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!

Canberrafication

The past three months has flown…

Well here I am. It’s been three months since my last blog post. Spider Boy and I are moving back have moved back to Canberra. Yeah, I started writing this post in January, right before we moved!

In my previous post I wrote about the science of new year’s resolutions, I gushed about “…my exciting plans for 2016” and how I would catch you up “…in the next one or two days”. Well make that one or two three months because here I am in MARCH APRIL! ANZAC Day in fact. But let me briefly catch you up.

Packing stress

Late December and early January passed in a haze of sweat, dust, stubbed toes, paper cuts, boxes, butchers paper, a shoddy tape gun and backaches. There was Christmas, New Year, family, friends and trying to keep Spider Boy amused between bouts of packing, and weather involving intense heat and extreme rain. There was too much screen time and not enough beach time. I’m sorry, Spider Boy.

Settling into a new life

I don’t blame my new, busy, full-time job for my lack of blogging since moving to Canberra. I don’t blame settling Spider Boy into a new school and setting up a home for us. I blame my Internet Service Provider and the faulty modem they sent me. Then finally, four weeks after “connecting the internet”,  it finally worked! After numerous laborious phone calls to the call centre and a technician visit, we had Wifi lift off. But by then I’d lost my blogging groove.

Why am I in Canberra again?

For  the past 6 years, since Spider Boy was was 2,  we’d been living in Sydney, where I grew up, close to my family and long-time friends. But now it’s time to be back to the city Spider Boy was born in, where his father lives, so he can see his dad regularly. It’s the main reason I moved back. I wanted the logistics of my son spending time with his father, to be easier. And I also have good work opportunities here. And real-estate is a bit more affordable.

We have been promised lots of visits from our family and friends, and we have had some already, which makes us very happy. The time we spend with loved ones and the situations we see them in may have been reconfigured, but they are still in our hearts every day. And even though I feel a connection with Canberra, I’ll always be a Bondi girl.

Moving to Canberra was easier the second-time around

I may hail from a trendy beach-side suburb, but I was never the kale-inhaling, chain-smoking, bikini-top wearing type sitting on a crate outside the Paris Go cafe. But I did schlepp up and down Hall Street for 27 years. Three of those years were spent in a part-time job helping tourists and celebrities buy postage stamps, cigarettes, scratchies and bus tickets at Bondi Beach Newsagency. (I sold a pack of Camels to Noah Taylor once.)

When I first told my dad back in 2012 I was thinking of moving back to Canberra, he said, “But you’re such a Sydney person.” The ocean gets under your skin. The first time I moved to Canberra,  I dreamed of the beach and harbour every night for months. But I haven’t had those dreams this time around. Maybe because moving to Canberra for the second time isn’t such a culture shock. But the first time it really was.

The culture-shock of the Capital

When I first moved to the Capital in January 2004, although I immediately loved the mountain vistas, wildlife and people I met, there were things I struggled with:

  • the language – did everyone speak Acronym?
  • no beach
  • not being able to just run down to the beach
  • the dry, baking heat of January
  • dry dusty earth and gum leaves everywhere
  • the reliance on cars
  • the whole “town centre” concept with long stretches of road in between
  • brutalist architecture
  • weird 70s bus-stops
  • unmowed grass hiding the “footpaths”
  • The realisation that the Woden Plaza/bus interchange of the mid 2000’s was just like the Bondi Junction of my 70s childhood

I remember a visit back home to Sydney when I was pregnant with Spider Boy.  I went to a Tupperware party at Señorita Margarita’s house. The Tupperware demonstrator happened to come from Canberra. “Yeah, I escaped” she said gleefully. I felt like hitting her over the head with her food storage solutions. Her glee at escaping served as unwitting mockery of where I now lived, and I felt resentful I had to go back there.

The beginnings of my Canberrafication

But then after I did leave Canberra almost 6 years ago, it gradually dawned on me that there were things I missed about this city  with its developing quiet confidence.

I didn’t realise it until after I’d left, but I’d actually become a bit Canberrafied. And during my visits back to Canberra with Spider Boy, I realised I was missing:

  • fresh air
  • proximity to snow and rural areas
  • mountain vistas
  • the ability to park your car not only in front of your house, but on your own property
  • green space and trees
  • crisp and sunny winter days
  • blossoming fruit trees in spring
  • Braddon’s vibrant coffee culture and cool shops
  • the burgeoning food and wine scene
  • great little hidden-treasure suburban coffee shops
  • the birds, so many birds
  • kangaroos in surburbia and on the walking tracks that weave through the city
  • Tilley’s
  • hot air balloons slowly rising and descending on crisp Autumn mornings
  • all the amazing national institutions, exhibitions and events
  • farmer’s markets
  • the great community feeling

And other things that make it a great place for Spider Boy:

  • sporty places – bike paths, ovals, sports clubs, ice-skating rink, the Australian Institute of Sport etc
  • educational opportunities

These lists just scratch the surface.

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View of Telstra Tower from the National Arboretum.

