Tag Archives: Avalon

Palm Beach Perspectives, Sydney, Australia.

Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.

-Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor (161-180 CE)

Known as Summer Bay to lovers of the TV Drama series Home & Away and “Palmy” to those in the know, generation after generation have made the long drive up to Palm Beach often returning with sand-encrusted butts, sunburn and shocking tempers in a stinking hot car full of flies. Of course, that’s turning the clock back to the inimitable 70s when going to Palm Beach for us, meant piling into the family’s beloved HG Holden which had painfully hot upholstery and no air-conditioning. Ouch!

Palm Beach is located 41 kilometres North of Sydney’s CBD. However, I can assure you that if you’re catching the legendary L90 bus, welcome to eternity. Indeed, the journey takes around 2 hours. If you were traveling in Europe, you could well have traversed a few countries in that time. Moreover, bus is the only form of public transport. At least historically speaking, trains have been resisted.

On the other hand, if you are coming from the Central Coast, Palm Beach is only a stone’s throw away. You can catch the Palm Beach Ferry from either Ettalong or Wagstaff, which is an absolutely stunning 30 minute trip. When that gorgeous Australian sun is illuminating the ocean like a magical diamond carpet and the wind isn’t too strong, you’re in absolute paradise. On the other hand, when there’s heavy rain, strong winds, the ferry is heaving up and down through what feels like treacherous surf and you’re about to throw up; you feel like you deserve a bravery award once you reach the other side. Yes, at times like that, you even wonder if you’re about to become a modern version of the Swiss Family Robinson or remake Gilligan’s Island. Melodrama aside, the crew are very adept and the ferry is cancelled during particularly rough weather.

Palm Beach is an absolute kaleidoscope of perspectives, like any place, once you scratch beneath the surface. Obviously, creating that sort of mosaic, isn’t possible here so I’ll stick to the bigger picture, providing more of a broad-sweeping overview which a few “local” insights.

Geographically-speaking, Palm Beach has two quite opposite perspectives: the surf beach and Pittwater. The beach equals waves and swimming while Pittwater is “flat” and better suited for sailing, kayaking and other water sports.

Palm Beach- surf side

Palm Beach- surf side

Starting off with the surf beach, the first thing you’ll probably notice is that the sand is deep gold in colour. The next thing, is the surf. At the Southern end, the waves are relatively gentle and you have “kiddies’ corner”  where families with young kids hang out. There’s also an ocean pool where you can swim laps. The beach then stretches around towards the Northern end with it’s famous surfing breaks and culminates with the Palm Beach Lighthouse, which lies perched on top of the headland like a crown. If you are fit and energetic, you can walk up to the Lighthouse. I haven’t been up there for years and I’ve heard the path has improved but it used to be more of a climb than a walk.

The majority of swimmers are clustered “in between the flags”. The red and yellow flags mark where it’s safest to swim and is patrolled by the Surf Lifesavers. So, if you find yourself getting into difficulty, you can easily be spotted and rescued. I can assure you that as a teenager, my friends and I did consider needing a bit of CPR but never actually implemented these plans. We were all “talk”. That is, except when it came to talking to the lifesavers. These Adonises were in a league all of their own.

In a scene reminiscent of hundreds and thousands sprinkled on top of bread and butter (fairy bread),the crowds pour into Palmy from Christmas through to the Australia Day weekend at the end of January, which signals the return to school and the end of the precious Summer holidays. Then, the masses jostle for a precious rectangle of sand to park their towel on the hot,hot sand under the scorchingly hot Australian sun.

Although people living overseas have asked me about the hole in the ozone over Australia, it doesn’t look like all the sunbakers roasting themselves into early-onset melanoma have heard anything about it. When we were young, we used to to cover ourselves in baby oil or get sprayed on the beach by coconut oil, which was the height of sophistication back in the 70s and 80s. There was no such thing as a “fake tan” back then. Just sunburn, peeling skin, freckles and the odd genetic mutant who could actually pull off a tan.

Many years ago now, I used to hang out on the beach where designer sunnies were de rigeur and it certainly wasn’t the sort of place you’d turn up with hairy legs and arm pits which could fuel a forest fire. You didn’t just practice “the strut” at Palmy either. You had to have that down pat beforehand so Palm Beach could be your catwalk. Even better, if you also had the fingernails to eliminate your competition!

Geoff arriving home from a sail.

Geoff arriving home from a sail.

While the beachfront is renowned for flashing incredible wealth in a subtle, understated way and very much being “a scene”, the Pittwater side of Palm Beach is like it’s alter ego and incredibly down to earth  Understandably, there generally isn’t that fashion element you get over at the surf beach. Getting covered in sand and mud, we save our good clothes for back home or dining out and only wear our glad rags out there. It’s water shoes, wet suits, swimmers, grungy t-shirts and thick smears of sunscreen and broad-brimmed hats.

Although my tour of Palm Beach is rapidly drawing to a close, there are still two places I’d like you to visit.

Here I am enjoying a deep-fried prawn from the Fisherman's Basket.

Here I am enjoying a deep-fried prawn from the Fisherman’s Basket.

Firstly, there’s the infamous Palm Beach fish and chips shop, which has gone by various names over the years. It’s located on the Pittwater side, just across from the ferry wharf. People come from all around Sydney and the Central Coast to feast on these fish and chips, which surely must be among Sydney’s best?!! You can either eat-in or take them across the road and eat them in the park while checking out the sailing.

Secondly, there’s Alf’s Bait Shop in “Summer Bay”. Personally, there’s such an incredible cringe factor and like Neighbours, Home & Away is best exported but the show has been a fabulous ambassador and no doubt sold Australia to thousands of tourists. Palm Beach really does look incredible. That said, they usually present a glamorized, postcard perspective. After all, it does rain in Palm Beach and it isn’t always sun and blue skies!

However, while so far I’ve given you what pretty much reads as the glamour tour of Palm Beach, I can’t help feeling that Palm Beach is a little over-rated, especially given the cost of real estate. Even though it is part of Sydney, Palm Beach is actually very isolated and lacks most of what I would class “essential services”. There are no proper supermarkets and you have a ten minute drive into Avalon, which can extend to 20 in traffic. It is impossible to find a parking spot, which has meant that we’ve gone down for fish and chips and have driven off. I don’t want to knock down paradise and put up a parking lot. However, you do need to eat and get out of the house. That is also made difficult by the very narrow, twisting roads which lack adequate footpaths/ Indeed, in spots being a pedestrian is almost asking to get run over. As I was walking back from the bus stop the other day, I really felt like I needed to breathe in to distance myself from passing traffic.

Consequently, you can feel a little trapped and claustrophobic on the “insular peninsula”…especially when we have stunning beaches back home which are close to the shops, train and bus at such a fraction of the cost of real estate here.

Actually, thinking about Palm Beach’s location, it’s almost like someone was playing pin-the-tail on the donkey and stuck the pin almost off the side of the map. Even though it’s located in Sydney and not in the outback, it does feel strangely isolated both from services and people. So many of the houses are empty.

I am a bit down on Palm Beach at the moment because my Dad has sold the house here and we’re moving on, which is a serious wrench.

