Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The things you do to get out of the Fibro #2

Last week, I got one of those email jokes. It went like this: Three friends meet over a cocktail and decide they need to spice up their love lives. One is a girlfriend, one is a mistress, one is a wife. They decide they will each buy sexy black lingerie, black stockings and seductive mask.

One week later, they meet again to report on what happened. The girlfriend has had a wild, dirty weekend involving 5-star hotels and declarations of love. The mistress has been treated to diamonds for her trouble. Then it’s the wife’s turn.

“I got a sitter, turned the lights low, put on romantic music and then waited at the end of the hall in my lingerie, mask and high heels,” she says. “When he came in the door and saw me, he said ‘What’s for dinner, Batman?’”

I relate this joke not only because it made me laugh (and it’s a rare email joke that does that), but because it replayed itself over and over in my mind as I made my way over to my friend R’s house last night. R has just begun a new business as a PASH consultant. She’ll be taking lingerie and Love Toys to the homes of women all over the region. I’d been invited to see what she was up to and, being the supportive (and curious) friend that I am, I was on my way. On a Tuesday.

Holy Party Plan!

It’s not my first run-in with Love Toys. When I worked at CLEO we called them Sex Toys and used to have meetings about which would look best on the page. Because that’s important in a Sex Toy.

It was, however, the first time I’d been expected to sit and, um, handle them in front of a group of women I didn’t know. At CLEO, we were professionals, handling them professionally. This would be different.

I had visions of us sitting around a formica table, under harsh, fluoro lights. My biggest worry was what I would do if someone actually ordered one. Right there. On the spot. Under the fluoros. Where would I look? Once you have a picture of someone with a large purple vibrator in her hand, it’s difficult to undo. Like, when you run into them at the post office.

But it wasn’t like that at all. It was, in fact, hysterically funny. Particularly after three glasses of champagne. On a Tuesday night. Of course, it was awkward at first. The one thing about a party consisting only of women is that everyone spends the first half hour in the kitchen. Making snacks. Like you can’t get to the fun without doing the chores first. Once we’d got through that and played a few party games, things kicked off.

I have learned quite a lot about sexy lingerie. Like the fact that it all seems to come with a Gee. It’s been a while since I’ve been on intimate terms with a Gee, and I have to confess I’m not unhappy with that situation. So no Batman moments for me this time around. Holy Bonds Hipsters!

In other news, corsets are fashionable. Best story of the night went to the gorgeous F who admitted to chasing the chooks in hers – well, what’s a girl to do when the rain’s a-comin’ and you’re caught in your smalls?

As for the Love Toys, things have moved on since my CLEO days. The Rabbit (made famous in Sex and The City) is still popular, but it looks kind of clunky now (wouldn’t make ‘the page’ these days, methinks). A Swedish company is making the world’s best vibrators. Sleek, stylish, functional. It’s not only flat-pack furniture those Swedes do well. No allen key required.

Update: The Suitcase will be opened over Easter. Stay tuned for update next week.


Monday, March 29, 2010

The Suitcase lurking in the shed

Should you open a time capsule? It’s a question I’ve been asking myself for the past week. Ever since my parents decided to do some cleaning up. One minute I’m laughing at them because they’re up to their ears in tax returns that date back to sometime before God was a boy. The next they’re handing me a suitcase.

“We think this is yours,” said Dad. “We had to go through it to see. There’s pictures of you and sister B, but there are letters too. Letters from [insert name of former boyfriend].”

Oh. Weird. I still haven't opened the suitcase.

I’d like to make it clear at this point that this is a relationship that’s been over for twice the seven years it lasted. Not recent. Not festering. Not even thought about for years. But I haven’t opened that suitcase.

When The Builder and I packed up our Sydney house, home for nearly ten years, I remember thinking that I didn’t have many photos. He has albums full of pictures of his travels overseas, his friends, his girlfriends, his full (but not full enough, clearly) life before he met me. I had nothing. The two years I travelled overseas were well-documented, but there was nothing before and nothing much after.

I didn’t think too much about it because I’ve never been a snap-happy person. I like to experience moments rather than waste them trying to capture them for posterity. I have clear memories of watching in disgust the tourist couple in Venice as they floated past – him hanging out one side of the gondola with a video camera, not wanting to ‘miss’ a minute for their friends back home; her sitting, hands in lap, staring into space. Why go?

In hindsight, given that I have a memory like a sieve, I probably should have taken more pictures in my youth. I’ve made up for it in the past six years though – the combination of children and digital technology has increased my output to about 3000 images a year. (Most of them hiding on my hard disk. Why bother?)

Anyway, it seems that the lost chapter of my life has reappeared, magicked out of the back of Dad’s shed. Noone can remember when it was put there. Given the chronological markers – we’re looking at taking a core sample of the artefacts around it – it’s been there for at least 15 years.

And now it’s in my shed. An obstacle to be worked around when I get the pram out, or the bikes in. For a week now I’ve been looking at it. An innocuous brown vinyl suitcase, buckled and tagged. I’m curious, I admit. But part of me also wonders whether it’s a chapter that needs re-opening.

I’ve lived without its contents for a long time. Haven’t missed them. And I’m on a whole new page these days.

Do I just go with that and throw the whole thing out, buckled and tagged? What would you do?

Sex, Religion, Politics: it all comes out in the dark.

On Saturday night, the Fibro, spruced up and decluttered, was the venue for that most endangered of all things, a dinner party between friends. Sounds glamorous, doesn’t it? In fact, we had another couple over for dinner.

It did feel like a major occasion, mostly because it seems so incredibly difficult to organise these days. In the city, we had trouble because everyone had to synch diaries, schedule months in advance and reschedule by text the afternoon of the proposed event.

