Thursday, September 30, 2010

Bonding over trivial matters

I think it's important for a family to have a 'thing' that they do together. Whether it be supporting an AFL team, world-class backyard cricket competitions, patrolling with the Surf Lifesavers, or running the Little Athletics club.

In my family, it's Trivia. That's right, an entire family of know-alls. Admittedly, Mum prefers Scrabble and is a demon in that area, but the rest of us love nothing more than a beer and 100 questions. Interestingly, we don't play Trivial Pursuit at home. We only play when we're on the same team. Possibly because the only area in which any of us can beat Dad is the 'Pink' questions - he tends to struggle with any musical questions beyond the folk tunes of the 1960s.

We used to all play in a cool pub in the Big Smoke, rolling up every Thursday night to be part of an ever-changing array of people known as The Crazy Dates. Dad travelled up by train on his Seniors Card for the night. We were always happy to see him - we had endless experts in Pink and Orange questions at hand, but he's the only one with any breadth of Geography/History/Serious stuff knowledge.

These days, we are spread more thinly on the ground, so our appearances are more sporadic. The school that Sister C's kids go to will never be the same after The Crazy Dates staged a reunion at the annual trivia night. There was much muttering among the Dates, however, about the rule that other teams could buy answers. Admittedly, it was a fundraiser, but still... hardly in the spirit of the game. Competitive? Us? Much?

Tonight, Sister C, Dad and I joined his regular team - this week named the Pies Reheated - at the local club for a whirl. He is known to his team as Brains Trust. They had high hopes for us, being offspring of Brains Trust. The fact that we thought that a Shannon Noll song was sung by a girl (the voice, not the name) dissuaded them a little of our potential.

We had some highlights: rock star born in Zanzibar? Freddie Mercury. Inventor of the Telegraph? Samuel Morse. And some low-lights. Would you have remembered that The Dream Academy sang 'Life in a Northern Town'? Thought not.

We lost the jackpot round because no-one on the team knew the identity of the movie star whose name meant Moorish Knight. We decided that if it wasn't Omar Sharif, it should have been. In fact, it was Maurice Chevalier - which everyone knew the moment it was announced. We're all experts in hindsight. (And we'll all remember it should it ever come up again.)

However, we pulled off a victory. One delicious point. Whether this was because Dad knew the source of the Tigress River, or because Sister C and I knew that Cookie Monster's fur was blue is a contentious issue.

The family that plays together...


This post is part of 'Flog Yo Blog Friday' - visit Lori at RRSAHM for your weekend reading list.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Have you got a family password?

How many passwords do you have in your life? Ignore PIN numbers for the time being - heaven forbid we should bring numbers into the equation - and concentrate on passwords. Are you a person who has the one password for everything? Usually something really clever like 'password1'. Or do you actually follow all that IT advice and keep a different password for every single account and change them every month? If you are one of these people, please send immediate tips as to how you remember this month's passwords.

I ask about passwords not because I'm going to share mine (hundreds of different ones, since you asked, updated regularly and written down nowhere...that's my story and I'm sticking to it), but because an article I read today at SuperParents gave me food for thought. A great guest post by Kelly Burstow of Be A Fun Mum (clearly she had me in mind when she named her blog) on stranger danger introduced the idea of a family password.

This is a word specific to your family, to be used if you need to unexpectedly send someone they're not expecting to collect them from somewhere. If the adult knows the password, the kids know it's okay to go with them. If they don't know the password, the kids run screaming for the nearest teacher or trusted adult.

This got me thinking. First, I thought how useless I would be as the person sent in the emergency because I would no doubt forget the password en route, arrive to pick up the children and fail the test. They would have to stand there in amazement as I ran through every password I know in the hopes of lighting on the right one.

Then I started thinking about what our family password might be. A word specific to our family that a stranger would not guess by chance. And yet one that would not be completely embarrassing to share with the adult on their way to collect the kids. Family language can be a strange thing. Sister C (MultipleMum) wrote recently about some of our extended family vernacular and you should have a look at it here if you are game. (One read and you won't understand how you've existed to date without the verb 'to parp'. Trust me.)

In our house, chickens are known as 'bokkens' because this is what Mr3 called them for a long time. They make a 'bok, bok, bok' noise, therefore they were bokkens. Junk mail is known as 'reklame', the German word for advertising. The daily weather update on the news is greeted with shouts of 'Het weer!' - 'the weather' in Dutch. (There's not much to get excited about in Fibrotown... and there is that genetic predisposition...)

You see my problem. "I need you to pick up the kids."
"You need a password."
[pause] "Okay."
"It's 'bokkens'."
[long pause] "O-kay. Um, sorry, something's just come up."
[dial tone]

I am going to talk to the kids about this. If anyone can come up with a password it is Mr6, with his background in smugglers, spies and groups of kids with time on their hands. Once we work it out, I'll let you know.

Actually, no, I won't.

Do you think the password thing is a good idea? Would you struggle to come up with a suitable word? Or is that just me overthinking my attempts to Be A Fun Mum? Again.

{image: hklinger/etsy}

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Just like riding a bicycle

Today, a victory. Mr6 set forth on his bike across the grass of the local showground without his training wheels. And rode. And rode. And rode. With me shrieking 'you're doing it! you're doing it!' like a crazy woman, jumping up and down in the centre of the field.

The excitement.

It's been a while in the making. We first tried about six months ago but, never one to embrace something new, he baulked. Hard. Refusing to go near the bike until the training wheels went back on. We acquiesced. He'll do it when he's ready, we decided. He's like that, Mr6. You can't actually make him do anything until he's ready.

We waited for signs of readiness. None.

