Easter Delights

Easter has come and gone for another year, the difference being this year we didn’t go away. Of course, the bigger difference is why we weren’t allowed to go away, but I’ve had just about enough of anything to do with Coronavirus and am preferring to focus instead on delight.

It’s still possible, as I noted last time I wrote, to find moments of delight in this crazy world of self-isolation. Despite it sometimes feeling like the four walls around us are closing in, there have been a number of things that have kept me going over the Easter break — particularly since we’ve not been able to share it with friends and family as we usually would.

So here, in no specific order, are four things that brought me delight over the four days of the Easter long weekend:

The Hilltop Hoods Restrung Albums

Easter 1I love the Hilltop Hoods and the raw honesty of their hip hop. But I also grew up in a house where we listened almost exclusively to classical music, and have an abiding appreciation for many things orchestral. Operatic, not so much…despite my eclectic tastes.

It’s probably not surprising, then, that I think one of best things the Hilltop Hoods have ever done was re-release a few of their albums with a new “band” — the Adelaide Symphony — referring to the revamps as “restrung” works. The result is simply brilliant: a mixture of glorious horns, lush strings, great beats, phenomenal lyrics and a lexicon that will truly blow your mind. Check out The Hard Road restrung as an example…you can thank me later.

Opening the Peppermint Tea Box

Easter 2Initially I wondered whether I should include something in this list that appears, on the surface, to be completely mundane. But then I realised this is exactly what finding delight in life is all about: when the minty scent rushes out of a freshly opened box of peppermint tea, I never fail to smile. I feel enormous contentment. My heart sings.

These are the sorts of everyday delights that become a recurring pleasure, things I look forward to even though they seem, at first, to be so…ordinary. These are the small things that bring great joy to our lives, if we look for them and let them.

Bare Feet

Easter 3It is a truth universally acknowledged, to paraphrase Jane Austen, that an Australian is in possession of a pair of feet is only ever in want of a pair of thongs. Or ugg boots, as the season dictates. Part of the great wonder of living in the Land Down Under is our love of informal footwear — surpassed only, I suspect, by our preference for going barefoot whenever possible. During the summer, this phenomenon extends in the beachside suburb where I live to clothing: it is not unusual to see people down at the shops wearing wet swimmers and, at best, a towel…definitely no shoes. After all, they’re probably only at the shops to pick up a Golden Gaytime or a Chocolate Paddlepop, so what’s the point in getting dressed?

In the current “climate” — which could be called autumnul with a dose of pandemic — one of the unexpected delights of having to stay home is that I am able to indulge my love of going barefoot the vast majority of the time. On the rare occasions I venture to the shops I wear thongs. Sometimes, now that the evenings are cooler, I get my uggs on. With shorts. Because that’s how we roll, and we love it.

But being barefoot? It’s the best.

Jacinda Ardern

Easter 4Staying in the Southern Hemisphere, it’s high time I acknowledge one of the great delights of the Asia-Pacific Region: Jacinda Ardern. Let’s face it — she sorted out Easter for concerned citizens the world over when she answered a question in a press conference regarding the current employment status of the Easter Bunny. Clearly stating the Easter Bunny was performing an essential service and would be able to deliver multitudes of chocolate eggs set the minds of many small people at ease, and explaining there might be a slight delay in delivery due to current social distancing measures was a masterstroke appreciated by parents who hadn’t quite managed a supermarket run in the leadup to Easter Sunday.

To follow up this classy performance with a Facebook post including an Easter Egg template she encouraged Kiwi kids to colour or decorate and display in their window so everyone in the neighbourhood could do an Easter Egg hunt on their daily walk showed just how much Jacinda Ardern gets it. And inviting those kids to email her the finished product directly? Genius.

From where we’re sitting across The Ditch, Jacinda Ardern looks like a bright ray of sunshine we’d like to bask in.  Watch out New Zealand…as soon as they open the borders we might all just move over.

So there you have it, folks: four Easter delights.

If you’re feeling so inclinded, let me know what made your Easter delightful this year.

BJx

My Country in Monochrome

384 (4)Australia is a harsh country.

I was reminded of this on a recent road trip from Sydney out into the western plains of New South Wales. No one is exactly sure why Captain James Cook named this State as he did — though many suspect it was because it reminded him of South Wales — but anyone who has ventured west of the Great Dividing Range will know that the country there is very different from the verdant fields and hedgerows of Cymru.

The Australian landscape is fierce, and often flat. It’s relentless. It’s unforgiving.

And yet, for those of us who have grown up here, that same landscape, in its inhospitable and almost hostile glory, is always — absolutely and instantly — recognisable as home.

