Two weeks ago I was finishing what was a relentless year of extreme work hours, some days starting at 2am and finishing around 6pm to make dinner and do things with my kids, yet still getting text messages till as late as 9.30pm, before setting the alarm again for a 2am, 3am or 4am start. Usually I get a welcome rest around June, but it didn’t happen this year. Two weeks before that, I was saying to myself ‘this will be the last of the big weeks’ only for it to happen the following week, and then again the week after. So by the time Thursday November 19 turned up and was over, I was hoping for that sense of relief, but it didn’t happen, because Monday November 23rd had a handful of appointments to attend.
And you wonder what happened on Friday November 20? Well, it was my birthday, a day I traditionally take off as a work-free day to tend to my own wellbeing and celebration of ‘me’, however this year, I moved house on my birthday… well, sort of. I moved from one of the downstairs apartment to one of the upstairs apartment…. and had a housewarming party that night! Yes – I am a glutton for punishment.
Some of you know that I live in an old Firestation building. It is heritage listed, built in 1924 and is renowned for its sympathetic architecture to the residential streetscape. We were living in the old garage part previously, which, as a garage was essentially one big square partitioned into 4 rooms (3 bedrooms and an open plan living space). Now we are in the old offices, residential quarters, with towering 10ft ceilings, magnificent rooms (my bedroom is 5.5m x 4.2m (18ft x 13.8ft) or 23sqm approx) (most bedrooms are around 10-12sqm), a rustic old fireplace, a balcony that captures the sunsets and storms coming in and some really quirky character, like a meat-safe in the kitchen, high skirting boards, distressed solid timber doors with diffused glass panes and cute cottage style sash windows with the original glass panels in them. And the funny thing is, for me, it felt like home as soon as we moved in. I absolutely love it!
So since we moved in, my world has changed… I can see the sky, the treetops, the clouds, the street activity, so much going on, and it seriously doesn’t bother me hearing the traffic, where in other places, it used to drive me mad. We’re not stuck in the cave with no light that we had downstairs which was starting to drive me a little nuts. My boys and I aren’t on top of each other, and sometimes, I don’t even know if they are home because there are two staircases to exit from (I think we might need to set some courtesy rules), but for now, we’re enjoying our space, our new home and our sense of freedom.
For me, so much so, over the last twelve days, I’ve done things I’ve never done as a single mum. I went to the Paris to Provence French Festival at Como House for a wander around the glorious gardens of this Victorian landmark mansion and enjoyed the fruits and flavours of French cuisine (even bought myself an antique metal pot to plant my herbs in). I’ve gone to a corporate movie night, thanks to one of my clients who wanted to thank their suppliers. I went to a little soiree at a new friend’s house to celebrate her selling her home. I’ve done a ton load of shopping (if anyone knows me, I hate shopping with a vengeance, but for some reason, I have actually been enjoying it, to the point of doing more the next day! Please help my credit card!!). I got my hair done and had a acupressure foot massage (and two other massages, because I can!). I helped collect the materials to make a billy-cart for my boys. I went out to dinner with my gorgeous friends up in Goughs Bay for my belated birthday and enjoyed it alfresco style with the kangaroos watching us. I’ve drunk alcohol every day, I’ve watched movies, including the whole first season of ‘Flesh and Bone.’ I’ve been on beach walks, walks with friends, met some wonderful new people, and tried to write the next riveting chapter of my next book “Calmer Suits Her.”
And today, I went into the city, visited a friend who works at the French shop at the Queen Victoria Market and bought some beautiful delicacies for my Christmas Drinks on Saturday night (as there was a call for another party!). I told her to choose, so she gave me some stunning soft white and blue cheeses, a vintage cheddar, some mini gherkins (I’m sure they have another name), some divine pate, some stuffed figs and some gold wrapped chocolate pears with a healthy dose of liqueur in them. It was so nice seeing the friendly shop owners from their different nationalities, toting their authentic goods, the vibrant bustle of customers wanting to get their favourite cheese or Hungarian salami. The friendships and laughter that have been created over decades in that place was magical to watch… and showed me how sheltered I really have been. After a trip to the market, I took the tram down Elizabeth Street and got off at the Bourke Street Mall, to do some more shopping (shoes this time), and wander down the eclectic cafe strip of Degraves Street and found a cute little ‘Made in Victoria’ shop called Clementines, with a bright orange Vespa out that front, where I bought a charming milk bottle style vase to put on the mantle in my kitchen.
