Thursday, March 29, 2012

Do you have a household budget?

Despite, or perhaps because of, the fact that I have written personal finances stories in various guises for the past five years (and more), I have a real problem with the word 'budget'. And so I avoid the whole notion. I pay the bills, make sure there's about the right amount of money in the bank, and juggle coins when necessary to make sure it all works out.

Every once in a while, The Builder and I decided that we must 'see where our money is going'. So we sit down with a pile of bills, plug all the numbers into one online budget tool or another and then wait for the jackpot results.

If the numbers vaguely add up, which they normally do because we are both from the same school of Tightwads Conservative Spenders, we nod and wander away, swearing (well, I do) that we will drink less takeaway coffee. Until the next time.

I saw the Treasurer on the news tonight, talking tough about the Tough Budget that the Government is about to hand down. In Europe, it's all about Austerity Measures - which sounds like the name of a pop group, but isn't near as much fun. But when I casually question my friends about the dreaded B word, most of them say 'yes, aren't things getting expensive, we're getting around to doing one of those, mostly we just wing it'.

Probably a good thing none of us are in charge of the nation's purse strings.

So now I'm wondering - do you have a household budget?When you make cuts, what's the first thing to go?

[image: I'm sure I would be much better at saving if I had one of these coin purses from octopurse/etsy]

By the way, if you vote for LIAPF in the Kidspot Top 50 Bloggers comp, you'll go in the draw to win an extra $5000 for your household budget. That's a lot of coin purses... 


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

To sing or not to sing? It's really not a question

I took myself off the shower tonight to contemplate tonight's post. I kid myself that I do my best thinking in the shower. That all that steam is dislodging crusty old thoughts and sending inspiration into every cell. That blog posts will be written, break-out novels created, and perhaps a random sonnet in iambic pentameter will be created.

I kid myself.

All I managed to do in the shower tonight was to work my way through my current playlist of Shower Diva tunes. Including, but not limited to, What's goin' on? (Four Non Blondes), Unchained Melody (The Righteous Brothers... I know, who am I kidding?), Crazy (Patsy Cline) and The Raiders of The Lost Ark (theme tune - because no amount of steam seems capable of dislodging that damn tune from my head at present).

Before our renovations, when our bathroom was a deep, green hole in the middle of the Fibro, my shower concerts were not really a problem. There were no windows and nobody could hear me over the rattly old ventilation fan anyway.

Now that we have a pristine, white bathroom on the edge of the house, with a large window, I'm fairly sure that my neighbours are becoming all too familiar with the Shower Diva (and probably snickering behind the fence as we speak...).

But I care not. The Shower Diva has not one jot on the Callas of the Washing Line, who favours American folk tunes (a la O Brother Where Art Thou?) and is outside strutting her stuff (next to the very same fence) on a regular basis.

At least the Callas of the Washing Line
Kids herself not, her purpose is not great,
Just ask her and she'll tell you straight out, Sir
I like to sing, in the sun, and breathe, mate.

Aren't you glad you don't live next door to the Fibro?

Are you a shower singer? What songs are on high rotation at your place? Have you ever tried to write anything in iambic pentameter (I don't recommend it)?

[image: I need me a shower curtain like this one from Amazon.]

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Don't you love a new discovery?

It might surprise you all, given my half-heartedness at times and my regular 'aaaugh, what am I going to cook for dinner?' tweets, but I am generally a 'from scratch' cook. Mostly, convenience foods leave me cold. The few exceptions are pasta from the fridge section (sorry, seems just way too hard to make my own), salad dressing (I know... I know...), and I use the Barilla tomato/basil sauce on my pizza bases (which I make from scratch or use Lebanese bread when time is short).

So, it's rare for me to try a new meal-in-a-box or packet. I just find that they all taste the same. And I also find that most dishes don't take that much longer if you use the fresh ingredients rather than the dehydrated doo-dahs.

Then I discovered Marion's Kitchen. The only reason I decided to give the range a whirl was that I loved Marion Grasby on Masterchef - possibly the last series of Masterchef I watched - and was outraged when she was sent home for an inferior satay sauce. I mean to say. Rigged or what??? (Vestiges of outrage still remain.)

When I saw her line of handy meals, I passed them by several times. Then one day I decided that I needed to put my money where my mouth was and actually support her. After all, she didn't get a cookbook deal*. She might need my $6.99 to get by.

I tried the red curry first - and it was good. Good enough for me to go back the following week and give the green curry a go. Love at first bite. It actually takes like proper green curry - with zing and zest. It takes less than 15 minutes to make (including rice). Everything you need bar the protein and the vegies is in the box, neatly labelled, with simple instructions. I think even The Builder could manage this one.