The person who perhaps discerned the differences between Australia and…well, just about everywhere else, was a woman named Dorothea Mackellar (1 July 1885 – 14 January 1968), who spent part of her life living on a property not far from Gunnedah, where she witnessed the overnight transformation of a desperate and drought-stricken country into a green haven. Later, as a nineteen year old travelling through Europe with her father, Mackellar wrote a poem originally (and romantically) entitled Core of My Heart that summed up Australians’ relationship with the land.

Quite obviously, the original inhabitants of our country, as members of the oldest continuous culture in the world, have had a much longer and far deeper relationship with the land than those of us who have been here since the end of the 18th century. Equally obviously, as a white woman who is only third-generation Australian, I cannot speak for them (nor for anyone else, for that matter). But I do think that Mackellar’s poem, which is now better known as My Country, captures a sense of Australia that most of us recognise and understand.

It’s dry again, out west —  in Kamilaroi Country and Wiradjuri Country, too.

But the rains will come eventually, as they always seem to do.

And in the meantime, I thought I’d share some images from that recent road trip, interspersed with the words of Dorothea Mackellar.

395 (2)This is my country, in monochrome.

The love of field and coppice 
Of green and shaded lanes, 
Of ordered woods and gardens 
Is running in your veins. 
Strong love of grey-blue distance, 
Brown streams and soft, dim skies 
I know, but cannot share it, 
My love is otherwise. 

415 (2)I love a sunburnt country, 
A land of sweeping plains, 
Of ragged mountain ranges, 
Of droughts and flooding rains. 
I love her far horizons, 
I love her jewel-sea, 
Her beauty and her terror 
The wide brown land for me! 

356 (3)The stark white ring-barked forests, 
All tragic to the moon, 
The sapphire-misted mountains, 
The hot gold hush of noon, 
Green tangle of the brushes 
Where lithe lianas coil, 
And orchids deck the tree-tops, 
And ferns the warm dark soil. 

409 (2)Core of my heart, my country! 
Her pitiless blue sky, 
When, sick at heart, around us 
We see the cattle die 
But then the grey clouds gather, 
And we can bless again 
The drumming of an army, 
The steady soaking rain. 

343 (3)Core of my heart, my country! 
Land of the rainbow gold, 
For flood and fire and famine 
She pays us back threefold. 
Over the thirsty paddocks, 
Watch, after many days, 
The filmy veil of greenness 
That thickens as we gaze … 

360 (3)An opal-hearted country, 
A wilful, lavish land 
All you who have not loved her, 
You will not understand 
though Earth holds many splendours, 
Wherever I may die, 
I know to what brown country 
My homing thoughts will fly. 

Dorothea Mackellar, 1908

Dirt Music

 

Dirt Music 3

Dancing spotlit in a bodystocking? Not me…I’ll leave that to the likes of Misty Copeland.

So the other night, after a few “light beers” (which may or may not have been entire bottles of wine), a mate of mine asked me whether I had a Favourite Book.

As in, a Favourite Book OF ALL TIME.

And I said…Yes.

Or perhaps I just whispered it.

I definitely held my breath for a split second before I answered, not sure of how my response would be received, or whether it would be treated with the reverence I reserve for Favourite Books.

Because let’s face it — owning up to having a Favourite Book (of All Time, no less) is to to reveal your self, to expose your self as completely and unapologetically as a dancer in a flesh-coloured bodysuit on a spotlit stage.  Which is fine, completely fine, if you’ve spent the requisite years honing your body and your skills to the point that a body-stocking, or a distinct lack of on-stage hiding places, or (God forbid) an audience no longer fazes you, but…clearly, that’s not me.

I write. I read.

I cook. I most definitely eat. And while my kitchen is well-known as a place where dancing is heartily encouraged, I would sooner eat a body-stocking rather than wear one.

Even so, despite my many misgivings (or maybe because I, too, had consumed several glasses of wine), the other night I actually confessed to loving one book above all others.

Now, any literature lover will tell you that the idea of narrowing down the books you couldn’t bear to part with to a Top Ten is an utterly absurd exercise. If you truly love books, whittling down your list to a Top Fifty is a difficult proposition.

But if you have a Favourite Book, you know what it is. If, unlike me, you’re the sort of person who likes to proclaim your Favourite Book far and wide and to encourage every last being in the known universe to read it, you know what it is. If, like me, you’re a little more circumspect about revealing the identity of your Favourite Book, you know what it is. Even if you have trouble admitting to yourself that one particular volume is your Favourite Book, you still know what it is.

And mine is Tim Winton’s Dirt Music.

Dirt Music

So here it is — my Favourite Book. OF ALL TIME.

(Oh dear Lord! Did I just type that for the world to see?!)

