Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Move over Nigella - and just be grateful for the marmalade

I do definitely buy into the concept of a gratitude diary and the shift in your thinking produced by just trying to be mindful of the things that make you happy and lift your day.  One of my Christmas presents was in fact a real life Gratitude Diary – who says stationery companies can’t spot and flog a trend?  Before I paint myself into a ‘ Little House on the North Shore’ vision of apple pie wholesomeness I should also point out I was also given a journal to record ‘Lovers I had and liked’ and the juxtaposition of the two (blank) books on my bedside table gives me great pleasure.

However of course being me, the idea of noting things I am grateful for in a daily log goes out the window, so my own particular version of a gratitude diary would be more akin to the Gratitude Weekly – and in fact probably more like the grandmother of all Australian magazines, The Australian Women’s Weekly, that is published confusingly once a month.  We do try over supper as a kick start conversation opener to get everyone to talk about three gratitude things that happened to them during the day – and I have to say it is a useful way of inducing everyone to talk about their day, and I do buy into the notion that if you are consciously looking for things to feel happy about, then your brain does start trending towards the more cheerful, but once again am a bit nervous of us all sounding like the Waltons on a high.  In a more realistic snapshot of life a la Ling, Drama Queens 2 and 3 and I were in fact all arguing in the car this morning as to who could claim the sight of a large fluffy dog hanging out of a car window as the driver barrelled down the motorway slipway towards Sydney Harbour Bridge as one of their gratitude things for the day - having endured three years of what seems like constant learner driver supervision I am actually just grateful to climb out of the car alive most days.

I looked out of the kitchen window last week to see a huge sulphur crested cockatoo sitting on top of our small pot bound lemon tree, wrenching off the lemons.  

They are such amazing looking birds that this was definitely a gratitude diary winner in terms of colour and interest and “oh my goodness’ moments though in fact cockatoos are such a nuisance and so destructive in terms of pulling things off houses that rental leases in areas close to bushland will specify you must not feed birds.  This particular one flew off with a lemon in its beak – and it was clear from the debris around the bush that this wasn’t its first attempt at fruit snacking.

The sight of the citrus produce departing skywards was enough to send Husband into a Nigella like marmalade making frenzy.  Drama Queen 2 planted a grapefruit tree years ago and it has never really done much until this year when it has gone troppo and consequently the lawn has been taking direct hits from large and very sour yellow grapefruits, and he gathered up all the sodden grapefruit and the remaining unravaged lemons and boiled up an enormous batch of grapefruit and lemon marmalade.  The smell of citrus and sugar on the boil definitely gets a gratitude mention – and as for the fact that as the Drama Queens pointed out this morning, it still hasn’t set – slightly alarmingly they were holding a couple of jars upside down when they made this observation, well that’s just a minor hiccup – it’s the wholesome thought that counts so perhaps my own personal Nigella better go in the Lovers diary as well.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

So do you believe in Dog Poo fairies?

I seem to have been stuck in one of those periods of life, and OMG as I type those words I think, this is it, what I am describing has a name – and that name is ‘MIDDLE AGE’ – but joy-sapping labels aside, it has been a couple of months where I seem to poised at the start of a rant when anyone foolishly asks me how I am and life events have had a nasty habit of being more on the depressing side of death, decline and the drip-drip aggravation of living with teenage life forms– so I love it when I come across something that makes me laugh out loud,  and this particular notice that has appeared down at the dog park, stuck prominently on the dog poo bin had me snorting away as I binned the poo. So well done that unexpected source of merriment, Mosman Council, this particular ratepayer loves you, however I am of course now worrying about the fact I am potentially old and grey inside as well as out!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Street Art - Street Smart, got to make you smile

Sunday was one of those champagne days of life that you try and store in your mental photograph album of life to flick back to when days are grey and cheerless.  A day we spent on the boat on Sydney Harbour with a group of friends.  Summer seems endless at the moment with still enough heat here for endless swims off the back of the boat and that blissful sensation of sitting in the sun with salt drying on the skin.  We were moored off a beach underneath the old Quarantine Station at the top of the Harbour, with lunch that great standby of British picnic food, Coronation chicken complete with a glass of Rose and a great sail home.   Difficult to pick up and go to work, school and normal routines of the week – but fortunately my days are brightened by the imagination and brilliance of the artists and creators who have created two separate forms of street art in Sydney.

