Monthly Archives: October 2014

When You Are Old by William Butler Yeats -YOUR FAVOURITE POEM

I love these poems by William Butler Yeats

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William Butler Yeats was the most famous Irish poet of all time, and his poems of unrequited love for the beautiful and dangerous revolutionary Maud Gonne helped make her almost as famous as he was in Ireland. The first poem below is Yeats’ loose translation of a Ronsard poem, in which Yeats imagines the love of his life in her later years, tending a waning fire. The second poem, “The Wild Swans at Coole” is surely one of the most beautiful poems ever written, in any language.

When You Are Old

by William Butler Yeats

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
Bu

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Chemo Brain…the Likely Culprit.

I just wanted to update you quickly after my appointment with my neurologist yesterday. While it’s quite cathartic to write humorous posts to deal with difficult situations, I felt I needed to stop being the clown and remove the mask.

The jury is still out on what’s causing my memory problems. It’s looking like chemo brain is the most likely explanation for my memory troubles and my neurologist has recommended eating lots of green leafy veggies, a multi-vitamin high in vitamin B but I also need to have a brain MRI and a neuro-psych assessment.

In case you haven’t had a neuro-psych assessment, it’s where a psychologist asks you a whole heap of questions like: what’s the name of the Prime Minister, count backwards by 7 and what’s the day of the week. Fortunately, they don’t ask you where you left your car keys or what you did with that school note last week. That said, some times even the day of the week could be problematic. Unless you’re Einstein, I’d say most of us don’t like the idea of someone tinkering around inside our heads.

Even if there is a medical justification for my memory troubles, I still don’t want to get the questions wrong. I have my pride and can still hear the humiliation of an entire classroom of kids laughing in my face. Growing up doesn’t erase the horrors of being picked  on at school and most of us have copped it at one time or another.

While I’ve done these tests before and can recall at least some of the questions, I’m trying to stop myself from rehearsing the answers:100, 93, 86, 79…

As much as I don’t want to make a mistake, it would be an even bigger mistake to cover-up my weaknesses. I’d ultimately only be cheating myself.

Meanwhile, I’m taking comfort that my writing is still going well and that I’m playing my violin and these are both mentally, if not physically, complex tasks. There’s still some sort of activity going on upstairs.

By the way, the brain MRI will check for the deadly brain virus with the long name I mentioned in my last post. Apparently, it’s statistically very unlikely: about 1 in 50,000. However, these days stats don’t appease my concerns. The chances of having dermatomyositis were much less at 100,000 to 1 and I struck the jackpot there. Once you have one statistically rare disease, the odds mean nothing.

The neurologist has also ordered some additional blood tests.

Meanwhile, while I’m waiting to get these tests underway, I’m self-medicating. Once you’ve been through chemo, a few bits of chocolate are absolutely harmless.

To read my post about cyberchondria click here: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2014/10/27/terminal-cyberchondria-yes-please/

xx Rowena

Terminal Cyberchondria…Yes! Please!

Being a blogger, a writer, reader and someone who likes to take responsibility for their own health, I’m a prime candidate for Terminal Cyberchondria. While not necessarily terminal in the sense of being life-threatening, you catch Cyberchondria from your computer terminal and more specifically by surfing the Internet for a diagnosis when you have more than a few “vague symptoms”.

Of course, having cyberchondria assumes that you are catastrophising again and your suspicions are wrong. That you have more chance of being killed in a car accident, or while riding a bike, than contracting that dreaded disease. No chance at all!! You don’t even need to cross your fingers, pray, say your Hail Mary’s. It’s all made up. In that great Australian tradition:”you’ll be right mate”!

However, once you’ve been struck by one or two rare, life-threatening diseases, that automatically opens the flood gates for you to develop any weird and wonderful disease… even the dreaded Ebola virus. After all, it only takes one infected person to board a train and it will spread faster than wildfire.

Well, I don’t have to worry about catching Ebola.

That has nothing to do with the fact that I live in Australia. Rather, you can pronounce and even spell Ebola and people have heard about it. That gives me automatic immunity. I specialize in the weird stuff…phenomenon even the doctors have to Google.

Anyway, since I had chemo at the start of the year, I’ve been having serious short-term memory issues and virtually no concept of time. For quite awhile, I’ve written these difficulties off as chemo brain, which is quite a common experience. In a way, this has been an interesting, quirky, experiment but I’ve now decided that it’s gone on long enough. I’m seeing my neurologist tomorrow.