Yep, Dirt Music is my Favourite Book of All Time.

And I have decided that I will own up to it, and expose myself to whatever judgements you may make about me as a result of that admission, because it is my Favourite Book.

I could have dodged the issue entirely, perhaps, and said it was impossible to decide between Dirt Music and any number of other books, such as Pride and Prejudice or Anna Karenina or The Lord of the Rings or The Great Gatsby or Hamlet, to name just a handful of others.  No authors’ names necessary, of course — they’re all tomes that are regularly cited as being Favourite Books. I could even have wrong-footed my friend by pointing him in the direction of Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea books, or Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead, or Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy or  Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

But I didn’t.

Because, deep down, I know that Dirt Music is my Favourite Book.

I’m not saying that it’s best book in the universe — that’s a whole other discussion. And I’m definitely not going to weigh into the whole debate about the Great Australian Novel, either, and whether that accolade goes to Winton’s Cloudstreet or not.  I’m not even saying that you should rush out, buy Dirt Music, and devour it cover to cover — it may not be your thing at all. (I mean, if you want to, of course — go ahead; it might end up being your Favourite Book too).

Nup. I’m not doing any of that.

But what I am saying is pretty simple, really.

For me, Dirt Music, Winton’s tale of Georgie Jutland losing and finding herself in the wilds and waters of Western Australia is special. In the true blue, Bruce McAvaney sense of the word.

I love — no, I utterly adore — Tim Winton’s prose.  I love the tangible physicality of his descriptions of people and place. I love the accuracy with which he captures his characters’ vernacular. I love the overarching presence of the Australian landscape, particularly of the ocean and the coast. I love the way he describes Georgie’s father as Himself, QC — and I love the sheer volume of information and resonance and impact those two words impart.

Dirt Music 2

My super-power: escaping into books…

Reading is such a great privilige, and literacy such an inordinately important gift. And, as Alain de Botton points out, “Of all the addictions, bibliophilia is the noblest and most dangerous.” Where else, but between the pages of books, can we embark on great quests, fight revolutions, ride dragons, or sail further west than west?

I will, I know, continue to read, and always — always — to write. Like Rudyard Kipling, “I am by nature a dealer in words, and words are the most powerful drug known to humanity.”

And it is beyond comforting to know that I can return time and again to the happy places that lie between the dog-eared volumes that line my shelves, to wend my way along hidden paths towards Rivendell, to walk with Elizabeth from Netherfield back to Longbourn, even to hold my breath as Anna waits for the oncoming train…

But I will always come back, time and again, to Dirt Music, if only to discover, like Luther Fox, just one last time:

She’s real…she’s real…

Beyond the Bends

 

Pittwater

Pittwater and the Peninsula

This afternoon I took a lazy drive with my girls, wending our way up the Northern Beaches, heading beyond the Bends.

The sun is finally shining in Sydneytown after a week of relentless rain, and the temperature is on the rise too. Today we had no plans — just a vague idea about hopping in the car and driving north. And with The Bloke back at work and several more weeks of glorious summer ahead of us, that’s just what we did.

We cruised up the road, reveling in the beauty of the blue of the skies and the sea, taking it easy. One of the best things about summer holidays is not having to rush…

We stopped for lunch — burgers, because another great thing about the long summer break is getting to eat your main meal in the middle of the day if you feel like it — and then poked our heads into various shops before getting back into the car.

This time we headed briefly west, making the short trip across the peninsula from the beaches to Pittwater.  For me, it’s like taking a trip down Memory Lane…particularly when we drove past the holiday house that had once belonged to family friends when I was growing up. I found myself telling the kids that the first place I ever saw a koala in the wild was in their front yard, and then lost myself in a reverie of recollections as the road meandered down towards Clareville.

Christmas 2015 & Jan 2016 062

Summer skies…

The water was welcoming when we arrived, and the shade beneath the huge eucalpyts at the sand’s edge was deep.  We sat for a while, listening to the lapping water, watching the clustering cumulonimbus clouds on the horizon, searching for giant seed pods beneath the ancient trees. Time slows down during those moments…those lazy summer afternoons that new memories are made of…

Miss Malaprop fell asleep as we made our steady southbound journey home, while Marvel Girl stared dreamily out the window. And even now, as the first raindrops of that summer storm begin to fall, I still have a smile on my face.

Today, we had no plans…and it was wonderful…

Drinking White Wine in the Sun…

I…really like Christmas…it’s sentimental, I know, but I just really like it…

I’m one of those people who really gets into Christmas. I look forward to it — can’t get enough of decorating the tree, wrapping presents, creating table centrepieces and playing carols.

