Of Hoops and Firepits

Lockdown Day 58? I think…

I’m sitting by the window in my bedroom, feeling the breeze and enjoying the blue skies and sunshine. Rain is forecast for most of the week, though we’ve been fortunate to have had a run of wonderful weather lately.

This Lockdown business doesn’t get any easier, does it?

The restrictions keep tightening — necessarily, in my view — and the days we’ve spent with the same people inside the same four walls keep increasing.

But the days are getting longer, too, and warmer. Yesterday Marvel Girl said she smelled a hint of summer in the air, and I suspect she was right.

Yesterday was a good day.

No working or schooling from home. No phonecalls. No Zoom.

We walked down to the netball courts near home, found a vacant hoop and played two on two for a while. Turns out that in addition to having a height advantage The Bloke and I still make a good team when it comes to ball sports. There was plenty of sledging and silliness and we laughed a lot while working up a sweat, then wandered home again.

Later in the evening, The Bloke pulled out the portable firepit we had planned to use on a camping holiday that got cancelled way back at the beginning of Lockdown. We gathered around it, filling it with dry sticks from the back yard and firewood from the servo down the road, and got a crackling blaze going. Soon we had salmon cooking over the flames, and then sat eating from plates laden with fish and salad and rice.

The moon rose, full and white, serene and wondrous.

We saw the International Space Station fly past.

We roasted marshmallows in the embers, ate popcorn and answered a steady stream of trivia questions from Miss Malaprop.

We played music: Christine and the Queens, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Wallflowers, Flight Facilities, Quincy Jones.

And then we tumbled into bed — tired, smoky and happy.

The Thrifty Fictionista Adds to Her List

Home schooling? Yeah, it’s great

Lockdown day 43…

Well, folks, it seems we Sydneysiders are in it for the long haul.

In addition to being subject to stay at home orders for over six weeks, many of us have also been home schooling our children for the past four. It’s challenging, frustrating and (around 11am each day) occasionally frightening: ain’t gonna lie about that part.

But it’s also incredible, really, how when you start focusing on things for which you’re grateful, you start to notice them more.

Since I wrote my last piece, the Thrifty Fictionista has remembered or noticed a bunch of other things that have made her genuinely happy lately. I’m sharing them in the hopes that if you’re locked down like me, you might discover there are things, however small, that make this strange existence of ours that little bit more bearable.

Here are a few more things that have brought me joy since this current state of affairs landed us at home for the foreseeable future:

Hamilton

Look — merch!

I am still pinching myself that when I booked tickets to a performance Hamilton for Marvel Girl’s birthday I chose a date at the beginning of June 2021. Had I selected a date a month later — closer to her actual birthday — we would not have been able to go.

BUT WE DID GO! And we had the best time, and bought ALL the merch, and enjoyed every single minute of the show. Seeing live theatre for the first time in aaaaaages was a blast, and sharing it with my completely Hamilton obsessed elder daughter was completely and utterly brilliant.

Something I really appreciated and did not expect also happened: hearing some of Lin-Maunel Miranda’s lines being delivered by indigenous voices, particularly by Innawonga and Yindjibarndi man Shaka Cook (who played Hercules Mulligan and James Madison), brought the words a whole new resonance. It was great.

Ugg Boots

Ugg snug…

It’s winter in Sydney, so we’ve stopped wearing thongs for now and switched to ugg boots instead.

And they rock.

No further explanation required, methinks.

(Picture added for the benefit of those who are slow on the uptake).

Jimmy Rees

Laughed my ears off…

Jason, Jason, Jason…what are you, stupid?! Don’t you know who Jimmy Rees is?

Between his “Meanwhile in Australia…” updates, hysterically funny interactions between Jason and “the Guy Who Decides”, and his takeoffs of Botox obsessed ladies from Brighton desperately seeking Pfiiiiiiiizer shots between their yogalaaaaaates classes, Jimmy Rees has brought belly laughs and some much needed hilarity to our household during Lockdown. He’s also known around our place as the artist formerly known as Jimmy Giggle…with apologies to Prince.

You know what to do, folks: pop him in your favourite search engine, sit back and be entertained.

Five stars out of five, Jimmy.

Christmas in July

Celebrating!

Supporting local restaurants and businesses has become a priority for many of us during Lockdown. When we finally get out of this mess, we want to be able to rock up to the places we know and love, get a good feed and enjoy the company of people we haven’t seen except via Zoom for the past…forever long?!

So when we figured out that not only were we spending both the kids’ birthdays plus our wedding anniversary in Lockdown, we splashed out on a Christmas in July feast from the fancy restaruant where The Bloke and I got married fifteen years ago. Three courses, all insanely delicious, picked up from the restaurant and finished off in our oven at home…it was glorious.

