Finding the light in a pretty dark year: 12 positives from the year from hell

2020 was a shocker. For hundreds of thousands it was devastating, heartbreaking and life-changing. While there’s been a myriad written on the year from hell and without diminishing the pain and suffering of so many, there’s also an opportunity to reflect on what’s brought us together this year. We can think about some of the positives that emerged from the year as we leave it behind—because life’s too short to just concentrate on the bleak and there’s still a lot of amazing out there.

  1. Our hands may have been forced as Rona raged, but we did slow down and breathed a little slower and a little more deeply. Sometimes we actually stopped. As activities and commitments were cancelled, the weight of expectations lowered and there was a chance to get onto things we mightn’t otherwise have done. Getting on top of the ‘to do’ list, reading, spending unrushed time with family or friends, stepping off the crazy carousel even if just for while.
  2. Community spirit was amazing. Choirs sang, kindness and good deeds flourished, and people were (largely) positive and worked to support each other.
  3. We found joy in simple tasks and learned to appreciate some of the things we’d normally take for granted, like walking outside, visiting friends or giving a hug. Many people learned to bake bread.
  4. Homeless people were supported like never before and many were provided with homes, though huge challenges remain.
  5. We adapted to challenges and we used technology in positive ways to keep connected and to keep businesses alive and to teach children. Zoom became a new verb.
  6. While overseas trips were off the table, we rediscovered our own backyards and saw our towns and countries with wider, more appreciative eyes. In many cases, travel slowed down and we took time to smell the roses in someone else’s gardens.
  7.  Governments and countries worked together collaboratively and research and knowledge was shared.
  8. The work of health care workers and teachers has never been more appreciated.
  9. The way we work was transformed and working from home became an accepted norm. It may never be the same.
  10. Nature got a bit of respite from climbing carbon emissions (well, after from those devastating fires) as travel eased and cities closed down. Wildlife flourished and cities were transformed.
  11. We practised better hygiene and learned to wash our hands properly, meaning other flus and diseases actually decreased.
  12. We realised that we can do things really differently if we really have to. Let’s hope we can heed those lessons into the future and adapt our way of living to protect us from the next threat that’s lurking just about the corner—our changing climate. At least for that, we already have the vaccine and the cure—we just have to actually use them.

It seems many of us hope as soon as we hit 2021, things will miraculously turn around. It won’t be that simple and there’s a hell of a way to go, but let’s hope we can take the lessons of the year and carry them forward.

What’s been the best thing for you this year?

Here’s hoping we can leave the negatives behind but carry forward the positives. Let’s remember to smell the roses, and here’s cheers to a better 2021 for the world.

A holiday done differently: kicking back in the country

Usually when I go on holidays, it’s not about rest and relaxation. It’s all go go go with activities and sightseeing and squeezing in as much as possible, taking photos, taking notes, sampling as much of the local cuisine as possible. Either that or spending time with family and being busy in lots of other ways. But not this time – this little trip I’m doing something completely different.

I’m staying in a lovely light-filled and airy house (perhaps it’s a homestead) up on a hill overlooking Hume Dam and out in the sticks. Well, I’m a city girl so ‘out in the sticks’ is a relative term but secluded according to my normal existence. It’s actually only a few kilometres to the nearest little township and about 20 minutes drive from Albury but it feels forever away.

It has views for days, which change hue as the day progresses, and I wake up to pale pinks and muted blues and greens and the sight of hills and water. There’s a couple of horses in the paddock to the right and a herd of cattle that come strolling by every once in a while. Lovely.

We had friends stay with us the first couple of nights but then more days of just hanging with no plans or agendas and time to spend doing very little. It’s not something I often do and it makes a rather welcome change. I don’t think it’s going to alter my usual vacation mode but I’m certainly savouring these quiet days while I can.

I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t even bother anymore to take a book with me on holidays as I never get near to opening them. This time though, I’ve had my nose in a lovely book that was in the house and golly gosh, I’m actually going to finish it by the time I leave. Occasionally I look up to watch the colours of the lake and hills transform.

Strangely it’s a book I have myself at home, yet despite having owned it for ten years I’ve never got around to reading it there. This is what down time must be all about – doing those things you don’t normally let yourself do.

As I sit reading that book with a glass of wine I ponder on how connected this world is. That book is of France, Paris and St Remy de Provence, two areas I have visited and love. In fact, we visited places and shops in that village suggested in that book and brought home chocolates purchased on its recommendation. It’s written by the wife of someone I worked for many moons ago in Sydney, in my second ever job, a job I loved. Just three of us in the entire company in a little suite of offices high overlooking Sydney Harbour. As read I sip a chilled chardonnay from Italy, from a young Australian wine maker (whose wife is from Canberra) who we met while holidaying in the Piedmont in Northern Italy. I’m looking across to the mighty Hume Dam which I discover is being upgraded with money (many millions of dollars of it) my husband worked to secure in his previous life as a public servant. Just out to the left is the Bonegilla migrant site, now an ‘experience’ for tourists to discover the past where I visited and caught a video of an immigration officer from the 1940s: it’s a face I know and the father of a good friend.

Ah, what a connected little world we inhabit.