Every year we pick a different colour theme to use throughout the house, from the wreath on the door to the baubles on the tree, not to mention the wrapping on the presents beneath it. Somehow it seems to make Christmas fresh and shiny and new each year, and we know from the colours exactly which year it was whenever we look back at the photographs.

But yesterday I got a text from a very dear friend proclaiming that she is already over Christmas — that she can’t wait for it to be through.

And I realised, not for the first time this Christmas, that I’m one of the lucky ones.

Every single one of my living blood relatives resides in the same city as me. Just about all of our marriages are all still intact, some of them after more than forty years. And while I wouldn’t describe the vast majority of my family members as normal (whatever that means), we still all speak to each other…well, most of the time, anyway.

I do know just how lucky I am. I’ve celebrated Christmas thousands of miles from home and family members, and spent my childhood celebrating it twice as a result of my grandparents’ divorce — or three times if we made the long trek up the Pacific Highway to do it all again with my relatives in Queensland too.

Looking around at my circle of friends I see so many dear ones who have made Australia their home, and who still have family elsewhere. I know that at Christmas their thoughts will inevitably turn to England, Scotland, Ireland, the Netherlands, the United States, South Africa, New Zealand, Poland, Austria, Brazil…and I also know that however much we love it, Australia is a long way from most other places.

Wherever you are and whatever you face, these are the people who make you feel safe in this world…

I can’t take away the distance, or whatever dysfunction might affect your family situation this Christmas. But it is my fervent hope that you get to celebrate with the people you love, who mean something to you, regardless of whether they are related to you or not.

What I can do is share with you my favourite Christmas song.  It’s not a carol — but a beautiful, irreverent, heartfelt piece by the inimitable Tim Minchin. For me, it captures the spirit of Christmas in Australia, and sums up the way my family celebrates each year.

I can’t watch it through without tearing up.

But if you’re on your own this Christmas, or if your family situation is fractured or somehow faulty, or if you’re nine thousand miles from the people who dared to bring you into this world and gave you the courage to roam it, or if you are lucky enough celebrate Christmas surrounded by the people you love, or whatever your circumstances are — this is for you.

And me? The Bloke? Marvel Girl and Miss Malaprop?

We’ll be seeing my Dad, my brother and sister-in-law, my nieces and Mum…we’ll be drinking white wine in the sun…

Because it matters…

Audra McDonald: Build a Bridge

Audra McDonald: Build a Bridge

Last weekend I had the inestimable privilege of hearing Audra McDonald sing with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Performing the final concert of a lengthy tour, she lit up the Sydney Opera House stage, singing celebrated Broadway tunes and other, lesser-known numbers: everything from George Gershwin’s Summertime to Kate Miller-Heidke’s Facebook Song.

At the end of the show, the vast majority of audience members rose to their feet and gave McDonald the standing ovation she richly deserved. And she rewarded us with not one, but two encores, the second being Somewhere Over The Rainbow, which she prefaced by explaining that she is a passionate advocate of equality — and particularly of Marriage Equality.

And that’s when it hit me: that Sydney, the city I live in and the city I love, is one of the few places Audra McDonald would have visited on her extensive tour where Marriage Equality does not exist.

And it bugged me. It rankled.

Now, as anyone who follows the Blue Jai Blog with any regularity will tell you, when something bothers me this is where I come to make sense of it. And they would also tell you that I’m not usually one to use this blog to talk about anything particularly controversial (like politics or religion, for example), and there’s a good reason for that: what you believe is your business, and what I believe is mine. It’s that simple — really.

To be clear, the lack of Marriage Equality in Australia is not something I am directly affected by: I’m a heterosexual female who is married to a heterosexual male. We had lived together for years before we tied the knot, we owned real property together, we even had joint custody of a cat (a British Blue; thanks for asking, catlovers). For various reasons — most of which revolve around me being far too stubborn and sassy for my own good — it took The Bloke and me the better part of a decade to set up a joint bank account (you know, a regular transaction account that allows you both to see exactly where the money is being spent, right down to the last bookshop and cafe dollar), but we got there in the end.

But here’s the thing: in days past — probably more recently than we’d like to admit — cohabitation prior to marriage was frowned upon. Female ownership of property was unlawful. With the exception of caring for a small furry domestic animal, pretty much all that The Bloke and I did prior to getting married was, at one point or another, either socially unacceptable or legally prohibited. And while my inner cynic may suspect that Ann Patchett was onto something when she observed that opening a joint bank account is “a moment of trust and commitment the likes of which most wedding vows couldn’t touch”, the fact remains that nearly ten years ago, The Bloke and I were able to stand up in front of our family and friends and make a public promise to love each other and to try to do the right thing by each other for the rest of our lives.

We got married. And it mattered.

Discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identification? To me, it just doesn't add up...

Discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identification? To me, it just doesn’t add up…

Now, I’m not about to wade into the troubled waters that swirl around the various arguments for or against Marriage Equality, because I don’t find political wrangling or religious rhetoric particularly appealing. (Ever.)

But what I will share are my musings about why I suspect achieving Marriage Equality in Australia would be a good thing — not specifically for me (an already married mother of two), but for our society.

First of all, I want to live in a society that does not discriminate on the basis of sex, gender, race, religion, political persuasion, eye colour or even the length of your armpit hair (let alone whether you choose to wax it, shave it, or dye it green). I believe we all have a right to live in such a society, and to participate in the democratic processes that protect that right.

Thinking

Yes, yes — I know we’re not discussing war or the end of the world, but in my opinion the Twelfth Doctor makes a powerful argument for social evolution: “Thinking…it’s just a fancy word for changing your mind”.

I want to live in a society that is evolutionary, that adapts and responds to change instead of saying, “but we’ve always done it this way”. Social evolution has enabled me, a woman, to own property. To vote. To receive (supposedly) equal pay for equal work. As Charles Darwin said, “It’s not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one that is most responsive to change.” And, to my mind, Marriage Equality is not the only issue challenging our society to adapt — combating global warming, closing the wealth gap, ending family violence would all go on that list too. But our responses need to reflect our society as it is today. Why? Well, as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said recently: “Because it’s 2015”.

I want to live in a society where, if either one of my children comes home one day and says, “I’ve met the most incredible human being, and I love them and want to spend the rest of my life with them — I want to marry them,” they can do so. Legally. No matter who the other person is.

Love is precious. Love is valuable. Love is magnificent, it is mighty, it is miraculous. Love transcends sex and gender, politics and religion, culture and race, and it’s definitely got it all over joint bank accounts.

So if two people — any two people — love each other so much that they are prepared to stand up, publicly, and make a lifelong commitment to each other? Well, after all these musings, I know I’d like to live in a society where they can get married.

Not just because it’s 2015.

Because it matters.

Lux Veris

Spring 2015 021

Morning on the Corso…this is Spring in Sydney

I love the light at this time of year, when bleached skies and metallic seas signal the onset of Summer. There is something uniquely Australian about the quality of that light: an intrinsic brightness with a shine and sheen that we recognise — instantly — as being the light of our homeland.

Pilots call it ‘severe clear’, a term used to describe conditions of unlimited visibility, but it’s a remarkably accurate expression. There is nothing subtle about the light in the Antipodes: here the sun blazes, the heat blinds.

In Sydney we appear to have skipped straight past Spring, with the temperatures in recent days soaring into the thirties. Around here, the beaches have been packed and the Manly Jazz Festival has been in full swing. It’s great weather for jazz, and for Jamiroquai too. While Winter might make us head for the mellow tunes of Milky Chance, Spring and Summer have us cranking up the car stereo, and reaching for Robin Schulz and Ministry of Sound Annuals. At this time of year my rear view mirror often provides glimpses of Marvel Girl busting out her best dance moves (quite a range, considering the confines of her car seat) while Miss Malaprop sings along — in her own words, as usual — thinking she can rap just as well as Nicki Minaj (she so can’t).

It’s been fantastic weather for footy, too, with last Sunday going down in the history books as a golden day in Australian sport: first the Wallabies won at Twickenham and sent the hapless Poms packing out of the Rugby World Cup, and then the North Queensland Cowboys took home their first NRL premiership in spectacular fashion with Johnathan Thurston kicking them to victory over the Brisbane Broncos with a field goal in extra time. It was a Grand Final for the ages, and one I won’t forget.

But then again, the October Long Weekend always has a touch of enchantment about it, because every year at 2:00am on the first Sunday of October, a magical thing occurs: Daylight Saving Time begins. Well, that is to say, it begins here in New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, the Australian Capital Territory and Tasmania — for some obscure reason (still unknown to the rest of the states and territories along the Eastern Seaboard) Queensland doesn’t participate. To be fair, they always have done things a bit differently up there…though not even I am game to mention the Bjelke-Petersen years…

Still, for the rest of us, the beginning of Daylight Saving Time means longer days and lingering twilight. It means trips to the beach after school, it means barbecues and a few quiet beers at dusk. And for a lot of Australian kids, it means going to bed when it’s still light.

Strangely enough, some of my most vivid childhood memories are of lying beneath my window in my bed as the golden light of day slowly faded into the deep tropical green of evening. I can still hear the last raucous squawks of roosting lorrikeets, and the rhythmic thunk of the filter in the neighbours’ pool after someone popped in for one last swim. I can still see the inky silhouettes of trees on the horizon, and the first twinklings of the stars high above. Only when I had seen the Southern Cross wheel its way above my head would I close my eyes and sleep, secure in the knowledge that I was truly home.

