Tuesday, September 24, 2013

That was the week that was

In one week, in the middle of August, we moved house, became Australian citizens and set off on our first long-haul trip as a family. Not one to do things by halves, it seemed completely reasonable (at the time) to tackle these three major life events in seven days and it's only now - having survived jetlagged babies, surrounded by boxes and with a mysterious craving for pavlova - that I see what a week that was.

Moving house was as stressful and unpleasant as you might imagine. I ferried the little ones from pillar to post trying to keep out of the way as Andy oversaw the removalists and lifted heavy boxes. It was possibly the longest day in the history of really long days.

The bonus is of course that we're now happily ensconced in a cottage by the sea complete with veggie patch and mango tree. It is a fantastic place to live and hopefully heralds a new start for us. I had a definite case of the stuckinaruts at the old place and here everything is more airy and spacious and conducive to thinking happy thoughts.
Becoming an Australian citizen at a ceremony at Brisbane’s newly refurbished (and fabulous) City Hall was a surprisingly touching moment. I say surprising because I’m not one for displays of nationalism and am always a bit wary of the notion of ‘pledging allegiance.’ But the ceremony was beautifully done with music from the Navy band, Indigenous dance and a lovely choir. I felt a stirring in my long forgotten nationality organ and even shed a tear or two - much to Andy’s amusement who rightly pointed out “it’s only just started!!”
Trembling bottom lips aside, it was a special night and when it came time to take the pledge there were two readings – those who were declaring “before God” and those who weren’t. The believers went first and made a lovely en masse declaration and then it was our turn, the “Pledge Number 2” brigade. Andy and I, together with around ten other heathens, stood up and declared:
 “From this time forward,
I pledge my loyalty to Australia and its people,
Whose democratic beliefs I share,
Whose rights and liberties I respect, and
Whose laws I will uphold and obey.”
Then we all sang the national anthem, waved our Aussie flags and were showered in green and gold ticker tape. I was, and remain, very proud of my Australian citizenship and while I will always consider myself British-Australian rather than a true-blue Aussie, I am so grateful to the people who have welcomed us, the friendships we have made here and the many amazing opportunities this lucky country has given us. Don’t tell Andy but I’m welling up again…
Our trip to the UK was similarly emotional with gorgeous get-togethers with friends and family and picnics aplenty in a splendid British summer. It was a time of mixed emotions (more on this in another post) but it was wonderful to see Agatha and Henry interacting with people who adore them and to see the joy the little ones delivered in return. I spent an awe-filled hour in Marks and Spencer food hall and ate two lunches just because I couldn’t decide between the incredible gastronomic options. Tesco was a revelation and Waitrose nearly sent me over the edge. Coles and Woolworths take note – you’re doing it wrong!
Meeting the locals
Other highlights of our trip include; Agatha bathing a pig, a sunny morning at the beach, a catch up in the park with old friends which ended up a full-blown afternoon in the pub, a day at the races and a shopping trip with Andy while my parents babysat the midgets. Oh the unfettered joy of shopping sans small children! The ability to try things on, the leisurely lunch, the bookshop browsing, and the conversations which didn’t start with “can you watch them while I…”
It was a wonderful holiday and we even managed to survive the incredibly long flight thanks to in-flight TV, great kids’ meals from Emirates and a stopover in Dubai where we caught up with a friend (who kindly showed us around that shiny metropolis) and actually got some sleep.
Now we’re back it is full steam ahead with some exciting news in the near future but that will have to wait for another post, I have small people to cuddle, sweet potato to mash and major life-changing decisions to overthink.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Things that make you go: “oh that’s a bit marvellous!”

