A birthday with a difference.

As an English girl born in December, one thing I never expected to experience was walking home along a damp, deserted beach on my birthday, with a warm, gentle ocean lapping at my knees.

It’s funny how I never really paid much thought, when I was moving to Australia, to the fact that I would no longer have a winter birthday. It wasn’t until a week or two before that one of my friends remarked that I was now a summer birthday, that I suddenly realised it.

My date of birth is one thing I could never change, and many years ago I stopped bothering to envy my August-born brother for having a birthday in the middle of the summer holidays, guaranteed never to be at school and to be warmer than mine. Thank God school finished a long time ago.

Apparently, though: I can change the seasons in which I live – and in Australia, December 19th falls in the summer.

My birthday was wet and rainy, but not cold. After a night out near the wharf, I walked home, crossing the road at South Steyne, and descended the stone steps. With the storms and heavy rain, the sand was damp and cool, and the tide was low across the shore.

I walked diagonally to the water until I met it, foaming over my feet and ankles, deepening quickly until the back of my silk skirt was salty and wet. Viv gave me a crystal for my birthday with instructions to wash it in salt water, so I leaned forward to dunk it (carefully holding my handbag back).

The waves were crossing each other: towards and from behind me as I walked along the shore through the breaking white water.

I love the ocean. It never stops: it doesn’t matter what’s going on in my life or anybody else’s; the waves just keep on coming. Small and foamy, big enough to knock me off my feet, sucking me back into the ocean or gently lapping over my toes, always changing, but never ever stopping. I looked out across the dark sky as it meets the sea, all I can see is the white foam forming regularly to separate them.

Late at night the beach is usually deserted. It’s the most restful place I know, and the most complete I think I feel. Several times, I’ve walked home this way or stopped and locked my bike up just to wander along the beach. If it’s clear, I can watch the stars, while the sound of the ocean drowns out any other noise. I stare at the stars, or out over the water, and let my worries drift away with the wind. Occasionally if I’m feeling sad, I’ve cried on the beach until the ocean calms the tears.

Sometimes I think: this is how I will know my soulmate … he’ll love the beach and the ocean as well. Not just on sunny days, but at night and when it’s stormy and empty too.

The surf club isn’t far along the beach, so when I reached it, I made my way back across the beach and back home in sandy thongs (sorry, flip flops!). It’s not a major birthday (thank god) – but it was a pleasant, quiet one; a nice celebration with my closest friends in Manly, and a very different experience from the last thirty two cold ones :)

Green Fingers.

Up the stairs in our garden is another space with lots of sun ...

Living in Manly, I love the fact that we have a small outdoor space, and I’ve been determined for the last few weeks to start growing something. Every time I go to Harris Farms for food shopping, they have various herbs outside and more recently tomato plants, and I’ve been so tempted! My Grandad always grew loads of tasty vegetables – I don’t have enough space, or time, to grow many, but I do love the idea of being able to eat something from my garden. Hopefully I’ve inherited at least one or two of his green fingers :)

When Andrea left for a few weeks away in the UK and Chicago, she entrusted me to look after some of her herbs. Two weeks in, I’ve managed to at least keep them alive, and love having fresh basil for cooking, and used the mint for tea.

It was all a bit overgrown

I decided this weekend was the time to set up my herb garden. As part of our garden we have a small area on a higher level, with a steep wooden staircase leading up to it. It was really overgrown but gets plenty of sun (and rain, these last few weeks …) so I made it my mission to clear it out so that I could grow some herbs up there. Starting, of course, with shopping!

I headed out to the market in Manly, where I knew there was a guy selling herbs and chilli plants. After that, I cycled on to Harris Farms to buy tomatoes! I brought them all back on the handlebars of my bike, had to cycle really slowly until I got used to the steering.

Herbs on the handlebars

My steering was all wonky from the chilli. It bashed my knee too!

Chives, Basil and Mint from the market

Ready to attack the plants!

I ended up with: chilli, basil, lemon thyme, chives, mint, and coriander. I also got some cutters for the more determined plants, and girly gloves to protect my nail varnish … all set to go gardening! By the time the shopping was done it was nearly five o’clock, so I spent just over an hour randomly pulling up herbs and hacking down the dead old palm leaves from the tree by the top of the stairs. There was a kind of creeping vine plant wrapped around everything, I think it was a blue dawn flower but I wasn’t too sure. It seemed really invasive, which was a shame as it had a few lovely flowers.

