It was the small, magical moments during our holiday to Hawaii that mattered most

Forgive me for my recent radio silence, but I’m struggling to get back into real time since our return from Hawaii.

No doubt, some of you will be interested to know how we fared, having spent so much time reading about my angst in relation to where the fuck to take an anxious, middle-aged man who didn’t want to leave his suburb. But, alas, I am no travel writer, so I’ve decided to style this post in the same way as Jamila Rizvi did here last week in The Age, and focus on the small things that made it feel so special.

Woman sitting on beach in front of view.
I call this photo “Come to Mama!”

I won’t lie, the holiday (in the company of my husband and our twenty-something daughter) wasn’t always the plain sailing experience I had prayed for prior to our departure from Sydney. However, I won’t bore you with the stories of when our two hire cars broke down – leading to the old man’s worldwide ban from AVIS – the loss of his bank card, or the time he turned the wrong way down a street. As I’m sure you can tell from this photo, he had a great time.

Man looking miserable at shopping center.
Have you ever seen such a vision of natural joy? He just LOVES shopping and Halloween.

And by normal standards, I imagine that the sort of holiday woes we experienced are the kind of par-for-the-course shit that everyone goes through, laughs about and puts down to travelling.

Admittedly, the bus tour between Honolulu and Haleiwa on the North Shore was not the anticipated 45 minute journey I had forecast in my itinerary – probably because I read the ‘by car’ calculation of time instead of ‘by stagecoach’ – but at least it included an educational tour of Honolulu’s military bases and a nostalgic trip back to the prison set where Hawaii 5-0 must have been shot. The return journey was even longer, and while none of us expected a three-hour circumnavigation of Oahu that took us into the night, we were all grateful for the scenic experience.

Many lessons were learned: we now know never to declare war on a feisty Hawaiian customer service lady who deals with entitled tourists on a daily basis; we learned that the portion sizes really are as terrifying in the US as we had been led to believe, and that you only need order a few plates to share; and finally, we now appreciate that the mountain temperature on our weather App is no guide to the temperature on the beach.

Mouthwatering plate of Tuna Tataki.
The TUNA!

There were the usual minor medical issues like blocked ears, dehydration, and some ongoing issues with obesity augmented by the portion size of the Rocky Road ice cream they sold at our local bar.

But let me get back to the small things that justified our thousands of dollars spent choice of destination, that still make my heart sing to the tune of Moana each time I think back to them:

  1. The landscape: What’s not to love about a destination that offers world-class beaches, the spirituality of a mountain landscape (that look like it belongs in Peru), and cheap, designer shopping that even the most ardent window shopper will find impossible to resist?
  2. The beaches: I can honestly say that Waikiki, the beaches on the North Shore of Honolulu, and those in Maui lived up to the paradise we had been promised. Living in Australia, it’s hard to impress us when it comes to beaches, but we weren’t disappointed – particularly by the ocean temperature, which made it dead easy to plunge into it several times a day.
  3. The turtles: I’ll be honest, we didn’t see flocks of them like I imagined – a bit like when we visited Kangaroo Valley and never saw any kangaroos – but we spotted several from the shoreline and a couple swam up close to us. Fact: they can be SERIOUSLY BIG MOTHERFUCKERS!
  4. The snorkelling: This time it was the relaxing experience I imagined it could be when I was growing up and wanted to be Jacques Cousteau. Pretty, unthreatening tropical fish were a welcome change from The Great Barrier Reef’s terrifyingly black Gropers and slimy cucumbers, and although NC swore she saw a sea snake, she only told me about it once we were on the plane home.
  5. The music: Hawaiian music comes from the soul and shoots straight through the heart. I will always remember the night the old man asked a Hawaiian singer to sing a song from Moana for NC, who ugly-cried (very publicly), and another when a heavily pregnant dancer performed the Hula.
  6. American coffee: It gets a bad rap around the world, but the choice of flavours is awesome. I mean, how can a Vanilla/Macadamia nut coffee be bad?
  7. The food: OMG! Sex is good but have you ever tried melt-in-your-mouth Ahi (tuna), sealed in hot butter, with sides of coleslaw and coconut rice?
  8. The sunsets: I’m usually half way down a bottle by sunset and never fully appreciate their beauty, but Maui’s sunsets light up the sky like fireworks and are impossible to ignore.
Restaurant view of stunning mountain landscape in Maui.
Not a bad view for lunch.

