How to banish the texting sloth in your life and text like a boss

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I am totally crushing at the latest bit of technology in my life. The time I am saving now when I’m wasting time!

No longer do I have to battle that pesky little ‘keypad’ on the bottom of my phone trying to type long messages, hitting all the wrong keys, battling autocorrect, lagging three steps behind when I’m in a conversation with multiple 20-somethings at the same time. I’m still struggling with my first reply and my phone’s going ping, ping, ping, with all the messages flooding in. By the time I’m finished my response, it’s likely to be no longer relevant. How do they type so bloody quickly on those things? And no – using my thumbs does not work! They don’t seem to be connected to my brain the same way yours are.

So now I’ve got my own back – I have invested in a bluetooth keyboard which connects to my phone to a regular little keyboard but bit smaller. I can use ALL my fingers again (well, nine of them) and keep up with all those rapid, pinging conversations from the young ones in my life.

I actually bought the keyboard because the keyboard on my fancy little laptop for travels had decided it will not type ‘A’s anymore, which makes writing coherent sentences quite difficult. And the cost to repair? $280. Gotta love this disposable technology designed to last just a couple of years, or just until it’s out of warranty!@?

In any case, connecting the iphone to the keyboard has brought a great joy to my life.

Phone keyboard sloth – be gone!

Transforming Fyshwick – more than meets the eye

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img_0195Changes are afoot in Fyshwick. If you’ve been around in Canberra a while, you may remember Fyshwick as being rather an industrial place, full of cars and hardware and building-type things (and yes, yes – those other things too).

But there’s a bit of a transformation taking place, and Fyshwick is becoming quite a little shopping hub as well, full of speciality and boutique businesses with gourmet delights, antiques, fashion and other delights abounding. Recently I wrote about ten excellent reasons to visit Fyshwick as a way to explain my Fyshwick-frequenting, but there’s heaps more – and the list is growing.

You just have to know where to go. So, isn’t it handy that a few enterprising individuals have joined forces and have made a lovely little map of some of the boutique establishments on offer? Unsurprisingly, it’s called Boutiques of Fyshwick. I suspect there will be another edition a little further on the track, because this place keeps transforming.img_9014 (2)

Here’s the lowdown on the first five members of #BoutiqueFyshwick.

Urban Providore

If you love your food, you need to know about Urban Providore, and the whirlwind of Dawn who is behind it. Beginning life as a wholesaler of gourmet foods from regional producers across Australia, Urban Providore is now set up in Fyshwick to supply us normal folk as well, in store or online, which means you can buy the same things in smaller quantities. Things like relishes, and salad dressings and vinaigrettes, and spices, and even smoked black pepper, my friend’s fave. And did I mention the fudge? And then there’s a world of non-food foody-type items (they call them accoutrements), like cook books, and chopping boards, and garlic presses. (You should never underestimate the importance of a good garlic press in your life). And confession – I’ve got my eye on one of their hampers for Christmas.  Life is definitely too short for bad food.

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Humble House Gallery

Take a few steps off Wollongong Street, follow the timber garden path at the end of a laneway, and a whole world of Chinese history, furniture and design will erupt before your eyes as you enter the Humble House Gallery. It’s actually enormous and full of wondrous things, like traditional cupboards, sideboards and tables (mahjong anyone?) as well as ceramics and lamps and decorator pieces with a difference. All Chinese. All restoration work is carried out in Beijing, where Roger is proud to tell you that workmanship is the highest priority and all work is handcrafted. Completely loving the timber grain measures that doubles as vases. And to top it off (literally), there’s a small museum of Chinese historic pieces on the top floor that’s well worth a visit in itself. This gallery has been a stalwart of Canberra business for 20 years, seven of those in Fyshwick. And it all sits quietly there at the end of the lane, just waiting to be discovered.

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Endangered Heritage

Have you ever wondered what to do with your mum’s wilting wedding dress you can’t bear to throw out or how to repair an old cracked vase with much sentimental value? The conservator folks at Endangered Heritage know all about those old things and how to preserve them or possibly fix them. There’s a whole team of experts, in fact, that know about textiles and papers and frame and storing and chemicals and all sorts of technical things. They even do disaster recovery, which sounds rather public-servantish in a town like Canberra but can actually help you save treasures that have been damaged by water or insects. Just when I’m trying to clear out cupboards, I have discovered someone who can help restore things instead!

Canty’s bookshop

Philosopher Thomas Aquinas warned us to ‘beware the man of a single book’. In that case, you don’t need to be wary of Luke and Laura Canty of Canty’s bookshop at all, because they’ve got thousands of them. Well over fifty thousand of them. And they’re stacked and piled and packed in and up, and they cover just about any topic you can think of. Mainly good quality second hand but with a great collection of new remaindered ones as well at good prices. I’m rather fond of the cooking section. I buy cooking books for my hubbie and he cooks things from it for me. Boom! It’s not a huge shop for the number of books it contains, but there is a Tardis inside.

