Because of the mild weather, I had set up the tables in the garden late yesterday, right where they would receive the best shade between noon and four.
It was a warm morning. Half a dozen clouds wandered around the sky like lost sheep, wondering which way to go. They didn't take long to decide.
Linen on all the tables, drinks servery arranged on the long tiled outdoor sideboard and cutlery station beneath the apricot tree. Condiments as well.
One of the tables was covered in bread remnants. This table was beneath the plum tree by the garage - the tree the possums use as a staircase to the ground - and the possums had obviously used it as a dining table during last night's marsupial party, having stolen the bread I'd left out for the birds - from way over beyond the garden gate. I'm sure they appreciated the provision of a landing. And party food.
I cleaned the table and picked some roses.
Everything was done and now there was time to spare. I moved a vase from one table to another, and then I moved it back because it looked better on the first table. Then I went inside before I started moving tables around.
Corned beef (cooked with onions, peppercorns, cloves, apple vinager, sugar, bay leaves) served with two mustards, hot and mild; and hot onion sauce.
Spring leg of lamb, baked on a bed of mint, studded with garlic and rosemary. Hot mint sauce.
Three roasted stuffed chickens, cut into pieces, served cold.
Brother-in-law's baked ham with pineapple and cherries.
Parboiled then roasted potatoes baked in half lamb drippings and half olive oil.
Brother's green curry - hot.
Son's red chicken curry - mild.
Salads - sweet potato with raisins, toasted pine nuts and walnuts; potato with a simple vinaigrette and a red cabbage coleslaw.
We ate. There were twenty-one of us - brothers, sisters, mother, assorted spouses, children, nephews, nieces.
The afternoon drew on and the shadows danced around the garden. The children brought out the gifts and soon the lawn was a sea of paper and ribbon amidst squeals of surprise.
Desserts were served - lemon curd cake, an apple jam crumble, clootie dumpling with hot custard, ice-cream in cones for the children. Coffee. Tea. More wine? Scotch? Whatever you like.
After dessert, the perennial question arose - snooze or walk? We were evenly divided, some taking a nap in the shade on a rug or the outdoor lounge; while a bunch of us chose a walk to Merri Creek.
Around our crescent and out onto the main road, which was surprisingly quiet, then another ten minutes found us at the edge of vast parkland. Through this parkland runs the creek - unseen - along a deep gorge. A few more minutes brought us to the edge of the gorge. Stepping very carefully down a steep limestone track, we soon arrived at the creekbed. Walking half a kilometre along a barely discernible track, we crossed the creek where it narrowed, stepping across large rocks, ascended a very steep hill (trying not to think about the heavy lunch on board) and emerged, puffing, at the top on the opposite side of the creek.
Turn 180 degrees and right there, amazingly, are the tall buildings of the city simmering in late afternoon's blue haze, looking as if you could reach out and touch them.
Turn back the other way, walk another kilometre and you are on the edge of a sheer cliff. We looked down and saw the creek curling like a discarded ribbon along the floor of a plain. This is the site of protected aboriginal land. Hardly anyone comes here. We could have been a thousand miles away from the city. It's not that difficult to visit but you have to know where you're going and few bother.
We rested here a while. If you listened very carefully, you could hear the creek burbling softly, faraway. A family of wild ducks sat close to the rushes, floating on the slight current. Further downstream we saw a school of large fish - just black shadows - turning in unison this way and that.
It was only a two kilometre stroll across the northern part of the parkland to reach home. The parkland curves around to the north and we had walked a rough triangle.
- How was your walk?
- Good. Just a quiet stroll around the block.
Early evening, the children were yawning, thumbing through their Christmas books. Ten-month-old Aria woke up and burbled in the corner, warm evening sun streaming in the window, casting her face in gold on her first Christmas Day.