So we forced the issue again. Off came the wheels. He rode the bike around the front yard with me running and shouting and flapping along behind him. It wasn't a success.

More space, I decided. He needs more space.

And so, today at the showground. Some tips. More running and shouting and flapping. He turned to me. "Mum, let me do it by myself."

I backed off. He got on. And rode his bike.

I'm not sure who was more thrilled.

Do you remember learning to ride a bike?

{link: Squidoo}

Monday, September 27, 2010

Building resilience (in plants and kids)

Spending a lot of time in the sun does funny things to a girl. Take Saturday, for instance. I decided that it was time to stop talking about doing useful things in my vegie patch and actually do them. So Mr3 and I pulled on our wellie boots - as an aside, mine are new, brown with tweed and very stylish (imagine horsey, but without the horse) - and set forth with small spades in hand.

First, we attacked the cauliflowers. And when I say attacked, I mean hauled those suckers out of there. They were all leaf, no cauli. Not even a flower. I'd given them three months. Dumped. Mr3 had a fabulous time digging them out, keeping strictly to the right-hand side of the shallots, as instructed. Meanwhile, I weeded, and weeded, and weeded. Turn your back on a vegie patch for five minutes and the invasion begins.

Later, as I weeded my way through the large garden bed under the camphor laurel, I found myself thinking a little too hard about weeds. About who decided what was a weed and what wasn't. How the weeds always seemed to do better than the nurtured, composted, hot-housed wimps that we'd actually planted. How if we'd just gone with the weeds in the first place I wouldn't be out here in the blazing sun, fork in hand.

To give you an idea of how tired I was, my thoughts went from weeding to parenting. To the hands-on, nurturing, enriching, hot-housing style of parenting that is in vogue at present. Much is written about resilience these days - mostly about how children these days don't have any. They are not left to fend for themselves enough. They are not thrown into situations where they must problem-solve and survive.

I wrote a story a little while ago for (you can read it here) and received some good advice from child psychologist and author Andrew Fuller. "Kids are pretty resilient as long as we don't muck them up by trying to solve every problem for them," he says.

I'm not a natural 'free range' parent. My tendency to overthink everything has every step of my children's day thought out three or four steps ahead. The Builder is an excellent foil to that. He's not a worrier. He's a thinker, a planner, a perfectionist, but not a worrier. He can walk ahead of the boys at the beach, not looking behind, knowing that they'll be okay. I have to walk behind them. Warning them not to go to deep, not to stray too far, not to... have fun.

I worry that I worry too much. I worry that Mr6 worries too much. He's probably worried that I'm worried. Mr3 is too busy going to parties with Alla Hoo Hoo to worry about much at all.

As I worried away at the weeds in my garden, cutting them off in their prime, it occurred to me that there's strength in adversity. Which is not to say that I won't be encouraging the growth of my prize specimens. But I might water a little less, mulch a little more, and spend a little less time in the sun.

No worries.

{image: Pete Dungey}

Sunday, September 26, 2010

What colour was your day?

A perfect Sunday. Bright blue sky, light breeze, not so much as a fluffy white cloud. Today, Fam Fibro shook off winter and embraced the best that the Fibrotown region has to offer. A long walk along the cycle track by the beach.

Mr3's little legs pumping on his 'big boy' bike, proud to show us that his braking has advanced enough that he can now actually stop. Mr6 scooting along, about 50 metres ahead, asserting his independence - checking over his shoulder regularly and stopping to wait if he couldn't see us. The Builder carrying his footy, chipping over the top and regathering... well, mostly regathering.

Me, half jogging, half walking, trying to keep Mr3 within arm's length, in case - in case of what? Not sure.

At the creek, the boys were in the water in seconds. "We won't get wet," they chorused, all three. Result, two little boys in underpants within two minutes, wet shorts dangling from bike handles, trying their hardest to dry. All of us with sand between our toes. Mr3 sighting crocodiles. Mr6 defending us all from water dragons with a stick. The Builder wandering around, attention captivated by the sandcastle built by two other boys. They'd captured some little crabs and had built them a new home. Fortunately, for the crabs, the tide was on its way in. They wouldn't be there long before a wall of water disintegrated their new home, releasing them back to their old one.

Me, half jogging, half walking, trying to keep Mr3 within arm's length, in case - in case of what? Not sure.

Afterwards, ice creams all round. Mr6 brave enough to venture beyond the well-worn chocolate path into a whole new rainbow-flavoured world. Mr3, never one to be left behind, has one too, thanks. "What does it taste like?" I asked. "Like all the colours," Mr6 responded, lips blue, eyes bright.

On the way home, Mr3 asleep within minutes of reaching the sanctuary of the car. Mr6 finishes his new Zac Power Ultimate Missions book. "That's four books since Friday," he announces with glee. It can be expensive, this reading habit. We plan a library visit.

Home again. Baths, barbecue, bed.

A day that tasted like all the colours.

{image: ThePaintedPeepShow/Etsy}

This post is part of the 'What Makes Me Happy' linky at Jess's Epheriell Designs.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Let's talk about meme, shall we?

Some time ago (and I won't admit to exactly how long ago as I'd like us all to remain friends) Shelley from My Shoebox Life and Allison (cool name) at Melbourne Mumma both threw Kreativ Blogger awards in my direction. This made me feel a) chuffed and b) worried, as part of the whole thing is to a) put the award button on my blog (and we all know how useless I am at anything technical) and b) come up with seven things about me that you don't know.

In an aside, I am kind of glad I can't do the button thing because the spelling of this award bothers me. Mia Freedman's post about the 'creative' spelling of children's names resonated with me. I have two Ls in my name and it has meant a lifetime of spelling it out slowly - imagine how I'd go if I was Alisoun (as per Wife of Bath), or Ailysun. I'm all about correct spelling. Although I do now believe that the only way to correctly spell Allison is with two Ls (*ducks for cover*).

