Wednesday, December 18, 2013

family values

This was an interesting rum sum sum project I just completed. The request was for a list of family values important to the family that requested it. They plan to put it on the wall to remind themselves of the things they value and find important. 
The poster is going to be printed onto canvas and stretched. I can't wait to see what it looks like hanging on the wall. 

Monday, December 16, 2013

next... on the beltway

Congratulations to our darling Nicolas who after much perseverance (and pain*), finally received his Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do. So proud of this little boy. 

*unbeknownst at the time, Nic completed his test with a fractured wrist!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

when it rains...

....if it's cold enough, it ice storms! That was how we started the week, with the children having two 'snow days' away from school. Then a nasty stomach bug kept Mietta at home for the rest of the week. The doctor who had examined Nic for his sore wrist rang to say that the radiologist discovered the sore wrist, was in fact due to a fracture... so off to the orthopedic specialist to have a cast fitted. Returning with Nic and his bright green cast, I had a call from the school nurse to tell me Luc was vomiting. Ah! I picked him up from school and returned to our ailing young girl. With a bug (Norovirus) that didn't let go, Mietta was taken to see her pediatrition Friday morning - who then sent us off to the ER to get Mietta rehydrated. 
poor baby with the biggest smile she could muster
It was wonderful to see a bouncy exuberant young lady this morning. Hydrated, sated tummy, happy and back to her usual chatty self. 
A friend noted that this was sure to get all 'holiday drama' over-and-done-with - so we should have a peaceful vacation. Fingers crossed. 

Friday, December 6, 2013

definitely no smart alec

My mind boggles at the pure ridiculousness mentioned in this article. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has proposed a number of strategies to curtail clean and renewable energy initiatives. The strategy that really made my jaw drop was the suggestion to penalize those who have installed solar panels by charging them for feeding excess power back into the energy grid. This appears to be ludicrous. I have written before on the glee that some friends express when they receive a $0 energy bill. Much of that glee is also attributed to the part they play in addressing both climate change and an increasing demand for power.

I am fully aware of the significant costs associated with connecting homes and businesses to the energy grid. Home and business owners who install solar panels also bear considerable cost. The inequity lies with the use and 'cost' of power provision. Solar panels create energy. Excess energy is available to be fed back into the grid. Excess energy costs nothing for the Utility to generate, yet the Utility can take this power for free or for a negligible cost and on-sell it for profit. Utility companies pay significantly lower prices for excess energy than the Utility sells power to the consumer). To charge the consumer for creating excess power would seem as if the Utility companies' want their cake, and want to eat it too - TWICE!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

believe dream inspire

I LOVE when the kids pull on their creativity hats. It has become somewhat of a tradition for the kids to submit an artwork to the Reflections Art Competition. This year was Luc's 5th submission, Nic's 3rd and Mietta's 1st. Run by each school's PTA, Reflections is a national competition that has a 40+ year history.

The process was a little painful this year. I had given the kids the WHOLE summer to give their submission some thought. This year's theme was "Believe, Dream, Inspire". Nothing like a firm (and close) deadline to inspire and motivate. 
Luc had wanted to make a movie about going to Mars. He had completed a series of storyboard cards and some test shots... but this is where his project stalled. As Paul and I were madly finishing his Halloween costume at the same time his Reflections submission was due, we suggested that Luc somehow document the costume-making process. This challenge he took up with enthusiasm - and did an admirable job. I figured he would use some Doctor Who music for his soundtrack, but ended up using Beethovan's Moonlight Sonata - which worked brilliantly with the frenetic pace of his movie. 
Mietta has been making many Healthy/Unhealthy eating charts - madly cutting and gluing images found in supermarket flyers and catalogues. Healthy eating and Happiness became her theme. I helped with the cutting of cardboard while Mietta directed (!)
Nic's preferred media became apparent after finding many interesting images appear on my iPad (via Photobooth and other photo-manipulating programs). His brother and sister became his willing (if somewhat silly) models. 