Ahhh…that light, again. Severe clear by day, warm and inviting by night. And while Dorothea Mackellar may be justly famous for summing up what Australia is like in “My Country”, I think — oddly enough — that it was Wordsworth who understood just what I experienced as a child, even if he felt it a few miles above Tintern Abbey instead of in Sydney:

My local rockpool...photo credit Yury Prokopenko

My local rockpool…photo credit Yury Prokopenko

         …And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man;
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things.


			

The Wellspring

My First Principles: words, music, food.

Know your First Principles…

This month marks the first anniversary of the day I sat down, summoned my courage and started blogging. From the outset, I have said that this is where I come to make sense of it all, and after twelve months of showing up on the page I firmly believe that doing so has benefited me, and probably my family, too.

I believe it’s important to thank all the people who have joined me since I set sail on this voyage, and to make special mention of the mums who sought me in the school playground to chat about everything from Holiday Bonus Points to the meaning of saudade, or to jokingly re-introduce themselves after I blogged about The Name Game. I want to thank the friends who provided early encouragement (and who, to my eternal gratitude and partial disbelief, continue to do so), as well as the hundreds of complete strangers who stumbled across my little site and stayed to read a post or two. Discovering that my words have been read by people all over the world, from Argentina to Germany, Turkey to Taiwan, as well as here in Australia has been an astonishing and humbling experience.

Find your wellspring...

Find your wellspring…

I believe there is a wellspring in each of us, the source of our creativity and our connection with humanity and the planet we are so lucky to live on.  Writing this blog has enabled me to dive into that wellspring and to clarify what is important to me, what I am passionate about, and also what I am challenged by. It has provided me with a platform to speak my truth, whether I was struggling to make sense of the Sydney Siege, or speaking out against the death penalty, or fangirling over my two favourite Toms (Wlaschiha and Hiddleston), or reveling in the beauty of street art.  And writing about all these things has enabled me to connect with people in ways I never have before.

I believe that I am truer to my First Principles – my Holy Trinity of words, music and food – when I visit my wellspring regularly.   When I align myself to these three things, my most important sources of nourishment, I live a better and far more authentic life. I may not always progress smoothly; life simply isn’t like that. But honouring the things that make me who I am and finding the time and space to share them with others certainly makes it easier to deal with the inevitable ups and downs that characterise every person’s existence.  Blogging reminds me that we are all riding this rollercoaster together, and that it can be terrifying and thrilling and every other kind of emotion I can name (and probably a few I don’t know yet know precisely the right word for) along the way.  It also prompts me to remember that the same is true for each of us, the world over.

Connect...

Connect to your own greatness…

I believe I am blessed in my life to be supported by my family, the crazy trio you may laughed with – or perhaps just laughed at – and cried with over the past year.  You’ve shared our adventures and misadventures, and witnessed some of the tests and trials my husband and I have encountered while parenting two strong-willed and independently-minded girls. The Bloke, Marvel Girl and Miss Malaprop all inspire me, challenge me, delight me, frustrate me, and fill me with more joy than I ever thought possible. They also willingly put up with a wife and mother who is happiest when tapping away at the keyboard, and who considers herself incredibly fortunate to be able to do so on a personal and a professional basis – even if it means my life is regulated by the alarms I set to remind me to pick the kids up from school.

I believe, looking back, that it probably wasn’t a coincidence that I began blogging in spring, the season of rebirth and renewal.  Spring is a great time to start new things, and to watch them grow. One of the themes I have returned to again and again over the past twelve months has been seasonal change, as I’ve connected with the world as it transforms itself around me and noticed details I may not have otherwise. In the process, I have become far more aware of how I respond to the seasons and the unique ways they express themselves in this Great Southern Land. (As a side note, I would also argue that spring is probably a much better time to set resolutions than those first remorse-filled weeks of January when we lament our Christmas and New Year’s excesses and wish for the umpteenth year in a row that the festive season and the bikini season did not coincide.)

But having said that, I also believe that it doesn’t matter when you start something new: the important thing is to begin. To have a go. Or to have another go. Or even to resume doing something you love, because you know it serves you and brings you closer to who you truly are. For me, it’s writing, reading, listening to and playing music, cooking well and eating better.  It’s also exercising: running, weight training, and practicing yoga.

...and Begin.

…and Begin.

