Why reading and writing is the road to happiness...

This blog started years ago as a place to muse on the life projects keeping me entertained. It is no surprise then that it has morphed into a blog about my reading as that has been my lifelong project. Here I review lots of different types of books, with an added focus on Australian women writers. Hope you enjoy - feel free to contribute to the conversation!

Friday, 30 November 2012

Project Update

The projects have been trundling along nicely in recent months.

Renovations: The front room continues its transformation from 1990s Aussie cottage into a 1960s Scandinavian retreat. Okay, its a slow transformation - no need to invite Olaf and Helga over yet. But with the addition of charcoal colour lounges, a knock off Hans Wegner arm chair (I'm not to proud to declare its knock off status) and a real antique - maybe? - ship acquired from an auction house, the nautical look is really taking shape. Crack open the sardines and the Finlandia vodka...

Gardening: The spring veggies are going into overdrive. We've planted a range of tomatoes, the leeks are still trying to fatten up (so slow to grow!), broad beans are looking good, cucumber vines are taking over, corn cobs are actually forming, and we have zucchini flowers popping up here and there. To add to the mix, we have basil, oregano, mint, thyme and some chillis to fill in the empty spots in the patch. But by God, its hot, and there has been very little rain. Subsequently, I've almost killed a peach tree, and I'm hovering over my blueberry bush nervously. Mulch may be my only hope. We've entered the world of composting (what are we, 70 year olds?) but I'm getting increasingly obsessive about how little garbage I'm filling the wheelie bin with, and how much waste is going into my fermenting fertiliser! Very excited about our little gift to the environment.

Running: Back on the regime last week with a twelve or so km run, and a few smaller ones throughout the week. No big runs coming up but may have to book myself into one to make myself train....uugh

Animal PeopleBooks: Just finished three books in the last fortnight of writers who I have reviewed here before. Ben Law's new non fiction 'Gaysia' is his collection of findings from travelling to Asian regions and taking a snapshot of their gay and lesbian culture. Part fun, mostly serious, Law looks at, among other issues, the Ladyboy phenomenon in Thailand, the acceptance of camp culture in Japan but not of lesbian culture, the strictness of Mayanmar society and the terrible toll that and poverty has taken on those with HIV, and the clash between strict religious beliefs and homosexuality in most of the countries. It's a really interesting read and told with Law's deft touch. Denise Scott's 'The Tour' was not as funny and poignant as her first memoir 'All That Happened at No 26' but was still an enjoyable read as she recounts her relationship with her mother from the 1960s in her childhood to the difficult years of caring for her mother during her latter years with Alzheimer's. The last was a 2011 novel from Charlotte Wood, 'Animal People'. I reviewed 'Love and Hunger' here previously, which was her 2012 non fiction that I loved. 'Animal People' was well regarded by critics when it was released: it follows one crappy day in the life of the protagonist who is a 40ish Australian man trying to cope with the relationships with his coworkers, his family and his partner and her children. The day culminates in a kid's party with annoying in laws, ex partners and a cranky hired fairy performer. Hey, we've all been there. The characters are unlikeable, and the tension is well tuned by Wood. Not a pleasant read, but well crafted and in the genre of 'The Slap' if you liked that.
Hey, all Australian writers! Good to support the talented locals...

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Anger Management

One of the biggest concerns I have had during recent media coverage of social media events has been the highlighting of just how much anger there is out there. The backlash via Twitter to Olympians who did not perform to the standards expected by some of the population; the horrible Twitter messages to the lovely Chrissie Swan condemning how she raises her children; the ghastly messages sent to Charlotte Dawson on Twitter; the complex issue of people harrassing an innocent man with the same name as the alleged killer of Jill Meagher via Facebook; the all too usual rubbish out of Alan Jones' mouth, recorded on a phone and then sent out via social media to the public - all of this leaves me gibsmacked and quite unsettled. Not just because I fear that the rate of social media development is accelarating faster than we can emotionally, mentally, ethically and legally cope with it - yes, there is that fear - but more so the fear that there is just so much vitriol out there in the general public. Why are these people so angry??? They live in a country with freedom of speech, a generally reliable democracy, free access to a great health and education system, fresh food and water...

I could go on. And not only am I baffled as to why they are so angry... but where are they getting the spare time to be angry? I can barely maintain ten servings of fruit and veg a day, 30 minutes of exercise, quality time with family and friends, interest in my job, and clean clothes to wear for the week - let alone time to get out my phone, raise my blood pressure to a sufficiently white hot level of anger, and let forth a load of nasty commentary on someone who I have never met, has no impact on my life, and who will never meet me or care who I am. These faceless people must really be getting something positive out of spewing such negative karma onto people who have done nothing at all to provoke such anger...otherwise I can't imagine why they would waste all that emotional energy.

All I can say is that obviously, I am a child of hippie parents - because I can't help but think, live and let live. Sending out so much bad karma can only come back to haunt you.

And additionally, beware the force of social media - as Alan Jones has found out, there's no such thing as speaking 'off the record' anymore...

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Tall, Dark and Handsome... With A Moustache

The recent spate of deliciously retrospective television viewing has been catnip to this 1970s child. For years I have been explaining to Gen Y and Gen Z lasses why I actually enjoy the eye candy during ‘Movember’ due to my love of the moustachioed man. These young gals, used to dating men who have laser removed any errant hairs off their body for fear of displaying a whiff of testosterone, shake their heads in bewilderment and wonder aloud at my peculiar attraction to this dated facial hair style. But I know why I love this look. Two words: Dennis Lillee.

