Friday, May 29, 2015

I'm on the Bookcase ...

Those who know me, know I'm a pretty quiet girl these days.

Back in the day, I was a radio and television reporter before deciding to make my career in print journalism.

Features. health-writing, human interest and travel soon became a love, and writing for magazines was a natural progression.

Attending media launches, talking about stories I've written, and in the case of my own books, being interviewed as an expert, has been all part of the job.

And yes, I've appeared at writer's festivals and other public events.

It's weird because in 'the younger years', I could read the news and do live crosses to television with the best of them. As a youngster, I was quite the debater and public speaker, and was even an enthusiastic member of school theatre productions and my university's choir.

I've taught feature-writing at university, and even dished out advice during live talk-back radio shows. 

But these days, a public appearance can turn me to jelly.

And yet, I find it difficult to say no, particularly when I have a personal attachment to a cause.

Recently, I was gutted when I'd realised my former uni, The University of Southern Queensland, had contacted me in the past about appearing at their annual writers’ festival, the  USQ Bookcase.

Each time, I must have been terribly slack and either missed the emails, or they had disappeared into my junk folder. They thought I'd been ignoring them. How rude! (Of me. If I'd been ignoring them. Which I never would do. Even if I was too shy to appear).

This year, actually I think it was sometime last year, the clever organiser tracked me down via LinkedIn, and asked if I'd liked to be involved in the 2015 USQ Bookcase.

I found myself saying yes. Yes! I'd love to appear. Yes, I'd love to run a workshop about blogging and social media. (I know! What was I thinking?)

This year's USQ Bookcase, in Toowoomba on 18 and 19 July 2015, has its biggest line-up yet.
Headlining the event this year is Walkley Award-winning ABC journalist and Toowoomba local, Mark Willacy.

Mark is just one of the more than 30 authors, writers, journalists, commentators, speakers and thinkers taking part in the festival’s 26 events across the weekend. (I already feel intimidated, being on the same program as a real journalist...)

"Also in attendance will be internationally-renowned Australian author Holly Hill, critically-acclaimed romance writer Kylie Kaden, award-winning children’s author and illustrator Narelle Oliver, best-selling fantasy author Kylie Chan, ARIA nominated songwriter Mark Scholtes, and well-known mummy blogger Bronwyn Marquardt," (That's me!) (Shit: This is a quote from their actual PR material. I'm a well-known Mummy Blogger? What am I going to talk about? Oh ... help!!) 

But don't let me put you off. The USQ Bookshelf will be awesome. Apart from my bit, the spiel continutes:

'From journalism and blogging to romance writing and children’s stories and everything in between, the University’s second annual writers’ festival will deliver a program that will challenge, provoke and inspire.'

In addition to the 12 free workshops, panel discussions and author Q&As, this year four full-day masterclasses will be offered for those who want to delve deeper into their chosen writing genre. 

Topics covered include Fantasy WritingTravel WritingCreative Writing and Journalism, with classes costing $65 for USQ alumni, students and staff, and $75 community. (Mine is free). 

Get your festival pass or register for a masterclass before June 30 and you’ll go into the draw to win one of two 16GB iPads Airs.

The festival is open to all, and will run from 9.30am to 4pm on both days. Entry is $5 per person, with children under 12 free.

See the USQ Bookcase website for the full program of events.

Seriously, I am chuffed to be a part of this event. I am a proud graduate of USQ. Which is something, considering over the years I have actually been on the receiving end of quite a lot of ribbing for going to what was once seen as a 'country' university.

I will have you know I scored high enough to go to other unis, but I wanted to go to USQ. One, it was relatively close to home. Two, one of my brothers had been there, and had a fab experience. Three, it offered the best print journalism course in Australia at the time. (I am still in awe of my lecturer Professor Mark Pearson, one of many who had such positive influences on my life. I also studied literature there, and Dr Bruce Dawe was one of my tutors. Bruce Dawe. And he thought I was clever and talented. (He actually wrote that on one of my assignments...) I admired him so much I once lent him one of my books on James Thurber and never got it back. Oh well. Four; My parents and I could (just) afford it, though it was a constant battle. Five: It was still small enough so that I wasn't just a number. 

I am still friends or at least acquaintances with the handful of journalists who made it through to graduation, though most of us work in different fields now. I admire them deeply. 

I took my son back to USQ for an open day there last year. Wow, it's changed. It's bigger and better, but it was still very familiar.

I was a bit disappointed when, on the drive home, he said he'd liked it, but he didn't think he'd study there. 

"Why not?" I asked. 

"The road to get there is way too windy," he said.