When my feet get itchy from too much sitting, I wander around and venture out with camera in hand to catch some photos in the glow of evening light. Sometimes it’s successful and sometimes not.

I’m reminded that capturing moving and back-lit black angus cattle in the fast fading evening light is a bit tricky. That sounds was a not successful.

Not far from our holiday abode is Albury and I did make it in there for a visit. It’s the town where my mum grew up for 10 years and where my parents met and ‘courted’. I find her previous family home: just as she described overlooking the botanic gardens and looking rather grand. I imagine it looks pretty much as it did back then and I wonder how many of the trees and plants in the gardens were once tended by my grandfather, a keen gardener, and back then the local newsagent. I think I’ll take a copy of the photo we have of that house from the 1950s and send it to the current owners.

Not far away, somewhere on the banks of the Murray, was where my Dad proposed. It makes me happy to think of that. He would have been so pleased when she said yes. I’m glad she did too.

This little country stay has been about kicking back. It’s been a different sort of break for me, these days of slow relaxation. I imagine this is how many people usually take their holidays.

I’ll savour it for the moment because next time I’m away I’ll no doubt be back to my usual hectic self.

More jewellery acquisitions for Christmas – for a very good cause

Confession: I have a bit of a thing for collecting jewellery. Not the super expensive gold and diamonds type jewels (although I’m fairly partial to a pearl or two), but I do have enough pretty things to adorn outfits for the rest of my life, and then a few more lifetimes after that.

And yet, when I spied yet ANOTHER very special necklace and bracelet, I just couldn’t resist.

Here me out, though, cause now I’m going to justify this wanton obsession. (Life rule: you can justify just about anything if you try hard enough.)

My big excuse is that the jewellery was purchased from a non-profit organisation whose work supports a really good cause. So, I figure it’s more a donation than a purchase. Just not tax deductible. And I get something lovely for it.

It was from the Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation, an organisation that works to restore health and dignity to women in Africa by treating and preventing the horrendous – and preventable – childbirth injury, obstetric fistula. That’s an internal injury caused by a prolonged, unrelieved obstructed labour, which leaves women incontinent, humiliated and cut off from their communities. Nasty stuff that women in developed countries don’t really have to think about.

The organisation was founded 60 years ago by two Australian surgeons, Dr Catherine and Reg Hamlin and started when they did a three-year posting to Ethiopia. They spent their lives dedicated to bringing treatment and education to the world’s most marginalised women who have suffered these terrible childbirth injuries. What a marvellous couple! I didn’t even know what a fistula was before I read about this organisation – because in Australia with decent medical treatment it’s not an issue. Now the foundation has restored dignity to over 60,000 women, an amazing number of lives transformed. Catherine Hamlin died earlier this year. You can read more about her here.

The particular jewellery pieces I spied when flicking through their online catalogue had an even more compelling story attached to them. They are made from discarded artillery shells scattered over the mountains of northern Ethiopia, the residual reminders of former war conflict. Local farmers collect and supply the shells to local artisans who melt them down to make delicate silver beads. These are then sent to a fair trade project which employs local women to make the jewellery in a safe community environment.  

I mean, when I read that I really couldn’t resist. Wins all round. I do feel much better knowing about the work my purchase supports, even if I don’t need the extra bling.

And they’re so pretty!!

On top of that, at least this latest acquisition of jewellery was the result of an actual purchase using cold, hard cash (well, more accurately, an online credit card) rather than just gathering more jewellery from virtual strangers on holidays and in other devious though accidental ways.

If you haven’t finished your Christmas shopping, perhaps take a look at their catalogue of lovely fair trade goodies. There’s more jewellery, bags, scarves, homewares, kitchen items, gifts for babies and cookbooks and spices. Even a yoga mat. In a very 2020 way, there’s also a selection of cotton face masks!

I was sorely tempted by the hand woven straw placemats too but I’m supposed to be clearing things out of my house rather than putting more in so I desisted. Just.

And remember, it’s not just shopping – it’s supporting good works.

There’s a number of other very worthwhile organisations that do similar gift catalogues which I’ve purchased from previously. For years my Mum would give all her kids World Vision goats or chickens, delivered to someone in need overseas, and I gave my own kids several as well.  Here are a couple more to choose from:

World Vision

Salvo’s

Oxfam

Happy shopping! Or if you don’t like shopping, you can always check out the work of these organisations and just give them money instead! Or buy something for someone else, like a nightdress and a new dress for one of the women being treated.

So many choices!

#notsponsored

The elf on the shelf is back, and up to a bit of mischief

It’s that time of year again when the Christmas spirit is rising, the lights and the decorations are up and Christmas get togethers are in full swing – well, at least if you’re in an area which allows COVID-safe get togethers and you allow for social distancing. If you’re a parent of little ones, it might also be a time when you’re kept busy thinking up interesting overnight scenarios for visiting elfin scouts from the North Pole.

If that doesn’t make any sense to you, here’s a bit of an explanation for the non-parents of little ones or the uninitiated.

This quite recent social pre-Christmas social phenomenon started a few years back with a book (Elf on the Shelf). It’s all about special envoy elves who have been sent from the North Pole to homes where small and trusting children reside pre-Christmas on behalf of the big man in red to keep a check on who’s being naughty or nice and report back.

