Friday, February 26, 2010

Conversations from the Fibro #4

WHAT I TALKED ABOUT THIS WEEK: It’s that time of the week, when I share some of the topics of conversation that came up through work or play (I'll leave it to you to figure out which is which) in the course of life in a pink fibro.

"Emperor Palpatine (and how he’s really not real and therefore can’t be too scary…fingers crossed), The Wire, The Killing, small houses, Relay for Life, the Wimoweh song, Jimmy Giggle (that's him with his owl on the left, ABC-2), photography, Tony Abbott, Angela Shanahan, the hot water heater, plumbers, lock configurations, Sven the world’s unluckiest speed skater, online dating, superannuation, credit ratings, lawn mowers, Lydia Lassila, mulch, memories of childhood friends, Eddie McGuire, gumboots, blogs, the making of friends, the keeping of friends, what to do when friends no longer want to be friends, turnips, stationery, new books, old books, great books, twitter, nappies, Buzz and Woody…the end of FebFast (so close)."

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

It's official: I'd get lost in a shopping bag

Fibrotown is a town of plenty when it comes to supermarkets. There are three within spitting distance of each other in the main shopping strip and two within a block of that. Five. In the inner-city suburb in which I used to live there were two, to service probably three times as many people. Not too sure what the collective noun is for supermarkets – a cashola of supermarkets? A clutch of supermarkets? A ker-ching of supermarkets? – but we have one right here.

In theory, then, we should be a hotbed of competitive shopping. The residents of Fibrotown should be at the forefront, the pointy end, of ‘keeping the bastards honest’ (to borrow a phrase) and supermarket prices down.

Only, if I’m anything to go by, we’re not.

Mr3 and I were out getting some exercise today (aka, avoiding the housework) when he remembered he needed a juice and I remembered we actually did need milk. And garbage bags. And…well, you probably don’t need my shopping list, but suffice to say it wasn’t all going to be found in one aisle.

Being in a cheery, ‘what a nice day’ kind of mood, I didn’t go out of my way to go to my usual supermarket (admit it, you have one too), but just wheeled on in to the closest one. Big mistake.

A different supermarket is like a foreign English-speaking country. Think the US, where they talk our language but drive on the wrong side of the road. Or England, where they call soccer football, and football rugby, and AFL a very strange game. Or Scotland, where they deep fry perfectly good Mars Bars. In other words, it’s all strangely familiar, but you can’t quite get your head round it.

It took me three times as long to buy my few items than it would have done if I’d taken the time to walk across the street and go to my ‘usual’ supermarket. And we forgot the juice because I was so flustered by the time I found the garbage bags, in the cooking aisle (?), that I just needed to escape the place. (I know, I really need to get out more.)

We get mountains of junk mail every week. Catalogues and brochures and special offers. Each week, I go through them, noting that olive oil’s on special at supermarket A, coffee’s reduced at supermarket B and you can buy a vibrating armchair and bag of mulch at supermarket C (no prizes for guessing which one that is). I kid myself that I will make like a true budget shopper and chase those specials up.

But I won’t. Because it just takes too long. I refuse to lose an hour of my life wandering around a strange supermarket to save $3 on Vittoria. Sooner or later that $3 special will come to my supermarket and I’ll just save it then.

Which is why I want the ACCC to keep watching those supermarket Big Boys with a beady eye. Somebody’s got to keep the bastards honest.

Memories of a childhood friend

Yesterday I heard the news that a family friend had died. He was 37. A bit younger than me, someone I grew up with. I haven’t seen him for at least 20 years. My overwhelming memory of him involves turnips. It was his fault, you see, that our entire family ate turnips for what felt like every night for what felt like years.

He would come to our house after school and stay for dinner. His mum asked my mum to serve him up turnips every meal because he needed some vitamin or other (I’m hazy on detail – I was about 11 at the time). Because he ate them, we ate them. The only vegie I hate more today are chokoes, but they deserve a post of their own, so I’ll leave those.

He was a sweet little boy with a mile-wide smile and a streak of cheekiness. As he grew up, he chose a few alternate paths on the journey through life and things didn’t go too well for him.

Now he’s not with us anymore. And even though I haven’t laid eyes on him in forever, I feel the ripples of his absence. The people you grow up with are always the ones you remember best. And they’re the ones who remember the best of you.

I’ll think of him fondly every time I see a turnip. (Note I say ‘see’, not ‘eat’. Won’t be doing that again.)

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Are you thinking the grass is greener?

If you’re considering moving out of the city for a quieter life may I humbly suggest that you stay put. Yes, there’s less traffic and the silence at night is black and velvety. But the days…good grief, the days are a whole different ballgame.

When you don’t have concrete, you have grass. And when you have grass, you have to mow the stuff. And the good citizens of Fibrotown could mow for Australia. Well, in my block they could anyway.

