Life gets in the way of Life with a blackdog

I’ve been an absentee blogger, sadly.  Real life got in the way in the form of a new job – my first real full time role in 15 years. Yes, having children was a choice and it meant changes and compromises and I’m pretty happy with the results – two beautiful children who I can say bring me joy every day.

But getting back on the chain gang has been a challenge. The life logistics got even more complicated – who needed to be where when and with what packed in a bag?  Evening meals got more simple (simpler?) – being a very plain cook, I wasn’t sure that was possible, but it was. Food as fuel.

The dog has continued to be walked of course, but starting the job mid-winter has meant very little time for wider forays into the public art scene in Canberra.  Now that spring is upon us though and the days are longer, I have plans to get out amongst it all again.  That’s a promise I will try to keep!

In the meantime, here are some pics of our adventures, some close by, some a bit further away.

garden dog Letterbox Seed pods  Suburban swing Tilly and the banksia rosesShoes make a pillow

Who you callin' a dummy (One of these dogs is not a statue!)

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To the trig and back

Once the rain cleared yesterday morning, Tilly the blackdog and I headed out for a longer walk.  She deserved it, and I needed it too.  We drove over to Narrabundah Hill, at the top of Duffy, an old haunt from the days of blackdog version 1.0.

When we walked there, way back in the early 1990s, it was a pine forest, dense and dark with hidden corners and large puddles.  Entering from the Mount Stromlo end of the forest, we would walk along the flat path, past the wild blackberries and the cattle grazing in the paddocks over the fence.  Once we’d rounded the corner, been blasted by the wind coming up from the south, and taken in the vista of the Tidbinbillas , Whitby (version 1.0) would take off – she was an excellent off-lead dog, who rarely went anywhere too far away … unless there was a puddle to loll about in.  And that was where she always headed.  Straight down the hill and splash, flat out on her tummy, drinking the muddy water.

All that was well and good, unless she had the kong in her mouth at the same time.

Kong

Because kongs have a hole in their top and bottom, and guess what?  They don’t float.  So if she landed in the middle of the puddle, well, finding the kong again was a job for “super partner” and the rake.  The next day.  Early, the next day.  Ah, the memories.

But these days, we head into the forest from the south, near the water tower.  The vegetation is slowly recovering, although it’s no longer a working pine forest after the devestation the 2003 bushfires caused. But it is still well loved by walkers, with or without dogs, and like us, people were making the most of the sunshine returning.

Trees on Narrabundah Hill

Leaves eaten

Charred

The wind was up, whipping my face, and we did a good hour, heading south and then west in a loop up to the trig station.

Wide view trig

Once up there, I realise it’s been several years since I was there last, and the view has opened up with all the pine trees gone.

View to molonglo

The new suburbs of the Molonglo development fall away in the distance, and there are new buildings up at the astronomy observatory on Mount Stromlo.

Jessie 2

But at the base of the trig station tower is a little box, bearing the name Jessie, and the message “You were truly man’s best friend”, with a collar inside. Evidence that it’s a special place to many.

Tilly and trig

I give Tilly the blackdog a special pat – she’s a bit annoyed at all this camera-ing and wants to head off .  But I pause to take in the whole view again before we head back down the hill.

Takes the cake – the parent as baker

Our youngest child is turning 12.  What a landmark.  And because of different commitments (read netball weekends) the celebrations will be slightly delayed.  So I am not madly scrambling around trying to tidy the house, juggling visiting family and baking cakes.  And it feels all wrong.

Over the years, Rod and I have made many birthday cakes together for both of our children.  Starting off in our old house, the first birthday for our elder daughter was a very simple orange cake. So healthy. No icing.  One candle.  It didn’t last long.

Hannah's 1st birthday cake Cait's 1st birthday

By the time she was two, the Australian Women’s Weekly children’s birthday cake book had been found, and we were off and running.

Requests for butterflies, lolly shops, paint boxes, number cakes and tigers ensued from both children at birthday time.

