I penned this post on Thursday 10 October 2019, which was World Mental Health Day. It’s taken me a few days to be ready to share it here. x

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If you’re following our blog for a while now, you’ll know that I have an amazing life, filled with loving relationships and creative passions.

What you might NOT know is that I also have GAD – Generalised Anxiety Disorder. It waxes and wanes with life events (menopause is wreaking havoc at the moment) and on occasion, it’s tipped over into some pretty savage clinical depression.

Until recently, I’ve always seen my anxiety as a flaw, something that I was simply too weak-willed to manage. I didn’t talk about it very much. And then I started to see anxiety manifesting in the next generation of my immediate and extended family, and I began to understand the strong genetic basis behind my anxiety. And I realised that I needed to talk about it more openly, so that I could reassure those whom I love that it’s NOT a flaw. It’s NOT something to beat ourselves up about. It just IS. Once we learn to be a bit kinder to ourselves, it becomes much easier to manage.

As it’s World Mental Health Day, I thought I’d share that with you too.

If you’re an anxious bunny like I am, then I offer you my empathy. I understand waking up with a knot in your stomach for no reason, or overthinking a minor event into a catastrophe. I know that feeling when the worrying gets so overwhelming that you lie in bed and wish you were dead. Honestly, I get it. But I urge you to be kind to yourself – so much has been written today asking others to be kind to folks with mental health issues, but very little has been said about the need to be kind to ourselves.

In a way, having anxiety is like having poor vision – it’s not something you’ve caused or have any control over, it’s just the way you’re made. And like dodgy eyesight, it’s something you can compensate for. Find what works for you – for me, exercise, meditation and a supportive family unit keep things relatively even keeled – but understand that the anxiety is probably going to flare up again at some time. And that’s ok. It doesn’t mean we’re weak or stupid or not trying. In fact, I think it means the exact opposite. We’re POWERFUL, because we’re dealing with stuff that so many people can’t even begin to understand.

Years ago, I had a friend whose young son had cerebral palsy (she’s still my friend, and he’s now a strapping teenager). He was high functioning and attending a normal infants school, but he would go completely crazy at 5pm every day. She couldn’t figure out what was happening until a paediatrician explained to her that kids with CP have to work very hard to hold themselves physically upright – something that able-bodied children do instinctively and easily. So by the end of each day, he was completely exhausted and just couldn’t keep it together anymore.

I use this analogy a lot for anxiety. When my anxiety is severe (and please don’t worry, it’s not at the moment), it’s like my cup is full to the brim (not in a good way) and any little thing can cause it to overflow. When this happens, it takes a tremendous amount of effort to function as usual – something that folks with calmer dispositions do without thought – and sometimes the effort of maintaining “normality” completely wipes me out. The difference now (as compared to most of my earlier life) is that when this happens, I try to be kind to myself. I don’t self-flagellate or criticise or get angry at myself. I just try to ease up my hectic schedule, get lots of rest, and wait for it to pass. It always has.

I’m feeling a bit anxious and exposed for having written this, but I hope it helps someone who reads it. If it does, then it was worth it. ♥

A story in two parts…

Part 1: Potts Point Vintage

If you’ve been reading along for the past couple of years, you’ll know that we’ve been trying to reduce our environmental footprint. And since watching The True Cost, we’ve tried to source our clothes secondhand wherever possible. Now that’s easy to do for everyday clothing, but what about the big wedding we have coming up next summer? It’s much harder to buy evening wear and suits secondhand, but we wanted to try nonetheless.

Thankfully my friend Anita, who is a style goddess, put us on to the wonderful Arnold at Potts Point Vintage. If you live in Sydney and love vintage clothing, do yourself a favour and pay him a visit. His shop is a glorious Aladdin’s cave of immaculate pieces from the 1920s onwards.