How can you not smile at these Rhinos that are dotted round Sydney CBD as part of Taronga Zoo’s Wild Rhinos sculpture trail to raise funds for their Black Rhino Conservation Programme? -https://taronga.org.au/wild-rhinos

North Sydney Council is also bringing a smile to my face every time I see one of their brilliant new look traffic signal boxes.  They are taking these boring, green, rectangular boxes that are such a mundane part of the urban streetscape that you never even really notice them and with the help of local artists, Karen Atkins, Jessica Birk and Ad Long, turning them into colourful works of art that bring interest and zing to the street. http://www.northsydney.nsw.gov.au/Community_Services/Arts_Culture/Public_Art/Colouring_our_Habitat


Jessica Birk

Jessica Birk

Karen Atkins

My particular favourite is this envelope box that is addressed to the Neutral Bay Senior Citizens Club, it has cheered my day every day I drive past it, the colour and wit make me smile.  

Ad Long

Ad Long
The downside is that I am incandescent with rage about the fact that some Goth of a Vandal has decided this would be a suitable site for their pathetic self promotion graffiti.   Go and look for a green traffic signal box next time, there are plenty around, rather than ruining a piece of art.  Fortunately it’s too nice a day here to be cross for long and what better than a geometric rhino to make my day and if this detail from Karen Atkins' take on Sydney Harbour doesn't make you smile then nothing will.

Karen Atkins

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Facebook - Friend or Foe

Call me the Queen of Procrastinators on the blogging front, I don’t think I can even claim to have Writer’s Block, as that implies you have got out of the starting blocks instead of fiddling about at the start claiming that you need to tie your shoe laces and style your hair before you line up.

Bruce Springsteen, The ‘Boss’ was in town recently – and when I say recently I do mean at least four weeks ago, at this point you begin to realise I am not joking on the procrastination front. 

As part of Springsteen’s Australian tour, he did a concert in the Hunter Valley, a wine growing area a couple of hours outside of Sydney.  Having my finger on the pulse of popular culture as I do, I had completely failed to spot this event and then was slightly miffed to discover every friend and acquaintance that I possessed was off to see him strut his stuff.  To be honest according to Facebook, social media and the school grapevine, I was the only person of a certain age left in Sydney that weekend.

What I found interesting was my frankly juvenile reaction to all the Facebook photos and posts that appeared in nanoseconds. Bizarrely it felt as if I had been left out in some way - and nothing could be further from the truth.  But it did make me realise how difficult life is for my teenage daughters in today’s immediate world of posts and tweets.  No one ever puts up a sad photo of them having a grim time on Facebook, everyone is always having a fabulous evening out encompassing wine, women and song.  My reaction was completely irrational, given the fact the nearest I have ever got to being a Springsteen fan was when discussing the lyrics of “Cover Me’ with a chap called Mickey who I was marginally keen on, whilst we were both dressed in togas at a garden party at 11am – this detail giving you some idea of the fact we are talking different eras here – and also reinforcing the fact that all credit to him, Springsteen has been around a long time, but it does make me think that there is probably a universal human reaction - a giant FOMO emotion that Facebook intensifies.  

I reckon that I and my cohort, got off lightly.  During my teenage and toga wearing years, the only record of events was a photo that you then had to trot off to Boots to have developed, so by the time the 12 out of focus shots appeared, you could be weeks after the event and everyone had lost interest anyway; the party was passé.  I feel for my daughters completely bombarded with immediate evidence of what a good time everyone else is having, without the reality check that this is a snapshot of life not the full blown novel.

