29 good things (and a few silly ones) about Winter in Canberra

Sunday of the Queen’s Birthday long weekend, view from Red Hill, 4pm

It’s the end of the Queen’s Birthday long weekend, the ski fields have officially opened, and I’m now staring down the barrel of three more working weeks until the end of the financial year, which means I’m going to be very, very, busy with a number of not-excellent things not fit for this exciting blog.

We also are heading to the shortest day of the year, June 21. I googled different sun set times on Saturday and saw that Canberra’s sunset was scheduled for 4.57pm (Sydney’s was 4.52), yet at 5.10pm on Saturday I saw the most beautiful pink and orange in the sky.

Look at those colours! Filter-free fun here.

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before on this blog, I like cold weather. So I’ve put together a quick list of some of my good things about winter in Canberra (some of them are a bit of stretch, even for winter-loving me).

  1. Being cold outside means it’s a good excuse to stay inside and try making some new dishes like dark chocolate, pear and hazelnut torte, ham and vegetable risotto, cardamom and pistachio bread and butter pudding, a variety of soups and shakshuka (things I want to make from June 2019’s Woolworth’s Fresh magazine*).
  2. The bitter cold and icy winds that cut like a knife add an extra degree of difficulty to daily life – which is really an exercise in building resilience and also helps with mindfulness (see? stretch).
  3. There’s the pride of knowing Canberra has the lowest minimum temperatures of all the capitals, everyday. (I don’t know if this is a fact, but it feels like it.)
  4. This makes you appreciate getting inside and feeling cosy (George’s contribution).
  5. “No I don’t have any more!”said George when I asked him if he had any more good things about Winter.
  6. Hot bubble baths. I wonder if Lush has any winter-themed/scented bath bombs?
  7. Frost on the grass and ice on cars left out overnight is so pretty and sparkly!
  8. The Best & Less in Tuggeranong (the name ‘Tuggeranong’ by the way means ‘cold place’ in the language of the Ngunnawal people) has been selling $4 polar fleece couch blankets! I was zipping past on my lunch break and stopped to buy two. This was in the last week of May, so they might be sold out by now.
  9. You can go the whole hog with your winter outfits: woolly scarves, felt hats, driving gloves, fur-look trim on boots and jackets, and I recently saw a girl with fluffy ear-muffs as she walked from the work carpark to the office entrance.
  10. Turning on the heater when you get home at the end of the day.
  11. Weekend afternoons at home finally putting together those IKEA flat-packs and making things cosy. When I moved here the first time, there was no IKEA. So very convenient to have one in Canberra now.
  12. Using a hot cup of coffee as a hand-warmer, and also an insides warmer, and a caffeine hit.
  13. I heard once in a political documentary on Canberra that its location was intentionally selected because of the cold climate, so we’d all be like little hamsters in the hamster-wheel, running to keep warm. Also apparently a cold climate makes public servants think more clearly. (I can’t vouch for this.)
  14. Going to bed and reading books. George came up with another good thing.
  15. Wintry bare trees against a bright blue sky.
The clear winter skies of Canberra on a sunny day are amazing.

Wow, there are 15 good things already, do you really need more? OK, here are some sensible, practical good things that you can put in your diary this Winter, residents and visitors alike…

