Thursday, December 27, 2007

McKay Christmas 2007

It’s been a while since we last updated – sorry! The blog uploading system has changed and it's taken a while to get it sorted out. Since it's Christmas, it’s about time we gave you some news.

Laura turns 6 tomorrow (28/12) and has just finished Kindergarten – with a bang! She got an award for Citizenship (looking out for her classmates and having good values) – the only one for Kindergarten. We are very proud of her achievements through various activities this year including school, swimming, gymnastics, music and more recently piano, and church. Laura celebrated her upcoming 6th birthday early with 14 friends at a rainbow dress-up party at our house. Ice cream cake (home-made with Fi’s new Kitchen-aid – an early Christmas present) was the order of the day along with face painting (thanks Rah!), craft and of course games (pin the cloud at the end of the rainbow, treasure hunt and pass the parcel). Two hours was definitely long enough for us parents! She has lost several teeth including one of her front teeth on boxing day (now she has two front teeth missing and can sing the song - All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth).

Connor is now 3½ and growing up so fast. He’s doing well at swimming (keeps his eyes down in the water now!) and music and now looks forward to going to playgroup to play with his friends (Callum on Tuesdays; Matthew and Ellen on Thursdays). His fascination for Thomas the Tank Engine has grown considerably this year and he is often found playing Thomas games on the internet (another new thing he has achieved), or with his trains or Thomas games on the floor. You can see him very happily opening his "Cranky the Crane" present - the only thing he really wanted!

Connor’s speaking has increased immensely with Laura away at school and has improved throughout the year – if only he’d stop talking now. Next year Connor starts preschool at Jesmond Community PS for 1 day a week. This mummy’s boy will be growing up fast!

Niall has had a busy year with his work with UCATSA at Newcastle University, preaching and committee commitments. More recently he has had to slow down due to knee surgery on his left knee, replacing his ligament which was overstretched from a soccer injury in 2006. Unfortunately the surgery had to be done twice so he was in hospital for 3 extra days (and had a lot more pain the second time). Niall is steadily recovering (no crutches now) and has started some swimming again. He has kept up his fitness with regular swimming at the Uni pool, cycling and jogging. High Distinctions were received for Niall’s studies in Education this year (Dip. Ed) – even when he wrote that one multiple choice question in his exam was ambiguous! Niall has an explanation for everything. Niall is also a grand-final winning Coach of the Jesmond Park Uniting Church Grade 8 Soccer Team.

In my 33rd year I (Fiona) finished my NCYC commitments and have since enjoyed not working. I took on helping out with the church noticesheet once a fortnight and have continued my monthly turn on the music roster. I was on the planning team for a group from Papua New Guinea visiting our church in September – although the plans didn’t quite go as we expected….PNG time is very different to ours (they arrived 2 weeks later than we planned). Unfortunately we weren’t around for their visit as we were in South Africa on holiday (see entry below). I’ve continued my involvement with Playgroup on Thursdays, reading stories and helping out with singing or wherever is needed. And I have really enjoyed getting involved in school activities for Laura (reading, P&C, canteen) and being a part of all the kids activities this year.

I decided to finally join a singing group, so auditioned for the Newcastle University Chamber Choir. I began in September, thrown into the deep end learning a huge repertoire of music, then went away to South Africa for 6 weeks, coming back to learn a whole new repertoire in a week to sing in my first concert at the Art Gallery. At my second concert I sang a solo. I’m really enjoying the challenge of the music we are learning and the high level of competency of the members (and they are really friendly!). The uniforms are interesting – reversible oriental style kimono – made by High Tea with Mrs Woo (a local small business). The choir has won just about every Australian award (check out: ).

I’ve also enjoyed singing with my sister, Ange, at a Waratah Girls Choir concert in September, where the founder/director, Wynette Horne, retired. And in December I sang with some ex-members of WGC in a Christmas Concert conducted by David Banney (an excellent conductor based in Newcastle; his wife and I go to playgroup together and our boys are good friends). I sang several solos at this concert (on the same weekend as the Chamber Choir – busy time). Needless to say after these concerts and all the running around with Niall’s knee, I fell in a heap and was sick for a few days, but have since recovered.

Since we’ve been back from South Africa I’ve been scouting around for work through various contacts in the environment field. We’ll keep you posted.

