Friday, April 26, 2013

YOLO - You Only Live Once

 “Living with my three sons, two of whom are teenagers, makes for some interesting times but one of the advantages is being introduced to modern day acronyms, like YOLO (You Only Live Once). For quite some time now the boys have been adding YOLO on the end of announcements to me. For example: “Mum, I’m going fishing.” I begin to suggest more meaningful activities, like pegging the washing on the line. I get that teenage look of contempt and the reply: “YOLO Mum, YOLO.”

It got me thinking about my life. Back in the late 80s, at the end of my teenage years, I’d been captivated by the 1989 film “Dead Poets Society” where I was introduced to the Latin phrase, “Carpe Diem” – Seize the Day. I prefer the Latin version but YOLO is obviously the modern day equivalent.

At the start of last week I had a good hard think about what I wanted to achieve in life and came to the conclusion I wanted to learn more about writing and to meet people who wrote newspaper columns for a career… instead of just for fun.

So with that in mind, today, I booked a flight to New York. Yes, really.

I’m heading off on another excellent adventure, this time to the other side of the world so I can attend the National Society of Newspaper Columnists (NSNC) annual conference at Hartford, Connecticut (and have a tour of Mark Twain’s house!).

When it comes to the USA, I am historically and geographically challenged… I know very little about the place. I had no idea where Hartford was, or Connecticut for that matter. Turns out it’s a couple of hours north east of New York, on the east side of America (so glad Santa Clause brought the boys a globe for Christmas).
I first thought of going to the conference a few months ago but initially dismissed the idea as ludicrous. That voice inside my head (you know, that one that is no fun?), told me quite firmly that single mothers living in little towns in south western New South Wales, Australia, do not pop over to America for writer’s conferences.
Thankfully the other voice inside my head (the one that is a lot more fun), kept persevering and repeatedly said, “What are you waiting for girl, if you can make it happen – go for it.”

The thought of flying to New York by myself is filling me with excitement and terror in pretty much, equal parts. So far, I know only one person over there, who I’ll be meeting at the conference; past president of the NSNC, author and columnist, Suzette Martinez Standring.

Back in 2011, when Pete asked me to write a weekly column for The Bridge Newspaper, I googled “How to be a newspaper columnist” and amongst other things, came upon a book titled “The Art of Column Writing” by Suzette Martinez Standring. So I bought it and then emailed Suzette, to say I’d purchased her book and I really hoped it would help me. It did.

Suzette emailed back and we became Facebook friends and through her, I was introduced to the National Society of Newspaper Columnists… don’t you just love how serendipitous moments happen in your life?

“Hey Max, Sam and Henry, I’m going to New York!”… "YOLO.”

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Wine, World and Song at Restdown Winery

Last Saturday the boys and I kicked off the start of the April school holidays with a musical outing to Jo and Don Hearn’s Restdown Winery. After the success of last years inaugural Restdown Winery Concert, this year Jo and Don teamed up again with South West Arts to host the Bush Concert Project.

South West Arts has been working to bring art, music and cultural life to the communities of southwest New South Wales for thirty years. First initiated in 1983 through the joint effort of several local governments, the Arts Council of NSW and interested community members. Today South West Arts is funded by nine local governments: Berrigan, Balranald, Carrathool, Conargo, Deniliquin, Hay, Murray, Murrumbidgee and Wakool Shires.

Arts and cultural development creates employment and encourages tourism by promoting and developing the identity of the region. South West Music and Outback Theatre for Young People are two significant and independent programs that now operate throughout our region thanks to the initial hard work by South West Arts.

About seventy-five adults and more than thirty children enjoyed a beautiful autumn afternoon in a large open sided marquee set between the vineyard and the cellar door. Lunch and afternoon grazing options were provided by local gourmets, Lauren from Bundarra Berkshires, Anna from Plains Paddock Lamb, Gillian with her Xpress Go coffee van, scrumptious cheese platters courtesy of Echuca Farmhouse Cheese and matching wines from Restdown.

Before lunch, guests were invited to join Don for his informative guided tour along the 1.4km walking trail.   We passed through black box woodland, by an old river system that existed around 40,000 years ago. Today there is a natural ephemeral wetland supporting a wide variety of birds and other wildlife where the ancient river once flowed.

