Happy New Year 2017

Hi, everyone.

It seems that our annual New Year letter has become at least biennial if not triennial. Life seems to have got in the way for the last several years, and for that we apologise. (Janet: so please excuse the length.) Over the last couple of years, we've been getting older and the grandchildren larger but our lives have stayed on the course established in past years. There are still lots of great places to go on holidays, and lots of red wine to drink and good food to eat, so we know we are very lucky to be living in this place and time.

Janet made a major change in February 2015? when her spatial analyst job at Jacobs was deemed to be no longer needed. She decided that given her age, on-going health issues and the need to prepare for interviews, that it was a sign that she should no longer be part of the workforce. Since then, she has been busy surfing the internet, buying crap on-line and generally enjoying a more relaxed lifestyle. Janet: That is John's version of what I do… On retirement, I was hopeful of being able to do some volunteer mapping work, and I did a small project on food mapping for the Red Cross, however they seem too busy to take it any further. I have also been writing some code for Family History mapping, which was a lot of fun but difficult to prepare for others to use. I am currently part-way through a Commissioner for Declarations course. John and I found it so difficult to get documents witnessed and certified when our Mothers needed it, I thought I would throw my hat in the ring, and become one of the shopping centre volunteers. I should be ready in a couple of months, as long as I don't get any speeding tickets in the meantime. (You can have 2 every 4 years, and I have one already - who thought they would have had speed cameras out on Christmas day!). I have also taken up sewing (clothes) again. For some reason, though, I spend more time undoing my mistakes than actually creating anything.
John has kept working in his part-time scientific consultancy business, servicing a range of clients all the way from small pest-control consultants doing contract chemical testing right through to assessing grants for government agencies and data analysis and publication services for multinational clients.. As well, he has had a role in polishing a series of papers for authors from around the world who have English as a second (or third) language. He has found it very satisfying to be able to help these authors get their high-quality research results successfully published in major international scientific journals.
A major event in John's life occurred in October 2015 when he had a serious fall from his bicycle, breaking his left hip, right collarbone and shoulder blade plus 15 rib fractures on the right hand side and a punctured lung. Needless to say he ended up in hospital! He was told by the doctors who treated him that the extent of these injuries was life-threatening, so he as extremely fortunate that the second person to come along after the accident was a nurse on her way to work. She stayed until the ambulance arrived and she may well have made the difference to the outcome! He had 11 days in hospital followed by 6 weeks in a wheel chair plus more time on crutches. Subsequently, there has been ongoing physiotherapy to deal with issues associated with the never-healed ribs and the associated scar tissue. What hopefully will be the final major step in the rehabilitation process was a collarbone reconstruction in November 2016 to plate the right collarbone which had mended itself with a major overlap rather than an end-to-end join, so he may well now set off the security at the airport. And he is still not sure what caused the accident. (Janet: There is a limit to the number of times you can nag "Stop looking at the birds and watch where you are going") The best we can work out is that he hit a stone or a stick as he went around a downhill corner not far from home. He is now very careful on this corner, for obvious reasons! (Janet: not just that corner I hope!)
Janet is going through her share of the wear and tear health issues that apparently dog the 60-70 year olds. The osteo-arthritis in both thumbs has been operated on and fixed up, and her knee injected with a very expensive lubricant. Apart from high blood pressure, high cholesterol and GERD, she is now doing really well.
Despite our individual health challenges, we still ride our bicycles regularly, aiming to ride three times per week, rainfall and temperature permitting. As seems inevitable for cyclists, we both have new bikes since the last edition of this letter. Janet's is an Avanti flat-bar road bike and John's is a Trek CrossRip cyclocross bike; we are both enjoying the upgrades. Brisbane as a great network of dedicated bike paths and shared cycle/pedestrian paths so we can avoid riding on roads almost completely and have a regular set of coffee shop destinations to choose from each time we ride. Janet: To show you how bike nerdy we have become, I was most excited by my Xmas present from John - new set of tyres.
