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I has an oven!

It has been a few years now since I have been able to bake. My oven died on me, though I could still use the grill and stove top. I finally found a plumbing firm I could trust, but the plumber told me that he couldn't fix it because the problem wasn't with the gas, it was with the appliance. Contacting some appliance fitters I was told that they didn't do that model, too old, presumably. And, by the way, I can't even get a new oven unless I'm prepared to remove my cupboards above the stove because the regs now say you have to have a range hood and it has to be at least 60 cm above the stove; my cupboards are 55 cm above. That would require a carpenter and new cupboards too high for me to reach without a chair. And that's BEFORE I even start looking for the new oven, because they won't install it without the aforementioned 60 cm and range hood.

I love baking. Cakes, scones, bread, biscuits, muffins... Love it! I've found ways around this, but you just can't make those things in the microwave - I did try a mug cake, which was nice, but not cake, more like pudding, and you had to eat it out of the mug. I've learned to make pan bread, including a very nice pitta bread recipe. BUT - no new recipes to try from books or magazines that didn't start "preheat the oven to 180'..."

My new oven isn't anything exciting, it's a gift from a friend who bought it three years ago and never used it, so no warranty, but who cares? It's one of those round glass things that look like a toy. It cost her around $49 at the time. But it bakes cakes, bread, etc. It does roasts if you want them, but I can't put in my lovely baking dish. No room. And you're supposed to put the meat and veg straight on to the rack. So much for chicken and apricot nectar or tomato juice. But I don't roast much. I'm a baker for the most part and I can still do some things such as chicken and tomato on the stove top, if I want to.

I've bought some cake mix to experiment with; it's so long since I made my cakes from scratch, I just want to play first and be sure of what my new toy can and can't do.

I can bake again!

Max Gets The Vote!

Eighteen years ago, I got a call from my brother at about two forty-five am with the good news that I had a new nephew. Max had been born on a night when there was a dramatic storm after the hottest day in fifteen years. I cut out a newspaper article about it and got it laminated. It still sits in the wall of my brother's old room at Mum's place. The young man was called Max Joel Bursztynski and his Hebrew name Yoel Matar, Matar being a poetic Hebrew name for rain(the regular word is geshem, which I quite like because it sounds to me like gush, which is what rain does, but Matar makes a better name). I brought chocolate cake to work for morning tea and we celebrated.

Over the years, I've taken him to see a lot of movies, every school holidays, though alas, he no longer wants to hang out with his auntie and cousin - nothing personal, he just somehow always has other things to do; Dezzy and I still hang out, go to the gallery and fashion exhibitions and, occasionally, even a movie, while Max moved from movies to film, if you can see the distinction. He volunteers at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, assists with school holiday animation workshops for children and is currently working on an animated feature of his own. When I asked him what he was doing about music he said casually, "Oh, I'll just compose some."


Now, in Year 12 at high school, he has enrolled to vote and will have had his say on who runs this country before finishing school. Nice! I didn't get my first vote till I was at uni. ;-)

And Max being Max, he has thought carefully about this and done his research and made his decision. It's wonderful to think that a new adult is thinking about his vote and not wasting it with an, "Oh, they're all the same, who cares?"

My little nephew is all grown up and I am so proud!

Harmony Day At My School

Yesterday was Harmony Day. Our celebrations were organised by our EAL teacher, Lily. We're a small campus of a four campus school, just a couple of hundred very multicultural students from Year 7 to 10. It used to be a full day celebration, but that just hasn't been possible in recent years, so we had an afternoon instead. We had a wonderful guest speaker, a lady who is half Iranian, half Mauritian, whose family had escaped to Australia just before the Shah was deposed, with a warning from a friend in the know. She spoke of music and culture and of her time in Brazil and the joyousness of Brazilian music culture. Then she got out her feathered Rio style costume and there were drums and she handed rattles to students and got them all up celebrating. The Year 8 students did African drumming, which they learn in music(a far cry from the days when for me, music meant an American teacher trying to get us to learn our own folk songs or, before her, a lady who told us entertaining stories about the composers).

