Pre-corona era memories: George's wild night on the Gold Coast part 2 – "Saturday night – no social distancing!"

View from level 8 of Manta-on-View Hotel in Surfers Paradise

Long title, but we’re in complex times. As I typed this I could hear the title as a voiceover for a horror movie trailer. It’s strange thinking that just over a month ago, when George and I were in the midst of a crush of people waiting for a bus home from the Queen concert on the Gold Coast, we hadn’t yet heard the term “social distancing”. George, who had said the previous night was the wildest night he’d ever had”, bestowed that honour on tonight.

After George had his little scare from the yahoos yahooing in their car the night before, we got back to our hotel room and calmed down by turning on the TV to watch Music Max Mardi Gras mix, George was all “What IS this?” And I was all “This is disco!”

There was Gloria Gaynor’s I will survive (my karaoke song, I explained), there was the Village People’s Macho Man, and there was Queen with Don’t stop me now, a perfect prelude to the show we would see the next night.

We woke on Saturday morning and had breakfast at our hotel, Mantra-on-View, which had given us “two-for-one” breakfast buffet vouchers. At almost 12, George still just scraped in as a “child” so that meant a breakfast buffet for two for $20 total. The food was amazing! I do love a well-priced breakfast buffet.

Nothing says “hotel breakfast buffet” like potato gems and pork buns!

The weather was perfect (something under 30 and sunny) and we were keen to hit Surfers Paradise beach. Apart from the previous night, this was my first time on Gold Coast sand. When I’d visited Surfers Paradise 25 years ago, It was all about the night life rather than the surf life.

After googling box jelly fish just to make sure they didn’t travel this far down the QLD coast, checking for any beach warning signs in place, we headed to the yellow and red flags. The water temperature was magnificent.

“Hey, remember in early 2020 when we could still go to the beach?”

George loved the surf. He’s getting much more confident in it, so I still need to yell exactly what my mother used to yell at me: “Don’t go too far out! That’s too far! come back!” George encouraged me to go under the waves, something I used to do when I was a kid. “What do you think our guinea pigs would do if they were in the surf?” George asked. They’d probably drown we agreed.

We stayed in until the dark storm clouds further down the coast rolled up and started raining right above us. We ran back to our hotel, a five-minute dash away.

We were lucky the rain had cleared up in time for the concert.

We got into the lift and two older gentlemen asked us how the water was. We got chatting and discovered they’d driven up from Port Macquarie that morning to see Queen as well. They were able to tell me all about the free public transport that was on for concert-goers. Roads were to be closed off and car traffic was discouraged.

As we walked down to the Surfers Paradise streets to grab a snack and have a look around. Concert time was getting closer.

“What happens if Brian May suddenly gets arthritis and can’t play his guitar?” asked my little over-thinker. I replied it’s unlikely he’d suddenly get it, if it was a pre-existing condition he’d have injections before the show.

“What happens if one of them has a heart attack on stage?”Hopefully they won’t and probably not, I reassured him.

Dinner with a view

After an early room-service pizza dinner on our hotel balcony at 5pm, we caught a tram across the road down to Broadbeach, where we would then get on free shuttle buses to Metricon Stadium at Carrara. It was a beautiful evening and everyone was excited.

Although none of the coronavirus restrictions existed at the time, we were still aware of it as a potential danger. I told George we had to use our hand sanitiser after getting off the very crowded bus.

“What do you think our guinea pigs would do if they were on this bus?” George asked. They’d probably have a heart attack we agreed.

The concert was due to start at 8pm and gates opened at 6pm. George was detemined to get to the venue at 6pm, to make sure he could get a Queen tour T-shirt before they all sold out. Lucky we got there early because the queues to get into the gates were long. Since my bag was bigger than A4 size, it had to be cloaked. And I left my hand sanitiser in there!

The prized possession

We lined up at the T-shirt stand and met a girl George’s age in the queue, as well as a 6-year-old mini-Freddie Mercury (with his mum). He was the cutest little pale-skinned red-haired 6-year-old, complete with fake black moustache, dressed exactly like Freddie at 1985’s Live Aid concert.

We found our seats that were just up up up, so high in the sky, but we could see everything. We enjoyed the energy of being amongst 40,000 people. It was exciting. I don’t know if I’ll ever experience that again now that we’re in corona times.

It was fun watching the stadium fill with people.

It was exciting see the Mexican wave start at the other side of the stadium, and roll steadily, determinedly and unstoppably towards us, like the waves on Surfers Paradise beach. Or an impending Coronavirus outbreak.

It seemed to be a purple reign… I wonder what Prince would’ve thought?

