Australia is open for business: on the road or online

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Photo: @Harvestatmilton

It’s been a tough few weeks and months for many parts of Australia as fire has ripped through land and towns and our animals. The plight of our nation caught the world’s attention and assistance has been pouring in from around Australia and the rest of the world. But now the towns affected need a different sort of support—visitors!

Businesses have taken a big hit, including those who survive on tourism where cancellations have hit hard. As roads and business are opening, there’s a host of community-led projects springing up to encourage visitors and spending and helping to get things back on track.

If you’re reading this from overseas, you may be confused about conflicting stories and images. No doubt about it – these fires have been huge and devastating, but Australia is one hell of a massive place so the majority of places were not burning. Here’s a map from Tourism Australia to put it in perspective. Key takeout: there’s still an awful lot to explore that was untouched (enough for ten lifetimes) and even the places affected are filled with welcoming smiles and open arms. For those on the road, the Tourism Australia website also has a lot of up to date information about regions affected for travellers.

So, get out and visit if you can, but if you can’t take a road trip, don’t panic. There are lots of other options to shop  or visit ‘virtually’ from the comfort of your sofa and provide support that way. Here are some options:

Spend with them

This is an instagram support account launched by bushfire survivor Turia Pitt to “help rebuild towns and businesses affected by fire.” You can buy all sorts of gorgeous goods from people who haven’t been able to make sales recently, and they are extremely grateful. You can find it here.

Photo: @TathraBeachDesigns

Drink with them

Many of Australia’s favourite wine areas have been affected by the fires and many wineries lost everything. The best way to support them is to buy their wine and drink it – how hard is that? You need to buy it directly from them, either from their website or in person if they have a cellar door that’s open, for a quick cash injection as buying from shops already supplied won’t help in the short term.

The Adelaide Hills area was very hard hit. This article from Glam Adelaide gives a good run down of the affected wineries and direct contact details.

Many other areas were affected too including Kangaroo Island, Tumbarumba, the South Coast of NSW, and some in the Canberra region and Hunter Valley. You might like to do some research about those in your local areas. Even if wineries didn’t lose their vines directly, the crops of many others will be affected by smoke taint so they will lose that season’s wine anyway.

So, drink up or go wine touring! Dry July is a long way off.

Empty Esky

Photo: @BeechworthHoney

The Empty Esky Bushfire Recovery is a movement of foodies and adventurers supporting local businesses affected by the fires. Visit their Instagram account to find out all the  things on offer— from boutiques, cafes, accommodation, wineries—and some fund raising campaigns as well – broken down into regions on their highlights reel to make it easier.  You can register either your business or your esky on their website.  One of the businesses there, Harvest Bar at Milton (featured in the image at the top), is running a silent auction on Facebook as well.

Roadtrip for Good

For travellers playing to get out and about, it’s sometimes hard to know exactly what’s happening on the ground until you arrived. Launched in Melbourne, this new website allows visitors to plan their trips in advance and see which cafes, restaurants, hotels and businesses are open. Using mapping technology, it covers the whole of Australia and listings can be put up for free.

It’s my shout

This website has been set up to specifically support the East Gippsland area and while you can’t drop into town at the moment you can “buy’ a virtual coffee or something else from the local businesses and it goes immediately to them. Buy a coffee for a firey.

Different ways to support the fire victims and fireys

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@MiniandMeep

For days the nation has been scared and heartbroken as we watched great swathes of our country burn. People killed, homes lost, whole towns decimated and an almost unbelievable one billion of our gorgeous wildlife wiped out. But while fires still burning and there’s a hell of a lot of recovery and trauma to work through, our morale is being lifted by the great Aussie spirit that’s kicking in.

Amazing generosity and support flooding in from Australia and around the world, and not just in terms of dollars being donated—although that’s been great too. (Hail to Queen Celeste and the power of social media! An astonishing $50 million and rising!)

I’ve put together a number of interesting projects and fundraising campaigns I’ve seen springing up all over the place. Amazing! I’ll keep this updated as things expire or come on line.

Creative folks and beautiful creations

A bunch of creative people are raising funds by creating special gorgeous artworks and products and by donating all or portion of their sales to the fundraising. Here are a few.

If you have a product or fundraiser you’re doing, let me know and I can add it here.

@ArtforFireRelief A group of international photographers has got together to sell a range of stunning photographic prints for $100 each with all proceeds going to Red Cross and wildlife rescue organisations. More information on their website or instagram. 

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@MiniandMeep (Instagram) is auctioning a piece of gorgeous original art (for the first time ever) featuring one of our beloved koalas, or you can purchase other items featuring koalas and $5 of the sale is donated. It’s the picture at the top.

