Edited highlights: Autumn colours, freakshakes and disco

As Winter marches on new ideas are brewing in my head about the direction of The Alexcellent Life and ideas for entirely different blogs are taking shape.

In the meantime, while I’m plotting and planning, I want to share some highlights from previous weeks.

We have been doing so much since we moved to Canberra, along with work and school, that I’ve been having trouble making time to document it all. So even though we’re now in the middle of Winter and I feel like I’ve been behind all year, I wanted to showcase some Autumn highlights. Click on the pictures for captions. It will be Winter’s turn next post.

Lulu came for a visit and we took her to the Patissez store in the city. I had vowed NOT to have a Freakshake, as the three we ordered when Senorita Magarita came to visit was too much. We ordered one and it was easily enough for the three of us.

We also ordered a proper lunch this time. It was so long ago I can’t remember exactly what I had, but sweet potato fries were involved and I remember they were amazing.

 

That night after popping some champagne at home, we went to Canberra’s annual Enlighten festival – like Sydney’s Vivid, except not, but still good in its own Canberra way. We were intrigued by the idea of  a “Dark Disco” at the National Portrait Gallery… but once we discovered the little room where the disco was, we found it was more like a blue light disco. But it was free.

I’ve really been appreciating Canberra’s distinct seasons…

At the end of Autumn I finished up a work contract and began another one. My colleagues gave me this beautiful hanging basket of petunias. I was warned to actually hang it, rather than just leave it on the ground other wise the frost would get it.

It’s fared surprisingly well – it does droop on frosty mornings but seems to recover quite well in the sun.

I went to the Southside fresh food markets and found these beautiful cabbage flowers. And my rough and tumble Spider Boy found a heart shaped petal and a piece of bark and told me it was a heart next to a skull and crossbones, which was a logo he used to add to every drawing he did when he was four. The heart represents me and the skull and crossbones represent him (he came up with that).

I started a new job in Canberra’s CBD. It is a nice change to be working in the city, but a bit dangerous as I’m close to lots of exciting shops! But I really have needed to add to create my Winter wardrobe here in Canberra. Because the longer I’m here the more I realise Sydney doesn’t actually have a Winter. I wasn’t prepared clothes-wise. But at least I have a reason to wear my old leather gloves now!

Next Time: Canberra Winter Wonderland.

Edited highlights: bare trees and summer memories

On Monday I worked from home as Spider Boy had a cold. It was also time for his plaster to come off. Once we got home from the medical centre, I noticed for the first time that the branches on the trees outside our window are bare. I don’t know how long they’ve been that way. But as I stood by the window I thought, “Didn’t those trees have red leaves on them last time I looked?”

How could they have lost all their leaves so quickly? I thought back to Summer. I had to think hard. I found an image in the old brain files of a red and blue parrot playing peek-a-boo amongst the masses of green leaves on the same tree. Then the leaves had turned red. Now, it was leafless, and I didn’t even notice it happening.

Time just slips away, and before you know it we are halfway through the year. We’ve even passed the Winter Solstice (8.43am Tuesday 21 June, by the way).

As I mentioned, Spider Boy had his plaster removed this week. He still needs to wear a splint for three weeks while doing anything active. His skin was dry and flaky where the plaster had been. But when I went to cleanse and moisturise his arm with Cetaphil, the flakes had already disappeared. Tonight the skin on his arm looks like new.

It’s a new season, we are well into Winter. So I’m going to present some pictures of the last weeks of Summer, when we said goodbye to Sydney and began settling in to our new home in Canberra.

Click on the images to read the captions…

Canberrafication

The past three months has flown…

Well here I am. It’s been three months since my last blog post. Spider Boy and I are moving back have moved back to Canberra. Yeah, I started writing this post in January, right before we moved!

In my previous post I wrote about the science of new year’s resolutions, I gushed about “…my exciting plans for 2016” and how I would catch you up “…in the next one or two days”. Well make that one or two three months because here I am in MARCH APRIL! ANZAC Day in fact. But let me briefly catch you up.

Packing stress

Late December and early January passed in a haze of sweat, dust, stubbed toes, paper cuts, boxes, butchers paper, a shoddy tape gun and backaches. There was Christmas, New Year, family, friends and trying to keep Spider Boy amused between bouts of packing, and weather involving intense heat and extreme rain. There was too much screen time and not enough beach time. I’m sorry, Spider Boy.

Settling into a new life

I don’t blame my new, busy, full-time job for my lack of blogging since moving to Canberra. I don’t blame settling Spider Boy into a new school and setting up a home for us. I blame my Internet Service Provider and the faulty modem they sent me. Then finally, four weeks after “connecting the internet”,  it finally worked! After numerous laborious phone calls to the call centre and a technician visit, we had Wifi lift off. But by then I’d lost my blogging groove.

Why am I in Canberra again?

For  the past 6 years, since Spider Boy was was 2,  we’d been living in Sydney, where I grew up, close to my family and long-time friends. But now it’s time to be back to the city Spider Boy was born in, where his father lives, so he can see his dad regularly. It’s the main reason I moved back. I wanted the logistics of my son spending time with his father, to be easier. And I also have good work opportunities here. And real-estate is a bit more affordable.