A while ago I wrote about giving up on an old dream and pursuing new ones. I talked about writing for a non-academic publication, sewing and enjoying my babies guilt-free. I was worried about what the future might hold, but excited at what lay beyond my studies.
More recently, I blogged about a fabulous magazine called Vintage Caravan Magazine and my love of the vintage van. It was a post that resonated with lots of people; friends told me they felt similarly and were amazed and delighted at the discovery of a magazine specialising in retro caravans and lifestyles. I started receiving emails about vintage vans in the news, the TV programme George Clarke's Amazing Spaces (currently airing on the Lifestyle Channel and WELL worth a watch) and a book called Vantastic: Retro caravan holidays in the modern world by fellow blogger Kate Ulman. It made me very happy indeed.
But not as happy as an email I received from Lisa Mora, editor extraordinaire of Vintage Caravan Magazine itself. Lisa told me that she loved the post and the blog and asked me if I might be interested in writing for VCM. That's right, she asked me if I'd like to write for the magazine I had  fallen in love with. It took a great deal of willpower not to call her immediately shrieking "YES YES YES, WHERE DO I SIGN?!" But of course I'm far too cool for that. I waited a reasonable amount of time (27 minutes) and emailed back with a "YES YES YES, WHERE DO I SIGN?!" Call me Iceman.
"But did you write anything?" I hear you cry. Why yes dear reader, yes I did. I wrote an article about an incredible 1966 Airstream trailer and it's in the new issue (15) of Vintage Caravan Magazine, available in all good newsagents on Tuesday 6th August! Can I get a whoop whoop?
Issue 15 of Vintage Caravan Magazine
It would appear that sometimes, when you clear out the old you make room for the new. What seems like a frightening step into the unknown may actually be your signal to the world that you're ready for the next phase, ready to embrace exciting new opportunities and ready to do more of what makes you happy. 
Give it a try. It might just be marvellous.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Why don't you?

When I was a kid there was a TV show called Why Don't You (Just Switch Off Your Television Set and Go Out and Do Something Less Boring Instead?) in which groups of kids around the UK would find fun things that didn't involve television such as making kites or learning magic tricks.

The irony of a TV show built on the premise of not watching TV was not lost on me, even then, but over the years I have often repeated the WDY mantra to get me off the sofa and into something more interesting. 

On Sunday morning I decided that I needed to take things up a notch and so began the week without TV. It's day two today and so far all is well. I read a book while the midgets napped and actively enjoyed my lunch rather than consuming it entirely unawares while viewing recorded episodes of Kirstie's Vintage Home (and then feeling hungry 10 minutes later).

For those of you playing along at home, the novel I am reading is 'The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul' by Deborah Rodriguez. The words "as if Maeve Binchy had written The Kite Runner" on the front cover should have been enough to put me off but it was a gift and actually it's quite readable in a... well in a Maeve Binchy sort of way and that's okay with me; in my mother's bookshelf are many shelves (see what I did there?).

So I'm not taking a break from TV because I find popular culture beneath me. Far from it, I bloody love the telly. I am always highly amused by those hipsters who disdainfully proclaim not to watch much Television, as though doing so lowers their cool factor or their intelligence (thus implying that those of us with slightly square eyes are both uncool and just a bit stupid). Then you go to their house and see a 45,000 inch flat screen TV. Raising your eyebrows you might remark "my, what a big telly you have", only to be informed that they only use it for watching *insert obscure US comedy/Japanese cartoon/foreign language film here*. Yeah, wank on buddy, you know who Roo Stewart is as well as I do.

No, my break from the box is purely about time. If I watch three hours a day, five days a week then a week of abstinence is an impressive 15 hours returned to me. What to do with all that time?

I'm aiming for more playing, more cooking, more walking, more talking, more reading and more thinking. I shall report on my progress when the week is over, but if somebody could just tell me what happened in Sunday night's 'Elementary' that would be grouse.

What would you do with an extra three hours every day?


Thursday, June 6, 2013

Second time around

This weekend I did something I never do; I holidayed in a place for the second time. I mean, I have been to certain places more than once – Paris is a city I have visited a few times for example (I’m not showing off I promise, I’m from the UK so it used to be an easy and affordable trip) – but I have never deliberately chosen the exact same location and accommodation before.  