So, I'm hooked. And happy to recommend it**. You can even try the satay sauce for yourself.

What was the last supermarket discovery you made? Do share. Let's make this week's meal planning easier for everyone!

*Though I note that she does have a cookbook - I might buy that as well.
**As always, disclaimer: not sponsored, not paid, no free product, no nothing. Just sharing.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The WAHM conundrum

As I write this, Mr5 is in the next room, talking to the television as he watches The Smurfs, snuggled under the slanket (it's a family garment, you know...). His hair is sticking up straight, giving him that 'cocky' allure, his face is sleep rumpled and his soft, dark-blue dressing gown makes his eyes look like the ocean on a stormy day.

I could eat him.

And yet... His little voice breaks my concentration as I try to think of what to write. Papa Smurf's high-pitched tones are like fingernails down a chalkboard. Mr5 calls out at regular intervals for drinks and snacks and cuddles. All of which I am happy to provide - while part of me thinks 'deadline, deadline, deadline'.

He is sick. I am on deadline.

It's just like the old days.

Just weeks ago, I was lamenting on Facebook how much I miss him. How his presence at home two or three days a week gave a rhythm to my week. Procrastination is not possible when time is limited. Now, with him at school and five days a week stretching before me, it's all too easy to say 'I'll do that tomorrow.'

But I had forgotten about this. This feeling of anxiety and stress when you have two pulls on your time. Two demanding pulls. When your heart is torn between wanting to lie down on the sofa and be with your child, and wanting to do the best job that you can. So hard to ignore either when they're both in the same room with you. Walking away from either is not an option.

Sometimes being a work at home mum makes you all too present.

[image: love this vase by redhotpottery/etsy]

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Q&A: The best of times, the worst of times, to be an author

 I've been thinking a lot about ebooks lately. I'm working on a special project (details to be revealed soon) and it's taken me deep into the world of formatting, Kindle, Kobe, Mobi files and all manner of other technological mayhem. I'm slowly coming around to the idea of buying an e-reader, though I can never see it taking the place of my beloved books. Where I can see its value, however, is in the sheer number of books I could carry at once, as well as the availability of new material at all times.

Take now, for example. A quiet Tuesday night at home and I have no book at hand to read. It's enough to make a girl blog.

With my new interest in mind, and given my position as an author and soon-to-be novelist, I decided it was time to take the bull by the horns and find out more about the e-book publishing business. So I smiled beguilingly at Joel Naoum, publisher of Momentum, Pan Macmillan's new digital-only imprint, and invited him to the Fibro for a grilling.

Pan Macmillan is the first Australian publisher to launch a digital-only imprint, so I figured that Joel, as a man at the forefront of the foray into ebooks here, was a good person to ask about all the changes in the publishing business.

Fortunately, he smiled back. Here he is. All toasty.

Why was Momentum set up?
Joel Naoum: "For a few reasons, but the main one is to get the opportunity to experiment. Because we're separate from Pan Macmillan and the imprint is structured in a different way (no warehouses, no distribution costs, no printing costs), we can afford to experiment with debut authors, keep prices low and sell our authors globally."

Are you always acquiring? What are you looking for in a writer or project?
JN: "I am always acquiring! I'm looking for books with global appeal, authors who are engaged with their potential audience on social media or blogs, books that work well digitally (genre fiction, for the most part) and - most importantly - a great story."

Is it a difficult time to be an author - or an exciting time to be an author? Discuss.
JN: "It's both. Authors are going to be expected to know more and do more and yet it is getting commensurately more difficult for new authors to get a publishing deal. The rise of social media means that it's difficult for publishers to market on an author's behalf nowadays. The most effective way for an author to reach their audience is to directly engage with them. It's exciting for authors, however, because they have an unprecedented opportunity to make their work available to readers without a publisher (though I'd still argue that authors are better off with a publisher than without!)."

How does an author stand out when a reader has to wade through the entire internet to find their book?
JN: "My experience - and I suspect that of many readers - is that they have too many things they want to read. The internet buying experience is optimised for those people. Get in and get out. It's not an ideal browsing experience, and I don't actually see that experience from a bricks-and-mortar bookstore being replicated online. (And I think the ebook stores who try will probably fail.)

"People 'browse' books online by reading widely and organically stumbling upon things they want to read. The benefit of internet shopping in general - and particularly with ebooks - is that the distance between thinking 'oh, that might be interesting to read' and being able to read it is very short. A few clicks at most. That's where digital book marketing comes in. Our digital marketing team maximises the opportunities for readers to organically discover books and decreases the amount of time and energy it takes to purchase a book."