The concert was amazing. Adam Lambert, although not Freddie Mercury, was a good substitute. He has a strong voice, suitably engages with the audience, and is a flamboyant performer. Sufficiently humble, he said he knows he could never replace Freddie. I was thrilled to hear Brain May and Roger Taylor play. They are amazing musicians and performers, and I appreciate it more knowing these are men in their early 70s. The highlight for me, was head-banging to Bohemian Rhapsody with George. That was up there with one of the most perfect moments of my life. We sang along to almost everything. We both absolutely loved it and I’m so happy we went.

“What do you think the guinea pigs would do if they were in this stadium?” I asked George. “Mum, that’s enough talk about the guinea pigs!”

Phone lights turned the stadium into a field of electric flowers

After an exhilarating 2.5 hour show, it was an exhausting 2.5 hour journey back to our hotel room. Queen performed from 8pm until 10.30pm after a We will rock you encore. We watched people start to leave before the show was over. When we finally got to the stadium exit, we were confused over which cloaking tent my bag was in. We moved in a slow-flowing river of people, found the tent thanks to George and grabbed my bag which he said he had never been so happy to see. But our troubles getting get back to our hotel had not even begun.

We saw a sign with the name of our stop and the bus stand number. We then stood still in a crush of people for an hour. Buses kept coming and collecting people but the throng didn’t seem to dissipate. People were coughing. A couple sneezed. I had fleeting moments of mild anxiety about the threat of coronavirus wafting around – it emerged a couple of days later that a Gold Coast beautician who’d just returned from overseas and tested positive for COVID-19 had treated 40 clients in a shopping centre not too far from where we were.

By 11.30pm, we were now at least in an actual line – an excruciatingly slow-moving line that snaked around barricades to get to the bus stop, with my very tired almost-12-year-old leaning against me. When we finally got onto a bus, everyone was so relieved, it gave us a new energy.

Once back at Broadbeach, we shuffled our way onto a light rail carriage back to Surfers Paradise where we stood up and hung on. A few people had children asleep in their arms. When our light rail stopped at Cavill Avenue, the “party” street, about 20 young people in hospital scrubs got on the light rail next to us. I was horrified to realise these young medical students/interns partied in their scrubs; what if they had corona germs?! I know they probably didn’t, but that’s where my mind goes. I knew the tram was headed back to Gold Coast University Hospital, where there were a couple of corona patients. It was all too much for one o’clock in the morning.

We got off the light rail and stumbled to our hotel across the road. Back in the room, relieved, I turned on late night music TV and we ate the ice creams I’d stashed in our little freezer compartment earlier. Only less than 6 hours till we had to be up to make our way back to Brisbane. But at least we had another buffet breakfast to wake up to.

George’s wild weekend on the Gold Coast: Part 1 “Friday night”.

A Cavill-cade of lights and colour on Cavill Avenue

My son George is just about to turn 12, so the night wasn’t that wild. But since he saw and did things he never had before, it was pretty wild to him. G and I have spent the past two weekends in Queensland, going back to Canberra during the week for work and school.

The first weekend was for my brother-in-law’s wedding in Brisbane (more on that in a later post). I’ll start from the most recent visit which was a trip to the Gold Coast to take G to see Queen (+ Adam Lambert). I’d booked the Queen tickets last April as a surprise for his 12th birthday.

He actually knew about the Queen bit but he didn’t know it was on the Gold Coast (because by the time I’d booked I could not get two seats together at the Sydney shows. I though a surprise trip to the Goldie would be fun! Little did I know that Uncle Leo would propose to the Divine Miss A and that their wedding would be in Brisbane the week before our Gold Coast trip! But not one to complain, I sucked up two weekends in a row in the not-too shabby South East Queensland.

We arrived at our Surfer’s Paradise hotel on the train from Brisbane at 7pm (also partly via a chauffer-driven Mercedes – that was not an Uber -which I accidentally booked, but that’s another blog post), then got ready to go out to dinner at a burger joint called Milky Lane. We walked down the Esplanade to Cavill Ave, a hive of lights, fast-food joints of every kind, souvenir shops, and all kinds of people. We even saw four bicycle-riding men dressed as super-heros. George looked around in awe.

Not Milky Lane…but Friday Night lights!

We finally made it to Milky Lane just before 8pm, and I momentarily worried about the loud music – how would my middle-aged ears and his pre-teen ears cope with this music that was too loud for us to talk – oh well perhaps we’d just get used to it – the 20-somethings in booths didn’t seem to mind. But thankfully we were led to a slightly quieter dining area down the back.

After some time studying the menu, I let George order the “Kevin Bacon” despite my better judgement. I felt he really should’ve gone for the kids burger, at half the size and half the price. The Kevin Bacon in all it’s greasy and meat/cheese laden glory arrived and two bites later he’d finished with it.

