Casa Loma, the 35th anniversary party for Arrowsmith and it is good to be home!

It is just over a week since I have been home. Whilst we have been having sweltering days, my first day home was a record breaking 41C, there have been snow flurries in Peterborough, though Simon says it is not too cold yet as most days are over zero degrees Centrigrade. How quickly we adapt! We would have thought that was freezing (literally, ha ha!) in our first winter in Canada.

Lucky me, I have enjoyed long lunches with friends, dinner with friends, sailing on the harbour, meeting up with my writing group, lunch with Emma and her friends, they have all grown into such lovely young women, a 50th birthday dancing the night away, long walks with Rusty through Balmain and going on the People’s Climate Change March. What a mix! It has been fun and this week holds more of the same for me, and into the mix is finding time to write as I plough on with Simon’s story which is slowly taking shape.

Simon is looking forward to coming home, his brain needs a break he says! He is working hard to try to master 6 handed clocks before he comes home, but he seems not to be too desperate, which is a good thing, as with desperation can come disappointment, should he not master. His time is decreasing and he is doing extra homework to help as he asked Matt what he could do to improve his time, showing great initiative. More of that and his academics in another post another day.

As I wrote the other day, we had the opportunity to meet Barbara Arrowsmith Young at the party to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the founding of the Arrowsmith school. A bus was arranged from Peterborough which was a very relaxed way to travel down the 401 expressway rather than the somewhat fraught drive – I don’t think I will ever get used to driving in 12 lanes of traffic! We dressed in our finery and the students who were over 18, the parents who were able to go and all the Arrowsmith teachers piled onto the bus, the bus was full of chatter until the driver announced he didn’t know where he was going as we sped along the 401!  Jill took charge, as ever, and steered him right to the door where upon Simon announced “I’m home!”. And he was right at home, the castle reminding him of Hogwarts, comfortable in his colourful shirt and red trousers, he is his father’s son in that regard, mingling  and chatting! The party was held at Casa Loma, the only castle in North America, all decked out for Christmas so looking more beautiful than grand.

The atmosphere was one of great celebration, so much love in that room, for Barbara and for all the Arrowsmith staff. We parents have much to be thankful for, our children’s lives transforming before our eyes. There were speeches and we all got teary as a father spoke movingly of his daughter’s life before and after Arrowsmith, she who wasn’t expected to finish high school and who couldn’t cross the road safely is now planning a round the world trip having finished a university course.  Simon raising his eyebrows at me as I got out my hanky. The teachers and staff from the Toronto Arrowsmith school talked of their favourite Arrowsmith moments – too hard to pick as there were so many. I particularly loved the talk by the cognitive teacher who said that while there were many moments in the classroom it was the emails, letter and phone calls sometimes long after the students had left the programme that were her favourite moments – the call or email to say I have just met the man who I am going to marry, I have got into Med School, I have passed my driving test, I have moved into my own apartment, I am going on a backpacking trip by myself, I have cleaned out my closet and tomorrow I am going to clean out another one – all these attesting to things these students could not have done before they undertook the Arrowsmith programme, all manner of things which most people take for granted and which they expect. How thrilling it was to hear how much these students have achieved, and how their participation has allowed them to dare to dream, just as Barbara hoped it would.

Howard Eaton was there from Vancouver, now with 5 Eaton Arrowsmith schools and the Director of Research, research which is proving that there are permanent brain changes, increased lighting up within specific areas of the brain related to specific cognitive improvement exercises. The rats, who inspired Barbara, whose brains grew in a stimulating environment aren’t the only ones! Arrowsmith students brains grow too!

Barbara talked about the prospects for Arrowsmith, strategic directions that are being forged that will allow more students to access the programme. There is so much hope and excitement for the future where increasing numbers of students will be able to realise their potential.

After the talks it was time to head back up the 401 but not before we had a chance to be introduced to Barbara and I thanked her for her life’s work which was changing Simon’s life, and a quick photo.  It was too quick because there were so many other parents waiting for their chance to say their thankyous too. A quick thank you does not seem enough.

I was re-reading the article where I first read in some depth of Barbara’s work. At the end of the article, having described Barbara’s struggle in early life and how she devised the exercises which allowed her to overcome her learning difficulties, Janet Hawley writes

“I put it to Arrowsmith Young that her life sounds a bit like Sleeping Beauty waking up after being kissed by the Prince.

“Yes” she replies with a soft laugh, “but I was my own prince”.

Barbara’s work has allowed all the Arrowsmith students to be their own prince too.

 

 

On my way home!

Peterborough has been its usual charming self, along with glorious sunny autumn weather. So different to the bleak weather this time last year and the first snow we saw at the same time in Simon’s first year at Arrowsmith! That seems such a long time ago and he has come so far, I know I am repeating myself but it is amazing and thrilling – truly life changing!

 

I am at Toronto airport waiting for my flight to LA. There is so much to tell about Simon, his latest report and the wonderful celebration of the 35th anniversary of the Arrowsmith program that we went to last night at the glorious Casa Loma in Toronto. What a special night! It will all have to wait!