And then there were the cheap COCKTAILS, an overdue discovery of Fireball whisky. and the old man’s dishcloth dance – after aforementioned whisky. All in all, a myriad of magical moments thrown into twelve days and an experience I’d love to replicate, had the old man not thrown away his passport.

Is It Normal To Hate People Who Go On Exotic Holidays All The Time? Asking For A Friend

This is a follow on from my last post in which I discussed my chances of dragging my husband away on an exotic holiday this year. Thank you for the abundance of awesome recommendations (for anxious, middle-aged couples, with zero interests in common) that you kindly left on that post, and which have since been dissected, over-thought and (no doubt) put on the back burner until I force him to make a decision.

Image found on Pinterest from awakenmindset.com

I should point out that I have warned him that his refusal to commit is exactly the sort of thing that middle-aged couples divorce over, and in response he asked me when I am leaving.

I am not, by nature, a green-eyed monster, so I find this whole travel-envy thing to be quite peculiar. Indeed, I have always denied the impact of social media on my happiness – made easier in this case, I imagine, by our move to the other side of the world to a wonderful country that offers a wealth of different landscapes and natural beauty.

I was, (and still am), committed to the financial choices the old man we have made to semi-retire.

However, it does leave us with a very limited budget for holidays and lately I’ve started to get itchy feet, thanks to all of those inspirational memes about travel, adventures and growth that fill my FB home page, as well as the bunch of our friends that are starting to take advantage of their new empty-nester status and are therefore ALWAYS on fucking holiday.

So what’s changed? I suppose that when I entered this stage of my life I still had the arrogance of the European who feels like they’ve seen the world – when the reality is, I’ve visited a couple of European countries a lot of times. I may have lived in Europe for forty years, but I didn’t have the wisdom back then to make the most of what it had to offer.

Added to which, I came back from our last exotic trip to Bali in two minds about foreign holidays. I was pretty shaken up by the level of poverty – in what I had been led to believe was a paradise – hence, I spent much of our time there stressing about the families on scooters, food poisoning and feral dogswhich always made a beeline for me.

Unsurprisingly, our next holiday was to Forster.

I’m not certain what is behind this current attack of itchy feet. Is it an innate fear of time running out? Am I missing a diversity of culture that simply doesn’t exist on the Northern Beaches of Sydney? Or is it simply that I’m scared that I am cruising through life and getting boring?

While there are many benefits to working from home – the main one being that my desk is close to the fridge – one of the few downsides is that life can become very insular. And when you struggle from anxiety, the fact that you rarely have to leave the house can cultivate the problem.

Interestingly, when I think about my dream holiday, it isn’t about swanky hotels, exotic beaches or even two-for-one cocktails like it used to be – we have some pretty nice beaches here. No, the appeal is more linked to new experiences, new cultures, the challenge of pushing myself out of my comfort zone, and growth. It is about sharing those experiences with my soulmate – rather than the typical mundanities we share each week, like when the dog last went out for a poo.

Don’t get me wrong. I am very content to get comfortable in certain areas of middleage-dom. I wouldn’t trade flat shoes, nightly Netflix and separate bedrooms for anything! But I can’t ignore that little voice that keeps nagging me to keep on exploring.

Gardening in Australia, AKA Dancing With Death

With forty-eight hours and thirty minutes to go, no, I’m not the teeniest bit nervous about the arrival of the rellies for Christmas. While one half of me can’t wait to wrap myself up in dad’s arms again and beg him to take me home to let me be a child again, the other half keeps reminding me about all the stuff he’s going to notice; the stuff he didn’t do that way, in his day.

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Because, as parents, that daily calling to judge and criticize our adult kids for not doing things the way we did, is hard to ignore. I found myself guilty of it when NC proffered any suggestions about the interior decoration of her new studio, the other day.