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Hang ups framing and Christmas Emporium

Christmas is always coming in Fyshwick now that the Hang Up Framing Gallery has transformed itself into a year-long Christmas emporium as well. It’s like Santa’s workshop without the elves. There’s trees, and garlands and decorations, and of course snow globes. Who doesn’t love a snow globe?  All your Christmases at once. And for those who insist on being bah-humbugs, you can always get your framing done or get your hanging sorted.

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Watch out for Fyshwick, Canberra – it’s going through a bit of a rebirth. Who needs fireworks anyway when we’ve got Skyfire?

 

To buy or not to buy…a whopping great campervan

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van 📷 TheBeast

That is the question.

And it’s one we’ve been asking ourselves for quite a while now, and doing a bit of investigation and a lot of soul searching along the way. There’s a great big country out there with lots to see and do, and this could be the way to do it. Lots of flexibility, our own little home on wheels, we wouldn’t have to spend a fortune on accommodation, go wherever we wanted, take things slow, find some hidden places off the beaten track (well, not too far off because I watched Wolf Creek). All those things.

When we first started tossing the idea around, we had simple expectations. Just something small and basic. We didn’t need anything too fancy. No big kitchen, and definitely no bathroom. We don’t want to be responsible for that stuff. And we certainly don’t want to tow a caravan or trailer – too big and heavy and it wouldn’t allow us to stop easily here and there on a whim. There’s all those surprise little shops and coffee places you simply must pop into unexpectedly, and trying to get a park with a Mack truck-equivalent tagging along behind just wasn’t our idea of fun. Nope, just an old style Kombie thing, but a bit nicer perhaps. We could pretend we were straight out of ‘The Drifters’ from decades ago, carefree and travelling without a worry in the world. We’d just need a comfy mattress and a few basic kitchen items. And well, maybe a Nespresso machine. Just a small one.

So we started looking. We had some ideas about how much it would cost, but those ideas were soon blown out of the water. Not even close. But still, just something simple. And second hand would be fine. But not too old of course. You don’t want to buy someone else’s mechanical problems.

And we looked a bit more. We looked at Hiaces and Frontliners and a few others, and vans people had transformed themselves. Of course the ones with lower prices had high milages, and they were a bit old, and the panelling was a bit daggy, and some weren’t very clean. That little princess was beginning to emerge. And so was the prince too, to be honest.

So we thought, maybe we’ll get a new one instead. The prices went up of course, but they’d be nice and clean, and … you know, nice. Then we looked at VWs instead of Toyotas, and the prices went up again. And then we looked at Trakka, and the prices escalated more, but everything was so well thought out, and practical, and neat, and terribly nice. There were blinds that transformed into flyscreens in the blink of an eye, and little heaters, and lights that dimmed, and roofs that popped up in 15 seconds and tables that popped on outside in ten, and hot showers and other marvellous things. And there was still space for that little coffee machine.

And then we found a beauty – a simply marvellous, almost new campervan with everything that opens and shuts which is oh so clean and sparkly, but which costs about as much as years of extravagant, fully inclusive holidays, or even a significant proportion of a new home.

And therein lies the problem.

It’s a bloody big investment, this campervan thing, and you can do a hell of a lot of alternative travel with the money that we’re thinking of pouring into the purchase of one. And that’s even before you consider on-road and running costs,  and then chuck in some extra dollars to cover the park accommodation costs you’ll encounter, unless you’re way out in the sticks, and then there’s that Wolf Creek type fear again.

Now Mr T is constantly running the numbers through his head, taking into account our adjusted price bracket, and trying to turn it into a completely fiscal, objective decision – which of course, it is not. It’s not just about money, it’s about the lifestyle. Right? Once  that van is there in the garage (which it actually won’t quite fit into, incidentally – so that’s another cost to fix that), it will be tempting us, luring us, tantalising us, with thoughts of rollicking road trips and adventures into the unknown, and we’ll be so much more inclined to just pop in and go.

Or … we could just fly over to Perth or up to Cairns, because Jesus, that’s a hell of a long way to drive, and stay for a fortnight in some fancy-pants places instead, like resorts or whole spacious apartments with verandahs and marble bathrooms, and still be no worse off. Maybe better.

Ahhhhhh.

I thought we’d decided, but now the jury is out.

Can anyone help?

