Grief is a funny thing. Except it isn’t.

To date I’m pretty lucky in that I haven’t lost many close to me, however I know some pretty special people who have. Being once removed means that you do feel the sadness and loss, however for me half the tears are for my friends. My heart aches for them, I sob for them and I think about them long after the dust settles. As an outsider I’m not sure whether it’s right to reach out to let them know I’m still thinking about them in case I upset them more. For those that have love and lost, please know that there are people that would love to be there when the grief overwhelms. We’re just quietly waiting in the wings.

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You can go for days, weeks, months with no episodes. You are back to life as usual, feeling like you did the hard work to adjust to your new normal. Usually this new normal is a rearranged normal, a normal that for a time at least, is meant to cover a gaping hole in your life. A deceased mother or father. A failed marriage, perhaps.

And then, suddenly, usually in a very inconvenient and unexpected place, grief washes over you as a wave.  Almost a literal wave, because you’re knocked off guard and it’s just there. Over you, under you, holding you down. You have to remind yourself to breathe.

It sounds a bit melodramatic, but I think if you’re a person who feels deeply (and even if you’re not), chances are grief strikes in similar fashion. It’s one of the great equalizers. CEOs and factory workers may live in…

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Cat Adventures – Lovedale Long Lunch

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I’m a massive fan of the weekend away. There’s just nothing like hopping in the car, bags packed and setting off on adventure. Any direction will do – it’s about getting out of the city and really making the most of the weekend.

Hunter Valley VinesThe other weekend we  headed 2 hours north west of Sydney for the beautiful Hunter Valley, and the famous Lovedale Long Lunch. Eight of us set out Friday evening to i villini, the cottage we had rented for the weekend.  The cottage was perfect – 3 bedrooms all with their own ensuites, and a living area complete with two fireplaces. There  was nothing to do but crack open a bottle of red, cheese up some biscuits, crank up some tunes and relax. Before long we were through the 12 bottles we had brought up with us and half a case of beer! True to form we had once again peaked on the first night, and needless to say everyone was slow moving on the Saturday morning… Our only problem was we still had to get through the main event!

After 20 years, the Lovedale Long Lunch organisers have it all sorted. Your $85 ticket gets you your (plastic) wine glass for the day, 2 glasses of wine, 2 meal tickets and a dessert/cheese ticket. All of the wineries involved have food stations, music and seating, and of course plenty of wine! A $25 shuttle ticket gets you unlimited rides between the wineries for the day, so as long as you can get yourself to the first venue  and home again, you’re set.

It was a stunning day – a fresh and warm spring day. We started off at Wandin around lunch time (did I mention that we were slow moving?) which had an reasonable band and a great DJ playing. With the doors opening at 10:30 it was clear that everyone else  had a head start on us. What I hadn’t expected was that people would turn up in costume. There were groups of story book characters, where’s Wallies, flapper girls. You name it – they were there and they were already tipsy!

photo 1After a bite to eat and a few bevvies (which were also relatively slow flowing), we eventually moved on to the next winery, Allendale, which was pretty much the first stop on the shuttle route. After another hour or two there our time was almost up and we needed to find our way back to our pick up point. We arrived back at Wandin with about 20 minutes left of serving time. That of course meant we bought another couple of bottles so we could sit back and watch the end all unfold. By this stage there were a lot of very funny drunks around and they were honestly the best entertainment of the day. People escaping security, people getting walked out by their friends, lots of dirty dancing and many costume crimes.

The girlsBack at our cottage we reflected on an awesome day as we settled back by the fire into another round of cheesy goodness, more wine (although nowhere near as much as we had the previous night!) and a few rounds of poker.

If you get the opportunity, I’d definitely recommend partaking in the Lovedale Long Lunch. It’s a great activity to enjoy with a few mates, a great little weekend escape, and I dare say always an adventure.

The importance of friends

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Society and human nature leads us to think that one of life’s quests is to find “the one”. However one of the perils of true love is that during the sunshine and rainbows of the honeymoon period the new partner can take precedence over pretty much everyone – friends, family and even children.  During this period (very much depending on the individuals involved) friendships in particular can suffer. Family will generally forgive and take you back in, however friendships are very much a two way street. Your friends will only put up with it for so long – if you don’t put in the effort, then one day your friends will give up on making that proactive contact too.

Being in a (very) long term relationship, I realised a long time ago that having a good bunch of friends, especially girlfriends, around you is essential.

1. “Show me your friends and I’ll tell you who you are.” Friends help you to define your identity as an individual. Your interests, opinions and core values are all formed by bouncing off networks of people, and as you grow up, increasingly this network is your friends. I believe that learning how to be an individual is actually more important than learning how to be one half of a couple.

2. “Love is blind”. When your rose coloured glasses (or beer goggles for that matter) are on, it’s your friends who will be watching out for you. No one wants to hear negative things about a new love, or how you change for the worse when you’re with your partner, but believe me, generally it’s a million times better than regretting it later and a pretty much always it’s zillion times better than hearing it from family.

3. Girlfriends will tell you what you need to hear, when you need to hear it. Whether it’s when your butt looks big in that dress, or if you need to stop being a bitch to your mum/partner/children/others in general, your girlfriends will tell it like it is. Your partner/boyfriend/hubby will either a) be in the “love is blind” stage, or b) be in the “keep the peace” phase by ignoring it, not caring or just telling you what you want to hear.

4. “Friends are those rare people who ask how we are, and then wait to hear the answer.”  ―  Ed Cunningham. Verbalising thoughts and having someone listen is a much bigger deal than you may realise. At a primal level, that very act of listening is recognition – that you are a human and that you matter. Think about those rare days when you don’t see another person for a while, like when you work from home. There is almost a yearning to talk  to someone else, because just that very act makes you feel human again. On a less deep level, your girlfriends are the ones who will listen to you bitch about that work colleague that always has her cleavage out, listen to you whinge about your bloated tummy, or workshop that really annoying habit your partner/family member has.

5. One day you may not be part of a couple. Not something that everyone wants to think about, however a likely scenario at some point in your life whether it be temporarily or more permanently. Quite a few years back my boyfriend (who is now my husband) took a job that required him to be overseas for 12-16 weeks at a time. It was a massive adjustment for me, as I essentially spent a good portion of time living pretty much as a single gal. Without my friends and family, I would have been lost. I was turning up to parties and big events like weddings on my own, and he wasn’t around to celebrate my birthday for a few years too. My girlfriends (and my brother particularly) kept me entertained, ensuring I didn’t feel left out, and that my birthday was celebrated properly and in style.

It’s true you’ll always have family, but family is not always what you need. So put in the effort and nurture the friendships. As you grow older you’ll start to realise how important history is, and you’ll need people to reminisce with. And as you move through life, pick up as many good friends as you can service. Because your friends are the family that you choose.