My own Joyeux anniversaire

Today is my first birthday since Olivier died and I have been dreading it.  Usually Olivier would greet me with “Joyeux anniversaire cherie’’ and hand me his gift while I was still in bed.  I would kiss him ardently and unwrap his offering in great excitement. It took a good three years for him to learn that it pleased me if he would buy a birthday card, too, and these were so touching I could never throw them out. It was worth the cajoling, because he would always write his birthday message to me in French.

Today I awake in a dull consuming ache of aloneness.  I never laze in bed, but today, bed seems the best option and I stay there propped up with pillows and do what Oli would do in bed every night of our married life. Read his latest book. I begin to read  13, rue Therese, by Elena Mauli Shapiro, one of the latest batch of Francophilia publications.  I received it last night as a gift from my darling neighbour Chris, who is aware of my thirst for any such literary offering.  I read that Elena grew up at that address and also that it is pure fiction. Nevertheless, I plough into it, oblivious to the dog scratching at the laundry door. He will be perplexed why I do not relent as I always do and let him into the living room. Not today.

I eventually do rise to pick up my mobile in the kitchen to take birthday calls, but scuttle back to my warm bedroom haven with a glass of water.  Puppy Oscar is in frisky pursuit because I have relented and opened the laundry door.   Daughters do telephone and so do a handful of friends. I brighten in their attentiveness and weep a little.

Today is the first birthday in my life when I have woken up alone.  There has been always someone else there under roof – my parents as a child, my husbands and the adult children.  Until today.   However, I do reflect.  I never really celebrate my birthday alone, because my only sister, Anne, was born on my 16th birthday, which is why I pick up the telephone and invite myself to her home for dinner tonight.

Not that I need to eat anything, much less more birthday cake, because son Tyson  and pregnant daughter-in-law Vanessa, are taking me to lunch at the Sheoak Café, now run by my stepson Xavier.

However, there are pedestrian things to do and by 11am, I am at the car wash.  It is here in this most unlikely, unromantic place, that the tears begin to flood my face. That poor café girl merely asks “How is your day?’’ and I see no reason to lie. I tell her it isn’t the best so far because it is my first birthday since my husband died two months ago.

“Oh dear,’’ she exclaims clutching her heart. “I am so sorry to hear that. If you take a seat over here it is nice and quiet.’’  Sympathy is the trigger for tears.

I am all mopped up and made up once more when the children take me to the Sheoak Café. It has a special place in my life long before I met Olivier and 20 years before my stepson bought it two months ago. It was where I picked up my children from the school bus. It was the corner store on the same road where I lived for 16 years of my life with my former husband and then as a single mother. It was a delicatessen back then and did school lunches. Here, too, former owners looked after my puppy Codger, a mischievous collie, and I would pick him up at the end of a working day.

Now, however, Xavier has acquired a spacious café recycled in a unique Australian manner with galvanised iron internal feature walls and a big pot belly stove in one corner. A French  lunch menu is offered today because last night the Café held a Bastille Day dinner. It is a wonderful surprise for this birthday girl. So, I order mushroom soup with truffle oil.  Its a chunky dish thick with juicy chopped mushroom pieces and it is full of flavour.   It reminds me of every lush mushroom dish I ever devoured in France with Olivier, although most of the Gallic soups we savoured were vitamised.  I remember the fields of mushrooms as big as cow pads we found in the Cantal, that first mushroom main course in Paris in 2004 and another year where Odile, awarded a Grandmother of France,  cooked an entrée of cepes picked from the fields that day and placed in a tureen on a long table where we sat on benches in Bienvenue, her restaurant in The Lot. It is remarkable how the French can wind a meal around mushrooms.  Vanessa has French onion soup and Tyson smacks his chops on each mouthful of Boeuf Bourgignon.  The very French lunch triggers happy hormones even though I know Olivier is not at the head of the table anymore.  Xavier’s partner Patricia joins us and presents their birthday gift – delightful Francophilia – a big Paris clock. Their quirky card follows  the French theme – with a photograph of the Mona Lisa in Le Louvre, Paris, with an old French museum guard propped up in the right hand lower corner. It is a reproduced gelatin-silver photograph entitled In The Louvre, Paris, taken in 1976 by John Williams.  I am thrilled with their thoughtfulness.

