London, You Call This a Heatwave? Travelling With A Milestone Around My Neck – Part 1

Q. Why did the 50 year old mother of two cross the world?

A. To get to the other side of course and because there was absolutely no reason to wait for tomorrow to do something she was passionate about. The other reason was to follow the chicken to Budapest which had gone before her so they could have an encounter that involved paprika sauce and cucumber salad, after which one of them would not survive.

But more about Budapest later.

Turning 50 can be daunting. I think the lead up to the actual event was worse than the event itself and the aftermath. At least that’s what I found, but I realise I am only a fledgling when it comes to 50+ living. That said, I decided to celebrate this achievement, rather than mourn the passing of something and to do it in a way that had meaning for me.

This meant a recent four week family odyssey to Europe and the Middle East. And we all know what happens when you cross travel with a blogger. A blog series about travelling called “Travelling With A Milestone Around My Neck”.

Welcome to my first ever blog series outside the A to Z Blogging Challenge. Over the coming weeks I will regale you with stories of beautiful architecture, amazing culinary delights, delightful characters and possibly the odd travel tip or two as seen from the lens of an independent traveller. This series will be about experiences rather than facts and figures, so come and join me for the journey of a Milestone.

Part 1

Travelling from Australia to Europe is not for the faint hearted. From door to door it involved each and every one of the plane, train and automobile or multiples thereof, only to arrive in London at 6.30am. Who other than the cleaning crew and potential thieves can get into a hotel room at 6.30am?

Not us, not after 26 hours of flying. After catching the Tube from Heathrow to our Hyde Park hotel, we sleepily deposited our bags and ventured out to kill about 8 hours. We arrived to the wonderful news that London was experiencing a heat wave. Wonderful because we had left winter. The morning was cool, but then again it was only 7am, so we were anticipating being washed over with warmth as the sun revealed itself more during the day.

Image from Alberto Vaccaro Flickr phostostream

Image from Alberto Vaccaro Flickr phostostream

Somehow in our  travel world, killing time generally equated to eating and so we went in search of food. What we discovered was that generally London does not wake before 10am, particularly on a Sunday and that after 26 hours of flying one’s sense of adventure is not at its peak. So we settled for some local eminently forgetful offering and then set off towards the Shakespeare Globe Theatre. This was a special request from my eldest, who is passionate about writing and poetry.

The theatre is located on the bank of the Thames and is built in the style of theatre as it was back when Shakespeare was a playwrite. The performances are performed outdoors rain, hail or shine and there is standing room and seating depending on the price you are prepared to pay. We had a wonderful 90 minute tour of the theatre and watched as the stage was being prepared for that afternoon’s performance of Antony & Cleopatra. At various times, the actors would appear to familiarise themselves with the theatre acoustics and exercise their throats in readiness for that afternoon’s performance. Not being sure we would stay awake for the performance we didn’t buy tickets. Please be assured, dear readers, this had nothing to do with Mr Shakespeare’s writing prowess and everything to do with travel fatigue.

It was a beautiful sunny day in London and the sun starved Londoners were out in force along the Thames. Buskers, food vans, town, friends, lovers, families and tourists all contributed to an active, lively throng with a fantastic vibe. This was enough to lift our travel fatigue, which was a good thing because there was another 5 hours yet to go before our eyes would clap on a bed. We were seeing London at its jolly best. I have been to London before in Summer, but I had never seen it this carefree, this animated.

Strolling along the Thames it was inevitable that we would come to the Londoneye. The Londoneye is a mega ferris wheel for tourists where on a clear day you are treated to an amazing vista of London. On this day, there was a mega queue to ride the mega wheel so we settled into a mega wait, which thankfully didn’t turn out to be mega at all. I’m generally not one for pre-buying tickets, because that locks you in to being somewhere at a certain time and that’s not what holidays are to me. 40 minutes later we were in our hermetically sealed bubble along with about 20 others marvelling at the beautiful London landscape. At this point I would love to show you a picture of that vista, but I have to ask for a little patience as I sort through the technical glitch with the photos. In the meantime, here’s a stock photo.