Well yes. Yes it is son. 

I thought he was being extremely clever and using it as a metaphor for life for a moment. But in fact, the highway to Toowoomba from Kingaroy is a windy road, and we both have a tendency to get motion sickness. Luckily, they have campuses elsewhere these days, including on the Sunshine Coast.

So whilst I'm panicking planning my workshop, I hope if any of my followers can get to Toowoomba on the weekend of July 18 and 19, you'll think of attending the USQ Bookcase. Maybe even turning up to my workshop and saying hello?

You can follow the events on Facebook here.

In the meantime, join me while I reminisce about my USQ days. They were some of the happiest of my life.

At one of the many balls/socials. Oh the fashion. And the hair ... 

Goody two-shoes choir girl. Ready for a performance with the Darling Downs Singers. In my tiny room at McGregor College. 

My first car. A daggy green Ford Escort it may have been, but it was the chariot for a variety of the coolest girls and guys I have met. And the transport for many a midnight sustenance run to the nearest service station during all-night study marathons. 

Outside my room at McGregor College on an unusually warm Toowoomba day. Being profound. With Queensland nuts, an orange, and bricks. For some kind of project. Hey, I was an arts student ...

Another social. I did actually study sometimes ...

Because I ended up graduating with a Bachelor of Arts (double major in journalism and music)

Do you have fond memories of your 'younger years'? Have you changed as much as I have?

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Everybody Loves Lucy ... and why Johnny Depp and I could be mates

I knew Johnny Depp and I were like 'that'.
He and I have so much in common.
Yes, there's more to the Deppster than looks, loins, and his knack with a pirate hat. (Okay and awesome acting skills).
As Australia, America, and the rest of the world pretty much found out recently, Johnny and his wife Amber Heard love a pampered pooch as much as I do. In fact, they love two of them, Pistol and Boo.
So much so, they tried to 'Do a Depp' (I coined that term, You're welcome).
Yes, the celebs tried to smuggle the pair into Australia, in defiance of our strict quarantine laws, via a handbag.
And they would have been successful too, if it hadn't been for those meddling kids some proud pet groomers. (Who had permission to share the news about their famous doggie clients, so you can't blame them.)

Poor doggies. Poor Johnny. 

Anyway, what I found interesting was, while all this was going on, my own pampered pooch Lucy was doing a little smuggling trick of her own.
You see, Lucy is a lap dog in every sense of the word. If she's not on my lap, she's beside it, snuggled in as close as can be. If she's not on my lap or in my bed, she's cuddling with somebody else. With my permission, of course!
Now the kids aren't here full-time, she's with me all the time.
I could be posh and call Lucy a designer dog. If I google her, I'm entitled to call her a Pomchi or Chiranian. But really, that sounds wanky.
In non-wanky terms, she is a chihuahua-pomeranian cross. Mini-sized. That means she's about the size of a small guinea pig, but a hell of a lot smarter. And she doesn't leave lots of tiny poos everywhere. Well, most of the time. (Apologies to guinea pig owners.).
She's always travelled with us wherever possible, and that has become even more important now it's just the two of us.
And because Lucy has a delightful personality, she seems to win fans wherever she goes. She is a welcome guest when we visit friends and family, and unlike many small dogs, she is not snappy or yappy. The worst she will do is lick you, or snuggle with you within an inch of your life.
So the last time I went to Brisbane for an appointment with one of my specialists, Lucy gave me one of her impossible-to-resist looks, and I decided to take her with me at the last minute. She doesn't mind a road trip, my Lucy.
Usually my neighbour or a friend looks after her, but I was staying with a friend whose daughters had begged me to bring Lucy on my next visit to the city so I knew it would be okay.

We had time for a walk along the river to blow off the stress of the drive before my appointment ... 

Having become accustomed to country life and unused to city traffic, I didn't have enough time to drop Lucy at my friend's house before my appointment.
So I decided to do a social experiment and see if anyone actually noticed if I took her with me.
Luckily, Lucy fits perfectly into a handbag, and like I said, she's a well-behaved, clean little girl.

