After the Storm.

This week my little town of Newcastle has been battered and bruised. A severe weather event known as an East Coast Low traumatised us with its cyclonic winds and torrential rain. It was a tricky beast, rotating slowly, offering a ruse of respite in the short-lived eye of each of its many storms. The Bureau of Meteorology online radar became our dreadful focus as we waited for a sign it was over. The Low was vulture-like, repeatedly circling, ready to swoop. We braced for impact. Upstairs, our house shook. Water in the glass on my bedside table generated pretty concentric circles with each new gust of wind. The rain fell in great sheets, swathing the landscape in greyness. Rivers broke their banks, new lakes engulfed houses and cars, water surged and wilfully carved its way. Many lost homes, roofs, fences, trees, cars, belongings. People died.

And then finally, after two nights and a day, the Low left. There was still rain and wind gusts but nothing compared to what we’d experienced. It was time to assess the damage, to see what could be done, to prepare for the inevitable and continuing flooding. On Wednesday, Newcastle went into clean-up mode.

Disclaimer: I should probably throw in here that I’m a proud Novocastrian. We breed them tough in the Hunter Valley, especially in our town, and for all our apparent and sometimes-frustrating parochialism we are a generous and giving community. Bring on your worst because no matter what – the aftermath is when we shine.

We had a houseful of guests. We put out a call on Facebook that our little home was open for business. We still somehow had power and could offer food and hot water. We were better off than the majority of our family and friends. We fed cousins, showered kids, charged iPads and iPhones. Someone brought a thank-you bottle of red wine which was gratefully received by the grown-ups at dinner time. Others were doing the same; offers were all over social media.

At about lunchtime midweek I could stand it no more. The worst was over and I was itching to get out and see what was happening. I wanted to check out the big surf, grab some groceries, get back in touch with life outside the walls of my house. All within our home were fed and playing happily so I grabbed my camera and slipped out.

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Driving into Newcastle was an eye-opener. My partner had been into town that morning to grab his lap-top so I knew a little about what areas to avoid and which roads were closed. I’d seen all the images in the media. I knew that many trees would be down; we’d had our own disaster with an enormous gum tree uprooted and resting precariously on our fence and neighbours shed. I knew that traffic lights were out, schools were closed, trains and buses were out of action. But I wasn’t prepared for the extent of the damage.

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The trees. Everywhere, trees on their side, uprooted, branches, seeds, flowers, leaves, leaves and more leaves. Huge piles of greenery shaped by the force of the water and wind: a she-oak carpeted pavement alongside Newcastle High School; dark and heavy branches blanketing the walk at Customs House; piles of plane tree leaves along King Street. And the Banksias! May Gibbs’ big, bad Banksia men blown from their tree homes, all wet and muddy on the foreshore. Hundreds and hundreds of them spread mournfully on the ground, wet and unrealised.

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I headed to the beach. There were many others, mainly families looking to entertain their house-bound broods while schools remained closed. And yes the surf was BIG. Messy, brown, frothy and just a little scary. A handful of surfers braved the waters at Nobbys Beach whilst pedestrians headed to the flooded Newcastle Baths, oohing and aahing over the surf-made waterfalls within its walls. The kid’s canoe pool was no longer visible save for a few rusty posts and chains on the southern edge. The Esplanade was closed to cars and strangely eerie to walk along in their absence. And Newcastle Beach – what was left of it – was a study in abstract art with millions of tiny pumice stones swirling in and out of the waves with noisy movement. The powerful surf must have broken up shelves of the stuff; there was more of it than sand.

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The horizon didn’t disappoint, with heavy purple-grey clouds washing the skyline whilst the sun shone through cloud-breaks above. I saw some blue sky whilst I ran from the rain. There was 15 minutes of a gusty southerly preceding complete stillness on Newcastle Beach. It all felt other-worldly.