And yet, almost a year to the day since our last excursion into the countryside, we found ourselves zooming out of the city at lunchtime on Friday, headed once again for the Lost World Valley and 'our' cottage.
This time we were accompanied by our second beloved midget and our rather splendid two year old. Last time we relaxed, unwound and enjoyed the fresh country air. This time we enjoyed the fresh country air. Turns out two years olds aren’t quite as relaxing as one year olds and that newborns don’t sit smiling in a high chair while awaiting sustenance. Who knew?  
We may have been twice as tired but we still had lots of fun. Check out this comparison pic of Lady A at the cottage last year and again this weekend.

What a difference a year makes
We also find ourselves experiencing a little déjà vu on the home front as we are once again looking for a rental property. The place we have now is fine, but it’s not right and with two small children and a potential work from home job (more on that next post) I need it to be right. This time the priorities are space both internally and externally. We’re ready for a change of scene and arehousehunting in areas quite different to the one we have occupied this past six years.
Although moving is undoubtedly a big, fat pain in the ass, it is also a chance to mix things up a bit, to slough off the old and emerge all exfoliated and fabulous, ready to enjoy the fresh start. I cannot wait to faff with furniture in a new environment, to take different walks, drink tea in different cafes and turn somebody else’s house into our home. That last one is always a challenge but I’m up for it, in fact I’m champing at the bit to get started. Somebody hold me back!
And to top off a week of all things two, this Saturday I’ll become the very proud Godparent to twins at a Sesame Street themed naming ceremony and birthday party.
This post was brought to you by the number two.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Oh happy day

As you know, I've been working on a little something for nine months now.

On 14th March, at 9:06pm, that little something came into the world in a moment of pure, unadulterated joy.  

It is my absolute honour to introduce you to Henry Gabriel, a 9lb 7oz bundle of fun.

Henry - the first two weeks
Andy and I cried as I cradled our beautiful, newborn son, overwhelmed once again with the kind of love you only feel for your children. I could wax lyrical about his incredible blue eyes, the fuzzy softness of his hair and the way my heart swells when he smiles at me but I’ll try and sum it all up by saying that Henry, along with his amazing sister Agatha, is the love of our lives.
Happiness comes in very small packages sometimes.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Wait for it

I’m trialling a new virtue this week – patience. While I can be very patient with people; when teaching at uni for example, or with Agatha the Excellent, I am extremely impatient in almost every other way.

Slow drivers, long queues, being on hold for more than about 90 seconds all get my dander up. I am one of those people who click things on their computer too many times and end up with multiple versions of Word open on my desktop. I feel exasperated when Andy moves from room to room and does not load himself up, Sherpa-style, with all the stuff he could be taking with him; I want to shout “time management people, time management!!”

All of this frustration is (mostly) silent as my good manners generally hold sway over my more base emotions but sheesh, it’s all going on inside. I want to do several things at once and I want them to happen at a click of a button; I hate to “waste time” which is why I’m almost incapable of a romantic stroll and instead set off at a brisk pace towards our destination while Andy rolls his eyes and sometimes jogs (sarcastically) to keep up.

Impatience, frustration and exasperation are not useful emotions in my life and they are too close to anger for my liking. I’m not an angry person, in fact my natural disposition is sunny so why the need to have things happen RIGHT NOW?

It’s partly driven by my need to “multitask”; I have so much I want to do in any given day that waiting feels like dead time. Being on hold for 23 minutes is only acceptable if I am simultaneously paying bills online. If the internet connection drops out during that time and I have to just sit there then it’s a wasted opportunity. Likewise, standing in a monumental queue at the post office because they only have one staff member serving during their busiest period drives me a little bit wild. I could shop for dinner, check out the specials at Aldi, (are we okay for whippersnippers and mackerel?) and chat to my friend in the florist during the time it takes to get to the counter in that place.

However, new research from the University of Utah shows that my long-held belief in the awesome power of my own ability to multitask may be misplaced “We showed that people who multitask the most are those who appear to be the least capable of multitasking effectively” says Psychology Professor David Sanbonmatsu, a senior author of the study.
Professor David Strayer, adds, “The people who are most likely to multitask harbor the illusion they are better than average at it, when in fact they are no better than average and often worse.” Citing humorist Garrison Keillor’s catchphrase about kids in Keillor’s fictitious hometown, Strayer says people… “all think they live in Lake Wobegon, where everybody is above average. But it’s a statistical impossibility.”

