jenn jay tales

Jennifer Johnston shares her travel tales; life adventures; observations, photos and random thoughts


Farewell my beige Billy

Death is inevitable – we all know that.  But if you lose a family member, or friend what you’re not prepared for is the feelings that crop up in unpredictable moments. Subtle reminders the person who was once a part of your life is now no longer.

My father passed away in April this year after a few years of declining heath. It wasn’t from a debilitating disease like cancer where the loved ones suffer so unfairly. My father’s condition was never fully diagnosed, despite numerous visits to doctors and specialists. But he had a heart attack at age 41 and bowel cancer at 58 – so to make it to 82 years he’d actually done well!

Dad about 10 years ago

Unfortunately, his last few years were a constant stream of doctor’s visits with an endless number of pharmaceutical pills to swallow.  Whatever ailed my father caused him to have no energy.  The man who loved to “tinker” on projects around the house was reduced to endless hours in bed, zapped of the desire to do anything.  Without energy, finding breathing difficult due to a build-up of fluid on the lungs and with parts of his body covered in scaly red masses – possibly the result of one of his many medications – dad’s quality of life was low.

The word wretched seems fitting.

Understandably he was frustrated and cranky for a fair amount of those years. And after that kind of existence you know it is a blessing he isn’t suffering any more.

Hang on a sec 

But there are moments that stop you when you realise that person is no longer here on this earth. I can no longer talk to dad, hear his grumbles, be told another of his grand stories (he had a few) or sit in the same room as him and look into his brown eyes and update him with something uneventful.

After dad died, my brother, mum and I went through that inevitable process – sorting through his belongings. We smiled at the amount of beige coloured clothing items we removed from his wardrobe. Trousers, shirts, even an old hat – all various shades of boring beige.  What a drab colour I thought – for a man who was far from dull.

dad in his groovy gear – showing off the planes he made my boys

Dad’s special place

At mum and dad’s home there are reminders everywhere of my father. But whenever I venture downstairs – to the garage underneath their house and go to his work bench, where his tools are stored, that is where it really strikes me – my dad has gone.

his workbench

Looking at the piles of tools he’s used over the years, the shovels, grubbers, the saws hanging on the wall, the clean paint brushes standing upright, the assorted glass jars lining in rows their lids nailed to the floor joists (my Dad’s novel way of storing screws) – I’m surrounded by so many memories of my father. He’d often be at his work bench tinkering – fixing, recycling or creating some project.

Dad’s novel method to store screws and bolts

I pick up what appears to be the last project he’d been working on, the realisation hits me hard. My eyes well with tears at the thought my dad will never touch these things again. He’s now tinkering in a different place.

Gone but never forgotten – my tinkering, story-telling, fan of beige-coloured clothing Dad. It’s father’s day today in Australia. I felt I had to write something.

Dad and I – on holidays (some time ago!)

Happy father’s day Dad.  Miss you. xx

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Renovation jitters – the next phase

Renovation phase three

You’d have to be living under a rock if you haven’t been exposed to stories about renovations. They’re everywhere. Magazines and blogs share renovation yarns. Reality TV shows like the Block and House Rules allow viewers to gain an insight into the tension a renovation project incurs. As both a reader and a viewer – none of these prepare you for what reno stress actually FEELS like, until you undertake a renovation yourself. Continue reading


Sharks and how Aussies manage them

Two laid back Aussies

I watched one of the funniest clips I’ve seen in a while on Channel Ten’s Project last night. The segment was following up the incredible photo moment captured by Nathan McLaren of a shark leaping from the water near surfer Daniel Caban. The incident occurred the day before, around 2pm at the southern end of Caves Beach near Port Macquarie, New South Wales.

shark image

McLaren was on shore taking photos of two surfers when he captured the shark breaching.  As with many moments like this when it involves one of nature’s creatures, it all happened so fast, others on the beach with McLaren asked if that really happened. McLaren checked through his photos and saw that it was in fact a BIG shark – approximately 3.5m long.

Being a little concerned Caban and another surfer were in the water with such a large shark – it appeared Caban was oblivious to what had just occurred – McLaren did what he could to get their attention. Maybe it’s just me, but Nathan McLaren’s description of what he did next was priceless. “I put a trusty red flannelette shirt on a crutch and started waving it like a lunatic,” said McLaren. “The guys thought it was another wave coming and started heading back out while I’m frantic up on the shore.”

Listening to this, Project guest host Tommy Little followed with a quick come back. “Well the good news is that with your look going on there Nathan, it would have looked like a homeless man ranting from the shore with no shirt on.”

What followed was lots of laughter by these two laid back dudes basking in their five minutes of fame. Not missing a beat, Nathan responded “Yeah I get that a bit, yeah.”

What a low key larrikin Aussie. What a character. What delivery!

