Thursday, 4 May 2017

Excuse the over-communication, dear diary

On Sunday I celebrated, sorry... wrong word, um saluted. No. Recorded. Yes, recorded.

On Sunday I recorded six months since my husband left me. Six months since the dream of moving to the country with my family was taken away from me through one shitty gut-wrenching text message.

I remember the day six months ago, but it feels sometimes like it's been six years. I remember vomiting in my toilet and leaning on the bowl shaking, terrified about what was happening. I was so scared of being on my own. Surrounded by our house packed up in boxes ready for the 'big move', terrified that I had just resigned from my job to take on a big dream role that my husband had encouraged me to take. Almost hysterical that we had leased our Yarraville house and I didn't know where my son and I were going to live. Sick with fear that we were days away from settling on a country house in Trentham that I now no longer wanted anything to do with, let alone the two mortgages that threatened me. Don't even mention the cancellation of a daycare spot in Yarraville.

Six whole months. Holy hell. So much can  happen in six months.

Damn, you know what, it was a kind of celebration. A celebration of sorts that has seen me reflect upon the last half of the year. A celebration that for the first time in so freakin' long that I've kind of hit the jackpot and said to myself 'How good is being me?'

Lately,  it's been super good.

My son and I smashed out a good old roadtrip up to Newcastle. I drove from Melbourne to Newy with a four year old and A Tribe Called Quest greatest hits album. No ipad. I winged it every day, not really knowing where we would end up that night, but knowing I had mates and family along the way who would let us crash on their couch and pack us a picnic for the next day. And it wasn't that bad. Alfie and I became best buddies, covering topics such as careers (he wants to be a windmill fixer), to questions about why Leroy Brown is the baddest man in the whole damn town, and why 'ships' eat bananas b-a-n-a-n-a-s. And of course we talked about poo and wee and doodles and pop-offs.

We rediscovered the Giant Ram at Goulburn, the Submarine at Holbrook, the Giant Rolling pin in Wodonga, Nobby's Lighthouse, the Dinosaur Museum in Canberra and my favourite, the Australian Reptile Park in Gosford.

I hope he remembers this trip forever. I know I will.

The tricky thing about a super long road trip is how much time you have for thinking. During the 10+ hours of driving to Newcastle I went over my separation, spat out some hate, had some whopping big cries,  and had a few solo laughs.

I thought about a handsome man I was recently seeing, who I ran away from because relationships now terrify me. I thought about Alfie and what sort of guy I was going to bring him up to be. I thought about me and who I now was and who I was going to become.

I came back from this road trip so much stronger then the person I left.

On the 10+ hours back to Melbourne, I thought about adventures and cooking and friends and dating and music and my home and how I'm going to be more focused at work and funny shit that my mates get up to.

When I walked back into my house, I smiled. I painted the interior the next day and went on a date that night. My best girlfriend came over the next day to help me finish the painting and we giggled over beers about this exciting new chapter.

I'm so fucking free and it feels so fucking wonderful. Seriously, how good is it to be yourself.

So good.

Happy six months. I did it. I can't wait to see what the next six months will bring.

As a side note, I'm also bloody proud that I can talk to my ex-husband. What happened, happened. It's done, it can't be reversed. It's so important to me that Alfie knows that while his parents don't live together we both love him oh-so-very much. My ex and I see each other every week and each week it gets easier. I never saw this happening to me and me being in this situation, but I am and this is my life. This is also the life my ex husband chose and it's up to us to be the best folks we can for that gorgeous son of ours. See, this is adulting at its toughest, but also best.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Make a Night (Heron) of it

If there was a year to do it, it was this one.

I was turning 35 and I had to have a birthday party. Not ‘birthday drinks’, but a Birthday Party.

I discovered the quaint little bar, The Night Heron, with a mate a few months ago. A local had told me that it was brand new and he had stumbled upon it by accident and had been sipping amber liquid there a few nights a week since. It had a beer garden. My buddy and I had to try it. We did and they played Holst’s The Planets for me on request.

