24 December 2009

Christmas 2009

We're in Sydney, Australia at my brother's place in Darling Harbor. Gorgeous views from his place of harbor and the Harbor Bridge. When it comes to being trendy Max and Julia have it down to a science. Two nephews and a niece - ages 3, 6, and 9 are jumping around with excitement. Santa gave them exactly what they wanted - some weird electronic toys that I've never heard off. A huge platter of fresh fruit, toast, marmalade, mango juice and coffee was spread out for us. We'll be having lunch at the home of our cousin Sylvie who lives near the Blue Mountains. She's preparing biryani which will be served with an assortment of salads. For dessert - trifle with fresh tropical fruit soaked in port.
We've been having a fab time in Australia. The drive down from Brisbane was a great way to see a bit of Australia. Beautiful coast and beaches along the way. We spent a couple of nights in Coffs Harbor which is small and quaint. It's surrounded by tiny beach towns. Paths parallel to the beach provide excellent views. Nearby, in Dorrigo, we hiked through a rainforest. Amazing vegetation and birdlife. There are large banana plantations in Coffs and many farmstands along the highway from where to buy them. So many varieties to choose from - and all of them freshly harvested and full of flavor.

After Coffs we drove on to Nelson Bay - another quaint coastal town. The beaches here are picture perfect because of the protected bay. Excellent swimming - very reminiscent of the French Riviera without the crowds and traffic.
The weather the whole time was perfect. Well, I lie. The day we left Brisbane it rained and rained. Luckily we spent most of the day driving so it was fine. Much preferable to driving with the sun high in the sky.

We arrived in Sydney two days before Christmas and we went into a bit of culture shock. Big city and Christmas festivities in full blast. Some frantic food shopping and last minute purchase of gifts. The kids tracking Santa's route on Google map, etc. We had a fab meal on Christmas Eve. Mum went to the fish market where she bought prawns and salmon. So she prepared a fine prawn dish. I made a pasta sauce with fresh basil tomatoes, garlic and olive oil. Max served French Champagne for an aperitif and a robust red with our main meal. We had mince pies and Christmas pudding served with cistard for dessert washed down with a smooth port.

There was a live concert at the domain in Sydney which we watched on telly. Silly us. We should have carried a picnic and sat on the grass and watched it live. Well, you can't do it all.

So, everyone, all the best for the last days of 2009.

16 December 2009


They say Brisbane is subtropical, but everywhere you look you're reminded of the tropics - fragrant plumeria, palms swaying among jacarandas (in full bloom right now) and gum trees, the fruit - mangoes, numerous types of bananas, pineapples, passion fruit, and the exotic birds - ibis, parrots, and of course, kookaburras. It's warm and humid and the atmosphere is full of summertime stuff. Hard to believe Christmas is a week from today. The festive spirit is so subdued - I love it. Even when you walk into shops you don't hear those annoying Christmas songs. I haven't seen a huge amount of decorations and lights and things. But there is a large Christmas tree in the square in front of the City Hall. It's beautifully trimmed and the lights are solar powered.

The Brisbane River meanders through the city center and on either side there are beautiful gardens, cafes, etc. Walking and cycling paths allow you to stroll alongside for miles and miles. Ferries get people to the suburbs lining the river.

Yesterday evening Daryl and I strolled along the river, starting at Riverside. This is an area of enormous, shiny skyscrapers. Gourmet restuarants and atmospheric bars out here provide gorgeous views of the river and its bridges. We walked to the Botanical Gardens which has some amazing trees and a few unusual pines and came to a very interesting mangrove swamp. There's a walkway that allows you to cross this swamp. We then went across a pedestrian bridge to the south side of the river. Here there are stunning landscaped gardens which lead to a beach area. An artificial lagoon filled with turquoise water and around it, fine beach sand, makes for a terrific place to cool down and hang out. Kids splash about in the water and adults relax on the beaches. What a concept - right in the city center.
We then strolled along a road running parallel to the river - Little Stanley Road - in search of beer. Didn't have to work very hard to find a place that suited out mood, of course.

We went back to our apartment for dinner. There was a fantastic farmer's market earlier in the day where I bought fruit and veggies, excellent multigrain bread, and some tapenades. So we ate well.

Tonight we'll be at the math conference dinner at the University of Queensland. So, I'm off to catch the train.

14 December 2009

December in Oz

After a frantic week (icy cold weather didn't help!) I'm finally sitting back and absorbing the charms of tropical Brisbane. Flew V-Australia - a new airline of the Virgin family - and what a smooth flight it was. Landed in Brisbane early in the morning and stepped out of the airport to humid, sultry weather. Our dear friend Stefan was there to fetch me, and take me to his lovely, spacious apartment where I peeled off my winter clothes and showered. Then I got into shorts and sandals and sat down to a sumptuous breakfast. Strong coffee, pain au chocolate from a French bakery, and sweet, juicy Queensland pineapple. Wow! Later in the morning Stephan, his wife Brangwyn, their one year old, Jasper, another friend Joseph (Daryl was his PhD adviser)and I strolled out to the shops. I was so excited to see heavenly Queensland summer fruit - fat mangoes, papayas, bananas, etc.
By the time Daryl arrived we had a big bowl of fruit salad ready for lunch.
We're staying in South Brisbane near a very lively part of town called South Bank.

In the afternoon we took the train to my cousin's place which is just outside the city in a sort of countryside setting. Here, my mum and my sister, Pam, and her kids were eagerly waiting for us. They had arrived from Sydney the day before.
Daryl got into a bathing suit and joined 7 little kids (from three different continents) in the pool. I sat down with an icy cold beer and chatted with everyone. It felt like midsummer - which, of course, it is, right here in the land down under!
I'm not rubbing it in - sheesh, no need to be so grumpy about huddling by the fire, y'know. I mean warm weather isn't all it's cracked up to be. All that sunscreen and wrinkled skin from being in the pool too long and the need for gelatos in the afternoon and stuff!
Anyway, for dinner everyone had chicken grilled on the barbie and many types of salads (it being summer and all that produce available - ffs, I'm not rubbing it in!). Daryl and I had pasta tossed in a sundried tomato pesto sauce.
For dessert we had the yummiest tiramisu in the entire universe. Claudia, my cousin in law, makes the best desserts ever, and her tiramisu - let me put it this way, it is worth flying half way around the world for a taste of it. I swear to god.

And so our first day came to an end. We went to sleep like contended pigs.

Day 2 was Daryl's big day. He gave a public lecture for a series called BriScience. This was held at Brisbane's very ornate city hall and over two hundred people attended. Daryl gave his dynamite hour long talk on infinity to reg'lar folks and they were a great audience. Afterwards there was a cheese and wine mingle sort of thing and then we were taken out to dinner by the organizers - a pair of dynamic, handsome, intelligent, young scientists.
Earlier in the day I explored Brisbane with my family, so it was a rather, long tiring day.
Today, Day 3, while Daryl is at his math conference, I'm hanging out with my 70 year old mother at my cousin's countryside home. We're alone. Everyone else took off for some amazing beach on some amazing island where the big activities are snorkelling feeding dolphins. I'm happy to be able to just relax and catch up with Mum.