Here in Fibrotown there’s a bit of synching, a bit of scheduling, but mostly it comes down to the fact that we just don’t know as many people. Anything involving face-to-face contact with other adults is greeted with fireworks and a marching band. Or, in my case, candles – I seem to unfailingly (and inadvertently) schedule dinner parties for Earth Hour night, just to add that zing of excitement that comes with entertaining in the dark.

I love a good dinner party. I have a friend who goes into hysterics at the idea of cooking for more than one other person, but I really enjoy it. I follow the rules: plan in advance, make sure all ingredients are in the cupboard more than five minutes before guest arrive, and cook stuff you know will work. (Also, never leave IKEA without the requisite 100 tea lights just for those occasions when you forget you'll be turning the lights off.)

The joy of entertaining new friends is that you can wheel out old dishes knowing they haven’t had them at your house before. (The Builder is in for a lot of Chicken with Caramelised Pears and Prosciutto as we work our way into the upper echelons of Fibrotown society.) I believe there are women who keep a record of what they serve to whom and when. You know, in case Mrs Guest gets the lasagne at two consecutive visits (quelle horreur!). But I’m not that woman.

To reinforce that, I admit to being a menu cheat. Cheese and nibbles for entrĂ©e. Mini Heaven icecreams for dessert. When I write my cookbook it will be called Cook one course and assemble the rest (catchy, I know). A chef once told me to focus all my attention on dessert – if you give guests something spectacular as a third course, they go off into the night raving about it and forget whatever garbage it was that you served up before it.

But we’d had enough wine by dessert time that anything more than an icecream on a stick would have been wasted. Besides, it was Earth Hour. We couldn’t see what we were eating anyway.

The wine and the intimacy of candlelight did allow us to work our way through the three big no-nos of polite social chit-chat: politics, religion and sex. I know you’re not meant to bring them up, but really…take them out of the equation and you’re looking at a very long night of discussing the weather and each other’s children. In all, we managed to cover off all three without fisticuffs, verbal abuse or even banging on the table.

There’s a lot to be said for candlelight. Little pockets of flattering, flickering, shadowy light that give people room to say what they think. Electric lights are harsh, unforgiving. There’s no room for error in what you say or in what you hear.

Let’s turn them off more often.

{image: dusk}

Friday, March 26, 2010

What did you talk about this week?

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

The Famous Five, travelling by train, school holidays, birds’ nests, webby blobby brown things, frass (technical word for insect faeces), finger painting, Mr6’s progress at school (so proud), Alla Hoo Hoo and her 38 children, roofing, guttering, revisions, freelancing, market stalls, the best time to have a baby, music memorabilia, superannuation, online dating, nanna craft, garage sale, heavy morning dew, bike headlight, cycle computer, Kylie Ladd, The Wire, Barack Obama, The Outsiders, bills, Kangaroo Valley, pilates, supermarkets vs small business, architecture, preschool, tae kwon do, plumbing, laundries, washing lines, baby singlets, Matty Johns, bookclub.

What about you? What came up at your place?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

I am Mama Lioness, hear me roar

There’s a tree out the back of the Fibro. A huge, spreading, cathedral of a tree. It’s a camphor laurel. Basically, a noxious weed. Not that you’d want to go after it with a Weed Wand. You’d lose.

The tree actually belongs to the neighbours. It’s tucked right into the back corner of their yard, leaning against the paling fence like it’s saying ‘just move over a little and give me room, mate’. The fence is losing.

It’s not the most beautiful tree in the world (though trees are, by definition, on the good-looking side), but it shades the trampoline, brings the birds, shelters the possums (and seduces them away from our roof), and provides a natural screen for us and the three sets of neighbours who’d be waving at us regularly if it weren’t there.

Recently, the tree has developed some webby, blobby, brown growths on one branch. The kind of growths that make you shiver. Because you expect them to burst open at any moment and reveal…what? Aliens? Arachnids? Zombie babies? (You getting a clear picture of how creepy these things are?)

Last night, I was out under the tree watering the back garden (as per my plan to avoid the b*&ping internet for a few hours a day), when Mr3 wandered out to join me. He’d come to tell me that Alla Hoo Hoo was dropping by for dinner with her kids – all 38 of them. As I turned in horror to ask how I was supposed to make fried rice stretch to 41 people, he bent down and picked up something at his feet.

“What’s this?” he asked, big blue eyes innocent and wondering, raising something webby and brown toward me.

Adrenaline surged.

“Oh My God!” I responded, stepping forward, hand raised to sweep the alien/arachnid/zombie blob from his hands, Mama Lioness protecting her young and all that. Only to stop.

There, cupped in his little hands, was the tiniest, roundest, most perfectly formed birds nest I’ve ever seen. Like the ones you see in kids’ picture books. All it needed was a couple of Wedgwood blue robin’s eggs in it to feature in a Martha Stewart photo spread.

“It’s beautiful mummy,” he said, holding it with all the reverence its delicacy demanded. “I’ll put it on the table to show Dad.”

And off he went. Leaving me ready for 'fight or flight', and to ponder big questions about appearances, split-second decisions, and whether I’m overprotective.

I looked up. The webby, blobby, brown things loomed above me.

I gave thanks for the adrenaline surge.

It’s not all pretty birds nests out there. Good to know the Mama Lioness instinct is alive and well.

{image: Urban Nest}

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The best advice I never took

My mother is a very wise woman. Over the years, she has given me a lot of advice, some of which I’ve even taken. The only independence is financial independence, comes to mind. Learn to say no to your children. Don’t trust a man in white shoes – oh wait, that was Grandma.

Unfortunately, there has been other advice I’ve, er, disregarded. Like the time she told me not to wear the pink stockings with the pink boots and the Daisy Duke shorts. All I can say is that it was the 1980s. But perhaps it is the reason behind my penchant for basics.