We have been promised lots of visits from our family and friends, and we have had some already, which makes us very happy. The time we spend with loved ones and the situations we see them in may have been reconfigured, but they are still in our hearts every day. And even though I feel a connection with Canberra, I’ll always be a Bondi girl.

Moving to Canberra was easier the second-time around

I may hail from a trendy beach-side suburb, but I was never the kale-inhaling, chain-smoking, bikini-top wearing type sitting on a crate outside the Paris Go cafe. But I did schlepp up and down Hall Street for 27 years. Three of those years were spent in a part-time job helping tourists and celebrities buy postage stamps, cigarettes, scratchies and bus tickets at Bondi Beach Newsagency. (I sold a pack of Camels to Noah Taylor once.)

When I first told my dad back in 2012 I was thinking of moving back to Canberra, he said, “But you’re such a Sydney person.” The ocean gets under your skin. The first time I moved to Canberra,  I dreamed of the beach and harbour every night for months. But I haven’t had those dreams this time around. Maybe because moving to Canberra for the second time isn’t such a culture shock. But the first time it really was.

The culture-shock of the Capital

When I first moved to the Capital in January 2004, although I immediately loved the mountain vistas, wildlife and people I met, there were things I struggled with:

  • the language – did everyone speak Acronym?
  • no beach
  • not being able to just run down to the beach
  • the dry, baking heat of January
  • dry dusty earth and gum leaves everywhere
  • the reliance on cars
  • the whole “town centre” concept with long stretches of road in between
  • brutalist architecture
  • weird 70s bus-stops
  • unmowed grass hiding the “footpaths”
  • The realisation that the Woden Plaza/bus interchange of the mid 2000’s was just like the Bondi Junction of my 70s childhood

I remember a visit back home to Sydney when I was pregnant with Spider Boy.  I went to a Tupperware party at Señorita Margarita’s house. The Tupperware demonstrator happened to come from Canberra. “Yeah, I escaped” she said gleefully. I felt like hitting her over the head with her food storage solutions. Her glee at escaping served as unwitting mockery of where I now lived, and I felt resentful I had to go back there.

The beginnings of my Canberrafication

But then after I did leave Canberra almost 6 years ago, it gradually dawned on me that there were things I missed about this city  with its developing quiet confidence.

I didn’t realise it until after I’d left, but I’d actually become a bit Canberrafied. And during my visits back to Canberra with Spider Boy, I realised I was missing:

  • fresh air
  • proximity to snow and rural areas
  • mountain vistas
  • the ability to park your car not only in front of your house, but on your own property
  • green space and trees
  • crisp and sunny winter days
  • blossoming fruit trees in spring
  • Braddon’s vibrant coffee culture and cool shops
  • the burgeoning food and wine scene
  • great little hidden-treasure suburban coffee shops
  • the birds, so many birds
  • kangaroos in surburbia and on the walking tracks that weave through the city
  • Tilley’s
  • hot air balloons slowly rising and descending on crisp Autumn mornings
  • all the amazing national institutions, exhibitions and events
  • farmer’s markets
  • the great community feeling

And other things that make it a great place for Spider Boy:

  • sporty places – bike paths, ovals, sports clubs, ice-skating rink, the Australian Institute of Sport etc
  • educational opportunities

These lists just scratch the surface.

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View of Telstra Tower from the National Arboretum.

 

Canberra’s joys

So for the past few years, I’ve been promoting Canberra’s joys to Sydneysiders. On Christmas day I said to Señorita Margarita: “You have to come and stay in Canberra! To see us, but also to see all the things in Canberra. Canberra has things.”

“Oh, here we go, the Canberra has things speech,” she said with an eye-roll.

Converting family and friends (trying to)

Yes, the Señorita has come to stay and we are already planning her next visit in May. Friend Lou-Lou has stayed for a weekend, and my mum (aka BatGran) has also come to stay twice (and is here right now) even though she says she hates Canberra. I’m hoping to change her mind. Thanks for giving it a go Mum.

My Dad was also here last week. He got into the spirit of the Bush Capital by buying a sausage at the local Bunnings sausage sizzle and eating it in the carpark in his Akubra hat. He sees Canberra’s opportunities and possibilities. And whenever he visits he brings bags of my things that I didn’t quite get around to packing. Thanks Dad.

What’s next?

The Alexcellent Life was a little quiet for a few weeks months while the actual Alexcellent life got settled. So it wasn’t entirely my ISP’s fault.

We are at the start of a new chapter, and it feels exciting. So here’s to our Canberrafication. But I’ll always have a soft spot for Bondi.

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Bondi Baths. Photo taken by my clever and talented sister, Señorita Margarita. This hangs on my wall.

Princess Mary and Me

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Mary, Crown Princess of Denmark, aka “Our Mary” graces the cover of this week’s Woman’s Day.

Last Sunday night, I didn’t watch news reports about the Paris attacks. I watched Mary: The Making of a Princess, along with 928,999 other metro viewers. Apparently the biopic won its timeslot, outrating both Seven and Nine’s special news bulletins.

Media commentator/advertising guru Dee Madigan tweeted on Monday that there are 929,000 people who need to take a long, hard look at themselves. Well, I constantly take long hard looks at myself whether I watch fantasy-injected biopics or not.