However having slammed Facebook, I now have to confess I have really enjoyed seeing the recent pictures a long lost school friend posted there of us all as teenagers on a school ski holiday.  OMG what were our mothers thinking letting us out with those pudding bowl haircuts, I think we were all channelling Joanna Lumley in her New Avengers persona (and failing dismally – Purdy we were not).  And the clothes, I had to peer at the bizarrely clad teenage version of myself to check it was actually me.  But once again the glorious fact about those teenage days was that even if someone took a picture of you looking ‘daggy’ and believe you me, we put the ‘dag’ into that fabulously descriptive Australian word ‘daggy’, it took at least two weeks for the evidence to surface (or in fact 35 years in this case). 

Pudding Bowl or Purdy - take your pick!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Valentine's Day Massacre - Knives at dawn

It was knives at dawn in our household in a somewhat new rendering of the Valentine’s Day spirit.  We are not big on Valentine’s Day and to be honest Husband can usually count himself lucky to receive the type of bent and mangled tasteless card that is the only thing left at 8pm on the 13th when true to form I suddenly remember I am supposed to have succumbed to romantic fervour.

This year I managed to get my hearts and flowers together, and actually got a relatively inoffensive card and a present that exceeded the usual packet of dried mango in the excitement stakes.  A bread knife is an obvious romantic gift and given that the sailing boat he has just purchased is clearly the new love of his life, then what could be more appropriate than a knife (in traditional day glo orange) to go with it?

It was not one of those mornings where we sprang out of bed, having had a late night outing to see the somewhat puzzling “Inside Llewyn Davis” at the Outdoor Cinema at Sydney’s Botanic gardens – the cinematic drama enhanced by the vivid lightning flashes illuminating the iconic skyline behind the screen. 

As light dawned, and alarm clocks buzzed, I whipped out my present and card with a fair show of smugness, needless to say in a nod to the traditional lateness I had had to wrap it post cinema, bent double behind the laundry basket, swearing away about the fact that there was not a working roll of Sellotape in the house.  Husband then looked even smugger as he matched me on the knife front with the completely original present of a cakeslice - in the form of a pink daschund!

How can you not love a pink swirly daschund of a cake slice?

I reckon if you have a cake slice, it has to be frivolous.  My last one was a Kriskringle present from about 5 years ago and played, somewhat tinnily, a variety of useful tunes from Happy Birthday to the Wedding March.  Sadly it had one too many plunges into the washing up bowl and had disintergrated – so yes I was in the market for  a new cake slice.

And this one is such a joy!  Who could have guessed I would derive such pleasure from a cake slice?  I think it is the colourfulness of it – I am a girl of bright colours, a pair of rainbow wellies with transparent heels being one of my prized student possessions.  

Was pleased to find Rainbow wellies are back in fashion??? But have yet to spot anyone actually wearing them.

The other winner is I think it is just such a clever design, practical but guaranteed to make you smile.  The shop it came from is called Pylones, their Sydney store is just a riot of colour, the Joseph and His Amazing Coloured Coat of retail.

Keep your roses and chocolates, I’m off to eat cake!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Hand me the tissues - it's Kindergarten all over again

There are milestones in family life, some may be optional eg marriage, you don’t actually have to nip up the aisle in a froth of white fantasy to create a family, but if you have children, unless you belong to the essentially noble but completely mad band of homeschoolers, (and I use mad here in the full knowledge of the homicidal rage that fills me whenever I try to teach any of my children anything on the academic front), one of the milestones of life is when your child starts ‘Big’ school for the first time.

Drama Queen No. 1 was keen on the concept of school for the introductory half day, less enthused by the first full day and completely baulked at the thought of returning for a full on Friday.  She took off the school uniform she looked so angelic in, hid all of it and climbed back into the top bunk, a position that she knew from experience that it was almost impossible for an adult to dislodge her from.  I succeeded in persuading/wrestling her into the car and as I drove her to school pointed out that arriving wearing only a pair of knickers might cause a stir.  Bear in mind at this point I was also wrestling with a 2 week old baby and a 2 year old, in fact I was wrestling with life basically.  She went into school, very reluctantly, though in a wave to convention she did consent to put her clothes back in, and sailed through the day and the rest of her school life in triumph.  I in contrast retreated home a complete wreck and burst into tears every time everyone spoke to me.

