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?

Heart, hope and helping hands: Connie & Sam’s Big Heart Project

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Something quite extraordinary happened in Canberra this week, and across the country. You may have noticed it – a mammoth pouring out of love and support and millions (yes, millions!) of five cent pieces into one huge glistening heart of hope. It was all for Connie, who has recently stopped cancer treatment after 11 years, and the Love Your Sister charity she heads up with brother Sam, aiming to raise enough funds to kick cancer in the face-hole. I think that just might be a euphemism.

This was a day that has been long in the making. It started with a pledge by a brother hell-bent on helping out and a year-long ride around Australia on a unicycle to raise awareness and funds, with a lofty aim of raising $10 million for cancer research. It continued for years, amassing solid support and dollars but struggled for attention in a crowded space, while Connie continued her own struggle.

Then Connie had an idea – to make the longest chain of five cent pieces in the world – and planning for the Big Heart Project began.

And what a project it became. On Wednesday, it all came to a head in an explosion of heart-felt emotion and support. Not just in Canberra, where the whole bloody town went off, but much of the country joined in too. Having collected coins for weeks or months at work or home, thousands dropped in all day to say hello and lined up to toss in their silver. (Yes, people lined up and waited to give away money – how often does that happen?) People madly deposited collections at Bendigo Banks around Australia or bought ‘metres’ to help break a record or bought other stuff online. Many travelled ridiculous distances and hours from Queensland and Victoria to be part of the day, and others connected online during the day. One woman wrote she took the day off work so she could the day unfold on social media.

The city erupted in a fuzz of warmth and giving and hope. And the donations rolled in – $300,000 plus in silver coins and another $2.2 million in bank donations, more than double the amount that had been dreamt about. Way more than was possible to line up in a row, so we tossed them into a huge heart instead. All those little pesky coins. Suddenly they were almost worth their weight in gold. Okay, not quite.

It was as if it was some sort of huge party, with balloons and face painting and a jumping castle and just about everything else, and sometimes it was hard to remember there was something very sad and sinister lurking underneath it all. There were tears too among the smiles and sparkles, because everyone was acutely aware that for at least one person, and maybe many more there, time was limited and that’s why we were there after all.

So what was it about this project, this couple and this cause, that somehow brought us all together in a way that rarely happens? Cancer is not uncommon. People and families are devastated by it every day around the world, so Connie’s story, horribly sad though it is, is of course not unique. It’s a tough gig trying to break through when the world is hurting in so many ways and there’s a myriad of worthy causes vying for attention, so this was indeed a remarkable feat.

Connie’s a strong, determined, thoughtful and articulate woman with big ideas, and she has an endearing, enthusiastic, eloquent and adoring brother of some celebrity who’s been willing to dedicate years of his life to this cause. That’s a good combination. Maybe it was the simplicity of the idea of contributing those little coins that everyone has lurking about, the lure of helping break a world record, or perhaps that it was because the cause was something everyone could understand, because everyone’s been touched by cancer. Maybe it was Connie and Sam’s ability to connect and inspire, garner support through their friends and networks, or sheer hard work?

It was probably everything, and it definitely worked. There was something very special about this project. It gained momentum, enlisted a veritable army of volunteers, gathered a village, and inspired and united people across the country. It somehow captured the heart of the nation and ignited it, and became a phenomenon. And in the process over $2.2 million dollars was put into the coffers for the Garvan Institute of Medical Research for cancer research (all types of cancer). And counting.

The commitment and efforts of Connie and Sam have been remarkable, and has no doubt the support of their family. But what has been extraordinary too has been the dedication of the army of volunteers (the ‘vollies’) that have been supporting this project and Connie, for weeks, months and even years. And it’s a bloody big army. Friends, acquaintances and even a bevy of absolute strangers towards the end swelling the numbers, as well as corporate sponsors and supporters left right and centre. In particular there was a core committee of long term and committed workers who’ve been on board for a year.

Other tales of support have also been amazing, with individuals with their own campaigns joining in, kids as well as adults, some giving up work, busking or making toys to raise funds and join in. I’m blown away by how immense and dedicated this support has been, and how huge the task has been. The widespread smattering of hot pink t-shirts and caps on the day of volunteer workers represented just a snippet of those involved. Kudos to you all. With so many vollies involved, it seems particularly appropriate that the event took place bang-smack in the middle of National Volunteers week. Without them, it wouldn’t have been possible. As they said, it took a village.

It was a big day, when we were joined together in something quite special. It’s just heartbreaking that despite the achievement and celebration of the day, not too long from now we will inevitably lose the woman at the heart of it, a mother, wife, friend, sister, woman, champion.

