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Sunday, December 19, 2010

photos from 2010




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photos from 2010




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AJ's centre logo

Not the Christmas letter

Not the Christmas letter! I swore I’d never do it – but here it is, first time ever and I promise it won’t be filled with nauseating ‘boast notes’ (see Richard Glover, SMH) (viz Andrew singlehandedly infiltrating into the Al Queda* network , Christophe walking across the Simpson desert to raise money for Mumbai street children, Seb designing a wind-and- solar powered factory to manufacture carbon emission neutralisers and Jack working on a cure for cancer as part of his yr 5 Science curriculum, I have had a bumper year with royalties, signed up for a multi-media film-tie in deal for Poinciana and sold the rights to my next book in 27 countries...well, sorry to disappoint, but the year has been not quite as exciting as all that!
Seriously, though Andrew has been thriving on his work, even if he hasn’t quite managed to crack Ban Liden*’s whereabouts. He’s travelled to Lyon, Hanoi, Bangkok, Ottawa, San Francisco (that IS pretty nauseating for the rest of us) without too many signs of jetlag and/or premature ageing. Sadly I couldn’t accompany him anywhere. He’s signed up a few new interesting academic staff members at his new centre (Centre for Transnational Crime Prevention)and has a groovy new logo:
If I can figure out how to add photos to this, there's a pic of him with some students and guest speaker at the launch of his new “integrity studies” course – with his centre in the background. Actually he has had a rather nauseatingly successful year but we won’t go on.
Christophe has changed houses and jobs several times this year and for a while there was looking for work, which was a highly angst ridden period for his maman. He’s a naturally resilient young man and has managed to find himself two jobs at the moment as well as occasional tree-felling work with the guy who sold his business earlier in the year (causing the state of temporary unemployment). He seems much happier in his new abode in Glenalta and we met his lovely new girlfriend Elora in November. He just turned 22 and I do really miss him – coping a little better this year than last - we see him fairly regularly during the year – he came over for Jack’s birthday, and we have been over a few times. It’s lovely to have adult sons! Getting through the teen years is hard yakka, and I’m sure you can’t really relax until they’re at least 30 (probably never) but it is nice to have a ‘grown up’ relationship with them. He has some plans to study TESOL and maybe do an arts/languages degree next year - sounding suspiciously like his mother, an irony that hasn’t escaped him. I hope he does – I was never really mad on the army reserve idea nor even the police – and I always hoped he might get to Uni, if not straight away, eventually. In any case it was great to see him this last trip and he has really matured - really proud of him. If you are at the airport call in and see him at Cocolat! Trying to add a pic of him with Elora and sporting his mo for Movember.

Seb has had another busy year at UNSW. While he assures us he hasn’t had a ‘terrible time’ he wants to take a year off next year and hang out in Adelaide. He somehow feels he has missed out on the gap year and slothing it with his mates. Well, it’s true - he’s hardly been slothing it – he finished the year brilliantly if I may break the rules just once - he got 2 HDs and 2 Ds, (one of the HDs for a third year mechatronic subject). He had a job at the Sydney Football Stadium during the year, so got to work during a few big concerts and events. He’s got an even better job now though, just around the corner with an engineering consultancy – fortuitously through one of the soccer mums on Jack’s Under 11 team! It is fabulous to have him around for three months, we’ll enjoy it while we can. He’s a lovely, helpful young man, easy to get along with – he’ll be 20 in April. I can hardly believe that – just yesterday I was taking them to Ridge Park with Duffy. Sadly we lost out Tosca this year, all the sadder as it was Seb’s cat and she had to be euthanased on his birthday...one of the lowlights of the year. One of the things I managed to get out of Seb just today was his work for a subject he did as part of his general education – in ‘character drawing’ through the centre of fine arts (COFA). I’ve copied a few below. I love them! So that’s our Seb. We’re really proud of him, too, for sticking it out for the two years that he has and we hope he returns after the year...but who knows and well...it’s his life...! Will try and add Winston...or see collage above

And Jack. A MUCH better year! He was even sad to finish up at school last week. He’s found some more friends - perhaps ones he has more in common with – the main things are still screens (his eyes are bloodshot from gorging on the screens today) but he loved soccer this year – and actually got a goal (only one but the entire cheer squad was hanging out for him and that goal) in the second to last game for the season! As for basketball, they lost every single game of the season, except for the last, in which he didn’t play! (Now I’m allowed to put that in the Christmas letter). He’s done some digi-animation, volunteered for the local drama group and has developed obsessions for all things French – somewhat jealous of older brothers we think – and recently Leonardo da Vinci – we shot down to Canberra to see the exhibition of all the machines built from his designs. Jack would still love to return to Adelaide tomorrow but we think he is settling a bit more. He’ll never join Nippers, and cricket was a total disaster, but we’re getting there!
And – me! How is it going? It’s been a nice year for my 50th...starting with the big event in March where I caught up – too briefly with all yous lovely peoples!
And the trip to Sarawak was a real highlight – everyone should go to the Borneo Highlands retreat and have a massage from Mama Borneo and walk in that ancient rainforest and look out over the Kalimanatan border at sunrise and see those orangutans and the monkeys...