So rather than writing home about all the things I love about the place, I am also trying to remind myself of all the other equally beautiful places elsewhere and think about the flip side of the travel experience. For the last few years, we’ve immersed ourselves here but perhaps now it’s time to explore further afield and explore with a broader brush. When it comes to the Pittwater side of Palm Beach,it feels like we’ve explored each and every single hair on its head…especially when I’ve photographed it in such incredibly, minute detail and it feels like I know each single hair on its head, even though we’re still finding new critters.

So, soon I will be seeing our time in Palm Beach from another perspective…the past. I don’t need to leave it behind completely. After all, it’s only a short 30 minute ferry ride away but we planted roots here even if they’re uprooted and not severed completely, it still hurts and I feel a bit lost and disorientated. That said, once school goes back next week and we’re back to the grind at home, it will be a different story.

We’ll be home.

This has been P for Palm Beach Perspectives for the Blogging from A-Z April Challenge. How are you going with the challenge? Thank goodness, it is Sunday tomorrow and we have a break!

xx Rowena

Obsessed by My Second-Hand Quest

There’s a very fine line between success and obsessed. Quite often, I miss that line completely and accelerate right over the edge and straight onto the rollercoaster ride from hell. You’d think I’d learn but the lure of the thrill gets me every time. I too weak-willed and simply can’t say “no”!

In what must trigger off some deep, primal hunter-gathering instinct, I haunt opportunity shops like a determined hunter stalking its prey. l swear sometimes I’ve even felt an itch or “the call of the wild” to drop in and my instincts were spot on. There was something with my name written all over it.

“Healing is a matter of time, but it is sometimes also a matter of opportunity”

“Hippocrates

This obsessive stalking of opportunity shops waxes and wanes like the moon and like a gambler, I really have to stay right away or I’ll succumb. It’s not that we usually don’t need what I’ve bought. Indeed, today I’ve managed to score a heap of quality, striking t-shirts for the kids at $4.00 each. I also found myself a LBD (little black dress) with white polka dots and it fits me like a glove. Thanks to Summer gear being half price, it was an absolute steal.

Divine Inspiration. The Bible just fell open at this page.

Divine Inspiration. The Bible just fell open at this page.

However, a lurking danger with stalking op shops is that passion can shift to obsession and ultimately, dare I mention the word…(drum roll)…ADDICTION!!

Ouch!!! Double ouch!!! That really hurt!!

Although I’ve never heard of a support group called: “Op Shoppers Anonymous”, I probably should be on  the look out. Even though you’ve got to spend money to save money, there does come a point, as I said or had it said to me, when the bad outweighs the good and the whole shebang seriously starts to unravel.

Some of the eclectic fabrics on offer.

Some of the eclectic fabrics on offer.

After all, although it might look quite innocent on the surface, op shopping is very much like gambling. You go in there maybe even just to fill in time while you’re waiting for a script. The next thing you know, you’ve spotted some fabulous antique baby’s jacket imported from Italy and you snap it up because you can, even though your baby is almost a teenager. This trip, I’ve bought a hand-painted Aboriginal vase, a Greek demi-tasse cup and saucer, a gorgeous wooden writer’s box, which probably came from Turkey or Morocco and seems completely unique…at least, that’s when I did a Google search. I even found a foldout driver’s map of Mt Kosciusko National Park dating back to the days of miles, before metric came in. We go skiing there and my daughter is currently doing an assignment for school on it, so it was a great find…especially as the dear old Lady at the Red Cross Shop threw it in. You see, I’m a regular.

Great find for a family of avid skiers! Vintage Map of the Snowy Mountains.

Great find for a family of avid skiers! Vintage Map of the Snowy Mountains.

Humph, “regular” could be another euphemism for “addict” but I’ll overlook that.

I love the randomness of everything I find at the op shop and the eclectic smattering of treasures from all sorts of places, eras and designs. Feeling about 5 years old again, I could sneak my way through all the clothes racks and feel all those different fabric brush against my skin, while a kaleidoscope of colour dazzles my senses. I find the sheer array of fabrics alone intoxicating and so much more interesting than a contemporary boutique with it’s particular, usually very narrow, sense of style. I don’t want some supposed fashionista telling me what I can and can not wear. I’ll wear whatever I @#$% like. It’s my body…my life!!!

Sharon and I introduce Wandering Wally to op shopping. Wally has flown all the way from the UK to raise awareness of myositis, the muscle disease I live with.

Sharon and I introduce Wandering Wally to op shopping. Wally has flown all the way from the UK to raise awareness of myositis, the muscle disease I live with.

However, not only do I go to the op shops for the treasures, I also go in there for a chat and some are better in this regard that others. My absolute fave is the Lifeline Shop at Avalon, Managed by my friend, Sharon. This is one of of your more “boutique” op shops, which specialises in designer labels and exotica from all around the world. Sharon meticulously yet passionately runs the shop like an upmarket boutique with the clothes and the window displays arranged with love and finesse. What with  Weight Watchers telling people to get rid of their fat clothes and the home improvement shows promoting decluttering, it’s a treasure hunter’s dream. As they feel good getting rid of it all, I’m only too happy to assist!!

After all, for some strange reason, it seems like people only want plain, white walls with one measly ornament on the shelf. Personally, I can’t understand it. How absolutely boring!! How could you possibly live in a home that’s as sterile as a hospital all white-washed and lacking in character? As far as I’m concerned, such minimalism also looks like they can’t afford to decorate the place!

After all, what ever happened to a bit of flamboyance and exuberant self-expression?

Of course, nobody has ever accused me of being a minimalist. Occasionally the word “hoarder” gets muttered but I’m really more of a collector. I just need to be careful There’s a fine line between passion, obsession and addiction.

However, there’s just one little weaknesses I haven’t fessed up to yet.

Books!

Op Shop Treasures

Op Shop Treasures

When it comes to books, I have well and truly exceeded the limit. Okay, you mean-spirited, Kindle freaks. I know that I’ve already got far more books than one person could ever read in a life time. However, you can’t always predict what will take your fancy and when they’re so cheap, how could I possibly resist?!!

I don’t quite know what I’m searching for in all these books. The meaning of life? I don’t know. These days, I’m actually not sure that I’ll find the meaning of life in a book.  After all, life is to be lived and not simply read about. You have to get out there! You need to find your own meaning. Write your own book.

Meanwhile, my rationale for managing all my “finds” is that I just need a bigger house.

That said, I am planning a big reorganisation when I get home from holidays.

I  am !! Truly, I am!!

Do you have any obsessions you might want to confess to? I’m all ears and extremely non-judgemental!!

O is or Obsession and Opportunity Shop… my latest installment for the Blogging A-Z April Challenge.

By the way, here’s a good complement to this post as Conversations Around the Tree discusses the difference between “needs” and “wants”. Tree teaches people with intellectual disabilities and even reminded me of a few home truths!! Well worth checking out: https://treerabold.wordpress.com/2015/04/17/n-needs/

xx Rowena

Chocolicious Chocolate!

