Mount Barker Christmas Pageant 2011

3 12 2011

First, some exclusive secret behind-the scenes snaps! I was going to do a sealed section to protect the magic….but I couldn’t work out how.

secret behind the scenes photos of the preparations.....

Behind the scenes - building a giant bird (see later for the "after" shots)

behind the scenes

This was possibly the largest and best Mt Barker Pageant I have seen (and I have been attended for a few years now). However, the Pageant is under threat – the Council storage sheds it uses have been deemed unsafe and they need a place to store the floats. If you are able to help, the contact links are at the bottom of the posting.

The Outback Dunny - a familiar Australian Christmas theme

One Man Band and a somewhat familiar looking clown.....

a giant flapping bird (this is what they were building in one of the "behind the scenes" photographs)

one of many CFS trucks in the parade, all staffed by volunteers. Thanks for keeping us safe over summer!

a pig, a chicken and something brown - perhaps a cow? (This should be subtitled "Christmas Lunch")

Christmas pirates

This woman walked the entire pageant in 6 inch heels - hats off to her! (and an iced foot bath)

Christmas witches? A bit of a mixed concept there...

Batmobile - THWACK!

Gingerbread House

the boy in orange is a lobster... King Neptune, Under the Sea

Little Christmas trees....Nairne Primary School

Hahndorf Town Band

The Flintstones....

that outfit must be really hot in the cadets

It wouldn't be a pageant with out a pipe band.

Father Christmas!

Excerpt from Mt Barker and Districts Residents’ Association website :
“At several recent Council meetings it has become clear that the Mt Barker Christmas Pageant committee are being pressured to find an alternative location for their floats as the current sheds have been deemed unsafe by a Council consultant. The land upon which the sheds are situated is Crown Land and the Council wishes to include this land in future development projects (subject to Government consent).

After a formal deputation to Council, the Pageant committee has been trying to source an alternative solution as they only have permission to remain at the current site until the end of 2011 (or specifically they can return the floats to the sheds after this year’s pageant with no guarantees that they will have access again after this date)!

If anyone has any ideas on how to assist the Pageant committee please contact either Councillor Carol Bailey or anyone on the Association Executive. We need to ensure this Christmas Pageant remains in Mt Barker, but the Committee will require community support for this to occur.”

Alternately, contact via Mt Barker Christmas Pageant website.

the benefits of study

12 11 2011

photo credit: CCAC North Library

It is that time of year when the universities are madly hawking their wares (in Australia anyway), trying to sign up students for various courses. Education has become a huge business, at all levels.

Usually the benefits of study that the schools, colleges, institutes and universities will tell you are:
– get a better job (and therefore have a better life)
– ummmmm…………
– education is good in and of itself (this argument only works for teachers – they are marketing to themselves).

OK, so they all pretty much say the same thing in their advertising. Despite this, I am a serial consumer of higher education. I finish a degree, exhausted, swearing never to study again. On one occasion I even put a message on Facebook that said “if I ever say I am going to study again, someone please slap me.”

And then a year goes by, sometimes just a few months…..and I am bored. I need something to be working towards. So I sign up for something else, get stuck into it and close to the end, too close to consider giving up, I think “How did I get here again?”

Of course I know the answer – I am not that self-unaware. So in case you are thinking of undertaking some study and want some real reasons to do it, some reasons the universities can’t really tell you, here are a few from me.

1. It’s good to have some “big thing” to be working towards. So much of life is stuff you just do again and again. Housework. Commuting. Housework. You get the picture. The little things you do when you study actually count for something bigger in the long-term. Delayed gratification is an important skill for success in any field of life and study helps you practice it (as this posting on marshmallows explains more thoroughly).

2. Intelligent thought. So maybe it’s just me, but generally I find when I don’t have something guiding my thoughts, I resort to trivia. Like pondering on the pretty lit-up map of proximity to McDonald’s locations in the US that someone sent me recently. Study makes you use logic and engage in new thoughts, new thought patterns, stay on topic. You can’t just wander off and look at the pretty lights.

3. Unlike life, study gives you immediate feedback in a clear unambiguous scale. Yes, marks. I get good marks (Rik from the Young Ones would call me a girly-swat) so this is a nice little ego-boost for me. However in much of life you don’t get clear unambiguous and immediate feedback. You might self-assess “I think I did a pretty good job of that email / job application / craftwork” but it isn’t the same. (Note for mature age students returning to university. A “C” grade is not average, it means credit. Likewise, “D” does not mean you have failed, it means Distinction.)