31 October 2009

Adieu Summer!

Well, I resign myself to the arrival of a season whose beauty I simply cannot or perhaps will not see. I mean come on, what can be beautiful about shorter days and chilly mornings and those godawful colors - yellow, orange, brown? Not to mention fall's real purpose - ushering in winter?? So daylight savings ends tonight, and little goblins and ghosts and a few Michael Jacksons will come begging for candy. The farm stands are no longer selling heirloom tomatoes. My basil in the garden is shrinking. The hammock's been put away, the down comforter is out. Gotta get out my sweaters. Oh, what a drag.
But, the good news is that we'll be doing a southern hemisphere winter vacation this year. Thank goodness for rellies south of the equator! Mum turns 70 and we're getting her to her son in Sydney where we'll all converge for a huge celebration. Yippee!

Been a busy beginning of the school year, but things have settled down a lot. Enjoying my students - all 27 of them. Got a system in place to try to reach them all and make them enjoy their 3rd grade learning experience. Pleased that I have some sharp writers.

We managed to do a few fun things in the last couple months. We saw a terrific production of THE RAMAYANA, performed by a local group called Boxtales. They did a terrific job of presenting the story clearly, using a combination of straightforward dialogue as well as creative movement - dancing, acrobatics, etc. They were quite inventive using actors in acrobatic positions for stage props (like a chair). This story is quite a riveting one, you know. I remember hearing it all through my childhood. Seeing a stage production took me right back to the time when Mum used to tell us stories while ironing our clothes.

Another fun thing was my cousin, Jaya, from South Africa, visiting me for a week. Enjoyed showing her SB and LA. Made me realize what a long way I've come from that Ladysmith bumpkin I used to be as a kid. Apart from a vacation in Mauritius, Jaya hadn't done any traveling to speak of. Her timidity to explore new places was apparent, as would be expected from a novice. The two of us grew up together and were at uni at the same time. It was so much fun to catch up on our lives at delightful places like The Beach Cafe, sipping beer and watching the surfers, and The Coffee Bean beside a fire on the day it rained. The week went too fast. C'est dommage!

And now a frantic few weeks at school getting ready for parent teacher conferences and holiday projects. Then .... summer again - first in Brisbane, then Sydney.

26 September 2009

The book I just read

A hot September Saturday. An entire month of brutally hot days. Hard to believe that these are the dying days of summer. Had a terrific swim at the pool to start the day. Strange to say, we aren't frantically running around trying to get things done. I had time to read the paper. I know what's happening in the world - superficially, of course. G20 summit in Pittsburg, Obama and Brown blathering on about Iran, Ralph Nader has a great, fat book out, Michael Moore's new movie is about to descend, and the Republicans are still crazy. Oh yes, and Edwards fathered a child - OMFL!

Met with my new book club this week. Great group of ladies. Our book THE RELUCTANT FUNDAMENTALIST lent itself quite well to deconstructing. Everybody thought the book was good overall. It's the story of a man named Changez who grew up in Pakistan, then moved to the US where he graduated from Princeton and then went on to work for a successful company. Changez embraces America and a western lifestyle. He falls in love with a woman -Erica - who remains fixated on her dead boyfriend. September 11 happens and the books characters are so profoundly affected that their lives get turned around. Erica's mental state goes on a decline. Changez re-examines his identity and loyalties and finally makes the decision to return to Pakistan.

I expressed a dislike for the format of the story, where the narrator tells his experiences to an American traveler, whose voice we do not hear in the book. Linda, who hosted the meeting, agreed with me. She said she found it irritating. But most of the others weren't bothered by this style and actually enjoyed it. Somebody pointed out the significance of the choice of names - Erica, meaning America - and therefore the character representing America. Changez, representing change - brought on by 9/11. So, of course, the unfulfilled, frustrating romance between Erica and Changez was a metaphor for the relationship between the US and Pakistan (?) or could it be the muslim world?
We mused about Changez' persistance in pursuing the elusive, unavailable Erica. Was it because he was used to succeeding in everything he set out to get, and couldn't concede failure? Or was it simply a plot device for the metaphor to be effective?
Then there was the business of the ending. Who killed whom? Why was this left unclear?

Well, a good book all in all. The style of telling the story didn't work for me. I found it dry. boring. But the theme of wrestling with identity is one I enjoy. Great insights and well framed thoughts on this in the book.

12 September 2009

New School Year!

I'd like to have my blog be more current, but I don't have anything wonderful to say! Oops! The garage. Yes, yes, Daryl has done a phenomenal job with our garage. It's now so clean and organized it's easily the best part of the house. There's even a sink in there now ... No, no, don't let your imagination get you too carried away ...

School - three weeks of it - three pretty, bloody insane weeks. There's a level of stress permeating our school that is suffocating the fun out of teaching. It's all to do with No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Our school didn't meet the required goals. Well, duh! How can you expect to go up by 10 percentage points every year? If this not reaching the goals trend continues we'll get that humiliating label too - Program Improvement!! We will have - shudder, shudder - PI status. OMG! We can't let that happen.
We, teachers, shame on us, we didn't work hard enough; hence our scores. We better pull up our socks and devote every waking moment to performing miracles. We've got to figure out the right potions. We've got to learn magic. We've got to - what? Turn to the supernatural? I can't tell you how awful it is to feel so unappreciated. Why doesn't someone have the guts to point out the absurdity of NCLB?? All kinds of ridiculous assessments pile up. Between figuring out what they are, how to administer them, and then actually doing them, I've got even less time to get to know my students and to make learning enjoyable to them.

Anyway, on the bright side, I have a sweet group of 27 kids. They seem motivated and eager to learn. Hopefully, things will settle down and I'll be able to enjoy them soon.

22 August 2009

Summer vacation comes to an end

I should post a blog - it's been a while. Don't know quite know what to say, though. I'm not feeling my best. My ears have been plugged for the last two weeks. It's awful. I went to a doctor in England - my first experience with the NHS (very positive) - and he explained that a buildup of mucus is putting pressure on my Eustachian tubes. So I can't hear well, and my voice sounds like it's coming from the bottom of a steel drum. He prescribed a nasal spray, which I faithfully used, but nothing changed. Back home in Santa Barbara I went to my GP who came up with the same diagnosis, but told me that my plane flight put me back to square one as far as recovery. He prescribed an assortment of pills. Now, my whole body feels strange to me. For somebody who is rarely in poor health, this experience is very frustrating. It makes me realize how important good health is.

It's my last weekend of summer vacation. Monday school starts and guess what, I have 29 students on my roll. That's right. 29. Well, I'm a world citizen. I know what it's like in the real world. I realize how privileged we have been the last 13 years with class sizes of 20 kids. So, I'm not going to complain. But, I'm going to have to learn how to adjust.
I don't feel ready yet to be in the classroom. Even though I had a fab summer vacation, somehow it feels like it wasn't long enough to really feel like last year was last year. Anyway, I'm going to work really hard this weekend to get psyched up and excited about teaching. I do love my job. I'm not one of those who counts the days till the year is over. But the first week is definitely not my favorite. I like to work hard to get the kids jazzed about school and their new grade. But, with the way I'm feeling I don't know how I'm going to manage.