As my irony gene is so weak, I couldn’t tell whether Dee was joking or judging. But sometimes taking in all the terrible things that happen in this world gets too much and by Sunday night I had reached my quota of brutal and horrific. I needed to escape (and yes, I am grateful I have the luxury of being able to escape by simply changing the channel).

My go-to-escape channel on Sunday was 10 (channels 11, 22, 72, 99 and 90 are also tried and tested escape routes). But on this night, I time-travelled back to early-noughties retro fun; the music, the fashion, and the lifestyle of Mary Donaldson’s young single days in Sydney.

Oh how I reminisced about Madison Avenue’s Don’t Call Me Baby and the bars of Darling Harbour in Sydney’s optimistic Olympic wake. What early noughties lifestyle/romance montage would be complete without a soundtrack of Killing Heidi and New Radicals?

Mary’s life was practically a mirror to my own in the early days of the 21st century. Apart from the dating a Danish Prince thing. Both 30ish, Aquarian brunette marketing/communications (sort of) professionals living in Sydney’s east, we both had long-distance relationships and re-located for love. She to Copenhagen, and I to Canberra.

I’m sure Mary missed the Bondi-to-Bronte as she pounded the cold Copenhagen pavements on her morning run. As I did, when I first moved to the bush captital. I remember just wanting to just run down to the beach on several occasions,  but I couldn’t. Because there was no beach. Instead, I found a bush track close to where I lived and stumbled upon a mob of about 10 kangaroos, a couple of metres away, just staring at me. All was still apart from their chewing. And I was surprised by joy.

I wasn’t Princess Mary, but I was known as “The Princess Mary of Public Affairs” in my new Canberra public service job, a title I wore like the tiara I wished I had. Mary got engaged, I got engaged. Mary studied Danish, while I studied Canberra’s own secret language, Acronym.

After weddings and first-born sons, Mary’s and my parallel pathways diverged. But that’s OK. I saw a Judy Garland quote on Facebook the other day, “Always be a first-rate version of yourself, and not a second-rate version of someone else.”

Maybe if I continue taking those long hard looks at myself, as Dee Madigan suggests,  I’ll achieve that aspiration.

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Jiawei Shen’s 2005 portrait of Princess Mary hangs in The National Portrait Gallery in Canberra. The Opera House designed by Danish architect Jorn Utzon visible through the sheer curtain, a nod to her past and present.

 

 

Eat Drink Blog 2015… Food, fun and photo freedom

In October Alexcellent Lifestyle attended the 6th annual Eat Drink Blog (EDB15) conference. Held in a different Australian city each year, 2015 was Canberra’s turn to host over 80 food bloggers.

I wanted to experience for myself all the new paddock-to-plate dining options and hipster havens I’d heard were happening in Canberra. It was a perfect opportunity to visit the city as a blogger, and for my son Spider Boy to spend some time with his Canberra-based dad. So while I was tasting the best of Braddon and NewActon, I knew my son would be enjoying the sights of Smiggle, Impact Comics and JB Hi-Fi.

The conference committee put together a comprehensive program of our Capital’s favourite foodie experiences as well as education sessions on aspects of blogging and photography from inspiring experts. It was an excellent way to spend a weekend.

The conference was officially launched with a welcome from ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr at The Hamlet, an urban village of food vans and pop-up stores a few minutes walk from Canberra’s city centre. When I read on the EDB15 website that the Friday night launch would include canapés, I imagined little things. I didn’t imagine this:

schnitzel from The Brathaus in Canberra.

Well call me a canapé, it’s pork, veal and chicken schnitzel from The Brathaus!

…or this

Brod Dogs

Hot dogs a-hoy!

…or this

Pies from Thank God it's Pie Day.

It was like all my Pie Days had come at once. Pie Yay.

There was a big table of beautifully presented foods from The Hamlet’s food trucks. There were gourmet pies, artisan pizzas, huge sandwiches, souvlaki, hotdogs, pulled-pork burgers and did I mention the schnitzel and home-made sausages? Real sausages from The Brathaus made from free-range meat sourced locally. Mr Brathaus was very enthusiastic, so I sampled ALL of the schnitzel.

Schnitzel from The Brathaus

There he is carving it up like a pro.

I really wanted to sample everything else on offer but there’s only so much that even I can eat. I did manage to fit in a delicious balsamic marinated beetroot, feta and pistachio pie from Pie Day.

And don’t get me started on dessert. I was so busy sampling the savoury treats, I literally ran out of time to have my favourite course. I grabbed a fancy-schmancy donut from Chasing Mr Morris, wrapped it in a napkin and stuffed it in my handbag for later.

chocolate crackle and fruit loops donuts from Mr.Morris

Donuts ‘R Us.

But what to do about this waffle from April’s Caravan? There simply wasn’t the time to eat it, so here’s a photo for my scrapbook.

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Life is good with polka dots and waffle hearts

As well as the food, there was the ambience. I’d heard of The Hamlet before I went there, and I knew it was in hipster Braddon, so I knew it was going to be hipster, but I didn’t think it would be this hipster…

DJ at the Hamlet in Lonsdale St Braddon.

Crochet hipster.

