Sunday, 29 January 2012

Letterpress Workshop

Today I got my Christmas present from Kim and the girls.

Now that may sound a little belated, but you see, my Christmas present was an enrolment at Kala Art Institute here in Berkeley for a day long letterpress workshop. Today was the day.

I've been excited about learning the art of letterpress ever since I discovered that the San Francisco Bay Area seems to be some sort of hub in the letterpress world. While researching San Francisco prior to our move I was delighted to discover just how many little letterpress studios there are in the area. And when it comes to learning this beautiful craft, between Kala Art Institute and San Francisco Center for the Book the opportunities abound.

My workshop today was just a little look into the world of letterpress and has left me wanting more. I'll definitely be signing up for more classes! It felt so good to be working on something creative again even if it was for such a short time. Our teacher, Lisa Rappaport of Littoral Press, was a font of knowledge for all things letterpress and I feel like I have come away from the workshop with brand new skills that, once nurtured through a few more classes, will open up new opportunities. 
Get ready for fancy Christmas cards this year everyone!

As letterpress is quite a time consuming craft our class of six students worked on a broadside design together rather than printing our own. I had this idea in my head that I was going to come away with a beautiful, personalised broadside for Ava's birthday next week but that would have just taken too much time. To come up with the text for our broadside we each came up with a sentence starting with the last word for the previous line. This resulted in an odd poem which was aptly titled "Sum of Parts" by one of the students.

Each student was given the task of hand setting their own line of text in a composing stick. This may not sound much of an arduous task but keep in mind that the text is rather small (we used a maximum of 18 point) and everything is backwards. The text is aligned in the composing stick upside down so add this to the fact that everything is backward and you discover how much fun it is dealing with the letters b, d, p and q! Each letter, space and punctuation mark must be individually set in place. Leading, literally a length of lead, is placed in between lines of text for... well, leading. I love it when terms we use in computer programs come from such literal origins as this.

Spartan font type case

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Happy Australia Day

It's Australia Day today!

Ok, so it's not Australia Day any more, but that's how I had intended to start this post when I originally starting writing it... on Australia Day.

We've all been sick with a cold/flu/cough bug this last week and my attempts at doing pretty much anything (including finishing half written blog posts) have been thwarted by said bug.

Well, enough of the excuses. Back to where I left off...

-------

It's Australia Day today!

As it's not a holiday here and we're going about our normal day to day business - work for Kim, preschool for Ava, yet another school tour for me - I decided to whip up a batch or two of Australian delicacies to share with our American workmates and preschool buddies.

So yesterday I spent most of the day, and night, in the kitchen baking Anzac biscuits, lamingtons and pumpkin scones. Now, I've made Anzac biscuits and pumpkin scones on many occasions but this was my first attempt at making lamingtons. I was a little worried that they might not turn out quite right but I must say that they turned out pretty fantastic, even if I do say so myself!

Ava helps stir the Anzac biscuit mix

Anzac biscuits ready to bake

Ava's batch of goodies for preschool was accompanied by all the Australian themed books I could find in the kids' collection. It's amazing just how many Australian themed books they have - and without me ever buying one! Possum Magic by Mem Fox was the prize of our Australian book collection and Ava's teacher read this to the class before the kids tried their goodies. The kids loved Possum Magic and were excited to try some of the same food that little Hush possum eats as she travels around the country over the course of the book... Anzac biscuits in Adelaide, lamingtons in Hobart, pumpkin scones in Brisbane... These all went down a treat. The one food that didn't go down so well was, surprise, surprise, the vegemite! Out of the class of twenty kids only one liked it. And no, that wasn't Ava. She hates the stuff!

A little taste of Australia

Thursday, 26 January 2012

The Little Things: Food in America

For the most part life in California is pretty similar to life in Australia.
Culturally it's not that different, the climate is similar and, despite what some people may think, we speak the same language.