Our trip across the pond was great overall. Of course there were a few negatives. Like the weather in England. My goodness, in the two weeks we were there we must have had about 3 sunny days. Summer is summer, though. Mild temperatures, long hours of daylight - so we certainly were able to do lots of fun things. When we got back from France we spent a few days in Kenilworth (near Warwick University) with our friends, David and Rona Epstein. We did some beautiful walks. My favorite thing about England is getting out into the countryside for long walks. It's always so rewarding. Green meadows, sheep and cows, rivers, canals, great English oak trees, 'conka' trees, and always a charming teahouse not too far away. That's my second favorite thing about England. Being able to go out for a decent tea in the afternoon. It comes steaming hot in little teapots with warmed cups. Then there are freshly baked cakes and scones to accompany your tea. Clotted cream and jam for the scones. Yum, yum. Kenilworth is near Stratford on Avon -Shakespeare country. A lot of the architecture is Tudor which I find delightful.

After Kenilworth we returned to London for the last days of our trip. We decided to go around the city and absorb what we could. So we strolled through the usual places - Leicester Square, Soho - where we lunched at a Chinese/Thai restaurant (fine, wholesome food) - Chinatown, Trafalgar Square, the Mall, onto St. James's Park, Westminster Abbey, Parliament Buildings, across the bridge to the south bank of the Thames, and past the London Eye and hordes of tourists. The south bank along this stretch toward the Tate Museum has become quite the tourist hub. There's a whole lot of entertainment - like the type you find in Venice Beach, CA and in San Francisco near Fisherman's Wharf. Buskers, people trying to be statues, magicians, clowns, the works. When we got the National Theatre Daryl decided we should try to get tickets for a play that evening. We decided to see "The Observer", a play about a group of journalists and external observers sent to monitor presidential elections in a west African country. It was a great production with the usual themes of African countries resentful of the west's insensitive criticisms. The National Theatre has a reputation for fine theatre. We aren't into musicals so didn't do any of those.
On our last day in London we went for a walk along Regent's Canal - from Camden Town to Regent's Park. It's a lovely walk and on a Saturday morning lots of people do this walk. When we went home Angie had prepared a huge feast for lunch. Her friends, Suzie and Richard, and her sister (my cousin) Jay, joined us. We spent a most enjoyable afternoon of great conversation and sumptuous Indian food. Later, when everyone left, Daryl and I took one last walk across Hampstead Heath. We stopped on Parliament Hill to see London's skyline and tried to name what we saw: the BT tower, the London Eye, the 'Gerkin', the skyscapers of 'The City', Canary Wharf, St. Paul's Cathedral, and Chrystal Tower. I hated the thought of leaving this great city. But, I was ready for my home in Santa Barbara.

06 August 2009

French Riviera

Hi Folks, I'm back in England at the home of our dear friends, David and Rona Epstein, in Warwick (Kenilworth). We had the most amazing time in Italy and France, but because of a lack of Internet access I couldn't update my blog or Facebook. No Internet is seriously a drag. However, our days were so full I probably wouldn't have had the time anyway. Last week, while in Antibes, I had a few minutes to scribble down some thoughts which were saved in a draft: Here's what I wrote:

Hey there, sorry for the long delay in update. Though I have to say, there isn't exactly time for an update right now. That darn Mediterranean is just meters away and is so irresistable.... Bought a bloody fashionable bathing suit in Nice yesterday - a bikini, of course - will post glamor shots soon. Anyway, on the beach today, I thought, dang, I looked so fashionable - in my lime green and brown bikini with a belt around the waist, and stuff. I really looked cool. Honest to god. Anyway, I'm at a cafe right now sipping Rose - pink wine - 'cos that's what you do here. It's hot. God, it's sweltering. The sky bright, bright blue, the Med. azure and calm and warm.

Since leaving England last week our days have been busy, busy, busy. Really hard to find time to do email and blogs and things. Suffice it to say, we are having the time of our lives.

Last week we were in Verona, Italy to see opera. Let me tell you, if you haven't experienced watching opera at this amazing ancient arena, you must add it to your list of must do's. First of all watching opera with Italians whose passion for this is so obvious is an experience all by itself. In fact, when the tenor sang Nessun Dorma during Turandot, the audience began singing along. Then there was a demand to repeat the aria. so, guess what, the tenor moved to center stage and sang Neesun Dorma all over again. The audience loved it, seemed drunk with joy. But apart from the uber- enthusiastic audience, the venue itself is sheer magic. And the stage set up - OMG - breathtaking. This is living.

End of draft!!!

When I have a few minutes more I'll describe briefly our last days on the Cote d'Azure. We stayed in a lovely hotel in Ville Franche Sur Mer. From our room we had gorgeous views of the sea. We sipped champagne on our balcony as we watched yachts bopping on the water. But more about this later.

The next day or two we'll be in Kenilworth, then it's back to London for a couple days. We return to Santa Barbara on Sunday.

24 July 2009

Great Weather - not where I am!

I'm in Cambridge at Troy's. The weather outside - you guessed it - is grey, drizzly, cool. Just had some champagne to celebrate being together with Troy after two years. Troy is making lasagna for dinner. We're listening to Jason's band. Marie is one of the background singers. Today was quite a full day. It started with a drive into Wembley. Angie, her friends, Suzie and Richard, and Daryl and I got in the car and with the helpful guidance of our GPS found Ealing Road in Wembley. We could easily have believed we were in India. OMG! All the stores carried colorful, wonderful Indian stuff - saris, spices, the works. Lots of fresh produce places too with some pretty exotic veggies. We had masala tea and Indian snacks at a vegetarian restaurant. Wow! It was all sooo good.

After lunch we left London and went back to Bury St. Edmunds to see Bob Tapson, Daryl's grammar school math teacher. We had a good old chat with him, then drove back to Cambridge where we had to part with our rental car.

Last night, we had a delicious meal at our favorite vegetarian restaurant in London. It's called Peking Palace - a Chinese place - on Holloway Road near the Archway Tube station. Our Historian friend, Debra, from Santa Barbara who is in London for most of the summer, joined us. We walked across Hampstead Heath to get to the restaurant. The rain had stopped and the sky cleared up briefly while we walked. The heath was fantastic, the air so fresh and sweet. The food at Peking Palace was superb as usual. Afterwards, back at Angie's flat, we sipped Bailey's and sang London's praises.