 

 

 

 

 

Sawtell’s Abicus – counting the positives

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A newcomer to the Sawtell dining scene is Abicus, a casual but sleek restaurant at the roundabout at the end of the main street. Behind its banks of exterior glass windows and dressed in timbers, white walls and splashes of green, the space says cafe – crisp, cool, clean – but the food says restaurant and indicates a chef who clearly knows what he’s doing.

The food is contemporary and thoughtful without trying to be too precious. For entrees, marrying pepper and lime squid with coconut and pineapple brought an unexpected sweet zing to the plate, along with memories of beach holidays, while the lashings of greenery in the form of pak choy and cucumber balanced the saltiness of the vinaigrette of the lobster ravioli nicely. And didn’t it look fresh and appealing?

The native fish dish (snapper) was light and fresh and well matched with the richer Persian flavours of harrisa and a touch of lemon yogurt, dutch carrots and fried cauli on the edges, although the very centre was undercooked and remained on the plate, unremarked on clearing. The pork belly was beautifully rendered and served well by the smooth celeriac puree and other flavours.  And what a welcome relief to find there were sufficient vegetables served with main meals to make them complete affairs in themselves without requiring the add-on sides.

A mid-week visit meant that the restaurant was quiet, but it also meant that it was ‘locals’ night’ with a good value choice of two courses for $45 or three for $55 on offer, even though as interstaters we were far from locals. If only our fellow Canberrans had known they too could have escaped the winter cold and scored a deal at the same time. If you can’t make choices or you have big appetites, there’s also degustation option as well.

I can’t normally manage a three courser, but couldn’t resist the temptation of ‘white chocolate mousse, local passionfruit, meringue, toasted coconut, coconut sorbet’ at the end. That’s what happens when someone puts all your favourite things on one plate and tells you about it. And I’m so pleased I succumbed. There’s a chocolate option too for those with more stamina. The restaurant is fully licensed but they’ll let you BYO for $12 a bottle. We did.

Abicus follows another restaurant in the same location with quite a reputation for good food so it has big shoes to fill but it’s covering the ground pretty well with generous servings of well-balanced and interesting flavours, without too much fuss but presented with finesse.

Apparently they also do events and corporate catering.

I wonder why they spelled it Abicus though?

 

The reawakening of Newrybar – hidden treasure of the hinterland

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This quaint little township nestled in the green hinterland of northern New South Wales is just a short drive from bustling coastal Byron Bay but exists on another timescale and mentality, and is thriving on its recent extension into good food and beautiful things.

Here you will leave behind the surfers and backpackers to mingle instead with an older crowd, more likely to be dressed in linen than boardies, and taking life at a slower place and savouring the small moments and the gourmet treats.

At the heart of this hamlet (just the word ‘hamlet’ makes my heart sing) is Harvest and its various food-based enterprises concentrating on fresh and local – an inviting and innovative restaurant, an artisan 100 year old bakery and gourmet deli next door, and a tiered-organic edible garden for supplying the aforementioned restaurant – all housed in a series of restored rustic and charming historic buildings. The weekend breakfasts have quite a reputation. And the spaces also transform into magical settings for events and weddings.

When you’re done with eating and stocking up on gourmet delights in the deli or you’ve had your caffeine hit (excellent coffee by the way), you can wander across the road to a collection of lovely shops to while away a bit more time, and meet some of the local dogs.

Antiques and things of old mixed in with modern gifts and newly created furniture pieces from The Shed (formerly Paul’s shed), and a whole world of shopping pleasure at the Newrybar Merchants, a collective of local artists and curators of beautiful things who’ve put together a whole world of shopping delights under one roof. A florist, a bookseller, an art gallery, a gorgeous collection of homewares and furnishings, things that smell delicious, and clothes for him and her and the little ones, including every shade of cream imaginable. Ah – heaven in a shop!

I think I’ll let the photos do the talking.

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IMG_9818IMG_9819[1]We didn’t stay long, but long enough to know we have to go back and rectify our failed plans to eat at the restaurant, and maybe try some of the locally grown macadamias.

Foodies and shoppers – put this place on your list!

Next time I’m definitely planning to stay over.

Keeping the kids cosy and amused in Canberra: five ways

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Even with its blue sunny skies, let’s be clear – Canberra’s winters can get pretty nippy. On days of grey skies and drizzles when you have little ones in tow, even if they do belong to someone else, it pays to have a couple of indoor (read: warm) venues to turn to for relief. When the energy level starts to spike, the cooped up craziness hits fever pitch, and small, squealing small people become possessed banshees, it’s time to make an escape.

That’s why it’s amazing to live in a city of museums and libraries. Cast aside any notions you might harbour about museums just dangling skeletons from ceilings and housing dusty things in glass boxes. They are marvellous places which think about kids and provide educational, interesting and warm spaces, and usually for free. Winning, Canberra.