Most days I don't really feel like we're living in a foreign country but every now and then something little brings it home. For example, on the weekend we were up on the roof enjoying a lull in the rain and the brief burst of sunshine. I was looking out over the Berkeley hills when I spotted a flag on a building. For a brief moment I thought "Hmm, an American flag. How strange.". And then it hit me - we're not in Australia anymore.

It's mostly little things where I notice the difference. There's nowhere that the little differences are more apparent than food. Now I'm not talking about all those Australian foods that aren't readily available here like Tim Tams, Vegemite, Fruchocs and Balfours Frog Cakes. Most of those items, bar the Frog Cake, are available here if I'm willing to fork out the extra cash and they're not really items I eat regularly at home anyway - once again, bar the Frog Cake! It's the everyday foods where the differences are more apparent. Most food is pretty much the same here as what we're used to at home and even though America gets a bad rap for its food, most of it is actually pretty good. That could be down to our location though!

Two items we eat a lot of in our household are tinned tuna and yoghurt - not together of course! - and those two items are where I notice a lot of difference.

Australians tend to eat a lot of tinned tuna. The tinned tuna section in most Australian supermarkets is huge. Tinned tuna comes in so many different sizes and so many different flavours at home but here in California it's not so. Tuna here either comes in spring water or olive oil and that's about it. No small tins of flavoured tuna for lunches. No tuna in brine for making tuna mornay.  No snack sized containers of tuna with crackers. The variety of tuna here is different too. White albacore tuna seems to be the most common variety and, as the name would suggest, it's white. This makes for especially bland looking tuna mornay! And without the brine for extra flavour it makes for especially bland flavoured tuna mornay too. Ok, it's not that bland but it certainly doesn't have the strong flavour that I'm used to. And then there's how the word tuna is pronounced: toona!

Now onto yoghurt. First of all, it's spelled wrong here; yogurt. Where did the "h" go? What did they do with it? And what did they do with all the flavours? Yoghurt in Australia comes in a huge number of flavours from the more traditional strawberry, mango and vanilla through to the super sweet dessert flavours such as tiramisu and French cheesecake.  With all these flavours the yoghurt section in Australian supermarkets is also huge. Not so here. While there are quite a few different yoghurt brands they all pretty much make the same thing. Yoghurt seems to only come in vanilla, strawberry, banana, blueberry and plain Greek yoghurt. That said, it all tastes pretty good there's just not as much choice.

And then there are the foods that are common every day ingredients at home but just not quite the same here. Butter and cream are two such foods that I struggled with when we first arrived. The first time I bought butter it was white and sweet. What the? The next time I bought butter it was white and sweet. The next time I forked out the extra cash to buy butter imported from Ireland. It was yellow and tasted like butter. Success! Similarly cream is quite different here. There appears to be either really runny whipping cream or whipped cream in a can. Now I'm not sure that stuff in a can is really cream so I've avoided it! Going to the effort of whipping the really runny whipping cream to spread it on my toast with jam in the morning is just too much work so I've switched to creme fraiche. Success - sort of. At least it's the right consistency.

Many foods are seasonal here which is something that we don't really experience too much at home. Ava absolutely loves a particular pear juice sold at our local supermarket however now that Autumn is over and we're well into winter they don't sell it anymore. It will be back next Autumn and in the meantime Ava will have to ration out glasses from the 6 or so bottles that I have stashed away in the cupboard! Similarly pumpkin products appear everywhere in Autumn and disappear in Winter. I know it's best to eat fresh foods when they're in season but at home very few foods disappear off the shelf all together when they're not in season.

Speaking of fresh food, at home I buy all my fruit and vegetables from the green grocer and all my meat from the butcher shop.  I am yet to see either of these stores in Berkeley or San Francisco. That said, there are farmer's markets everywhere here so there is an alternative to the supermarket. The quality of fruit and vegetables at supermarkets here is much better than that at home. One particular supermarket in Berkeley (Berkeley Bowl) has such a large and varied fruit and vegetable section that it could almost compete with Central Markets in Adelaide for range.