Our BIG holiday over the last couple of years was in June and July 2016 when we spent another 4 weeks in France with 2 weeks in Iceland breaking up the cheese/wine/patisserie binge. We again cycled, with another 2 weeks in the Dordogne area (www.cycle-the-dordogne.com) cycling through areas we had not visited before. On this trip we visited another of the Palaeolithic cave-painting sites, Grottes de Rouffignac, which had cave bear hibernation pits as well as great cave paintings of animals. After that we also visited Lascaux II, the reproduction of the original Lascaux cave that is now closed to protect the paintings - very well worth seeing even though the paintings are copies of the originals. Having seen the copies, we can't imagine the impact the originals must have had when they were first discovered back in 1940. There were the usual series of great lunches of cheese, pate, saucisson, baguettes and tomatoes and lovely small hotels with great restaurants, but this time they included our first Michelin restaurant. That was quite a treat but we are still not sure what the staff thought of the pair of sweaty Australians who turned up on bicycles saying they had accommodation booked! (The next couple to arrive were driving a Bentley.) Every town has its own style of patisseries and we felt it necessary to sample as many of these as we could.
After the Dordogne, we spent a week cycling in the Tarn Gorge, closer to Provence. We visited this area in 1979 when we did the campervan tour of Europe with Janet's parents and sister, and always wanted to go back. The gorge was as beautiful as we remembered it with amazing little villages, great scenery and lovely hotels. Interestingly, when we looked at the photos we took on this trip compared to the ones we took in 1979, on multiple occasions we took almost exactly the same photo as we had 37 years previously!
After finishing the Tarn gorge tour, we headed off to Iceland for a 2-week around-the-island driving tour. Despite being mid-summer, we found it a bit on the cold side (not to mention the constant wind) but found the scenery stunning. The weather was mainly fine, which was a big plus. So many beautiful waterfalls, lakes, mountains without even considering the volcanos, glaciers, geysers (we saw the original Geysir) and hot springs. We would thoroughly recommend a visit for anyone who loves spectacular scenery and beautiful places . One of the highlights for Janet was standing in the Mid-Atlantic Ridge between the N, American plate and the Eurasion plate. Unfortunately neither of the plates moved while we were there. Being summer we couldn't see any aurora, but it was quite interesting to be there close to the midnight sun. Needless to say all the hotels had very thick curtains. Although we had great food in France, there is absolutely nothing good I could say about the Icelandic food or prices. The best meal we had was an Asian take-away.
After Iceland we had a week in Paris to round off the trip. We rented a studio apartment in the 5th Arrondissement just off Boulevard Saint Marcel via AirBNB and was very happy with it. It was great having our little Paris home to come back to each evening after a day of sightseeing. It was a non-touristy part of Paris, with a nice boulangerie at the end of the street for the breakfast croissants and pain au chocolat, and a supermarket across the road with a good cheese and pate section. By the end of the week we were known to staff in both places and greeted like we were regulars! After a few days, we also discovered that we were a short walk from one of Paris's best patisseries, Carl Marletti (http://www.carlmarletti.com/), visited every day after that. His creation Le Lily Valley was almost our favourite, but some of the others he has created came a close second. If you are ever in Paris, it is worth the journey to 51 rue Censier in the 5th but remember he is closed on Mondays and during August . The main road where we stayed, Boulevard Saint Marcel dates back to Roman Times and we were excited to find a small Roman amphitheatre and baths only a couple of kilometres down the road.
Around Christmas each year we have managed a week at the beach with Kim, Paul, Sarah and Tom relaxing, swimming, drinking beer (adults!) and eating icecream (mostly kids!). In 2015 we headed to Point Lookout on North Stradbroke Island, a large sand island just east of Brisbane while in 2016 we went to Nambucca Heads a few hours' drive south. The weather was great both years and everyone had a great time. In 2016, Sarah Harris learnt how to snorkel and thoroughly enjoyed seeing all the life under the water, but Tom was rather perturbed by the idea that the water was full of fish, even very tiny ones! He insisted that he go with us to pick up the prawns for Christmas day lunch, but was thoroughly let down when he found out they weren't alive and swimming around.