While they’re there, the elves can create a little bit of overnight mischief. Some fairly robust senses of humour and marvellous imaginations. The kids think it’s absolutely hysterical to wake up each morning to discover what prank they’ve played the previous night while they slept peacefully.

I love it! I particularly love that as a grandparent I’m not responsible for coming up with the ideas of what the elf should get up to overnight, and having to get out of bed at 3am when you suddenly remember you haven’t placed the elf in a new and interesting situation. My daughter is one of those. Just one more thing to add to the burden of parenting young children, some would cry.

But it is very funny, and the kids are delighted in the antics of the elf. And hopefully it keeps them on their toes and perhaps encourages a little more good behaviour.

Here’s a couple of examples of what Ben Elf has been up to lately in Canberra. It’s probably a good thing that no one spies on the elves to check their behaviour because they can sometimes be quite naughty themselves.

If there’s an elf near you, don’t forget the cardinal rule – they’re not to be touched. That takes away their magic.

Have you got any little Christmas elves in your life? What does he or she get up to?

A Canberra Girl’s Guide to the Gold Coast

With a 57 kilometre stretch of spectacular beaches, it’s easy to think of the Gold Coast primarily in terms of sun and sand.

But beyond the beaches is a world of coastal chic, fine food and an array of opportunities for indulgence, perfect for a girls’ getaway or romantic interlude.

There’s a fair bit of coast to cover from Coolangatta through to the northern tips and from water activities to designer-inspired high teas, so here are our tips on some of the best the central Gold Coast has to offer.

Eat and drink

Paddock Bakery

Behind a picket fence in a back street in the Miami ‘burbs lies a local secret. The quaint timber cottage (actually now two) and shaded courtyard is actually home to a humming cafe and bakery.

Pumping out breads, baked goodies and cronuts galore in full view, the much-awarded Paddock Bakery has a menu with a cornucopia of choices hot and cold.Look out for the milkshakes with a difference, house-pressed fresh juices or toasties on tap, and perhaps take home some dried flowers or a cactus.

20 Hibiscus Haven, Burleigh Heads |  facebook.com/PaddockBakery

Commune Cafe

The long lines outside attest that Commune Cafe, part of a hub of enterprises on the main road just out of Burleigh, is the place to be for breakfast or lunch.

With an array of tantalising home-cooked goodies and cakes, Commune also serves up a great selection of all-day eats with good vibes, with a focus on carefully and ethically sourced produce. Acai bowls and superfood smoothies abound. Don’t miss their pancakes, served with a sprinkling of fruits and a bit of a twist—literally.

1844 Gold Coast Highway, Burleigh Heads | facebook.com/Commune

Light Years

Right next door, Light Years‘ (feature image) modern Asian diner and bar attracts the night time crowds and those on a girls’ night out, serving a variety of fresh, vibrant plates to share with Asian flavours on tap. Think bao buns, slaws and fragrant curries. Wash them down with a creative cocktail from the bar. Settle in for the night as the lights dim and the soundtrack kicks in.

1848 Gold Coast Highway, Burleigh | lightyearsasiandiner.com.au

Labart

Via @RestaurantLabart Instagram

If you’re serious about food, sophisticated restaurant Labart is a must-do. Previously heading up top restaurants in Sydney, Chef Alex, together with wife Karla, is shaking up the Burleigh dining scene with fine modern Australian dining with a touch of French around the edges.

Ethically sourced produce is key to their offerings, currently a set menu which changes with the season and availability. The wine menu features biodynamic and natural wines from unique producers. Sublime food, brilliant service.

8 West Street, Burleigh Heads | restaurantlabart.com

Jimmy Wah’s

Bustling Jimmy Wah‘s in downtown Burleigh delivers quality Vietnamese treats full of vibrant and piquant flavours, without the burn.

Under the smiling image of Jimmy Wah himself—of Good Morning Vietnam movie fame—the light timbered interiors whisper Scandinavia but the punchy fresh fare shouts pure Asia, presented with flair with a talented young chef at the helm.

The zesty cocktails will elevate the meals but don’t ignore the excellent wine list, the pride of owner Michelle.

1724 Gold Coast Highway, Burleigh Heads | jimmywahs.com.au

Miss Moneypenny’s

A street back from the beach in Broadbeach, sleek and modern Miss Moneypenny‘s is all about great food with exquisite presentation and sometimes a bit of theatre.

Go it alone, tuck into shared plates or look out for their varying menu specials. The drinks are important here so leave room for a killer cocktail, or two. There’s even a bottomless lunch for the committed.

50 Surf Parade, Broadbeach | missmoneypennysbroadbeach.com

Osteria del Mare

Relaxed and casual, Osteria del Mare pizzeria and restaurant is just about as authentically Italian as you can get. If the dinky-di accent of owner and chef Andrea doesn’t convince you, the real-deal pizzas cooked on stone and fresh-each-day homemade pastas will tip you over. Splash out on a whole bottle of the excellent Nero D’Avola to get into the Italian spirit.

Shop 2/1718 Gold Coast Highway Burleigh Head | osteriadelmare.com.au/

Miami Marketta

When you want a bar and live music combined with a multitude of food choices, Miami Marketta has you sorted. A covered street-food marketplace with culinary offerings from all over the globe, it has a glam bar and a pumping vibe. The converted laneway even has little boutiques featuring local jewellery and fashion designers for those who like a bit of shopping with their meals.