Well hello Kevin

I ordered the Chic-Kanye. This was a spicy chicken burger that was almost too hot to handle. I now realise we should’ve ordered one burger between us. In fact, the fries and vanilla milkshake (and wine for me) probably would’ve been enough. But still, all the important food groups were represented – there was a Cos lettuce leaf on one of the meat patties, right there next to the melted cheese.

All the food groups were represented, almost.

Despite the huge dinner, there was room for an ice-cream from Baskin Robins (separate stomach for dessert) “I never do this!” I said to an older woman who was looking at my honeycomb icrecream with whipped cream on top as we left the shop. “No, of course not, that’s what holidays are for! Start again on Monday” she said comfortingly. How did she know that’s exactly how I roll (not literally).

Pretty

After picking up a pair of thongs in a souvenir shop (I’d forgotten to pack/remind George to pack his thongs) we checked out the beachfront night markets, stalls of tasty treats and gifts.

As the beach is quite narrow, so close to the Esplanade, and well lit from the street lights, we ventured on to the sand and tested the water. It was the perfect temperature. George discovered what he was sure was a box jellyfish on the sand, but after googling it later back in the hotel room, I was pretty sure it was a normal jellyfish (boxes aren’t usually found south of Gladstone).

Dark: Just dipped our toes in
Not a box jellyfish

Then it was time to head back to our hotel. As we were waiting to cross the Esplanade, a car with four youths (hoodlums, my mum would say) drove past with the windows down and one of them suddenly squawked something unintelligible. It made George jump.

“Well, this has been the wildest night I’ve ever had!” he said. And I reckon he’s right. So far. I pushed thoughts of a future Schoolies week out of my head.

Next time: Part 2 “Saturday Night”

Have you ever had a wild night in Surfer’s Paradise? I did in 1995, looooong after I’d finished high school. I don’t think it was really that wild though. And I never went to Schoolies.

Cruel Summer (but there was still some fun to be had)

I don’t mind Summer but I’m always ready to say goodbye to it and move onto the next season.

It’s the end of February 2020, we’re two months into the new decade and it’s been a disaster-filled start for many – fires, floods and there’s the Corona virus threatening to emerge as a pandemic, and don’t get me started on “Megxit”. It has not been a relaxing start to the year.

For me, the worst I dealt with was a couple of smoke-hazey drives up and down the highway between Canberra and Sydney. There was some mild anxiety about a particularly smokey day, and a big blaze that broke out just south of Canberra, where I live.

Fire in the ‘hood

One night in early January, when I’d just driven back home to Canberra from Sydney that day, a Canberra friend messaged me from her Sydney holiday asking if I was OK. She’d read on the Emergency Services social media feed that there was a fire in our suburb.

I could smell smoke that evening but I just thought it was on the wind from the NSW south coast. I checked our local Emergency Services Facebook page and saw there was grass fire 1km from me! And it turns out it was arson.

The next morning, I knew fire had impacted as I could see a faint orange glow filtering through the partially open curtains downstairs… it was a bizarre orange smoke haze. Many people emerged on Canberra streets that day in face masks.

So began my twice-daily checking ACT Emergency Services Agency (ESA) Facebook page for live updates in the form of posts and streamed media conferences for most of January. All credit to the ACT Government’s ESA. They did an amazing job of keeping people informed in a calm and organised way, an example of excellent communications.

In the last week of January a fire started in the Namadgi national park, just south of Canberra. Conditions got really bad and everyone was on edge, particularly residents in the southern most suburbs. It looked like this from a distance ….

Photo taken by my friend Donna from her back deck, in a southern Canberra suburb not far from us.

Years of work up in smoke

My uncle’s barn that he’d spent a long time renovating into a beautiful event space was lost in one of the fires in the NSW Southern Highlands. Fortunately no one was hurt and his home was spared.

Never rains, but it pours

One day not long after “orange smoke day”, the Canberra skies opened to the almightiest of hail storms. I did get some hail where I work down in downtown Tuggeranong, it was a bit loud on the office windows… but then that afternoon I was surprised to get several texts from family and friends in Sydney asking “Are you OK? IS your house and car OK??”

I read the news and realised that many in Canberra’s parliamentary zone and northside had suffered from golf ball-size hail, smashing car windows and damaging homes. Luckily we were spared.

Making the best of a bad situation

In January I worked, taking days off here and there for the school holiday juggle. My son George (the boy formerly known as Spider Boy) and I had a few local pool swims, went to movies, and many trips to Woden plaza for the free and clean air. On his dad’s school holiday days, they did art galleries and museums and plenty of video games.

I took leave the last week of January and we had a weekend away in sunny 20-something degree smoke-free Coogee Beach in Sydney…

Almost felt guilty being here. Almost.

