Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Fishfingers anyone?

I am failing miserably on the creative side for supper tonight, though I do have the excuse that our fridge/freezer is suffering an identity crisis and has transformed itself into a slow cooker with fairly dramatic results on the milk and meat front. In my thrifty mode I am trying to use the contents up before I am forced to concede they have passed the safe date – top tip when the cottage cheese lid starts bulging it’s time to admit the fridge is no longer working. The girls, or the two girls currently in residence, the middle one being at school camp, didn’t seem too thrilled by the various combinations of left overs I’ve suggested so far.

I think I am feeling particularly inadequate on the catering front as late yesterday afternoon a friend rang up to invite us to an impromptu supper for six that she then presumably just threw together. In the same circumstances I would be staring at the cupboard considering how to do a loaves and fishes on 4 fishfingers and 3 potatoes. In contrast our hostess whipped up a sumptuous meal incorporating all kinds of little touches like olives. Just gazing enviously, and greedily at the feast she produced was enough to remind me of some of my more embarrassing impromptu hostess nightmares. Aside from the occasion as a student when I thought seven lamb chops would stretch round eight people, there is the time I got carried away over drinks with a couple whom we had just met, and invited them to stay on to supper. As they enthusiastically accepted the offer, I suddenly remembered supper that night consisted of two corn on the cobs. Amazingly our friendship survived, though I am sure they must have dined out on the story of how we all solemnly sat there, politely pushing minute pieces of corn around our plates.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Monday morning in Sydney

Have staggered back home feeling that one arm is at least 6 inches longer than the other as a result of carrying youngest child’s saxophone to school. I could of course have made her carry it herself but she then has to walk tilted at a 45 degree angle, causing cars to slow as they pass us whilst simultaneously speed dialing the child protection agency. Having suffered through transporting Harriet’s saxophone around the place, particularly now she has moved up to tenor sax which needs a small truck to move it around, I was very firm that Emily should play a small instrument. I was actually thinking piccolo but we compromised on flute, a fantastically transportable instrument. I wrote clarinet or flute in very large letters in the instrument preferred box on Charlotte’s band form but sure enough given my usual run of luck the “blow test” suggested she play the saxophone. I suppose it could have been worse, we could have been talking about the ultimate parent unfriendly instrument, the tuba, the great dane of the instrument world.

Simon had his annual medical check up on Friday and emerged with a peak physical health rating, slightly irritating given what a confirmed hypochondriac he is. The doctor obviously got his measure though, because he burnt off a mole on the grounds that although it wasn’t a dangerous one, it was obviously bothering Simon mentally! As a result of the burning/freezing process the mole is now a large liquid filled lump on Simon’s chest, causing squeals of horror and disgust from the girls and leaving me feeling I am living with an unexploded bomb.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Daily life, tax trivia and darning

I was amused by an article in “The Australian” newspaper a couple of days ago pointing out that staff at Centrepoint, the Australian DHSS, feel they satisfactorily deal with 97% of customer complaints. Customers seem to have a different view, only 11% of them feel their complaint has been resolved. The important thing to note was that this just refers to basic complaints, the mind boggles at what the customer satisfaction gap might be on complex issues. I can’t afford to be smug however as we have similar, and indeed even larger perception gaps in our household, eg 100% of children believe that their rooms are tidied to an acceptable level versus the 0% parental rating.

Charlotte and I have been doing some mother child bonding over breakfast. It’s been one of the benefits this year that on my non working days the older two go off on the bus and Charlotte and I then have half an hour together before we start arguing about whether we drive or walk to school. Hands up if you can predict which side each of us is on, in this argument. The dog, who has an unfortunate underwear fetish, is also partial to Charlotte’s school shorts which are made of an obviously, deliciously chewy, sweatshirt type material. Charlotte objects quite naturally to appearing in shorts with small triangular tears which highlight the fluorescent pinkness of her pants underneath and so we embarked on a spot of darning this morning. I am not sure having a backside covered with tight little knots of material where we have enthusiastically plugged the holes is going to be much of an improvement, I think a visit to the school uniform shop is on the cards.

This morning’s highlight is going to see our accountant to do my tax return for last year. Ulterior motive on this one is that the Australian Government is giving $900 to all those who like me earn below a certain level and who have filed a tax return. The instruction from on high is that the money is to be spent on conspicuous consumption to boost the Australian economy. This Prime Ministerial command has of course filled my mind with endless possibilities for self-gratification. I suspect by the time the cheque comes through the money will have been spent at least three times over on a variety of frivolous outings. As one of my friends pointed out, it is quite difficult to think of an activity or purchase that will boost the Australian economy rather than the Chinese or US, but I'll salve my soul on the grounds that retail activity is a vital cog in the financial health of the nation even if the end product is manufactured overseas.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Wrestling with the sticky backed plastic