There is quite a list of possibilities for my memory troubles:

  1. Chemo brain.
  2. Menopause.
  3. My shunt playing up. (I have hydrocephalus)
  4. Staying up too late.

However, I also started wondering whether these memory difficulties were side-effects of the new drugs I’ve been taking since I finished chemo. I’m on a drug called cellcept, which represses your immune system.

Google: a cyberchondriac's best friend.

Google: a cyberchondriac’s best friend.

When I Googled its side-effects, that’s when cyberchondria really kicked in. These side-effects include a virus that attacks your brain. In keeping with the unpronounceable dermatomyositis, this brain infection is called progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML). PML can be fatal. Symptoms include clumsiness, weakness that keeps getting worse, not being able to move or use one side of the body, and changes in vision, speech or personality (such as not caring about things that you usually care about and confusion).

After finding out the name of this dreaded disease, I’m wondering whether the people who name these weird and wonderful diseases and conditions, go fishing in their alphabet soup to put the names together. It has been hard enough to deal with “Dermatomyositis”, which is a serious mouthful but it only had 14 letters. The last word alone in PML has 19 letters. That must mean it’s very nasty indeed.

Going fishing in their alphabet soup. Is this how scientists name rare diseases? I'm starting to wonder...

Going fishing in their alphabet soup. Is this how scientists name rare diseases? I’m starting to wonder…

When I discussed the complexity of these medical terms with Geoff, he pointed out that they are intended to be descriptions so a medical person can quickly identify what is likely to be a complex medical situation far better than simply calling it: “Fred the Super Really Bad Disease That’s Going to kill You”. I can see his point but that still doesn’t help me explain what I’ve got and get any kind of acknowledgement from anyone outside the medical fraternity.

Ironically, while I have these two exceptionally rare medical conditions, I still have my tonsils, appendex and adenoids…all those bits people commonly have out and that’s what concerns me about PML. It’s rare enough and hard enough to pronounce, that it’s just my kind of disease.

You see, despite the cyberchonriacs, there are those rare winners of life’s rare lotteries who actually have what they thought they had. Yes, they actually have contracted one of these exceptionally rare, systemic, really nasty diseases. You know the type of thing that used to show up on the hit medical series House. Instead of being free to continue their explorations in cyberspace, before they even know what’s hit them they’ve been admitted to hospital. Yes, the proverbial Mac truck of bad luck was heading their way and they’ve just taken a very direct hit.

That’s me.

Dermatomyositis is a rare, systemic auto-immune disease where your muscles and skin attack themselves. It affects about 1 in 100,000 people and I’ve only met one or two people with the disease. You can get painful skin rashes and your muscles breakdown resulting in muscle weakness and wastage. While there is no cure, there is treatment which is largely effective although my case has proved more difficult to manage than average. The way I see it, I’m fighting myself and being rather strong willed, it’s been quite a battle. Dermatomyositis can also affect your breathing, swallowing and digestion and there are also the side-effects of the drugs and treatments. I am really surprised that I don’t glow in the dark after all my treatments. I’ve even had the Big C. That’s right. They’ve even blasted it with chemo. Thank goodness it worked.

However, while the medical treatments can be annoying, the hardest thing about having dermatomyositis has to be trying to explain it to anybody. I don’t know if you recall the Decore shampoo   commercial a few years ago where they had the person singing in the shower going: “D…D…D…Decore…Decore”. Dermatomyositis should be classified as some kind of tongue twister. I gave up trying to explain it years ago and just said I had muscular dystrophy. I thought it was a form of MD but it’s officially a neuro-muscular disease. Consequently, I now say it’s related to Muscular Dystrophy. However, if our son is around, he smiles with a baffled expression and tells people point blank: “You don’t want to know.”

Anyway, when you have a very rare disease, it opens the floodgates for all sorts of other conditions. After all, no one can tell you that rare can’t happen to you. Your last name might not be Murphy but bad luck sure knows how to find you!! It has your landline, your mobile and even your email address.

There’s a famous quote from the movie Casablanca which makes me smile:

“Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine…”

That might have happened with dermatomyositis but hopefully, progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy has somewhere else to go. It will board that plane with Ilse and Victor Laslo and disappear way beyond the clouds. Poof!

Goodbye Progressive Multifocal Leukoencephalopathy  (PML). Have a nice life!!

Goodbye Progressive Multifocal Leukoencephalopathy (PML). Have a nice life!!

Wish me luck with the neurologist tomorrow.

I don’t mind being told that I’ve over-reacted. A bad case of Terminal Cyberchondria is exactly what this patient has ordered.

xx Rowena.