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I spotted a family on Newcastle Beach ferreting through the debris and filling bulging garbage bags with…what? I asked. They were cleaning up the beach. The same surf that created all those tiny pumice stones had also pulverized the rubbish out at sea, creating a colourful confetti of plastic refuse. The father said they were happy to be photographed. The little boy told me they always cleaned up the beach after a storm. This was their ‘thing’. I wish I’d taken their names so I could publicly congratulate them.

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During the first frightening night of the storms, my five-year old daughter snuggled against me seeking reassurance and warmth. I told her it was all OK, that we were lucky we were safe inside and could look after each other. She looked up at me and asked “what happens to the homeless people when there’s a storm?” A good question. We talked about it and hoped that they all found somewhere safe and dry to wait out the weather. On my afternoon excursion I saw a man in the foreshore park string up a makeshift clothes line to dry out his sleeping bag and tarpaulins. He’d survived the storm OK but all his gear was soaked. I read about a woman in Sydney who asked her Facebook friends to donate clothes and food for her to deliver to the homeless in her area as the storms hit down south. She and her sister collected the goods and distributed them among the city’s homeless community. Apparently they were easy to find, having gathered in large groups in any dry spaces they could find. This type of response restores my faith in humanity, just like the family on Newcastle Beach. Sometimes, people rock.

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Not everyone was happy to talk. A fellow along The Esplanade was shovelling sand and sweeping out his garage. I approached him and asked if I could take his photo. “Why would you want to photograph this? What possible good could come from it?”. He was agitated and unhappy. I left him to it – I didn’t think he was in the mindset for a conversation about shared experiences. Perhaps the prospect of another huge high tide fuelled by flood waters was too much for him to bear.

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And then there’s this. Someone who saw an opportunity. How better to put forward your climate change beliefs than use the enormous tree that’s crushed your car as the result of an out-of-control East Coast Low? Severe weather? Tick. Dramatic outcome? Tick. You can’t help but admire this person’s dedication to their cause.

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There are many cafes and restaurants who’ve opened their doors to people without power. They all deserve a shout out, like the Newie Burger Company at The Cambridge who offered free tea, coffee and movies for kids to watch and the Euro Bar in Hamilton offering free pasta dinners to those in need. Of course, there’s so many more that could be mentioned – sandwich shops catering for emergency workers, pubs keeping isolated towns in good spirits, people opening their doors to strangers for showers, offerings of empty freezers so those without power don’t lose all their food. In a wonderful and usual show of Hunter Valley-ian ethos even those in need are extending their limited resources to others.

When in dire straits it’s good to have a sense of humour. Tuesday night’s 135km/hour winds wreaked havoc in many ways, not the least of which was the ‘flying trampoline’ effect. Many woke on Wednesday to strangely empty backyards, owners not sure what was missing but knowing there was an absence. In homage to the flight of the trampoline(s), there is now a Facebook page entitled “Where’s my Trampoline gone? April 2015 carnage”. Yes, you can upload your crazy pics of trampolines gone rogue. The page has 5,237 followers and growing. The things you do when you’re in lockdown and looking for the lighter side of a natural disaster.

And so in the aftermath of the storm, I offer the following:

  • My heartfelt condolences to those who lost loved ones in the floods. Of all those who died, the loss of great grandmother Anne Jarmain on Cessnock Road near Maitland affected me deeply; I traverse that road going to and from work. The images on social media ‘as it happened’ were horrifying. The thought that the sheer volume of water made it turn uphill and gather velocity is frightening. The open letter from the woman’s grandson to a local radio station thanking everyone for their efforts was extraordinary. The prospect of any lives being lost in a flood is overwhelmingly sad.
  • Huge karma points to those acting selflessly, in whatever capacity, over the last few days and coming weeks. From emergency service workers to those handling call lines, from retailers and foodies offering freebies to those sharing their own resources, time and care. Special kudos to the family cleaning Newcastle Beach – a great community service, a good way to get the family together outdoors and a fabulous lesson for those children.
  • On a personal note, thank you to Kelly Lees, Urban Hum beekeeper. Our bees are much, much happier now that their home is right side up. They are getting on with the business of cleaning up just like everyone else.
  • ABC 1233 Radio deserves a special mention. This local broadcaster became our emergency lifeline, a provider of updates and information. They did and continue to do a great job (we still missed you though Carol!).
  • At the time of writing this morning I received notification that my workplace at Maitland has been evacuated. It follows another flood warning for the Hunter. The rivers are rising again. My sincerest hope is that all are safe, dry and out of the way of those waters.
  • A warm imaginary hug to the guy sweeping out his shed on The Esplanade. Hope he’s found something to smile about today.
  • To nature: well, that was (and is) a spectacular and not-so-gentle reminder of your power. In the aftermath of your fury I found beauty in the fresh debris of sweet-smelling leaves and the glory of the huge ocean swell. The Hunter’s water tables are well-recharged now. Next time be a bit more kind, if you can.