But back to reality, I still miss you all and sometimes want to come home too...which we do now and again to cure the nostalgie du pays as they call it...it all hinges around work for me. I finished on the project at the Black Dog Institute in April and have been at the Uni of W’gong in student counselling since. I really like the Uni and the work, and hope to be back there next year – have had my interview and you’ll have to wait for the stop press to see if I got it. In the mean time I have had some more work via The Black Dog – working on their youth website - Biteback. http://www.biteback.org.au/
I can do this from home and I love it – but it’s not ongoing work. I still have some ongoing mentoring and on-line facilitating in the TAFE Professional writing diploma – which again I can do from home. So ideally I’d like this variety...we’ll see. A bit of stability on the work front would mean we could plan our lives a bit more instead of lurching from one pecuniary drama to another (the roof needs repairing at Hawker Ave, especially after all the rains...). I think that will come (the stability) but it’s taken a while and more than a few interviews and tedious job applications! I really haven’t had a lot of time for writing either – and it would be good if I could find time for that. It has been a sociable year of getting to know the neighbours - who are great. We have had a pot luck dinner and just tonight– the neighbourhood street Christmas party, which ended up in our garage because of the thunderstorms! We’ve met people through work, Alliance Francaise, Jack’s sport and just out and about - it is a good suburb for walking and we are on a corner, so we can see everyone go past, and of course through our new little addition to the family - Tumbles – who has been hit of the year, and the creature responsible for turning me into a dotty middle aged lapdogophile.

Well – that’s it for the Christmas letter. It finds us well, and enjoying (on balance, with the ups and downs)the big adventure! Hope it finds you well. We hope to be over in Adelaide mid-end January...still waiting to confirm...all depends on jobs...

Have a great Christmas, an exciting 2011 and lots of love from us all!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Monday, November 8, 2010

Oskar's jamons

Lunch from Oskar's

I’ve just scoffed down lunch from Oskar’s deli at Warrawong, actually foregoing an invitation to lunch out with my husband as I knew what was home in the fridge. We’d run out of coffee on the weekend so it was time for a trip. Oskar’s is one of those places where you are greeted the moment you walk in and, especially if you are a new face, plied generously with tasty bits. It’s better if you can say hello in Spanish of course, but it doesn’t matter if you can’t – you still feel like you are in a (large) Spanish corner delicatessen. The jamons are strung up high around your head and Oskar and his clan of Spanish-speaking servers are there to help you decide – because that is the problem. There are so many cheeses, so many hams and salamis, so many exotic deli items. So many Spanish and other European specialities, all yummy, where do you start?
“Here try this. There is manchego, the real, flavourful mccoy, or there’s a pale white goats cheese or there’s this creamy softer one.” Last time we had goat’s cheese steeped in rosemary. We try them all. We still can’t decide but we settle on the manchego - it is unbeatable - and the soft one. Then we start on the jamons. There is Oskar’s own, famous Australia wide (many gourmet writers make the pilgrimage) and those he imports from Spain, all with that delicate texture, meltingly delicious. We take some of each kind we try, since we can’t decide. Another customer is after some salami so we are offered a sample of that garlic-infused taste sensation as well. To go with it we need pimientos, of course, marinaded with herbs, garlic and olive oil, and a choice of olives, again we can’t decide so go for the multi-coloured selection, stuffed and unstuffed, some almost rainforest green, firm and fresh. On his shelves there’s a selection of little jars with interesting contents – eggplant slivers, olivey bits, artichokes, button mushrooms. I poke about and find some delicious looking egg mayonnaise and olives in cans that have come, it seems, straight from Alcantarilla. There’s the tortas in their blue-printed wax wrap - the wrapping is half the pleasure - oh and not forgetting the coffee – procured from local roasters and the best value in the Illawarra - smells so good inhaled through that button! Some Portuguese olive oil (Oskar’s recommendation), fresh ciabatta bread plus some crunchy frese bianche from Calabrio, Italy ...all complete the picnic. And I haven’t recounted a fraction of what’s here!
Thank you Oskar and, excuse me, that garlicky burp says it all! Read more about his offerings on his website http://www.oscarsdeli.com.au

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Elizabeth's book

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Lost and Found at the poetry readings

