Thursday, December 22, 2011

The night before the night before the night before Christmas

Twas the night before the night before the night before Christmas, and all through the Fibro, not a creature was stirring... not even me, who should be, at the very least, wrapping presents. Instead, I'm eating festive red and green M&Ms and confessing my favourite karaoke tunes on Facebook. If that's not going to give me a virtual hangover tomorrow morning, I don't know what is...

I had big plans for my last post of the year. I could have done a Four-Corners-style 'Year In Review', with a month by month overview of Life In A Pink Fibro. Could have.

I could have done a Sunrise-style montage, little vignettes of the year that was, set to some kind of heart-wrenching, soul-soaring soundtrack. Could have.

Instead, I'm just going to say thanks for hanging out in the Fibro with me this year. I love it when you pop in to say hi and drink coffee. You are my very favourite style of visitor - the ones you don't have to clean up for - and I thoroughly enjoy your company.

It's been a big year, and 2012 is shaping up to be even bigger (even if Alla Hoo Hoo has moved to Sydney). Can't wait to share it with you.

I'll be back on Sunday January 8, 2012, full of beans and blogging mojo. For sure. I hope that your Christmas and New Year festivities are wonderful and that you also get as much sleep as you need. I have about a year's worth to catch up on, so wish me luck!

In the meantime, there's only one question left to ask...

What's your favourite karaoke tune? The song you bring out every time to bring the house down (or not)? Mine (after several thousand beers) is Son of A Preacher Man by Dusty Springfield. I know. I'm nuts!

[image: via Pinterest]

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

What's in a name? Quite a lot, apparently.

Every once in a while I write a story that really catches my imagination. That gives me such pleasure - nay, glee - to write that I can't believe people are actually paying me to do this job. This week, I had such a story, all about baby names, which, I have to confess is one of my favourite topics of all time.

I love names. I love the anguish that goes behind choosing a baby's name. I love seeing whether the baby grows into the name or the name grows onto the baby. I even love that illicit thrill when a friend or family member names their child - and all you can think is WTF? Seriously, you think you know a person, and then they name their children (not that I've ever had this feeling with regards to my own family and friends, I hasten to add).

The best names always belong to other people. Who name their children - true stories, for these are all examples from a lengthy conversation on the Fibro Facebook page today - Chaos, Rowdy, Epiphany, Jesus, Sunshine, Handsome, Precious, Dolly Rockstar, Jonny Wolf, H (just the letter), Shanthony, Xanadu, Bluegum, Rubella, Shame and Waynette. And that's just a selection.

In the course of my story - you can read the whole thing on Kidspot here - I spoke to social researcher Mark McCrindle, whom I would add to my next dinner party guest list in a heartbeat. We talked about why the class of 2030 will be full of children named Kate, Will and Pippa. We talked about why biblical names are making a comeback (Hepzibah, anyone?) and why the top 20 names in Australia has remained fairly much the same for the past ten years. Nay, longer. We talked about why some names rise to the top and stay there, and others are merely flashes in pans (Britney?).

We discussed the fact that chasing a 'unique name' has become a trend in itself, perhaps a backlash from people who'd endured years at school as Melinda A, Melinda B, or Melinda C, and wanted their own child to have a name that stood on its own and would never be confused with anyone else in the class. We talked about how some of those names might be difficult to live with. Particularly in an era when our name is so much a part of our identity - it's everywhere (Facebook, email, everywhere).

Eight years ago, when the Builder and I were naming Mr7 (then not even with us), we endured the agony that is choosing a child's name. We ran the gamut of options - with girls he started at Charlie and I began with Audrey, so we had some ground to cover. We had a boys' name within minutes and a girls' name pretty much with just minutes to spare before the birth. It was HARD.

Now, as a writer, I get to choose names all the time. I have three different baby books and love to check out the 'popular names' sites on Google for inspiration. The beauty of those sites is that you can find names for characters from any era. All your characters born in the 1970s? The top 10 names is at your fingertips (Michelle, Nicole and Lisa, in case you were wondering).

I also get to use up the names that I loved but didn't quite make the grade for my actual children. Not Audrey, not yet, but soon....

Did you find it difficult to name your children? Did you have 'leftover' names?

[image: from BBLLSS/etsy]

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Where do you write?

I am a creature of habit. I know this because (beyond the fact that I have written about it before) the slightest hint of change in my office throws me into a panic. Tonight, for instance, I am sitting here trying to write with my printer on my desk, the contents of my filing cabinet on the floor and a random feather duster under one elbow. Go figure.

I am also sitting to the left of my computer, not the right. With cords under my feet. And I can't write. Well, nothing useful anyway.

I have writer friends who can write anywhere. They blithely sit outside with their laptops. Or take them to cafes. Or libraries. Or on planes. And they make progress. I don't. I am easily distracted and if it's all not just 'so' it doesn't work. Mind you, just 'so' simply means just 'my desk', which is usually messy and ugly and all kinds of wrong. But I have, after many years of freelance writing, trained into my body a Pavlovian response. I sit at this computer and I write. That's what I do (albeit sometimes via Twitter and Facebook). When people talk about 'The Zone', this is it.

Which is good from a focus perspective, but kind of boring from a 'where I write' perspective. I'd like to be able to say that I sit in the garden, with the scent of orange blossom in my nostrils. But the truth is that I would be hot, and there would be glare, and the words simply would not flow.

Much like tonight. With a printer cramping my style (and my ergonomics). So I'll manage a blog post, and that will be it. Hopefully by tomorrow I'll have adapted to my new surroundings and a new habit will quickly form. Hopefully.

Where do you write?

[image: my desk looks nothing like this one from]

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Do you have a signature style?

A friend of mine confessed via Facebook today that she'd had a perm. A perm. Seriously? First, I laughed and put a sarky comment on her status update. Then I posted a status update on the Fibro page, asking Friends of Fibro to share their own perm stories.

But even that wasn't enough. And so I'm blogging about it. Partly, I think, because I am in awe.

I am the most boring person on the planet when it comes to hair. I've had essentially the same hair for 20 years. Long, red, curly (okay, frizzy unless drenched in 1001 lotions and potions).

Prior to that, I had ... the same hair. Oh it was shorter when my Mum was in charge (because I wouldn't have wanted to deal with my mop either). There was a fringe. There was a moment of asymmetric madness in the late 1980s (all the better to show off my button earrings). A bob.

That's it.

I've never gone blonde, or brown, or black, or pink. I've had it straightened once or twice and it was nice for the 20 minutes it lasted but, really, not worth the effort to do every day. I wear it up every day and wear it long and curly when I go out. I colour it now to cover the greys, but I've finally found a colourist who can make it look close to what it looked like naturally about five years ago.

As I said, the most boring person when it comes to hair.

I put some of it down to being a redhead. The colour was pretty good, why muck about with it? The rest I just put down to me being boring.

The big problem, of course, is what happens next. It's probably time to cut it off. But if I cut it off, it's harder to deal with (much curlier and frizzier - no perm required). I'll continue to colour but at what point do I decide that I can't be a redhead any more?