@TheNameNest (Instagram) is offering $10 “my island home’ artwork with 100% profit going to Victorian CFA (Country Fire Association)

@CornishinOz, a Canberra photographer, has set up an Etsy page selling downloads of beautiful nature images for desktop wall paper for $5 each with all proceeds going to Wildlife Rescue South Coast.

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Photo: @CornishinOz

@Blablakidsshop is doing their bit all the way from Georgia USA which proceeds from the sale of their lovely koala doll being donated to WIRES.

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Crafty people making things

@AnimalRescueCraftguild is a band of people who sew and make products that help animal rescue and often have call outs for people to help. They’ve been asking for crafty people to make all sorts of animals: you can sew joey pouches or bat wraps or crochet a birds nest or knit an animal jumpers.

Sydney

There’s a whole heap of activities around the country: dinners, comedy shows, concerts, volleyball, a dragathon (I’m not sure exactly what that is but it involves Drag Queens). TimeOut has an article with the lowdown here.

Organisations taking direct donations

Welfare organisations are encouraging cash donations rather than goods because of the logistical issues. Here are a few options but there are many including lots of small organisations who aren’t getting the attention of the big raisers.

There are lots of animal welfare organisations all over Australia like @TheRescueCollective, a band of volunteers who support rescued animals and the rescuers. They’re currently calling for medical supplies and other donations to help their work on the east coast, including money. 

Queensland Koala Crusaders. The money given goes directly to koala rescue and rehabilitation and trees for replanting forests. A sanctuary is being planned for soft release of koalas for joeys just like orphan River pictured here. You can help us protect the koala and their forests. To donate go to @koalacrusaders.

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@FiClarkPhotography

Fundraisers which have finished

#AuthorsForFireys auction on Twitter NB: This one’s finished but I’m keeping it here because it was so fabulous. I bid on – and won – a couple of books.

I’ve just lost hours of my life perusing and bidding on this great idea. The writing community has got together and are auctioning off all sorts of books and associated wonderful items live on Twitter with all the proceeds going to the fireys. Of course there are lots of signed books going. Other offerings include manuscript assessments, art works, consultations, accommodation, date nights or breakfasts or even a weaving class. There’s even a framed original artwork from the late Kim Gamble.

Another option – a day trip to Bruny Island, or perhaps, folks, you’d enjoy tea and iced vo vos with our ex-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and get a signed book and a Kevin 07 t-shirt! Or not. However, my favourite offering is from Benjamin Law, which is going right off.

   

@ForemanPictureFraming are auctioning a range of stunning framed artworks. Ending soon! (too late, it’s finished. They raised over $34,000 with the sale of artworks).

Ringing in the new year: a new decade and a new normal

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It’s just the second day of the year in Canberra, 2 January 2020. Usually I’m feeling pretty pumped about a new year and what it will bring; a new slate to write on, new goals to kick. But this year it feels very different.

This morning my house, shut up tightly, is full of the visible smoke sweeping in hundreds of kilometres from a country on fire.  The whole city is eerily quiet and clouded in a thick, acrid smoke. The bush capital of Australia, supposedly one of the world’s cleanest and greenest capital cities, is reporting air quality more than 20 times hazardous levels and the worst in the world. This is not normal.

But here is the easy place to be. Meanwhile across two states, utter devastation is rife as the country burns: lives lost, people missing, hundreds of homes destroyed, whole towns decimated, millions of hectares of land burnt, and millions and millions of animals burnt alive. I can’t read the news without crying.

Unprecedented fires, broken heat records left right and centre, crippling drought, changed rainfall patterns, not enough water.

Welcome to 2020 in Australia.

Unprecedented means it hasn’t happened before. Not like this. Not ever.

It will take a lot to recover. I’ll write more on that soon and how we can help.

This year and this decade I intend to embrace life and soak up every minute of my existence. I will celebrate good times with my family and friends, achieve new goals and visit new places. This world is an extraordinary place and I want to keep exploring it and discover the magic. I’m acutely aware of the earthly costs of doing so, so I’ll do it mindfully and with the lightest footprint possible and work harder to compensate elsewhere. More on that coming too.

I know there are some people who will not agree with me, some vehemently, but that doesn’t mean I will be silent to avoid a conflict. I will not be a part of a generation who lets this happen without trying to prevent it. In future years, I want to be able to look my grandkids and great-grandkids in the face without shame.

I also want to make this year about doing something positive about this emergency situation we’re in. That will include:

  • speaking up, even when it’s awkward
  • providing facts
  • talking to people who are resistant to facts
  • communicating with politicians of all persuasions seeking immediate action
  • joining up with other like-minded people
  • upping my own personal action.