Watching ‘Howzat! Kerry Packer’s War’ was an enjoyable trip down memory lane. My husband was intrigued that this non-sport-watching woman could name all the players in episode one. But I reminded him that those halcyon days of cricket were the soundtrack to my childhood. I remember playing with my Barbies in front of our tiny, boxy Panasonic television, as Dad cracked open a KB and urged Lillee and Chappell on - and I would have been taking in all that magnificent visual imagery by osmosis. I remember watching Lillee fly down the wicket, luscious locks lifted by the wind, sweat glistening on his luxuriant chest hair, sunlight glinting off his gold chains, and teeth flashing under his thick moustache. And I thought - that’s a man!

I could run down a list of similarly manly men that I still look at and think, “phoar”: Tom Selleck, Robert De Costello, Sean Connery, George Negus, Burt Reynolds (in his glory days – not now!!!).  All the same man - moustache, chest hair, glint in the eye, rugged. Think of them busting out of their tight 1970s shirts, seductively unbuttoned to the waist. Their jeans were tight around the waist, and flared out magnificently over their platform boots. Or they’d be wearing stubbies and double plugger thongs... actually, forget the stubbies (let’s all agree that was a bad look).

Could it be that my idea of manly perfection was set by those first images I saw on television as a child? They do say that we are sponges in those formative years.  Is the look of our day, the fashion from our formative years, the look that then forms our ideal of perfection? And if that’s the case, will my daughter in 2030 be lusting after men with Justin Beiber floppy hair, doe eyes, and spray tanned hairless chests? God help her. But God also help the women whose ideal was formed in the 30s at the picture shows: they’ve probably been searching in futility for Cary Grant lookalikes strolling the suburban malls of Australia.  I guess they are in the same boat as those eighties girls dreaming of Simon le Bon look-alikes in puffy pirate shirts and black eyeliner. Or Baby Boomers searching online dating sites for men with mop-top haircuts,  mod suits and Liverpudlian accents.
At least I have 30 days in Movember...                          

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Common Sense Means Increased Cents

We could talk at length about the topic of marketing kids clothing in a prematurely sexualised fashion but that's not the issue that piqued my interest today regarding the news that a Facebook user's criticism of Target's kids' clothing went viral (http://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/fashion/storm-over-targets-trampy-fashion-sense-20120813-244xz.html) What interested me was the deathly slow response Target had in quelling the issue: more than 24 hours after the comment was posted. And in the social media world - that's like a lifetime. Target have now posted an email with an apology for any offense caused by their marketing and asked the individual who made the complaint to discuss offline her problem with the clothing products. This was after 44 000 'likes' on the comment spiralled the issue out of control and 2300 comments agreed whole heartedly with the concerned consumer...and this was after Target was hit with the sort of negative national press that I'm sure it would rather not receive.
Social media is fast. Social media is pithy. And social media users become bored with a story really quickly, especially if an issue is quelled quietly, and on the spot before a flame of interest can be ignited. If retailers are to use social media (and let's face it, they're all having a crack now), they need to employ staff who understand how to manage their online marketing, and empower those individuals to deal with matters professionally and efficiently. It doesn't take a genius to guess that if you have a Facebook page that invites commentary from the public, you are bound to have complaints come your way - did Target not have some sort of procedure in place for responding to any complaint immediately with a pat line composed by the marketing team? It's my bet that some poor sap running the website had to send the email up through the hierarchy to think about whether the issue was worth responding to - and then had to wait for the big wigs to give him/her the authority to send an apology email. But - alas, the horse had bolted and the news websites and tv programmes had already grabbed the story and run with it...
All it takes is a bit of common sense to deal with customer complaints, but like a churlish old woman, I rather fear that common sense is disappearing from this world. And like a churlish old woman I think it best not to delve into the argument that kids' clothing is becoming too sexualised... Toddlers and Tiaras anyone?

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Project Updates!

Now for an update on how the projects are progressing.

Renovations: We've almost come to the end of painting the rendered exterior in the obligatory 'coastal' off white and grey. I must say that rendering really freshens the outdated red brick but as with all good things in life, came at an expense... needless to say, at the end of this stint of renovations we will be penniless. But luckily we can subsist on our own agricultural pursuits....

Gardening: We are now reaping the rewards of patiently tending to our veggie patch and have had TWO WHOLE MEALS from our harvest! A silverbeet, chorizo and cannelini bean dish and broccoli with our lamb and cous cous tonight. I can certainly attest to the silverbeet and broccoli being crisper than their store bought peers, and they were, of course cheaper as well! First stop - supplying our crisper, next stop - supplying Woolworths. Well, you have to dream big...

Running: Completed the Sutherland to Surf 11 km run in a much better time than expected! It was a miserable, drizzling morning so I stepped up the pace just so I could finish gthe damn thing and get indoors. Didn't stop the whole way and completed the run in one hour and seven minutes. There's fight in this old dog yet...

Baking: Have to confess that my recent baking attemtps were both from .... (look around and lower voice)... packet mixes. Shocking, I know. I tried to make pizza dough from a packet mix and while it was edible, it was a bit thick and gooey. Problem diagnosed there - I need to roll out the base a bit better, rather than trying to prise a globby mess off the kitchen counter and throwing it on the pizza stone. Then I tried a Donna Hay mix to make macarons. I didn't believe that you could put such an infamously hard-to-make sweet treat from a mix, and it turns out - you can't. Sorry Donna. Actually, they tasted pretty good but didn't rise as much as Zumbos (no surprises there). And I made them the size of frisbees. However, a frisbee sized flat macaron is still pretty good to eat, thus proving that the path to hell is lined with macarons.

