic mural at Beaconhills. A legacy of his hard work. In the long run, the experience is teaching Tom and the students a lot. Our kids are learning things they would never had the opportunity to learn in Winnipeg. I think we need a chance to catch our collective breath, and let the journey soak back into our minds.

Tom asked me the other day if I felt homesick at all, and I'm not. But there are things we all miss. Hearing friends talk about Vic Beach started the longing. And Tom wanted to be at Erika's retirement, as they have a long and rich history of teaching and creating art. So we made a video and uploaded it to YouTube for Erika's retirement party. It was impossible to load it via dial-up so I went to the local library and the situation proved more productive. One of the neighbours offered their computer time, but after more than one hour, I realized I was just wasting their monthly allotment. I think I've mentioned it before, but everything is locked down with regard to the amount of usage per month. Your monthly charges increase dramatically if you don't stay within your limit. So the library has proved to be a wonderful, public benefit to our family.

Last week we had several mornings of fog. It can be very thick on our side of One Tree Hill Road (I think that's my favourite road name around here). The low angle of the sun pierced the fog with sharp rays of light, dancing with water particles. Nicole stood in amazement in the light rays, letting them bathe her. Of course I did not have my camera with me. It's just a walk to school, after all. I did go back with the camera, but the angle of the sun had changed. That will be a memory in my heart.

The birds don't seem to mind the weather -- they have been singing their hearts out, although that may be because it's time to nest, so there is serious warbling and attracting going on. On the weekend we went to the Melbourne Zoo and made some discoveries. The male Bower Bird finds blue objects and spreads them on a trail to a nest he has carefully prepared for the love of his life. The female Bower Bird loves blue and follows the blue lures to his carefully prepared nest. She produces the eggs, and takes off, leaving him to raise the young! There is a trail of blue items on the walk up One Tree Hill Road, so we suspect there is a Bower Bird there somewhere. The Lyre Birds are calling as well. They are excellent mimics, and can sound like anything in their environment -- a chain saw, motorcycle, whistling person, car changing gears. They hang out along a trail off Sherbrooke Road, so they can be heard there. Although it might be a motorcycle we're hearing! And the Rosellas are eating all the buds off the camellia tree. One day I saw the buds and realized we would soon have a tree full of flowers. But there's a group of at least 6 Rosellas that come around and nibble away. And the black Cockatoos are occasionally around as well, but they are much quieter than their cousins, the Sulphur Crested Cockies -- the pteradactyl of the bird world, as a fellow walker noted to me. There is a little blue and red parrot, possibly a King Parrot, that sat on the fern tree outside the window beside the computer. Picked off a frond. Turned it over, and carefully removed each tiny little seed on the bottom. Next time you're near a fern, check out the seeds. Not that large. Once finished with the seeds, the frond is dropped on the ground. The grass in Ferny Creek is growing more lush every day with all the moisture in the air.

The kids enjoy their hot porridge in the mornings. And they wanted gravy for last week's roast chicken. Hot chocolate is always good. Comfort food. Something to warm us from the inside out. The wood heater in the living area does a great job of heating up that space, but insulation has not been a priority in Australia until recently. There is now a government grant to help homeowners add insulation to their roofs -- makes a big difference I hear. But people are also suggesting it would be good to insulate their floors and walls -- or add a layer between your feet and the cool (or hot) outdoor air. R2.5 to R3 is the going rate for insulation. Insulation works with both heat and cold. Everyone thinks we Canadians should be used to being cold, but while the out of doors is a gorgeous temperature (anything above zero in winter is gorgeous) compared to the Winnipeg winter, the indoors can be quite chilly.

The teachers had last Friday off to do their reports, and the kids and I went to a wave pool. Some decent waves! We brought boogy boards, and had a great time. Nicole got dizzy when they started a zig zag wave pattern. The three kids are looking forward to the end of term. They've been going to school since September (with the travel break to Hawaii and New Zealand in January), and will continue with 2 more terms before we head back. We will have extra week of holidays because Tom's school doesn't start back until July 20 (these are the benefits of a private school).

We are taking a bus trip to Alice Springs via Adelaide, Woomera, Coober Pedy, Uluru and Kata Tjuta, driving our car from here to South Australia to meet up with fellow travellers. Hopefully we'll make it to Kangaroo Island on the way. There will be other exchange teachers and families on the bus part of the trip up toward Alice Springs. Days can be warmish, but we have been warned to bring "longies" as the nights will be cold and we'll be staying in tents for part of the trip. Returning to Ferny Creek we'll greet Roberta and Aline from Winnipeg on their way to Australian travels. We are looking forward to showing off a few precipitous roads and gorgeous views, including the nighttime rooftop party courtesy of the possums.

1 comment:

Ed Wiebe said...

Great writing as usual Brig. I hope you find your champagne at the end of the month.