During lunch and for the rest of the afternoon we were entertained by two talented Melbourne based bands.

Nicolette Forte and Friends is a five-piece band that played a variety of easy listening music from around the world. Nicolette’s hauntingly beautiful voice kept the adult audience transfixed while her extensive collection of musical instruments she invited the children to play with kept the little people entertained.

Ced Le Meledo, a charismatic Frenchman originally from Paris, headed the second band for the day, Bric a Brac. No strangers to the region, Bric a Brac had attended and played at a Celtic night in the Caldwell Hall eight years ago. Their wide repertoire of French, Italian, Spanish and English folk flavoured melodies were a pleasure to listen to.

These days don’t just happen; they come about from the hard work of a dedicated few. I feel we are incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to attend events like these locally – well done.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Murray to Moyne: Riding from the Murray River to the ocean for a noble cause.

Little did I know when I bought my Vivente World Randonneur touring bike in early February, that a mere nine weeks later I would be taking part in a 536km relay bike ride. With the endorphins still buzzing through my body as I type this, I am proud to say: last weekend I rode with the Kerang District Health (KDH) Team and over 1200 other riders in the 27th annual Murray to Moyne Bike Ride.

A charity ride that has raised millions of dollars for hospitals and health services across Victoria, the Murray to Moyne begins at Mildura, Swan Hill and Echuca, and all riders stop overnight in Hamilton before continuing on to Port Fairy. It is in memory of well-known Port Fairy long-distance cyclist Graham Woodrup, who was tragically killed while training in 1992.

My riding buddy, Trish, encouraged me to join her and the rest of the Kerang District Health Team for the 2013 ride – assuring me, I could easily maintain the 22km per hour average speed needed to do the ride…

Trish and I arrived in Kerang at 7.30am Saturday and met the rest of the team before loading our bikes onto the very impressive custom-made bike trailer and heading to Swan Hill for the start of the ride. The KDH Team is organised by Rob Mason and Heather Mortlock and sponsored by Scott Wishart’s Kerang Custom Joinery. This year’s riders were: Scott Wishart, Sarah Archard, Margy and Max Christian, Colin O’Brien, Judy Reiffel, Rob McPhail, Jerzy Chaberka, Clinton Hancock, Michael Coldham, Merril Stuijfzand, Trish Kinsey and myself. Our support crew were bus drivers, John Archard, Bruce Laity and John Rumbold along with massage therapy students, Zali and Shelly from the Murray College in Echuca.

The first thing I learnt upon arrival in Swan Hill was, I had been training with flat tyres… I thought they were okay but apparently my 700x35c tyres only had about 20psi in them instead of 60 - 80psi. It was a good training technique I decided; suddenly I was finding my bike easier to pedal and a whole lot faster.

The team was split into three groups depending on cycling strength/speed for the relay ride; one group would ride while the other two groups rested on the buses. Trish and I were in the middle group with Margy, Michael and Sarah. Our first leg was 30km and we maintained an average speed of 28km/hr (I thought you told me I only had to do 22km/hr Trish?!).

Our next stint was 33km with poor Margy coming off second best midway along at a dangerous railway crossing at Wycheproof – skinny racing tyres and railway tracks do not mix and Margy ended up with a nasty cut above her right eye and numerous bruises necessitating a trip back to Birchip Hospital for five stiches before she was able to join up with us again at Horsham.

After the heat of the afternoon and fast pace, Trish and I decided to drop down to the slower group for the third leg; a 20km night ride south of Horsham. I really enjoyed the night riding, the road was beautifully quiet apart from other bike teams and support vehicles coming past us and we had a tailwind making things pretty cruisy.

Back on the bus for a rest until Cavendish, I got my second wind and offered to tackle the final 27km into Hamilton (and I really wanted to see if I could ride 100km). All I can say is, “Thank God it was dark and I couldn’t see the hills!” I set off with “power rider” Max, Sarah and Michael. We zoomed along at a fair pace and by the time we arrived at Hamilton after 10pm, I had clocked up 110km for the day… and that night, slept very well in my swag on the floor at the Hamilton Showgrounds.