Here are five of my favourites.

PlayUp

PlayUp is a hidden treasure at the Australian Museum of Democracy, and is all about getting the kids involved. There’s room after room of activities and entertainment: chalk boards, craft tables, foam blocks, shelves of books to be read in colourful beanbags, puppet shows to be created, and culinary delights to be cooked in the kaleidescope cubby. The changing exhibitions are based on the United Nations’ Convention on the rights of the child, so the kids are absorbing important stuff without even knowing it. Currently showing is a shelter theme, which in practical kid-terms means they get to let their imagination run wild and play house with the finest of play items. It also means they trash their house instead of yours, and everyone is happy.

Grab a coffee on the way in or out at the Terrace Cafe (but don’t take it into PlayUp – they don’t like that because it gets messy), or if they kids are older take part in one of the Museum’s other tours and events or play dress ups next door to the Play Up room. Who doesn’t love donning a cape and crown every now and then?

Cost: Free after $2 adult or $1 child entry (over 5 years) to Old Parliament House.

NGA Play

The National Gallery has a changing playroom, based on current exhibitions, where kids are encouraged to take part, explore with their hands and get creative. The current one based on the work of contemporary Indigenous artist, Reko Rennie, is an explosion of colour and pattern (often a traditional diamond) and is on until 3 December. There’s shapes and stamps and drawing on ipads, and you can even inadvertently take a photo of yourself to include in said artwork and somehow have it arrive on your email. That was a surprise.

I’m a bit sad I missed the first one based on the Versailles exhibition as I would have fancied being a queen for the day, but that’s what you get when you snooze.

Watch their Kids and Families webpage for other kids’ events, especially during school holidays.

Cost: Free, all ages, kids must be accompanied so don’t even think about dumping them and going to have a calm look around the gallery by yourself. Open 10-5pm.

The Australian War Memorial

It’s perhaps a strange concept taking small children to a place which remembers our sullied war history, past and present, and honours those who took part. Part of me wants to protect them from the horrid reality, another wants to cultivate their respect and eventual understanding and compassion. But the War Memorial takes its social responsibility very seriously and the telling is done with care and concern for the young.

The memorial has special activities during school holidays, and a changing program of other kid-centric stuff happening. Take for example, the special 30-minute Story Time for preschool kids (big brothers and sisters welcome) on Fridays at 10.30 am, on from 7 July to 25 August where storytellers bring tales to life with puppets. Or check out the Discovery Zone where kids get to climb in a helicopter or wander through a submarine, or be cast back to the days of family life during the world wars. Still getting my head around the war concept though and taking care not to make the whole thing a big adventure, so be open to follow up discussions.

Grab a coffee on your way out at Poppy’s cafe on the grounds.

National Museum of Australia

Underneath that soaring orange arch at the edge of Lake Burley Griffin lurks our very own national museum dedicated to telling stories through objects and words. There are many interesting items to wander through, though holding the attention of the very young is more difficult. For the older kids 5 to 13 years, the dedicated and aptly named kids’ space, Kspace, offers an interactive screen-based journey back to a time past, all while in the guise of your own bespoke time-travelling robot. Best for small groups (for teams) but you can fly solo if you want. It was a bit ambitious for Miss 3 who was happier to roam (run) around the outside Garden of Dreams, but that defeats the purpose of finding indoor spaces on winter days, doesn’t it?

Like all good Canberra museums, the NMA pays special attention to school holiday times with lots of interesting stuff on offer. Check out their events page for what’ coming up.

Cost: Free, open 9am to 5pm daily

ACT Libraries

It seems no one tells you to shush any more at libraries. Not only do they want you to visit and borrow books, they want you to have fun and participate, especially if you’re a kid. Libraries have a whole range of cool stuff like Giggle and Wiggle – songs, stories, games and fun for 0-2 year olds, Story Times for 3 to 5 year olds, and a plethora of activities during the school holidays.

And even if a rainy day doesn’t coincide with an event, you can also pop in anytime for an outing or bit of reading time. Or you can browse the books, DVDs and music and let the little ones pick out some things to take home for later moments of craziness, perhaps just before dinner time.

And, you guessed it – it’s all free! Perhaps with the exception of some school holiday activities, and not accounting for library overdue fines if your little one revels in hiding CDs down air vents or similar.

So Canberrans, cast aside those fears of rainy days aside. You are saved.

Whoever said public institutions were boring?

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The colours of autumn in Canberra

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Canberra is always spectacular in autumn – a blaze of burnt oranges, golds and ambers with splashes of scarlet across the whole city- but this year was more spectacular than most.

Milder temperatures and lack of hard rain meant the leaves changed hue while still clinging to the limbs that bred them. They hung on, and on, and on.