I loved this bar instantly.
The inner west seems to have had a spike in tiny bars of late. I’m a sucker for the classics: The Yarra Lounge, The Reverence, Seddon Wine Store; but I’m always up for trying somewhere new. Especially if it has the pre-requisites that I so love: beer garden, tinnies and a most excellent playlist that includes everything from Toto to Technotronic to Sinatra and a bit of Wilson Phillips for those special moments.

I returned to The Night Heron only a few weeks ago. I had it in my sparkly mind that this was the place to hold such an eventful birthday party. Upon returning I discovered a former work colleague of mine behind the bar. An artist by day and bar owner by night, I knew my party was going to be in good hands with Ross Taylor at the helm.

Before I even approached him with all my party-esque questions, Ross explained that there were some radical food options nearby that could deliver tucker to my hungry little guests as they guzzled frothies in the beer garden.

Burger Business sits right next door and offers a quality beef-n-bun option with sensational chippage in old school packaging. A sure stomach liner if you are planning a big night.

A couple of doors down is Addis Abeba, a very well recommended Ethiopian eatery who will also deliver to the bar, making these last of the summer nights an absolute pleasure.

When the Birthday Party arrived, I was equipped with knowledge. I had booked the beer garden and had made a dress fit for the occasion out of a Ken Done curtain. I was ready and so was this fine little bar.

The beats were pumping and my pals came rolling in – some of them even crossed town to the ‘westside’ to experience this little place I’d been raving about. They ate burgers, they drank Footscray lager, they stayed all the way to the 1am curfew and best of all, they cheered when a superb choc-mint 90s themed birthday cake came out topped with sparklers and candles and my favourite mixed cassette tape, just for me.

It was an excellent Birthday Party. One that I won’t forget. What made it sublime was the gorgeous Night Heron and it’s oh-so-Footscray appeal that provided me and my bestest of mates with the bestest of times.

My highlights? The Night Heron lager is rad as is the Castlemaine Celtic Red Ale on tap. The staff are fun and friendly, there’s a different dj mixing vinyl most weekends, the beer garden is easy and oh so very appealing on a warm night and it feels like you’re in your hood. Which you are. This should become your new local (if it isn’t already).

I’m going to go back. You should join me!

The Night Heron is located at 228 Nicholson Street, Footscray. Discover its cool activities at

Pics courtesy of The Night Heron. This article first appeared in the April issue of The Westsider.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Bum Bag Fanny Pack

I’ve been searching for a classic double zipped, adjustable strap, patchwork leather number for a while.

I mean, if you’re going to wear a bum bag, it’s gotta look authentic. Forget those little nylon excuses for a practical waist pack and why use a backpack when everything you need is sitting right above your groin?

It’s been almost 10 months, my name is listed next to every op shop till within a 5km radius of my home: Ali – call ASAP at the first sighting of a patchwork leather bum bag or any Ken Done.

Every week I would step into my local Salvos and be greeted with a sad head shake from the volunteer at the counter, “maybe next week Ali, next week”.

I put a call out on Inner West Buy Swap sell and still nothing. It was uncanny. For something so mass produced in the 1980s and 1990s, I couldn’t find one anywhere except on bloody eBay where someone was asking $50 for a fanny pack listed as ‘vintage 1990s dork bag’. 

I’m no dork. I’m just a super practical parent who wants a suitably ace looking bag near my fanny which contains all the right things: phone, purse, wipes, pineapple lollies, keys, superball, stickers and a box of sultanas. Let’s just call it a Mum Bag.

The thing is, I totally found one last weekend in an op shop in Beechworth. The brown leather patchwork bag was hanging amongst a crowded hat rack jam packed with bags from all decades. I grabbed it with both my hands and held it close to my chest. I could smell the leather tan as I crumpled it between my palms. The zips were worked in, it had been loved and now it was mine, all for $1.99.

I pulled the bright yellow and red price tag off as soon as I purchased it, adjusted the waist band and clipped it around my tummy. I took my purse and phone out of my tote bag and popped them into the main zipped compartment and walked out of the store with pride.

My next stop was the greengrocers. I chose some fruit and easily reached into my bum bag, found my purse instantly and paid the grocer without the nervous fear of fumbling around for wallet and money.

It was too easy. Way too easy. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.