By the end of Saturday I was tired and getting bitten, so left the weeds alone until Sunday, but I did put all of the herbs into new larger pots. I still need to get some stakes for the tomato plants though. I ran out of potting soil as well, so some of them are a bit low!

All ready for new pots, just need planting

Basil and Mint in nice bright pots!

The coriander looked a bit sorry for itself after repotting, it's perked up since though!

Chilli plant in its new larger pot

Mau contemplates munching on the chives

The sun was shining on Sunday although it wasn’t boiling hot, perfect for doing a bit of gentle weeding in the garden. I started by clearing the steps, then moved into the main area. By about 2pm it was finally done and I could bring up the herbs – fed with a bit of fertiliser in the hopes they’ll grow big and strong! I brought Andrea’s plants up too – hope they all do well in their new home.

The steps looked nice when they were finally cleared.

The herbs in their new home!

Just need some sunshine!

The original area was so overgrown!

View across the steps before much was cleared

Hello… hello? Anybody there?

View from the train station on the way to work

Yes, I’ve been a bit quiet over the last couple of weeks. Sorry about that … since starting a real project, work’s been taking up a lot of my time and energy. It’s going great so far and I’m really enjoying the project, but as usual when that happens, I’ve been working slightly longer and by the time I get home at night I don’t have much inclination to get the laptop out, or much to write about!

On top of that I’ve been shattered all week last week – finally realised why this weekend, when I’ve come down with a sniffly cold :(

With Viv and Rachel at the opera bar, with the Harbour Bridge in the background

In case I’ve not lost you already with that fascinating start … over the last couple of weeks, I’ve also had a couple of Christmas parties – starting with a pre-party Party last Friday night, at the Opera bar with Viv, the night before our ThoughtWorks party on Saturday. Friday evening was beautiful, with great weather and amazing views across the harbour but also incredibly busy – so we headed off after a drink, to get some food and meet the boys (Fabio and Jules) at another bar.

On Saturday I was out diving in the afternoon (more about that later) so I was very fashionably late to the ThoughtWorks party, most people were already having a good time when I got there. Our MD was even wearing a white halo.

I missed most of the food but managed to salvage a bit before they took the plates away, and we even got brownies to take home! Rachel and I had a couple each, and I think we gave away one bag to the man at the ferry gate on the way home … Definitely a fun night, and nice to meet some of my colleagues’ wives, it’s a great way to get to know people better :)

On Thursday this week, I was thinking all the way home about going for a run. So much so, that by the time I got there I was really not feeling up for it – I was so tired and already a bit sniffy. I walked in the door to find Chelsea putting together some delish looking salads, the back doors thrown open to a fairly warm evening, and the table outside decorated for Christmas. A couple of her friends had already arrived for dinner, and she immediately told me not to even think about cooking, there was far too much food … have a glass of wine and pretend to be a guest! Well, I don’t need telling twice :) That was the end of all thoughts about a run. When the last guests left at midnight, I crashed in to bed tired, tipsy and happy.

By mid afternoon Friday I realised that the reason I still felt headachy and fuzzy wasn’t just Thursday’s over-indulgence, I was actually ill. Dammit – I was supposed to be out diving on the boat over the weekend, and I’d been looking forward to it all week! I spent Friday night curled up on the sofa with comfort food (fish and chips, yum!) but it wasn’t enough and on Saturday morning I had to admit I just couldn’t dive.

It’s been a weekend of mostly rest, crappy tv, and also a little gardening … more about that later too! I’m still pretty stuffed up but hoping to feel better for my birthday tomorrow. After that I’m off to see my lovely cousins Yolly and Clauds in Brisbane – and so excited about meeting the rest of their family, including Yolly’s little children. I better get well by then!

Working for a living … and spending my earnings.

After three and a half weeks “on the beach” (as we call it at ThoughtWorks, when we’re not working on a client project) it was time to start earning a proper living. I started work at my new client on Wednesday this week. No more rolling out of bed at nearly 8am and getting on the 9:20 ferry – now I have to be at my desk and working by 9am! That means getting up at six thirty-ish and leaving home in time to catch the 8am ferry. Lucky it’s only a five minute bike ride!

