July 2017

July was an inevitable tour through my yearly theme of “why don’t I have any social life or do anything ever?” also known as “every single winter of my adult life”. Relatively speaking that is, mostly meaning I didn’t see a lot of unrelated adults.

It began, to be fair, with Pia’s hen’s night, which was the most hen’s night I’ve ever been to. That is, not very, but there were penis-shaped straws, so an effort was made. There was karaoke, at which I pulled my usual karaoke trick (I can more or less perform Eminem’s Lose Yourself, which invariably gets put on at any white person karaoke without anyone first checking that anyone there can rap). There was a chocolate cafe which really doubled down on chocolate cafe to a degree that really puts anything else in the category to shame. And so Pia was sent off.

We took the kids to Luna Park halfway through the month. It turned out they’ve been watching Youtube with the ads on: V sidled into our bedroom with “an idea I had, about what we could do today?” and later A was burbling with joy about going to “LunaParkWinterfest” all-one-word. Luna Park had its usual knack for us of having Sydney throw a warm and painfully glarey day at us regardless of time of year. Youtube ads or the school holidays got half of the city there, packed onto ferries loading and unloading at the very underprovisioned Jeffrey Street wharf. A went on the ferris wheel, crying, and the carousel, not crying, and she was done. Andrew and V left an hour after us and had made it through the queue of just one additional ride.

At the end of the month we went to Tamworth for a weekend to visit my aunt — Rob‘s widow — and my cousin, their youngest child. They live next door to where my grandparents lived until my grandmother died in 2000, which means same corner shop, same park hidden behind the water tower. If it hadn’t been winter, same pool that we swam in as guests of the neighbours at the time that Rob and Cas eventually bought the house from.

It was winter though, and a run of cold nights, so lots of adorable moments of the kids cutely huddling under blankets and drinking hot chocolates. Lots of daytime adventures too; I had forgotten the wildlife park at Tamworth, and several of the playgrounds have had an upgrade to fancy 2010s adventure playground gear so it was a bit of a dream weekend for the kids. The tens of thousands of smelly flying foxes living along the Peel River are new since I was last there too and presumably unwelcome to everyone but curious visitors. Someone set off a siren to scare them while we were there and V was staunchly defensive of the “brave bats” refusing to leave their trees. Mid-winter sunlight and wide streets and New England hills are all somewhere in my personal geography.

V’s soccer season went right through the month, so, each Saturday, down through Callan Park to the oval, and up hill again to the ridge after the game. A’s walking pace and distance slowly improved over the season, and most Saturdays other than the one with the 8am game it was a nice way to get out of the house and into the sun and trees each weekend. Also destined to be somewhere in my personal geography.

Autumn photography 2017

I switched camera systems in May this year to a mirrorless system, specifically a Fuji XT-20 body with various lenses. Its first big expedition was to New York but soon enough it was time for the much closer to home annual trek around the autumn foliage. The camera body failed around mid-day (had to go in for repairs as it was unable to detect lenses connected to it), very poor timing since Andrew’s niece was born that day, but we had some adventures first.

I remain fascinated by the ludicrous, alien, ornamental pear that is planted in such profusion around here:

Ruin
Leaves against tin roof
Deep red

But eucalypts can hold their own:

Gum nuts
Gum flowers
This year’s full autumn album.

May & June 2017

May began with comforting rituals, as it usually does since our wedding anniversary and Mother’s Day are within a week of each other.

Our 10th wedding anniversary was the first time A had ever spent a night away from both of us: I’ve travelled, Andrew’s travelled, but there’d always been one parent or other under the roof. We hustled her with V into my parents’ car at night in Lithgow, all four adults fearing howls and despair, but she smiled like a blissful angel and apparently had a happy weekend, broken only occasionally by solemnly sharing that she was thinking of “my Mummy, Mair-wee”.

Andrew and I spa-ed, walked in the sun, and had a lovely dinner that I’d accidentally booked in Blaxland rather than Blackheath, more than halfway back from the holiday spot to our home. But we’ve always been good at long drives together, and Restaurant Como’s rose and raspberry Eton mess and the audiobook of Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway made for a good evening.

The next weekend, another milestone on the slow climb out of young child parenting: we did our usual Mother’s Day walk around Clarkes Point Reserve, where we were married, and the nearby shipyards, and this year A more or less walked it herself. Not before time, I really stagger a far bit carrying her now, especially if she’s recently eaten. Lucky her though; by the time V was her age, I was pregnant again, no carrying at all for him much after his third birthday.