23 July 2009

Summer holidays

So what have we been up to? Lots and lots. London is just the most exciting city. Just strolling its streets and parks is so goddamm entertaining. Yesterday (Wednesday) we walked and walked - from Hampstead to Primrose Hill, through its gorgeous park, took a moment to enjoy the view of London's skyline, then on through Regent's Park, where the roses in full bloom provided heady scents. This brought us to Marylebone, where we strolled along the High Street to Baker Street on to Oxford Street. Whiled away some time at Selfridges, then made our way to Soho in search of Moaz Falafel. Soho was wonderfully atmospheric, Carnaby street and area all too twee, and the cafes and pubs overflowing. We gorged on Moaz Falafels - delicious as was expected, then bought a Myrtille Tart from Paul's bakery (French) next door. Next we decided to take in some culture so we went to the British Museum, where we spent a few hours enjoying their Greek, Roman, and Egyptian collections. The Parthenon Collection (Elgin Marbles) was my highlight. It amused me to see all these flyers in the gallery defending their right to hold on to these friezes rather than return them to Greece where they belong. Daryl enjoyed seeing the Rosetta Stone for the first time.

After the museum we were quite exhausted. So we hopped on Bus 24 and sat upstairs at the front. Ooh, did that feel good. At home we collapsed for about an hour. I had volunteered to make dinner, on account of having brought loads of vegetables acquired from Suffolk gardens and Marie in Cambridge. I made Courgette crepes and a green salad. We had a special ale brewed in Bury St. Edmunds (where whe bought it) with the meal. Quite satisfying, I have to say.
After dinner we went to the theatre. Aren't we just so civilized? Angie had bought us tickets for a South African play - Koos Sas - which was performed at the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn. The production was outstanding. I enjoyed every single moment of it. The main character was a Khoi San - indigenous to the Karoo region of SA - and the play's theme was the abuse and exploitation suffered by this group. What was funny was that the entire play was in Afrikaans with English supertitles. If anyone had a prejudice toward the language of Afrikaans, this play provided a cure. The play was extremely critical of the attitudes of the colonisers, especially the Afrikaans speakers, and fully sympathetic with the Khoi San. After the play we had drinks at the bar where the actors showed up and we got to chat with them a bit. Quite interesting to engage in a discussion about a group of people who are largeley ignored in history books.

Today we are going to have a much more easygoing day.

21 July 2009

London (after Cambridge)

Being on vacation is hard work. For instance, I have just minutes to scribble this post. It's Tuesday morning. I'm in London at my cousin, Angie's, flat near Hampstead Heath. It's grey outside. We're about to take a walk into Camden Town. Last night Angie prepared the most delicious meal I have ever eaten. She made a biryani served with green beans in a curry sauce, eggs in a tomato/tamarind sauce, sauteed calabash, and carrots in yogurt. OMG! We had a Nederberg Sauvignon (South African) to accompany this. Dessert was pears poached in red wine with cardomom and cinnamon flavors. Angie's friend Suzie joined us so we had great company and conversation too.

In Cambridge on Saturday evening we had dinner with our friends Meena and Emanuel, whom we met in Cape Town a few years ago. The weather was pretty decent so we ate outside in their lovely garden. They prepared an Italian feast (Emanuel is Italian) and served excellent wine from the Verona area. Other friends of theirs were there too. It was great fun getting to know them. The conversation kept going to South Africa - all of us had some connection to the country. We raved about Cape Town's beauty and vibrancy and then expressed our great regret about the crime and poverty. C'est dommage!

Sunday, despite waking up to drizzly skies, we stuck to our decision to go punting. We prepared a picnic and off we went. The weather kept improving and it turned out to be a wonderful day out on the River Cam. Sailing along and drinking in the beauty of the trees and bushes flanking the river was quite magical. Jason and Daryl were quite the heroes, punting furiously, and getting us all the way to Grantchester. Midway along Jason opened up a bottle of champagne and got out the strawberries. Now let me tell you, if you haven't sipped French champagne and munched on strawberries (Sweet, juicy, English) while relaxing on a punt as it sails along the River Cam on an English summer's day, you haven't lived!!! I invite you to share experiences that can match this.
The two kids, Luc and Kristal, were thoroughly enjoying it all too. We were ont eh boat all of four hours. We would have got out for a tea at Grantchester, but for an overprotective family of Swans who wouldn't let us get past them. Oh well!

Yesterday, Monday, we went into Suffolk, to the villages where Daryl grew up. We visited his Grammar school in Bury St. Edmunds and strolled through the Abbey GArdens. An excellent cream tea in Bury kept our tummies happy for a long while. The day was peaceful and it was a real treat to take in the countryside. All lush and quite pretty. A walk through the fen across from Willow House (where Daryl was born) was splendid indeed.

Today we will be spending hte afternoon with our dear friends, Roger and Gil. Right now, I'm dashing off to Camden Town.

18 July 2009

Vacation at last!

Quick! We had lunch at a pub called The Hat and Feathers? What country am I in?

I had mushroom stroganoff (mediocre), and Daryl had a veg burger (also mediocre) which came with chips. I mean real chips - fat, freshly fried - sprinkled with malt vinegar. It was so good that Daryl scarfed it down in seconds much to my annoyance! I had to resort to 'stealing' chips from two kids - our two year niece, Chrystal - adorable little thing, and seven year old Luc (also adorable, but brainy is his signature quality). Imagine that!

As I write this - Saturday late afternoon in Cambridge, England, the sky is turning grey. It was mostly blue today, but a tad cool. We are staying with Jason, Marie, and their two little 'uns, Luc and Chrystal. Their house is beautiful - very modern, spacious, with a terrific gardern. Marie is passionate about her garden and the design of it is pretty awesome. Many vegetable planters - triangular in shape - are full of the healthiest plants ever - red onions, beans, zucchini, and other squashes. This is so inspiring. The house, out in the countryside, has many big windows and French doors to provide lovely views of the open fields and greenery.

Tonight we meet up with some friends for dinner and tomorrow we'll be punting on the River Cam.

06 July 2009

4th of July Weekend

Wow! I'm just getting out of my zombie state. Went to bed past midnight four nights in a row. We sure had an action packed weekend even though we didn't leave town. The fun started on Thursday evening when Premi, Sri, Daryl, and I packed a scrumptious picnic dinner and drove up to Solvang to see Les Miserable. PCPA is a consistently top notch theater company and they certainly didn't disappoint with this wonderful musical production. Excellent atmosphere under the stars, perfect temperature (only slightly chilly), and superb acting. I thought they did a terrific job of transporting the audience into 19th century Paris and into the lives of characters that tugged at your heartstrings. There are few better ways to start a holiday weekend - especially since Daryl and I worked so hard all week on our projects.

On Friday evening we had our friends Phil and Melinda over for dinner. They have just returned from Barcelona and the Costa Brava and wanted to shared their fun experiences with us. The evening got a little exciting when Phil criticized Obama for not being more vocal about the Iranian elections. Daryl, a passionate Obama supporter, popped a few buttons. In my skillful way I managed to steer the conversation back to the Spain trip. Premi and Sri were with us too and Phil and Melinda enjoyed getting to know them. For dinner we had a selection of salads. I made my favorite summer pesto salad. In a pesto sauce you toss steamed red potatoes, steamed french beans, ripe, juicy tomatoes, and olives. It is a guaranteed success. I also made an edamame salad and an orzo salad. Premi made a garbanzo bean salad which was delicious.