If you are looking for information about dermatomyositis, which is a form of myositis:

The Myositis Association of America: http://www.myositis.org/learn-about-myositis/types-of-myositis/dermatomyositis

The Myositis Association of Australia: http://myositis.org.au/

The Writer’s Journey… Graeme Simsion: The Rosie Project

As I mentioned in my previous post, last week I attended an author talk with Graeme Simsion, the author of the best-selling novels: The Rosie Project and The Rosie Effect.

While I have my dignity, I must confess that meeting Graeme Simsion sent me into something of a manic frenzy. I was uber-excited, although not quite to the level of Marcia Brady’s rapture when Davy Jones kissed her : “I can’t believe Davy Jones kissed me! I’ll never wash this cheek again.”

As you have probably gathered by now, I’ve really enjoyed the Rosie books and am almost frothing at the mouth telling everyone I meet to read them!

You could ask why meeting Graeme Simsion was such a rush. Yes, I loved the books but I have loved plenty of books. However, not all of the authors have bothered to talk locally in downtown Umina Beach, a place better known for its local caravan park and golden beach. While we live in a place of serene beauty, we are definitely off the beaten track when it comes to the author’s circuit. So, I was pretty impressed that he’d made the trip.

I walk in and spot Simsion at the desk signing books.

Any author encounter starts out pretty much the same. As I humbly approached Simsion with my books in hand, we make eye-contact. This is when you really get to size up what the author’s about. It’s also at this point, when you’re a bit in awe of their success that you’re tempted to start gushing. Tell them your entire life story and in this instance, tell him about every Don you’ve ever known and before you know it, you’re recommending starting a support group. I can assure you, that in my case I know an extensive list of Dons whose antics could’ve kept his pen poised ready to sign for many, many hours. However, I restrained myself and we got through the signing bit although I must admit that I did mention that I’m a writer and that I have a blog. I was just pleased that he didn’t ask me what I’d had published or how the stats on my blog were going. As a newly published author, he seems to understand that you don’t ask another writer such questions or he’d be at my book signing instead. After all, he knows just how long it can take for a writer to get where he is now.

Being a bit of a bold, intrepid admirer, I didn’t just ask him to sign the books. Rather, I went for the jugular, asking for a photo together. I’d heard it said on the X-Factor recently that the selfie is the new autograph. Anyway, when it comes to having my precious photo taken, I didn’t pull out your standard, garden-variety camera phone and go for the selfie. Oh no! Of course not! Nothing less than my Nikon SLR, which he noted was a serious camera…the photographic equivalent of Mick Dundee pulling out his knife in Crocodile Dundee. It might not have shown that I know how to write but at least my camera was impressive.

Anyway, as much as I love swanning around at literary events and having my photo taken with best-selling authors, I was there to learn. For me, writing is a serious business.

At this point, we all take to our seats for dinner and to hear what we’re all there for…the talk.

One of the things that struck me about Simsion’s journey as a writer is that he has been quite strategic, focused and methodical about how he was going to succeed. After all, he has run businesses and isn’t one of those writer’s you’d put in the dreamer category. While there were a few projects and attempts along the way, once he set his mind to it he enrolled in a screenwriting course at RMIT where The Rosie Project came to life. He decided submit it to the unpublished manuscript division of the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards and The Rosie Project won the 2012 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript. Now, that’s a great way to get noticed! The manuscript was picked up by Text Publishing and he hasn’t looked back.

That is except to tell the story of his first author’s talk.

The Nullarbor Plain, South Australia viewed from the Indian Pacific Railway.

The Nullarbor Plain, South Australia viewed from the Indian Pacific Railway.

Simsion’s first author talk was held in a South Australian country town. He didn’t name the town but if you haven’t been through outback South Australia, you wouldn’t understand the meaning of isolation. South Australia is, after all, home to the sprawling and extremely isolated Nullarbor Plain colloquially known as the “Nullar-boring”. It includes the Nullarbor “town” of Cook which has a total population of 4 and it has a shop which only opens when the Indian-Pacific train is in town. Of course, Cook is hardly representative of South Australian towns. Beyond the capital Adelaide, there’s the Barossa Valley with its world class vineyards but why let a bit of truth get in the way of a good story? Let’s just say that Simsion’s launching pad was hardly New York.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/8/80/Cook-SouthAustralia.jpg/270px-Cook-SouthAustralia.jpg

Cook, South Australia. Image Wiki Commons.

