Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas

I have just spent the morning on the floor playing with Lego with the children.  They are building an enormous Hogwarts-like castle.  I built a reindeer with three trailers; the children rolled their eyes.

Now the rest of my family are down at the beach having a swim to work off the bucketload of chocolates we've chomped through this morning.  When they get back we'll cook prawns and crack open the bubbly. 

All very Australian, except that when I went out into our garden to pick some flowers for the table, look what was in best form. Yes that is pohutukawa. Have to admit it makes me a teeny bit homesick. 

Merry Christmas everyone.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Hellidays, horrordays and holidays

Soon after having our first child, my partner and I realised that there was a word missing from the English language.  The missing word is one that means going on holiday with small children.  The word "holiday" used to mean relaxation, spontaneity, carefree meals out at odd times of the day, big days out or complete slothdom, but after a few nightmarish holidays with our children, we reluctantly ditched all hopes of achieving these things. 

Instead we coined the word "Helliday".  Our numerous epic missions travelling overseas or to the other end of the country to visit our families usually involved horrendous road trips or horrific flights, mountains of paraphernalia, upset routines, sleepless nights, "child-friendly" holiday homes on a cliff-edges, far too many trips in ambulances and masses of puke - oh, the puke. (The most memorable one was by my daughter all over the dapper Government Minister sitting next to us on a domestic flight - who was an absolute gentleman about it.)  More often than not we would arrive home from Hellidays broke, exhausted, with a houseload of nits and swearing to never do it again.

Though thankfully as the children grew so did the the fun to hell ratio of "holidays".  There still wasn't a lot relaxation involved, but with older children we enjoyed the freedom to go to interesting places and have amazing adventures. While mostly great fun, these holidays were still very hard work and still had far too many unpleasantly dramatic times.  There were more hours spent in emergency departments in wet swimsuits, a small fortune spent replacing EpiPens, mystery rashes, a heck of a lot of puke and quite a few memorable-for-the-wrong-reasons moments. (The winner is the day my son's leg and my arm ended up raw and bloodied after a nasty encounter with a little-boy's-leg-sized gap and the sharp metal edges of Melbourne's Webb Bridge.) We had definitely moved on from Hellidays, but relaxing on a beach on an island while alternating between swimming and powering through a stack of novels was still just a tantalisingly unachievable dream. We decided we were now in the era of "Horrordays".

But then something miraculous happened.  One morning while on holiday in the beautiful seaside village of Moeraki, I awoke to ... silence.  Hmmm, I thought and picked up my book.  An hour later and the house was still quiet.  Convinced that the children had been stolen from their beds in the night, I sneaked a peek through their door only to find them both tucked up in their beds ... reading.  Yes! Yes! Yes!  That holiday was the first really restful holiday we had had since having children.  We had finally re-entered the world of real holidays.

But often the most restful holidays are the ones we have at home, simply filling the days with day trips or muckingaround at home.  I have had the great joy and privilege of spending many of my children's school holidays with them like this, while my partner carried on working.

But now I am working three days a week and my partner and I are tag-teaming the childcare throughout the school holidays. Already I'm missing that lovely carefree "what shall we do today?" feeling, though I won't begrudge my partner it as he is a decade overdue for some of that joy.  He and our children will no doubt have a wonderful time together because there are plenty of fabulous outings to go on here.  One of the very best day trips around these parts is one that only costs peanuts (ahhh, don't mention peanuts!) and that my partner hasn't been on yet: a visit to Penguin Island.

Penguin Island is just off the coast of Rockingham which is the next city up the coast from Mandurah.  Rockingham has a reputation for being the bogan capital of Australia but a) I live in Mandurah and you know what they say about people in glass houses and b) you don't have to look too hard to find plenty of far more interesting aspects to Rockingham than that.

Penguin Island is accessed by a 5 minute ferry ride.  (Some people walk there along the submerged sand bar my advice is "Don't even think about it". Every year people get caught out by changing weather and the fact that there is only one low tide a day here... and almost every year some of those people die. I reckon our lives are worth the small price of the ferry ride.) 