Books: Finished reading Chris Cleave's 'Gold' and really found it hard to believe that it was the same author that wrote the brilliant 'The Other Hand'. Looked up a review online to see how it has been received by the critics. Came across one from The Guardian which, paraphrased, wondered 'Is this the same author who wrote....'. Maybe I should write reviews for the Guardian? The novel was fine for an airport style page turner to fill the hours, but hardly the standard of work expected from this author. Still, it was relevant at the moment while the Olympics are on. Speaking of which, back to the tv, someone's about to cry again over being only the second best at something in the world...

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

I Give A Bo Peep

Noone would ever accuse me of being a patriot. I don't have a Southern Cross tattoo, I don't own an Australian flag, and I'm pretty sure I've never uttered that hideously cliched phrase, 'G'day mate'. But I do care about this country, and more to the point, I care about its people. So it's been with a growing alarm that I have listened to news report after news report in the last several years of Australians losing their jobs as Australian companies go under or are bought out by foreign enterprises. We all wrung our hands and muttered about the irony of Vegemite being owned by an American company a few years ago, but did we do anything to rectify that matter? No. Do we all still buy Kraft Vegemite? Yes. Despite the fact that we are, I dare say, Vegemite's only customer, given the rest of the world think its like tar in a jar - and yet, the Americans are getting all the proceeds from that particularly Australian culinary treat. I've also become increasingly distressed this year as more and more workers from car manufacturers in small towns are laid off in the droves - it's reported on the news for one night, and the government shakes its head in dismay - and then we move onto the next night's news, already forgetting the plight of the car factory worker who has a mortgage to pay, children to feed, and a new job to find at age 45 in a small town.
The financial trouble of family owned Darrell Lea was the final straw for me. Here's a company that is owned and run by an Australian family, it has products that have great meaning and memories for millions of Australians, and its products are well manufactured, reasonably priced, and available to all Australians. The global financial crisis no doubt hit Darrell Lea hard as it did with all the retail sector in Australia - and chocolates are a luxury item. We all know that. But what a shame that this company will be bought, possibly by a big, anonymous, probably foreign company - an Australian institution will be lost yet again, and gradually all the workers that would have been nurtered by the family style management of the Australian company will be laid off as the company is streamlined, commercialised, probably Americanised. And while there has been a surge of support for the Darrell Lea stores, as reported by an increase in their sales as Australians rally to provide enough wages for the staff during the takeover - I'm afraid in a few weeks time, it will be old news. Noone will give a Bo Peep.
Well I give a Bo Peep. We quite regularly buy Darrell Lea chocolates, in particular the Caramel Snows and J's favourites, Peanut Brittle. I bought some today. And we, as a family, have agreed that we will make a concerted effort to buy Australian owned. Now I must admit, I've made this promise before, and then failed as the temptation to save dollars by buying the 'Store Brand' products has taken precedence. But these products are all produced overseas - I've started looking at labels again. New Zealand seems to feature prominantly - well, lucky they are pretty much friends I guess. But I'm deternined to do my bit to save Australian companies. So we're sucking it up, and paying a bit more to have it pay off at the end. For our children, and their children. May they always eat Australian made Rocky Road.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Project Updates - Four Shades of Grey?

Haven't updated the projects for a while so here is a quick run down of what has been projecting happiness lately...
Renovation: We have taken a litttle break for a while, a bit of breathing space from gyprock dusty air and plaster shavings on the carpet. The biggest thing we have done this month is cement render the old red brick facade and we now wait for six weeks or so before we paint. That's lucky because we have to choose colours - and while we would never think of ourselves as dithering old nannas when making renovation decisions, we have in fact stood at this colour palette painted on the facade and contemplated with great seriousness four different shades of bone and grey. This is the sort of ridiculous introspection that gives renovators a bad name. Anyway, we'll probably go with test colour three and regret our decision for the next twenty years.
Gardening: This gardening business is a test in patience. Everyday I rush out to see if anything looks even remotely bigger, or even an inch closer to edibility. At the very least, I can say that the leaves of my broccoli and spinach are picture perfect - no bug bites or discolouration. I'm as pleased as punch, but still impatient to cut off that first head of brocolli. I suppose I'll just keep waiting and willing this sunny weather to go on and on...

Baking: Still have not made that sponge cake I threatened to try, but we had a Tour de France party here on Saturday and I made Apple Tarte Tatine from Jamie Oliver does France. It was tres delicious - and very easy.

Running: Have gone back to training, and have committed myself to the Sutherland to Surf 11km run this Sunday. Two years ago I did it in 60mins flat - expecting to take 3 hours this year! May need to stop in on someone's house on the way for a pee stop and something to eat!

Film: Finally got to see a film at a cinema this month, and no, we didn't go see something esoteric. We saw the new Seth McFarlane film Ted, and while I heard a few of my brain cells give a throaty cough and roll over and die - it was fun nonethless.

Books: Currently reading 'Gold' by Chris Cleave, a fictional account of a British Olympic cycling team training for the London Games. I have read 'the Other Hand' by Cleave which was a really intense novel that won a lot of critical acclaim a few years ago. This is so-so. I'm not really gripped by the characters but only 100 pages in so will persist.

And that's all the projects for now. I'm off to stare at the grey and bone squares again...

Monday, 9 July 2012

Just A Spoonful of Sugar?