Filled with all the excitement and anticipation of giving his first talk, Simsion arrived at the local library. Much to his disappointment, the local bookseller turned up with only 10 copies of his book. When he queried this, he said: “You’re new at this, are you?” As Simsion anxiously waited for the hoards to arrive, only 8 senior ladies turned up mostly to catch up on local gossip and take advantage of the free morning tea. As if things weren’t already looking dismal enough, the local librarian then told the crowd that they didn’t have to buy the book. They could borrow it from the library. Great! However, Simsion who says that the support of “the local bookshop” has been pivotal to his success, turned things around encouraging his recalcitrant audience to buy books as gifts and the copies quickly sold out.

From these humble beginnings, The Rosie Project has since topped the Independent Bookseller lists and plans are in motion for the movie. Simsion is now very much in demand and is currently touring the country with over 80 author talks ahead and the books are selling like hot cakes!

Just goes to show that taking a chance, persistence, honing your craft and strategic thinking can really make that difference. Yet, you’ve now heard the man, Don’t forget to start getting pally with the owner of your local bookshop. Take them coffee. Indeed, I’d even recommend dropping off some quality chocolates. That way once you’ve finally managed to get that manuscript out here and published, you’ll already be best friends for life.

However, in the meantime, I need to get “the book” finished, which after a pause in proceedings probably means hitting “restart”.

But…

Watch out South Australia. I know where you are!

Have you been to any good author talks recently? Or perhaps, you’ve spoken at your own? Do tell!

xx Rowena

Who is Don Tillman? The Rosie Project Uncovered.

Who is Don Tillman?

That’s the question I’ve been asking myself since reading Graeme Simsion’s  best-selling novel, The Rosie Project and its sequel: The Rosie Effect.

Both books were written in the first person through the voice of Don Tillman, a quirky scientist who developed a questionnaire to find a wife.  This voice is perfectly maintained throughout, giving the book a strong autobiographical feel as though there is no author. Indeed, Simsion has climbed so deeply inside Don Tillman’s skin, that I had to ask…Is he Don Tillman? They’re seemingly one and the same.

For those of you who haven’t read the books, Don Tillman, reminds me of Sheldon from the hit TV series Big Bang Theory. Yet, although they’re birds of a feather, Don is very much his own man. Well, he would be his own man if I wasn’t questioning how much of the author went into the supposed character. I also have a tough time separating Sheldon the character  from actor Jim Parsons. They also seem so seamlessly the same.

However, while I’ve never had the opportunity to meet Jim Parsons in real life, last Thursday night I had dinner with Graeme Simsion and my antennae were out. Was he Don Tillman? Or, as his creator, was he an exceptionally good impersonator?

So who is Don Tillman?

Don Tillman is an Associate-Professor of Genetics. He has an obsession with detail, is highly scheduled and when it comes to reading social situations,  he’s absolutely clueless. The crux of the book is that he’s looking for a wife. Having failed dismally at conventional dating, he’s now taking a purely logical approach and has devised a questionnaire to screen for potential wife candidates. He hypothesizes that the questionnaire will speed the process up by quickly eliminating unsuitable prospects and ultimately yielding the perfect wife.

The longer answer about Don’s identity is much more complex.

No doubt, Simsion has been asked many times if he’s Don Tillman, and came prepared. The answer is no. Apparently, the character of Don was inspired by a jogging buddy and the book, including the infamous yellow jacket incident, is based on true incidents. Yet, while Simsion denied that he is Don, he does admit to having some geek-like traits and concludes:

“There’s a bit of Don in all of us.”

Indeed, that’s the books’ appeal. That we’re not laughing at Don, but with him. We’ve been in his shoes at least once in our lifetimes, and know that dreadful, crushing all-consuming embarrassment when we make a mistake and all the dreadful, ensuing complications.

However, there are also those of us who have a bit more Don than most. Perhaps, that’s us. Or, perhaps it’s someone we love. Don is our Dad, a work colleague, our husband, a friend or even all of the above. Not that they necessarily recognize themselves in print. More than likely, they’ve also laughed through the book and missed seeing themselves in the mirror.

Apparently, that even includes Bill Gates. At the dinner, Simsion mentioned that Melinda Gates had given Bill the book:

“Melinda picked up this novel earlier this year, and she loved it so much that she kept stopping to read passages out loud to me. I started it myself at 11 p.m. one Saturday and stayed up with it until 3 the next morning. Anyone who occasionally gets overly logical will identify with the hero, a genetics professor with Asperger’s Syndrome who goes looking for a wife. (Melinda thought I would appreciate the parts where he’s a little too obsessed with optimizing his schedule. She was right.) It’s an extraordinarily clever, funny, and moving book about being comfortable with who you are and what you’re good at. I’m sending copies to several friends and hope to re-read it later this year. This is one of the most profound novels I’ve read in a long time.[1]

This, of course, brings The Rosie Project and The Rosie Effect back to me.