 

‘Don’t be silly,’ I heard myself say. In other words, Mum will always know best. For her sake, let’s hope she sticks to her word and decides against grandkids.

 

My conscience, in terms of the cleanliness of my house, has been eased somewhat by the knowledge that Dad has a cleaner – in both houses – so I’m not sure why I’ve spent the past few weeks zapping the moths from the pantry, checking every food storage jar for weevils and catching every speck of dust in the air before it lands on the furniture. But admittedly, when I bragged about the fucks I don’t give this year in my last post, I think I must have blanked out my father’s visit.

 

I’ve even weeded the garden, a massive job, because the house we recently rented seems to cultivate weeds rather than plants, and weeding is not a job for the faint-hearted in Australia. My dad doesn’t have a garden in Chelsea, and when I look back now to those years of pretty English gardens with their delicate flowers, chirping birds and stinging nettles,  the main predator, it is with a fondness. I laugh now when I remember how I used to do the spider dance each time an earthworm poked its head out of the soil, and the time we discovered a slow worm under the swing set and called the RSPCA.

 

Beetles, daddy-long-legs and even maggots are childsplay once you’ve danced with death in your Australian garden. There was a warning in the media recently about how there are more snakes around this year than normal – as in deadly snakes, the type that kill you, and feel zero compassion for the fact that you’re really British.

 

You mean IN THE ZOOS? I was tempted to ask, before I remembered that I didn’t really need or want to know the answer.

 

Gardening, is apparently one of those strange activities, like lawn bowls and scowling at young people, that some older people develop a passion for. Not me. With a dodgy lower back, an irrational fear of skin melanomas and the more minor problem, that I don’t actually know one end of a plant from another – and certainly not one end of a native Australian plant from the other – it is something I strenuously avoid, and was one of the best bits about living in the city with its tiny balconies and pokey courtyards. Unfortunately, however, when we rented this house, the only way to negotiate the rent to a sum that correlated vaguely with the old man’s spreadsheet, (created circa 1950), was to take ownership of the garden.

 

Secretly, I suppose, I had hoped that the old man would punch his chest in an ape-like gesture of dominance and add weeding to his short list of man-jobs – but unfortunately, he’s as terrified of creatures that can kill you as I am. Here, snakes lurk in the flower beds, hide under your deck and have even been known to take a shower with you. In one video I saw, one of the sneaky buggers crawled out of a light fitting and the family continued to live in the house.

 

I haven’t decided if the Princess is just happy to share her territory with me when I’m in the garden, or secretly delights in scaring the bejeebers out of me by clambering stealthily through the bushes and rattling leaves each time I’m on my hands and knees in what is clearly a position of submission.

 

Put it this way, there’s rarely the temptation to dig too deeply here with the Funnel Web – a common garden spider. Although, in fairness to one of the world’s deadliest spiders, it is generous by poisonous spider standards because it gives you a good thirty minutes or so to die your heinous death.

 

Dad might be wise not to mention the thick layer of dust on the skirting.

 

 

 

Middle Aged Clothes-Shopping Hell

big-1708092_1920Ahead of my birthday celebrations last weekend, I foolishly chose to waste a whole hour of my remaining lifetime on The Iconic, when I could have been catching up on The Bachelor and drooling over Matty J’s ass with NC. Needless, to say I drew a blank.

 

Now I’m not going to bag the Iconic site, necessarily, because this post is a general burn about the fashion available to middle-aged women and the continued gap in the market for the less subtle physical charms of our physiques and to be fair, they do offer some plus-size fashion.

 

But although I’m sure there was a time in history when it was acceptable for women to conceal their extra kilos in ruffles and frills, peasant tops, kaftans and gypsy dresses – Medieval times, if I’m not mistaken – that style does not work for everyone and at the moment it dominates the High Street. It doesn’t take a fashionista to know that “loose fitting” does not conceal – all it does, in fact, is highlight that you’re trying to hide “problem areas”. Think Elizabeth Taylor – frankly the only woman in the world that could pull off a kaftan and still look sexy.