Who knew that a lack-of-signature style would throw up such conundrums?

What's your hair history? Have you ever had a perm?

[image: if all else fails, I'm getting me one of these Rapunzel hats from Evermicha/Etsy]

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

So, I have some news

On my way home from the Big Smoke yesterday, I found myself consigned to the vestibule area of the train. Me and five silver-haired gentlemen of indeterminate age. We all settled in with our books and our blank stares as the trained rocked and rolled its way toward Fibrotown. All of a sudden, the man sitting next to me announced loudly that Australia had nine wickets down and 29 runs to make to win the second test with New Zealand. It took me a few moments to realise he was wearing headphones (hence the loud voice) and was plugged into the game.

We all smiled and nodded and went back to our books and blank stares.

Several minutes later, he announced loudly that someone or other might be LBW and a decision was pending. Silence. "No, it's all right," he said. We all smiled and nodded, though, little by little, we were being drawn into the game.

We got a ball by ball rundown over the next five or ten minutes, much smiling and nodding, before Australia's last batsman was consigned to the dressing rooms and it was all over. The man next to me turned off his radio, wound up his headphones and no more was said from that point on.

He'd related his news. We'd all politely shared in it. There was no more to be said.

I relay this tale because I have some news. Up there with the most exciting news I've ever had.

My first novel will be published by Pan Macmillan in 2013. Title to be confirmed. Date to be confirmed.

But it's happening. And, yes, I am beside myself.

I hope that you are all smiling and nodding along with me.

I'll be sure to share updates (loudly) as they come to hand.

[image: via weheartit]

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Room service of one's own

By the time you read this, I will be luxuriating in a hotel room with fresh white sheets, room service and a TV with a remote control that I will not have to share with anyone. No-one.

For, you see, I will be all by myself.

I'm off to the Big Smoke to do 'Coffee', among other things, and this time, rather than cramming myself into my friend A's son's bottom bunk (my usual level of accommodation when I head to the Big Smoke), I've gone to and booked myself some solitude.

I'm a little bit excited. I will miss my boys, of course, but it has been a long time between Do Not Disturb signs. Catch you on Wednesday!

When was the last time you checked into a hotel by yourself?

[image: not where I'm staying, but the fabulous Charlotte Street Hotel, London, via]

Thursday, December 8, 2011

What's your best-kept secret?

Mr4 has had another big week. He can now click his fingers and whistle. Even at the same time. It is at once incredibly endearing and unbelievably annoying. He is so very proud of his achievements. And wishes to practise them all the time.

All. The. Time.

His new talents have led to the uncovering of one of my best-kept secrets. I cannot whistle. Not well. Not very well at all. I get kind of a thin, reedy, tuneless squeak. Full of air. Signifying nothing. It is one of my great regrets in life. I've always wanted to be one of those girls who casually puts two fingers in her mouth and lets out an ear-piercing wolf whistle. All I end up with is saliva all over my fingers and a red face.

Mr4 is most perturbed about my inability to whistle a happy tune. He is trying to teach me.

"You just make your lips into a circle and blow," he says, demonstrating. He makes a small noise.

I follow his lead. I make a much smaller noise and do not look near as cute with my lips in the regulation cat's bum position.

Mr7, who can whistle Christmas carols in tune, looks at us both indulgently. "Just keep practising," he tells us. "You'll get there one day."


Can you whistle? Do you have a 'best-kept secret' - one of those things that everyone else in the world seems to be able to do... and you can't? (I won't tell a soul, promise.) 

[image: I need one of these bird whistles from BKYStudios/Etsy]

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Fibro Q&A: How to write a better blog (tips from a Problogger)

Back in the early days of this blog, when I was still faffing about, thinking that blogging was writing on the internet, I happened to win a book in a giveaway. It was called 'Problogger: Secrets for blogging your way to a six-figure income'. "Yeah, right," I thought, tossing the book on the dining table (repository for all things Fibro) when it arrived and thinking no more of it. A few days later, on a slow news day, I picked up the book and read it from start to finish. By the end of it, I was not making a six-figure income, but I had some very good ideas about what I wanted to do with my blog - and what I didn't.

Darren Rowse is Problogger (@problogger on Twitter to be exact). He started his first blog in 2002. He now has several blogs, several books (if you're a new blogger, do not miss his 31 Days to Build A Better Blog Workbook), and a brilliant career extolling the virtues of blogging to the wider world. If you want to know how to make money on your blog, or off your blog, he's your man. He's also the go-to guy for tips on creating blog communities, using social media, and building your blog into a force to be reckoned with.

But I didn't want to talk to him about any of that. Oh no. I wanted to ask him all about the art of writing for blogs. So I invited him to the Fibro and, oh joy, he popped in for a (virtual) cuppa and a chat.

Settle back, this is good.

Do you believe that writing for blogs is different from writing for other forms of media? Why/why not?
Darren Rowse: "Tough question. I'll say yes... but with a small disclaimer! In general, I think blogs can do well with a more personal and playful voice than perhaps writers in other forms of media could get away with. This informal and personal style is something that blogs had a lot of success with in the early days and, from what I can see, is still often important in building an audience and relationship with readers.

"Having said that, my disclaimer - it does depend a little upon the style of the blogger and the goals of the blog. Some blogs do really well being written in a more formal and less personal voice. I am also increasingly seeing the more personal style appearing in other forms of media."

I've seen the line 'content is king' over and over - do you think that comes down to what you say or how you say it?
DR: "I think it's both. What you say is of vital importance - it needs to be useful to people in some way. I find that the best content is content that solves a need that somebody has. That need might be a big or important one like 'I need to know how to raise my child'. Or it could be something a little more frivolous, like 'I'm bored - entertain me'.

"How you say it is just as important though - in some ways, I think it is often what lifts good content to being great content. Your style or voice as a blogger is something that for most people comes over time and is hard to teach. Some bloggers just seem to be born with  it (Mojo), while for others it develops as they experiment with different approaches to writing and see how others respond to it."

Do personal bloggers need to worry about Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)? How can they incorporate it without losing the rhythm of their writing?
DR: "My philosophy with SEO is pretty simple:

"1. Search engines are some of the biggest referrers of traffic going around. When someone wants to find information, it is more often than not a search engine that they head to.

"2. So if you want people to read your content (whether that content be 'personal' or something else), it makes a lot of sense to me to pay some attention to SEO and maximising your chances of being found in search engine results.

"3. So I advise learning the basics of SEO. Having a good understanding of how search engines rank sites and what you can do to optimise your blog is something that can be the difference between having a blog that is read - or not.

"4. However - I don't personally obsess about SEO. I know the basics and find that knowing them and practising them a little will, in time, bring changes to the way that you blog, that will lead to a natural SEO as you blog. For example - knowing that the keywords you use in the title of your post is important in SEO means you start to think about keywords more and, in time, develop better-optimised titles.