Then suddenly it was over and within days the frost reminded what winter would bring.

Autumn, you were a delight, and I was sad to see you go.

An unexpected trip to hospital

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Last week an unexpected trip to Emergency evolved into a four night stay in hospital. I now have a renewed sympathy for those that have to linger there longer, and a marvellous appreciation for the silence of my bedroom.

It started without fanfare and gradually progressed until it involved three separate medical teams, much puzzlement, and eons of waiting. Oh, how patient you have to be when you’re a patient and at the mercy of the timetables of others. I KNOW they’re busy, I KNOW it’s an emergency department, but why do two hours have to elapse between getting blood results back and someone making the call to bring in a specialist? Because when you see body parts expanding and changing colour by the hour before your eyes, it gets a little nerve-racking and irritating when you can’t seem to get attention. All it took to get hubbie to fly home in a flap, abandoning the car interstate, was a couple of measured text messages and a phone call, but it took more persistence and just a little bit of crying to get the attention of others.

Texts began flying between family members with pictorial attachments of my swelling foot.

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Sympathy arrived immediately.

‘Thank goodness,’ Moo texted. ‘It’s not that bad.’

‘I was expecting this.’

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I was admitted and settled in my iron bed in a shared ward, somehow convinced this was quite possibly the most delightfully comfortable bed I’d ever been in, all wrapped up and bunkered down as I was. There weren’t even any drugs involved in the forming of that opinion so it must have been the shock and the fever. So there I lay all relaxed and dreamy, waiting for the quiet of night to take me off gently to Neverland. Instead I was treated to a light and sound spectacular to shame Sydney Harbour on New Year’s Eve.

We all know nurses are very important, and they have to check this and check that, every couple of hours, every hour, all over the ward. They’re very good at that, but they’re not so good at doing it quietly. They clippity clop, squeaky squelch, they push carts on groaning wheels, they talk in normal voices because it’s their day time, and they turn on all the lights to make it appear like daytime. Thermometers taking temps – bing. IVs when they’ve finished – beep. Patients pressing buzzers across wards and neon signs flashing from the roof to make the announcement official. And it bings, and keeps binging, every five bloody seconds until someone comes along and turns it off. And when they do and just when you start drifting off, bing it goes again. And the lights flash on like a nuclear blast, then someone’s typing somewhere. Tippy tippy tippy, just outside your bed. Perhaps I was mistaken and I’m in a Vegas casino. Ah, at last the lights have been dimmed and you’re drifting again – until a seering light directly above pierces your eyelids. Wrong light. Sorry. Then it’s on next door – someone is being admitted at 3am and now it’s his startling light burning into your eyeballs. Relax, he’s gone to sleep, but he’s left his light on. And the guy two beds down is snoring demonically at 5am and shaking the separating curtains as he exhales, while his television blares in the background. You’re clearly asleep, buddy. Why the hell do you need your goddam television on? Meantime, the bells continue to ping.

Ah, the bells, the bells….

And then of course there is the food. Surely a ploy to encourage folk to move on as quickly as they can. It’s pretty useful having a very caring hubbie around to minister for my culinary needs, especially when he’s a foodie and understands the grief that can be inflicted by hospital food and the therapeutic value of offerings of delicious morsels and special treats. Prosciutto and baby bocconcini anyone? or lemon tart?

A couple of culinary examples to choose between. Take your pick.

Now meet Al. He comes along so we can all channel Paul Simon and sing ‘You can call me Al’ in unison but more importantly to ensure the surgical staff don’t do anything untoward on the wrong leg. Leg graffiti was therefore warmly welcomed.

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As too, the delightful fashions supplied. Dressed for success. Who doesn’t look hot in a cap and paper undies?

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In hospitals, there is much discussion about bodily functions, fluids and ablutions. In a shared ward, much of that pertains to the bodily functions and fluids of others, which is just too much information. Sometimes even earphones don’t help. Only in hospital can you openly fart to your heart’s content without even the pretence of trying to soften the blow, as often and as loudly as possible, without qualm or embarrassment. In fact, you’re likely to be applauded for your fine efforts. And the sights can be jarring too. The vision of hairy-bummed men shuffling past my curtain in wayward hospital gowns clutching poles with bags may be permanently seered onto my retinas. I refrained from photographing that.

But as the swelling subsided, the mood lifted and we might have got a bit silly.

Disclaimer: No medical personnel were involved in the taking of these photos.

Meanwhile, little Miss 3 was not aware of the shenanigans at the hospital and the apparent recovery and was still nursing fears about the ‘worm’ (germ) in Marsie’s foot. Bless her cotton socks, she was wondering whether a leaving party would be required for me. That’s kid-code for a funeral. Not yet, darling girl.

