Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Ever wondered if you made the right career choice?

If you were to ask me for an activity high on my Not In This Lifetime list, taking 20 three year olds to the local art gallery would be right up there. And yet, today, I found myself doing just that.

After our week off, we returned to the preschool routine yesterday. During the ‘morning tea in the basket-drink bottle on the bench-lunch in the fridge’ frenzy, we were approached by Mr3’s teacher, who was waving a form at us. Uh-oh. There was to be an excursion. A walking excursion. To the Art Gallery. Yippee.

After consultation with Mr3, who thought it sounded very fun, I signed the form. No, I circled, I could not attend. I was working. Smiles all round, kiss goodbye, see you later.

At 11pm last night, Mr3 woke in a panic. He could not possibly go on a ‘scurshon’ without me. He would not sleep unless I agreed to go.

I went.

And so I found myself leading a little band of short people the three blocks to the local art gallery. I was responsible for three – Mr3, Little Miss Red Hat and Little Miss Dora. LMRH is a confident, outgoing child of four, whose silver Converse sneakers were too cute for words. LMD is a tiny little girl of three with huge brown eyes and not a lot to say. Mr3 was so happy to see me that he kissed my hand repeatedly. We were team red badges (every adult had three kids to watch, we all wore matching badges so we knew which ones were ours – efficient).

During the 30 minutes it took us to walk the three blocks to the gallery, I had time to reflect on why I’d decided (via work experience) that a career in childcare was not for me. They say that when you go bushwalking you put the slowest person at the front of the line and walk to that person’s pace. Nobody gets left behind. We were following in the tiny teeter-totter steps of LMD.

To stave off my overwhelming feelings of impatience (I am really not good at this), I asked Mr3 if he remembered going to the big gallery in Canberra a few months ago.


I asked LMRH whether she thought we’d see paintings at the gallery.


Would we see drawings?


What did she think we’d see?

“Stuff to look at,” she said.

We spent several hours at the gallery. The first 10 minutes was taken up with a flurry of toilet visits. Then the preschool teacher gave a talk about how much work people had put into their artworks and how we could look but not touch.

Moments later, a gallery staff member gave the same talk. We moved inside the gallery.

Three minutes later, another gallery staff member repeated the ‘don’t touch’ rule, adding in ‘don’t run’ and ‘don’t speak, in case you ruin the gallery experience for other visitors’. All of this said at a volume and in a tone of voice that one reserves for the very old, the very young or the very hard-of-hearing. All I can say is that they’re small, but they get it. Talk up. Plus, looking around, I couldn’t see too many others trying to experience the gallery. They’d taken one look at the be-badged sea of preschoolers coming their way and hightailed it for the exit.

My little team were unimpressed by much of what they saw. They liked the helicopters in one painting, the horses in another. They didn’t really get the idea of ‘distortion’. But they loved the opportunity to roll around in the sun and stick spangly bits on cardboard frames. The doing, not the viewing.

On the way back, they kept falling over. This is a relatively good sign that a good time has been had by all. When you’re so tired, you’re walking in circles and forgetting where your feet go, you’ve had the three-year-old equivalent of a ‘rage’.

I learned a few valuable lessons myself. One was that there was nothing on my desk that really suffered from having to wait a few hours. One was that Mr3 has progressed from scribbling colours to drawing those funny huge-head-skinny-leg pictures that show that his world view is changing. One was that time goes so much more slowly when you’re cruising along at preschool pace.

But I’m confident I made the right career choice. 

Monday, August 30, 2010

Spring is sprung, the weeds are riz

Tomorrow is the last day of winter. I don’t need a calendar to tell me that spring is coming. I have weeds for that. The first thing I did on my return from a restful week away? Weed the front garden, where the grass is on the march into the flower beds and the last delivery of mushroom compost seems to have introduced the dreaded onion grass to the rose bed.

I hate onion grass. I have vivid memories of the first few years in our old house in the Big Smoke. It had been a rental, left to rot by the previous owner. The front garden was a jungle of weeds. We didn’t want that, we wanted scented gardenias, dense murrayas, spears of lavender, enough rosemary to keep the neighbourhood supplied for Sunday roasts. That’s what we ended up with too – but not until we’d hand-weeded every skerrick of onion grass out of the front yard. It took years.

At first, we weeded, then laid newspaper, then mulched. Still it grew. So, six weeks later, we’d rinse and repeat. Another layer of newspaper, a thicker layer of mulch. The mulch and paper broke down, feeding the soil. Still the onion grass grew.

But gradually, it came less and less. The plants grew bigger and filled the space, crowding out the weeds. We got it under control.

Still I’d go to bed and night, dreaming of dark soil with those tiny, white bulbs beneath. Miss one, and the whole garden could go to pot.

And now we begin again. Different house, same noxious weed. Fortunately, it’s only one bed. We have good mulching foundations and dwarf lavender ready to spread beneath the rose bushes as the sun’s rays strengthen and the warmth goes right down to the roots.

As I was digging my way through the soil on Saturday, my mind turned to Foxglove Spires, a 3.5 acre garden near Tilba Tilba, NSW, and a highlight of our holiday (for me and The Builder at least – not sure that the Misters were all that impressed). What began as a vast, empty paddock 30 years ago is now a sublime corner of light and shade, mature trees and tiny flowers, chickens and vegetables, exotic plants and natives. A magical woodland, no doubt complete with fairies (somebody’s doing all that work!). The sunroom, pictured above, is made from reclaimed windows - I want it. It is simply inspirational (even before the true Spring bonanza) and I recommend a visit should you find yourself in the area.