Throw out your copy of: How to Win Friends & Influence People. If you want to be popular, the answer is chocolate. Not just any ordinary, garden-variety chocolate but the good stuff. The stuff that is so good, that it’s literally evil.

After all, as my husband explained:

“Life is too short to waste it eating mediocre chocolate.”

While definitions of such superlative chocolicious indulgences can be quite subjective, I’m yet to find someone who doesn’t fall head-over-heels in love with Australia’s Tim Tam Biscuit. All rules of social restraint and decorum go out the window where Tim Tams are concerned. Even the most disciplined health nuts have confessed to inhaling an entire packet of Tim Tams and it’s pretty much a given that  once you open the packet, they’ll all be gone in the blink of an eye. Tim Tams are so good that there was even an advertising campaign showing why a Tim Tam is better than a man.

Simply Irresistible Tim Tams

Simply Irresistible Tim Tams

The Tim Tam is so popular that a sacred ritual has evolved: “The Tim Tam Explosion” or “The Tim Tam Slam” although when I was at university, it was known as “The Tim Tam Suck”. These all describe the same scrumptious and daring ritual where you bite off opposite corners of a Tim Tam and dunk one corner in a hot cup of tea or coffee and suck it like a straw. The drink fills the biscuit and it metamorphoses into a sloppy, delicious mass, which you can hopefully get into your mouth before it disintegrates and falls in your drink. Of course, the chocolate coating melts all over your fingers so this is definitely not the done thing around “polite society”. It’s probably, not recommended on a first date, either!!

However, when it comes to chocolate, there are those special occasions when Lindt is in order and Lindt Balls have a special place in our hearts. Geoff and I took them bushwalking for our first Valentine’s Day together. Being a scorchingly hot, Sydney Summer’s Day, the Lindt Balls were liquid and have been known ever since as “Lindt Smears”. Therefore, indulging in Lindt Smears is rather hazardous during a Summer and you’re lucky if you can get the wrapper off before it disintegrates and implodes. I must admit that I do enjoy a gooey Lindt Ball but there’s a fine line. You can get a lot of heartbreaking wastage as the chocolate merges with the wrapper.

Who can argue with Snoopy?

Who can argue with Snoopy?

Another favourite chocolate indulgence, is a Hot Chocolate with whipped cream and marshmallows. I first discovered these when I was backpacking through Europe back in 1992 and ordered a Heiss Schockolade mit Sahne in Koln (Cologne). Wow!! Since then, I have found what I believe to be the world’s very best Hot Chocolate located at the Perisher resort where we go skiing. Their Toblerone Hot Chocolate comes with snowman with three marshmallows on a stick which you dunk into the hot, creamy hot chocolate. There’s also a stick of Toblerone and a cigar biscuit. Just amazing.

Sumptuous Chocolate Soup

Sumptuous Chocolate Soup

Recently, I found a scrumptious chocolate cake which was almost drowning in chocolate soup. That reminded me of the wonders of chocolate sauce. You can read about it here:

https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2015/03/18/therapeutic-indulgence-a-rendez-vous-with-laksa-and-a-saucy-chocolate-cake/

Being a keen baker, I have also made quite a few chocolate treats and I encourage you to have a go. In our household, we had a tension between the kids who prefer milk chocolate and the adults who prefer dark and so now I tend to make half of each to keep everybody happy.

Here are some indulgent chocolate recipes for you to try:

Yummy Chocolate Cupcakes.

Yummy Chocolate Cupcakes.

Easy-Peasy Chocolate Cupcakes with Ganache:

https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2015/02/27/easy-peasy-chocolate-party-cupcakes/

White Chocolate Rocky Road:

https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2014/12/24/white-chocolate-rocky-road/

Flourless Nutella Cake:

https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2014/08/11/too-much-chocolate-temptation/

Two-Faced Chocolate Caramel Slice (milk and dark chocolate):

https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2014/08/05/two-faced-chocolate-caramel-slice/

Chocolate Hazelnut Indulgence Cake:

https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2012/11/22/chocolate-hazlenut-indulgence-cake-my-own-creation/

After writing about all that yummy, scrumptious chocolate, my mouth is watering and I’m seriously considering breaking into our stash of Easter eggs. Something tells me, resistance is futile and as any true chocoholic will confess, when you eat your eggs quickly you can always poach the slow poke’s bulging stash.

However, if you are more more virtuous than I and can get through the entire Easter season without even a nibble of chocolate, perhaps you like to read about it instead and should get hold of: Chocolat by Joanne Harris…or even the movie http://www.joanne-harris.co.uk/books/chocolat/.

A great Easter read and also a fabulous movie, which will leave you craving for artisan chocolate and a trip to France.

A great Easter read and also a fabulous movie, which will leave you craving for artisan chocolate and a trip to France.

Easter always seems to bring rain on Australia’s East Coast, at least, and so it’s a great time to curl up with a book, a movie and eat chocolate:

“The greatest tragedies were written by the Greeks and Shakespeare…neither knew chocolate.”
― Sandra Boynton

If you are participating in the A-Z Challenge, what was your C and feel free to provide a link and share your topic.

Love & chocolate moustaches,

Rowena

Homeward Bound: Palm Beach to Ettalong.

No doubt, all weekends away end up feeling like Cinderella’s horrific crash landing after the ball. You’re back in rags, your coach is a pumpkin and both you and Prince Charming are so quite what you used to be.

My weekend in Palm Beach was no different and once I’d polished off that divine chocolate cake and all that luscious chocolate sauce, I was on borrowed time and the clock was really ticking.

Tick-tock..tick-tock…tick! TICK! BZZ!!!!!! Game Over!!!!!

space_invaders_wallpaper_game_over_by_shadowbott-d5rxcn6

However, as the rain and wind whipped around, a lingering doubt emerged. Could the ferry service actually be cancelled?

If so, how on earth was I going to get home?

No ferry would stretch the 30 minute journey home into an extremely long, arduous, meandering journey involving 2 buses, 2 trains and not only a packed lunch but also dinner and possibly even a midnight snack.

This was obviously a serious concern!!

However, as if I would travel all that way when I could just stay another night and wait until the storm cleared! Yeah, right!! I could just imagine how well that would go down! There I was living it up in Palm Beach while Geoff had been at work and taxiing the kids around and then he’d be having to take time off work as well to get them to school. Yes, I’d be extremely popular!!

Indeed, it could even be grounds for divorce!

We’ve been on some pretty ragged rides on the ferry before, crossing the high seas where the waves loomed like skyscrapers overhead and our beloved ferry felt more like Scuffy the Tugboat, seemingly tossed like a salad in the ferocious  surf.  Of course, the kids who have a real penchant for melodrama, were freaking out about sinking, drowning and, of course,  even dying while the ferry plowed on through the drenching rain and heavy winds. Ghostly white and sitting on our laps wrapped up in our arms, the kids are vowing never to catch the ferry again. That was a few years ago now before they became intrepid sea scouts!

The ferry service was cancelled for the rest of the day after that.

