Wednesday, 25 June 2014

The Raincoat from Finland

My Melbourne mini-break seems like it was a long while ago now.
I've been guzzling T2's Melbourne Breakfast tea to try and keep the Melbourne vibe going. It's great tea so it's kind of working…

Ah Melbourne. I do love you so.
Once again I marvelled at the ease in which one can find quirky fabulous cafes, restaurants and shops in the CBD and surrounds. There is something about the inner city, when it is not filled with so many towering high-rises that the streets are dark, whatever the time of day; and where street trees grace the footpaths (whatever the season); and where enough of the old-world architecture remains to create a sense of place… that I relish being in the midst of the thriving heart, where busyness, dirt and grime and even ugly commercialism (in all its forms: street signage, blaring noise, crowds and traffic mayhem) all become somehow more bearable…even beautiful.

I have been reading this darling book to Arch with a secret agenda on my part, to revel in the wonderful illustrations of Melbourne's Collins Street. It's called Peggy by Anna Walker. It's about a chicken and her brave adventure after she is blown by the wind in to the city.
Have you seen it?

Peggy by Anna Walker (animation)

Back in Melbourne, I caught a tram to Fitzroy and spent a glorious rainy day tramping up and down Brunswick and Gertrude Street(s) gazing at and sighing with pleasure at the array of fab design, quirky objects and all things gorgeous … As I hurriedly ducked into one fabulous clothes shop the lady behind the counter declared, "You must be from Hobart, New Zealand or Sydney - they're the only people out in this weather shopping today!"

Slightly unusually for Melbourne, the grey skies and drizzly rain was not accompanied by freezing cold temperatures. Perfect weather for my Finnish raincoat, which, as usual, initiated a number of conversations with people marvelling at its style and usefulness and wondering where on earth they could get one.
Finland, I replied.

Here's the story of how I came to be wearing a Finnish raincoat.

In 2013 our little school was blessed with the arrival of a family from Finland. They had arrived in Australia just before Christmas, six months into a year long adventure of travelling through different countries, taking a break from their normal life. It turned out that the four Finnish children had had enough of living out of suitcases, and wanted to settle somewhere for a while and go to school.

Australia effectively closes down in December/January but the Finnish family had found an unfurnished house to rent and had then rung around schools in the local area and beyond to see where their children might be welcome for a half-year stint. Upon ringing our school they were offered a place.

We came to know and love this family - it was fascinating to hear of how life is done on the other side of the world. The Finnish school system is often held up as a vastly superior system - and they certainly challenge many of our accepted views (Finnish children don't start school until they turn seven; their school hours and days attending are much less than in other western countries; there is no private schools - only one public system is available and it is 100% government funded; there is only limited homework prior to high school) and their results of high school graduation, progression to higher education and maths and science results are the best in the world.

Our Finnish family revelled in connecting with our school community. They attended every assembly and event and were wholly involved in a way that they knew that their busy lives in Finland would not allow.

One night they came to our home for dinner. We talked non-stop about decorating styles, parenting, living as Christians, schooling, and all manner of subjects. It felt like we had known them forever.
I had agonised over whether to cook salmon (Finnish national dish) or lamb (Aussie fare). I went with the lamb and was therefore greatly relieved to hear that the finnish family were enjoying having a break from salmon. The baked dinner was a great success.

All through their stay, the Finnish mother, wore a beautiful raincoat. It was a hugely versatile everyday coat, weatherproof and super stylish. I don't know if many people commented on it to her face, but I was secretly admiring it madly. Nothing like it exists here.

Around the time the Finnish family were starting to prepare to leave for home, they gave away bags of clothes that they had finished with. One bag we received had a pair of pyjamas in it from the eldest girl, that fitted Eleanore perfectly.

"It's so special having her pyjamas," I told Ellie. "It's a sign of true friendship. Infact," I continued, warming to my theme, "I might ask the Finnish mother for her pyjamas - as a sign of our warm friendship."
"No," said Ellie, my bright-eyed, sharp-as-a-tack nine-year-old. "Ask for her raincoat."

I honestly had NO INTENTION of asking for her raincoat. But I did share the story. I thought it was so funny that even though I'd never mentioned it to her, Ellie had also noticed the striking caot.

On their last day, a year ago now, following a few weeks of near constant rain (which they assured us was hardly rain at all, compared to European precipitation), we lined up to say sad goodbyes.

"Come with me to the car," said the Finnish mother. I followed her out, thinking maybe there was some last minute things she wanted me to dispose of for her. She hugged me hard and I hugged her back. Meeting a kindred spirit doesn't happen every day. It's an honour when it happens, and it was so clear that their brief time in our school community had brought blessings to many.

"Take my raincoat," she said while taking it off and handing it to me.
I gasped, horrified. It's one thing to admire someone else's coat (and note here, I say admire, not covet!). It's quite another thing to take it from someone's back.
"Oh no! I don't want it. Truly! I did not tell you what Ellie said because I wanted you to give it to me." I felt quite sick at the thought. "It is yours. Don't give it to me. Please!"
I tried to push it away.
"Look," she said, trying to be fierce. We were both near tears from our forced farewell. "I want you to have it. You are the only friend I know who would want to wear someone else's old dirty raincoat."

That was probably true. Years of dedicated op shopping do mean my sense of ownership is more flexible than most.