"5. Google is in the business of ranking the best and most authoritative content highest. So one of the best things you can do with SEO is to write high-quality content and build trust, credibility and authority in your niche through networking. While there are things you can tweak in your content to improve your SEO, the best thing you can do is write quality content that people share around.

So, learn the basics, implement them, don't obsess about SEO and build something of high quality."

For me, blogging is about voice. Stand-out bloggers have stand-out voices. Would you agree? Any tips to help bloggers develop their voices?
DR: "Voice is one of those elusive things that I wish I could bottle and hand out to bloggers. It's difficult to teach - some bloggers seem to be born with it, others find it develops in time and for others, it just seems to elude them.

"The main tips I could give:

*Practise - it takes time to develop your voice. The first 5000 posts are the hardest!

*Experiment - part of practising is experimenting with writing in different styles and voices. Set yourself tasks to write different types of posts. Experiment with different lengths, with formal and informal writing, with humour, with writing in the third person, with writing lists posts, case studies, question/discussion-based posts.

*Pay particular attention to how your posts are received - watch for sparks of energy and resonance from your readers. As you experiment, you'll find that some posts just seem to click with others, while others flop. This gives you hints as to what types of posts to keep experimenting with."

If you were a writer trying to build a community and a profile through a blog, what would you focus on? Is it enough to just write good stuff?
DR: "There are other factors that I think are important in building a good blog. Content is part of it, but I always try to add two other elements:

*Community: Engagement from readers (and among readers) is where the magic often happens. Ask readers questions, get them interacting with you and each other, give them homework, make them know that they're valued, build a culture of inclusivity. All of this helps make your blog more useful, but it also builds social proof and makes it easier to grow, because when new visitors come they will be more attracted to a site that is obviously active and inclusive - rather than one that simply has good content.

*Get off your blog: A 'build it and they will come' mentality doesn't really work with blogging. Just focusing all your energy on building a great blog is part of what you need to be doing, but also important is getting off your blog and interacting with other people's spaces. Identify who you want to read your blog and where they are already hanging out online - then go and interact (and be useful) in those spaces. In doing so, you'll start to build yourself a profile, credibility and, hopefully, in doing so, find readers for your own blog."

For everything you ever wanted to know about blogging, visit Darren at the Problogger website, or go say hello on Facebook. If nothing else, tell him how much you like his glasses.

**And don't forget the first-ever Fibro Facebook chat about freelance writing is on tomorrow night (Wednesday) at 8.30pm (AEDST). Hope to see you there!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Less is sometimes more

When I first dropped my blog-post-a-day habit, I was twitchy. At 10pm every night (my usual blogging time), I'd be antsy. On the off days, I'd feel like something was missing. You know that feeling you have when you know you should be doing something but you're not quite sure what?

That feeling.

But I got busy with other things and before I knew it, I was finding myself trying to remember if a day was a blog day or not. It doesn't take long.

What I have noticed, however, is feeling more pressure than I ever did when I was cranking out a post a night. Now that I've offloaded my quantity issues, I'm struggling with quality issues. I feel as though every post must earn its place. I'm tossing ideas around in my head wondering if they're worthy enough to throw out there. Before, I'd be grabbing at every passing thought trying to extrapolate 500 words from it. Now, I'm discarding more posts than I'm writing - before they're even written.

The jury is out as to whether this is a good thing or not. On one hand, I do have an ongoing document on my computer that contains a whole lot of snippets - ideas, thoughts, fragments. Most of it will never see the light of day on this blog, but some of it may turn up in other forms (heavily fictionalised, for instance) down the track.

On the other hand, I spent a considerable amount  of time the other night fitting the names of my favourite blogs into the tune of the Twelve Days of Christmas before trashing the whole thing as ludicrous. (Despite 'Frills - In - The - Hills' being gobsmackingly perfect for the 'Five Gold Rings' line.)

Quality versus quantity. Sometimes less is more pressure.

How often do you blog? Has your pattern changed since you started blogging?

[image: hautegreenhutch/etsy]

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Raising boys: Kid in the kitchen

Mr7 and I did some cooking tonight. Usually 'cooking' involves both boys eating their bodyweight in chocolate chips whilst waiting to stir the cookie mixture. Or swiping at the cake mix with a wooden spoon before racing off to lick the batter off it.

Tonight, he decided he wanted to help me make dinner. Chilli con Carne (sans Chilli for him and Mr4). So I showed him how to cut an onion - which he then wanted to attempt with a butter knife, before I dissuaded him. And he helped me put the spices in with the meat - by standing halfway across the kitchen and flinging cumin in the general direction of the pot. "You can go closer," I said, watching bemused as the cumin snow hit the ground. But no, he didn't want to burn himself.

When he attempted to open a can of tomatoes with a bottle opener, not being able to recognise a can opener out of the drawer, I realised it's definitely time to overcome my anxiety about him chopping off a finger or setting fire to his hair and actually teach him to cook. I have always sworn that I would never raise boys who could not fend for themselves.

Time to start putting my money where my mouth is.

Do you cook with your kids? What kinds of things are you cooking (and how old are they?)? And are those coloured knives on Junior Masterchef more kid-friendly than other knives?

[image: decal by tweetheartwallart/etsy]

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Save the date

I don't know about you, but the calendar is beginning to get a little crammed. Fortunately, The Builder showed me how to use the Outlook calendar and so I'm getting reminders and everything these days. Amazing thing, that technology.

Anyhoo. My focus on calendars is all due to the fact that I have a date for yours. I'm going to host a Facebook chat about freelance writing at the Fibro page next Wednesday, 7 December, at 8.30pm (AEDST). I'll be there until 9.30pm for any questions you might have about freelancing.

The invitation is out. One week to go. Now all that's left for me to do is to clean the house, put up a few balloons and sit around nervously drinking wine, wondering if anyone will show up.

You can join the Fibro Facebook page here (I'll post reminders there, in case you haven't worked out your Outlook calendar yet). Hope to see you there.

[image: divine illustrated mini calendar by milk and cookies on MadeIt]

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Motherhood is... Learning when to let go

Mr4 has found the sweet spot on his bike. He is off and racing. Little legs pumping, concentration fierce. He still wobbles. He still worries. But he's doing it. With his eyes open.

It has taken a little while for him to get going. I found him on the grass this afternoon, in tears. Mr7 told me that he'd forgotten to push off when he lifted his foot. Balancing on a stationary bike is best left to the professionals. "He went sideways, Mum," said Mr7, solemnly.

Mr4 looked up at me, face screwed up, red and angry. "I'm okay," he said, between sobs. "I don't need you. I don't need you."

I backed away.

We took them out, to a place with space and paths on which to spread his wings. He tried at first with me puffing along behind, holding the back of his seat, shouting instructions as he wibbled towards the road and wobbled towards the trees. "Let go, Mum, let go," he screamed back.

I couldn't. He was too wobbly, he wasn't steering straight. All I could foresee was disaster.