I was concerned about the ferry being cancelled on Sunday too.  Sure, I know we’re not crossing notorious Bass Strait of Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race fame but the weather still gets wild enough. Wild enough to cancel the ferry. That’s right. There comes a point when even the most intrepid Palm Beach Ferry Captains hang up their hats and stay on terra firma.

However, I’m in luck. The ferry is running and although the weather is a little rough and wet, it remains quite civilised.

Sunset Palm Beach Wharf...so pleased that bird dropped into the shot!

Sunset Palm Beach Wharf…so pleased that bird dropped into the shot!

A friend from Church drops me off at the wharf with 15 minutes to spare where I can enjoy watching some people fishing while the sun sets. I am reminded of Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. However, the keen fisherperson is a woman and she knows her stuff. With the precision of a plastic surgeon, she wraps up a cooked prawn in some plastic netting salvaged from a bag of fruit and pushes the hook through. That prawn won’t come off without a fight, so the fish will have to work a bit harder tonight if they want a free feed!!

At 6.15pm, this is the last ferry and in contrast to yesterday’s rowdy party atmosphere, the ferry is almost empty. There’s just a few weekend stragglers on board and pure silence. You could even meditate it was that quiet. Talk about a contrast!! We all sit inside…even me who is all but always out there on deck pushing the limits with my camera. Too wet, too windy and way too bumpy tonight. Time to take it all in through the rain-stained window.

The View through the Window- Palm Beach Ferry.

The View through the Window- Palm Beach Ferry.

As the ferry started approached Ettalong Wharf, I was looking out for Geoff and the kids and really looking forward to their enthusiastic greetings: “Mummy! Mummy!” and finding out how their scout camps went. These are the sort of exciting moments you live for as a parent: warm, gutsy hugs, smiles, laughter and a thousand stories all spilling out at once. That’s the thing about going away. As much as you protest against the homeward journey, we all know: “There’s no place like home!!”

The Palm Beach Ferry returns to near deserted wharf at Ettalong as the weekend draws to a close.

The Palm Beach Ferry returns to near deserted wharf at Ettalong as the weekend draws to a close.

However, when the ferry pulled into the wharf, there was no one there. The wharf was empty, deserted and not even a sign of our car anywhere. No enthusiastic waves. No hugs. No Mummy!!! Just the sun setting over a deserted beach and the sounds of the wind and the surf.

I knew I was being a bit ridiculous, especially after it was me who actually went away for the weekend. However, there was this residual small voice which I’d thought had disappeared long ago:

“Nobody loves me!”

It’s not that I’m looking for sympathy or even a chorus of: “where were they? Why weren’t they there to pick you up? How dare they!” I mean…it’s not like I cried or anything. However, after building up the big greeting all the way home and really looking forward to seeing the rest of the family, I did feel a bit sad, forgotten and (drum roll)  ABANDONED!!

Serves me right for going away for the weekend without them. This was karma and a taste of what it’s really like to be alone.

As it turned out, the family wasn’t far away and had got held up at scouts. Geoff and the kids had been unloading boats, kayaks and all sorts of paraphenalia from their weekend competing at the Sirius Cup at Sydney’s Balmoral Beach. That’s all. Nothing sinister!

Mister poking out his tongue while scouting at the Sirius Cup, Balmoral Beach.

Mister poking out his tongue while scouting at the Sirius Cup, Balmoral Beach.

Mister had had great fun and made it into the finals for the C2 at the Sirius Cup, which means a 2 person canoe. We were so proud..particularly as he’d overcome his fear of sharks and other nasties and gone for it!! Miss had done really well at her Cub leadership course too. However, there are unfortunately no photos.

A reflective moment during scout camp.

A reflective moment during scout camp.

It’s been a fabulous weekend. Absolutely fabulous!!

Geoff even managed to watch the Grand Prix! Unfortunately, it wasn’t Australian race champion, Daniel Riccardo’s day.

Boo who! Tomorrow…it’s back to yet another manic Monday morning. I’m going to need a pretty strong coffee to get me going. It’s going to be like raising the Titanic.

The Monday morning salvage routine is going to be tough!!

The Monday morning salvage routine is going to be tough!!

xx Rowena (and a few extra kilos after that chocolate cake!!)

 

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

Mutiny on the Kayak

There is something so gloriously serene about kayaking across a beautiful diamond carpet of almost still water on a glorious, Spring morning. You’re almost inhaling all those positive ions and good vibes and feeling absolutely on top of the world. It’s just you and the sea and you’re floating along so effortlessly, almost levitating on a magnificent sea of calm absorbing all that superlative beauty.

However…

Add two reluctant kids to the mix, not unsurprisingly, the experience can quickly turn on its head. Instead of everybody moving in sync, we ended up with Mutiny on the Yellow kayak…especially when two dogs decide to do a bit of kayak bombing!

Here's Bilbo our Border Collie swimming out towards our kayak. This was a huge step forward for scaredy-dog although not such a good move for Mister in the pink single kayak.

Here’s Bilbo our Border Collie swimming out towards our kayak. This was a huge step forward for scaredy-dog although not such a good move for Mister in the pink single kayak.

Welcome to my nightmare. Trying to set off on a simple kayaking expedition with my kids in Careel Bay, just off Palm Beach in Sydney. To put you in the picture, this is right near where they film the Australian drama series Home & Away except we’re on the Pittwater side which is just perfect for all sorts of water sports (other than surfing, of course).

I don’t know what it is with my kids. Why they don’t jump at the chance to get out there onto the water and carpe diem seize the day? Why do they prefer virtual living to the real thing? By virtual living, I’m of course, referring to playing x-box and Minecraft and all those electronic gadgets too much. At least, I’m blaming the gadgets.

When I was a kid, I couldn’t wait to go to the beach. Get into the sand. Go outside. The only time we ever stayed inside was when it was pelting down with rain and my parents practically had to bolt down the doors to keep us in. There was also the odd bout of sunburn which put us out of action as well. Instead of the parents hassling the kids to get out, it was the other way round. “Come on, Mum! Dad!” I remember a particular beach holiday when my Dad locked himself up with a very, very large doorstop of a novel called Shogun and that was the end of him for the holiday although he might have taken us fishing. We were trying to drag Dad out into the water. It certainly wasn’t the other way round.

Times have changed. Now, it’s me the parent doing the dragging or should I say still doing the dragging. Doesn’t anybody else want to get out there? My husband certainly does. He might not be the original Solo Man but he has kayaked down the Tasmanian rapids which Grant Kenny traversed in the commercial. My husband had a real thirst for adrenalin and loved pushing himself hard before he was consumed by the rat race.

Miss and I in the kayak with Lady.

Miss and I in the kayak with Lady.

Although my kids are in the sea scouts and seem to be happy enough out on the water there, for some reason our daughter is often terrified of going kayaking with me and today is no exception. She brought up almost each and every fear known to man and although there was a bit of wind out there she wasn’t going to drown in knee-deep tidal water especially when she was wearing a life-jacket. She wasn’t going to get killed by stingrays either, which seem to scare her more than sharks but then again there is what happened to Steve Irwin. That certainly added stingrays to the Deadly 60. Last but certainly not least on her list despite their size, was the vast army of soldier crabs which were hiding in their crab holes underwater. They were all about to come out to get her. With all these worries being brought up while she begged me to turn back, it was like she had swallowed the DSM manual. You know the great book the psychological professionals use to classify and define all your weird and wonderful idiosyncrasies. She was absolutely gripped with fear and all teary but her wretched mother kept going because if you keep avoiding fear, you never develop the neuropathways to overcome it.