 

If you’re not Gypsy Rose, don’t want to look like Fiona from Shrek, or aren’t brave enough to squeeze swollen breasts into crop tops and satin night dresses that make you look like a plus-size sex worker – currently en vogue and at the other end of the fashion spectrum – (KILL ME NOW!) – you probably need to migrate to a nudist colony. I like to think that I’m prepared to make the occasional fashion statement when I slip out of my yoga pants, but flashing stretch marks is not the sort of first impression I want to create, no matter how comfortable my fucking hormones have forced me to become in this new shape of mine.

 

I blame Game of Thrones – which brings me to the obvious question of what the fuck are Bishop sleeves about? As far as I can see, about the only thing they’re useful for is for storing food.

 

Anyway… once I decided for the gazillionth time that online clothes shopping is certain to trigger my first heart attack, I bravely headed out to the stores to try out some frills and spills in the vain hope that for once those (predominantly male) designers know what they’re talking about.


 Hmmm….you get my point.

 

This, my friends, is why I only buy shoes and cardigans these days, and why I’m feeling as twitchy as fuck at the flies and mosquitoes that herald the approach of summer because I won’t be able to layer. So I did what I always do when I have a “nothing to wear” low, and consoled myself with (wine) a new cushion mountain. But as the old man pointed out, there are only so many times you can wear a cushion cover as a top to the pub.

 

My needs have changed. I no longer crave to look young – that boat sailed a long time ago – but I do want to look tailored, sculpted, to have the promise of a fine wine rather than a cleanskin. Which is why shorts and short skirts disappeared from my wardrobe a few years back – not because I don’t have the legs, I hasten to add – indeed they remain the only part of my body whose BMI meets the current recommendations. But modern shorts are not tailored for “women” who chafe easily and have nether regions stretched beyond recognition from their reproductive duties.

 

Which is why I’m seriously torn about the current discourse about plus-size models on the catwalk promoting obesity. Fact: the average woman is a size 16 and it really makes it very difficult to imagine your body in something modeled by someone who has only ever dreamed of Mac n’ Cheese.

 

When I posted my frustration on my Facebook page, some lovely friends recommended the following sites, so  you might want to check them out:

Ezilbuy 

Cos Clothing 

Although, in the end, I played it safe and bought a classic, tailored white shirt which I wore over my favourite Zara skinnies (the best for stretchiness), which made me feel very dignified and not too try-hard until I dropped my fifth glass of Sangria down it. Unfortunately, I was upstaged by one of my best friends who wore exactly the same outfit – Bitch stole my look – but I won’t mention her name – FIONA – because I know how mortified she was and although I’ll never be a size 10 again, I try to remain a good friend.

When Will I Feel Grown Up Enough To Wear Grown-Up Clothes?

I know you’re probably thinking that this post is a replica of the one I wrote when I went through the trauma of finding a dress for my dad’s wedding earlier this year, but a second verbal vent is required after my most recent experience of trying to dress this sad, old middle-aged body. shopping-606993_1280

 

When the fuck are retailers going to cater for those of us middle-aged women who aren’t ready for floral tent-age and swathes of fabric un-tactfully placed to conceal our post-partum lumps?

How am I supposed to recover some of the confidence I used to have in my body when the world expects me to hide it away so I don’t offend anyone?

And how many Christmas cookies is too many?

 

After two separate, arduously soul-destroying and unproductive sessions at the mall -mission being to find a dress to wear on Christmas Day – I did something highly impulsive the other night. I ordered a dress online.

 

Obviously an excursion towards madness that turned out to be an unmitigated disaster and the meringue will be going straight back to the online store – mainly because Christmas is not fancy dress and so my version of brandy custard was probs not appropriate. But it’s a shame, because the experience highlighted my continuing sensitivity about this new body of mine and I thought I’d matured and accepted that it’s not what it was a long time ago. It’s not like I’m the star of the Christmas Day show anyway – apparently Jesus is, (although I’m sure NC will give him a run for his money) – but the Leo in me always wants to make an entrance, refuses to lie down and give in to the part of the ageing process that has gathered for Christmas to party on down in the zone where my stomach used to be.