This is not political. This is above politics. Our world is too precious to see ruined.

I hope you’ll join me, even if it’s to ask questions. I’m always happy to have a respectful discussion.

The year of 2019: personal contentment in a world of sadness

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The rising sun at the arboretum in Canberra

It’s the last day of the year and indeed the decade so it seems timely to do a little backward glancing over the year that’s gone.

I was intending to write a positive post, all glowing with the joys and achievements of the year dotted with pretty pictures, but as I write the news is awash with horror: Australia is on fire and tragedy is sweeping across the country.

As I type out these words, 16 emergency fires are raging out of control across two states, seven people are missing and 4000 people in Victoria are huddled together on a beach to escape the fires. Three brave young men have died volunteering to fight the fires, two of them with babies and young families and another one about to have his first child, one he’ll never meet. Hundreds of homes and businesses have been destroyed. Tragic beyond description. Unspeakable horror.

Photo: Dean Lewins/AAP

In the middle of a crippling drought, we have been smashing heat record after heat record: we broke the record for the highest ever average temperature across Australia and then smashed it the very next day; for the first time in recorded history we recorded no rainfall across the continent and we have an astonishing number of fires burning across almost every state.

I’m more scared for our world than I’ve ever been. Reading the news often brings tears to my eyes.

It seems frivolous and disrespectful to speak of my own contentment when there is such tragedy abounding, here and in places all around the world. Friends have had a terrible year with personal tragedies too horrible to comprehend or speak out loud.

But amid the terrible things surrounding us, I am extremely grateful to have had a great year. It’s not a boast. I almost feel guilty saying that, which makes me even more grateful.

Number one, 2019 brought a new (and naturally adorable) grandson into our lives – one his aunty describes as a unicorn he’s so happy and the perfect bubba, said with just the slightest amount of over-zealous grandparental pride – now bringing our tribe of little’uns to four. Four small people who are a delight (mostly) and who make me smile and my heart sing.

The year also brought some fabulous travels: to Queensland a number of times including a month long puppy-sitting stint, trips up the coast, a relaxed stay in Melbourne and a jam-packed trip discovering the delightful town of Bendigo, as well as a visit to Vietnam to visit a friend living in Saigon and a fabulous jaunt to Africa  (South Africa and Zimbabwe) to fulfill a lifelong dream. It was so good, we’re going back again next year!

Sun setting on the elephants at Bumi Hills, Zimbabwe

In fact, the year has been so busy with travel and other things that I haven’t been able to keep up with my own plans for writing up the trips, so some of that will have to come next year, along with lots of photographs which still haven’t seen the light of day. I’ll be working hard in the new year to keep up.

For the last couple of years, I have been working hard to build up a social media presence and a new life as a travel writer and blogger, something to keep me on my toes in my life after work. This year I’ve had a couple of great breakthroughs. I’ve had six stories published in Canberra and one article published in Australian Traveller magazine, Australia’s biggest selling travel mag, with two more features to come in the new year. I’m also going to be taking a luxury work trip to Africa which is super exciting. So many ideas and so many plans for 2020 and I’m pumped! Time will be the limiting factor.

I am embracing my ‘retirement’ with great joy and no guilt. I use inverted commas as what I’m doing now is a form of work – just my favourite one involving writing and photography. It’s extremely busy and for me it’s a time to truly love being alive, hang out with my fabulous and growing family, even those a fair distance away, travel, and dedicate time to do the things I enjoy the most. It doesn’t get much better than that.

I’m constantly aware life is precious gift and I am determined to make the most of it, starting with next year, which happily happens to be tomorrow so not a day wasted.

As always, on this day I come up with a list of things I want to do or achieve. Goals if you will, rather than resolutions. Although I don’t have a crystal ball, it makes me think about what’s important and helps keep me on track.

Here’s a few for starters:

  • Be more productive with my time
  • Waste less time on social media (I’m allowing myself to use it for legitimate purposes but I’m monitoring it to try and cut out the useless activity)
  • be more active about caring for our earth in peril
  • be kind to everyone
  • make the world a better place in small ways but whatever way I can.

What are your hopes and goals for the year ahead?

May the year be full of smiles, happiness and enjoyment of this precious life. If you’ve had a tough year, may next year be better and may you be able to make the best of every day.

Christmas gift giving without the crazy

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Sparkly Christmas reindeer

I’m feeling a little conflicted. Christmas music is playing, parties are in full swing and the Chrissie spirit is really gearing up for a big end of year shindig. I love the whole big Christmas thing, especially fun times with family and friends, but I’m a little aghast at the craziness that often comes with it, including the wanton excess and wastage.

