Back to school: First day nerves, a DJ and the place where fruit goes to die.

“I know I can’t…” George said as he got into bed the night before school went back after 7 weeks at home. “…but I wish I could have one more day’s break… you know, because today was so bad”.

We’d had a dramatic day with a visit to the emergency vet for a guinea pig with a large abscess that needed lancing, as well as witnessing a physical fight between three men in a shopping centre car park as we were looking for a parking spot (we hastily left the car park without going into the shopping centre).

“Mummy, I’m nervous” George said, “I’m nervous Mummy” in a wavering voice from a Tik Tok filter.

“I don’t want to do JPA (Junior Performing Arts) anymore.” He doesn’t want to continue playing clarinet and despite him dancing and singing (beautifully) round the house, doesn’t actually want to do that in public.

Earlier that night we wrote out his schedule, found clothes to wear for the return back to his no-uniform school, discussed lunch options and put some money in his wallet.

I cleaned out his school bag. Something one of us should’ve done 7 weeks earlier. My hand landed on something wet and squishy as I was assaulted by the smell of rotting citrus fruit. The bottomless pit of the school bag, where fruit goes to die, literally.

In the bag, I found:

  • 1 black banana, shrunken, mummified with a bonus mould lesion
  • the aforementioned mandarin
  • 1 shrivelled apple
  • 2 squashed cheese sticks
  • 3 different drinks in cardboard cartons (Up and Go and apple juice).
Exhibit A: mummified

George texted his friend to meet outside school at 8.30am.

The next morning he was too nervous to eat any breakfast. We gave the guinea pig his dose of antibiotics and reward kale treat, left on time and pulled up at school at 8.28am.

I’d decided to drive George to and from school for a bit until I was more sure of the buses – how crowded would they be? How clean, are the same ones running? He’d only just got used to catching the bus when school closed. Now his former bus buddy who he used to walk part way home with no longer lives next door to us.

“Ooh I’m nervous” he said as we passed some kids walking, one or two on bikes, he gazed at the playground of a primary school along the way.

We pulled into the car park of the high school to the sound of music (not the musical). There was a cluster of four or five kids, a teacher and a DJ spinning his tunes on a balcony, several metres away from where the kids were standing.

“I hate this song” said George as Dance Monkey blared across the school ground. “Where’s my friend?”

I offered to wait but he said no and got out of the car. I heard George’s name. It wasn’t the friend he’d arranged to meet, but another one. George’s face broke into a big smile as the DJ spun Chameleon.

I drove away and teared up a bit to see G happy to see his friend. I was grateful that the school had gone to the effort of organising a DJ to welcome the Year 7s back, in a socially-distanced way.

George phoned me at lunchtime to ask if his friend B could have a lift home. I left my office at 3pm to drive to collect them.

They were waiting for me out the front and I noticed B was taller with longer hair after almost 2 months of iso-life. (I’d squeezed in George for a haircut at my hairdresser’s house when I’d gone for my colour two weeks earlier).

George’s face appeared smiling at the car window, B behind him. “Hi Mum, B’s hit puberty a bit!” George felt the need to explain. B just looked a bit embarrassed and no one said anything else about it.

B’s voice was breaking. What a difference 7 weeks can make in a 12-year-old. It was like a scene from the first Diary of a Wimpy Kid movie when the kids come back from summer break and they all look older apart from Greg Heffley.

I asked B what he’d thought of online learning. “It was good, except for science. Science sucked. There was too much work.” Glad we weren’t the only ones who thought that.

I also heard that the Performing Arts teacher (the one we’d discovered on Tik Tok) brought her dog to school. “She didn’t want to leave him at home alone” George explained.

We dropped B home then George and I discussed afternoon tea. “Did you eat your lunch?” I asked. “Did you eat your grapes?”

“No, I couldn’t find them.”

It seems George’s bag really is the place where fruit goes to die.

How can I get my almost-teen to eat more any fruit? Will I ever give up trying?

Edited highlights: Mother’s Day, social visits and bye bye home learning.

Lunar phases, as told in Oreo cookies.

Life is getting back to some semblance of “normal” after restrictions and now that school is back and I’m working five days a week in the office things certainly feel that way. Thought it was time for a catch-up.

