Thursday, July 29, 2010

So you think you can dance?

Alla Hoo Hoo has been giving Mr3 dancing lessons. His newfound skills appeared, quite suddenly, during dinner about a week ago. He put down his fork, stood up, took a step back and began to move, overtaken by an urge he could not explain. He was a whirling dervish of clapping, foot stomping, knee slapping beauty in red flannel pyjamas. His blonde hair flew as he turned faster and faster, cheeks reddening with effort, eyes sparkling with joy.

The Builder and I could only sit, open-mouthed, and take it all in. It was like watching someone possessed.

The actual dance itself is difficult to describe. Imagine a slapping/tapping/Lederhosen style of Germanic origin, crossed with an Irish jig and some Scottish sword work. Spectacular does not begin to describe it.

He is earnest about practising his new moves. Willing to demonstrate them at the drop of a hat.

He told me that his ‘friend’ Alla Hoo Hoo taught him everything she knows. At all the parties they frequent together, no doubt. Which, it transpires, they attend in her purple forklift. How she manages the complexity of moves in her ‘big shoes’ is quite beyond me, but he assures me that she always wears purple shoes and that’s the secret.

Sometimes, I wonder about Alla Hoo Hoo. The other day, we were driving around in Theresa when Mr3 suddenly burst into song. A song that Mr6 didn’t know and hadn’t taught him. A song that I hadn’t taught him. A song that I’m pretty sure The Builder doesn’t know.

“Did you learn that at preschool?” I asked, after the requisite round of applause and effusive compliments on his singing that he requires. No, demands.

“No,” he said, serene, looking out the window. “Alla Hoo Hoo taught me.”

Mr6 and I were silent. Our eyes met in the mirror. Wondering… Well, wouldn't you?

PS: I'm flogging my blog again this fine Friday, thanks to Lori at RRSAHM, MommaPebz, and Emma at Toddler Awesome - pop over to visit them to discover lots of great new blogs. You know you want to...

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

It's never too early for a foot in the door

Do you remember Work Experience? It all came flooding back to me when I read this post by the very talented Deer Baby (go look, you’ll love it – her name is Alison, how could you not love it?). The girl who wrote ‘Help, I’m being held prisoner’ inside the flap of the envelopes was truly inspirational. I wish I’d thought of that.

My recollections of work experience involve shoes that hurt, tights that sagged, and early mornings. For some reason, I, already a confirmed night owl at 15, chose to do my first lot of work experience at the local radio station, involving 5am starts. My second lot of work experience involved childcare and is best not thought about now. My third lot, at 16, took place at a metropolitan daily broadsheet, involved 5am starts and was responsible for my almost never becoming a journalist.

It wasn’t the starts (though I’m never at my best at that ungodly hour – ask my children). Rather it was the fact that day one saw me held captive ensconced in the office of the Letters Editor, reading page after page of semi-literate abuse. My second day saw me on the front steps of a suburban house in a suburban street, shadowing a ‘stick-one-foot-in-the-door’ reporter as he asked the family inside for pictures of two children who’d died hours before when a bomb went off in an airport overseas. Day three involved eight hours of excitement spotting spelling mistakes at the subs’ desk. Days four and five pass in the kind of blur that only victims of shell shock will understand.

Quite the introduction to journalism.

I went home and told my parents I’d decided to become a secretary.

In fact, I was lucky. Not that it felt that way at the time. But by the time I came into contact with work experience again – 10 years later, and this time as the experiencee, rather than the experiencer – I came to understand what a valuable program that paper had in place. I was given a very clear picture of each facet of working on a newspaper – whether I liked it or not.

In Magazine Land, work experience tended to involve waiting around the foyer, wearing your best ‘fashion ensemble’, waiting for someone to send you for a coffee. If you were lucky, you were chosen to package clothes up for return. Occasionally, someone would talk you through a story and possibly get you to write up a product review. On the plus side, you'd always be sent home with a beauty 'goody' bag, so it wasn't all bad.

It’s not that we didn’t care about our ‘workies’, just that, by then, magazines were already running on shoe strings, everyone was doing the work of two people and nobody had time to explain anything. Except how they liked their coffee.

It didn’t seem to deter the ones who really wanted to ‘get into mags’. You’d see their faces again a few years later, working as interns (read: for free) in the fashion cupboard, doing whatever it took to be in the right place at the right time when a job opening came up.

Now that’s what I call a ‘foot in the door’ approach.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Practice makes... well, more practice really

It's never a good day when you come face-to-face with your limitations. I've had several such days of late. Moments when my dreams and expectations don't quite match my realities. I had another one today.

Picture, if you will, me sitting on a train, face pressed against the window, white iPod headphone cord snaking down into my handbag. I'm singing along (inside my head only, because I know there's nothing worse than sitting next to someone who's actually singing along to an iPod - hello tuneless, uncool person) to Kate Miller-Heidke's 'The Last Day on Earth', the swelling, soaring, aching longing of which perfectly suits the dramatic coastline out my window. Suddenly, into my head pops a vision of me sitting, not on the train, but on a chair at home, guitar in hand, playing said song and singing for real. This beautiful moment lasts all of five seconds - until the sum total of my guitar playing skills comes flooding in to knock it sidewards. Five notes and seven chords do not an epic pop song make.

The reality that every beginner musician faces is that what they want to play and what they can actually play are two completely different things. I can play 'For He's A Jolly Good Fellow'. I cannot play the Crowded House songbook (Neil, Neil, why did you have to make them so hard?) I can fudge my way through 'Me and Bobby McGee' and even 'Can't Find a Better Man', but not really. I'm better at 'Mary Had A Little Lamb'.

The Lovely B, my guitar teacher, is teaching Mr6 and I to understand tabulation as well as chords. She wants to teach us how to play the theme from Inspector Gadget. To do so, she is preparing us with the basics - we are learning the opening riff of Nirvana's 'Come As You Are'. This is fun for me. Mr6 not so much. He needed a full explanation of who Nirvana was, and why you'd want to play their songs. Much the same when we learned 'Smoke On The Water' - trying to explain to a six-year-old why they might want to play a 40-year-old song in a guitar shop in an ironic fashion is not easy.