On our first visit, Pete came home with this bespoke suit, tailored in Italy in the 1970s from exquisite Ermenegildo Zegna wool. It cost us $249 and the jacket fits him like it was made for him. In present day dollars, the fabric alone would have been worth $2,000…

The following week, we dragged Small Man in to try on a black wool suit that had been too small for Pete. Again, a perfect fit and this one didn’t even need hemming! It was handmade by a tailor in Sydney several decades ago. All of Arnold’s suits are thoughtfully selected, carefully cleaned and in great condition, and his prices are extremely fair. Small Man’s suit was just $129…

It was almost too much to hope for a hat trick, but Big Boy was so impressed with the suits that he and Monkey Girl popped in the following Saturday. He found the most gorgeous formal tuxedo – made by Rundle Tailoring in Newcastle between 1992 – 1996 from Australian cool wool in a panama weave (with silk lapels and stripes).

Bronwyn Rundle very kindly provided us with the information (she was able to identify the suit from the label) and mentioned that some of the ladies who might have made the suit still work for their company. Rundle Tailoring continue to make their suits locally – one of the few Australian companies to do so. They’re definitely worth supporting if you’re in the Newcastle area and looking to get something custom made!

Despite being as old as he is, Big Boy’s tux looks brand new and fits him perfectly with absolutely no alterations needed. Arnold had just $145 on it, which is the price to rent a tuxedo for one night.

As you can imagine, we’re pretty excited by all this (as is our new friend Arnold). We honestly didn’t think we’d find secondhand suits that would be good enough to wear to a wedding … and we’ve ended up with three amazing outfits far better than anything we could afford new (a contemporary Zegna suit starts at $5,000). If you’re looking to buy a suit (or a vintage fur coat, or a 50s hat, or a 60s evening gown), pop into Potts Point Vintage first. It’s really luck of the draw as to whether or not you’ll find something in your size, but that’s part of the adventure!

Potts Point Vintage
2/8a Hughes St,
Potts Point, NSW 2011

E-mail: info@pottspointvintage.com.au

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Part 2: The Opera Coat

It’s funny how one thing in life can inspire the next.

While searching in my favourite opshop for a “mother of the groom” outfit (I’ve found it, by the way, but you’ll have to wait until next year to see it), I came across a badly torn vintage coat in the throw out pile. It was in appalling condition – the lining was shredded and the wool was badly matted. The shop assistant very kindly told me I could take it home if I thought I could do anything with it, so of course, I did.

When I got home, I instantly regretted that decision.

The lining in the sleeves was badly damaged (I suspect they’d been eaten) and there was some seriously gross crap (sigh…literally) in the cuffs which needed a vacuum before I could even go near it. The shoulder pads had turned into matted cotton wool. I removed the sleeve linings completely, then hand washed, then MACHINE washed, then tumble dried the coat. ALL of which are contraindicated, I know, but you didn’t see the revolting stuff that was inside the cuffs…

The wool in the coat shrank, of course. I didn’t dryclean it because a) it was free and b) I wasn’t sure that I could save it. Thankfully, the shrinkage was a good thing because it now fits me perfectly and the bouclé Astrakhan fabric has regained its sheen. (I’ve since found out more about the fabric from the Vintage Fashion Guild website!) I remade the sleeve linings in cotton ticking and then nearly lost my mind trying to figure out how to reattach them properly (I’ve never done any tailoring before). The lining needed shortening by an inch overall to compensate for the shrinkage.

Throughout the whole process, I kept wondering if I should just toss the whole thing in the bin. It was hideously gross at the outset. But the label “Milium Insulated Fabric” and the single button told me that it was a 1950s opera coat. Milium was an aluminium-backed lining introduced in the 1950s and only around for a decade or so. And I kept thinking about what an interesting life this coat must have had, and how I didn’t want to be the one to throw it away.

