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The 2019 Nativity Scene at St.John's, East Malvern

Dear Friends,

Oh dear! I tried very hard to get this letter out within the 12 days of Christmas but I failed. Oh well, hopefully, you will have some more time to read it! Thanks to those of you who have sent emails or cards. It is lovely to receive them and to read about what you have been doing.

January was a quiet time in which to relax and recharge the batteries. There was the usual outing to Cape Paterson with Chris Hepworth to visit Prue Field at her holiday house. This time, we had an addition to our group, Barb McSkimming who used to be the Music Teacher at Chatham Primary. With Ann and Satoshi, I went to the Escher exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria. I have always enjoyed his artwork so I was very pleased to have the opportunity to see some of his original pieces. It was great to be allowed to take photos as we wandered through the various galleries.

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Ann and Satoshi admiring one of Escher's works

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Still Life with Mirror (1934)

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Hand with Reflecting Sphere (1935)

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Eye (1946)

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Sky and Water (1938)

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Waterfall (1961)

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Drawing Hands (1948)

There was also an opportunity to work on a jigsaw. Although it was not completed in January, we did manage to finish it eventually!

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Ravensburger Jigsaw: "The Christmas Cupboard" - all 1,000 pieces (including two pieces which were missing for some time until Satoshi laboriously went through the contents of the vacuum claner and found them!)

It was with some apprehension that I returned to school in late January. What would the new Principal be like? He turned out to be Chris Cotching who, many years ago, was the Assistant Principal at Chatham. He was also very involved in the Principals’ Union for a number of years. He has proven to be an excellent leader, keeping the parents under control and ensuring that Chatham was undertaking all expectations of the Department (which we had not been!) and ensuring that teachers’ workloads are “sustainable”. Although my class of 2019 was challenging, there were many well-behaved and eager-to-learn students within the group. I was privileged to have the help of Ann Geddes in the class once a week. I am so grateful for her willing and practical assistance. It makes a huge difference to have another adult in the room. At the end of this term, I made the decision to reduce my time at school and I am now working four days a week. Having Wednesdays “off” has made a huge difference - positive in every way with one exception - not so good for the bank balance!

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The Queen of Hearts and Sherlock Holmes (Book Week Parade!)

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We made chocolate balls to sell to raise funds for the Orangutans at the Melbourne Zoo. I was happy to provide the ingredients but, for some reason or other, I did not eat any of the products!

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A Sunflower grown in one of the school's garden beds

I was invited to the Cuckoo Restaurant to celebrate long-time friend Hildegard’s 90th birthday. This event included the usual splendid buffet meal and German-themed, slightly eccentric but lots-of-fun entertainment. The family who runs this iconic venue has put it up for sale. One can only hope that the buyer maintains its traditions.

During the holidays at the end of first term, I attended the Roes’ Church’s Annual Conference. As always, this was filled with thought-provoking lectures, hymn-singing, fellowship and good food, and I played the organ for some of the services. The Conference is held at a motel in Ballarat allowing us to visit Sovereign Hill and the Ballarat Botanical Gardens. The greenhouse in the gardens was filled with begonias of many different colours and styles.

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The stage of the Victoria Theatre at Sovereign Hill

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We were lucky enough to be able to enjoy a pantomime at the Victoria Theatre.

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Horse-drawn vehicles are always an attraction at Sovereign Hill.

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The view from the mine is quite impressive!

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Satoshi was fortunate enough to find some gold (an almost microscopic amount, sadly!)

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A resident Swamphen

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Some of the begonias in the greenhouse

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Of course there are plenty of flowers outside too!

Later in the same holidays, Jenny. Joan, Russell, Satoshi and I enjoyed a few days staying at Warburton. The Airbnb house we stayed in was comfortable but the pathway up to the house was very steep. This was a challenge for Joan and Russell but they managed magnificently. One of the highlights was a visit to the Redwood Forest, a plantation of Californian Redwood trees which are up to 100 metres tall. Although I had been to Warburton a number of times, I had not known about this wonderful place!

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You can see the size of this tree by comparing it to Satoshi!

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Without a reference point (such as the tiny person in the background) it is difficult to gauge the size of these magnificent trees.

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There were several of these rings. A lady told us that they were not created by human hands but by the spirits within the forest!

