Category Archives: The Way We Live: Sunday Mail column

This is where you’ll find my weekly Sunday Mail column, “The Way We Live”

Sunday Mail Column for Sunday 6 March 2011: the Ultimate Girly High Tea

The Way We Live For Sunday 6 March 2011

I have never met a lemon curd tart I didn’t like. Which is good news because they’re on the menu for the Ultimate Girly High Tea on Sunday 1st May at the Sofitel Hotel.

When the floods hit Queensland, you may remember I joined forces with Kate Eltham, CEO of the Queensland Writers Centre, to do something to help. First up we organised the Writers On Rafts competition where we raffled off dozens of authors from across the country to local book clubs and writing groups.

Now our attention has turned to the Sofitel’s famously lavish high tea of ribbon sandwiches, lemon curd tarts, pistachio macaroons and scones piled high with jam and cream – all in the name of raising money for the Premier’s Disaster Relief Fund!  The Ultimate Girly High Tea is all about that delicious food plus bubbly, girly gift bags and the chance to chat to some of our favourite high-profile women.

Like who?

Like entrepreneur Therese Rein, website editor and journalist Mia Freedman, co-creator of the 4 Ingredients phenomenon Rachael Bermingham, the Sunday Mail’s own Frances Whiting, best-selling authors Kate Morton (The Shifting Fog, The Forgotten Garden), Jessica Rudd (Campaign Ruby), Anita Heiss (Manhattan Dreaming), Caroline Overington (Ghost Child) and Kate Hunter (Mosquito Advertising: The Parfizz Pitch) plus Triple M’s Emily-Jade O’Keefe, 97.3FM’s Robin Bailey, Girl With A Satchel blogger Erica Bartle, model and author of Chooks in Stilettos, Carolyn Donovan and many more.  And me.  I’ll be flying back from Adelaide to MC the whole event (and to steal your lemon curd tart when you’re not looking).

So if you’ve always wanted to meet Mia, chat to Fran or Therese or have a book signed by Kate Morton – this is your chance. They’re under instruction to table-hop and chat with as many guests as possible. And let me tell you, the Sofitel is pulling out all the stops to make this an extraordinarily girly affair.

We have just 200 tickets on sale – so get to it.  Think of it as an early Mother’s Day gift for yourself.  The Ultimate Girly High Tea is on Sunday 1st May from 10am-midday at the Sofitel Hotel. Tickets are $130 per person or $1040 for a table of nine.  Go to http://writersonrafts.com/ or call 07 3842 9922 for more details.

Finally, I wanted to let you all know this is my last column for the Sunday Mail as new, exciting changes await you next week.  Since I started this column in July 2007, I’ve had nothing but amazing support from readers as together we explored life, love, loss and everything in between. I cannot express my gratitude enough to all of you for that support, especially the compassion you showed me following the loss of my daughter Georgie.  The truth is, I wouldn’t have survived those first few months without you all.

As for the First Sunday Club – it will be continuing. We have a new home on  www.Mamamia.com.au The only change is in our name. We’re now The First WEDNESDAY Club. Click here http://www.mamamia.com.au/weblog/2011/03/the-first-wednesday-club-changing-the-world-with-10.html to read about FITE – our charity for March.

See you on 1st May.

 

Sunday Mail Column for Sunday 27 February 2011: the one about the movie

It is a well-known truth that many first novels are deeply autobiographical. Harper Lee drew inspiration from her own Alabama childhood when she penned To Kill A Mockingbird, basing Atticus Finch on her real-life attorney father and many of the other characters on herself, her friends and family. Bryce Courtenay’s The Power of One draws heavily on Courtenay’s very real experience as a small child in a South African orphanage. Closer to home, Nick Earls’ own coming of age story, After January, was inspired by Earls’ own teenage summer vacations at Caloundra. Dave Eggers. David Malouf. Lily Brett. Hunter S Thompson. Jack Kerouac. Frank McCourt. Khaled Hosseini, Sylvia Plath, Maya Angelou, John Birmingham. Andrew McGahan.  They’ve all – to varying degrees – followed the old adage, “write what you know”.