 

For as long as I can remember I’ve treated myself to a new outfit to wear on Christmas Day. It goes back to my childhood, when one of mum’s traditions was that no matter how tight the finances were, at least we would look our best, in much the same way that we always wore decent underwear in case we were involved in an accident.

 

Sadly, my *cough* size 14, middle-aged body is not catered for in the high street stores and I’m learning to interpret the pitying looks the sales assistants throw my way when I make such a ridiculous request – but I can’t deny that acceptance of that is a slow and painful journey, and it’s Sods Law that since I’ve found some level of grace in relation to my rounder edges, every other middle-aged woman I see in the street appears diminutive.

 

Which is why I reached that level of desperation after hours of trawling around various malls, by the end of which I honestly would have sold my children for the perfect dress. I’d even ventured onto that hallowed floor in DJs where where the assistants look down their noses at you unless you are carrying a Calvin handbag , but fortunately no-one took me seriously enough in my Havaianas and Uniqlo dress for me to waste my hard-earned cash on what I know is effectively one dress for one day.

 

After which I decided to change my tactics completely and take a peek at the ranges that cater to my age group – that aren’t maternity – and the racks of voluminous, frumpy dresses that fashion experts believe us poor women who wear the scars of reproduction, hormone combustion and a talent for eating lots of cake, truly deserve. And I nearly puked.

 

I couldn’t do it. I might feel fucking old some days but I’m not ready to give in yet, no matter how much shop assistants try to convince me that flora-vomit pasted over my body and fuchsia tones suit me, or how well a kaftan swamps hides those awkward bits. I don’t feel grown up enough to wear grown-up women’s dresses yet.

 

Have you given in?

 

Retirement: Sea Change Or No Change

It feels like we’ve been planning our retirement our whole lives, yet now as we inch closer to our target, the old man and I have realised that the dreams we shared in our early years together may have changed. ball-2517_1280

I thought that my aspirations would centre around little more than long lunches at the golf club, beach walks, getting my hair tinted and dabbling in oil painting in my artist’s studio. However, this week’s beach holiday, whilst supremely relaxing, has highlighted how aimless I can become without routine and with limited Internet.

 

I’ve discovered the middle-aged body’s propensity for sleep when you have nothing tangible with which to fill your day and I can see myself slipping quite naturally into the cozy vacuum of retirement where a game of lawn bowls becomes the week’s entertainment. Just like dogs that are left at home while their owners work, I can already sleep on command and it’s becoming an effort to lower my tired body into my beach chair, hoist up the umbrella and slip, slop, slap more cream into my leathery skin each day.

 

In fact I’m so busy sleeping that the charge on my creative battery seems to have died and the only conversation I’m capable of is to quip back at Kurt’s barbed comments about why we dragged the poor kid away to this isolated detention centre where he can only get two bars on his phone.

 

I’m also fairly certain that my walks along the shoreline don’t fully compensate for the generous lunches that are somehow okay on holiday, or that they will they keep the extra kilos of contentment at bay.

 

Needless to say, the old man and I have been inspired to waste hours discussing and planning a sea change. The rediscovery of this gorgeous, un-spoilt little haven on the North Cost of New South Wales with its cluster of beautiful beaches edging the coastline has re-ignited our enthusiasm for an adventure or lifestyle change, perhaps a year out to commence Act 3 of our lives (more about that in another post) – for me to concentrate on my writing and for him to continue to pretend to work, like he does in Sydney.

 

And as I listen to the waves lap outside our window at night and pad through metres of hot sand by day, the tingle of salt on my skin and the wind in my hair makes the thought of escape tempting, to become anonymous and closer to nature.

 

Or perhaps not. Because what those discussions have made us realise is that our plans for Act 3 have unknowingly evolved over the intervening years and revolve less around relaxation and mocktails now and more around grabbing whatever time we have left by the balls.

 

And a sea change would involve more than a three-hour drive from everything we know and hold dear to us, like the pub that serves my favourite wine and the old man’s kebab shop. It would mean pushing the chicks out of the nest before I suspect they are ready to fly.