I rarely read the nutritional information on food packaging – I’d rather not know how many kilojoules I’ve consumed when I throw down a packet of Allen’s lollies in one sitting. However, with the addition of a little tacker in our family unit, I’ve had to become a ‘responsible adult’ and hence, I find myself standing in front of a supermarket wall of Dora and Toy Story endorsed kids’ food, wondering which product might actually be healthy or merely a nicely wrapped bag of food additives. Hey, I can abuse my own body with salt and sugar, but I’d like to give my child at least a few good years of healthy organs. What has concerned me the most lately is Junior’s sweet tooth addiction to yoghurt – what if these kids’ yoghurts are full of sugar and additives? I don’t want to be that parent who is being lectured by the dentist as he or she removes rotting baby teeth from my toddler – I might as well just book my spot on A Current Affair now for their routine segment, “When Good Parents Turn Bad”.

Enter Catherine Saxelby’s ‘Complete Food and Nutrition Companion’ – Hardie Grant asked for readers to trial the information and I decided to use Catherine’s expert advice to go from being a baffled supermarket browser to a nutritionally expert shopper. So I decided to trial the vast array of yoghurts in the kids’ section of the supermarket to get to the bottom of my quest to find the healthiest yoghurt marketed to kids. First up - buy a selection of yoghurt pouches. Second task – feed child, who incidentally lapped them all up. What’s with babies and yoghurt? They throw the stuff back like it’s chocolate! Maybe it’s because they are eating the full cream stuff, unlike their adult counterparts with their depressingly watery low fat stuff...
Armed with Catherine’s cheat sheet on translating the nutrition information panel I have analysed four different yoghurts and these were my findings.

Petit Miam Squeezie – 249 kj per serving which seems fine, 8.3 grams of sugar, but 30mg of sodium as well! I see from Catherine’s book that the ingredients are listed in order of bulk in the product – so the order in this yoghurt is skim milk, sugar, water, banana (which they label as 5% - no quantifying of the other ingredients though), cream, milk solids, thickener, fructose, mineral calcium, halal gelatine and the list goes on with flavouring information. Hhmmm, so sugar is the second largest ingredient in this product.

 Pauls Yoghurt with Real Fruit – Same serving size, this time more kjs at 265. Same sugars as the Petit Maim at 8.3g but 47mg of sodium which is considerably more. It also had significantly less calcium than the previous yoghurt.  Interestingly though, this product has milk as its first ingredient which makes me revise the Petit Miam which only had skim milk. Babies and children should be having full cream milk (unless intolerant) so the Petit Miam might be lacking somewhat.  Second ingredient was skim milk, milk solids and then sugar, water and only 3% strawberries.

Vaalia Kids – Calculating to 70g from a 140g pouch, the kjs are 266, almost 7g of sugar and 37g of sodium. Ingredients start with whole milk, skim milk, water, sugar, milk solids, 3.5% of strawberries, rice starch and so on. This one is winning so far.

CalciYum – 244kj, with 8.1g sugar and 25mg of sodium. The main ingredient is skim milk, then milk solids, sugar, 5% fruit, cream, gelatine and so on. I've got to say, the Disney Princess marketing on this one appealed to me - so if I'm swayed by the marketing....

Interestingly, Rafferty’s baby yoghurt has approximately 10g sugar for 70g package but does not mention sugars in the large font ingredients list – which they say is largely real fruit and then yoghurt powder. Does this mean the sugar is part of the fruit? Or have they lumped it into the 1.5% yoghurt powder? This one seems very high in sugar but naturally so – within all the real fruit.

Catherine reminds her readers that ‘if some form of sugar appears as one of the first three ingredients the food is generally high in added sugar’. And what I have concluded here is that all of these products have about 10% of their product being sugar.  I did a bit of Googling on how yoghurt is actually made and found that natural yoghurt doesn’t contain sugar, BUT Catherine’s section on yoghurt reminds me that milk has sugar lactose – ahhh, maybe the sugar percentage comes from that? So maybe these yoghurts aren’t too bad for children after all? What I do know is that nutriotional information is a bit of a tricky business, which I guess is why Catherine has sought to break down the information.
Well, my conclusion is that all of these yoghurts have about the same amount of sugar but I might want to reconsider the skim milk versus whole milk ingredients. I guess in this world of McDonalds, KFC, and Pizza Hut, a little bit of natural sugar, and a little bit of added sugar in a squeezie pouch of omega 3 packed yoghurty goodness can’t be all that bad surely? And now that I feel a little bit more aware of what the packaging is telling me –  maybe I should start looking at the very high sodium counts in what I’m eating...

Does anyone else use any of these products? It's been suggested to me before that natural yoghurt for adults is better for babies than the kids' stuff - is this just a case of convenient and appealing packaging?

Monday, 2 July 2012

One Hit Wonders - Why, How and Where Are They Now?