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes. It's taken me several weeks a little while to come up with seven things, but here they are.

1. I was born in Papua New Guinea.

2. I went to five different primary schools.

3. I can read upside down.

4. I once played the role of 'The Artful Dodger' in Oliver and can still high kick my way through 'Consider Yourself'.

5. I did ballet for ten years and danced en pointe. My feet still hate me for it.

6. I kissed my first boy at the age of seven, and then didn't bother again for ten years.

7. I don't like skirts. Or heels. Or anything that slows me down.

So, technically, I'm now supposed to hand over my meme to others. But I'm not good at chain letters (and yet I'm still here), so all I'm going to do is share seven blogs that I love. Not Kreativ, I know, but there you have it. The list does not include MaxabellaLoves and AndThenThereWereFour because, although they are my first reads every day, they are also my sisters. I'm not related to anyone on this list.

1. So now what? - life, sliced and diced.
2. Deer Baby - the most beautiful writing.
3. Not Drowning Mother - irreverent. Will make you snort coffee out your nose.
4. My Fluffy Bunnies - the haikus get me every time.
5. Ah, The Possibilities - sweet, and funny, and topical.
6. The Lark - I am a handmade person masquerading in a klutz's body.
7. A Country Farmhouse - this is what my life in the country should look like.

Visit them. You'll love them. And now I'm heading off to teach Alla Hoo Hoo the words to 'Consider Yourself'. What imaginary friend wouldn't love a song like that?

{image: michaelmaule/etsy}

In another spectacular display of Failure To Add The Button, I'm flogging my blog today with Lori at RRSAHM - pop over and visit, because you can never read enough great blogs.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The best kind of rejection letter

Today, I got that rejection letter I've been waiting on. Three weeks since my first mammogram. I admit my heart stopped when I saw it lying at the bottom of the mailbox, snuggled up next to the resident Huntsman.

I was on my way to school pick up. I found myself wondering if  it was the right moment to open it? Is there ever a good time?

I ripped it open. "No visible signs of breast cancer..." The type after that faded into nothingness. Upshot: thanks for coming, see you in two years.

I let out a breath that I hadn't even realised I was holding.

The best kind of rejection letter.

I ask again: What are you waiting for?

{image: NostalgiqueArt/Etsy}

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

When the going gets tough...

Mr6's literary career continues apace. He's finished writing his first original story - following our discussion about plagiarism - and has branched out into comic books. I've decided to help him along a little, begin building his 'platform' so to speak, by featuring the first three pages of his comic book as today's guest post. When he is rich and famous and supporting his ageing parents, he will be able to remember his humble beginnings on his mum's quaint little blog.

There is also the unspoken bonus of his mum not having to think up a blog post tonight when she has many of her own unwritten original stories to magic up out of nowhere.

So, without further ado and all that. All text is [sic] and is accompanied by illustrations of the same character you see above. There are a lot of thought bubbles (as per image) containing words such as 'ha' and 'ha ha'. The text inside these is identified below with TB. I can't use all illustrations as he has used his own name throughout - I have yet to discuss with him the joys of the nom de plume.

the ADVentURES of [Mr6] the night in shiny amar  - TB 'ha'

page 1:
once there was a night his name was [Mr6]. TB - will I win. I have to win. will I. ha you lose.

page 2 (pictured)
he was going to win a batle when he ran away. TB - I new it I am not going to win.

He assures me there is more to come. I don't know about you, but I'm desperate to find out the night's motivation for running away. Any suggestions as to what the reason might be?

{image: Mr6}

Monday, September 20, 2010

If you don't start, you simply don't

I realised today that I have been freelancing for a long time. It was startling. I also realised, in the course of a conversation, that one of the reasons I enjoy it so much stems back to a job that I didn't particularly like. My last-ever fulltime job to be precise. I became a part-timer/freelancer because I never wanted to be miserable five days a week ever again.

Motivation is everything.

I was talking to a new friend about how to get started in freelance writing. She is stuck at the procrastination stage. Mostly because she thinks she doesn't know what to do next. She has so many ideas, so many things she wants to do - but she's not doing any of them.

My sage, Obi-Wan advice to her? Start something. Pick one thing and have a go at that. Pitch one story to one publication. If you do nothing, nothing happens. If you do something, you never know what the result will be. So start. 

Still she was worried.

"What are you worried about?" I asked.

"I don't know," she admitted.

"What's the worst that can happen?"

"They might say no."

Yep, they might. Not really the end of the world when you put it like that. I promised her that magazine staff are well trained to write polite rejection emails. They always save their hysterical laughter at your off-beam ideas for the office. But you don't see that, so what do you care? 

She managed a laugh at that, which is a great sign for her future freelance career. Seriously, the thin-skinned need not apply.

We narrowed down a couple of options out of her long list of many, and off she went with a short list of tasks. A To Do list (you know how I love those). A start.

I went home to work on my Obi-Wan impersonation. I did okay with "The Force will be with you, always", but I'm not entirely sure how I'm going to work "The Sand People are easily startled, but they will be back, and in greater numbers" into my next conversation.

Hmm. Perhaps I'll focus on finding myself a long, brown cloak. Everybody's got to start somewhere.

I'm participating in the Tuesday Blog Hop at NimblerGrove - go visit for a world of fab blogs to read.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

A perfect night for a spring fling

Don't you just love a party? I adore them - particularly when someone else is hosting them. Last night, The Builder and I went to a Spring Fling, where every detail was perfect. Tea lights flickered inside jam jars that were wired to hang in the branches of the trees, from the pickets of the fence, along the chook pen. Silver tins of orange flowers dangled alongside them. Earth-coloured bunting was strung across the garden. A fire danced inside the circular pit constructed for the occasion. The night was cool and clear, the wine was cold and crisp. Everyone brought a 'plate' and a CD, so both food and music were eclectic and surprising.

