Sunday, October 31, 2010

The best-laid plans...

I was all set to write a ranty post tonight. All about Halloween and the nightmare it is for the overthinkers among us (that would be me, in case you were wondering). But, frankly, I'm too tired for ranting. Or even overthinking - which may well be a first.

I spent the afternoon in the garden, planting. Not weeding, planting. The fun part of the whole gardening game. The bare patch of blah under Mr6's window is now full of planty goodness. Things that we hope will grow in an area that offers nothing but hot, blinding afternoon sun, or complete shade for the rest of the day. Not for the faint-hearted.

The whole thing took me by surprise. I'd planned an afternoon of vacuuming and paper reading (less of the former, more of the latter). Instead, we spent some quality time at the garden centre, trailed around by two little boys who rate Garden Centres right up there with 'looking at houses' and 'buying antiques' on their list of least-favourite ways to spend a Sunday. Mr3 is easily bought off with the notion that Garden Centre also usually means that he will spend the next few hours up to his neck in dirt, digging, watering and generally making a mess. Mr6? Not so much.

Home we went with our load of gold-plated (well, one had to assume, given the price) plants, and straight into it. The trouble with planting is that it brings you very close to the garden. Close enough to see the weeds that you may have overlooked had you just been, you know, walking past. But I was a woman with a mission. I was not there to be taunted distracted by weeds. Or that's what I told The Builder when he wandered past at one stage and pointed out a few prize specimens.

"I'm not weeding today," I said. "I'm planting."

The look he gave me suggested that one could do both, but I was not to be waylaid by such tactics.

Having dug holes for, planted in and mulched around 30 plants, I'm here to vouch for the effectiveness of gardening as exercise. I'm shattered. In that wholesome, muscle-fatigue kind of way. Not that angsty, overthinking kind of way.

I can't wait to see how my new little charges fare over the next few weeks.  That's the beautiful thing about gardening. If you put all the right elements into place, technically it should all work well. But there are always surprises. Plants that succeed against the odds. And those that fail to thrive.

Ah well, it all just gives me something else to overthink.

{image: KetiArt/etsy}

Saturday, October 30, 2010

An oldie but a goodie

So, it's the weekend. The sun is shining and my crapola week is behind me. For these and many more reasons, I thought I'd try something new today. A linky of my very own.

For this one, I'm going back to the beginning. To the murky birth of my blog - and yours. To those posts you've written that you love, but maybe didn't get the attention you feel they deserve. To the oldies and goodies.

It's easy. You've already written the post! Just link up one of your favourite older posts and we'll give it the respect it deserves. C'mon, you've sweated over these babies - give them a chance to shine one more time!

All you have to do to participate is to be a follower of this blog, use the Linky to linky up and go comment on a few of these hidden gems. That's it.

Look forward to reading all your dusted-off posts!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The extra-curricular conundrum

Mr6 is tired. He loses it at the slightest provocation - particularly at around 8.30am, when I'm asking him, for the 500th time, to put his shoes on. His normally friendly disposition has gone up a 'strung' level or two.

I've been waiting for this. This term, we've added swimming lessons to his schedule. Not in themselves a problem, but when you're at Little Ninjas twice a week and guitar lessons once a week, it all adds up. At the start of the term, we discussed dropping Ninjas. He loves Ninjas. He is never happier than when he's running around in blue pyjamas wearing his belt du jour (currently orange). He didn't want to drop Ninjas. "I'll be okay, Mum," he said. "It's only half an hour."

True. But half an hour, twice a week (they have a rule that you can't just go once, I checked). Plus half an hour of swimming. Plus half an hour of guitar. Swimming is not-negotiable - he's just beginning to lose that drowned labrador stroke. Guitar is something I want to support and encourage for as long as I can. If he's willing to go, I'm willing to take him. Ninjas, he loves.

Clearly, he's doing too much. He's tired. But what do you do? Take away the thing he loves. The thing he needs. Or the thing that, when he's 40, he'll regret giving up?

I call it the extra-curricular conundrum. No answers here. Not yet.

Do you have an extra-curricular activities policy at your house? Any tips?

{image: BrittanyChavers/etsy}

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Are you a fairytale drinker?

I was grumpy today. No other word for it. Nothing major, just a few things going on with me and around me that conspired to make me Cross. Capital C intentional. The guy who revved his car out the front of my house for what felt like an hour didn't help. No sirree.

I always feel sorry for Mr3 on days like today. He goes about his business, doing his three-year-old thing, and he gets old Grumpy Face to deal with.

Fortunately, for both of us, Oprah intervened. I was perusing my copy of O magazine (for which I have professed my love in a previous post) when I came across the term 'fairytale drinker'. Belinda Chang, wine director at the Modern, NYC, described herself as a 'fairytale drinker' and believes that many women are in the same boat. According to Chang, men will look on a wine list for the famous wine or a big alcohol content. Women look for a wine that evokes a place or has a great backstory.

I thought about this. And I agree that, in my case, it's probably true. I seek out wines from McLaren Vale, South Australia, because The Builder and I once had a fabulous holiday there that included some memorable reds. Seeing the words 'Bulgaria' and 'Red' together immediately transports me to my backpacking days in a series of dodgy London flats. I occasionally drink retsina because it reminds me of the wonderful time I spent with two dear friends ferrying between Greek Islands. I love Pewsey Vale Riesling because I drank it often with a good friend who is now living overseas. After last Saturday night, I will be looking for riesling from Mt Horrocks because it was so perfect. Will it be as perfect next time I drink it? Time will tell.

All of that remembering was enough to put me in a much better frame of mind. And I didn't even need a glass of wine to do it!

Are you a fairytale drinker? Do you look for 'names' or 'stories' when you choose a wine?