On the return journey, he refused my help, turning to his Dad. Mr7 and I made our way back to the car. "Coming through!" we heard, a few metres up the track. I turned and there was Mr4 riding towards me, The Builder running behind shrieking (in a manly way) "You're doing it! You're doing it" (I tell you, it's catching). He rode to the end of the path, turned and returned.

"You held on for too long," he told me, serene in his new ability. "You have to let go. I can't ride unless you let go."

I nodded, message finally understood.

Oh, but this motherhood gig is hard.

[image: I love these bird prints from barkingbirdart/etsy]

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Fibro Q&A: So you want to be a fashion/beauty writer?

Paula Joye has dedicated the last 20 years of her life to beauty, fashion and style. When I met her in the early days of my fulltime features-writing career, she was the deputy editor of CLEO, a gorgeous (still is, see left), bubbly blonde with endless reserves of encouragement (for people like me) and unlimited potential (for her). She pretty much fulfilled all that potential in magazines, as editor of CLEO, Shop Til You Drop and Madison - and editor-in-chief of all three - and has now moved on to seeing where it will take her online (I'm thinking far) with Life.Styled., which she describes as a 'depot for beautiful things'.

With a solid-gold background in beauty and fashion editing in her portfolio, I could think of no better person to ask about beauty and fashion writing. It's a very specific niche in the publishing world (both print and online) and it calls for a particular set of skills. Not least of which is being able to write down, off the top of your head, at least a dozen different alternatives for each of these words: hair, skin, eyes, fragrance. Trust me, it's not as easy as it looks...

What are the three main skills you need to be a good fashion or beauty writer?
PJ: "1. You must love it, otherwise it will melt your brain. The way to find true satisfaction when specialising in any subject is passion - if you kinda like shoes or sorta think mascara is awesome, it's never going to be for you.

"2. Have an opinion. This separates the wheat from the chaff. The best beauty and fashion writers have a point of view that is engaging, 360  and often humorous or self-deprecating. It's not rocket science and shouldn't be written as such.

"3. Luck. Right place. Right time."

I think it's an area of writing that people think is easy - but anyone who's tried to write a hair story and come up with 33 different ways to say 'hair' (without repeating yourself) knows differently. What are the keys to getting it right?
PJ: "Finding 33 different words for hair! Creativity is key and the big one is to avoid cliches. It is an area riddled with them - find a new angle, throw the net wider, and don't say stuff like 'sun, sand and salt water can wreak havoc on your locks'. Just don't."

Of course, there's more to it than just the writing. Fashion and beauty editors spend a lot of time away from their desks, viewing collections, attending product launches, etc. Is relationship-building a vital tool in the fashion or beauty writer's arsenal?
PJ: "One hundred per cent. It's your mainline to experts, new information, inspiration - it's the front line. The industry is about contacts and runs on the board - a big part of that is the network you create."

How do I break into this area if it's something I'm passionate about?
PJ: "You can do it. Make sure you really want it (because it's hard) and then dig your heels in. Work experience is essential. Try to get an internship within a magazine, newspaper or television fashion or beauty department. Start a blog or website as an outlet for your writing - and to become your CV."

Would you agree then that any potential fashion/beauty writer/editor needs a blog? What do you think are the key ingredients of a standout fashion/beauty blog?
PJ: "You should only create a blog if you're passionate about it - no matter what the subject matter. Yes, it's a great way to express your creative point of view and self-publish, but it's also a beast that needs to be fed. Daily.

"Find your sticky point - and for everyone that will be different. The key to success is recognising the 'thing' that people are visiting your blog for, and capitalising on it.

"A wise editor once said (and man, it's true), 'Should we give the readers more of what they want? Or less?'

"It's actually that simple."

Visit Paula at for everything you ever wanted to know about fashion, beauty, home, heart... and fun.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Just another blog post about blogging (and ducks)

I had an editor once who liked to talk about ducks a lot. About how their effortless glide across a pond concealed a whole lot of hard work, churning and strain underneath. That, he told me, is what writing should be like. Good writing.

Readers, he said, do not want to know about how difficult it was to organise a particular interview. They do not want to know how long it took you to find a park, or how you arrived flustered and red-faced only to discover that your interviewee was still in the shower.

What they want, he continued (at length), is a simple, beautifully written profile piece. About the heart of the story - not about you.

I spoke to a very good blogger today, who said something similar about blogging. "I write my blog every day as though it's the first day that every reader will visit it," she said. "What do I want them to see?"

Blogging can be hard work. Of that there is no doubt. There's a lot to consider, a lot going on in the background. Decisions to be made about X, Y and Z. All very important stuff.

But probably not for readers. Who just want to admire the sunshine on your glossy feathers as you sail across the smooth surface of the blogosphere. What shines your particular set of feathers will be different to the blog next door - it might be humour or pathos or advice or raw passion or stunning images or mouth-watering craft.

The churning? Not so much.

[image: via]

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Have yourself a very early Christmas

The first Christmas card entered the Fibro two weeks ago. Two. Weeks. Mr7 smuggled it home in his school bag, more interested in the lollipop that came with it than in the card itself. Until he realised that he had the first card. The only card. Which, as far as he's concerned, pretty much makes him the most popular member of the household.

He may have a point.

Personally, I think that the first week of November is a little early for Christmas cards. Mr7's card has hung, in splendid isolation, in the acreage of the living room venetian blind (see image), for nearly 14 days now. It looks very lonely. We have all fully appreciated it from every angle.

Longterm readers of this blog will know that I am a fan of the Christmas card. I like to send them. I like to receive them. I have already bought some splendid examples from Leaf Journals. But there's no way I'd send them before the first week of December. Maybe the second. And I don't tend to give them to people I see all the time. I don't do The Exchange.

What do you think? Can you peak too early with Christmas cards? When's the optimum time to send (and receive)? Oh, and where do you put yours?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Writer's Apprentice

Mr7 and I have found a new reading obsession. The Ranger's Apprentice series by John Flanagan has captured his imagination - and mine. Actually, mine first. I was searching for books that would be suitable for him, and was given a few recommendations by our new best friend at one of the local bookshops. She knows us, you see, and always has something to suggest for him when we pop in.

She handed me the first Ranger's Apprentice with this review: "He'll love it, and best of all it stays at the same level throughout the series." No more shades of Grumpy Harry Potter, who gets darker and more bewildering as he advances through puberty.

I took it home, opened it - and read the whole thing in one sitting. It's really good. Well written, fast-paced, heaps of action, great characters, good life lessons. Jackpot!

I handed it to Mr7 the next morning. "You'll love it," I said. He took it from me - and refused to read it. I think I was just a little bit too enthusiastic. I keep forgetting I'm his mum. Who wants to read what mum thinks is good?

It took months, but finally, on a slow news day, he picked it up. And was hooked. He's now zooming through book four and has book five lined up, ready to go. (I would just like to say at this point that I haven't even said 'I told you so'... much.)

In true Mr7 style, he is now writing his own book. It is called The Four Archers, and he assures me that any resemblance to the Ranger's Apprentice (which features archery - heavily) is absolutely coincidental. Note to self: revisit the plagiarism discussion.

