Mandarin picking and disappearing into a hermitage for 24 hours


Last weekend our family went mandarin picking at an orchard, which for me was a late start on my winter survival list – better late than never, and truly it felt like the first proper bit of winter anyway.

It was a freezing three degrees at Varroville in south-west Sydney where I was on Saturday night. I was there at the Mt Carmel Retreat Centre staying in one of its hermitages for a quick 24-hour self-directed retreat. Thankfully the hermitage itself is very comfortable! On Sunday after Mass at the Carmelite convent up the road from the centre I drove the hour and 45 minutes up to Watkins Family Farm near Wiseman’s Ferry to meet the rest of the family at the orchard. The outing (organised by class parents at our kids’ school) was a great success – all seven of us enjoyed it, which is kind of rare, so that’s pretty much sealed mid-winter mandarin picking as a new family tradition for me!

My little retreat hadn’t been on my list of things I wanted to do during winter, I’d forgotten that I’d booked the hermitage earlier in the year, but I’m glad I went. It was great to have a whole day and a night off to rest, go for a walk, and pray and think a little. I think I really need to disappear like this once a year, and although two days away are better than one, I made the most of it.

Our kids started their winter school holidays this week, and it’s already been fairly action-packed with the farm visit and picnic with friends, play dates, and a few days of sports camp for two of the boys.

On the work front, I really enjoyed finally writing an article about the home management course I did a couple of years ago. You can read that here.

Also, the July issue of CathFamily, on the environment in honour of the first anniversary of Laudato Si, is already online and it looks incredibly beautiful as always – for which I can’t take a splinter of credit. And I’m currently helping to put together a second edition of the annual Frankly (Catholic lifestyle) magazine, which should keep me busy for the next few weeks. If you haven’t seen it in a church near you, check out Frankly here.

Other things I’m currently enjoying; watching season five of Downtown Abbey with Peter (we’ve come late to it, I know), all the baking that my girls are doing this week, and sharing with our neighbours and friends the 10 kilos of mandarins we picked on Sunday.

This time last year I set myself a challenge to make the three weeks of school holidays as fun as possible on a very tight budget. This time the focus is a bit different, but it’s fun to look back and see what the children got a kick out of a year ago.

In the last 12 months my kids have really got into their nerf guns, Xbox, and computer games. I think if I gave them play dough and some old tablecloths for tent-making now they wouldn’t be quite as impressed as they were this time last year. They do all still like a trip to the library to stock up on books though – and now we have four out of five kids reading which is awesome.



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