I know I’m hardly Robinson Crusoe with my lifelong phobia of false teeth and the incredible fear of dogs which I had growing up but other people’s unrealistic fears always look much more surmountable than your own.

Anyway, as you can appreciate, Miss really, really didn’t want to go kayaking.

While Miss and I were in the yellow double kayak, Mister was on his own in the single kayak. These kayaks had been left behind by the previous owners. They’re certainly not the latest and greatest craft and do have a certain bathtub look about them but we love them and they have taken us on some fabulous adventures. We’ve explored the mangroves. We’ve also paddled back and forth across the bay trying to catch glimpses of the great giant flathead and the amazing flying mullet. Of course, their mythical proportions rival the likes of Nessy[1] but you know how kids can turn hyperbole into fact. Mister’s been out there very determined with his net but the giants of the deep have eluded him and retained their precious secrets. I have also been on a number of very serene solo expeditions and it’s so relaxing just to float on the water and drift. Simply drift.

So Miss and I are paddling along. There’s a strong headwind and so we’re not moving very quickly and I’m talking her through her fears and encouraging her when I notice Lady, one of our dogs, has just launched off the boat ramp and is paddling out to join us. We’ve only had Lady two weeks and we’re still getting to know her. She’s two years old and she comes from a farm and is quite a bundle of surprises. Yesterday, she leaped up off the beach and successfully landed on top of a 3 metre high retaining wall. She really does make anything look possible and is quite a gutsy, spirited dog.

While you could wonder about the logistics of having a dog in a kayak, I thought Lady would be okay. I haven’t weighed her but she’d probably weigh something like 10-20 kilos. I certainly have no trouble lifting her up. Consequently, when she decided to “kayak bomb” us, I didn’t really hesitate to pick her up and help her into the kayak. Geoff and I have been sailing on the little Laser with Bilbo onboard before so I though Lady would be fine and she was. She sat on the front of the kayak in front of me as I awkwardly paddled around her.

Mister kayaking along with all 40+ kilos of Bilbo our Border Collie...the calm before the splash.

Mister kayaking along with all 40+ kilos of Bilbo our Border Collie…the calm before the splash.

Meanwhile, when Bilbo saw Lady kayaking with us, he somehow overcame his huge fear of even getting his paws wet and launched himself into the water. I saw him wading out with all his fur billowing out. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him swim before except for the time he fell in the swimming pool chasing his tennis ball. Even for a Border Collie, Bilbo is a big dog and dry he weighs around 40 kilos so with his very thick woolly coat soaking up all that sea water, he was getting very heavy indeed. Well, he ended up on the single kayak with Mister who also weighs around 40 kilos. Mister is quite good on the kayak but not unsurprisingly Bilbo managed to capsize them and dog and boy were in the water. Bilbo managed to scratch Mister on the way out and apparently also tried to grab hold of him. It was only shallow water where at least we could all stand up so there was no risk of anyone drowning but there was certainly plenty of pandemonium.

I decided that this was also a good time to get Lady back on terra firma. The novelty of trying to paddle around the dog was wearing off, especially given my daughter’s catalogue of fears and I didn’t even want to consider how she’d react if Lady capsized our kayak. Needless to say, Geoff put the dogs back behind the fence before he headed out for a paddle.

As much as I enjoy a relaxing, solo paddle soaking up all that serenity, there was definitely a certain “je ne sais quoi” with this mad scramble of kids, paws, paddles and of course avoiding the huge ginormous Giant Stingray which is out there somewhere lurking in the very shallow depths.

It’s crazy experiences like these that become the great family legends. I can already hear everyone gathered around the family table laughing about the time Bilbo jumped in the kayak with Mister and they capsized and everyone roars laughing.

So much for peace and tranquility but as Helen Keller said: “Life is either a daring adventure or it’s nothing.”

I’d love to hear of any of your family adventures, especially family holiday antics!

Xx Rowena

PS Kids still aren’t seeing the funny side of things yet. Miss just told me: How would you like it if you capsized and the dog scratched you with its claws? Mister was also fairly gloomy about the experience as well. It seems there is a fine line between humour and trauma that we still need to work on. After all, your disasters always make the best stories.

[1] The Loch Ness Monster.

Our Dog Goes to Ibiza

Before you start thinking that my dog’s won the lottery, packed his bags and traded in his humdrum suburban existence for the wild night life of Ibiza, a Spanish Island and tourist Mecca; Ibiza is also a cafe in Avalon Beach on Sydney’s Northern Beaches.

For us, taking our Border Collie, Bilbo, to a cafe was almost as exciting as an international adventure because we’ve never taken him to a cafe before. He’s uninitiated.

To be honest, prior to these school holidays, I’d never thought of taking Bilbo to a cafe.

Although I’m very much a dog person and absolutely adore my dog, taking the dog to a cafe seemed rather crazy. After all, I go to a cafe to chat with friends or to do some writing and dogs are a bit like children…a potential liability. There’s a time and place for the kids and the dog and when I’m at a cafe, I just want to chill out without worrying about who’s doing what. I have spent too many years hiding from my kids in cafes while they’re swinging from the light fittings sucking on those little sachets of sugar and transforming from  “Mummies little angels” into humiliating “little devils”. Now that they’ve matured, I don’t need any fresh liabilities. No, I just want to crank up my sagging energy levels with the next best thing to an intravenous caffeine boost and usually chat with my friends until all our ears have fallen off.
However, we’ve been spending the school holidays in Pittwater. While I’ve been into Avalon on various expeditions, I’ve particularly been struck by the incredible number of dogs hanging out in cafes. These cafe dogs have all been very well behaved. They just sit outside by their owner’s feet and don’t cause any trouble at all. They certainly don’t start barking ferociously, knocking down tables and sending cafe staff skywards when they see another dog, although their owners are probably thankful that there aren’t any cats about!

Taking your dog to the cafe in Avalon is almost de rigeur, much the same way Parisians are known for their love affairs with their beloved and very spoilt chiens. These exceptionally pampered pooches even travel inside spectacularly expensive, flashy leather handbags and are often treated even better than children.
As far as Avalon dogs are concerned, I initially saw a preponderance of what could be described as a golden spoodle or perhaps they’re cavoodles. They’re definitely an “oodle” dog of some description. In this instance, the result is a spaniel-sized dog with a curly, light golden coat. They’re gorgeous looking dogs and initially, I desperately wanted one until we saw them en masse and suspected there’s some sort of covert cloning operation down by the waterfront. However, subsequent trips into Avalon have shown a much-broader cross-section of dogs and they haven’t all been designer breeds either. I even spotted a Border Collie in a cafe last week.
Spotting that Border Collie, started turning a few rusty cogs in my brain. I know Bilbo isn’t exactly a salon dog but I started to wonder whether he too could become a cafe dog…!