Are you jealous?

When I was a child, I wasn't really into parties - well, not judging by the photos and old film footage that my parents took. I never looked entirely comfortable in my party hat. Probably worried that I'd blow the candles out wrong or something.

I remember hosting parties with flatmates in my late teens and early 20s where we'd empty the house of all contents, put plastic on the carpets and then wait to see if anyone would turn up. The most important ingredients for the evening were the alcohol and the playlist. If people were due to arrive at 7pm, we'd be all dolled up by 6pm, having a few 'quiet drinks' to settle our nerves. By the time the first guests arrived fashionably late at 10pm, we'd be so plastered that someone would already have been put to bed.

Great nights, all of them.

These days when The Builder and I hold parties or dinners, I tend to keep myself so busy, worrying about everything being perfect, that it's not until the end of the night, when most of the guests have gone home, that I kick of my shoes and unwind with the half a dozen 'stayers' who you know won't leave until the wee hours.

Last night, we found ourselves in the now-unusual position of being two of the 'stayers'. Sitting around the fire with half a dozen others, laughing and talking until well past our bedtime. No thought of having to get up with the kids, who were staying with my Mum and Dad (and we are eternally grateful). No thought of being responsible parents at all. Just us, under a black, black sky, hanging out with our friends, surrounded by those flickering tea lights.

Sigh. Don't you just love a party?

{image: Tim Walker/Michael Hoppen Gallery}

I've entered this post in the Tuesday Tag-Along blog hop from TweePoppets - say hi if you're popping by from the hop!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Making rash decisions

There were grand plans for this evening. Words were going to be written (including 'zest', my current favourite and, possibly, 'moist', one of my all-time least favourites). Instead, I'm worried.

When they hand you a child, they don't explain that they're giving you the keys to the Kingdom of Worry forevermore. There's no warning that you will spend long nights for the rest of your life wondering if that was a snore or a snort. Is that a life-threatening rash, or a blush? Is this a bullying episode, or a small skirmish among as-yet socially inept?

Tonight, Mr6 is red. Not itchy, but red. Not awake, but not really sleeping well. Hot and bothered. Moist, even. Alert and cheerful when he wakes to drink. What does it all mean? I tried the glass test on his redness, but realised I couldn't remember what was supposed to happen under the glass. He seemed fine. I googled rashes and freaked myself out, sitting here by myself in a silent house.

So I must give up. Give in to the worry. Go and sleep in my little boy's room, so I know that he's okay. The work will have to wait again. Hopefully I'll rediscover my zest for it tomorrow.

Cheer me up. What's your favourite word at the moment - and your least favourite?

{image: picnipic}

Update: Today is a new day, the rash is gone and all that's left is a runny nose (him) and exhaustion (me).  But I'm flogging my blog with Lori at RRSAHM, so pop over and check out the rest of the hop.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Goodness me, haven't I grown?

The Builder went to the Big Smoke today. An unexpected trip to play courier for work. He had to visit our old suburb, and had time to photograph the magnolia tree in full flower out the front of our old house. We planted that tree before Mr6 was born. A tiny little twig of thing (the tree, not the baby). Now it's four metres tall and covered in white, dish-sized, scented blooms. So beautiful.

If that tree were a child, our first response upon seeing it would be 'goodness me, haven't you grown?'. When you're a kid, that phrase drives you nuts. Of course you've grown in the month/year/lifetime since this grown up laid eyes on you. As a sensitive teenage girl, you're likely to turn this simple comment into a criticism of your general hugeness.

It's not until you're a grown-up yourself that you understand what those people were on about. That it wasn't a comment about you at all. That what they were really saying was this: 'goodness me, haven't I grown older?'

There's nothing like the growing of other people's children to remind you that time is passing. You see your own every day and stop occasionally to think 'wasn't it just yesterday that you first said 'mama'?', but mostly you're wondering why you hear 'Mu-u-um' in a whiney voice 50 times a day. But other people's kids, particularly those that you don't see often, give you pause for thought.

They personify the ever-forward march of time, as they progress in leaps and bounds from piggytails and pinafores, through High School Musical, and into skinny jeans, hairstyles inspired by The Runaways, and a whole lot of 'whatever'. They let you know that while you might still feel young and even look young (lucky you), chances are that you're no longer young. Or at least not as young as you were ten years ago.

Trees are the same. Only they don't say 'whatever'.

{image: BloomGrowLove}

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The secret to becoming a famous author

I had an important job to do today. So I cleaned my desk. I couldn't think about the important job - it was too hard. So I decided that the fact that I was unable to begin said job was all down to the fact that my desk was a bomb site and set about rectifying that situation immediately.

In the course of my cleaning blitz, I unearthed an article that I'd printed off in March, intending to read immediately. Clearly that did not work out for me. However, as I was in major procrastinating mode and as the deadline for the important job ticked ever nearer, I decided that today was the perfect time to finally knock that article over.

It was a series of the top 10 tips for writing by a collection of famous authors - think Margaret Atwood, Elmore Leonard, Roddy Doyle,  Jonathan Franzen - and includes everything from 'get a good accountant' to 'don't open a book with the weather'. (You'll find it here.)

One tip that comes up regularly - and is ubiquitous in 'how to write' guides the world over - is the Write Every Day maxim. At the recent RWA conference, one NY Times bestselling author repeated over and over that she got up, went to the gym, went home, and wrote about 2000 words. Every day. All I could think was that she clearly did not have small people insisting that she attend their assembly/reading/Easter Hat Parade.