Back to school

Public schools in the ACT began the transition back to the classroom on May 18th. The week before that, the ACT government was saying schools would continue remote learning for the whole of Term 2. But there’s been no cases of COVID-19 in Canberra since May 1, and consensus is that face-to-face learning is better for kids and parents who need to go to work.

“I don’t like online learning.” George said recently. He explained he finds learning easier being able to see and talk to the teacher, touch things (particularly with science) and interact in person with his classmates. Year 7 and Infants years were the first to go back five days last week and the other years have followed, with all years back by Tuesday 2nd June.

I think it will be OK, here in Canberra anyway, while COVID-19 case numbers are zero (but with interstate travel opening up again we know that could change at anytime). Social distancing practices will be maintained as much as possible , and increased hygiene measures have been put in place. There will be no assemblies, excursions or concerts for the foreseeable future. So we’ll see how it all goes.

School starting again was another change and despite him not really liking online learning, George was a bit nervous about going back to the school after being at home since March 24. He had messaged a few school friends over the time at home and we also went around to our (former) neighbours’ new house (they’ve moved recently) once visiting restrictions were lifted a couple of weeks ago. The kids are friends with George, one of them is in his year at school, so it was great to see them before school went back.

Bye Bye home learning

The couple of weeks before that passed very similarly to previous weeks; me working in my government job in a Canberra office building two or three days per week and working from home the other days. I’ve valued that time with George while he’s been doing his remote learning. Even though I was too busy with my own work to really engage with his… I can see how difficult remote learning would’ve been for working parents with younger children.

The days I wasn’t with George, his dad did his own work from my place, an arrangement that’s worked out well. Learning remotely went OK. It wasn’t six hours a day of constant work and interaction like it is at school. More like 10 minutes a day of Google Meet time where he saw his tutor group teacher and class mates for roll call on video, then maybe a couple of hours of actual school work per day, and the occasional longer Google Meet for another class.

The rest of the day it was Tik Tok, guinea pigs and snacks. Questions of “What are you doing now George?” that I would call out from my home-office (the dining room table) were often met with “I’m just on my break.”

He submitted most of his Year 7 school work successfully, but a couple of subjects seemed to have had a lot of work to do and/or been a bit confusing (Science and Maths). We realised there were a couple of assignments due that weren’t done, and George was overwhelmed and confused about what was required. I rang the maths teacher who said “Don’t worry about the work he hasn’t done, we’ll be covering that again later in the year.” And since he’s returned to face-to-face schooling two weeks ago, he’s got back on track with his Science.

The last week of home learning I enjoyed helping him with an assignment about the phases of the moon, done with Oreo cookies. We learnt all about the waning and waxing gibbous, which somehow I’d escaped at school so it was all new to me.

We finished most days (the days I could work from home) with an invigorating walk on Red Hill. I rug up for afternoon late-autumn walks in Canberra. George wears shorts and a t-shirt…

A lovely way to end each day.

I gave George my bank card and let him loose in Woolies.

Mother’s day

“I’m going to buy you your Valentine’s Day present” said George as we got in the car and headed to the shops the day before Mothers’ Day. “Mothers Day you mean”. Anyway, so cute. As well as the flowers that he bought with my money he then bought me a triple pack of Pears Transparent soap and Ferrero Rocher with his own $10.

As well as this lovely Mothers Day treat, I had a video chat with my Mum and sister in Sydney.

A bit confusion at times

After the third attempt at trying to reach mum on a group What’s App video chat, we had contact. I called my sister in between attempts and all she could say was “Manage participants” in a hebrew accent, an in-joke after we’d shared this video of a man’s frustrated attempt to get his mum onto a Zoom meeting.

That’s better

A social visit

My brother-in-law Leo and his lovely new wife Ann (they were married in February this year at a wedding of 110 people that they just scraped-in before Coronavirus crashed society) invited us around for Mothers’ Day lunch. It was lovely to go to someone else’s house (our first social visit, the day before the visit with our neighbour). I instantly forgot the new protocol and gave my hostess a hug before she knew what hit her.

“Social distancing!” she reminded me good-naturedly. I apologised and then the host came over and gave me a more socially-appropriate elbow bump.

It was a beautiful platter of roast lamb.

Ann made a cake and got George to decorate it – beautiful.

George has now downloaded What’s App on his new phone and enjoyed making me wonder who was ringing me.

Mum, your phone’s ringing!

Gratuitous Autumn pics…

Late April/early May… Autumn in all its glory….
Winter is around the corner tomorrow!