Then it was back to Canberra for high school prep – clothes and stationery shopping.

Then George and I went to Sydney again (minus the guinea pigs this time) for my birthday. Plans included dinner with my parents and sister and going to the Billy Idol concert with my sister and a group of friends, one of whom attended a Billy concert with me when we were 16!

Security confiscated this amazing sign señorita Margarita made but kindly said they’d pass it to Billy. They even took down my email address. But Billy never wrote.
My Billy Possie minus friend Nadia who was taking the photo (she saw Billy with me in Sydney in 1986!)

Other birthday plans included a beach swim. Now that I live in Canberra, it’s very important I squeeze in those beach and harbour swims on Summer visits to Sydney.

I love the landscape around Canberra – the hills, the trees, the native animals, the light, the big skies (when there’s no fires around), but when I’m at the beach I realise how much I miss living close to the sea; the salt water, the open space, the breeze off the water, the salt in the air, the relaxed vibe. Inland lakes are just not the same. Ah well, maybe one day…

The place I grew up. I just took my proximity to the beach for granted for years! Maybe a nice little beachside pied-à-terre some day? Photo by Mudassir Ali on Pexels.com

How has your summer been?

Next time: I’m writing this post from Surfer’s Paradise. And last week we were in Brisbane for my son’s uncle’s wedding. More about our travels soon!

Christmas 2019: Crazy guinea pig roadtrip to Sydney

Christmas seems like a long time ago now and for so many Australians, Christmas and New Year celebrations were the furthest things from their minds as they faced the prospect of losing everything in the widespread bush fires that have been burning for weeks now in many parts of Australia.

My son George and I alternate our Christmases between Sydney, where my family lives, and Canberra, where we live. This year, it was Sydney’s turn, and because fire conditions in the areas we needed to go through were OK (although a bit smokey) on Christmas Eve, we made the drive – it was my first time driving from Canberra to Sydney (long-time readers may remember George and I are Murray’s bus aficionados.) So George and I and four guinea pigs set off with the air conditioning on recycled air for 20 minutes at a time.

We made the journey straight through, apart from a quick stop at a highway truck stop at Marulan to restock the guineas’ travel compartments with cucumber slices to keep them hydrated.

We arrived to a cooler Sydney than the hot Canberra we’d left, and we were even greeted by a few drops of welcome rain – praying it will rain soon in our regional areas. We went for a walk at Rose Bay and eagle-eyed George spotted what we thought was a sting ray in the harbour…

What lurks beneath: several shades of grey.

Christmas came and went with family, church, vintage fashion, Christmas food, champagne, and guinea pig antics. I realised that morning that we’d run out of fresh veggies for our furry friends. All the veggies mum had were already cut up and thrown into assorted dressed salads – too fancy for guineapigs.

Dad was arriving to mum’s later so I asked him to bring a carrot to tide the pigs over till I went out later. Not much was open being Christmas Day, but I did find a very expensive Bondi grocery store filled with backpackers on Christmas night, so was able to restock the piggies vitamin C supply there.

Away in a manger: pellets for piggies
Oh what fun it is to wear Polyester all the way, hey! I’m wearing a $5 bargain bin item from Canberra vintage store Material Pleasures. Sister wears Elvis postage stamp skirt from I don’t know where.

The days post-Christmas drifted one into another and consisted of bowling with George, my cousin and her son, quiet times walking around mum’s neighbourhood, going to the shops, including THREE visits to Pet Barn, a swim at Cook and Phillip pool in the city, Mum’s birthday three days after Christmas which included lunch in town and her having a good chat to a charming young tattooed and pierced Canadian backpacker on his way to a harbourside beach. There was a lot of chocolate eating and watching News 24 about the fires in South East NSW and Victoria mostly, and being grateful for the joys we have here, like guinea pigs…

The joy of guinea pigs
No mistletoe in Sydney’s Queen Victoria Building but there’s no escaping a kiss from auntie!

Mum’s birthday lunch in town

Birthday fun
Too hot for coffee

Selection of cakes at Cicchetti’s in the QVB. They do a very nice high tea there.
Piggy playdate with George and our friend Josh. The piggies were being hand-fed pieces of fresh basil. Merry Christmas piggies!

I know how fortunate we were to be able to relax this Christmas unlike so many other people. If you celebrated Christmas I hope it was a good one.

Hello, I’m back… Spring stories and Winter wrap-up all in one

Hello, I’m back. I started drafting a post Winter school holidays wrap up 2019: You can’t go wrong in Tallong at the beginning of Term 3. Life took over and I never published it, so I’ve whacked it onto the end of this post now at the end of the third week of Term 4!