Last weekend, I was fortunate enough to attend a yoga workshop welcoming the coming of spring.  It was a chance to find stillness within, to connect with my breath, to meditate on new beginnings and to draw strength and inspiration from the wellspring within.  Emerging into the twilight two hours later, I was greeted by the sight of the moon, luminous and full, lighting up the evening sky.  Seeing that shining orb reminded me that I, too, have come full circle, and I remembered what I wrote in my very first blog post: that what I write here may never be great, or even particularly good, but it will be mine. The most important thing was that I began.

So rise up.  Follow your breath.  Find the wellspring within.  Connect.  And begin.

Tonight Again

Guy Sebastian rocking Vienna at Eurovision 2015

Guy Sebastian rocking Vienna at Eurovision 2015

So Australia has had its first official foray into the weird and wonderful world of Eurovision! Not that we needed any encouragement — Eurovision (and the drinking games that inevitably accompany the broadcast here in the Antipodes) has been part of our national consciousness for years. Seriously: wind machines, leather pants, glittery capes, big hair, bigger vocals, throw in the obligatory key change at the end of a song and what’s not to like? Raise your glass — it’s a winner in any Australian living room.

When it comes to Eurovision, Australians might even claim to be early adopters. Or maybe just a nation of immigrants, shamelessly trading on their (increasingly distant) European heritage.  At our haus — sorry, “house” — we always barrack for Germany purely because our last name is of German origin. Never mind the fact that our ancestors migrated from Bavaria prior to the First World War, and that the last person on either side of our family who wasn’t born in Australia was my Welsh grandmother who moved here before the Second. When Eurovision is on, that’s all irrelevant — Deutschland über alles! “Black Smoke” — awesome song! Someone give them another twelve points!

Stig Rästa: he probably should have woken her up...

Stig Rästa: he probably should have woken her up…

That said, we’re always keen to point out any kind of Australian link — no matter how tenuous — to anyone performing at Eurovision.  Didn’t you know? An Australian was responsible for designing the glittery beadwork on the Estonian back up dancer’s costumes. Yes, just that shiny little lightning bolt section, an Aussie did that.  Oi! Oi! Oi! (Not true of course…Estonia didn’t even have back up dancers this year — they didn’t want to distract anyone from Stig Rästa’s smoulder).

But this year, thanks to the generosity of the Austrians we are so often confused with, Australians didn’t have to search for questionable connections to the performers gracing the stage: we got to compete. And while quite a large part of me suspects that an auto-correct error might still be responsible for Guy Sebastian rocking out in Vienna over the weekend, Australians love a wildcard entry into just about anything. Eurovision 2015? Why not? I haven’t been to Austria since that Contiki tour back in…whenever…and besides, it’s only been two months since Mardi Gras, so I still know where my feather boa is! Eurovision 2015! Bring it on!

Guy Sebastian, it must be said, did Australians proud. What a song! What a legend! Our very own Australian Idol took the weight of a nation’s hopes on his shoulders and shot us straight into fifth place. And Aussies everywhere are now patting each other on the back, telling each other that we clearly had the best song and probably should have won outright, but we wouldn’t want to embarrass our hosts or show up an entire continent, now, would we?

Or course, coming fifth means that we did not win the right to host Eurovision next year, which is probably the only way we would have been allowed to compete in the contest again. At least we used our one and only wildcard entry to remind the world once and for all that despite our unusual accent and tendency to refer to our country as “Straya”, there is actually an “L” in “Australia”, and our country is not a landlocked state squeezed in between Switzerland and Slovenia, but is an island nation occupying our very own continent instead.

The inimitable Conchita Wurst...who would fit right in on Oxford Street. Yet another reason why Australia should be admitted to the Council of Europe...

The inimitable Conchita Wurst, green room host of Eurovision 2015. She’d fit right in on Sydney’s Oxford Street. Surely that’s another reason why Australia should be admitted to the Council of Europe…

And so, thanks to heroic (sorry, couldn’t resist) efforts of Måns Zelmerlöw, Eurovision will be heading to Sweden in 2016. I say that gives us twelve months to scour the contest rules to find some loophole that will allow Australia to become an active member of the European Broadcasting Union or the Council of Europe. In fact, the federal government should probably provide SBS with the funding to establish a whole new department (based in, say, Malmö…can’t think why…) to ensure Australia’s admission into Eurovision forever after. If Israel pulled it off, surely we can too?

Meanwhile, in Vienna, it’s time to pack away the smoke machines and send the capes off to the dry cleaners. Eurovision 2015 has been one for Australians to remember. And as Guy sang, this is one tough act to follow.

Forget tomorrow, we can do tonight again.