 

Canberra’s joys

So for the past few years, I’ve been promoting Canberra’s joys to Sydneysiders. On Christmas day I said to Señorita Margarita: “You have to come and stay in Canberra! To see us, but also to see all the things in Canberra. Canberra has things.”

“Oh, here we go, the Canberra has things speech,” she said with an eye-roll.

Converting family and friends (trying to)

Yes, the Señorita has come to stay and we are already planning her next visit in May. Friend Lou-Lou has stayed for a weekend, and my mum (aka BatGran) has also come to stay twice (and is here right now) even though she says she hates Canberra. I’m hoping to change her mind. Thanks for giving it a go Mum.

My Dad was also here last week. He got into the spirit of the Bush Capital by buying a sausage at the local Bunnings sausage sizzle and eating it in the carpark in his Akubra hat. He sees Canberra’s opportunities and possibilities. And whenever he visits he brings bags of my things that I didn’t quite get around to packing. Thanks Dad.

What’s next?

The Alexcellent Life was a little quiet for a few weeks months while the actual Alexcellent life got settled. So it wasn’t entirely my ISP’s fault.

We are at the start of a new chapter, and it feels exciting. So here’s to our Canberrafication. But I’ll always have a soft spot for Bondi.

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Bondi Baths. Photo taken by my clever and talented sister, Señorita Margarita. This hangs on my wall.

Edited highlights: Dating advice books, tornados and cake

This time next week, Christmas will be over. I can’t believe how quickly this year has passed. Soon all will be revealed about big changes happening at The Alexcellent Life, but for now, let’s see what’s happened in December.

My mid-life crisis was exacerbated by going to Retro nightclub…

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This particular visit came complete with a Rock Lobster neck injury (thanks for nothin’ B52s) and a try-hard bathroom selfie.

The Chris Noth/Matt Preston look-a-like lurking on the scene, who we dubbed “Fat Mr.Big,” seemed quite nice, but then Lulu said to him, “Has anyone ever told you you look like Mr.Big from Sex and the City, and Matt Preston.giggle.” And then he ran away. Just as well, because he was married. As was his whole pack of wolves he was running with that night. Fat Mr.Big does not appear in any of the above photos.

I discovered these great The Ladybird book of … books. Who remembers them from childhood?

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Mid-life advice

I use to love my Ladybird book of Beauty and the Beast – the classic fairytale, when I was a child. These books contain beasts of a different kind. I spotted these little gems in the bookstore Harry Hartog. Perhaps I should actually part with some cash and pick up The Ladybird book of Dating. God knows I could use some help.

I witnessed Christmas eye-candy of the cake kind at yet another local street fair…

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Shooting stars of pasty

I tried one of the gingerbread stars because they were FREE.

In other cake news, I went into one of my favourite bakeries, Dobinsons in Canberra, when I was there on very important business recently.

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Come to me, my precious (es)

I looked, but didn’t touch these goodies. I’m saving myself for all the mince pies I’m planning on eating at Christmas.

And just so you know sweet treats aren’t the only things that float my boat…

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My friend Deb and I went to our favourite Mexican restaurant, El Topo Bondi Junction, for a pre-Christmas catch up. I said no to my favourite bunuelos de chocolate and concentrated on the delectable savoury flavours of tacos and frijoles negros with bacon, spicy chorizo, capsicum and queso fresco. And watermelon salad (sweet but refreshing).

I’ve been walking home from work (part of the way) through Darlinghurst streets, making the most of the vibe before my big lifestyle change coming up in January (more on that later)…

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I’ve been appreciating amazing Sydney views and beach days…

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And marvelling at the not so beach days…

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Crazy Sydney weather. Apparently it was an actual tornado.

I will be reporting on Christmas festivities next week.

How’s your December been so far?

 

Beach house time-machine

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I’ve just returned from a beach holiday in the land that time forgot. And I mean that in a good way.

My friends Lulu and Mr M had invited 5-year-old Spider boy and me to spend a few days with them and their 6-year-old son, the Magician, at a rented beach house at Bawley Point on the NSW south coast.

As soon as we pulled up to the weatherboard house on stilts I was instantly taken back to the south coast of my childhood, where my parents took us on beach holidays every year. Back then in the late 70s and 80s, it was a similar rented house in Narooma, a town a bit further south.

My sister and I, who were 8 and 3 when we first started going to Narooma, would play happily around the stilts under the house, pretending we were “Carol” and “Susie” who worked in a petrol station. When we went to the beach, we were “Coral” and “Crystal”, who were mermaids.

We would stay on the beach for hours, we would go to the circus that came to town every summer, we would have pink lemonade and fish and chips at the Whale restaurant. We would go to the newsagency/gift shop in town and buy shell-covered trinkets.

But back to the present day… This house was on stilts too, expect this one was way better. It had an upstairs deck with a perfect towel/cossie-drying fence, a bird-feeder, places to sit and a dart board.  From the the kitchen/dining area, a staircase led to a roomy mezzanine lounge area with views to the ocean, which was blue most of the time we were there. There were two bedrooms in the main part of the house, and a roomy granny flat/studio downstairs.