All I can do is persist. If I give up now, I'll be in exactly the same boat in 40 years as I'm in now. I'll be wishing I'd stuck with it when I was young. So I'll take those limitations, raise you another couple of terms of lessons and, hopefully, start working on 'Roll Out The Barrel' to play in the old folks home when I get there.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Writing features #2: A simple explanation

In honour of the fact that I am sitting here with very little inspiration, save my newly cut hair (which looked a bit Leather Tuscadero whilst wet, but has dried much less Rock Chick) and the fact that I had a successful brow maintenance moment today (read about less successful moments here), I thought I might continue my very occasional series about writing features. Last time I tried this, I got bogged down in armpits, but hopefully things will fly a little straighter tonight.

I was speaking to a friend a couple of weeks ago about a complicated story she was trying to write. It involved genetics and, despite my intense knowledge of the genetics of red hair, I wasn't much use to her. So I asked her who'd she'd spoken to. Her answer was no-one. She was trying to work her away through Rocket Science-level research papers so that she'd know what questions to ask an expert once she got around to interviewing him or her.

Um, no. My theory when writing features about subjects about which I know nothing (which happens more often than you might imagine - I know, surprising...) is that readers want to know what you want to know. Chances are, they know nothing about genetics/pruning roses/the secrets of happiness either. What interests you about a subject will probably interest them. And you/they need it explained in words of one syllable.

The secret to this equation is that experts don't expect you to know anything. Well, they don't expect me to know anything once I tell them that I know nothing. It gives me permission to ask the dumbest questions I can think of because, and this is the key, I need to know this stuff on a very elementary level so that I can write it into an entertaining story.

With features writing, you're not just trying to show off your gargantuan knowledge of the subject at hand, you're trying to share it with a reader in such a way that they'll get right to the end of the story with you. If they don't get it, they won't get past the first paragraph one. If they don't like it, they won't get past the first sentence.

Quotes are what keeps a story lively. Dialogue, conversation, call it what you like. Back it up with all the research in the world, but make sure you've got your simple explanation front and centre.

And now, I'm going back to admiring my new eyebrows.

*PS: I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the experts in every field that I've interviewed over the years. Thank you for your patience. Thank you for your understanding. Thank you for not laughing.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Considering life in a crowded, country church

Even people who live in the country like to get away to the country. On Saturday, The Builder and I skived off, leaving Gran and Pops to keep the home fires burning, and went to stay in a one-pub, one-café, three-horse (I saw them) town up the road a bit.

We ate, we wine-tasted, we talked about the important things in life (like where we’d go on our next holiday and whether we’d buy the riesling or the sauvignon blanc*). We sat out the back of the One Pub as the sun set and contemplated the vast ocean of peace that surrounded us. Dark, silent peace. If Fibrotown is quiet (and it is) compared to our former home in The Big Smoke, Three-Horse Town is a black hole where sound and matter simply don’t matter.

We sat there a while, breathing it all in (listening to the sound of our breathing and the clattering of a pin being dropped three houses down). Then retreated to the relative chaos of a log fire and a bar filled with six people.

Today, on our way home, we detoured past the world’s cutest church (that's it above). Stone. Picturesque. Picket fence. For Sale. It is simply the sweetest little property in the world. Surrounded by humongous houses on sweeping acres with interminable fences requiring maintenance, it’s a perfect 2000 square metres. It’s also one-bedroom, and that’s a loft, so not ideal for a family of four. We kept driving.

When I think of my ideal home in the country, I always picture somewhere like that little church. Surrounded by green, bathed in sunshine, bees abuzz in the swarm of flowers beside the drive. In reality, it’s a 15-minute drive even from Three-Horse Town. If I thought the back of the pub was dark and quiet, how would I go out there in the true blackness, listening to the field mice scuttle past the door?

Coming to terms with the sometimes deep gulf between what we think we want and what would be right for us is all part of growing up. Now that I’m on the slippery slopes of middle age, it appears I’m finally getting there.

Plus, it saves me having to rename this blog. Though Life in a Crowded Country Church has distinct possibilities…

{image: Frances Cashman}

*We went the only real option and bought both.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Dear Australian Idol, we're working on it

There are a few statements destined to strike fear into any parent's heart.

“I’m pregnant and dropping out in year 8.”

“I’m taking up base jumping.”

“I’m [insert your own worst fear right here].”

Given that my guys are so young, our statements of intent are not quite to that standard yet. Which is not to say that we don’t have our moments. The six months or so when Mr6 (then three) fell in love with Sam Moran, the then-new yellow Wiggle, and wanted to wear only yellow shirts and be addressed as Sam were trying. “I am Sam,” is not as cute outside a Dr Seuss book.

Our current phase, what I like to call the Concert Phase, is proving to be more so. There is something about the statement “We’re going to do a concert for you tonight” that makes me thrilled and appalled, all at the same time. I do love it – the earnest performance, the desire to be with us and make us happy, the fact that they want our approval. But at the same time…

A concert, I need to point out, involves Mr6 banging on a selection of makeshift drums for what seems like, oh, hours, while Mr3 blows on the ear-shattering whistle that keeps finding its way back into the house no matter how many times I lose it. All the while, The Builder and I sit with what we hope are expressions of parental love and pride. Inwardly, I’m wishing I could hide in a cupboard. He is no doubt made of stronger stuff.

Then again, we found ourselves having a whispered conversation in the linen press tonight. A concert had been announced. Whereupon The Builder decided to take himself off to the shower. “You can’t abandon me,” I hissed over a pile of sheets. “You’ll be fine,” he mouthed back, patting my hand. “I’ll be with you in spirit.”

My parents will read this and know that Karma is real.

They will remember the thousands of hours of ‘concerts’ they sat through in the living room, watching us sing and dance like the worst Idol contestants ever.

They might recall the epic concert performed in the neighbour's garage to the entire ‘You Can’t Stop The Music’ soundtrack – and the coin donation they had to pay for the privilege.