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The Carriage Cafe at Seville was a great place for breakfast. It was very popular so we had to wait quite a while for our meals to arrive.

Russell has an abiding interest in the small town of Bealiba because he used to visit his grandma there during his teens. We took him back there to enable him to attend the town’s ANZAC Day ceremonies. His father and uncle served in World War I and their names are inscribed on the town’s memorial. This visit gave us the chance to eat at my favourite restaurant, Caroline’s of Carisbrook. When I phoned to make a booking, I found that the owner had suffered a stroke a few months beforehand and the restaurant had been closed up to that point. As we are long-standing customers, they offered to open just for us as long as we didn’t mind a little extra waiting time (which was not evident during our meal). We felt very privileged and enjoyed the wonderful atmosphere of the restaurant, the warmth of the open fire and the service, and, of course, the meal! Hopefully, they are able to open more regularly by now.

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The fireplace at Caroline's

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With the owners Sally and Mike. Mike cooks and Sally waits on the tables.

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Anzac Day
ANZAC Day at Bealiba

At the beginning of May, I was surprised to be invited to attend the Year 4 Camp. We stayed at Arrabri Lodge, near Warburton for 3 days/2 nights. The students enjoyed a variety of activities such as giant swing, flying fox, low ropes course, damper cooking, sensory trail, minigolf, initiative courses, panning for gold in the Yarra River, folk dancing and archery. It was a packed itinerary and the delicious meals provided were all the more welcome because of it!

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The resident cow

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The giant swing is, well, giant!

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Can you see the child in the photo? She is really quite high off the ground!

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The minigolf course was pretty good really but I didn't think this student quite had the idea of how to play. It reminded me of another visit to a minigolf course some years ago...

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...when we didn't think Joan had quite the right idea either!

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Joan celebrated her 93rd birthday on the 20th May. We think she enjoyed it!

In May, I was very saddened to hear from Barbara Moriarty that she only had a year to live. She had been diagnosed with Signet Ring Cancer (a vey rare form). Unfortunately, the amount of time she had was far less, Barb died on 18th June. I had known her for 15 years. We met through AUSOM (Apple Users’ Society Of Melbourne) and I taught one of her grandchildren, Eamonn, when he was in Grade 2 in 2004. I was privileged to be asked to play the organ and read a lesson at her funeral which was held at Lilydale Memorial Park on 28th June. Rev David Moore, who was Vicar of St.Paul’s East Kew (where I played the organ for 22 years) and knew Barb through her involvement with the Occasional Choir, officiated. The reading was Revelation 21: 1-4 which includes the words,

“And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”

I always find much comfort in that passage during times of trouble, worry or distress. What a wonderful promise! Barb was a kind, thoughtful and generous friend who, although in relatively poor health in recent years, was always positive and outward-looking. She is greatly missed.

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In July, Satoshi and I attended “Sydney Inspires” which was a church music conference organised by The Royal School of Church Music (RSCM). This was an eight-day festival of music including a performance of Bach’s St.Matthew Passion (complete with soloists, semi-chorus and main choir accompanied by an orchestra of period instruments. This was led by Dr David Hill, a world renowned choral conductor and expert on Bach. There was also a “Prom Praise” concert which included a number of very well-known choral pieces as well as some more contemporary music. This was led by Noel Tredinnick (one of the conductors of the BBC series Songs of Praise. Both these events were held at Sydney Town Hall. The other major event was a Service of Nine Lessons and Carols in St.Andrew’s Cathedral directed by John Rutter. It was quite a challenge to learn all the music required in such a short time! There was also a formal dinner and a number of other, smaller services and occasions.

For me, a highlight was a screening of the original 1925 film The Phantom of the Opera with the sound provided by the organist Thomas Ospital (from Saint-Eustache in Paris) on the organ in St.Andrew's Cathedral. It was amazing to see and hear him improvise the accompaniment for the whole film. The film, although mostly in black and white, contains one of the first ever colour scenes. You can view it here (with a sound track provided by an orchestra).

The video of the Prom Praise Concert below goes for 3 hours so you probably won't want to watch it all. The sound quality isn't great either but it will give you an idea of how it was. You will see glimpses of Satoshi and me every now and then. Two further warnings: there is no sound until about 1:30 and there is about 20 minutes of silence in the middle (interval)!

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We stayed at St.Paul's College, part of Sydney University.

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We had some spare time on one day so we did a little sight seeing.