On this spectacular little island you can visit the Penguin Discovery Centre, see some rescued penguins get fed and learn all about them;

swim; snorkel; walk right around the island; see other penguins in the wild (depending upon the time of the year you go);

see all sorts of other wildlife; relax in the shade and read your book; admire the gorgeous views; have a picnic.  When my children and I went we did all of the above, had one of our very best days since moving here and probably annoyed my partner to bits by raving about it for weeks afterwards.

On the day my partner and children go there I'll try not to get too jealous as I'm sat slaving away in my office.  I'll just remind myself that if ever I want to enjoy all my favourite things about being on holiday packed into one perfect day, then I too can simply spend a day at Penguin Island. The only thing is that our children are now such great company that it just wouldn't feel like a holiday if I went without them.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The emperor's new clothes

About 2 months ago I became the owner of an iPad. I don't want to seem ungrateful because it was a gift and it is actually quite useful.

But here goes anyway. When it comes to typing and editing text I find myself forever saying "oh, give me strength". The lack of a delete key and arrow keys is driving me completely spare. iGadget devotees would just glibly say "you'll get used to it!" to which I would say "yup, just like I'd get used to eating fettuccine with a teaspoon if I didn't know any better".

I have been thinking a lot about books and stories lately due to my new job; I know half the world is in love with iPads but the story that pops into my mind when I think about them is The Emperor's New Clothes.

Must go to bed now as I am very tired becuse it took me 25 tries to log in to Blogger (the iPad doesn't remember my 163 Interwebland passwords for me), it has taken me two hours to work out that Blogger doesn't work properly on iPads and then to read a truckload full of conflicting online advice about how best to rectify that situation Typing this gripe then fixing all the typos has taken me a very very very very very very very long time. (I am currently collecting quotes for a project at work. One of my favourites so far is "No I'm not dyslexic. I just use an iPad.")

So tomorrow I'll boot all the Minecraft and Grepolis addicts off our great galumphing household PC and within seconds I'll bash out the post I had hoped to swiftly despatch tonight from the comfort of the couch. Maybe I'll even be able to attach one of the several thousand superbly unflattering photos I have managed to take on the iPad ... of my chins.

Friday, November 25, 2011

It's another world

Picture: Jon Hewson

If you've ever heard me say that life in this part of the world is always interesting and wondered what I mean by that, well an article that appeared in a local newspaper this week about sums it up.  The article titled "Cashed up bogan from Mandurah sparks debate in Wall Street Journal" was written by Vanessa Schmitt of the the Mandurah Coastal Times and you can read it here.  In case you were wondering, this isn't a hoax.

You may have thought that the "two-speed economy" and the "cashed up bogan" were just media constructs, but let me assure you they are not.  Mandurah is a prime example of Australia's so-called two-speed economy as in this small city we have people with enormous wealth living right alongside people living in serious poverty. And cashed-up bogans are not only real but they make up a large part of this community along with doing-it-tough bogans, FIFO (fly in fly out) workers and their families, grey nomads, living-the-dream-lifestylers, and recent migrants (mostly from the UK and South Africa but lots of New Zealanders too).

So read the article and see if you can work out why I with my handmade, slow-living, permaculture, make-do-and-mend, let's-not-bust-our-one-planet, there-are-dozens-of-things-I-value-more-than-money, buy-once-buy-well style found Mandurah extremely challenging when I first moved here.  It really is another world here and some bits of it sure as heck aren't pretty.  Is this what those deluded NZ politicians mean when they bang on about NZ needing to "catch up with Australia"? 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A big fat rollercoaster week. (Then two more.)

A few weeks back we had a big fat rollercoaster of a week.  We had lots of positives, a few too many negatives and simply no time for Mr-Inbetween.  I got a bit stuck on one of those negatives so my partner cheerily advised me to "Move on!".  I was very tempted to treat him to my best evil eyes and give him an earful of "ra ra ra!", but then somehow I realised he was right. So today I'm going to channel Pollyanna and just talk about and show pictures of the great things that happened that week.

