Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Breaking New Traditions

My Christmas experiences have always been punctuated by a series of fast and fleeting traditions, drawn from the different corners of my family and pulled from my celebratory cheeseboard of friends, follies, foibles and life experiences.

As with so many haircuts and dreams and Christmas wish lists, the Christmas traditions that decorate my life have waxed and waned in brightness and closeness with the passing of time and the growing of up.

My earliest Christmas memories centre around the red brick barbecue and the inflatable wading pool, like a festively pegged Hills Hoist in full flight. Presents were swapped in the lounge room, with a joke gift hidden among every piece of present gold, while a lone pedestal failed to keep the summer heat at bay.

Those earliest Christmas days were accented with plastic table cloths, sliced ham, honeycomb bites and bowls of beetroot and pineapple up and down the trestle table - almost but not quite long enough to fit the growing family - and soundscaped with the pop of bottle lids and the rhythmic shhhh-shhhh of the backyard sprinkler.

As time moved along and my legs inched taller, the traditions and family numbers grew too. I remember festive day trips to the annual Christmas Pantomime, followed by melting icecream moments on the foreshore. Then there were the blissfully long Christmas evenings singing carols in the family room, hunting buried coin treasure in the pudding, and competing over board games with the extended family until the grown-ups nightcaps capped the day for another year.

As my childhood morphed into adulthood, our Christmas traditions organically lapsed into lazy days on the back deck; simple days of books and socks ensconced in wrapping paper, topped with a fruit breakfast, sandwiched with a seafood spread, and tailed with a lazy champagne (or four) on the lounge.

When I tumbled into parenthood, Christmas traditions took on a whole new level of meaning. As a self-confessed Christmasoholic, I set my jingly Christmas heart on creating a whole new suite of traditions for our little family of three - making our own Christmas cards, visiting obnoxiously bold light displays, wearing daggy Christmas Eve pajamas, and donating old toys before Santa's arrival each year.

At the centre of my tradition bonanza was the annual Christmas decoration acquisition. Drawing on scattered memories from my own childhood and an embarrassingly strong love of Christmas decorations, I decided we would hunt, gather and add one new special decoration to the family tree each year. With the passing of time, these shiny objects would combine together to tell a unique and expanding family narrative.

The year my daughter was born, I ventured into the city to a department store to purchase one unique decoration to mark the occasion. After extensive oohing and ahhing in the magical cave of Christmas trim and several bouts of indecision, I settled on an ornate glass baby bauble with the year marked on it.

Last year, with my toddler presenting a serious decoration hazard, I opted for a child-friendly decoration - a non-breakable, pastel fabric ice-cream cone with sparkly bits and a large woollen 'hook' for pulling on and off the tree.

This year, my daughter proudly chose her own silver star, from the department store shelf - dripping with enough glitter to start our own decoration factory at home - and carefully carried it with her in the car, in her bag, in her bed, in her hand, to do anything with but hang on the tree.

In line with family tradition, we hauled the Christmas tree bits and bobs in from the shed on the first day of December and hoisted the tree into place for another year. As we set about hanging the ornaments, we realised that the ice-cream cone decoration was missing in action. Retracing our steps, we found a trail of shimmering fabric leading to an ice-cream shaped mess: chewed up, annihilated, in the middle of the backyard, next to our guilty looking dog.

Somewhat deflated by our now truncated tradition, we turned our attention to the original glass ornament that started it all. My daughter proudly picked it up, grinned with Christmas excitement, and dropped the ball hard on the timber floor before I could scoop it out of her little hands: smashed, obliterated, in the middle of the floor, next to our bauble-shocked two year old.

In the blink of an eye, all that was left of my young tradition was some shredded fabric, some rogue glass smithereens, a trail of glitter leading to a portable Christmas ornament companion, and the memory of ornaments now past.

But from the complete tradition failure, I think we have actually managed to create a real story and a real tradition: of broken ornaments, family moments and Christmases lived and laughed and loved.