Like childbirth, you only remember the horrors of covering schoolbooks with plastic just when it is all just about to start again. Every year I fall into the same three traps, a) assuming it is going to be much better this time around, b) that of course we must have rolls of contact, as the sticky backed plastic is called here, lurking around in the house, there is definitely no need to buy any more, c) it won’t take any time at all so we can leave it until the last moment. Once you combine these factors with a small child whose stress factors reach the operatic heights of an ageing diva hitting a top note as she wails that the books have to be covered TODAY, you are into uncharted territory with a dawn raid to the newsagents followed by a half hour intensive session of book covering over the breakfast table. Weetabix and toast were shoved out of the way as both youngest child and I painstakingly cut out book-sized coverings. At this point the fun, and the bad language begins, for those Brits old enough to remember it is like some ghastly episode of the Generation Game. It is completely impossible to get the plastic onto the book without lines and bubbles everywhere and as I discovered last year when you try to ease the plastic off to have another go you rip the book cover beneath. Both youngest child and I looked somewhat dubiously at the end product. “They’ll do”, I said firmly and packed her off to school. Inevitably the rest of her classmates are guaranteed to have the kind of mothers who can cover a book without wrinkles in between whipping up gourmet suppers and a round of cupcakes, however just think of the fun she will have moving the air bubbles around.

Lawn now covered with chicken wire arrangements designed to protect the grass seed beneath from Pluto’s ravages. Pluto is currently lounging provocatively on top of largest patch of chicken wire, presumably waiting for sprouting grass to tickle his tummy before he digs it all up. Oldest child inspired by Valentine’s Day tried to persuade Simon that he secretly does love the dog. Simon was quite firm in his denial.

All this talk of secret love made me think however what every female wants, or rather needs at this time of year, is an unsolicited, anonymous, romantic Valentine’s card – it would put a spring into all our steps. I write this somewhat wistfully as I have only ever had one mystery Valentine’s card – and rather pathetically my mother and Jean our cleaning lady were the twin suspects in that one! Anyway something to note in your diaries for next year - ensure February is a happy month in the Ling household, either send me a valentine or offer to help covering books.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Valentine's Day - Love is in the air - not if you're the dog

Valentine’s Day 2009

Valentine’s Day has dawned wet and comparatively cold in Sydney. The weather is yo-yoing around and after weeks of heat we are now in one of the coldest February periods for 50 years. I have to confess that despite good intentions I was so disorganized this year that 5.30pm yesterday saw me trudging through the rain to our local shops to find a card for Simon. By the time I had pushed my way through the ranks of similarly desperate people, predominantly male, staring at the rows of cards the majority of cards that were left bore completely unsuitable messages such as “For my FiancĂ©” or were emblazoned with pictures of cute, cartoon teddy bears holding roses between their furry paws. Fortunately, I discovered one that met my criteria on picture and sentiment and so was able to present it in triumph this morning.

Sadly the morning has not been filled with loving feelings. When it is wet like this, we obviously get a lot of insects moving around in the lawn and the dog is fascinated by them. He spends a fair proportion of his time staring quizzically at the grass, one front leg cocked in classic hunting pose. This activity is combined with digging giant holes in the lawn in an attempt to run the insects to earth. Simon takes a very dim view of these excavations and in fact the girls and I are constantly refilling holes surreptitiously and stamping down turf before Simon spots the infringement. Simon’s normal reaction is to try and drop kick Pluto over the neighbours’ fence and Pluto who is an intelligent dog skulks away as soon as he sees him coming into view with murder in his heart. However this morning whilst viewing somewhat bitterly the lawn, which it has to be said does look like a war games practice zone, filled with craters and loose earth, Simon announced his intention of getting an air rifle, presumably to take pot shots at Pluto when he is overcome by the urge to dig. Being female I am thinking in more practical terms of long walks for Pluto and cold showers for Simon to calm all the male aggression.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Sydney shark attack

Writing this feeling dog tired as a result of Simon catching the early plane to Melbourne and consequently crashing round the room like a wounded buffalo well before dawn. Tiredness not helped by being the only person to turn up at Boot Camp this morning which meant I was unable to follow my usual survival mechanism of having a crafty breather lurking behind my fitter ‘Camping Colleagues’.

Tomorrow’s dilemma is going to be how to keep the paper away from No. 1 daughter as the headline news will be a shark attack on a navy diver in the harbour today. The diver survived but I gather he lost a hand and was badly mauled. She generally spends a fair proportion of each Saturday’s dinghy race in the water getting the boat upright after numerous capsizes, and in fact is currently sporting 3 stitches in her knee from one particular dunking – I suspect from now on she will be a moving blur in the water, never will a boat be righted as quickly, particularly if she has any bleeding wounds. Apparently January and February are prime times for the bigger sharks to be in the harbour and they are being seen more frequently now because Sydney Harbour is so much cleaner than it used to be. Commercial fishing in the harbour was stopped a couple of years ago and consequently there are much greater numbers and varieties of fish floating around, all adding up to a shark smorgasbord. Having said that I will still be pushing visitors out into the water at Balmoral, our local harbour beach – the last fatal attack was in the 1960’s and it has been 9 years since the last shark incident so the odds against ending up as a shark snack pack are pretty good. The picture at the top of this blog is of the shark net at Balmoral – rather unfortunately in light of today’s attack, after lots of argument the council took it down last year – I’m sure the local paper is going to be flooded with lots of “I told you so” letters.