Or this hipster…

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Chandelier-and-plant-in-telephone-box hipster with not-really-hipster-but-hashtagging dude hipster.

After the champagne, I just couldn’t go the coconut ice milkshake from April’s Caravan… but, I’ll be back to fully enjoy the sugar-filled prettiness. Just as well I’m moving back to Canberra in January.

Milkshakes from April's Caravan at the Hamlet

April’s Caravan… Sweet kitsch(en) dreams are made of this. A coconut ice milkshake. Creative and gorgeous.

After the awesome canapé dinner, it was time to break off into three separate groups of blogger/food-tourists for a tour of three local food and drink businesses.

First stop was Hopscotch, an award-winning gastro-pub with a street-front alfresco area in Braddon.

poptails and bloggers at Hopscotch for EDB15

My fellow bloggers understand me: Erin from Dreaming of Almonds and Megann from Megann’s Kitchen at Hopscotch, doing what all good food bloggers do before anything passes their lips.

I really got my first taste of summer for the year with this delicious and more-ish poptail. So creative, I’ve never seen anything like it. I should’ve noted down exactly what it was – it might have been some kind of moscato or rosé with a mango-daiquiri popsicle in it. There were non-alcholic versions as well, but I would know even less about those.

As well as the great food and company, something I really enjoyed was that for the first time, I felt I was able to photograph my food and drinks with wild abandon. There was no one saying “Oh come on, not another photo, can’t you just eat/drink it already?!” which is what I always hear when I’m eating out with non-bloggers (or at least what I imagine they’re thinking). This weekend I felt I was with my food blogger-soul peeps.

Next stop on the tour was whiskey and food matching at Marble & Grain, a European Steakhouse gastro-pub. I have never been a whiskey fan, but I still appreciated the opportunity to learn more about it, especially as food was involved.

Marble and Grain

We sampled Glenfiddich 12, 14 and 15, along with matching canapés. Goat’s cheese with fig and rye pumpernickel and hickory smoked duck prosciutto, rock melon and cocoa nibs.

After attempting to inhale the bouquet of the first whiskey (Glenfiddich 12), Bec from Inexplicable Wanderlust told me that this was a no-no because it’s too strong on the nose. You’re supposed to dip your finger in the whiskey, rub it on the back of your hand and smell that. Better.

Our third and final official stop of the night was at Frugii Dessert Laboratory. John Marshall, a former public servant turned ‘ice-cream alchemist’ produces chocolate gelato right from the cocoa bean. All products at Frugii are made from scratch using freshly made extracts, nut pastes and oils. They also make chocolates and chilled cakes.

Frugii Dessert Laboratory in Braddon

Frugii Dessert Laboratory in Braddon where I sampled this lemon myrtle ice-cream.

John gave us a short education session on chocolate ‘bean to bar’ and we all got a generous sample of the ice-cream of our choice. Knowing I already had a hipster chocolate crackle-donut hybrid in my handbag, I chose the lemon myrtle, because I’m all about the balance, you know? (the lemon myrtle was every bit as good as I thought it would be).

The next morning, conference delegates were picked up by a dedicated ACTION bus and taken to the Capital Region Farmers Market in the north of Canberra. Here they experienced a local producers breakfast and a cooking demonstration by young chefs from the Canberra Institute of Technology (CIT).  Unfortunately I wasn’t able to make it to that part of the morning and I believe I missed out on a fabulous croquembouche demonstration, among many other things.

I did manage to make it to the keynote address from former chef/food critic and now SBS TV presenter/farmer Matthew Evans at the beautiful Nishi Gallery at NewActon. After Matthew’s entertaining session, we took a scenic lakeside walk to Westside Acton Park, a new pop-up food and entertainment venue made entirely of shipping containers.

Westside Acton Park

Spoilt for choice at Westside Acton Park; Friendly bartender at Aviary Bar, Westside; Sparkling white from Capital Wines was lovely with my Thai pulled-beef taco.

We were able to choose from an interesting and varied selection of lunch choices. I chose the Thai pulled-beef soft tacos. I ordered two thinking they’d be small but they were quite substantial. I couldn’t even finish my second one what with being so busy meeting and chatting to other bloggers at Westside’s upstairs Aviary Bar, where we were also given a glass of wine from Capital Wines.

After lunch we went back to the Nishi Gallery where we learnt about the ups and downs of restaurant reviewing from writer and communications consultant Wendy Johnson, the secrets of Search Engine Optimisation from marketing expert Todd Wright of Threesides Marketing, food styling with photographer and stylist Tess Godkin and smart phone photography and videography from Alice Lau of the Girl in a Food Frenzy blog and You Tube channel.

Eat Drink Blog Conference 2015

The Nishi Gallery was the ideal conference space. Todd Wright and Wendy Johnson deliver their engaging presentations.

Eat Drink Blog Conference 2015

Photographer Tess Godkin reveals her secrets to food styling.

These sessions were punctuated by an afternoon tea which showcased some of the Canberra region’s finest food and wine producers.

I sampled some fresh cows milk curd made by The Cheese Project. Established by Maureen House in 2014, it’s the only commercial cheese-making business in the Canberra area. I tried more than one of these little delights below. The milk curd on these was blended with orange zest (and a bit of sugar) and paired with the biscuity-base (made by Maureen’s husband), it was a match made in heaven.