“They may be two of my favourite people on the show,” Carrie Bickmore said closing the segment.

Couldn’t agree more Carrie! And Caban who remains totally unfazed by the danger lurking below the water shows Aussie surfers, well….. they’re a special breed.

Daniel Caban and Nathan McLaren / Picture: Troy Snook Herald Sun

Daniel Caban and Nathan McLaren / Picture: Troy Snook / Herald Sun

Here’s the three minute clip if you want to smile at these totally chilled couple of Aussies.


So the reno begins

Renovation update

This blog post has been written / not published / added to but now its time to publish and update as the reno project finally takes BIG shape!

To recap

The renovation madness upped its pace significantly last month. All was under control. I was working towards a start date in 8 weeks. But a phone call from the builder about 6 weeks ago asking how I was going with finding rental accommodation changed all that. He wanted to start a month earlier!  I know – unheard of in the building game – right?!

My to do list became very pressing:

  1. find rental accommodation
  2. pack up my house

The shipping container arrives

Part way through planning the project I thought about organising a shipping container which could sit on the (to be) spare block and allow me to store some of my furniture.  Sound like a good idea? Well it was until 2 tonnes of steel in the form of a 20 foot shipping container turned up at my place early one Friday morning.  Issue one was going to be the council tree on the footpath – right in the centre of where the truck needed to reverse.  The tree had been reported to council about four weeks earlier BUT despite it being declared “R” for removal – this can take up to 6 weeks. Of course it was still on the footpath the day the driver arrived.  So he planned a different path onto my sloping site. There was a stage where I thought two tonnes of steel and a large truck were going to flip sideways – such was the angle the poor guy had to get his tilt tray in to the space.

Yikes not an easy delivery

Yikes not an easy delivery

Anyways thanks to the persistence of the driver – and 45 minutes of manoeuvring his truck inch by inch,  he managed to place the container on site – maybe a little closer to the boundary than I wanted but it was there. Lesson to me – maybe I shouldn’t be on site watching things like this – my heart skipped many beats that morning!

installed one container

installed one container

I also thought I could try and sell my existing kitchen so that was out of the house before the builder started the partial demolition. That was another hopeful – later turning into a bit of a saga. It’s thankfully behind me now and I don’t wish to re-visit that part of my reno process – just enjoy the empty space that was my kitchen!

Kitchen before

Kitchen before

kitchen goneski

kitchen goneski

And I may never advertise items like that on gumtree ever again – but ……. let’s get on.



Certification Red Tape

My next step: check with my certifier what was required to tick all those red tape boxes so the reno work could commence.  When you make a decision to save on Project Management fees and do it yourself you know you are in for a steep learning curve.  Just how steep is the question. Terms that come into your world previously you’ve never heard of. My certifier enlightened me on a few. I needed a soil and sediment report? What? An Earthworks Management plan? What’s that and why?

Many phone calls and emails later – I discovered because my block of land is high set, it could be classed as a hazard when the excavation works begins. In heavy rain “silt” could run off and down the road upsetting the neighbours and those who use the road.  We don’t want that!  I express some of my frustrations to my certifier – so much red tape, “welcome to my world,” he responds.  I was starting to wonder whether taking on the Project Management role was such a good idea! Trying to save $10k was my motivation but the stress levels were rising.

I needed an engineer a RPEQ (a Registered Practising Engineer.) Also I learn good old hay bales and silt barriers prevent soil erosion. The learning curve is ongoing. Thankfully my laid back structural engineer is also a RPEQ and was able to do the required report at the 11th hour to complete the soil and sediment report as part of the compliance to allow the builders to commence the demolition on site.

The builder and engineer discuss my steel issues

The builder and engineer discuss my steel issues

I’ve realised I like working with lists. Via email I asked my certifier to list what specifically I need to obtain and then try and get my ignorant head around what everything means. “I have checked the conditions of the development permit that was issued by Brisbane City Council, you will need to have the following items/documents prepared to satisfy the condition of the approval, these items are not conditioned to be undertaken prior to me issuing the building approval but will need to be undertaken prior to the start of on-site works,” emails my patient certifier. This is how I work best. A background in human resources and currently as a writer means I naturally ask questions, when I don’t know what I’m talking about (which in this project has been often!) The reports were done in time and the building project has begun.

Packing up and moving

And then the joys of packing a house you’ve lived in for 15.5 years. How do we accumulate so much stuff!?  Because the build was brought forward, I had less time to de-clutter so in the end I moved more stuff than I thought as I ran out of time to deal with the extra. A few facebook friends were amused that despite my youngest is 12 years of age – I listed a porta cot and baby toys on a buy / swap / sell site.  It’s a case of you have the storage space – you store (in my situation!) The shipping container is actually the equivalent of a three bedroomed house.  And I was moving to a three bedroomed house. I calculated that must mean the container will not be filled – wrong!