Having safely reached terra firma once more, fatigue again set in and I could encourage the kids no more to keep going. The good news was that we only had half an hour before our hotel room would be ready.london eye view - wikimedia commons

And so we made our way back to the hotel via the London Tube. This has to be the greatest invention known to man. A train every 2-3 minutes to whisk you away to practically any point in London and so easy to manoeuvre around  even a 50 year old can work it out. Try as it might, Sydney just can’t replicate this sort of efficiency.

After retrieving our room key, we were shown to what had to be the smallest closet hotel room in London. For four of us, two of whom were teenage boys! Nevertheless, said teenage boys were asleep in 10 minutes. The Italian Stallion and I went in search of some shops to get the basics for our trip. 34 hours without sleep so far.

And the heat wave? A paltry 24 degrees Celsius (75.2 Fahrenheit). As Mick Dundee famously said in the movie Crocodile Dundee “You call that a knife” so I will famously say ” You call that a heat wave?” Bah, to an Aussie 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) plus is a heat wave.

Nevertheless, it was great to see Londoners out and frolicking about, even if they were tempted to sunbathe in a park in the middle of the city. A rather amusing habit to an Australian who along with most other Australians gravitates towards a beach for that purpose.

With the vision of bikinis and speedos in parks, I could fight the sweet siren call of sleep no more.

Next up: Pomp, circumstance and popping my B&B cherry in France

 

Cut From The Same Cloth

Every closest has a deepest darkest recess. Yesterday I ventured into mine. Not lightly, but it had to be done.

This was not a cleaning or clearing expedition, it was in fact a hunt borne out of a little desperation.

Only a little, mind you.

I decided I was going to wear a proper suit to work.

Now, I work in an office and have been wearing tailored gear, so it’s not as if I haven’t been dressing up. It’s just that what it means to be a professional has changed for me. At some point I reached that zone where being good at what I do is less about convincing others that I am and more about projecting my self-worth and confidence in knowing I am good at what I do. This is not hubris or arrogance, I know there are ways I can do better and I consciously put myself in positions where I have to learn every day. It’s just self belief. Guys tend to be quite good at it. Women, not so much, we tend to only put ourselves out there when we have ticked every box. Guys maybe tick one box or tend to have a go when they think they could tick at least one box if given the opportunity. There are masses of women’s publications devoted to this very topic trying to nudge women to move away from perfection.

Whatever you want to call it, self belief was a lesson that took me 40+ years to learn.

And with it came a wardrobe (and job) change.

Now my work wardrobe reflects who I am. Whilst I have never been tempted to pull out the little pink sequined number with purple Doc Martins ahead of a business meeting, manly because I don’t own any of these, I have given myself permission to move away from the classic suit. It has been quite the liberation.

One small step for mankind, a huge leap for the Curtain Raiser!

But back to the bowels of my closet and suit day. I’m not sure why the reason for the suit, there was no high powered meeting or function. I just felt like it, and that’s a revelation in itself.

Hey pal, how many of those grey numbers do you have?

Hey pal, how many of those grey numbers do you have?

So I gingerly approached my closet’s bowels and starting pulling out suit options. First one, then another and then another trying to figure out which one would work. I hadn’t laid eyes on these for a couple of years, so there was a short period of reacquainting and reminiscence.  And as I began laying them out in a row, a pattern began to emerge.

It hit me like a plank to the side of the head. These suits that I faithfully wore over the last decade were all the same. Oh, there might be slight variations in style as in pants versus skirts or charcoal grey versus navy, but they we all made of dark fabric and had pinstripes.

There laid out before me was evidence of my blind conformity. All in all, was I just another brick in the wall? (With apologies to Pink Floyd)

Gaaaah!

It’s amazing how the myriad of little decisions we make everyday weave together to make the tapestry of our lives. Any one of these decisions in isolation probably has little consequence, but put together and laid out like this, it’s a page in the book of your life. A page I have firmly decided to turn.

It was heartening to see in those suits confirmation that I had moved forward.