We were thrilled to hear that each child won first prize in each of their respective categories. Perhaps the submissions were somewhat slim this year? Regardless, we look forward to seeing how their submissions do at County level. 

Saturday, November 30, 2013


I give great thanks to my awesome family.
Our situation, living far from family, has necessitated that we form a closer bond than we might had we been living closer to 'home'. Subsequently, we actually enjoy each other's company. 
We look forward to Thanksgiving. This is our opportunity to be together, spend a day chatting while all working together to make and partake in a special meal.

Paul's insistence that we prepare 'traditional' dishes, has led to an expectation that we will have turkey accompanied by favorite American side dishes and pie for dessert. The children worked out our menu the weekend before Thanksgiving and we wrote a shopping list. Apple pie won the pie poll. 
proud pie maker
Mietta had a great time helping make the pie, using the remaining apples from our apple picking outing. Paul was responsible for brining and cooking the turkey and making gravy, the boys prepared the appetizers (aka lunch) and I made the side dishes: sweet potatoes topped with marshmallow, mashed potato, cranberry sauce and brussels sprouts (because I did the shopping, and nobody could complain). 
We started our festivities with a glass of bubbly. Over a cranberry syrup, we poured sparkling cider for the kids and Prosecco for Paul and myself. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

bike innovation

image from:
I have always thought it to be such a great loss for China to adopt and extoll the car over the ubiquitous bicycle... at a time where many cities within the Western world were appreciating the benefits of bicycle transport and the benefits of increasing health and reducing traffic congestion. Europeans have been at the forefront of encouraging bicycle use for everyday commuting and ensuring the safety of bicycle riders. I saw this video some time ago, describing a Dutch solution for increasing pedestrian and cyclist safety at intersections.  

This week I came across two groundbreaking bicycle innovations - using some smart thinking and adapting new technology. 
image from:
The first was a helmet developed by two Swedish designers, using airbag technology that deploys in the event of an accident. The designers won a prestigious INDEX: Design to Improve Life award. See the video here. This might not be so comfortable for cyclists in warmer climates, but I'm sure it would aid comfort in cooler climates - allowing warm hats to be worn to be worn while cycling. 
image from:
The second innovation was a 'smart wheel' that can be fixed to any standard bicycle to easily and effectively turn it into an electric-powered bicycle. Developed by FlyKly and funded by Kickstarter. Watch the video here. This clever project uses smart phone GPS and motion technology to control and monitor use, plot routes, adjust speed - as well as identify location in the event that the bicycle is stolen! Apparently this design uses much of the same technology as the previously developed Copenhagen wheel

I was really impressed by each of these designs as they assist people to commute to work without the need to wear specialized clothing. The FlyKly, can also avoid building up a sweat: a real dilemma for commuters in workplaces that don't provide shower or change facilities. 

I always wear a bicycle helmet when cycling - as I am basically really scared not to! 
I know many are reluctant to. Research suggests that mandatory helmet-wearing laws create a deterrent to increasing bicycle use. There is research to indicate that cyclists are more at risk from other road users when wearing a helmet. Then there is the more recent dilemma of wearing helmets when bike-sharing in municipalities which mandate helmet wearing

Anyway... I love the innovation! 

Monday, November 11, 2013

8 is great

 Our lovely Nic turned 8 years old today! 
Nic was overjoyed with the day - loving (most) every moment of it. Homework was made (a little) more tolerable when he was able to read one of his new books. 

I met Nic for lunch at school and brought him a Spanakopita and Lemon Bar from Chef Nancy's. I dropped off some treats to share with his classmates (boring pre-made chocolate bars to deal with school's new no-home-made/must-be-labelled/allergy-free policy).