I say block but I could say blocks. I can hear every mower start up within a 3K radius. There’s no other interference, you see, and not much competition to occupy the sound waves around here. I swear that there are residents of this area that are mowing daily. They must be. There’s no other explanation. If the grass grows a millimetre, they’re on it. Perhaps they’re practising lawn bowls in the backyard, who knows?

All I know is that the quiet of my days is shattered regularly by the throaty roar of a petrol mower and the whine of a whipper snipper. They start as early as 8am and last until dusk (that’s usually us, admittedly). In a strange phenomenon, you never hear two at once. It’s as though they can’t bear to challenge each others’ noise superiority. Like soul divas, each awaits their turn in the spotlight.

The only consolation is that the blower is not in fashion in these parts. The preferred method of clean-up is the mower with catcher and the good old-fashioned rake.

Small mercies.

All I’m saying is that the grass may be greener on the other side of the fence – but there’ll be someone waiting there to cut it.

Monday, February 22, 2010

FebFast finally hits home

It’s taken three weeks, but FebFast got difficult overnight. Possibly because I finally left the Fibro and had to venture out into, gulp, society without the benefit of a bevy.

Friday night saw me in one of the local establishments with a group of girls from school (we are actually all women now, technically, but, you know, they’ll always be the girls from school (GFS)) and without a drink in my hand. It’s the first time I’ve been in said establishment without a drink in my hand since the first few times I went there – and then only because I was underage and actually cared about that. (I know, I know, total nerd.)

So there I was, familiar faces, familiar places, even familiar music – it was ‘retro night’, which means they were playing all the songs from my youth…when did my youth become retro? I don’t feel old enough for that.

Apparently, I am old enough, however, to qualify for Cougar Night. Retro Night in Fibrotown equals Cougar Night (or so a well-meaning male friend informed me), when the ladies of uncertain age stalk out into the night to once more shimmy to the well-named John Cougar Mellencamp (or possibly just Johnny Cougar, now I think about it – we were getting pretty damn retro there for a while) and mix it with the pretty young boys.

Had I not been FebFasting would I have shimmied? We’ll never know, because I was FebFasting – or, as I explained to the GFS, practising being ‘scintillating while sober’ – and shimmying never came into it. I definitely wasn’t a practising Cougar, and neither were any of the GFS, being either in relationships or not interested.

There was a lot of discussion about the Cougar phenomenon though. One friend, R, is affronted by the trend because, as she puts it, she’s been doing it for years and never got a label before. The two other GFS at the table thought they were cool with the whole thing – until they actually saw it in practice in our old stomping ground. As M put it: “At what point does Cougar become Mutton?”

I tend to come down on the ‘whatever gets you through the night’ side of the debate, though I do think that a smaller playing field requires a different approach. In the city, you can strut your stuff in a new watering hole every week. Not so in Fibrotown. Some of the Cougars shimmying away on Friday night must have been hitting that same dance floor for a long, long time, as drinks fashions went from West Coast Coolers to Bacardi Breezers, and the guys drinking beer against the wall got younger and younger.

Women in the city complain long and bitterly that there are no men there. How much more difficult must it be to be single in a smaller town? If the choice is between staying home every night with a cat and going out to the same places you’ve been going for years, what would you choose?

I tip my hat to the Cougars of Fibrotown, shimmying til they drop to a little ditty ‘bout Jack and Diane.

But I was even happier than usual to see the pink fibro at the end of the night. No alcohol high required.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Did Terrence Trent D'Arby come up at your place?

WHAT I TALKED ABOUT THIS WEEK: Every Friday I share some of the topics of conversation that came up through work or play (I'll leave it to you to figure out which) in the course of life in a pink fibro.

Grow-Your-Own red roses for Valentine's Day, cleaning my office, Terrence Trent D’Arby, lawn mowers, The Wire, whether blowers have catchers (confusing unless you were there), paint, guitar practice (several times, getting louder each time), revising, Family Assistance forms (how does anyone fill them out, let alone rort the system), the ATO’s malfunctioning computer system, The Wire, The Killing, vintage maps, small houses, superannuation, online dating, sales coaching, revising, slugs, rhubarb, raised garden beds, the DVD instruction manual (as in, actually opening it, rather than trying to take in the contents via osmosis), dodgy oven, dodgy microwave, dodgy toaster, what I’ve been doing since I left school (in five minutes, over coffee, with former school mate). Twitiquette, elimination communication, revising, The Wire, revising.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A change is as good as therapy

Things have changed in the Fibro. I’m writing this at a new desk. Very new. As in, moved in this afternoon new. Which means that I’ve had to tidy my office (to find my old desk so that we could move it out) and, gulp, turn off my computer for a few hours.