 

And although there are times – last night being one of them – when I would dearly love the kids to fuck off…or should I say transition to the role of “welcome visitors” rather than the freeloaders that they are, and that it’s almost time to force the them to stand on their own two feet and embrace the independence we’ve prepared them for (if we’ve done our job right), Kurt is nowhere near ready, and in all honesty, neither am I.

 

Anyway, I’ve read far too many articles about what is really important to people on their death beds and it’s never the “two-for-one Chicken Parmigiana with free glass of wine” at the local golf club on a Monday night.

 

Help! When Your Fashion Sense Screams You’re Middle-Aged

According to this hugely influential source, 10 Things Style Errors That Make You Look Older, the common woollen cardie is ageing on middle-aged women; which means I instantly lose all my middle-aged fashionista credentials.

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Matrix cardie – Ha! Bloody Ha!

 

 

Because I love me a nice cardie.

 

If Madonna needs to wear a cardie to show she’s grown up in order to improve her relationship with her teenage son, as recommended by one writer recently, I’ve obviously been middle-aged my whole life if wearing cardigans is a reliable yardstick with which to judge. 

 

The cardigan has always been a staple of my wardrobe – I bloody love them! – a passion that may hark back to my British heritage and being frocked up from an early age in Laura Ashley dresses with matching cardies; or may have something to do with my shocking circulation, (up until the recent body thermostat issues, that is, at the hands of Menopause). I’m always cold, you see, and just as toasties are my favourite go-to comfort snack, the cardie is my go-to clothing for comfort.

 

Cardies seem to reproduce in my wardrobe with the speed of rabbits, and in almost every conceivable shade; not bad when you consider I live in a city which has an average temperature of 28 degrees.

 

I’ve recently progressed to the less Nana, I like to think, more sophisticated, full-length version which I secretly believe gives me more height and makes me look grander; as well as the sleeveless cardie which looks stylish in Autumn and the first chill in the air – although in practical terms I’ve discovered a loophole in the design, because you can only wear a sleeveless when its too warm for a real cardie, and then the rest of your body gets too bloody hot.

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The Sleeve- Less Cardie

 

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Power-cardie by Alannah Hill

I have an Alannah Hill cardie that I almost sold my children for to afford because I believed it would be a great power-cardie for work, that I’ve sadly never worn… and I really don’t know why.

 

The boys do their Keanu Reeves Matrix impression whenever I wear my long black cardie, which was my first-born, full-length cardie and has been stitched up several times at the cardie hospital, yet nevertheless has served me loyally.

 

This neutral cardie came from French Connectionlurving FC at the moment – and is soft and light, long and floaty, the only problem being that it is SO LONG it gets caught up in my heels, which provoked a very embarrassing moment recently when I tripped up the stairs to my favourite local Asian restaurant.

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French Connection cardie

 

Luckily, they know I’m a big drinker and barely batted an eyelid.

 

I bought my khaki sleeveless (above) at Zara recently, which looked a shade of copper in the shop and once I got it home I realised it coordinates with absolutely fuck all in my wardrobe, apart from black. Luckily most of my wardrobe is highly funereal for obvious slimming reasons.

 

This grey, woolly mammoth (below) from Witchery adds about ten kilos to my frame but is great for those winter evenings or hormonal humps when all you want to do is hide yourself away, eat loads of pasta, drink hot chocolate and languish in warmth.

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Woolly Mammoth cardie

 

This very yellow, little mustard number was retrieved from a local market, and although it’s an odd color, I admit, (and is extremely reminiscent of the Princess’s puke on an empty stomach), I’ve worn it to death.

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Putrid-Yellow Cardie

 

And finally, there’s my very safe, caramel mid-length cardie, my all-time favourite because the relaxing but classic colour combo of caramel and black are the colours I feel most comfortable in. It was taking a nap at the time of these photos.

 

And when you feel comfortable, you look good.

 

What’s your favourite piece of clothing?

 

(Images provided by NC. No cardies were hurt during this very professional photo-shoot)