Wednesday, 28 October 2015


Christmas means something different to everyone, but every time decorations get unboxed and they start lining the department store shelves in September, or even earlier in late August, I am torn between excitement and disgust. Excitement, because in recent years, we have as a family, really discovered the joy of spending time together doing something we all love. But the disgust with the commercialism and the loss of what Christmas should mean always hits me. I'm not loving the inundation of toy catalogues, the massive expense of all those toys, the relentless nagging from kids about what they really think they 'must' have, the pressure of just how much should be spent on each person, and all the warnings from the financial advisers about not ending up with a massive credit card debt in January. Is all this spending really in the spirit of Christmas?

In the past when our kids were small, we'd have ridiculous piles of presents under the tree for each child, and Christmas day itself was actually quite embarrassing to watch the grandparents faces as our children just kept unwrapping and unwrapping more and more all day long. It was so obvious that the number of presents was insane. There is no other word for it. We had to make a change. And that change we found a few years ago.

The change for us is being in Sun Peaks in Canada. We have been going to ski since our youngest was 5, not every year, but in the past few years, I have to admit, we have been going for Christmas every year. When we first made the trip we made sure our kids knew 'this trip is Christmas'. The holiday is our gift. We no longer do multiple presents and no-one misses them, no-one expects them. We have our family holiday, we have each other and we are much happier with the simplicity than we ever were with all the multitude of presents. Santa still visits of course, with just one small gift for each of our kids, but we always take a new big jigsaw puzzle as a family present. Another thing we can work on together.

I tell you, kids don't need the commercialism that we're sold here in Australia. And I'm sure you don't have to go to Canada to find this either. But it's where we've learnt it. And what better place than in the snow to rediscover the joys of family togetherness and having fun doing things we all like together. It's moving away from normal home life, chores and regularity and rediscovering family roots. Christmas at Sun Peaks is 'the white Christmas' that makes all the carols and songs make sense. The beauty of Sun Peaks in winter is incredible.  There are very few shops in the ski through main 'street', and it's so refreshing for me to be completely isolated from all shopping. Selfishly, I'd like to keep just how awesome it is under wraps, so it remains just as it's been for us, but I'd also like to share Sun Peaks' awesomeness with you, because if you get there for Christmas, you too may have the same revelation about the true spirit of Christmas that we have had. And the more people who do, the better the world will be. Christmas is about family time, sharing our time together, not about buying expensive gifts and one-upmanship, Boxing Day sales and credit card overload. Find it, people, in Sun Peaks if you have the opportunity to get there.

Saturday, 24 October 2015


We are in the throws of the Christmas holiday or summer holiday job search for the returned home uni student son. So while he's trying to track down pretty much any summer job, I have been reflecting on holiday jobs of my past, both good and less so. Which has brought me to thinking and reminiscing about a fabulous year I had on a working holiday in Vancouver in the mid 90s. The job was a means to an end. We only wanted to ski, and ski a lot we did that year. So much did we want to ski, that with the teeny tiny wages we earned, it was being able to afford to eat that lost out to being able to ski. Priorities huh?!

That short-term job was in a killer beautiful location in West Vancouver, right on the harbour in the little village style hamlet of Ambleside. I sold high end French and Spanish children's shoes. They were the most lovely shoes for kids I have ever seen, and I have craved the likes of them ever since. Although my days were dull, I was the only staff member there, my few and far between moments of actually fitting and selling the shoes were fun. Time ticked by very slowly, but I decided to join the local library and it was in that year that I read all the north american classics. I think I read the entire John Updike shelf from the West Van library that year. I also took out every cookbook for dinners on a budget.

Ambleside is picture perfect with a seawall running along the harbour's edge, making about a 20 minute walk to the little beach village of Dundarave. Walking there and back, I'm guessing it's a 6km walk that is so picturesque - views across to the classic lines of the Lion's Gate Bridge, which joins the north shore to downtown Vancouver through Stanley Park. In summer, the harbour welcomes and sees off cruise ships most days, and it'll stop you every time to watch those giant ships sail under the Lion's Gate Bridge as the sun is setting. Vancouver is the postcard perfect city - snow-capped mountains, harbour, boats, seaplanes, Stanley Park, driftwood logs, and pebbly beaches. Strap on the the sneakers and take to the West Van seawall when you make it to Vancouver, you may see a bald eagle or a sea otter or two. You most certainly will not be disappointed with the walk or the vistas. And stop by in Ambleside and have a look around. Can you not see why I had the gold medal winning location for that shoe shop sales job? I was being paid to spend my time reading the classics in the most beautiful little spot on the north shore.  And I got to ski Whistler on weekdays in that epic early season that November back in 1994 without any crowds.You most definitely can't do that anymore. 