So if multitasking is a bit of a myth, at least for those of us who think we’re good at it, what’s the alternative? What do I do with all that dead time - just “be”?!  Stand there and think? Ponder the vastness of the universe? Well, sort of.

I am currently receiving my best ever lesson in patience as I await the arrival of our new baby. With just three days to go until the official due date, I am rather excited to meet this little person and the impatience has been creeping in. I spent all of last week engaged in various natural induction methods and confess I have acupuncture booked for later today to see if we can’t get things started.
A two week old Agatha - still makes my heart skip a beat.
Photo by Rachel Richter Photography
But, this last couple of days I’ve had a change of heart. I realised that this little one will come when s/he is ready and that the best thing I can do is to relax and enjoy this last few days with my baby inside me. I may never be pregnant again and I want to savour the experience. A calmness has taken over and amazingly (and thanks in part to a nesting-related energy surge) I’m getting more done than ever before.

I’m trying to extend this Zen-like attitude to other areas of my life and this morning I only pressed the Excel shortcut on my desktop once and then waited until it opened up before pressing anything else. I spent the few seconds it took to open gazing at the photo on my desk of a two week old Agatha and thought how much I loved her and the baby we’re soon to welcome.
Best “waste of time” ever.


Monday, February 25, 2013

All change

I heard something profound yesterday. Just a comment, in passing, from an ordinary guy on the TV who was talking about how lucky he was in his job as Liaison Officer at St Michael's Mount in Cornwall, England.

His name is Pete Hamilton and the words he used were; "I wouldn't change a thing about my life." He then seemed a bit taken aback by his rather weighty statement and said " hang on a minute, let me just think about that... No, it's true; I wouldn't change a thing about my life." Then we saw a shot of him with (I think) his baby daughter in his arms.

St Michael’s Mount, Marazion, Cornwall England
Photo courtesy of www.stmichaelsmount.co.uk

It was such a small moment but it had a huge impact on me. I can't stop thinking about it - imagine being able to honestly say that you wouldn't change ANYTHING about your life? It's kind of a bit mind-blowing.
Of course it started me thinking about what I'd change about my life. Given this blog, it's no surprise that living more simply, free of debt and with time to do more of what makes me happy remain top of the list.

But even if all of those things were in place, would I/could I say that I wouldn't change a thing? So much of what Pete Hamilton said is down to attitude. Sure, he lives and works in a beautiful village, he's recently married and has just started a family, exciting times all round. But I got the sense that he's a content sort of person, that not leaving the area he has grown up in was a conscious choice to be happy with his lot rather than a lack of opportunity or ambition. That financial considerations are way down his list of priorities and that his greatest joy is found in the simplest things.

I mention his having stayed near his childhood home because I wonder if my own desire to live and work abroad (more than once) is indicative of a "grass is greener" mentality and thus a mindset destined to disappoint? Had I stayed in my hometown I'm pretty confident that I'd be living a simpler life; debt-free (or at least without the huge expenses the move necessitated) and with lots of time to do more of what makes me happy. Family support, a career uninterrupted by further study, a home bought earlier and some bad decisions unmade would have made that possible.

It would be disingenuous of me to suggest that I regret moving to Australia (or the Netherlands, an earlier adventure) or any of the travel I have experienced since I was 18 years old. I’m a firm believer in the idea that “the world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page” (St. Augustine) so staying in my hometown was never a realistic option for me. Not to mention the fact that I would have missed out on some amazing experiences and very special friends and but still... I wonder if my desire for “different” has in some ways limited my ability to enjoy the “everyday”.

So how do I make Mr. Hamilton’s statement true for me here and now? What steps do I take to find contentment in what is, instead of being distracted by what could be or what might have been?