Term 3 was all about:

  • getting to know our guinea pigs better
  • joining a new team at work
  • wintry walks,
  • collecting and trading in bottles for coins with Spider Boy as part of the ACT’s container recycling scheme
  • making delicious green soup (well, I did that once)
  • more guinea pig snuggles and lots of photos
  • a visit from mum from Sydney
  • a trip to Melbourne for a Problogger day
  • book week at school
  • a walk in the National botanical gardens
  • a visit to Floriade at the beginning of Spring
  • enjoying the sight of pink and white spring blossoms in Canberra’s streets
  • more Lush bath bombs
  • Steptember
  • trivia night with work mates
  • kicking the soccer ball around in the park in the late afternoons
  • prepping Spider Boy for school camp (but then he got sick and I collected him after dinner on the first night)
  • exploring Lake Gininderra on Canberra’s north side

Then we had a visit to my Dad in the Blue Mountains and Mum in Sydney for a week in the October holidays.

I have no photos of the past couple of months in this post as I’ve run out of storage space on WordPress so I’ll need to pay for more before I can upload any new images.

Meanwhile, here’s my recap and photos from July school holidays 2019!

Winter wrap up… July School Holidays

I worked for one day of the school holidays then took the rest of the time off work. We had a few days away in Tallong with my friend Nadia and her two boys.

Spider boy and I dropped off our new pet guinea pigs at their holiday resort, the “Cavy Comfort Motel” (the exotic pet boarding facilities at the local vet), stopped off for petrol and a tyre check, then went through the Macca’s drive-through all before we’d left Canberra’s north. We headed down the Federal Highway to Goulburn and all was well, until it wasn’t.

There was a distinct “air noise” – the sound of air rushing through something. By the time we pulled up at Bundanoon station to pick up my friends, it sounded like we were dragging something. It was the mud flap. We drove on a rocky dirt road from Tallong to the property we were staying at. The sound of the mud flap dragging was very disconcerting, not to mention my worry at the sound of stones flying up and hitting the underside of the car. Then the noise stopped. A smoother road part of the road perhaps?

When we drove out of the property the next day to explore the area, I drove past something long, black and twisted on the side of the road. “I think that was my mud flap” I announced, and everyone laughed. I picked it up on my way back and shoved in the back of the hatchback.

Here are some happy snaps from the trip…

View from the back door

Tallong had a bit in common with New York:

The kids wanted to be a part of it… not New York, but it’ll do.

We met some very friendly donkeys at the sprawling Air B&B property my friend had booked: Tex, Don and Charlie, named after members of Cold Chisel.

You can’t be Jimmy
Mr.11 taught Tex/Charlie/Don the art of the selfie. Album cover?

They ate carrots and hay and made us miss our new(ish) pet guinea pigs even more.

Hello Spider boy

Walking in Penrose state forest to the sound of banjos playing

Evening activities

Stone buildings in Taralga, where we went for a day trip from Tallong.

July winter festival in Bundanoon

Morning tea in Bundanoon

Exeter Antique shop.

A few days later, we said goodbye to our friends and Spider boy and I drove back to Canberra with the mudflap still in the back and had no further car problems.

Then we had a few days in Sydney in the second week. Sydney in Winter is absolutely one of the best places to be. Definitely a reprieve from the Canberra cold.

Sydney Winter is a walk in the park, or a ferry ride on the Harbour.

We managed to make it in to the Rocks and Circular Quay for the Bastille Festival.

Extremely decadent lunch of fries and truffle aioli

We love getting our art fix at the MCA when we’re in that part of town.

Discovered Portrait mode on the iPhone!

See? Sydney Winter is a splash at the beach

It’s a kick of the beach ball in thongs

It’s watching the sun set from a ferry.

Thanks for a beautiful Winter escape, Sydney!

29 good things (and a few silly ones) about Winter in Canberra

Sunday of the Queen’s Birthday long weekend, view from Red Hill, 4pm

It’s the end of the Queen’s Birthday long weekend, the ski fields have officially opened, and I’m now staring down the barrel of three more working weeks until the end of the financial year, which means I’m going to be very, very, busy with a number of not-excellent things not fit for this exciting blog.

We also are heading to the shortest day of the year, June 21. I googled different sun set times on Saturday and saw that Canberra’s sunset was scheduled for 4.57pm (Sydney’s was 4.52), yet at 5.10pm on Saturday I saw the most beautiful pink and orange in the sky.

Look at those colours! Filter-free fun here.

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before on this blog, I like cold weather. So I’ve put together a quick list of some of my good things about winter in Canberra (some of them are a bit of stretch, even for winter-loving me).