I have come to the conclusion that internet access is becoming a problem for me. I keep telling myself that I can stop anytime I want, but the truth is that I get a bit scratchy when separated from my inbox for too long. I’m not sure what I’m worried about. It’s not like earth-shattering missives are hitting my inbox on a regular basis. More, I think, that I might miss out on something.

When you work at home, the internet is what ties you to the world. Going nuts listening to the In The Night Garden music (and I do, I can assure you)? Leave the room, click ‘check mail’ and there’s always the chance that there may be that satisfying ‘ping’ that tells you that someone in the adult world is thinking about you. If only to tell you about Accor’s latest hotel specials or how you can send money to a nice man in Nigeria. It’s all about possibilities.

But I’m back now. Safely plugged in, with acres of impossibly neat new desk to inspire me. I even have drawers now – something other than a tin can to keep my unruly collection of pens, cables and – strangely enough – scalpels in.

A new desk is also a sign of possibilities. So what if the old one didn’t become the home to The Great Australian Novel. This one, with its battered 1940s appeal (bringing to mind weathered, bespectacled, be-hatted clerk bent over fountain pen rather than be-polo shirted, be-frizzed journalist sitting at computer), could be The One. The font of inspiration that makes it all happen.

Well, that’s what I tell myself to make up for all the upheaval that its arrival caused. I am never happy when my personal space is invaded and my study is the most personal space I have in the Fibro. Like a shell that I draw around myself, with mysterious piles of paper on every surface. When those are disturbed, my feathers are well and truly ruffled.

Which is why I’m soothing myself with notions of importing the Stacked Paperback wallpaper from (pictured). Piles and piles of books that take up no space at all – and can never be moved.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb...

Does anyone know what to do with rhubarb? I only ask, because I now have a vegie garden full of the stuff and the only place I know to put rhubarb is in a crumble. The Builder loves a rhubarb crumble, but at the rate it’s growing, he will be eating it every day and then some. Mind you, given that Scottish researchers have discovered that baking rhubarb for 20 minutes enhances its cancer-fighting properties, perhaps we should all be eating a crumble a day…

But I digress.

It’s not something I would have chosen to plant myself. Why, then, do I have a garden full of it? I’m glad you asked.

My friend S rolled up the driveway a few weeks ago in her Kombi and proceeded to unload three large rhubarb plants. Seems she’d been talking to a mutual friend about rhubarb and promised her some plants. The very next day, she’d turned up with them, only to find the mutual friend had been out that morning and bought her own supply.

Her loss was my gain.

While I was dithering about, wondering what to do with said plants, S requested a shovel and had them in and watered before I’d put the kettle on.

They look lovely in the garden. The stalks are red, the leaves dark green. Christmas in February.

Now I just have to work out what to do with them.

The good news is that whilst I was lurking about the exhibitions hall at the local Agricultural Show on the weekend, I noticed an Apple & Rhubarb chutney with a blue ribbon on it. So things can be done with it. Prize-winning things at that.

I was inspired by the Exhibitions hall. It’s a heart-warming place to be. It’s also hotly contested. There’s one lady in town who wins or places in nearly every cooking category. She’s a local legend, and I salute her. But it’s not just the cakes that are fabulous. The pumpkins are huge, the dahlias majestic, the Arrangement For a BBQ Table category perplexing.

The winner in the ‘Relishes, Pickles, Chutneys, any other kind’ category: Apple & Rhubarb Chutney.

If there’s one thing I have, it’s rhubarb.

I could be a contender.

Watch this space in 2011.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

When is a treechange not a treechange?

While noodling about the internet – er, I mean researching – the other day, I discovered that what I am experiencing is not a treechange. Apparently, moving out of the city to a place with more trees does not a treechange make. In an article in The Australian last year (I told you I was noodling) Bernard Salt, social demographer, demanded that the definition for treechange be tightened.

If the community to which one moves is not cute, it’s not a treechange. If it does not have a heritage-listed main street, it’s not a treechange. If there have been no celebrity sightings in the area in living memory, it’s not a treechange. There must be low unemployment, and not too many old people or kids.

Fibrotown is a little too big to be cute. The main street is charming, but there's no heritage listing and few chi-chi boutiques. Last time I checked, Kylie had not been spotted shopping at the local Rockmans. Unemployment can be a problem, and the place is chockers with both grey hair and little feet. Fibrotown fails the treechange test.

Apparently, what I am experiencing is the Clayton’s treechange – you know, the one you’re having when you’re not having a treechange.

Interestingly, there are several treechange capitals within spitting distance of the Fibro. Lovely places to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there.

Before I moved out of the city, I had dreams of acreages and views and endless green grass stretching as far as the eye can see. Then I remembered that I am not a person who wants to drive 10 minutes for a carton of milk. I like to incorporate exercise into my day by walking everywhere – which saves me gym fees and the need to find time to exercise. The Builder does not want to spend every Saturday on a ride-on mower, keeping the grass down, and neither of us wanted to buy a cow to do the job instead.