The unexpected upside of the entire experience was that our children got to eat top notch nosh in the comfort of our home, knowing they could try a whole pile of new things and still get a snack from the fridge if what we had ordered was not to their taste. Needless to say, they loved every mouthful and are now clamouring to be allowed to come with us next time we actually get to do a spot of fine dining.

Best of the Rest

There are other things that have made me unexpectedly happy or grateful during the past couple of weeks, and here they are in random order:

  • Palm trees.
  • Finishing Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy.
  • Cauliflower soup.
  • Watching Patty Mills captaining the bronze medal-winning Boomers.
  • Devouring everything Olympic, generally.
  • Getting a huge box of fresh fruit and vegetables delivered to my doorstep.
  • Walking in the sunshine.
  • A truly heartwarming text exchange with my niece on her birthday.
  • Hugs from the people I’m sharing these crazy days and same four walls with.
Thank the gods for the Olympics…

Anyway, whoever and wherever you are, in Lockdown or roaming freely, I do hope that you’re able to find something to enjoy or feel grateful for today. Not in a Pollyanna-ish way, but in a genuine, YEAH — THAT’S GOOD, kind of way.

Feel free to share it in the comments if you want: who knows, maybe it will brighten someone else’s day.

In the meantime, look after each other.

Check up on each other.

Please try to remember to wear pants.

And mind yourselves,

Blue Jai x

The Thrifty Fictionista Attempts Gratitude

Lockdown be like…

Lockdown Day 28.

Sigh.

Sometimes it’s hard to know what to write when most of the people you know are experiencing exactly the same thing as you are. For me it’s the same four walls, the same family members, the same walk to the surf club and back — just to check the entire Pacific Ocean hasn’t mysteriously disappeared overnight.

The Bloke, knowing full well that I am generally the family member who jollies everyone else along, deadpanned that I should embrace gratitude during Lockdown.

Pfffft…

Then again, he has a point, and I do know I am indeed fortunate.

I am fully vaccinated, and The Bloke not far behind me (though the kids are yet to have a vaccine approved for them).

I am gainfully employed (though my work is being frequently interrupted by helping my children with home schooling).

I am happily married (though my anniversary present to The Bloke this year was booking in his second Pfizer shot).

You see the recurring theme, I’m sure — especially if you have a child in Year 5 and have been working through number patterns and algebra problems with them.

Yes, but

For every upside, it seems there is an inevitable downside.

Sick of the same four walls?

I’m trying to go back to the things I have learned from tapping away at the keys in this, my little patch of cyberspace. I’m looking for moments of delight. I’m attempting to put into practice the Divine Qualities I began exploring at the beginning of this year. That said, I also freely admit I have uncharacteristically shelved my project to continue looking into them throughout 2021: if past Lockdown experiences taught me anything, it’s that it’s OK to let go of things if it they are adding pressure to my existence rather than relieving it.

As a family, we’re trying to do things together that make us laugh — like watching old episodes of Travel Guides, which not only lets us explore the world from the comfort or our armchairs, but also has us simultaneously giggling and cringing at the antics of the various participants. For example, we watched the South African episode last night, and while we were in hysterics at some of the commentary during the safari portion of the show, we were downright mystified that some of the travel guides had never heard of Nelson Mandela?

There it is again. Yes, but

You see my dilemma?

I suspect I am not alone in this predicament, and that many parents across the Northern Beaches, across Sydney, and across Australia are, too.

So taking The Bloke’s advice to heart this time, I have challenged myself to come up with a list (in no particular order) of some of the things that I am purely grateful for — no ifs, no buts, no strings attached.

At least The Bloke still puts up with me…
  1. Our Cat, Tauriel the Exceedingly Magnificent.
  2. Ducted heating in the bedrooms of our house.
  3. Dark chocolate.
  4. FaceTime.
  5. Unexpected gifts, particularly a care package from my uncle at Canungra Creek Finger Limes.
  6. Baked potatoes and pumpkin. Baked lasagne. Baked apple and rhubarb crumble. Baked anything, really.
  7. A reliable internet connection, Netflix and Spotify.
  8. Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall Trilogy (specifically) and fiction (generally).
  9. Piping hot tea, coffee and showers.
  10. Words, and being able to read them, speak them, write them and wield them.

I suppose, given that in a few weeks it will be fifteen years since we tied the knot, I should add The Bloke to the list too — if only so I can publicly proclaim that I do take his advice from time to time. (Pun deliberate, and Dad-joke worthy.)

Hang in there, people!