"How many words will I need to make it into a real book?" he asked.

"Oh, 3000-5000," I said, thinking of the school readers.


"Do you mean the Ranger's Apprentice books are 5000 words long?" he asked.

"Oh no," I said. "If you want to write one of that length, you're looking at around 30,000-40,000 I think."


"Whoa, that's a LOT of words."

Tell me about it.

I suggested that he might like to try writing a summary of his story first - a plot outline - and then writing the book based on that.


"I don't think that would work, Mum. I like to make it up as I go along."

Tell me about it.

The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A great unveiling (introducing Career Mums, the book)

I've tried a few openings for this blog post. It's an unveiling kind of post and I felt it should have some pomp and ceremony. But everything I tried sounded either too Barnum Bros Circus (Roll up! Roll up!), too 'Prime Minister opening large and important building' (It gives me great pleasure...) or too 16-year-old girl with Text Addiction issues (OMG! ZOMG! OMGOMGZOMG!).

Plus there was the slight problem of the picture being the first thing you see. Not so much unveiling as simply Putting It Right Out There!

So I thought I'd just, you know, Put It Right Out There.

Let's just take one moment to contemplate the cuteness that is the cover of Career Mums, my new book, co-authored with the lovely Kate Sykes, founder of, Telstra ACT Businesswoman of the Year in 2010, and general all-round good egg. It will hit the stands on January 3, 2012, ready for any New Year, New You! thoughts you may be having about making 2012 the year that you make some changes in your work/life balance.

We set out to write a useful, informative, practical guide to using the Right to Request Flexibility (enshrined in legislation in January 2010) to help make your life as a working parent an easier road to travel. We tried to make it easy to follow, even entertaining in places, and to cover off as many of the issues facing working parents as we could in the space we had. Being a working mum is not a one-size-fits-all proposition (besides, we all know that one-size-fits-all clothes never fit anyone, not really), but we think that there are ways of making it work for you - and we hope that this book will help you with your journey. At the very least, it will give you lots to think about!

In a joyous coincidence, I discovered today, whilst Googling my name (as one does) in the name of researching a current feature (don't ask) that Booktopia is offering pre-orders of Career Mums at 20 per cent off! A mere $15.95 will secure you a copy.

So there it is. An unveiling and a gratuitous plug in one blog post. Who says I'm not creative?

PS: Join the CareerMums Facebook page to keep up to date with book news, part-time jobs around the nation, blog posts from some of Australia's best working mum bloggers and for the opportunity, at a date to be announced, to win some mentoring time with Kate - if you're keen to get back to work, or make work work better for you, she's the one to help!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Gardening + Editing = same/same

Gardening is a surprising business. Even with all the instructions, conditions, fertiliser and prayers in the world, some plants simply never prosper. They decide they don't like your plot of land and simply turn their toes up at it. Others will thrive, despite a perfect storm of neglect, bad soil and lousy location.

At the beginning of winter this year, The Builder and I planted some dwarf, winter-flowering Italian lavender. They were very cute. Small, perfectly formed. We placed them gently round the bottom of a new camellia (for which we had high hopes) and sat back to watch.

Today I approached said 'dwarf' lavenders with pruning shears in hand. They had, to be brief, run amok, squeezing the life out of the camellia (for which we had high hopes). They had flowered over winter, flowered during spring and were about to flower again. Meanwhile, we had been waiting for them to finish flowering so that we could 'tip prune' them - as per instructions on the label. They didn't finish. No tip pruning. Which means lots and lots of dead lavender heads adorning their spiky fronds.

The time had come to cut those suckers back.

I began with the secateurs, gently teasing each dead lavender head from the foliage and delicately snipping it off. I did this for about 15 minutes and then stood back to admire my handiwork. Large pile of dead lavender heads on the path - no discernible difference to the plants.

Something more brutal was required.

I called The Builder outside (from grouting duties within the Fibro) to confer. We decided that I would take a third off each plant. "Back to the basic structure," he said. "Get rid of the faff."

So I pulled out my Edward Scissorhands shears and began hacking in. Spears of lavender went everywhere, landing at my feet. Wait a minute, I thought to myself. These are flowers. Beautiful, deep purple flowers. I put down the shears, ran inside for a container, picked up the secateurs and snipped off a huge bouquet of lavender to adorn the Fibro.

That done, I hacked into the bushes again, reducing their bulk by one-third, back to the wood, shaping them as I went. As I got towards the end of my task, I began to leave the new shoots I could see, taking care to cut around them - after all, I would like a few summer flowers from my winter-flowering lavender if possible.

My lavender shrubs are now neat and tidy, ready for whatever summer will bring. The removal of the dead heads allows more sun to penetrate, allowing for even more growth. The camellia (for which we have high hopes) is once again the star, and has enough room to breathe.

The whole time I was undertaking this exercise, I was thinking about editing.

The first time somebody asked me to edit my full-length manuscript, I went in very gently, snipping a few bits here, changing a word, putting in a comma.

Then a structural editor got hold of my manuscript and told me, in no uncertain terms, that I had started with the wrong character and that the whole thing needed to be turned upside down until the basics of the story and the characters was revealed. I did that, putting aside some bits I really loved, the ones that weren't quite right for this story, and storing them away. You never know what you'll be able to use again.

And even as I hacked away at my manuscript, I discovered new shoots. Things I hadn't noticed before because I was too busy concentrating on the showy stuff. Kill your darlings, they say. If a scene or a character or a line is only there because you love it, not because it advances the story, it has no place in this book.

Once I'd finished editing my manuscript, I had a much better book. Much better. But I'd never have found it if I hadn't got the pruning shears out and gone to town on it.

Lessons of the day: 1) quick and brutal beats death by 1000 cuts. 2) Your first draft is not your manuscript. It's really not.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Very Hungry Caterpillar (aka Why do you blog?)

If I've learned nothing else in my many months of blogging, I've learned the value of recording the little things. Snippets. Pictures. A thought here. A moment there. And it's for that reason that I'm writing today's post. It's been a bit of a Mr4 week this week, but that's okay. He's off to big school next year. So many of his thoughts and ideas and random utterances will be heard by other people.

Not me.

But this one, today's one, was mine.

The scene: Mr4, Mr7 and I are in the car, on our way to take Mr7 to his piano lesson. The boys are chatting about this and that. Mr4 tells Mr7 how hungry he is.

"You can't possibly be hungry," I say, interrupting. Mr4 is in the midst of a hollow-legs phase. "You ate a lot today."

"What did you have?" asks Mr7.

"Well," says Mr4, considering. "I had two pieces of buttery toasters for breakfast. And a milkshake. And half a caramel slice. And an apple. And a ham wrap. And a cheesestick. And some sultanas. And some crackers. And four strawberries..."


"And then," he continued, in exactly the same tone of voice. "I ate one nice green leaf, and I felt much better."