IMG_1025  IMG_0011

Surprisingly for two people without a crafty bone in their body, Rod and I were able to fashion something that looked like the cakes in the book every time. Shows how well tested they are.  This was despite having a dud oven for at least six of those years, until we could stand it no longer.  I think Rod made at least two different late night trips to the supermarket to get more supplies when the cakes died in the oven. And we were usually making them at 10pm on a Friday night, after a week’s work, so I think we did ok.  Certainly, they all were eaten, so we musta done good! Right? (well, the butterfly looks a bit dodgy, I admit.)

Still, it’s made me curious about all of those cakes.  What were they again?  Who had what?

This is a selection of just some of the birthday cakes over the years.

IMG_1017 hannah's birthday Sep 06 016 Hannah's 6 cake caitlin's 7th  birthday 08 009  Tiger two years Caitlin Caitlin's fifth birthday 017 IMG_6248

Who knows what we’ll try and do next?

Do the sins of the fathers revisit the sons?

The Place Beyond the Pines is a mesmerising film; a long, convoluted story of cross generational responsibility, corruption, the break down of moral codes, the value of an education and the connections it can offer, and the importance of both apology and absolution before things can move on.

Told in two parts over a 17 year period, the credibility of the story line is sometimes stretched.  But mostly, this saga of the impact of fathers’ behaviour on their children’s lives is moving and powerful.

Ryan Gosling plays a heavily tattooed, carny motor bike rider, Luke, a drifter and a grifter, who is surprised when he learns that he is the father of a one year old son, conceived a year earlier when the carnival had been in Schenectady (New York State).  Wanting to do the right thing by the baby’s mother, Romina (Eva Mendes) and possibly yearning for some kind of stability himself, the almost illiterate “Handsome Luke” decides to stay in town to get to know his son and to try to provide for him and his mother.

Gosling Mendes

But in the year gone by, Romina has taken up with Kofi, and she lives with the baby and her own mother in Kofi’s house.  Luke is not welcome, despite Romina’s feelings for him, and his best efforts fall short of his aim of providing a stable income that can buy things for the baby.

Luke comes across the greasiest of grease monkeys, Robin, played by Ben Mendelsohn.  They meet after Robin sees Luke riding his motorcycle at breakneck speed through the pine forest.  They race along together, reminiscent of the forest chase scenes in The Empire Strikes Back, with branches and leaves thwacking the cameras as they speed by.  But there are no special effects here.  Just full throttle speed, dare devil moves and a recklessness born from a tough-arsed attitude to life. Needless to say, Robin soon develops plans for Luke’s riding skills and those plans are on the wrong side of the law.

The subsequent story arc leads us to newby beat cop, Avery Cross, played by Bradley Cooper.  Handsome, clean, fit, Avery is injured in the line of duty and called a hero, then learns first hand how easily others’ corruption can trick you, catch you off guard, and reel you in.  Avery turns to his judge father for advice, for whom he has previously expressed some disdain.  Together they plot a way for Avery to take on the corruption head first, and he goes on to build a political career that leads in time all the way to the top.

The compare and contrast of the two story lines is simple – Avery has privilege and education versus Luke has poverty and homelessness, and all of the attendant social and emotional baggage in both stories is played out.  But when the two sons of these men meet up at school, the third act of the film (in itself a free-standing story) seems to be showing us just how the sins of the fathers and mothers are visited on their children, despite their best efforts for this not to be the case.

Avery’s son, AJ is a selfish, manipulative thug, who only knows how to have a good time.  Jason, the son of Luke, has grown up without knowledge of his father (although Kofi does a good Darth Vader impression – “I am your father” – and it’s true – he was there when Jason was born and has stayed with Romina, and had another child with her).  Regardless, Jason goes looking for answers about his father, and after learning the story, the denouement sees him swapping his pushbike for a new motorbike. Although he’s never been on one before, his natural, inherited talent sees him through.  He heads off beyond the pines.