There are so many little differences when it comes to food, I could go on and on, but overall most things are pretty much just like home. I'm going to try and post a little more often about life here in Berkeley so that those of you back home reading this (I'm sure there must be a few of you) have a little insight into our new life. Maybe next up I'll tackle the big one... coffee in America!

Friday, 20 January 2012

Sugar Castle

Another day on the advent calendar, another giant confection creation to visit...

This time the advent voucher entitled Ava and Lola to visit the giant Sugar Castle at the Westin Hotel on Union Square.

This castle is made entirely of icing. It is surrounded by a little village of sugar cottages and sugar trees  with two trains (not made of sugar!) puffing around the outside. The castle itself is on a rotating base so that all sides can be seen from any point in the hotel lobby.

The castle, while impressive in design and the sheer amount of work and skill that has gone into it, is quite dark and didn't hold Ava or Lola's attention for long. What did get their attention however was the brightly lit Christmas tree in the corner of the lobby. Both girls were much more interested in looking at the flashing lights on the tree.

I guess this one was just a little grown up for my girls to appreciate fully.

The Sugar Castle and Sugar Village

7500 bricks of gingerbread...

Ok, the Christmas posts are almost done. Just a few more to share.

I started sharing the activities that featured in Ava and Lola's advent calendar but then I got a little lazy (or busy with setting up our apartment) and I never got around to going through them all.

So here we go with a few more of the activities that featured in the advent calendar...

One day on the advent calendar (I forget which) the "voucher" entitled Ava and Lola to visit the Giant Gingerbread Cottage at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco.

Now this Gingerbread Cottage really should be named the Gingerbread Mansion. At two storeys high and made of 7500 gingerbread bricks this "cottage" makes quite a stately home. As well as all that gingerbread the cottage consists of thousands of candy canes, liquorice all sorts, lollies and what must've been about a cement truck full of icing! Pretty much the only non-edible parts were the giant "candy cane" pillars at the front and all the twinkling fairy lights.

It's all about location, location, location; and look at the location this cottage has!

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Felt Ball Wreath

Time for yet another (very belated) Christmas post...

This year I decided that we needed a Christmas wreath on our front door. Christmas wreaths aren't hugely popular in Australia but they seem to hang on every second door here in California. And even though it's already mid January there are still Christmas wreaths to be seen everywhere - including our front door!

In the lead up to Christmas 2010 I saw multi coloured Christmas wreaths made of felted wool balls doing the rounds on all the design blogs. I had intended to make one back then but never got around to it. Supplies for such a wreath were tricky to come by in Australia and were super expensive when they could be found. Now that we're living in a shopper's paradise the supplies were easy to come by and relatively cheap.

Making a Christmas wreath was one of the projects that I included on Ava & Lola's advent calendar of activities however the felt ball wreath was more than a little difficult for small children to work on. Instead I made most of the wreath myself and Ava stitched on a few of the felt balls at the end. She was really proud of herself for helping out on such a grown up project.

Here's Ava working on the wreath.

Ava working on the Christmas wreath

Thursday, 12 January 2012

The School Merry-go-round...

The new school year is about to start back home in Australia, but here in California we are in a completely different stage of the school cycle: application time.

The school system here is very different from what we are used to so I thought I'd share a little of the madness that is applying for schools in America.

Back in Adelaide we had decided to send Ava to a private school. This was a personal choice that Kim and I had made based on several things, one of the main reasons being that we weren't happy with any of our local public schools. Although it would have been an extra expense, the private school that we had selected for Ava was relatively inexpensive when compared to some of the other schools around.
Now that we're in California, those expensive private schools in Adelaide (Westminster etc) seem like a bargain. Private Elementary (Primary) schools in the East Bay area start at around $21,000.00 per year!