In the past, we have had some amazing Islander students agreeing to perform dances, in costume - something they still do for the annual school concert - but this time they were all off playing volleyball for the school. So there was only one incredibly brave young man in Year 8 agreeing to do a haka, of which more in a minute.

Because we were so short of entertainment, not enough for the planned afternoon, I offered to do a telling of the story of Purim, which is next week. The nice thing about this is that it's interactive. The kids had full permission to cheer the good guys and boo the villain, and one of my colleagues, who suggested holding up boo and cheer cards, was roped in to assist me. Lily encouraged me to ham it up, asking for a PowerPoint to go with it. I found various pictures online to use, and discovered that the truly dreadful Joan Collins/Richard Egan sword and sandal epic wasn't the only retelling of the tale and that John Rhys Davies actually played Mordecai in one of the later versions.

I began by explaining some of the various traditions(I left out the one about getting drunk!) such as costuming, partying, sharing food, giving to charity and amateur drama - and telling the story with audience participation. I then offered them a choice of a tinsel wig or a Harpo wig, telling them it was the only costuming they were going to get out of me. They cheered for the Harpo wig, which I put on, telling my colleague he would have been asked to wear it if they'd chosen the tinsel one for me. ;-)

We actually have a student called Hadassah(Esther's real name) and I had considered getting her into the act, but reluctantly decided against it - that particular girl would have cringed. Pity.

I think it went over well and the boo/cheer cards added a nice touch. I let them know that there would be a traditional Purim chocolate frog for them all at home time.

Now for our brave lad, Kaleb. Really, a haka needs to be done by a group. If there had been some other boys to join him, I think he would have managed it. But after a short performance, he put his head in his hands and ran off, muttering, "Oh, I can't!"

It told me something about the young man I hadn't realised: he is terribly shy. He's in my English class and I used to teach him Literacy in Year 7, before he was promoted out of my class. He has some issues, but in class he is very good at class discussions and picks up some things about the film text the others haven't noticed. He talks loudly and laughs a lot.Nevertheless, he's shy - and I've just realised. Maybe the loud talk is to hide it. Despite that, he agreed to stand up in front of two hundred people, classmates and teachers alike, and perform. That took guts, facing his fear.

As the kids left, collecting their chocolate, I whispered to him that I was proud of him.
I've been published on the letters page of the newspaper a number of times. Some of my comments have been published in the on-line editions. Over the years I've taught myself, through observation, what is likely to be accepted and what rejected and why.

But not always. Despite the page of "why my comments were not published" on the web site of my main paper, I have seen them publish comments that go against their moderation rules - and been rejected for some of my comments that didn't go against the rules. The moderators are only human, I suppose. They might be in a bad mood that day. They might disagree with you enough to stop you from having your say, even if they feel guilty about it later.

Yesterday, I received a call from the letters editor of the day who was considering publishing my letter about how science stories can be made more engaging by employing children's writers to tell them. The paper had published an article on the theme of making science stories exciting. My argument was that children won't put up with pages of technical language or with the "beautiful language" that would satisfy adults without actually telling a story. If you can excite children, I argued, you can excite anyone.

The lady said that it sounded like a plug for myself, because - ta da! - they know I'm a children's writer! I said good, but hardly anyone else does, outside the school and library system. The newspaper folk only know because they Googled me. Nevertheless, she argued, I should declare my interest. Could they publish the words "children's writer" with my name? Just to declare my interest. I agreed, adding that it would be nice if they did that more often, as they have published quite a few letters by people who hadn't declared their interests. (One of them is a high ranking member of a racist organisation, the other one practically runs her organisation. Neither of them has been phoned to confirm that they have no interest other than their opinions). "Oh, you should have told us!" she said and I agreed to do it next time, though I was thinking, "And you should have Googled them on their controversial topics, as you did me about my fairly innocuous one!" but didn't say it.

They have published my letter, cutting my sentence about children's writing being the last refuge of storytelling and adding a typo in the interests of removing my contraction. "Doesn't" became "doe snot." Ouch! I'll take responsibility for my own typos, thanks, and goodness knows, I get plenty of those due to the prediction software on my iPad, but this is a national newspaper.