Two songs that I have heard on tv this week have made me ponder the phenomenon of the 'one hit wonder'. The first song is featuring on some ad at the moment - a tourism ad I think, couldn't find it on Google - Taxiride's 'Get Set'. Very catchy song. I keep singing it in that way you do when they are flogging an ad like a dead horse - and I didn't even really care for the song when it was released back in the day. But I will concede it's a catchy song. The second song I heard was on the closing credits on the first night of the Tour de France - J is a die hard cycling fan - and it was the hit 80s song 'Counting The Beat' by The Swingers. You may know it from the Kmart (??) ad a few years ago - great song. Another one hit wonder. And it made me think that these songs are really quite superior to say, many of the songs of stalwarts like Madonna and U2, but fascinatingly these types of bands are never heard of again. Just one massively popular song and then pffft! Disappear forever, only to dredged up for commercials, movie soundtracks and weddings, school reunions and bar mitzvahs where everyone says 'God, I loved this song, who was this again?'. So how do these songs come about? Does the band have one magical moment, but then become overwhelmed by the instant fame, and struggle to make something as big again? Or is it that that particular song strikes a chord with the community at that very moment, and it was a matter of being at the right place, at the right time? Or is it more cosmic - that we can't all be megastars but fate will let as many people as it can have their fifteen minutes of fame to spread the joy around...
Anyway, what happened to these bands and other famous one hit wonders? I turned to my friend Google:
  • Taxiride 'Get Set'- Taxiride's official website talk of their 'newest' release from 2006, and has the 'latest news' of a tour supporting Noiseworks in 2009. Hhhmmm - looks like the royalties from the ad will be coming in handy.
  • The Swingers 'Counting The Beat' - According to Wikipedia, the band broke up in 1982 after a few changes to the line up. Someone has done a very dodgy looking fan page for them but I didn't dare probe any further into Google with the search term 'swingers'...
  • New Radicals 'You Get What You Give' - Another ad favourite, this song was huge in the late 90s - remember it? And, have to say, despite its saturation on the airwaves even now - catchy tune. The guy behind the song, Gregg Alexander only had one other unsuccessful song but ended up writing and producing for other artists like Sophie Ellis Bexter and Ronan Keating. So he's made a bit of coin over the years, lucky soul.
  • Vanilla Ice 'Ice Ice Baby' - no need to explain how awesome this song was - and you may have seen what Vanilla is doing these days. Naturally, his own home renovation show. Stop. Renovate and listen...
  • Dee Lite 'Groove Is In The Heart' - This one has been used in a few hundred soundtracks... Where are they now? They all became djs, but the girl in the band (Lady Kier) sued Sega for allegedly creating an animation that resembled her Dee Lite persona. According to Wikipedia, she lost.
So, a bit of a trip down memory lane. They were all great songs - followed by silence, or at very worst, a stinker of a second song. Thank god for advertising royalties...

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

A Day for Wine and Jesus...

We have had an epic couple of weeks renovating the house in time for my daughter's christening which was held on Sunday. We joked that we were like contestants on The Block, racing to finish before we would be judged by family. Well, we made it - deck finished, sanded and stained. Pegoda finished. Sliding doors finished, and walls plastered. House rendered, but unfortunately not painted yet - that will happen in a month or so. We collapsed in a heap on the Saturday afternoon, and then I began the final clean to have the house in a reasonable state. And then I had to think about preparing food for 70 or so people. Easy with an irritable nine month old demanding attention. Needless to say I was up til midnight, and back up in the dark the next day to finish about ten tonnes of various salads, and put the final touches on the fab lolly bar we have been collecting sweets for over the weeks.
But enough of the tedious housework talk... a topic that had us talking at the party was the sermon from the Reverend during the Christening. My family are religious in a general way - that is, have been christened, or went to Sunday school and went to church as children, but do not attend church anymore. The Reverend had discussed with us the issue of growing a parish in this day and age and we sympathised - it's much like running a business isn't it? And a business that relies on people taking time out of their busy lives to give up a Sunday morning lie in! A very tough sell. So, upon hearing about our sizeable party attending church that Sunday, the Reverend must have given some consideration to his sermon in its appeal to his captive audience. He spoke of the fatigue that we are all feeling these days, the trials that weary us and make us constantly anxious. Job stress, taking care of elderly parents, grappling with cancer, losing superannunation in the GFC...the kind of things that touch all of our lives. And he reminded us that someone is there to give us a rest from this stress - he said, let God take a load off you. God is always here to give you some relief from the stress. I immediately thought of all the food waiting at home that needed to be prepped, worried that I hadn't made enough, hadn't bought enough wine, that it would rain, that people would notice the baby food stains on the carpet...would God relieve this stress?
We discussed the sermon at the party and all of us had thought of our various little stresses and thought of how tired life makes us, and we laughed when we all agreed that we wished God would step in and take off some of the load. And we discussed how strange it was to hear that sort of comforting talk, and agreed that it was that reassurance that someone was looking out for us that possibly made people continue to attend church even though it seems such an old fashioned institution in our lives today. We also agreed that our lives are so dictated now by change and flux, that the constancy of the church - or temple, or synagogue, or mosque - can be a comforting stalwart amongst this ebb and flow. Food for thought.
Anyway, I had made the goal in a previous post to be a cool, calm and collected host - well, I wasn't always entirely calm, but I think I was mostly collected. And the lolly bar was a massive hit among the young and old. And I didn't have to hope for a miracle for water to turn to wine - there was plenty left over, enough for a celebratory glass afer everyone went home. And that was comforting....

Two days before the party....

And the same spot the night before the party with a lolly bar - poms poms hand crafted by my mother. Fab!