{image: majalin/etsy}

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Chronicles of Alla Hoo Hoo (Part V)

Alla Hoo Hoo and Mr3 have been doing some bushwalking. Apparently, they went to Bushwalking School, where they learned to watch out for snakes. The school is under a tree, down a path. They take water bottles and snacks. They have buried treasure in the bush, but they haven't made a treasure map yet so they don't know where it is.

Alla Hoo Hoo is not a natural bushwalker. She only goes because Mr3 likes it so much.

"She's my friend, so she does what I like to do," he told me.

I asked what Ms Hoo Hoo wears on these adventures, knowing her penchant for dresses and big shoes.

"She wears she's dress," he said. "She has a special green one for bushwalking. But she doesn't wear her shoes with the stands on them. They would be too hard to walk in."

She's got smarts, that imaginary friend.

I asked what else they'd learned at Bushwalking School. He thought for a moment.

"You never go without telling someone," he said.

So sensible. Once again I found myself wondering how imaginary this friend is. Then again, he wouldn't really have gone bushwalking with her without telling me, now would he?

{image: Tesco Books}

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Unchained Melody of a night with friends

Don't you love it when an evening degenerates? It begins sipping a crisp Riesling in a swanky bar and finishes slurping cheap sparkling from a jug (I kid you not - a plastic jug at that) and singing Dire Straits in a cupboard-sized karaoke bar. That's just how we roll in the Fibro.

On Saturday night, The Builder and I abandoned left the children in the capable hands of Gran and Pops and steered Theresa the Territory in the direction of The Big Smoke. The wind was howling, the rain was torrential, the piggy bank was all but empty, but nothing was going to stop us. We had a date with old friends. We had a date with Neil Perry at Rockpool Bar & Grill that had been four months in the planning. We had a date with Dire Straits - though we didn't know it at the time.

We stayed with TICH* and his girlfriend La Fashionista in their uber-cool new apartment. They have a knack for finding the kind of accommodation that makes me drool. High ceilings, wide floorboards, quirky courtyard arrangements all furnished in that funky retro style that is hard to manage when you have to store four container-loads of plastic toys. I like to go there and luxuriate in the minimalist vibe.

Sitting in the restaurant was like dining in the foyer of the Gotham City Bank (see pic). If only all banks had the same service. Our meals were lovely and if we were seated a little too close to the open kitchen for pure comfort, the fact that we could keep a close watch on our meals being made was a bonus. So close that we were able to name the chicken that a member of our party had chosen for dinner. (Frank was reportedly delicious, thanks for asking.) We talked, we laughed, we drank fabulous, glamorous wines.

So far, so relaxed sophistication. It was afterwards, after numerous text messages to and from TICH (who was enjoying his own grilled meal - otherwise known as a barbecue - across town) that we found ourselves at Echo Point. If you've never been to an underground karaoke bar, you might not want to rectify that situation. Picture a very small, very dark, very hot room. Bench seats on three walls, large coffee table in the middle. Two microphones, one TV, two song books. All drinks in plastic jugs, with small plastic glasses.

And we sang. Loudly and with gusto in our sound-proof cupboard. Cheering each others' efforts, helping out with the hard bits, laughing at the rock star moves on offer.

Two hours later, we emerged blinking into the streetlights. And the rain. There was a renewed intimacy between us. It's hard to go back once you've seen your friend perform Rocky Raccoon. Or Celebrity Skin. Or Romeo & Juliet. Or Unchained Melody, for that matter.

It was a great night. Some things are worth braving wind, rain and bankruptcy for.

*My brother, The Inner City Hipster.

{image: Rockpool Bar & Grill}

In other news, I'm guest posting today over at The Red Dress Club. All about creating the perfect pitch to sell your ideas to publications. It's a precis of part of a workshop I developed with Alex Brooks a few years ago. Is worth a visit. Promise.

And just to prove that I'm a total floozy, I'm also guesting with The Drama Mama today. If you ever wondered how I got into journalism, you may find this surprising.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

How to write a book with someone else

When Gillian Martin got in touch to ask if I'd be part of the blog tour for the cute, funny book - Cocktails at Naptime (Finch) - that she'd co-authored with Emma Kaufmann, I thought they'd knocked on the wrong door. After all, it's been nearly four years since there was a newborn in this house and that's unlikely to change in the foreseeable future. Okay, ever.

But then I investigated a bit more (as I do) and discovered that there was more to the story than met the eye. Specifically, that Gillan and Emma had written the book together, despite the fact that they were based on different continents. Moreover, they had never met.

Confession time: I have co-written a (not yet accepted for publication) romance novel with a friend. She lives in another state. It was a fabulous and enlightening experience for me because she is a) a published writer, b) organised and c) a plotter.

I, on the other hand, am unpublished in fiction, fairly chaotic in my approach and what's known as a 'pantser' - someone who writes by the seat of her pants with no plot outline and no clear idea of what will happen next. I do not advocate this approach. Having worked with my friend, I can see the many benefits of actually knowing that your story will, at some point, end. I just haven't worked out how to do that on my own yet.

But I digress. The point is that my friend and I know each other. We have a fair idea of each others' personalities, working styles, taste in cocktails. And still it was a challenge writing together. How do you go about it when you don't know each other from a bar of soap? Of course, I had to ask. So I emailed through some questions, and voila! The first Q&A on Life In A Pink Fibro.

If you've never met, how did you decide to write a book together?

Emma: "In the early days we just used to hang around each others blogs and we were blog pals but we'd never emailed each other. Then, in autumn of 2009 I was thinking of writing a funny parenting book and wrote to Gillian asking her to help me with firming up a concept. She said she was tired of reading insipid books written by mums who lived their lives through their kids. 'It's about time a real mother with an actual life outside her kids got a shot at writing a book,' she said and before long we knew we were kindred spirits and that we had to write this book together."
Gillian: "I’m so glad Emma wrote me that email. I needed someone to schmooze me!"