A bit like the late unlamented Bulletin that published a letter from someone who declared "Jews are dupes of Satan!" but rang me when I responded, to make sure I was okay and then told me they weren't going to print my letter "because we haven't the space."

Ah, well, the newspaper at least published my letter, even if I did have to jump through a few hoops!
Reading a blog post in which the blogger complained bitterly about Walt Whitman's Leaves Of Grass, one of those national classics kids have to read because, well, it's a national classic, made me think of the books I've had to read in my time.

Until about Year 10, there were no set texts that I can remember. We read what we wanted and wrote book reports. If the teacher was being especially creative, we were allowed to do these in the form of a book dust jacket - something I'm sorry to say has come back in my school at Year 7 level, where, until last year, there was a creative response that involved book trailers and fan fiction and such things that let the kids use their imaginations and show that they had understood the books. I wasn't teaching English last year and this year I have a tiny class which will make Literature Circles difficult.

Anyway. At Year 10, we had to read John Wyndham's The Chrysalids, which I took home and read in an evening. Next day I asked my teacher,"What do I do now?" His response was,"I don't know. I haven't prepared anything yet. You were supposed to take three weeks."

He was a nice man, but not a very good teacher. There should have been reading and discussion in class and some work given to us as we went. I'm not sure he had even read it himself yet.

I did enjoy The Chrysalids, which was about a future dystopia in which, after a nuclear war, there is a Puritanical society where anyone with a mutation was banished to the lands still affected by the radiation. The children from whose viewpoint the story was told had an invisible mutation: telepathy. That could have been great for class discussion, though, having reread it in ebook, I loved it again, but felt that the style was a bit dated. I wouldn't set it, though I would invite good readers to try it.

Our Shakespeare that year was Julius Caesar. Again, we didn't actually read or discuss it in class. We saw the movie with James Mason and Marlon Brando(a very sexy Mark Antony), but that was it. I had so looked forward to discussing this in class, having read my sister's copy before I was out of primary school. I am not even sure the teacher ever read the essay I wrote. I don't think any school does that one any more; our own kids are doing Romeo And Juliet this year, and that one has been the Year 10 Shakespeare for many years. Probably more appropriate for teenagers - I was a very strange teenager, one who would have enjoyed any Shakespeare.

The next year's texts were Catcher In The Rye and Brave New World, both of which I had already read and loved, our Shakespeare was Richard III. This was the year I discovered Richard and went on to read Daughter Of Time and join the Richard III Society; we had a wonderful English teacher that year. I've downloaded both novels to my iPad. Going by all the complaints on Goodreads, Catcher In The Rye is not all that popular these days, but it's known as the "first" YA novel and it used to be an act of rebellion to read it, one of those "under the covers with a torch" books. Probably because there have been so many YA novels since it was published, it no longer has the effect it once did and is a bit dated. The ultimate indignity is that it's now a set school text! Brave New World is, I think, still relevant, though I don't know if anyone still sets it.

I get confused remembering my Year 12 books, because I did both English and literature, so there were a lot of books to read and I can't quite recall which books I had to read for what.

Here are some of them: the poet was Lord Byron. We had to read the Prologue to The Canterbury Tales. I loved both, but I wasn't very good at writing about poetry, alas! Reading it, writing it, but not writing about it.

The Jane Austen was Pride And Prejudice. I confess it took me a couple of re-reads to appreciate that one, though if you have to study Jane Austen at high school level, that one is probably the best. That was before all the dramatisations made this novel such a big deal - and well before Colin Firth emerged from the lake in his wet shirt! We only had the book and, while the teacher was much better than the one I had in Year 10, she couldn't quite get me enthused about the books we studied. Not her fault.

The Dickens was Great Expectations, which I did enjoy. I have to agree with my sister that the hero,Pip, is "a little shit!" Peter Carey seems to think the same, judging by his novel Jack Maggs.