While my first novel hardly belongs in such esteemed company, the fact is I’m no different. My first novel, The Girl Most Likely, is the story of Rachel Hill, a travel writer who goes to Vegas and marries her American boyfriend in secret only to wind up broke, unemployed, working as a nanny and living back in her childhood bedroom at her parents’ house in Kenmore. By complete coincidence I was a travel writer who secretly married her American boyfriend in Las Vegas only to wind up broke, unemployed, working as a nanny and living back in my childhood bedroom at my parents’ house in Chapel Hill. It is fiction after all.

But if you think it’s a little weird to write about your real life in a novel, imagine what a freak-out it is when someone wants to turn that semi-autobiographical novel into a movie. Imagine the head spin when names like Isla Fisher and Jessica Marais are being bandied about to play the lead. The lead who is based on you.  Could Jessica Marais really play a character based on me?  She’s tiny. I look like I ate Jessica Marais.  Perhaps she could play my left thigh.

Anyway.  The good news is that screenwriter and producer Ken Wallace is keen to have fans of the book involved in the production.  What does that mean? It means if you want to follow the project, have your voice heard or be considered for casting, join the Facebook page for updates and register your interest at www.thegirlmostlikelyfilm.com

Now for the bad news (I’m hiding under the desk while I type this bit).  At this stage, the film may not be shot in Brisbane.

“Of course we’d love to film in Brisbane but financing dictates many of our locational decisions so we have to keep an open mind. Could Rachel be a Sydney-sider? I don’t know. Would that be bad thing?” Ken says to me over email.

ARE YOU MAD? I scream back at the computer screen.  This could be Praise all over again.

If you’d like to see the movie shot in Brisbane, do me a favour and go online. Tell Ken what you think.

The Way We Live, Sunday 20 February 2011

I did something last week when you weren’t looking. I moved to Adelaide.

I know. I KNOW.  One minute I was here and the next minute when you were trying to work out if Egypt’s deposed President Mubarak and the Count from Sesame Street had ever been seen in the same room together – I was gone.  Packed up and moved to the City of Churches for a twelve month sojourn.

You’ll be partly impressed, partly horrified to know that we drove. I KNOW.  Try a three-day drive across the country with a toddler. A three-day drive across the country with a toddler in a car that looked like the over-loaded one in the opening credits of The Beverly Hillbillies. But as we drove through Gunnedah and Tamworth and Warren  and Broken Hill, I began to feel lighter. And as we crossed the border from NSW into South Australia, I literally felt a weight lift off my shoulders. Not because I don’t adore Queensland – I do. But because sometimes, we all need some time out. A change of scenery. Some breathing space.

This move to Adelaide has been an interesting lesson for me. When Brad was offered the position back in July 2010, I didn’t want to go. Desperately didn’t want to go. Nothing against Adelaide (I’d only ever done fleeting visits, so I barely knew the place).  Nope, instead I was hoping to live in the same house for more than twelve months.  What a kick that would be!  Back in July I thought spending 2011 in Adelaide would kill me.  Seven months on and I think it’s the best thing that could have happened.  This temporary move interstate has come at exactly the right time for us.

And you know what? Its taught me something.  So often we spend huge amounts of energy trying to change, force, manipulate situations.  We think we know best. What we need.  What’s right for us.  We hold on to stale situations and relationships and jobs so tightly out of fear or desperation that we leave no room, not even the smallest gap, for anything else to come in.  And usually it’s all because we’re afraid of change.

But sometimes it pays to give up the wheel and just see where life takes you. Sometimes change is the best thing that can happen.  Scary? Sure. But change always is.

Rest assured we’ll only be gone for twelve months and when we do return to Brisbane, it’ll be for good. But for now, I’m going to make the most of this year in Adelaide. It’s a beautiful city. The food is mouth-watering.  The traffic is — well it sucks just as much as Brisbane during peak-hour. But I’m prepared to overlook that since there’s the Haigh’s Chocolate Factory here.

This year I’m stepping out of my comfort zone. Thankfully for me it’s in a place famous for its wineries and chocolate!