  1. The Winter Handmade Market June 29-30. Canberra’s Handmade Market is on four times a year and showcases artists, designers, stylists, craftspeople and produce from all over Australia.
  2. The Canberra Region Truffle Festival is a whole range of truffle events from 1 – 31 July.
  3. Living in Canberra we are so close to the NSW snow fields – At 2 hours’ drive you can be there and back in a day. From June 29 Murray’s buses will run daily ‘Snow Express’ trips (link to Murray’s) from Canberra. You can get coach travel, lift ticket and equipment hire from $190. Or from $43 if you just want to go and look at the snow and not ski! Pretty.
  4. If skiing isn’t for you, how about a day trip to Cooma (the home of Birds Nest), Bredbo and Jindabyne? Riot Act has some great ideas here
  5. Corin Forest is an easy morning or afternoon trip at around 40 minutes’ drive from Canberra. There is a mini snow field that’s great for kids.
  6. Winter Festival – for the past few years, Garema Place in the city centre has been decked out like a winter wonderland with an ice-rink and fairy lights.
  7. Ice hockey matches at Phillip ice rink. Phillip Ice rink, 1 Irving Street Phillip.
  8. Going for one of many walks around Canberra – Riot Act has these ideas
  9. The Forage food festival, Dairy Rd Fyshwick, June 15 2019 2pm – 7pm. Although it must be said last time we went there was a lot of traffic getting in and out of the venue.
  10. For an “alpine experience right here in Canberra”, why not have a go at indoor skiing at Vertikal Snow Sports? It’s right next to the Forage (see number 9)
  11. Get inspired to get cosy at ‘Creative Fibre’ at the Old Bus Depot Markets – a day for the regions’ textile artists to showcase and sell their work. See products and learn about processes involved in weaving, knitting, crocheting, hand dyeing fabric and more. July 14, 2019 The Old Bus Depot Markets, 21 Wentworth Avenue Kingston.
  12. More truffle stuff: Truffle-infused winter weekends at the cellar door. Mount Majura Wineyard, June 8 – 25 August 2019.
  13. Warm Soup, Cool Jazz. Literally that – sip on warm soup and mulled wine while listening to live music. June 30, 2019 at the Mercure Canberra, 39 Limestone Ave Braddon.
  14. For other great ideas visit the Visit Canberra website!
Winter skating at ‘Skate-in-the-city’, Garema Place Canberra, 2016.

I know there are many more good things to do! Please feel free to add your own in the comments!

What do you like to do in Canberra in Winter?

*The Alexcellent Life is not sponsored by Woolworths. I just like their free magazine.

Summer Retrospective – birthdays, beaches, green thumbs and too much leg.

Hello! Well we’re well into nearly at the end of March now and that means we’re well overdue for the Alexcellent Summer Retrospective. But hey, this is Canberra in March, therefore still hot, and it still feels like summer to me.

There’s also the second-half of last year retrospective that I really need to get to, but I think we’ll just leave that now.

I’ll compress summer into a few words and pictures. 

My Peace Lily flowered twice. Spider Boy just told me I’m “flexing on the internet” (that’s what the kids say these days) about my green thumb. And by the way, Spider Boy doesn’t want to go by that name anymore. It’s George. When I started this blog he was still four years old – last week he turned 11!

But more on that in a later post, now back to greenery…

I set up my cactus station with a glowing green cactus from Kmart (I think). 

There were concerts with acts from the 80s… (Pseudo Echo and Bananarama)…

 

…and acts that were close to 80… (well, Old Man Moss is 67… I know, so bold, still beautiful)

This Ronn Moss banner advertising his upcoming concert caught friend Gigi’s* eye back in December…

 

…and then her lips got stuck to it.

There were Canberra Christmas lights (not our house).

There was Christmas sparkle (might be our house)…

There was a birthday for mum very close to Christmas.

There was school holiday water fun in Sydney.

There was New Year’s hijinks with auntie Señorita Margarita,

There was a glorious new year’s beach day at Sydney’s Neilson Park.

George got to work in Granny’s courtyard garden for a little while.

 

An outing to Mad Pizza in Darlinghurst with friends

And a visit to our former local park with another Sydney friend**…

I tried to write my goals down but it’s now March and I still haven’t done that… just busy living a goal-less life where I constantly feel like I’m running to catch up with all the things I should’ve done that I haven’t done.

 

Maybe because I spend so much time just doing nothing, like photographing  a random passer-by on a paddle board.