Just as we’re embarking on crazed and panicked spending sprees, buying lots of useless, crappy things that will be discarded before the year’s out or that the recipients won’t want or even vaguely like (often with dollars we don’t have or shouldn’t splash around), we’re also reading constantly about the dire state of our planet and being reminded of the many, many who don’t have enough and are doing it tough. Sure, it’s great to spend the day with loved ones and indulge in some spirited gift-gifting, but it seems a trifle (pudding?) hypocritical to be rushing around buying excesses of gifts and food with little regard for what’s going on around us.

Maybe it’s time to stop the crazy, or at least get it back in control. I’ll admit I’m a bit guilty as charged. I actually LOVE presents, both giving and receiving, and Christmas is a magical time, especially now we have small grandchildren sharing the day and taking it to another level of special.  But as we edge towards Christmas day, and the pile of presents under my tree oozes out inexorably like a lava flow, until it takes up half the family room, I’m determined to stop it in its tracks, or maybe slow it down a little.

I’m not suggesting a gift free Christmas (personally I couldn’t cope though some happily choose that path), but I am trying hard to be sensible and thoughtful.

If you’re keen to master the madness, here are a few ideas to keep the joy of this magical season while remaining mindful of the impacts of our self-centred holiday carry-on.

Rein in the crazy

There are few things more disturbing that a pack of ungrateful, crazed kids ripping through piles of presents, wild eyes flashing, flinging discarded paper and boxes upwards as they dive onto the next one, with little idea what was in the previous gift let alone who it was from. It’s even worse when the adults do it. This is not Christmas spirit, and hardly joyful.

There’s a rule in our family to slow things down: only one present can be unwrapped in the room at any one time, distributed by the appointed ‘Santa’. This can take a looooong time, but what’s the rush? Of course, a calm, elongated present-opening session means you will be terribly delayed in putting on the planned Christmas lunch, which you then won’t get to eat it until at least 2pm when everyone is half-tanked and it’s as hot as Hades (at least in the Southern Hemisphere) , but it wouldn’t feel like Christmas otherwise. At least not at our place.

Christmas wreath

This is not a competition

Don’t feel you have to compete with others to be the best gift giver or the most generous aunt or uncle. Being extravagant won’t necessary buy you popularity. Set limits. Stick to them.

What about a Secret Santa? That’s where rather than buying everyone in your family or circle a gift, you are allocated one particular person to buy for anonymously. Only one present to buy! There are various versions and you can set a sensible limit. We’re doing a $20 Stealing Santa this year with an extended family group, which means if someone opens a gift that gives you present-envy, you’re allowed to steal it from them. Introduces a bit of jostling and sometimes hard stares and coercion, but it’s a bit of fun, and you have a better chance of scoring something that tickles your fancy. We allow voluntary mutual trades after the conclusion for those not sated.

Consider your recipient

Most of us like receiving gifts, but let’s be honest – who hasn’t ever received a shocker that leaves you gobsmacked. What the hell were they thinking? And then whoosh, out it goes. Do a bit of thinking/planning before you pull out your wallet and make sure what you’re buying suits the recipient and not you. Asking for suggestions beforehand can be useful, and let the receiver know they can exchange the present if they’d like. Check with the store first about that (most at least exchange), and keep the receipt.

Buy practical things

Forget oodles of hand cream or talcum powder (does anyone actually use that anymore?) that sit lonely in dark cupboards for years to come – go for things people will actually use.

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  • Clothing or other ‘needed’ items still make lovely gifts. The old socks and jocks may be a bit predictable, but they’re pretty useful. At least most of us wear undies.
  • Consider the person’s habits or hobbies – thing for the garden, tools, towels – stuff people will use.
  • Think edible. Delicious things make great gifts and are practically guaranteed to be consumed. I mean, who throws out chocolate? For the clever cooking queens, go one better and make something yourself – rum balls, gingerbread men, Christmas pud.
  • What about ‘experiences’ or vouchers – a dinner out, movie tickets, a massage voucher?

Confession: I’m one of those annoying mothers who stockpiles life’s little necessities in the month or so before Christmas and then presents them for gifts. Wooden spoon just snapped? Just wait till the 25th. Out of shampoo? Whack it in a gift bag. This of course has pissed off the kids over the years. Once we wrapped a toilet seat and put it under the tree for (then) Miss 8 who was mad with anticipation for weeks looking at that big present. Not so happy when she opened it. We’re still chuckling and she’s still annoyed. To be fair, she was the one who broke it.