There was a public holiday on a Friday and therefore a long weekend.  We hadn't had a weekend away for ages for various reasons so there was no way we were missing this one.  This latest long weekend also fell just after my partner's birthday so this little jaunt counted as part of his birthday haul;  I arranged for us to spend three nights at a place we'd never been to but that I thought he'd enjoy.  The only accommodation there is a holiday park but it has a wide range of options from campsites to cabins to fully self-contained cottages with ocean views.  Camping with me is nobody's idea of a birthday treat - as a notebook a friend once gave me says, "I love not camping" - so I booked us three nights in their swankiest accommodation option.

I'll just gloss over the actual process of getting there and of arriving late at night which was somewhat later than we'd planned.....and skip to the part where we wake up in the morning in possibly the most beautiful place I have ever been to in my life.

The place we went to is Hamelin Bay and it is on the coast not far south of Margaret River township and not far north of Augusta.  This wide shallow bay has a long history of shipping and shipwrecks, timber milling and exports, and more recently of tourists and holidaymaking.  But the thing that Hamelin Bay is most famous for is stingrays; smooth stingrays, black stingrays and eagle rays live in the bay and they gracefully venture right into the shallow waters alongside swimmers and snorkelers.  (Now for many people that situation brings to mind a very famous negative suffered by a dear departed khaki-clad wildlife-botherer, but thankfully I have no need to gloss over any similar misadventures.)

Despite signs saying "Please don't feed the stingrays", people not only feed the stingrays but they pat them then drunkenly marvel at their big tails.  We didn't do any of that because I am prissy and tend to do what signs tell me to do, but we did get an incredibly close view.  The biggest specimen we saw was nearly two metres across.  Since we moved to Australia I have unintentionally swum with stingrays several times, but seeing these amazing creatures as we did in Hamelin Bay is for me a far superior (and less terrifying) experience.

We wandered over to the deserted neighbouring bay and rested there.  We looked out from lookouts, marveled at the sheer beauty of the coastline, walked in the bush and sat on the beach and read; I pushed from my mind all thoughts of my car still holidaying at a town up the coast, or of baddies possibly entering our house through its broken window (dealt to by my accidentally locked-out rescuer). 

I sat on the beach and supervised as the rest of my family went snorkeling.

I vacantly daydreamed and tried to name all the blues in the sky, the shallows and the depths: cyan and violet; lapis lazuli and sapphire; slate, smalt and steel; teal and turquoise; periwinkle, cornflower, hyacinth and hydrangea; cobalt and cerulean; azure and ultramarine; indigo, logwood and woad; wedgewood and duck egg; dear old navy.

The passing clouds dimmed the lights; my mind drifted to greys and greens.  A pair of jetskiers shattered the serenity and my mind started cataloguing all the things you see when you haven't got your gun. While my daughter stalked fish with her camera underwater, I snapped hundreds of pictures above land, none of which came close to capturing the gorgeousness of the place. 

Hamelin Bay is down the end of a no exit road and nestled in the middle of a National Park and doesn't have the built-up, millionaires-club feel of other spots along this coastline.  The only people passing through Hamelin Bay are the walkers completing the Cape to Cape Track which runs from Cape Naturaliste in the north to Cape Leeuwin in the south.  It is a wonderful place for a family holiday and I highly recommend it and the place we stayed (Hamelin Bay Holiday Park) to anyone.

Back home again and I'll just gloss over the remainder of the week when I got cauliflower ear from the many hours I had to spend on the phone fixing and sorting out various things (and waiting for the floorer...).  I'll also happily gloss over how my car moved on to its new life as a training aid for a wannabe mechanic.  Instead I'll skip forward over two more big fat rollercoaster weeks to now, where I am about to start a challenging but extremely interesting job that I just couldn't resist putting my hand up for.  I do indeed plan to move on - possibly on a bus.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Not bothered

Today I am waiting and waiting

and waiting

for some flooring action.  Again.

Today, for once, I'm not bothered.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Slow progress but a silver lining

I have had a very quiet week enjoying a form of home detention - minus the ankle bracelet.  Every day this week I have sat at home with the furniture from a different bedroom piled up around me in one living room while all the furniture and rugs from the other living room are piled up in one corner of that room to create a clear worksurface on its floor. 