Dog in a handbag

My doctor's rooms are at a private hospital, and not one person noticed a small furry face peeking out of my handbag.
Not at the reception at the hospital, not at the doctor's rooms. No one noticed, from the cleaner vacuuming noisily near us, nor the other patients, as we all waited. No one noticed as I went to the bathroom, refilled my water bottle, took a photo (now that was difficult - if only dogs could take selfie) and fiddled with my phone.
Of course the doctor was running late, so that posed an even great challenge. What if Lucy needed to poo or wee, and did something horrid in my favourite handbag?
Eventually, my doctor called me in.
We were about halfway through my appointment, and I'd even shed a few tears, when my phone, also in my handbag, started vibrating. Lucy didn't like that, so she started moving a bit and showed herself.
Finally, my doctor saw Lucy, and started laughing.
"Oh my God," he said. "What is that?" (I know. How rude!)
Luckily, it was all good. (I had seen people bringing puppies into the hospital before so I had a feeling it would be okay if I was sprung. And to be fair, he's paid to observe me, not my handbag. I was more weirded out that the hospital has all kinds of security measures in place, but no one noticed I was carrying a concealed weapon in my bag. Kinda.)
My doctor is a psychiatrist and he said if it was the difference between seeing me and not seeing me, he was fine with me bringing my dog. But perhaps, not to make a habit of it. Or if I did, to do the handbag trick again. And he enjoyed meeting part of my 'treatment plan'. After all, Lucy help keeps me happy and gives me a reason to get up in the morning. Even on the darkest of days.
Later, Lucy spent a pleasant night being fussed over by my friend's daughters and playing with their cat. She loves kids and desperately misses mine/ours, so surrogate kids are always a hit.
We were talked into staying another night so Lucy could help collect the girls from school the next day, including meeting their friends and teachers, and going for a walk on the waterfront at sunset.

Lucy's first visit to the waterfront, with surrogate kids

She even went to the local pizza takeaway shop and was made a huge fuss of by all the patrons.

Lucy was treated like a rock star when she helped fetch this spinach and fetta wood-fired pizza

"Does Lucy get treated like a star wherever she goes?" one of my friend's daughters said.
Yes. Yes she does.
I can't go out with Lucy without people fussing over her, asking questions, and wondering where they can get a dog like her. Then there are the jokes. "My dog could eat your dog for lunch," owners of big dogs will say. "Oh how cute! How old?' Others will ask. And be amazed that she is fully grown. And I could have sold her puppies a hundred times.
(Sadly - or perhaps sensibly - we decided to get Lucy desexed. We felt it would be cruel to put such a tiny dog through a pregnancy).
Lucy has so many adventures, I've decided to set up her own Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Lucy knows how to smell out good coffee for me. She was disappointed there weren't any yowies though. At Kilcoy, #sqcountry #roadtrip

Not barking at ducks at the Yowie Pond at Kilcoy, #sqcountry #roadtrip

Meanwhile, Johnny and Amber, if you'd like to borrow Lucy for a cuddle while you're in Australia, she's available for very reasonable rates. (That is free. If you don't mind trading a cuddle with her for a photo opp. with me. And I'd just be as thrilled with a cuddle from Amber as from Johnny. Something tells me we'd have a lot in common).

I'll even supply the handbag.

Postscript: I love animals, and I love Australia. I don't condone celebrities or anyone breaking our strict quarantine laws, which are there for a reason. I do wonder why the famous pooches couldn't have been put into quarantine, as horrid as that is, to allow them to stay? Although by the time quarantine was over, perhaps filming would have ended. I have friends who paid a small fortune to bring their pets to Australia when they moved here (whether temporarily or permanently). And there are those who have house and/or petsitters, paid or otherwise, to look after their furry kids at home when they travel. If you live in Australia, Aussie House Sitters is a great website to start looking.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

No Shit Charlie ...

Originally, I'd planned this post to be part of a Wordless Wednesday link-up. 
Wordless Wednesday is a blogger thing, where you can keep blogging without putting in loads of effort, but still make a point with a photo or something that has meant something to you.
But me? Well I always find it difficult to keep my Wordless Wednesdays non-wordy. And I just needed to explain more about this one. 
So, I've been feeling down, as you know, especially as, in the aftermath of Mother's Day, my daughter split her head open at school.
She's okay, and her Dad looked after her. But it's the first time she's been injured and in serious pain that I've not been at her side. 
I hate this. I hate not being able to be by my childrens' side when they need me.
It's not like I can even jump on a plane, even if I could afford to. The nearest airport - which has planes which fly to Darwin - is a three hour drive away, but you need to allow at least four hours for traffic and parking. Plus getting there early for check-in. Then there are odd flight times. Transport when you get to the NT. Accommodation costs. 
So I have to suck it up and hope she is okay. And I've talked to her, and she is being very brave.
I'm not sure about me.
But when I'm down, some of the things that cheer me up are being grateful, being mindful, and thinking back to times when I was happy. 
Travel always makes me happy, and when a school friend and I visited our friend Ian in Bangkok some time ago, he showed us one of his favourite places to relax after work - the Charlie Bar. (No, not Charlie's Bar. Charlie Bar).
It's a typical Bangkok street bar, popular with expats, partly because of the very cheap prices, and partly because of the friendly owner. 