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Parental Guilt Reaches Fever Pitch

Parental guilt starts from the minute the pink lines appear on the pregnancy test stick and you and your partner think back to the previous Saturday night when two bottles of sparkling white were consumed along with some sashimi and camembert cheese. Oops - already starting off on a bad foot. And it goes on from there....
Our parental guilt reached fever pitch on Saturday night, coiniciding with a real fever pitch: my daughter's temperature in fact. 39 degrees celcius and rising. Off to Emergency we went, carrying only a clutch with lip gloss, a Medicare card, credit card for the exorbitant parking fee, and enough guilt to make the Catholic Church rub their hands with satisfied glee. 
Our little pallid skinned, feverishly burning family unit had four hours to reflect on our parental guilt while we sat in the children's emergency room, facing off with other guilty family units nursing broken elbows, possible kidney stones, bronchitis, and several delightful cases of gastroenteritis. Here are the things to be learnt from the children's ward of the ER:
  • You will be wearing your worst clothes, barely fit for public display. You'll feel guilty for this because it will confirm that you keep a messy house and you're too lazy to maintain suitable clothing into the evening hours.
  • You will make jokes to the nurses about DOCS being called in response to whatever has happened to your kid. Broken arm? We've told little Jonny not to run down the stairs a million times. Gastro? I thought the leftovers might have been a bit too old. Measles? We thought they might have been mosquito bites. Guilty, guilty, guilty. You are a negligent parent.
  • You will mirror the expression of all the other parents in the ward - the thousand yard stare as you think back to the good times when you didn't have any responsibility. Remember Saturday nights when you'd be doing shots, and contemplating whether you'd dance to the next track or go outside to chat up some hottie that made eyes at you ten minutes ago? Remember? You'll feel guilty thinking like this because you should be feeling sorry for your little sick person, not sorry for yourself. You know what? You'll still feel more sorry for yourself.
  • You will have a full bladder and you'll be thirsty as hell. You'd like to go to the bathroom, and have a drink of water, but the sick kid won't let you leave them, and you dare not touch the gastro germed taps or toilet seat of the emergency ward. You'll feel guilty for thinking only of your own needs. You should be selfless. But you still seriously need to go to the toilet.
  • You will silently convey allegience with the other parents as you take your script, pick up your kid, and stagger out of the ward to make your way through the plastic doors out to freedom. You're all in this together: you're guilty, we're guilty. We're all bad parents. Until we meet again next flu season comrades - take strength for the battelfield that is parenting.
The only antidote to a guilt laden trip to emergency is a healthy week's dose of antibiotics and we are currently enjoying the fresh hell of forcing cherry flavoured medicine down a resistant baby's throat. Awesome.
Anyone else had an attack of the parental guilts lately?

Monday, 18 June 2012

Book Review - Charlotte Wood 'Love and Hunger'

Recently finished the loveliest book, Charlotte Wood's 'Love and Hunger: Thoughts on the Gift of Food'. The experience of reading it was like slipping under a doona with a cup of hot chocolate on a rainy Sunday. Absolutely delicious and cosy. Wood is a journalist and novelist who often writes on food related issues - her recent Good Weekend article where she experimented with cooking and eating offal for a week was great reading. This is a collection of her musings on food and its many aspects of etiquette: what to cook for funerals, the best food for beach house holidays, why our tastes change as we age, dinner party etiquette, and our relationship with soup among other topics. Wood writes in a succinct fashion, never wasting words, but still manages to make the reading experience leisurely and comforting. 
Love & HungerSeveral ideas or points in the book provoked me into some new behaviour. Firstly, her thoughts on dinner party etiquette in the book and on the discussion on her blog have made me renew my attitude to what to bring to a party. Someone scathingly referrred on her blog to the disdain he felt when people brought store bought hummus and chips to dinner parties. Ooops! Yep, guilty. It is such an innocuous food stuff to bring to someone's house that I never really gave it any thought - and it's always accompanied by a good bottle of wine! But I take his point - it's pretty impersonal. Charlottle refers to a 'hostess gift' - I'm going to use that term from now on - and she argues it's nicer to bring some homemade tidbit, something grown or made. She suggests chutney, or jam, or the excess zucchini you can't use from your veggie patch, or some honey you bought on holidays. Yes, that would be lovely to receive if you were hosting the party. My father always brings home made hummus when he comes over and I appreciate the gift - it also tastes better than the store stuff! I've tried to make my own hummus but it always seems like too much work. But now - well, the hard things in life are always the best aren't they? So, I shall endeavour to make something for my next 'hostess gift'.
Secondly, Wood describes the pleasure she and her partner take in stopping at the roadside stalls where farmers are selling their produce. I've never stopped at a stall! Dreadful. So, on our holiday last week, I thought of this, and we stopped at a MOAD stall in Nana Glen (small town northern NSW where Russell Crowe famously has a farm). Wood informs me that MOAD is a 'Money or a donation' stall. Nana Glen specialises in bananas and we picked out a fabulously golden bunch, throwing the requested two dollar coin down the tube that ran all the way down the hillside to the family home where a pan presumably held all the coins. The bananas were divine. Tart but sweet at the same time. That's the first time I have bought from a road side stall in Australia. Why do we always do that stuff in other countries but not in our own home?
And finally, one essay looked at the need for a host to be calm at all times - otherwise guests feel stressed about coming, relaxing, taking their time over the dinner, lunch etc. Wood lists all the ways a host can be prepared before guests arrive to create the illusion (!) that everything is under control. So I take this advice for the big party I am holding at our house this Sunday - about 70 people to cater for, and entertain. Serenity now.....serenity now.