I wanted to find out.

DSC_2446

Bilbo in his element as a scraggly sea dog. Mind you, he doesn’t like going swimming.

Hanging out in cafes is quite a lifestyle shift for our Bilbo who is “a bit of a rugged character”. He’s a gorgeous looking dog but he’s a bit rough around the edges, especially after running through the mudflats of Pittwater this afternoon. Bilbo has never seen the inside of a dog salon either. That is unless you count his one encounter with the mobile dog groomer who gave him a rather image-shattering No. 1 two summers ago. The poor dog emerged looking like a totally different dog and even changed colour. Instead of his beautiful, tailor-made black and white tuxedo, he was short-haired and smoky grey. I think he wanted to cry or even bite himself not knowing who he was.
But this clip wasn’t the sort of full puppy pamper treatment some of these canine high flyers enjoy. There was no sweet smelling powder for Bilbo and he was probably thankful too. He’d be just the sort of mutt who’d have to roll in some very dead animal to get rid of a pretty smell.
There were other concerns as well about how Bilbo would go at a cafe.
While he looks perfectly harmless, Bilbo doesn’t always cope well when people visit our house and isn’t exactly what I call friendly. A friend has been giving the kids lifts to school all year and every time she turns up, the dog barks like fury and he just can’t seem to handle her taking the kids away. It also takes him quite awhile to warm up to even regular visitors to our home, except for my mum, of course. She has been feeding him ham scraps even since he was a pup and he always looks forward to sniffing “Grandma’s Hambag”.
Consequently, although Bilbo is largely very placid and happy to go to sleep, he does have “issues” and despite being well-trained, a trouble-free visit to the cafe could not be guaranteed. Taking Bilbo cafe involved the unpredictable unknown.
While I had thought about taking Bilbo to the cafe by myself, I recruited Geoff in case and by the time we’d been for our walk, the kids were on their way home so the whole family accompanied the dog to the cafe.
By the time we arrived in Avalon, it was getting dark and all of the other cafe dogs had gone home. There was just the odd dog walking passed on the other side of the road. That’s all. We didn’t get to find out how Bilbo would behave around other dogs in the cafe setting.

Let sleeping dogs lie...

Let sleeping dogs lie…

Bilbo’s first trip to the cafe was a bit of an anti-climax. He just sat quietly by our feet enjoying a bit of a pat.
Geoff and I loved our Hot Vienna Chocolates with marshmallows. They were served very elegantly in a tall glass with a handle. The kids had banana milkshakes.

Bilbo was also taken care of. While there weren’t any dog-a-chinos on the menu, Cafe Ibiza takes particular care of its dog clientele and provides a bowl of water on the footpath. Avalon seems to be very community-minded and thoughtful like this in general.

However, although you can lead a dog to water, you can’t make him drink. Bilbo was too busy sniffing other dog smells on the adjacent tree. Parenting of both children and dogs doesn’t always go to plan!
Being a Border Collie, Bilbo is particularly smart and understands words we’ve never taught him so I can’t help wondering whether he could read “Ibiza” on the water bowl and fancied that he was in Spain. Of course, he didn’t care where he was as long as he was with us.

Although, given all the dog scents around Avalon, Bilbo knew he was in doggy heaven. He’s never been on such a sniff-fest in all his life. Nose to the ground, it was a struggle to get him moving and to remind him that life wasn’t just about the journey. That you are actually meant to reach your destination.

Our family at Cafe Ibiza, Avalon. You can just see the top of the dog's head near Geoff.

Our family at Cafe Ibiza, Avalon. You can just see the top of the dog’s head near Geoff.

While on the subject of destinations, our cafe visit had an unexpected twist. While we all went to the cafe as a family together to be a part of Bilbo’s first cafe visit, we also had a great time connecting ourselves and I guess doing what has become dubbed: “quality time”. The kids were being cheeky trying to drink our hot chocolates, resulting in a bit of a tickle, some hugs and, as usual, Mummy turning into the paparazzi.

 

Miss with my hot chocolate. It was too late in the day for the kids to have one.

Miss with my hot chocolate. It was too late in the day for the kids to have one.

DSC_2546

I should point out that while we were sitting outside with the dog, Cafe Ibiza had a very enticing open fire going inside and a wonderful ambiance. I was also quite touched that when I went in for a Hot Chocolate yesterday, that the owner recognised me after more than ten years and was particularly helpful when we popped by today offering colouring in books and pencils to keep the kids occupied. We will have to come back for dinner some time soon.

Have you ever taken your pet to a cafe and how did it go?

I look forward to hearing from you!
xx Rowena

Second-Hand Miracles

On Wednesday, I went into the Lifeline opportunity (op) shop in Avalon and had a totally life-changing experience. Even with my great faith in op shops, even I was amazed!

After all, don’t you usually have to do something totally and utterly amazing to have such a profound life changing experience? This is why bucket lists are so popular and seekers almost go bankrupt climbing Mt Everest only to go scuba diving in the deepest depths of the Mariana Trench at the other the extreme.

I have more justifications than a politician for why I can’t undertake such adventures and you are probably much the same. You are also bound to your own patch of soil and just can’t take off and travel the world to “find yourself”. Instead, you have to find yourself in the much less glamorous context of home among the relatively mundane and every day.

Don’t despair!  You don’t have to go anywhere to be profoundly inspired and experience real miracles. Miracles can and do happen anywhere at any time… even in the most common, ordinary and everyday places!

They’ve even happened to me.

Although they seem unlikely sources of inspiration, I’ve been amazed at what I’ve actually found in op shops. In these halfway houses where discarded, unwanted junk and otherwise faded dreams are recycled and reborn, I’ve found treasures which fit my needs exactly, like a key in a lock. It’s like someone has gone in and left it there for me personally. That it’s had “my name on it” and the price is right too. However, Geoff will tell you that the cumulative effect has been quite expensive.

I’ve found a lot of truly inspiring things lately but I particularly wanted to share my visit to the Lifeline Shop in Avalon on Wednesday. This was the day before my latest session of chemo (or round one as I’ve now found out) and the day before I received my results so I was naturally in a fairly profound mood and actively searching for inspiration and retail therapy on a budget of sorts!!

I wasn’t disappointed!!

Hard to believe John Denver ever had "the look"!

Hard to believe John Denver ever had “the look”!

My first amazing “find” was a record by John Denver called Rhymes & Reasons. The cover is so 1960s and he looks like a real Irish leprechaun is a very green outfit. I don’t usually buy old records but I’ve never found any worth buying before. This one strangely appealed to me. I don’t know why. It just said pick me up. Have a closer look. Turn me over.  By contemporary tastes, the cover was very “bad taste”, dated and even comical but there was a sincerity about it…his smile perhaps and I do love John Denver’s music. Actually, looking at the cover now, it was stamped 1969 which was the year I was born so perhaps this is even more of a message for me than for my children which is how I perceived it at the time. That’s right. I’m a real flower child.