 

The Way We Live for Sunday 13 February 2011

I have something to tell you.  Here goes: I am a republican with a monarchist trying to get out.  I can’t help it. I’m totally fascinated by the Royal Family. Or that should be Royal Families – plural. If you’ve got a crown on your head, you had me at hello (your Highness).  How bad is my obsession? I’ve marked William and Kate’s wedding in my diary so as to ensure I don’t make any plans for that night. And I’ll probably watch the wedding with my girlfriends eating Thai food on the couch while discussing in depth whether or not we think the marriage will last.  Because, you know, we’d have a clue. Obviously.  Then there’s the fact I’ve actually logged on to the Danish Royal Family’s website more than once.  And last week I hit a new low. I started following Clarence House on Twitter.

I feel so dirty.

My father think it’s hilarious (He would. He’s English). Brad however appears to be mildly horrified. “Mildly” being code for off-the-charts.  He doesn’t get it.  Actually, I’m not sure I get it.  Because the fact is I’m all for Australia being a republic. In a big way. And I’ve been pro-republic for years.  (Did you hear that sound? It was the sound of lots of monarchists getting out their Lady Diana Souvenir Wedding Stationary to write me an angry letter).

So there you have it. I’m one hundred percent behind the idea of Australia becoming a republic while at the same time hiding a royalty-porn addiction. So I believe one thing but am secretly doing another. I’m the Paris Hilton of Republicanism. (Too obscure? In 2008 Hilton was part of the Rock The Vote campaign to convince young people to vote. Except, um, Hilton herself doesn’t vote).

I’d like to point out that my royalty obsession was self-motivated. My mother could care less about them.  But not me. I created my own Lady Di scrapbook when I was about eight. When Princess Diana visited Brisbane back in 1983, I lobbied my local member to make it a public holiday so that I could have the day off school to go into the city to see her. (Strangely, my local member wasn’t into this idea. Go figure.)

Even my Barbies paid the price for my obsession. I decided “Golden Dream Barbie” should have the “Shy Di” hairstyle. Needless to say I grabbed my mother’s kitchen scissors and hacked her hair off in a manner akin to Edward Scissorhands after he’d had a few beers.  The result? She was less Princess Diana Barbie and more “Girl Interrupted Barbie” by the end of it.

So how did my parents cope with their daughters Princess Di obsession? By focusing dinner table conversation on an individuals’ contribution to the community.  By discussing the warts and all aspects of all walks of life. And – truth be told – by hiding the kitchen scissors.

 

First Sunday Club for February 2011: Dress For Success

Cue the smoke machine and the wind chimes sound effect; we’re about to go back in time. Back to 1995.  Toy Story was the movie everyone was talking about.  Microsoft launched Windows 95 (go figure).  Paul Keating was Prime Minister.  And I experienced the most nerve-wracking job interview of my life. I’d applied to be a publicist for Channel Nine in Sydney. I was stupidly underqualified for the job and yet like all good twenty-one year olds had the bravado of Justin Bieber. Well, Justin Bieber with a perm.  Somehow my youthful enthusiasm snagged me an interview and I was told the station would fly me down to Sydney for the day to meet the National Publicity Director. Suddenly my confidence evaporated faster than you can say, “My best outfit is from Splendiferous”.  I immediately went out and spent all my money on a ridiculously ugly leather briefcase. I thought it made me look like Amanda from Melrose Place. Because that’s how you want to look in a job interview, obviously.  Like the morally questionable vixen who runs D & D Advertising.

Why am I telling you all this? Probably because I think it demonstrates the role that clothes play in our self-confidence. Particularly when it comes to job interviews.

Recently I found out about a not-for-profit Brisbane organisation called Dress For Success.  They provide a free, specialised dressing, grooming and interview skills program for long-term unemployed women. The Dress for Success mission is to promote the economic independence of disadvantaged women by providing professional attire, a network of support and the career development tools to help women thrive in work and life.

“Having the right clothes makes a huge difference for our clients,” says Executive Director Lana Gishkariany.  “Some women have never worked before, they’ve never owned work clothes. So they arrive nervous with low self-esteem. Through our one-on-one service, our boutique volunteers make them feel welcome while treating them with respect and dignity. When we get a complete outfit together for our clients, their confidence and self esteem is instantly transformed.”

It’s the first Sunday in February so for this month’s First Sunday Club I’m hoping you’ll go through your wardrobe to see if you have any work clothes you can donate. If we’ve learnt anything from the recent flood crisis in Queensland, it’s that the smallest acts of kindness can make an enormous difference.