The last three days of the week flew past faster than any others since I arrived, with so much to do setting up a new project. The beginning is always the most exciting. There are just two of us (myself and another consultant called Hari), trying to build a working website within six weeks – it’s going to be challenging, but that’s what I like!

The building where I’m working is above a mall – it has about thirty floors, and the higher ones have gorgeous views across the water. Sadly, Hari and I are working on the second floor, but we have nice, big desks and plenty of wall space. We only have to go down a floor to find coffee or lunch, and we get to see the view when we have meetings on the upper floors.

Enough about work though.

This week I also decided it was time to get a bit more serious about exercise, and so I’ve joined Fight Gym. I used to really enjoy doing boxing exercises at the gym in Edinburgh – with pads, rather than hitting a real person – and I wanted to find a kick-boxing class. Fight Gym hold different kinds of boxing classes every night of the week as well as lunchtimes, and have two locations: one near work and one near home. I was a bit nervous going for my first couple of classes as the website emphasises how much hard work it is, but it’s SO much more fun than boring treadmills and cross trainers. It doesn’t hurt to let off a bit of steam after a tough day either! Not that I’ve had any of those out here … yet.

My run from home to Shelly Beach, along the Steyne

Other than boxercise, I’m also trying to run occasionally. I haven’t tried running on the sand yet, but I did make it about 5k on Friday night – from home to Shelly Beach, all the way along the Steyne, looking out across the beach. It’s a lovely route and nice and flat, but I do feel quite unfit sometimes!

Other than the gym, I went out for a couple of drinks near Darling Harbour after work one night, but the 6:30 start got the better of me and I had to leave early! (Not like you Jo, I can hear you say!)

Saturday was the Global Day of Code Retreat – developers all over the world were meeting up to practice writing code. It probably is as geeky as it sounds, but I had a fantastic day writing Ruby and Coffeescript … OK, OK, megabytes, blah, blah, I’ll leave it there, save it for my technical blog. Rachel and I had gone together, and by the end of the day we were both shattered.

I didn’t feel like going home though, so after dropping off the laptop and a quick change I headed over to meet Marie-Claire – another fellow Manly-dweller who has just moved into a new flat. I love that going to see my friends here is so easy and chilled, unlike London where it’d take up to an hour to get anywhere. That’s what I thought, anyway, until I tried to cycle up the STEEP hill where Marie-Claire lives – ooowwwww, my legs! (I didn’t even make it very far).

We ended up going out for dinner at Yok Thai – she skateboarded there, behind the bike! – and I had an amazing Thai green curry. Finally, home to collapse.

Sunday was shopping day! Rachel and I had planned to hit Warringah Mall and her housemate Viv joined us. Some days I can go shopping and not find anything much to buy (OK, not often) and others I want to buy everything, well, today was definitely one of those days where I wanted to buy everything.

I found some nice new clothes for work – some great trousers and a wrap around skirt, and accidentally ran into a little silk dress in Kookai that I fell in love with … Oh, I do love to shop.

A proper day out shopping!

Rachel was spending more of her “furniture budget” (the money we have from ThoughtWorks to furnish our new homes in Sydney when we arrive on a temporary contract) – mine is almost gone now! As well as clothes though I did find some gorgeous aromatherapy “melts” and an oil burner in a lovely little shop called Dusk. I also bought my first (and probably only!) Christmas decoration – a little SnowShopper called Pippa (I think). It’s a snowman (snowwoman?) with a candle inside and a little handbag, and she looks very cute lit up on my dressing table.

Viv was disappointed not to find anything to buy, at the last minute she rushed back but the shops were closing :( Rachel and I definitely had more than our fair share of purchases though! What a great way to spend a rainy Sunday … oh yes, people, Sydney is rainy and COLD! I went to bed last night wearing a fleecy top, this is not how early summer is supposed to be here. It looks like next weekend might be warmer, so fingers crossed, I want to get out on my surfboard.

That’s it for now, a bit of a long rambly one, sorry about that! I have been hearing from people that they are actually reading my waffle though, so wanted to keep writing, I like to feel we’re keeping in touch :)

Rachel bought a cute mirror

My "SnowShopper" candle, Pippa

Quackers got a friend!