The Cheese Project

Pretty pieces of orange on fresh cows milk curd tarts and the perfect bite-size treats for afternoon tea from The Cheese Project.

The conference dinner on Saturday night was held at A.Baker in the NewActon Precinct. As well as its daily baked artisan breads, A.Baker is known for sourcing local and seasonal produce for its dynamic menu. Bloggers were treated to a five- course meal comprising shared plates. I loved this idea as it meant my table-mates and I were all focused on the same dish and we could serve ourselves the portion-size we wanted.

A.Baker in the NewActon Precinct, Canberra, ACT

Pre-dinner drinks in the courtyard of A.Baker; the view of the terrace and the Nishi building; A.Baker’s interior.

After canapés and sparking wine from Mt Majura, ACT on the terrace, we sat down at long tables where the shared plates were delivered.

A.Baker dinner menu Eat Drink Blog 2015

Clockwise from top left: venison canapés; charred cauliflower with sesame and ponzu; braised octopus, skordalia, baked pancetta, blood orange and almond; baked local mushrooms, dutch cream gnocchi, kale and local primo sale; charred lamb neck, harrissa, bean, raddish and sumac salad.

The dessert of black sesame bavarois, strawberries, pink peppercorn meringue and sorrel looked and tasted beautiful and was the perfect way to finish dinner.

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During the evening the conference writing and photography competition winners were announced. I was honoured when writer and competition judge Liz Posmyk from Bizzy Lizzy’s Good Things called my name as the recipient of a consolation prize in the narrative category for my recent blog post Is it time to give up my sugar crush?  The other winners and links to their winning blog posts are on the Eat Drink Blog 2015 Competition Winners page. So thank you judges Liz and Wendy Johnson, and thanks to Capital Wines for my lovely rosé!

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Unfortunately I had to miss the next day’s activities due to a sick Spider Boy but I got so much out of what I’d already experienced at Eat Drink Blog 2015. Plus I’ve got a goodie bag to remind me of all the good times…

Eat Drink Blog 2015 goodie bag

Thank goodness for goodie bags.

The Eat Drink Blog 2015 program lists the Sunday activities, or you can read about the conference from some of the other delegates’ perspectives.

This was my first Eat Drink Blog conference (well, half-conference for me) and I’m determined it won’t be my last. It was real value for money – all meals and drinks between Friday dinner and Sunday lunch (as well as all the blogging wisdom) was included in the very reasonable $150 conference fee.

I was inspired by the passion, enthusiasm and extreme organisational skills shown by the conference organisers who volunteered their time to make EDB15 happen; Amanda of Her Canberra, Tara of In The Taratory, Belinda of The Forage, Giulia of Love at Every Bite, and Rachi of Le Bon Vivant. The team pulled together a truly entertaining and informative weekend. Well done committee and thank you! I am looking forward to next year.

And there might be a new little food blogger rising up the ranks: Spider Boy said to me on Day 1 of the conference: “I want a food blog! I love food – it keeps you alive and it tastes good!” Ain’t that the truth.

Link Love

As well as the work of the organising committee, the EDB15 success was also due to the generosity and hospitality of the sponsors.

Major Sponsor: Her Canberra

Gold Sponsors: Visit Canberra, ACTION Buses, A.Baker

Silver Sponsors: Frugii, QT Canberra, Bentspoke Brewing Co., Hopscotch, Marble & Grain, The Hamlet, Six8 Coffee Roasters, Westside Acton Park, Capital Region Farmers Market, NewActon, the Boat House by the lake, The Canberra Wine House, The Cupping Room, Two Before Ten, Yum Digital Magazine, Poacher’s Way, The Fix juices, and The Muesli Bar.

The EDB15 conference delegates have been busy posting their content. Please visit the Eat Drink Blog Testimonials page for links to their posts for some fantastic photos and words about EDB15 that I wasn’t able to capture.

The trek to Tuggeranong. Or long day’s journey into night.

Spider Boy and I had a slight obstacle on the second day of Term 2 last week when the entrance of our street (a no-through road) was flooded during the big Sydney storm (well New South Wales storm actually).

My mother warned me about the dangers of driving through the flood (some would say giant puddle), worrying about water in the brakes. Without her car, it was a good 20 minute walk in the heavy rain. And I was slightly worried about precarious tree branches.

I know it’s a bit soft of me, but I let Spider Boy stay home from school. Our street situation was a tiny hiccup though, compared to what some went through; thousands of people further up the coast were without power for days (some are still without) and are dealing with bad property damage.

This week is the first full week back at school so I think a holiday retrospective is due.

Spider Boy and I make the trek to Tuggeranong, in Canberra’s south every school holidays for a few days. The day before we were due to go this time, I developed a terrible sore throat.

“You shouldn’t be going!”Mum warned on departure day. “You’ll just get sicker and and I really don’t want to have to drive to Canberra to come and get you.” I thanked her for her concern but told her to stop with the Negative Nancy talk.

At 8.30am, I called the Apple Store in Canberra to see about my four-week old MacBook Air that just wouldn’t power on (as of the previous evening) despite a fully-charged battery. The Genius Bar was already full for the day, but I was told I could just turn up as a “walk-in” on arrival in Canberra.