Mind yourselves, and each other,

BJx

The Thrifty Fictionista Adds to Cart…

Shoulda got up…

Lockdown Day 4…

I knew surrendering to the doona on Sunday afternoon was a mistake. Naturally, every last one of the weather gods took note of my devil may care attitude to the sunny weather they had provided, and proceeded to drench the Northern Beaches in several of days of rain. Admittedly, there was a splash of variety to said rain: it was either steady and incessant, or squally and hitting when you least expected it, but the fact remains that it was still rain. On the one occasion I actually left the house (for 2 of the 4 allowable reasons under the current stay at home orders), I even drove through pouring rain in bright sunlight…which is a seriously weird experience even when one is not in Lockdown.

Anyway, after a shaky start (replete with yelling from all sides), both of my children appear to have adapted to this new regime reasonably well — which is rather a relief, given The Bloke and I are both working from home in finance-related jobs and Lockdown has conincided with EOFY. Marvel Girl and Miss Malaprop have been keeping each other admirably entertained, including boisterous exercise sessions outside and plenty of creative pursuits inside, and have sometimes even remembering to clean up after themselves. Needless to say, I have issued an open invitation to all family members to empty the dishwasher whenever they find it full of shiny, clean crockery and cutlery, but sadly so far only The Bloke has taken me up on this salacious offer. OK…it’s not even remotely salacious, it’s just flipping necessary…

WFH anyone?

Miss Malaprop and I have indulged in a spot of Lockdown Baking — no, not sourdough — which is hardly surprising as we are both rather fond of bunging things in the oven and being able to eat them in the not too distant future. Spotting a claw of increasingly blackened bananas darkening the kitchen fruit bowl, we made Banana Bread. Not just ANY garden variety banana bread, but Yotam Ottolenghi’s Banana Bread featuring roasted pecans, if you don’t mind, which is why this particular baked offering requires the use of Capitals…so la dee dah..

Recalling her recent online shopping for new jeans, the Thrifty Fictionista has resolved not to bake too much during Lockdown, lest she find herself unable to fit into said jeans, which are yet to wend their way to my doorstop. That has not, however, stopped her from ummm… well, from ordering…a few, no…a largish pile, let’s see… shall we say “several other” things online? They’ve all been necessary purchases, of course, like a lovely tartan woollen blanket. And an iPad case. And two sweatshirts. And the Nespresso pods that are due to arrive this afternoon. You cannot seriously expect me to endure Lockdown with coffee, can you?! Besides, it’s not like I’m rushing to the nearest supermarket to panic buy toilet paper…

Too much Baking…

So far, despite adding many things to cart when I probably should have said, nay shouted at the top of my lungs: “NO! Begone, tempting online shopping demons of the Interwebs!“, the Thrifty Fictionista is rather proud of herself for not purchasing any more books — with the (exceedingly) permissible exception of some small tomes she sent to New Zealand for a friend’s upcoming birthday. Resisting the seductive siren song of Booktopia and the Book Grocer and all those other sublime online book retailers has not been easy, but I am pleased to announce that managed to apply myself and diligently finished the Nureyev biography (which I struggled to complete, simply because I knew it would have to end inevitably with his demise and that’s not the cheeriest subject matter to confront while unable to freely leave your house for the foreseeable future).

Next, however, the Thrifty Fictionista took her own advice and cracked open the very beautiful (hardbacked and bookmark ribboned) Hilary Mantel box set I had been waiting to devour. Quite honestly, I am relishing every single moment I am spending with Thomas Cromwell in Tudor England.

Right from the opening line of Wolf Hall, the first book, I was entranced all over again:

So now get up…

A box set, you say…

It’s not such a bad suggestion, and one I probably should have heeded last Sunday instead of allowing the doona to welcome me as its own.

So now get up…

It really did remind me that Lockdown doesn’t have to be all bad. It doesn’t have to mean forgetting to shower on a regular basis, or spending days in your pj’s because you can’t be bothered getting dressed, or lamenting the fact that you can’t do anything.

Because there’s always something to do, somewhere, if you’re willing to look for it.

So now get up…

And mind yourselves,

The Thrifty Fictionista (aka Blue Jai) xxx

The Thrifty Fictionista in Lockdown (again)

How I imagine I look…

Lockdown Day 1, and the Thrifty Fictionista has once again taken to her bed.

Not because I’m sick, not because I’m occasionally inclined towards melodrama, but because it’s vaguely cold out — meaning it’s fine and sunny and not the slightest bit windy, but the temperature has dipped below 20 degrees Celcius, which is regarded quite decidedly as ugg boot weather in my part of the Antipodes. We’re not wimps, really we’re not…

Besides, now that Greater Sydney has been placed into Lockdown (again) there is literally no chance anyone is going to come knocking on our door, so there’s nothing to stop me from typing away on my trusty laptop under the cover of my delightfully warm doona. The Bloke and the kids are down the other end of the house, and given we are going to be trapped together for the next thirteen days none of them is feeling the need to interrupt me (yet). I even have a hot cup of peppermint tea on my bedside table, though that did require me to give one of my two TBR piles a bit of a shove so it would fit. TBR, for the uninitiated, stands for “To Be Read”, which is both a sacred and dreadful practice of stacking large quantities of books you plan to read on your bedside table, the precipitous nature of which may or may not impede your spouse’s ability to successfully procure clothing from their side of the wardrobe.