And so, with a bit more arguing, all fruitless, I took it. I took it as a sign of the brief but kindred love and friendship that had grown between us.
Every time I wear it I think of her and the mighty positive connection her family had with mine. We shared faith, a similar aesthetic, a love of home decorating and of making a welcoming home, and a love of life and family.
We also now share a fabulous raincoat.

Me wondering why I'm so rubbish at selfies..

When people stop me to admire the coat and to ask me where it is from. I smile and tell them that my dear friend from Finland took it off her own back and gave it to me, just before she returned home.
It's an act of friendship I'll never forget.
Here's the link to the brand name of the raincoat Ticket to Heaven. It seems to be mainly children's wear on the site, but provides an insight into the amazing range of European winter/spring/autumn coats  offering different levels of warmth and weather proofing. It may be something that Sydney-siders would not feel the need for, but you Melbournians, you should definitely take a look!

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Time Out

Last year I celebrated my "milestone" birthday with a swish soiree.
So I guess this year was always going to be a little bit of a let down. Right?
Oh no. So wrong.

There has been at least a fortnight of celebrating in big ways and small. Some things were planned ages in advance, others were more of a seizing the moment and using the upcoming birthday as a good reason to break out a little sparkle.

One of the benefits of being born on the last day of Autumn is that despite the ominous approach of colds, flu, rain, snot, musty jumpers, mud and whinging (me, not the kids) - winter starts off with a happy bang!

So here are some of the highlights:

Attending the Michael Buble concert with one of my best friends, Miriam. We hadn't seen each other since last year's sparkling soiree, but had planned this event well in advance. With six children and several hundred miles between us - when we do finally get together we move into 'marvellous miracle' mode, at the sheer wonder of pulling something off.

Buble was enjoyable. His music is classy, even if at times, he wasn't. His warm-up band Naturally 7 were astounding and blew us away! I so wanted to get to the their follow up concert, but marvellous miracle mode had lost most of its power by then. Drat.

Still, we talked ate dessert and bopped. And more importantly, the next day: shopped! Birkenhead Point is rather snazzy these days. We had fantastic coffee and pastries in an italian place. And just as we were discussing our favourite lingerie brands, a brand new Calvin Klein shop appeared in front of us like a beacon in the night sky. Oh my, there was 40% off the already reduced prices. We swooned heavily and thanked our marvellous miracle mojo for returning.

Cue: happy sighs all round.

Secondly, my kids and i have discovered the joys of frozen yogurt. The health benefits may be few (I'm hoping there's a few more than in say, ice-cream..) but the taste is scrumptious! Our favourite haunt happens to be on the way home from school, and once we found out about happy hour(3 free toppings for kids in school uniform) I promised everyone I'd take them there for a pre-birthday celebration.

My shout.


The girls look a little odd here. I have no idea why.

I'm thinking of getting tee-shirts (or bags) printed with this:

Then, on the eve of my actual birthday Jonathan had suggested that he and the kids would cook me a special breakfast. I had visions aplenty. They all involved mayhem, mess and moaning (that would be me..)

My response: Um. Yep. Sounds like it could be good. Maybe.
Jonathan: Oh, sorry, what? Did you have something else in mind?
Me: Oh well, um, no not especially. But ah, it may be just easier to take everyone out, that's all.
Jonathan: Oh. I hadn't thought of that. I am pretty tired. And it would be a lot of effort. Cooking. (He's got that right!) And messy. (Uh huh!)
Jonathan: So you'd prefer to go out for breakfast?
Me: Yes please. I'll ring the cafe and book.


Love this cafe: Chicken and Fishhead. They are half cafe (with great breakfast fare) and half kids shop (think felt accessories, gorgeous clothes, trendy toys). They'd posted this photo the week before and, besides swooning, I was busting to get there. Multi-tasking at its best!

French Toast was my birthday breakfast of choice.
See how lovely it is when left to the professionals?

A trip to the florist following breakfast

Flowers, cards and gifts - feeling the love!

Finally, as if the birthday fun had only just got started, I whisked away to Melbourne. Of course I say whisked, when really the preparation almost killed me. Jonathan had a conference to attend, and it seemed the perfect chance, coinciding with my birthday and all, to go too. I went last year, and it really is one of my favourite destinations for a mini-break. This time around Jonathan was going to be busy but I was okay with that. No, really.

I had gorgeous work friends (from years past) to catch up with, a plethora of stupendous cafes and restaurants to eat in and glorious quirky shops to peruse. The prospect of doing all this, without constant trips to public toilets; packing of books, snacks and changes of clothes (for multiple people); and generally time to start and finish a conversation/cake/coffee was exciting. Okay, maybe more than that, it was mind-blowingly AWESOME!

There was just the small matter of asking my parents to mind all four children and negotiate school and pre-school journeys, the lunchbox challenges, dressing, feeding, etc etc.

My parents wonderfully rose to the occasion. I wrote copious notes (which were apparently lost soon after our departure) and my sleepless nights and worrying in the lead up made no difference to the fact that the kids had a ball and Mum and Dad handled everything beautifully.

And the three days away?

h e a v e n l y

I'll try to write more on the Melbourne highlights later.
As it is am back to reality - and enjoying the way everyone seems to love each other that little bit more after an enforced absence. Well, that lasted for an hour or so.
Now we're just back to finding the sparkle in the every day…
I love it.
I really do.