All in all, it’s made me realise how much I’ve been missing out on because I work so hard throughout the year, too busy getting from one place to the next and forgetting about the journey within. Whilst I caught the train into town today, I made a conscious effort not to look at my phone and just enjoy the scenery… and the scenery was people looking down at their phones! lol
Will 2016 be the year that I create time to do things other than work? I hope so… Now that I feel like I have a really city home, as well as my country home, I feel I will most likely entertain more, therefore more trips to the Victoria Market on a Saturday morning! But time will tell.
But for now, I’ve needed these last two weeks to enjoy myself again, enjoy the moment, because in the end, I deserve it… as we all do.
After all my self-pity and uncertainty with my operation, I thought I owed my boys a weekend of a little bit of fun and doing something special. Of course, it couldn’t be too strenuous, because I still have my stab wounds and they are still a little bit tender so I need to take it easy, so we did what we could, and we did it on a bit of a budget.
I received a coupon book from my energy company that had some great discounts, so I thought I would use those to get us through the weekend. The discounts vary from restaurants to ice-cream shops, to drive-in movie theatres to adventure parks, as well as spa treatments and hotel stays. We didn’t go that far, but we did manage some great bargain.
First stop was Saturday night dinner at the Groove Train. Nothing overly special, but between the share plates of a garlic pizza, calamari salad, Italian sausages with fresh basil leaves and a tomato relish, and some crispy wedges with sweet chilli sauce and sour cream, my boys found the retro Pacman machines and we did some Ebay checking to see how much they are (about $1200 if you’re interested). And of course my boys needed to be difficult ordering a choc-banana milkshake and a strawberry-blue heaven milkshake respectively (two each), while I settled for a Savvy B (or two). So our $90.00 bill came down to $64.00.
After dinner, we went to see “Jurassic World.” We had another voucher, thinking that with the voucher we would have paid $31.00 instead of our standard $34.50 with our movie club discount. However, we had a free ticket on the movie club token, so we only paid $20 for the 3 of us to see the blockbuster.
Then today, with it being such a beautiful winter’s day, the boys and I took a train into the city to enjoy an Irish meal in an Irish Pub. (see Instagram pics @suzyjbrown). It came completely with Irish accents from the staff! My oldest son went the eye-fillet steak with chips and gravy, I went the Sunday roast with a pint of Bulmers, and my youngest son went the kid’s menu of chicken tenderloins and chips. Both my boys had a pint of lemon squash. Our table was an old wine barrel, and we were surrounded by Guinness signs, old newspapers from the 1950s lacquered to the walls, and rich oak paneling.. oh, and a Collingwood vs GWS football game on the screen. It was a hearty feast, and we’re not requiring dinner tonight, that’s for sure. Our $64.00 bill came down to $47.00.
After our big meal, I convinced (poorly) that instead of catching the train at Flinders Street station, we walk along the Yarra to Richmond station. With a bit of ‘I just want to go home’ and ‘it’s too long’ we eventually made it to Richmond station just as the train was pulling up to the platform. Gotta love the timing!
So, all in all we saved, $57.50, as well as what it would have cost us to travel into the city by car (our Mykis already had money on them, so travel was essentially free).
After all the whining along the Yarra, I told the boys I had another surprise when we got back to the car, and that was that they had to help me with the grocery shopping… I didn’t say it was a great surprise, but they did get to choose a few things that I wouldn’t normally buy, so there was a bonus for them.