As per his request, I made Nic spaghetti and meatballs for dinner. Paul made a spectacular layer cake with lime and lemon layers sandwiched with fresh cream and lemon curd.
What a big handsome boy he is now. I had a giggle after finding this movie of him recently. He looked like a real wheeler-and-dealer at almost 15 months... speaking Nicolese of course. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

apple pickin' kids

There are so many elections that happen in this country on a very regular basis. This merely contributes to voter fatigue and an overwhelming apathy about the election process. One upside however, is knowing far in advance that the kids will have a day off school on the first Tuesday of November, every two years! Just in time for apples to be picked.
Of course, as a Melbournian, the first Tuesday in November has always held significance for me: being the day the Melbourne Cup is run. As it is the 'race that stops a nation' the Cup provides a perfectly legitimate excuse to partake in Champagne, some cooked chook, a picnic/party/celebratory lunch and an annual flutter to back a winner. 
We drove to Charlottesville to pick apples at Carter Mountain Orchard. Unfortunately, all the Pink Lady apples had been picked out before we arrived. The kids were however, very happy with the abundant sweet Fuji apples available. 

Friday, November 1, 2013

tricky... but a real halloween treat

Paul has been somewhat preoccupied the last couple of weeks - madly finishing a Dalek costume for Luc to wear on Halloween for Trick or Treating. I have been up to my elbows in papier mâché and spackle. Luc has been taking part in all aspects of building the Dalek as well as documenting the construction to complete a movie for the PTA's Reflections art contest. He has been so appreciative and it is great to see him beam each morning at whatever we were able to accomplish after he had gone to bed the night before. Daleks are the most evil creatures appearing on Dr Who television show. I have written about them before here. 
Paul and I work really well as a team whenever we have a special project to complete. This was a project and a half! It was actually a really fun family project - we just wish we had given it a bit more time - perhaps - as many late nights took their toll. 
Nic wanted to be Master Chief from Halo - a video game he is desperate to play (only we don't have a gaming device... what a shame!) We resorted to buying him a costume. Mietta planned her own Hello Kitty costume. Paul made her some ears and painted her face... and she was more than happy with the result. Any guilt we felt with all our efforts into making ONE costume for ONE child were dispelled once we had three uber excited kids running about in the spirit of Halloween. A neighbor commented on how happy they each appeared with each costume perfectly suited to their particular personality. 

Luc has posted his movie on YouTube. He titled it Genesis of a Costume. Note that this movie does not play on mobile devices. 

Sunday, October 27, 2013

trees, trees, glorious trees

image from:
Up early for a very worthwhile cause on Friday. I was asked if I would like to attend a tree planting initiative coordinated by the local not-for-profit Tree Fredericksburg, in conjunction with local volunteers from Dominion Power and Cox Communication. The event was made possible with a grant provided by Dominion.

The planting took place on two sites in Fredericksburg. The first included 58 street trees within the newer Villas of Snowden residential subdivision, which was largely devoid of trees. The trees included several species and home owners were able to have some input into species selection for planting in front of their homes. The second site included 38 trees planted around the Old Walker Grant School and the Boys and Girls Club of Fredericksburg

All volunteers were fitted out with safety vests, goggles and gloves. We were given a safety instruction, did a quick warm-up and were then given a tree planting demonstration. Breaking into groups of three to four people, each group was issued with shovels, stake tampers, pliers, tree guards and plastic sheet/tarp to empty tree and soil onto. Each tree had had it's hole pre-dug - so this made it easier to remove soil. Prior to the tree plant, trees had had roots washed, been delivered to site and stakes and a bag of mulch supplied to each tree location. 

Working on many large design projects during my life as a Landscape Architect, meant that I was not involved in a great deal of site work: more along the lines of inspection than supervision. This plant was a great insight into in situ tree planting - and application of the bare rooted planting technique developed by Bonnie Lee Appleton from Virginia Tech. 

The morning was cold, but we soon warmed up with some physical work. It was fun working with a bunch of Dominion line and office workers, many who exhibited the bravado to try and 'out-plant' each other - thus making the atmosphere somewhat lighthearted. I had a great time and came away with that feeling of virtue obtained by doing something worthwhile. Paul commented upon how I 'glowed' with enthusiasm on my return. 