Our other regular holiday over the last couple of years has been an annual visit to Janet's sister Susan and husband Brett at Airlie Beach in the Whitsunday tourist region. Brett manages the local small airport so we visited in September 2015 for a spectacular airshow with planes doing all sorts of amazing acrobatics, and again a year later for a runway dinner. Imagine an airport runway turned into a high-class popup restaurant in the warm early evening light, and you get some idea of the event. (Janet: the airport is closed to planes at night). The following day, we had the chance to join the airport owners on a scenic helicopter flight from Airlie Beach up to Bowen for fresh seafood lunch. Flying low over the islands and reef of the Whitsunday islands was a great experience, and not one to forget in a hurry!
Our daughter Kim Harris, husband Paul and children Sarah, now 9, and Thomas, a very busy 4, all continue to prosper. Over the last year or so, they have taken to going camping whenever possible. They have 'invested' in a twin-cab 4-wheel drive that Paul has got well set up for camping with a refrigerator, battery storage and places for all the essentials so they can get up and go with very little effort. They have spent weekends and holidays at some great places and the kids love nothing more than a camp ground with a creek or stream close by. Kim continues to work for Accenture as the Australian and New Zealand Operations Manager and Paul is a Senior Software Engineer at CSG International.
Our son Kris Rogers, his wife Janet Sparrow and cockatiel Alice continue to live in Sydney where in 2016 they became home-owners for the first time. They found a nice semi-detached house in Tempe, an inner-west suburb not far from Sydney airport and close to trains, which is important in Sydney. We visited them in April 2016 and were more than a little impressed by their purchase. Houses in Sydney are typically very expensive but they have found a great house at a sensible price.
After a series of shorter term contracts within the University of Sydney, Kris began working permanently at The George Institute for Global Health (http://www.georgeinstitute.org.au/) in January 2015 as a Senior Biostatistician. The George Institute is one of the world's most renowned global health research institutions, with more than 500 staff in Australia and in centres in China, India, and the UK. As seems to be the case in such high profile organisations, Kris is always extremely busy; one indication of this is that he was co-author of 11 scientific journal papers in 2016, including one in the British Medical Journal. His wife Janet continues to work as a Senior Project Officer at New South Wales Environment Protection Authority leading the development and implementation of waste and resource recovery projects that support local government to achieve their environmental sustainability targets. For Kris, it has not been all work as last year he managed a holiday on USA's west coast riding on an enormous black Harley Davidson motorcycle for a couple of weeks. The combination of the large motorbike and (large) Kris with his huge reddish beard and swathed in leathers must have scared at least some of the locals!
Both of our mothers have continued in reasonable health, despite starting to slow down a bit. John's mother, Robin, decided early in 2016 that it was time for her to move on from the family home she had lived in for more than 60 years. We eventually found a supported-living aged care facility close by that could offer the level of care she needed now, as well as any higher level of care she may need in the future. This gave her a great deal of continuity as the aged care facility was close by has enabled her to keep her social support networks intact including keeping her current doctor, hairdresser, church, etc. John's sister Helen did all the hard work of cleaning out the family home prior to sale while John dealt with the mountain of contracts and other paperwork. The family home sold for a suburb record for an unrenovated house and even made the Brisbane paper under the headline 'Run down house sells for $1m', which caused some mirth (Janet: and indignation) amongst family members. Robin's new place is a two room apartment in an independent living centre with about 35 other residents. They provide a lovely range of meals, including artfully arranged fruit platter for breakfast and often freshly baked scones for morning tea, and dessert at least once a day, if not twice. As well, there are friendly and caring staff to assist with all manner of things such as taking her regular medications, organising shopping trips, exercise classes and so on. It is great to see her so settled and comfortable in such a comfortable place.
Janet's mother, Esme, continues to enjoy living in her retirement village. She had a few health issues earlier in the year, but once Janet learnt the importance of going to the doctor with her, she is now doing much better. She now makes her doctor's appointments for 8:00 am, which she knows is too early for me to get to across town. Walking is a problem for Mum however her doctor believes she is a long way from needing to go into a nursing home, and I know she will agree, once we have visited a few.


XXX

The Harris Family