Give your time

Gifts don’t have to be physical things you unwrap – you can give your time or share your skills. What about visiting an elderly friend or neighbour, mowing someone’s lawn, volunteering for a week’s worth of housework, or helping someone with a task they can’t manage. No cost except your time and expertise – precious. (Mind you, I think I have a couple of unused vouchers in my dressing table drawer, expired of course, because one daughter cleverly ensured there was a use by date.)

Buy something for someone you don’t know

Many charities have come up with ingenious ways of spreading the holiday joy with catalogues of gifts you can buy for those in need on behalf of someone else. One year I ‘gave’ my children goats from World Vision which were distributed to families in Africa. We were thrilled when several months later we received a letter from our sponsor child to say her family had received a goat which provided their family with milk.

Here’s a couple of places who provide these gift catalogues online, just for starters:

World Vision

Salvo’s

Oxfam

There are lots of ‘giving trees’ in shopping centres, at charities and at work places, where donated presents are distributed locally to those in need. Charities are becoming clearer about specific things they need as well. A great way to teach kids about compassion.

Consider second hand

As we become more aware of the mess we’re leaving behind us, second hand can be perfectly acceptable, even preferable for some, but remember:

  • Pick your audience, some will appreciate your thrifty and environmental stance – others will not. Very small children – perfect! Work colleagues for the Secret Santa – you risk looking like a tight-ass.
  • Don’t try to pass second hand items as new. See above.
  • I’m personally okay with re-gifting, but it should be done with thought and caution. It’s not good to palm something off to someone who else will have no use for it either, and make sure you’re not caught giving it back to the original giver. That’s rule number one – break it at your peril. Nor can you give it to someone who travels in the same circles, or who even vaguely, possibly could travel in the same circles. If you can’t remember exactly where it came from, sorry – you’re stuck with it.

Think about the planet

Think twice about buying disposable rubbish that will probably go straight into landfill in a week’s time. All those crappy little plastic things were once fossil fuels and have probably travelled quite a long way to get to you, so they’re likely to be pretty energy intensive. Same goes for rubbish decorations, plastic cutlery and other disposable items. Go easy if you can. Quality decorations will last decades so at least you don’t need to keep restocking. And remember to BYO bags when you go shopping to avoid bringing home more.

Ahhh. So many gifts. So many options.

What about you? What are you doing this Christmas? Are you on a gift giving gala or trying to be a bit restrained.

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The master of fashion on display in Bendigo – Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion

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Anyone with even a vague interest in fashion is familiar with the names Dior and Channel, but did you know it was a Spanish designer and couturier by the name of Cristobal Balenciaga who they themselves revered and referred to as “The Master”?

The Bendigo Art Gallery is celebrating the fashion and legacy of this fashion icon through its exhibition Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion, in conjunction with the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. It’s toured in other countries but Bendigo is the only place you can see it in Australia. The coups regional art galleries can pull off!

Born in Spain in 1895, Balenciaga was first introduced to sewing by his mother and at 12 years of age became an apprentice tailor. Ten years later in 1917 he opened his first fashion house and later moved to Paris to a fancy street where he remained for the rest of his 50 year career.

A complete perfectionist and with an obsession for sleeves, he was one of the most innovative and influential fashion designers of the 20th century. This was a man who had an amazing understanding of fabrics, which were at the very the heart of his designs and led his pioneering work.

He revolutionised the shape of women’s fashion which was previously dominated by the hour-glass shape by coming up with a range of sculptural and architectural shapes that didn’t accentuate the waist and that still resonate today in fashion. Middle-aged women are still grateful. He is credited with the invention of the sack, tunic, shift and baby doll dresses, a sample of each displayed in the exhibition.

Balenciago dressed some of the most fashionable and  influential women of the times including Jackie Kennedy, Grace Kelly and Gloria Guiness. Fashionista Mona von Bismarck was enamoured with his fashions and famously refused to leave her room for three days when news broke that Balenciago was going to close his studio in 1968, claiming there was no one left for him to dress. Clearly she disagreed.

There are two parts to the exhibition. The first explores Balenciaga’s early life and influences, his craftmanship, workrooms and clientele and features garments and hats he crafted from the 1950s and 1960s. Visitors are able to peer back into how he worked in his salons and workrooms through a collection of sketches, patterns, photographs and fabric samples, and watch the fashions being strutted out on the catwalks of decades ago.

Some of my favourite pieces were the x-rayed images of some of his pieces which revealed the hidden details and finesse  and structure of his work. The work underneath is an artwork in itself.

The second part of the exhibition features Balenciaga’s legacy in the fashion world and looks at his influence on the  work of more than 30 fashion designers over the last 50 years including pieces by Calvin Klein and Yves St Laurent and an intriguing black plastic ‘snake dress’ created for Icelandic singer Björk.