The latest piece of advice that has fallen by the wayside happened quite by accident. “Don’t buy appliances that beep at you,” she said to me one morning last year when I was enjoying a cup of coffee in the kitchen of the family homestead. I laughed. Sure I’d do that. Who would?

She would. That’s who. Her microwave emits an annoying (and regular) beeping noise if you don’t open the door as soon as it has finished cooking. It’s incredibly irritating. But I smiled to myself, thinking it was a parental aberration. After all, this is the lady who has a very glamorous clock that plays showtunes on the hour, complete with visual effects. Also the woman who has a collection of elves/gnomes/Christmas trees that sing various rock’n’roll tunes. Loudly. If anyone’s going to attract things that beep, it’s my mother.

Then I went home and realised that my fridge is one such appliance. Leave the door open too long, fail to close it up tight, and it beeps long and loud to let you know. Oh well, I thought, it’s only one, putting the whole conversation out of my mind.

A few weeks ago, I bought a new microwave. Guess what? It beeps. I checked the box – nowhere does it advertise beeping. I read the instruction book – not so much as a pip, a chirp or a ping. How’s a girl to know? It should be writ large somewhere that the electrical item you’re buying will give you an electronic ‘hurry up’ if you don’t do your job right.

It’s just what every mum needs. Another demanding little voice in her ear.

It’s not just the audible beeping either. My computer is on 24/7, offering non-stop access to all the fun of the internet. I lose hours when I just ‘pop on’ to check emails or visit Facebook or Twitter. Somehow I feel that if I walk past without looking I’ll miss something. If that’s not an inaudible beep, I don’t know what is.

So yesterday, I decided to pull the plug. Literally. I turned it off, went outside (away from the beeping microwave and fridge) and watered the garden. The roses are enjoying one last flush of flowers thanks to the Indian summer. Purple spikes of salvia, pale grey lavender leaves, sunset-coloured grevillea… Without the buzz of technology to distract me, I was able to soak up the colours, sights and sounds of my little patch. Especially the sounds. It was so quiet out there that I could almost hear the rustle of the huge huntsman spider that’s creeping across the front of the Fibro v-e-e-ry slowly (been there for days).

And I remembered another piece of Mum’s advice: Don’t project, Allison. Get on with now. Or words to that effect.

Good advice. I really should listen to my mother more often.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

All about books

The Fibro is a house of books. Lots and lots of books. One enormous industrial bookshelf housing books with which I cannot part. A former-shop cabinet in my study housing reference books of varying quality – though I did get rid of ‘When Pets Come Between Partners’ before we moved. One unit that used to live in the Kiama Post Office, now painted green and housing children’s books, mostly tattered. One shelf in Mr3’s room, overflowing with books about cars, trucks and motorbikes.

To sum up, we’re never short of something to read around here.

What I’ve realised recently, however, is how few books I’ve actually read. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a demonic and voracious reader, known to devour books in a matter of minutes. But I’ve missed a lot of good ones.

So I’ve set out to rectify the matter. Last week I read Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons. And loved it. This week, I’ll be looking at Love In A Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford (I’m sensing a theme here – clearly I’m ready to leave summer behind). In essence, I’ve decided to read my way through some (and there are many) of the Popular Penguin books – as a bonus, I’ll get a great collection of orange-and-white covers for my many bookshelves. Perhaps not the right motivation, but you take what you can get, right? And with 75 new titles to choose from, I’ll never be short a classic again.

That said, there are books on my shelves unread or unfinished. I never made it through Buddhism For Mothers: A calm approach to caring for yourself and your children by Sarah Napthali, though my sister C thinks it should be on my must-read list. (I did, however, read Buddhism For Sheep and enjoyed it immensely.)

Most of what’s on the unread shelf, however, is writing books. I buy writing books and then never read them. Why do I do this? Probably because I hope that each one will contain the miracle (The Secret?) that will magic a book out of thin air for me. Then I crack open the book, read the first few pages, and realise that, at the end of the day, reading about writing isn’t going to get my book written. So I stop. And I write instead.

The one book I did make it through, in one sitting, was Stephen King’s On Writing. The man is so good he can even make a page-turner out of how to write a page-turner. If you are an aspiring writer, or would even just like some idea of what makes a writer tick, read this book.

And when you’re finished, please come over and write my book for me. I’ll be busy reading.

{image: Design Sponge}

Monday, March 22, 2010

Those who can, make. Those who can't, buy.

In my next life, I will be a crafty person. I will sew a fine seam, knit a fine purl, throw a fine pot. I have so much admiration for people who ‘make stuff’, mostly because I was at the back of the line when they were handing out whatever skills are required for doing it. I’m thinking patience, for one. Precision, for another. Basic hand-eye coordination, perhaps?

It’s not genetic. My sister B (we’re A, B and C – just like Monica McInerney’s Alphabet Sisters, only we were first) is very creative, sewing cushion covers, whipping up bunting and hemming trousers (my standards aren’t high). My cousin K even quilts, for Heaven’s sake! It’s not widespread within the family, but it is present. Which makes my efforts even more pathetic.

I took Mr6 to a Steiner playgroup when he was two. It was all very nice. We baked bread, played in the sandpit, sang songs, ate fruit, and played with plain wooden blocks and dolls with no faces. He was nonplussed about the dolls, but loved the story time and the fact that we got to sing Twinkle, Twinkle every week.

At my first visit, while the children enjoyed some ‘free play’ and I settled in for what I thought would be a cup of tea and a chat, I was handed some knitting needles. The Steiner way is that everyone should be busy, to set a good example. I was, I was informed by a friendly girl in a woolly hat, going to knit a wombat.