I can't wait to buy another ornament and live through its inevitable demise next year.

What are your favourite Christmas traditions?

M x 

Sunday, November 15, 2015

How to spend $50k in a day (minus $30 for expenses)

Money is a funny old thing. It has the uncanny ability to be both real and imagined, hidden and omnipresent, enabling and terrifying, and to mean everything and nothing, all at the very same time - and often both at once.  

Despite its rollercoaster state through and around my existence, money has been a  strange form of constant in my life in one balance or another for as long as I can remember. Inflections of money shimmer in memories  scrapbooked throughout my life: from clawing at the chocolate coins in my Christmas stocking each year as a kid, saving my tiny after school job pay packets for a pair of surf brand jeans, counting shrapnel at the checkout counter in the first year of uni, through to balancing my current credit card repayment tsunami against the weekly day care bills, money has been a constant companion on my journey through life, marriage and parenting.

In amongst the rabble of work, marriage and parenting an increasingly rambunctious toddler, I often find myself descending into a day dream about money. In between the hits and misses of every day life, I imagine how I would let loose and splash out if the magical rainbow of life ever accidentally got inebriated, tilted on its axis and dropped a pot of money into my unsuspecting lap - much like the $50,000 bucket currently on offer from Mortgage Choice in their $50k Giveaway, open to borrowers who settle a home loan of $150,000 or more with Mortgage Choice before 31 January 2016.
When I through my tepid afternoon coffee at my messy desk, or trying to refrain from showering vulgar obscenities and not-so-gentle thumps at the obstinate photocopier in the office for the fifteenth time in a single day, I swear black and blue I would drop the full sweet $50,000 on setting up my own business in an unblinking instant.  In one sweet, big spending swoop, I would give myself 50,000 cool reasons to drop out of the daily grind and be my own boss. No start times, no imposed deadlines, no office biscuit tin battles, no daily grand prix battle along the commuter congested freeways, through ways, tram ways and no ways of the suburban, urban pack.

When I find myself fighting sleep on the packed homeward bound commute each afternoon, petrified of drooling on my fellow passengers and missing my fleeting stop on the dreadfully long line home, I imagine using my dreamy pot of gold to pack up my urban life and fit my little piece of the sea change puzzle into the quiet life whole. I dream of breaking up the balance across packing boxes, removalists, estate agents and fuel to get from the high rise scape out to the low rise escape, with enough left in the bag to lower through the gears until it's quiet enough to hear nothing but the birds in the backyard and the kettle on the stove calling cuppa time.

When I re-enter the same toddler-toddled, exhaustion-soddled domestic orbit each evening, I  find myself traipsing the imaginary money fantastic again. In the midst of pleading with my two year old to please stop throwing her dinner at the dog, please take her pyjama pants back off her yoghurt covered head, and just darn well go and make good with her arch nemesis Sleepy Nod, I momentarily let myself wonder just how far $50,000 could go in au pair services. How many minutes, hours, breaths, glasses of wine, family-sized blocks of chocolate and snatches of tantalising parental sanity, could a single pot of wishful gold potentially deliver back to me over the next sixteen odd years?

When I find myself retrieving furry sultanas out of the couch cushions for the umpteenth time in no time, extricating mashed purple crayon from the dogs fur, or inexplicably pulling crispy dolls clothes out of the toddler-height chest freezer, I imagine spending $50,000 to buy myself a lifetime of cleanliness. How sweet and eternally vacuum-bagless it would be to place a Mary Poppins style advertisement up on the web, calling for a cleaning angel with a magic bag full of shine, dust, polish and de-sultana powers to simply come in and take care of business while I do 50,000 blissfully unrelated things.