It is certainly no secret that I absolutely love these books and have almost been flagging strangers down in the street recommending they read it. With all the millions and millions of books in this world and given that my house is bursting at the seams with books, what is it about these books? Why are they so special?

Personally, I related to the chaotic, seemingly disorganized character of Rosie in The Rosie Project. Rosie is spontaneous and chaotic like myself and I pictured her as a bit of a wild character with black lipstick, locks of wild red curly hair which she swirled into a bun and wearing vintage clothing. I have also know quite a few Don’s in my time, and taken them clothes shopping and given them dating advice.

However, as I was swept along by the story, I didn’t twig that I’d only ever seen Rosie through Don’s eyes. However, in The Rosie Effect, there are just a couple of lines of dialogue between the members of her study group, which revealed that Rosie is more like Don than I’d thought. That it’s more than likely that Rosie is on the Autism Spectrum as well.

Before I head off, I just wanted to emphasize that neither of these books judge or ridicule people on the Autism Spectrum. If anything, they lift the lid on the Autistic mind and help us better understand some its quirks and some of the ways it beats to a different drum. There’s perhaps an implicit hope that through this greater understanding, that we could become more inclusive as a community. Less judgemental. Indeed, wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a more diverse, eclectic and inclusive community where there is no prescription to belong? You simply come as you are and you’re in.

I will write more about what I learned about Graeme Simsion the man and the writer in my next post. As you can see it was a very productive evening and I even left buying another set of books to give away to some treasured friends.

Have you read the books? If so, I’d love to hear your reflections!

Xx Rowena

PS I was researching dyslexia tonight and came across this spelling of Asberger’s which made me laugh: “My son has mild arseburgers”. Someone commented: “arseburgers” – a minced rump steak?

[1] Bill Gates, http://www.gatesnotes.com/Books/The-Rosie-Project, July 12, 2014.

Surviving A Booktastrophe.

It turns out that I must have been building the Tower of Babel because my tower of books came tumbling down all of their own accord.

My husband who was the chief eyewitness, swears he was on the other side of the room at the time when he heard a rumble and a crumble as my precious tower of good intentions crashed dramatically to the ground.

He’s always been wary of my dubious stacking techniques but after filling the boot at the local scout book sale and supporting our local independent bookstores and buying a few titles online and did I mention that we even raided a friend’s stash which had been bound for the op shop, the house is almost made of books.

Books, books, more books. We can’t get enough books.

Now, the problem is what to do with them all.

Yes, reading them would be a start but it will take years… decades… more than a lifetime!

Any ideas or perhaps confessions from other chronic bibliophiles?

I’d love to feel supported when the next savage minimalist appears at my door and wants to sort the place out. They always seem to point their discerning finger straight at the books: out!

However,perhaps you’ll appreciate that these wonderful misunderstood and undervalued items of clutter are actually friends and are much closer to me than soul mates. They share the rhythmic beating of my heart.

Anyway, I’m on the look out for some more real estate…I mean bookshelves. Somehow I need to find homes for the new additions.

xx Rowena

xx Rowena

Jamie Oliver…the Unspoken Story.

As much as Jamie Oliver enthuses about the virtues of healthy, home-cooked meals, I don’t recall him ever mentioning the washing up…!!

Takeaway and paper plates are now looking very appealing.

That said, we all enjoyed our Jamie Oliver supposedly simple Lasagna which included such basic ingredients as minced pork belly, pancetta, coriander seeds and creme fraiche.

My version of Jamie Oliver's infamous Lasagna.

My version of Jamie Oliver’s infamous Lasagna.

Given that these days Jamie Oliver has become a quasi Australian given his campaign with Woolworths, don’t you think he needs to update the recipe with a Vegemite version?

That said, thanks to foreign ownership, Vegemite is as Australian as the Australian Women’s Weekly (now German owned) and…(drum roll)…Jamie Oliver!

Enjoy your meal and the washing up!

xx Rowena

PS: By the way, I should point out that we have a dishwasher but I don’t like putting my good pans in there and once I get started, I might as well do the awkward stuff.

PPS: Yes, those kids are about to get a further initiation into the fine art of washing up. It will be good for their souls!

Yoda: A Food Journey to SE Asia in Sydney.

For something like the last 3 months, I’ve been trying to write a post about our favourite restaurant, Yoda. Yoda is located in Avalon, just south of Palm Beach in Sydney’s Northern Beaches and specialises in South-East Asian street food.