A wombat.

And so for ten weeks, I knitted, in brown wool, a faceless wombat. Not large. Not particularly complicated by wombat standards, but I struggled over it, swore over it, possibly even shed a tear or two. When I finished, I cheered. Then I handed it to Mr6 (then two), who took one look at it and told me he thought it would look better with some of those ‘googly’ eyes stuck on it. The Builder suggested that as a wombat it made a good pig. I still have that wombat. I even brought it with me in the move to the country. I simply can’t bear to throw it out.

But I’ve decided to stick to what I know. So I write about crafty people. In the new issue of Australia Today (Australia Post’s magazine, out today), I’ve written a story about people who are taking old-fashioned skills and making a living from them. Because, guess what, craft is cool and handmade is hot.

For the story, I interviewed Sally Morrigan from and discovered a kindred spirit. On her blog, she describes herself as obsessed by craft, and yet “blessed with her father’s sausage-like fingers”. She abandoned her own crafty ambitions after one too many accidents with children’s scissors and Clag, and instead created a fantastic online shop to take beautiful Aussie crafts to the world.

Or just to the craft-challenged, like me.

Fortunately for me, I have sources closer to home as well. My friend K makes the cute hand-printed gift-tags pictured here, saving me the hassle of making my own. See more of her work here.

At the end of the day, I think it’s important that there are people who can and people who can’t when it comes to craft. They like to create, we like to acquire. It’s a win/win situation.

{image: Kristy Lochrin}

Friday, March 19, 2010

Wigs, jets, and Ninjapoops

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

Roofing, painting, lawn mowing, online dating, solo motherhood, automatic garage door openers, why we buy what we buy (and whether it makes us happy), the Academy Twin cinema, the Newtown Jets, footy tipping, Alice in Wonderland, The Wire, The Outsiders, wigs, reading, school politics, why motorbikes do not have ladders, high school reunion, design of small houses, invoices, Cold Comfort Farm, lack of payment of invoices, the sneaky rise of the Ninjapoop, Smoke On The Water, Frankie magazine, One Wise Owl, filing cabinets, Vietnamese food, cars, corporate writing, health stories, freelancing, community, Karma, raised garden beds, compost, The Daily Telegraph, markets, stationery… you know, I’m noticing the distinct absence of one word from my list: Bingle. Can honestly say I did not discuss the Bingle/Clarke fiasco this week. Am I the only one? The papers would have me think so.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Through the looking glass...

Last night, Mum and I hit the town to see the new play by the local amateur theatre group. The play was described as ‘An Hilarious and Side-Splitting Comedy’ (are you worried for us yet?). It was a school fundraiser and promised cheap champagne and a home-made slice for supper. What’s not to love?

When we arrived, we were taken aback to discover we were sitting in the front row. The middle of the front row. So close that we could have been extras in the production. So close that our view took in the best emoting that the actors’ nostrils had to offer. So close that we simply could not overlook The Wigs.

The Wigs had a life of their own. They sat atop heads in a most, er, magnificent way. They were Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth, Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra. We gave The Wigs ‘best supporting’ gongs at the end of the night.

It was a good night. Funny in ways both good and bad. I love watching people do something they love and people who are willing to don bad wigs and throw themselves into ‘An Hilarious and Side-Splitting Comedy’ obviously love it. Which made us love it, too, despite the desperate moments of silence onstage as someone tried to pluck a line out of the air. Despite the Totem-Pole School of Acting from whence some of the thespians had graduated.

Years ago, before I grew into stage fright, I was determined that I was going to be an actor. I ‘trod the boards’ (as we thespians like to say) in the very same theatre in which I sat last night. The highlight of my career occurred when I played Alice in Alice in Wonderland. Not sure how much acting I actually did, but I did memorise the whole play. At 11. Now I can’t remember the milk and have to write down a To Do list every day to get anything done.

My mum has tried to encourage me to get back into it. But amateur theatre requires commitment with a capital C. It takes a lot of rehearsal to create an hilarious and side-splitting comedy. Dedication, passion, time. All of that seems to go into my writing these days…which is probably for the best for future audiences at the local theatre.

I think I’ll stick to choir. At least there’s safety in numbers – and fewer lines to remember. Plus there’s the fact that I don’t have to carry off a wig…

{image: Starpulse}

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The sweet smell of success

Yesterday, I made the journey to the compost bin, kitchen tidy full of sloppy scraps in one hand, fingers of the other pinching my nose. Just in case, you know. But when I got there, the cupboard was not bare. Oh no. It was not full of slacker, going-nowhere, good-for-nothing organic rubbish.

Instead, it was half-full of compost. The real deal. Sweet-smelling, rich, nutritious, full-of-worms compost.

I’ve cracked it.

The compost bin and I are back on BFF terms and the garden (not the one pictured, by the way) is bracing itself in preparation of all this goodness being laid on.

There’s just one problem. When I lost the love for the compost, I kind of lost control of the garden. It’s been too hot, or too wet, or too something else for months now. The basil’s gone to seed. The chilli’s gone to pot. The rocket is over-run. The capsicums have withered. The beans are dried up husks, still clinging to the vine

It’s a bit like the washing and the writing conundrum. I’m a starter, not a finisher. The preparation, the digging, the planting, the unabashed glee at the initial growing – it was all there. But I didn’t harvest the fruits of my labour. I left them to sit, mocking me.

In my defence, it’s been too hot or too wet pretty much every day of the past few months to get up enough gusto to get out there. But not anymore.

Now I have compost.

I am ready to begin again. Mr3 and I are off to the garden centre and we’ll be back with the winter (not)harvest. I’m thinking eggplant, broccoli, more beans, more chillies, some chives, some leeks, some shallots.