Dress For Success welcomes all good quality secondhand work clothing including work-appropriate shoes, handbags and unused lipsticks for women of all ages. If you’re one of the thousands of women who lost everything in the floods, Dress For Success are currently offering a free work outfit for flood-affected women. And if you have spare time on your hands, Dress For Success is always looking for mentors for their clients who have just returned to (or started in) the workforce

For more information call 07 3216 1969 or go to www.dressforsuccess.org/brisbane to make an appointment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Way We Live: The one about running

SUNDAY MAIL COLUMN FOR SUNDAY 30 JANUARY 2011

I’ve started running. “Running” of course being code for shuffling along like Cliff Young. Well without the short shorts. And the osteoarthritis. It’s hard to believe but I was fit once.    In fact five years ago I weighed ten kilos less than I do now.  I had muscle tone. I could do push-ups. I could run on a treadmill for an hour.  So what happened?  I got married. I said “I do” and then minutes later pulled a chair up to the fridge and started eating.  ‘All bets are off,’ I said to Brad. Well I would’ve said that if my mouth hadn’t been full of lasagne.

I should’ve had “Caveat Emptor” stamped on my forehead.

Since then I’ve exercised on and off.  Mainly off.  Although I do recall running for a bus in April 2009.   This is not helped by the fact I’m an emotional eater. Something to celebrate? Eat cake!  Dealing with bad news? Eat cake!  Feeling anxious, scared, grumpy, tired? Eat cake! Feel like eating cake? Eat cake! And let me assure you, I have never in my life uttered the sentence, “Gosh I was so busy I forgot to eat today!” Who are those people?  I’m thinking about lunch while I’m eating breakfast.

But I digress.  Lately my health and fitness has been, how do you say, in the toilet?  You know things are bad when you’re out of breath just walking up a few stairs. My exercise shoes and I were no longer speaking. So my gorgeous girlfriends stepped in.  They got together and bought me some personal training sessions. A lot of personal training sessions.  $1500 worth of personal training sessions with some guy called Jason, if we’re going to be precise.

It wasn’t about losing weight, they said.  It was about feeling fit.  Feeling strong again.  Putting down the cake fork and stepping outside.  I was thrilled. I spent the first few weeks staring at my voucher, eating cake and imagining my head on Jennifer Hawkin’s body.  Eventually Brad pointed out that I was actually going to have to USE the voucher.  Apparently it doesn’t work by osmosis.

The first time Jason arrived at our house, Brad looked out the window, took one look at Jason and then patted me on the arm and said, “Yeah. Good luck with that.”

Jason looks like the Commando from The Biggest Loser. That’s right. My personal trainer has the looks of the Commando and the personality of, well, The Commando.  Put it this way, during out first training session we went for a walk.  A fast walk. Up hills.  And whenever we hit traffic lights he made me do squats.  Yep.

But eight weeks later I’m feeling great.  I’ve lost a few centimetres.  I can manage push-ups. And I can even run. Well, shuffle. But best of all I’m feeling strong. As for cake and me? We’re no longer speaking.

The Way We Live: The One About Writers on Rafts ….

SUNDAY MAIL COLUMN FOR SUNDAY 23 JANUARY 2011

I want you to go find five dollars. Right now. Go see if you’ve got a five-dollar note in your purse or wallet.  I’ll wait.

You see for five dollars I’m going to give you the chance to win Nick Earls. Or Frances Whiting. Or those two cheerful blonde women behind those 4 Ingredients cook books who have the MacGyver-like ability to make lasagne from a biro and a bit of string.

For the past ten days I’ve been working with the Queensland Writers Centre on Writers on Rafts – a sort of literary-aid to raise money for the Premier’s Flood Relief Fund. Our initial idea was simple. We would  “raffle off” some local Brisbane authors to book clubs, writing groups and schools as a way to raise a few funds for flood victims. Maybe even convince some authors to name their characters after members of the public.

But what started off as a little initiative involving half a dozen Brisbane authors has grown into a national initiative involving 130 writers, literary agents and publishers across the country.