Given that it seems only the other day that the Kindergarten strip off took place, Husband and I, who in our minds have only just left university, were somewhat stunned to find ourselves back in the car, driving DQ no. 1 off to start yet another educational milestone.  Fortuitously, this time she opted to keep her clothes on, though I am sure arriving at college for the start of her university career wearing just her knickers would have ensured a certain kind of notoriety and possibly popularity.

Australians, particularly those living in the major cities, tend to live at home to go to university, which is in contrast to the UK and American experience.  Having just paid the first Semester’s residential fees for DQ No.1’s college, I have full sympathy for the economic reasons behind this.  You can put university course fees on a student loan but residential fees generally end up being paid by parents.  However I can’t help feeling that going from school to university and continuing to live at home does contribute to the tight knit nature of Sydney society – I always used to typify this as per the following conversation at a party.  ME: “So how do you and [THE HOST] know each other?”  STRANGER (who given my luck, is generally less of the tall dark variety of stranger and more of the small and mousy) “We lived on the same street, went to the same school, went to Sydney Uni together and then I married his sister.”  ME “Oh, so you’re close then.”

For both Husband and me, going away from home to live at university was such a formative experience in our lives that we have really encouraged the DQs to think about doing the same, such unselfish encouragement having nothing to do with a wish to regain control of the car/laundry/fridge/tv control and bathroom.

We dropped DQ1 off in the amazingly organised and welcoming environs of her residential college and drove home feeling a little emotional that this was probably the end of the five of us all living together permanently as a family unit.  However the upside is that having just sent out my traditional Christmas letter, traditional that is to February, to my overseas friends, when I looked at the distribution list (because of course when I say letter, what I mean is email), I realised how many of the friends on it, are of course my university friends.  These are the people I still classify almost thirty years on, as ‘the ring in the middle of the night’ type friends, and if that is the gift that DQ No.1 picks up from going away to college, then it is worth any amount of money as it is those friends who will keep her going when she has forgotten every lecture, for as one of my favourite quotes goes; “Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything one has learned in school”. Albert Einstein

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Do Not Drink Unless Desperate - good advice from the Under 21s

Last week Melbourne absolutely sweltered in 40 plus degrees, not good news for those playing in the Australian Tennis Open which became more of a Bikram Yoga session than a Wimbledon like event.  Sydney in contrast to the Southern half of Australia had the most glorious weather, temperatures in the low 30s and a bit of cool in the evenings and early mornings. 

One of the hot weather habits we have adopted is keeping cold bottles of water in the fridge.  Bombay Sapphire gin bottles have always struck me as the ideal water bottles, in terms of weight and aesthetic looks and provided we keep an eye on guests trying to throw out the tops, it’s been a great system over the years, though it has led to raised eyebrows at time re my drinking habits.

“Do you always drink gin at breakfast?” being an example of a penetrating questions from one of my nephews. 

Like all great systems there are always the glitches.  In addition to the kitchen fridge we also have what is known as the back fridge in the dog room cum laundry.  The back fridge is where we keep the alcohol, as opposed to the decomposing vegetables, clingfilmed leftovers that I am hopeful will be eaten soon despite the fact they were rejected on the first outing, and out of date yoghurts that reside in the kitchen fridge.  At the end of last week owing to the fact that some one – I was going to write child but could equally be Husband, as age is not the criteria for this scapegoat role, rather lack of common sense, turned the back fridge thermostat up to high, leading to a very dramatic Diet Coke explosion that blew the door open and scattered Diet Coke crystals across the laundry and dog.  In the clean up, I took all the bottles out, including the gin and the 20 bottles of beer that for some reason reside there, neither of us actually drinks beer but it would be social death in Australia not to have a beer to hand for visitors and rewarding tradesmen.  Having washed everything down I left the bottles to dry and wandered off, came back, restacked back fridge without noticing I was missing a bottle of gin that someone in unaccustomed helpful mode had put in the kitchen fridge.  We came home from a night out to an accusing gin bottle and accompanying note from Drama Queen No.1 who had obviously attempted to pour herself a glass of water and received a full on dose of ‘Mother’s Ruin’ – glad to see she hasn’t got a taste for it.  