 

I could get some wisdom from Señorita Margarita’s new book…

 

There was a Spider man movie and Spider man dreams of web slinging for George…

There was the bizarre choice to ice-skate at a synthetic ice rink on a 39 degree canberra day. The ice was made of a greasy wax-like substance and wasn’t cold. Wouldn’t do it again – it’s real ice for us next time!

There was lots of my beloved coffee from The Espresso Room at Woden Plaza.

 

There was a half-hearted attempt at this wading pool in the front-courtyard-with-fake-grass after work.

There was the much more satisfying swimming in a hotel pool

And a yummy hotel breakfast just for a treat.

We squeezed in another quick visit to Sydney at the end of January. A determination to have one swim at Bondi Beach in the limited time we had meant turning up there at 6pm when the wind was blowing a gale… but at least we got in the water!

 

There was a pre-birthday birthday cake for me with George and my mum

 

Birthday selfie with me and my boy

I had a second birthday cake during a quick Blue Mountains visit our dad’s place in the Blue Mountains. This one was an ice-cream cake with Marzipan kangaroos and trees! I was very lucky.

 

 

There was cosy capuccino with Señorita Margarita… 

before our beautiful bush walk in the mist…

 

Several bird appreciation opportunities….

 

Blue Mountains parrots

 

Canberra parrot

Back in Canberra we went to an amazing tropical plant sale at The Jungle Collective…

I even wore tropical-themed shorts just to get $5 off my plant purchases.  Mama’s gotta pinch the pennies where she can.

Showing leg in tropical shorts: dollar-saving hack #1

And back at work I had to confront this reptile in the car park down in downtown Tuggeranong. That’s the bush capital for you!

And that was just some of the edited highlights of the Alexcellent Life this summer 2018-19. (School uniform shopping, school stationery foraging, work and vacation-care negotiating, failed dieting, failed body hair removal and bill shuffling not pictured.)

*the friend formerly known as Lulu

**the friend formerly known as “the magician”

Edited highlights: Spring flowers, food and boys in the wild

Lately I’ve been enjoying so many colourful blooms in Canberra and that doesn’t even include Floriade, the National Capital’s annual flower festival. Now that the cold of Winter has passed, let’s look back at some Spring highlights…

I noticed a neighbour planting bulbs a few months ago and look what happened!

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Fields of gold: Spring literally springing

Spider Boy and I were invited to the most delicious Indian dinner at a school friend’s house. Cooked by an auntie visiting from Mumbai. It was honestly THE best Indian food I’ve ever had, including my favourite butter chicken.

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Amazing flavours of India

I found myself in the position I hadn’t been in since last year… unemployment! But it was only for a week and it was the last week of the school term. I have a new job starting today, first day of the new school term! #Timing.

But there was that day three weeks ago when I had time to go to the gym after school drop-off and then stop into a cafe for coffee and a muffin that just looked too good to resist. Yes,  don’t worry, I walked to the coffee shop afterwards. Better than when I was in my 20s and would get a taxi to the gym and then a taxi to McDonalds.

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HAD to replenish after the gym.

The following week, Spider Boy’s Dad took him to his favourite comic shop, Impact Comics, while I sat in Dobinsons and did some plotting and planning, just like old times in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney.

This Canberra city cafe reminds me of home, as it’s named after the former Dobinsons of Rose Bay and owned by the grand-daughter of the original Dobinson. It’s my little bit of Rose Bay in Canberra when Lake BG just isn’t doing it for me. Although what am I talking about, how could Lake BG not do it for me!

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Sun streaming in the Dobinsons window on a rainy/sunny Spring afternoon

Spider Boy came into the Canberra Centre with me a couple of times this holidays and played with the wall art. You press a button and the light changes colour. Plus he’s developed a mysterious craving for Subway sandwiches. Funny, since I never take him there. But at least he’s over his McDonald’s obsession!

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Canberra Centre: where the magic happens.

The Daffodils in the first picture actually started springing up in August. Now this little mini-field of fireballs has sprung up. Well done, mysterious neighbour whose name I don’t know! I practically don’t even need to go to Floriade any more! It’s right here in my own shared driveway.