How did you divvy up the writing?

E&G: "We thought up the outline and then divvied up the sections as fairly as we could, and then, via email, we sent stuff back. Then we'd re-read each other’s stuff and edit it to make it funnier and sharper. But once we got going we both added bits to every part."

How long did it take?

E: "It was taken on by Finch when it was only partially finished. But the initial writing took about a year."
G: "Emma’s comment about it being partially finished made me laugh. We sent off our finished manuscript too early, I think, because we were excited. We were lucky that Finch saw the potential in it because it really wasn’ t finished at all! We had a great editor, Sam, who went through it all and told
us very bluntly what was great and what needed attention. And we pretty much rewrote it all - a few times, in fact. One day I’ll go back and look at the manuscript we sent out and compare it with the book before you. Maybe when I’ m in a nursing home and have spare time."

Who was the 'whip cracker' in the relationship?

G: "I am really organised. I do flowcharts and stuff. Emma is more of a hippy chick as in 'it’ ll be alright, man'. Okay, she didn’t really ever say that. Really no whips never ever to be cracked. We both work very differently but, man, we both worked hard."

How did you make different writing approaches work?

G: "We had a tight structure from the beginning and we pretty much stuck to it. We had to. I don’t think it would have worked otherwise."

What do you think having babies and writing books have in common?
E: "Creating a book is a lot like giving birth. You go into it with a carefully thought out birth plan. Then during the actual birth (writing of the book) there is a lot of chaos, there are lots of stops and starts, there are frustrations, there is some screaming, and finally you birth a baby or book and feel a great sense of achievement!"
G: "Having a baby is a lot quicker, I'll tell you that. All in all the process from that first email from Emma to getting my hands on a copy of the book is nearly three years. I think elephants gestate in a shorter time. There are also a lot of disappointments along the way. People thinking about sending a book out to publishers should know this. You get rejected many times. Worse; you get false hope when someone says they are interested and then change their minds. Having a baby is a lot easier to handle."

{image: Finch Publishing}

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The drama of reading at school

Today was Reading day at the school. I'm a regular. I've been rolling in for an hour or two from the start of kindy, when I was working through 'I can walk/I can run/I can read' style texts with kids who couldn't keep their eyes on the page for more than 15 seconds at a time. In those days, Reading was known as 'AKA Torture'. Now, it's kind of fun. I am genuinely astounded at the progress. How do kids learn to read? Even having watched Mr6 do it has not explained the magic.

I've been allocated Group Reading this term. I was offered training, but, after some discussion, the teacher and I agreed that I was probably up to the task. Mind you, it is no easy ride. Keeping six almost-seven year olds focussed on a book takes some wrangling. Occasionally, I even need to get out the voice that my sisters have dubbed the 'Mean Aunty Al' voice. I prefer to call it 'Cool, Mean Aunty Al' but they insist my nieces and nephews are not buying into the Cool at this stage.


Today, two of my little groups did some work on the three-page plays they are going to present to the class.  They have read them through a few times and are at the stage of having to act them out. Mr6's teacher suggested I 'have them think about the kinds of actions they might need for their characters'. I had visions of Robert De Niro working through the motivations of Third Billy Goat Gruff. That vision kept me amused for quite some time.

Anyhoo, it was interesting to see the different approaches of the two groups. Group one - Mr6's group - have all chosen one character each to play and have stuck to that. Their reading is coming along nicely, but they were adamant they did not want to read it through a second time 'with actions'. They'll stick to the reading, thanks.

Mr6, who is the Big Bad Wolf in the truncated version of The Three Little Pigs (which features, disconcertingly, email), has been wandering around the house repeating what he thinks is his funniest line for a couple of weeks. It goes something like this: "I'll be huffing. There might be some puffing. And there's a pretty good chance that  your house will fall down." He is tickled pink with this.

Group two has a much more improvisational approach to their play (The Silly Billy Goats). There was a small all-in brawl before we began about who would take which part. The boy who ended up Second Billy Goat was desperate to play Mysterious Creature, but the group would not have it. He sulked through his part.

This group was thrilled to have a chance to act it out and helped me to construct a 'bridge' out of our reading mats. The Mysterious Creature wedged himself under the bag rack, so as to be more mysterious. They made every effort to out-Billy Goat each other when tripping across the bridge. It was all very hilarious. So much so, that the teacher from the class next door came outside to tell us, in a Very Serious Teacher Voice, to keep it down. End of hilarity.

I realised at that point that I am an amateur. I went home to work on my Mean Aunty Al voice. There'll be huffing... There might be some puffing... But there's a pretty good chance that it will be Cool.

Do you have a Cool, Mean voice that you use with other people's kids? One that will brook no nonsense without being the out-and-out shouting that you might, maybe, perhaps, use with your own? Do tell.

{image: corygodbey/etsy}

As usual, I'm flogging my blog with Lori at RRSAHM this fine Friday. It's a great place to sample fab new blogs.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

So then I almost joined the gym...

For one brief moment today, I considered entering a gym. Taking the 'newbie' tour. Nodding with feigned interest at the dazzling array of machinery designed to tone various parts of a person's anatomy. Listening with feigned enthusiasm at the idea of one free session with a personal trainer who would pinch my Tuckshop arms, shake her head at my inability to touch my toes, draw in a sharp breath as I stood on the scales. Sidling around so that I didn't catch sight of myself in the mirror.

For one moment.

It's October. I've realised that soon I need to step onto the sands of the south coast's glorious beaches in a swimsuit. A fake tan and a bikini wax are not going to cut it as far as making me beach-babe ready. My 'winter coat' cannot be shed with a simple unbuttoning or a sexy zip. It's going to take work.