23 Hillcrest Parade, Miami Beach | miamimarketta.com

Stay

For those unfamiliar with the stretch and variety of the Gold Coast, it can be a little confusing to gauge the (long) lay of the land.

Accommodation choices abound on the Gold Coast, so work out what sort of activities you want to do and where they are before deciding on accommodation. The good news is Queensland is reopening for visitors and deals abound.

Bujerum Apartments on Burleigh

Bujerum Apartments via @Bujerum Apartments via Instagram

When proximity to the beach is key, it doesn’t get any better than the lovely, light-filled Bujerum Apartments directly opposite Burleigh Beach, metres from the sand, minutes to the heart of town and just a hop, skip and jump to the national park.

An original two-storey establishment revamped with coastal style, this boutique complex offers two-bedroom self-catering apartments or one whopper three-bedroom one added on top. Views for days.

26 Goodwin Terrace, Burleigh Heads, bujerum.com.au

The Halliday

With a handful of spots in suburban Burleigh Heads and Mermaid Beach, The Halliday luxury homes away from home will have you living like a local in laid back luxury: whites, linens and naturals, spa-like bathrooms and special homey touches.

If travelling with a mob, choose between villas or a house to sleep up to six. Location is key, so you won’t have to venture far from home for great food and the sand.

Accommodation options at Burleigh Heads or Mermaid Beach | thehalliday.com.au

Palazzo Versace

One of only two Versace hotels in the world, Palazzo Versace is a haven of luxury and lavish Italian design washed down with superlative service.

Next door to Marina Mirage, it’s only minutes from the heart of Surfers Paradise if you want to hit the bright lights, or stay in and relax by the spectacular pool and lux surrounds and enjoy the five-star cuisine on offer. Oh, and there’s a spa.

94 Seaworld Dr, Main Beach | palazzoversace.com.au

Play

Spa time

Nothing says holidays like spa time. With branches dotted throughout the Gold Coast, Endota Spa allows you to step into their lightly scented melodic space and out of your daily grind for a little pampering and me-time. With a full spa menu of massages, facials and treatments on offer, the only difficulty is choosing your indulgence.

Endota Spa | 63-65 Surf Parade Broadbeach | endotaspa.com.au/find-a-spa/broadbeach

If you can’t bear to leave your mates, Greenhouse the Bathhouse—a modern boutique bathhouse and spa and rejuvenation space just outside Burleigh—offers communal and unisex spaces for soaking, steaming, plunging and relaxing, with optional massages if you choose. Take it with kombucha or even bubbles, but leave your phone and judgement behind.

Greenhouse the Bathhouse| 7/37 Tallebudgera Creek Road, Burleigh Heads | greenhousethebathhouse.com

Palazzo Versace High Tea

Don your heels and glad rags and head to waterfront Palazzo Versace for an afternoon of indulgence and a delicious high tea, with or without some sparkling bubbles. Soak in the opulence and splendour of vibrant designer furnishings in an afternoon of sweet and savoury delights. Don’t forget to admire the remarkable chandelier adorning the foyer, originally destined for the home of the great designer himself.

94 Seaworld Drive, Main Beach | palazzoversace.com.au

Sea World Cruises Whale Watch

It’s a thrill to witness a whale up close and personal and the best way to ensure a sighting is from a whale watching cruise where the experience of the vessel’s captain is on your side.

Sea World Cruises offer 2.5-hour sailings from May to November though prime migration season is June to October as the whales head north to breed or back to the Antarctic for a good feed with their little ones on board. You may spot some dolphins, sharks or turtles as well.

Sea World Cruises Terminal, 130 Seaworld Drive, Main Beach | seaworldcruises.com.au

Explore

The only way to get to the Goldie from Canberra at the time of writing is by air, so you’ll need some transport to get around and explore while you’re there.

Gypsy-Rose the Kombi

For a truly unique ride around town, a beautifully restored sky blue 1972 Kombi by the name of Gypsy-Rose can be your carriage.

She comes with her own chauffeur, the delightful Brigid, who can organise an airport pick up or tailor a bespoke tour for groups of up to four (or three and a dog!) to see some of the highlights of the area and make recommendations on what to see and what not to miss. Photoshoot, anyone?

gypsyrose72.com

Hopo ferries

Take in the water views as you cruise on the hop on hop off Hopo Gold Coast Ferry. Travelling between places like Surfers, HOTA Home of the Arts and Marina Mirage, the ferries are a scenic and rather relaxed way to get around.There’s even some fascinating commentary on what you’re passing. Single trip tickets or day passes available. Look out for the house with the helipad.

hopo.com.au

Crooze E-bikes

With all that holiday eating and drinking, a bit of exercise may be in order and an electric bike ride is the perfect way to get active— without any real effort!E-bikes are available for hire by the hour or longer and the wide paths sweeping along the coast are perfect for a long, safe cruisey ride to take in the views.