Not yet.

Speak to me in a few years, and I might be complaining about the ‘traffic’ in Fibrotown, where more than six cars in a line constitutes a jam and where parking can be ‘impossible’ on a Saturday morning. At that point, you might find me eyeing off the ‘lifestyle properties’ over in the valley or out by the beach.

By then, I might be needing a real treechange, to escape the rat race, you know.

For now, it’s Clayton’s all the way for me.

Monday, February 15, 2010

A little more knowledge and I'll be dangerous

Last Friday, Mr6 and I had our second joint guitar lesson. It was a much more relaxed affair than our first. Then, we were both nervous. Him because he gets nervous about anything new – he only likes to do things that he knows he can do, which, as I pointed out to him, is a bit limiting at this stage of his life. Me because I’m 40 years old – everyone I know who plays the guitar seems to have been doing it since they were, well, six.

But we went. Things didn’t get off to a great start when I got lost on the way to the lesson. Given the size of the town, this is no mean feat, but a new ‘no right turn’ sign (okay, it’s probably been there forever, but I’ve never had to turn right there before so somehow missed it) saw us driving in circles for a while. Mr6 was very cool about it, only asking me why I was lost AGAIN about 16 times. I don’t get lost that often, but when you’re six and nervous everything seems larger than life.

Anyway, we spent half an hour with the delightful and accomplished B, the 17-year-old daughter of a friend who plays four instruments and wants to be a pilot. Nothing puts you in your place faster than learning from someone half your age.

We both learned G (world’s easiest note) and A, and then I took on some chords. The chords won. That ring finger you have, the one that doesn’t do much but support the jewellery of the moment? It actually has to do useful things when you play guitar chords. Mine more or less told me that I should not give up my day job.

We returned last Friday, to learn the note B (both of us) and another chord for me. Any more knowledge and I’ll be dangerous – or eligible to join the Sex Pistols at the very least (I think they started out with three chords between them). To be frank, I’m finding it challenging.

But I’m practising. Best of all, Mr6 is practising with me. We sit together and plink away – he calls it ‘getting out our guitars and having a bit of a fiddle’, which makes me laugh so much that I haven’t dissuaded him from that description. Not yet.

I’m not sure how long this adventure will last. My main aim is to introduce him to the idea of playing and just see if he likes it. I’ve told him that he only has to do one term at this stage and see how he feels after that. I intend to continue, though, because I’ve always wanted to learn, and I’ve told him that as well. I’m just hoping he’ll go along with me for the ride.

Hopefully, then, he won’t get to 40 and wish he'd started at six!

Oh, and in case you were wondering, FebFast continues, but is just too boring to write about. Wake me up when it’s over.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Talking about the weather: it's genetic.

When I was writing my weekly ‘what I talked about’ post (see below), the one thing that kept coming to mind (beyond wine, but I blame that on FebFast) was the weather. The last week has been too rainy or too sticky or too hot or too damn something every single day. I have had countless conversations about the weather. I think it’s genetic.

The older you get, the more you become like your parents. Hence I now watch The Bill (and not just for Smiffy), love my garden and talk about the weather. I have not yet reached the stratospheric heights of The Builder, who shooshes us all at 5.57pm so that he can concentrate on what Tim Bailey is telling him about the minimum overnight temperature. But I’m working on it.

I blame my Dad (hi Dad!). This is a man who keeps a diary. The only thing in the diary is a record, each day, of the minimum and maximum temperatures for the day, as forecast by the TV weatherman. He writes this down every day. Underneath it, written the next day, is the actual minimum and maximum temperatures. I kid you not. You can see at a glance how accurate the whole process is.

Occasionally, he goes crazy and writes down an outstanding news event. The day Jennifer Hawkins lost her skirt on the runway was described as ‘Whoops, Jennifer Hawkins’. Only the big stuff makes it to the comment stage.

When I first read this diary (it was open, really) I was in fits of laughter. Who would go to the trouble of doing this? But now it makes a lot more sense. It’s a legacy, in its own way. If you ever need to know the forecast weather, for any day of the year, any year, and the actual weather that occurred on that day, just ask my Dad. He’s got that info right there at his fingertips. It’s climate change as it happens.

Given how much we all talk about the weather, Dad’s on his way to a national consulting role. Just you wait. Kevin07 will be calling one day. If only to check Dad’s availability for the Independent Inquiry Into Weather Reporting In This Country. Yep, any day now.

More conversations from The Fibro

WHAT I TALKED ABOUT THIS WEEK: I’ve decided that every Friday I'll share some of the topics of conversation that came up through work or play (I'll leave it to you to figure out which) in the course of life in a pink fibro.