 

Thank you to all my wonderful friends in Peterborough, it is never long enough but I have enjoyed the walks, the coffees, the chats, your support and friendship. Enjoy the rest of the term! Not too long until the holidays!

imageSee you soon Sydney! So excited to be heading home, it’s been a while! Not sure about the heat though! 41C tomorrow!

 

Back in Peterborough!

imageNew haircut! Delicious dinner at the Food Forest and a great day out with Lynette after coffee with some lovely Arrowsmith mums, but the highlight of my day was Mrs Gunning, Simon’s academic teacher, telling me what a great student Simon is! He joined the academic class at the start of this year, for the past two years he has had to concentrate on cognitive improvement exercises but has improved enough to have time to work on his academics too. She said he always comes into class with a smile on his face, sits down and gets on with his work quietly and efficiently. They have been working together to find the right level of English exercises, reading and comprehension, as he is complaining they have been too easy! He is currently working on Ontario grade 10 exercises, considered a good level of literacy here. He has made such amazing progress in the last two years! We are very proud of you Simon.

A bientot Paris!

I almost wrote adieu Paris but then I realised that was too final! There is no cure for Paria and I hope I will be back before too long, not years and years as it was before this trip. It has been wonderful, I have learnt so much from Patti Miller and my class mates! Now I just have to keep writing!

imageI will write more about Paris when I have time in Peterborough, about my weekend with my lovely daughter, the Musee Marmottan, staying in the Marais quartiere, cycling along the Seine on a sunny afternoon, the tiny kitten which was left back in his home, our Airbnb apartment, the beautiful meals we shared and visiting my cousin and meeting her family for the first time, seeing so many sides of Paris. For now, I am enjoying a ham and cheese baguette and a glass of crispy Pouilly Fuisse looking out of airport window with the Eiffel Tower and Sacre Cour silhouettes on the far horizon. I am not sure one is ever ready to leave Paris but at the same time I am so happy to be going to Peterborough and see Simon, his friends, my friends, Matt, Jill and the other wonderful Arrowsmith teachers!

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Paris!

What can I say about Paris that hasn’t already been said? It is the City of Lights, such a beautiful city, a photogenic scene on every corner, in every market, in every street, at least all those I have walked, wandered or meandered down. There has been a pattern to our days, writing course in the mornings, a quick lunch, then either wandering followed by home writing, as Patti, our teacher, calls the homework she sets us, or the other way around, home writing and then wandering, exploring, seeing the sights of Paris. Some dinners out, some dinners in the garrett I call home for the moment. Literary moments, drinks at the Lilas de Closerie as frequented by Hemingway and friends, finding Shakespeare and Co, the most beautiful bookshop I have ever been in, dinner with John Baxter, an Australian writer living here for years, a collector of first editions and teller of tales, a bon vivant and wonderful raconteur. Dinner with my classmates is calling, I will write more another day! So strange to be back at school so wonderful to be here in Paris! And now I know how Simon feels, at least to a little extent, as my brain is stretched and challenged every day, both in class and as I find myself lost in Paris!

The last US blog at last, Newport in all its gilded glory!

With the help of our trusty GPS and Judy’s skilful driving, mostly, me only driving the last part of the journey, we arrived into Newport around 3pm. Although the girls knew where we were going to be staying and they had seen photos, as we drove into through the magnificent tall gold and black iron wrought gates, up the crunchy drive way, to the house which could be a small Chateau situated in the French countryside, there was a stunned silence in the car! It was grander and more beautiful than they could have imagined. Thank you Michael for having such great, and generous, friends. We were greeted by three enormous poodles who were not best pleased to see us arrive! It took them a while to accept us, Caspar gently biting Cheryl’s leg, just so she knew who was the boss! We met Rita, the housekeeper, who showed us to our rooms, one each! After all, there were 22 bedrooms so plenty to choose from! Mine was the beautiful big room I had stayed in with Michael two years previously. It overlooked the garden, with an enormous bed, bright with the deep red damask bedcover, numerous cushions and red curtains, as well as two red sofas, it became our party room! Since the day was getting away with us I suggested walking along the nearby Cliff walk, to see the sunset and the “cottages” along the way. There was a bitter wind but the sunset over the ocean and stunning photos taken by Judy made it worth suffering. We refreshed ourselves, swept down the grand staircase, I can only imagine how glamorous one would feel swishing down there in a ball gown, Gone With The Wind-style! We repaired to the enormous formal sitting room, difficult to choose where to settle ourselves in amongst all the different groups of chairs and sofas, to drink our champagne before we headed out to dinner, Cheryl jumping for joy at our staying in such a grand house. Imagine staying in Downtown Abbey, but without all the servants, that’s how it feels! We went to The Moorings, as recommended by the witty woman in the visitors centre. Cheryl had the best meal of her holiday which made up for some of the less than interesting meals she had had along the way, that salt allergy makes for so me complications at times! All having enjoyed our meals, we nonetheless lusted after the scallops on the next table when they arrived!