What are your three top tips for writers to who want to survive and thrive in this changing publishing environment?
JN: "That's a tough one... I'd say 'keep writing' is my number one tip. At the end of the day, that's still the most important thing a writer can do (that is, don't get distracted by points two and three...).

"Second point is to read. Not enough writers read in the genre they want to write for - and they make terrible rookie mistakes that make me want to throw their manuscript out the window (if it wasn't inside my computer, that is).

"Third point is to engage online with social media and try to build up a useful professional writing and reading network."

Joel is not only the publisher of a global book imprint, he also writes, blogs and tweets. Go say hello! Momentum accepts submissions every Monday - read the guidelines and dive in!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Pre- or Post? How do you worry?

There's been a lot of talk on the interwebs of late about anxiety. I'm looking forward to reading Kerri Sackville's forthcoming book (out May) about the subject because if it's as funny as her Facebook status updates on the subject we're in for a treat.

I don't think I suffer from anxiety (I've done some overthinking about it so I can state that with some confidence). I am, however, an old-fashioned worry wart. For me, there is nothing too far in the future that I cannot worry about. When The Builder and I were discussing the subject of having children, I was very keen to get on with it. We were in our early thirties and I had some concerns. My biggest? I didn't want to be paying for university out of my superannuation. His response? Could we think about the next five years rather than trying to work out whether we'll be able to afford a Winnebago and a BA.

I think there are two types of worry warts. Those who worry before. And those who worry afterwards. I'm in the first camp. I will go over and over and over a decision, turning it inside out, lying awake at night with 'what ifs' and 'why nots?'. Once the decision is made, however, I never look back. No regrets. It is what it is. One must get on with it.

If I could bottle the energy that I've expended over the years worrying about stuff that's never happened, I could sell power back to the grid.

I'm not sure what it would be like to be a person who worried afterwards. Do they actually exist or have I just made them up to make my blog post flow? Maybe you can tell me.

Are you a worry wart? Do you worry in advance, or jump first and worry afterwards?

[image: I think I need this, from, for my wall.]

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The sounds of silence

I'm thinking about silence tonight. Specifically, lack of shouting and outrage and earnestness. So that would be silence online, I think.

I'm working on a really interesting story at the moment, one that requires me to delve deep into the future. It's a fascinating place, the future. I'd tell you about it, but that would negate the need to write the story and then where would we all be?

In the course of working through my story, I found myself talking to a social researcher (SR) this morning. (As an aside, I think that if I were to ever decide I didn't want to be a writer anymore, I'd find myself heading in that direction. Finding out what makes us tick, why we live the way we live? Oh yes, I could do that when I grow up.)

Anyway, today's lovely SR is researching, among other things, the effects of social media and other technological advances on we poor guinea-pig humans. The fact that delving regularly into this brave new world may bring on as-yet-unforeseen health problems in the future. The fact that so much information shared so quickly and with such instant responses required might be affecting the way our very brains work.

I ventured that there are days when I find the levels of outrage on the internet to be exhausting. If it's not one thing, it's another. One corner of my brain recognises that outrage drives traffic, the rest of it is left thinking 'really? again?'.

My friendly SR laughed. We agreed that at least on the internet you can look away.

We live in a world where opinion is currency. Look at me, having one right here. It used to be about facts, balance. There'd be one or two columnists in a newspaper or magazine. One or two opinion pieces dispersed through a sea of third-person features or objective news reports. One or two pieces that began with 'I'.

Now it seems that 'I' is all there is. Particularly online (just look at the first word in this post!). So many voices out there shouting to be heard.

You have to wonder, though, who is listening? Everyone and no-one?

[image: Sounds of Silence 2 by JKphotography/etsy]

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Parenthood - there's a label for that

Six months ago, I wrote a post about the indelible marks of motherhood. The things that make you realise you're a parent. Not always what you'd expect.

Today, as I chopped fruit and dispensed Vegemite to make two school lunches, I came across another one. One of those little things that you realise mark you out forever - and to everyone else - as a parent.

Every single item of plastic ware - Tupper or otherwise - in my cupboard has a name on it. Sometimes it's a fancy label with one or other of the boys' names. Other times it's a hurried scrawl, where I've written the family name in (hopefully) permanent texta. The Builder takes his lunch to work in carefully labelled containers. In case he forgets which ones are his, I guess...

Parents carry containers with labels. It's an indisputable fact. We might as well wear them on our foreheads.

Is everything in your cupboard labelled? Do you still lose container lids like I do? 

