Monday, October 30, 2006

Halloween approaches

Halloween is tomorrow. Over the past month, pumpkins seemed to sprout EVERYWHERE! These appeared in shop windows and as displays in the windows of peoples houses, in gardens and running up front stairs. The extent of decoration is widespread and quite astounding to the first-time Halloweener. From my perspective, there appears to be two disparate schools of display: the more tasteful school including pumpkins, pots of coloured flowers, ornamental cabbages, hay bales and sheathes of corn; and the macabre – including the scary and grotesque – with abundant ghouls, bones, monsters, headstones and skeletons. These two schools do not appear to mix. 
I took Luc to a Spirit Halloween store recently. He walked in, and on seeing the displays exclaimed “AHH! A bad guys shop!” This is a seasonal shop full of costumes and every type of grotesque prop one could imagine: severed hands, bloody corpses with mechanics to lift them from the ground, opening coffins, shaking ghouls, bleeding bones suits for children (!) and every type of ghoulish and tasteless costume one could imagine. 

We took the boys to a Pumpkin Patch at Oz Park last weekend. This included a fenced yard where children could choose a small pumpkin (for $3) and then take it to a pumpkin decorating station to draw upon, stick things to and ‘upgrade’ their pumpkins before being photographed with these surrounded by Halloween props. Jumping castles, pony rides, a petting zoo, hotdog stand and face painting all provided entertainment for the neighbourhood children and their parents. We had a great time.

The weekend prior to Halloween is a good excuse for parties. We were invited to our neighbours party on Saturday night. I left it to the last minute to purchase an outfit, and finding a local costumers, had to wait in line outside the shop as it was FULL of people buying costumes! EVERYONE dresses up – in something or another. In Australia, at costume parties, there are generally a good proportion of guests who just don’t bother with dressing up. To not go in costume here would be social suicide. I was against wearing any of the multitude of women’s outfits that could be easily described as ‘tarty’. I ended up buying a velvet hooded cape and a Venetian cat mask. Paul had purchased a very creepy black, full-length phantom outfit that obscured his face save for some glowing red eyes. A skull sceptre and skeleton hands and feet completed a very creepy look. Guests at the party were convinced that Paul’s outfit was going to scar the boys for life. Luc was one of several cowboys at the party (winning an award for best cowboy) and Nic was the only koala to be seen. Both boys were a real hit at the party and had amazing staying power, dancing with a mechanical ghost, flirting with the girls and playing with several dog guests (one, part of a Paris Hilton outfit, the others in costume).

Photos: Nic choosing a pumpkin at the Pumpkin Patch and various decorations found around our neighbourhood.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Preston Dodds Reid

My paternal grandfather, the wonderful and charismatic Preston Dodds Reid, died today (Australian time), aged 96 years. He will be sorely missed by family and all those that he touched throughout his lifetime. I am very sad at his passing as he was an instrumental part of my life. The family is feeling a certain relief as his last two weeks were not all that comfortable for him. I am once again, feeling rather isolated so far from home. 

Is it OK to have a favourite grandparent? I’m not sure. I was surely blessed with four wonderful grandparents.  I loved Grandma (Reid) for her patience, humour and quiet wisdom. I loved Nanma (Edwards) for her giggling, calming and soothing manner and Scottish lilt that had the effect of calming every person and beast. I loved Kung Kung (Edwards) for his big booming laugh and his twinkly smile under a very stern and proper exterior. I would have loved to meet my maternal grandmother (who died of typhus in rural China when my mother was just seven years old... another story) who, by all accounts, was also a wondrous person. All my grandparents provided the most brilliant role models. All adored their partners and were always calm, kind, open and loving to all family members. Grandpa outlived the rest of my grandparents by at least ten years, so of course, he was there for a greater part of my life. There was something exceptional about Grandpa though. 

My husband Paul asked me some time ago who the heroes in my life were. Grandpa topped the list. It is said that we marry our fathers… in my case, perhaps it was more my grandfather! Generations ensure difference, but each had an interest in similar pursuits. Both gentle souls with a can’t-hurt-a-fly exterior, and with a keen interest and participation in combat sports (Grandpa – boxing, Paul – wrestling). Both with a strong interest in cryptography (Grandpa – with a pen and manual count of letter occurrences, Paul with computer programming). Each with a love to read – voraciously. Each with a phenomenal memory – particularly for detail of long ago occurrences, things read, events, etc. Grandpa loved the horse races. Paul attended these for years (and is still a member of the Queensland Turf Club). Both big fans of drinking coffee (Grandpa developing a taste for the stuff during overseas travel).  Each stubbornly principled, yet willing to hear and contemplate a different perspective. Both honest and open with an ability to express those things that, perhaps, they had not been so proud of during their lives - a rare ability to admit (and learn from) mistakes. Both kind and generous to a fault. Both adoring their soul mate and partner in life. Both with an undying thirst for knowledge. Both an influential part of my life. 