So I picked up the record and read the back. Now, remember that I have been working on writing and sharing life lessons for the kids when you read this:

For the children and the flowers

Are my sisters and brothers,

Their laughter and their loveliness

Could clear a cloudy day,

Like the music of the mountains and

The colours of the rainbow,

They’re a promise of the future

And a blessing for today.

And the song that I’m singing

Is a prayer to non-believers,

Come and stand beside us,

we can find a better way.

 John Denver.

Doesn’t that just blow your mind away? I think I’m going to have to find this album on CD or convert it over or something. The songs are brilliant too and I really wish I could listen to it right now:  Leaving On a Jet Plane, the Love of the Common People, I Wish I knew How it Would Feel to be Free, Today is the First Day of the Rest of My life. There is also a song I haven’t heard called Catch Another Butterfly. Don’t know what that one is about but I use butterflies as Amelia’s symbol. She is the pink butterfly on my charm bracelet and I decorated her bedroom with butterflies before she was even born. She was my beautiful butterfly baby! By the way, I also picked up a little toy tea set for her with butterflies on it for her upcoming birthday. Another “coincidence”!

The record cover was my first “connection” but my finds rapidly continued.

Soon, I came across the handbag which I wrote about in a previous post. Now, I have been on the hunt for the perfect, black handbag for years. You see, I am seriously organisationally and spatially challenged and I’ve really been working hard to overcome these problems, especially once I found out about neuroplasticity. The idea that I could actually change the way I think and the very structure of my brain through repetition and that I wasn’t set in stone, set me free from so many self-imposed constraints. Armed with the evidence that practice instead of avoidance was the way forward, I could now radically improve some of what I had considered insurmountable personal faults. I even have a shunt in my brain to remind me that I’m not quite “normal” so I had good reason to believe in my limitations. They’d been fully documented on MRIs. However, this new found neuroplasticity literally took the bird out of the cage and offered me back up to the sky and now I’m flying free. That’s a huge change…liberation in fact!

Anyone who knows me will choke because they know how disorganised I can be. What I’ve found works for me, is having a place for everything and everything in its place. Please note that this hasn’t been achieved. I’m still struggling to find a place for the most important things and trying very, very hard to be systematic and actually put them back there again. You need a system, structure, routine. These are precisely the skills I lack in myself so I have to import them from outside myself. This is why I, in particular, needed this perfect, very well-structured and organised handbag. It’s finally going to get me “sorted”.

The trouble is that when it’s come to finding this perfect bag, I’ve had many false friends. The handles haven’t been strong enough to manage my books and there hasn’t been an outside pocket for my phone. I go to reach in for my keys and a handful of tissues fall out. I have many, many bags but most of them probably need to be sent to the op shop for someone else to “discover”.

Inside the bag- fabulous organisation!

Inside the bag- fabulous organisation!

Anyway, when I went to the op shop on Wednesday, I wasn’t looking for handbags. I was looking for books…inspiration! However, I spotted this bag. It was black. It was leather but it also had a $25.00 price tag and I was already in serious trouble for overspending in op shops. But it was leather and it wasn’t that expensive and it wasn’t going to cost anything to check it out. Aha! I lifted up the clasp and hey presto. There it was… the perfect handbag with separate, individualised spots for pens, my business card, cards, keys, wallet and room for my book and notepad. It had a place for everything to stay in its place and it also had a strong 2cm leather strap which could go across my body so it wouldn’t fall off my shoulder all the time. Moreover, if you are into brands it was a Fossil meaning it was very stylish and retails for around $300.00…so it was quite a steal at $25.00.

Yesterday, I took the bag with me for my big appointment with Professor and I felt so organised and “together” and that really helped. I had everything to hand at what was potentially going to be a very emotionally challenging time and that made such a difference. I was actually “together”!

Thank you Lord! I never expected that our God who created the universe could be bothered with my quest for the perfect handbag but he was. For some strange reason, he cares about me on a very personal, intimate level that doesn’t always make sense. Things dosn’t always happen in quite the way I’d expect but he’s always in the picture somewhere.

However, I wasn’t there for handbags or the John Denver record. I was mainly interested in books.

The books were up the back of the shop and I sat down there for quite some time meticulously going through them. First, I built up my pile and then I was trying to be ruthless, which I always find so difficult with books. They all want to be my friends and each has a compelling story to tell. I went through my pile several times putting back quite a few titles in a futile attempt to feign self-discipline. Each of the books somehow seemed to speak to me in a profoundly personal way. Books have a knack of that. However, contrary to appearances, I’m being very selective and am trying to rein the books in. Two years ago, I actually pulled off a quest to cull 100 books from our house and that was a massive effort. I have seriously undone all that good work on these holidays with the enormous swag of books I’ve bought. I dare not do a count.

Anyway, while I was hovering around the counter, I spotted a huge family King James Bible dating back to 1960. While it isn’t antique, it has a lot of Victorian flourishes including, as I subsequently found out, a section in the middle for writing up your family tree. You can’t get much more Rowie than that!! Anyway, the lady in the op shop gave me the Bible. “You can have that,” she said. She didn’t know this but I’d actually left my Bible at home so this was quite an inspired gift.

Well, you could say that a Bible is the ultimate inspirational gift but that means you also have to read it and there’s the sting.

Well, I’m bringing the Bible downstairs into the house and I’m flicking through it and I found this: . It has a presentation page, a title page and then it has an entire page dedicated to this verse:

Divine Inspiration. The Bible just fell open at this page:

Divine Inspiration. The Bible just fell open at this page.

Divine Inspiration. The Bible just fell open at this page.

As children, this was a verse we really had drummed into us in Sunday School. We all loved it, of course, because we thought it meant we could have all the toys and lollies our little hearts desired. However, I still remember my disappointment as our teacher explained that it didn’t work this way. I’m still not really sure that I fully understand how this verse does work even now but with my medical results due in the morning, it gave me fresh hope. Ask and it shall be given to you and it was. My treatment has worked. Just like a common pizza, God has delivered. It was almost too simple.

A very intriguing book which is really making me think,

A very intriguing book which I hope is opening up my ears to God. I have plenty of scope for improving my listening skills in general too and applying the two ears one mouth ratio.

Seek and you will find also took me on another journey. I found a series of books by Neale Donald Walsch called Conversations With God. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what these were about and whether they were indeed Christian or something else. However, the lady in the op shop assured me they were very good and I was lucky to actually find all three books in the series and even an extra copy of Volume 1 (I only realised I’d doubled up today and am delighted. Geoff and I can read it together and I’ll also have a loan copy.)

I opened up Volume one when I arrived home and found this incredibly inspiring dedication to his parents in the front:

For ANNE M WALSCH

Who not taught me that God exists,

But opened my mind to the wonderous truth

That God is my best friend;

And who was far more than a mother to me,

But gave birth in me

To a longing for and a love of God,

And all that is good.

Mom was

My first meeting with an angel

(Just imagine if my children could say something equally inspirational about me. I am very humbled.)

And for

ALEX M WALSCH

Who told me repeatedly throughout my life,

“There’s nothing to it,”

“You don’t have to take No for an answer,”

“You make your own luck,”

And

“There’s more where that came from.”

Dad was

My first experience

Of fearlessness[1].