Now for something I didn’t write. I love this perspective and think it sums up our East Coast Low experience rather well. These words belong to Paul Burke – dog owner, fireman and photographer extraordinaire:

“Now the wind and rain has stopped for a while, I can’t help but think Mother Nature has walked away from this excited conversation we’ve been having all day, shaking her head, thinking “…they thought it was all about them!”

Yes, I suspect she has.

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Rich & Glorious

Today’s blogpost is brought to you by life: rich and glorious. How quickly we can forget it.

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So far 2014 has been quite the challenge. Health issues (you can read about it here), work restructures, applying for jobs, the start of preschool – busy, stressful, chaotic.  In thinking about what to write in this blogpost I found myself looking at pictures instead. I take photos, lots of them, to remind me of beautiful moments and to catalogue the happy times. I can’t help it; I like to record things. And my most recent photos made me realise that for all the hurdles of the last 2 months, there’s been joyous times too. Little events that add up to some pretty funny and wonderful moments, captured in some of my favourite shots.

1. The Advent of Maxie

I’ll begin this story with a description of a wonderful, fluffy, old boy in our household, our kelpie-border collie cross Jasper. Jasper turns 17 (yes, that’s right – 17) in a couple of months. He’s a bit slow on his feet, a bit blind, a bit deaf, a bit wobbly. He sleeps for around 20 – 22 hours a day. He’s slowed down a great deal since we lost or other pup last year (you can read about Ripley the Unholy Terror here). He has doggy-dementia so every now and then relives his puppy years, bounding around the yard in springbok-like jumps that make our daughter Belle giggle with delight. We all love Jasper immensely – he’s the sook, the dog that always wants a cuddle, the Mummy’s Boy. He lives a quiet life of gentle snoozing on a soft cushion.

So imagine my surprise finding a scrappy cockatiel waddling about our deck, squawking belligerently in the face of poor old Jasper. To Jasper’s credit, despite being more than a little bewildered, he managed to haul himself up to sniff and stagger behind the indignant creature. I “rescued” the bird and put out some water and bread, hoping it would recuperate and fly home. Not to be. The bird seemed intent on harassing Jasper and/or flying straight onto my shoulder whenever I ventured outside. It was obviously someone’s pet, flown the coup. A little while later I saw a streak of yellow past the kitchen window and felt happy the bird was likely returning home. However, it was not long before I was again “rescuing” the vocal cockatiel from our front yard, the bird hugging the trunk of our gum tree with open wings, blinking against the southerly blowing up the street, bleeding and distressed (I don’t think the resident native birds took kindly to it at all).

Belle and Maxie week 2c

This bird, now well-ensconced in a home with food and water, proceeded to ‘woo’ my daughter, my partner and my step-son. I borrowed an old bird cage from my Grandmother (who was rubbing her hands with glee at disposing of the large, rusted-metal object, having lost her Galah years ago). We bought bird seed, had a notice put up at the local vet surgery, did a letter-box drop and rang numbers in the Lost and Found. We even had someone come ’round to our house – still the bird was unclaimed. My daughter gave it a name. We bought bird seed, bird treats and a new cage.

And so Maxie became the newest member of our little household.

Well played Maxie, well played.