I write every day. Some days, I write up to 5000 words a day. More. Unfortunately, these words are not confined to one particular project. Today, for example, I did some work on my important job. Some work on another important job (with a more forgiving deadline). I wrote a blog post. I wrote a letter to Mr6's teacher explaining that I needed to drag him out of school and off to see a snoring specialist. I wrote three polite emails requesting interviews, one polite email following up a request for an interview, and several other emails organising my social life.

I suspect that this is not quite what the famous authors had in mind.

I think part of my problem can be found in Jonathan Franzen's number eight tip: "It is doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction."

So I have decided to concentrate on the words of Margaret Atwood (one of my favourite writers): "Take a pencil to write with on aeroplanes. Pens leak."

See, if more famous authors gave groundbreaking tips like this, we'd all be famous authors.

{image: The Storque}

Monday, September 13, 2010

The mystery of my Blyton voice

Tonight I realised that I have an Enid Blyton voice. It is terribly proper, pitched slightly higher than my usual speaking voice, and rounded at the edges. Perfect for talking about lashings of ginger beer and the importance of being polite.

It's been creeping up on me for a little while, this realisation. As Mr6 and I worked our way through books one to five of the Famous Five series, with its references to Anne's love of keeping house and the thrill of hard-boiled eggs, right through books one to six of the Secret Seven with its jolly hockey sticks overtones and its terribly privileged young protagonists, I wondered why my throat hurt if I read more than one chapter. It's the strain of my Blyton voice.

It only really came to the fore this evening, thanks to a rapid switch between reading one of Dav Pilkey's haphazard Captain Underpants books and a quick adventure in the Wishing Chair with the Terribly Polite Goblin. Captain Underpants demands a sort of 'Cor Blimey' excitement - quite the contrast with the tea, scones and Sunday Best vibe wheeled out for any Blyton.

It's quite specific, the Blyton voice. I can't think of any other books we read that require it. Not Zac Power, that's for sure. Not Harry Potter. Not even the 27th Annual African Hippopotamus Race. Anne of Green Gables or The Secret Garden might be candidates for it, but there's likely to be little call for those in a house full of boys.

I read recently that Enid Blyton's books have been 'sensitively' updated to include mobile phones. Julian even calls his maternal figure 'mum', not 'Mother'. Shudder. I will have to stick to vintage editions as there would be no call for the Blyton voice in such books.

Still, it's good to know that I can pull it out when I need it. I've been asked to do a reading at the school mass on Friday. I think this is a cunning plan to ensure my attendance. I can't think of a better outing for the Blyton voice, though, can you?

Does Enid Blyton bring out the 'terribly English' in your reading voice? Perhaps you have another secret voice that only appears when you read certain things? Please share. It would be good to know that I'm not alone in sounding like a complete pillock.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Somebody throw me a (junior) Masterchef

Another night, another fight over dinner in the Fibro. Mr3 is not a good eater. Scratch that, he is a good eater as long as I serve him something he likes. He recently informed me that the only thing that I cook that he likes is chips. Chips. And this week he decided he didn't even want to eat those.

He will eat cucumber. He doesn't mind a carrot stick. Capsicum, slices of apple, slivers of cheese, all good. If he were on a diet, we'd be going great. Anything else on his plate, and he can sit at the table for hours not eating. He will talk, sing, tell stories, ask questions - anything but eat. It is, not to put too fine a point on it, incredibly frustrating.

Tonight, he was despatched to bed. Three refusals equals early night. Not long after he went, I sat on the sofa and watched kids a few years older than him shave truffles over mashed potato, temper white chocolate and make baklava. Boys with hairstyles ranging from Ben 10 to Suzie Quatro to Justin Bieber worried anxiously over their Quatre Quarts, their honey-soy-lime stir fry, their lemon meringue pies. Lots of interchangeable blonde girls did beautiful things with pomegranates and almonds.

Junior Masterchef was eye-opening. On one hand it gives me hope that Mr3, who shows a keen interest in helping me in the kitchen even if he doesn't actually want to eat what I cook, may one day end up with a cool haircut and a practised hand with a whisk. On the other, the little girl who cooked her mini-mud cakes in plastic ramekins had me in tears. As did all those hopeful little faces, waiting to see if their best was good enough. The mums and dads in the grandstand, beaming and weeping over their offspring, did me in completely.

I'm not good in the face of childish feats of wonder. Get me on the wrong day, and a children's choir can have me in floods. All that purity of sound. All those earnest faces. All that potential. It overloads my senses and turns me into a basket case.

I will give Junior Masterchef one more night, to see if I can cope with the sight of children trying manfully to hide their disappointment at not being chosen. If not, I'll despatch myself to bed early. It seems only fair.


Saturday, September 11, 2010

Other people's houses

I've put on my best American accent and am guest posting today with the lovely Susie from MotherHoot.

It's all about the life envy that can ensue when I'm writing about other people's houses for glossy magazines.

Don't miss it. No, really.

{image: inmyhousedesign}

Thursday, September 9, 2010

An excursion to new frontiers

What do you remember about school excursions? Hours on buses. Pages of worksheets. Total exhaustion on arrival home. That pretty much sums it up for me.

Mr6 went on his first 'big' excursion today. No more wandering around town, checking out the library and the post office. No more walking to the local park to avoid the hissing geese that guard the pond. No more visits to the local Animal Park, where, because of our then recent move, he was the only kid who hadn't been 16 times since birth.

No more.

We have hit the big league. The bus. To another town. For $28. (May I just mention here my nostalgia for the local excursions with maximum cost of 50c?)