Speaking of moving forward, time to head to my closet and then to work. Uniforms need not apply.

 

To my regular readers: My sincere apologies for not yet posting about my travels. I have had a few technical glitches with photos. Will hopefully get to it soon.

 

The G of Living Imperfectly: Generations and Guilt #atozchallenge

Whether you’re working from home because your kid is sick, you freelance or you’re still looking for a job, there’s one thing you must do during a conference call: Get your kid to shut up.

Children hate anyone who takes your attention away from them. Like the animals that can sense an impending earth-quake, children can tell when you are about to say something very important to a client. They have a superpower and they use it for evil. You must prepare. – Sh*tty Mum: The Parenting Guide For The Rest Of Us by Laurie Kilmartin, Karen Moline, Alice Ybarbo and Mary Ann Zoellner, Abrams Image 2012

Letter GIf you are a parent who is always perfect in how you deal with your children and have no tolerance for those who are not then you are going to hate this post. I suggest you look away now to avoid the stress and anxiety not to mention beads of sweat that will form above your immaculately presented upper lip once you have delved into my imperfect world. For I am about to jump into that can of worms that is perfection and parenting or as I sometimes call it, perfecting the generations.

I have been a human being for 50 years. I have been a parent for almost 20 of those years. Little did I know that almost 20 years ago, I would be given my pass to the secret code. The Mo Code. Back in 2012, I wrote about the Mo Code in a blog about how to survive a road trips with teenagers. The Mo Code is my term for things that real mothers do and say, rather than what they should say. This is in sharp contrast to the utterances of Stepford mothers or the advice given by parenting manuals and advice columns, highlighting a kind of parenting credibility gap.

From the day I first gave birth, I was thrown into a vortex of expectation, both mine and others’. Everyone wants to be perceived to be the perfect parent, or if not perfect then at least a good one. And so the Mo Code comes into play. How dare we admit that parenting is hard or that little Johnny sometimes wears the same socks for three days straight? Or that we have allowed our children to watch TV for 15 minutes whilst taking a client call? Or that we sometimes feel overwhelmed, ill-equipped, tired and stressed, namely we are not perfect parents? Most of us admit these things only to the closest of confidants and definitely behind the curtain.

And then there’s the guilt. Guilt, parenting and perfection is the great triumvirate of birthing. Those clever ad executives with their baby product clients know this and peddle all three. Everyone’s a winner, right? Well everyone except us parents. Because any satisfaction or that we may have gained from buying into this consumer perfection, quickly evaporates when the next product comes onto the market.

Really, at the end of the day the only legitimate judges of our parenting are our children and ourselves, and even then how success in parenting is defined is highly subjective.

The important thing is that we keep parenting real. We need to talk about the hardships, the pitfalls, the wins and the losses and what really works for us. And we need to do it without guilt and with humour and authenticity. In this way we will be doing a huge service notimagesFEOCU3NX only to ourselves but to future generations of parents who will carry the weight of expectation well beyond the time their baby bump has disappeared.

For this reason, a book such as Sh*tty Mum: The Parenting Guide For The Rest Of Us  is to be welcomed. Not everyone will applaud or understand as the Amazon reviews will attest. However, it brings the real covert behaviour of the Mo Code out into the open and creates a new dialogue from a most refreshing angle. As this post from Essential Kids tells us:

In fact, a recent survey by parenting website BabyCentre in the UK found that lying is widespread among mothers. The pressure on them to be ‘perfect’ led to more than half of those questioned saying they felt the need to lie about their parenting skills to make them seem like better parents to others. Nine out of ten mothers confessed to using television to keep their children quiet, while 71 per cent admitted to lying to their child to make their day easier and a fifth of those questioned said they occasionally replaced a healthy dinner with chocolate and sweets.

These statistics don’t surprise me and I suspect they would be closely replicated in Australia.

It’s a real shame that we feel the need to be pressured by perception. Parenting is a unique journey for all of us and we should be supporting each other rather than treating it and our kids as the trophies of our perfection.