And I have been waiting and waiting and waiting.  All week I have been waiting for the floorer to arrive.  I have now learnt that the hour he will actually arrive and what he will actually achieve each day will bear no relation to what I was led to expect. But he definitely is making progress and thankfully my expectations about the quality of the job and the finished look of the products have been met.

We now have flooring in the kitchen and dining room (it is that Marmoleum above).  The children now have flooring in their bedrooms (more Marmoleum).

I ended up giving the Lego pit/library/study (otherwise known as a living room) plain old painted concrete (Berger Jet Dry) as a temporary measure because we plan to hack about at that room at some stage down the track.  However we love the floor in that room far out of proportion with its cost (about $50).

Now I can see the finish line.  Just a few rooms to go and the perpetual furniture shifting will be over. 

The enforced home time has had a silver lining though.  A few weeks ago I broke one of my small toes.  It hurt so much that I got a temporary case of Tourette syndrome and swore so much I had to apologise to my daughter, but I didn't get a chance to rest it as I was too busy galavanting around with Mum.  Eventually my foot looked as if I had one of these monstrosities stuck to the side of it.  Now, after a week of home detention resting my foot on the cool painted concrete, I can finally wudge it into footwear again.  Maybe by the time the floorer finally finishes I'll even be able to walk properly again.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Very Important Visitors

Perth is currently undergoing lots of last-minute sprucing up because at the end of the month it is hosting a whole bunch of very important visitors. Homeless people are being swept up and moved along, a controversial new law was passed to temporarily give the police ‘special powers’ (The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting Special Powers Bill), and various long-broken things are getting fixed.  As is often the case with these things, the CHOGM visitors, including the Queen, will see a sanitised and in some ways idealised version of Perth.

One instance of this is the Big Aussie Barbecue which the Queen, her husband, the public and no doubt many hundreds of specially powered police will be attending.  It is going to be an alcohol-free event so I suspect it will resemble few other Aussie barbecues ever held in the whole history of Aussie barbecues, or be anywhere near as entertaining. 

I don't know whether we'll make it to Perth during CHOGM but we have certainly spent a lot of time there lately as we had a very important visitor of our own to take around to see the sights.  My Mum was here for a week, camping in our half-unpacked and floorcoveringless house.  On our travels around Perth we saw many workmen scurrying around rolling out lawn and building some somewhat surprising new gardens.  We sniggered at a floral mural that spelt out CHOGM with petunias and panolas (fancypants pansies) and guffawed over a blousy floral City of Perth crest. These kitschy concoctions are springing up all over Perth. 

Why I find these time-warp gardens filled with naff little plants so bizarre is because Perth and Western Australia look amazing at this time of the year anyway without this sort of twee horticultural contrivance.  Western Australia has an incredible array of unique and amazingly beautiful flowering plants and spring is when they are at their best.  People come from all over the world to see them and quite rightly so as they are breathtakingly gorgeous.  Why the new CHOGM gardens weren't made containing these treasures is a mystery to me.

Western Australian wildflowers can be seen in their natural state in many places around the state but the easiest way to get a whizz-bang, action-packed experience of them is to go to King's Park in central Perth.  I love it there at any time of the year but in spring it is quite simply fabulous.  Mum kept saying "I had no idea it was so beautiful here!" Here are some snaps I took there last week.

Many of CHOGM's very important visitors will get to go to King's Park too as the Leaders' Retreat will be housed in a restaurant there - with the newly refurbished Victorian-style floral clock right outside....  But hopefully they will also get a chance to explore the park further and to see the wonderful, uniquely Western Australian spectacle that is King's Park in spring, as that really is a sight fit for a King.  Or a Queen.

Monday, October 10, 2011

We moved. Nobody died.

Last weekend we moved house.  As my sister rather accurately and succinctly put it, "Moving house is hideous".  Yes, it was.  The movers arrived two hours early but given that I'd rather naively scheduled our move for the same day and time as the AFL grand final, it was tricky enough to secure movers at all so I didn't complain.  I did however have to do some rather hasty packing.  But now that the move and cleanup are history, and we are settling in to our new home, the many advantages of being in this house far outweigh the hassles and disadvantages of moving.  We are loving our new digs apart from a couple of things.