My Dad will no doubt be able to bring to mind the thousands of hours of actual ballet concerts he endured. To the point where he perfected what is generally known in the family as his ‘Concert Face’. It’s an outward expression of polite interest, but you know that, behind it, the man is sleeping.

All I can hope is that the guitar lessons kick in soon and Mr6 at least will begin serenading us with something vaguely musical. Until then, I’ll be the one working on my Concert Face.


PS: Thanks to Lori at RRSAHM, I'm flogging my blog this fine Friday. Visit her for lots of fab new blogs to check out.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Ten minutes from everywhere

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the closer a person lives to a destination, the later they will be for any appointment at said destination. The person who lives, for example, over the back fence of the primary school will undoubtedly be late for school every day. You can ask pretty much any member of my family to back me up on this one. We shared a fence with our primary school and yet, every single day, every single one of us would slither through our back gate at 9.01am.

In The Big Smoke, I would invariably allow an hour to get everywhere. To get the 8km from my front door to the office took one hour. Driving from my house to Sister B’s eyrie in the north took one hour. Actually, driving anywhere took one hour.

Now that I’m living a simpler life, I tend to cut things a bit finer. I blame it on the Back Fence Effect. I live not far from anywhere, so therefore it should take me no time at all to get there. I am often heard to say ‘it’s only a 10-minute [insert drive/walk]’.

Hence, I arrive at school, screeching in (whether by car or by pram) at 8.46am (school starts at 8.45am). It doesn’t matter what time I wake up. It doesn’t matter how organised I am. It doesn’t matter if I’ve done a whole week’s ironing in advance, made mini-quiches to pop into lunchboxes and made Mr6 sleep in his uniform. We still arrive to hear the fading peals of the bell.

The hysterical rush to arrive at school on time is bettered only by the chaos involved in getting to Little Ninjas by 4pm. We go twice a week. You think I would have worked out how far away it is by now. And yet, I am stuck firmly with the notion that 15 minutes is enough time.

Invariably, we leave the house at 3.45pm – only to discover that the all-important Belt has been left on the sofa. Or that Mr3 has an, ahem, emergency. Or that I can’t find the keys (today’s issue) despite having them in my hand not 30 minutes before.

You would think, wouldn’t you, that I would have worked out by now that leaving at 3.40pm would solve all these issues and have us at Ninjas in a much more Zen frame of mind – ready to start fighting.

In my heart of hearts, I know this is the sensible option. But it will never happen. We live so close, you see. Just 10 minutes’ drive, really.

{image: ophelia's art}

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

All about books: Love In A Cold Climate

My quest to get a few classics under my belt in 2010 continues unabated. The latest orange-and-white cover to be cracked was Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford. I had strong responses to this book. To start with, it was all Cold. By the end, it was Love.

I confess that I began the book back in April. Read two chapters. Stopped. Devoured three crime thrillers – one good, two unsatisfying. I only came back to LIACC because there was nothing else. I’d even read a biography about Kurt Cobain – complete with downward heroin spiral, slightly mad lyrics and a sheen of dirt – before I could bring myself to revisit Nancy.

I’m glad I persisted. Hers is the kind of voice that grows on you. The archness, the wit, the cold, clinical skewering of the world around her. What seems like a capering, lightweight dance of a story reveals itself as a carefully constructed cotillion.

I confess that I love the idea of the Mitfords. I read The Mitford Girls by Mary S. Lovell (2001) years ago and was captivated by the entire clan (listed here in no particular order) – Diana the fascist, Decca (Jessica) the Communist, Unity the Nazi, Debo the duchess, Nancy the novelist and Pam, the rural Mitford. There was also a son, Tom, who died in Burma, but he didn’t really do it for me in quite the way 'the gels' did.

There is much of the Mitfords in Nancy’s book. Enough to suggest that my next foray into Mitford world should be her first book The Pursuit of Love (I know, I’m all back to front) followed, perhaps, by Jessica’s Hons and Rebels.

I’m not sure what it is about this minor aristocratic family that fascinates me so much. Perhaps the fact that there were so many of them that they were able to have a family member involved in many of the major movements of the early 20th century. The sheer volume of women? The mischievous sense of humour that seems to be genetic? The inherent charm they seem to have had in spades?

Whatever it was, it’s there in Mitford’s book, and makes it immensely readable. It didn’t feel ‘hard work’ enough to be a classic – more like smart, savvy chick lit from a previous generation. She’d have been one hell of a grandmother.

Monday, July 19, 2010

What's the best thing in your mailbox today?

Remember the days when the mail box was full of promise? When opening it didn’t necessarily mean disappearing under a deluge of window-face envelopes and Woolies catalogues? There was always the possibility that it might contain a love letter (written in scented green ink if you were one of my former flatmates). Or an aerogram (remember those?) from an old friend, travelling in exotic climes. Or a birthday card from your grandmother, complete with the $5 note she’d been sending you since birth.

These days our mailbox, its bright blue paint fading and peeling, is a forlorn place. We have the most dedicated junk mail delivery people in the entire Western world, so we’re pretty good for brochures, catalogues and pizza discount vouchers. We also do okay on the bill front, with these arriving daily to ensure we never feel lonely.

Quality mail-wise, however, we’re a bit light on. The best letter I’ve received all year was a one-page epistle from Mr6, posted when first grade endured its annual excursion to the post office. It says, in part, “Please write back.” (Note to self: please write back.)

There is one piece of mail, however, that brings a smile to my face. It arrives monthly in an innocuous white envelope. It is hope in the mail.

The Boystown Lifestyle Lotteries ticket offer is an invitation to dream. Each month I spread that huge brochure out on the bench and move myself into the house on offer. I confess that if it’s a Gold Coast or Sunshine Coast property that they’re raffling off, I look no further. They look beautiful, there’s no doubt. Their positioning within walking distance to the ocean is attractive. Even the furniture looks okay when there’s a pool by the back door. But I can’t bring myself to buy a ticket because what would I do if I won? I don’t want to live in Queensland.