For that brief moment, I thought maybe I needed to try the gym again. Back in the day, I was a gym girl. Four times a week. Personal trainer. The lot. But I've got to tell you, I had a lot more time on my hands. I was happy to spend an hour here or there in a fluoro-lit room surrounded by other people's sweat.

Now, not so much.

I thought about what I'd be doing at the gym. Stationary cycle. Treadmill. Weights. I would rather be on my bike, or walking the streets. Strength training is important though, and it's almost enough to get me in the door, pen poised over a contract. But no.

Not today.

Are you a member of a gym? Do you go because you love it or because you have to go?

{image: via Marquette}

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Shhh... I'm writing

In the past few days, I have rediscovered my manuscript. It wasn't lost or hidden or anything. It was waiting. Skulking and sulking as I embarked on a wild and exciting fling with blogging. Abandoned at 30,000 words for a new, demanding passion.

Finally, its patience has been rewarded. I've dragged it out, dusted it off, and decided to get to know it all over again. I think we have a future. It will be hard. It will take work. But I think we can make a go of it.

Why now? I can't explain. Inspiration struck, and cannot be denied. One minute it looked old and tired and difficult. The next, it looked...possible.

So please excuse me as I draw the curtains and close the door. And shhhh. I'm writing.

Are you working on a novel, or a screenplay, or a short story? I'd love to hear all about it.

{image: riskybeads/etsy}

Monday, October 18, 2010

Do you remember your first time?

Don't you love a first time? Okay, some are better than others (first heartbreak anyone? first labour pains anyone? first root canal anyone?), but today I got to enjoy a good one. My first ever Hot Stone massage. Ah.

I remember my first-ever massage very well. I was about 19 and in my first minutes as a cadet journalist. We'd received an invitation at Prevention magazine to take part in a yoga weekend at a nearby retreat. It's important to remember that yoga in 1988 was not Yoga in 2010. It was out of fashion and thought of as the last bastion of people who wore hemp sandals (which were also unfashionable). So I was volunteered to attend the workshop, which would be held by a lady of indeterminate age who claimed to sleep 45 minutes a night. To say that I was not excited would be an understatement.

The massage took place on the first day. I had no idea what to expect. I had no idea how naked I'd have to get. I asked a friendly lady by the pool whether it felt good and she looked at me as if I were nuts. "Afterwards it does," she said. All I could think was that it must be similar to banging one's head against a wall - bliss when it's over.

When I entered the massage room, I was surprised to find a male massage therapist. I wasn't sure how I felt about that. Now I know that you're generally told beforehand and given a choice. But I was only 19.

He told me to take off as many clothes as I felt comfortable with and, once done, to get under the towel. I was in an agony of indecision - bra on or off? Underpants on or off? I didn't want to look uncool in this hippie haven. I stripped off and hopped up on the bench.

The massage got underway. He was a chatter, which surprised me. I thought massage therapists were the strong, silent type. I could hardly hear the whale music for his small talk. He massaged away for a while and then flipped me over. The following conversation then occurred:

"Shall I massage your breasts?"


"Most ladies don't mind. One does hold a lot of tension in the chest."

"Er." I could feel the tension rising in my chest at the thought.

"I could just start and you can stop me if you feel uncomfortable."

"Er." His hands moved in. I held up one of mine, holding him off. "That's fine," I said, "I feel quite relaxed there already." My blush covered my entire body. I was uncool. I didn't care.

Massage completed in silence.

"How was it?" the lady by the pool asked me as I left.

"Yeah, good now that it's over," I mumbled.

Today's massage was nothing like that. In a beautiful day spa with black-and-white striped walls and a gentle sea breeze wafting gossamer white curtains from the door. Clear instructions about what to remove and when. The delicious sensation of hot stones in warm oil sliding across the skin. No suggestion that tension was held anywhere other than the regular neck/shoulders/ears.

I didn't want it to end.

{image: monkeyjewels/etsy}

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Keeping up with the kids

Do you like my fancy new Facebook 'like' box (way down there on the right hand side if you missed it)? I'm sitting here, wrapped in my granny rug because winter has made an unseasonal and unwelcome return, chuffed because I've actually managed to whip up a bit of HTML widgetry on my own. I'm not actually sure it works as yet - feel free to 'like' me with genuine enthusiasm and let me know.

Any wizardry you see here on the Fibro is thanks to Maxabella, who spent a few minutes this morning, in the aftermath of the Mermaid & Pirate party, to show me how to deal with blog buttons. I was so empowered by her lesson (and her throwaway comment that, really, this was 101 stuff) that I branched out on my own. Ta da!

I haven't always been such a Luddite. Once upon a time, I was the online editor for the CLEO website, gaily resizing pics, entering code and gasping at the questions sent through to the Sex Q&A. I'm not a natural gasper. Too many years in women's mags. The nature of those questions and the age of many of the questioners was enough to make anyone gasp. But I digress. We were talking HTML, not anonymous queries about - yes, well, that's enough.

My foray into blogging has shown me how quickly it is to get out of touch. A couple of years in the wilderness of WAHM-ville, where even using Microsoft Word's Track Changes is a hassle, and it's a learning curve to get back in. Now that Mr6 is taking baby steps onto the internet, I can see how important it is to keep up. Every piece of advice I've ever read about kids and cyberspace has one major message for parents: Keep Up. Know what's happening. Don't throw your hands up in the air and say 'too hard'.

I don't know whether importing code for a 'like' box classifies as keeping up, but, hey, you've got to start somewhere, right?