I must admit, I do have helpful boys. Between them this weekend, they walked the dog, vacuumed, emptied the dishwasher, put rubbish in the bins, brought in the groceries from the car, packed for school camp, did 2-3 hours of homework, went clothes shopping (yes, boys who went clothes shopping!), squeezed in a basketball game for one and and a hockey game for the other. I am blessed… So all in all, it was a good weekend for all 🙂
As I get myself ready for my trip to London next week, I reflect on how my feelings in life were all so numb prior to venturing out on my first adventure back in 2008. I was numb to what was right or wrong, what made me feel happy or sad, and every other emotion under the sun. I ‘put up with things.’ I accepted that ‘that’ was life. I didn’t have opinions on things, because whenever I did speak, my voice was often squashed, so I sat on the sidelines watching and waiting for whatever I was doing to finish. I accepted that this was my life… a life that meant nothing to anyone, especially me.
But then I took a trip to London and Paris and discovered something about myself. I was ALLOWED to feel. I was ALLOWED to enjoy something. I was ALLOWED to immerse myself into the culture, the music, the architecture, the smells, the language, and the beauty of my surrounds. I was ALLOWED to make my own opinion because I was by myself, most of the time, to just be swallowed up by where I was. And it really makes you think… What was I doing for the past 34 years? HOW did I get to be in this position where I DIDN’T MATTER?
That’s the magic of travel. You go outside your boundaries to discover your inner self. You become yourself… not a mother, a daughter, a sister, a cousin, a friend, a work colleague, a charity worker, or whatever you are ‘labelled’ as… you are YOU! And no one can tell you otherwise.
Next week, will be the first time I have travelled without my boys in four years. It’s only a short trip, but I know it will help me reconnect with my inner self, my passions, my desires and my intellect and my soul. I am looking forward to the 26 hour flight, being tucked away in my seat and being left alone with no phone or internet interruptions, only the occasional food tray, some music, some movies and some focused writing time. I’m looking forward to motivating myself again to be the best I can be, for myself and my children, and my dearest friends.
So, I beg you all, at some stage over the next year, GIVE YOURSELF a minimum of 5 days in a strange land to discover your true self and find the happier you.
Last weekend, I took an extended weekend away, as my oldest son had a day off from school to end Year 7 and start Year 8 the following Monday. My youngest son had been desperate for a friend to come to our lake house for a year, and finally we were able to get one of his friends to come. We were blessed with beautiful weather, not so blessed that the authorities were draining the lake at a rate of 5000 gallons a day, which whilst the lake area received over 80mm of rain in the past 10 days, the water level was dropping.
This is the lake at over 90% full, as it was this time last year…
This is the lake this year at about 81% full, it’s a closer shot in, because the lake is that little bit further away… in fact it’s shoreline is about 100m further away from my front door. You can see the yellow sandy edge in the background showing you how much more empty it is. 🙁
But still, the lake was still warm enough to swim in and have fun with the kayaks.
We arrived at the lake just as the sky grew dark on Thursday night, so I couldn’t show our friends our fabulous view. We were all exhausted from the drive up, and crashed early. Friday morning, I woke up to get some work done, admiring my view on the front deck, then took my dog Dexter for a walk around to a friend’s house. I came back and made Canadian pancakes for all the boys. My friend and I drove into town, which is about 15 minutes away, for some supplies to cover us over the weekend. The boys went around to the BMX track, and then went kayaking and swimming. They widdled wood, played kick to kick soccer, and very occasionally, played on their iPads (as I have limited internet at the house, because we’re hardly ever there, and it’s more for my work and emergencies than downloading/uploading, playing games, etc). We made some Thai wontons and did more sitting on the deck, watching the world go by. We met up with some other friends and before we knew it, it was wine-o-clock. My beautiful country friends all gave me birthday presents, which was lovely and unexpected. We decided to have a grazing dinner of the Thai wontons, homemade sausage rolls, yummy ‘Fromage d’Affnois’ and water crackers, some honey soy chicken wings and lots of sparkling hit the table. When I think back, the food – Asian BBQ, French cheese and Australian pastries didn’t exactly complement each other, but still, they were all delicious, and all made with love.