Saturday, October 26, 2013


We are very proud of Luc. He has now been awarded a Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do. Many nights and weekends of classes and practice over the last few years... and he has done it!  It was not easy and Luc really had to work towards his goal. 
Two Black Belts in the family... we now eagerly await the opportunity for Nic to obtain his. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

miley - have an art!
Miley Cyrus has achieved all she wanted. Notoriety. Publicity. Attention. Her recent incarnations, video releases, VMA performance and social media utterances have everybody talking, seething and commentating. 

I have been offended by her recent behavior. In a way that I wasn't by the 'outrageous' antics of Madonna, Cher, Lady Gaga, et al. Why? Is it because I now have a daughter of my own? Has my moral compass realigned and my focus been narrowed? I spoke with Paul about this. He had similar feelings of unease. 

Paul and I were discussing why we had both been offended. Yes. Undoubtedly because we were now the parents of a daughter. We concluded that the 'art' has been lost, and replaced with a debased sexual overtone - no innuendo at all - a complete lack of class. Madonna and Lady Gaga have been involved in some extreme antics over the years. Yes they got attention. Yes, they were also master artists, songwriters and performers. Their antics seemed to be part of a larger story - a bigger picture - with story-telling and character creation central to this. David Bowie was a master of this. His punk, androgyny, and fantasy periods well-crafted and contrived. Yes, they too shocked people at the time. With all of these, there are somewhat fond recollections, an appreciation of boundaries being pushed and expanded, of times-a-changing. And art. 

Art has shocked people for millennia. Art should. Art should get people talking. It's raison d'être is to get attention and focus. Miley may be a talented singer and performer, but her art is 'off'. Being a doyenne of the young female artist, to use a childhood imagery of teddy bears in her performance seemed, well... wrong! Very apparent to me, was her coated tongue (I have always understood this to be a sign of sickness - definitely nothing to show off!) Perhaps the shock of art in this digital age is supposed to spontaneous... and then forgotten in an instant?

If Miley wanted so badly to get attention, and break away from her wholesome Disney persona, then why not put her efforts into pushing a worthwhile cause at the same time. Find a cause célèbre. Couldn't she stand up against the exploitation of females - rather than promote it? Given her following of young children - promote literacy and numeracy? Being a young female - encourage healthy body image and good nutrition? Miley has supported a number of charities and foundations that cater specifically to youth in the past. Perhaps a nod to these instead of trying to shock might gain more respectability and give greater attention to worthwhile causes at the same time. 

Lady Gaga has spoken out against suicide, promoted youth empowerment through her Born this Way foundation and promoted social responsibility in many ways. Bono, lead singer of U2, is a master of social activism. Dozens of in-the-spotlight celebrities have managed to gain attention for worthwhile causes in the process of promoting their image and product. 

Alas, Miley is not alone in the debasement of women. It is an ongoing dilemma that seems to have been pushed to extreme limits of late. To fly in the face of empowerment - it is young women who are often the perpetrators. Where 'sexy and powerful' has been replaced by 'sexy and powerless' - where young girls objectify themselves, seemingly oblivious to potential danger and detriment. Perhaps these girls are just too far removed from the feminists who fought for the right to keep a job when married, receive equal pay or even own a bank account?

We don't watch music videos in our house and find that it is sometimes a challenge to remove 'explicit' songs from our Spotify stream (why this isn't an automatic option we do not know!?) Many songs with questionable lyrics do not actually qualify for the 'explicit' warning - lucky for us the words are often intelligible or enough innuendo is used so that our children do not pick up the message. I was recently recommended a video of some girls from Auckland University Law Revue who parodied Robin Thicke's Blurred Lines lyrics and video. At first I was shocked by the parody... until I took the time to read the song lyrics and watch the original uncut video... and then it seemed somewhat tame!