Lockdown level annoyed…

At the top of the nearer TBR pile is a biography of Rudolf Nureyev I dived into after writing my last post, the reading of which I have been interspersing with bellyflops into romance novels of dubious quality (not usually a genre I pay the slightest bit of attention to, but every now and then my brain craves a book that is the mental equivalent of chewing gum).

In my defence, my brain probably does deserve a bit of a break. A large chunk of my morning (in between moaning about being in Lockdown again) was spent rescheduling the holiday we had planned to take next week, cancelling the cat sitter, and working out how to make my elder daughter’s 13th birthday next week feel less like she’s spending in Long Bay Jail?

I only meant to read one…

Apologies — am just back from a spot of online shopping; I had to throw out my favourite pair of blue jeans the other day due to the development of a hole in an unmentionable place, and since I can’t go to the Mall or anywhere else for the next two weeks, needs must. I suspect this digression may also enlighten you, dear reader, to the state of my mind at the moment and why I am resorting to reading trashy romances. It’s like a tin of worms in there, folks. Or maybe a bag of fleas?

Anyhooooo….the Thrifty Fictionista, currently warm and toasty but evidently sporting the attention span of a gnat, has now finally recalled the real reason she began tapping away at her keyboard on this fine, sunny, slightly cold but doona-covered afternoon: if you’re boxed in, the best solution is a box set.

YASS QUEEN! It worked for me last time we were in Lockdown (or was it the time before that?), when I cracked through an enormous box set of Sarah J Maas fantasy novels, tomes weighty enough to anchor the QE2 in Sydney Harbour…were it not for the fact that we have closed our international borders indefinitely and the mere sighting of a cruise ship off the coast is likely to send most Sydneysiders into a panic faster than you can say “Ruby Princess”…

Quality lockdown reading…

This time the box set I have chosen is Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy. I suspect I’ve already read the first two (the ones that both won the Booker Prize) a long time ago, and the third one — well, it’s as gigantic as the others, and I am looking forward to reading all three. At its best, historical fiction is immersive, and what better time than Lockdown to lose yourself in another time and (hopefully not plague-ridden) place?

And we’re not really all expected to clean our houses from top to bottom all over again are we?

No, seriously — are we?

This Fearless Life

At the beginning of each year I attempt to find a word or theme to guide me through the twelve months ahead. It makes sense to me to do this, not only because here in the Southern Hemisphere the school year mirrors the calendar year, but also because my birthday falls in January. I find it useful to embrace an overarching concept that often ends up informing what I do, what I read, what I think, and even the way I approach my life.

Last year, I took delight as my guiding principle after dipping into Ross Gay’s Book of Delights. Prior to that I (perhaps less successfully) delved into the lives of diverse people — Marcus Aurelius, Virginia Woolf, Keith Richards — to see how their perspectives might inform my own. Another year I chose a different Word of the Month to engage with.

In 2021, I’m taking myself going down a slightly different path again — one decidedly unfamiliar to me, raised as I was in a reasonably conservative Roman Catholic home by parents who remain steadfast in their faith and who chose to send me to Catholic schools throughout my primary and secondary education. This year, inspired by reading Jay Shetty’s book Think Like a Monk, I’ve chosen to explore the Divine Qualities outlined in Chapter 16 of the Bhagavad Gita.

There are 26 Divine Qualities listed in the Gita, so I am hoping to tackle one every couple of weeks. Quite obviously, I haven’t been raised Hindu and have little experience with the Vedic tradition other than what I’ve learned from various teachers when attending yoga classes from time to time, which means I am engaging with each quality as outsider. From the oustet I think it is important to state that I do not intend to bring a religious slant to any of my posts and I mean absolutely no disrespect to believers in this or in any religion: I am simply using the Divine Qualities mentioned in the Bhagavad Gita as a starting point and exploring how these, as I understand them, apply to my own life.

The first Divine Quality mentioned in the Bhagavad Gita is FEARLESSNESS.

What a way to kick things off, huh?!

You may, given the current state of the wider world, now have an inkling of understanding as to why I was intrigued by the Divine Qualities: given that much of 2020 involved a global pandemic, trade wars, continuing environmental crises and particular politicians peddling lies and failing to protect their own people, there were many things about last year that made me FEARFUL. I often wondered, in 2020, whether my family would stay physically safe in the face of an invisible disease and mentally strong when confronted with multiple lockdowns, whether my husband’s business and those of his clients would survive the associated economic upheaval, and whether the world was actually going to hell in a handbasket.