Here’s a quick rundown of where our family is up to….
Niall’s mum, Hilary, and Jeff are in Gloucester, with Janet (Niall’s dad’s sister) living nearby as well. Hilary is still doing nursing in the hospital and doctor’s surgery. Jeff is still working for UIM, travelling frequently overseas to PNG, Solomon Islands etc. Jeff’s parents, Joy and Wally, came by train from Perth (via Broken Hill twice and a bus trip from Broken Hill to Sydney – track washed away!) to spend Christmas in Gloucester with us all, which was lovely.

Ross and Sophie are still in Canberra – Ross is a doctor and Sophie is a radiographer, both working at different hospitals. Both are well. They both worked over Christmas, so we spent an early Christmas with them at Gloucester - see photo. Yvette has been living with them in Canberra while working at the AMA in marketing and spending weekends with Murray in Bathurst. Murray has finished his degree in Primary Teaching this year and will finish his work as Presbytery Youth Worker in January. Murray and Yvette are heading to England for a while to live and work, so will be packing up all their stuff and renting out their house in Bathurst (with the beautiful landscaping!).

Fi’s dad, Ren, has been volunteering two days a week at the Hunter Wetlands doing maintenance stuff for vehicles and the grounds. Glynis has completed a course in biblical studies this year at a local bible college, which has kept her more than occupied throughout the year. Tim has finished Year 8 at Lambton High and loves spending time at Games Workshop playing games with his figurines. He’s doing really well at school. Kanella is still working as a Speech Therapist in Sydney.

Aunty Dawn (Fi’s dad’s cousin, who is like our grandma) went downhill this year with her legs losing strength and her general health deteriorating. She went into hospital for a few weeks following a fall, and then has been moved into a nursing home at Waratah Amity. Although she hates losing her independence and misses her house and dog Goldie, she is going well, with ups and downs.

Fi’s mum, Ros, and her husband Hilary are doing well. A close friend died of cancer, which shook them up a bit, but they have been focussing their energies on extensions to the house and choosing the furnishings and fittings. It’s almost complete now – in time for Christmas. Ros has continued to take Connor on Tuesdays to Playgroup. Ange is working as an Occupational Therapist in a team at Calvary Hospital, Kogarah. She has had a few auditions for professional musicals, but no call backs yet. She did a recital in December with some friends which went really well. Ange has a new boyfriend, Chris Hartley, who has fitted into the family very well – they’re very happy together.

So that’s everyone now. Read below for more info on our South African holiday in September.
We wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

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South African Holiday

In September 2007 our family travelled to South Africa for a 5½ week holiday. Niall was born in South Africa and has many cousins and Aunts still there, so we visited all of them. It was a fantastic time of getting away from work and everyone’s commitments and spending time as a family with another part of our family.

We stayed with Niall’s dad’s sister (Mary Jill) and her husband in Johannesburg for the beginning and end of our trip. We enjoyed the relaxation, poolside (although it was a little cold), spending time with the cousins and their children, eating (too much) and some sightseeing. We spent 5 days away near the Kruger Park Game Reserve, borrowing Joe’s ute (very kindly lent to us!); one night in the Game reserve and 2 days driving around (that was enough driving for the kids), and a few nights at Pilgrim’s Rest in an ex-manse cheaply rented out. This was an amazing time for us – the landscape was phenomenal (so many mountains, canyons - see Blyde River Canyon in photo), spotted with huts, houses, shops, livestock) and the game reserve was full of animals to see. We saw more animals than we ever have before (and usually over a longer time) – giraffe, elephant, springbok, warthog, wilderbeast, mongoose, hippos, zebra (crossing the road!), and many more… but most excitingly we saw cats – lionesses and a leopard! The lions were lying near a kill just near the road (so they were really close). The leopard was a long way away up in a tree – but we saw it! The kids loved all the animals and had a wonderful time here. We were so very lucky to see so many animals in such as short time.

We also spent three weeks in Cape Town, staying in Sommerset West with Niall’s Aunty Elaine (his mum’s sister). During our stay we did lots of day trips, spent time with the Shepherd family and their children. Niall and Fi went out for dinner (in the BMW pavilion, sitting under a BMW in the air above us) and a show (thanks to Francois who manages the restaurant and theatre!). The show was a history of Rock – live music and lots of fun without the kids!