When the long afternoons and longer commutes, the frazzled evenings and the mutating sultanas all become too much, I find myself sliding into the warmth of my tropical holiday day dream. I flick from travel website to adventure blogs and back again, dreaming of the places I could go if I simply had no place to go. If I had $50,000 land in my play dough and coffee stained lap, I would happily stomp into the travel agents office, lay $50,000 sweet ones down on the table and demand somewhere, anywhere, with sand and cocktails, and flee the shackles of reality to live happily ever after, mojito in one hand and receipt in the other.

Yet when the dreams fade and the bath water gets cold and the time comes to get ready for bed and prepare for another week at the desk and another week being mum to my family, I realise that my day dreams tucker out at night along with the daily exhaustion and suburban grit and frizz.

If I somehow managed to stumble across $50,000 one day, I probably would momentarily hover outside the travel agents with my bank card hot in my hand, itching to get going to go get. Then, after one last fleeting arc of day dream, I would turn on my work heels and plunge the whole glimmering bundle into a mortgage on my very own piece of inner-outer suburban space and place: a roof to sleep my tired body under, a verandah to dream my day dreams upon, a maze of walls to store our toddler artworks along, a lounge room to stash our furry sultanas in, a house to make a home from.

Well, $49,970 at least. Rounded out with $30 on an average bottle of sauvignon blanc, a family-sized block of chocolate and a travel mag from the local shops on the way home.

How would you spend $50,000 in a day?

M x

Friday, August 14, 2015

Same Yet Different: How Motherhood has Changed Me


I see many articles pop up in my newsfeed about the
changes that come with motherhood. These articles stretch from one side of the opinion spectrum to the other, recording beautifully positive maternal experiences through to tumultuous journeys of upheaval and challenge. Some mums seem to rejoice in claiming the cloak of motherhood, while others struggle with a loss of individual identity and space.

I find myself teetering in the middle of the spectrum. My life has changed in so many ways since I entered the murky waters of motherhood, yet I still happily drag my former self with me through all my parenting journeys, much like a toddler who drags their beloved blankie on magical adventures far and wide.

My social life has changed almost beyond recognition. Before entering the mummy zone, weekends were carefree; slow-moving scores of time peppered with barbecues, late dinners out, crowded bars and cold afternoon beverages shared in the park with friends. Now, weekends are frantic two-day jigsaw puzzles filled with oddly shaped pieces of zoo visits, university assignments, grocery shopping, adventure playgrounds, tea parties and battling my way to the washing machine.

Catch-up with friends are now brief, frazzled encounters involving repeated cries of 'please don't draw on Mummy and Daddy's friends glass coffee table with your milk' and 'put that down, it's worth more than our whole house' - or they are rare late night affairs out and about, made possible by combining painkillers and patience with a wonderful partner who is willing to take the burden while my head slowly caves in on itself the next morning.

My vocabulary has also taken a whole new direction. Expletives have given way to sweeter approximations, with fuuu...rrr out shhh....ooot getting regular workouts and my grandmother's trademark Sugar Honey Ice Tea popping in for routine appearances. Letters have replaced key words, with marital conversations within ears reach of our daughter now sounding like a rapid-fire adult spelling bee, often assisted by wild hand gestures and crinkled facial expressions for added conversational emphasis. And it's not unusual to find myself uttering absurd phrases to my toddler that would have made my former self think I was quite mad: if you put pink teddy, mummy horsey or your cow light in the garbage bin again then Mummy will be sad and the new ice cubes won't freeze and you won't be able to put any in your bowl until tomorrow. 

Work and study have become entirely different experiences. Before becoming a mum, work and university were generally the main meals of my day, providing the bulk of my mental sustenance and serving as the fiercest fire up my backside to get up, get going and fight my forward. These days, work and study have transitioned to an essential but elemental part of my independent freedom, a series of happy challenges to sandwich between the many other meals of the day.

Deadlines used to stand up in my calendar like menancing mountains, hard and cold and seemingly near impossible to scale. The project topic or essay theme would consume my mind completely, from shower to third draft to all night, panic stations. Now, the deadlines are merely friendly markers, little flags waving in the breeze requiring a slot in my diary and two coffees worth of brain space.  