It wasn’t even five minutes into my first leather bum bag outing that a stranger walked past and said ‘BUM BAG’ out loud, eyebrows raised.

I was in Beechworth, so I didn’t think anything of it.

A day later I returned to Yarraville and while out with my pooch – carrying poo bags and dog treats in my handy new zippered front bum pack – not one, but two people commented on my bum  bag within a minute of turning off my street:

“My grandma has one of those. She also wears parachute.”
“Are you going to a costume party?”

It was hurtful. I’m sure these strangers were trying too hard to be nice and were just using the bum bag as an excuse to talk to me. But I started to feel self-conscious. Perhaps the Mum Bag craze wasn’t going to take off. Perhaps my practical solution for carrying heaps of shit in front of me just wasn’t going to work.

Or perhaps I’m just way ahead of the times, using a radical invention of the past to fulfil my needs of the future (you can even wee while wearing these things).

So I’m gonna keep bumming on and wearing my fanny pack in the hood. I’d like to see you wear one too. Trust me, they’re excellent. They’re practical. And they’re downright sensible, so-much-so that my bum bag is probably the most grown up thing I own (apart from a kid and a house and an original koala velcro wrist purse).

Long live the bum bag fanny pack!

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Gettin' Fresh in the West

A stranger once told me about this secret old school place - a little grocer that I just had to visit. It sounded glorious. This person described in great detail the chocked up shelves filled with international culinary delights, the fruit and vegetables heaving out of their gingham cloth-lined baskets and the condiments, wall-to-wall condiments that would have me shaking at me knees, drooling in saucy goodness. After hearing about this secret, I had many mornings where I would wake up in a sweat thinking about deli goods and packet pasta whispering names like tortiglioni, farfalle, fusilli and tagliatelle… oh tagliatelle.

I just had to find out where this secret grocer was, but I had no idea how to track down this creepy-but-dreamy stranger. I tried googling ‘secret grocer in the west’ but I didn’t know what suburb the joint was in let alone its name.

It wasn’t until I needed some exciting ingredients to inspire me to cook for a handsome man that a friend suggested I try Altona Fresh. I explained that I didn’t just want to go to a normal supermarket and she said - ‘no way Ali, this is a super secret grocer!’

The name ‘Altona Fresh’ just sounded so flat. So blah. So… well suburban. But good God almighty, I love a challenge and I had a hairy man and his tummy to impress.

Altona Fresh is located on Second Avenue. I liked this a lot - it was like I was trying to find Sesame Street. I drove down Second Avenue looking for a massive supermarket but it was just house after house until I came across a large shed shouting ‘Altona Fresh’ from above. It was nothing glamorous, but neither was my courtesy car I was driving thanks to a brief run in with a shopping trolley. Neither were the ripped ‘mom’ jeans I was wearing all morning after a four hour stint in Newport Centrelink trying to sort out a single parent income claim. Neither was my t-shirt screaming the word Oakley as though it had never left the skateboard pit of 1994. Neither was the scab on my elbow from trying to relive that skateboard pit of 1994.

So I wasn’t in a glamorous state. The exterior of Altona Fresh was a welcome refuge to my unglamorous state. I felt instantly at home. So I entered. With confidence.

It struck me upon opening the front door why the hell had I never been here before. A corner of the indoor market was filled with pasta: fresh, dried, skinny, bulk and oh-so-many different types of sauces to make Italian magic. My dreamy stranger’s description of the beautiful fruit and veggie baskets pulsating with gorgeous seasonal fruit made me silently weep with joy. The deli staff in their tidy aprons slicing meats, the carefully chosen produce from all over the world, the donuts in the display window, the breads neatly stacked, the bags of crunchy nuts, the herbs and holy heck the TARAMASALATA in big bulk containers; my brain almost regurgitated retro recipes across the sparkling clean lino floor. I died and went to culinary heaven. The providore had stolen my heart (and my stomach and my wallet).

I carefully selected fabulous items from the Mexican-styled section (the food theming in this store is out-of-control good); tortillas, black beans, chipolte, avocado, limes and heart-burning hot sauce. I held firm and mentally declined the donut with a bulging heart of custard in the display cabinet next to the register and while paying I asked the lovely lady behind the counter where the best local butcher was. She said one word with confidence: Gugliotta. And directed me around the corner.