I really hope that one day we can let our parenting authenticity shine though so that we can enjoy it 100% guilt free like these authors.

The F of Living Imperfectly: Flexibility and Forgiveness #atozchallenge

Keep your engagements. Nothing is ruder than to make an engagements, be it of business or pleasure, and break it. If you memory is not sufficiently retentive to keep all the engagements you make stored within it, carry a little memorandum book and enter them there. Especially keep any appointment made with a lady, for, depend on it, the fair sex forgive any other fault in good breeding, sooner than a broken engagement – Martine’s Handbook to Etiquette and Guide to True Politeness, Arthur Martine, Dick & Fitzgerald Publishers, 1866.

F Challenge LetterWe all have a film reel in our head. The reel entitled Great Expectations” seems to be the standard by which we judge success and failure, ourselves and others. Whether your reel is a comedic, tragic, dramatic or fantasy filled, it is a constantly turning and projecting. How we react when real life does not play out according to our film reel determines our resilience and adaptability.

How do you react when life’s actors fluff their lines or go off script? Are you flexible enough to change direction or do you lament the need to ad lib?  And do you blame others when they do go off script?

Inflexibility or rigidity is one of the traits of perfectionism. What can easily be glossed over as a high standard, is really a low tolerance for deviation. Both in ourselves and others. This often leads to over thinking and planning things so that deviations can be minimized.

I used to be a planner. Researching, preparing and making sure each duck was in its right place in the row well ahead of time so that it could allpretty-woman-unscripted-scene be fine tuned if necessary. Now, not so much for I have discovered that my energy is better utilised in enjoying the activity or the company and in any event, you just can’t plan for every contingency, especially if human behaviour is involved.

As Brene Brown said: “Perfectionism is not about striving for excellence or healthy striving”. “It’s… a way of thinking and feeling that says this: ‘If I look perfect, do it perfect, work perfect and live perfect, I can avoid or minimize shame, blame and judgment.'”

Forgiveness therefore plays a big part in moving away from perfectionism. We need to forgive others for their deviation, but most importantly we need to forgive ourselves for our own.

There are some great movies in which actors ad libbed only to enhance the story. Who can forget Humphrey Bogart’s most famous line in Casablanca “Here’s looking at you kid”? or the scene between Richard Gere and Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman when he shows her a diamond necklace in an open and when she reaches out to touch it he snaps the box closed on her hand? The snap and Julia’s giggle in response are all unscripted.

The world is just waiting to be discovered through unscripted moments. We just need to be flexible enough so they will find us.

 

The B of Living Imperfectly: Beauty and Belonging #atozchallenge

As the ladies and gentlemen arrive, each should be shown to a room exclusively provided for their reception; and the gentleman conducts the lady in his charge to the door of the ladies’ dressing-room, while he goes to the gentlemen’s apartment, each to prepare their toilet suitably to entering the reception-room – Martine’s Handbook to Etiquette and Guide to True Politeness, Arthur Martine, Dick & Fitzgerald Publishers, 1866.

B Challenge LetterResearch for this year’s Challenge has led me to find some great reading material. One such treasure has been  Brene Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection, Let Go Of Who You Think You’re Supposed To Be And Embrace Who You Are. The title says it all, doesn’t it? If a book could be a mirror, this one would be mine right now.

In it, she describes midlife in a nutshell:

People may call what happens at midlife “a crisis”, but it is not. It’s an unravelling – a time when you feel a desperate pull to live the life you want to live, not the one you’re “supposed” to live. The unravelling is a time when you are challenged by the universe to let go of who you think you are supposed to be and to embrace who you are.”

It truly does feel like an unravelling. And after the unravelling comes the sifting, the sorting and finally the reassembled product. Perhaps it is our discontent with perfectionism that finally brings us to this point. Maybe we discover that we can truly never control perception, because by its very nature it is in the eye of the beholder. And perfection is all about perception, our own and that of others.

Which leads me into today’s topic of beauty and belonging. As Brene Brown so eloquently puts it, belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something bigger than ourselves and we so often try to acquire it by fitting in and seeking approval. However, according to Brown this is a false pretext because:

true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.