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Can you see the flag on the top of the bridge?

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It's much easier to see with the aid of my camera's zoom!

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This interesting building is One Central Park.

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The Sydney Town Hall Organ was the largest in the world when it was built in 1890. It has one of only two 64' stops (length of pipe) in the world!

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We had just enough time for dinner between the rehearsal and performance.

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The choir in rehearsal

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Satoshi, Lachlan McDonald (Director of Music at St.John's East Malvern) and me after the Prom Praise concert.

One day, earlier in the year, while at McDonald’s, I noticed an advertisement in the newspaper for a ten-day trip to Japan for only $1999 per person, including airfares, accommodation and all the breakfasts. We decided that this was quite a bargain. Of course, this kind of “special” was not available during the school holidays so we both applied for leave without pay. Both our applications were successful so we booked our tour with “Trip A Deal” and enjoyed our time away very much. I was a bit worried abut the food (I’m not at all adventurous in that department, being most happy with meat and three veggies!). All was not lost, Japan has McDonald’s!! You can read all about our adventures in Japan (written mostly by Satoshi) here.

In early August, long-time friend, Maverick became an Australian citizen and Jenny and I attended the ceremony in Box Hill Town Hall. It was interesting to see all the different people who had decided to become citizens. Good on them!

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Maverick is on the left.

In the third term holidays, Joan, Russell, Jenny, Emily (Jenny’s granddaughter), Satoshi and I headed to Lorne for a few days. We had a comfortable stay at the Mantra Lorne (for those who know Lorne, the former Erskine House). We enjoyed a peaceful time exploring some of Lorne’s tourist spots and enjoying meals out together. It was good to “draw breath” before the onslaught of fourth term!

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Part of the beach near Lorne

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There are only a few of these cypress trees left in Lorne now.

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At Teddy's Lookout near Lorne on a perfect day

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The track down to Erskine Falls is quite steep and includes many steps. We were very impressed that Joan and Russell made it down to the first viewing platform (and, of course, the return!)

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The more intrepid members of our party made their way down to the bottom of Erskine Falls.

Many lifestyle trends come and go (mostly giving me a wide berth!) but I have enjoyed a small portion of the “wellbeing” fashion - colouring in! I never enjoyed this much as a child - trying to keep within the line was difficult. Now there is an “app” on the iPad called, simply, Happy Coloring. I find it very relaxing and the resultant pictures are really quite good!

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I was fortunate to attend many concerts and musicals during the year. The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra is gradually working through all the Harry Potter movies and Satoshi and I thoroughly enjoyed watching Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix while the orchestra played the soundtrack.

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Satoshi and I continue to share our house happily and our two cats provide extra companionship, love and entertainment. Min is now 14 years old. She is still very healthy and eats well but she does spend more time sleeping these days. Butterscotch is 4. Having said goodbye to her ‘teenage’ years she is a lot more settled and 'sensible' but she is still not totally reliable with her toilet routines!

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Satoshi is now singing in the choir at our church, St.John’s, East Malvern and I am playing the organ, reading lessons and prayers, administering communion and Altar Serving (all about once a month). The choir is of a very high standard and was invited to sing at St.Paul’s Cathedral in Melbourne. In June, the church welcomed a new vicar, Rev Dr Alex Ross. He is well-qualified, has a pleasant voice and preaches excellent, thought-provoking sermons.

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The Vicar (front) and some of the St.John's Choir singing at St.Paul's Cathedral, Melbourne.

On 14th December, Satoshi and I took Joan, Russell, Jenny and Darryl to the Langham for dinner. We have been there a number of times for breakfast so it was interesting to find out if dinner was as good. We were not disappointed. The choices of food were almost limitless and everything was cooked perfectly.

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On Christmas Day, I hosted (with Satoshi) what we think was my 25th Christmas Lunch. As always, it was wonderful to celebrate the day with all those closest to me. There is something special about providing food and hospitality to people, all the more so in the case of loved ones and close friends. As usual, I provided the meat (turkey, lamb and ham), mashed potatoes and puddings. Others brought along vegetables, drinks, prawns, and alternative desserts. It was a very happy and successful occasion!

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I hope you had a wonderful Christmas and I wish you the very best for a happy, healthy and successful 2020.

With love,

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PS: If you would like to read the letters from previous years, click here.