We did The Importance Of Being Earnest - that year the Drama Club performed it. I got to be Lady Bracknell. It was a good thing to do, because we had to discuss the characters and how they should say the lines and why. Actually, it was huge fun performing that play!

The Shakespeare was King Lear and if I'd always been a fan, that one turned me into a raving Bardoholic. I remember my copy falling open to the scene where Lear banishes Cordelia with that passionate speech... and I was hooked for life.

We read James Baldwin's Go Tell It On The Mountain which, alas, I can't remember at all, and Darkness At Noon by Arthur Koestler. That one is about a former Party leader who is imprisoned and expecting to be shot any day. He has flashbacks and thinks about all the horrible things he's done for the Party in his time, and whether or not the end justifies the means. And he talks to the prisoner in the next cell by Morse code, as they can't talk any other way. I have read all three in that "trilogy". It wasn't a trilogy in the normal sense, just three books on similar themes. I read The Gladiators, his novel about Spartacus, when I was about twelve or thirteen. The final was Arrival And Departure, which I read in my university years.

You can see that the types of books we had to read for English in those days were very different from today. A lot more complicated,a lot more assumption you could handle them.

And not one Australian book in the lot!

What do you remember from school days? Did it affect you? If you are still at school what do you think of your set books? Are there any authors you'd read again?
Today a friend emailed me a link to a post by last month's Inside A Dog Writer In Residence, David Burton. It was a love letter to the local library of his childhood. And very sweet it was, too.

That made me think of my own childhood library experiences.

When I was four or five we lived in West Melbourne. Nowadays the street we lived in has no houses in it at all, though I'm told the area in general has become gentrified. Well, it would, wouldn't it? It's on the very edge of the CBD. People with money like that sort of place.

But at the time, we lived in a rented worker's cottage which had a view of the railway lines at the end of the street and next door there was an orchard of nectarine trees, also long gone. It belonged to my Dad's boss.

At that time, the State Library had a lending section - you could actually borrow books from it, including children's books. I have a faint memory of holding Beatrix Potter books in my hands. Our local swimming pool was the City Baths(still there), near the library. I read somewhere that Redmond Barry, who started up the State Library, did it because he wanted people to be able to borrow books and that until it was up and running he let them come to his place to borrow. Nice man, unless you're Ned Kelly, anyway.

We moved to St Kilda when I was halfway through Year 1, but if there was a local library I never heard of it. I borrowed all my books from the school library. St Kilda Park Primary was a very old school, so it was built of cool stone and the library had a lovely arched ceiling, almost a dome. It was always pleasantly cool. I remember some of the books I borrowed, such as Good Luck To The Rider by Joan Phipson. That was a part of my enthusiasm for horse books, along with the mysteries of Enid Blyton. This one was Australian and featured a girl who was raising an ugly colt. Her brother had joked it was a real Rosinante. Not knowing where the name came from, she liked it and that became her horse's name. She got ribbed about it a lot, but the horse's abilities outdid his appearance.

So, that was the sort of book I was borrowing from my school library. I actually owned quite a few, because my mother, who was just learning English, wanted her children to have a chance to be good at the language, so bought us whichever books we fancied, knowing we'd read them. My sister was also a passionate reader(still is)and because she was older than me, was borrowing library books I would never have discovered myself and I was reading them too, eg The Greek Myths by Robert Graves. I have vague memories of reading Russian folk tales too, and becoming fascinated by Prince Ivan stories.

You can't own every book in the world and libraries were important to me.

At the end of primary school, I spent a year at Elwood Central, a school which went from Prep to Year 8. It's still there, though it's now only a primary school, since all the secondary kids moved to the secondary school down the road at the end of my first year there.

The library is still there. I remember it as being as cool and high-ceilinged as my primary school library. Best if all, there was a small, quiet area outside it, with benches in the shade of a big tree.

Two books I remember from that time were both by Donald Suddaby, Lost Men In The Grass and Prisoners Of Saturn. In the first, a bunch of men are shrunk to the size where they can ride ants and be in serious danger of being eaten by predatory insects. In the second, the heroes go to Saturn, which has a sentent race of brings who adapt the surface for their benefit, making an oxygen atmosphere and edible food, and lecture them about the way they're running their world...