Grandpa had a special place for all his grandchildren and took much more than a passing curiosity in everyone’s likes and interests. He took the time to find out who ABBA was when I was so wrapped in them aged nine. He listened to the music (sitting himself in front of Countdown on a Sunday night) to work out the lyrics. He did the same when my brother Ian had an interest in Billy Bragg

Grandpa introduced me to dance and took me to my first ballet performance. Later, when I became a subscriber of the Australian Ballet, Grandpa would brief me on all the performances and give me notable key dance sequences to look out for in the classic ballets. Deciding we needed to witness Gilbert and Sullivan on the stage (even if we didn’t like it), he sent the grandchildren along to see The Gondoliers. Grandpa ensured my interest in art was nurtured, accompanying me to National Gallery of Victoria, passing on some of his notated art catalogues and discussing favourite works and artists. 

I am so glad at Paul’s insistence at using family names for our children. We will remember a little of Grandpa in Luc as he was named Luc Preston after Grandpa - an honour that really pleased Grandpa. Preston was a family name (I believed it was his mother’s maiden name), as was Dodds. Preston has been an uncommon name in Australia, with the only reference I know being the north-eastern Melbourne suburb. However, Preston is a reasonably popular name in the States, with a couple of TV characters having that name (Grey’s Anatomy & Desperate Housewives). Even Britney Spears used the name for her son (much to my chagrin). We have even met a Preston or two in the playgrounds here. Of course there is the character Preston, a robot dog, in Wallace & Gromit’s A Close Shave.

I miss my Grandpa.

Photo: Preston Dodds Reid and Luc Preston Gearon meet for the first time in Melbourne (August 2004)

Monday, October 9, 2006

Visitors - welcome and unwelcome

We have just had the pleasure of being visited by Paul’s sister Lari and her husband Allan. These two took the opportunity of their recent misfortune to see a bit of the world and visit siblings Paul and Rowan (in Houston), while living in the USA. Despite some cooler and rainy weather, we still managed to do a few tourist outings. We visited our favourite tourist sites including Sears Tower (this is Luc’s favourite building), Millennium Park, Michigan Avenue, Lincoln Park Zoo, some very funny improvised theatre, etc. We saw quite a bit of our local Lincoln Park neighbourhood and Lari and Allan were able to do a spot of shopping. Lari and Allan found great delight in some of the things that we now find commonplace but were astounded by when we first arrived: including abundant squirrels, breakfast at a local diner and the large book stores such as Borders and Barnes and Noble. The large bookstores were a very welcome change diversion after limited English book store options in Japan. 

Allan felt completely at home with the American sports (he is a huge basketball, baseball and gridiron / football fan) and the casual dress code. We live near DePaul University and track pants, sports jerseys and trainers are de rigueur. 

Unfortunately, the visit coincided with a visiting flu virus that left us a little lacking in energy and enthusiasm. This last week we ALL have a bout of hand-foot-and-mouth disease – another common virus that has taken the time to visit us (see Paul’s blog entry). Luc had a case of this virus in Brisbane – that generally leaves one immune. A different strain of the virus has seen him contract it again – as well as Paul and myself (adults are usually immune due to contracting this as a child). As a consequence, we have all been laid flat. The boys and myself have been housebound for most of the week – which is just as well as the virus is contagious. I had been speaking to a nurse at the paediatric practice to monitor the situation. Excessive spots on Nic, prompted us to make a visit to the doctors last Friday to have it checked out. After spending some time in the waiting room, playing with toys and doing the rounds, Luc took his time joining us in the examination room. As he was leaving the waiting room, Luc announced to everyone that “I have spots”, repeating this several times in case people weren’t aware of his predicament. I was horrified. Luc’s spots had gone by this stage and I could only imagine that everyone thought he must have some highly contagious disease! 

Photo: Allan and Lari in front of the Crown fountain at Millennium Park