The colour of Yoda’s lightsaber, how to use the caps lock button on the keyboard, roofing materials, interior design, the local paper, Council’s potential new bin system, the new Principal, my sister’s carpets, decking boards, my B-I-L’s new business, Tony Abbott, losing weight, learning to run (decided not to), life in Italy, wine, lack of wine, Mr6’s new readers, how to hem trousers (answer: get someone else to do it), twitter, Angus & Robertson, Children’s Panadol, doing a budget, cleaning out the fridge, insulation, Peter Garrett, investing in classic cars, the Edinburgh Tattoo, the rain, the rain, the rain, the heat.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

A question of heat

Further to my post about using my day job to work through my own questions about life, the universe and imaginary friends, I would like to add composting to the list. Yes, in a cunning move, I have gone to the source and got some advice – or should I say counselling – about the compost situation.

I have been worried about heat. Or should I say the lack of heat. It’s a common problem in many relationships – particularly those ‘I love him but I’m not IN love with him’ conundrums so beloved of women’s magazines (I should know, I wrote a story about it last year). But now I have the definitive answer.

It doesn’t matter.

Well, not as far as the compost is concerned anyway (as to matters of the heart, you’re on your own… or left to reading articles in women’s magazines, anyway).

Wade, one of the incredibly cheerful and passionate chaps who first evoked my affair with composting at the workshop he conducted last year (with his mate Jason), tells me that the lack of heat does not mean that the compost is not working. In fact, he told me, when I rang him under the guise of interviewing him for a piece for Australia Today, that some compost experts believe that heat actually destroys the nutrients in the compost.

HA! Take that all the naysayers who told me that my lukewarm mix would never make it.

Actually, I have to include myself in that group.

So now it’s time to try to rekindle my initial interest in the whole subject. Bring back the heady days of chopping up broccoli stalks for easy disintegration. ‘Fluff’* it regularly to ensure aeration.

As with any relationship, the road back may be hard.

But at least I know where to find the expert to help.

*Yes, that is the term. Yes, I worked at CLEO long enough to know that it has several meanings. No, I never imagined I’d use it either – especially in relation to compost.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The things you do to get out of the Fibro

Last year was, for me, a year of Joining Dangerously. One thing about moving to a new place is that you have to Get Out There. You can’t sit at home and hope you’ll have someone to talk to in three months time. No, you have to actively hunt them down and drag them home.

One of the things I joined was a community choir. I’ve always loved singing, just not in public (though I have old friends who would probably disagree with this point, having seen me and a microphone in action after several thousand drinks ). Somehow I manage to forget words I’ve known forever (and sung thousands of times in the shower) once confronted with an audience.

But I’d never joined a choir before – and I can’t believe I’ve spent so many years in denial. The joy of singing with others is that the onus is not all on you. If you don’t hit the note, chances are someone else will. And if you forget the words, you just hum along until you pick them up again.

There’s also a camaraderie and the sheer thrill of those goosebump moments when ALL the parts hit the right note and the sound is heavenly (possibly not as many of those as there should be, but we’re working on it).

Ours is not a cool choir. Our one attempt at ‘choralography’ was abandoned when we realised that even swaying in time to the music was beyond us – somehow we just couldn’t get everyone going in the same direction at the same time. It’s not even a young choir – grey is the most popular hair colour in the room. There will be no Qantas ads in our future.

What we have in our favour is passion. Our choir mistress – the evocatively named Joy – is unendingly encouraging, rousing us from our grumbling to sing the same two lines of a song over and over and over again. The sopranos are treated like show ponies by the altos in an age-old dispute over supremacy, the tenors are all female (there are never enough men in community choirs), and the basses rumble onwards, driving the rhythm of the songs along like semis down the Princes Highway.

At the end of the session, we all get in our cars and go home to our different lives. But for two hours every week, we are a team.

And a harmonious one at that.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The calm after the storm

This is the poster that hangs above my desk. The Builder bought it for me for our first Christmas in the Fibro and I glance at it often. I need to.

If there's one thing that makes a person eminently suited to life as a freelance writer its the ability to work at the last minute. Actually, adjust that: the ability to thrive on working at the last minute. It's a technique I've been honing since, oh, second grade when I'd do my reading homework over breakfast (or not do it at all and attempt to forge my mum's signature...and get caught (oh big surprise) - sorry Ms Taylor). Most of the time it works like a charm and allows me to juggle multiple deadlines, two kids, The Builder and all the demands of life in the Fibro.

Sometimes, though, the magic deserts me and Procrastination seeps in. If allowed, I am a world-class procrastinator. I have been known to clean the oven instead of working on a story that was giving me trouble. That was in the old days, BF (Before Facebook) and the myriad other time-wastes masquerading as 'research' on the internet. Now the oven stays grimy, the work remains undone and countless hours disappear into my (very large, very bright) iMac screen.