The next day, we all woke up a little seedy. My friend was waiting for me to walk Dexter, but I just didn’t get out of bed. We made some more Canadian pancakes for the boys, and I had an friend egg and bacon role, which was perfect for my hangover. My friend and I sat on the front deck for a few hours drinking coffee and peppermint tea until we felt back to normal. I took my friend for a little drive around the town, to show her the extent of its beauty… we went up to the lookout, around to the swimming hole under the bridge, showed her the picnic point, the caravan park, and up around the back streets. She was in awe of how much there is to do in this little town of around 120 people. By mid afternoon, we all had a go at the kayaks, including Dexter. My friend and I went in the double kayak with Dexter up at the helm. Our steering didn’t really compliment each other, and we eventually headed straight into the trees and toppled the kayak, however Dexter managed to stay on board. We were pretty far out (about 400m off the shore line), so my friend jumped back on the kayak and paddled back, while I enjoyed a lazy swim back. It’s so peaceful out there… We eventually headed back inside and had showers to freshen up. My friend had to go home, but she left her son for the extra night. Another local friend popped his head in the door, with a bunch of hand-picked flowers and a birthday card for me, which was very sweet. Makes me feel very loved in my little country town. (I have a picture of the flowers on my Instagram account suzyjbrown).
That night, we went to the local fine dining restaurant with a Scottish couple and had a fun time. The food is always beautiful there.. I had a 4-flavoured roasted salmon fillet, which was lovely, the others went the pork belly, lamb cutlets and the beef ribs. I was eying off the trio of chocolate for dessert, but no one wanted to join me.
We ended the night at my friend’s house playing a ‘Who Am I?’ game where you stick a name of a celebrity on your head and try and guess the name by asking questions that can be answered with Yes or No.
The next day, Sunday, we cleaned up the house, before one of my local friends took the boys on the speed boat for a go on the donut and a swim. They had a ball!
It was so good to have one of my Melbourne friends come up, and my son to have one of his friends up too. They can now appreciate what I love so much about my lake house and how I would dearly love to make it home one day because of the fabulous community, the relaxing nature of it all, my gorgeous view and the calmness it gives me… and make it a real writing retreat.
We decided as we walked up the stairs to the stadium, that I would be on the USA side, the boys on the Canadian side…. but of course, they had to eat the American food of corn dogs and hot dogs!
Last weekend, when we went to New Zealand, Dexter stayed with some friends in the country. My friend was nice enough to write Dexter’s diary while we were away… and here it is…
My Weekend away from my Family
Started out as normal although everyone was home on a school/work day. That wasn’t normal but it was nice. We went for a drive and met Aunty G. Then I found myself in a strange car and my family was gone. I cried a bit, I tried to be brave, but I was a bit sad. Then the car stopped and I got out and I knew where I was. I had a sniff around and tried to lift my leg for a wee but was still a bit wobbly from my travel pills, so I just squatted. I tried to eat some kangaroo poo but Aunty G made me spit it out. We went inside and Rosy was surprised to see me. We played together for a while and had something to eat, then we went for a walk. That was fun! Rosy got to run around off the lead but I had to stay on mine. I still got to run though with Aunty G. When we came back, I decided to sit on the deck and wait for my family to come across the road from my house, but they didn’t come.
I came back inside and played with Rosy for a while. Then Aunty and Uncle G had to go out for dinner, so I had to stay in the laundry but that was OK, cos I needed to rest by then. Luckily Mum put some puppy pads in my bag because I needed a wee while they were out. When they came home, we played a bit more and I forgot to go outside and did a poo in the office – Whoops! I didn’t get in trouble though. Rosy and I went outside for a wee then it was bed time. Back to the laundry for me. It wasn’t too bad, I was good and slept all night. I didn’t have to use the puppy bad again.
Uncle G got up early because he was working. He let me out for a wee and he let me stay in the lounge until Aunty G and Rosy got up. I just curled up on Rosy’s spot on the lounge.