Above photos notwithstanding, there were times I felt ordinary, and looked worse. Here’s proof.

And there was some definite suffering.

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And times when I got irrationally upset. Those compression stockings would surely be useful for future air flight use, even if they did appear to almost cut off circulation in my left leg after a couple of hours. And those things are bloody expensive.

Rest assured, despite the frivolity that crept into my cubicle by Day 4, we were ever mindful of the very sick patients surrounding us, and kept our chuckles in check. It was a serious place to be and far from pleasant for most, as the midnight agonising groans did sometimes attest. While I was kept in high spirits by constant visits, attention, texts, and care, I left feeling terribly sad for a very ill women who went off for dangerous surgery without even one family member present to wish her well, or potentially to bid her farewell. How blessed I was to have constant company and care from my own family. I hope she did well.

After days of interminable waits (at least there was wifi, even though I may have temporarily selectively lost my ability to read)

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and much too much sharing of the stories and sounds of others, I was pleased to be home.

The first thing I did was rush (okay, limp) to the scales. Five days of sparingly picking through limp food under plastic cloches and four separate nil-by-mouths. At least a bit of weight loss would be my reward! Alas no. Nada. Not a kilo gone. Not even half.

At least I slept well that night. In fact, over twelve hours straight – in my perfectly silent, perfectly dark room. Not a single bing to be heard.

Praise Lord for hospitals and medical staff. And praise Lord even more when you can bid them farewell. And did I mention antibiotics? A world without them is unimaginable. Hope the other guests are now likewise home and doing okay.

 

 

Ten reasons to visit Fyshwick, and it’s not what you’re thinking

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When I mentioned recently at work that I visit the Canberra suburb of Fyshwick quite regularly, a number of suspicious eyebrows instantly darted upwards among those fearing for my moral fortitude. But relax, there is far more to this industrial hub than car repairers and adult entertainment. Particularly if you like good food and beautiful things.

Here are ten of my favourite reasons to visit.

Flute Bakery and Patisserie  8 Barrier Street

A little bit of France appears in downtown Barrier Street in this deliciously authentic establishment. Beautifully presented mousse cakes, perfect pastries and macarons (note: not macarooooooons), all done up in neat little rows just like any good Parisienne bakery. Then there are those amazing large cakes for special occasions, or you can get a little box of mini-treats to put some magic in a loved one’s day. They also do great homemade gourmet pies for a quick drop-in or takeaway lunch.

Only pity is that’s it’s closed on weekends. And bring your cash – they don’t do plastic.

Fox Antiques 51 Collie Street, Fyshwick

A little bit more of France, this time without the calories. The ever-charming Charlie will be pleased to show you his classic collection of French furniture from 18th to 20th century – from all sorts of Louis-something styles through to Napoleonic and Art Deco. Looking for a rustic country table and rush-seated chairs, bedroom pieces or perhaps a French commode or bookcase? This is the place to start your search. Signature garden pieces abound as well – iron tables or fountains – and some great little paintings and always an interesting collection of unusual decorator pieces. Who doesn’t need a large leather hippo for their bed?

They’ve been selling antiques since 1978,  and now Fox Antiques is importing new things as well to add some more modern design pieces, all served with a sense of humour.

Elaine’s Gourmet Pies  1/57 Wollongong Street

Finding a decent pie is sometimes like looking for a needle in a haystack, and then when you finally find one that passes muster, the downhill slide in quality can begin almost immediately. But Elaine’s has been around for eons and their pies stay the same. Best thing about them is that they are actually chunky steak inside the pie, not just on the label.

The small premises themselves on the rise in Wollongong Street looks a bit dodgy on the outside, and the white plastic tables edging a car park is far from grand, but you’re not going for the décor. Lots of different types – curry, bacon, vego and such – but I stick to the plain chunky steak or with mushrooms.

Canty’s Bookshop  59-61 Wollongong Street

Somehow this treasure trove of bookish delights manages to avoid the claustrophobic mustiness of many others of its type despite its wild abandon of books. Overflowing shelves are piled perilously high, while haphazard stacks of books grow from the floor and in corners, all vying for space, so watch your step as you meander around. But there is order within this profusion of reading matter, and clearly marked sections enable targeting fossicking, and some wonderful finds. Lovers of cook books, military, kids’ books, and of course, oodles of fiction. While mostly second-hand books, there’s also an increasing number of new books at good prices, though not as good as they once were.

Established by Canty seniors and now owned by Luke Canty and his wife Laura, this cosy family-fun establishment also buy books for cash or credit. If you like books, you must come here.