And that was a few edited highlights from the past few weeks, the end of Autumn. What a strange year it’s been so far. It’s the first day of Winter tomorrow. I wonder what this season will bring?

Twin fur baby/neck warmers, Pizza and Pasta

What have you done since restrictions were eased?

Have you accidentally hugged anyone lately?

April “school holidays” 2020 – Tik Tok, nature walks and essential slime

I’m loving our regular sunset walks on Red Hill.

Term 2 started here in the ACT last Tuesday after a quiet and different “school holidays” which took in Easter at the beginning and Anzac Day at the end.

My son George and I go to Sydney to see my family every holidays. We usually celebrate Easter in Sydney and then Greek Easter in Canberra a week later. But this year, like everyone else we had to stay where we were because of the “C-word” restrictions.

This recent school holidays looked very similar to the last three weeks of “term”, apart from the fact that my 12-year-old George stopped spending time on his school-issued laptop, and started spending time looking at Tik Tok, making Tik Toks and watching the Big Bang Theory while I continued to work from home most days. I also joined Tik Tok, because he asked me to. Then I realised how much fun it is (and bloody addictive). We even came across his performing arts teacher on there, so extra fun! She gave him a special shout-out in their first “back-to-school” online class this week.

Back to nature

We got out for fresh air most days and have taken to walking up Red Hill regularly. When not in front of a screen, George is also quite partial to sweeping and vacuuming, and I’m not complaining. We do live in a house with four guinea pigs and accompanying hay scatter.

The weather was spectacular between Easter and Anzac day, not cold, sunny Autumn days…

Pedestrian traffic on the exercise track was quite manageable.

Essential slime

George is also quite fond of slime. He tried to whip up the first batch from ingredients we already had at home, but something went wrong. So we dashed out to buy a slime kit, which was as essential as a jigsaw puzzle I think.

School holiday Social life

The boy who lives next door half the week, one of George’s school mates, came over to visit a couple of times, even though I wasn’t sure it was allowed. But I thought it was good for their mental health. Oh, and I’ve made numerous phone calls.

Guinea pigs – the highs and lows

In other news, we had our boy guinea pigs desexed two weeks ago. The vet agreed to perform this non-emergency surgery during this time since we have also girl guinea pigs and don’t want to breed them. And we wanted these post-pubescent guinea pigs to have the surgery before they got any older. It was quite traumatic for one of them though as he developed a hernia post-op and had to have a second surgery to fix it the next day.

Pumpkin was sent home with pain medication and both he and his brother Peanut were on twice-daily antibiotics for a week. George was very good at administering their medicine through a syringe into their tiny guinea pig mouths. In around four weeks time, the boys will be able to share an enclosure with our girl guinea pigs and be one big happy herd (hopefully).

First Birthday

The girl guinea pigs turned 1! We thought a McDonalds-esque special treat

was in order. Mmmm capsicum has never looked so good.

A different Anzac day

2020 marked a new moment in history for ANZAC day, as this year people couldn’t gather together like they normally would. While I didn’t get up early to watch the service on TV live from the Australian War Memorial (a small group of officials, not members of the public, were there) I did watch the morning news a bit later and saw images of thousands of people in their driveways with candles, in their own quiet remembrance.

My sister always takes part in ANZAC Day ceremonies, particularly as she works for an organisation offering support services to veterans. She took some pictures in her driveway.

Alexcellent Recommendations:

George and I have been enjoying Masterchef. The new judges are OKaaaaay. One of them, Jock Zonfrillo (what a well-balanced name, masculine, yet feminine, Scottish, yet Italian), reminds me of Prince Frederik of Denmark.

I do miss 2 out of three of the former judges. But I’m enjoying seeing many of the old favourite contestants return. My son enjoys watching Reynold whip up amazing desserts: when he puts on those goggles and is enveloped by – I don’t know – is it dry ice? It comes from some metallic food preparation device – I don’t know – is it an ice-cream maker? He looks part scientist, part mechanic. He reminds me of Flint Lockwood from Cloudy with a chance of meatballs.

I also recently enjoyed the 2017 reality show Mariah’s World on Nine’s Life channel, documenting life behind the scenes of Mariah’s Sweet Sweet Fantasy tour including her breakup with James Packer. We don’t see much of James on camera (we see him in a party scene with his arm around her in one episode), but in the final episode Mariah reveals her decision to end the relationship.