I do remember trying to drink Gin mixed with water and sugar at university as we were too lazy/broke to go out for tonic – and it was pretty nasty, so I am with DQ No. 1 on the 'desperate' sentiment.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

2014 is going to be a Frangipani of a year

Happy New Year!  I have abandoned New Year Resolutions as a bad idea as not only do I break them within a week, but I am then wracked with guilt about what a feeble human being I am.  In past years I was full of good ideas, strangely enough the same ones every year.  It probably comes as no surprise that these annual notes to self always seem to focus on daily exercise, miraculously weight loss and writing more, perhaps in retrospect I should have thought about a way of combining the last two and attempted to write the best selling, ‘Read Your Way Down a Dress Size Diet” or “The Novel Diet” – am thinking of copywriting the latter title which will feature as its central tenet that rather than reaching for the biscuit tin, one should select a riveting read and lie on the bed or in the bath – sure to be a bestseller amongst the London literary set and just imagine the fun I could have selecting titles as alternatives to various foodstuffs.    Anyway best selling diet book fantasies aside, this year I have taken a chill pill on the resolution front as it were and made a realistic assessment of my stock of will power and decided that my only resolution is to be happy.  If nothing else the drama of our lives in 2012 and 2013 has taught me that that love and happiness are really the only things that matter in life.

Happily, in this context we did have a lovely Christmas and New Year.  This particular Christmas was spent in Lymington on the south coast of England and was made extra special by the fact that owing to the winter storms, we spent three days from the 23rd to the 26th living by candlelight and open fire.  All very romantic in theory, but actually very inconvenient, if like my noble sister-in-law you have to contend with 12 in the house with no dishwasher, guttering candles and unwashed relatives unwilling to face cold showers.   

Based on life without power I came to a number of conclusions:

a)   You can never have enough candles.  Forget period drama showing ball rooms lit by a few discreet tapers, the reality is it takes a huge amount of candles to create a liveable amount of light. Likewise tea lights may be atmospheric in an airy fairy type way but do not last for any meaningful amount of time and bear in mind that given the bleak midwinter timing of Christmas, that it gets dark at 3.30pm and not reliably light until 8am.  In fact early morning stocking openers had to be sent back to bed until adults could actually see what was going on as the combination of wrapping paper, bed linen and candles was deemed as too inflammable for anyone to face.

    b) It’s remarkable how much wood you burn when you are relying on fires to heat your house rather than to provide atmospheric flickering and back up to the central heating.  Husband took on the role of wood boy and like the poor man in ‘Good King Wenceslas’ did a lot of ‘gathering winter fuel’.

    c)  Should I ever live in the UK countryside I need to remember the importance of having at least three different sources of heating – and one of those must be an Aga.  It radiated cheerful heat, provided Christmas dinner and heated the numerous kettles of water that were needed for bracing cups of tea needed when we weren’t taking to alcohol to cheer ourselves up.

As ever with these situations, it’s the company you keep that makes the difference, not the environment, and we couldn’t have had a better Christmas in terms of general jollity.

So here’s hoping that 2014 keeps up the happiness quotient that Christmas kicked off to such a good start.  Back in Sydney, my heart thrills to see that for the first time in my career as a gardener, a career characterised less by green fingers, and more by being the harbinger of the black kiss of death to most plants, I have managed to get a frangipani to flower.   The orchid that I did manage to keep alive for a whole year wasn’t quite so lucky and is looking a little less festive.