2. The Deviation at Nobbys

I have the luxury of taking Sunday evening walks on Nobbys Breakwall. I have 2 hours off from domestic life and I walk. I take my phone, I capture shots, I think, I listen to music, I tread it out  – it’s my “me-time” (you can read about it here).

I hadn’t been for a while; surgery in January meant I was restricted for a few weeks. When the time finally came for me to resume my walks, I decided to do something different. I grabbed my partner and my daughter and took them with me. With the clouds threatening rain and windy conditions, we walked the breakwall. We threw stones in the water, we raced and chased each other, we played. We waited as the grey clouds grew close and the crowd thinned, then hightailed it back to the car. It was possibly one of the nicest Sunday walks I’ve had in a long time.

Nobbys family walk

Whilst I highly value my me-time, on this particular Sunday I just wanted my family with me. I deviated from the norm and it was worth it.

Sometimes it pays to break tradition.

3. Nobody puts baby in the corner (dance, baby, dance).

February birthday celebrations for friends found me at a  girly ‘High Tea and Tarot’ afternoon at Mayfield. Libby and Erica, friends and work colleagues, decided to combine their February birthday celebrations into one event. And so I arrived at Teresa and Erica’s home with cake and champagne in hand, ready for polite conversation and bubbles. The table was set, the eskies were packed and the fortune-teller/tarot car reader was ready and waiting.

I had a fabulous time. I knew very few of the 50 or more women but still I found myself chatting, bonding, laughing and having a bloody great afternoon. The tarot reading was quiet respite from the party happenings, although sharing the session with 4 other women ensured that any seriousness was kept appropriately at bay.

The party continued into the night: a drag show, dancing, more drinks, more dancing. As always, I had my camera with me so I captured the fun, frivolity and joy of an arvo’ high tea gone rogue.

My favourite shot? This one, which I think imparts the essence of the afternoon. It screams happiness, fun and joy as the birthday girls (in red and blue) shimmy and laugh their way around the lounge-room. Life is too short not to eat, drink and be merry.

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I didn’t think much had happened in my life in the month of February, nothing worth writing about anyway. Yet these images tell a different story. Seems, happily, I could not have been more wrong.

A New(ie) perspective.

In my house there are unswept floors, unvacuumed carpets and untidy piles of unread magazines. I go to work early and promise myself I’ll leave at 4, then 5, then 6 o’clock. I plan to shop for groceries during lunch, after work, after I have collected my daughter. Late home, I face the spectre of cooking and serving an overdue evening meal to unbathed children while yesterday’s towels bunch wetly in the bathroom. There are dog-nose prints on glass sliding doors, finger-prints on the stairwell and a headful of unwritten blogposts. There are unmade phone calls, unmade beds, unrealised promises. I can’t stop thinking about things I should be doing and things I haven’t done. I want more time, more time, more time.

Lately it has been quite a struggle. And so I haven’t written for a while.

Today, with some precious writing time, I don’t want to dwell on the issues of madness and mess – suffice to say they exist and are unresolved. Instead I want to talk about something that’s saving my sanity and whose images are crowding my camera memory cards. It’s close and unexpected. It’s Newcastle, Newie, my home.

Nobbys 14   IMAG1194   Nobbys Beach, Newcastle.

Most weekends I manage an hour or so to go walking. Originally unplanned and now pleasant habit, I head to the breakwall in town near Nobbys Beach, always an hour or so before dusk. It’s a beautiful time of day, my favourite time of day. It’s when sidewalks are being swept clean of daylight-muck and preparing for night. It’s when shadows lengthen, stark skies become shaded-colour and people pack up and head home. There’s a sense of completion and a touch of anticipation at dusk. It’s day’s end, the sunset winking in night’s welcome.

 Nobbys 5   Nobbys 1

And the reason I’m walking here and not somewhere else is the landscape. I could walk anywhere; my gorgeous local park, my street, the bike track, anywhere. But I find myself driving into town, parking the car and treading the coastal breakwall with it’s beachy-backdrop, to its end and back again.