Even if you’re not a fashionista, it’s an exhibition with much to see and beautiful details to appreciate, and it may have you looking at the engineering of clothing in a new light.

If you want to catch the exhibition, you’d better hurry along – it finishes on 10 November. Quick sticks.

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When the adult kids come home – and all hell breaks loose

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I sometimes chuckle smugly when others complain their grown up kids don’t leave home, for years or decades. I feel just a tad righteous because we managed to offload both of ours straight after uni and packed them off to live independently and successfully in different cities.

But here we are, 10 years later and one of them has just moved back in—this time with her whole family in tow! That’s five people including a five-year-old, a three-year-old and a very vocal but not-yet-talking-not-long-one-year-old, and a big hairy dog. Oh, and the entire contents of their house that has completely taken over our double garage, totally lines one side of the hallway, and covers each and every horizontal surface in the house including the floors.

It’s a temporary stay, just while their new house is completed after the rental property came to an end. We were all supposed to be just ships passing in the night as we travelled with just a week or so crossover. But then, of course, the house got delayed!  What were we thinking? Houses always get delayed.

It’s been a manic month. Very busy. And very noisy. And extremely messy. And quite stressful. And we’re not even the parents or doing most of the work. And I’ve been to Brisbane, Bendigo, Melbourne and Newcastle too in that time.

There’s the very loud, teething toddler who’s into everything – cupboards, dishwasher, garden beds, yogurt, the big kid’s Woollies herb mini-gardens, the dog’s eyes; a digger-crazed Mister 3 with magic snow and ice powers who runs incessantly up and down the now-thinned hallway draped in a soft blanket (cape) as Elsa the Frozen princess shouting ‘let it go, let it go’ and who likes to regularly re-landscape our garden (ie, make mud) and who goes so hard he sometimes just crashes out on the sofa; and Miss 5 who just resists sleep with a fierce passion and somewhat resembles that jumping bunny filled with Everlast batteries advertised years ago. The one that just keeps on going. Actually she’s pretty easy in comparison to the others, AND she goes to school during the day.

Meanwhile the parents zip in and out to meet builders, fencers, contractors, landscapers, carpenters and carpeters, and do long inspections and get sign offs, and disappear into the dark of night to paint and spak-fill, and paint the old chest of drawers which now lives in the laundry on a drop sheet in the laundry (next to the change table) almost blocking the washing machine which hardly gets a break from the 16 loads of washing per day.

The dog is an angel and no trouble at all.

It’s not all bad. On the other hand, it’s been a delight to have them all and disperse the work load a little. We’ve played lots of games, had oodles of cuddles and bedtime stories (we even started Narnia) and we get much assiduous assistance with feeding the worms and the goldfish and watering the pots. Mr 3 even called me his ‘other mum’.

We’re lucky really that we can all grit our teeth and survive this with a smile and sometimes a grimace, and a glass of wine at the end of the day. Sometimes two. (I’m taking notes for when I’m old and decrepit and need assistance from the young’uns. I’m sure it will be repaid.) Mr T is just a bit anxious as he’s trying to get the tax return done in time for submission (tomorrow!). Nothing like a deadline.

We’re a family. Pretty messy one at the moment and I’m not getting anywhere near the things I need to tick off my lists, but we’re going all right.

Two nights to go.

No, wait – then the other one arrives from interstate with her bub.

Photographing Floriade: Finding focus in the floral frenzy

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Hands up if you’ve visited Canberra’s annual floral spectacle and taken dozens of photos, only to be disappointed with the results when you look at them at home?

With a multitude of colours, wide expanses of flower beds and a million blooms on offer, it’s easy to assume capturing amazing shots is a simple feat, but this isn’t always the case. If you’ve ever been disappointed by your Floriade snaps or wondered how to improve your floral photography, help is at hand.

Two of Canberra’s professional photographers have been photographing the floral glories of Floriade for decades and have a wealth of tips to help others find some focus and view their flower photography with different eyes—and take home some terrific shots at the end of the day.

Australian Institute of Professional Photographer members, Ben Kopilow of Fusion Photography and Geoff Comfort of Geoff Comfort Photography have again teamed up with Floriade to present a number of well-structured workshops early each Saturday morning of the festival. The two have a long association with Floriade having presented these workshops for the last 10 years, honing their skills and the messages they want to impart, whittled down to some key elements informed by decades of professional practice.

In fact, it was Floriade that first got Ben into photography nearly two decades ago. With a new camera in hand and no experience under his belt, he entered a shot of a single flower in the event’s photo competition—and ended up with first prize. It was enough to inspire him to start on a new career journey into photography.