Gift-giving is important in our family life and Tyson and Vanessa gave me an extraordinary treat – a night at the opera to see La Boheme on Thursday.  Vanessa’s parents accompanied me and as we took our places in the dress circle I knew that I was loved and nurtured and that my life would continue to have joyful experiences even though Olivier was gone.  Olivier and I had never been to the opera together so this was something new to enjoy.  Vanessa has made me a birthday card too with the words “With Love’’ centred  in a medallion. My eyes are misty because I feel loved and here it is written in 3-D.  I actually feel a little like myself again.

Big family, birthday fun

Loving sisters

Today is my birthday and it is also my only sister’s birthday. We were both born today, July 15, but 16 years apart.  She is my baby sister, which is why I have invited myself to her house for dinner.  My sister’s house is in darkness when I arrive for our birthday dinner and  I am perplexed because they have five adult children and three of them married this year in January, February and March respectively. Already nephew Jason and his wife Rhianna have produced Anne’s  first grand-child, Theo.  There are two cats and a dog, too. Yet the place is silent, most unlike a birthday celebration. Until I enter with my poodle puppy Oscar. The whole clan of 11 adults, because my niece Chelsea has her boyfriend here too, are clustered in a circle before a roaring slow-combustion heater watching a movie in darkness.

Someone switches the lights back on and we kiss and hug each other and I receive a dozen “Happy Birthday’’ greetings.   Oldest daughter, Sonya has cooked a birthday dinner for her mother and Auntie because we were both born today – July 15, only 16 years apart. And soon a dozen of us cram around the big refectory table seated on a conglomeration of chairs.  Theo at three months, is propped up at the head of the table on my sister’s daughter-in-law Tonya’s lap.

“We are still one chair short,’’ says Ken, who returns soon after with an office chair.

The table is laid with small servings of simple prawn cocktail with creamy sauce and soon Sonya rises to take out two big pastry pies from the oven, which are dissected to reveal the filling of chicken, leak and potato.  She places a medley of colourful roasted vegetables in a bowl in the centre of the table.

“Oh, it smells delicious,’’ says her mother, my sister Anne.  Sonya smiles and we wait for her to sit before we all tuck in.

“It tastes delicious, too,’’ says her new husband, Sam.  It’s his birthday today, too, but I have forgotten a gift.  The puff pastry is crispy and the chicken pieces shred easily under my knife.  It is a triumph and I say so to everyone.

“It’s a wonderful blend of flavours,’’ I state.

The men jibe each other about their respective hair dos and conversation flows onto Chelsea’s new job as a receptionist. Nathan, the youngest child at 17, has been given a prized spot in a TAFE course for the building trade and we buzz about his achievement.  Soon the two pies have been hungrily devoured. The birthday dessert  follows decorated with pineapple pieces and four candles – one for each birthday person. It is also Ken’s birthday on July 18th – and we blow out a candle each to a chorus of Happy Birthday.

“Time for gift-giving,’’ commands Anne and we move to the living room.

Now Theo commands attention with his distressed crying. “I think he is hot,’’ says new mother, Rhianna of the three-month-old.   Anne whips off his tiny jump-suit and nappie of the infant and lies him naked from the waist on a rug in front of the fire. Oscar is banned to the bathroom.  Conversation lulls as we watch the baby quieten, and kick and gurgle, unfettered by constricted leggings.

The scenario brings back my own memories of Anne when she was a baby and I was 16 years old and how our mother did the same thing. Anne would be stripped and laid on her stomach or back, propped on a pillow and she would kick her chubby legs, smiling and gooing.    Now my love for her overflows as I watch her wonderful, big, loving family.

There are many gifts handed around and the family gives me a stylish oval camphor laurel cutting board and I hand my sister a unique coffee mug screen-printed with stereotypical 1950s images of housewives.

“You can remember me each time you have coffee,’’ I say. “As if I would ever forget you, sister dear,’’ she replies.

I will never forget tonight and how family fun filled the void in my life if only for one night.






Motherhood yields rich human harvest



Mother-to-be, daughter and grand-daughter

My week has been filled with wonderful family activities to gladden the saddest heart.