Here’s a pictorial of the day from some of our photos, including a snippet of the lead up. I was pleased to be a small part of this heart-warming page in community history, behind the scenes in cyberland, alongside my very talented insta-queen daughter @georgeandgouma and a few other clever girls with quick fingers behind phones and computer screens, a couple whom I’ve only met virtually. Somehow serendipitously and at the last minute we came together so we could share the story of the day with the rest of the country on Instagram and Twitter where thousands more people joined in. Colour and coins, cheers and tears, hope and heart.

Wishing Connie and every other person in the world with cancer, present and future, the very best. May this effort bring hope for those that follow.

You can see more here:

loveyoursister.org

instagram.com/loveyoursister

Twitter

How to win friends, and score a few freebies

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We’re quite popular in our neighbourhood. There could be many reasons for that, but I suspect the main one is that we have a trailer. (To be honest, it could be the only one.)

They’re very useful things, trailers. Ours gets used every week, sometimes several times a week, and has done so for 20 plus years. It’s transported tonnes of second-hand bricks for paving, carried soil, gravel, grass, sand and pebbles, transported timber, picked up and delivered furniture, and moved various people and all their earthly possessions.

Ta da – one of the many paving tasks, and I get to sneak in a photo of Mooks as a bubbie.

A solid work horse over the years, that trailer has saved us an absolute fortune and assisted in many DIY obsessions, and also allowed us to avoid paying dozens of delivery fees – because we’re too mean to pay those, even if it means hoisting huge beasts of things way beyond our capabilities and risking life and limb to do so. But most regularly, it’s used to transport green waste to our local (and most marvellous) tip. When you have a big garden, that’s a constant happening.

So we love this blue, slightly rusty beast a lot. But while we couldn’t live without ours, it seems just about everyone else can, certainly among our neighbours and friends.

This trailer is now in fairly constant demand, exacerbated by the nature of hubbie, Mr T, a busy and kind sort of chap who keeps offering to transport the green waste of others to the tip for them. Need to get rid of that huge pile of prunings out the front? Huge storm that wreaks havoc across the city and brings down trees and limbs? No worries, just leave it in a pile out the front and I’ll pick it up. It’s a nice neighbourly thing to do, even if it is a bit time consuming.

Just recently, though, it’s beginning to pay dividends, some quite delicious. One neighbour repays the favour with delightful home-baked goodies – a chocolate cake or cinnamon tea cake, delivered still warm and freshly dusted. A butternut pumpkin was left in the letterbox the other day as recompense, the home-grown sort that springs up unexpectedly from the mysteries of a backyard compost bin, the best sort. Delicious and most welcome offerings. And now there is the promise of an unwanted camera lens that happens to fit my camera body. Boom really!

It’s a marvellous thing, almost like a bartering thing from days of old, except that it wasn’t intended that way and it’s just unexpected but lovely little paybacks that make you smile, and sometimes make your tummy happy. What a nice way to work. It’s especially good for me, of course, as I don’t do the work but get the kickbacks. Extra boom.

Mind you, I just saw an ad on a local community network advertising to take away trailer loads of green waste as a business, and lots of people were taking it up. Nice neighbours notwithstanding, there might be a little business opp in there as well. Food for thought.

#neighbours #greenwaste #payback #how to win friends

Astonishing lottery luck

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Last week I received two separate and very special deliveries in the mail, posted from Malaysia, envelopes containing glossy tourist brochures and two complimentary lottery tickets in each. Apparently, I won second prize in both of them, a total of US$380,000. What astounding luck! Second prize in both! And they were completely complimentary. Can you believe it?

Presumably all I would have had to do to claim this (my!) unexpected fortune was to respond directly, give them all my personal identification, bank account details, my PINS, remote access to my home computer, and possibly the life of my first born.

FFS, who the hell gets sucked into these scams? Somebody must, or why else would they spend time, effort and resources in printing and posting the brochures across the globe?

I must admit, I read the A5 quad-folded glossy coloured brochure in its entirety, mainly because I was intrigued at how dreadfully it was written, and how so many paragraphs could be filled with so much pompous and poorly constructed language that actually said nothing.

No, I have not heard of the renowned Taipei 101 (is that an innovative Chinese university course?), nor am I familiar with Taiwan home grown celebrities that have left a huge global impression. I don’t think anyone is actually.

But I am keen to experience their promised best possible ‘essence of quality’ and ‘distinguished level of entertainment’. I so wanted to believe that their ‘objective [is] to pave the way into the new era of the tourism industry for all our distinguished clients and guests’ (whatever the hell that means) and was almost convinced when I read the pithy ‘speech’ by the board of directors. I mean, who doesn’t include one of those in their glossy little holiday brochures to add a bit of extra authenticity?

So, spoiler alert – if you get something in the mail from White Winter Vacations informing you of miraculous, fabulous wealth through an unexpected lottery, it may, just may, possibly be wealth you will never see.