I'm getting my value from the South Coast writers' centre! On Saturday I went to the launch of Ron Pretty's poetry volume 'Postcards from the Edge'. It was wonderful to sit back and let those beautiful words wash over. Ron lives in the Illawarra and was the former Head of writing in Creative Arts at the Uni of Wollongong. He has a whole bunch of credentials and prizes. I loved his poems set on beaches and the one called Dog Days, (to mention a few). I'll try and find the beautiful cover and post it as well.
Then today to celebrate Science Made Marvellous as part of National Poetry Week, they had a poetry reading at the Uni. Christine Paice is the poet invited to write a dedication to the Janet Cosh herbarium. She has a great sense of humour and gave a lively reading. I met a few other SCWC members, including Elizabeth Hodgson, (winner of the David Unaipon award for her novel Skin Painting) who admired my pashmina. That started the scarf story. I told her I had lost my autumnal scarf somewhere and had tried in vain to find it at all the lost property offices I could think of - Cityrail, library, Uni. Regretfully I had bought another (the one she admired) though I hadn't lost hope that I would one day still find the favourite. She said - well - could I have lost it at Uni, as she had found an autmumn coloured pashmina in the car park. We swapped contact details and she said she would drop by at work to see if it was mine! I said if it was I would buy her a pashmina exactly like mine as I had spotted one the other day in Thirroul.
Karma - I just have this feeling that I will see my autumnal coloured pashmina again! Poetry connects...

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Questions about the psychology of writing

Well, I’m not sure that doing a PhD is really my cup of tea, only because I think I am too much of an extrovert to be cooped up in front of a computer for long periods of time, much as I enjoy writing and reading, I also have to get out and move around...actually that reminds me, my Myers-Briggs profile is surprisingly, INFJ – I’m actually introverted! The ‘I’ is the teetering-on-the-brink part of the profile. Yes I do like having time to think about topics – but not too much, as this latest stint at home has shown! I think about 3 days a week of work and 2 days writing, reading and thinking would be about right, oh and, of course, having coffee, going to the fresh food market and leaving a space at the end of the week to suddenly jet off home if the mood takes me.
ANYWAY. The point about this blog was to put some questions together, that relate to possible topics for further study, let’s say, whether just ‘further’ in my spare time, or whether I formally do something about it (as in further research) remains to be seen. There is so much interesting stuff out there; I have a whole pile of books to try and get through. But to make a start, I’ll put down my stream of consciousness questions about the psychology of writing, and then at least they will be recorded. So here goes, in no particular order:
“Writing is therapeutic” – yes, but under what conditions, for what kind of person, what kind of writing, what kind of process? How does the writing process help? Why is narrative so important? Is the satisfaction of a resolution important to the writer as well as the reader? Is writing in the first person more ‘dangerous’ than writing in the third person – since we know poets have higher incidences of mental health disorders and a higher rate of suicidality than narrative fiction writers, who more often write in the third person. How do writing and reading differ in terms of therapeutic benefit? Why do writers have elevated levels of depression and mood disorders? Do writers actually look after themselves? What kind of psychological or mental health profile do successful writers have? Are more successful writers immune to the vulnerabilities experienced by less successful writers? (Fear of failure, writer’s block, rejection). How important are turning points in a writer’s life? We know many famous writers have suffered from bipolar disorder – which comes first – the self-expression or the disorder? In what ways is writing similar to counselling or coaching? Both involve telling a story and making coherent sense of the various elements of experience. How does fiction writing differ from non-fiction and memoir, then? Is it safer to hide behind fiction and not get too close to painful experiences and emotions, as one does in memoir? How is writing related to motivational processes? In what ways is writing descriptively similar to mindfulness? Both seek to focus on the sensual aspects of an experience, and good writing draws you in to an experience as if you are living it ‘now’. How is writing - when it is going well – a creative process – how do ideas get triggered from other ideas, how does the writer free him or herself to deviate from ‘the plan’ and start generating ideas? Do negative emotions spark greater creativity? How does writing fit into a positive psychology paradigm? Does writing confer positive subjective experiences like discovering ‘flow’ and self-fulfilment, or is it simply finding those individual strengths and talents?
Phew. That will do for today.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Could I do a PhD?

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What do you think?