Fearlessness? I’ve never lived through a year more prone to making people fearful, or for provoking (at best) garden variety anxiety on a daily, if not hourly, basis!

Fearlessness…

I have to admit the word shocked me when I first read it, right at the top of the list of Divine Qualities. It felt like such a foreign concept in these strange and unusual times.

And yet, the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to embrace fearlessness.

Many of us spend far too much time worrying about — or even fearing — things beyond our control. What if we stopped fearing what other people might think of us, or whether we’re good enough, or if the timing is right? What if we started to trust ourselves and our abilities more, to do what is right and responsible, to make our best effort every time with the knowledge and resources we have?

For me, staring fearlessness in the face meant asking myself:

  • What if I actually finish my novel?
  • What if I allow myself time to exercise every day?
  • What if I publish more on this blog, even if it exposes me to potential ridicule?
  • What if I say no to stuff that no longer serves me?
  • What if I say yes to trying new things?

And I’ve decided, on balance, that all of those things are worth doing.

That it’s worth letting go of fear and trusting the universe (or God, or whatever you believe in) has my back.

That it’s important to have faith that the vast majority of people on this planet are doing their best and are kind and decent human beings.

That it’s time I lived with fearlessness!

2020: Wrapping Up a Year of Delight?!

I’m writing this not so long after summarising my December Delights, the posting of which was delayed by the desolation I felt when the beautiful place in which I live went back into lockdown. As time has passed I am learning, yet again, to sit tight without a fight, and to remind myself – as some insightful wag commented – that people from the Northern Beaches have been practicing their whole lives not to leave the Northern Beaches. I am prompted, yet again, to recall how boundlessly fortunate we are to live here: residents of vibrant yet peaceful neighbourhoods, surrounded by abundant natural beauty, and bordered by the mighty Pacific Ocean in all its majesty.

And as I’ve willed myself to turn my attention to delight, I’ve found – as I have consistently observed throughout this yearlong process of observing the delightful – that actively choosing to look for things which inspire wonder and bring me joy, however fleeting, brings me greater contentment and inner peace.

It’s not an unexpected discovery.

But it’s still an insight I will carry with me into the new year, along with a (sometimes ironic) appreciation that even before I had any inkling how 2020 would unfold, I chose to follow and notice delight in all its forms during this year, the most unusual in which I’ve ever had the privilege to live.

I’m also not surprised to see that the majority of the delights I have selected as my Top Five for the year relate back to my First Principles, which I articulated many years ago now in a post I called The Wellspring: words, music and food. To these, I would now add the recognition of delight, in all its forms.

And so, without further ado, here are my most precious delights of 2020…

Fillipé Fridge

Looking back over my year of delights, I notice that there are not many things that have made my list…unless of course they are foodstuffs, such as Chocolate Croissants and Oysters (and yes, those capitals are entirely necessary). But I have to admit there is one thing, one object of considerable bulk and immense importance, that has made its way into my life this year and which did, upon arrival, and has in all the intervening time since, brought me enormous joy and satisfaction.

It’s my new refrigerator.

His name is Fillipé, and he is our brand new sleek stainless steel fridge. I had been wanting him for a very long time, and now that he is here I love everything about him: that the fridge compartment is on top and the freezer drawers are at the bottom, that on the inside he is well lit and glass shelved and spacious, that he is oh so quiet…the list goes on.  Opening Fillipé’s door is always a pleasure…it’s like opening a chocolate box, except my fridge is usually full of fruit and vegetables, and glass bottles standing in gleaming rows, and – well, it’s easy to wax lyrical over something so ordinary when you have a friend like Fillipé Fridge, the most delightful appliance I have ever owned.

Being Alcohol Free

At the time of writing this post, I will have gone without alcohol for almost an entire year.  I kicked off 2020 with a desire to do things differently, and one of the items highest on my list was to reset my relationship with alcohol. You see, I’m a finisher: if a wine bottle is open, I’m highly likely to see it as my civic duty to ensure it’s finished by the end of the evening. This was true even if I was at home alone, enjoying a quiet glass of vino by myself once the kids had gone to bed. Or even before they’d gone to bed. And so, on 1 January 2020, I resolved not to touch a drop of the demon drink and to see how long I lasted.

Well folks, I’ve lasted far, far longer than I thought I would – ALL YEAR! And along the way I discovered, much more swiftly than I ever thought possible, that I really didn’t need alcohol in my life at all. I’m perfectly happy without it, and feel very comfortable with my decision to eliminate it from my life in 2020.  I am also learning to accept other people’s reactions when I say I’d prefer not to have a drink – many and varied as these have been.