Mezzanine

Mezzanine for lounging

I love the simplicity of holiday shacks. I love that they are so obviously decorated for the purposes of; 1. invoking a beachy vibe, and 2. helping you relax. And every room was generously peppered with obligatory beach-house objet’s de kitsch. Like this…

Just what I need in my room.. 3 angry seagulls all in a row.

Just what I need in my room.. 3 angry seagulls all in a row. One with a missing beak.

And this…

Little toilet man-candle

Little toilet man-candle with love handles

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Chillaxing is easy with 80s/90s artworks to rest your gaze upon.

And the icing on the beach house cake? The great variety of summer holiday entertainment! The book shelves were lined with trashy novels and video cassettes. Cassettes. There was a quoits set in the lounge, jigsaw puzzles and board games like Celebrity Heads. If only we had two weeks!

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Are you calling me trashy?

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We got to rewind to last century with this little collection.

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Haven’t seen this much fun since “Hey Hey It’s Saturday!”

Along with all this retro pop-cultural stimulation, I also loved the sound of waves crashing at night, the great variety of bird-calls in the morning, and the fresh, salty air. And I loved walking to the beach and not having to deal with cars and parking.

Lulu’s dad and his wife Ms B were staying in their place which was just at the end of the next beach along.  They would sometimes call in when they were out walking, or we would run into them on one of the three beaches in the area.

At Bawley Point, kids ride bikes on the road, some carrying surfboards, neighbours walk to each other’s homes for lunch, dinner, drinks on the deck. There are no fences, no gates. Kids of 8 or 9 sit on the nature strip and literally sell sea shells by the sea shore. And painted cicada shells.  People relax on their front decks in boardies and bikinis and look really… relaxed.

Fun on the deck: mind the darts!

Fun on the deck: mind the darts!

Bawley Point to me, was a combination of  the TV shows Puberty Blues (the 12-year-old long-haired grommets in wetsuits and general retro-vibe bit, not the panel-van and all they suggest bit), Neighbours (good Neighbours had become good-friends) and Home and Away (Hello, beach!).

Lulu’s dad grilled burgers for us on the back deck, the kids ran a few metres to the back of the next house along and jumped on their trampoline (cos that’s how they roll in this ‘hood). When we weren’t barbequeing, we cooked with this…

Analogue cooking machine circa 1980s.

Analogue cooking machine circa 1980s

We learnt how to play boules and I was relaxed enough to actually get myself into my swimmers and go into the surf! I even sunbaked for a few minutes.

Hiding the boules balls mid-game on the neighbours trampoline amused them no end

Hiding the boules balls mid-game on the neighbours trampoline amused them no end.

And there were millions of peaches…

Peaches for me.

Peaches for me

One afternoon, Lulu and I managed to escape to a winery. So there was millions of grapes too…

bought some wine

Tasted some wine. Bought some.

And at the vineyard, there was deer frolicking in a woodland glade. Seriously.

There was frolicking but they stopped as soon as I took the picture.

There was frolicking but they stopped to stare at me as soon as I took the picture.

The only things that pulled us out of 70s/80s-style living was the presence of our smartphones/tablets, and a DVD player. So don’t worry, just in case you thought there was too much retro-fun and outdoorsy stuff for the kids, they had plenty of screen time too.

For example: “Come on kids, how about a fun game of charades. Or what about quoits?”

“No! Hotel Transylvania!” (animated Adam Sandler movie)

And later… “Come on kids, do you want to play charades? What about quoits?

“No, Leps World!” (some game played on a smartphone/tablet).

Trying to get the kids to go to bed before 9pm the night before we had to be up early?

“Charades!” they excitedly suggested.

They will try anything to not go to bed.

Quoits anyone? Anyone?

Quoits anyone? Anyone?

It wasn't all outdoorsy-fun...

It wasn’t all outdoorsy-fun…

Since we didn’t watch the news while we were away, the only other thing that pulled us out of last century was an annoying, yet stressful episode of Grey’s Anatomy one night. What were we thinking? We could have been watching this…

It has surfing in it, so would've enhanced the holiday vibe

It has surfing in it, so would’ve enhanced our relaxed holiday vibe, right?

But at least we did get to watch this classic again…

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A classic of my teen years

So here’s to beach holidays with a nostalgic feel – and the unbeatable combination of peaches, beaches, bird-calls and retro movies.

And a big thanks to Lulu, Mr M and family for a refreshing and fun holiday!

What are your favourite summer holiday memories?

This Week I Am Grateful For:

North Bondi

The first week of the year, I have been grateful for things big and small. Big things like family, good health, the country I live in. Little things like running into friends and family at the shops and the beach, being able to go the beach in the first place, a good parking spot, summer reading, my mother’s chocolate slice that she made such a vast quantity of, it just never runs out (despite being very good).