The thought of the place was enough to steel my resolve. If Sue Southam, the woman behind Foxglove Spires, can persist with an entire paddock, surely I could manage to see off the invaders in a 2 x 1 metre garden bed. Even if I didn’t have help from those fairies.

{image: Catherine Shields/In My House}

Sunday, August 29, 2010

It's all mystery from here

There is a reason that crime fiction sells in huge quantities around the world. Humans love a mystery. Even when there’s no mystery.

Last week, Fam Fibro hit the road, winding up at various locations (of which you’ll no doubt hear more over the coming week). One of these places was Mystery Bay, just south of Narooma on the NSW South Coast.

Mr6 was captivated by the prospect of this destination as soon as he heard about it. “What’s the mystery?” he kept asking. “Will we find clues and solve it?”

Mr3, not to be left out, began singing the theme song from his latest favourite show on ABC Kids – Hooray For Huckle – “You and me solve a mystewy with Huckle”, over and over.

Suffice to say that The Builder and I wished we’d never heard of Mystery Bay by the time we actually got there on the last night of our holiday.

Once there, however, we got into it. Mr6 is a Famous Five fan. He loves the whole sleuthing, smuggling, sneaking gang, from bossy Julian to grumpy George to housewifey Anne to personality-free Dick to fearless Timmy. Add in his current zest for Zac Power and the mighty influence of Star Wars, and we found ourselves heading off down a bush path in search of the mystery of Mystery Bay – accompanied by a ‘SpyPad’, a torch/lightsabre, a plastic compass and a Spy ID card. We were fully equipped for whatever we might find.

We were not disappointed. Billy’s Beach, on Mystery Bay, is a wild and windswept place, cleaved by a swathe of blue pebbly shale, surrounded by cliffs and featuring (gasp) two perfect ‘smugglers caves’ and tunnel furrowed out by the water near the beach.

Mr6 immediately began plotting a mystery story, involving boats and smugglers and, in true Blyton tradition, afternoon tea, at nearby Montague Island. Mr3 busied himself looking for ‘clues’, turning up a couple of shells and several opportunities to get his feet soaked. In the end, he turned to us and stated that he couldn’t see a mystery – and what did one look like anyway?

We took a lot of photos. Mr6 has promised that if I buy him a new notebook, he will write out his mystery and use our photos to illustrate it. A brand new Mr6 original book. Guess who’s going stationery shopping tomorrow?

The true mystery of Mystery Bay remains a mystery. It involves boatloads of men disappearing never to be seen again. I think I’m going to like Mr6’s version better.

{image: enidblytonsociety.co.uk}

Friday, August 27, 2010

When the going gets tough, stay on your bike

You may not know this about me, but I have cycled 500+ kilometres, all at once, over the course of a week. Twice. Of course, this was BC (not just before children, but indeed in ancient times), and it was for a good cause. The Big Ride was a major fundraiser for Multiple Sclerosis – and an excellent way to lose up to five kilograms in one week.

I bring all this to your attention because I’ve been thinking a lot about mountains recently. Specifically, mountains of work. As discussed before, freelancing can be a rocky, rollercoaster of a road. Lots of hills and valleys.

I was reading a blog (and I cannot for the life of me remember which one, so if it was yours please let me know so I can reference you here) recently, which talked about weight loss as climbing a mountain, particularly if you had a lot to lose. You couldn’t look at the whole picture, you had to look only one step ahead at all times.

I commented that my wise friend L had some excellent advice about mountains. I did my first Big Ride with L and it was with her that I encountered some of my first big ‘hills’ during a training ride one morning. I looked up, saw what looked like Mt Everest rising before me, and immediately stopped.

“I can’t ride up that,” I said, preparing to dismount.

“Stay on your bike,” she said, severely for someone who is generally very laid back.

“I can’t ride up that,” I repeated, taken aback.

“They’re never as big as they look,” she said, dropping down about six gears and moving forward. “If you just keep riding, you’ll find you’re halfway up it before you realise.”

Doubting her, I did as she asked, swearing the whole time (in very genteel fashion, if you’re reading this Mum and Dad).

She was right.

Whenever I’m confronted with a mountain of any kind, I think of this advice. It doesn’t matter if you’re attacking piles of work or a seemingly impossible amount of weight to lose or a mountain road that would make a Tour De France rider blanch (well, maybe not, but you get my drift), the approach is the same.

The thought is worse than the reality. They’re never as big as they look. Stay on your bike.

{image: bike club info}

Thursday, August 26, 2010

True confession Thursday

I have a confession.

I can’t bear suspense. Not to any degree whatsoever.

But that’s not the worst of it.

I regularly read the last page of a book first.

I bring this to your attention because today I came upon Mr6 doing exactly the same thing. It’s genetic.

Anyone else out there share the same affliction?

{image: Introblogger}

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The fantastical adventures of Alla Hoo Hoo (part IV)

There comes a time in every family’s journey when a pet becomes part of their life. Dogs, cats, fish, guinea pigs, diamond pythons, mice (eek), pigs - these and many others are all potential new family members. It’s just a matter of choosing what kind of family you are.

Alla Hoo Hoo, Mr3’s imaginary friend, has approached pet owning in her usual inimitable fashion. She and her extended family – now including Mr Pizza, Ben (her husband) and a very hazy number of children – have taken on a school of sharks. Specifically, Wiper Sharks. So-called because they are able to complete the entire Total Wipeout obstacle course without falling over. They take on the ‘sucker punch’ feature on their tails.

I know all this because Mr3 has again been spending a bit of time with Ms Hoo Hoo. He has stopped going to as many parties with her because they play too many ‘grown-up’ games at Alla Hoo Hoo’s parties. Worriedly, I tried to extract details of these ‘grown-up’ games (bowls of keys came to mind for some reason). Apparently the Hoo Hoo posse is fond of the Ironing Game. I told Mr3 I quite understood why he no longer wished to go along.