{image: etsy/barkingbirdart}

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Keeping the band together

After two weeks' holidays, Mr6 and I are back at guitar lessons. We have scaled the lofty heights of Book 2 of our course, as far as 'I'm a Little Teapot' and 'Michael Finnigan' (begin again). We are also working on the theme from Inspector Gadget (you're welcome for the ear worm).

Despite my best efforts, Mr6 would not practise over the holidays. He noodled about with a few chords, making up a song or two, but he would not play notes, and definitely not in any recognisable order. I, on the other hand, put in two or three good sessions with Michael, The Teapot and the good Inspector.

I discussed tactics with my Mum. I remember being a kid and being, um, encouraged to practise the piano or organ or recorder or whatever the instrument du jour was. It didn't work. But setting an example wasn't working either. She pointed out that he's only six and it's more important that he be introduced to the instrument than that he be committed to it. Dating rather than marriage, so to speak. So I didn't nag. Besides, on other occasions when he's refused to practise, he's rolled up to our lesson and, in the face of my dire predictions, pulled out a reasonably good effort.

Not this time. For starters, he insisted on wearing full piratical garb and attempted to play in his eye patch. That lasted all of three minutes. He couldn't remember what the notes were, let alone where they were. (Being unable to see them with one eye, didn't help.) I didn't say anything. Just played through my pieces and then sat there quietly while he struggled through his. The Inspector Gadget theme, in particular, seemed to take days.

When he'd finally played the last note, our teacher, the lovely B, laughed at him (as only a gorgeous 17 year old could get away with) and said, "See what happens when you don't practice? It's just hard work."

After we'd zipped our guitars back into their cases (we're very rock star) and were walking back to the car, he turned to me. "I think we'd better schedule in some practice this week," he said.

I was relieved. It could have gone the other way, with a refusal to ever return. I'm not ready to go solo just yet.

Do your kids play instruments? How do you deal with the practice problem?

It's Flog Yo Blog Friday! Visit Lori at RRSAHM for your weekend reading list of fab blogs.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

It's a pirate's life for me (apparently)

Last time I visited my sister Maxabella, we found ourselves at a loose end and, consequently, delved deep into the contents of her TiVo. Somewhere near the bottom was an episode of Wife Swap USA, in which a professional organiser type with professionally organised husband and professionally organised children (seriously, I think they all went to sleep in individual, clearly labeled tubs each night) swapped with a woman whose family had chosen to live Piratically. In essence, like pirates. (cue: Arrrrrr!)

I was reminded of that one particular hour of my life (which I will never get back) today as both my boys ran around the house wearing piratical garb and speaking piratically. There was even some cutlass waving, which was quickly cut short when Mr3 attempted to trim Mr6's nose hairs with said weapon. Again, the inspiration for this afternoon of mayhem was Maxabella. On Saturday, we will attend the Mermaid/Pirates party of my niece Cappers. Mr3 is beyond excited. He has been talking about his outfit for weeks.

It was agreed that pirates need three things: an eye patch, a hat (artistically tied bandanna also suitable), a sword. I tried to fob him off with a Captain Feathersword feathersword, but he scoffed (piratically) at the idea. Only babies have featherswords, apparently.

After an excursion to Spotlight today, he is the proud possessor of a skull-and-crossbones headscarf arrangement, an eye patch the size of his head and a cutlass that will need to be kept in a high cupboard as soon as the piratical party is over. Possibly before. He has chosen the four piratical tattoos that will adorn his body. He prefaces every sentence with 'Arrrrrr Me Hearties'. And he takes to the high seas in the washing basket at the slightest provocation.

I have begun calling him The Dread Pirate Mr3, which he loves, despite not having the faintest idea what I'm talking about. I'm wondering if we have time for a viewing of The Princess Bride, one of my all-time favourite movies, before we set sail for the party. But perhaps not. I'm not sure I could cope with listening to Mr6 parrot 'Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die' for the next week.*

Speaking of which, Mr6 has one special request for his pirate costume. A parrot for his shoulder. Spotlight was all out of those. 

It's times like this I wish I'd been blessed with the craft gene. Arrrrr.

*If this paragraph makes no sense whatsoever, I thoroughly recommend a viewing of the movie. 

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Letter of The Day: Still L

Mr3 has always been fond of the letter L. He doesn't know much about it, beyond the fact that it is the first letter in his name and the first letter of the word 'lawnmower'. Two of his favourite things covered off by one handy letter. What's not to love?

He is an enthusiastic participant in Fam Fibro's regular games of 'I Spy', despite displaying singular disinterest in the other 25 letters of the alphabet. We tried again on Sunday. Mr6 went first, his 'P' standing not for 'post' but for 'pole'. Then it was Mr3's turn.

Mr3: "I spy with my little eye something beginning with.... L"

The rest of us: "Lawnmower!" (Note: this is always the right answer, whether there is a lawnmower within 500km or not.)

Mr3: "No!" The triumph was clear in his voice.

TROU: "Um. No? Are you sure?"

Mr3: "It's definitely not Lawnmower."

TROU: "Hmmm. Lights? Lawn? Ladder?"

Mr3 (huge grin): "No! No! No!"

The Builder: "Give us a clue."

Mr3: "It's yellow and it has spots."

TROU (looking at each other, bewildered): "Um."

TB: "I know! Leopard."

Mr6: "There are no leopards on this road. There are no leopards in Australia, except in zoos."

Mr3: "It's not leopard, anyway."


TB: "What is it then? What, other than a leopard, starts with L, is yellow and has spots."

Mr3: "A fence! AH-HA-HA! I was just joking you."

Just when you think you've got them all figured out...


Monday, October 11, 2010

Hitting the high notes: I like to sing

When it comes to relaxation, I'm not an A student. I've tried yoga - it made me angry. My friend L, long time yogi, informed me that this was good. That I was physically venting my spleen. Strange, I thought I was just cross because it hurt so damn much and my teacher was insistent that I hold my poses much longer than I thought was humanly possible. Like five seconds or something.