I was quite excited when I stumbled across Yoda. It has been a long time since I’ve been able to visit SE Asia and when I was there last, I had the sort of lurid gastro that could’ve scored me a certain role in Monty Python’s movie The Meaning of Life. Therefore, I was looking forward to going into Yoda and having the whole Eat, Pray Love experience, close to home without getting sick.

Yoda is owned and operated by couple Michelle and Brendan. Brendan runs the kitchen. I don’t know what his official classification is whether he is a chef, a cook or just a brilliant actor but the food is sumptuously good. Michelle is the beaming smile who greets you on arrival and it doesn’t take long for you to feel right at home. Actually, when you dine at Yoda, you feel like you’re in their lounge room at a big dinner party. Of course, everybody sticks to their own table but being on the insular peninsula, everyone doesn’t quite know each other but there’s often a flash of recognition. We’re from out of town and even we knew someone. Of course, if you’re there for a romantic meal and just wanting to stare into each others’ eyes, you can also do that, although Yoda also home-delivers.

Yoda has what’s known as an open kitchen, which is located at the heart of the restaurant. This means diners can watch Brendan and his team at work, which certainly creates a bit of theatre. At the same time, I admire Michelle and Brendan’s courage. How many couples can work successfully together at all, let alone in the public pressure cooker environment of a hot, super busy, open restaurant kitchen? There’s no room for anyone to chuck a “Gordon Ramsay” let alone have a domestic. Yet, of course, Michelle and Brendan are all genuine smiles.

Our family at Yoda celebrating my birthday in July.

Our family at Yoda celebrating my birthday in July.

Even though we have been to Yoda quite a few times, I found writing about experiences proved so much harder than I’d thought. I wasn’t setting out to be a food or restaurant critic. I simply wanted to share a sensational experience. After all, vicarious experience is one of the beauties about blogging on the world wide web.

Not having written a restaurant review before, I wasn’t quite sure what to address and as I started thinking about the decor, my mind went blank. I just remembered Michelle’s beaming smile and the sumptuous flavours of the food and in particular the magnificent mango with sticky rice for dessert. I asked Geoff if he knew what colour the walls were and he replied very matter-of-factly: “How should I know? I don’t go to a restaurant based on the colour of the walls.”

Good point.

Of course, when we had been out to Yoda for dinner, I wasn’t in food critic mode and hadn’t taken along a note book, camera or even my phone. We were there to eat, chat and absorb the lively ambience. Anyway, I decided to cheat and we went back on Sunday afternoon with the kids and the dog in tow to do the required research. I know this might also sound funny but I also wanted to introduce Michelle to our dog Bilbo as she had been minding a friend’s Border Collie recently. Perhaps, you don’t know what it’s like but when you own or are even associated with the same breed of dog, you are virtually family. Moreover, that’s what Yoda is all about…warm, friendly and community-minded. It is also personal and of course, we’re all on a first name basis.

When we turned up unannounced, Brendan was more than happy for me to photograph the cooking in action and while looking at the kitchen through the focused gaze of my SLR, I appreciated the organisation that goes on behind a busy kitchen. There’s no time to pull the kitchen cupboard apart searching for that missing, essential ingredient or dash to the supermarket either. Behind all that friendly, casual dining is a lot of tight planning and organisation just like the duck who seemingly glides so effortlessly over the water while madly paddling its feet underwater.

Behind the relaxed, casual Yoda experience is detailed preparation and organisation.

Behind the relaxed, casual Yoda experience is detailed preparation and organisation.

I made a mental note. Perhaps, I, too, could become an oasis of calm organisation cooking at home.

I can also confirm that the walls were actually red, not orange.

However, I haven’t discussed the name.

Now, just in case you watch Big Bang Theory and you are thinking Yoda is just the place to take Sheldon out for dinner, it doesn’t have a Star Wars theme although there is a small statue of Yoda. However, all is not lost. On the 4th May each year, they have a Star Wars night to celebrate International Star Wars Day. (May the Fourth Be With You!)

Last, but certainly by no means least, there’s the food itself. The food has an exotic blend of Asian flavours which really tickled our taste buds. That’s my way of saying that I loved the food but am too unsophisticated to break it down into its individual components. My justification is that too much analysis can ruin a great meal!

The menu itself has been very carefully prepared and you’ll notice various symbols throughout as meals are marked child-friendly gluten-free and I believe the chilli is kept fairly mild because the menu asks you to tell them if you want it spicy.

Mister and I enjoying the Mussels steamed with coconut & ginger broth. The sauce was divine.

Mister and I enjoying the Mussels steamed with coconut & ginger broth. The sauce was divine.