Sorry for the photo quality - I only had an iphone 3 at the time. #FirstWorldProblems right?

Charlie Bar is always very busy ... 

But there are a lot of rules ...

Including this one - in the loos. In case you can't see, because it's a well, erm used, the sign says:
 'Do Not Shit. Only Pee.' 
Okay then. 
I don't know what patrons do if they are suddenly caught short ... and I don't want to know! 

I came across the actual Charlie from Charlie Bar. He posed for a photo, but this was the only one which turned out because he was so busy working, which involved carrying bits of metal around and talking to interested strangers like me. He confirmed he didn't like people pooing in his toilets because it clogged them up and then no one else wanted to use them. And then he laughed, because he said people came to photograph the sign. People like me! Strange westerners.

It's always highs and lows in Bangkok (as in life). After that, Ian and his friends took us to one of the most famous bars in the city, the Sky Bar. Known as the bar in the Hangover 2 movie, the bar at The Dome is suspended on the 63rd floor of lebua.
It's expensive for Bangkok, but there are people to help you negotiate the magnificent stairs in your heels. Great for those of us who are unsteady in their 'going out' shoes. And, unlike most 'high towers with a view', there is no entry fee. 

The cocktails were about $AUD 15 which is steep for Bangkok. But when you take into account there are no fees, it's worth it for the view - and the experience. 

There were rules here too ... (Dammit, and I was going to wear my ripped clothing too. And who decides if the men are gentlemen? Rules seemed to be relaxed for women ...)

The view ... 

What gets you up when you feel down? And have you paid extra for a view? 

Saturday, May 9, 2015

The loneliest mothers ...