I’ve stuck to my decision, feel ever so much better for it (mentally and physically), and that in itself has been a true delight.

Receiving a Negative COVID Test Result

Speaking of being free of things, I would have to say that in 2020 one of the greatest delights you can ever receive is the SMS alerting you to the fact that your most recent COVID test is negative. Given that I am writing this post during a lockdown and waited four hours the other day to get tested (along with eleventy-million other people on the Northern Beaches), I can tell you that receiving the negative result which allows you to venture back out of doors – the wonder, the delight! – is a truly magical thing. You could probably have seen my frenzied fist pump from space.

I should also add that I am also beyond grateful to live in a part of the world where we have excellent access to free of charge testing (Sydneysiders have done over 300,000 tests in the past week – go us!), and that New South Wales also has amazing health workers and contact tracers who go above and beyond to stop the spread of the insidious virus that has turned the world upside down this year.

Cillian Murphy’s Limited Edition

It’s no secret that I am a Cillian Murphy fan – the man is pure class. But in this instance it’s not his brilliant acting that has brought me delight, or his many and varied reading recommendations, but his love of music.  Every so often, BBC Radio 6 asks Cillian to guest DJ – whether it’s filling in for Guy Garvey when Elbow goes on tour or, more recently, when they’ve asked him do a Midnight-2am shift that he prerecords from his basement in Dublin and shares with the rest of the world — and when he does, the results are impressive.

The music Murphy includes in his playlists is a truly eclectic mix, but that suits me down to the ground. In addition to bringing spoken word pieces and music new and old to my ears, I’ve been surprised to hear him throw in bits and pieces I listen to often and had (possibly mistakenly?!) thought were obscure – from Spiritualized’s Ladies and Gentlemen We are Floating in Space to instrumental tracks like Sophie Hutchings’ Tail Lights and so very many more.  Murphy’s musical knowledge is encyclopaedic and I’m always utterly delighted when his playlists pop up on the airwaves.

Sunshine Over Sea

I love living close to the ocean. We are saltwater people around here, folks who revel in the many splendours of the sea. Some of us need to immerse ourselves in it, others are content to sit and look at it, but many of us need to at least catch a glimpse of it as we go about our daily whirl.

One of the delights I have savoured most this year has been driving around a particular bend near where I live, following the road as it curves upward until – at the crest of the hill, not less – the ocean appears and stretches before me in all its glory, all the way to the horizon. Often, at the time of day when I make this journey, the road I’m travelling appears to merge with a vibrant path of sunshine lighting up the surface of the sea. Would that I could keep driving onto that golden road instead of sticking to the tarmac beneath my wheels!

On one particularly memorable drive during this unforgettable (for all the wrong reasons) year, I happened to be listening to Gang of Youths’ song The Deepest Sighs, the Frankest Shadows as I made my morning drive. The music begins quietly enough, but it built to a crescendo just as I drove that curving road and crested the hill, exploding into its chorus as the sunlit ocean overwhelmed my view:

‘Cause not everything means something, honey
So say the unsayable
Say the most human of things
And if everything is temporary
I will bear the unbearable
Terrible triteness of being…

It’s a memory I will cherish, and one that reminds me – almost every time I turn up that hill – that if everything is temporary (and I genuinely suspect it is), then welcoming and noticing delights may well be our best way of anchoring ourselves in the present, of bearing the unbearable, of making sense of this strange thing we call life.

Thank you to @frank_see_fotos for use of this beautiful image.

We all have different ways of making sense of our place and time on this planet, and I thought it fitting to end this post by including a photo capturing the same view I just described that was taken by a friend of mine, whose photography has also brought me delight this year. I asked to share this particular picture because it depicts the glimmering beginnings of the road the sun paints across the sea each day, the one I would love to keep driving onto…but if you check out his Instagram page @frank_see_fotos you can lose yourself in a wealth of images, each one more beautiful than the last. I can’t think of a lovelier way to spend Boxing Day.

Mind yourselves,

BJx

December Delights

I hardly expected to be writing this from yet another lockdown…yet here we are, stuck at home during the week before Christmas, wanting to be with our loved ones and hoping we might be able to leave our places of residence before December 25th rolls around.

Silver linings feel like they are hard to come by these days, especially on the Northern Beaches of Sydney. And yet, even though the current public health order means I now won’t be able to be with my mother on her 70th birthday next week, I am grateful we are not in Fiji as we had planned to be – especially with Cyclone Yasa leaving a trail of destruction through the islands where we and so many other Australians love to spend holidays.