Material Pleasures  3 Barrier Street

Beginning life way back yonder at the Saturday Gorman House markets in Canberra, Material Pleasures has now expanded and found a permanent home in Fyshwick (actually, they’ve been there since 2009). They also appear regularly at various markets around town. The roomy store, with a workroom out the back, buys and sells quality second-hand clothing and accessories, with an emphasis on higher end second hand and designer labels. The prices aren’t bargain-basement, but it’s orderly and clean with good pieces and it’s cheaper than buying new. There’s even a section for the men. Good option if you need some statement pieces without expending a fortune. Not much for kiddies athough the play corner and tent will keep them amused while you shop.

Material Pleasures also buys clothes outright if you need a wardrobe purge and some dollars, or you could give them to the Salvo’s, also in Fyshwick if you need a feel-good kick more than money.

The Salvo’s 5/15 Mildura Street, Fyshwick

If you’re looking for some fashion items at lesser prices and are prepared to weed through an awful lot of stuff and look a bit harder, head to the large Salvo’s store. I freely admit I can spend a lot of time in this place looking for treasures at bargain prices, always a bit of sport. And I’ve found some fab pieces in the past, like these gorgeous Gabor shoes for $5. Brand new! I didn’t even care they were a wee bit big.

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This really large store is well-organised and fully stocked with an ever-changing supply of clothes, with manchester, crockery and all those other bits on the side, and furniture out the back. Great for items for fancy dress events, or even some really good jackets if you need a cheap work outfit and something warm for winter.

Thrift stores have come a long in recent years and now have team members who well understand the importance of stock control, store layout and merchandising. And all that shopping you do? It supports a good community cause and helps in the war on waste, so Craig Reucassel will be proud of you.

 

Ona Coffee House  68 Wollongong Street

If you’re serious about your coffee, a visit to Ona Coffee House is in order, because they’re certainly serious about it. As Canberra’s largest specialty coffee roaster and supplier, Ona Coffee is making quite a name for itself around Canberra, and also around the world. Or at least its founder Sasa Sestic is, who happened to win the World Barista Championship in 2015. They use their own certification processes to source quality green bean coffee – they even made a sign about it.

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Modern, efficient and popular. Good selection of sweet things to go with your coffee (the lemon meringue was good), or try their breakfast or lunch choices. There are three cafes now in Canberra, including the one in Fyshwick. They even do barista courses from their Fyshwick premises.

Décor Living  134 Gladstone Street

Fyshwick is a bit of a furniture hub, with a contingent of major retailers abounding – like Freedom, Domayne, and now even our very own Ikea if you like to add a 10 kilometre round hike to your furniture shopping outing. But if you’re after something a bit more individual, take a look at Décor Living.

Décor Living is an owner-operated business and it’s been in Canberra for 30 years. There’s an emphasis on Aussie made and they’re happy to do special orders. There’s also lots of great accessories and artworks. And there’s usually a big, friendly dog or two wandering around or more likely snoozing if you need a dog-fix in your furniture-shopping day.

Canberra Outlet Centre   337 Canberra Avenue

Food, shopping … a definite pattern here emerging here in my list. For the bargain shoppers, a visit to the capital’s only outlet centre is worth a mention. The usual suspects are here with fashion, homewares and manchester retailers featuring, gathering and passing on the last of their season’s wares and discounted prices – along with lots of brand new items as well, because they can. A few stores here that don’t appear elsewhere in Canberra, like Provincial Living and Freedom, as well as an outlet for Pottery Barn, Sheridan and Colombia (for the more outdoorsy-types).

For those with active little ones, a visit to Monkey Mania may save your soul on a rainy day where you can watch kids clamber and climb and slide to their hearts’ content – or you can.

Fyshwick markets

It wasn’t until an overseas visitor was blown away by our markets in Australia that I really started to appreciate it what we have on our doorstep: access to such a fabulous array of fresh fruit & veg, delis, seafood, meat, and lots of other scrumptious things all in one place. Too much to describe individually but lots to see and try. Open Thursday to Sunday.

So, ten perfectly good reasons to visit Fyshwick. So much more than just adult shops and entertainment. And who needs fireworks anymore?

 

The art of writing a food or travel review: those who can

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img_7602 Vincent’s at Barton reviewed

In a world where virtually anyone can be published online, there’s a veritable tsunami of trash being made public out there, and the wave is building. There’s also a growing number of websites and apps, including those focusing on food and travel, which make it easy for all and sundry to get their view on this that and the other out there.

Don’t get me wrong. This can indeed be a good thing. It’s very informative and often helpful when planning trips and outings. I often refer to review sites to get an idea of the restaurant or accommodation I’m considering to verify my choices or to perhaps warn me of the dire misery I might otherwise be stepping into. It keeps some establishments on their toes, knowing that if they provide really crap service or food, they might be called out on it publically. Of course, there’s an insidious side to it as well, as good people and good businesses can be targeted unfairly by nasty people with a gripe and an iphone, but that’s a whole other story.