We got on to the bus with cheese-flavoured snacks, hand-sanitiser, antibacterial wipes, a box of tissues, and my broken Macbook Air. And a Ninja Turtle backpack full of action figures. Somewhere in the Southern Highlands, Spider Boy, who had made it to Canberra by bus without vomiting the previous two journeys, said he didn’t feel well. He didn’t look it. I rummaged for a plastic bag and held it open on his lap.

“Mum, that bag’s got a hole in it!” He warned. He’s so sharp. It was only a tiny hole… surely there wouldn’t be that much vomit? I quickly rummaged for another plastic bag and double-bagged. A second later, there it was. A heady mix of rice-crackers and cheese balls.

There were a few more in-seat vomits (he’s very neat) and questions that alternated between, “How many more minutes until we get there?” and “How many minutes now?”, to which I would respond with answers like “97” and “about 54”, when really it was still over 100.

These questions started just after Campbelltown (Canberra is at least another 2.5 hours after that) and continued until just after we passed the ACT border sign. Poor thing. He was the only child on the bus full of hipster student-types on their (functioning) Macbook Airs, watching Game of Netflix of whatever it is they watch. The only child on the bus. Why am I still catching the bus? Am I scared of the M5? A little bit. So that, and the fact that I don’t own a car.

When we finally disembarked the vessel of vomit after 195 minutes (don’t worry, I took the holey vomit-bags with me) we stuffed our luggage into one of the small lockers ($5 for 3 hours – pretty good) at the Jolimont Centre (Canberra’s bus station) and hot-footed it to the Apple Store.

Fortunately Spider Boy had made a miraculous recovery now that he was out in the crisp Canberra April afternoon air.

I cursed as I realised I always forget how chilly late afternoons in April can be in Canberra. I NEVER bring enough warm clothes. I always seem to be at Big W every visit, buying an emergency cardigan. I really need to learn to pack more efficiently.

At the Apple Store, Kit, a charming young man with a – I want to say clipboard, but I know it was an iPad – told me there were 19 “walk-ins” waiting ahead of me. As it was 4.30 on a Friday afternoon I didn’t fancy my chances. Although the Apple Store was open till 9pm that day, I was hoping for something between 4.30 and 5.00pm, thanks very much.

Blue-eyed, 20-something Kit did his best to squeeze me in with a “genius” from said Genius Bar, as he suspected my computer problem might be resolved with the push of the right button/s. He grabbed a genius for me just as she was going home.

She pressed a few buttons, but nothing.

“I think we’re going to have to open her up,” the genius warned me, “but I’m on my way home now, so you’ll need to come back tomorrow.” We established that as my computer could be “in repair” for up to seven days, I was better off taking it to the Apple store in Sydney, since that’s where I actually live.

I managed to hold back the contents of my nose and bade the genius and Kit farewell

With a broken Apple there was nothing for it but to go to where I could get some working fruit, on a tart, namely. No trip to Canberra is complete without a visit to Dobinson’s, one of the best bakeries I have ever been to. Seriously, if you like cake and/or pie, go there.

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The generous tarts of Dobinson’s in Canberra

We met Spider Boy’s dad back at the Jolimont Centre. SBD/ex-husband wanted to take us to visit his father in hospital. I told him I didn’t feel right about going into a hospital because I didn’t want to give my father-in-law, or any other patient, my germs. He said something about hand-sanitiser.

When we got to my father-in-law’s room, I stuck my head in the doorway and warned him about about my cold but he didn’t care. “Come in and sit down, Love”, he insisted. I sat in the corner not touching anyone or anything and I tried not to breath out. I was hand-sanitising every 2 minutes, everytime I had to hold a tissue to my nose.

After chatting politely to a family friend who was also visiting, stopping to buy take-away Malaysian food in the cold and dark early evening, and schlepping bags from the visitor’s carpark in my brother-in-law’s townhouse complex, we sat down and ate dinner. By the time I finally got into my pyjamas, my nose was more blocked, my eyes were stinging and watering, and a headache had developed.

I went to bed when Spider Boy did, but couldn’t sleep; we were sharing a bed, I was thinking about all the things, I kept needing to blow my nose but didn’t want to wake my little companion and I was worried about breathing on him. “Mum do you have to keep blowing your nose all night?” he implored before he drifted off.

After our long day’s journey, I finally fell asleep sometime after midnight, with a Vick’s-smeared tissue up one nostril.

Do you ever travel long-distance by bus? Do those travel-sickness ginger tablets work? Do you ever have trouble sleeping even though you’re really tired?

Ordinary Joys: Donna Summer disco flowers and fancy-schmancy food.

School went back for Term 4 last Tuesday but a bad case of pharyngitis meant poor Spider Boy had a terrible last couple of holiday days and missed the first two days of school.

Still there was much fun over most of the two-week break.

There was launching an air-powered rocket in our local park…

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See the rocket? It’s that tiny black speck above and right of the tree.

There was (attempted) lunching in a local fancy-schmancy grocery store… but it was just too fancy (and expensive) with a very complicated salad selection system. Spider Boy would’ve been happier with a dirty street pie (in the words of Laurina from The Bachelor), or some chicken McNuggets at least. He settled for a toasted cheese sandwich.

