It’s been ‘Birthday Season’ of late for the young and not so young in our family. I love how whether you’re one or ninety one, it’s all about the moment: watching glittery balloons float around above us as our fingertips rustle and rifle through layers of wrapping paper, carefully or not so carefully unveiling our presents. Inhaling the scent of flowers so prettily tied up with string and of melting candle wax, the aroma of wishes. Listening to the good vibrations of “Happy Birthday!” and savouring the last, chocolatey, gooey morsel of a special cake. What’s not to love? But this year, there’s been so much more. The little ones’ wonder and joy allowed us to see the world through their eyes as they experienced many of these treats for the first time.
As Pooh bear noted, ‘It’s hard to be uncheered with a balloon.’ Hudson who turned 1 last week was captivated. They were so big and so shiny and there was a Thomas the Tank Engine! He couldn’t wait to pull them down to cuddle them.
And the delight that two year old Genevieve felt in the early morning light as she took her first bounces in her new trampoline! A dedicated balloon lover, as the balloons took flight, so did she.
I love the way little ones unwrap their presents, sometimes with a little help from Mum.
But then take off to test out the working capabilities of particular gifts.
And what would a birthday be without flowers Genevieve loved hers as much as I loved mine. Must be a girl thing.
And of course, there’s the birthday cake. When my children were little, this was a very important part of the celebrations. As they got older, they would pore over the Women’s Weekly Birthday Cake bookand put in their requests. After some negotiation, I would bake the cake and Kenn would decorate it. So keeping with family tradition, Melissa was determined to make Huddy’s first birthday cake memorable and she certainly succeeded.
Not only did the cake look good, it tasted great. Huddy was amazed. This was the first time he had been allowed to eat a smartie, chocolate icing and mud cake! It was a revelation! Huddy’s taste buds will never be the same again.
I even love singing Happy Birthday. Really no matter how musical or unmusical it sounds, it is the sound of love. Christian, Kelly and girls couldn’t be in Byron for my birthday this year, but for the very first time, when they face timed that morning, Genevieve sang Happy Birthdayto me and included four very enthusiastic hip hip hoorays. An unforgettable serenade.
The thing about firsts is that they keep coming. It can be as simple as taking Huddy for a walk along Main Beach in Byron. Even when it’s a perfect day,
a boy has to do what a boy has to do!
And you never know when you’re going to strike it lucky and for the first time get to use the special toddler swing at Main Beach.
You just have to be ready to lose yourself for a time in the world of the young.
Last week I found myself on the Manly ferry as the sun was setting. I took in the familiar sights of the Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House,relishing the taste of fresh, cold sea air.
I love that it was beautiful but different from home, for it has been lovely in Byron Bay of late. Perfect winter weather, perfect walking weather.
Even walking around the lake closer to home has been lovely.
But back in Sydney, as the ferry steamed towards Manly, all too soon, the sun set and clouds gathered.
As I watched the moon break through stormy clouds and ripple its light across the harbour, I thought about Uncle Neil. Last week, aged 92, he passed away. At his memorial service, family and friends remembered a quiet, clever but always loving man who had lived a really good life; a life that like the moonlight, softly touched so many for the better.
While I mourned the reason for our reunion, it was good to see my city and country cousins. Life is always an adventure when they are around. Travelling back into the city from Sutherland, I was able to appreciate my cousin Beth’s advanced driving skills at close range. Exiting the Eastern distributor and swinging a right across a couple of lanes into Macquarie St, Beth spotted a park and paralleled parked her 4WD in under a minute. All this in the dark, in peak hour traffic and in the midst of a festival! It was a maneuver beyond my wildest dreams and all under the watchful eyes of a police car which just happened to be parked behind us!
Soon we were making our goodbyes and I headed down Macquarie St to Circular Quay to see some of the fantastic Vivid lights on my way home. Vivid Sydney is a festival of light, music and ideas. Beautiful light and laser shows illuminate, interpret and transform Sydney’s urban spaces with a unique creative vision. These lights transform Sydney into a wonderland that is free for all to enjoy. As well there is an innovative contemporary music program.
Earlier, my son Christian and his family had gone to Vivid at the Zoo where young and old alike were entranced by the light sculptures and the laser display.
So I was very keen to see the Opera House and the foreshore which serves as the heart of the festival. I was not disappointed even though I couldn’t really capture it with my camera phone.
But this was a fleeting, family visit. We are definitely going to plan a Vivid holiday next year.