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While I walk I listen to music. It soothes me more than the crash of waves, the cry of seagulls or the chatter of fellow-walkers. You might question why I don’t let the rush of water-on-sand be my soundtrack. I think it’s because I see these walks as a bit of an escape, a chance to clear my head of The Crazy, and so I like to set the tone for this time myself. It’s one of the few times I get to listen to my choice of music, that I want to hear, that I like.

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Unexpectedly, these walks have changed my life. The solitary nature of them is soothing, and the exercise warranted, but it’s the stage show that’s taken my breath away. Incredibly, I’d forgotten about the power of it and how much better I am for it.

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The air is fresh, salty, bracing. The ocean can be angry grey-green, mildly turquoise or glassy, crystalline blue, rolling gently or spraying thunder against man-made rocks. Recently there have been dolphin pods, breaching whales, quick and cheeky seals. There are try-hard tugs ushering in overloaded ships, their cumbersome bulk swaying ponderously into the harbour. To the side, over-excited dogs populate Horseshoe Beach, fetching sticks amongst the off-shore foam. People, everywhere, all sorts – families, kids, tourists, surfers, cyclists, walkers, lovers, strangers, even robed monks. There is sand, salt, marshy smells and flowering plants. There are bleached timber keepsakes, pock-marked rocks and swooping kites.
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And then there’s the show. The horizon, the sunset, the end-of-day/beginning-of-night spectacle that demands its shaded-eye salute. The business end of the harbour looks delicately pretty in silhouette. The pink-tinged horizon urges you forward, faster, to beat the night-fall. Overcast days provide a gentler final act, a slower drop of the shadowed grey-on-grey curtain. Other times the harbour is angry and the only nod to the passing of time is the steely-blue boiling of the clouds as they roll into Newie.
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Every week this event reminds me that nature is fierce and wonderful. I feel lucky to witness it, to be in Newcastle where nature is so near that I can always, always find it closely, quickly. That I can feel better and happy because of it. That it can transform me from darkly overwhelmed to clear-headed and composed; there’s something about facing a sunset that makes you feel special, amazing and even beautiful.

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The sun sets and I walk a little taller, smiling. I drive home, sad for the moment just ended but grateful – grateful for nature’s show, for reminding me what truly matters, grateful I know how easy it is to feel better, and how unimportant an unkempt house really is.

I go home, kick aside the widely-strewn toys and hug my daughter.

Lazy.

Well, yes, it’s happened. The inevitable. What I just KNEW would happen.

I got lazy.

That’s right folks. Only 2 blog posts in and I’m already shirking Sunday responsibilities in favour of all things lazybonesy (technical term). Yesterday on my Sunday afternoon, I found myself reading the paper, fluffing about the kitchen, intermittently reading tweets and generally….not doing a lot. Still, not a bad way to pass the afternoon.

To make up for such slovenly behaviour I’m going to share a couple of shots featured on a blog I discovered called ‘you are my wild’. I love that simple statement for so many reasons. You are my wild……you’re what makes me nuts, drives me crazy, makes me seeth with rage or passion, makes me laugh hysterically, makes me sob with joy and smile with sadness, makes me explore, reminds me to be unihibited, to let go, to not care, to just enjoy. You are my wild.

No surprises that the stars of the blog are children. Being wild. Captured moments. Beautiful. http://youaremywild.wordpress.com/

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yamw4isabel

Older.

It’s not Sunday, but I feel compelled to blog. Here ’tis folk – (sits a little straighter) – I’m an “older” Mum.

What does that mean? That means I’m around 10 years older than all the other Mums sitting patiently around the edges of the scout hall watching their tiny-tutu’d daughters prance about after demonstrating ‘first position’. It means I’ve been asked if I’m my daughter’s grandmother (I mean, really? Get a clue people!). It means that whilst other Mums are talking about planning for and/or managing their second, third or even fourth babies, I’m planning for and/or managing my second, third or fourth hot flush for the day, usually by choosing seats near windows or air-conditioners.

And my daughter? She doesn’t know any differently. I’m just Mum. And that, my friends, is what often saves this little black duck from feeling very low. In the words of Maurice Chevalier (albeit a little creepy in this day and age) – thank heaven for little girls.