We haven’t tried everything on the menu but my favourite main would be Vietnamese chicken cabbage salad with peanuts, roast garlic & house dressing for $18.00, although the Tea smoked duck with freshly spiced orange sauce & coriander salad at $20.00 is a close second. The whole family also enjoyed the Mussels steamed with coconut & ginger broth served with roti for $20.00…especially our ten year old son. We can’t go past the warm sticky rice, mango & coconut sauce for dessert although on our last visit we finally ventured out and ordered the Pandan creme brulee which is a traditional creme brulee infused with pandan.

Miss enjoys a non-alcoholic pina colada

Miss enjoys a non-alcoholic pina colada

We are regulars at Yoda and have been there for more intimate nights as a couple, as a family with the kids and also with my parents. Probably the best reference for the place comes from our kids who love the restaurant, love the food and actually eat. Michelle has actually been impressed at how they try new foods and flavours and are more adventurous than most kids. What she doesn’t realise is that our kids are both fairly light, picky eaters so it is a real testimony to the food.

Wally sought help from the Force and consulted Yoda.

Wally sought help from the Force and consulted Yoda.

So if you feel like paying Yoda a visit, here is their website which includes menus:http://www.yodafood.com.au/index.php

Enjoy!

xx Rowena

Exploring Our Borrowed Backyard, Palm Beach.

We can’t all be Christopher Columbus or Captain Cook exploring the high seas in search of hidden lands. However, we should never overlook the many treasures in our own backyards. Most of the time, they’re not even buried but staring us straight in the face. You could say that I’m lucky because our borrowed backyard is particularly stunning but many of the houses and the boats around here are left vacant, which always strikes me as odd. I’m sure every house has its story. However, I am here and I am definitely making the most of every single second. Well, at least that’s my intention.

Our Border Collie Bilbo out on the mud flats. No doubt he is looking for his tennis ball. He doesn't care about the view and certainly tries to avoid the water.

Our Border Collie Bilbo is out searching for the meaning of life. For him, that meaning is very simple. It’s his tennis ball and of course…food! Although he swears that all his bulk is only fur, we know a coverup when we see one.

It just so happens that our borrowed backyard is a tidal expanse of mud and sand stretching from Careel Bay, Avalon through to Dark Gully, Palm Beach. While mud might not have the instant appeal of golden beach sand, it has a certain je ne sais quoi and a squelch factor which is hard to beat. I don’t know if this kind of mud is any good for your skin or whether it’s full of glow in the dark heavy metals which have nothing to do with thrashing guitars but it is fun with a capital F…especially for kids and nature lovers alike. The crabs particularly love it although I wish they’d grow a little bigger!!

A Miss in mud.

A Miss in mud.

Setting out from the Avalon end, I’ll let you in on what was a fleeting, temporary find. We found a lounge room set up in the mangroves. Somebody, had picked up what had been fairly top of the line cane chairs from one of the council cleanup piles beside the road and set them up along side an upturned wooden crate as a table and a lounge chair. I was quite excited to stumble into this secret world.Conjuring images of drinking port by candlelight Dead Poet’s Society style once the weather warmed up, I was looking forward to sneaking in late one night after sunset when the tide wasn’t in. However, when I returned only a few days later, it was gone. Removed. I gather this little makeshift venue wasn’t considered suitably “Palm Beach” and somebody had made a fatal call to council.

Just perfect for a Dead Poet's Society...the lounge room in the mangroves.

Just perfect for a Dead Poet’s Society…the lounge room in the mangroves. Shame it was only so temporary.

Before you start noticing the critters in the mud, you’ll be struck by the amazing array of bird life. 116 species of birds have been recorded as having been seen in Careel Bay, no doubt feasting on all the baby fish. Of course, there are the usual seagulls and every now and then the plovers take up residence, nesting in one of the empty backyards and fiercely dive bombing passers-by screeching and squawking as well.They can be a real terrifying menace…especially for the kids.

Grey Heron at Sunset, Pittwater. Really makes me wish to be a bird!

Grey Heron at Sunset, Pittwater. Really makes me wish to be a bird!

Much more impressive, are the stately grey Herons.

There are also a few pelicans. I’ve loved pelicans ever since I watched the movie Storm Bay based on the novel by Colin Thiele as a child. Pelicans have always been “Mr Percivals” like the pelican from the film.

Most beautiful of the land birds you’ll find around Careel Bay are the Rainbow Lorikeets.

There are large flocks of Sulphur-Crested Cockatoos along the waterfront sustained as much by people, as the food nature provides.