I've tried meditating. It made me realise that my mind is very, very noisy. Concentrating on the space between my eyebrows proved difficult. Mostly because there's not a lot of space there. Just noise. I did learn one thing, though - that I should never, ever sign up for one of those 10-day 'no speakies' meditating workshops. I could very easily drive myself crazy.

Usually, if I'm feeling a bit anxious or uptight or stressed, I walk. Miles, if necessary. Something about the rhythm of it allows me to work through my current crisis and I often find that I can dream up some ideas or an interesting plot point at the same time. This only works, however, if I'm on my own. Walking with Mr3, for example, is like meditating. Very noisy. Only the noise is coming from outside my mind, not inside.

Tonight, I went back to choir. I've had a couple of terms off, for various reasons, but today I was hit with a sudden desire to return. I'm so glad I did. I feel soothed. There is something about hitting a few high notes (and even a few off notes) that relaxes me in a way few things do. It is impossible to worry about anything when you're trying to learn a new song. You can't sing soprano without breathing deeply and often, and you don't have to think about it too much. And there is the pure joy of just letting it all out. Melodically speaking, of course.

I climbed into my car for the journey home and thought carefully about my soundtrack. I needed something I knew and could belt out, but not something too loud. I have been reading Together Alone, Jeff Apter's biography of Tim and Neil Finn. It's a story I've long been fascinated by - so much talent in one family, so many opportunities for sibling rivalry. I've always thought Neil Finn a genius, but have realised in reading the book that I have under-appreciated Tim's contribution to Australian music. All of which is a long-winded way of saying that I chose a best of Crowded House CD and drove home singing harmony with Neil.

In some ways, the car singing and shower singing I do are just as therapeutic as the choir, though without the camaraderie, or the sheer two-hour intensity that the choir offers. I do my best performances in the car or shower, though. No pressure. Never under-prepared. It doesn't matter if I forget the words (which, given my memory, is something I often do).

I have arrived back in Choir Land at just the right time of year, though. We will soon begin our Christmas Carol preparations and, unfashionable as it is, I just love singing Christmas Carols.

All in the name of relaxation, of course.

Are you a singer (be it car/shower/choir/karaoke/covers band)? What do you love to sing?

{image: etsy/annarubyking}

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Just in case you thought you could dance...

Sometimes the Universe conspires to send you a message. Usually a timely one. I received one today. It reminded me that while my mind is capable of wondrous feats, my body is not what it was. Don't get me wrong, it goes okay, but...

Last night, Mum and I attended a 'dancing thing' at the local Entertainment Centre. I call it a 'dancing thing' because when she asked me to escort her many weeks ago she said it was a 'dancing thing'. When my husband asked me what it was I was going to, I answered a 'dancing thing'. It was written on the calendar as 'dancing thing with mum'. As it turns out, the words were prophetic.

We rolled up to discover a full foyer and lots of kids. Unusual, but we were quite excited that so many Fibrotown folk had turned out for a 'dancing thing'. The program made it all sound very exciting. We were there to see 'The Next Step: Do it On the Dance Floor', featuring the director and artists from Dein Perry's 'Tap Dogs', as well as contestants from Australia's So You Think You Can Dance. I loved 'Tap Dogs' and while I've never watched SYTYCD, Mum loves it. We were happy. We had a glass of wine and climbed up to our seats in row G.

The show began. Five minutes later, we were checking our tickets in consternation - were we there for the right night? Tickets confirmed we were. Why then were we watching what was obviously a local dance school's annual concert? The numbers of children in the foyer suddenly became clear - most of them were in the show. "I think it's just an entree," I muttered. Five numbers later, we were beginning to wonder.

Admittedly, it was entertaining enough in its own way. Interpretive, modern dance takes on a whole new meaning when it's performed by 15-year-olds and randomly placed in front of you. There was a standout little girl, in the front row, in the hip hop group - and one, in the back row, whose worried little face immediately caught my attention. She was one step behind the group the whole time, thrusting her tiny hips right when everyone else went left. I loved her.

Watching as the show unfolded, ballet following hip hop following a rather lengthly piece from Mary Poppins, I felt sympathy for my Dad, and my brother, subjected to years and years of watching other people's children perform whilst waiting for a two-minute burst from one of us at the annual ballet concert. I think I may have even perfected my own version of the concert face.

At the end of the display, we were told we'd been watching [insert name of local dance school]. At no other time had this been mentioned. It was like those infuriating moments when you're listening to the radio and you have to wait half an hour for the back announcement of what you were listening to.

After a short interval, during which I contemplated the fact that the 'dancing thing' was proving to be as vague as its title, the real show began. And I sat there with my 66-year-old mother and watched 12 guys - seven dancers, one singer, one rapper, three band members - tear up the stage. It was brilliant. Loud, hip-hoppy, brilliant. There was even a tap-off. I love a tap-off. It's like Fight Club, only with less blood. Watching the dancers, I was struck by the absolute joy with which they approached their work. They were so damn happy to be there. They were dancing like no-one was watching, only we were all watching their every move. Complete assurance. Complete freedom.

It was the kind of moment that could see a person go and sign up for dance classes, 20 years after their last dance class.

Fortunately, the Universe was watching out for me. This afternoon, Fam Fibro went to the local aquatic centre for some swimming and waterslide shenanigans. I attempted a few laps. Very slow laps. I managed 250 metres. Fifty metres of freestyle. Two hundred metres of breaststroke. Even as I type this, I can feel my muscles protesting. I will wake tomorrow to sore thighs, sore arms... and all from a 'low-impact' form of exercise.