Friday, October 11, 2013

miniature melbourne

The boys have been having some fun playing with iStopMotion - an animation package for the iPad. They have also been interested in watching some of the information/training videos created by the awesome brothers on Animation Chefs. Hence, there have been a few animated videos being viewed around our house of late. 
I was struck by this time-lapse video created by Nathan Kaso. The title is Miniature Melbourne. Of course, I have a soft-spot for anything from my home town Melbourne. This video, with its vignette blurred focus effect, bright colors and stop-motion look to people and moving objects, gives a surreal look - not unlike a classic stop-motion using miniature cars and figurines. Apparently this is achieved with a miniature or 'tilt-frame' effect applied during the editing process.

Monday, September 9, 2013

5 years old!

Wow! The birthday we have been anticipating for months, finally arrived. We had been made aware of the impending celebration for a very long time... particularly as Mietta had been (verbally) inviting guests to her birthday party since mid-May! 
Mietta's birthday celebrations started with a birthday party two weeks ago, then a restaurant dinner the night before her birthday (venue chosen largely due to the family having a late afternoon swim at the gym)... then some 'treats' for Mietta's new classmates... then a birthday dinner at home, on the actual day, with requested Tacos, 'kid's wine' (sparkling cider) and a 'double chocolate fudge cake'. We were able to share Mietta's party with her grandparents (my parents) - via Skype!
I didn't get around to making a cake for Mietta's birthday as I was too busy trying to track down some type of 'treat' for her classmates. I was hard-pressed to come up with a treat as new school guidelines mandate that it CANNOT be homemade, cannot contain nuts, must avoid any known allergen, cannot be processed in a facility that also processes nuts, etc. I also had my own guidelines of no artificial colors or sweeteners and preferably sugar-free. I had to throw my healthy fruit kebab option out the window! I ended up buying some mini-meringues (one child had to avoid due to an egg allergy), that I skewered together with fresh raspberries using toothpicks I'd decorated with some big 5's and a birthday message. I had to present all items, in original packaging, to the school nurse for approval. Mietta helped hand the treats out to her class friends with some 'safe' lollipops. At least the pure joy emanating from her smile made the running around worth it :-) 
This fleeting childhood thing... sure is fleeting by rapidly. 

Thursday, September 5, 2013

a big day!

Another huge life changing day. On Tuesday, we bid farewell to THREE children as they boarded the big yellow bus on their way to school. WOW! Mietta has been waiting for this day for such a long time and was super-excited. The boys seemed content with the idea of more routine and were more than excited at catching up with friends. All were up early, enthused and ready to get out the door. 
Our Summer vacation was even longer this year. At 12 weeks, this was far too long for the little ones to be without the routine of school. I was always led to believe that the long US Summer vacation time had an agrarian history: with all family members needed to farm and harvest. I have since found this is not the caseThe long vacation time here has been blamed for the 'summer slide' that is so talked about and is said to contribute to the widening knowledge gap between affluent and underprivileged children. I do like Australia's approach to school vacation time - with a longer summer period and several extended vacation breaks to split up the school year.

Coinciding with the kids first day at school, was a visit from Chris and her partner Keith. The impending arrival of house guests kept me busy on the first day of school. Chris and I had both worked at EDAW as landscape architects and hadn't seen each other for a very long time. Chris left EDAW to pursue her career in local government and a masters degree in criminology (specifically CPTED - or crime prevention through environmental design). Chris and her partner Keith were halfway through a 4 week tour of the states - Chicago-New York-DC-Atlantic Coast - and stopped off on their way through Virginia en route to Florida. Chris's intention was to observe American 'parks' and gain an understanding of their design, management and use - and of course, to celebrate her 40th birthday with aplomb. Keith came along for the ride and was made happy with the promise of driving a V8 muscle car and lots of boat-viewing along the coast - with the intention of buying a boat and having it 'shipped' back to Australia!