  1. Being cold outside means it’s a good excuse to stay inside and try making some new dishes like dark chocolate, pear and hazelnut torte, ham and vegetable risotto, cardamom and pistachio bread and butter pudding, a variety of soups and shakshuka (things I want to make from June 2019’s Woolworth’s Fresh magazine*).
  2. The bitter cold and icy winds that cut like a knife add an extra degree of difficulty to daily life – which is really an exercise in building resilience and also helps with mindfulness (see? stretch).
  3. There’s the pride of knowing Canberra has the lowest minimum temperatures of all the capitals, everyday. (I don’t know if this is a fact, but it feels like it.)
  4. This makes you appreciate getting inside and feeling cosy (George’s contribution).
  5. “No I don’t have any more!”said George when I asked him if he had any more good things about Winter.
  6. Hot bubble baths. I wonder if Lush has any winter-themed/scented bath bombs?
  7. Frost on the grass and ice on cars left out overnight is so pretty and sparkly!
  8. The Best & Less in Tuggeranong (the name ‘Tuggeranong’ by the way means ‘cold place’ in the language of the Ngunnawal people) has been selling $4 polar fleece couch blankets! I was zipping past on my lunch break and stopped to buy two. This was in the last week of May, so they might be sold out by now.
  9. You can go the whole hog with your winter outfits: woolly scarves, felt hats, driving gloves, fur-look trim on boots and jackets, and I recently saw a girl with fluffy ear-muffs as she walked from the work carpark to the office entrance.
  10. Turning on the heater when you get home at the end of the day.
  11. Weekend afternoons at home finally putting together those IKEA flat-packs and making things cosy. When I moved here the first time, there was no IKEA. So very convenient to have one in Canberra now.
  12. Using a hot cup of coffee as a hand-warmer, and also an insides warmer, and a caffeine hit.
  13. I heard once in a political documentary on Canberra that its location was intentionally selected because of the cold climate, so we’d all be like little hamsters in the hamster-wheel, running to keep warm. Also apparently a cold climate makes public servants think more clearly. (I can’t vouch for this.)
  14. Going to bed and reading books. George came up with another good thing.
  15. Wintry bare trees against a bright blue sky.
The clear winter skies of Canberra on a sunny day are amazing.

Wow, there are 15 good things already, do you really need more? OK, here are some sensible, practical good things that you can put in your diary this Winter, residents and visitors alike…

  1. The Winter Handmade Market June 29-30. Canberra’s Handmade Market is on four times a year and showcases artists, designers, stylists, craftspeople and produce from all over Australia.
  2. The Canberra Region Truffle Festival is a whole range of truffle events from 1 – 31 July.
  3. Living in Canberra we are so close to the NSW snow fields – At 2 hours’ drive you can be there and back in a day. From June 29 Murray’s buses will run daily ‘Snow Express’ trips (link to Murray’s) from Canberra. You can get coach travel, lift ticket and equipment hire from $190. Or from $43 if you just want to go and look at the snow and not ski! Pretty.
  4. If skiing isn’t for you, how about a day trip to Cooma (the home of Birds Nest), Bredbo and Jindabyne? Riot Act has some great ideas here
  5. Corin Forest is an easy morning or afternoon trip at around 40 minutes’ drive from Canberra. There is a mini snow field that’s great for kids.
  6. Winter Festival – for the past few years, Garema Place in the city centre has been decked out like a winter wonderland with an ice-rink and fairy lights.
  7. Ice hockey matches at Phillip ice rink. Phillip Ice rink, 1 Irving Street Phillip.
  8. Going for one of many walks around Canberra – Riot Act has these ideas
  9. The Forage food festival, Dairy Rd Fyshwick, June 15 2019 2pm – 7pm. Although it must be said last time we went there was a lot of traffic getting in and out of the venue.
  10. For an “alpine experience right here in Canberra”, why not have a go at indoor skiing at Vertikal Snow Sports? It’s right next to the Forage (see number 9)
  11. Get inspired to get cosy at ‘Creative Fibre’ at the Old Bus Depot Markets – a day for the regions’ textile artists to showcase and sell their work. See products and learn about processes involved in weaving, knitting, crocheting, hand dyeing fabric and more. July 14, 2019 The Old Bus Depot Markets, 21 Wentworth Avenue Kingston.
  12. More truffle stuff: Truffle-infused winter weekends at the cellar door. Mount Majura Wineyard, June 8 – 25 August 2019.
  13. Warm Soup, Cool Jazz. Literally that – sip on warm soup and mulled wine while listening to live music. June 30, 2019 at the Mercure Canberra, 39 Limestone Ave Braddon.
  14. For other great ideas visit the Visit Canberra website!
Winter skating at ‘Skate-in-the-city’, Garema Place Canberra, 2016.

I know there are many more good things to do! Please feel free to add your own in the comments!

What do you like to do in Canberra in Winter?

*The Alexcellent Life is not sponsored by Woolworths. I just like their free magazine.