[image: I also realised that I do not put love notes in the family lunchboxes. Clearly I am remiss. Perhaps I need some like these from kikicomin/etsy]

Monday, March 12, 2012

Learning new things at school

At the end of last year, when he was still Mr4, Mr5 founded the Cuddle Club. Fam Fibro were all founding members, after which he would pounce on people who visited, signing them up. Membership of the club cost one cuddle, and there were additional cuddling benefits promised throughout the year.

Fast-forward three months. Mr5 is now at school. He has posted a new sign on his door (see image). He has learnt the word 'sexy', though he does not know what it means. I asked him. He told me that it means 'you're the best'. The boy who liked to spy on birds now has two girlfriends and is talking about getting married. When he is angry, he tells me he won't be my friend anymore. When a dog put its nose up my skirt the other day (don't ask), he laughed and said 'He's trying to sniff your undies, Mum."

Oh yes, he's learning a lot at school.

In the midst of our 'we don't' conversations (as in we don't have girlfriends in kindy/use the word sexy at five/tell people we hate them/use the phrase 'sniff your undies'), I find myself longing for Alla Hoo Hoo. Surely a woman with 98 children would have a few words of wisdom for Mr5.

I wonder if mums are allowed to have imaginary friends?

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Tips for freelancers number 9: How to develop a rhinoceros hide

I received an email from a friend yesterday. She had pitched a story to a magazine and received a 'thanks, but no thanks'. It had knocked the wind out of her sails but she was, she wrote, beginning to feel ready to try again. "Do you ever suffer from feeling over-sensitive about knockbacks?" she asked me.

My answer? Er, yes. But nowhere near as much as I used to do.

Someone asked me recently to write a post about how to develop a thicker skin as a freelancer. I started one a few times and then gave up. It's not like there's a secret cream you can use - "thicker skin in minutes, fight the seven signs of rejection". Unfortunately, as with most things, the rhinoceros hide is something that develops over time. With practice.

In other words, yes, I got better at being rejected the more often I was rejected.

Put like that I sound like a very sad individual indeed.

The fact is that writing is one of those jobs in which you put yourself out there every single day. You have to back yourself in on a regular basis. It's a creative process, so there's a little bit of you in every idea, every article, every assignment, every book. A little piece of you going 'like me, like me'. And if someone doesn't, that little piece of you retires hurt.

The key is not to take it personally. I said it wasn't easy. If someone rejects your idea or pitch, it might just be that it's not right for them on that day. Perhaps you haven't angled it quite right for that publication. Perhaps it's just, gulp, a crappy idea. We all have them. Even if we don't like to admit it. They're not rejecting you as a person, just that particular idea, pitch, feature or proposal.

If I get a 'no' on a pitch, I just rethink it. Can I sent it to someone else? Are the case studies not strong enough? Has it been done elsewhere recently? I have an 'ideas' file on my computer. It's a place where bad ideas go to die, or to perhaps be reborn as good ideas in four months time when they become surprisingly relevant.

Freelance writers who get regular work are freelance writers who get knocked back and just bounce back with another idea, another angle, another attempt. There's no hocus pocus in it. Just an 'oh well, I'll try something different' approach, time and time again.

I'm not saying it isn't exhausting sometimes. Even a bit depressing if you have a bad run. But the beautiful thing about writing, in any genre or style, is the idea that your next pitch/story/proposal/book/novel will be a winner. Hope is a wonderful cure. Resilience is the key.

But if anyone does come up with a formulation for Thick Skin In A Jar, please send me a sample. Express post.

[image: How cute is this little Rhino print from Aliette/Etsy]

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The State of The Family Nicknames Address

Ours is a house of nicknames. I knew it to be so when I was contemplating getting an Uberkate Circle necklace and my first two choices of names for each of my boys was not the name they were given at birth. True story. I had two nicknames each lined up before their actual Christian names. And I had not even depleted my supply of nicknames. I could have added at least one more each to the list.

When we were growing up at Casa Tait, we all had several nicknames. My Dad was - actually make that is - a demon for them. None of them made any sense. Many of them came with their own songs. Or a poem. Maxabella, in particular, seemed to attract the musical variety. I cannot think of her nicknames today without adding the ensuing lines that go with them. She's a walking Andrew Lloyd Webber production.

The only one who doesn't have a pantheon of nicknames spilling out behind him is my brother TICH. His name was, and always has been, simplified to one letter. M. Later he became Mmmmmers. And is known as Uncle Mmmmmers to his many, many nieces and nephews. But he was just plain old M for the longest time.