I'm pretty sure they were written for children, but the (all male) characters were adults. For the record, one of the things the Saturnians advise is to let women take over on Earth.

When I went to Elwood high school, there was a library, but it was just a classroom with books in it. I did borrow some fiction from it - some H.G Wells, as I recall - but I ended up back at the State Library. You could no longer borrow, but there were a lot more books than at school, and they weren't all novels. When you had to do research, my school library just didn't cut it.

I loved sitting at those ancient desks in the Reading Room, under the dome, with lamps on each one.

That was many years ago, of course; the Reading Room is now as it was meant to be, with a flood of light coming from the skylights in the dome. It's absolutely beautiful, but...the ambience is no longer there.

Thank goodness I now have the modern, very good St Kilda Library to borrow from, though there isn't anywhere much to curl up with a book. There are desks to work at. There is free wifi. There are computers for those who don't have their own. If I was a child I would go to story time.

But nowhere to just sit and read comfortably.

Can't have everything.

So, who else has library memories to share?

Rejoicing For My Students!

Today the results came out for university offers for Year 12 students, so I looked on line and found some of those whose names I remember, though not all of them. At least one of them should have been there, as I can't imagine her not getting an offer, so perhaps she didn't give permission.

Anyway, I was delighted with those I have found so far. A boy who had told me he messed up his exams got into a Chemical Engineering degree which required quite a high score, thank you very much! I like to think of the smile on his face this morning. Goodness knows, with his family troubles, he could do with some happy news.

Another boy, who said he hadn't applied for anything when I last saw him, will be studying Business at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. I hope they can keep his nose out of his Kindle long enough for him to focus on his studies. Personally, I think he'd be happier studying librarianship; he may learn that eventually. Besides, there are a lot of boring texts in that course before you get to the good stuff. ;-)

One of the girls from my book club is going to Latrobe University to learn to be a nutritionist. Another of my book loving students, her close friend, will be studying Psychology. My nutritionist student's delightful boyfriend will be studying communications technology.

And my dear Western Chances Scholar has made it into Arts at Melbourne University, not sure which subjects, must find out when I can. But I'm thrilled for her!

I will drink a toast to these terrific kids with work friends next week. They deserve their success!

Awaiting The Tradie

So, I'm sitting in a local patisserie(very new! This used to be a shoe shop, then stood empty for a few years...) having lemon tea and a cannoli.

My cistern has died on me. It is nailed to its perch, so not pushing up daisies. It has gone to meet its maker. It is an ex-cistern. This morning I called a company that turned up in a Google search, Female Choice Plumbing, 24/7 service, run by women(though you're likely to get a male plumber, so don't panic, they're really very nice). I explained my situation and the nice lady on the other end said they could send someone between 11 and 2. So much for the one hour service, but with luck my plumber, armed with the information, might find time to go and get a new cistern on the way. We'll see if the service is as good as 49 enthusiastic reviews on ProductReview said. If so, they do have gas fitters and I might get one in to fix my oven. I miss that badly as I love baking. It's amazing how well I've done without it, but I want it back. And I might get them to do some things for my mother, because one review said that they treat the elderly decently. That's important. Tradies, I'm sorry to say, take one look at my mother and proceed with the ripoff. We can't always be with her - I work(not today) and besides, the man who's supposed to be doing vital repairs on her home turns up when he feels like it and wanders off an hour later, having done very little, so no way to know when to be there. My brother and his wife are happy with the work he has done for them, but they're younger than her and speak perfect English.

Meanwhile, I've finished my cannoli(very nice)and am sipping my lemon tea. I'm here because if I need to use the facilities here I won't have to get a bucket to flush with. But I need to go soon and no way to know how early my tradie will arrive. Or whether he(probably) will have the goods or have to go and get them, from somewhere currently closed for Christmas/New Year.