Bye Autumn

The sun has set on Autumn. I find it such a calm season. Comfortable temperatures and muted tones. We’ve had a red-carpeted stroll through tree-tunnels of orange and gold. Leaves fly like earth-tone fairies across pink 5pm skies. And now suddenly, it’s Winter for sure, by calendar and temperature, in case there was any doubt. See you next time round the Sun, Autumn.

Edited highlights: Pancakes, date loaf and Swedish foodstuffs

We like to make things in this house… well, not all the time, we can open packets and buy pre-prepared stuff with the best of them (chicken-on-a-stick, fish-in-a-box), but when we do make things from scratch we are very proud!

Exhibit A: Date loaf for school election day cake stall…

Fresh…

Exibit B: My mothers’ Day pancakes, made for me by George

so lucky…

Made with a little bit of help from this…

I may have dropped a hint by buying pancake mix the day before.

The date loaf looked good, but I didn’t taste it and hadn’t baked a second one to keep for us. I wrapped it and literally took it straight to the cake stall still warm. Someone whacked a $7 price tag on it and after I came back from doing a bread and chopped onions run for the school BBQ, the date loaf had sold! Hope whoever bought it enjoyed their afternoon tea.

This sifter belonged to my mum’s mum, Philippa. I love it. This is George doing his bit for election day school fundraising.

The last days of Autumn have brought some pretty sunsets…

Looking out my dirty old window…

We’ve had high school information nights to go to in preparation for next year and dinner out with some school families.

The best card of all!

A Mother’s day outing in the city to many favourite destinations…

Dobinson’s is one of my favourites. And is soon to open in Woden!
Oh yeah, this old chestnut…

This past week we’ve had a visit from my mum, aka Batgran, aka George’s “Naughty Granny” (naughty because she was the one who introduced a much younger George to chocolate, hot chips and video games – not all in the same day). Maybe that’s just what grannies do.

This weekend, we introduced Granny to IKEA. “They’ve got it sown up!” she said, impressed with the cafe, the grocery section, the checkouts, and the other cafe at the checkouts exit where you buy the $1 hotdogs. She came out armed with Swedish foodstuffs and confessed to buying them “because they’re Swedish”. I know what she means. Sometimes I feel like I live in Europe when I visit IKEA. It’s a nice little escape.

We had been enjoying the last of T-shirt and shorts weather (George) before being hit by an icy blast at the end of May, which saw snow in the Blue Mountains (but not in Canberra). But still, he has relented and started wearing his long pants to school this past week.

And finally last week, George got his first pet… two actually, a pair of baby guinea pigs!

We’ve been learning a LOT about Guinea pigs. Will post more about that next time.

Have a great weekend.

Election day bake

Well today is Election day and I’ll be going to our local primary school to vote and serve at the cake stall/sausage sizzle.

This time, I didn’t do the cutesy-wutesy little panda cupcakes I slaved over in 2013… ain’t got time for that these days. I’m baking a date loaf, easy and quick and something my grandmother used to make a lot. So simple, but so delicious with melting butter.

Not my grandmother’s recipe. This is from The Commonsense Cookery Book, our school cooking class bible in year 7.

Election days are exciting days, and I like to mark the occasion by supplying a cake for the school cake stall. I didn’t bake for the last federal election in 2016, but I did bake cupcakes for the one before that between Rudd and Abbot in 2013…

I was inspired by some cupcakes I saw featured on Housegoeshome blog post 5 cake stall ideas (that will walk off the table)

The post featured cute panda cupcakes from baking website Bakerella

Except Bakerella’s looked liked this…

They are still one of the most popular posts on Bakerella, originally posted in April 2012.

Eleven-year-old Spider Boy George saw a picture of my version last night and said, “I remember those!” He was five when I baked them, and I’ve never attempted them since.

Let’s recap:

Bakerella’s panda cupcakes…

My panda cupcakes…

Nailed it! Don’tcha think?

Oh goodness, it’s already so late in the morning. I’ve got to get a date loaf in the oven before my cake stall shift later.

Will let you know how it turns out!

Will you be eating an election day sausage today? Or buying something from the cake stall? I’ll probably do both.

Easter holidays 2019: trains, buses, taxis and crowds.


Well we’re about to hit day 2, week 2 of Term 2, and I can’t believe we’re nearly in the middle of 2019. George was not excited about school starting last week, still being in “holiday mode” he said, the night before. I was still in holiday mode too last Monday morning but now back into the swing of things well.

This holidays, after our afternoon of bath products window shopping, I worked for a couple of days and then we hot-footed it to my Dad’s in the Blue Mountains. This involved a Murray’s Bus from Canberra then a train from Sydney’s Central station. Why did I not drive? I’ve caught the anxiety of the M5 from my parents. So 6 hours after leaving Canberra, we arrived in the Blue Mountains, about 90 minutes west of Sydney.