There are large flocks of Sulphur-Crested Cockatoos along the waterfront sustained as much by people, as the food nature provides.

You’ll also spot the odd Sulphur Crested Cockatoo during the day but the cockatoos take over centre stage just before sunset when they congregate in the trees along the waterfront before swooping en masse across Careel Bay performing a deafening sunset screech as they head for the National Park. It’s quite a spectacle to watch , although you might need a good set of ear plugs. They’re almost as deafening as a heavy metal band.

Crab of unspecified type. Wish I could zap it with my wand and I won't mention the rest.

Crab of unspecified type. Wish I could zap it with my wand and I won’t mention the rest.

You don’t even need to take a close look at the mud to notice the many, many holes which turn the mud into some kind of moonscape. Towards the Avalon end, the sand crabs rule the roost and as you move towards Palm Beach and Dark Gully, the soldier crabs have set up residence. These are amazing critters which march in their thousands across the mud, raised up on legs like stilts. They look like something out of Star Wars. These crabs can be a little bit scary to a certain person when they’re on the move but the rest of us find them intriguingly spectacular.

Soldier crab.

Soldier crab.

There’s also poetry in the mud with the ebb and flow of the tides. You really find out what it means that the tide waits for no one living on the edge of a tidal zone. While you’re getting yourself organised to get out on the kayak, the water miraculously disappears and you’re left high and dry. When the tide goes out, an entire underwater world is magically revealed and it’s way to far to lug out the kayak. Likewise, I’ve been caught out and the tide has come in while I’ve been out walking. Most of the time, it doesn’t matter if we get a bit wet but it’s not so good for visitors heading back home on the ferry without a change of clothes.

However, there’s not just poetry but also art out there in the mud.

Art in the crumbling boat ramps which are slowly being eaten by moss and colonised by oysters which convert their simple wooden pillars onto ornate Grecian columns.

Surprisingly, there are a few rather dead looking boat ramps along the waterfront. They remind me of Wordsworth's poem: "The Deserted Village". I also see this as the seas reclaiming its ground. Mankind thinks we can tame the sea but...

Surprisingly, there are a few rather dead looking boat ramps along the waterfront. They remind me of Wordsworth’s poem: “The Deserted Village”. I also see this as the seas reclaiming its ground. Mankind thinks we can tame the sea but…

There’s also art in the amazing ripples through the mud.

Art in nature...such incredible ripples in the sand.

Art in nature…such incredible ripples in the sand.

Eventually, as our walk continues, we reach Dark Gully. Dark Gully is a small cove which opens up into quite an expanse of mud at low tide. It is called Dark Gully because it is shaded from the sun. I have always loved exploring and was delighted to find a little creek flowing into Dark Gully. I tried walking along it a bit but didn’t get very far as it is rather smelly and overgrown. Much better looking at the photos.

Dark Gully, Palm Beach looking out onto Pittwater at low tide.

Dark Gully, Palm Beach looking out onto Pittwater at low tide.

As you walk around Dark Gully, you will spot an intriguing sandstone cave with a door. I’m convinced that it’s a pirate’s lair but haven’t spotted any comings and goings quite yet. Obviously, the pirates come and go by water at night when there’s a full moon and a high tide. After all, pirates need to be discreet and keep their headquarters under wraps.

I have also enjoyed watching the clouds roll by and even soaking in their reflections in the shallows.

Dreaming by the Sea...cloud reflections at Dark Gully, Palm Beach.

Dreaming by the Sea…cloud reflections at Dark Gully, Palm Beach.

Last but not least are all the dog walkers along the flats.

After all my bad press, Lady found herself on the lead when we went walking with Geoff. She walked very, very nicely as well. Could teach Bilbo a thing or two!

After all my bad press, Lady found herself on the lead when we went walking with Geoff. She walked very, very nicely as well. Could teach Bilbo a thing or two!

As much as I love exploring the mud and shallows finding all sorts of crabs, birds and exotic critters, I have to say that my favourite experience on the mud flats has been watching the sunset over the water. The entire sky can turn a brilliant orange and this is reflected in the rippled waters down below. Sometimes, the sunset looks like thick oozy melting cheese and is such a magnficently bright golden yellow. Even though I am quite a stress head, even I manage to relax and unwind watching these sunsets and being on the East coast, it is a rare thing to see the sunset over a body of water.

The sun setting over Pittwater, Palm Beach.

The sun setting over Pittwater, Palm Beach.

sunset Palm Beach

Lady at Palm Beach

As the sun sets over Palm Beach, school holidays are rapidly drawing to a close. It’s going to be very, very hard to go home.

xx Rowena