So much for my plans to sort books and put together boxes to go to Continuum, as prizes for raffles and trivia quizzes. I have quite a lot of books in perfect condition not suited for my library and that I will never read again(in some cases, at all). It's win win, they get fundraisers, I get space on my book shelves.

Oh, well. Tomorrow, maybe.

10.30 PM Before A Yuletide Picnic

It's late at night and I've just finished writing cards and doing gift wrapping for tomorrow, when I meet some friends for a Christmas picnic. We have been doing this for about the last three years and so far have had decent weather for it. I don't have anything exciting to make for my lunch, but there is summer fruit and fresh rye bread and cheese and cherry tomatoes and I can make up a thermos of tea to take along. It's the company that counts.

I've tried to do the right thing, buying Oxfam Unwrapped virtual gifts - you know the kind, a goat for a family, clean water, seeds for farmers in Sri Lanka, etc. and use those as cards. Not as much variety as they had last year, or not for prices I can afford, perhaps I can go on line for other friends and give to the Fred Hollows Foundation as I did last year...

I also ended up buying some physical gifts because I know I will receive some, and can't look someone in the eye with nothing but a card saying that you have given a meal to children in South Africa, etc. but next year, I'm seriously thinking of asking friends to give me just that and nothing else, unless they want to make something. I have enough stuff in this life - and as I was heading along Bourke Street, on my way to buy someone a calendar, with a bag full of gifts, I saw a beggar, and thought, I've just spent well over $150 on things for friends and this guy may not even have anywhere to sleep tonight. Talk about guilt!

I hope no one will think the worse of me if I say, at this point, Bah humbug! :-(

The Year 12 Formal 2015!

I don't normally go out on Friday nights. It's Shabbat. It's family time. Usually the Year 12 Formal is on a Thursday, sometimes a Wednesday, the last day of exams.


But the school was late in booking and that was what they could get. And I had to say goodbye to my students. There were a lot of my favourite students who graduated this year. Okay, I say that every year - and to be honest, my all-time favourite class graduated last year. But this was a very good class, with only one student who was a bit difficult and even he was only a bit naughty - I use the mild word for a good reason. Naughty, not impossible. And he handed in his work and did some good stuff during Literature Circles.


And there he was, a young man with a beard, a gentle smile and a twinkle in his eyes! That twinkle reminded you of his past, but it had become something positive.


We have our formal (the Senior Prom to my US readers)at what used to be the Hilton on the Park. It sounds swish, especially for a poor school like ours - and certainly the students have to pay quite a lot to dine there, but they're given a chance to pay it off, and on the night, the boys hire suits, the girls dress up stunningly and get their hair done and they arrive in shared stretch limos. We go there because it gives us the best deal - believe me, we have been to other hotels, one of which, a big chain I won't name, but which you'd know if I did, made things difficult for the SRC students who were making the arrangements at the time.


I go to say goodbye to kids I've known since they were in Year 7, and taught in Year 8. It's always just a bit sad for me, though for them it will be exciting - the whole world is about to open to them!


One of the students I hadn't taught, but whom I knew fairly well, through his siblings, was dancing joyously on his own on the dance floor. He didn't think he'd done well in the exam and so I told him that even if he didn't get what he wanted, there was always the next best thing and sometimes you can use that as a back door to what you do want. His family has had a very hard time, so I'm not surprised he was distracted this year, but I have no doubt he did his best.


Another student, who had always had his nose in a book when he was in my class, told me he was still researching and considering his options for next year. I suggested librarianship or at least an Arts degree, which he would handle well. This boy discovered the joys of ebooks when he was in Year 10, so he's still reading, he's just doing it on his Kindle. I remember when his group was doing Dragonkeeper in Literature Circles and the other students asked me if I'd mind asking him to read something else till they caught up with him, as he was way ahead in the novel. He didn't mind a bit! We were in the library and he cheerfully headed for the shelves. Needless to say, this boy is now towering over me.


I saw a young couple who were already an item when I taught them in Year 8, still together and very sweet they were.


I saw some of my most faithful Book Clubbers. I barely recognised them, so grown up!


I will be looking out for what tertiary courses they have been offered, in January. Can't wait!

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