We Turned Left

For years now, when time and money allows, The Bloke and I have been going on various little holidays up and down the eastern coast of this Great Southern Land.  Generally speaking we head north from the Big Smoke, seeking surf and serenity at one of any number of beaches that we count as favourites (the list is extensive and ever-expanding).  Why we choose to vacation beside the sea when our family home is located less than a kilometre from the nearest beach may be a mystery to many, but it’s a pattern that has remained unchanged since the arrival of Marvel Girl and Miss Malaprop.  And what it usually means is that every school holidays, the family piles into the car and we drive along the Pacific Highway as far north as we intend to go, then turn right and head for whichever stretch of coastline is currently taking our fancy.

Until this holiday.

You see, some time ago, some bright spark (who may or may not be the author of this blog) was having yet another whinge about her husband’s surfboard collection – or quiver, to use the correct terminology in surfing wankery parlance – which, like a certain list of favourite beaches, is extensive and ever-expanding.  She was, she said, sick to death of sand being tracked through every holiday rental and of surfboards being strapped to the station wagon roof.  And so, in deepest midwinter, she booked a different kind of holiday for the family’s post-Christmas summer jaunt: an inland holiday, beside a meandering river and surrounded by rolling hills.  Not quite a farm stay, but one that involved charming pursuits like horse riding, bush walking, canoeing and perhaps even a spot of platypus watching.

Now, you must understand, booking any sort of vacation invariably — and immediately — involves The Bloke asking the two all-important questions about the destination I have chosen, namely: is there any surf, closely followed by just how good is that surf.  (Yes, yes, it was me having the whinge about the ridiculous number of surfboards he owns.)  I freely admit that I frequently engage in a spot of melodramatic eye rolling while answering these questions about the proposed location as briefly and perfunctorily as I can.  My responses never extend to pointless minutiae relating to the number of breaks at the chosen beach or whether they are left or right handed or whatever, but generally involve some glib quip about the fact that they’re not going to stop making waves any time soon, so he can take what he gets.

I will also admit that I do recall feeling inordinately pleased with myself that I had somehow persuaded The Bloke that an inland holiday would be a wonderful experience for the whole family – enriching, even – a welcome change from whatever stretch of coast we would have headed to otherwise. It felt truly exhilarating, and more than a little sacrilegious.  Until the months rolled by and Christmas came and went, and suddenly we were pulling out of the driveway and heading north in the station wagon once more, sans surfboards on the roof.

And then we turned left.

No one could have been more surprised as I was when we finally arrived at our new, inland, holiday destination.  After some dithering from the front desk staff we were directed to our cabin, our home for the next six nights.  I must admit that my breath did catch slightly when we pulled up to that dingy brown shack, which bore little or no resemblance to the smart little cottages featured on the resort’s website and glossy brochure, and I might even have groaned aloud when we finally managed to yank open the ancient sliding door and peered in.  The entire cabin was outfitted in what might best be described as Soviet-style grey: the kitchen cupboards, the threadbare bed linen on the kids’ bunks (which were not made up beyond a base sheet), the sagging vinyl couch in the living room — all grey.  That said, I did note that the colour scheme matched the relentlessly pouring rain outside, and soon found an exception to the rule in the towels that had been provided, which were an unusual shade of…tan…or perhaps something slightly murkier.

And yet, while I stalked around trying to cram food for a family of four into the tiny, rusting bar fridge (the website had depicted a clean, well-lit cabin with a gleaming full sized fridge), the kids were already enthusing about the prospect of sleeping in bunk beds and The Bloke was happily eyeing off the (steadily rising) river and was unpacking the girls’ wetsuits.  To their credit, they largely ignored the dark mutterings of She Who Books The Holiday Accommodation about the Trade Practices Act and false and misleading advertising and, bless them, had already got on with the business of making the best of things.

It took me the better part of two days, a decent massage and the sun coming out for me to get out of my funk.  And when I was finally able to shrug it off, I was able appreciate the holiday my lovely family were already enjoying.  We bushwalked, led the kids around paddocks on horses (a dream come true for Marvel Girl), rode inner tubes down the river, went canoeing and platypus spotting (though saw none), made a couple of trips to the swimming pool in the nearest country town, visited a local farm to meet the animals up close (this had to be done twice it the girls loved it so much), and finally got down and boogied (like it was 1999 in Miss Malaprop’s case) at the bush dance in the resort’s wool shed on New Year’s Eve.

And despite our less than appealing lodgings, the surrounding countryside was beautiful and the overall experience was an enriching one — not least because it made me take a long, hard look at myself.  I know I won’t be in any rush to return to that particular resort, but I am glad I dug my heels in and pushed for a different kind of holiday: one that let Marvel Girl and Miss Malaprop discover a whole new world.

I’ve already booked our next two holidays.  Not surprisingly, they’re both by the beach.  But down the track, when the urge takes us, I suspect we might just turn left again.

Riverwood Downs mostly 045