Saturday, 4th of July, the sun appeared early (the fog disappeared by 9:00) and the weather was stunning. We had a terrific dinner party in our garden. No traditional barbecue since most of us are vegetarian. Our dear friends Bruce Hale and his wife Janette, came over and made us champagne cocktails. Olivia brought exquisite vegan appetizers - spinach and tofu inside philo pastry. Premi made lentil samoosas. Janette provided the dessert - Thai sticky rice (white and purple) served with fresh mango. Sheer bliss for the tastebuds! That Janette is one awesome lady. We ate, drank, and talked and talked and laughed and shared our stories - funny, sad, neutral. We had fun.

Yesterday Premi and Sri decided to have a 'braai' - a South African tradition. So the meat eaters had lamb cooked over charcoal and the vegetarians had soya sausages. We had baked beans salad and potato egg salad with this. We finished off the evening with the movie 'Doubt' - a bluray disc which we saw on our plasma screen.
The movie was fascinating. Superb acting by Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour. It was one of those movies where everyone has his/her own interpretation. Was the priest a pedophile or not? Was the harsh, rigid principal right or was she way off the mark? There are no clear answers. And on that note of doubt the holiday weekend came to an end.

My goals for this week are to polish up my novel THE STARS ARE DIFFERENT IN DURBAN and to send it off to to three editors.

01 July 2009

Summer Holidays

Six months of '09 are over! OMG! Almost a month of summer vacation over too. In two weeks we'll be off to the Old World. July 16 we fly to London. We'll divide our time between London and Cambridge the first week. Then off to Stockport (near Manchester) for a sort of family get together and birthday celebration for Glynis. On July 28 we fly to Milan, and drive to Verona where we'll indulge in a couple of operas at the outdoor arena. We have tickets for AIDA and Turandot. Should be fun.
August 1 - 8 we'll be enjoying the French Riviera or Cote d'Azur. Ah yes, swimming in the Med., sipping wine at the cafes, shopping at the markets, and oh, all that beauty. It's going to be great.

Meanwhile, I spend my days writing, or rather revising an old manuscript. Summer in Santa Barbara is hard to beat. I love the warm days, the long, long evenings, getting together with our wonderful friends, the farmer's markets, and gardening.

It's funny how my teaching job fades into the past when summer vacation rolls around. I have to say last year was one of my best teaching years. I do love 3rd grade. I connect with this grade much better than any other. Last year I had a group of kids who were nice people, who wanted to learn, who were well mannered, and who were surprisingly responsible. I could tell right from the first day that they were going to be an easy group. They did their work without asking annoying questions. They kept their name labels on their desks neat. They brought in their homework. They took their work seriously. What more could a teacher want?

I know it's going to be a whole more challenging next year. With 25 kids in the classroom there is no way I'll be able to give them the individual attention necessary to get them working at their best. With 20 kids, every child, including the advanced ones, were able to get quality time from me. It's a pity this is now a thing of the past.

Anyway, the main problem we're facing is the job losses. So many teachers have been laid off and many of them won't get their jobs back. It's s depressing to think about all the cuts we will have to face next year because of the state of California's economy.

I guess I'll just try to enjoy each moment of vacation and not think about the fall.

27 June 2009

End of June

Saturday morning. Sun already up. All week the mornings have been grey with the sun appearing midday or later. Typical of coastal California. Our evening tend to be quite perfect - sunny, warm, calm - so can't really complain about yucky mornings. I've just finished week 3 of summer vacation. Loving every minute of it.
School is becoming more and more distant. I did indeed have a terrific year. What a precious group of 3rd graders. So sweet, motivated, polite, but energetic. Next year will definitely not be as good. For one thing, we will be having larger classes - no less than 25 kids. No way I can provide the quality education possible with a smaller group. C'est dommage. but the budget problems are serious - a real crisis. Many teachers have been laid off, including many tenured teachers who have taught close to ten years. Hopefully most of the tenured folks will be hired back.

This week I got into my writing and actually did a fair amount of work. So that feels good. I always like to read books with strong writing and with content that is close to my subject matter. BLOOD ORANGE by Troy Blacklaws, an excellent memoir of a white South African, and Evelyn Waugh's BRIDESHEAD REVISITED are my current books of choice. In both cases the stories start out in places I know well - Muizenberg and Oxford. It's wonderful to read excellent descriptions of places familiar to me.

The last couple of days I was a bit saddened by the death of Michael Jackson. I liked his music, though not as passionately as my brother, Kalvin, did. I remember when I first moved to California MJ moved into his Neverland Ranch in the Santa Ynez Valley and on my first trip back to SA I told Kalvin that I lived near MJ. Kalvin was rolling on his bed in pain because of a toothache. He must have been around 14 or 15. As soon as he heard me talk about living not too far from MJ's ranch he sat up and instantly forgot about his toothache. He wanted all the details I could give him about MJ.

The day's chores beckon - pool, garden, food shopping, etc.

16 June 2009

Indian South Africans - who are we?

On Saturday evening we went to a party in the Hollywood hills of LA. The hosts, RayAnn and Devan, were a charming, attractive couple from South Africa. A significant percentage of the guests were South African Indians who live in various parts of California. RayAnn and Devan have a beautiful house with a sort of Hollywood modern interior design and decor. Spacious, open plan, lots of glass sliding doors for views, stainless steel appliances, etc. Beautiful paintings of South African scenes hung on their walls. I found out that the artist was a friend of the hosts. An enormous deck provided sweeping views of the hills and city skyline. The excellent meal was catered by a Greek Restaurant. Definitely, a terrific party, very organized, loads of great food, and it was a lot of fun to get to know new people.

But ... South African Indians always manage to stir up a mixture of sentiments in me. On the one hand it's wonderful to interact with people who take me right back to what is special to me. Yet, at the same time all my resentment for the community that raised me surfaces. Don't get me wrong. I really liked the folks I met. They were genuine, sincere, and warm. The type you know you can turn to when you need a friend. But, somehow, I can't help an awareness of the absence of certain characteristics that I value. I'm aware of too much attention to appearances, and too little to deeper issues. I'm also aware of the identity conflict we, South African Indians, struggle with. A minority group, raised in a western country, but surrounded by a third culture - African. What are we? We hate our Indiannness at times, but embrace aspects of it at other times. We hate the whites of South Africa, but we ape them in many ways. We claim to love the Zulu culture, but the evidence is absent.

These reflections of Indians of South Africa reminded of a conversation I'd had with my friend, Sri, a little over a year ago.

I remember saying to him over a bottle of Fat Tire Beer, how ashamed I was of being an Indian from South Africa. “I have a very low opinion of them.” He grinned – and his gentle brown eyes reflected both amusement and amazement. I remember Daryl sitting between us and not saying anything. He was too exhausted from digging holes and mixing concrete in the brutal heat earlier in the day when the temperature hovered around 90 degrees. The hottest April day in Santa Barbara on record. This was of course, 2008.