The trouble with the Boystown Lottery is that it’s gambling with purpose. I don’t buy scratchies, I don’t play the pokies, I go to the horse races once in a blue moon and place $2 each way bets all day. I am very much a ‘know when to hold and know when to fold’ kind of girl – but that’s all I’m doing.

But I’ll spend $15 on a raffle ticket. I buy my tickets (for Sydney or Melbourne houses only) knowing that my money is going to a good cause. Or that’s what I tell myself. In reality, I’m so convinced that I’m going to win every single time, that I start rearranging the furniture on the brochure before I’ve even sent off the price of the tickets.

I lie awake in bed at night wondering whether I should lease it as an executive rental, keep it as a city bolthole for friends and family, or sell it on and buy three two-bedroom units with the money I make. Will the boys enjoy going to school in Annandale? What are the council rates like St Kilda? Will we all fit in a three-storey terrace with a postage-stamp garden – and didn’t we leave the city in the first place just to avoid such a scenario?

Inevitably, my number doesn’t come up. There is no magic phone call from the Boystown Man. Instead, the draw date fades into memory and I’m left with a couple of tickets stuck to my filing cabinet.

Until next time.

This month's ticket offer arrived today. A four-bedroom, three-bathroom beachfront unit on the Gold Coast. Lucky for all you others out there that I don’t go in for that sort of thing.

{image: Boystown Lifestyle Lotteries}

Why write when you can talk?

A few years ago, I found myself in command of a workshop on how to make a living from freelancing. Fortunately, my co-pilot, one of my lovely A friends (I’ve realised since I began writing this blog that nearly all my friends’ names begin with the letter A – clearly I need to work my way up the alphabet a bit more thoroughly), had done this kind of thing before and so did most of the talking. I think I was just there for colour and movement. And perhaps a little interpretive dance when required.


All was going well until a very nice lady in the middle of the fourth row put up her hand and asked if one – and she was a ‘one’ kind of lady – had to speak to people to be a freelance writer. I paused mid-whirl in my interpretive dance. “Well,” I said, “a lot of contact is done via email these days…” I paused.

“Yes,” she said, somewhat impatiently. “But can you do interviews like that as well? It’s just that I’m a bit shy.”

“Ummm,” I said, breaking the first rule of public speaking – they’ll never let me into Toastmasters now. “One does actually have to talk to write professionally.” Her face collapsed into disappointment.

I was thinking of this little exchange on Friday as I made the train journey to The Big Smoke for what The Builder calls Coffee. With a capital C.

Writers tend to be people who like their own company. I’m quite open about the fact that I’m much better in writing than I am in person (which is probably why I love Twitter). But that doesn’t mean I can get away with not trying.

So I try to do Coffee at least two or three times a year. It involves meeting up with the editors with whom I work regularly, those with whom I’d like to work more regularly and, even, those who’ve never heard of me before I ring them out of the blue to say hello. It serves to remind them who I am (or introduce them to my charms), allows me to find out if there are any direction changes for the publication or website, and gives me the opportunity to pitch a few stories in their direction to see if anything flies. Even when I lived in the inner city I tried to get as many as possible done in one day – now that I’m in Fibrotown, that’s essential.

It doesn’t always result in work. Not straight away anyway. But it does result in a connection. And like everything else in the world, freelancing is about relationships.

When you freelancing, it’s very easy to disappear into your own parallel universe. You forget what it’s like to have colleagues and bosses and people who simply don’t like the shoes you’re wearing on any given day. You sit in your vacuum and come up with ideas and wonder why none of them are finding the mark. So sometimes you have to leave the bubble.

I really enjoy Coffee. In some ways, it’s exhausting, dragging your sociable self kicking and screaming into the light (or maybe that’s just me). But mostly, it’s exhilarating. I always come home with lots of new ideas and inspiration, along with a healthy dose of motivation. Of course, the five or six cups of coffee that I take in over the course of the day may have something to do with that…

Thursday, July 15, 2010

A favourite for Friday

In honour of the fact that I am still mountaineering, I've decided to revisit a post from the early days of this blog. Given that only my family was reading it then, there's a good chance you haven't seen this one, which appeared in early March. If you have, sorry and normal transmission will resume next week. If you haven't, I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

On Friday night, I found myself at the School Disco. Last year, Mr6 (then a nervous nellie kindy type) didn’t want a bar of it. This year, he was planning his outfit three days in advance. Of course, there’s no show without Mr3, who insisted on not only coming along, but bringing his blue ukelele with him. He's a man with an eye for an accessory.

So we get there and it’s loud. You know you’re, um, mature, when the primary school disco is deafening. Mr6 did his usual sidle into the room, looking left and right, laying out the land before deciding whether he’d stay. Mr3 marched into the centre of the dancefloor, strumming the uke, and serenading everyone in sight.

The hall was full of people who would not make the height requirement in most amusement parks. They were jumping, screaming, waving their hands, shaking their glow sticks. I began to understand how Gulliver felt.

Outfits ranged from cool Indy rocker girl (1) to Bratz Doll (lots). One little girl, about 5, even had a full hair extension piece. The boys were dressed in 1000 variations of jeans and sneakers. Pretty much what you’d expect at any Nite Spot.

Mr6 was taken in hand by his friend Miss E, dragged into a game of dance tip, which seemed to involve him chasing her all over the floor in a dancey sort of way. She was all Video Hits moves, in leggings and sparkly headband. He is a Dad dancer. At 6. But at least he was dancing. One of about seven boys who were. If I can just get the old man moves out of his repertoire, he’ll be unstoppable with the girls at 13. But then, he won’t be dancing by then, will he?

The most popular songs of the night were what I can only assume were tracks from High School Musical. I say assume because, not having an eight-year-old girl, I’m unfamiliar with the soundtrack. But every girl on the floor was word- and move-perfect. It was like being in the film, only not as slick and with no boys. The boys who were still having a go simply jumped up and down or performed home-taught breakdance moves that often ended in spectacular, bumpy failure.