Yesterday we had a public holiday in Melbourne, and after a weekend of feeling a little ordinary for two of us, a bit of homework, a bit of catch up shopping and a lot of relaxing, I took the boys into the city for a Family Fun Day. I do one of these every now and again, to 1) get my kids out of the house, 2) show them a side of the world that they may not be familiar with, 3) to just embrace life.
Everything, while not planned, was timed perfectly for the day. We arrived at the train station with just 2 minutes before the train departed, we arrived at our destination with just 5 minutes before the 1/2 hour show started… and I had happy boys (sometimes it’s like pulling teeth to go to places that they haven’t been to before, but yesterday it wasn’t).
Our first destination was the Old Melbourne Gaol. Something I should have gone to as a child as a school excursion, but never did, and it was always in the back of my mind to go. We first were treated like a criminal in the Watch House by a Sergeant, who locked us up in the darkened cells and were explained why and some of the infamous ‘who’s’ who entered the Watch House before they were sentenced in court.
After playing taking our photos as mugshots and in jail, we went to the actual gaol and were amazed by the thickness of the bluestone walls, the darkness of the entire building and the smallness of the individual cells. Some may feel it’s inhumane, but somewhere there must be a balance of what was once and the $40,000 per prisoner per year lifestyle they have now, after all, some do treat prison as a home away from home, as they are afforded so many luxuries in prison they may not even get at home. My boys played with the Ned Kelly armour, saw the hanging platform and peeped through the peep holes. My oldest son thought it was much better than he expected, my youngest son thought that it would be better, as he wanted to see real life prisoners…. Me don’t think so!
After the Gaol, we went to Strike Bowling to have a game of ten-pin bowling. It took us a while
to get going, but my youngest ended up with the only strike (with bumpers), and I got a couple of spares (without bumpers), but all in all it was a bit of fun. The boys then wanted to play a bit of air-hockey and test their boxing punch, before we decided that we were a little bit hungry.
We then walked the streets of Melbourne, through the arcades, and my youngest needed a Onesie suit for the school pyjama party this Friday, so we found him the dinosaur suit he was after. (love killing two birds with one stone!) We walked through the new Emporium building and beyond to our favourite little French Belgian waffle maker. The boys had their waffles and some Orangina – our favourite French beverage, and I decided to go the ham and brie baguette… So Yum!
As we had a few more things to do when we got home, we headed to Flinders Street station and the boys filled up at the Candy Station, and I indulged in a Spanish hot chocolate with a splash of hazelnut… OMG you must try!
The sun was shining so beautifully, my boys were behaving the best they ever had on one of our little adventures and we had lots of laughs, hugs and silliness which makes it the perfect day out. As my oldest is a teenager next month, I’m not sure how many more of these days are left in us, but I will cherish each and every one of them from here on in. Love my boys!
Yesterday, the boys and I drove up to our new holiday house in Goughs Bay just to check a few things out before we settle. We are so excited that the water level of the lake is up to 90%, the view is divine, the house is better than we first inspected and we have a fabulous back garden with so much potential with its elevation.
In my entrepreneurial ways, we plan to use it as a holiday house for us, but also as a vacation rental so others can enjoy it too. We love that its in a sleepy town that comes alive over the summer with holiday makers wanting to enjoy the boating life, the hiking, the wine country and the wildlife. We love that its so close to Mt Buller, one of Victoria’s most popular alpine resorts so that our little house can be used in the winter season as well.
While we were there, we introduced ourselves to the people at the General Store – a store that sells everything from beer & wine to lattes, deli meats, ice, gas and all your standard groceries. We also checked out the information centre in Mansfield to find out about all the festivals, the activities and the local produce farms. And we went for a walk along our street in search of the boat ramp (it wasn’t far!) and the local caravan park and saw some million properties along the way. Such as sweet place to be – perfect in the off season for those who want a quiet getaway, great in the high season for those who love the lake lifestyle.
Anyway, here are a few pics!