Mr7 and I cracked up, while Mr4 grinned from ear to ear. Did you see what he did there? It seems that Mr4 is learning the art of the punchline.

Why do you blog? Do you use your blog as a record of life? Do you aim for big picture or small moments?

[image: fabric from]

This post is part of the Weekend Rewind blog hop. Join in! Link up an old post for new comment love.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

To pet, or not to pet, that is the question

Mr4 is desperate for a pet. He has taken to crawling around the house, pretending to be a cat. Sometimes a Turtle Cat, but mostly just a cat. The Builder and I are hesitating. Our reasons are sound - we have plans to travel, plans to move, plans to plan. But none of them make sense to a four year old who wants something to pat.

He's always been a patter, Mr4. Maxabella would be laughing at the irony of this, she being a patter, me being someone who has always hated being patted. But, I'm here to tell you, being patted by the fruit of your own loins is somewhat different to being patted, absently or annoyingly, by your sister.

Mr4 likes to pat my hair. He has always done this. I generally wear it tied back in a messy, up-do thing, and he has always, from birth, liked to hold onto my messy, up-do thing. And pat it. I thought this was something he'd grow out of, but no... His first words may not have been 'Mummy, put her hair up', but they were three, four, five and six.

Recently, the patting has been out of control. It's a security thing, but he often forgets that it's attached to my head - kind of awkward at times and the words 'please don't pat my hair' may have been uttered on several occasions.

This morning we were discussing, in the car on the way to preschool, the RSPCA box set up in the classroom. The children are all very interested in the RSPCA, particularly given the cupcake fundraiser put on earlier this year. We had enough cupcakes to have them on sale every afternoon for a week! Very popular, the RSPCA.

This time, we are donating tins of food, toys and treats. Mr4 is adamant that we must have a toy as part of our donation. He knows that RSPCA dogs are not free to roam around and feels they must be very bored. We decided on a tin of food and a toy.

There was a little silence. Then...

"Mummy, when, oh when, can I have a pet?"

I began the usual soothing 'soon' conversation, but he was having none of it.

"If I have a pet, I'll have something to pat," he said. "And I won't have to pat your hair anymore!"

His smile was a mile wide. He'd played his trump card. He was willing to give up the hair, if he could have the pet.

It's almost tempting...

Do you have a pet? Was it a considered decision or a spur-of-the-moment thing?

PS: The hand of Mr4 (pictured above) has drawn the winners of the two Peter Carnavas book packs and they are... drum roll please... River and Saffron. Please send me your postal details via the email address on this blog and I'll get them out to you asap.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The cycle of fete

Today was School Fete Day.

(Thank you for your kind wishes. I'm fine.)

I was tempted to simply run this post again - my stellar effort from last year's stellar fete -  but, in the end, decided to go with simply running the same opening. Every fete feels as though it will be the same as the last one, but it's not. Yes, I was on the book stall again (this year's highlight books most discussed book was one called You Sexy Mother, but we had nothing to rival last year's 365 Ways to Drive A Man Wild in Bed). Yes, the lead-up to the fete was announced by a deluge of coloured notes. No, I didn't win anything in the raffle again. Not that I'm complaining, you understand.

This year I was watching the organisers of our fete with a slightly different mindset. During the writing of my new book Career Mums (out January 2012 - gratuitous plug), I learned a few things from my co-author Kate Sykes about how to write your resume if you've been out of paid employment for a while. Her take-home message: you have the skills, you just need to put them in work-speak. As I watched our P&F president, treasurer, secretary et al in action, I realised that she was right.

Our president has the marshaling skills of a tactician, the organisation skills of a General, and the patience of a saint. We have two mums at the school who created a pop-up shop, complete with hand-crafted doo-dads, homemade yummy stuff, and their own gozleme, from scratch, under a tent, without drama. Publicity, marketing, events management, retail, entrepreneurial skills... they're all there. Just ordinary people, doing their thing.

As one burly farmer said to me over a beer at the wind-down event, "Where else would you rather be on a Sunday afternoon than with a bunch of tired, sweaty, satisfied volunteers?"

Where indeed?

Seriously, though, it's a great way to keep your skills up or learn new ones. And next year I might just win the raffle.

[image: twirlingbetty/etsy]

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Fibro Q&A: Words and pictures - how to write a children's book

Children's book author and illustrator Peter Carnavas may be the first person to visit the Fibro (for Q&A purposes) whom I've never actually met. Everyone else has been a friend or acquaintance, either IRL (in real life) or URL (via blogs or Twitter). In fact, I wasn't even familiar with his work. But his very engaging publicist Sophia from New Frontier Publishing emailed me and asked if I'd be interested in reviewing Peter's new Little Treasures collection - four little books for little people.

Nope, said I, I'm not really about a review. But I did a little bit of further research, fell in love with Peter's whimsical illustration style, and realised that I had a few questions for an author who put big issues into children's books.

The four titles in his collection cover love, family, the environment and self-worth. Sarah must carry her heavy heart around with her. Jessica tries to make friends. Christopher's father is absent. And there is one about the last tree in the city. I'd tell you more about that one, but Mr4 has taken a liking to it and I can't find it. I asked him whether he liked the books that Mr Carnavas had sent him. "Yes," he said. "I do." "Why?" I asked, looking for pithy words of wisdom for a review. "There's one about a tree," he said. "I like trees."

And, really, what better review of a children's book?

So here he is. All the way from the Sunshine Coast where, I discovered, he lives in a Fibro! (How could I not love him?)

You take on some 'big' issues in your little books. Why do you choose to tackle those, rather than simply writing a story to entertain?
Peter Carnavas: "I don't always mean to tackle big issues, but they are the sort of stories I end up writing. I think it is because I need to feel some sort of emotional connection to a story to pursue writing it. That doesn't mean the story has to be emotional itself, but I just like the idea of readers being able to delve into themes a little, to have layers of meaning working throughout the story. Of course, I love simple, fun stories as well - Quentin Blake is probably my biggest hero and his books are usually pure fun."

What are some of the things you have to think about when working your material into a book suitable for children?
PC: "Most of my ideas have a grown-up origin, such as a conversation I've had or a newspaper article I've read, so there is a bit of a process for me to fashion it into a children's story. It becomes easier when I start working on the illustrations, for no matter what the theme, my pictures are usually quite light and fanciful. This helps a lot.

"There are other little techniques I use to help the story appeal to children, such as the silent animal friends popping up on every page, or adding funny little things in the background. It's also important to cut out unnecessary words. I like to keep the text short and to the point."

When you write your books, do you begin with words or pictures?
PC: "I start with the idea then, after thinking about it for days, weeks or months, I write the text. I like to write the whole story in one sitting - once I've started it, I can't go to bed until it's done. I then start playing around with pictures, usually working out what the characters will look like, what they wear, what sort of animal will follow them around."

What, for you, is the best part of writing books for children? And the most difficult?
PC: "There are many good things about making books for children. I love reading the books to children at schools and getting their response. I'm always fascinated by the ideas they pick up from the stories, often things that I had never considered. On a personal note, it's immensely satisfying coming up with an idea that I think will work, then gradually bringing the characters to life. It can feel quite powerful at times, creating my own little people with their own little triumphs and tragedies.