The other song that ‘went off’ (as we young, disco-types like to say) was Beyonce’s Single Ladies. Interesting choice for a catholic primary school disco, but not out of the realm when you consider the ‘if you liked it then you shoulda put a ring on it’ chorus.

By 7pm we’d been there an hour and both the boys were over it. Me, I was just getting started. But mums don’t dance at primary school discos, some unwritten rule or something. Except just once when Mr6 boogied on over in his Dad fashion and asked me for a dance. I took him up on it. It might be the last time he ever wants to shake his booty anywhere in my vicinity.


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Hump Day can be hard slog

Wednesday is Hump Day. Hard slog up. Slide down toward Thursday and the weekend. Today my Hump has felt like being on the wrong side of a mountain and I’m still climbing.

School holidays are hard when you’re a Work At Home Mum (WAHM). In some ways, it’s great – you don’t need to organise that after-school, before-school, holiday-camp schedule that can be the bane of the working mother. But in many ways, that’s just an oversight. If I had those measures in place (like any sensible working mum), my Hump Days would be much less arduous.

There is a rule in freelancing that, even if you haven’t been busy for weeks in the run-up to school holidays, you will be deluged with work in the three days before they start. This work will take up exactly enough time to make the whole two weeks stressful, and will then end the day the kids go back to school. At which point, you’ll be scratching around, wondering where your next job is coming from.

I’m not complaining, mind. Another rule of freelancing is that you can never complain about being busy. As soon as you do that, another freelancer will be all over you, bemoaning their lack of work. These cycles never seem to meet up so that you can indulge in a lazy coffee together. Oh no. That would be too convenient.

So this is me, not complaining, just explaining why this post is short. I’m very busy mountaineering. Tomorrow, I hope to look like one of the lovely ladies in the picture. I bet Alla Hoo Hoo can ski like that.


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Your school + my school = same/same?

The Big Smoke came to visit the Fibro today. One of my ‘mums’ from the old neighbourhood brought her girls over, and it was like no time had passed. We attended a crazy church playgroup together, our kids went to preschool together, and Mr6 and Miss 7 would have started school together had we not moved away.

We talked about people we knew, places we used to go, real estate prices (well, it was a Sydney conversation). Since we moved, our former suburb has become The New Paddington. My friend and I both laughed hysterically at this. As T pointed out, it’s still the same place. Only the house prices have gone up in the world.

As we talked, I did have pangs, I admit. I miss her. I miss my old gang of mums. In the Big Smoke, I wasn’t the oldest living mother in the history of the world. Down here, I sometimes feel like I’m pretty close. There are mums my age with kids in Mr6’s year, but it’s their fourth and even fifth kids. Not their first.

But school conversations are universal. The P&F, the school reports, the teachers, the playground stories, fundraising nightmares.

A wise friend once said to me: “No school will ever be good enough. Go for the one that’s closest.”

It’s only early days, but I think she’s right. When you talk to mums from different schools, the complaints conversations are the same. Which makes you wonder why we waste all that time and effort looking for the right school for our kids. It's like going out searching for The New Paddington when maybe, just maybe, it's under your nose the whole time.

What do you think? Is the closest school the best school? What do/did you look for when choosing a school? I’d love to know your thoughts.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Just the highlights, thanks

A few years ago I read Daniel Coyle’s book about Lance Armstrong called Tour de Force. I’m not sure how this book made it onto the Fam Fibro bookshelf, as we are not noted sports biography lovers, but this was a riveting read. Coyle writes really well. Armstrong cycles really well.

But what really captivated me was The Peloton.

I have become an ardent follower of the Tour de France. When I say ardent, I mean that in a ‘6pm highlights’ kind of way. Watching four hours of cycling in the middle of the night, every night for two weeks, would make me a Tragic. I'm more a Slightly Sad. But if it’s quality, not quantity, of ardour you’re after, I’m your girl.

I love the tactics of the TdF. I’m sure all bike races are just as interesting, but I don’t watch them, so I wouldn’t know. The TdF features not only cyclists riding aggressively, but lots of lovely bucolic scenery and the occasional Chateau to admire. Plus I get two weeks of highlights to remember how it all works. So it wins my passion.

The rigours of cycling aside – and it’s worth watching the riders get skinnier and skinnier as the race progresses – the teamwork of the race is fascinating. Riding your backside off (literally in the case of some of the smaller team members) to catapult some other bloke to the winner’s podium is an extraordinary way to live. No wonder they’re called ‘domestiques’.

I love listening to Phil Liggett talking about cyclists “wearing the mask of pain” (which frankly makes them look like they’re smiling). I love watching the cyclists collect their ‘feed bags’ and spend a few kilometres shoving protein bars into the various nooks and crannies of their lycra shirts. They even read the labels.

I love watching the bravehardy fools form breakaways and slog away for 100km, only to be mown down by the mighty Peloton with 500 metres to go. As Coyle points out in his book, sheer physics means that the Peloton travels faster than any group of small riders, so, if the Pack puts their minds to it, they will always reel in a breakaway.

Why do they do it? Why? In the crazy hopes of being Sylvain Chavanel, who has now won two stages of this year’s race using this breakaway business? Possibly. To avoid crashes on narrow, cobbled streets? No doubt. For a less-obstructed view of the fabulous scenery? Probably not.

There is one more week of the race to go. Cadel Evans – who seems to have acquired a much friendlier personality this year – is wearing the Yellow Jersey. Can he keep it? Will he crash? Or will The Peloton, silent but for the whirring of 100 expensive wheels and the gasping of breath, drag him back to the pack.

I’ll just have to wait for the highlights to find out.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Romeo and Juliet: A Fibrotown Fable

They were walking toward me, past the wide, empty car park on a windswept street. She was blonde. Skinny, tight jeans. Skinny, tight top. Skinny, tight face. The nappy bag over her shoulder weighed heavily on her childish frame.

He wasn’t much bigger, barely filling out the shoulders of his hoodie, the wideness of his flat-brimmed cap exaggerating the slim youth of his face. Red, angry pimples were all the decoration he needed.

Before them, two tiny feet waved from beneath the wrap flung over the flimsy stroller. The collapsible kind that looks as though it’ll blow inside out in a stiff breeze. Kick, kick, kick.