Take today, for instance. I spent about two hours putting off the start of revisions on my book. It's hard. Really hard. So it's best avoided. Once I finally got going, I was on such a roll I nearly forgot to collect the kids. (Not really, but it sounds very writerly, don't you think?) Then I was into legitimate procrastination territory - guitar practice, reading homework, baths, dinner, choir. Monday nights are big in the Fibro. (Bigger than Saturday nights now I think about it...)

But overshadowing all this activity was the story on vintage cars that was due last Friday. Due and unwritten. Due and nothing more than a blinking cursor on a blank screen. Ugh. My least favourite sight in the world. I've been putting off this story for over a week. Not because it's not interesting, but because I just couldn't think of a hook. Give me an opening sentence and I'll give you 1000 words in an hour. No opening, no nothing.

But push came to shove. The anxiety was mounting. It was time to begin. Bettina Arndt caused huge controversies last year when she suggested that women should have sex with their husbands whether they felt like it or not. Start and you'll be amazed at what happens, she argued. Writing is the same. There's no point sitting around waiting for the muse to show up. In my case, she was clearly enjoying a very long drive in a vintage Jaguar.

Nope, you have to start. Once you do that, you can be amazed at what happens. The vintage car story may not be great literature, or win any prizes. But it's clean, it's information and it's done. It might even be a little bit entertaining, come to think of it. And the overwhelming feeling of relief and satisfaction that I'm feeling right now is worth the price of admission.

Can someone remind me of this next time I'm considering Procrastinating for Australia?

Seven days and counting...

The first week of FebFast has passed in a blur. A non-alcoholic one at that. I was so busy with work, school, preschool, swimming lessons, guitar lessons and all the other bits and pieces that make up a week that I hardly noticed I wasn’t drinking wine. Hardly.

Friday night was a challenge. The Builder and I usually ring in the weekend with a cold beer and a few glasses of wine. Not this week. This week he ceremoniously poured me a wine glass of chilled water and told me to Enjoy. Right.

A rainy weekend is usually pretty quiet around here anyway. A big night in at the Fibro generally constitutes a good meal, good wine and some crap television. The Bill, for instance, simply doesn’t have as much going for it without a slight haze behind the eyeballs and some goodwill softening the brain. But ‘Smiffy’ was still there, so all was right with the world. I am strangely attracted to Smiffy. But that’s a long conversation that would require several glasses of red to explain, so we can’t go there now.

What we do need to discuss is the new SBS show Monster Moves. No, really, we do. This is required viewing in the Fibro at the moment, having taken up the mantel that Trawlermen left in its wake when it finished a few weeks ago.

The logistics, the patience, the sheer time and money involved in picking up entire buildings and moving them around the country, usually, it seems in the snow, has everything you need in a good drama. And, in good/crap TV fashion, there’s always the lure of ‘what might happen’, painstakingly shown through diagram and narrative, so that you’re sitting on the edge of your seat the whole time, wondering if the three-storey Georgian mansion, as wide as three houses, will actually topple into the ravine. It never does, but that doesn’t stop the wondering.

On Saturday night, they moved an entire restaurant 37km up the road to a golf course, and an entire farm from the bottom of a hill to the top. Can’t wait to see what’s on the schedule this week.

Is this what people mean when they say they don’t need alcohol cause they’re 'high on life'?

Friday, February 5, 2010

Conversations from the Fibro

WHAT I TALKED ABOUT THIS WEEK: I’ve decided that every Friday I'll share some of the topics of conversation that came up through work or play (I'll leave it to you to figure out which) in the course of life in a pink fibro.

Cooking circles, composting, vintage cars, buying houses, the property market in 2010, insurance, secondary infertility, the MySchool website, publicity for the P&F, nanna craft, flexible hours for working mums, library bags, vacuum cleaner bags, Zac Power, Anakin Skywalker, rhubarb, how best to clean a barbecue, work/life balance for the self-employed, 24-hour consumption, Weight Watchers, whether an electric shock or an electric ute (think about it) is worse, who missed the toilet and put wee on the bathroom floor, the importance of sticking to G or PG viewing guidelines, radio broadcasting, the tenancy tribunal and sausage casserole recipes.

What about you? What did you talk about at your house this week?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

What kind of mum are you?

At some point in your career as a mum, you work out what kind of mum you are. Before the babies arrive, you worry whether you'll be good enough. Will you be a Carol Brady kind of mum, all the right answers and perfectly turned out in a miniskirt (though married to a man with a perm, which is off-putting). Or will you be a Malcolm in the Middle kind of mum, practising benevolent neglect?

I'm six years in to this gig now, and what I have learned about myself is not pretty.