The next day we headed off around 7.30am for the final 96km stretch from Hamilton to the finish in Port Fairy. There was no relay, you could either ride the whole way or have a rest on the support bus for part of the way.

I decided to see what it would be like to cycle the whole way… and I discovered it was hard, damn hard with hills and a headwind. Still I learnt about using my gears more effectively and after a while, discovered the joys of “drafting”.

The rest of my team were way ahead or riding behind me or having a rest on the support bus and I was chugging away at a steady 23km/hr average speed by myself until a big group of riders from the Children’s Cancer Centre Foundation went around me and shouted to “hook on”. I was amazed at the difference it made, riding in the slipstream of the rider in front of me. Drafting can easily save you about 30% of the energy needed to maintain speed and will literally “pull” you up hills, suddenly I was averaging over 28km/hr with very little effort. I rode with them for about 20km, until they stopped for a rest and then I was back to chugging on my own. Later I rode with two blokes from Melbourne, by drafting they helped me up and down hills and into the headwind for about 15km until I couldn’t keep up with them any longer.

Our support bus stopped 17km out of Port Fairy and Trish, Judy, Merril and Rob joined me for the final ride towards Port Fairy. The rest of our team had already arrived at the finish; they rode back to meet us and we all rode the last kilometre together.

Over the two days I rode 206km, raised money for Kerang District Health (overall our team raised in excess of $14,000), learnt a lot more about bike riding (and tyre pressure), and thoroughly enjoyed the experience and the sense of achievement I felt at the end.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Easter Camping at Barham

Camping, when the weather is perfect is truly magical and this year’s Easter at Barham was no exception. Good Friday saw the boys and I loading up the Trusty Nissan with our swags and eskys of food to join our friends at the annual “Oster Easter Camp” on the bank of the Murray River.

Max, Sam and Henry, along with Max White, in true Huckleberry Finn style, loaded up the tinny with tackle boxes, fishing rods and the family dog and motored up the river to meet me at our camping destination.

The two Maxes helped us to observe the Christian Easter tradition of eating fish on Good Friday by reeling in a 61cm Murray Cod late in the afternoon. Max Barr cooked it to perfection on the barbeque and it went down nicely with some hot chips (also cooked to perfection) from the Riverside Café.
The number of campers at this year’s Oster Easter Camp totalled around forty children and adults, mainly surviving on a subsistence diet of hot cross buns, bacon and eggs and chocolate. People travelled from far-flung places like Mount Martha, Koondrook and the outer suburbs of Barham to attend the four days of festivities and relaxation.

When it comes to relaxing, a camping trip is hard to beat; once you’ve set up your camp you can please yourself as to how you’d like to spend your time. The evenings were spent sitting around the enormous campfire and yarning, staring into the hypnotic flames of the campfire or looking up and admiring the spectacular night sky. The children organised games of “spotlight tiggy” that kept them entertained until they were ready to crawl into their swags later in the night.

There were no shortage of activities to choose from during the day; the river provided fishing, knee-boarding behind the jetski, scenic barbie-boat rides and mud-sliding down the banks. While at the campsite there were skipping rope competitions, clay-target shooting, walks along the riverbank and tours to Mardie and Glen Gray’s 12 Good Eggs free-range chook farm next door.

Camp ovens and barbeques got a thorough workout during the four-day break and Pete Hird’s loaf of bread cooked in a camp oven was a taste sensation and crowd favourite… almost proving man could live on bread alone...

The camp itself was the venue of the hotly contested competition – “My Camp Kitchen Rules”. Five teams pitted their culinary skills against one another, producing entrees, main meals or desserts that were assessed by the four impartial judges. Ellie, Caitlin and Ruby were the eventual winners with their outstanding “Easter Egg Surprise” – a magnificent creation of Easter eggs buried in a rich chocolate fudge filling and encased in a sweet biscuit crust (I wish I’d thought of that).

The mythical rabbit paid a visit on Easter Sunday with foil covered chocolate eggs and rabbits causing blood sugar and energy levels to peak. Later that afternoon as the sun was going down behind the Murray River red gums, I sat in my deckchair and couldn’t help but think how lucky we are to live in such a beautiful part of the world.

Sadly all good things must come to an end and by Monday we were all doing the big pack up… followed by the big unpack and endless washing at home that follows all great camping adventures…