The move was completed and I spent much of Easter filling my little Golf vehicle with all the excess stuff that didn’t make it into the removalist’s van!  I really don’t wish to ever move again – but my reality is when the house is ready – I’ll be moving baaack!  With less “stuff” I hope – as I’m trying to offload excess at this end!  Marie Kondo – de-clutter guru – applying her principle of what does not give me “joy” must go!  Easier said than done.

The partial demolition

It’s been four weeks now and the demo works that went on over the first two weeks was startling. Probably was always going to be the case when walls are smashed and removed. And of course my three boys wanted to be involved in the smashing of walls. (Just NOT the removal of it!) Fraser had much fun getting stuck into his walls!

Fraser the destructor

Destructor Fraser

The demo lads take a "V" breather

The real demo lads take a “V” breather

I would check on the demo lads progress at the end of each day. With sledgehammers, saws, drills and determination – they quickly removed much of my house. Skip bins were filled and emptied and re-filled, then emptied.

House profile before

House profile before

House profile after the back has been removed

House profile after the back has been removed

The skips came and went

The skips came and went

Recyclers – its best not to think about what went out of my house into fill somewhere – I saved what I could – but some things just disappeared.  I have a couple of neighbours keen on recycling and site visits would often include them updating me on what they have removed to “use” again down the track.  I’ve never conversed with my neighbours as much as I am now!

Its been a nervous few weeks. I decided to make an 11th hour bid to re-gain some of my city glimpses back by going up another half metre in height.  Watching the reno work on the house in front – I realised (a little late maybe) I should consider raising my house to the full height allowed under Council regulation (9.5metres.)  Great idea until my certifier pointed out my Development Application had only been approved to 9.0 metres.

City glimpses before

City glimpses before

Neighbours house raise meant bye to those city glimpses

Neighbours house raise meant bye to those city glimpses

One last minute approval

My certifier had to submit a siting variation application to Council to go up an extra half a metre.  We put the house raisers off and hoped to have approval by the time the date came round for them to start. Each day I was told “hopefully” tomorrow. Additional steel was ordered for the added height – punting on getting approval.

Last Friday the approval came through – 13 days after submission. Guess 13 was my lucky number!

This week the big event is due to begin: the house move and raise. Watch this space. I’ve left the builder with a few headaches which involves a few variations.  But nothing is really ever meant to be smooth sailing with renovations – is it?

More exciting times ahead.


Outlander Series 2 – the Power and the Passion

Droughtlander is almost over

With the imminent release of the second in the Outlander TV Series, what is sending Australian fans into the mature version of a One Direction frenzy? 

Jennifer Johnston investigates what all the fuss is about?

Outlander fan’s excitement levels are rising rapidly as they count down the days for the much anticipated release of Series 2. This is April 10th for Australian fans. American devotees are secretly smiling as their release date is April 9th. The mainly female and mostly over 30 Outlander enthusiasts, are reaching frenzied status similar to the hysterical reaction by teenagers when they hear One Direction is touring Aus.  The only difference is the more mature Outlander fans are not squealing as loud or hyperventilating as madly – it’s more of an inner elation. But there is another cause behind the Outlander fan’s heightened hysteria levels.  Foxtel’s SoHo channel in a major coup for Australian Outlander devotees are bringing lead star of the TV series Sam Heughan to Sydney to help promote the second series release.

Facebook pages including SoHo TVAU, the Viewing Lounge and Aussie Outlanders are announcing competitions. Stirring the fans with lines like, “listen up, lads and lasses – the highly anticipated return of our beloved time-traveling drama is almost here, and we’ve got something to help quench your Fraser thirst during this Droughtlander.”

Competition to meet Sam Heughan

Meet Sam Heughan

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50 Shades of grey – my experience

Glad the title drew you in!  But I’m not talking bondage and love trysts (sorry not this time) I’m talking hair.  This is all about embracing your grey?  Read about my guest post with Champagne Cartel Going grey with Style 

Grey hair colour

Denise O’Neill, a 52-year-old administrative assistant from Belfast, Ireland, found out going grey actually enhanced her beauty. “The way I see it, the beauty of grey hair is one of nature’s best kept secrets and is only revealed if you give it a try. If you don’t like it, you can always dye again. The most important thing to keep in mind is not to be afraid and don’t be put off by other people’s opinions. You will get people who will be negative about it, even your closest family and friends, especially during the transitioning phase when your hair will most likely look a mess. Keep focused and keep in mind the end goal. Only then will you see the new you – and then you can judge if you like it.” (extract from article in UK’s the Daily Mail  )

Lol – I’m trying to follow Denise’s advice!

What about you? what will / are you doing?