I have also got to the bottom of their shared passion for motorbikes. They like them because they get to wear helmets. I’m happy with this explanation – the helmets are something he’s likely to grow out of, as opposed to, say, a deep-seated love of the Harley Davidson.

Soon after that conversation, Mr3 asked me what ‘invisible’ meant. I explained that it meant that something couldn’t be seen. “Like Alla Hoo Hoo,” he said. “She doesn’t like people to see her.”


{image: bbc.co.uk}

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The key to happiness

On Saturday, we picked up a new/old desk at our local Fabulous Old Stuff store. This time it wasn’t for me (two new ones in a year is enough for this office), but rather for Mr6. His second of the year. Somehow one desk is never enough around here.

His old/new desk came flat in a box from a faraway place, has miniscule drawers (not even big enough for A4!) and filled his room with toxic fumes for months. But the top miniscule drawer was lockable.

The new/old desk is in one piece, from a faraway time, and fills the senses with the patina of old age. There are no keys.

You know which one he prefers.

But Mum and Dad still prevail, so his funky little clerk’s desk, with its ink marks and its scratches, is tucked into the corner of his room. Already it’s strewn with Lego (remember, that’s what he ‘does’ here). It looks happy to be fulfilling its purpose.

The old/new desk (now thoroughly aired of toxic fumes) has gone to the Salvos. Complete with its keys, prised from Mr6’s grasp only once he understood that it was useless without the complementary lock.

I understand his attachment to that lock. I remember being given one of those lockable diaries when I was about 10. It was my prized possession. I never wrote anything in it (except possibly the weather statistics if genetics are anything to go by), but I loved the fact that the nothing in it was all mine.

Mr6’s lockable top drawer contained some lego, an old Ben 10 sticker, some drawings (or blueprints for Spy Gadgets as he informed me), an eraser and a pencil case. All very valuable when you’re six.

Imagine his joy when, as we were moving the new/old desk into his room, The Builder discovered a curly, old-fashioned key taped into the bottom drawer. The best of both worlds.

I'm guest posting today over at Ah, The Possibilities - come and say hello!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Kidspot Top 50 Blog Your Way To Dunk Island (hopefully)

When I think of family holidays, I think of endless roads. Not pools and amusement parks and family activities. These all play a part, but the central image is always the road. Sitting in the car, in the heat, skin sticking to the vinyl, trying to come up with a new way to pass the time. 

The Tait family members have always been great travellers. Every second year, Mum and Dad would pack us all in the car and drive us 35-odd hours (or thereabouts) to visit Dad’s family up near Townsville. The first few years, we went from the Northern Territory, up and East, in an old Holden Kingswood with orange curtains. From the outside, the orange curtains simply blended into the red dust that covered the car.

When I was 10, we moved ‘down south’ to Fibrotown and acquired a brother. After that, our drives were straight up the coast, in a bright yellow Mistubishi people mover. More space to spread out, and if you sat right up the back, Mum could never make good on any of her threats – she couldn’t reach you.

Every other year, we’d only go as far as Brisbane, to visit Mum’s family. Thirteen hours is a short drive when you’re used to the other kind.

You’d think that having endured hour after endless hour of I spy and other convoluted car games that I’d have had enough. That all my adult holidays would have involved flying and lying by the pool. That my idea of a family holiday would be all about a beach house 10 minutes from home.

Not me. Some of my fondest memories remain belting out Country Roads in the back of the car with Maxabella, Multiple Mum and TICH – with strong emphasis on the ‘take me home’ line. Squeezing into one on-site caravan at our overnight stop. Whinging about the fact that Maxabella, who got car sick, got to have either the window or the front seat every single time. (Now that I have children of my own, I thoroughly support this tactic – who wants to sit in a car that stinks of vomit for 40 hours? Anyone?)

The Builder and I love a driving holiday. Even our honeymoon involved twirling around Tasmania in a hire car, marvelling at the fact that what looked like a 10-minute drive on the map invariably turned into a five-hour odyssey, thanks to the winding roads. 

Our one departure from the driving tradition was our cruise last year. (A driving holiday on water, if you ask me, only you bring the pool with you.) The boys loved it. I looked at the Kids Club and saw ‘boring room without windows’. They saw ‘new friends and Playstation’. You can read my thoughts on the rest of it, here. 

We are about to embark on this year’s family fiesta, cocooned in Theresa the Terror. I know that it will bring us closer together. There is something about the intimacy of a moving car that fosters deep conversation, even amidst the deep boredom. I can’t wait.

So by now you’re probably feeling very sorry for Misters 6 and 3. Imagine being saddled with a mum who thinks that I Spy is the very height of family entertainment. If you’d like to save them from me, please send us all to Dunk Island (this is my entry for the competition) – vote by clicking through the Kidspot Top 50 Bloggers button. They thank you very much.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Seven things I learned at the RWA Conference

The feathers on my boa may be limp now, but the dust has settled enough from the weekend conference for me to distill what I learned into a nice little cheat sheet for you.

I could have done 10 points, or 20 points, or 50 points, but what I learned from writing cover lines on women’s magazines is that your eye barely registers those numbers anymore. Why do you think Oprah has 517 things you need for spring? Because your eye sees ‘517’ and your mind thinks ‘are you serious?’.

So here they are. The seven things I learned at the Romance Writers’ Australia Conference. 

1. Finish the damn book. 

2. Publishing throughout the world is depressed – except in the romance sector. 

3. You can work for 18 years on manuscript after manuscript before finally cracking a sale. And you’ll still be excited when you get there.