Strong words. Strong concept. Holy Guacamole!

To most of us beauty plays a central role in self-acceptance. It is the basis upon which the cosmetic, cosmetic surgery and fashion industries are built all of which sell the outward ideal of perfection. The messages start early and young, especially for women. Being physically beautiful is essential to social success and possibly even success in general. Physical beauty should be a priority, because physical beauty (or lack of) is the first thing people notice about you, it is essential to perception, it is a worthy investment. Beauty is an industry and perfection is its weapon.

Which brings us to the recent phenomenon of the no makeup selfie. You may have seen invitations through Facebook or may have given one Being yourself battleyourself to post a no makeup selfie to raise funds for cancer research. Whether this concept actually raises money is still up for question as is the issue of whether it actually has merit in the eyes of cancer sufferers. Leaving both of these aside,  what I have found extraordinary about  is that posting a no makeup selfie should cause such a level of angst or be seen to be a brave thing by women.  This has been expressed in various ways including some expressing relief that they did not receive an invitation to post. Have we really come to a point where showing your true authentic self without “your face” on is that novel or indeed that newsworthy?

To belong, we need to accept ourselves first. And that means with make up and without.

Sleep, nutrition and self-love are really the only make up we need to put our best face forward. Further, none of these run or smudge.

Playing Ball at Sydney’s Field of Dreams #openingseries

The biggest weekend in Sydney’s baseball history is currently underway.

Since the announcement in June 2013 that the MLB was heading Downunder, Australia’s baseball fandom has eagerly awaited the arrival of the LA Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks to its shores and it’s finally time to play ball. The hallowed turf of the Sydney Cricket Ground has been transformed for the weekend into a baseball pitch, with 250 tonnes of San Diego clay being flown in for the occasion. Our very own field of dreams.

field of dreams

Sydney Cricket Ground tuned into a baseball field for #openingseries

It’s no secret I am a baseball tragic. How fortuitous then that the MLB chose to open its 2014 season away from North America in my hometown. As this is only the sixth time this has happened in  MLB history and the first time for Australia, there is a tremendous amount of anticipation for the event.

Each of the Diamondbacks and Dodgers play Team Australia (sometimes also known as Southern Thunder, but not by many) in a warm up clash and then it’s on to the main game Saturday night to be followed by a game on Sunday. That’s at least 36 innings of prime time A grade baseball.

Last night saw the first of the four games with Team Australia taking on the Dodgers. The above photo shows our view of the game. The Dodgers managed to win 4-2, but it was less about the score and more about the spectacle. The national anthems, the US flag flying alongside the Australian flag, a home run, the seventh inning stretch and classic baseball food. Like the nutritious meal below:

Pulled pork on lattice chips 'n' sides

Pulled pork on lattice chips ‘n’ sides

Scrumptious in a baseball helmet kind of way and almost resembling real food. None of that matters though, this is the MLB.

We sat behind the Dodgers dugout trying to spot baseball celebs like Clayton Kershaw and Don Mattingly. How close does an Aussie usually come to a $253million sports contract?  There were plenty of Dodgers fans in da house along with plenty of others dressed in their baseball kit. I am proud to say that the Boston Red Sox were proudly represented by more than a few fans in the fashion stakes (including moi) and it seemed like one big fancy dress party. As you can imagine there are usually not a whole lot of places in Australia an adult can wear their baseball kit.

It was a great night and a terrific lead in to the real deal tomorrow.

The whole event has been a long time coming for us Australian baseball fans. And when it’s all over the memories will linger and we will regale each other with stories from the great MLB opening series of 2014.

So a big thank you to the MLB, ABL (Australian Baseball League and owned by MLB), the Dodgers and the Diamondbacks for bringing the spectacle to our town. For at last Australian baseball fans can shout:

PLAY BALL!!!

Introducing the Basmati Rice Man Bag- Fashion Excellence at a Bargain Price

The Italian Stallion remarked the other day that he had not been mentioned in a blog post for a while. This surprised me as the Italian Stallion is generally quite private and has embraced social media to a far smaller degree than I have. However now that the cat is out of the family bag, I really must oblige by featuring him in this post.