At the end of May, Rob died, just a few days after his birthday and a visit from my father. I flew up to Tamworth on the 27th a few days before his funeral to see parts of my family, and did a lot of food shopping for his wake with my cousin (his daughter), but didn’t stay for the funeral, instead flying to New York on the 28th.

I’ve visited New York twice before, in 2004 and 2012, but both times it was the peak of summer, and the second time I was badly jet lagged, so even though this was a work trip, I felt it was the first time I really had a chance to enjoy the city. I spent almost the entire trip above ground, using the subway only to get to JFK for the trip home, and did a lot of biking.

I’d hoped to circumnavigate Manhattan by bike on the middle weekend I was there, but I wanted to do it on Citibike (so that I could give up and get the subway back to my hotel if the biking was too much) and Citibike doesn’t go north of Central Park. So instead I circumnavigated the Citibike area, a ride of about 35km all up. I had no idea how extensive the parks were in Manhattan; not just Central Park but the East River Park and the Riverside Park also.

My work trip to New York was related to becoming a manager of my team at work, which I had been discussing with my own manager since March, and which took effect in June. My Sydney team partners with another team in New York; we share a pager rotation, and so visiting New York is part of the deal in even being on this team, but especially in managing it. So part of my goal in being there was to start to put down a few roots; to find the odd place I wanted to return to. I didn’t expect I would root myself in a bikeshare scheme though.

Once back in Sydney I had the first of the lifelong rounds of cancer recurrence screening I will need, initially to be six monthly. This first one in June was clear but didn’t involve a radioiodine scan, which will happen at the one year mark since concluding treatment, ie, November. I found out I’ve been somewhat hypothyroid for months and months, the exact opposite of how I’d ideally be dosed in the years immediately following having thyroid cancer. There will always be something.

Otherwise June was a quiet month, which was good for transitioning to my management role, which although effected largely through paperwork rather than interviews, was in practice the third new job I’d had in eighteen months. I’m looking forward, some year or other, to a year where we live and work and study in more or less the same way at the end of the year as we did at the beginning.

10 years on

Andrew and I were married ten years ago on May 6 2007.

Mary Gardiner, Andrew Bennetts (by Jo Gardiner)

In ten years: two children, one PhD, two house moves, one house purchase, three surgeries, one cancer diagnosis, one life threatening illness, one business, four new jobs, many passport stamps.

We took none of those things with us for our anniversary weekend in the mountains:

Anniversary
More pictures from our anniversary trip.

April 2017

April was a bit of a mess, from my point of view. V’s vacation care bookings always need to be done many weeks in advance, using the worst app on the entire Internet; among other things, Excursion 1 and Excursion 2 are the same booking each day but mean different things each day, so you need to sit there with a cheat sheet to book it. It also books out within hours. It wasn’t something I had time for during oncall training at work, so we ended up with a very patchy set of vacation care bookings for the Easter holidays and both Andrew and I had to pick out a bunch of days to take off work to supplement V’s vacation care.

Since I’ve switched jobs a couple of times in the last few years, I’ve had weeks off at a time (in fact, months between the Ada Initiative and Stripe). Andrew on the other hand hadn’t taken a holiday in years that didn’t involve a load of packing and driving the kids somewhere, so he took a few weeks off and spent several days alone with a cryptic crossword.

It was a month of birthdays. For Sarah’s birthday we zipped up to the mountains on the 8th for lunch with Mum’s entire family after one of V’s soccer games and drove back down the same night.

My birthday fell on Good Friday, which happens not infrequently (also in 1995 and 2006, in contrast my birthday was last on Easter Sunday in 1974 and won’t be again until 2047, happy 66th birthday to me). It’s always a little strange to celebrate on Good Friday; I’m just Catholic enough to feel the dissonance. I also feel the dissonance of the children needing me to celebrate my birthday, which usually involves me having to make my own cake. We spent our Easter weekend at home, thank goodness. It took me a long time to realise as an adult that visiting family isn’t a mandatory use of long weekends.

Sam’s 30th birthday was that month too, and he had a small family party on ANZAC Day, a nice afternoon but also with a strange edge as a gathering of people who were mostly seeing each other in Tamworth caring for Rob, rather than in Sydney.