Really, just the front cover featuring the confusing juxtaposition of a tropical island image with a White Winter icicle logo should have been enough to give it away.

Get a real job, scumbags.

 

The time has come: Mookie’s last post

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So the time has come, and gone, when we had to put our doggy friend’s comfort before our own heartbreak, as all we dog lovers have to do at one time or another, and we had to say goodbye. The time when you know you have to let them go. When it stops being fun for them.

And it is the worst of times.

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Mookie was a good dog. The best dog. I can’t even think of a time when she was even bad. No shoes eaten or  furniture chewed or gardens dug up. We tried collectively to think of naughty things she did but the pickings were slim. When she was a baby, she crept along the neck of a concrete garden duck like a preying cat until it toppled forward and cracked, and at one stage she liked to chew on a conifer and constantly had sticky resin all over her head. As I said – slim pickings.

The closest thing perhaps was an episode at puppy school. This was the highlight of her week. So much fun. So much excitement. Pumped with glee and with me attached to her lead, she leapt forward through an open gate and pulled me over. I lurched forward landing flat out on the ground, elbow grazed and my pocket caught on a fence wire, ripping a huge three quarter hole in the back of my pants. She didn’t care but I had to slink out of the dog club in shame, backwards, with my arse hanging out of my pants, trying to be inconspicuous while still attached to a manic, rollicking puppy hell-bent on having fun and greeting every living being in her path. The only lucky thing was that I wasn’t then, nor am I now, in the habit of wearing G-strings, which could have made the episode way more revealing.

She was a dog dedicated to human interaction, a mark of her breed. She loved trips to the dog park but spent more time cuddling up to people than playing with dogs. She greeted visitors audibly with extended whines of excitement, and when Moo came home to visit, she would sit with her for ages on the floor whimpering with joy, so happy to see her and be held. She really engaged with the nursing home residents and nudged them for pats (and also really liked picking up their cake crumbs at morning tea). I’m not sure she relished visits by the babies but she put up with their ministrations and dressings with great patience and impeccable manners.

Mookie was nice to dogs too. She was amazingly submissive in doggy pecking orders and always gave way. She welcomed poor old Misty, our GRR rescue, with open paws and taught her how to be a real dog in a family and to be calm, and willingly gave over her toys and even the coveted best corner spot to lie in.

After some initial misgivings, she accepted little baby Mango, another goldie, into the family, and marked the occasion with a ceremonial swipe of her paw. Although she never did appreciate Mango doing those wild running leaps onto her when she rolled on her back on the grass, or the perpetual humping in times of excitement.

But she got older and turned grey. Then out of the blue things happened that  weren’t good (seizures and more), so we knew what was coming and we’ve been prepared. It’s been lovely these last few weeks making a fuss of her and doing her favourite things as we worked to tick things off her (our? my?) bucket list (read it here), even though we didn’t get as much time as we’d hoped.

We did well with the list, as the pictures attest: a dozen walks, a multitude of sniffs, lake visits, and enormous amounts of pats and love. She didn’t catch the bloody cat, though I’m glad she gave it a good shot one day. Didn’t make a sunset with Black Mountain tower rising in the distance but instead she saw the sunrise over Lake Burley Griffin in her last few hours, that big beautiful lake she could once walk and trot the whole way around. She even saw the globe at the edge of the lake so she could go out saying she’d seen the whole world.

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We also received support and many suggestions from caring doggy lovers all over with their own furry friends, who understand. We added those suggestions where we could – like roast chicken and extra ice cream – though a couple we couldn’t get to. The beach was too far, the snow too late and the end too soon. At the suggestion of cyber-doggy friend, Indy, we even invested in some peanut butter (ordinarily absent in our home, vile stuff that it is) so she could give that a go. But she wasn’t much interested. I like to think she shared my good taste and also reviled such a filthy food product, but in reality I think it was just too late and her poor tummy just couldn’t take anything.

She also didn’t get the number of hits on her blog post that predecessor Misty got on her parting post, although Mookie had a few posts so maybe we could add them together. Or maybe a few Facebook shares will make them even? They shared everything.

In the end, Mookie’s bucket list wasn’t full of extraordinary things. It was just full of everyday things – like walks and visits and keeping company, and being with those she loved, and who loved her back.

I love wish lists – all the things I want to do in life, and places I want to visit – but when push comes to shove, if I only had a few weeks left up my sleeve like Mookie did, I’d be doing exactly the same sorts of things. Spending time with my family and loved ones, and taking in my favourite things. (Not the bone, though, or the peanut butter.) That’s all you need. Being loved and made to feel special.

It makes you realise that it’s all that any dog, or any person, could want. If only everyone could have such a blessed life and end to their life, this world would be a far happier place. And don’t we need that?