So. Back to the five dollar bit.  You need to go to the website www.writersonrafts.com and you’ll see the chance to go in the draw for a range of different experiences. You could win Nick Earls. He’s offering to visit your book club or writing group or your school. My former mentor will spend an hour mentoring you, telling you everything he knows about writing novels.   He’ll probably even make you a cake. Okay I made that bit up. (Although he does make a great cake …). Ever wanted to meet Frances Whiting?  Course you have. She’ll come to your book club and spill the beans on what it’s like writing her weekly column. Actually ask her about the time she met Princess Diana and Sarah Ferguson back in the mid-80s.  Better still ask her why she once tried to ripen an avocado in the microwave.  Rachael Bermingham and Kim McCosker == those gorgeous ladies from 4 Ingredients will share their secrets with your book club or writing group and tell you why they chose to self-publish. Then there’s the incredibly talented Ben Law who’s offering a mentoring session on writing non-fiction.  Law knows what he’s talking about.  His memoir, A Family Law, is rarely off the best-seller lists. If you’re an aspiring writer, you can’t go past the chance to have your manuscript read by Kristina Shultz, the Children and Young Adult’s Publisher at UQP.  Meanwhile Kate Hunter and John Birmingham are both offering to name a character after you in their next novels. That’s what you call the ultimate birthday present.  There are loads more experiences on offer. It’s your choice. And it’s just $5.

As for the big fundraiser – “The Ultimate Girlie High Tea”, big plans are underway. Can’t say much but keep Sunday 1st May free.  The list of special guests keeps growing.  (I even got an email of support from Megan Gale!).  For updates go to www.writersonrafts.com or follow me on twitter.com/RebeccaSparrow

The Way We Live: The one about strengths …

SUNDAY MAIL COLUMN FOR SUNDAY 16 JANUARY 2010

To say I’ve been searching for a bit of meaning over the past few months is an understatement.  Grief and trauma will do that to you.  You need a sense of purpose to get you out of bed.

So what’s helped me lately? Lots of things. Friends.  Talking. Exercise.  And reading.

Last year I stumbled upon a book that unexpectedly helped me clarify what I’m meant to be doing with my life.  How do you say, “big call”? Indeed. That book was ‘Go Put Your Strengths To Work’ by Marcus Buckingham.

I’m not usually into self-help books. Okay, I’m a bit into self-help books but I’m not usually into books that promise you a solution to all your problems. But I picked up Buckingham’s book and it changed the way I viewed my career.

So what’s in it? In a nutshell the author theorises that the key to feeling fulfilled by your job is to find one that plays to your strengths.  Um, dur.   But Buckingham explains that actually most of us don’t know what our strengths are.  This is where he began to capture my attention.

Most of us make the obvious mistake of thinking that just because we’re good at something, that it’s automatically one of our strengths.  Instead, according to Buckingham, a strength has to meet four criteria. He uses the acronym SIGN:  Success, Instinct, Growth and Need.

So a strength is something you have success in and something you have a natural instinct for.  But it’s also something you could engage in for hours and barely notice (like practicing the guitar or writing, or solving maths problems or organising and filing documents). Finally, a strength is an activity you have a need to do.  It feeds you. Gives you an absolute buzz.

How many of us have chosen careers based solely on the “success” aspect of SIGN? The high school student who tops accounting assumes they should be studying well, accounting.  The OP1 student assumes they have to do medicine. The popular babysitter thinks she should be in childcare.  But if accounting or medicine or childcare don’t give you that buzz then it’s really not a strength. Conversely, you can be deeply passionate about something – painting, singing, tennis – but if you don’t actually show any natural ability for it, well, it’s really just a hobby – it’s not a strength. The chance of you making a career out of singing if you never even place in any local competitions is pretty slim.  We routinely tell our teenagers that they can “do anything, be anything they want”.  Um, not really.  Sure, follow your dreams but just be smart enough to choose the right ones.

And one last thing:  Writers from all over Australia are banding together to help raise money for people affected by the floods.  Next week I’ll give you all the details about Writers on Rafts and how you can win tickets to the Ultimate Girlie High Tea with Frances Whiting, Jessica Rudd, Emily Jade O’Keefe, Mia Freedman and me.

 

The Way We Live: Why Jerry Seinfeld is wrong …

No wonder I’m tired. It seems that I’ve spent the last two years working in recruitment. I looked around at my closest girlfriends the other day and realised that one third of them are newbies. One third of my closest friends are women I’ve known for less than two years (actually one of them has only been in my life for four months). So it appears that in between writing and paying the bills and doing the groceries and trying to trick Ava into eating something other than vegemite sandwiches and blueberries and fish fingers, I’ve been on some kind of recruitment drive. At some point I started shopping for friends; collecting women and signing them up to Team Bec.