Charlotte Wood's blog can be found here - 

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Dear Prime Minister

On Monday night I formalised my burgeoning personality as a cranky old crackpot by huffing my way through an angrily penned letter - ok, actually I tapped out an email (modern technology has really taken the romance out of the letter written in anger hasn't it?). It wasn't to my local newspaper, although I have threatened many times to write to the editor there on such pressing issues as the increasing amount of grafitti in our area, and the lack of clean public toilets in the parks. No, I haven't gone through with that threat, namely because J said he would be mortified if my name appeared next to such a 'Nanna-esque' correspondence. Nor have I written an email to my local member to complain about the fact that our recycling bins are only emptied every fortnight, which is a real impediment to a thorough collection of all recycled materials, and quite frankly the bane of my existence as empty milk cartons and Pinot Noir bottles mount precariously in my pantry. No, I haven't contacted my local member - that's for small fry. I have emailed the Prime Minister - directly. And not because I'm angry at her. I'm not angry at her - I'm angry at all the negative nellies that continually demonise her for her clothes, her voice, her marital status, her childlessness, her treatment of KRudd (I've moved on, can't everyone else?), and her policies which are in reality supporting the working class of Australia, and giving a bit of stick to the very wealthy. I'm over it. And her treatment at the hands of Tony Jones on Q and A on Monday night pushed me over the edge - he would never speak to Tony Abbott the way her spoke to her, and it confirms for me my belief that much of this is pure sexism. Sure, people might not agree with her policies as well - that's fine. Tony Jones may be a Liberal voter. But there is an underlying sexism in his, and other individuals' treatment of her, that is palpable. 
People need to remember that being a Prime Minister is a seriously tough gig, and possibly we should also remember and be happy that our Prime Minister isn't having sex with her interns, or having bongo bongo parties with sixteen year old models (it was bongo bongo parties wasn't it or am I making that up?), and she isn't having people executed, thrown in jail for expressing their beliefs, or using the military as her henchmen. I think she's doing a pretty bloody good job representing us, and I emailed her to tell her. And to thank her for my non-means tested paid parental leave which was very appreciated, and to encourage her to keep looking at the troubling issue of child care in this country, which I believe is a major cause of women being held back in the workforce. I am thrilled that she is discussing it, and won't be whinging if there isn't a solution straight away, because I understand that it's a difficult issue to resolve. And I told her to ignore the crap about her jackets - I actually like Carla Zampatti anyway...
So - I hope she gets that email because I've decided that I'm no longer going to fume in silence over issues, and secondly, if people are doing the right thing I will let them know. We get so little positive feedback these days that I think it boosts people's morale to have just a little kindness directed their way. Like the email I sent to Coles last month to congratulate the wonderful staff that deliver my groceries. They are fantastic - very friendly, and helpful. Will they hear about that email though? Hhmmm, probably not: the Coles people are too busy throwing money at British comediens to sell our products when an Australian would do just as well at the job. Gee there's another email in that I think...
Anyway, I'll let you know if I get a reply from JG. I wait with bated breath...

Monday, 11 June 2012

Sydney - Lift Your Game!

We've just come back from a week on the north coast of NSW and the experience has compounded a suspicion that I had started to form earlier in the year on our road trip to South Australia. Like most people, we eat our way through a holiday, and this one was no exception. And I have come to the conclusion that regional areas have overtaken Sydney on the culinary front, and they are kicking ass. I'll concede that Sydney and Melbourne no doubt will always own the high end restaurant market, but we've found the casual dining in the north coast region, and along the route from Sydney, through Victoria to South Australia was so sophisticated and innovative in using seasonal produce, that we have felt a bit bored with the cafe dining here in Sydney. The food in Mildura - granted it is actually known as a foodie's heaven - was so amazing that we'll be going back just to stay there rather than spend one night on route. And the South Australian towns used regional produce like nothing we've seen here - we went to a cafe in Hahndorf that served us piping hot raspberry muffins straight out of the oven and garnished with huge dried apricots, crisp oats and drizzled with local honey, accompanied by boutique beer brewed on site. And the owner sat down with us to discuss his choice of vineyards to visit in McLaren Vale. These Sydneysiders nearly fell over from the sheer friendliness...
We've eaten out in most hot spots in Sydney and done the restaurants, fawned over the celebrity chefs, eaten the Zumbo cakes - but do you know, I think Sydney is getting a bit lazy and resting on its 'big city laurels'. And I really think we are lacking those little cafes that are visually inviting, have staff that care about seasonal produce, present the food beautifully, and keep the price as reasonable as possible - and gasp, yes as a parent I now realise that making you feel welcome with kids is a bonus as well!
Here's our breakfast from a fabulous cafe called Split in the little town of Sawtell, 10km or so near Coffs Harbour - it was a cafe that doubled as a bike shop cum meeting point for the Sawtell cycling club, and the food was delicious. I ordered muesli, and it had pistachios, chestnuts, the toastiest oats, and shredded crisp Granny Smith apple. J had a full breakfast with chorizo and a hash ball that was so light and crunchy, homemade relish on the side. The coffee was supreme. And for this city slicker, the price was ridiculous. Remind me again why I live in this city? Okay, okay the work opportunities, the easy access to culture blah blah blah...I guess we'll just have to keep going on holidays.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

The Great Scone Challenge - Baking

Well, when I fail at something I turn to my usual strategy - cheating. And since my scone making has continued to fall flatter than a ballet dancer's chest, I have resorted to accepting help from the masters - the CWA. Did you know that you can buy a pre mixed scone flour especially commissioned by the CWA? No? Well, now you do. I spied it in my local Woolies and while I felt a bit naughty for using a packet in my quest to become a better baker, I felt reassured nonetheless that I was being mentored in a way by the consumate bakers. The verdict? I threw some water into the mix, and it was very sticky so I thought I had used too much (no of course I didn't measure it - that's why my baking always fails!), and prepared for another failure. I placed the scones close together, as advised by the CWA instructions on the side of the box, to help the rising. And I baked for 18 minutes. I can tell you that they looked pretty bloody bonza in the oven - hey I'm already talking like someone from the CWA! Okay, they were connected and were pretty much just one giant scone, but what a scone it was! Fluffy, light, crusty on the outside. They were fantastic. My guests gobbled them up. Those CWA woemn sorted me right out. Is there anything those women can't do?
Right, now I'm going to attempt another CWA classic - the sponge....*deep intake of breath*