So now you are gone, my baby girl, and our house is eerily quiet. And all those things I predicted weeks ago have come to fruition. Our eyes are sore, our hearts are heavy, and the house is somehow empty.

I’ve never been in this house without you. I drink my coffee on the steps in the sun and you aren’t sitting next to me. My walk is faster though lonely. We keep going to toss you a scrap or open the door to let you in. A hundred times a day we catch ourselves with habits that will be hard to break. Imagine having to put mushroom stalks in the compost bin now? In the weeks and probably months to come, I will continue to sweep and vacuum up dog hair from places I have swept and vacuumed a dozen times before, and I will find long, blond hairs on clothes in my cupboard to remind me you were here.

As if we could forget.

Thank you for your company, Mookie-Moo. You were a joy.

PS Right at the end when I was pondering what the hell I was going to do with all these hundreds of photos we’re been madly taking, Mookie quietly whispered an idea to me. ‘Make a photo book for me, Mum. That way I can lie on your coffee table forever rather than next to it.’ She’s always been surprisingly smart, that dog – and articulate.

So, I guess that was on her list too, and we’ll have to do it. Just for Mookie, of course.

The bucket list

And here is the ticking off of the list.

Go for walks (there were many)

Swim at the lake – with friends Bowie and Papi as well

Garden (we got the perfect sunny autumn weather)

Catch the cat (it was inevitable that wasn’t going to happen, but that last flurry was fun)

Visit Betty (so much love)

Do a photo shoot (successful)

  • Catch a sunset (got caught at the end so made the sunrise instead)

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  • Be brushed (oh yes, but not the tail)

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  • Avoid baths (definitely achieved – no photo available)
  • Eat a maccas sundae (went for the cone)

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  • Give up dog food (yep, and roast chicken was added)
  • Coffee date (yep)
  • play with Mango (yep)

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  • be with family (always)

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  • Get as many blog hits as Misty (not quite, but you never know…)
  • Eat a dirty big bone (Mum decided the poor old tummy couldn’t cope but we added a couple of dentabones instead)

But she got to break some rules instead she normally wouldn’t break.

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via Daily Prompt: Heal

Kicking goals, one ice cream at a time

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Mookie is making great inroads into her bucket list, kicking goals left, right and centre. Not bad for a hairy quadraped.

She’s been on many a stroll/sniff; had a play with Mango; swum at the lake; and eaten an ice cream. She has decided that should be on the list every day.

She’s even had time to jot down a few words.

Well, I don’t know what’s gotten into Mum and Dad, but they’ve turned into complete pushovers and going just a little bit crazy with attention and activities, specially Mum. They don’t even mind getting up in the middle of the night if I tell them I want to do a wee. And there are heaps of little treats being tossed my way, way more than usual.

Yesterday for example, I got to eat an ENTIRE ice cream completely by myself. One of those ones from the Maccas restaurant. Not just licking the end of a stick after I’ve carefully watched them eat 99.99% of the ice cream themselves. Yep, I’m onto them, but I take it anyway because licking ice cream sticks is still a bit of sport, no matter how meagre the offerings. Any ice cream is good, as long as you take it slowly. Remember – freeze head? We’ve all been there. And not only that, I’ve even convinced Mum that she should probably get me an ice cream every day. What a sucker she is. Woo hoo. Win.

There’s been lots of gardening, and we’re also going for an inordinate number of walks (who’d have thought a simple goldie would know a word like inordinate?) around the block, which is always good. And yesterday’s highlight of the walk was that I nearly got that bloody cat. Well, not nearly, but I gave it a red hot shot. When I spotted it, I ran after it faster than I’d run in years, for the whole length of my block, before it escaped over the fence. I might have had just a little limp for a minute or two after and had to have a little lie down and rest 50 metres down the road after that, half way around the block – not sure if it was related, but even if it was, it was worth it. Bastard of a cat.

We also went to the lake. OMG – I love the lake! I was so excited when I saw the water and raced in for a swim. Actually, three swims. Mango came too, which was nice, although she is annoying when she steals my sticks I like to carry around in the water. At least she didn’t try to hump me, because she does that a lot when she gets excited, and it’s pretty bloody annoying. We’re both girls, ffs. It’s not like its’ going to get her anywhere!

Mum tells me this afternoon we’re going on our photoshoot. I’m just looking forward to being out in the sun in the park. The weather’s just amazing – perfect for snoozes in the sun. Life’s good.

Love Mookie

In fact, Mookie’s enjoying the whole thing so much, she’s added a couple more items to the list and says thank you to those who put through suggestions. Yes, I’m now going to have to buy peanut butter, against my better judgement.

Off the computer now, and out into the sun!

#notsadyet