I don't think I'll be attempting a 'dancing thing' any time soon.


Thursday, October 7, 2010

Do you suffer from Turrets Syndrome?

Rediscovering a favourite book is like rediscovering an old friend. It can take you back to a time and a place in moments, even if that time has long been left behind. It can also explain a lot.

You'll remember the plastic bag that contained the stunning evidence of my glamorous modeling past? It also held another treasure. A real treasure. A battered, green, copy of Ruth Park's book Callie's Castle. As I held it in my hand, I was immediately 11 years old again. It was the year that, after various permutations of sharing with my sisters, I ended up back in my own room. It was the year that I read Storm Boy by Colin Thiele and wept buckets over the death of Mr Percival. It was the year that I learned about 'being a woman' thanks to a book called 'Have you started yet?' (still, I see, available on Amazon).

Callie is the oldest girl in a family of four children. She has a brother who is sick, a little sister and baby brother who are destructive, a step-dad and no room of her own. A situation exquisitely awful when you are 11. As the book opens, she arrives home to find all her treasures have been taken from 'her' drawer and destroyed by her youngest siblings. Even her diary has been drawn in. Shudder.

There are family dramas, a kindly grandfather, squabbles with friends - and by the end of the book, Callie is ensconced in the cupola. Her own space. In a turret, with views as far as Botany Bay. And a tiny spiral staircase.

I can trace my love of turrets back to this book. Not Rapunzel or Sleeping Beauty or any of those other princesses. This book. The idea of an unassailable space all of one's very own. The joy.

When The Builder and I first moved in together, we lived in a little brick semi-detached cottage, at the end of a culdersac, beside a noisy block of flats. The toilet was out the back door, my 'office' was a breeding ground for mold. Around the corner from us was a splendid Federation cottage, with a turret. It was called Penzance. I loved it. Every time we walked past, which was often, I'd say to The Builder, "I just love a turret." Every now and then, we still drive past it. "There's your turret," he says. We smile.

On rereading, with the benefit (or not) of 30 years, the book still holds up. Callie's confusion and bewilderment as puberty beckons is real. Her desire for independence and a room to call her own resonates. It's a great yarn and, old-fashioned as it is, would make a great gift for any girl around the same age.

If nothing else, it will spark in her a lifelong love of turrets. Even now, I aspire to a turret. A writer, starving in a turret. Much more glamorous than a garret, don't you think?

{image: missquitecontrary/etsy}

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

It's not easy being green

It appears that I am experiencing a glut. The Great Silverbeet Glut of 2010. Even after the snails and slugs have been on the rampage, I have enough here to feed a Greek village on spanakopita for months. Trouble is, I tend to treat the garden like a pantry. I leave it out there until I need it. Can't foresee needing that much silverbeet in the near future. My practical friend K suggested I bring it in, wash it, chop it finely and freeze it. It's an excellent idea. If one had the freezer space for that much silverbeet.

I blame Masterchef. Was a time when a vegetable was a Vegetable. Now it's an Ingredient. I've made quiche, spanakopita, pie, lamb/spinach curry. I've added it to pasta sauce, dahl, and salad. At no point have I boiled it up and plonked it on a plate with a sausage, some carrots and mashed potatoes. That's how people used to eat it. As a vegetable.

Then again, those same people also ate a lot of chokoes. Steamed chokoes, boiled chokoes, baked chokoes. Choko chips, choko chutney... Did your parents have a choko vine? Dad's was the wonder of the street. It intertwined along the palings of the back fence, obscene in its fecundity. Obscene to me, anyway. I never liked chokoes. No matter what my parents did with them.

Sisters B and C felt much the same way about silverbeet. No matter what my parents did with it.

Any suggestions on useful things to do with silverbeet will be gratefully accepted. I need to move it along before the rhubarb problem rears its ugly head again.

PS: I, ahem, borrowed the artful silverbeet image, artfully named 'Wet Silverbeet', from Garden Amateur, the fab blog by my friend Jamie, devoted to all things garden. Is well worth a read - he's actually a total pro and would never end up with way too much silverbeet...

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Swimming: A life (and lifestyle) skill

On the day Australia won its first gold medal in the pool in Delhi, the Fibro boys headed back to swimming lessons. (The timing was entirely coincidental, but offered a lovely opening so I thought I'd go with it.) Having slogged it out through every week of a cold, hard winter last year, we decided to give the flu germs a rest this year and have the cold season off. It proved an entirely positive decision.

Last year, we (and I do mean we in every sense of the word) suffered (and I do mean suffered in every sense of the word) through innumerable ear infections, bouts of tonsilitis and, oh yes, the swine flu (renamed Man Flu around here as everyone got it but me). This year, a couple of runny noses and a hacking cough. Some might say that those two terms out of the pool have derailed my children's Olympic dreams. I say, whatevs (with accompanying shrug).

It's true that there have been some setbacks. Mr6 is still stuttering on the verge of 'the click'. You know that moment when they go from looking like epileptic frogs with windmill arms to resembling Ian Thorpe. He's still at the windmill stage, the stage where you wonder if he'll manage to roll over and take that essential breath. But so close. Today, he managed two lots of four strokes with connecting breath before disappearing underwater in a mass of bubbles and hair.

Mr3 doesn't want to go back tomorrow. It is sad. He was so enthusiastic this morning. Mostly because there were new goggles in the offing (you know how he loves an accessory). He looked the part as he strode to the pool deck in his tiny little budgie smugglers and matching blue goggles - just like a racing tadpole, as my Dad would say.

Then he discovered that his new instructor, Nick, is male and will not melt at the sight of Mr3's smiling face. Oh no. Instead, he wants him to actually, you know, swim. He had a go. He floated, put his face in the water, all the stationary stuff. But once he had to, you know, swim, it all went out the window. He forgot to paddle. He's supposed to paddle, paddle, paddle while he kick, kick, kicks. Instead, he sank, sank, sank.