4. Helps practice other life skills such as planning and scheduling, focussing and concentrating, reading, writing and typing. Of, and thinking, let’s not forget thinking. (A Note on typing: when I went to a girls’ school in pre desk-top computer days, the only students who did typing were those who were destined for secretarial jobs. Those destined for professions were not taught typing. Fast-forward not very long to the introduction of computers and suddenly typing has become an important skill – as ubiquitous as computers, in fact. I just say this because it is interesting and shows how much things have changed in the two decades (oh OK, two and a bit!) since I left high school. I still don’t use the correct fingers on the keyboard though.)

5. This is something that is completely under your control. OK, maybe not completely, but hear me out here. At work, you do what the boss says. At home there are parents, partners, spouses, children to negotiate with and hopefully come to some sort of satisfactory compromise. That’s life! Most uni assignments are you, yourself. You get a topic or a question, then you get to decide how you want to approach it, how much effort you will put in, etc etc. (The exception to this is group-assignments. As I do my study online, this usually involves a lot of negotiation via email, entirely unlike any realistic work situation. None-the-less, the universities persist with it – I suspect because it means less marking.)

So that’s it. I have almost finished my third Masters Degree and every time I get a mark back I feel a little self-affirming buzz. When things are tough and you feel unappreciated in the world, it’s good to get that largely objective mark back that says “you’re good at this”.

French menus

9 11 2011

A gorgeous little restaurant in Chartres

French cuisine has a deservedly excellent reputation the world over. Not only for the difficult techniques, amazing sauces and spectacular desserts, but also for the – well, to our Australian tastes, shall we say, “more exotic” things that they eat.

Escargot = snails
Grenouille = frogs
Tete de veau = calf’s head
Boudin = blood sausage (similar to the English black pudding, I believe)

Larousse Gastronomique even includes recipes for Camel’s Hump and Camel’s Feet. None of these appear on your average Australian restaurant menu.

So prior to our recent holiday we had of course teased the children with tales of what they would need to eat in France. We had done such a fabulous job, that I think they had decided they would live on crepes for the entire trip.

As per a previous post, you may have read about our first two meals in Paris. Pizza and McDonalds. Oh, we were living the high life! But given the state of jet-lag we were in, we will make excuses for ourselves.

However, after our slow start, we threw ourselves enthusiastically into trying the local cuisine. After a number of restaurants and cafes, both in Paris and around France, we found that the French menu has a few core offerings.

1. Jambon. There is always some ham, often several different offerings that are ham-based. Ham is also a major component of breakfast, along with cheese. If, like me, you aren’t particularly fond of ham, you will find difficulties for all three meals of the day.

2. Saumon. Now I love salmon, so this was perfect for me, but even I was amazed that pretty much every restaurant we went into had salmon on the menu. Usually poached. There is a limit to how much salmon you can eat.

3. Pate de Frois Gras. Goose liver pate, often more of a terrine than the sort of pate / paste we have in Australia. Yummy. Initially we felt like we were eating the local cuisine, but one tires of this twice a day quite rapidly.

4. Magret de canard. Breast of Duck. The French (or at least every restaurant we went into) do this dish magnificently. Not too dry, not too much fat on it.

The children’s menu was also a revelation, albeit a limited one. Children’s menus usually included four items.

1. Steak hache. This is essentially a meat patty. Ask for well done or it will be rare. In fact for all meat, if you think of how you normally would eat it, and take it up a notch or two, you will find the French equivalent (so if you want medium-rare, ask for medium or even well done, etc) If you want it as a burger you will have to request “steak hache a sandwich”, but most places will not be able to assist you.

2. Frites. Chips. No surprises there.

3. Haricots verts. Green beans. Often a mountain of them. I am not sure why the French choose beans of all vegetables to encourage children to eat. They were nice but the children could have done with a bit more variety in their vegetable intake.

4. Saumon. Yes, salmon. At first we were surprised (and pleased) to see salmon on the children’s menu. Real food, not the “crumbed-and-deep-fried” offerings that Australian restaurants seem to offer for children. But when it appeared in every restaurant’s children’s menu, they tired of it.

I think our expectation of French cuisine was that there would be enormous variety. Often there were not many dishes outside these core offerings. Menus tended to be limited, not the extensive lists we have become accustomed to in Australia. You either like what you are offered, or you don’t eat. None of this “trying to please everyone” that we do.

For the most part, the quality was excellent, with honourable mentions to a gorgeous little restaurant in Chartres – pictured above – and La Celtique restaurant / hotel in Carnac, a Moroccan restaurant in Bussy Saint George, and La Souris Gourmande which was a cheese-cuisine restaurant in Tours run by the wonderful Gregory who had worked at Disney World in Florida and entertained the children with magic tricks.