We witnessed an altercation on the train between two young women over one of the women saving a seat for “a friend getting on at Parramatta”, and taking up four seats (2 for her luggage, one for her bottom and another for her legs). George was quite interested in all the lively high-school/uni student conversations, including from a group of six skateboarder-types perched on chair arms, as there weren’t enough seats.

“Next time, we’re driving!” I whispered to George in a wave of middle-aged defiance against my parents.

In the mountains we met up with Dad’s partner’s daughter and her boys aged 8 and 11, so George had plenty of play time with them. We had some lovely late afternoon walks admiring the red and orange leaves and Dad cooked a lamb roast on Good Friday.

Autumn parade in Blue Mountains streets.
It was a scene from a fairy tale in a local park!

We battled the crowds in Leura Mall (Pitt Street Mall, more like it) while we were coffee-chasing (me) and lolly-shopping (George) and sneakily vintage-clothing window-shopping (me). Leura on Good Friday was like Campbell Parade in Bondi on a Summer Saturday, proportionately speaking.

Bustling Leura Mall on Good Friday

George was disappointed Woolworths was shut – he couldn’t get his hot fried chicken wings, but he cheered up with pizza at Leura Garage, a cafe with Bondi-style prices in a charmingly decorated converted garage. It was very good Margarita pizza though. We bowled up to the host standing behind a lectern at the cafe entrance who informed us we could go on a “wait list” for a table and he would phone us when one was ready. To make the most of our time, we hurried over to the gourmet chocolate shop “Josophans” around the corner and selected a few items. Just as I was about to queue up to pay, I got the call from Leura Garage… a table was ready now! No time to purchase chocolate, I planned to return later. So much for peaceful village life.

Chocolate bunnies perched on some kind of car thing.

After our late lunch George felt better so was tolerant of my browsing (Yes, I was happy browsing) in a few arty and vintage shops. And we went back to Josophans for Easter chocolate gifts.



We got a taxi to Dad’s in the next town as it was late and Good Friday – I did consider waiting for a train but a lamb roast waits for no one!

The rest of our holidays was more trains, buses and taxis. Because our train to Sydney the next day was delayed by 30 mins, it meant we had time to duck across the road for this…

Easter in Sydney was a whirlwind of wheeling luggage around from Central to Bondi Junction, lunches, family, chocolate, pizza, no church, no beach and an Easter egg hunt in Granny’s courtyard.

We caught a bus and taxi (thanks, “track work” on the Eastern Suburbs train line), and then met my friend Nadia to catch a train to the Royal Easter Show with our boys aged 8 – 13, then a train, bus and another bus back to Mum/Granny’s.


Boys 8, 11 and 13 ready for the journey home

After the Show, it was a bus from Central to Darlinghurst to Nadia’s amazing new pad – location, location, location! Then we hot-footed it to Kings X to get a bus back to Granny’s. 14,000 steps later, I collapsed on the couch and George carefully examined his Warheads (sour candy) showbag.

Location, location, location! Perfect for Mardi Gras.

The next day was lunch with Sister Señorita Margarita in the very lunch-friendly Woolworth’s* express in Pitt Street Mall (Leura Mall, more like it), before catching a train and a bus to Skyzone in Alexandria to meet my cousin and her son and then catching a bus back to Bondi Junction where the thought of a train and another bus back to Mum’s was all too much so I jumped in a taxi. Which really was all too much, in the dollar sense.

George found his mothership in Sydney’s CBD. He looks a bit tired. Too many holiday late nights!

The next day, we got a Murray’s bus back to Canberra, then a taxi home to my beautiful, scratched little hatchback that gets me from A to B.

Before the Easter holidays ended, we managed to fit in another Easter, Greek Easter, with family friends of George’s dad. George found a canine friend there. I still haven’t managed to get him a dog. I can’t remember this dog’s name, but I think it was a Greek name and she’s part husky.

George and his Greek-Siberian friend



Much fun was had by all cracking these beautiful creations, by knocking them together and seeing whose egg cracks. It’s sort of like pulling Christmas crackers without the cheap plastic trinkets and hats.

I hope you’ve had a great start to Term 2, or May, if you don’t think in school terms. Less than four weeks to Winter, my second-favourite season! I’d better fit some decent Autumn walks in before then, since it’s my favourite time of the year.

Canberrans say you don’t turn your heater on until after Anzac Day. It’s not that cold yet, so I haven’t needed to. I’m really enjoying sitting with a blanket over my knees in the evening when there’s a bit of a chill. It is SO cosy.

*This post is not sponsored by Woolworths. I just go there a lot.