We enjoyed a few days at Pringle Bay staying at Elaine’s beach house (‘The Barn’). We drove to Hermanus to see the whales – unfortunately it was raining, but we managed to shelter in a restaurant called “The Cave” – in a cave overlooking the ocean and the whales (it’s a hard life!). So beautiful. Had a lovely dinner at Betty’s Bay at a restaurant called “The Whale Station” – we were the only guests and they bent over backwards for us. Laura and Niall climbed Leopard’s Kloof (a cliff with a waterfall) while Connor and I wandered around the beautiful gardens below checking out the amazing flowers, tortoises wandering by and of course had a sit on the tractor. We had a visit from a baboon, trying to open the sliding front door – luckily Fiona happened to come in the room as he was doing it and got him out! A very close call with the kids watching TV just a few metres away.

One of the best days was driving down to the Cape Peninsula National Park. We followed the coast (thanks for the car Elaine!) all the way and saw lots of whales really close to the road (just a few metres away - in back of this photo) and of course lots of baboons. It was a gorgeous day and absolutely fantastic scenery with high cliffs on one side and the sea on the other side. We stopped at The Boulders to see a penguin colony (very smelly!), then continued on to the very tip of the peninsula. Niall walked up to the lighthouse while the kids and I took the Funicular (cable car). You could see the different air flows and conditions from the two oceans colliding (one side very cloudy, the other clear) – it was an amazing sight. Later in our stay Niall enjoyed climbing Table Mountain with his cousin’s husband, Peter. We previously all went up in the Cable Car, which the kids enjoyed. Laura and Connor really enjoyed the Aquarium (especially the kids play area) at the Waterfront, and we were fascinated by the boat trip and tour of Robben Island (where Nelson Mandella was kept imprisoned).

The length of our visit gave us time to see all the family and do some touring, but also gave us time to learn about the real South Africa and its issues. The disparity between the whites and blacks and coloureds (ie. not white, but not black – from Asia, India, etc) is decreasing, but there is still so much poverty. We visited a church in a black township where they spoke Zulu for most of the service (except for “hello everyone”) – wonderful singing! The houses were all shacks made out of tin and scraps. The townships sprawl for kilometres. We noticed a big difference in the amount of public housing built this time and so much more development in general.

Black Economic Empowerment has meant that many blacks have found jobs (they’re given preference over whites and coloureds, in many cases with little experience), but still many more need jobs. And now the whites and coloureds are left struggling for employment. I was interested in the amount of people that speak Afrikaans – mainly whites of course. We attended a few churches, many of the people speaking Afrikaans (Sunday school in two languages is interesting!). We have continued to watch with interest the politics of the ANC – the recent announcement of the new ANC president Zuma has many worried (he had been caught sleeping with an Aids sufferer, but said it was ok because he had a shower afterwards). Many in the government still turn a blind eye to Aids and deny that it is sexually transmitted, instead encouraging healthy diets as a way of prevention.

So much is changing in South Africa, some for the good and some for the bad. It was great to be there to get a feel for what is happening – so different from Australia. SA has so many refugees from Zimbabwe and the tumult happening there, as well as the many other African nations – and Australia has so few refugees in comparison. The trip has given me a whole new understanding of cultural differences and how we perceive our world. We are so lucky to live in a country of opportunity and richness where people are generally treated equally and fairly. A country of relative safeness, as opposed to SA where there is high disregard for the fragility of life. 1,500 people are killed a month in car jackings – usually just for the car or even just the mobile phone. It’s so violent and inhuman. So hard to understand and comprehend. Nothing bad happened to us in SA (in any of our visits). We stayed in gated neighbourhoods and houses (with armed guards) most of the time – but those same houses have had car jackings and break-ins in the past few years. No one can be guaranteed safety. Despite its problems, I love South Africa and the people there (of all colours). There is much hope for the future and there is so much in the natural environment to enjoy and wonder at. We had a wonderful time thanks to our many hosts who made us all so welcome; it felt like home! Connor keeps asking to return to "hannesburg" - unfortunately the cost (and time) is too great at the moment. Maybe in another few years.
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