All too soon, I was back on the plane, headed for home. I had a window seat and as I took one last look at Sydney, I thought that it was fitting that Uncle Neil should leave us in the middle of festival such as Vivid, surrounded by light, never to be forgotten.
Despite traffic gridlock, long supermarket queues, tourists occupying all the best spots at my favourite cafes and an inability to snag a rock star park at the beach, I have to admit that thissummertime, the livin’ has been easy in Byron Bay and we have enjoyed that ‘peaceful, easy beach holiday feeling.’
Looking back, 2016 was a big year for us: travel to distant destinations both abroad and here in Australia, the arrival of our first grandson, beautiful Hudson, ‘ Huddie’ James and our daughter Lyndsay’s picture perfect wedding at Cradle Mountain in Tasmania among the many highlights. By mid November we were ready to relax and get into the holiday groove. The Christmas tree went up and channeling that ‘peaceful, easy feeling’, I shopped early. I found I had time to wander, consider and unearth! My former self; a demented banshee rushing around in a blind panic trying to find the perfect present at the last minute and failing miserably, was banished … hopefully forever.
So with gifts nestled beneath the tree, we threw ourselves into the revelries of the silly season: parties and drinks with friends and of course, Carols at the ‘Byron at Byron.’ one of the premier resorts in Byron Bay. Nestled in coastal rainforest, the staff welcomed us with a glass or two of champagne on the deck (helps to lubricate the vocal cords) and offered delicious bites both traditional and local. Who could resist a delicious mince tart or a Bangalow Pork roll or a nibble of this or a nibble of that? Certainly not us! Our group was soon in a very festive mood.
And so we sang, mostly in tune, as the dusk closed in. Luckily the choir was loud enough to make us all sound ‘joyful and triumphant’.
The peaceful, easy feeling just grew and grew. Melissa and Ben hosted Christmas Dinner on the deck of their home in beachside Byron. Everything was just perfect. And I didn’t have to stress about a thing.
All I had to do was cook a turkey and make a couple of salads to contribute to the festive fare. So easy. So delightful. So restful.
Even Ninja got into the holiday spirit as we exchanged gifts.
All of Ben’s family had traveled from Adelaide to share Huddie’s first Christmas. Who would have thought that a roomful of adults could be spellbound as a 7 month old baby opened his first Christmas presents! And there were a lot of presents to open.
Eventually, it was time to return home. Christian, Kelly and little Genevieve were arriving the next day for a week. The cousins would meet for the first time!
And Genevieve traveled to Coomera to play with her great grandfather and mother and enjoy a swim with Nemo and Dad in their pool. It’s a special moment to see four generations all together these days.
And I got to play sandcastles with Genevieve and Huddie at Lake Ainsworth, located next to the surf club at Lennox Headand take them both for a swim. Watching their expressions as little waves washed over their feet and their toes dug into cool soft sand was everything I thought it would be. That beach holiday feeling had arrived.
Even though the days were hot, they were perfect for long evening walks along the beach.
Even one of the locals joined us entranced by the sunset.
And when the clouds rolled in, the sky seemed to say, ‘look at me, look at me
Despite the traffic and the arrival of bluebottles on a couple of occasions, we lolled around in the surf and when the waves permitted, caught a few in to shore. It’s reassuring to know that you haven’t lost the knack.
We have enjoyed leisurely breakfasts and evening barbecues on the patio while the cat has played with his holiday treat, a cardboard castle.
And there’s something about watching the cricket and tennis in the heat of the day. that is deeply relaxing, I find.
And so our summer continues: early morning games of golf, lighthouse walks, swimming and kayaking in the lake and in the bay and a new arrival to welcome and a special birthday celebration in March to look forward to. Yep, that ‘peaceful, easy beach holiday feeling’ is definitely here. Hope your summer has been as enjoyable.
Until recently, we were a cat family. There were occasional deviations, most notably ‘Cutlets’, the abandoned lamb Kenn raised to be an interim lawn mower when we lived in Wagga Wagga, but otherwise only cats with personality have shared their lives and antics with us. Secretly though, I think that Kenn has always had a soft spot for puppies demonstrated by his determination to teach our kittens ‘doggie’ tricks. For example, Muffin, a white Persian kitten, learnt to play fetch and would stay and sit on command, often on Kenn’s desk as he started and completed 3000 word essays the night before they were due. Nym, a lovely gentle Himalayan, learnt to beg for treats and snuggle close while watching TV, while our latest kitten, Callie, races puppylike down the hallway to the front door when she hears his car pull up outside. Who needs a puppy when they can have a kitten, I thought. But I now realise that these tricks are pale imitations of the ‘joys’ of ‘real’ puppies.