4. If there are 20 writers in a room and an expert tells them that only one of them will ever achieve their dream of being a published author, every single one of those writers will assume that they’re the ‘one’. 

5. The only way to be a writer is to write. Blogging, tweeting, networking, attending conferences, going to workshops, etcetera etcetera etcetera are all good things – but they will not finish a book.

6. Nobody ever talks about the money. Not really. 

7. Finish the damn book.

If you get the chance to attend one day – and you have any interest in writing romance or women’s fiction – I suggest you drag out your waftiest frock and get there. They’re an incredibly supportive bunch and it’s a huge amount of fun. If you can’t get there, join the association – the newsletters are a worth the price of admission.

PS: If you're really keen to write happy endings, visit eharlequin.com and enter the New Voices competition. What have you got to lose?

PPS: All this excellent information deserves some love, don't you think? Don't forget to vote for me in Kidspot Top 50 Bloggers - click the button on the right to vote. A holiday on Dunk Island would make a great happy ending.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Romeo and Juliet: A Fibrotown Fable (II)

Fibrotown is a place of opposites. Like many country towns, it is a holding station for the young and the old. The middle is not as well represented. Young love tends to be very young. Old love tends to be heartbreaking.

The checkout at the supermarket is the last place you expect to end up in tears. Unless you're not in one of those confectionery-free zones and you're with a two-year-old. But who does that to themselves?

Today, Mr3 and I made a quick dash through the aisles before 9am - we had a park-date to make. Precision shopping over with, I went in search of a checkout. When I spotted one of what Mr3 calls 'The Ladies' - those middle-aged women of extreme competence who make the checkout experience a complete pleasure through their sheer scanning skill - we made a beeline for her line. I don't know her name. We chat about our lives but, even though her work requires that she wears a name tag, I would never presume to use her name without introductions. Respect.

The gentleman in front of us was elderly. A quick scan of his shopping trolley confirmed he lived alone. Five packets of cream biscuits, baked beans, meals for one. She began the scanning, blip, blip, blip, and asked him how he was. There was history, you could tell, from her tone of voice. They weren't on first-name basis either, but he sought out her checkout, as I did.

When she asked her question, he started to cry. Without asking, I knew that he was recently bereft. That the woman who'd spent a lifetime telling him that two cream biscuits in one sitting were enough, was gone. The transaction took a while. But I didn't mind. There are some things that take time.

When he'd gone, picking up his few bags of shopping and departing, tears still in his eyes, she turned to me. Her eyes were red-rimmed, tear-filled. "I'm sorry," she said. "I couldn't rush him."

"Don't worry," I replied. "Neither could I." Tears stung my own eyes. I wanted to take that poor, lonely man home for a cup of tea.

His wife had recently died, she explained. Every time he came in to do the shopping on his own, he cried. She'd always done the shopping. Made his tea. Dragged him out to visit people. Without her, he was adrift.

"It's so important to stay connected," said my checkout friend.

I don't know the love story of that man and his wife. All I saw was the epilogue. Romeo without his Juliet.

It's heartbreaking at any age.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Receiving mixed messages

With only four days to go until the election, both major parties are really slamming home their messages through relentless advertising. I can’t help but wonder just how effective this actually is. Everywhere I go, on the street or online, people are bemoaning the savagery of the attack. The ads are negative, they are dull, and they are incessant.

So is the message getting across?

Tonight, Mr3 demanded his own book to write in. He sat down at his little red table with a great deal of pomp and ceremony (last night’s cough having magically disappeared after a ‘day off’ preschool), pulled out his Bic ballpoint and began scribbling away. Mr6, not to be upstaged, joined him and there was soon a fury of sighing and writing, scrawling and scratching, such as I’d not seen since last weekend’s romance writer’s conference.

I turned my back and heard a pen roll off the table, hitting the floor with a clatter.

“Julia Gillard!” said Mr3, in much the same tone of voice as the rest of us would use to swear.

The Builder and I looked at each other, eyebrows dancing frantically as we attempted to hide our laughter.

“What did you say?” I asked Mr3.

“Julia Gillard!” he replied, in exactly the same tone of voice.

“Who’s Julia Gillard?” asked The Builder, through suppressed laughter.

“Our new prime minister,” Mr3 answered, matter of fact, and continued penning his ‘words’.

Where did it come from, that tone of voice? All I can think is that the Coalition has been secretly screening subliminal ads during Yo Gabba Gabba.

I may be drawing a long bow here, but I'd like to take this opportunity to remind you to vote in the Kidspot Top 50 Bloggers. Just a quick click through using the button on my sidebar and I'll be one vote closer to Dunk Island.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Sailing close to the wind

There's something about a windy day that puts your whole body on edge. Lips are dry. Skin is parched. Hair is tangled. And every nerve-ending is standing to attention, scratched and bleeding every time the air rolls over the flesh.

 Is it any wonder that the wind brings out the crazy in all of us? Kids get high on the breeze, whipped into a frenzy by the constant movement. Adults are brought low by the same thing, longing for a moment's peace, every straw one step closer to the last one.

Even the Fibro is edgy tonight. The wires from the clothes line creak and bang against the house, like ghostly feet walking over the walls. The neighbours' trees rustle and whisper to each other, dropping leaves and tiny branches on our roof, like small, unwelcome gifts.

Mr3 is coughing. Coughing, coughing, coughing. Whimpering.

He wakes. He asks for a cuddle. I'm happy to oblige.

Everybody needs a safe harbour in the wind.

I'm high on more than the wind today, having been chosen as one of Kidspot's Top 50 Bloggers. The 'real' Allison is asking you to use my bright, shiny new button on the right-hand side of the page to vote for me. In other exciting news, I'm doing my first-ever guest post today - visit the lovely Lucy at Diminishing Lucy to see the Fibro on the move.