He went to the nearest Botanic Gardens (or Botannical, according to the note sent home... I know). Due to our recent holiday, we had missed the permission note send-out, so the first I knew of it was on Monday when he asked why I hadn't sent the note back. Cue frantic shuffling through piles of papers in the 'to be read' pile on the kitchen bench. No note.

On Tuesday, he returned home with a note and strict instructions to bring it back the following day with his money. It was at this point that the $28 was brought to my attention.

"Why are you going to the Botanic Gardens?" I enquired, scrawling my signature on the form and hastily circling NO I could not help. I can be forgiven for this, I think, given I am still recovering from last week's preschool outing.

"We're going to see the difference between the manmade and natural environments," he informed me. For $28? Do we not have a shed and a tree in our backyard?

He must have seen my face. "And we're going to look at wet and dry environments," he added. I read the top section of the note. There it was in black and white. Wet and dry environments.

"Did you read this note?" I asked, suspiciously.

I'm not sure what your memories of school excursions are like, but highlights for me tend not to revolve around the actual subject of said excursion - historic building, seat of Government, natural rock formations - but the bus trips to and from. Mr6 carefully packed two books to take care of that time.

As far as I can remember, we had no excursions during my primary school years in the Northern Territory. Possibly because the bus trips to and from anywhere would have taken days. I remember an early high school trip to Canberra mostly because I didn't have a Walkman and everyone else on the bus did. I did, however, have a brand new, fetchingly oversized-sloppy joe shirt-dress arrangement, worked back with skinny jeans. Possibly the last time I was qualified to wear skinny jeans.

A year 10 trip to the Warrumbungles resulted in a serious lesson after I watched one of my classmates cope with a catastrophic hangover on a bus full of teachers. "Avoid the self-inflicted sick man blues," he wrote in my snappy autograph book memento of the trip.

Mr6 came home worried that he would miss his afternoon snack as the bus arrived at 3.30pm, rather than the usual pick-up time of 3pm. He told me he'd found a bug that turned out to be dead and, anyway, no-one else could see it. They saw a tree frog, but it wasn't in a tree, it was on the ground, so did it still count as a tree frog? He liked the desert bit and the jungle bit, but the playground wasn't all that.

Was it fun? He mustered up a half-hearted 'yeah', before wondering again about his snack.

Tick the fun, educational excursion off the list for this year. Can't wait to see what second grade throws up.


PS: I'm back on the Flog Yo Blog horse with Lori at RRSAHM this fine Friday - it's a wild ride every week, go visit!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Tips for writing features #3: Anyone know anyone...?

As a features writer, I've spent a lot of my time asking variations on this question: "Does anyone know anyone who [insert wears blue nail polish/howls at the moon/is willing to get naked for a readership of 500,000+/had a baby early/had a baby late/had a baby on their own/had a baby with another mum/etcetera etcetera etcetera]. Most features in the lifestyle category require at least one case study. Preferably three. Or, five. Or, gloriously for one particular story, nine.

When I first started out as a journo, case studies were a nightmare. Imagine yourself sitting in an office, with a phone and a computer that's not connected to anything but the wall. The internet is 'happening', but not in your sphere, not yet. And you need to find someone over the age of 40 who had a baby on their own (just as an example). Your social network has an average age of 22 and is spectacularly free of mothers of any age. Where do you start?

By ringing everyone you know, of course. Which is why my friends learned to 'accidentally disconnect' the phone every time they heard my voice on the end of it. Particularly once I started at CLEO and they discovered that many of my queries involved either nudity or embarrassing public disclosure or both. It becomes a measure of one's charm, tenacity and sheer bloody desperation that some of those stories come together (see here for details of one particularly memorable feature).

That particular job involved phone call after phone call, and arm twisting, and convincing people that a 'really nice professional photo' was reason enough to get involved. Ingenuity helps. When in need of naked people, start with the professionally body conscious: strippers, life models, body builders. In need of brides with unworn wedding dresses? Thumb through the classifieds - and then be prepared for some awkward 'Hi, I'm from CLEO, how do you feel about sharing your heartbreak?' conversations. Looking for first home buyers? Ring a real estate agent.

Of course, the internet changed everything. Suddenly, we could advertise on a magazine's website for people to contact us to get involved (bliss). There's an association for everything and every association has a website with contact details. And now there's social media, where one 'tweet' can garner a dozen responses - perhaps not definitive case studies, but all-important leads. (If you're needing a case study, I recommend you check out - dream service.)

One thing I learned through those earlier, desperate years, however, is this: not every case study is the right case study, and it's really, really difficult to explain to someone who's keen to be involved that they're not 'right'. The reasons they might not be right vary wildly, but mostly it just comes down to the angle of their story not being strong enough. Yes, you need to fill a hole in your story with 'real person quotes', but if those quotes don't advance the story there's no point. On one memorable occasion, I tracked down 34 different case studies before finding the 'nine' (yep, that's the story) that the editor was happy with. Often, it's not until after you've done the interview that you realise it won't work out. Which makes it even worse.

So what's a girl to do in a situation like this? The same thing that writers have done since time immemorial. Blame the editor.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

There's no place like home (even for a pirate)

Mr3 went to preschool in pirate regalia today. Striped shirt with skull-and-crossbones. Bandanna around his head. I drew the line at the sword and he lamented long and loud that he couldn't be a real pirate because he had no parrot on his shoulder, but we got there in the end. He arrived with a hearty 'shiver me timbers' to much admiration.

It was a far cry from the sad scrap of misery that greeted me when he awoke this morning.

"I don't want to go to preschool," he said.

You're going.

"I've got a tummy ache," he tried.

You're going.