My first close encounter of the puppy kind came with Moet.Friends, Helen and Phil, (longtime dog gurus) welcomed an adorable, golden retriever puppy into their home. Moet was lovely: not too yappy, not too boisterous, definitely not bitey and best of all, sensitive to the needs of her human friends. She was, and is, content to sit and wait quietly while we humans chat over a coffee or tea, sip a champagne while nibbling some cheese or indulge in a late breakfast. My puppy prejudices were fading away….
Then Melissa and Ben returned from their honeymoon and blithely let us know that we were going to grandparents – to a red and white border collie, named Ninja. What fun, I thought. I can play with a cute bundle of fluff until Ninja is suitably tired and cross and then hand her back to her parents. Isn’t that what grandparents do? Have all the fun and none of the fuss?
Alas, no-one told me anything about toilet training and puppies before I volunteered to puppy sit. Ninja was so loving that she greeted us and anyone who visited with a liquid gift. Consequently, I found myself hosing down the back patio – a lot. And I squishily learnt that the ability to hold one’s breath for at least a minute was essential while mastering the ins and outs of plastic poo bags. Luckily, knots mastered at Girl Guides, so long ago, actually did work.
And while I knew that puppies and dogs love bones, I was unaware that many puppies share with Imelda Marcos, a fetish for shoes. Unbeknownst to us, her minders, Ninja collected and cherished seven pairs of shoes from our next door neighbour, Bob. Ninja didn’t understand what all the fuss was about as she left one shoe of each pair for its human owner. What could be fairer than that?
But it’s easy to ignore these puppy peccadilloes because most of the time she is so much fun and like all babies takes so much enjoyment in the simple things in life like a walk on the beach. As we walk along the bush path to Tallows Beach, it’s easy to see who’s in charge on these excursions.
Exiting the path, we all have to cross the road. This has been a small problem, as true to her breeding, Ninja wants to round up every car she meets (they’re just big noisy sheep) but she is slowly learning to look to the right and look to the left before crossing the road.
At last we are on the beach and Ninja is off the lead and running. Faster than a speeding bullet, she finds her friends and the fun begins.
She is learning the finer points of surfing and loves to jump the waves.
Then there’s all the interesting stuff to sniff and eat. A bit of seaweed, a shell, a bit of crusty coral, a rotting crab…
But all too soon, it’s time to go home to Mum, where all tuckered out she sneaks a rest in the bedroom.
Watching Ninja and all the other dogs enjoying the sun, sea and sand has been a great way to spend an hour or two. All fun and no fuss. My type of puppy chore. She is also eager to follow her father’s exploits on the soccer field, casting a discerning eye over the action.
Festive celebrations take on another dimension when a puppy is involved. Ninja shared a wonderful Christmas treat with Moet, who has been key in teaching Ninja doggie etiquette.
But Ninja hasn’t sailed through puppy hood unscathed. Far too soon, she had to visit the Vet for a procedure on her leg and she was a very sad puppy for a couple of weeks.
My third close encounter of the puppy kind came not long after Ninja entered our lives. In Darwin, my other daughter, Lyndsay, and her partner, Reece, became lucky parents of a Siberian Husky puppy who they named Hannibal. We haven’t met him face to face yet, but modern technology has allowed us to watch his antics from afar.
He too is adorable … when asleep.
And like Ninja and Moet, he loves a run on the beach and a dip in the ocean. Lyndsay and Reece, assure me that they keep a careful watch for watery reptiles.
Though Hannibal loves the sea, the pool is also a lovely place to cool down in the tropical heat.
And he is always pleased to see you.
And that about sums it up. Puppies are always so glad to see you, be with you, share with you that puppy love that just creeps up on you. I’m now very content to be part of a puppy extended family, but I’m not sending Callie to the animal shelter anytime soon!
Do you have a favourite cafe or eatery? A place to catch up with friends while you sip a latte or cappuccino or perhaps a peppermint green tea while basking in the sun? A place which delivers a delicious bite to eat if you wish to indulge? A place, perhaps with a deck or veranda overlooking a beautiful view? There are many such establishments in Byron, but one of my favourites is the Pass Cafe. (www.thepasscafe.com.au)
The cafe is situated in the Arakwal National Park, overlooking the iconic Pass Beach. You can get there by car: drive along Lighthouse Road, turn left into Brooke Drive and park in the adjacent car park. It is a paid parking area. But my preferred option is to walk to the cafe following the circuit which eventually leads to the lighthouse. A little bit of exercise, lovely views, nice people to encounter, what more could I ask for?