The winning image was a simple one, of a solitary bloom, so it’s no surprise Ben cites seeking simplicity as his number one tip for floral photography.

“In photography, often less is more and allows your image to stand out from the crowd.” says Ben.

He even quotes Leonardo da Vinci to back up his view: “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

While Geoff also highly values simplicity and focus, his number one tip is to be aware of your background when taking a photo, whether it be a rogue leaf or bit of dirt or someone in the background.

Geoff also speaks of the importance of light in photography. The word photography itself means ‘drawing with light’ and finding the light is integral to taking a great shot. However, having lots of bright, harsh light in the middle of the day is not so great when photographing flowers so Geoff has some ideas to counteract this.

“You can soften light with a diffuser, or create your own shade with an umbrella or have a friend create some for you,” says Geoff.

“Take advantage of cloudy days. They provide softer lighting and allow you to more easily capture the shadows and details of flowers.”

Both photographers stress you don’t need the best gear to get great photos. They believe being creative and thinking about the composition of your photo are all important, and they’re skills you can learn and practice.

“When people come through the gate, they’re often so excited they often start snapping madly at the first flowers they see,” says Geoff.

“But it’s important to slow down, have a good look around and find a flower or scene you want to feature, then work out how to compose your image. Rushing means missing details, and the details count.”

Some of Ben and Geoff’s other favourite tips include:

  • look for a focal point or point of interest in your photo
  • lead the viewer’s eye to where you want them to focus in your photo, for example by using focus or leading lines
  • think about the light—use shadow, side light or back light for different effects
  • move around your subject for different perspectives or different views.

The Floriade photography workshops are held early each Saturday morning, before the crowds arrive and to take advantage of the softer early morning light. Starting with a talk and some pointers, they allow lots of time to practice, with assistance if needed. Time is spent at the end looking at some participants’ shot and providing helpful critiques.

But even if you don’t make a workshop, next time you venture into Floriade, or any field of flowers, with a camera or phone in hand, perhaps take the time to slow down and focus on something small and eradicate distractions. There’s a million potential images waiting in the blooms—the challenge is to focus on one that stands out.

First published at The RiotACT

Two’s company, but sometimes a crowd: why I love my own space

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I have a confession to make. I’ve been happily married, even deliriously happily married, for more than 30 years. (That’s not the confession.) But as my dearest and I spend more and more time together during the days and evenings in our (reasonably recent) retirements, I’m finding I’m needing a little bit of space.

It’s not that I don’t love spending time with my nearest and dearest and doing lots of things together (he’s actually rather good company), but the older I get, I’m really relishing a bit of time and space just for me. To think, to explore, to waste time if I want (I’m quite good at that – one of my super talents, in fact), to try new things—whatever I’d like—all my myself.

So, it is with the utmost of love and respect that I want to say to my most beloved:

I love you dearly, but occasionally, please just leave me alone!

Sometimes you hear women complain their husbands are golfers and that they spent inordinate amounts of time on the golf course, meaning the wives have become ‘golf widows.’ Not me. I actively encourage him onto the course. Go, stay – for as long as you like. Because that’s my special time, when he’s out for four or five hours at a stretch and I’m completely left to my own devices to do whatever I want—write, read, ‘waste’ as much time as I want on the computer. Whatever I want with no one to come and ask what I’m doing. Not that I’m doing anything sneaky or untoward. It’s just I don’t want to be bothered.

And those days when he’s booked in to golf and I’m planning to do all the things, and then it rains and he stays home instead! Ugh! My special time gone in an instant.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m married to perhaps the most wonderful man on earth, and I love spending time with him. But as I’m getting older, I’m really valuing some ‘me’ time more and more, when I’m not beholden to anyone else and I can do things that bring me pleasure, even if others can’t understand why.

I like to be by myself when I’m on my computer, in my little cyber world, and don’t even like someone else at the desk next to me. I know I shared offices for decades, but now I don’t like sharing that much. Concentration levels are so much higher when I’m by myself. Or maybe I’m just becoming old and curmudgeonly.

Mr T and I have been together since we were teenagers, and while we share a myriad of similar interests, we also enjoy our separate interests. As I said, he golfs, I play tennis. He likes James Bond movies, I like tragic dramas. He cooks, I eat.

Most of our holidays are together, but we also do our own trips. He goes on wine trips with the boys, I go to Thailand with the girls for massages and cocktails. A couple of months back I spent a couple of weeks in Zimbabwe next year without him travelling with a small group and taking thousands of photos all day, everyday. I loved it but it would have him crazy, so all the more reason to do it by myself.