Sri and Premi had just returned from a trip to South Africa. It was Sri’s first time there (he grew up in Tamil Nadu and Premi in Durban), and he was still reeling from what he’d seen. After a reflective pause, Sri said, “I can’t get over all the BMW’s I saw coming into the lot on the wedding day. He shook his head in disgust. “How materialistic. And so insensitive to all the poverty around.”
I sat up, the hackles on my neck rising. My being critical of my people was one thing. I grew up in the community. I knew their history, their struggles and their challenges. But someone who only just learned of the existence of these people had no right man, no right. “When I say I have a low opinion of them,” I said, “I didn’t mean that there’s nothing good to say about them. The wealth that you saw – it wasn’t something that was handed to them. Indians in South Africa, despite the oppressive environment in which they grew up, despite apartheid, were able to make the most of the little they were given. They had access to education – inferior though it was – and worked hard. It’s remarkable that there is so little poverty among Indians. As a teacher here in Santa Barbara I find it so strange that the Latino community doesn’t capitalize on what they’re given, like the Indians of SA did.”
Premi, eager to add her two cents, brought a plate of chili bites that she’d just fried, to the table. She had just taken up a job with the county as a social worker. “You know, that’s exactly what I’ve been thinking. I find it shocking that the low income families here get so much help and their kids have such great opportunities. They get to go these good public schools and the teachers work so hard, but they just don’t seem to appreciate what they have.”
Daryl grunted. This isn’t PC, he was trying to say (spouses, as you know can read each other’s minds, finish each other’s sentences, etc.), but his brain and vocal cords weren’t in sync. All that heat, and him being English and all.
I wanted to continue Premi’s criticisms. I mean, as a public school teacher as well as a product of a hardworking low income community, I am constantly flummoxed by the Latino phenomenon. It’s a sensitive topic. Nobody wants to sound racist. Everyone wants to make excuses and find intellectual explanations for the poor performance of our minority kids. Society gets most of the blame. So, I chose to veer away from the topic and asked about her impressions of South Africa after having been away for six years.

Anyway, back home in Santa Barbara, as I reflect on my background, I'm filled with gratitude. I am able to see the world and the people I meet from a perspective that gives me greater understanding.

Whew! That was only Chapter 1 of the weekend. Wait till you hear about Sunday!

15 June 2009

The summer begins ....

Blimey, it sure has been a long time. Lots has happened since the Jesusita fire. Lots. I will not, however, bore my loyal blog followers (yes, yes, I do have those, you know - not many. OK, a number less than 5 if I must really be honest. Still, it's more than my Twitter followers, which is still greater than the number friends on Facebook who bother to look at my profile!)) with boring details. I'll try to stick only to the sensational.

Today felt like the real Day 1 of summer vacation. I started my day with a latte, the NYT, and then a swim, followed by a hot tub soak and a few minutes in the steam room. Now, is there a better way to start the day? It's been such a long time since I was able to have a leisurely start to my day.

Last week, the first week of summer vacation, we were in San Francisco, then Yosemite. Lilli, our niece from Cambridge, came out to California to celebrate the end of exams and secondary school. We tried to show her a good time in SF by making her walk her legs off. We meandered through Golden Gate Park which has beautiful gardens and meadows and little forests. We absorbed the lively, alternative atmosphere of Haight-Ashbury. Then we took the scenic drive up Twin Peaks for a panoramic view of SF. Continuing on the drive we got onto the coast and discovered a fabulous trail with amazing views of the Golden Gate Bridge. We had wine at Buena Vista Cafe, then dined at our old favorite, Greens Restaurant, from where we watched the sun setting behind the Golden Gate Bridge. The previous evening we had dinner at another favorite, Dosa, on Filmore. This place serves up Indian food that really satisfies in every way. So, we had a fun weekend. San Francisco definitely takes on a different atmosphere in the summer compared to winter. Lots more people are up and about having a good, old time.

On Monday morning we drove to Yosemite, and were lucky to get a campsite in the valley - after some effort and waiting around. it was all worth it, though. To get up in the morning and be greeted by the gorgeous granite monoliths of Yosemite is quite special. But the campground was enormous and filled with people. Not the best way to enjoy nature and the wilderness. Daryl made a scrumptious chili and we ate heartily. The next morning we awoke early and set out for Half Dome. The first third of the trail was quite stunning especially when we got to the waterfalls. So much green, and water, and the sheer slopes of the stunning mountains. The strong scent of pine everywhere. Birdsong in the air. The sun was out, but the air temperature a bit cool - perfect for hiking. We were in high spirits the whole time. For lunch we had bread, left over chili, cheese, trail mix and a dessert of cherry pie. Yes, we are well.
We made great progress and then we came to the last bit. First, we had to climb up hundreds of steps carved into a fairly steep slope. This was not easy, especially when the trail narrowed and it seemed like there was just emptiness on either side of the steps! Not something you would do if you had a fear of heights. After the steps the cables started. I quit at this point. Daryl and Lili continued, hoping to get tot he very top of Half Dome. They gave up at the very last stretch. So, we felt good that we had done all but the last bit of the trail.
Going down was easy, but we were tired. We had walked up 8 miles and now we had to descend those 8 miles. We got back to the valley around 7:30 - about 11 hours after we had started. Luckily we weren't camping that night. We drove out of the park in search of a motel. We found a rather cute one in Fish Camp. The restaurant at the motel made us vegetarian pasta which we devoured. Fish Camp was surprisingly chilly. We had to turn the heating on in our room. After hot showers we slept like logs.

So, talk about starting vacation with a bang!!

As if that wasn't enough, we returned home to a fully scheduled weekend. More on that later!

10 May 2009

The Fire is Almost Out!

It's Mother's Day and I started the day with a call to my dearest mum. With the fire under control and everyone back in their homes I woke up feeling great. Then chatting with Mum I felt even happier. She was treated to home made roast lamb and salads by her daughter in law, Risha. Pam and I sent her flowers so she's having a pretty good day.
Here in Santa Barbara, the weather has cooled down a whole lot and we are all so, so delighted about it. We spent the morning sweeping out ash and unpacking boxes. Sadly, homes were destroyed by this fire, but not as many as feared - I think a little over 30. The last fire - the Tea Fire - in November took down close to 200 homes. So even though the Jesusita Fire (named after a trail where the fire started - and is not meant to be Jesus it's a fire!) was so much more of a battle it wasn't as destructive as the previous fire.
It was such a good feeling today to think about normal things - like international news and summer vacation and read Maureen Dowd's column and view a clip of Obama's funny speech at the WH press dinner last night, etc.
Only 3 serious weeks of school left. I can't believe it. Am I ready for summer?
Have a great week, folks!

08 May 2009

Trying to survive another fire!

Things are pretty bleak out here in Santa Barbara. A thick cloud of smoke hangs over our city and its been raining ash all morning. Outside the air is smoky and hot and dry. We have to stay indoors with windows and doors closed. Those of us lucky enough to still have a home, that is. I'm among the lucky group that hasn't lost a home, or has had to evacuate. But we are in the warning zone, so the order to evacuate could come at any moment. It's a miserable feeling. We've got our important stuff packed and some change of clothes. Beyond that - I find it really hard to decide what to try to save. It's quite a weird feeling to contemplate the real possibility that everything you own could be turned to ash.