Thursday, 31 May 2012

It's Elementary Dear Reader - Book Review 'Sherlock Holmes and the House of Silk'

I mentioned that I was reading the new Sherlock Holmes novel, and I now have to explain much to do with that statement. I noted that a new Holmes novel had been released last year when I saw a review in the Herald, but had not chased it up in the bookshop. Then last week I was in the library and saw it in the new releases, grabbed it with glee and compounded an irrefutable fact: I am a massive nerd, and the fact that my nerdom took place in the local library is just sweet serendipity. I love Sherlock Holmes novels - just the originals though. I haven't read every take off or satire, I haven't watched that tv show currently airing - in other words I'm a fan of the novels, but I'm not an obsessive Holmes fan. I did see the first Guy Ritchie film - and will get around to seeing the second one - and I liked it. I thought it was fun and captured the spirit of the novels well. And indeed this novel (which was the first to be commissioned and approved by the Conan Doyle Estate) was very well written. Andy Horowitz is a British writer who is well known for the teen Alex Rider series and the screenplays for Foyle's War, the Poirot tv show, and Midsomer Murders. His blog says that he recently had an explosion in his eye from presumably sitting at a computer writing all day - the man is prolific! His blurb says that he has committed more fictional murders than any other writer today.
Anyway, when did my Holmes nerdiness start? I do recall in 1998 that I made sure my itinerary in London included a trip to the real Baker St, to see a little plaque that alluded to Holmes so I must have liked the novels back then. I can't remember when I read the first Doyle novel - but let's just say that the clever Holmes appealed to an amatuer sleuth like myself. I've already mentioned my love for the Phryne Fisher series and it's clear that I'll never get over my regret at not becoming a real detective. I just didn't want to spend years training and working as a common cop first - I wanted to go straight to crouching down beside chalk outlines and taking swigs from my hip flask to counter the grim horror of my day job. You know, like how all the tv and novel detectives act at the scenes of the crime.
I've learnt all my sleuthing from books and tv so I could possibly become a detective without doing the training anyway - Holmes, Phryne, Poirot, Miss Marple, Tony and Carol from the Val McDermid series, all the crazy Swedes in the Nordic Noir, Jane Tennyson in Prime Suspect. I've taken notes from them all. Except... circa 2005 I embarked on a major investigation in my workplace as staff members pleaded with me to find out who was stealing yoghurts from the communal fridge. We were talking a staff of 60 or so, so tricky work. I undertook the case because I love a challenge but my major tactics of hovering around the fridge nonchalantly, and then inspecting tongues as I spoke to people to identify any yoghurt residue, did not deliver the goods. P.D James would not have been impressed: it remains a cold case.
Meanwhile... I recommend the new Holmes novel. It has some 'adult' content but I think that brings the Holmes tradition into the modern age. And as I read the novel I was reminded that I had read in Stepehn Fry's memoirs last year that he is a member of the Sherlock Holmes Society. A quick scan of their website highlights their  eccentric activities and they are wonderfully nerdy: they dress up as Holmes and Watson and take pilgimmages to pertinent spots from the novels, glamorous places like Switzerland. They debate facts from the novels, read excerpts, and I would hazard a guess to say that they would probably drink a lot of whiskey and eat plentifully. Sounds divine. I'm thinking of joining...


The House of Silk book cover

Monday, 28 May 2012

Too Occupied To Pee...

I fret over the little things in life. It’s the small domestic matters that consume my thoughts and I often wonder how the rest of the world is negotiating the day to day trivialities that are universal to us all. This is an issue that has concerned me before and has butted its way into my conscience again recently: when is everybody weeing? Like I said: its the small domestic matters...
As you know, I’ve had a considerable group of tradesmen through my house in recent weeks with the major renovations we’ve undertaken. These guys have been at the house from morning til late afternoon, and I’ve been mostly at home in order to let them into the house and I'm trying to save money so I'm avoiding the lure of the shops....
Anyway, when are the guys going to the toilet?!? When I was working in the office before I went on leave, I probably went to the toilet once an hour - okay, that's partly in order to do 'my rounds', as everyone would say. This was a quick flit around the cubicles, to check in on how everyone was doing, what the gossip was - I am the social butterfly of the office, after all. But in all seriousness, I did have to go to the toilet anyway... and then when I was pregnant? Well, I was constantly up and down the well trodden path to the powder room.
But where are people going when  they are on the work site like my house, or in other jobs where the loo isn't always so easy to access? Are the chippies in my yard holding on all day, or are they ducking behind the garden shed??
I wondered, even as a child, what happened to the people that used to sit in the toll booths, when there was people in toll booths. How did they go to the toilet? Did they ring a buzzer to be relieved by a co-worker? Or did they.... pee in a bottle??? I know that the men who work in the gigantic cranes on work sites pee in a bottle - I heard it straight from the horse's mouth. They can't be coming down every five minutes to powder their nose. Time is money!
And what about surgeons who perform surgery for hours on end? Complex operations that take hours? It has been suggested to me that they take a break half way through. But then they'd have to lather up again... who's holding open the patient's brain while this long wee break is happening??
And ballet dancers? Opera singers? The first violin in the symphony? These guys are sitting for hours on end. They can't just hold up their hand and stop the performance because they drank too many coffees that afternoon.
So many questions - so little contacts to ask. Anyone know a brain surgeon? I need to find out what the go is - I won't sleep til then...