So with private schools out of the picture (unless Kim gets another full-time job!) we've decided to send Ava to a public school. Initially I was really worried about sending our kids to a public school in America. The picture painted in the media of America's public schools is not a rosy one. For the most part, the media has pretty accurately portrayed the plight of America's public schools. Cuts in public funding, particularly in California, have meant that a lot of what we consider standard in Australian public schools has been taken away. Luckily though, the Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) is one of the rare exceptions. Berkeley residents are proud of their public schools and have voted to increase public spending on schooling through a special local tax (Berkeley Schools Excellence Program) which was first introduced in 1986.

This means that all public schools within the BUSD enjoy standards that are above those in other school districts in California. For example class sizes are kept to strict numbers. Kindergarten, which is the equivalent of Reception at home, has a maximum class size of 20 students. This is in line with the California standards however most schools throughout the state do not meet the standard.

Arts education, which has been cut from many schools across California, has been maintained as an important part of the curriculum within BUSD schools. Dance, drama, music and visual arts are all very important parts of the curriculum. Visual Arts are heavily focused on and the hallways of any school in the district are plastered with the creative output of the students. In regards to music, all students leave Elementary School in Grade 5 with the ability to read sheet music and play at least one instrument. I'm sure there are exceptions, but in general this is the case.

With such an emphasis on creativity one would expect that academic results might have suffered. This does not appear to be the case within BUSD. Literacy and numeracy results within BUSD schools rank very high. The focus on creativity and artistic endeavours seems to have resulted in students who, for the most part, are happy to be at school and eager to learn.

So, it would seem that public schools in our area are pretty good and we should have nothing to worry about regarding our girls getting a good education. This in fact, was one of the main factors in us deciding to live in Berkeley rather than San Francisco. The tricky part, however, lies in getting Ava into our chosen school. This is something that is completely out of our control. Rather than just sending Ava to our closest Elementary School we are at the mercy of the "random selector computer" that lives deeps within the bowels of the BUSD building.

When applying for a public school in California parents must select their top three preferences from their zone within the school district. Your application goes into a lottery and you keep your fingers crossed that your first choice comes up in the first round. If you don't get your first choice school in the first round your application goes back into the lottery for round two and so on. Last year approximately 70% of a children ended up with a place at their chosen school.

Now remember I mentioned the word "random" above? The lottery is really only random to a certain point. When submitting your child's application to the BUSD you are required to answer questions relating your child's race and your own education level. BUSD requires this information for the sake of diversity. Each school must have a particular ratio of children from different racial, cultural and economic backgrounds. This means that your child may miss out on your chosen school as the allocation for your particular racial or economic group has already been exhausted. There may still be places available at your chosen school but they will only be available to children of a particular race or economic background to round out the diversity of the school.

If your child misses out on your preferred school they can be placed on a waiting list. Unlike most waiting lists this one does not work on a first in, first served basis. Children are segregated into their racial and economic groups on the waiting list and will be allocated a place in the school only if there is a requirement for a child of their particular background. Hmm, segregating people based on race or economic background... What's that called again?

I like the idea of Ava and Lola attending a school with children from diverse backgrounds but this method of allocating places at school is crazy. Good old political correctness going over the top again.
It also means that children may have to travel much further to school than they really should. If your local school has already reached the allocation of children from your particular group, your child may have to travel much further afield to another school. Two of the schools within our particular zone are within walking or bike riding distance, one is just a little too far to walk but fine to ride to, and the remaining two would require us to purchase a car. Needless to say those two schools, although good, will not be making it into our top three selections. School buses are available but the idea of sending my five year old daughter off on her own is more than a little daunting!

So fingers crossed Ava gets offered a place at our chosen school, a nice 15 minute walk away. We won't find out until March so I'll try not to get my hopes up in the meantime.

Good luck to all those kids back home who will be starting school in a few weeks. Ava is very jealous and wishes she was joining you :)



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...