This fire that rages through Santa Barbara is called the Jesusita Fire. It started on Tuesday - May 2 - just as I was dismissing my students. One of them pointed to the cloud of smoke on the slope in front of us. "Look, Ms. Moodley, looks like a fire." And yes, it was - a monster of a fire tearing through our hills and heading into the neighborhoods. The extreme heat and dryness and evening sundowners conspired together and the fire has spread and grown and now its destructions stretches from Montecito to Goleta. All schools are closed, roads have been blocked off, events have been cancelled - it's awful.

Last night, as the winds picked up the fire turned fierce and raced in our direction. We had to pack up and be prepared to evacuate. Of course, we couldn't sleep because there was so much uncertaintly about the fire. There was a very real possibility we would have to evacuate in the middle of the night. Thankfully, we didn't need to.
Today, I'm wrecked from lack of sleep and worry. When is this nightmare going to end? The one positive thing is that our lives aren't in any danger. We will definitely have enough time to get to a safe place if the fire gets too close.

06 May 2009

Smoldering Santa Barbara

Another fire devours our mountain slopes. The fourth major one in less than two years. This is getting old. My school is closed today because of the fire. Our second "fire" day this year. Many of my students had to be evacuated from their homes last night. Fortunately, we aren't in any danger where we live so no need to prepare for evacuations. It seems that things are under control now - twenty hours after is all started.

So, on another topic, Daryl and I are proud to say that we have been working hard to help the economy. We have just bought a huge flat screen TV, an iPod Touch, and a Blu-ray player, to name just a few of our purchases. We feel smug about this - the act of purchasing, that is. In fact, we might even be accused of, ahem, dare I say it, patriotism! I have to say, this consumerist behavior is all rather discombobulating, though. We agonize over how to offset our carbon footprints each time we watch a DVD on the monster screen. The guilt - oh the guilt .... Someday, perhaps when these gadgets are passe, we'll be able to enjoy them.

Is it really the last month of school? I'm not counting the days. It's May, ffs. My absolute favorite month of the year. Here, in Santa Barbara, there's beauty all over. Our mountain slopes are still green and flowers are in bloom everywhere. The purple jacaranda flowers are gorgeous. And what a pleasure to shop at farmer's market. Fava beans, asparagus, basil, peas - yum, yum. Goodbye lentils and dried beans and soups. Our friends, Brangwyn and Stephan taught me how to make this delicious fava bean spread flavored with mint and lemon juice and served with warm pita. It's a winner!

At school, I'm having the best time ever with my 3rd graders. I adore them all. They love learning and are so eager to please. Sometimes, I feel guilty about working them too hard. I tend to raise the bar a tad high and I know I ought to relax a bit regarding my expectations. At the moment we are working on a play/musical. This is an established third grade event at my school and whoever came up with the idea - I salute you. What a great way to maintain enthusiasm as the school year winds down. Out play is called TIDEPOOL CONDOS. It's the story of how Poseidon persuades a realtor not to build condominiums on the beach. Cute, funny, with songs the kids love singing. So we're having fun.

Now, if only my writing life would flourish! I need to place my historical fiction with some nice publisher and finish my current project asap!!

20 April 2009

Busy, busy spring

Quick, quick post to give family and friends an update. It's a sizzling day in Santa BArbara. Can hardly move. Is it going to another scorching summer this year? Yesterday we saw The Valkyries at the LA OPera. It was magnificent. I'm not crazy about Wagner. But I'm glad we made ourselves go see this second installment of The Ring Cycle. Placido Domingo as Siegmund was utterly incredible. Oh, he was amazing. What a treasure we have here in Southern California! An altogether awesome production. But long - 4 hours long!

We have friends/colleagues visiting and are trying to be good hosts. Stephan, Brangwyn and their adorable 4 month old are here from OZ. They will soon start living in Brisbane and we'll be seeing them there in December. Juan Porti from Barcelona is here too. So Daryl is having a merry old time thinking, eating, and breathing topology!!

School is winding down. Can you believe it? I have just a month left with my 3rd graders. next week they'll take the big California STAR tests. Hopefully they will be fine. Of course, I don't fret about stuff like this. I fret if I feel I haven't done enough fun stuff in class like poetry and music and art and literature!!

We're off to dinner with Stephan and Brangwyn, so ciao!!

31 March 2009

Spring break!

What luxury to wake up in the morning and know that the day is mine. I own it. I can choose to do whatever the heck I want. I actually feel like a human being. My morning coffee gets delivered to me while I'm still in bed listening to NPR's Morning Edition. After the caffeine boost I ease out of bed and spend the next half hour or so reading the New York Times.

And then my mood changes. I feel utterly helpless at the state of the world. What does it all mean? Am I allowed to smile? Can I just take it easy and enjoy the sunshine and the spring flowers? Or should I be doing something about the economy? Is Geithner a good guy or a bad guy? Why is Paul Krugman so critical? Is he really god? Obama - is he amking the right decisions? Are there right decisions? I can't stew about this. It's my spring break after all.
So, I push aside the news about GM and AIG and the G20 summit, and put on my bathing suit. Half an hour of swimming, then a soak in the spa, and relaxing in the steam room. Oh, what joy!

Back home I realize I have all the time in the world to catch up with email and read news blogs and peruse Facebook. I know what you're thinking. Aren't you working on a book, you ask??? FFS, don't I deserve a few days of pretending I have all the time in the world to do whatever I want?

Yes, yes, I'm about to get out my manuscript and work on the next chapter.

15 March 2009

The Ides of March Already!!

March has some cool dates - especially this year. There was square root day on 3/3/09. Then yesterday 3/14 was pi(e) day, and then today, of course, is the Ides. I looked at my last post and realized a whole lot has happened. I could be here for hours updating my blog - but, I've got only minutes to do this.

So, let's see, biggest news - we were in Washington, DC last week. It was my second time there and I have to say, it's one of the more interesting American cities - and definitely worthy of a visit. I took a couple days off work so I had a decent 4 days to take in the city. When I had arrived - in the morning - after a red-eye - I saw mounds of snow on the ground so I braced myself for chilly weather. But, to my surprise, the days were pleasantly warm and the evenings mild enough to drink and dine outdoors.

We sipped wine beside the harbor and watched the rowers sailing down the Potomac River. We had dinner in Georgetown on the first evening, then in Dupont Circle the next evening. On our third evening we came across an excellent middle eastern restaurant which served superb mezzes. We saw the usual sights along the National Mall, took in the museums, did a tour of the Capitol, etc. It was still very much winter in DC despite the unusual warmth. The trees were all bare, the grass was brown, and none of the fountains were running. Even the Reflection Pool between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument was drained out. In another month the cherry trees will be in full blossom and I'm sure the city will look beautiful.

Back in Santa Barbara meanwhile spring has arrived. When I opened our back door the first thing that hit me was the strong fragrance of wisteria, which is in full bloom. All the fruit trees are blossoming and the shrubs are green and lush with new growth. The California poppies and lupines are out and all over the landscape.

Switching to daylight savings time too early in the season has been a huge pain. I hate waking up in pitch darkness. Whose idea was this? And shouldn't we the citizens have a say in this?