You’ll note the absence of rhubarb on that list. Rhubarb is the rosemary of the vegetable world, I’ve decided. It thrives on neglect and is going gangbusters.

I’m hoping the washing and writing take note.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Another family is taking over the Fibro

Alla Hoo Hoo has moved back in. She went quiet for a few weeks, but now she’s returned. Without the four kids, who have gone on holidays with their Dad, Mr Pepples. Either Mr3 has a big future ahead of him as a writer on Bold & The Beautiful or I’m going to have to write that story about imaginary friends. And soon.

Alla Hoo Hoo is his imaginary friend. She’s not with us all the time. She just shows up for random visits. Last time she appeared, she bought three children with her. Now she has four. And a husband. It’s getting very crowded in Mr3’s imagination.

I’m imagining that Alla and her army have something to do with separation anxiety. Mr3 has started preschool and…well, let’s just say he’s underwhelmed. He informed me that he doesn’t love me when I leave but that he’s pretty happy to see me when I return. I’m not sure what Alla Hoo Hoo thinks of my coming and going as she doesn’t say much.

I’ve heard of children having imaginary friends before. Lola from Charlie & Lola (above) has Soren Lorensen and I love him. I’ve just never heard of a whole family of friends. And one that, apparently, continues to grow.

Fortunately, I bought a new handbag in the Big Smoke last week. It’s enormous. Just the thing for carrying squashed muesli bars and Hot Wheels cars. The worst part about enormous bags is that your life expands to fit them. Suddenly, I can fit in stuffed animals, water bottles, and sandwich boxes as well.

I just never thought I'd be lugging around a small family as well.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The basics of shopping

When refugees from the city come to visit us, they talk about the sweetness of the air, the brightness of the stars, the hugeness of the night sky. All the stuff we used to talk about before we moved here and got dragged into the humdrum of discussing the lack of restaurants, the scarcity of independent films and the general hilarity of people asking us if the we find living ‘in town’ a bit noisy.

It’s refreshing, then, to revisit the Big Smoke and then come home and rediscover the sweetness, the brightness and the hugeness for ourselves.

On Friday, I packed my work bag (minus the pair of size three undies and the squashed muesli bar) and headed off to the city for some meetings. There are several thousand reasons why I enjoy doing this, but I’ll start with three: 1) Three hours on a train with a book, 2) A whole day and night where I don’t hear ‘Mum’ every five minutes (though I do miss this by around breakfast the following morning…only to unmiss it as soon as it starts again), 3) The opportunity to remember that I am a grown-up person as well as a mother.

Then, of course, there’s the shopping. Fibrotown has a good selection of shops if you like fishing tackle, sportsgear, chain-store basics, food, banks and beer. Fashion is represented, but it’s not a priority. Usually, this suits me fine, as my wardrobe tends to reflect a similar attitude. But having been here over a year, I now understand why there is so much ‘escape spending’ (as the local Chamber of Commerce calls it). It comes down to a basic desire not to be seen in the same stuff as everyone else.

A cool change in the air necessitated some shopping. I realised that my winter ‘Mum uniform’ – consisting of five long-sleeved t-shirts and some cargo pants – was looking tatty. An update was required.

So I found myself – post-meetings - in Pitt Street Mall. Surrounded by jackhammers, scaffolding, endless pairs of ballet flats and a strong feeling I’d wandered back into the 80s of my youth as I looked at slouchy boots, leggings, tunics, layering, shirts that slid off one shoulder as soon as I tried them on, and a general lack of anything that resembled my Mum Uniform.

I was confused. I bought three long-sleeved t-shirts (grey, black, brown) and two short-sleeved ones (green, blue, none of which were the one pictured above). In brands not available in Fibrotown (to ensure exclusivity). Then I got on the train and escaped to a friend’s house to drink wine. Much more fun.

Over a glass of sauv blanc, I lamented that I’d worked on magazines long enough to know that everyone needed good ‘basics’ in their wardrobe…but that I’d never seemed to have evolved beyond them. Basics are meant to be the foundation of the wardrobe, not its sum total. I then admitted that I’d once seen an article in Madison mag about how to dress in your 40s (lots of basics) and pointed it out with delight to my sister…who’d shot back, voice dripping with sarcasm, “So you’ve been dressing like a 40 year old your whole life? Thank God you finally got there.”

At first, I was taken aback. Then relieved.

I always knew I’d come into fashion one day.

{image: Max Wanger}

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Conversations from the Fibro #6

I’m packing for the Big Smoke. Heading off to meetings. Alone. Getting out my Work Handbag – only to discover it contains: one Hot Wheels car, one pair of Wiggles underpants (size 3), one packet of tissues, 35 cents and a squashed muesli bar. May need to do some work on the Work Handbag. I’ll be back on Monday with another scintillating episode of ‘Life In A Pink Fibro’, but in the meantime, here’s what I talked about this week:

Online dating, telephone lines, small houses, country houses, rose gardens, stationery, Lisa Madigan (see pic), Madeleine Peyroux, Tony Abbott, Julie Guillard, No Waste Lunch Day, swimming lessons, compost, vegetables, shopping lists, ceiling fans, green glass, asbestos, old friends, new friends, custard, yoga, dehydration, odd and even numbers, reading, guitar practice, Famous Five, Zac Power, whether there are fire motorbikes and if they might have ladders, hopping, scooter tricks, home security.

{image: Lisa Madigan]

Writing + washing = same/same.

If your house is anything like my house, there’s a towering pile of clean washing sitting in a corner waiting to be folded. If your house is like my house, this pile moves to different corners on different days but never seems to diminish in any way, shape or form. It just sits there, mocking you.