{image: greatmodernpictures.com}

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Here's to a warm welcome

It’s never easy to leave a world of pink feather boas and big personalities and re-enter the Ironing zone. I spent the weekend at the Romance Writers’ of Australia Conference, wafting about the corridors of a five-star hotel, laughing hysterically with my writing posse (who make me laugh like no-one else can) and eating too many muffins.

I’m sure I have important information to impart about the conference, but right now the hefty bump back into reality, specifically Sunday night ironing, is proving too big a jolt. So that will have to wait (suffice to say that ‘finish the damn book’ is still the ‘take home’ message, and Celeste of the winter white suit is still best left in a drawer).

I do love being back at home (ironing aside). In the quiet times at the conference (between aforementioned hysterical laughter), I missed my boys (large and small) and we are all so incredibly pleased to see each other after a break that I can’t remember why I felt the need to go in the first place (then I spot the ironing pile…).

Similarly, I enjoy eating out, but I like to do it once in a while, not every meal. I miss my own cooking. I was thinking that was fairly tragic until I popped over to Sister B’s blog (Maxabellaloves) tonight and spotted her recipe for Hearty Chicken and Barley Soup. It could not be more perfect for how I’m feeling right now. It’s ‘welcome home’ in a bowl.

I eagerly read the list of ingredients. Most I have in the pantry (the pantry that The Builder says could feed a small village for a week – though we can never be sure because I’m too scared to venture too far into the back of it). I began making a shopping list for the extra stuff. First ingredient on the list: Barley.

Then I stopped. I remembered a conversation I had recently – possibly in the playground, possibly online – about that one ingredient that you buy every single time it’s mentioned in a recipe because you can never remember if you have it.

For some people, it was lentils (these feature highly for me as well). For others, it was flour (tick, I think I have about 4kg hanging about on the bottom shelf). But for me, mostly, it’s barley.

It’s like Arborio rice – you buy it specifically, can never remember how much you used, so you get some just in case. Then you get home, discover that last time you used half a cup AND you’d bought some then ‘just in case’ as well, so you’re looking at eating risotto for three weeks.

So this time, I tried a new tack. I went and looked. Two packets of barley - practically a field of the stuff. We’re pretty much covered for this batch of soup and three more. In fact, I’d best get on with dragging out every barley recipe I have, because the time for winter dishes is drawing to a close.

So here's to a week of warm welcomes.

{image: AusFoodNews}

Thursday, August 12, 2010

My son is on a roll

There are days when plans go out the window. Take tonight, for instance. I had planned to write a breathtakingly awe-inspiring post that would thrill and amaze you. Instead, my focus is on Mr6 and the fact that he rolls like a tumbleweed through my house, day and night.

He’s not a big kid. Average. Brown hair. Big hazel eyes. Giraffe eyelashes. Not an ounce of body fat. No bottom to speak of. But he is constantly in motion. And his motion is horizontal.

Every time I turn around, he’s doing forward rolls across the floor. The sofa. The bed. The table. The child is possessed. Getting him into his school uniform in the mornings is an exercise in repetition.

“Get dressed.”


“Get dressed.”

Flip, flip, roll.

“Get dressed.”

Wobble, wobble, roll.

Ad nauseum. (Over and over, even.)

I cannot begin to explain how disconcerting all this rolling is. How intrinsically irritating. It is hard to put into words how the constant motion throws off one’s equilibrium.

In short, it’s driving me crazy.

My parents have taken to calling him Sir RollaLot. Yes, even when he visits others, he’s likely to roll through the door.

I know it will pass. The Yellow Wiggle phase passed. The Luke Skywalker light-sabre practice, complete with annoying buzzing sound, passed. The rolling will one day roll on, to be replaced by something equally inventive.

I suppose I should be excited. Constant practice has made him pretty good at forward rolls. World class, in fact. I can’t quite bring to mind a moment when this will come in handy, but one never knows.

I should probably just relax and enjoy the show. After all, they say that everybody’s good at one thing. This could be it.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Everyone should have a Beautiful Rock

If you know anything about little boys, you know they love their pockets. Pockets are for hands. Pockets are for Lego pieces. Pockets are for spy wallets and keys and coins and marbles and strings. Pockets are for the random bits of playdough that any preschool-aged kleptomaniac would find irresistible (that's what I tell myself, right before Mr3 and I discuss the rights and wrongs with walking off with the entire class supply secreted in various pockets). If they don't have enough pockets for their treasures, they'll use yours.

Today, I was rummaging through the pockets of a jacket that I haven't worn for a little while and came across a rock. Not a particularly lovely rock. A bit of dried-up cement, if the truth be told. But as soon as my fingers touched it, I remembered. This was a Beautiful Rock.

Mr3 picks up a Beautiful Rock for me every couple of days. Some days my pockets get so full with them that I jangle and click as I walk. When he gives them to me, he says the same thing: "I found you a Beautiful Rock because you are beautiful."

The dried-up cement is still in my pocket. How do you throw out a Beautiful Rock?

{image: vintagechildrensbooksmykidloves.com}

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

People who haven't red hair don't know what trouble is

A funny thing has happened on the way to the election. Everybody wants to discuss Julia Gillard with me. From shop keepers to café owners to members of the P&F to previously unacquainted parents in the schoolyard. There is only one reason that I can see for this. Julia and I, we have the Red Hair.

I’m beginning to feel like my sister Multiple Mum does when people point out that she has four children. Her response, ‘er yes, I know’ (whilst inwardly seething the much-less-polite answer). This conversation is usually followed up for her by a comment such as ‘haven’t you worked out how it happens yet, love’ or something similarly hilarious.