But you can go see Ambleside and Dundarave, and you absolutely must.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015


How on earth do you compare the talents of a master like Dr Suess to a non-poet like myself? The quality and life direction you can absorb by reading a Dr Seuss gem like 'Oh, the places you'll go'! Nothing compares to Dr Suess. I've gleaned so much positivity from quotes out of this book, from "Congratulations! Today is your day. You're off to Great Places! You're off and away!" to the final page, " your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray or Mordecai Ali Allen O'Shea, you're off to Great Places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting. So.....get on your way!"

My sad effort at creativity in class today, goes like this, with credit to Dr Suess for its similarity of style, but I'm sure he wouldn't thank me for that, or even agree to any style similarity. For your information, we were asked to have fun with our writing, and using our dream goal that we wrote in last week's class, create a piece of poetry. Be kind, we only had 20 minutes to pull together our creative masterpieces.

Come on, get going,
It's time to use it.
Use what, you ask?
Well, before you lose it,
And get so damn old.
There'll be no point,
Go now...and write some gold.

I think Dr Suess's place on the kids shelves is very safe for many years to come. There's no threat from this little black duck.

"You have brains in your head, You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose." Yes, Dr Suess I have brains in my head, and I am steering myself in the direction I choose. But poetry, I will leave to you.

Friday, 16 October 2015


I gotta punch out another blog entry almost immediately after publishing the last one - this has never happened before. But what I have to share is so good you absolutely must see it right away. The very same younger daughter who so bravely took on the 800m yesterday, has turned out a batch of honey jumbles to give your left arm for. The breadth of her talents never ceases to amaze! For the uninitiated, the honey jumble is a gingery spice flavoured biscuit, a little like gingerbread, but shaped like a rounded corner rectangle, not as flat as gingerbread, and iced with pink or white royal icing. You get a good one, and trust me, you will return to the source again and again and again.

Come in close, and drool over these little beauties!


Yesterday I experienced a glorious Brisbane spring day, being spectator at one of the most exciting and eagerly anticipated dates on the girls' schools sporting calendar - the QGSSSA Athletics at the stadium in Brisbane's south west, still known to most people as the QEII stadium, but now officially called QSAC (Queensland Sports and Athletics Centre). It's where Brisbane hosted the Commonwealth Games track and field events back in 1982.

The day was hot and sunny and shade is at a premium out there, so needless to say, after watching the stellar high jumpers in the sun for an hour and a half, I ended the day with a blazing case of sunburn - scarlet neckline and arms, and pink forehead and nose. Today I just feel rather stupid.

10 senior schools represented - all girls in the competition. It was a very tough gig to place out there yesterday, let me tell you. The talent we have in south east Queensland with sprinters, long distance runners, high jumpers whose names most certainly will be known at national levels in the years to come, hurdlers, the list goes on. It was a joy to be watching the talent, the determination and the standard that they brought to the track. I love these events - it makes you feel physical and virtuous just watching the activity. It actually gives me hope that all is not lost against the battle with obesity and our evergrowing fatness problem due to the sedentary lives we lead.

My own daughters excelled and I couldn't be any prouder of them. The big one is a jumper and took out the long jump and slotted into 2nd in the high jump, only on a count back. She cleared 154cm and only missed 157 by the tiniest smidge.  The high jump event is just amazing to watch, it's such a great show, with a big beginning, lots of eager competitors front up, and as they go, you feel their disappointment if they knock the bar and their exhilaration when they realise it's still in position as they hit the mat. I just want them all to get over that bar. It's such a specific event, you have to have a certain shape, a special run, enough speed, plenty of bounce and such faith in your own abilities, otherwise you'd just run straight past the bar and run away to hide under the stands. The show ends with only 2 competitors, and when it's done I always wish there was more - it's my favourite event.