Next morning, we were in the kitchen by 8.30. You enter the kitchen through the butlers pantry which is bigger than my kitchen and my kitchen is bigger than most! The kitchen houses 2 kitchen tables, one off to the side with seating for 14 and a smaller higher table just in front of the biggest range I have seen in a home, with 12 gas burners and several ovens, like an Aga on steroids! Not that much smaller than the range in the kitchen at the Breakers as it turned out. There  is also a normal-sized electric cooker in the panty, what for I am not sure! Add to that 2 enormous fridges in the kitchen and one in the pantry! I suppose with 7 children, all grown up now, there was a need for such a kitchen and pantry. A quick breakfast and then we drove the Scenic Ocean drive, admiring the big houses, picking out which ones we would choose for ourselves! When sitting in Pearl Beach, planning our trip so long ago, we decided that at this point of the trip we would need some indulgence! The Spa at the Marriott was the perfect answer, the rooms fragrant, the softest fluffiest white gowns, warm massage tables, we were scrubbed and massaged into a blissful state! Absolutely relaxed we decided that it was too hard to walk around the “cottages” for which Newport is famed so we went for lunch instead. Another great restaurant, Diego’s, Mexican food, colourful, flavourful and presented with flair and fun by our waiter, Jake. We didn’t extend our indulgence to their famous marguerites however!

After lunch a short walk to see the sights of Newport became a long walk as we wandered through the streets so rich In history. We saw the oldest tennis court in the USA, which has become the International Tennis Court of Fame, the first library in the USA, the Redwood Library and Athenaeum, founded in 1747, and the first Jewish synagogue, Jews, Quakers and Catholics living and worshipping peacefully side by side. We finished our day back at the Moorings again as we couldn’t get those luscious, big scallops we had seen the previous night out of our minds! They didn’t disappoint! Drinks in my room after dinner, lounging on the bed and the sofas, reliving our holiday as it was Cheryl’s last night, she was heading back to New York and Barbados on the way home.

Our last day together, tinged with the sadness that comes from having had such a good time and knowing that it is about to end, but no matter, we are already thinking about our next girls trip and thinking we can’t wait for another “0” birthday, we should organise them every five years instead! There are too many “cottages” to visit, we picked two, the Breakers and the Marble House. The Breakers is the 70 room Italian Renaissance-style Palazzo commissioned by Cornelius Vanderbilt ll, it was built to impress, showing off his vast wealth. Most impressive to us was the fact that it was built in under two years, despite all the marble being imported, the statues commissioned, the furniture especially made. Every detail considered, electricity was unreliable at the time so the lamps the output were made such that should the pesky electricity fail, gas lighting would come on, there would be no interruptions in the glorious 12 course dinner parties nor to reading in the library!  Our favourite room was the billiards room, with the enormous wrought iron lights over the lamp and lamps around the room made by Tiffany, the mosaic ceiling with the turtle hidden by the feet of the goddess Venus, dolphins swimming all around. And to think, this was simply their summer home for six weeks where vast parties where held, the time spent swimming, yachting, dining and dancing. The wives in charge of the social calendar, having to change up to 7 times each day, depending upon their various activities! It must have been quite exhausting! And as to living amongst all the glittering, opulent, overwhelming decoration, unbearable to our more minimal modern taste.

The Marble House was no less grand, though built on a smaller scale with bedrooms only for the family, the reception rooms once again built to impress, inspired by Versailles. The Grand Salon all gold, glittering in the evening sun on the night of the opening ball, a house warming party as we would know it, according to Alva Vanderbilt, for whom the house was built on the understanding that her husband would give it to her outright! Her 39th birthday present, at a cost of $11million! That would have been $260,000,000 in 2009, so now? Alva Vanderbilt designed it as her “temple to the arts”. The commentary said it was homely despite the opulent style, certainly the bedrooms were much more simple, but the house homely, I’m not sure about that!

It was interesting to go around the houses and to see another world, long gone. The time of the Great Gatsby, the Gilded Age, as it was named by Mark Twain in a book he wrote with Charles Dudley Warner. A book in which the phrase conspicuous consumption was coined, satirising greed and political corruption.

Two “cottages” were a long morning of sightseeing. Off to Diego’s for lunch again to try another thing from one of the most interesting menus we had seen all trip. Jake laughed when he saw us walk in again! We had another fabulous meal, taste sensations, big enough to need only a snack later in the day. And then it really was all over as we drove Cheryl to the nearest station, saw her onto the train, went back to the house, packed, ate cheese and biscuits for dinner, finished our wine and set off for JFK in the morning. A quick goodbye in the shuttle station and I was on my way to Paris from terminal 8 whilst Judy and Helen headed to terminal 7 and Sydney! Goodbye girls, we had such a good time, so many fantastic memories, so much fun and laughter! Let’s do it all again soon. And don’t forget “let go of the reins!”.

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