It has taken me two days to work through feelings that have run the full gamut from genuine dread to garden variety anxiety, and now I am finally ready to turn my thoughts towards the things that have delighted me during December – well, at least prior to 5:00pm on 19 December 2020. I share them in the hope they bring you something resembling joy, and that might you discover delight in the small details that are so often overlooked.

So here, in no particular order, are my December delights:

Dustyesky

I plonked myself down on the lounge in front of the TV the other night, a list of things to do before the school year ended scrolling endlessly through my head, and found myself watching a short piece on Australian Story entitled “To Russia, With Love”.  It featured the MC and choirmaster of Dustyesky, Australia’s premiere genuine fake Russian choir.  Based in the Northern NSW town of Mullumbimby (known to choir members as Mullumgrad), the men of Dustyesky sing in Russian – which they neither speak nor understand – and have made quite the splash around the world, and more specifically across Russia itself. If you fancy fifteen minutes of fun and feeling good, settle in and watch the boys tell their story in a combination of impeccable fake Russian and broad Australian accents here:

Pants with Pockets

I don’t know a single dress-wearing person who, when complimented on their attire, fails to announce “It’s got pockets!” if indeed, their garment does possess such magical accoutrements. Pockets! Who knew they would make anyone feel so good…

Well, as it turns out, savvy active wear producers knew and, after several years of envying strangers in the street with mobile phones casually tucked into their exercise tights, I have finally joined their number. Hoorah! I am now the proud owner of a pair of black tights with not one, but two exterior pockets, as well as pair of super comfortable shorts which feature pockets of the more regular variety. I can now participate in a bunch of summer activities far more stylishly than I’ve managed to before…just as soon as they let me out of the house…

Having a Facial

About a week before the school year ended my skin was feeling patchy (well, let’s be honest…I was feeling a bit patchy, if the truth be told, and I wasn’t in the mood to talk about it). What I needed, I told myself, was a facial – but I didn’t want it to be with anyone I knew.  Any kind of talking while a treatment was in progress was not going to cut it for me at this late stage of the year and so, on a whim, I booked myself in for a Signature Facial at a salon I very rarely frequent.

It was perfect. The beautician, to her credit, asked me a few basic questions and then allowed me to luxuriate for an hour, pampering me in complete silence. I felt more deeply relaxed afterwards than I normally would after sleeping for ten hours. And my skin? Much, much better…thanks for asking…

Grid Lines on Giftwrap

OK, OK…this is a delight for all those who get a genuine kick out of wrapping Christmas presents. I will say, unashamedly and unabashedly, that I love wrapping gifts: I love the feel of the paper creasing beneath my fingers, the whizzing sound the scissors make as they make the curling ribbon do its thing, and – ultimately – the look of a beautifully, attentively wrapped present.

So, with these salient facts at the forefront of your mind, imagine my delight (complete, utter, undying) when I discovered that the wrapping paper I had purchased for Christmas this year had grid lines on the reverse side of the paper. Be still, my beating heart! Now, I’m a pretty dab hand at cutting a straight line, but GRID LINES! Wonder of wonders…whoever came up with that idea should be given a medal at the very least. An Oscar for Best Performance.  Possibly even a Nobel Prize. I can’t love this idea enough.

The Christmas Tree

I’ve written before about our tradition of creating a new colour scheme for Christmas each year, and it will now go down in family folklore that the Year We Were in Lockdown the tree was decorated in white, gold and hot pink. The smell of pine needles has permeated the house, and we have carried the decorative theme through from the hall table to the piano top and on to the tree itself.  The Angel Shazza has taken up residency at the top, presiding over what may yet been the most subdued Christmas we have ever had, but still reminding us that even in the darkest hour there is hope.

So there you have it, friends: five December Delights for this most unusual of years.

I would love to hear yours, if you have them…feel free to share them in the comments, or to pass this on to someone who needs it.

Wishing you all a very safe, happy and healthy Christmas,

BJx

Meet Me in the Middle of the Air

Early this morning I went for a walk down to the beach. The sun had just risen, but the air was still cool and the sky overcast. It was quiet, save for the distinctive calls of whip birds hiding in trees on the path by the lagoon and the hiss of the not yet visible surf.

Then, rumbling out of the clouds, came a huge passenger plane. It loomed above me, a rare sight in these even rarer times, and I was suddenly overcome with emotion.

For born and bred Sydneysider, there is no experience quite like flying into this city, especially if you have been away from it for a long period of time. I’ve waxed lyrical about my hometown before, but this morning, seeing that plane full of people returning home in the midst of these troubled times brought me undone.

If you’re flying into Sydney from afar (and let’s face it, the vast majority of places are far away from the Great Southern Land), you’ve probably been strapped into a seat for the better part of fourteen hours or more. But chances are, given the way this beautiful blue planet turns, you’ll be arriving here as a new day dawns.