Waiting staff were without exception, very helpful. Because we were often away from the tourist areas we came across restaurants where no-one spoke English, and our French was not fabulous either. Waiters would help us, mime animals and attempt to explain what some of the less well-known words on the menu meant. And we all survived, had a great time, and laughed at our poor (but improving!) language skills. In the tourist areas we came across waiters speaking five or six languages and happy to entertain the children (as well as the lovely Gregory, there was also a waiter in a cafe across the road from Notre Dame who teased one of the boys about his incessant questions and had all three acting-out his job).

What do you think of French cuisine? Does anyone know the name of this gorgeous restaurant in Chartres?

Arrival in Paris

31 10 2011

Hotel des Invalides - tomb of Napoleon and Military Museum

We arrived in Paris at about 7am on a Sunday. Our first view of Paris was the rather depressing arrivals lounge and baggage collection area at Charles de Gaulle airport. The decorating motif is “concrete”. And distressed 1970s era concrete at that.

We had organised for someone to meet us at the airport and drive us into Paris – a quiet drive with few companions on the road. The drive from the airport to the Periphique (ring road around Paris which divides the old Paris of the arondissements from the sprawling suburbs) was on a highway surrounded by industrial areas and lined with graffiti. Still not the most auspicious start to the holiday. However, the driver / guide was lovely and pointed out various features as we drove in, engaged our jet-lagged minds in conversation and was generally very helpful.

Once in the older part of Paris the landmarks come think and fast. Hotel des Invalides, its gleaming dome shining in the early morning sun. The Seine. Tour d’Eiffel. Arc de Triomph. Famous famous visages renowned the world over.

view from our hotel in Paris, away from McDonalds and the Montparnasse Tower

The roads of Paris this early Sunday morning were still quiet, but given that we had no idea where we were or where our hotel was, we were very thankful for the driver. We arrived at the hotel – conveniently near the Tour de Montparnasse – at around 8am, to find that our room would be ready at 3pm. We deposited our luggage at the hotel and set off to drag our weary bodies around Paris.

Our first meal in Paris – lunch – was at a Pizza restaurant. I kid you not. We were tired and the restaurant was just there, the kids were keen to eat something familiar. And it was very nice. (Note for new players: Pschitt is a brand of lemonade.)

Lemonade...I was really jetlagged when I took this photo!

We visited the Eiffel Tower, wandered around the streets, worked out where the Louvre was, and then headed back to the hotel.

The convenience about being in a hotel near the Montparnasse Tower was that no matter where you were in the city, you could look up and find the tower and navigate your way back there. We also had help from a kind man who saw us reading the map in the street and asked (in English) if he could help. So much for Parisians not being helpful.

The second great thing about Montparnasse Tower is that Galleries Lafayette, Paris’ fabulous department store, has its second store there. Not as impressive as the main store which is set in an old Opera House with an amazing domed glass ceiling and ornate gilded fittings throughout – but I ended up finding more of the things I wanted in the second store.

However, back to the first day. At 3pm we got into our hotel room and being as jetlagged as we were, went immediately to bed. The children, despite expressing disgust for going to bed at 3 in the afternoon, went rapidly to sleep, as did we all. Jetlag and the walk to and from the Eiffel Tower had exhausted us all.

Eiffel Tower on our first morning in Paris

We woke at 9pm and realised that we had no idea how to find food in the city, particularly in the middle of the night. The hotel did not have a restaurant or room service. While there were a number of cafes and restaurants open now, if we went back to sleep (as we wanted to) and woke hungry at 3am (as we were bound to), we would be unable to find any food and had none with us.

However we did remember that there was a “restaurant” just near the hotel – one that did take-away.

Yes, our second meal in Paris was from McDonalds. Important things to know about ordering from McDonalds in France.

1. The burgers are referred to as Sandwiches.

2. A porter means “to go” or takeaway.

3. Pretty much anything else can be achieved through pointing at the menu board.

4. The McDonalds assistants are very helpful. At this stage I was so tired I was having difficulty communicating in English, my native language, let alone French. While the guy behind the counter did not speak much English, we managed to communicate through his high-school English and my high-school French, and a lot of pointing.

5. They don’t have Fanta – try Orangina, less sweet, more orange-y. And Coke is Coca, Diet Coke is Coca-light.

I stress that the quality of our food consumption improved significantly after this. We became adept at reading menus and ordering in French. The children also became quite fluent in restaurant French. We ate saumon, steak hache, pate de frois gras, grenouilles, escargot, magret de canard (my favourite – breast of duck) and much more.

Once we were over our jetlag!

If you liked this post you might also like some more posts from France…..
Arrival in Paris
Caves of Lascaux
Notre Dame
French menus
Standing Stones of Carnac
Les Grottos en France
The Louvre
Eiffel Tower (Tour Eiffel)
Streets of Paris
Arc de Triomphe
Napoleon’s Tomb
Galeries Lafayette