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I like the idea of raw cake but thought I could just go home and eat cake batter instead.

There was shopping in our local shopping centre. Later in the car when I turned to look at Spider Boy, I faced this sight… don’t worry, I wasn’t driving at the time.

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“What big teeth you have, my dear!”

So of course the new purchase meant that when Spider Boy packed his little Toy Story suitcase for our trip to Canberra, it looked liked this…

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If only my packing was so simple: a racoon mask and a Despicable Me fart-blaster. What more could you need for a trip to Canberra?

These days I tell him if he packs it, he has to wheel it. And he does. But his clothes go into MY suitcase.

After what seemed like a long day’s journey into Canberra (3 and 3/4 hours due to massive traffic jam on the M5) during which poor Spider Boy vomited three times due to travel sickness (the bus driver took a detour with lots of winding roads near the Georges River to avoid the traffic), we sat down at the bus terminal café. Happily Spider Boy was feeling better by this time and was gesticulating about something when he accidently knocked a bottle of Diet Coke over me. So proud, he takes after his mama.  And then I dropped my phone and the screen smashed. Searching for the joy in the ordinary, I found the ordinary.

We had a few days in Canberra where Spider Boy spent time with his dad, uncle and grandfather, and I caught up with some Canberra friends. We also met Sydney friends Lulu, Mr. M and their son The Magician, at Canberra’s annual Floriade Night Fest.

After navigating our way through the fabulous fields of floral spendour, we navigated our way through the amazing maze of marketing magic.

Our goal was to avoid purchasing any “schmutters*”, as Lulu calls them, but somehow Spider Boy and The Magician ended up with these lightsabers…

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Schmutters aside, the real magic was in the flowers. If you are a real fan of flowers (mostly tulips), go to Floriade during the day so you can see them in all their colourful glory. But Floriade Night Fest is great for an almost other-wordly experience. It was like going to an outdoor floral nightclub, but one where there’s food, families and a ferris wheel.

Lighting changed the colours of the flower fields…

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The “street food” stalls were lit-up with strings of fairy lights…

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Giant coloured lotus flowers lit up the lake…

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And giant flowers lit up and flashed in time to the music that filled the air. I Feel Love by Donna Summer was the standout.

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Iggle Piggle would have felt right at home in this magical night garden.

I made the call and announced that Floriade Night Fest was “Better than Lady Gaga.”

The next day back at our accommodation, Spider Boy had a swim in the heated indoor pool, where he made good use of the available pool noodles.

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Was this the moment when Spider Boy caught the pharyngitis bug? Probably not.

I can’t blame this swimming pool for Spider Boy’s pharyngitis because the doctor couldn’t tell if it was viral or bacterial. The Magician also swam in our hotel’s pool and he didn’t get sick.

On our last morning we had breakfast at Urban Pantry in Manuka, with Spider boy’s family. It was delicious and I was delighted with my choice of lemon pancakes with vanilla yoghurt, lemon jam and grilled figs.  However, I must confess to a bit of breakfast envy about the fact Lulu, Mr.M and The Magician chose to have their breakfast at the Hyatt. Talk about Fancy-schmancy. I have had breakfast at the Hyatt hotel in Canberra twice in my life (a few years ago now) and from memory IT IS THE BEST BREAKFAST IN THE WORLD, what with the omelette, waffle and pancake station.

In a text message that morning Lulu confirmed that her Hyatt breakfast was “very delicious!” and that The Magician claimed it was “the best breakfast he had ever had.”  She did not photograph it, but confirmed they ate “delicious fresh pancakes and omelette, fruit and cappuccino.” I’m sorry, I’m a bit obsessed with breakfasts.

So in case you’re wondering, here are my lemon pancakes… not made to order from the “pancake station” but very good anyway…

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Points for presentation AND taste.

After breakfast it was onto the Murray’s bus back up the highway to Sydney. Our return passage was much smoother and this time no plastic bags were required. Phew!

Have a great week!

*Schmutter: worthless material, rubbish. From Yiddish schmatte, ‘rag’. (oxforddictionaries.com)

Lady (and boy) in waiting: The Alexcellent guide to stalking the royals.

I got all caught up in royal fever during the recent Australian tour of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (and Prince squeezy-cheeks George).

From the moment William, Kate and that cute baby on her hip descended the stairs at Sydney airport, I was hooked. Much to the annoyance of Spider Boy.

“Ohhh”, said my six-year-old, rolling his eyes and shaking his head after being dragged to stand in a royal-watching crowd in Canberra, “Why do you have to be such a fan? Can’t you just control yourself?”

But although Spider Boy thinks I’m such a fan, I’m obviously not THAT much of one because I couldn’t get myself organised enough to even catch a glimpse of the young royals, despite my being in two of the cities they were in at the same time as them.

So for the sake of your own future royal-watching efforts, I bring you the Alexcellent guide to stalking the royals… or what not to do, if you actually want to see them in person.

1.Watch TV coverage of royal family arriving in Sydney and wonder if I should jump on a ferry and whizz over to the Opera House forecourt where their first public appearance is scheduled. Look at the crowds screaming on TV, feel tired and decide to stay put.