1/2717 Gold Coast Highway, Broadbeach | crooze.com.au/pages/e-bike-rentals

GoBallooning

If you’re prepared to get up VERY early, a float in a hot pink hot air balloon with GoBallooning will provide a Gold Coast sunrise like no other. The effervescent Murray and his team figure they’re in the business of making memories, not just piloting balloons, though fortunately they take the flying part very seriously. At the end you may even get to venture inside the balloon, help fold it up or perhaps breakfast at the Sheraton Mirage.

goballooning.com

Shop

What’s a getaway without a little retail therapy? On the Goldie, options abound from big centres to markets and little surprises in suburban spots and industrial areas.

Just a wander from the beach in Burleigh is village-style James Street, where all sorts of boutiques and independent traders offer a plethora of homewares, organic skincare, boho creations and even fashions for little people.

Also in Burleigh, on the first and third Sundays of the month the school oval transforms into The Village Markets, a boutique designer market where local creatives and designers display their wares, with food trucks and live music on the side.

For something a little more upmarket with lots of linen or things with sparkle, with things for him as well as her, Marina Mirage has the goods.

Dedicated shoppers can head to Harbour Town outlet centre around 10 kilometres from Surfers to hunt out bargains from your favourite brand. There’s even a free shuttle from Broadbeach and Surfers though it’s currently suspended (COVID!)

Design lovers will also be sated by the recently redeveloped Pacific Fair, which houses the major department stores and brands on tap.

Originally published on HerCanberra on 29 October 2020

Photos @BoomingOn unless otherwise marked. The author was a guest of Destination Gold Coast.

2020 A Dog’s Breakfast of a Year: in cartoons

Cathy Wilcox

This year has been one hell of a ride, and not in a good way. Between fires, plague and pestilence, as well as extraordinary political maelstrom, it could easily be described as a ‘dog’s breakfast’: that is, a right, royal mess.

It has, however, provided an incredible amount of fodder for the pens of Australian cartoonists (and no doubt of those the world over). It seems entirely reasonable then that this year’s annual exhibition of the best of Australian political cartoons, launched last Friday at the Museum of Australian Democracy (MOAD), bears that canine reference: Behind the Lines 2020: A Dog’s Breakfast.

I admire cartoonists greatly. Firstly their ability to draw, but also their ability to cut through a thick forest of complicated issues and emotions and deliver a succinct gut-punch with an image or two and a few deft words. Well, often much more than that (First Dog on the Moon—I’m looking at you) but you get the idea. As a lover of words who often struggles with verbosity, I admire that latter quality greatly, and as someone with no artistic ability, I admire the former quality even more.

From the video of Cathy Wilcox illustrating how to depict doggie emotions

The exhibition features 104 cartoon from 36 artists, which this year includes digital work as well. So little can tell so much. It takes us back through the crazy year that was revisiting some of the horrors and messes that befell us, and perhaps helps us make sense of it. Or perhaps not. It references:

a country on fire while the PM was MIA and the effects of climate change knocking very loudly, though some politicians and media worked hard to play that down;

politicians behaving very badly

and political corruption (sports rorts anyone?);

COVID shutdowns, working from home and struggles with mental health;

Cathy Wilcox, Today’s Anxiety Level, The Sydney Morning Herald//The Age, 5 August 2020

culture clashes;

Fiona Katauskas, Eureka Street, 28 July 2020

strange social phenomenons;

and so much more.

The works so often cut straight though to the heart of the matters, as distressing and infuriating that may be at times, and present us with the bald truth. They often expose the worst in us, particularly politicians no matter which side of the house they’re on, but thankfully also occasionally bring out the best in us: resilience among the mayhem.

The dog’s breakfast exhibition is cleverly curated into a number of themes, reinforced with some complementary doggy phrases and images and lots of poochy puns – digging for bones, what the pup, let off the leash. You get the picture.

The exhibition reminds me of a teacher from many decades ago, ahead of her times, who brought cartoons into class depicting the controversies and atrocities surrounding the Indonesian annexing of Timor and the killing of the Balibo Five in 1975. I didn’t fully understand then the powerful role those cartoonists were playing at a time when much was swept under the carpet and the importance of free speech and the role of journalism. In a year where attempts to restrict shut down or sideline investigations, stifle questions and prevent access to information have been rife, the freedom of expression displayed by cartoonists, along with their journalist colleagues, has never been more important.

Simon Kneebone, Australian Socialist, 1 March 2020

This year’s gong went to Sydney cartoonist, Cathy Wilcox (her second), a Sydney-based cartoonist for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Melbourne Age. Her work is brilliant: so much in so little. As Daryl Karp, Director of MOAD described at the launch, through her cartoons Cathy captured the momentous events of the year as seen by ordinary Australians.

The cartoon selected as best in house was so insightful, so emotive, so close to the painful bone that it didn’t even run in all papers across Australia. In Victoria, the heart of the disaster, it would have been just too much.

Dr Karl was there at the launch (no, I’m not going to attempt his last name – you know who I’m talking about) to try to make sense of the some of the science underpinning some of the happenings of the year. He provided a raft of interesting titbits from his bulging store of fascinating facts though I’m still not convinced anything can properly explain the toilet paper hoarding effect. And you do have to admire a man who co-ordinates his joyful shirts with his socks.