"The most difficult parts are the boring bits like working out money stuff, though sometimes the most challenging thing is trying to draw something the way I see it in my head. My hand doesn't always do as it's told and I have to reach a sort of compromise between my imagination and my ability. It always works out in the end."

Any advice for wanna-be children's book writers out there?
PC: "I think it's important to get opinions of your work from people that you trust. If you are going to submit to a publisher, make sure you research the publishers well and choose one that suits the story you have written. Check out the Australian Writers' Marketplace for details on just about everything, and join up to the weekly online newsletter, Pass It On. You can find out everything you need to know from those two sources. Finally, just because something is hard, it doesn't mean it's impossible. Keep going."

You can find out more about Peter and his books at

In good news, the engaging Sophia has given me two extra sets of Peter's Little Treasures collection, featuring Sarah's Heavy Heart, The Important Things, Last Tree In The City and Jessica's Box, to give away. Yes, a giveaway! The excitement. To enter, simply leave a comment below. Entries close at 6pm on Tuesday November 8, and Mr4 will draw two numbers at random at 7pm (before bed) on Tuesday November 8, with the winners announced on Wednesday November 9. Oh, and please friend the Fibro if you haven't already. Good luck!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Going part-time (hard habit to break)

I'm going part-time. I've negotiated a flexible working arrangement with myself. I've put a business case together and showed myself how blogging five days a week is curtailing my other writing time. I've shown myself how cutting back to three days will allow me to focus on my other, sadly neglected projects. It's not an easy decision. I have discovered that I have a lot to say. (Actually, I'm not really surprised by that...) But I also know that there are other ways to say it. Other places.

It will take me longer to rack up my next 500 posts. And I'm okay with that. Five hundred posts at an average of 500 words apiece is 250,000 words. That's around three full-length novels. Written in 18 months. I take 200 posts out of that at an average of 500 words apiece and that's more than one whole book - well, here's hoping it's one whole book.

Even so, it's a hard habit to break. 

I'll still be here, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, sharing the Fibro love. I'm just making some room. Opening some windows. At least for a while.

I hope you'll continue to pop round to visit.


Monday, October 31, 2011

And the winner is...

Thanks to everyone who entered my rather unusual giveaway. The entries have been read, the short list created, the votes tallied... etcetera etcetera. And Valerie Khoo, the powerhouse behind the Sydney Writers' Centre has put on her sorting hat and judged the worthy winner.

Now, if this were the Academy Awards or something, I'd be cracking jokes here in an effort to build tension. I would have announced the short list, who would be sitting in the auditorium wearing their friendly, self-deprecating, oh-no-it-won't-be-me (please-let-it-be-me) faces. The cameras would be closing in, hoping to catch a tiny glimpse of 'Good God NO! It can't be her' as the winner is announced.

But we're on a blog, in the Fibro. So I'll just get on with it, shall I?

The winner is Candice. Her winning entry read like this:

“We’re looking for Spark.”
“Really? Again?”
“Yeah. We last saw him walking along the fence”.
“In which direction?”
“Um, towards your house.”
“Okay kids. Let me just finish writing this article, then we’ll go look for Sparky together”.

Hi Allison,
I'd love to talk to you about developing my feature writing for magazines career. I'm about to move interstate with my husband, and this is the perfect opportunity to try and go full time with my writing. I've completed the SWC feature writing course, and I've had one article published in Good Reading Magazine and another about to be published in a local magazine.

I'd love (!!!!) to discuss the business of freelancing and talk to you about staying passionate about a topic weeks after pitching the original idea.

Thank you for this great competition and congrats with your 500th post!

You're an inspiration.

Regards, Candice 

Note the creative use of 'spark' (which is what we were, after all, searching for), a little CV to show us that she's serious, clever insertion of past SWC experience (use everything you've got people) and a splendid-but-not-overdone bit of sucking up compliment at the end.


Can't wait to chat, Candice. Drop me an email via the contact me thingy on my Blogger profile and we'll get started!

Thanks to everyone who entered. If Candice gives me a good reference, I'll look at doing it again in a few months' time when I hit the big two years on the blog. In the meantime, look out for my first Facebook chat over the next few weeks. I've even got a few guest stars lined up! Pop over and join the Fibro's Facebook community for updates.

[image: prettylittlelies via weheartit]

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Boo humbug: Not my party

I struggle with Halloween. I didn't realise quite how much until I had a chance conversation with a friend at a kids' party today. She asked me if I was planning to take my boys trick or treating. No, I said, I was not. And then proceeded to outline, in detail, for five minutes, exactly why not.

Everyone has their 'event' gripe. For some it's the commercialism of Christmas and how the true meaning is lost. For others, it's Valentine's Day and overpriced red roses. My 'event' gripe is Halloween. Specifically, Halloween in Australia. In the US, Halloween makes perfect sense. There's tradition involved. It has a place.

In Australia, Halloween didn't really exist until, as best I can figure, about 2005, when retailers decided it was the perfect occasion to boost sales in the lead up to boosting sales over Christmas. When I was a kid, Halloween was something I read about in books. I wish in my heart of hearts that it had stayed there.

I've watched Halloween creep, pumpkin by pumpkin, ghost by ghost, into the Australian child's consciousness over the past few years. This year, however, it has really reached a tipping point. Hence the reason for my conversation this morning. My friend was struggling against her seven-year-old daughter's begging and pleading to go trick or treating. Part of my friend's struggle was internal. She likes the idea of taking her children out into the neighbourhood at night. To walk under the dark sky and see their world in a different way.

"Fine," I said. "Dress them up and take them for a walk. But don't go knocking on doors."

My boys know that we don't do Halloween in the Fibro. When they asked me why, I simply explained that it was another country's tradition, not ours, and we wouldn't be taking it up. So last year when a young family knocked on our door - at 8pm - I had no qualms about telling them sorry, we don't do Halloween. I was polite, I was cheerful, I was firm. The mother was not happy with me. But I am not about to start handing out lollies to other kids who knock on our door, when I've told my children that it's not something we do. What kind of hypocrite would that make me?

My elderly neighbours (and the Fibro has many) hate Halloween. It's not part of their world at all. They hate anyone knocking on their door at any time, let alone after dark. It may be anti-social, but it's also about security. Not all trick or treaters are friendly six year olds, out with their Mums.

I know this makes me very Bah Humbug (or Boo Humbug, the Halloween equivalent), but I don't think I care. Halloween is not my party.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Join the Weekend Rewind

The Weekend Rewind, world's easiest linky, is on again at And Then There Were Four. Join Multiple Mum, me and scores of other fabulous Rewinders as we make our merry way through the month of March 2011. That's right. Old post.

All you do is link up your favourite post from March 2011 and then visit some of the other Rewind posts. Comments make the Weekend Rewind go round. That's right. Comment love.