The little daughter, at her first big one of these comps, was super nervous and was given the unenviable task of running the 800m. Smallest girl in the school team and smallest girl at the start line. Small but mighty! After 700m slogging along, she accelerated to fly down the last 100m, overtaking 2 girls before the line. Wow! She was totally spent from that and the emotions and tears flowed for a full twenty minutes after, but today (after a good sleep) she knows she could've given absolutely nothing more, she left it all out there on the track, and she is so so very proud of herself.

Worth the sunburn? Yes, absolutely to be there for these special events is priceless. Just someone remind me next time - HAT, UMBRELLA, SUNSCREEN.


Wednesday, 14 October 2015


Over breakfast every morning for the past few weeks I have been reading a travel story and I mean a different one every day. It's been a journey of the senses with each and every bowl of muesli, and an exercise in containing my feelings of jealousy. Even though I'm loving the concept of me doing this kind of writing too, I've been getting more and more certain that other people are far better at travel writing than I will ever be. I have to try hard to believe I could actually do it anywhere near as well as the writer of this particular collection of stories. Her name is Lee Mylne and she's probably going to be coming in to our TAFE course to talk to us next month.

A life of journalism has lead her to where she now is with her writing. She's contributed to a bunch of books and travel guides, and she relates many of her travel stories in her blog 'A Glass Half Full', and that's also the name of her book that I've been reading over my brekky. So it comes without saying, she can write with eloquence. For me, the stories uncover her experiences so very well. It's not just the details - the what of the world she is seeing, the colours etc. But it's also the insight into how a place might make you feel, the people who touched her thoughts and heart while she's been out and about on her travels. To read her work feels like a little snapshot of her life on the road or on the journey, not always just the glossy bits, not only a 'travel brochure picture', but the less glorious parts of a journey, and even some bits that make you feel distinctly uncomfortable. I could almost feel the thicker air and unspoken feelings of sadness when a fellow passenger on her cruising trip in the Kimberley region of Western Australia passed away during the cruise. Her way of drawing the reader in to the journey is so much more than just an account of what happened or a facts list. You almost feel like you've been riding on the shoulder straps of her day pack. I really do appreciate that it's a skill honed over the years, but I also believe some of this ability is just a natural thing she's been blessed to have been born with.

I am left wondering again, was I born with enough natural ability to string the words together, and just how much do I need to practise in order to come close to the 'real thing'?

Thursday, 8 October 2015


Many visitors to Brisbane will have noticed and no doubt, will have been impressed by the cool and unique urban art project that's been alive in our city for quite a number of years now. Brisbane residents are allowed to apply to paint traffic signal boxes as part of the Urban Smart Projects initiative. So all around the city, instead of plain and often graffittied blue-grey signal boxes, the sunny sub-tropical city of Brisbane sports brightly painted and original works of art.

Each box is hand-painted by a Brissie local and often reflects or is inspired by the local environment or community around it. This fabulous idea, funded by the Brisbane City Council, is based on the idea that painted boxes, showcasing cool, funky and real artwork, are way less likely to be tagged.

While it's clearly an 'in demand' opportunity, and there are well over 900 of them in Brisbane, it's funny, because there's still an element of mystery about how it all happens and where the art comes from. People love these boxes and I've heard of a few people who keep photos of all the ones they really love when they drive by them. The idea is spreading around now, and Ipswich has taken it on, and at least a few municipalities in Melbourne and also in Sydney have tried it out. But, I see it as a Brisbane thing, and I think Brissie should lay claim because I've been keeping an eye on the art since around 2007, when my clever husband decided to do his first box. Brisbane has stuck with this project, making it their own, the boxes are kept in good shape, but any old weathered ones get routinely replaced with new artworks, and everything stays fresh. You could say it's like a gallery that changes its works and has exhibitions. The idea hasn't got stale, which is great. 

The multi-talented husband has now completed 4 boxes with the most recent, just done this past weekend. He's timed his work amazingly well because there are bus shelters all over the city, sporting movie release posters for The Martian as well, so it kind of looks like he's super in touch and on topic. Actually, just coincidence, albeit a rather cool one.