The boys are bearing up well under the weight of their many nicknames. As embarrassing as some of them are. Mr8, however, has drawn the line at being addressed as 'Doodlebug'* in public. He believes it to be undignified. I'm not even sure where that one came from. It's relatively new and I am doing my best to confine it's use to the Fibro. But it's just such a nice word. It really rolls off the tongue, don't you think?

But I digress...

I'm guessing it's one of those genetic things. Like discussing the weather at length. But maybe I'm just kidding myself and it's more widespread than I thought. So I'm asking...

Is yours a house of nicknames? Do you have one or more per member of household? Are any or all horribly embarrassing? If so, please share. We won't laugh at all. Not one little bit**.

[image: The Builder will henceforth be known as 'Bread' as per this lovely pic from Luxe Mountain Weddings blog}

*Note, this was not one of the choices for the UberCircle
**okay, maybe just a little

Sunday, March 4, 2012

A real pain in the neck

My weeks of frantic typing have caught up with me. I have an industrial injury. And, no, it's not a paper cut.

When you sit at a computer, day after day, fingers flying over a keyboard, your muscles and tendons get a work out. And not in a good way.

I woke up this morning feeling as though my shoulders had migrated their way up and settled somewhere around my ears. My neck, unhappy with this prima donna behaviour, had gone on strike.

A reminder, once again, that ergonomics are important.

All I can do is take pain relief, and rest. Before booking an appointment with someone, anyone, tomorrow. Oh, and keep this post short.

As work-related injuries go, it's not glamorous. But then, neither is a paper cut - and no-one can deny the pain of those!

[image: I will be putting in an order for these from]

Friday, March 2, 2012

The sun, she always rises

It's 4am. I'm awake. I'm cold, I'm restless. My mind is working like a navvy, churning, burning kilojoules as it labours through the what-ifs, the maybes, the wherefores, the no-ways. In those dark hours, every bad thing that has ever happened to me, to the world, slips frame-by-frame through my memory banks. Every bad thing that could ever happen to my children, to the world, clanks through my imagination in heavy boots.

"I should get up, write things down," I think.


"Oh God, it's 4.03, I have to get up in three hours."


My muscles clench, my toes curl. My eyelashes are entwined with my brows, so open are my eyes. Every noise outside is magnified. Every creak indoors enhanced. Somewhere, in another room, a child coughs. I freeze, waiting for further cries. Nothing. And yet I lie stiff, ready for action, thoughts in turmoil.

And then, I see it. Sliding under the bedroom door, slipping through the cracks in the venetians.

A new day.

The sun, she always rises. As long as she continues to do so, there is always hope.

I sigh. I roll over. I drift back to sleep.

Mum was right. Everything does look better in the morning.

I'm joining in with Eden's Fresh Horses. Just because I can. You should too.

Edenland's Fresh Horses Brigade


Thursday, March 1, 2012

A few of my favourite blogs

I've been thinking a lot about blogging this week. Possibly to help me procrastinate when I was supposed to be doing other kinds of writing. Whatevs. Maybe blogging is on my mind because I'm aware that I haven't been reading as many as usual of late. And I hate missing out.

Anyhoo, I thought I'd round off this week of not-much-blogging by blogging about blogging. Specifically, some of my favourite blogs. I will not include the usual suspects here - Maxabella, Multiple Mum, Lucy, Eden, Woogs, and the delightful Chantelle at FatMumSlim all know that they are high on my list of daily must-reads.

No, I thought I'd share some of my other faves. The ones that give me 'oh, I wish I'd written that' moments.

Karen at The Rhythm Method is not blogging much at the moment because she is diving deep into a new degree. But I love her writing. As Eden said recently, "my goodness. Karen can write. Like, WRITE. A swirly real writerly writer. Each post a delicious feast". Amen to that.

I love Angela at Yes, Dear, because she makes me laugh, makes me think, and makes me feel as though we're having a conversation. I'm always happy to see her little yellow avi in my Facebook feed.

Jennifer at A Sampler writes beautiful words about everyday things. Sometimes there's a little fiction. Sometimes a little home truth or two.

Gill at InkPaperPen is inspirational. Her  Write On Wednesday meme is always full of surprises. If you have an itch to write fiction, join her group!

Tinsen Pup is another blog I always look out for. She's been quiet lately, but her posts are so lyrical and poetic that I couldn't leave her off this list. Not always easy reading, but always memorable.

I'll stop at five. There are so many! But I need to leave a few for another post...

In other news, I sent my revised manuscript back to PanMacmillan today. On time. And with much trepidation. Now to wait for the news that (hopefully) all is well. Waiting I can do. I'm very used to waiting.

[image: beautiful print from alifethroughthelens/etsy]
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