The establishing shots of Schenectady’s town hall clock surrounded by pine forests place the story and are used several times.  The pines are shown surrounding the town, and bad things happen in that pine forest – it’s almost primordial, reminiscent of when “monsters” lived in the deep, dark woods.  Avery refuses to go deep into the forest with a colleague due to his fear of what might happen to him in there. And later on he again ends up in the forest, in danger.

On taking responsibility for his actions, though, he is able to escape, and to move on in his life, both in terms of his relationship with AJ, in which is he absent much of the time, and also in relation to the actions that affected Luke.  This seems to break the nexus, and allows Jason to move on, beyond the pines.

The acting is strong in this film, and it’s possible to believe in the characters and their motivations, despite the convoluted storyline. The women’s roles are minor – this is about boys and their dads, is blood thicker than water, what do we inherit and what do we learn, what makes a good dad, and ultimately, at what time do we take responsibility for our actions, accept the past, shake off its consequences, and move on to the next phase.  Avery tries to protect Jason, but is the apology he offers the key that unlocks Jason’s future? Will it be bright and shiny beyond the pines?

Further info: http://focusfeatures.com/the_place_beyond_the_pines

Nana’s gramma pie

What’s a gramma pie, she asks?

Heaven, I say.  Heaven on a stick.

Really?

Yes.

But what is it?

Gramma?

Yes.  I’ve never heard of it.

Well, you’re just showing your age, or should I say, your youth.  But I believe gramma is a type of pumpkin, it’s bright orange.  And my grandmother used to make pies for us all when we got together. It’s a really big pumpkin, so you get lots of servings out of it. Was probably popular during the depression and during the war because it was cheap, and could grow easily in backyard gardens.

So it’s a pumpkin pie.

No.  No. Not at all. Pumpkin pie is American.  This is a gramma pie.  True blue Aussie pie.

Really?

**************************************************************

I don’t know my cousins very well, they’re all male, and a good 15 years older than me, and for the most part, we lived very separate childhoods, and now we’re all living very different lives.  But when we get together at funerals these days, there is one topic of conversation that unites us:  Nana’s gramma pie.

I was probably seven or eight before I understood that it wasn’t “Granma’s” pie, ie, pie that a grandmother makes, but “gramma”, and that IT is the pie filling.  (I was glad when this was cleared up because our grandmother was always referred to as Nana – you can see why I was confused.)

Nana’s gramma pie is, however, legendary – at least in our family – probably because we didn’t get it anywhere else, just at Nana’s. And she always made it when we all got together. So it was very special, because we didn’t get together often.

Pumpkin pie is not so common in Australia, even today, although it is becoming more popular.  And we do love our pumpkin soup and pumpkin as a vegie in our baked dinners; and who can go past a pumpkin scone?

I can remember living in Leeds in the UK in 1991 and going searching for pumpkin when we wanted to have a baked dinner, an unusual occurrence in itself, as there was too much to see and do to be at home cooking.

Leeds Corn Exchange markets were great, and had a wonderful array of fruit and vegies that we didn’t get at home – mainly different varieties especially of potatoes and apples and pears.  But no pumpkin in the outside stalls.  But inside the market there was a West Indian stall, with a whole range of goods, including pumpkin.  And the women there welcomed me every couple of weeks when I stopped by to buy a piece of pumpkin from them. Being different can have its advantages.

Last weekend in Collector, in the southern highlands of NSW, they held the Collector Pumpkin Festival; you can read all about it in this great blog, In the Taratory, and here is a news report.

But there’s no mention of gramma though.

I miss my Nana’s gramma pie. The filling was sweet, and fragrant, and smooth. And now she’s gone, who will make it?

Addendum:

Here’s a great gramma pie recipe, via 702ABC.  Of course, I am going to try it out, once I get myself some gramma.  Let me know if you have a go too!

You can try to buy gramma seeds – I am going to give it a go from one of these suppliers:

Grammar pic

http://www.kookaburraorganics.com/mail-order/products/Pumpkin-Gramma.html

http://www.ebay.com.au/itm/Gramma-Pumpkin-10-Seeds-Vegetable-/181098076663?pt=AU_Plants_Seeds_Bulbs&hash=item2a2a4959f7