My body has also changed irrevocably. Size, shape, girth - even my foot size has increased. After two and half years of slow postnatal deflation, I have retunred to most of my former wardrobe and now outwardly appear to be a reasonable approximation of my previous self. But the changes lurk behind the surface, with a series stretch marks and scars, an expanded ribcage and vastly lowered breast reminding my daily of my physical losses and my incredible life gains.

My new body has found a companion in an increased pain threshold. Having made it through a birth where I missed the window for pain relief and was too uncoordinated to suck on the gas, I seem to have discovered the art of sucking it up. Where once a heavy cold would have me bedridden and moaning for assistance, a headache plagued, snotty attack now serves as added ammunition to grit my shivering teeth and get on with all the various shit on the life list -  because, really, who else is going to pick up the plastic beetle, the discarded wipes, the three hundred lid-deprived textas and the half eaten apple shoved under the couch that are driving me mad?

Curiously, I have also become calm where I used to feel anxious, and anxious in the times and places that I used to feel calm. I am uncertain if the change is due to the shifting priorities in my life, or the many lessons I have had to learn, or the sheer exhaustion running from my tired brain to my expanded feet - but I am too tired to be anxious about it.

The many changes across my world are readily evident. Becoming a mother has changed my life irrevocably and starkly, a giant line drawn across the page of my life in black ink the day my daughter was born. As bold, as stark, as permanent as the big fat marker lines my toddler proudly tattooed onto my couch last month.

The one thing that being a mum hasn't been able to change though is the essence of me. You know, those things that make you, you and me, me. The things that would have to be ironed out of the very fabric of your being by a mystical force far greater than the combined magic of Peppa Pig, Playschool and a box of sultanas on a rainy (hungover) Sunday morning with a two year old.

Through the multitudinous changes and strangeness of parenting, my essence has remained firmly intact. Whether I'm pleading with my toddler to put her pants on or hiding in the bathroom eating chips or sitting in a work meeting, I am immovably, unquestionably still the same me I have always been. For better, for worse, and for all the weird everything in between.

The proof is in the littlest little things, the tiny parts that make up the big moving - generally very clumsy - object that is me. The things most of us never acknowledge about ourselves, but that we all know to be as true as they come and generally as odd as can be.

The little truths. Like I still believe that birthday cake is magical and should be worshipped, especially during office gatherings and mundane routine occasions - I will always be the first to begin the ungainly cake box hover, the first to have seconds, and the very last to leave a piece lying alone on the plate. Or how I will tackle the biggest bully in the room regardless of consequence, but would rather eat my own shoes than complain that someone got my sandwich order wrong.

The unconscious bits. Like I still scrunch and crinkle my nose like a hyperactive rabbit looking for premature crease lines every time I use my brain - left scrunch or uncertain, moderate scrunch for concern, mild crinkle for happy - and I still inadvertently blink my eyes in rapid succession when trying to pretend I'm not having an emotional explosion on the inside.

The quirky quirks. Like I mentally read the word 'podiatrist' as 'po-deeattrist' and add imaginary exclamation marks to uneven words to tidy them up for my liking. I still despise loose socks, pruny bath fingers and crinkling plastic sounds, firmly believing that all three were sent to undo my sanity one horrifically mundane, mundanely horrific sensation at a time.

And the little heart things. Like how I still love coffee in bed and bright flowers in bunches and collecting more books than my shelves can ever possibly hold. And how I believe that cheese is always the great answer, Scrabble is always the great leveller in love, and that antagonism laced with wit is flirting done well.

And so it is that I find myself happily stranded in the middle of the parenting change spectrum: undeniably still the same, yet simultaneously transformed in all the best possible ways.  

M x

Linking with With Some Grace for FYBF

Saturday, August 8, 2015

A Beginners Guide to Baking a Baby from Scratch

Joining the bun in the oven club can seem overwhelming - but it doesn't have to be.