My conversations tend to start with:

Random person: “So what do you think of Julia Gillard?”

Me: “She seems very smart.”

RP: “But you must be excited…”

Me: “Um, sure, it’s good to see a woman doing so well.” (Or words to that effect.)

RP: “No, not that – the red hair! Soon you’ll be taking over the world.”

Me: “Can I have a latte please?”

To be perfectly frank, I’m a bit over the red hair thing. Yes, Julia and I are both (now ‘helped along’) red heads. Beyond that, we don’t know each other (I know, you're shocked). We have certain things in common, I have no doubt: a tendency to freckle, suppressed memories of certain hideous moments at school when being a redhead was genetic freakdom at its highest level, and I suspect she has read Anne of Green Gables* because one does when one is a redhaired girl of a certain age.

But the hair does not define me and, for me, it does not define her. I suspect it has had a part in shaping her character, because our physicality does. Would I be so much of a smart-mouth if I did not have red hair? I suspect not. I spent a lot of time defending my lily-white legs in a town full of bouncing blonde beach babes. Perhaps it is the same for her.

But seriously folks, it’s time to get past the hair and listen to what she’s saying. If she had Dolly Parton boobs and that was all people talked about, the politically correct among us would be jumping up and down and crying sexist. Well, I’m crying ‘hairist’. Are all the brown-haired men in the world excited about the possibility of Prime Minister Abbott? (There are several responses to that question, feel free to leave yours in the comments.)

Give the woman a break and please give the ‘ranga’ term a rest. My other sister Maxabella (another redhead – maybe we are actually taking over the world) is happy to reclaim that word (along with Fanta Pants and other classics) and thus take the ugly out of it. Me, not so much.

And now I’m off to brush up on my Anne of Green Gables quotes. If Ms Gillard is returned to the Lodge in a week or so, I suspect I’m going to be needing them.

Hmmm. Here's a good one for Julia: "Isn't it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?"

But in the end, I must return to one of my old favourites: "You'd find it easier to be bad than good if you had red hair. People who haven't red hair don't know what trouble is."

I can't see it catching on as a campaign slogan though.

*Anne of Green Gables, by L.M. Montgomery

Monday, August 9, 2010

Writing + Pregnancy = a little bit too similar sometimes

Today I gave birth to a 20-kilogram feature. That’s what it felt like anyway. Every word seemed to be dragged out of me, kicking and screaming. When it was done, the relief was so palpable that I felt lighter and brighter, giddy with joy.

Like most features, it began well. There were no particular signs that this one would turn toxic. As with pregnancy, there was joy and excitement. I was genuinely looking forward to writing it, as it was an idea I’d pitched myself and I had several leads ready to go.

It was about the halfway point that things changed. I got led astray by a new contact, lost my direction and ended up with a couple of useless quotes and a case study I hadn’t counted on. At which point, I put my hands over my eyes and prayed the whole mess would go away.

It didn’t, of course. The deadline passed, I was still looking for an interview to save it, hoping for a miracle. Nothing happened. So I turned to a trusted source, one who knew what I needed, one who would give me some solid foundations on which to balance a structure that was looking decidedly wobbly.

As I sat down to write it today, I felt sick. I’d left it until the last possible moment, waiting for The Muse (who, as we’ve discussed before, is beholden to no woman and clearly had a blow-dry appointment this morning). Through sheer persistence, I found an opening, a way in to the story, and from that it flowed. I managed to construct a frame that allowed me to wedge my material into the brief. And it worked.

I have no doubt that every journalist has stories like these, that grow into millstones around their necks. I also have no doubt that most of those stories would involve case studies, the finding of ‘real’ people to fit a niche in the story. One day, when I’m feeling stronger, we’ll talk about case studies a bit more.

But not tonight. Tonight I’m pouring a glass of wine (I know, on a Monday, outrageous!) and toasting the Muse (who is no doubt out dancing and not sitting at home waiting to hear ‘cheers’ from suckers like me) as I wet that story’s head.

And then I’m going to get started on the next one.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Nurturing a 'problem child'

Just as every family has a Black Sheep, so every garden has a Problem Child. That plant that refuses to do its thing, whether that be fruit or flower. We haven’t had too many here at the Fibro, having inherited someone else’s garden. In the Big Smoke, we had to create a garden out of a patch of winter grass, a clump of bamboo and a family of Agave pups. Here, we moved in to a garden with a number of established trees and shrubs, most of which work brilliantly, giving us colour and flowers all year round.

Except for one, a shrubby little camellia with a tight, closed expression.

When we arrived in December 2008, I didn’t think much of it. After all, twas the season to be jolly, not the season for camellias. So I gave it a ‘you could be bigger’ once-over and moved on to revelling in the roses, which were blooming at the time.

It caught my eye six months later, when I noticed it was more or less the same size as when we’d arrived. Given that it’s situated along the Western fence, with full access to glorious morning sunshine all year round, this just didn’t seem right. And so a frenzy of feeding, watering and mulching began. That should do it, I thought, dusting off my hands and fully expecting a bonanza of blooms come mid-winter.

Nothing. Nada. Zip. Lots of little buds of promise that just failed to deliver. I still had no idea what colour the flowers even were! I was unaccountably disappointed. I also had a Project.

And so, over the summer, I fed and watered regularly, mulched religiously, weeded fervently. I popped out to give it little pep talks. I used a machete to ward off the ever-marching, ever-encroaching South African Daisies.

I allowed myself to hope.

A couple of months ago, I played my trump card, dousing the poor unsuspecting plant in a deluge of compost (I finally had enough – for one plant). And then I waited.