And no – I wasn’t born when that song was written. Just saying.

Let’s begin.

I’ve never tried tackling a blog before. I’m wondering if my mental meanderings should really be shared or not. OK – here’s the jump.

I was an avid diary-writer in my angst-ridden teenage years, but the business of life has taken over. I even tried maintaining a diary for my daughter, starting after she was born. There’s great entries in the early months; while she slept I filled the hours with e-shopping, house-tidying and diarising. They lessen a little in Year 1 thru’ 2, when life became more hectic (Cue movie title: ‘She walks’). I still add to her diary every now and again, but mostly the new entries are written in my head and never make it to the page. Ho hum, bad Mum.

Today however, I’ve been inspired. Perhaps it was a recent social media course (wordpress? really? how cool is this?). Maybe even the little glimpses of creativity, something exciting niggling at the corners of my intellect, not quite realised….quickly followed by wishing I was an artist, rather than someone who simply has a deep appreciation for same. Maybe even the emerging photographer in me (seem to be doing OK, well, I like my shots). Whatever. I’ve had what I would term ‘a moment’.

Sunday is a day where, come about 4pm, that ‘Sunday feeling’ kicks in. Relaxed, laid back, deeply appreciative of having had two days off work – followed by the lacklustre realisation that it’s also “the end” of said days off. Acknowledgement that Monday brings work commitments, routine and…..well…life in all its glorious extremes, chaos and predictability.

So I got to thinking – surely I’m not the only one who feels that bittersweet Sunday thing? Surely it happens all over the world?

The other notion that’s been capping my thought-full head is about connectedness. Probably another hangover of the social media course, but still – it’s exciting to consider how easily we can connect across our little planet. Facebook offers me stories and updates from family and friends. We share photos, stories of nights out, great new cafes to visit. Twitter is bigger. It’s knowing the instant thoughts of people everywhere, whoever you choose to listen to. I had to pursue both these avenues for work, and so started my own experience first. I was already converted to facebook, but not to twitter. I opened an account and was immediately stumped. Who do I ‘follow’? Friends? Already do. I’m happy with facebook. Politicians? not so interested. Aah, I’ll go the celebrity route. I started with a show I was watching at the time (for those interested – New Girl) and subscribed to some of its actors and the show’s twitter account itself. I found it quite bizarre to hear the immediate thoughts of people on another continent! Weird, even. A lot of it was show-promo, but every now and again I’d get a glimpse of what another human being was doing in their everyday life (dogs, gardening, art, jokes, music). Eventually I figured out the whole process and now I’m hooked.

This seems like a good time to reveal something else about me. I don’t consider myself a great socialiser. I like books more often than people, but that’s probably more to do with my own perceived inadequacies than other human beings. However, I am extremely interested IN other people. What they do, how they think, how they act. I find it very inspiring. But here’s my dilemma. I’m in Newcastle, NSW, Australia. I work, as does my partner, the lovely Martin. We have a big mortgage – we ain’t goin’ nowhere, not anytime soon. We have a 3 year old fairy princess, Belle, and Martin has a 10 year old son, Ewan. Life is currently driven by our glorious family, who I adore and love to bits. But I also feel this need to be inspired by people beyond what I know, by other walks of life, other day-to-day routines, to document, to share and “create content”. That, I believe, is at the heart of my brain-niggle.

So, back to the Sunday musings. How to connect? The platform is there, but what’s the thing we all have in common? I wondered if there was someone just like me thinking the same thing somewhere else in the world, on their Sunday afternoon. And then it hit me – all those other people, around the world, experiencing something, at 4pm on their Sundays. A day, a time, shared. What is everyone….doing? And what if I could use social media in a way to create content and connectedness by getting everyone, anyone, anywhere, to share what they’re doing at 4pm on their Sunday?

I’m going to let this idea mull around for the next week. Stew, ferment and hopefully – develop. This is something I want to do.

Me? I was in my kitchen listening to music, chopping tomatoes, spanish onion and home-grown basil for dinner. And I was creating content.