What’s next?

Now at the end of the first week of Term 2, there is talk of lifting some restrictions; In the ACT, that means non-essential shopping and a two adults visiting another home. We’ll see what happens on the school front. Currently the plan is that public schools will stay closed for the whole term, with all learning done online.

I’m getting more comfortable with uncertainty. We never really know what’s going to happen in life, but the pandemic has pushed that idea into the forefront. In the meantime, there’s so many things to be distracted by.

Are you a Masterchef fan?

Do you agree Jock looks like Prince Frederik?

Corona time: is this the real life, or is this just fiction?

If we’d heard during the bushfire crisis in early January that by March we’d be battling a global pandemic with intense restrictions to the way we live, we’d never have believed it.

At the end of February when we were hanging with the masses on the Gold Coast, fear of the virus was vaguely hanging in the air. Earlier that month we saw news reports of China and Italy being locked down but I couldn’t imagine we would ever need to face such restrictions here.

But of course we would. As recently as early March, my son, my ex-husband and I were still thinking about a family holiday to the US, in particular New York (the home of Spiderman) for later in the year. We had no idea it would become the “epicentre of the virus”! We hadn’t booked anything but now that idea is long gone and who knows when it will be resurrected?

I knew things were getting serious in Australia when Sky Fire (an annual Canberra Fireworks and music event) was cancelled 1 or 2 days before it was supposed to happen in mid-March. Scomo (the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison) banned gatherings of more than 500 people. And the restrictions got tighter from there.

Later in March the threat tightened its grip and life changed for everyone: The specifics of the rules kept changing in a bizarre tango between rigorous caution and practicality. Only go out for essential reasons. Non-essential businesses to shut. Work and school from home if you can. Weddings can have 5 guests, funerals 10. No social gatherings in your own home. Can’t exercise in more than groups of 2. Can’t sit on a park bench.

A friend posted on Facebook that she felt like she was living in a post-apocalyptic BBC drama. Now when I read the news and look at memes on social media about the way we live now, sometimes I manage to conjure the perspective of someone who’s just crawled out from under a rock and I view it with disbelief. Are we actually living in a dystopia, a sci-fi movie? It might be 2020, but is this really George Orwell’s 1984? It’s wartime on a war called Corona.

I thought of the Spanish Flu of 1918 and I was curious about the details of that, so I could be better imagine likely scenarios of how this corona thing would might play out. How did people cope back then? How would we cope now?

I thought about Edward (Robert Pattinson) from Twilight becoming a vampire when he was a young soldier dying in hospital from Spanish Flu in 1918. His doctor, who happened to be a vampire, saw Edward’s impending death as an opportunity to feed without killing, and thus, another new young handsome vampire joined the pack. An example of fiction being stranger than truth, in this case.

Spanish flu was the catalyst for Twilight’s Edward becoming a vampire

I thought that during our lives, at least the last 50 years, there’s been no other event that’s caused the same level of global disruption and will have such far-reaching economic and social affects as this pandemic. Slowing the spread of this highly-contagious new virus that seems to manifest in unpredictable ways has resulted in over 1 million people in Australia losing their jobs and businesses, sending us into billions of dollars worth of debt as our government hands out financial lifelines.

But my great-grandparents lived through WW1, the Spanish Flu, the Great Depression and WW2. This is our generation’s history-making disruption.

Less seriously, coronavirus is theoretically causing a disruption to the idea of my getting back into the dating game. Just when I thought I might give it a crack again this year, a pandemic descends.

Now I hear the online dating gurus and columnists say that writing long messages back and forth a la Jane Austen is in and virtual dates are the new trend. A safer alternative to possibly meeting a vampire IRL (well, a metaphorical one).

Maybe I could take comfort from Love in the Time of Cholera. I’ve never read it, but I find the title vaguely comforting – the idea that love can happen anywhere, anytime. Meanwhile, I ain’t getting any younger.

But my hair is getting greyer, and now I’m not sure whether to keep my May 2 hair appointment (that was made on March 7 at the time of my last salon visit). Even though Scomo says we can now have hair appointments that last longer than 30 minutes. But since my hairdresser literally works from home these days, it’s probably fine.

The good news is that the social distancing and restrictions seem to be working so far as the rate of new infections decreases.

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.