Yesterday, the boys and I went to the city (after we voted in our nation’s election) to see if we actually could love the culture in our own city as we did love many parts of Europe. We started off at the iconic Flinders Street station and found Degraves Street… a truly European slice of heaven in Melbourne.
We went there, as I had heard the best waffles in town was a little place called ‘Waffle On’ in Degraves Street… but as we hadn’t ventured too much into our own town, we hadn’t realised that Degraves Street was rich in European style cafes from every corner of the continent, and the language truly made us feel like we had been teleported back to our 6 week holiday. We found ‘Waffle On’ and enjoyed some delicious maple syrup waffles with a bottle of Orangina (our favourite drink from France & Belgium) and enjoyed the sunshine and the vibrant cafe life.
After our trip to Europe, it played on my mind how much the boys and I love being in the mountains. We so wanted to be in Santa Fe last year, in New Mexico to enjoy the extreme weather of hot summers and snowy winters with forests on three of its boundaries. We loved the friendliness of the country towns in both the United States as well as throughout country-side Europe, but when we got back to Melbourne, it was snobbery and rudeness all over again. I couldn’t wait to get out, and go for another country drive.
Yesterday, we did it… drove 3.5 hours up the Melba Highway, through some absolutely beautiful countryside and had a lovely pub lunch in Mansfield. Instantly, that warm friendliness was before us. We were the second group of people to enter the pub, and the lovely waitress in her jeans & long sleeve rugby top, as rough as anything, welcomed us to sit wherever we felt comfortable. We ordered our food, and she said that Lachy, the bartender will look after our drinks. When I looked over at the bar, there was no one there. Then she called out for him, and there he was, sitting on the couch next to the open fire ‘fixing’ the jukebox connections to get it working. I told him that we weren’t in any hurry, and within a couple of minutes there were three of us waiting for drinks, he looks up and says ‘Fuck! Better get to it then!’ I just had to laugh at his candor!
After our pub meal, we ventured down to Goughs Bay… a beautiful little sleepy township about 12 minutes south of Mansfield on Lake Eildon. The boys and I got out of the car, had a walk around, discovered lots of different animal droppings, walked down to the lake to see the mystery that nature is, and admired the beautiful mountains beyond the lake, before meeting with our real estate agent. About two weeks ago, I found on the net this cute little lakeside getaway that seemed more than affordable. A week ago, I went to the bank to see if it was possible to get a loan for it… and they gave me the OK. So we went up to check it out. In some ways, it was so much better than I could ever imagine – the position is just stunning – 100m to the general store, 200m to the boat ramp for fishing, waterskiing and wake boarding, walking/bike track between you and the lake and the lake is perfect for swimming, fishing and kayaking, it’s only 30 minutes drive to the snowfields, and there is some magnificent wine country surrounding you. So, in terms of a holiday spot, it has everything for all seasons. But in other ways, I can see that there is still so much potential within it to make it amazing. Million dollar properties are popping up all over the place, and there is 10,000sqft of land for me to play with. It is all predominantly renovated, it just needs a better main bathroom, but that’s easy over time. I could build a writer’s retreat at the back of the block, I could extend it, I could do so many things with it, because the position is literally perfect!
While we were standing on the front verandah, some beautiful parrots came up to say hello. The ambience was just so wonderful and relaxing. This is the view from the walking track outside. The house I looked at was a lot more elevated so you could see much more of the water As it’s winter, the water levels are lowish and come in more after the Spring rains and the snow starts to melt on the nearby snowfields. It has the ability to rise about 2 metres higher, bringing the water’s edge that much closer.
Anyway, after looking at a second property which was not even close to this little gem I found, I put an offer on it yesterday, and it was all signed up today, pending on finance (which should be fine as I had the pre-approval). So in two months, I will have my home away from home, and an investment property that can be filled with holiday makers to help me pay for it. And a delightful community to make friends with. So looking forward to kicking back, enjoying the view with a glass of sauv blanc and writing my next book. 🙂