I find this a little odd. Mostly because I didn’t realise I actually had any positions vacant.

For years I smugly adopted the infamous Jerry Seinfeld approach to new friendships (as outlined in the Seinfeld episode ‘The Boyfriend’).

“When you’re in your thirties it’s very hard to make a new friend. Whatever the group is that you’ve got now, that’s who you’re going with. You’re not
interviewing, you’re not looking at any new people, you’re not interested in
seeing any applications. They don’t know the places. They don’t know the food. They don’t know the activities. If I meet a guy in a club or the gym or
someplace, I’m sure you’re a very nice person, you seem to have a lot of
potential, but we’re just not hiring right now.”

That was me. Not interested. Not hiring. I couldn’t keep up with the friends I had, the last thing I needed was more people in my life. So what happened? How did I wind up in a situation with so many new friends in my life?

I wised up. And I realised that as much as I love Jerry Seinfeld, he’s wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

It’s not new friendships many of us don’t have time for. It’s inauthentic ones.

I’m about to enter the last year of my 30s. What I don’t need are more superficial friendships. Connections that aren’t genuine, which are toxic or draining. Friends who want all the contact time but offer none of the depth. I’m done with that. But I will always have room for more people from my tribe.

To close yourself off from new friends altogether isn’t just arrogant, it’s foolish. An amazing friendship can happen when you least expect it. A great example is my favourite film of 2010 – The King’s Speech. It’s the story of the surprising friendship between King George VI of Britain and his Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue.

It’s the first time in years I’ve been to a movie where the audience cheered and clapped for a character. The King’s Speech was the perfect reminder that some friendships are fated and that out of the blue an amazing new friend can come into your life and change how you see the world. And yourself.

So my motto for 2011?  Position vacant.

The Way We Live – Good intentions and keeping your shirt on ….

This is my favourite week of the year. The year ahead is at its most shiny, its most fresh.  Right now 2011 is perfect and ripe with possibility and potential. Unlike, say, July by which time you’ve gone on breakfast radio and confidently derided the Broncos for taking on Brendon Fevola only to be told he actually plays for the, um, Lions (March); allowed your daughter to eat peanut butter out of the jar if it means she’ll let you finish the feature you’re writing (May); and made a topless dash to the lounge room only to notice a delivery driver staring at you through the window next to the front door (April and don’t ask).

But on 2 January none of that’s gone down yet.  On 2 January you’re on track to be the smartest, funniest, thinnest, most widely read, most patient, most community-service minded version of yourself that it is possible to be without having a drinking problem.  Accidentally flashing a delivery driver while dashing around the house isn’t even on your radar because in 2011 there’s no dashing.  In 2011 you will glide (with a top on.)

This time last year you may recall I started our First Sunday Club with the goal of donating $10 per month to a specific cause.  My aim was to bring more meaning into my life (and, lets be honest, win a few Brownie points with God). As I detailed last week we made some amazing contributions in 2010. But this year I’m going to mix things up a little (because in 2011 I’m more creative and spontaneous, clearly).  Some months I’m going to ask you to do more than just write a cheque. Some months I’m going to ask you to get involved by donating items or even volunteering.

But enough from me (see? I’m less self-absorbed in 2011. Brad’s next to me rolling his eyes.). Let’s kick things off with Givit.org.au  Most of you will have heard of this innovative website set up last year by Brisbane woman Juliette Wright.  It’s like a matchmaking service for donated items. Charities get in touch with Juliette to tell them what they need and Juliette lists the items on her site in the hope that some good person will respond.  As I write this a homeless women’s service is looking for a lockable craft cupboard; some refugee claimants in Windsor would love some gardening tools to help start a community garden, and a previously homeless man with a disability needs a washing machine as he sets up his new home.

So here’s what I would like you do. Go online and see if you can help. Register to receive the weekly Givit list. There’s usually a long list of items that are needed from computers to desks to freezers to gardening equipment.

We all have way too much stuff. Start 2011 off on the right foot by giving something away. (Just not your top).  Visit www.givit.org.au or call (07) 3289 2590.