If you live in Canberra, get yourself to this exhibition for a perusal of 2020 and its various disasters and political freefall in pictorial precis. If you don’t live here, consider a trip just to check it out, or perhaps take a peek online. You don’t even have to hurry—it’s on for a whole year.

2020 has certainly been a doozy of a year, but we have to hang on to optimism for the next one. As Cathy Wilcox wrote on the book I just had to purchase containing the entire collection of cartoons from the exhibition, ‘Next year’s going to be great.’

If we cross our fingers very tightly …

Peter Broelman, Syndicated, 14 April 2020

A weekend away to relax, or maybe not

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_5558.jpg

It seemed like such a great idea in the planning. How about we escape for a couple of nights away, just me, my daughter and her three little children for a bit of down time away from life’s responsibilities. Something really laid back and easy so there’d be no stress and somewhere fairly close to home so there wouldn’t be much driving.

Have a relaxing weekend, they said!

To be honest, I think it might have actually been me that said that.

We found accommodation that was perfect for our needs: the large upstairs of someone’s house down near the coast. Not particularly salubrious but it also came with five separate bedrooms for spreading out, a kitchenette and a portacot, and – most importantly for the kids – a massive library with thousands of books, and most of them for children. New books, old books, classics from my childhood, classics from their childhoods. It even included a complete set of National Geographics dating from the ’60s and a set of Childcraft encyclopedias. I could have lost myself for days among them, if only I’d had the chance. It even came with a little cane table and chairs complete with teas sets all ready for tiny little tea parties. Perfect!

Outside was just as exciting. A low-hanging tree swing, an encircling timber verandah with kids tractors to ride around it on, a rocking horse, and a huge backyard, neatly mowed and complete with cricket bats and stumps perfect for backyard cricket, a complete revelation for Master 4 who’d never held a cricket bat before. And there was more excitement on the animal front: visits from a friendly cat, a flock of sheep in the next paddock and early morning visits from wandering kangaroos. Plus, it was not too far from the beach for a day of sun and sand. A kids’ paradise really.

In short, it had everything that could possibly make little kids happy for an entire weekend, or at least a full day. You’d think with all that going on, everyone would be deliriously happy.

But you’d be wrong.

Well, to be fair, they were deliriously happy at many times, but not necessarily all at the same time. With three, there’s a good chance that one will be over tired, over excited, or grumpy or hungry at any one given moment, maybe even two at the same time. Either that or injured, perhaps from skidding wildly down the walkway at the coast lookout that’s paved with industrial strength gravel, a little bit like a cheese grater on steroids that’s clearly designed to shred small children’s knees and leave permanent scars, or perhaps from taking terrifying leaps from tables onto fences or perhaps onto soaring monkey bars at the park, and missing completely.

Aah yes, what it’s like to take a holiday with a pack of small children came flooding back to me within hours of leaving home, after we’d been through 27 different car games and adjudicated twelve fights. I’d actually forgotten how thoroughly exhausting little people can be for long periods, and just how much food they can consume in a three hour car trip, and how much of it misses their mouths and lands in the car instead, and just how resistant a two year old can be to going to sleep, even at 10 pm.

I’m a pretty hands-on grandma and I see these kids nearly every day, with many a day out and sleepovers galore. But I’m telling you, this was intense! I love these little people with all my might, but dear God – they’re exhausting, and that was after less than 48 hours uninterrupted time in their company.

Normally when I’m away on a little trip I’m all about reporting back on the best cafes, sights to see, things to do. Sorry – not this time. Too much juggling going on. I can tell you the beach at Tathra was lovely, the hotel overlooking the coast at the top of the hill an excellent place for dinner with kids, and that you need to take extreme caution on that razor sharp coastal walkway.

When I arrived home at the end of the weekend, I was completely shattered. Done in. Exhausted. I thought I’d have a quick snooze on the couch at 7 pm to liven myself up for the evening but instead I gave in and slept for a solid 13 hours instead, and then snoozed for another hour when I woke up. And there is not the least bit of exaggeration in that statement. Not one bit. Why can’t kids sleep like that, I ask you?

I immediately had immense sympathies for the mother who didn’t get that same respite on her return but instead got another three days home alone with them while Dad was away on business. And yes, of course we helped – it would be cruel not to.

And guess what? Number 4 is due early next year, which will tip the odds even further in their favour.

I now have renewed respect for all parents of small people and I’d like to remind each and every one of them out there with little ones – you’re doing a great job.

Maybe you need a relaxing weekend away?

The months that were: on the move and waiting

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I’m sitting in a gorgeous white timber cottage perched at the bottom of a sprawling garden flushed with spring in the midst of the Southern Highlands. I have coffee at my fingertips, tiny fairy lights draped not far from my head, it’s pattering rain outside and there’s not a soul around. As Joan Armatrading sang several decades ago, it’s just me, myself, I—and I’m in seventh heaven.

It’s been a busy few months of being on the road and in other people’s places. We made a mad dash up north just before the Queensland borders were due to shut in early August (for the second time) to make sure we’d be there in time to greet the newest grandbub and provide some support for the one giving birth and the toddler in tow. We made the border crossing (by a couple of hours) after a long inland trek, and then came a long wait. As it turned out, the borders opened again for flying visitors just prior to the main event, but we weren’t to know that at the time. It meant though we had an unexpectedly long visit in the Sunshine State.