They stopped. In the middle of the car park entrance. I couldn’t hear what was said. Didn’t need to. Her arms were crossed, her body was rigid, her toe tapped. He looked confused, gesturing to the pram. She shook her head.

Kick, kick, kick.

Moments later, a fully-loaded, fully-sick, fully-lowered, fully-ridiculous purple car screeched into the driveway beside her. Three older guys inside. She threw the nappy bag at him, got into the back, the door slammed and the car thrust back onto the road and drove off. Cue: screaming tires underpinned by the relentless doof-doof of a bass line.

By now, I was almost level with those tiny feet.

Kick, kick, kick.

The boy – for he was no more than 15 – looked lost. His eyes followed the girl, now far down the street, in another world. He hoisted the nappy bag over his shoulder, put both hands on the little stroller and began to push.

Kick, kick, kick.

Half an hour later, as I returned home, I passed the same place. He was slowly walking back toward me, on the opposite side of the street. Kick, kick, kick. Now, though, the light was fading. The baby was fretting. He looked worried and alone.

Where was he going? Would there be a warm reception for him and those tiny, pink feet? I couldn’t see it.

I think about those three often. Two kids with a kid. Her, fed up to a place beyond reason. Him, not knowing where to start. Once upon a time, they probably imagined themselves in love. Maybe.

Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet has never been one of my favourite plays. All that angst, all that tragedy. But he couldn’t have written a different ending. The alternative is played out on the streets of Fibrotown – and indeed, all over the world – every day.

As that other great bard, John Cougar Mellencamp, put it in his seminal work ‘Jack and Diane’ - “Oh yeah, life goes on, long after the thrill of living is gone…”

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Winners are grinners

Overall, it hasn’t been the best of days. Marion was eliminated from MasterChef sparking outrage across the nation (or on my sofa anyway). I started the day at the doctor being checked out for a possible blood clot on my lung*. I’ve been short of breath and short of temper, which turned me into the Unfunnest Mum Ever.

But even on days like today, family provides the antidote.

You may have noticed that The Builder and I are in the habit of having ‘little chats’ with our boys about various things (the eating problem for one). Sometimes I worry that we are too serious, but then, I figure, you’ve got to go with what you know and the boys will have more than enough information on, well, everything to make good decisions in later life (you’re allowed to say ‘joist’ here).

So yesterday we found ourselves talking to Mr6 about the importance of being a Good Winner. We’ve already done the Good Loser lecture and, to his credit, he generally takes a loss at Connect 4 or Chess on the chin. But when it comes to wins…

He and The Builder had completed a game of ‘kicks’ and he’d won, reaching 10 before his dad. He came into tell me about it, announcing that he was The Best Kicker In The World, and going on and on about how easy it all was.

So we had The Chat. About the importance of modesty in victory. And how if you don’t make the people you beat feel too bad about themselves they’ll be happy to play again. Blah, blah, blah.

Fast forward to today. I’ve been to the doctor and gone to Mum and Dad’s to collect the boys. I’m a bit anxious about test results, but relieved that I’m doing something about how I’m feeling. When I arrive, Mr6 and his Gran are locked in an intense battle over the Trouble board. I keep walking through to the kitchen, where Dad and I discuss the State of Origin (boo hiss), Parramatta’s potential new coach (boo hiss), and Julia Gillard’s East Timor solution, which prompts some desultory debate.

Our peace is shattered moments later by a voice from the dining room breaking into a loud, raucous version of Queen’s ‘We are The Champions’.

I pop my head in the door. My mother is waving her arms around like a Brazilian soccer player, crowing and singing. Mr6 is looking bewildered.

“I assume you won,” I ask her.

“HA!” she says. Seriously, if her hip wasn’t a bit stiff these days she’d be dancing around the room.

I can’t help but laugh. “I spent several minutes last night explaining to Mr6 the importance of being a good winner,” I splutter. “Modest, self-effacing, you know.”

She stops. “Where’s the fun in that?” She breaks back into song.

Mr6 took the message on board. When he beat her a couple of times at Connect 4, he was quietly pleased, even though he lost the series. But when he whipped her at Guess Who, he was announcing himself The Best Guess Who Player In The World.

Sometimes you’ve got to celebrate the wins.

*PS: I’m fine. False alarm. And I’m celebrating the win with large quantities of M&Ms.


Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Nuggets of wisdom from a fussy eater

There’s a war underway in the Fibro. Not a big one. Not even a constant one. Battles only arise at 6pm every night. But, as wars tend to do, it’s wearing me down. Words like ‘futility’ come to mind a lot.

Mr3 is, for the most part, a sunshiney kind of guy. His favourite phrase at present is ‘of course’ – as in ‘of course I will’, ‘of course I do’, ‘of course you can’ – usually accompanied by a smile.

But put an evening meal in front of him and that all changes. He is not only the world’s slowest eater, but he is in line to be the world’s fussiest. He told me, quite happily, one day that he didn’t like anything I made him for dinner except nuggets and chips, and why did we only have them on Friday when we could be having them every night of the week. Why indeed.

I try, I really do. We eat a varied menu around here and when The Builder and I want to branch out into curries and chillies and all things hot (which we love and will not give up simply because there are underdeveloped palates in the house), I simply make two meals. Exotica for us, El Blando for the boys.

Despite my best efforts, however, the most-repeated phrase in the Fibro is ‘Mr3, eat your dinner’. ‘Eat your dinner.’ ‘Eat your dinner.’ ‘Eat your dinner.’ Over and over again. I hear it in my dreams.

I insist he tries everything (the whole time remembering every article I’ve ever read on how mums who insist their children clean their plates are part of the obesity problem). He sighs, and talks, and lolls about, and puts his finger up his nose, and generally faffs about like there’s no tomorrow.

It’s so incredibly frustrating. Particularly as Mr6 is one of those kids who eats pretty much everything, including olives, salami, and fish. But not pumpkin.