I am, for example, a 'wait til your father comes home' kind of mum. I never thought I'd be that woman. I thought I had enough intestinal fortitude to manage a couple of under-7s on my own. I hadn't allowed for tiredness and the chinese water torture that a couple of little voices can inflict over the length of a long day.

I am also not fun. I'd fondly imagined myself rolling around the backyard, making mud pies, encouraging mess and imagination. I do the encouraging - I get out the paints, the play-doh, the water, the spades. But then I dither about saying 'don't'. "Don't fingerpaint on the deck." "Don't use the carpet as a forest for your play-doh dinosaur." "Don't bring those muddy feet in the house." Fun mums don't do that. I know a lot of fun mums. They are all very relaxed individuals. I am not one of them.

In worrying news for my boys, I have also discovered that I am not afraid to be trouble-making mum at the school. Admittedly, I'm a bit of an amateur in this field just yet, but the signs are there. I've already had a meeting with the principal to protest the scrapping of second grade swimming lessons. Mr 6 hasn't even made it to second-grade yet. I know what you're thinking: poor kids. But it was a principle thing, I promise.

I'm a stickler for manners, an ogre for reading homework and bedtimes, and a demon when it comes to eating your vegetables. Your basic nightmare.

I thought things might change with the move to the Fibro. Perhaps I would morph overnight into Fun Mum, ready to drop everything, including homework and housework, for spontaneous trips to the beach or twilight picnics. And, to an extent, this has happened - mostly because The Builder now cycles 15 minutes to work rather than driving an hour each way and so is home by 4pm. It's easier to plan spontaneous family adventures when you have time.

For the most part, however, it's business as usual. As I've discovered, the one overwhelming thing about any big move is that, while everything around you may change, you take yourself with you.

Apparently, this is the mum I was destined to be. No mini-skirts for me.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Can you renovate - and keep your relationship?

Yesterday I bought the new issue of House & Garden. I confess I haven't bought an issue in ages (despite having worked on the mag for many years in a different lifetime), but it looks great and... I had an ulterior motive. This month's mag comes with a Kitchen & Bathroom special attached. And I'm in a place in my life where that looks attractive (I know, I need to get out more).

One thing about moving into an older house is that you have a good idea about what's in your future. You know there'll be dust. You know there'll be tears. You know there'll be fights over whether a particular colour is 'greige', despite it's exotic moniker (calling it Tahitian Sand doesn't make it any less boring). Yep, it's renovation time. In my case, I can add AGAIN. Because, just like childbirth, I forgot the pain of the first time around and have signed up for a second bout.

The Builder and I have decided that this will be the year to drag the Fibro into the 21st century - probably kicking and screaming. New bathroom, new kitchen... the nightmare begins.

Last time we did this, I wrote a story about it (surprise, with most writers, my life and everyone in it are all fodder for the machine). It wasn't about colours and benchtops and whether the paneled doors were worth the extra cost. It was about the insidious cost of renovating. Not the budget blowout (everyone knows you need to add a 20 per cent 'contingency' fee to any estimate), but the sheer stress of the whole enterprise.

There’s no doubt that renovating places a huge strain on even the strongest partnership. When you find yourself poring over colour charts for the 900th time that week, arguing whether to go for the Crescent or the Baroque or the Lancelot (who even knew that green could be called so many things?) and, worst of all, really, really caring about the tonal differences between the three, it can be an eye-opening experience. Are you aware of your partner’s preferences in tapware? You will be after you’ve been dragged through eight different plumbling supply shops and he’s still searching for “one with less curves, I’ll know it when I see it”.

Considering that many of us can get away with making about three decisions every day - will I get up?, what will I wear?, what will I have for dinner? - the renovating process is mind-numbing. Not only are you choosing colours, fixtures and fittings, you have to choose tradesmen, check contracts, decide if you’re going to oversee the work yourself, find someone to draw plans, decide how much you can spend (and try not to get too upset when you go over...) and the list goes on. Is it any wonder that we feel consumed by it – to the exclusion of all else?

And then there’s the question of taste: if you want to create a Balinese haven and your partner is picturing a New-York-style warehouse, you’ve got more than geography to sort out. One couple I’ve heard of got to the stage where he would paint the hallway pale blue every time she left the house and she’d repaint it cream while he was at work. Eventually, she did a final coat in black, just before she walked out for the last time.

Fortunately, The Builder and I have similar thoughts in interior design and decorating. We followed the rules - poring over magazines so we could show each other what we had in mind (rather than just trying to describe it), being prepared to compromise when one of us felt really strongly about something, and organising our space so that the dust during renovation was corralled as much as possible.

We managed to get through a full renovation of a brick Federation cottage in the city. Surely a basic kitchen/bathroom update in our nothing-in-particular fibro in the country won't be as stressful? Oh wait - we didn't have children last time. Now we have two.