After five hours of unpicking, washing, more washing, drying, relining, restitching, hole-mending, and defluffing, I stepped back and took a look … and as if by magic, this incredibly glamorous coat suddenly appeared…

It’s now 100% clean, gorgeously retro and I believe it’s 60-70 years old. I’ve quite literally rescued it from landfill, which makes me incredibly happy!

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Are you a lover of vintage clothing too?
If so, please tell me about your favourite pieces! ♥

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Have I mentioned recently how much I love Kiva?

I’ve been micro lending through this wonderful organisation for over ten years now (here’s the post I wrote in 2009). Kiva provides small loans to people who might otherwise be unable to access funds. We lenders contribute in lots of US$25 – it’s really very small scale.

I say “lend” because even though we don’t earn any interest, the principal is repaid whenever possible. (Kiva doesn’t charge any interest, but its field partners do to cover operating costs. The amount of interest charged is carefully monitored by Kiva).

Over the last decade, I’ve lost a tiny $1.04 in currency exchange and had no loans default. The average lender ends up with a default rate of just 1.70%. To be honest though, I really don’t care if folks can’t pay it back – the goal has always been to help, not invest. According to the Kiva stats page, I’ve lent to individuals and groups in 16 countries, with a focus on women.

The best thing about the system is that I’ve been able to lend far more than I’ve actually put in, because as the loans are repaid, I’m able to re-lend the same funds. My most recent loan has been to a Cambodian group who wanted to buy a filter to access safe drinking water. They needed just US$225 and I was one of their nine lenders.

Microfinance has had some negative press over the years. In its early days, it was touted as a solution to poverty, but it never ended up achieving those lofty goals. What it does do though, is make a significant difference to individuals who need just a little help to make their lives better.

If you’re interested to find out more, please visit Kiva.org. ♥

Every day brings a new story…grab a cuppa and let me tell you about our Persian rug.

30 years ago, when we were young and stupid, we bought a deceased estate federation house. It was in a seriously dilapidated condition – no inside toilet, no hot water, no laundry, no shower. The tiny kitchen had just half a metre of bench space, divided into three sections. It was partitioned into pokey rooms for use as a boarding house and in such a state of disrepair that it had lingered on the property market for 14 months before we bought it. Even so, we could barely afford it – if it hadn’t been for my parents’ legendary generosity, we wouldn’t be here today.

We were coming from a little unit, so of course, we needed furniture. We borrowed an extra $3.5K to cover this, which in hindsight was a small fortune.

Anyway, we walked into a cool shop in Ultimo called Nomadic Rug Traders and…we both fell in love with this Meshkin Kilim runner from Northern Persia (Iran). See, it really IS a Persian rug. An antique, tribal, handwoven runner from circa 1900. At five metres long and over a metre wide, it fit our hallway perfectly…but it cost $2,500. Yup. Madness, I know. We had to furnish the rest of the house, including appliances, wardrobes and lounges, with the remaining $1,000. We sat on beanbags for a year!

But oh, how we LOVED our rug. It lived in the hallway for ten years and made us happy every time we walked on it. When the kids were little, they rode bikes on it and dropped crumbs all over it. Then Small Man developed severe eczema – at its worst, his skin was peeling off in sheets – so we had to roll it up and put it away. No fabric furnishings allowed, the dermatologist said. I sewed a cotton bag to store it in, then we packed it carefully in mothballs and crossed our fingers, hoping it would survive.

Today, more than 30 years after we bought it, we pulled it out of storage. I nearly wept when I saw that it was still in the same condition as when we’d rolled it up all those years ago. We washed the underlay and vacuumed the rug before returning it to its rightful spot in the hallway.

It’s amazing how much more I appreciate it now than I did back in the 90s! Over the intervening two decades, I’ve become increasingly fascinated with tribal and handmade textiles, but this is where it all began. And it speaks to the adage to buy once and buy well – it was an impetuous and mad purchase, but 30 years on, it still brings us so much joy! ♥

Photo from the fabulous Fashion Revolution Fanzine LOVED CLOTHES LAST,poem by Hollie McNish. (click for links)

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My young friends have a current slang term – they talk about being “woke”.