I know I need to keep going with the things I put in motion when I started this blog. But what else? Have you done it? Are you one of the lucky few who wouldn't change a thing about your life? Are you working towards your own state of contentment? Please share your ideas!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Retro Rooms

Last Saturday we threw a little birthday party for our darling girl. Although her birthday isn’t until the end of the month, an early party seemed sensible in view of me being 55 weeks pregnant. Just as I was congratulating myself on being so sensible and organised the weather conspired against us (again!) and our party in the park looked likely to be rained off. And then I discovered that most retro of party venues - the Scout Hall.

With the help of Agatha’s lovely Godparents, we bedecked the old hall in our Valentine theme with bunting I made from heart-shaped paper doilies and heart-shaped helium balloons. We added some wet weather entertainers in the form of a craft table, a bubble machine and a tunnel and play tent combo, as well as much Valentine-inspired food and drink and a homemade cake (by yours truly) in the shape of…guess what? You got it, a heart!

The result was lots of good old-fashioned fun, just the way a kid’s party should be. We even got lucky with the weather and the kids got to run amok in the playground as planned, as well as at the craft table.

Photos by Siobhan, Victoria and me

Happy Birthday darling Agatha and thank you for two years of pure joy. We love you more than words can express. xx

Speaking of retro rooms and all the fun planning, I'm a little bit excited as my all-time favourite decorating job has rolled around again - the nursery!

This time I'm going for a more modern feel, and by modern I mean circa 1969.

I loved the planning and accessorising of Agatha's room (as well as the pointing at walls and floors as Andy got to work with his handy roller). I settled on a concept (red and pale blue with a vintage vibe), chose the fabric for the cot sheet and skirt and took it from there. I had completely free reign, working behind closed doors until I reached the point where I could give Andy "the reveal".
This time there are limitations. We're renting now so painting floors and walls, hanging multiple pictures and putting up shelves is out of the question. The room is small, so a chest of drawers is a no-no, as is a piece like the vintage wardrobe we lovingly restored and painted for Agatha's room. And, Andy keeps his clothes in that room (though not for much longer Sonny Jim!) so even a reveal is off the agenda.

Yet does this faze me? Not one jot! It is merely more of a challenge. I have already decided on a gender-neutral colour scheme of orange and yellow with a "weather" theme (though theme is really too strong of a word). Below is my digital pinboard both with ideas and actual purchases. I won't say which is which as you're going to be the recipients of my "ta da!" moment in lieu of Andy.
So, here is the (conceptual) before:

Clockwise from top left: Zü cloud cushion from French Blossom, Follow the Wind print by Naoko Stoop on Etsy, Kartell storage units from Replica Furniture, Tarika in Blue - Kumari Garden fabric and Orange Riley Blake Dots fabric both from Etsy, Leather pouf  from Moroccan Pouffe and Skojig lamp from IKEA

Stay tuned for the after!!


Tuesday, January 29, 2013


This weekend was our "babymoon". Time and funds are a bit tight so we booked a short stay somewhere close to home in order to maximise time away and to allow us a little luxury.
We chose a rather swish two bedroom apartment with direct poolside access at the 4.5 star Sand DunesResort on the Sunshine Coast. The resort is renowned for its huge, fabulous pool and the one minute walk to beautiful, unspoilt Marcoola beach.

We had visions of lolling around in the pool for hours on end, picnics on the sand and Agatha's first experience of the ocean. Buckets and spades were set aside, a beach tent borrowed and new swimming cossies purchased. We were all so excited.

And then came the rain. And the severe weather warnings. This was followed fairly swiftly by that sinking feeling that comes with the knowledge that your best laid plans (and also your plans B, C and D) are scuppered.

But then we decided "ah, stuff it (stuff it real good)!" This is OUR special weekend and we're going to make it wonderful.

On the afternoon of our arrival we swam in the pool as the rain fell and loved it. We set up the beach tent in the dining room and played house. We picnicked in style on the living room floor. We watched “The Muppets Take Manhattan". It seemed like we were going to make lemonade from lemons.

