Welcoming in 2016!

Su & Rod @ Xmas 2016

Higashimaru Shrine

Higashimaru Shrine

Yet another year is past and it’s well past time for the Lairds newsletter. One would think that with every year end a bit of a frenzy, that one would anticipate this and start earlier on the “Life at the Lairds” update. Despite best intentions, here we are yet again only just getting metaphoric “pen to paper”. As usual there is much to report, most of it good to excellent…

On the not so excellent front, Su’s mum, Bunty died quietly in July; an anticipated and ultimately positive outcome for her and the family. Rod’s father, Eric, at 92 is the only one of that generation still with us and he still is enjoying life. A reminder we all have much to be thankful for.

Academic pursuits continue to be a theme – and there were several causes for celebration. James finally managed to submit his PhD thesis – only to wake that night in the realisation that there was a major blooper in the final chapter. Some frenzied to-ing and fro-ing saw a re-submission (minus blooper) the next day. Phew! Celebration (yet again) all ‘round.

Yet more cause for celebration emerged just the following day with Katja being offered a full time job in the graphics design industry. After a difficult couple of months struggling with a range of health and under-employment challenges, this was indeed very welcome. And just two days after that James was offered “his ideal job” with the startup with which he was doing his PhD. Wow – what a week; all offspring with full time jobs for the first time ever!

Both James and Katja have been thriving (albeit at times over-worked); both excited by their work, doing great things and highly valued by their employers. Having passed through a nearly (PhD-)terminal period of “relevance angst” James’ PhD outputs look like they may play a central role in the future generation of the core product of the company he is working, for Saluda Medical. With James in a full time role, Estee has been able to quit her paid employment and focus on full time study for entry into a medical course. She continues to blitz the course with flawless grades. (We chide her for the 0.3% she misses from time to time).

Parents are of course “very pleased” by all this (ahem; understatement). We are hoping Estee makes it into medicine at Melbourne University – we would be thrilled to have them down here and settled in their own place in Melbourne. Of course this means also finding some exciting engineering work for James, which is tough when he arguably already has the best “gig” in the country…

Su has also been blitzing the academic scene with another certificate to nail to the wall – this time in ceramics, where she has been rekindling her creative juices with some very innovative and whimsical new pieces. Academe has also been a big part of Rod’s activities at the Melbourne (University) School of Engineering, where he is working to “encourage” significant performance transformation. With Melbourne no longer the country’s leader in either academic or research income rankings – and always a dismal laggard in student outcomes – the leadership is twigging to the fact they are on a burning platform. Su reckons Rod should be charging for his (im)modest advice; but of course given they don’t know what they don’t know, and in any case could not imagine any outside academe would know anything relevant – this is “unlikely”. (Read impossible). But there is change in the wind and the so, unlike Monty Python where there is a paying market for arguments, I continue to be a pain in the neck for free…

Su has also been accomplishing wholesale transformations of her own. Her continuing wonderful lectures and courses on gardens and gardening to the “high” (Melbourne Ladies Clubs) and “low” (Neighbourhood Community Centres) have resulted in a growing stream of garden design work. Her masterpiece this year has been a really creative and fun large garden and play area for a new childcare centre. It has everything from mountains and tunnels, pirate ships and islands, wild woods to explore – and its own productive garden. She has worked with crazy schedules and personally laboured to move many tens of cubic metres of soils and other landscaping materials – through sun and rain for many long hours each day. The outcome is a triumph; and also some lessons about how to do things differently next time… And indeed, there is a solid queue of work awaiting her for 2016.

It is not as if this is all Su has accomplished this year; far from it. She also put in hundreds of hours work clearing her Mother’s house and preparing its garden for sale, and sifting and shifting its contents. (Most to other locations, but a substantial residue continues to “camp out” with the Lairds, filling many rooms we might have otherwise liked to use for entertainment purposes…)

But that’s not all… We also managed some travel, with a trip to Europe in May and an impromptu visit to Japan in November. (Rod did ski with the usual family and friends in Aspen in February – a lovely time for doing things other than skiing given modest conditions.) We visited Naples and enjoyed its adjacent archaeological marvels (and some gardens), before joining a lovely tour of Palazzi e giardini del centro Italia. Our delightful and socially well connected tour leaders included a Principezza and a garden author who together enabled access to wonderful gardens and palaces around Rome – as indeed implied by the book’s title… We also found a few days to catch up with friends near Frankfurt and Düsseldorf as well as relax in Paris and London.

Given our pleasure in visiting Japan in October ’14, Su thought “a quick trip” was in order this year as a much-needed escape from her frantic work schedule. We managed to squeeze in 10 days between the opening of Su’s ceramics exhibition and a renaissance dance concert where Rod was on the hook to dance, sing and declaim. What had escaped us was that our target time was also “peak Autumn leaf viewing week” including a national holiday. Which meant for a while it appeared the only beds in Kyoto at the time we wanted to be there were US$3,000. Per night… Ahem; excessive. We solved the problem by deciding to commute some days from Osaka (15 min by Nozomi Shinkanzen) which turned out to be ideal. We ended up visiting the ancient capital of Japan, Nara, which is a short train ride from Osaka. And staying in one of the most elegant (excellently curated ceramics throughout the décor) and best serviced hotels of our experience. Kat did not believe we had a butler (neither did we); the choice of fifteen different pillows was a little over the top though.

Taken together, we are working on some really wonderful trips in 2016 (and it looks like a busy schedule – yet to be planned in detail). Apart from Rod in Aspen in February, there is a trip to Italy planned in May (some birthday cycling and a tour of the lakes and some gardens) and in September (more gardens). The latter trip may see us bouncing further west for a long overdue catch-up with our US friends on their home turf, before returning to Germany for some days for Su’s International Quilters reunion on the Schliersee in October. And it is just possible we dash up to Japan too for another 10 days in November or even later… (note to self; must lock down dates and logistics!)

2015 has been a pretty wonderful year for the Lairds and you can enjoy some of the images in “The Lairds 2015”; clicking the image below will let you the preview the book it at your leisure (full screen works best), or you can download a PDF. We are hoping 2016 will be even better, with our young folk finding pleasure and success in their work, study and lives more generally. We will of course be delighted if Estee and James make it to Melbourne – as it will have meant Estee is in a med course and James has found a job here that he likes. We hope too all our young people will have found their way into their own real-estate; likely to be a process involving considerable adventure of itself. Su has a solid book of garden design work and workshops and lectures lining up – and will certainly be flexing the creative muscles more regularly with her ceramics. We may also start doing some Yoga together (Rod is wincing in anticipation of the pain) as an augmentation to our respective individual exercise regimes (walking and swimming for Su and cycling for Rod).

Don’t forget you can always find the latest state of family newsletters through this web site through the links through to all the family member web sites. And you can email us both simply at a single address; suandrod@suandrod.com. We can also be found through our individual names before the @…