Mr3 and The Builder had a little talk last week. There was much discussion about how dinners make you big and strong, and good boys eat their dinner, and all of that. Then The Builder asked, ‘So are you going to eat your dinner tonight?’. Mr3 considered the question, pursed his lips, wrinkled his brow and said, ‘Depends what we’re having.’

I used to have a Weetbix rule. If you didn’t eat what was put in front of you at dinner time, you ate Weetbix or went hungry. This worked a treat on Mr6 who, like me, has an aversion to cereal at dinnertime. Not so with Mr3. It got to the point where he was asking for Weetbix. Talk about heartbreaking.

So the Weetbix is gone, but I persist. One day, I just know, he’s going to sit down and clear his plate.

If not, I won’t have to worry any more about my roast skills. He’ll be coming home at 21 just for Mum’s Chicken Nuggets.


Things that make you go [beep]

Having spent several hours mired in the joys of baby poo, it’s a difficult time of day to get creative. But needs must, and the memories of the splendid performances of both my children in this area should provide piles of inspiration.


To change the subject.

Further to my post of a few months ago when I swore that I would never, ever, again buy an appliance that beeped, pinged or buzzed at me, I’ve only gone and done it again. And this time, it’s not just an over-eager microwave that wants me to ‘get on with it’ or a world-weary fridge that just wants me to shut the door. Oh no. This time it’s larger. Much larger.

And it talks.

As discussed, now that the World’s Most Boring Car is doing burn-outs in Heaven, I have a new vehicle. Which I reverse-parked for the first time, last Friday, highlighting my lack of spatial awareness. So far, so not-new.

What I failed to mention, however, was that said new car talks to me. Not in an ‘I see Dead People’ kind of way. Not even in a useful ‘At the next roundabout, turn right’ kind of way. She nags. And becomes insistent. And then, as the final straw, beeps wildly.

Her name is Theresa (the car is green and so Mr6 named it Theresa Green after his favourite knock-knock joke – email me if you need me to take you through it). And she is the voice of the Reversing Sensor.

I first met Theresa on day one of driving the new car. I was reversing out the driveway, not a vehicle, jumping gate, person or telegraph pole in sight, when she suddenly spoke, loudly, with one of those mid-Atlantic accents, right above Mr3’s head. “One Point Five Metres,” she said, with authority and a small amount of beeping.

I stopped. The boys and I had an animated discussion about this crazy lady speaking from nowhere, and I double-checked to see what was behind me.

There was nothing.

I continued. “One Metre,” she said, beginning to sound alarmed, warning beep buzzing faster and louder. If I was calm before this began, my heart was now beginning to beat faster.

I looked again.


I proceeded out onto the road. “Point Six Metres,” she shrieked at me, alarm sounding wildly, kids and I all freaking out trying to work out what the hell she was on about.

We didn’t hit anything.

We drove off.

She shut up.

When I discussed this small moment of excitement with The Builder that evening, he quickly worked out that Theresa was angled down as we reversed and was sensing the road. Helpful that.

So now I not only have two ever-talking, ever-bickering, never-quiet boys in the back seat to keep me company when I drive the mean streets of Fibrotown. I have Theresa. Who has something to say about a lot of things.

You should have heard her going off when I tried that reverse park the other night – “Three Metres,” she shrieked, not even bothering to remain calm. Or perhaps it’s all in my perception. It’s hard to pick up on tonal differences in a mechanical voice when you’re exercising your creaky spatial muscles.

When I was a kid, I wanted a car that talked, like KITT from the KnightRider. Be careful what you wish for.


Monday, July 5, 2010

All about meme

The Tipping Point is an actual, real place. I know this because I am there. On the pointy end of it. It’s been nearly six months since I started this blog (where has the time gone? Oh, that’s right, sucked into Blog Land) and in that time I’ve received a couple of Awards and some ‘tags’ or memes – both of which kind of confused me.

So I did what I always do when confused, which was to ignore the situation in the hopes that no-one would notice. I figured I’d just keep on doing my thing on my blog, sending it out into The Great Wherever (TGW) and that would be that.

But the thing with blogging – the great thing about blogging – is that it’s not just about sending your thoughts into TGW because – and this comes as a surprise to a newbie – TGW writes back! What with all the popping into other people’s blogs that you do, and all the popping into yours that others do, you become, well, neighbours. And neighbours interact. Just like in the good old days when one, gasp, actually spoke to the people next door, so it is with blogs.

So I can’t be confused and ignoring people any more. They’ll think I’m snobby and stop asking me to barbecues. Victoria at Hibiscus Bloem asked me very politely to answer some questions, so I am.

What’s your favourite season?

Autumn. The colours suit me, the temperature suits me. The skies are brilliant blue, the sun shines and there are leaves to kick around. What’s not to love?

Best holiday you’ve ever had?

I spent two years travelling overseas in my twenties. It wasn’t all fun and games as I had a job based in London but… actually, no, it was all fun and games. But, you know, as far as I’m concerned there’s no such thing as a bad holiday.

Would you ever consider any form of cosmetic surgery?

I used to joke that I’d get a boob job and tummy tuck when I turned 40, but I don’t know a single mum who’s never had that thought. In reality, no.

Do you have a favourite recipe you’d like to share?

Not really. I keep getting those emails asking me to participate in recipe exchanges and, I confess, I keep breaking the chain (I know, my future is looking shaky right now). I’m the most disorganised recipe junkie the world has ever known. I have favourite recipes, it’s true – but I can never find them when I want them.

If you won a million dollars, what would you do?

Jump around, pay the mortgage, buy the 1970s train wreck of a house at the beach that I saw on the weekend.

So that’s that. Do you feel you know me better now? Will you lend me a cup of sugar – or even the recipe when I can’t find it?

To other business:

In response to the Awesome Blogger Award from the lovely Annie at Living Life As Me and The Versatile Blogger Award from Tia at T.L Brink, I’m going to combine both – without the buttons because I have an aversion to HTML – and just provide a list of blogs that I love and never miss. Most of which are on my blog roll already, but, you know, just in case you don’t like to leave via the side door when you visit here, I'll put them front and centre.