And then came day two. On our second day in "paradise" we were greeted by 125km/h winds and an official exhortation from the police urging people to stay off the roads unless in an emergency. We saw a Dad and his young son get into the outdoor spa at our resort while the storm raged around them. Moments later the boy was hit in the head by a metal chair carried across the pool by the extreme wind (he wasn't too badly hurt thankfully).

That evening we decided upon homemade burgers on the grill since a BBQ was out of the question and a DVD so that we didn't have to venture out. Cue a total loss of power halfway through our dinner preparations. A loss of power that was still in place when we checked out on Monday morning. 

We tried really, really hard to make the best of it, to turn negatives into positives and to focus on fun family times. But sometimes, when things go completely awry they isn't room for serendipity, just disappointment. I felt especially sad for Agatha who pressed her face to the window several times and said "outside!" in the hopes she could run and play and swim. We wanted so much to relax and instead spent the days on high alert and the nights listening to the howling wind and lashing rain. We couldn't wait to leave.

And yet we have it so much better than so many others in Queensland who have lost their homes or worse in these floods. We go to bed tonight knowing that each of us is sleeping peacefully in our beds, safe and sound and that puts us among the most fortunate people on earth.

We never did get to walk on the beach or introduce Agatha to the ocean. But that's okay, it will all be there waiting for us, next time.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Caravan of love

Today is a special day for two reasons.

First, it is exactly twelve years since Andy and I went on our first date in London. We met below the clock at Waterloo Station at midday and proceeded to take in a “Women at War” exhibition at the Imperial War Museum before catching a bus (From Lambeth Walk no less) to Piccadilly Circus where we indulged in a curry and a drink or two. A few more drinks were had in Soho before we met up with some friends of his and hit a nightclub that only played incredibly hip 60s music. We parted at 4am in different black cabs (but not before he’d stuck the lips on me) with the knowledge that something rather wonderful had just happened. We’ve been a couple ever since and I can honestly say that we’ve had a blast. So here’s to you Mr. L, I love you, like you and appreciate you; you’re the cat’s whiskers and the bee’s knees.

Second (and almost as importantly) today is the day I bought my first Vintage Caravan Magazine. Somehow, this publication managed to get up to issue 11 without me knowing about it but there’ll be no more of that! I will henceforth be an ardent subscriber.

Caravanning is cool
I have always wanted a caravan. And by always I don’t mean since it became kind of cool to be into all things kitsch and vintage. I mean that when I was a kid I used to ask for a “Gypsy” caravan for Christmas (I never got one, though I did receive an excellent beanbag and a Womble one year).

There is something magical about caravans; they appealed as a sort of giant dolls house on wheels when I was a child, a home in miniature with cute gingham curtains and sofas that transformed into beds. The extravagantly decorated Romany caravans represented freedom, a life off the chain, filled with adventure and warm nights punctuated by music and dancing, firelight and stars.

As an adult I came to see the humble caravan as a way of establishing a “room of my own” (though I’m fairly confident a van is not what Virginia Woolf had in mind when she recommended it). I’ve long held the dream of buying an old caravan and renovating it, turning it into a study/craft room/reading and tea drinking space, parked permanently in the back garden. And I’ll confess that I know this is where the kitsch would come in as I simply couldn’t resist the pull of retro colours and a vintage fit-out.
But lately I have come to the realisation that the caravan can be all of the above: a miniature home, a mode of transport, a taste of freedom and a special space for the things we love to do. Inspired by this knowledge I have just floated the idea of towing one along the Great Ocean Road, an idea met with surprising enthusiasm by Andy. The thought of our midgets (plural! Only 10 weeks to go…) running in and out of the van while we cook dinner and chat about where we might head tomorrow - knowing that a complete change of plans is only a turn of the steering wheel away – fills me with the sort of joy that makes you squeeze your eyes shut and raise your shoulders a little bit.
Currently we aren’t in a financial position to make the dream a reality but I will make it happen, watch this space. In the meantime there is caravan porn (my new mag even has a centrefold in the shape of an 8-foot 4-inch 1950s caravan called Jellybean) and time to create the perfect van… on Pinterest at least.
Happy travels y’all!