Loosely translated, it means “aware”. And once we start looking into waste and sustainability and our impact on the environment, it’s very hard to stay asleep. Whether we like it or not, we end up woke.

We started down this rabbit hole (a metaphor used by my old friends) 18 months ago, when we tried to reduce the amount of waste we produced as a household. If you’d like to read about our journey, I’ve collated all the posts here. But once I started researching, it became obvious that there were other aspects of our lives that needed changing too. It wasn’t just about finding ways to recycle our foodscraps or switching out paper napkins for cloth ones, we also needed to start questioning the clothes we bought, the food we ate, the way we voted, and so much more.

In particular, we needed to start assessing the true cost behind how we chose to live our lives, taking into account the price being paid by the environment, other living creatures and our fellow humans, rather than making decisions based on assigned dollar values. Being even a little bit woke about the current state of our planet is discomfiting, but without some awareness, there can be no impetus to do anything differently.

I know that it can sometimes feel pointless to keep trying. I drove past a bridal wear store recently and saw someone filling an entire red wheely bin with plastic wrapping, even as I was heading to Coles to drop my soft plastics into the RedCycle bin. I wondered if the efforts of our small family of four really made any difference at all in the face of fifty years of thoughtless global plastic consumption. Mind you, I’m in no position to lecture, as we have used, and continue to use, more plastic than I’m comfortable owning up to.

But…there’s no turning back now. Thankfully the zeitgeist is shifting, and folks no longer consider us deranged greenies for refusing to use cling film. And it’s a mistake to think that our small changes aren’t having an impact, because we humans are social creatures (some of us more than others) and as we talk and share our ideas, they start to spread. Now that we’ve stocked up our own green kit, I’ve started sharing the things I make with friends and neighbours. The crocheted dishcloths and mesh vegetable bags are always in high demand, and I know that the six veggie bags I sew for a friend could result in their family avoiding hundreds of single use plastic bags this year. My darling neighbour Jane arrived to pick up bread yesterday with a furoshiki, which saved a paper bag. I was sooo chuffed, because I knew she’d take that loaf home and wrap it in the beeswax wrap that I made her six months ago.

Bit by bit, we’re becoming more aware of the need to conserve resources. After months of reading and watching and trying to understand, the conclusion I’ve come to is that the biggest impact I can personally make towards reducing my environmental footprint is to simply consume less. As a raging extrovert, I find that hard to do, because I like new things. But I’ve discovered that approaching my purchases with curiosity – asking questions about where, how and why something was made – has turned me into a discerning shopper. I bring home far less than I’ve ever done before, and appreciate my carefully selected items much more. We eat less meat, purchase misshapen vegetables with glee, and recycle all our food waste via four different backyard methods (chickens, worm farm, bokashi bucket and soldier fly farm). Even if our impact is miniscule in global terms, I’d like to think that we’re making an effort to reduce our personal family footprint.

Which leads me to the purpose of this blogpost.

I’ve realised that the way we can make a difference beyond our efforts at home and within our community is to share our story with you. I know we all make decisions based on our personal circumstances, but I would like to encourage you to be woke. Ask endless annoying questions. Were the folks who made my jeans paid living wages? What was the environmental impact of growing the cotton? Was this chicken allowed to free range or locked in a crowded shed? How long does this head of lettuce take to decompose in landfill? (Believe it or not, the answer is 25 years.) Do I really need to buy water in a plastic bottle?

Try to do as many of the “re”s as possible – reduce, reuse, restore, refurbish, rewear, recondition, reclaim, reimagine, recycle – you get the picture. I guarantee you’ll save money in the process. And please, please share your ideas with the rest of us in the comments below. Through discussion and conversation, we can learn from and encourage each other to keep the momentum going. And I know from personal experience that even small changes can lead to huge results. ♥

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