The first is that, just like at the last house, the phone line sounds like we are in a snowstorm in Antarctica and the internet connection drops out every few minutes.  At the last house it took four weeks and me faking a serious case of early-onset grumpy old woman syndrome for Telstra to finally come and fix it, so who knows how long this time.

The second is that something I'd wanted for a long time finally happened, though not exactly in the way I'd hoped.  For years my favourite possession has been a large, white bowl by potter John Parker.  I've always hoped to eventually own more than one piece of his pottery.  Now I do.  It seems that "speed packing" needs to be added to the list of tasks I'm rubbish at.  Thankfully though, judging by the reactions I've had to our house so far, it looks like turning a sow's ear of a house into a silk purse house can be added to my "not rubbish at" list.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

This is not my beautiful house

Working on our house project has made me more focused than ever before on housey things.  I've always had a bit of a thing for architecture books and interior design magazines, but now that I'm working on our own project and constantly selecting, sourcing and installing various products, I'll admit to becoming just a little obsessed.  I knew I had it bad the other day when I had a few renovations done in my mouth and I had to work very hard to resist asking my dentist where he'd got his dishy bench tops from.

The rest of the family are not immune to this.  As we get about on our daily business we find ourselves having conversations about window styles and pebble colours, roof lines and design crimes.  (The pictures throughout this post are of various weird and wonderful houses around these parts.  None of them are my beautiful house, though the very last photo is of something I own.) I don't expect we'll be like this forever as our plan is to move in and get on with our lives, and then look back and laugh at our numerous painful outings to hardware stores where at least one of our party ended up with that "someone just kill me now" look in their eyes.

Throughout this project Interwebland has been my best friend.  I have been constantly amazed by the number of people, both professional and amateur, who continually renovate, redecorate and restyle homes, then post evidence of their projects online.  Type any old paint colour, style of light fitting or floor covering into Mr Google and you'll find someone who has not only used it but beautifully photographed and documented the results for grateful folk like me to benefit from.

I'd like to be that generous but our project is very modest and simple and besides, we move house this coming Saturday so I'm a tad too busy.  Here below is where we'll most likely be moving to.

No, that is not my beautiful house.  That is my beautiful, hangar-sized shed.  Unless a miracle happens between now and Saturday we'll be shifting most of our worldly goods in to there, but given how many shed-dwelling redback spiders I've rehomed I draw the line at sleeping in there.

The hold-up is that the rolls of flooring are still sitting in the house like great galumphing elephants in the room.  The floor-layer has had an accident and busted his hand.  I haven't been hassling him because a) he is nice, and b) he knows full well how we are placed, and c) I reckon that a floor layer with a busted hand has quite enough hassles already.  But I will admit to thinking more than once "How did I get here? What have I done?"

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


No renovating today as I had too many other appointments stacked up.  I did pop to the new house to drop a few things off though and noticed that a minor miracle had happened ... flooringdude has obviously been in there as one batch of the flooring is in the building.   Apparently it needs to acclimatise!

Hopefully by the time I next pop in there more than just the sample patch will be glowing with beetrooty-coloured goodness. 

Early on in this process we had to face the somewhat vexing question of whether to decorate the house for a) the Mandurah resale market or b) for us to enjoy living in for however long we live here - and no, given the decor in the hundreds of houses I looked at before we bought I'd say those two things are most certainly not the same.  Obviously we chose the latter option and only time will tell whether we succeed in making this house completely unsaleable.  The product above is marmoleum by Forbo in the colour Bleeckerstreet.  It's not for the faint-hearted but then I'm not scared of flooring, and besides it is only going in a small part of the house.

And speaking of unsaleable, I didn't take proper "before" photos because I was so keen to rip stuff out, but here is a wee snippet of what that wall and floor looked like before, when they languished on the market for over a year. 

Mmmmmmm, Grim as Grimsville.  Surely only a troglodyte or a very brave type would take that on.