Tomorrow morning, mothers around Australia will awake to the sound of clattering plates and the smell of burnt toast.
There will squishy cuddles and vegemite kisses in bed, and if they are lucky, lunches or picnics out. Hand-made presents to photograph, and gifts chosen with love at the school mother’s day school.
Perhaps a sleep in or afternoon nap, and loads of spoiling all around.
Not for me.
I’ll wake alone to an empty house.
No package of gifts, handmade or otherwise, arrived in yesterday’s post. Not even a handmade card.
Seriously. It was like Christmas had been cancelled.
If I’m lucky, I’ll get to talk to my kids by phone or skype, but I’ll have to make sure it’s during the allotted time frame decided by Family Court solicitors earlier this year. If I miss that timeframe, I'll miss out completely.
It's not fair, but it's legal, and it's happening to women (and men) around Australia every single day.
I’m one of the many casualties of divorce, separation and the Family Court farce, which means my children now live interstate.
It’s a situation which means that although I would have been entitled to see my children for a few hours on Mother’s Day, I cannot afford to drive to the nearest airport, fly interstate, hire a car, and pay for accommodation to visit them.
I really thought I had a visit nailed for last weekend. Ironically, I would have been able to see the children longer then, because that was a long weekend in the state where they live, and I would have been legally entitled to spend more time with the kids. But I just couldn’t pull the dollars together.
It’s tough.
I miss my children desperately, and phone calls and skype just don’t cut it.
As any parent separated from their kids know, the special days are the hardest.
Earlier this year, my Facebook feed was full photos of beaming faces and tiny bodies in impossibly large uniforms, as children around Australia started their first days at school.
I didn’t even get a photo of my kids on the day they started school, let alone the chance to share in their big day.
It’s been the same for their birthdays. There was no baking of birthday cakes, just presents sent in the mail and talked about on the phone.
No blowing out of candles or kissing of the closest boy or girl (or even a video of them doing the same).
I didn't even get a photo of them on their birthdays, even though I begged to be sent a few.
I spent a lonely Easter at home, although I'm lucky, I do have family and friends to lean on and I'm grateful for them. They help me through the tough days, but as anyone who suffers depression knows, sometimes you can feel loneliest in a crowd. And sometimes you miss your kids the most when you are surrounded by other children. So family events can be hard.
For once, I didn’t leave a carrot for the Easter bunny and hide eggs for a hunt the next morning. There was no traditional baking of Hot Cross Buns, and ensuing laughter as they turned out either rock hard or flat. (I’m not known for my domestic goddess skills, but I try …)
And this week, in the lead up to Mother’s Day, reading social media posts about school stall present buying, mother’s day morning teas, and plans for the big day have been pretty much heart-breaking.
I’ll admit to being jealous of my friends. Yes, Jealous! 
Envious of photos of smiling mothers next to happy children at school morning teas. Jealous of chat about the hiding of well-chosen presents, and plans for lunches out and high teas. And bereft knowing that there will be no morning cuddles or toast crumbs in bed for me. Only emptiness, heartbreak and guilt.
Guilt that, perhaps if I’d been a better mother, I’d have been able to keep our family together. Perhaps if I’d not been sick so often, I’d be able to afford to see them this weekend. Perhaps if I’d been stronger, I could have fought longer to get them back. Had I even made the right decision in allowing them to live where they are now, even though I was told it was in their best interests at the time?  Even though I believed it was better for everyone to step off the court merry-go-round; for us to all move forward?
I hate that I no longer get to be with my children during the school term. That I'm missing so many milestones of their lives. Hell, I'm even missing the little things. The loose teeth. The freshly-washed smell after showers and before bed. Helping sort out problems with friends or school. Jokes about stinky feet, bums, and farts. 
The fact that my son is now tall enough and thoughtful enough to help around the house and garden. Changing lightbulbs, mowing the lawn. That my daughter loves tidying the bathroom and bedrooms and making them look lovely. That they both love to help with the shopping and preparation of meals.
I'm missing out on so much and on the eve of Mother's Day that loss seems so much keener.
Until recently, it had always been the kids, the pets, and I. A team, a small family unit.  But we made it work, I thought.
Every special day, every milestone, brings back memories of happier times, and previous events.  Every day without them is like a kick in the stomach. Every day is lived feeling like a part of my heart is missing.
Even so, I know I’m one of the lucky ones.
I’m lucky to have my kids in my life,  however that time is allocated.
There are mothers who have lost their children, and will never get to hug them again. Ever. I can’t imagine how parents get through days like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, birthdays and all the special occasions.
There are those whose children are ill or injured, and who would give anything for their Mother’s Day gift to be a doctor to say: ‘They’re going to be okay.’
There are women who are sick themselves, who would give the world to be told they have been cured.
And there are children - young and old - who will be missing their own mums tomorrow. 
There are women too, who want desperately to have children. And who are trying, via every means, even if they are expensive and invasive methods. And who have suffered many losses whilst trying. And I know that Mother's Day is a day that breaks their hearts. 
I am so aware of all that.
Despite my own grief, I’m blessed to have shared so much time with my kids, and to have a special bond with them.
So although tomorrow is going to suck Big Time for me, there are always going to be special occasions, and in any case, I miss my kids every day. Not just on Mother’s Day.
So, just like on every other day, I just have to get on with it.
I have to make the best of every day, pull on my Big Girl Panties, and make my kids proud of me.
So I’m focusing on the next time I’ll see them, which will be during the June-July holidays.
We will have a lot to celebrate then.
After all, when you’re a parent, every day can be Mother’s (or Father's) Day. 
For the lucky mums, when you're drinking that milky cup of tea or lukewarm coffee tomorrow, think of the lonely mothers like me. We'll be sitting at home alone, waiting for the time-frame when we can make a phone or skype call. Squeeze your child or children just a little bit harder for a little bit longer. Then put on that handmade pasta necklace or those nana slippers, and wear them with pride for us. Okay? 
Happy Mother's Day x

The last time I saw these two - putting them back onto a plane to the Northern Territory in early January. A mother will do anything for her children  ...

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The crying game

We all get a little sad sometimes ...
But a Japanese hotel is cashing in on the trend by offering special deals for women who need to shed a few tears.
In the lead-up to Mother's Day, when I will spend yet another first milestone event without my not-so-big babies by my side, I seriously need one of those rooms.
They are called Crying Rooms.
I Shit You Not.
The idea is that women need to cry.
(I've got news for the marketing team behind this idea: Men do too. But that's another story).
And that it's good to cry.
And they are right.
Crying releases endorphins.
Crying is getting in touch with our feelings and emotions.
And that's all positive stuff.
Having done a bazillions hours of therapy over the years, I also know that it's really important to have those tears witnessed and acknowledged. Not to mention the fact that if someone is truly depressed, they may need somewhere to go or someone to call during or after their crying experience.
But I believe the designers of this deal have their hearts in the right places.
You see, Tokyo's Mitsui Garden Yotsuya Hotel management believes that crying helps relieve stress, and that women are especially vulnerable.
Each 'crying room' contains a selection of movies, including Forrest Gump and the South Korean heart-tugger, A Moment To Remember. There are manga comics, tipped to make women cry, plus tissues, make-up remover, and steam eye masks.
All this for the bargain price of 10,000 Japanese yen per night (about AUD $106), and available until 31.
I think they better book me in for Mother's Day.