Deer Baby – she writes like a dream and is called Alison.

My Fluffy Bunnies – beautiful writing, even manages haikus every Friday.

MaxabellaLoves – Sister B in all her awe-inspiring glory.

And Then There Were Four – Sister C is funny, pragmatic and wonderful.

Not Drowning, Mothering – makes me snort coffee out my nose.

Blonde Mom Blog – All-American girl all grown up.

Mayhem & Moxie – two friends with the same sassy sense of humour.

Pink Patent Mary Janes – whimsical updates several times a day.

Fat Mum Slim – just so damn pretty and inspirational.

Ah, The Possibilities – The Pioneer Woman follows her on Twitter. Enough said.

In My House – more than just pretty pictures, Catherine knows her interiors.

Should any of these people care to keep the Question Chain Letter going (and, don’t worry, there will be no threats of misadventure if you don’t), these are my five questions:

Did you have a Birth Plan? How did that work out for you?

Did you, at any stage, attempt Gina Ford’s Contented Baby regimen?

What is your favourite form of exercise?

What was the best first date you ever went on?

Dark, Milk, or White Chocolate?

Okay, that's meme done.

{image: Walk Sydney Streets}

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Uh-oh - Mum's cooking a lamb roast

Every once in a while, it’s good to do something that reminds you that you’re not as smart as you think you are. Today, I did three.

On the surface, none of these things was particularly difficult. In fact, there are many who would be a CWA Lady to my MasterChef contestant when it comes to these challenges (for those who missed it, the lemon-thyme-with-ginger-mousse-encrusted smarty pants contestants on the current series were brought crashing down to earth last week when asked to produce scones, a fruitcake, lamingtons, a neopolitan cake, and some jam – basic cookery that looks like rocket science when you don’t know how).

My challenges were thus:

*to prune our roses;

*to help The Builder figure out how to get a light disseminator into our new skylight;

*to produce a roast dinner.

Let’s start with the first one. When we bought The Fibro, it came complete with an established garden, including a simply spectacular rose bush. (That’s it flowering in the picture above, and I’ve waxed lyrical about it before.) With such a rose bush comes the responsibility each year of the Dreaded Pruning. Everyone knows roses need pruning. Not everyone, including me, knows how to do it.

Last year, The Builder took charge and gave the bush a serious haircut. Then we waited. It wasn’t until it burst into abundant life in spring and glorious bloom in summer that he admitted how worried he’d been that he might have got it all wrong and killed off a plant that must be at least 20 years old.

This year, clearly not wanting to carry the stress, the secateurs (and pruning saw) were ceremoniously handed over to me. And so I found myself out the front, in the fading winter sunshine, trying hard to remember the instructions from the last Better Homes & Gardens snippet on pruning.

It took me ages. Anyone watching me would have thought I was either communing with the plant or losing my senses. I thought long and hard before every snip – was it dead wood? Would it be a crossed branch? Was there a healthy bud nearby? Could I be any more of an idiot if I tried?

The job is done. All I can do now is wait.

Challenge number two was a spatial issue. I should never have got involved. There was no diagram. It was a matter of working out which way the screw/clamp arrangement needed to go to hold the disseminator thingy in.

It should be pointed out here that spatial issues are not my forte. I have had a new car for over a month now, since the World’s Most Boring Car when to the great retirees motorshow in the sky, and I only reverse parked it for the first time on Friday night. And only under duress. And only in a space big enough to fit an articulated semi-trailer. I’m no good with ‘which peg goes in which hole?’ questions.

The Builder and I discussed it for several minutes with me making several unhelpful suggestions about turning the whole thing upside down before I decided that it might be better if I went to rearrange my sock drawer. Or something.

Challenge three was the lamb roast. It should be pointed out here that my cooking is much better than my reverse parking. I can even make scones that do not bounce on the table. But roast dinners make me uncomfortable. If it were just about baked potatoes and gravy, I’d be a winner. But I’m hit and miss on getting the meat right.

It worries me, it really does. Everyone talks about their mum’s roast dinner. Half the population only goes home after the age of 18 for The Roast. If I can’t get that right, the boys may race out the door the minute they can and never come back.

Tonight’s effort wasn’t too bad. But definitely not as good as my Mum and Dad’s.

I think I’ll invite myself over this week for dinner. Or a cooking lesson.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

We need to talk about Kevin

Had you once told me that I would be seriously enamoured of a serious, balding man named Kevin, I would have laughed in your face. But I am.

Not, I hasten to add, Kevin Rudd, former PM and man who took out last week’s award for Worst Week At Work. Possibly ever. He seems like a nice enough chap, serious it is true, but lacking somewhat in…passion.

The other Kevin, my Kevin, has passion in spades.

In light of my recent posts about the delights of Monster Movers, Trawlermen and obscure Danish television series, it will come as no surprise to most of you that I am a Grand Designs fan. As in fanatic.

I love Kevin McCloud. He has been described as Thinking Women’s Crumpet. I do not think of him in this way (but do not get me started on Todd Sampson from The Gruen Transfer). I just think he is one of the most engaging personalities on television, and the fact that he can turn a home build into grand drama with his ‘secretly I think they’re nuts’ tone, makes him must-watch for me.

Yes, I am married to The Builder, so I admit to a lifelong penchant for utes and men with hammers. But Kevin is not that. He reminds me of an academic who wandered onto a building site and decides to write his anthropology honours thesis about it.

The first night I met The Builder’s friends, one of his BFFs told me that when he thought of my new man he invariably thought of Joists. It made me laugh, but as time went by I realised there was more to the story than met the eye.

The Builder is a details man. Ask him a question and prepare yourself for a full answer. Ask him if a roof needs fixing, for instance, and he will take you through it joist by joist. He wants you to understand because he has a passion for what he does. But he brings that same enthusiasm and attention to detail to everything.

Kevin is the same. Earnest, funny and keen that you get what it is that he loves about his work.

Grand Designs is what reality TV should be. All the drama, humour, tragedy and fun of real life, without the machinations and the terrible product placements.

And Kevin. Always Kevin.

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