If you write like I write, there’s a towering pile of pages awaiting revision sitting in a corner of your office. Unlike the washing, it never moves, just sits there, mocking you.

On the face of it, there’s not a lot of similarity between doing the washing and writing. But I’ve had a lot of time to think about it. Here’s my step-by-step guide to the process:

Sorting. Whites from coloureds. Darks from lights. $2 coins from pockets. The physical act of deciding what goes where. The starting. I’m good at this stage, both in the laundry and at the computer.

Washing. Tumbling things about, spinning them along, rinsing away the muck. This is automatic in the laundry, and semi-automatic when I write.

Hanging out. I can honestly say that I love this bit. There is something about standing in the sunshine, filling a clothesline with freshly washed fabric, that fills me with joy. I love the smell of laundry powder rising like a wave in the heat, the sight of a line filled with dazzling whites, little pegs like soldiers on duty. This is the end of the first draft. You’re in love with the book, it’s all laid out in lines, you can’t do much with it for a while because it needs to rest. And so do you.

Bringing it in. This is where things begin to go pear-shaped. All the joy I feel at pegging out laundry is dissipated by the end of the day when it all has to come in. Dry, stiff, no longer ‘washing’, but clothes. Clothes that need to be folded, sorted, ironed, hung – maybe even mended. In other words, work. This is why it languishes, creating peaks of colour around the house. In writing terms, this is where the revisions begin. You’ve written a dazzling first draft, now comes the reality of beating it into shape.

Folding. I’m here both literally and metaphorically right now. I have two baskets of clothes that get strewn around the house every morning as Mr6 searches for socks. I have a manuscript that I’m trying to rework into a book that someone (anyone!) will want to read. Both states feel like they will never end. Both, of course, are down to me getting down to it and getting it done. Then, and only then, can I reach the final stage of either exercise: putting it away.

Of course, the minute I do, it just starts all over again.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

It’s official: I’m going native

Years ago, I was researching a story when I stumbled across a blog where people shared pictures of themselves from their backpacking days. Specifically, pictures they were embarrassed about, because they’d ‘gone native’. You know, corn-row braids in Bali, bright African prints (which look amazing on tall, regal African people) on scrawny, mousey English types, witty little scarves (of the type worn with such flair by French woman) worked back with faded Oktoberfest T-shirts.

I can’t remember the name of the site, and I’ve never again found it so I’m beginning to wonder if I made it up, but I remember thinking of a few pics of my own that I could add. Specifically featuring the Turkish eye and a shirt that could have doubled as a carpet.

I was reminded of this again today when I found myself lusting after gum boots. Not in a Kate-Moss-wellies-and-short-shorts fashionista moment. More like a Practical Pig, it’s raining and muddy, moment.

Something about being here, surrounded by lots of open space, grass and dairy farms, has put me in a gumboot mindset. Not that I have acres to stride across in my Wellington boots (as Paddington Bear would call them). Just the backyard of the Fibro. But, here, I want them.

I also want the jars pictured above. In which to make my rhubarb chutney. I’ve never lusted after jars before. But I want these so badly that I contacted the company that imports that particular brand into Australia to ask them if they were planning to get them. Desperate times. The UK supplier doesn’t ship out here, you see.

The only conclusion I can come to is that I’m ‘going native’. Who knows what my next crush will be? Will the next statement you hear from me be: “We like all kinds of music round here – Country AND Western”?

When I moved down here my brother – inner-city hipster that he is – told me he gave me three years before I lost my edge. I scoffed. But I feel it dulling. Gum boots and jam jars make it hard to deny.

But things could be worse. The week I arrived in Fibrotown, the one shoe shop in the place had given over its ENTIRE front window to a dazzling display of Crocs. Everywhere I went, people were wearing Crocs. One lady I saw – of a certain age – was wearing fluoro pink ankle socks with her fluoro pink Crocs. Crocs with Socks. It would be funny in Dr Seuss. Not so much in real life.

There are no Crocs on my crush list. I can say, in a very Scarlett O’Hara way, that there will never be Crocs on my crush list. The edge may not be as sharp as it was, but it’s still there. Or so I convince myself.

{image: Burgon & Ball}

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The letter of the day: O

As a reformed magazine junkie, I don’t subscribe to many these days. I used to buy millions of them. Or it seemed like millions when I had to move them from house to house in my transient 20s (Dad could probably talk you through every one of those moves in excruciating detail, come to think of it).

Now, I mostly get publications that I write for, and their competitors – which makes it all seem like business and takes a lot of the fun out of it (though the latest issue of Madison is a cracker, with lots of great features…none of which were written by me). And then I get O, The Oprah Mag. Which is shipped over from the US for less than it costs me to subscribe to the local glossies. And which never fails to satisfy. It’s a rare magazine that does that these days – well, for me, anyway.

The new issue arrived in the postbox yesterday and I devoured it – along with a couple of rows of Green & Black Maya chocolate, also very satisfying. This month is all about decluttering – life, mind, wardrobe. I know, it sounds very yada, yada, yada, faux spiritual. But somehow, in O, it’s not. The writing is so good, the angles often so unexpected, the presence of Dr Phil so irritatingly reassuring, that it all just works.

I had the pleasure of perusing Ethan Hawke’s Five Books that Changed My Life list and realising that, as I suspected, we have nothing in common. I found lustworthy stuff I didn’t know I needed and, fortunately for the bank balance, aren’t shipped to Australia. I read the truth about hair loss and was worried – until I remembered that everyone I’ve ever lived with for the last 20 years has complained about my long hairs crawling up their legs all over the house. Situation normal.