Here is my simple seven-step beginners guide to baking a baby, from scratch.

First things first, it's always a good idea to check out some already finished products to make sure this really is the right cooking career for you. Take notice of random kids and their parents in their native habitats. Witness how they interact in the park when it reaches home time. Watch the battle of wits in the car park when it's time to get in the car seat. Observe the dynamics at play when they enter the confectionery aisle at the supermarket.

Alternatively, stalk down your friends with kids and offer to cook them dinner so you can examine their finished products up close. See how cute the kids are? See how they cuddle their parents so sweetly? See how they just threw the dinner you cooked for everyone on the floor? See how they just decked each other across the dining table with a Lego truck and started screaming like banshees?

If you haven't started crying into the sink yet or retreated to the nearest pub for therapy, then you are probably in a pretty good space to crack out the apron and get started.

Baking is an acquired skill, and practice really does make perfect. If you're not quite ready to start on your prize winning dish, or you're still feeling somewhat traumatised by the Lego truck incident, take that apron straight back off and practice your skills without the added pressure of a ticking oven timer.

Combine ingredients
Skilled up? If you haven't already accidently created a masterpiece, grab your willing baking partner and set aside a good chunk of time to source and combine your ingredients. The combination stage is an anything goes type of affair. Some bakers use their own ingredients, others outsource some or all ingredients as required, and some find an offsite oven to meet their personal kitchen requirements. 

There is no set recipe to follow here, so experiment with different styles and methods at will, making sure to add your own personal touches as you go. Layer in some prenatal vitamins, calcium and leafy greens for good measure, and season well with your own personal and genetic characteristics and quirks. As overall preparation time can vary wildly, with anecdotal reports ranging from less than a minute to more than a decade, be prepared to spend a fair chunk of time in the kitchen.

Promising early signs that you've chanced upon a successful combination can include feeling a little sea sick, crying over spilt milk and an unnaturally strong desire for potato chips.

Shake it, make it, bake it, baby. Place your prepared dish in the oven and bake at a moderate temperature for 40-odd weeks, until well done or otherwise scheduled for removal by your consulting professional. 

Remember to periodically crank the thermostat right up to ensure you get the full baking experience of sweat-inducing, arm-pit saturating pregnant temperatures. Make sure to pace around impatiently, tapping on the glass and wishing you could just take it out of the oven already. Distract yourself from the impossibly slow baking progress by sneaking spoonfuls of ice-cream from the freezer, and reading up on the week-by-week stages of baking development and growth. It is recommended that you engage the services of the local ultrasound technician to peer in to the oven at regular intervals throughout the bake to assess progress. It can be cathartic to complain repeatedly to your partner about the length of time the dish is taking to cook.

Remove from oven, let stand
Congratulations, your dish is ready to come out of the oven! Attempt to engage your preferred dish removal strategy, then throw the nice plan out the kitchen window and do whatever it takes to get the damned dish out of the stupid oven already. Advice your fellow kitchen assistants to exercise extreme caution while rendering assistance and support, as removing the dish from the oven is hot work and can lead to volcanic eruptions of screaming and expletives.

Admire your creation
TA DA! Well, well, look what you did, you cracking little Masterchef you! Feel free to flump back on your delivery bed pillows and gaze at your freshly baked and delivered creation with awe. Marvel at how well the ingredients combined together. Be impressed at your own talents. Goggle over the cuteness of that little-button nose and those impossibly small hands and feet. Enjoy the bliss  before the first screaming night feed begins.

Allow flavours to develop
Your baking extravaganza might be over for now, but the journey is just beginning. Much like your old favourites, cheese and wine, children have an astonishing tendency to get bolder, bitier and more expensive with age. Sit back, watch the flavours develop and enjoy as your complex, beautiful creation embarks on an amazing journey of their own.

M x