For me, the sense of anticipation that builds as the sky lightens and the coastline appears is incomparable. As each familiar beach and headland becomes clearer I feel a genuine buzz of excitement, regardless of where I am returning from.

From the air, Sydney Harbour opens its arms before you, stretching its fingers far inland, into every nook and cranny of foreshore crammed with houses and flats and parks and trees. In the midst of it all, the Harbour Bridge arches gracefully over the vast expanse of blue, connecting the City to the North Shore.

This is land of the Eora people, and has been for more than fifty thousand years: I reside on Cammeraygal Country. This place has connected the people who live there to it for centuries.

This is home.

So when I saw that plane this morning, I thought of the thousands of Australians who are still trapped overseas, waiting for flights. I thought of those patiently waiting out their days of quarantine, who are “home” but not quite. I felt proud of my home town for receiving more returning travellers than all the other states in this country combined.

And I remembered the safe passage request that can be found on every Australian’s passport, words from which I have always derived great comfort:

The Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia,
being the representative in Australia of Her Majesty Queen
Elizabeth the Second, requests all those whom it may concern
to allow the bearer, an Australian Citizen, to pass freely
without let or hindrance and to afford him or her every
assistance and protection of which he or she may stand in need.

Every assistance and protection: these words fills my heart.

I wish I could provide more asssistance and protection for my friends in Melbourne who are enduring one of the world’s strictest lockdowns, with week upon week of curfews and restrictions.

I wish I could offer more comfort and certainty to my friends who have family overseas, who don’t know when they will next see, let alone hug, their loved ones or be permitted to travel to their homelands.

I wish I could make plans — proper plans — with friends who used to call Sydney home, to turn crazy ideas for reunions on tropical islands into realities, to meet the children who have been born since a pandemic rewrote just about every itinerary in existence.

Wishes may be merely words, and words are wind, as they say.

But we will get through this.

We will overcome, and be so much stronger for surviving.

And when it’s over, I’ll meet you in the middle of the air.

Return to the Rat Race?

clock carsRestrictions on movement have slowly begun to lift here in old Sydneytown, but as they do I am being forced to confront the reality that there are parts of self-isolating that have suited me ever so well.

My role in the house as Chief Whip Cracker and Keeper of Clocks has, mercifully, been largely relinquished since mid-March, and I cannot say I am sorry. The relentless hurry and scurry from the office to this school and onto that lesson and back to the other training session ceased, literally overnight, and my strung out self heaved a massive sigh of relief.

I freely and willingly admit there have been times in the past weeks when my attempts to simultaneously supervise home schooling while producing meaningful, accurate work have collided in spectacularly disastrous fashion. At times this has necessitated me apologising to my children, and more profusely to our neighbours (occasionally with the addition of home-baked chocolate banana muffin peace offerings), and on those days I would have given anything —  anything — for a return to our regular routine.

But, even though increased work commitments have resulted in me having far less time to myself lately (and precious little solitude), not having to be anywhere at a particular time has enabled me to eke out the occasional moment of quiet stillness. Not wanting my children to be permanently attached to screens has resulted in us playing games of Scrabble, of me teaching them how to make pumpkin soup and chicken pie, and of all of us rediscovering our love of cycling.

None of us has done anything noteworthy or brilliant during this time — we won’t be receiving any awards for breathtaking new novels written during lockdown, or prizes for sensational artworks or astonishing craft projects. We only managed to complete one jigsaw puzzle before it felt like all the tiny pieces were threatening to take over the house. To be honest, we’ve barely managed to keep the house clean and tidy, and my work things have been extracted from and returned to two increasingly battered carboard boxes at the end of the hallway every day for the past however many weeks.

clocks 1And even though we’ve not always managed to harmoniously coexist, we have slowly got better at being with each other all the time, especially when we’ve taken a moment to sit down and speak honestly and openly about how seriously crap this situation has been and still is and how miserable we’re feeling about it.

As life slowly returns to something resembling “normal”, however, I am finding myself increasingly unwilling to pick up the accoutrements of Chief Whip Cracker. I have never been comfortable as a Keeper of Clocks, nor with the mental load associated with having everyone in the right place at the right time with the right equipment , and I am strenuously resisting resuming that role.

Being at home with my family, though challenging, has made me think seriously about how I want to spend my time.

I don’t want to jump straight back onto the helter-skelter hither-thither treadmill.

I don’t want to be the one constantly keeping track of everyone’s time.

I don’t want to rejoin the relentless rat race.

I do know that I have to, somehow…the problem is, I don’t yet know what I am going to do differently in the future, or what the the new “normal” will look like for us or whether it will work in the long run.

I do hope it feels different, though.

Tunnel

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