I waited while the salvia sprang to purple beauty – and died back. While the camellia in the backyard, neglected and forlorn, produced a dazzling display of hot pink, saucer-sized flowers. While the camellia hedge across the road grew so heavy under the weight of its red blossoms that it threatened to topple over.

Meanwhile, along the Western fence, nothing. Buds of promise bursting out all over – but we’d been there before and I wasn’t going to get excited.

And then, yesterday, not just one bloom, but two. Waxy. Striped pink-and-white. Awe-inspiring in their unfurling perfection.

I was so excited I actually gave a squeal of joy, calling The Builder out for inspection. We cheered. We took photos (see above).

We are so easily pleased.

Now that I fully expect my little shrub to produce the full complement of camellias, it’s time to turn my eye to other projects. Specifically, the Japanese Maple, which seems to be so indignant at finding itself in Fibrotown that it’s refusing to grow. Envision a small tree with its branches on its hips, and you get the picture.

It’s in for a good talking to, that maple.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

In writing, as in life, ride your own race

Mr6 and I had a chat about plagiarism in the car today. I’m not sure if this rates as a Big Chat but, like all car chats, it had a certain intensity. There’s something about being one-on-one in a car, neither party able to look at the other (as occurs when one of you is driving and one is strapped firmly into a booster seat behind the driver’s seat) that allows for a focus you don’t often get with children.

He was telling me about the latest development in the book he is currently writing. And when I say writing, I mean laboriously printing in a Moleskine cahier (what can I say? Good enough for Hemingway...) and then transferring to computer and then transferring onto the USB stick (of which he is ludicriously proud). Quite why these three steps must be undertaken for each page is a good question, but the six-year-old mind works in mysterious ways.

Anyway, he’s up to page four of what, until today, has been the 7th instalment in the Star Wars saga. A true sequel, from what I can gather, as it continues on from the end of Return of the Jedi. He’s not entirely what he will do about the villain role, given that Darth Vader was last seen on a cloud being Anakin Skywalker again, but assures me this is a minor plot point.

It all went by the wayside today, anyway, as he revealed that the next chapter in the book will be a Zac Power story. Zac is his current love and he takes his Spy Wallet, complete with Spy Card (off the website), SpyPad (a crossword solver) and other spy paraphernalia with him wherever he goes.

“What does Zac Power have to do with Star Wars?” I asked, naively, whilst navigating a right hand turn.

“Nothing,” he said. “It’s a new book. I saw in the back of my Mega Missions book that new ones were coming out, so I thought I’d write one.”

“Are you going to have it published?”

“What’s published?”

I explained that while a writer wrote the book, and got rejected, a publisher printed it and made sure it got into bookshops so we could buy it.

“Okay,” he said. “I’ll send it off and get it published.”

“Well, you’ll need to come up with your own idea then,” I said, pulling up out the front of guitar lessons, early for once.

“What do you mean? Star Wars Number 7 is my own idea.”

“Yes, but the other six Star Wars ideas were someone else’s. If you copy them, and use all their characters, that’s plagiarism, and that’s against the law. Publishers want you to have new characters in new stories. It’s called being original.”

He thought about that for a while. Then sighed. “But that’s really hard.”

Yes. Yes, it is.

{image: 6sidedice.com}

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Wish you were here? I do.

I spent some time in the bath tonight reading the new Country Style magazine and have come to the conclusion that I’m doing this country thing all wrong. I love CS. One of my first jobs in journalism [mumble, mumble] years ago was as the production editor/sub (back when it was still Australian Country Style), writing headings such as ‘Days of Wine and Overs’ and spending my days checking the stockists of Drizabone coats.

The magazine has moved on a lot, now being all that light, modern country should be. In fact, I noted a serious lack of ceramic chicken decorations, which were pretty much de rigueur in my day, along with dark wood, pumpkin scones and rustic furniture. These days, it’s all about white, checks, open spaces, light and air. A rolling hill and picturesque duck pond just add to the fun.

So I looked up from reading about Derek and Nicole’s reno at Robertson (involving serious lust over the pigeon-hole bookcase which “holds plates and glassware in arm’s reach of the dining table) and realised that I’m in the wrong house. That church that brought me to my knees a few weeks ago – that’s where I should be living for true country style. Despite the fact that it’s one-bedroom. Despite the fact that it’s 15 minutes drive to buy milk. The ACS dream tends to involve a bit of inconvenience.

It’s a beautiful magazine, full of country idylls. But it’s a particular type of idyll. It’s a romantic, soft-focus vision, usually cushioned by cash. It doesn't stop real country people wanting it. A lot of my Fibrotown friends buy the magazine religiously - though do lament that lack of real country people.

Even my friend G, the most gorgeous farmer’s wife you’ll ever meet, who lives in a picturesque little weatherboard surrounded by verdant grass, monochromatic cows and photo-ready rustic sheds, probably wouldn’t get a look in. The gumboots lined up at her door have mud on them. The house is a real farmhouse, weathered and worn. (Though she did win Best Beginner Scones at The Show, so that might be a selling point.)

The Fibro is not CS. It’s not even actual country style. Not really. It should be lined up by the beach, Gidget-style, like these ones. But I’m not going to lose any sleep over it. We have gumboots. We have dirt. We have grass. No cows, no ducks, it’s true. But the old roses that I despaired over are starting to sprout growth (I cannot tell you how relieved I am) and the new front veranda is the perfect place to drink wine in the fading light.

Days of Wine and Roses. See, I’ve still got it.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Where angels fear to tread

The Scene: Little Ninjas, picture 20 little boys in blue pyjamas (with belts) rough-housing and rolling in the background
The Players: Me, Mr 3
The Conversation: Went like this.