My post this week is about the one thing I would change about myself above all others. I know. Such a difficult choice when I have SO many options.

What have you got for us? Link up and Rewind!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

A stationery conversation

Oh, hello. It's you.

I'm so sorry, I can't talk to you right now. I'm very busy.

Very, very busy.

Doing what, you ask? Er, research. Yes, that's it, research. Very busy with reserach.

Oh, you want to know what I'm researching? Always with the questions. Sigh. Well, if you must know, I'm investigating stationery. Yes, stationery. Stationery needs investigating.

What's that? Well, yes, I did do that feature a couple of years ago about how we crave beautiful stationery even though nobody seems to hand write anything anymore. What of it? Didn't you read to the end of that story. Don't you remember how important that small piece of tactile luxury is in a world that's increasingly online and untouchable?

Of course you do. Which is why I know you won't mind if I just leave you right here and go back to salivating over beautiful paper products. If you'd like to join me, you can start here:

Upon A Fold

or here: Little Branch

or here: Paddock Press

And if you are a fellow stationery addict, please share your favourite online shopping haunts.  I'm in the mood for paper.

[image: Christmas cards from LeafJournals/Etsy]

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The things you do (as a Mum)

I spent some time this afternoon attempting to hit my four year old with a broom handle. Not exactly where I pictured myself when I fondly imagined my mothering years. Before you call DOCS, let me hasten to assure you that he asked me to undertake this exercise. Asked for it, I tell you.

Mr4 has taken up Little Ninjas. Following in the footsteps of, and standing alongside his big brother, in blue pyjamas. He was very keen on the whole thing, practising his sparring stance and his back-break falls with enthusiasm - until they brought out the stick.

We have reached the 'self-defence' module of this term's lessons, and part of this involves learning to dodge a large, red (admittedly well-padded) stick. Mr4 took one look at said stick and ran screaming for his mother - which strikes me as a sensible thing to do, but what would I know?

Apparently, he must learn to dodge the stick. To go one way when it goes the other. Or some such. I say he graduates with honours - he has learned to dodge the stick by running at breakneck speed in the opposite direction. However, it turns out that he will not get the 'stripe' on his belt for this particular module unless he faces the stick. Or 'The Stick' as it has become known in the Fibro. Like 'The Blob' or 'The Thing', only much thinner.

On the way home, after a serious discussion about how the correct response to the question 'what do you do when a stranger tries to drag you into a car?' is not, as Mr4 tried in class, 'get in the car' (accompanied by big smile), we talked about the importance of facing fears. About how fears only got bigger if you didn't turn around and look at them. How they grew in your mind while you had your eyes closed. Mr4 took that on board and then asked me to help him face down The Stick.

So, being the candidate for Mother of the Year that we know me to be, I spent some time practising with him this afternoon. I even thwacked the handle on the ground as it whistled past his ears (okay, came down somewhere in the vicinity of his body), so that he would not be frightened of any sound effects The Stick might emit. Even so, I'm not sure that I'm doing it right. When I come at him with a broom handle, he giggles. I clearly need to get a tougher expression as the wielder of The Stick.

We have until Monday to build up his courage enough to dodge The Stick on his own. Mr7 sits behind me, giving helpful big-brotherly advice like 'don't let it hit you'. Right. With a team like this on his side, how can Mr4 fail?

I also managed to slip some 'wrist escape' practice into the mix. This is the move you use when someone has you by the arm and is attempting to drag you into a car. It involves pulling up in the opposite direction from the person's grip. Or something. Mr4 was perturbed that I was trying to drag him into a pot plant, not a car, but I assured him the method was the same.

And I will sleep easier tonight knowing that if he learned nothing else today, he knows that the correct response if someone tries to drag you into a car is to run screaming to Mum.

Have you found yourself in an unusual situation as a Mum? And how did you have the 'stranger danger' talk without freaking out your child?

[image: WallDecalsAndQuotes/etsy]

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Words can haunt you

I got an email from a friend today. She lives on the other side of the world. We chit-chat about books and writing, friends and family. We've never actually met. But I'm always glad to hear from her.

Attached to the bottom of her email was the last email I sent her. Idly, I read through it, wondering what I'd waffled about (it had been a while between emails).

There was a lot of waffle. Then, about halfway down, these words:

"Don't give up. Persistence is the key to this whole mess."

I can't tell you how much I needed to read my own words of advice today.

[image: via]

Monday, October 24, 2011

The indelible marks of motherhood

Today I realised, once again, that motherhood has left an indelible mark on me. I was walking down a flight of stairs. Counting each step out loud. And I was alone. Alone in the sense of 'no child with me'. Not alone in the sense of 'no audience at all for my lunatic behaviour'. Indeed, the older woman coming up said flight of stairs looked intensely amused by the whole event. She smiled and nodded. She understood. She was probably counting the stairs herself as she went up. But she's had enough time to learn to do it in her head again.

Counting out loud - everything from stairs to mushrooms as you bag them at the supermarket - is one of the indelible marks of motherhood. As is pointing out diggers on the side of the road, even when you're in the company of adult friends who, really, could not care less. Going to the toilet with the door left slightly ajar 'just in case' is one that I'm hoping I'll grow out of very soon (as, no doubt, is the rest of the household).

Carrying a water bottle everywhere. Keeping an emergency muesli bar in my bag. Keeping an emergency fire engine in my bag (never know when you'll need one of those).

Never leaving a building without asking everyone in the vicinity (stranger or no) if they need to wee before we go.

An underlying sense of anxiety that never quite bubbles over and never quite disappears.

These are but some of the marks that motherhood has left on me. What have you got?

[image: merriweathercouncil/etsy]

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Signs of a misspent youth

The Rugby World Cup is over (congratulations Kiwis!) but its legacy remains. Specifically, it serves, every four years, to remind me of my misspent youth. I sat last weekend with friends discussing locks, flankers, fly halfs, phases and lineouts - the language of my 20s, spent, as it was, in the company of a rugby club. Weekends lost to the joys of shivering on the sidelines, wondering if my second-rower boyfriend would end up concussed, or merely with new cauliflowers to add to his patch. Saturday nights spent drinking, dancing and carousing.

A misspent youth is a wonderful thing and comes in many guises. Both of my sisters are extremely good at pool, and one, I won't say which, is an absolute demon. Wipe-the-floor-with-you, pool-table-hustler good. Don't say you haven't been warned.

I have friends who can roll their own, er, cigarettes one-handed. Friends who should never be challenged to a game of poker, or 500, or even Scrabble for that matter. I know guys who can play every song that Kurt Cobain ever wrote - and not much else. Girls who drive boring four-cylinder A-to-B cars like they're still driving the six-cylinder, gas-guzzling rev-head mobile they cruised through their twenties in. People who will never need a Cocktail Recipe book because they have every classic cocktail recipe memorised - and can produce one on cue.

The older I get the more I understand the notion that you only regret the things you didn't do.

Come on, 'fess up - what's the sign of your misspent youth?
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