"I'm really not feeling very well," he reiterated.

You're going (albeit with a surreptitious feel of the forehead in case he really was sick).

It wasn't until we got out the front of the preschool that he admitted he was worried. One of the bigger boys in his class was being 'mean'. My heart sank. My poor little pirate. The idea of him battling along alone made me feel sick. Three is really very small.

We had a little talk about what 'mean' things had been taking place. We had a little talk about what a good thing it was that he'd told me so I could help him. I had a little talk with his teacher, drawing it to her attention. I didn't even have to mention the other child's name. Several complaints have been made. She's worried that if she can't help him with his behaviour he'll be labeled all through school.

I'm worried that if she can't help him with his behaviour my pirate won't be very hearty about returning to preschool next week either. All I can do is focus on helping Mr3 with his responses and reactions. He was happy enough when I picked him up, though sans bandanna as he'd 'got hot'.

Mr3 told me that there'd been a little talk at morning meeting this morning about the importance of being kind. And about the importance of telling the teacher when you were worried. Would he be okay to do that? I asked.

He sighed. "It's okay now," he said. "I'm home with you tomorrow."


Monday, September 6, 2010

What brightens the most 'meh' day?

Today was one of those days when I wished I was somewhere else. Specifically, the front verandah of the little bungalow at Merimbula Beach Holiday Park in which we spent three days of our holidays. Views straight to the horizon. Big, full moon reflecting on the water. Stars strewn like fairy lights across the sky. Sunrise emerging from the waves.

Instead, I was in the Fibro suffering a holiday hangover. The first week back, I think everyone is carried along by a feeling of wellbeing and powered by holiday smiles. A week later - specifically, the next Monday later - that's all gone and it's as flat as the Dutch landscape around here.

Mr3 never wants to return to preschool. Asked why, he says there's simply not enough to do. Like he's working on simultaneous world-saving projects at home.

Mr6 is tired. Tired enough to go to bed without a fight, and only one chapter of Captain Underpants (which we will discuss on another, much funnier day).

The Builder and I spent the evening folding clothes. To liven things up, we made up a new game. It involved sock puppetry and matching pairs. The good news is that we now have only five odd socks wandering unloved around the laundry. The bad news is that this activity was about as exciting as it sounds.

I did, however, unearth one of the books I swapped on holidays. One of the best things about holidays is the reading time that becomes available when you're not connected to the phone, internet or TV guide. This can be problematic, however, when you read like I read - that is to say in large, hungry gulps without pause for air. You need an awful lot of fodder to feed that sort of addiction. Which is why I like staying in places with libraries - particularly the ones where you can simply take a book, as long as you put another on the shelf in its place.

I finished The Fountainhead, a cracking read by Ayn Rand, and replaced that with a second-hand purchase of a James Patterson co-authored crime novel (for which I was glad I'd paid only $3). That was left on the shelf at our next stop, happily replaced by a Donna Leon Inspector Brunetti novel. The one I discovered tonight. The one I haven't finished reading. The one I'm heading off to read right now.

The perfect antidote for a day like today.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Does your Dad think he's funny?

Fam Fibro had big plans for this weekend. We were going to the Big Smoke. To the footy. To visit family. To see friends. But the weather conspired against us. A rugby league match loses its appeal when you know you'll be sitting on the grass, in the open, in the rain. It went against the grain, but we cancelled.

Which left us at a loose end. For a whole weekend. When was the last time you had an entire weekend with no plans? In the rain? What did you do?

Yesterday, we cleaned house. With me gritting my teeth against the tedium of it all while we were doing it - and smiling with joy once it was done. Half of my To Do list was To Done in one fell swoop. Good feeling.

Today it was literally blowing a gale. The front yard was awash with twigs and branches and leaves and general debris. Which was a better outcome than our neighbour on the corner, whose front yard was buried under an entire tree.

It was also Fathers' Day. Mr3 had picked out Katrina Germein's picture book 'My Dad Thinks He's Funny' to give to The Builder. He was drawn to the illustration (by Tom Jellett) on the front of the Dad holding the kid upside down. This form of acrobatics is often practised in the Fibro. I admit I smirked as I paid the shop assistant for it. I'd read the front page, you see.

"My Dad thinks he's funny. Whenever I put lots of sauce on my plate, Dad says, 'Would you like some dinner with that sauce?'"

It wasn't even so much that I could hear The Builder saying that, as the fact that I could hear my Dad saying that. The book is full of those universal Dad sayings. The ones that make you wonder if there's some kind of Dad study group out there that they're not telling you about. I'm pretty sure my Dad graduated top of that particular class.

Of course, each Dad also has his own particular brand of stand-up. Confronted by a group of children - actually, anyone under 40 - he will not be able to help himself saying, 'heads on 'em like mice'. It's just what he does. But he's funnier when he's not trying.

One afternoon, when I was about 15, I was standing out the front of our house, talking to a boy from around the corner. Dad wandered down the drive, carrying a pink double-bed mattress. He opened the gate, and walked past as we watched in silence.

"Where are you going with that?" I asked, teenage disdain dripping from every syllable.

"To the club," he responded.

"Like, why would anyone take a mattress to the club?" I asked (you can see the eye-roll, can't you?).

"To swap it for a suit, of course," he replied, sailing off down the street with his mattress, leaving us in fits of laughter at the gate.

He came home with a suit. It still makes me laugh. Did they do the deal in the carpark, or did he swing into the bar with his eye-catching load?

That one's not in the book. But you'll remember this one: "When I tell Dad I think there's something in my eye, he says 'Yeah, an eyeball.'"

The Builder says he doesn't use all these jokes.

I say, 'Not yet.'