So why satisfying? Well, for one, the story about the woman who held onto 12 boxes of stuff after her husband’s premature death and then realised they’d become a burden. Made me think of a conversation my mum had with my dad over a dilapidated copy of his school (1950s) French textbook. “Hold onto it,” she said, when he baulked over ‘decluttering’ it (to be fair, he baulks over decluttering pretty much everything), “they’ll just throw it out when you’re gone.” Harsh, but, at the end of the day, and we are talking about the end of the day, possibly fair. What would you keep of someone you loved to keep their spirit with you? I'd choose his weather diary over an old textbook. (As an aside, that was the textbook I used to make notebooks in last year’s one artistic moment.)

I’ve got hoarding tendencies (clearly inherited). The acres of space on my new desk have already been inundated with squatters – books to be read, books read and awaiting a new fate, a camera, a manuscript (half revised), a TAFE Statement of Attainment, which I earned by singing in a choir for two hours (The Builder has said he’ll frame it, just to get it off my desk. I’m not sure it merits such treatment. But do I throw it out?). Is any of this important, is any of it the essence of me? Does everything you own have to be?

The thing with O is that each issue contains at least one truly memorable story. Not on a demographic level, or an ‘all women buy shoes’ level, but on a level that makes me think. Which is why I still get that rare magazine-junkie thrill when it lands at the door.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Dad dancers are born, not made

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.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The letter of the day: L

A game of I Spy can be a great insight into your family’s view of life. Fam. Fibro played a long and involved game on our way back from Canberra this week. Everyone had a turn. Even Mr3 who can just about manage to say the alphabet but hasn’t yet realised that it has uses beyond being the words of a song.

Mr6 is a details man. His turns tended to be all about W (for weeds on the side of the road), R (for red lights on the posts) and B (for back of Dad’s head). The Builder is big picture. G for grass. R for Rail. S for signs. I would just go with whatever letter would get my go over the fastest, with the fewest hints possible. In my defence, it was the last half hour of the trip.

Mr3 is an L man. Every turn, he spied something that began with L. Only mostly it didn’t. Cows. Trees. Cars. If questioned, he’d just say ‘oh, I meant Lawnmower’ – of which there were none to be seen. The rest of us just laughed, knowing his next turn would be exactly the same.

As life philosophies go, it’s a good one. Play your own game, make the facts fit where you need them to, and know the most important things begin with the letter L.

Who needs spelling when you’re that sorted?

{image: Perth}

Conversations from the Fibro #5

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

Vincent Van Gogh, why new shoes sometimes need thick socks, Captain Mack (and why I NEVER want to hear the theme song for that show again), sheep, cows, why pigs do not hang out in paddocks, why pig does not begin with the letter L, why eye spy is best not played with three-year-olds, superannuation, telephone landlines, the family assistance computer system, Boystown Lotteries, ceiling fans, electricians, plumbers, bills, The Wire, The Killing, Aspergers, deadlines, Questacon, Kevin Rudd's hospital plan, stress resulting from procrastination, online dating, small houses, glamorous houses, The Famous Five, school disco, what to have for dinner (ad nauseum), fleas, revision, procrastination, birthday presents, meetings in Sydney (yay!), restocking the vege garden, butterflies… it was a big week.

Would love to know what came up at your house.

{image: Australian National Gallery, Canberra}

Thursday, March 4, 2010

A beautiful life (and some waggling)

When you say goodbye to an old life and move into a new one, there are some tearful goodbyes that need to be said. Friends, family, blah, blah, blah. These are hard, but, you know, they’ll visit.

Some relationships, however, are over. The tyranny of distance is too great to bear. It’s a rare person who travels hours and hours up the freeway to see their dentist, doctor, hairdresser or beauty therapist. But sometimes I wonder if I shouldn’t be one of those rare people.

Surprisingly, the whole hair thing was sorted in minutes. We met through friends, she was cheap, she was good and she was easy. Sold.

It took me a year to find a new dentist. We’ve had our first date and so far things are going well. He’s the kind of guy who’ll tell you if there’s spinach in your teeth. I like that in a person.

I rushed into things with our doctor – sometimes needs must, right? I had a need, he was there, and it’s not easy to find The One when potentials are thin on the ground. Just ask the women of Sydney. Down here, it’s not a matter of choosing a doctor, it’s a matter of finding someone, anyone, with room on their dance card when push comes to shove. So I dove in early, put all my cards on the table, and, fortunately, it seems to be working out.

The whole beauty thing, however, is another kettle of fish all together. I thought I’d cracked it. Things were going well and then… let’s just say that I’m thinking that this may not be a longterm affair.

When you are fair of hair, pale of skin and freckled of hue as I am, you need brows. They need to be shaped, darkened and not destroyed. In the big smoke, I had one trusted soul who'd looked after my needs for seven or eight years. But she didn't want to make the move with me.

I should have tried harder to convince her.

My last visit to what had become my regular salon here ended with me looking not unlike Mr Potato Head. Wearing his Angry Eyes. The Builder tried hard to reassure me, but found it difficult. Every time he spoke to me, his eyes were invariably drawn upward, fixated. I couldn’t even be offended. I kept catching sight of my brows in mirrors and startling myself. I even found myself waggling them. Waggling. This was not good.

Mr3, who is in the habit of telling me when I need to ‘get my brows on’, thought they were wonderful. He kept patting them, like pet caterpillars.

That was more than six weeks ago. Which means it’s time to ‘get my brows on’ again. But now I have a decision to make. Do I risk my regular salon again, knowing I could end up looking like an extra in Toy Story 3? Or do I branch out and try someone new?

Which means all that getting to know you chit-chat again. Baring my brows and other body parts to another stranger. Waiting to see how it all turns out.

The dilemma.