Not happy Nick.

We'll be back tomorrow. Four days in a row, an intensive program, to kickstart them for next term. Mr6 can't wait. Mr3 will have to be thrown in to make him get wet. But I'll do it if I have to. Swimming lessons are the only form of legalised torture I condone. They can be agony to watch, as your child shivers and quivers and sinks and screams. But I sit on the side, cheering and 'thumbs up'ping in the face of their despair.

If you live in Australia, you have to be able to swim. If you live in Fibrotown, with some of the world's greatest beaches on your doorstep, it goes beyond a life skill and into a lifestyle skill.

By the end of the week, Mr3 will have stopped screaming. With any luck, he'll be paddling with style. And Mr6 - well, here's hoping for 'the click'.

Are your kids in swimming lessons? How do you cope with the screaming?

{image: KatieHalton/Etsy}

Monday, October 4, 2010

Inside the plastic bag: 100 shades of wrong

My Dad mightn't like me to say this, but he's a hoarder. It's the only explanation for why amazing and embarrassing things keep emerging from his shed. Around six months ago, it was The Suitcase - an old, vinyl, buckled suitcase full of - well, you can read about it here.

Last week, Sister C and I found a plastic bag on the parental patio. Dad had no idea what it was. He'd dragged it out of the shed and it was lying around looking for a home. We rifled through it, shrieking with laughter at what we found. "You simply have to blog about this?" she said, between fits of hysteria. My response? No way.

That night, in the Fibro kitchen, I showed The Builder what we'd found. He has these fantastic laugh lines around his eyes, that crinkle up when he's amused, making his eyes sparkle. Those laugh lines were craters as I took him through our discoveries, step by step.

The next day, I was reading Bern Morley's very funny blog So Now What? She's got a fantastic giveaway going on, where you can win some tummy-tucking, thigh-shrinking, butt-lifting jeans - all you have to do is answer a simple question and she swears these jeans will change your life. The question? What was your biggest fashion mistake? The look you thought was rocking but was, in hindsight, 100 shades of wrong. I answered her question honestly - silver jumpsuit, green pants suit... actually, I have 100 looks that would fit that criteria. Other commenters are going further, sending in pictures, and if you don't laugh at these, you are not human.

But the blog post got me thinking. About the plastic bag. And its contents.

A little known fact about the publishing world is that editorial assistants and cadet journalists are often called upon to step above and beyond the call of duty. From behind their desks to in front of the cameras. From the ages of 19-23, I worked for a publishing company that published a lot of blokey mags. Fishing, golfing, cars, boats, heavy metal, building, computers, electronics... Available females were often dragged in to be models. It is my only excuse for this:

And this:

And even this:

From a 1991 issue of the short-lived (and sadly unlamented) Australian Woman Golfer magazine. And these are some of the best shots. I think they went out of their way to make me look 40. Actually, I think I actually look younger now. You can see why The Builder was in hysterics. Though, as I told him, not every man can say that he's married to a former model.

Feel free to laugh (I am) and then pop over to Bern's blog and enter the giveaway (you have until Sunday). I am looking forward to reading (and possibly seeing) all your worst fashion moments. Though I suspect that the golf stick as accessory may be one of fashion's biggest crimes...

{images: Kiosk Hello + Australian Woman Golfer/Phil Aynsley (lovely man, I don't blame him at all)}

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Red Badge of Courage: Fibrotown edition

If you read this blog on a regular basis, you'd be under the impression that I spend a fair amount of my time at the supermarket. I've been lost in there. I've witnessed lost love. Today, I left inspired.

I know. From the supermarket. There's more to Fibrotown than meets the eye.

It all occurred at the checkout. Again. (Really, you've got to spend more time there.)

My checkout chick and I were making small talk. Laughing at the holiday-makers who'd just spent $978 for a weekend's worth of food.

"$978!" I shrieked. "Were there 20 of them?" She laughed. No, just the four.

"They made me feel kind of bad about myself, actually," she confessed, eyes down, scanning away. Blip, blip, blip.

I looked at her. Fresh-faced. About 18. We've spoken before. She's always bright, friendly and perky. And always, it seems, there.

"How so?" I asked.

"Oh, just in that talking down way that people have with us sometimes," she replied, waving one arm around to indicate her fellow workers. Blip. Blip.

I channelled Eleanor Roosevelt. "No-one can make you feel bad about yourself unless you let them," I said. She smiled and looked at me like I needed to get out more.

Our conversation moved on to how those crazy holidaymakers should have shopped with a list. "Do you always do that?" she asked.

I responded in the affirmative, outlining all the reasons why a list is a good thing (I don't write finance stories for no reason, you know).

"I try to do that," she said, setting me up for EFTPOS. "I cook a lot of my meals all at once and then freeze them. It's hard to fit them in with studying for my HSC and working here, otherwise."

I looked at her. She froze them? She must have seen the questions in my face. "I live by myself," she said, still smiling. "I go to school, work here and then go home and study for my HSC. I've always wanted to be a police officer."

Suddenly I remembered a previous conversation we'd had. Six months ago, she'd taken her pre-HSC police exam. I remembered her telling me, incredibly enthusiastically, how it would save time when she got her exam results. She'd be able to go straight off to the Academy. At the time, I admit, I listened with one ear, smiling and nodding, as she relayed just a little too much information. (Now I realise that maybe she told me because she didn't have anyone else to tell.)

She's all of 18. She's doing it on her own. She's still smiling.

Next time I see her, I'll ask her how those exams are going.

{image: TheExtentOfSilence/Etsy}
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