I’m going to paste this into my book of life lessons I’m putting together for the kids.

I started reading this book last night when I should have been more than fast asleep and couldn’t put it down. Picked it up again this morning. Too much inspiration to cope with in this book but this bit really leaped out at me:

You have been taught to live in fear. You have been told about survival of the fittest and the victory of the strongest and the success of the cleverist. Precious little is said about the glory of the most loving. And so you strive to be the fittest, the strongest, the cleverest – in one way or another- and if you see yourself as something less than this in any situation, you fear loss, for you have been told that to be less is to lose[2].

And…

“If you think you are right about everything, who needs to talk with God[3]?

With all this inspiration finding me at once, you can understand why I’m having trouble sleeping. All my neurones are firing at once…firing more bullets than Yosemite Sam who I mentioned in my last post.

Music for the soul.

Music for the soul.

I also found music. Managed to buy three CDs at $2.00 each. There was Celine Dion: the Colour of My Love. In keeping with my connection with Beethoven and subsequent explorations, I bought Piano Concerto No. 5, Emperor and the `Walstein’ Sonata. I’m sure I’ve heard my grandmother play these pieces and they’re all very familiar and comforting. As a child, I used to fall asleep to her playing curled up on my father’s lap. My father also remembers falling asleep to similar tones when he was a boy. I also picked up “The Best of Delius” which I actually mistook for Sibelius. One of the pieces on the CD, Koanga Act II: Closing Scene was actually arranged by British conductor Sir Thomas Beecham. Coincidently, my grandmother Eunice Gardiner had returned from her studies at the Royal Academy of Music in London in 1940 for the ABC Tour of Australia with Sir Thomas Beecham. Personally, I didn’t actually know I wasn’t listening to Sibelius but I do love the music. Again, find it dare I say “inspirational”!

But wait! There’s more!!

I also found a beautifully illustrated book about angels and found this lovely poem for the kids:

Ex Ore Infantium

Little Jesus, wast Thou shy
Once, and just so small as I?
And what did it feel like to be
Out of Heaven, and just like me?
Didst Thou sometimes think of THERE,
And ask where all the angels were?
I should think that I would cry
For my house all made of sky;
I would look about the air,
And wonder where my angels were;
And at waking ‘twould distress me–
Not an angel there to dress me!
Hadst Thou ever any toys,
Like us little girls and boys?
And didst Thou play in Heaven with all
The angels that were not too tall,
With stars for marbles? Did the things
Play Can you see me? through their wings?
And did Thy Mother let Thee spoil
Thy robes, with playing on OUR soil?
How nice to have them always new
In Heaven, because ’twas quite clean blue!

Didst Thou kneel at night to pray,
And didst Thou join Thy hands, this way?
And did they tire sometimes, being young,
And make the prayer seem very long?
And dost Thou like it best, that we
Should join our hands to pray to Thee?
I used to think, before I knew,
The prayer not said unless we do.
And did Thy Mother at the night
Kiss Thee, and fold the clothes in right?
And didst Thou feel quite good in bed,
Kissed, and sweet, and thy prayers said?

Thou canst not have forgotten all
That it feels like to be small:
And Thou know’st I cannot pray
To Thee in my father’s way–
When Thou wast so little, say,
Couldst Thou talk Thy Father’s way?–
So, a little Child, come down
And hear a child’s tongue like Thy own;
Take me by the hand and walk,
And listen to my baby-talk.
To Thy Father show my prayer
(He will look, Thou art so fair),
And say: ‘O Father, I, Thy Son,
Bring the prayer of a little one.’

And He will smile, that children’s tongue
Has not changed since Thou wast young!

Francis Thompson

Further to all my musical travels with my violin and Beethoven of late, I found this celebration of music by poet Alexander Pope (1688–1744).  which spoke to me but also has a message I could pass onto the kids because music really does soothe and heal the soul:

Ode for Music on St. Cecilia’s Day.

VII.
Music the fiercest grief can charm,
And fate’s severest rage disarm:
Music can soften pain to ease,
And make despair and madness please:
Our joys below it can improve,
And antedate the bliss above.
This the divine Cecilia found,
And to her Maker’s praise confin’d the sound.
When the full organ joins the tuneful quire,
Th’immortal pow’rs incline their ear;
Borne on the swelling notes our souls aspire,
While solemn airs improve the sacred fire;
And Angels lean from heav’n to hear.
Of Orpheus now no more let Poets tell,
To bright Cecilia greater pow’r is giv’n;
His numbers rais’d a shade from hell,
Hers lift the soul to heav’n.

Perhaps, you won’t be surprised to know that I’m going to head back for one last peak before I head home. While all those minimalistic declutterers are all madly dumping all their Christmas  gifts. This is better than the post-Christmas sales!

After finding all this inspiration, I can’t but wonder about these people who take their Christmas presents seemingly straight from the under the Christmas tree and dump them straight at the op shop. I found a beautiful framed picture of rainbow butterflies which was still sealed in its plastic wrapper. It hasn’t even been opened let alone hung up.

Now, I don’t know how you feel about butterflies but for me butterflies have some kind of resonating meaning and symbolism. They’re special and inspiring and I could just watch them flitter fluttering around my garden for hours. So it beats me how anyone could you ever throw a handmade butterfly picture out…especially when it has rainbow butterflies? Rainbows mean hope. Hope and butterflies combined…that’s a very powerful message to chuck out. I can’t help but think of whoever bought that gift and what messages they were trying to impart. This present wasn’t just a pair of common socks. It was the sort of present which takes a lot of thought, is carefully considered and yet it fell on concrete ground unable to soak up the rain. What an absolute shame!

However, as they say, one person’s loss is another person’s gain!

Speaking of gains, we’re moving back home early next week and I just can’t resist one more peek. It’s only been a couple of days but you never know who’s had a big clean-up and decided they don’t want their treasures anymore or have moved on to new horizons. After all, inspiration is made of stepping stones. That’s the point. The real aim is to grow and to seek new horizons and as you grow, you naturally have to leave some things behind and as they say “spread the love”.

Wish me luck or you could even say a prayer…seek and you will find. I always do! Perhaps, the real miracle would be Rowena arriving home from an op shop empty handed.

Xx Rowena

PS I am almost too ashamed to admit this but while I’m immersed in paradise with this wondrous view suspended just beyond my nose, I’ve been so lost in my writing and tap tap tapping away on the laptop that I’ve been oblivious. The view is out of view. Will remedy that when I get back. Immerse myself in it. Multitasking has never been my thing!

Child in Bush by Robert Dickerson 1959.

Child in Bush by Robert Dickerson 1959.

PPS: Found a sensational art book in there today: Masterpieces of Australian Art by James Gleeson published in 1969 with beautiful colour plates. It opens up with a single Aboriginal painting: A Gnormo or spirit called Yungwalia and closes with Stanislaus Ostaja-Kotkowski. What a find!


[1] Neale Donald Walsche, Conversations with God: An Uncommon Dialogue, Hodder & Stoughton, 1997, acknowledgements page.

[2] Ibid pg 19.

[3] Ibid p 7.