Whilst on the topic of Australia’s dangerous wildlife, ironically whilst Victoria and South Australia have had a heat wave and then devastating fires, North Queensland has been flooded out and various towns have been cut off for a week or so. According to one laconic report I heard filed from a small town, the two major problems they were experiencing were that firstly the town was about to run out of beer and secondly the local crocodiles had taken to swimming down the main street – in true Crocodile Dundee style you can guess which predicament worried them most.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Tuesday morning

Part of the reason for this blog is to try and encourage me to write more, and to write more regularly, and so I am going to try and view it as an on line diary. The downside of this is that of course I am exposing myself to the world. As I have already said to the few people to whom I have admitted the existence of this blog, it feels a bit like taking all your clothes off and standing under a spotlight waiting for howls of laughter. Even the thought of this image is quite enough to evoke ghastly memories of the communal changing rooms of my teenage shopping years. Needless to say whenever I ventured into them they always seemed to be filled with lithe teens whilst I was inevitably the struggling figure in the corner, puce in the face and stuck in the too small dress. This little trip down memory lane is designed to illustrate the fact that baring all is a truly terrifying concept.

I had to do a supper mercy dash to the supermarket last night and was amused to see that Woolworths, which is one of the main supermarket chains here, has launched a new campaign “We’re behind our farmers”. I’m all for the aim, Australian farmers are having a tough time after years of drought, but I do object to the photo of the stunning girl they have chosen to front the poster, supermodel like she beams out clad in immaculate blue shirt and jeans. I don’t want to damm an entire slice of the population but I’ve met very few, very glamorous farmers and none at all wearing clean, pressed clothes with their hair lifting fetchingly in a breeze.

After weeks of heat, the temperature dropped by about 15oC yesterday, just in time for number 3 daughter’s swimming carnival and this morning it is raining with slow, persistent drips that suggest it will keep it up for most of the day. Rain is the best thing ever at the moment given the dreadful bushfires still burning in Victoria, and on a more mundane and selfish note the fact our back lawn now resembles a yellow, overused doormat, however both the dog and I are peering out and feeling very unenthusiastic about our morning walk. Pluto is definitely a fair weather dog and when forced out into the rain will seize his chance to double back and sit mutinously by the car. However I shall drag him out, all four legs braced rigidly in an attempt to stay inside and whilst we walk around the wet oval I shall think of how lucky we are not to be battling fires, watching our house burn to the ground or dying in the most horrible ways in a wall of advancing flame.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Coffee to go

Friday February 6th 2009
Coffee to go

This morning didn’t get off to a good start. I woke up feeling stiff and sore as a result of the slow struggle to get back into boot camp – quite frightening how quickly you lose fitness with a steady diet of indulgence, drink and good times over Christmas and the Australian summer holidays. I have a fairly standard routine on weekday mornings. I get up just before 6am and either go to boot camp or else take the dog for a walk. On the way back from these worthy activities I then stop off at the local shops to get bread for breakfast, and all the paraphernalia needed for my imaginative take on packed lunches – rolls and ham. The most essential part of the morning routine though, is my large skimmed latte, which I buy from the cafĂ© with possibly the slowest service in the world. To be fair this is probably because at that time in the morning, 7 am, it is packed with 3 categories of people, a) tradesmen getting their caffeine fix and limbering up before a morning’s work, b) cyclists and keep fit addicts clad in lycra, (Even when I am coming back from boot camp I don’t count in this category as I am still wearing my very unflattering tracksuit bottoms rather than summoning up the nerve to move out of this protective covering into lycra shorts) and c) harassed looking parents, generally fathers, trying to insert toast and hot chocolate into small children before school. In between ordering my coffee and it arriving I generally have time to stroll down to the bakery, gaze at the florist shop, inspect the offerings in the lingerie shop window and wonder how practical a red and black bra would be beneath my boring white shirts. However the coffee when it arrives is generally worth the wait, I relish the first sip and it sets me up nicely for the mental and physical rigours of getting three children, husband and myself off to school and work.

Anyway back to the morning tragedy. I came out of the coffee shop, clutching my cup and spotted an acquaintance on the other side of the street. Perked up by my first gulp of life reviving nectar I waved with an enthusiasm and embarked on a shouted conversation across the road, both moves I must add that would have had all the girls cringing as they find my desire to speak to people in the street, let alone shout at them excruciatingly embarrassing. On this occasion they were proved right as engrossed in our conversation I walked straight into a pole and dropped my coffee. Needless to say it wasn’t the looking like a berk in front of male acquaintance and numerous tradies all sitting at the tables watching this slapstick, or the potential black eye that I am now eyeing in the mirror at five minute intervals that upset me, but the pool of frothy liquid at my feet.

I regret to say that I am such a morning coffee addict that having come home and burst into tears on Simon, delayed shock obviously and to be honest the heat, I dropped him at the bus and promptly shot into yet another of my regular coffee haunts for a replacement cup to ensure I faced the rest of the day with equanimity.