At school my students are getting excited about St. Patrick's Day. They've been writing stories about leprechauns. I feel quite pleased when I see their stories. They know how to create good plots - it seems to come naturally to them. And I notice that they are always trying to do better and better. It's wonderful.

And now I have to dash off to the grocery store.

15 February 2009

Valumtime's Weekend!

Kids are so cute. I find myself smiling whilst going through my daily doings, thinking about the funny things the kids in my life say. I can't get my third graders to pronounce Valentine's correctly. But I guess I don't really try too hard because I love the way they say it. It sounds so innocent. I love their excitement about this holiday too. It's so achingly sweet. Heartache, heartbreak, rejection, unrequited love - it's all there waiting for them in the not too distant future. Inevitably a part of life's journey - and the lessons, though hard and cruel - will strengthen them, make them wiser, worldly, and better at equipped for life. But for now, what a treat it is for me to experience vicariously the pure innocence of childhood. So wrapped up was I in the kids and their excitement that when a colleague asked about my Valentine's Day plans I realized I hadn't even given it a thought. Aren't we a bit past that? She then proceeded to tell me about the gift she got her husband and I have to admit, it sounded such a juvenile thing to me - for people past middle age (she's past 60) to be exchanging Valentine's Day gifts. Daryl and I acknowledged the day by having a somewhat better than usual meal at home - roasted butternut squash and portobello mushroom risotto. For dessert I made a chocolate souffle served witha raspberry and Grand Marnier sauce. It was as delicious as it sounds, in case you're wondering!

At the moment I'm sitting by the fire o=in our living room. A storm is brewing. It's windy, grey and cold outside. We've had a pretty wet February so far and this storm is supposed to bring quite a downpour. After a dry and very mild January we are relieved that this isn't going to be another drought year. Two days ago we got a dusting of snow on the mountains near us. So it's been cold.

It's President's Day weekend. We get a 4 day weekend. Didn't go anywhere. Tried to do gardening chores - planted more fruit trees (Daryl's on a role!). And I really should be working on my manuscript.

08 February 2009

Birthday celebrations and things

On Friday evening we had our annual joint celebration of Daryl's and Adrienne's birthdays. And boy, did we celebrate! Bisi opened up his 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon from Buttonwood Winery in the Santa Ynez Valley. But there was a lighter wine with starters and then French champagne afterwards. I know this sounds quite crass in the current economic climate. But, believe me, the economy and the stimulus package was all we talked about. Leftist liberals that we are, we lamented the diluted Keynesian proposal the Obama folks have come up with. More spending, much more spending, like Paul Krugman says, we muttered, shaking our socialist heads. Bisi kept filling our glasses with the excellent wine and the conversation got increasingly animated.
The next morning - Saturday - I awoke with a vicious headache. I felt awful the entire day.

It was film festival week in Santa Barbara with hundreds of excellent movies in town. I don't go to them because of the crowds and endless lines and lousy seats you end up getting. But we miraculously got seats for a free showing of YES SIR, MADAM, a documentary about Kiran Bedi an Indian Police Commissioner. It was a terrific movie and got my mind off my hang-over.

We've had a wet, wet week. Yippee!!

01 February 2009

Post Inauguration

In the past I never had the least bit interest in the inauguration of a new president. But this year, like many millions around the world, I watched the entire ceremony. I watched it in my classroom with my third graders. It was all very touching. Every few minutes I'd tell my students, "You are watching history in the making, guys." They were completely captivated. They even patiently listened to Obama's speech which they thought was great but couldn't tell me what it was about. The rest of that school day my students practised pronouncing the word "inauguration".

In these early weeks I flinch each time there's a criticism of Obama. Timothy Geithner not paying taxes raised a few sharp words. Nobody wanted any of Obama's appointments to have bumps, but alas, it isn't to be so. Geithner is the best there is, folks are saying, and so his appointment as Treasury Secretary gets approved. Now Tom Daschle is found not to be squeaky clean either. Jeez!

The NYT had an article with some details about the stimulus package Obama is trying to get passed. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that a lot of the money will be used to help schools, universities, and other social programs. The NYT had a lot of enthusiasm for it, but was critical of the fact that there isn't any mention of money for high speed rail and other mass transportation programs. Well, it's already a hard sell to the Republicans.

Even though politics seems to dominate our conversations these days, we are definitely balancing our lives with other stuff too. Last weekend Daryl and I went to see Mozart's "The Magic Flute" performed by the LA Opera at the Dorothy Chandler Concert Hall. It was a terrific production. We spent the night in LA at a hotel - Mikayo - in Japantown. the hotel was reasonably nice, about a mile from Chandler - and the area filled with Japanese stores and restaurants quite interesting.

Later in the week I had some author friends of mine - Caroline Hatton, Alexis O'Neil, and Kate Hovey - over for dinner. They are all from the LA area and were the authors for an event called "Author-Go-Round" organized by Santa Barbara County schools. It was great to get my mind off teaching and to talk about writing. Caroline had told me about a YAbook called MANY STONES which is mostly set in South Africa. So we discussed the book a bit. She had a lot more enthusiasm for the book than I did. But, given that my current work in progress has some elements in common with MANY STONES I'm really glad to have read it.

We are spending the weekend arguing about fruit trees. Daryl went out and bought four fruit trees, and then decided to plant them in places that I, let's just say, found "unsuitable". So I huffed out of the garden and decided to update my blog!!

19 January 2009

MLK Weekend

It's mid-January and the temperature is in the mid 70's. It's been like this for 6 - 7 straight days - warm days, blue skies, summery. Weird! But I ain't complaining. I didn't say that. At least, I didn't mean that! Xmas holidays have faded into the past. The evenings are already getting longer and in Santa Barbara, just as we are ready to embrace winter, we see visible signs of spring. The daffodils have sprung out of the ground already! This is why I love this city. I hate this city too, but that's another story. If you think I'm contradicting myself, congratulations. You've detected my greatest personality flaw!
Heady days for us in the US. Finally, finally we get to shut the door on a most godawful administration. I remember so clearly eight years ago on the morning of Bush's inauguration I woke up engulfed in a black cloud of depression. Daryl's colleague, Juan Porti from Barcelona, was visiting and staying with us. When I went down for breakfast I said to him, "Today is a very sad day in America." I remember this so clearly. But I couldn't have guessed then just how terrible it was going to be. Four years ago for Bush's second inauguration I was thankfully far, far from home - in the antipodes!!
But this year I can't even describe the excitement. Tomorrow, as we embrace Barack Obama as our new president, it will truly be a day for celebration. I'm afraid I have to confess my expectations are high for this guy. When people say he is a moderate, a centrist, etc., I get annoyed. But that's not as bad as Daryl who gets very defensive over Obama's decisions.
(Daryl spent most of his spare time this new year refinishing our dining table. It looks superb! )

All the media are going on about the inauguration speech. Obama always impresses when he speaks and so expectations keep going up. I feel nervous for him. so many great speeches were made by previous presidents and he is expected to deliver a speech which will make history. Will he do it? I don't know.
I can hardly wait for tomorrow.