All I can hear in my head is Eddie Vedder singing ‘She lies and says she’s in love with them…can’t find a better brow’.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Almost Famous

The other day, I googled my name (as you do when you write online and often find your work appropriated without permission on inappropriate websites – not vanity, not really) and found myself on eBay. Not selling my virginity or anything (which is possibly a very good thing), but in the second-hand book area.

Yep, my credit card book is in what we artistic folk like to refer to as the secondary market already.

I have to confess this gave me a little thrill. Not the unfashionable nature of my work (clearly I will be like Keats and given my due in 100 years time or thereabouts), but rather its position on eBay.

I love eBay. I don’t know a single person who lives outside a capital city who doesn’t love eBay (come to think of it, many of my city friends could also claim Number One Fan status, but we’re not talking about them). I am out and proud as an eBay Groupie.

My last three purchases have all been brilliant. The first was a Lego minifigure of Obi-Wan Kenobi, complete with cape. An absolute bargain at $7.50, plus $2 postage, if Mr6’s reaction was anything to go by.

The second was a stack of Moleskine cahiers – six sets of three notebooks each, A5 size, divine. I made half of them into Christmas presents by sticking pages from my Dad’s 1950s French textbook on the front (see, told you I was artistic folk) and have stored the rest until the day comes when nothing but a clean, fresh, crisp notebook will do.

(As an aside, I love notebooks. The endless possibilities they contain. Mine usually end up containing lots of shopping lists and scribbled phone numbers, but there’s always the possibility that one day… well, anything could happen.)

The last purchase was the biggest and best. Inspired by my friend K’s house – which I wrote up for this month’s South Coast Style, on sale now (see pic) – I found myself trawling for vintage school maps. And I found one. At the right price, in Victoria – now in my home, awaiting The Builder’s application of a nail on the wall on which to hang it. I just love it. It’s even got Papua New Guinea as an Australian Territory, just as it was when I was born there all those millions of years ago.

Imagine life without eBay. Just doesn’t bear thinking about, now does it?

{image: Nicky Gordon}

Monday, March 1, 2010

It seemed like a good idea at the time

Spike Milligan had ‘I told you I was sick’ as his epitaph. I was toying with ‘I told you I was tired’ (in the moment where one considers such things), but changed my mind over the weekend. Mine will now read: “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

The reasons why I have chosen this are too numerous to mention – and will hopefully be even more numerous by the time I get around to having to actually use it – but I can start with three examples from the past few days.

On Friday, I had to do an urgent phone interview. Mr 3 showed no signs of sleeping, but I decided to put him to bed anyway. He did not wish to go to bed and screamed like a baby banshee. So I chose to put him into my bed with a pile of books and bribes of jelly dinosaurs if he stayed quiet for the 20 minutes it would take to talk to my corporate guy from the US.

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

He was quiet. It went well. I was so relieved when it was all over that I skipped down the hall to praise him for being a good boy. The praise died on my lips as I opened the door.

Mr 3 had entertained himself by drawing ALL OVER the wall behind my bed in blue crayon. All over the bed. All over the bedside table. All over the sheets. The sheets! Talk about thorough.

When The Builder and I were having a civilised discussion about this several hours later, he wanted to know why the blue crayon had even been in our bedroom. I couldn’t remember. Then I did. I’d put it on the bottom shelf of the bedside table whilst vacuum cleaning months ago. So I didn’t crush it all over the carpet.

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

On Monday, we took the boys to The Masterpieces from Paris exhibition at the Australian National Gallery. When we planned it, we had visions of delighting our children with the works of the Masters and instilling in them a lifelong love of art. Actually, that’s not true. We just wanted to go and had to drag them along. But still.

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

And so today I have a new idea of hell. It involves one three year old, a large pram, about 4 million people (mostly old, mostly wearing those damn audio tour headphones), 100 old paintings and a confined space.

He did like it. He told me so. He thought the ‘painting of the dark’ (Van Gogh’s Starry, Starry Night) was really nice. His favourite. Mr 6 liked it so much he painted himself in it (see left) at the self-portrait station of the family activity room.

But when I wheeled Mr 3 away from the crowds into the relative peace of the Minimalist art room, I could see him looking at all those blank white canvases in confusion. “I could do better,” I could almost hear him think.

His longing for a blue crayon was written all over his face.

Finally, the end of FebFast

A little late with today’s post, but, you know, it was 1st March and, you know, FebFast is over, so, you know, I’ve been busy celebrating.

Actually, that’s not technically true. I gave up on FebFast on Friday night, two full days early. Went to Fibrtown’s coolest venue to see Lucy Thorn sing cool music in cool boots – and the atmosphere went to my head. Or maybe that was the night flowering jasmine, which fills the whole garden (told you it was cool) with heady, heavy perfume and just cried out for a nice peppery cab sauv as a counterpoint.

I know, I have no willpower. But I did have a good night.

I’ve since been in Canberra for three days (penance, perhaps?). My overwhelming feeling of the place is that it’s somewhere that offers a great lifestyle – but doesn’t seem to have much life.

That said, Fam Fibro had a great time. Because we did Canberra stuff, like visit the Questacon, go to the Paris Masterpieces exhibition, drink coffee, ride bikes and walk around a lot. We even drove past all the consulates just to check them out.

The highlight, though, was the Best Western on Northbourne Avenue. Or so it would seem. We were actually looking for the War Memorial. “It’s number 9 on the map,” I said, with confidence. And off we went in search. I was still confident, right until we pulled up out the front. Oh.

For future reference, the pink numbers are the accommodation numbers. Tourist attractions are in black. It was all very unclear to a person who needs to turn the map upside down so it’s heading in the right direction.

Usually, I am a good navigator. No, really, I am.

I’m just better when I know where I’m going.

Possibly I should have held out on FebFast at least until we got home.

{image: Pix by Marti}

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