Immerse, enjoy and savour art and originality, in all its forms.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015


The New York sojourn over, daughter returned to the nest, safely but definitely more worldly, I must now shift my writing to the other item which must be put to bed, and that is the closure of events for World Skills 2015. Perhaps you may recall, I did mention the World Skills competition event that we, as TAFE tourism students, were leading and staging. Well, it has indeed happened, successfully, and is done and dusted for this year. Today we debriefed in class, how well we did on the day, what was great and what not so fancy about our organisation. On balance, with some minor tweaks here and there, the day went as well as was possible. It seems the powers to be at TAFE thought we had achieved success, and my view of the competitors happiness levels is that they were all extremely proud of their efforts and had fun. After their nerves settled and their presentations were a thing of the past, there were smiles all around, proud mums and dads, and lots of pats on the back and hugs. 

How people go home after something says a lot to me. If there's a sense of pride and a smile and they walk tall from the room, then I'm sure they'd get involved again and recommend it to someone else. These 16 year old school kids all walked a few cm's taller when they left that auditorium. Well done guys!

In that same vein then, there sure has been boundless happiness and enjoyment from newly returned New York traveller daughter, because she has not stopped smiling when you mention her trip. 'It was so, like totally amazingly awesome' (with a New York twang) may be what she's been saying!

And so life returns to a fuller household, and the prospect of only 3 more weeks of classes for the semester. 

Well of course not, but we will return.

Friday, 2 October 2015


My intrepid teenage adventurer is on her way home now, her stellar trip and tasty intro to world travel 'sans family' drawing to a close. Of course the trip back to Australia from New York doesn't draw to a close very quickly at all. She left this morning Brisbane time, but we won't see her tired but happy face at arrivals until tomorrow morning 6.30am! It's a long long journey around the globe.

I do hope she didn't have a final fluttery stomach moment like we did last December, when we came so close to arriving beautifully on time at the wrong New York airport. We had flown into JFK, coming from South America, but we were leaving from La Guardia, heading north to colder snowier climes, and the magnificence of Niagara Falls as well as some very gloomy grey weather in Toronto. Where we were headed was clearly communicated, we were fully versed to ask for the right airport and we even pre-booked our taxi cab the night before with the concierge at our hotel. So, it wasn't really part of the conversation when we got picked up (actually we weren't really involved in the conversation because the cab driver had his own pet subject he was going to talk about no matter what, come hell or high water this man was keen to tell us about exactly how many calories his body needed from carbs versus other foods). New York traffic is crazy, and so we spent an eternity, it seemed, just weaving through central downtown Manhattan, making our way to the right arterials to get to La Guardia airport in Queens. Right at the most opportune moment, thankfully, I asked (having seen a sign to say we were entering a tunnel) if we were about to go under the river? Yes, he says, Newark Airport is in New Jersey. With micro-seconds to change lanes after me uttering a panicked, no we are flying from La Guardia not Newark, this man was able to hold his tongue about carbs and calories for long enough to get us facing a different direction and heading now towards Queens. We did make it in time, but my advice for anyone flying from NYC is to leave at least 4 hours before your flight. And check what airport details have come up on the taxi booking as well.

La Guardia handles most of the domestic traffic as well as flights to and from Canada, and it is incredibly busy. Once locked and loaded and sitting on the tarmac, the pilot broadcast that we were waiting in line to take off, and would be off the ground as soon as the planes before us took to the air. We pressed our eager faces to the window and counted 12 planes all in line in front of ours. It's like some kind of precision dancing like the Rockettes we'd seen just days before, the way that air traffic control functions. It looks like no time between take-offs and landings, and to watch just how close these giants of the sky come for that 25 minutes or so that we waited, was kind of scary, but also impressive and reassuring at the same time.

I won't ever forget that flight because whilst waiting to board in New York, we heard and watched the first news of the Sydney Lindt Cafe siege as breaking news on the TVs in the departure lounge. By the time we reached Toronto, the news was reporting 2 Australians had been killed. We were travelling in North America, where all eyes are open to detect any terrorism, yet it was at home in Australia that terrorism had reared its ugly head.

Pretty much opposite directions!