Back in the Courtesy Car with my Mexican goods I focus on finding this butcher. ‘He is the best’, she had said.

A & L Gugliotta and Sons literally is just up the road and around the corner from Altona Fresh. Located on Blackshaws Road nestled in a strip of shops with titles like ‘Coin Laundrette’, ‘Hot Bread Kitchen: Golden Oven Bakery’ and ‘Sandra’s Barber’, this fancy butcher got me from the get-go with its fancy storefront lettering.

I pick up some chicken and receive some wonderful advice from the butcher on how to marinate it and also how to impress a man. There were some delicious looking lamb ribs ready for roasting that I will be back for.

So I take my goodies home, marinate, chop and prepare my feast. It’s a success. The handsome man eats it. But the best part of it all was telling him about my adventures in the west, exploring two excellent stores, meeting excellent people who love what they do and the produce they are surrounded by. Perhaps Altona Fresh and Gugliotta are not the biggest secrets in town, but they certainly were the secrets to my successful feast!

You can find Altona Fresh at 62-76 Second Avenue and A & L Gugliotta and Sons at 314 Blackshaws Road in Altona North. Worth a visit, don’t plan the feast let the experts guide you.

This article first appeared in the March 2017 issue of The Westsider.

Friday, 27 January 2017

Life. Be In It.

I won a bike today. Seriously. A bloody gorgeous baby blue bike. And it made me so freaking happy, I squealed in the open plan office.

I never win anything. Actually I don't know anyone who wins anything. But boy, it feels good when you do win something and as the saying goes, 'You've got to be in it, to win it', and goddammit I was!

As I was putting The Kid to bed tonight, I was kicking back laying next to him thinking about my new bike and all the rides we were going to go on together.

Then I started thinking about entering all the competitions that I possibly could so I could win more stuff. Then I started getting greedy, thinking about all the excess stuff I could win to put in a 'winning room' and how I would be an expert in winning stuff and make regular comment on A Current Affair as 'Champion Prizewinner'.

But perhaps I could put this new Be In It To Win It practice into my own little life. I've had a few freak out moments this week. Moments of freakiness when people get too close, moments of fear when I have to rely on or trust someone, moments of terror when I realise it's 8pm at night and I don't know what to do once my kid goes to sleep and the washing's folded and my house is clean and my toenails are trimmed. Weird huh!

So rather than become a Champion Prizewinner (which I will do anyway but under a rad alias like Crystal Beff or similar) I'm on a mission to Be In It and try and find out who the fuck I am. I ate feta the other night out of a jar and I loved it. I haven't done that in years. Recently I ordered a jug of beer at a bar - again, it's been ages. I listened to the full Jewel of the Nile soundtrack on vinyl yesterday and it was magical. I ate peanut butter and honey sandwiches at the BMX track and it was like eating candy for the first time. I bought a skateboard. I watched Indecent Proposal and crushed all over again on Woody. I drank cordial and it made me 12 years younger. I wrote a letter to Ken Done thanking him for being a legend. I played elastics between two chairs. I made a height chart at work for my colleagues to enjoy. So many things. This is all the shit I love doing but stuff I haven't done in such a long time.

Why did I stop doing stuff I love? I suppose I became someone else and I became busy being that person. But now in this limbo of life, I just want to go back to that person I was ages ago.

So what are my favourite things that I used to do?
Eat Korean BBQ and cheap food with MSG.
Travel to places with beaches.
Cook pals meals with big intentions but limited cooking capacity.
Eat picnics.
Play with my buddies in bars, on lawn bowls, at gigs, in the city.
Sit in backyards for long amounts of time.
Pick fruit and eat it.
Trivia nights.
See mates I haven't seen in ages and talk about animal reproduction.
And ride bikes.

Are you a friend of mine who I haven't seen in ages? We need to catch up and I want to hear all about your life: your babies, your partner, your friends, your job, your bike rides. All the things. I want to reminisce about our times together, back when we were young.  Email me.

Life. It's so fucking good. But you've got to be in it... to win it, right?