What’s really disheartening, though, is the number of ‘reviews’ published, which are in fact pure rubbish. Copious amounts of crap. People red with rage about small, inconsequential things, those with ridiculous expectations and those with over-inflated egos, and those with no bloody manners.  I mean, hotels which only put one mint on your pillow instead of two, bananas in fruit bowls that don’t curve enough, countries where locals dare to speak in foreign languages, beaches with too much sand!! It doesn’t bear thinking about.

And way, way too many who think they know what they’re talking about when they are actually clueless. Of course, there’s always a range of opinions, but how can some rate a restaurant as excellent when others compare eating there to ingesting the soggy base layer of a street hopper bin? I must admit, as soon as I read the words ‘tasty food’ in a restaurant review, I’m out of there. What does that even mean, Mr I’m Pretending To Be a Reviewer? No, people, that is not enlightening or compelling. I expect a bit more in the reviews I read.

As the proliferation of ‘reviews’ by the uninformed, angry and illiterate rises, or otherwise the sycophantic, shallow panderings of those seeking favours and a multitude of ‘likes’, it helps to have a stalwart of trusted reviewers or review sites to turn to. Ones that provide honest, informed and discerning opinion, especially when it’s washed down with a measure of good humour and an excellent command of the English language. Surely a few Insta-brightened travel pics and a few superlatives in hashtags is not always enough?

Here are the ones on the top of my list:

  • Take Jay Rayner, @JayRayner1, who writes for The Guardian, for example. His reviews make my heart sing and my mouth laugh out loud (literally, and I am pedantic about use of that word). The descriptions pull you right into the restaurant with him, and sometimes into the quagmires of his despair. Take this one, for example, critiquing the much-lauded and Michelin-starred Parisienne Le Cinq, following what he describes as “by far the worst restaurant experience I have endured in my 18 years in this job”. Oh, just read it. It’s delicious.

As he’s based in England, I usually don’t benefit directly from his opinions in relation to likely dining haunts, but at least I’m kept heartily entertained. However, he’s currently in Oz so I will be keeping an eye out for his movements.

  • Closer to home, I’m also a fan of John Lethlean @JohnLethlean. Reviews served cold with latherings of insight, pith and humour. He’s not afraid to tell it like it is, good or bad, to help us diners spend our dining dollars wisely. He can place you at the table too with just a few deft words. In a recent review of WA establishment, after a painstaking description of a salad, a small sentence followed: ‘Jesus wept.’ it read. Ahh, so little, so much.
  • Time Out’s a great publication for keeping up with what’s on point in the world of food and stuff to do, notably in Sydney where it all started, but also in other places across the world including Dubai, Singapore, Berlin and Chicago. I particularly love their well-written and edgy restaurant reviews which have put me on to a couple of pearlers of restaurants in Sydney. Great way to keep up with hip and happening.
  • Lonely Planet provides masses of up-to-date in different formats, including their traditional guidebooks and now in magazines and various formats online. Their website is a wealth of travel information, and it’s really easy to use, listing experiences, activities, food, maps and more. Wish I’d taken a look there before I took off to Tahiti recently as I might have done a couple of things a bit differently.

Naturally reviews or information sites don’t always have to have a sting to be worthwhile, but without the honesty in there where necessary, how can we have the confidence to have faith in those that sing praises?

It’s hugely regrettable that many reviewers, travellers and bloggers are fast-becoming the ubiquitous mouthpieces for anyone who’ll throw them a few crumbs (#couscousforcomment) or a bit of insta-fame. I want some depth, some insight, some truth in the reviews and articles I read, not just some insipid platitudes and a cursory oversight.

There is much more to reviewing than the putting down of opinions or even facts. It must be done with honesty and fairness, and without aggression or personal attack. But reviewing also comes with a responsibility, to those who may be adversely affected, so consideration of consequences is essential.

One of the reasons I like Jay Rayner is that he takes this responsibility seriously, given his coverage. Perhaps all professional reviewers do. Taken from a recent interview he said: ‘I am never casual about what I do. I think very carefully about it. Regularly, if it’s a small, independent restaurant which is failing, I don’t write about it and pay the bill myself.’ This level of responsibility is often lacking in public review sites where the reviewer can hide anonymously.

To those out there who know their stuff, do the research, and are actual telling it like it is – in an intelligent and amusing fashion – kudos to you! May you continue to write and be read.

Disclaimer: There is none! I just like the above reviewers and sites.

Who’s your favourite reviewer? And where do you go for your travel lowdown? What do I need to add to my list?