Thursday, September 2, 2010

My first mammogram: What are you waiting for?

When I turned 40, I decided I would have my first mammogram. I’d be proactive. I picked up a brochure, enquired politely at the Breastscreen NSW office how long the current waiting list was (a couple of weeks) and headed home to make the appointment.

When I turned 41, I realised that I’d never made that appointment. I resolved to try harder.

Four months later, Sarah from Ah, The Possibilities wrote a blog post about a friend of a friend who was somewhere around my age and had just been diagnosed with advanced breast cancer. She has a three year old and an eight-month-old. Around the same time, Annie at Living Life as Me described her journey as a regular visitor at the Breast Screen Clinic. She has a lump and goes back every year to make sure nothing has changed with it.

I made the appointment.

Three weeks later, this week, I presented myself for my first mammogram. I wasn’t sure what to expect. All I knew was that there was squashing of the breast involved. People complained that it hurt. That it was inelegant. Having been through a three-day labour complete with emergency c-section, post-operative complications that involved me walking like the Hunchback of Notre Dame for three months, and a suppository just to get out of the damn hospital, a little breast squashing didn’t sound too scary.

Upon my arrival, I discussed skiing with the front-line lady. She didn’t look like the skiing type. She looked like a woman who liked nothing more than a large G&T and a game of bingo, but looks can be deceiving. She likes skiing at Aspen but prefers the scenery at Banff. Having never skied, nor been to either place, I didn’t have much to add, but I enjoyed listening to her. Her voice was Julia Gillard-flat, but enthusiasm gave it peaks and valleys.

After she ascertained that I was not, in fact, just there for the travelogue, she gave me a form to fill out and told me that I was in ‘really good hands’ that day. Given that every breast check I’d ever had in the past relied on a quality feel up, I was pleased about that.

It was while perusing the form that I had my first reality check. Right at the top, in the disclaimer section, where you have to answer Yes or No to questions about breast implants and medical history is this statement: I understand that this test may not pick up existing cancers. Or words to that effect.

It suddenly occurred to me that this scan might actually reveal a cancer. That I might be that one in 11 women. I considered running. But then thought about Sarah’s friend. It has to be better to know, and know early, right?

I ticked the box, signed the form and handed it back to my Aspen friend.

The mammogram itself was something of an anti-climax. There is a certain amount of woman-handling involved, it’s true. Mind you, I’ve been fitted for a bra by some David Jones Ladies who’ve been unafraid to get in and make sure things fit. My maternity bra fitting, in which my Lady reached inside the G-cup bra she’d decided I needed, pulling my extremely tender pregnancy porno boobs into optimum position, still stands out in my mind as a low point in the history of my breasts.

The mammogram didn’t hurt. Watching my breasts spread out on a plate before me and squished was somewhat disquieting – but mostly because I remember what they were like before breastfeeding diminished their glory. The sideways view, where you have to get your armpit on the machine to get the position right is uncomfortable. But that’s it.

The worst part – I don’t get my results for two weeks. Which seems a long time to wait. Then again, I’m a writer. I’m used to waiting. And this time around, I’m hoping for a rejection letter. "No further tests needed. See you in two years."

What are you waiting for?


I'm flogging my blog this fine Friday with Lori at RRSAHM - there are lots of great blogs to read over there, go see!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

True confessions Thursday: I'm twitchy

My mum has told me several times over my life that I was never a child. That I was born a grown-up in a child’s body and spent most of my formative years looking bored, waiting for the real life to begin. 

I suspect this is why I’m so addicted to basics. And the ABC. In fact, there are many reasons why I sometimes wonder if I haven’t skipped from birth to old age without anything so boring as a mid-life crisis.

My not-so-secret affection for Winnebagos (reverse-parked by someone else).

My passion for gardening.

My love of sensible shoes.

My desire to conquer cryptic crosswords – and chess.

(Are you ready to find another blog yet?)

Whilst on holidays, I set free another slightly sad part of my personality. The Twitcher.

There is a back story to this, and it’s all The Builder’s fault. A couple of years ago, he read a review of a book called The Big Twitch (by Sean Dooley) about a guy who sold his house and went on a one-year odyssey to see the most birds ever seen in Australia. I know what you’re thinking – quick, turn the page! But no, The Builder requested it for Father’s Day and, being the excellent wife that I am, I duly stumped up.

One night, with nothing to read other than cereal packets (I had not at this stage discovered the many quality blogs in the world), I picked up the book and began reading. If nothing else, I thought, it will put me to sleep.


I cannot tell you how fascinating this book is. Even if you don’t know a blue-spotted wren from a yellow-chested sparrow (and you shouldn’t because I made them both up), you will fall in love with this book. Well, I did. It’s a quest, pure and simple. It also awakened in me a need to check out what was in my own backyard. Unfortunately, we’ve yet to buy a Bird Guide so I can’t tell you what the little black ones with the orange beaks are, but I do know that there’s a new, tiny little hummingbird type thing that likes to suck the nectar from the salvias.

But I digress.

Aside from being the site of mysteries, Mystery Bay is also a fantastic bush on the beach rural setting. And a bird-lover’s paradise. Kate and Nigel from Mystery Bay Cottages, where we stayed, even provide you with bird seed, with which to draw in the rosellas and the king parrots, the lorikeets, the wrens, and even magpie ruffian or two. If you see something startling, you can record it in the bird lover’s book, which currently contains 50 or so species spotted from the cottages and another 50 or so seen in the bush around the property. There’s even a Field Guide to Australian Birds, and The Builder and I spent a happy hour or so poring over the illustrations, trying to tell a finch from the other birds flying by. 

Twitching. I think it could be catching.

Anyone else out there share my penchant for old-person hobbies?

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