Arriving at a kind of hiatus in life (otherwise or commonly known as a mid-life crisis though I suspect I am actually past middle age – aagh!) and having recently attended a buzzy conference on Happiness, having some long-standing interests in creativity and writing and the cross-over with psychology, and having found some work at the University of Wollongong, the thought has occurred to me that maybe I could do a PhD. After all, it might prevent the onset of Alzheimers. But just having that thought immediately sets off the counter attack. The mountain seems immediately so massive and enormous, and how do you even find the pathway to start? (or the signposts to the pathway to start?) Well, I guess you talk to people and you bounce around a few ideas. Then you read a few articles and then you even go to the library, make an appointment to see someone and talk to other people who have done one and find out how it was for them. So I made a start - I went to the library – first I downloaded some articles at home – fantastic, you can just press a button and the article is there in a pdf for you...how far away is that from those treks to the library back in the 80s and even the 90s, into the dungeons to locate the journal you need, that much valued red tome with the right year and volume numbers in gold letters on its spine, lug it heavily to the photocopier, pull out your supply of 5 cent pieces and photocopy the article with great difficulty because it is a heavily bound and awkward red (or green) tome which, when you get home, you find is not all that pertinent.... but anyway, back to first steps, having downloaded some pertinent and fascinating articles about why the writing cure doesn’t help poets and why writers are 38% more likely to suffer from a mood disorder than the rest of us (of course, because the statistic confounds writers and poets!), another on cognitive distortions in the works of depressed and nondepressed writers and poets, and yet other articles on the therapeutic and health benefits of writing...I made that special trip to the library and found gold! Books on positive psychology, methods of positive psychology, creativity and flourishing, articles on hope theory and books on manic-depressive illness and the artistic temperament, books on how to “write yourself a new life”. So now I have an even huger mountain – of books to read before they are due back at that library, with a stiff $2 a day fine for lateness – no mucking about! So now, what I need to do, is just to read all those books and articles and digest them all...and then come up with a topic! Again, the task seems mountainous – I have so many questions, but aren’t they all already answered in some of these books that have appeared in the last decade on positive psychology, on the health benefits of writing, on the science of creativity, on the psychology of creative writing! So in answer to myself, what I need to do is, actually, to write. Start writing. My central idea, my central passion, is that writing is beneficial – this despite the correlation between artistic temperament and mental illness – remember correlations are not causes and we don’t know which comes first – who knows, writing may serve to soothe manic-depressive restlessness – but back to the central idea – that writing does help - whether it is purely self-expression or simply to help organise ideas. That said, there are a myriad of subquestions that I need to consider. I’ve made a mind-map of all those questions from my preliminary reading. That will be tomorrow’s topic! But for today, I’ll stop with a quick comment on the first chapter of “A Primer in Positive Psychology” by Christopher Peterson, OUP 2006, which was a fun read. It describes the whole ’movement’- essentially not a movement but an attempt to correct the imbalance in traditional psychology’s focus on “disease, disorder and distress” at the neglect of studying “what goes right in life from birth to death”. Positive psychology, championed by the famous Martin Seligman (remember Learned Helplessness from Psych 1 back in the 70s?) dates back to 1998, but, as Ebbinghaus put it (for psychology) – while positive psychology has “only a short history”, it has “a long past.” Peterson’s book is wryly written – he is insistent that positive psychology is not a Pollyanna movement, and doesn't deny the ‘valleys’ of life while focussing on the peaks. So I need to read some more about positive psychology – there are at least a few textbooks on the subject now - as well as write up my notes from the fabulous Happiness conference at which much science, fun and inspiration was tossed around. I figure if I read one chapter a day of all these tomes I might be somewhat nearer to formulating a topic that is defined enough for me to be able to answer the question – “oh, so you are thinking of doing a PHD – what on?” If I am true to my passions and beliefs, the act of writing it all down will somehow clarify for me what it is I want to understand. It seems like a good start anyway. So tomorrow – all the questions I want to answer, plus a reminder about existentialism and humanistic psychology! Oh and the best quote I came across today “a pessimist is a person who has been intimately acquainted with an optimist” (Hubbard, 1927).

Saturday, July 3, 2010

We had these for dinner last night - yum!

Thai chicken pies
350 g raw chicken mince (or breast, free range of course)
80ml coconut milk
2 tbls sweet chilli sauce
2 teaspoons lemon grass finely chopped
1 ½ tablespoons lime juice
2 Tbls fresh coriander, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
(I added a tsp grated ginger too cos I love the smell)
4 sheets puff pastry (I actually think they would be even yummier with real pastry if you have time, haha)
I egg lightly beaten

Pre heat oven 220 degrees C
Cook chicken until lightly browned, 5 mins.
Combine everything and cool.
Cut pastry rounds - 8.5 cm for the bases and 6 cm for the tops. Press bases into greased muffin tins.
Fill in the pies with the mixture, then top with the 6cm pastry rounds, pressing closed (or not as you like)
Brush with the beaten egg
Bake 25 mins

This is from chefstoolbox – (www.chefstoolbox.com) - they promote their silicone baking trays and other products and I have to say it makes it easy to cook when you don’t have to clean out the sticky muffin pan – I used muffin cases but it wasn’t a good idea because the flaky pastry stuck to it and it was better to just put them directly into a greased muffin pan.
Bon app├ętit!