Mr 3 (apropos of nothing): Mum, why do people die?
Me (distracted): They run out of puff.
Pause. I suddenly realise this is a Serious Conversation.
Me (hastily): Oh, and they're really, really old.
Mr3: So, not just tired.
Me: No.
Mr3: Where do people go when they die?
Me (wishing The Builder was on hand, wishing anyone was on hand): They go to Heaven.
Mr3: Oh, like Harvey.
Harvey is my parents' dog who died last year.
Me (hoping to end chat): Yes.
Mr3: And Dead Bird.
Me: Dead Bird?
Mr3: Yes, Dead Bird is next to Harvey under the trailer. They're together.
Pause. I suddenly recollect the dead bird found in the parental garden one morning.
Me: Oh yes.
Mr3: It's nice that they're together.
Mr3: How can they be together? Harvey is in Heaven and Dead Bird is definitely under the trailer.
Me: Oh look! Mr6 just did a roundhouse kick!


I have come to the conclusion that I am terrible at the Big Chats. The Serious Conversations. Other parents seem to know exactly what to say when these subjects come up. I'm just desperate to avoid nightmares (there have been a lot of people behind Mr3's curtains of late and I don't want Dead Bird to join them).

Does everyone feel like this? I try for age appropriateness, but I don't want to lie. And that makes for a difficult tightrope. Any tips on walking it would be most appreciated.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Could this be my life's work?

I looked at my To Do list today and realised that it has become a To Do Book. A whole damn book. When I get to the end of the day, all the stuff that doesn't have a line through it just gets transferred on to the next page, all bright-eyed and bushy tailed and ready for a brand new day.

This does not even include the stuff that I'm 'getting around to' (GAT). The GAT List is made up of the stuff that I never remember to do. Not even to write on the To Do list. Like cleaning out the pantry. Organising the carpet cleaning. Taking my receipts to Medicare. Finding my receipts for Medicare. Every once in a while, The Builder will ask me why the carpet cleaning brochure is still on the kitchen bench. "Oh, I'm getting around to that," I say.


Buying recordable DVDs has been on the GAT list so long that it's now a crucial task. Please wait while I add it to tomorrow's page of the To Do book.

At my Big Night Out on Saturday night, I had a conversation with a friend in which we both agreed that, much as I am living a Treechange life, I haven't as yet embraced the lifestyle. If I had, would I need a To Do book? No, I'd be busy doing and they be things I wanted to do, not this neverending list of 'musts' that never seems to end.

My biggest concern is that this will be the sum total of my life's work. Forget the Great Australian Novel and its GAN spawn (it's all about the Great Australian Series now, surely?) Any writing time I have spare these days is dedicated to updating the To Do Book.

Worst of all, it will never be finished.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Living in the wild, wild West (sort of)

As discussed in the past, my Saturday nights tend to revolve around obscure shows on SBS (cue Monster Moves), The Bill (I don’t think you can be an Australian parent without watching this show at some point) and a bottle of red wine. Every once in a while, however, I am dragged from my comfort zone (aka The Sofa) and made to, gulp, Go Out.

It needs to be pointed out that Going Out in Fibrotown is not like Going Out in The Big Smoke. For starters, there are fewer places to go. In some ways, this is a good thing. I have long felt that most of the problems (and I use the term loosely) that we suffer today come from the simple fact of having way too many choices. A takeaway in our old house, for example, was fraught with difficulty – would we have Thai? Vietnamese? Indonesian? Turkish pide? Mexican? African? And if we did have Thai, from which of the 35 Thai restaurants in the district would we order? By the time we’d worked all that out, The Bill was over and it was time for bed.

In Fibrotown, that’s all much simpler.

What is not simpler, however, is Going Out. Because there are fewer places to go and you’re likely to see similar (aka The Same) people at any event that you attend, party organisers have to be much more diligent in order to tempt you (or maybe it’s just me) away from the sofa. Everything we go to here has a theme or a dress code. You can’t simply turn up in jeans. Your dress must be Fancy.

Okay, I’m exaggerating slightly (I know, you’re shocked). When friends invite us over to dinner we generally don’t need to drag out the nun’s habit and the clown suit. But big events tend to require effort. Lots and lots of effort.

On Saturday night, the preschool fundraiser required us to dress not only ourselves, but our table. Right down to the cutlery. I spent a week searching for ‘vintage, fancy silverware’ to suit our theme (more on that in a minute), only to discover a box of it sitting in my linen cupboard. Note to self: the decluttering is not working.

It was all my own fault. I’d set the theme. ‘Cowboy,’ I announced cheerfully, thinking of warm flannel shirts and comfortable shoes. ‘Terrific,’ said my friend C, ‘we’ll do Old West Saloon glamour.’ (Check out her blog to see why a cowboy hat and a plastic gun were never going to be enough.)

And so it was that I left the house on Saturday night ready for Wild West Whoredom, wearing several layers of corsetry, petticoats and fake roses, with a large velvet table cloth, fancy silverware, gilt-edged plates and a cowboy (The Builder, very dapper in a mean, outlaw way he was too) under my arm. It’s not exactly travelling light.

In the end, despite my whinging about the work, it was an enormous amount of fun. People I see every day at the school pick-up were transformed for the night. Which, at the end of the day, is the point of it all. You get to see each other in a new light and strike up conversations with people with whom you’re usually only on nodding terms. Even if it's only to ask how they manage The Pride of Erin in their gumboots.

Quite how they’ll view me next time they see me is another question. Once 'Miss Behavin’ is let out of the closet, in her brand-new second-hand cowboy boots, she’s very hard to stuff back in.
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