What a lovely respite for us. We loved learning some news of 'home', hearing travel experiences and catching up on the past decade or so. Our gracious guests arrived proffering chocolates, strawberries, cupcakes and wine - so of course they were welcomed by all! Mietta was still on a high from her first day and could not be quiet. For. A. Single. Moment. She and Nic had a new audience to express their obsessions with Hello Kitty and Slender Man. We so miss the uncomplicated and worldly perspective that Australians seem to be imbued with.

Chris paid me the greatest compliment - in saying I hadn't changed a bit. Sometimes I fear I may compromise myself... but so glad to hear that marriage, kids, living abroad, etc. haven't necessarily changed my outlook or sense of humor! 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

pool party... before the summer finishes

The Summer school vacation is just too long in our part of the world (12 weeks this year!) It eats up the entire summer and so summer seems to disappear all too rapidly. I dread the cold weather and rue summer's demise. Anyway, we needed to organize a birthday party for our little Miss soon-to-be-five. We'd agreed upon a pool party and needed this to happen before our neighborhood pool closes on Labor Day (September 2nd). Thankfully our cool/wet Summer abated and the weather was spectacular for the big day today. 
kid soup
It was a challenge planning a party for 20 kids, plus adults, away from our home with no refrigeration, no cooking facilities and no ready access to water or power. Hence... we ordered pizza! 
I made colorful carrot and beet dips with crudités, fruit kebabs, a giant tossed spinach salad, and pesto pasta to curb appetites until pizza arrived. A sudden dearth of available blueberries meant our rainbow kebabs lacked the blue spectrum!
I made the easiest decorated birthday cake I have ever made - with ever so many thanks to the wonderfully helpful video at 52 Kitchen Adventures
I frosted a yellow cake using this recipe for cake and frosting. I used the India Tree brand of natural colors to create the lovely subtle coloring. Mietta was very happy with the result.
To ensure our vegan friends did not miss out on cake, I made my first ever vegan cake! I used the recipe here for a Chocolate-Mocha Cake. Instead of instant coffee powder, Paul pulled four decaf espresso shots for me to use. I omitted the coffee from the icing and used the icing on the sides of the cake in place of the ganache. I topped the cake with chocolate-dipped strawberries. It was surprisingly OK :-)
I made some pink lemonade and we had juice and water for thirsty swimmers. As we had so many guests, I made a Pavlova too, and strew this with fruit that didn't make it onto the fruit kebabs. 
In the interests of providing a healthy - less trashy type of 'goody bag', we bought some of Alex's range of craft projects to hand out. Mietta really enjoyed the paper bag puppet kit she received for Christmas - and I had kept this in mind for such an event. We filled some goody bags with a tub of playdough and a few clay tools for the younger guests and some bags with craft paper, stickers and origami paper for the older children.
We also had some balls for each child to take home. No sweets - much to Mietta's disgust "ALL goody bags have candy!" she protested. Well yes. Most do... but I have been trying to thwart this for years! In the past, we've given out: popcorn containers filled with microwave popcorn, pencils, erasers (for a movie theme party); a bag of healthy prepackaged snacks (Annie's bunnies, raisins, etc.); novel tastes and treats from the Asian supermarket; decorated letter cookies with the appropriate letter for each guest (decorated by Luc); board books for the younger set; bubbles, balloons... It can be a challenge to think of ideas that will delight - but not end up straight in landfill or harm little tummies.

We had such a good time - a really lovely day. Our wonderful guests graciously helped out with kid wrangling, clean-up, cake dispersal and cake storage (in a nearby fridge) - freeing up Paul and myself to actually speak to people... and for me to take a few photos! We were most grateful. 

Mietta had the best time and was a wonderful host. Her enthusiasm lasted ALL day. Upon returning home she immediately constructed one of the left-over goody bag crafts, then built Mega bloks with Paul all afternoon, before taking Rascal for a walk and having her first-ever attempt on a pedal bike. Phew!