There on the deck you can enjoy a leisurely breakfast while you watch the birds or admire the view of the ocean through the trees. I love their brekkie burger but have suffered acute menu envy when others have ordered the Spanish omelette. As a reward for walking even part of the lighthouse circuit, morning coffee and cake is a must. I can recommend the gluten free brownies and the Middle Eastern orange muffins in particular but really it is always so hard to choose which delicious calorie laden morsel to have! In the name of research, I should work my way through the lot! (it would be a service for my fellow man) It goes without saying that the coffee is very, very good.
The staff are amazingly helpful and always make you feel welcome. The cafe is also open for lunch but not for dinner. Lunch servings are generous, seasonal, varied and very reasonably priced. They also have a takeaway menu for those who fancy a picnic on the beach, only a few steps away, or a snack to tide them over as they tackle the steps to the Lighthouse.
As the weather man predicted, much of Eastern Australia is in the grip of an Antarctic vortex. It has snowed in places where it hasn’t snowed for fifty years! My family and friends down south have posted instagram pics of gardens and paddocks adrift with snow. I peruse fine details. Are those Jenny’s sunglasses on that snowman, I wonder? Mmm, it has been too long since I played in the snow. I would love to be there with Jenny and Monique, sloshing around the garden in gumboots and thick socks helping little Matilda to build her first snowman and … landing a snowball or two on unsuspecting victims! It would be a perfect winter walk.
But envy isn’t good for the soul. And Winter brings its own marvels to Byron Bay. It is usually delightfully warm and sunny during the day, around 22 degrees Celsius, with low humidity. Perfect walking weather. When the winter tides move the sand back around The Pass, it is possible to walk from Main Beach to Little Wategoes along the sand. The sky is winter blue as Kenn and I stroll along Main Beach.
Soon, we’re at The Pass. I can’t believe that there is so much sand. Not a rock in sight on the path.
Rounding the headland, we negotiate the inlets. Who doesn’t love to run around a rocky outcrop, beating the waves? Occasionally, our feet get wet.
Then we’re at Wategoes Beach and the going is easy. Strolling past the Pandanus palms, I follow the curve of the beach around to Little Wategoes. There are more rock canyons to negotiate. We feel like explorers. There is no one else here except the starfish in the rock pools and the whales in the bay.
We make it and there is a treat in store!
At the end of the beach, we watch as the ocean puts on a spectacular show. We are so lucky to be here, at this time, for free! We sink onto the sand and rest awhile. Before the tide changes, we make our way back to Main Beach where a perfect scene awaits.
This warm winter walk has been memorable. But I have a confession to make: right at this moment, I’d rather be a’snowing with little Matilda and Jenny in Woodstock.
While, relaxation has been my priority at the beach, some of my children, while on holiday, have viewed a visit to the beach as an opportunity to put their personal training ambitions to the test, with me as their subject. Not wanting to disappoint them, I found myself wading through waist deep water against the current. Encouraging words reached my ears. “This will be a great workout for your thighs, Mum. It’s not hard, they train horses like this all the time!” .Gritting my teeth, channeling my inner Phar Lap, thighs burning, I pushed, slipped and gurgled my way across the bay to the Pass. (The surf gutters were quite deep at the time.) Not content with trying to trim my pear shaped bits, my personal trainers also had a thing about cardio! Soon I found myself power-walking along the beach. Now this was not a good look. I found myself breathless and unable to talk, ( a serious impediment if you ask me.) I couldn’t stop to greet friends who were leisurely taking in the sights as my personal trainer would proclaim, “Come on Mum … you can talk later … come on … catch up … you can do it …”
But holidays pass and fitness trainers return to work. The beach has once again become a place where I can immerse myself in a natural mineral spa as I swim, surf or just float about in warm ocean currents. It’s a place where I can dabble my feet in the shallows, sink my toes into soft white sand and laze away an afternoon under the beach umbrella accompanied by a good book. This was especially true this week. Long sandbars appeared almost overnight in the bay. Wonderful rock pools were revealed, perfect for floating or snorkeling in. Thigh sculpting was impossible as the water was too shallow. I walked from the Pass almost to Main Beach, moving from sandbar to sandbar. I had to dawdle. Power-walking was impossible. After all, I had to watch where I was putting my feet. I didn’t want to find a hidden rock! . The view from the sandbar to the beach was so lovely! There were lots of five and six year old having their first snorkeling lesson. The excitement when they spotted their first fish hiding under the rocks was infectious. Maybe tomorrow I will put on my goggles and join them.