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Fields of fire

Not too far from Canberra, there’s a unique place to explore our natural world… well that’s what the sign at Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve says. And that’s exactly what it is. On the fringe of Namadgi National Park, Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve is around 50 square kilometres of protected area only about 40 minutes drive from Canberra.

We had a beautiful day with the boys (Spider Boy and his friend), although they DID keep mentioning complaining about the fact there was no Subway there. Thank goodness!

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I think a little bit more of this would be good for them.

Have you been enjoying the warmer weather?

What do you like best about Spring in Canberra?

Sydney visitors

Moving to Canberra means that we’ve been able to host visitors from Sydney.

In the past month we’ve had Lulu and Señorita Margarita to stay (on separate weekends). It’s been wonderful just hanging out with them at home but also showing them just a little bit of what Canberra has to offer. As my sister is always throwing back at me, “…because Canberra has things”.

Here’s just a few pics from their recent visits. I’ll post more later about specific adventures.

 

 

 

Let it snow: winter magic in Canberra

Canberra is gaining a reputation of being a “cool capital”, in the hipster sense. But let us not forget that it is actually very cool in a meteorological sense.

Time has done it’s old trick of running through my fingertips before I can absorb the moments, and I can’t believe Winter is nearly over.

A lot of people don’t like cold weather, but I love it. So I’m in the right place. As long as there are the resources to manage it, I find cold weather exhilarating and an exciting challenge:

“Will I be dressed warmly enough?”

“How many layers will I need?”

“Should I wear my leather gloves” etc.

Probably not, about 27, and yes, always yes.

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Exhibit A: Trees resplendent in red in the month of May. Exhibit B: Cheeky June throws off her red gown outside David Jones.

In Canberra in Winter, some days are sunny with clear blue skies, and a crispness that makes your skin tingle. It makes you feel, well, crisp. Like a reinvigorated celery stick that’s been soaking in cold water.

Spider Boy and I took off for Sydney for five days in the recent school holidays. It was warm, warm, warm. T-shirts all year round there. Even though those wussy Sydneysiders (sorry Sydney peeps, I say it with love) were crying “cold, cold, cold”. Ha. I know cold. I come from the cold… I invented cold!

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But I’ll let that one go. I saw this wonderful photo from Pat Rice Photography, shared by This Canberran Life  on Facebook. For more great pics of the Capital, check out Pat’s instagram @patriceyee

After the magic created by Pat above, here’s some magic of Canberra just being herself in Winter.

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View of Canberra from Mt Ainslie: Cold of climate, but warm of heart in my opinion.

When Spider Boy and I returned from Sydney on July 12, I knew we were heading into a massive cold front. Snow was even forecast in Canberra city. While a dusting of icing sugar on the Brindabella mountains is nothing unusual at this time of year, snow in the city itself is.

The wind howled outside our windows that Tuesday night. We even lost power. We had one torch and the lights around my makeup mirror. We went to bed at 8.45pm – unheard of! But then I got up again when the power came back at 9.30pm! Yay.

The next morning I opened the curtains and sure enough, there they were! Small, dainty snowflakes, gently fluttering past my window! So exciting. Of course, it melted once it hit the ground. We live in quite a low-lying area, but apparently some of the suburbs in the hillier areas had a bit more coverage.

I had to go to work, but Spider Boy’s dad took him to Mt Ainslie (elevation 842 metres), five minutes drive from the CBD, where many people gathered to see the snow. What a fun school-holiday treat! He took some lovely photos.

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Snow balls a plenty!

 

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Take that, Canberra!

 

Other Winter fun has included:

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Watching ice-skaters at Canberra’s Winter Festival in the CBD at lunchtime.

 

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Garema Place was a Winter Wonderland

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On the way to school and work: says it all really.

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Back to the Winter Festival: Spider Boy was out of plaster in this picture. Luckily the landings at the end of the slide and toboggan run were soft.

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.