Who am I kidding?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

We're in The Wars

Most of the men I’ve known in my life have had An Interest. You know, one thing that they’re, um, passionate about. Okay, obsessive about. For some it’s rugby, for others it’s family history (Hi Dad), for some it’s music (in that High Fidelity, list-making kind of way).

And then there are the Star Wars geeks.

Everybody knows at least one Star Wars aficionado/nerd/obsessive/insert description of choice. When I was growing up, my cousin had a huge collection of figurines, in boxes. A friend of mine is married to a man who goes to swap meets and conventions and other places where men who think that a woman with a bagel hairdo is a goddess tend to congregate.

That was as close as I ever got to those who worship at the altar of The Force.

Until now.

Now I have a fully fledged, light-saber wielding Fan in the house. Mr 6 is known for his heartfelt passions for the things that interest him. We have thus far lived through The Wiggles era, where he insisted on wearing a yellow shirt every day and being addressed as Sam, and the Ben 10 moment, where he would suddenly belt himself on the wrist, thrash about and then insist he had morphed into a three-metre alien named Humungosaur. But both of these pale into insignificance beside his heartfelt love for Star Wars.

I wouldn’t bring this up, beyond the fact that I have found myself in the position of uttering words that I never thought would exit my mouth - “Don’t swing your light-saber in the house!”, for example. But we need to talk about the soundtrack.

I can’t comment on the new movies – the prequels – as they are MA rated, and so not allowed in the Fibro. But the old movies – the ones you might remember watching the first time around (although you’ll never remember enough to satisfy the thirst for knowledge of the New Geek, who looks at you in incomprehension when you explain that it’s been 30 years since you watched Star Wars and you’re weren’t that impressed in the first place) – they all seem to have the same soundtrack.

And it’s a very hummable soundtrack. Or so Mr 6 seems to think so. And a very catchy soundtrack, contagious one might even say – or so Mr 3 would agree.

I can safely say that the summer of 09/10 will forever be associated with not only the opening tune – you know, daa daa, da-da-da-DAH-da, da-da-da-DAAH-da, da, da, da-dah, but the background music that seems to play throughout all three films.

I suppose I should be thrilled that my children are discovering music. But all I want to do is shout ‘STOP! You’re driving me crazy’ as they hum the themes over and over and over and over, without seeming to even realise they’re doing it.

But I won’t shout and I try not to get too cranky. For I have listened to Master Yoda, and he had this to say:

“Beware. Anger, fear, aggression. The dark side are they. Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny.”

You saw what happened to Darth Vader.

Monday, February 1, 2010

The year really begins on February 1

The Chinese have the right idea. The year, any year, doesn’t really start until February, so why not hold off celebrations until then?

Think about it – January has passed in a daze, with most of us not back at work until at least a week or two in. After work, there’s enough daylight to walk, swim, lie on a beach, catch up with friends – and all the other things we do to pretend we’re still on holidays. Kids are underfoot, the TV is terrible so we’ll do anything to avoid it… life’s good.

Come February 1 though, it’s time to get serious. The Christmas credit card bills have arrived. The kids are back at school. The barbie has gone cold after its last big workout on Australia Day.

And the routine begins.

This week is a week of firsts in the Fibro household. Mr 3 starts pre-school (sob and cheer all at the same time), swimming lessons begin again, I’ve got the first choir night of the year (more about that later in the week), and Mr 6 and I are off to our first guitar lesson (MUCH more about that post-lesson).

In the scheme of things, ours is not a particularly hectic schedule, but the start of all these activities heralds the fact that the year has started in earnest. No more pussy footing around, writing 09 on your cheques, people. It’s time to get serious.

Which is why The Builder and I have decided to take on FebFast. It took a bit of discussion. We’re not huge, regular drinkers, but we enjoy our weekend beverages and we’ve been known to ‘tie one on’* on occasion. You’d think it wouldn’t be that difficult to decide to do without it for 28 days. And yet, somehow, it was.

Dependent? Us? Surely not. We just like a glass of wine. Sir.

But the decision has been made, the fridge emptied of cold beer and the journey has begun. We haven’t signed up on any official basis – that feels like a big commitment. An outward sign of a personal decision. Like growing a Mo for Movember…only without the facial hair. But we are in for the long haul – or 28 days at least.

Like any journey, the first few days will be fine, any discomfort buried in the excitement of the new – plus we don’t tend to drink early in the week anyway, so who’s going to miss it?

By Friday, the story may be very different. I read on the Febfast website that you can buy ‘leave passes’ for $25 – guilt-free tickets to enjoy ‘special occasions’. I wonder if there’s a limit on how many of those you can have… and whether Mummy Wine Time constitutes a special occasion.

*I acknowledge that this is irresponsible and not very grown up, but it happens…

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