Firsty, it was a time to really get to know the little blond one. There were many long walks and excursions, and trying out as many parks in Brisbane as possible. At each one, we had to start with a picnic with the carefully packed lunchbox and picnic rug. Sometimes we would have three picnics on one visit. This is a child who is very committed to food and a routine.

There was a lot of time to explore Brisbane, usually with a little one in tow, and most of the activities were daytime ones. I’ve been trying to keep up on social media but there are more tales to tell of places to go and things to see.

We took the chance to wander a little north and spend a couple of weeks in Sunshine Beach, located just minutes from Noosa. A delightful spot indeed and time to wander and take many photos. I even read a book, a rare feat for me these days. And yes – there was much eating of great food. Had we known the bub would be a late arrival, we would have stayed longer.

All of this took place with the most marvellous display of weather. As a Canberran, let me attest to the glory of a Queensland winter and early spring. While I adore my hometown and her great beauty, even in winter,  it was rather nice to escape that little icy/snow episode that befell the capital in August and lounge in the norther winter sun instead, interrupted as it was by many grandparent duties. This should become an annual pilgrimage.

The baby arrived safely, and she is a delight. Perfection really. Of course, all grandparents say that, and they’re probably all right. Here she is in her newborn glory if you want proof.

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Not long after, we headed south and took a break on the Gold Coast, rediscovering areas I explored long ago as a teen. This visit was far more fancy than the one I had during school days, with much less beach-going and sunbaking, and I have much to share. Given my predisposition to good food, recommendations of great places to eat will feature highly.

It’s been a strange time, moving around carefully (and traceably) but freely while others in Australia—and indeed the rest of the world—are so restricted and doing it tough. It’s been good to be able to support businesses as we go but there are many signs that things are far from normal and difficult. The abundance of empty business premises and closed cafes and restaurants attest to the turmoil and tragedy that confronts so many. And that was in Queensland.

And then, I will be home in my own bed, in my own house, in my hometown, and that will be lovely. No doubt there will be many visits from other little people who’ve missed us dearly, and a sleepover with lots of grandchildren, and that will be lovely too.

Let’s celebrate National Op Shop Week

op shop fashion finds

It’s National Op Shop Week in Australia, and for anyone with an interest in retail therapy, community works or reducing waste, this is a week well worth celebrating.

The week, from 28 September to 4 October, is all about raising awareness about shopping at op shops and the great things it does for our community, environment and budget.

In recent years, shopping at Op Shops—charity stores, thrift shops, call them what you will—has become the new black of shopping. No longer is it an a place where just those struggling with life’s demands went to shop. While op shops certainly still support those doing it tough, they do a whole lot more besides. Nowadays, picking up a bargain at an op shop is quite on trend, for all sorts of reasons, and even some of the celebrities we see on tele choose to dress from their op shop finds.

I have to say I’ve been a big fan of op shopping for many years and have picked up some brilliant finds over the years. Not just scouting for things to wear for dress ups, but there’s some serious high fashion to be found with a little practice and patience. One of my faves is a ivory lace jacket I snapped up for $18 and recently wore to a wedding. And just days ago I picked up a fab pair of classic black pants, as new Vera Wang, for $8. Winning!

But of course it’s not all about the great items you can find at bargain prices. These stores are doing a great service for the community and the stores fund a range of good works, like domestic violence refuges, homelessness services, migrant and refuge assistance, food vans and food vouchers, drug and alcohol counselling and disaster relief.

On top of that, the proliferation of op shops means that a hell of a lot of material otherwise destined for landfill is being recycled and reused—and that’s a hugely important thing to do in these days of wanton resource overload.

As Craig Ruecassel, creator of  ABC’s War on Waste and supporter of Op Shop Week says, “As we discovered in the War on Waste, clothes are a huge part of our waste stream. Donating clothes to op shops means they can be re-sold and that money goes to great causes.”

The retail shopping that keeps on giving!

If shopping at op shops isn’t your thing, fear not – there are other ways you can get involved.

  1. Declutter – You can take the opportunity to do a spring wardrobe or garage clean out and donate items to your local store. Be mindful though—they don’t want rubbish, and anything they have to take to landfill themselves costs them money, which could otherwise have gone to providing services. If you have electrical items or furniture, you might have to check first with local stores as different places have different rules in play about what they accept. During these days of COVID-19, some other restrictions may be in place as well.

2. Volunteer – It’s a great way of keeping busy and being useful and it’s also a good way for young people to get some brownie points and retail experience. Some stores have really elevated their visual displays so there’s some opportunities to learn some merchandising skills as well.

But if it is your thing and you need some tips on how to get the most out of your op shopping, I’ve got you covered:

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If you want to know more or get involved, there’s a dedicated National Op Shop Week Facebook page and also a website where you’ll find shopping tips and other resources.

You can type in your postcode at dosomethingnearyou.com.au/national-op-shop-week/ to find local  op shop stores in your areas and how you can get involved.

Happy decluttering, op shopping or volunteering – the choice is yours!

Are you an Op Shop fan? What are your best finds?

My find from two weeks ago – $5 gummies, along with a whole bag of books for $6. I chose about 10 pristine interesting ones but there was heaps of room left.