The three grand-children are visiting from Queensland with their mother, my daughter Serena and how sweet it is to have children sleeping once more under roof.  My home is noisy and cluttered and daughter has taken over kitchen cooking family meals and making countless cups of Lady Grey tea for me.  However, our family focus is actually on an impending birth.

My son, Tyson and his beautiful, very pregnant wife Vanessa are expecting their first baby in early August and the excitement is mounting.

Today, Vanessa held a Baby Shower, a fun celebration of this imminent event.  The males, poor fellows, were banned to the local pub including a couple of dads with their young sons.

Only females are permitted to this very feminine event.

Many relatives from both sides of the family are here, clustered in a tight, happy ring in the living room.  My favourite family females are here – sister Anne, her two daughters, her new daughter-in-law , my daughter Serena, who, living in Brisbane, has missed three weddings this year – and of special note, the mother-to-be, my daughter-in-law, Vanessa. My precious grand-daughter Josephine wears a new floral dress with a full skirt and puff sleeves which she chose from the rack at David Jones last night.  More important, are her new pair of red shoes. They have a shiny patent finish and are a little too big without socks and they flop somewhat when she walks.  I am delighted simply looking upon her, such a charming child, who draws with confidence on a side coffee table.   “Is Josephine’s dress a Pumpkin Patch design?’’ asks Josie, Vanessa’s sister-in-law.  Her baby daughter, perched on her lap,  is one of  two other delightful little girls.

The two year old looks cute wearing  blue tights and a polka dot top and stands mesmerised by countless fish in the large aquarium.  A babe in arms, wearing blue woollens, adds to the fecundity of the occasion. He is my sister Anne’s new grandson, an infant of three months, who is being rocked  on her lap. From time to time he is passed along the lineup of her three 20-something daughters.

Sister Anne, Serena and cousins

Three of Vanessa’s workmates arrive late wearing  tight pants, cropped jackets, big belts and bright, fashionable scarves. I cast my eye around the room and count five of her female cousins. The room is rich with three generations of relatives from both sides of the family.

The dining room table is loaded with attractive gifts including a high stack of nappies presented in tiers like a white wedding cake.  There is a toy of Kermit the Frog on the top.  The kitchen benchtop is laid out with plates of cakes, bottles of champagne and a punchbowl and glasses.  The foodarama begins with my home-made hot sausage rolls, the first pastries to be handed around followed by hot vol au vonts  pasties and potato pies.

We play games in child-like joy. We sip champagne and we laugh a lot and eagerly await results to see who has smartly cut a piece of string the right length to fit around Vanessa’s bulbous stomach. Baby is due in three weeks, so this is a long piece of string. No-one would be surprised if she gave birth tomorrow.   “My obstetrician says I am a perfect size and there is still room for baby to grow,’’ says Vanessa as if reading our collective thought.

Vanessa is in her crowning glory as hostess Michelle delivers an array of gifts for baby and we watch intrigued to discover the next delightful offering . Everything from white bibs, white singlets and stuffed toys to a white embroidered bunny rug, white jumpsuit and intercom are unwrapped by the mother-to-be.  Such a lovely fuss for Vanessa’s initiation into motherhood.

I ponder like a contented cat over how we grandmothers were once young mothers-to-be, too, high on anticipation, yet fearful of the unknown of childbirth – and four decades later here we sit in the midst of the fruit of our wombs. And so the third generation unfolds.

When birthing stories from my generation begin to circulate, I must leave to take daughter Serena and the children to the airport to return to Brisbane..

Our camaraderie and the gift of family have lifted my spirits and pushed back the gloom of widowhood.  Goodness, I feel  almost joyful in anticipation that soon I will have a new precious grand-child and I can hardly wait.



Food a Focus in Anti-cancer “synergy”.

The fight against cancer starts in the kitchen according to anticancer guru David Serwan-Schreiber.  “Food is something we give our body three times a day. Everything we eat has a profound impact on our physiology. He tells us to pay attention to what we eat. “I bring in chemicals in my food which fights cancer,” he says.