Otherwise, on the last Friday of Andrew’s time off, we realised our long-held dream of going to Wet n Wild together without kids. By the time we did it I was dreading it; we went in late March with the kids and I took V a second time on one of my days off with him and I went just wanting to check the box with Andrew. But we had a lot of fun, even though he tipped me forward off the raft at the end of T5, and I refused to go on the Bombora, the last of the high adrenaline rides to go. Always leave something to aspire to.

Remembering Robin Gardiner

My uncle, Robin Gardiner, died two weeks ago. He was my father’s younger brother, he leaves his wife, Cassie, and my three cousins, Jock, George, and Avril.

There’s a little about his professional life on the Australian Property Institute’s website and as a member of the large and close Gardiner family, he is very much missed.

I was humbled to be able to spend a little time with Rob late last year as he pursued treatment for the brain cancer he ended up dying from. Each step was difficult and painful, and the news was always always bad. He was unexpectedly leaving a good life, and teenage children. The Rob I saw during that time was always patient and accepting, always in the moment, and always generous and kind, particularly as I concluded my own (very different) cancer treatment not long after his diagnosis.

There are many right ways to live and die, but I want to honour the way Rob lived the last year of his life in particular, with strength and love, patience and courage. Goodbye Rob.

Donations in Rob’s memory can be made to AngelFlight.

Feburary & March 2017

How fortunate I’ve been, to not have had a weekend job in basically my whole life. I worked night fill in my teens, which is a weeknights thing, I tutored university to get through undergrad, and while the jobs I had between undergrad and ending the Ada Initiative were all varying degrees of soft money, they were all weekday jobs, aside from the travel. And even work travel involves weekends where I can lie in a hotel room eating sashimi and trying not to be too sick from jetlag. (Protein, fat, and sheer misery: the bitter diet of the jetsetting class.)

February was the last month without working weekends for a while to come. But they were still parenting weekends, with V having both athletics and swimming on Saturdays. We made a one night trip to see my parents before the end of summer, which was worth it, but the eight hours of driving in two days hurt. Last days in the pool, lots of threatening clouds and not a lot of rain.

March was the brief interregnum between hauling everyone down to King George Oval for athletics on Saturday morning and hauling everyone down to Callan Park Oval for soccer on Saturday morning. Just swimming lessons on Saturdays, luxury. We had Sam and Hannah over for dinner in one of our rare and always nice uses of our outdoor furniture, and we went around to Mark and Tim’s so that V could turn up his nose at all their child-friendly food, but I also kicked off my weekend work for the first time. Rather gently so; I did a secondary oncall, for which I need to be half an hour away from starting work at all times, not primary oncall (five minutes from beginning work). It wasn’t until April that a real trial by oncall fire kicked in at work. Perhaps gentle March is what I should aim to return to sometime soon.

January 2017

We finished January this year with a week away at Lake Macquarie. I realised last year that we hadn’t had a holiday as a family that didn’t involve winter sports for a couple of years. So we went away to a cabin in a little resort and mostly had a relaxed time.

Because of timezones, V’s birthday falls across US presidential inaugurations every fourth year (so, twice now). He celebrated his seventh birthday dubiously by reading the TRUMP skywriting that someone placed over Sydney above the protests as we drove out of Sydney. And so kicked off bad news year.

The holiday was a gentle thing, which we wanted. There was a heated pool next door. V learned to dive badly, and A took many flying leaps into my arms, way out of her depth. We managed to get to the actual beach every day. I celebrated the first day with a bluebottle sting at Blacksmiths Beach. We had not been to the area before, so we vaguely thought that Caves Beach was named for someone Caves, perhaps. No, it’s named for actual caves. Fortunately we learned this during our holiday and got there at low tide to see the caves several times. We ended the trip with a swim at Catherine Hill Bay, admiring the rundown wharf and the weatherboard shacks, and drove up over the headland into the middle of an eerie empty luxury estate; the roads laid down to build out beach views, but no ground broken on housing yet. There will be a north-south divide in Catherine Hill Bay soon, clearly.

I went back to work around the time of the attempted US refugee and immigration ban, and put together a fundraising campaign for several tens of thousands of dollars for Australia refugee organisations. Among other things, it was a strange flashback to my previous career. My main memory of that week is literally dark because the main gathering at work was around an internal staircase in a dimly lit area. I haven’t had the needed energy and will to stick at it constantly since, but I’m glad I started the year with some focus on Australian immigration politics and activism.