The Universe must also have been listening because today it presented me with classic Italian Stallion blog fodder.

It all started with a joint trip to the supermarket for the weekly shop. This is an activity that we have shared at various points during the course of our relationship. There have also been many times when circumstances meant I did the grocery run solo. The aforementioned circumstances being when my piece of mind required it.

ID-10081436Recently it has started to be joint again, and really if you want one of the secrets to a happy marriage, it is this: keep your man away from your shopping trolley. I can handle being advised of inventory control in my run through the aisles “Don’t need that, we already have five packets of it at home” and I can even handle trolley packing for the gifted and talented for the Italian Stallion would never come home with a cracked egg or squashed bread. The Italian Stallion would also never come home with melted anything for he takes the cold product from the fridge or freezer and places it immediately into the cold bag, even though it may be 10 degrees Celsius outside. Such fastidiousness is to be admired if it wasn’t so aggravating in a OCD kind of way. But I am in my zen period, so I choose to keep calm and carry on.

The Italian Stallion is also ever vigilant in the cost savings department. This is not a problem in and of itself, who doesn’t want to save money? But the favoured mechanism of the Italian Stallion is the bulk buy. Let me give you an example, not so long ago I sent the Italian Stallion out for a solo shopping trip which included some carrots that we would serve with dips for some guests. Twenty minutes later, the Italian Stallion proudly waltzes in with a 5 kilogram bag of juicing carrots.

Let me put this in context, we don’t have a juicer. Juicing carrots are usually fatter and less sweet than eating carrots. There is no way our guests could consume one kilo of carrots let alone five.

Nevertheless, the Italian Stallion was beaming.

Today’s incident involved rice. Basmati rice to be exact. Now once again, we are not big rice eaters (yet) and we have been quite content with the white long grain or short grain variety. A one kilo bag usually lasts for a month or two. Despite this a two kilo pack of Basmati rice appeared in the pantry last week. Last week we did not have one meal containing rice, whether of the Basmati variety or otherwise.

The Italian Stallion has cooking chicken korma in his sights. For this, he says, Basmati rice is best. One can only hope that the chicken gets korma’d in the next week or so, because we now have enough Basmati rice to feed a small nation.

Back to our supermarket sojourn. On entering the supermarket we saw it. Snuck into the fruit and veg department was a pallet of 5 kilo bags of Basmati rice. Out of the corner of my eye, I notice the Italian Stallion staring longingly at it. He goes over to the pile looks at the price and walks away. I inch the trolley towards the lettuce and mushrooms, thinking the Italian Stallion is behind me, following. Turning to my right, I notice the Italian Stallion once again looking the pile of Basmati rice. Trying the inventory control technique, I utter “we have a big pack at home, we don’t need it”. He agrees with me and reluctantly leaves the pile.

The latest in smart male fashion - the Basmati rice man bag

The latest in smart male fashion – the Basmati rice man bag

Making our way to the potatoes, I once again get the feeling the Italian Stallion is not with me. Sure enough he is back with the Basmati rice pile checking out the price and looking at it longingly. At this stage, I figure he needs to either buy that Basmati rice, never mind actual need, or move to Pakistan from where it originated. The later might be a bit tricky so…

I let him off the hook and say “If you want it, just buy it”.

No sooner do I utter the words, then he’s grabbing his bag of Basmati rice. He comes back triumphantly and deposits his prize in the trolley.

“What’s with all the Basmati rice?” I ask.

“Nothing, I just really liked the bag and its only $1.00 a kilo.”

Yes, dear readers, for the sake of a cloth printed bag with a zip up top, I will be eating Basmati rice for the next year. And the Italian Stallion will be sporting the latest in supermarket fashion. Lois Vuitton and Channel had better start worrying because the man bag has taken a whole new turn.

Have you ever bought something because you liked the packaging? Do you grocery shop with your spouse? if so, are you still talking to each other?