He notes that red meat is to be avoided. The Anti-cancer Foods World Cancer Research Fund statesthat the goal should be no more than 11 ouncxes of red meat a week, but  in US people consume 11 ouncesrd of red meat a day. Red meat, he reckons, is more expensive than legumes which act as  anti-cancer agents and by adjusting our diet towards a heavier intake of vegetables it allows people to reduce our intake of animal products.

He advocates turmeric, cabbage, broccoli, raspberries and b lueberries to build an anti-cancer biology.

Broccoli, organic or not is the best vegetable to feed your body.

However, exercise also is important part of a routine and he advocates 30 minutes six times a week.

He advocates a “synergy” of lifestyle changes including exercises, decreased exposure to toxins and increasing exposure to sunlight. We should drink plenty of anti-oxidant green tea, too.

Then there is the emotional health of a person. “This is is psychology with which we face our journey and this is also important. Each one of us who has the opportunity to find someone who nurtures you ….is so important.”

That said, he also recommends spending a little bit of time by ourselves for ourselves every day.

“Focus on what it is like to be alive everyday.”

(I am writing this today to psyche myself up because my daughter and my threeprecious  grand-children, aged 10, 8 and 5 have returned to Brisbane and I am indeed left to my own devices to help me feel fully alive and able to cope with the aloneness of my life without Olivier. Hence I share those little tools from time to time on my Life & Style By Nadine Williams Facebook page where I photograph the things which bring me snippets of pleasure- friends, family, flowers, food.) That’s my own “synergy” for surviving grief.



SA Women vie for Senate spot

Anne Ruston at Ruston’s Roses, Renmark

Riverland entrepreneur, Anne Ruston is remaining stoic in her bid to contest the coveted Senate vacancy caused by the resignation of Senator Mary Jo Fisher despite a late entry candidate, Kate Raggatt, who flew in from London last week to contest the seat.

Ms Ruston, who is vice-president of the State Liberal Party, has recently won the No. 3 position on the Liberal Party Senate ticket  and is widely considered the front-runner for the unexpected vacancy.

“I have done the hard yards and I hope those who vote will see that,’’  said Ms Ruston.

Her future in Canberra lies in the voting power of the 220 State Council of the Liberal Party.

Kate Raggatt is a former Liberal staff member and is supported by conservative MPs linked to Senator Cory Bernardi.

Anne has had a hectic year beginning her campaigning for the third Senate seat in January this year. However, the resignation of Mary-Jo Fisher is a ticket to Canberra right now for the successful candidate.

The third slot on the Liberal Senate card is virtually unwinnable with the iron grip Senator Nick Xenathon has in the electorate.

Anne has put in a sterling year of lobbying. “I have done the rounds to become vice president and have spoken  to them on the process of the last Senate round and I have made a lot of friends and hopefully supporters,’’ she said.

Although she says she is not factionally aligned, Anne is widely considered the front-runner for the vacancy.

However, Liberal moderates headed by Federal MP Christopher Pyne are throwing their weight behind Anne.

How does she feel about a late starter entering the field, bringing the competition to 6 candidates for the one position?

“I need to focus on my goal and not be distracted by things I cannot do anything about,’’ s he said at her tourism business, Rustons Roses at Renmark.

“I am going to speak to people again and say “This is who I am and this is what I want to achieve.

“I would like to work towards stable government and a sensible government and the best way to do that is to get people elected into Federal Parliament who bring real life experience to the role.’’

Liberal state secretary Bev Barber is also contesting the Senate spot.

The Senate battle will be resolved when Liberal state council votes on July 27.


Lunch reveals lives of older boomers

We are seven women of a certain age, who are lunching together at Kate’s place to celebrate my long-time friend  Sheryl’s birthday.   Sheryl is a baby boomer creeping further into her early 60s and we range in age from her sister, Diane, the youngest at 58 years of age to Margaret, who is 70 years of age.

As we munch on a delicious Moroccan banquet, it  is interesting to note that we  reflect the lives of  almost 25 per cent of Australia’s population according to the 2011 Census, released last week.

One in four Australians are in those two age brackets – from 55-64 (11 per cent) and from 65 years and over (13.3 per cent).