Remembering Sydney 2000, the greatest Olympics Games ever

It’s 20 years since the 2000 Olympic Games were held in Sydney. It was the year Australia put on a great big party and invited the world, even though we ended up doing most of the partying ourselves.

I was seriously excited for those games. I’m not generally a great sports fan but this wasn’t just sports: this was a world event, and in 2000 it was playing out in our own backyard. History in the making.

The opening ceremony was the big ticket item. So big you had to go in a lottery draw to win the chance to buy a ticket. I desperately wanted to go but didn’t manage a win. Instead I counted down the days until it was on and watched every second of it live and pretended I was there. I bought the CD soon after and sang along madly with John and Olivia and Nicky and Tina and Vanessa too, although I could never get anywhere near those ear-piercing screams she emitted at the end of her song fit to burst an eardrum.

It was a spectacular opening and everything we hoped it would be, from our favourite singers, extraordinary visuals, our history summarised in dance and symbols, and horses galore galloping to the rousing strains of The Man from Snowy River. Well apart from those four excruciatingly long minutes when the lighted cauldron failed to lift as it should, and left Cathy Freeman standing in front of the world expectantly, a flaming torch held aloft in her hand and a torrent of panicked expletives in her ear, waiting for something to happen. What a remarkably calm performance she put on, slowly turning around at one point as if it was orchestrated. We watched with bated breathe and white knuckles hoping something would happen and thankfully finally it did as the back up plan kicked into gear, luckily just seconds before all the gas ran out entirely and we were shamed before the entire world. We all breathed a big sigh of relief and cheered some more. How proud we were to be Australian.

This was possibly a once in a lifetime event and we were super keen to go along and be part of the event as a young family. We travelled up to Sydney to attend the modern pentathlon event. I didn’t even know what a modern pentathlon was before we went, but it was excellent value and suited our budget and seemed to have our name written on it. In case you’re wondering, it consists of five events: fencing, shooting, swimming, horse riding (show jumping) and (3 kilometre) long distance running. That meant it kept us busy for the whole day following the competitors around the different events and venues.

As it turned out the Australian guy didn’t do all that well (Robert McGregor was his name, I had to look that up) and he came 20th out of 24th, but as he bowed out of contention for a decent placing he ‘handed ‘over the crowd to his Italian competitor instead so we all started barracking madly for him instead.

I can’t remember who won. I do remember though how friendly everyone was and how much fun we had. The crowds were huge, a solid seething mass making its way down Olympic Parade at Homebush, but no one was in a hurry and no one pushed or shoved. Everyone was just happy to be there and that’s what made it so extraordinary. (It was also extraordinary that the ever-smiling volunteers didn’t disappear entirely under their massive, multi-coloured vollie-outfits.)

In fact, the mood for the day was set on the way there. With an 11 and 13 year old in tow, we were wandering along a main road heading towards the bus stop to catch the designated Olympics bus. We saw it coming and had a bit of a vain attempt at running up the hill towards the stop but gave it up as a lost cause and resumed our walking pace. As we got to the top of the hill, lo and behold, the bus driver had seen us (the kids and backpacks must have made it obvious where we were headed) and was waiting for us! How could that be? Bus drivers in Sydney don’t wait for you! So we picked up our pace and boarded the bus, and then the other passengers cheered. Welcome to Sydney 2000!

That night we ventured into the city of Sydney and joined thousands of others watching the games from huge screens in Martin Place and other venues dotted across the city. It was just one big party. On the train home, we got into conversation with other passengers about the events, everyone excited and animated. It was a city transformed – people talking to each other and interacting like never before. It was like the whole city was on happy pills.

There’s so much great stuff to recall from those games, including the great tally of wins and medals of course, from expected places and unexpected ones, and other cherished moments as well, like Eric the Eel from Equatorial Guinea struggling through his heat of the 100 metre freestyle,  barely able keep his head above water at the end but with the whole stadium going crazy and the whole of Australia urging him on. We witnessed the making of Ian Thorpe, the revelations of beach volleyball, that wild high jumper and our adopted Russian pole vaulter, and the straight-shooting Simon Fairweather of gold medal archery fame (who incidentally came around for dinner at our house some months later, the then partner of a girl my hubbie used to work with, when we discussed how the bow makes a permanent dint in archers’ noses!). And of course we celebrated Cathy Freeman’s legendary win in her green space suit in the 400 metres in a moment forever etched into our collective memories.

And to top it all off each evening, we got to spend two hours with Roy and HG on The Dream, and listen to their hilarious gymnastics commentary which traversed and sometimes confused the rest of the world and introduced new words into Australian lexicon, like battered sav and hello boys, and a fat-arsed wombat became just as famous as a mascot for the games as Matilda the ‘roo was and perhaps more beloved.

It’s very different this year, which should be an Olympic year. It must be incredibly disappointing for all those athletes who were training for this year’s event and who had their dreams snatched from them. Hopefully they’ll have another chance to make another games and reach those dreams.

Thanks for the memories, Sydney 2000 – you were bloody great. In fact, in the inimitable words of Juan Antonio Samaranch, you were the greatest games ever.

What about you? Did you go? What did you get to see?