We are a fabulous partnership, as our many couples, but we’re also two individuals so I’m delighted we are able to pursue different interests and have different friendships and don’t always have to be tied to the hip, even as we spend more and more time together. It’s good for both of us. I’m not an introvert—I thrive on the company of others, especially my family —but this little place I’m discovering now that’s just for me—I have to say, it’s an absolute blast.

What about you? Do love spending some time by yourself?

And I wonder when his next golf day is?

Kids and books, and a delightful May Gibbs giveaway

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Tales from Collection of books for giveaway

We’ve just had another sleepover with two of the grandkids, which Mr 3 likes to call a ‘drop off’. It’s quite the highlight of their week. Among other things, it will invariably involve:

  • lots of jigsaws and puzzles
  • choosing & printing out a colouring page featuring unicorns and fairies (for Miss 5)
  • pikelets for breakfast
  • and lots and lots of story books, some on the couch and more in bed snuggling under the covers all together.

That last bit is probably the favourite bit for all of us. There’s nothing quite as squelchy warm and fuzzy as reading to little kids who are completely mesmerised by the stories and pictures and drawn in so deeply into the world of books. Sometimes it’s so exhilarating and exhausting that the whole lot of us fall asleep in the bed together. Oops.

Apart from the fact that we all love the reading and the snuggles, of course there’s a whole wealth of evidence that the best way to help children with literacy and set them on a path to a lifelong relationship with books and reading is to start reading to them early. Doesn’t really seem like rocket science, does it? As long as we make it fun and they enjoy it – which really isn’t hard at all with the amazing array of beautiful, thoughtful and sometimes very funny books available all around.

And in further good news, there’s also evidence that reading aloud to kids helps with focus and can assist with behaviour and also helps to develop imagination and has all sort of other benefits. Winning all around!

We read all sorts of things with the kids (and the babies too) with lots of new books from new authors, but I also love to read them some of the things I read and loved as a child. I’m looking forward to reading the Tales of Narnia to them soon and I’m tracking down some Ruth Manning-Sanders book at the moment – did anyone read those? Books of fairies, books of dragons, books of mermaids and so much more.

Some of my old books haven’t survived very well and they’re a bit smelly which puts the kids off a bit, so it’s actually lovely to be able to buy some new copies of some of the old favourites.

We’ve recently been looking at Snugglepot and Cuddlepie and introducing the kids to the magical world of Australian bushfolk created by May Gibbs, one of our most beloved authors and illustrators. Even a hundred years after she was creating those beautiful sketches and books, the artwork is just as delightful.

Giveaway

  • This giveaway has now closed and the winner announced.

So that’s why I’m really excited to announce I have a lovely giveaway to celebrate books, reading and the very special world of May Gibbs and the Australian bush. The prize is a boxed set of four May Gibbs storybooks from the “Tales of Collection” including: Tales From the Gum Tree, Tales From The Billabong, Tales from the Bush and Tales from the Camp Fire.

That’s $50 of gorgeousness and reading time pleasure sure to make some little people very happy.

If you’d like to win, pop over to my Instagram account and find the details on the giveaway post. Make sure you’re following @BoomingOn and tag a friend you think might also like this Snugglepot and Cuddlepie prize. You can also enter on Facebook – just go to @BoomingOn page and look for the competition post there. This competition is restricted to Australia only. Winner will be selected randomly and contacted directly via DM.

Charity support

Did you know that when May Gibbs died in 1969 at the age of 92, she left the copyright of all her works jointly to The NSW Society for Crippled Children (now known as Northcott) and the Spastic Centre of NSW (now known as Cerebral Palsy Alliance). That means not only does her work continue to live on through reprints and rethinks, but it also means thousands of disadvantaged kids have been, and continue to be, helped by her generosity and the continuing sales of her works.

The organisations have done a marvellous job keeping her work alive and reinventing it in all sorts of ways. Many of her works feature her own original illustrations and some feature the work of other artists inspired by the originals.  There is also an absolutely delightful range of gifts, toys and clothing – from cards to bookmarks, and bookmarks, swaddles to pyjamas, kids’ chef sets to plates and cups and heaps more.

I just love that these lovely stories and beautiful illustrations keep living on and on and keep helping children who need help.

Those interested in history and gardens can also visit ‘Nutcote‘, the 1926  home where May Gibbs lived with her husband ‘J.O.’ in Neutral Bay, which has now been turned into a charming museum. If you have little people in your life and you live or go to Sydney, you can enjoy a story time in the garden (for ages 3 and up) every first Sunday and third Friday of the month at 11.45 am and 1.45pm.

If you want to see more of May Gibbs’ books and the licensed products Northcott now sells, pop over to their website to take a look or you can pick up your own Tales of Collection bookset  from Scholastic.