Our conversations reflects our lifestyles and concerns of our age. Frail, aged parents are a concern for Sheryl, Diane and myself with their mother almost 90 and my father a relatively fit 93.  Both parents are virtually blind and my father is deaf, too.   Margaret tells us that she is contemplating selling her home and buying into a retirement village.  I have just moved into a new home which my late husband and I built after razing his 50-year-old house and I won’t be moving any time soon.

Six of us have been married, but only one – Chris – is still married.  Diane has been in a long 35-year de facto relationship as Sheryl says “That’s longer than most marriages.’’ Four  are now divorced and living alone and I am recently widowed.

Our four divorcees reflect the life circumstance of 11.3 per cent of Australians according to the Census gathered last year – or 1.8 million Australians who are separated or divorced.

Sheryl and I have been friends for more than 30 years and over that time, we have grown into older women together. We are both dog-lovers and have our own homes on the typical quarter acre block.  Whilst we have both retired within 12 months of each other, Sheryl has returned to a part-time job.

We women represent other social facts as well.

As a new widow, I note that there are just under a million of us – 936,813 who have lost their partners to death – or 5.9 per cent of Australia’s population. Clearly I am not alone in my new status.

The numbers of separated or divorced Australians has increased by .5 per cent to 11.3 per cent from 10.8 per cent – a significant proportion of the population to show that “happy ever after’’ is a fading dream for many.

Each of us is a home owner, with our host, Kate, living in a single storey attached stylish dwelling with a single garage under the main roof.   Five of us live in lone households.  Interestingly, typical of baby boomers in midlife, all of us have made housing changes. Five have sold up their homes and moved elsewhere, not necessarily into smaller homes.  Sheryl has built a large, stylish extension onto her Edwardstown bungalow. “That has changed my life and I am certainly not moving anywhere else.’’

Margaret is the only one contemplating moving. She moved from a long-time home at Glandore into a unit at Fullarton three years ago, and tells us she is considering selling up to live in a high-rise retirement village.

“I don’t want to care for the garden anymore,’’ she says.

Although we voice concerns over this, we are all mindful  that different housing choices may need to be made sometime in the future if we suffer ill-health or when we become frail and aged.

We reflect our fertility years, too, with five or us having been mothers and now, too, so many years later, the facts and fortunes of our adult children and grandchildren form the crux of conversation.

The other unpalatable issue is that we all now know someone close who has died since we gathered together, the most recent being my own husband, Olivier, of prostate cancer.  But they knew women who had died of various cancers and this news was exchanged with sad reflection.

Then there was the moment when I took the attached photograph and said if they didn’t all smile I would call out “sex!’’ like I did when I worked in a newspaper office. Sheryl “what’s that?” and Kate came back with “who cares!”.   Someone else added “I pass!’’.  Their comments support other relationship research which revealed only one in three women over 60 still have sex lives.


In a recent article by Bernard Salt in The Australian, he commented on the Census defining the “five tribes’’ that shape our modern nation.  They are The inner-city elite: a fast-rising population living within a 5km radius of the centre of all capital cities.

The suburbanists – the largest single collection of Australians being 13 million residents.

The sea-changers – a relatively new phenomenon in Australia’s cultural landscape – where mid-lifers move to live in “lifestyle towns’’ dotted along the foreshores of the states.

The other two are the “rural heartlanders’’ which categorises 5.3 million residents of regional and rural Australia – up 11 per cent over the past decade. Lastly he identifies the “outbackistan’’  who live in the far-flung great Australian frontier.

However, I reckon Australians are still much more easily identified by their age and lifestyle demographics, regardless of where they live.

Our birthday lunch, sitting with six other women at the same stage of life and talking for three hours about our lifestyles, issues of concern to us and choices is a far more powerful tool to identify cohorts.

Our lives lived bear a striking resemblance to each other, even though we are absolutely different in professional background, political persuasion, career choices and personal life history.

Our lives are not characterised by where we live – because that is all over the Adelaide metropolitan area, but by our health status, whether or not we are still in paid work, the caring roles of our ageing parents and their various stages of disability, the needs of our adult children, our grand-children, decisions surrounding retirement and work choices.  And while it was only Margaret, who is beginning to think about downsizing, retirement housing and how to fund our retirement are issues at the forefront of our minds.