2. Think about squeezing Prince George’s cheeks and bonding with Kate about all the things we have in common.

3. Google Their Royal Highnesses royal schedule for Canberra, as Spider Boy and I are going to be in our Nation’s Capital when the royals are. What a coincidence.

4. Become blasé about the plethora of options to see royals in Canberra.

5. Once Spider Boy and I are in Canberra, allow blasé attitude to continue due to Canberra’s smaller population (less competition for standing room) and faster transit times between destinations*… so blasé as to think there’s no need to check appearance details or make any kind of plan.

6. Somehow forget that when planning to take public transport in Canberra, one needs to actually plan. No, there won’t be another bus along “in a minute”.

7. Realise that the National Arboretum appearance is not an option for me, as it is closed to general public. Only 50 Canberra families who were drawn in a ballot are attending.

8. Think, no matter, there’s always lunchtime address at Parliament House.

9. Plan to get to Parliamentary zone on a bus “late morning/sometime around lunchtime” where we also plan to meet Spider Boy’s dad for lunch and play royal-watching by ear.

10. Neglect to check lonely suburban mid-morning bus timetable

11. Walk along deserted suburban streets in direction of  far-flung bus stop and think ” Ooh, I wonder if that’s our bus” as the 67 whizzes past.

12. Contemplate a cab. But think not, because 40 dollars

13. Reach bus stop and call Action Buses, since the phone number is conveniently displayed on the bus stop sign.

14. Discover that I can wait 50 minutes for the bus that takes 10 mins to one interchange (yes, the 67!), or wait 35 minutes to get a bus that takes 30 minutes to get to an interchange further away from my destination.

15. Wait 50 minutes at lonely suburban bus stop.

lonely suburban bus stop

lonely suburban bus stop

16. Stress silently over the possibility of not having enough phone battery charge left to take photos of royals, due to Spider Boy playing games on my phone while we wait.

17. Think for a split second that perhaps the two cars that pull up at our bus stop twice in 50 minutes are kindly offering us a lift. Not that we would accept. The female drivers are simply asking us for directions.

18. Eventually arrive in Parliamentary zone just after 1pm. Look at Parliament House from the bus window. Know that we have missed our window to get in for Prince William’s Parliament House address. So near, yet so far.

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19. After lunch, debate whether it’s better to catch royals on the way out of Parliament House, or catch them on the way in to their next engagement at the National Portrait Gallery.

20. Decide on the latter and walk 20 minutes through copious autumn leaves.

21. Crawl through copious autumn leaves looking for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle sword the size of a pin, dropped by Spider Boy.

22. Bribe Spider Boy with the promise of a new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle figure (and accompanying pin-size ninja weapon) if he’ll just NOT complain and let me wait for royals.

23. Be a bit surprised yet vaguely amused by Spider Boy’s “Why do you have to be such a fan, can’t you just control yourself” comment.

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Looking for a tiny ninja sword in a haystack.

24. Feel uplifted and excited by nice orderly Canberra crowd outside the National Portrait Gallery.

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The sight of the nice, orderly Canberra crowd was uplifting.

25. Feel uplifted and excited by the sight of autumn leaves fluttering against the blue sky like earth-tone fairies.

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26. Feel disappointed when, after speaking to a Federal Police officer I realise we are waiting at the royals’ intended exit end, not the entrance end, and no more people are allowed at the entrance end. The people there have been waiting since 6.30am.

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27. feel momentarily excited when I hear the royals arrive, thanks to people screaming. I turn to see the crowd holding their phones over their heads, snapping away. So near, yet so far.

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28. Nod in agreement as the woman standing next to me says, “Better to watch it on TV”.

29. Ring mum in Sydney who says, “Did you see them?! I’m watching it all on TV. I looked for you in the crowd but couldn’t see you.”

30. Realise that’s what you get for being blasé and turning up at 2.16pm for a 2.25pm royal entrance.

31. Ask police officer when they are due out and am told told 20 minutes, yet read on Canberra Times website on my phone that it’s 1 hour 20 minutes, not 20 minutes. Be told a different time by yet another police officer and realise it’s still a good 30 minutes away that they’re due to exit.

32. Realise that if we waited there’s no guarantee we would see even a flash of William’s pearly whites though the dark glass of the royal car as it glides past.

33. Feel sorry for Spider Boy that he’s lost his tiny ninja sword. Feel mean that I didn’t spend longer looking for it (“Quick, we’ll miss the royals!” etc) and realise that if I’m going to get groceries and another ninja sword before I have to be back in the Parliamentary zone later, we really should leave now, as it’s a good 20 minute walk to car (lent to us for the rest of the afternoon by Spider Boy’s dad).

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Saw some art on the walk to the car

34. Skip the royals’ Anzac Day services the next day because rain, cold, early, transport, blah, blah, blah.

35. Watch from couch with hot coffee and see everything.

36. Attend National Arboretum 28 hours after royals were there. Watch Spider Boy play in giant acorns in the Pod playground.

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37. Marvel at the English oak tree Kate planted there just a day before.

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38.  Get home and marvel at how I forgot to take a selfie with the tree Kate planted.

And I call myself a royal watcher.

*If you’re in a car. Not waiting for a bus. And then another bus.