Monday, April 28, 2014

IT superheroes

We had one of those work sessions today were you all get together and talk about your core purpose and so on. Anyway, amongst other things, we sat in groups and discussed how being Christ-centred might play out in our area.  Then there was some reporting back, including our IT guys. This is what they said:

We wondered what a Christ-centred help desk might be like. We came up with the need to remember that  the people we serve are more important than the problems they bring to us.


Sunday, April 27, 2014

Dear discouraged cook

Some days it feels like nobody is happy with dinner at our house.  In which case, I may as well cook whatever I like. Some days I do just that.  And then some days I cook mac cheese again in the hope that people will like me again.

Honestly, nothing dents one's ego like cooking for an hour knowing that everyone is going to react miserably when they see what is on the table.  "They" tell us that children need to be served a new food at least 10 times before they are likely to take it on board.  On that basis, if you cooked the same "new" meal once a fortnight for half a year you might have a chance of getting it accepted by the family.  That's a loooooooooong term commitment to grumpiness for the greater good.  I'm willing to go that extra mile for carrots and broccoli but I don't have that kind of energy to waste on tofu.

But we can't just eat mac cheese every night (well, one member of our family would be fine with that).  As it is, it comes on rotation about every 10 days that, my friends, is my absolute limit.  "We" will also eat spaghetti with meatballs (but there's no love lost on spaghetti bolognaise or lasagne - go figure), roast chicken, fish and chips and basil pesto (but only if it has sausage in it).  Then there's a few sundry meals that the majority approve of but it's not unanimous.

In the hope that my children won't grow up to have the world's most limited palates, I still inflict new foods on my kids.  Outrageous dishes like chicken pie (gasp) or radical stuff like home-made baked beans with bacon, or really exotic dishes like sweet and sour pork (fearless, I am).  I've discovered that my energy for experimentation and the resulting grumpiness is not great mid-week.  It's not worth throwing everyone into a fit of gloomies on a Monday night when baths and homework still have to be finalized.  So I save these 'tastes of the world' for the weekend or school holidays and cook the tried-and-true dishes most of the week.

In the last year or so, we've struck up a newish tradition.  At the start of the school holidays, we borrow some cook books from our local library and each child gets to pick a main dish they think they would like to try and cook (with mum's help) for the family.  Sometimes, I end up cooking most of the dish with very minimal kid-help depending on difficulty.  But their willingness to try something they've chosen and prepared is sky-high compared to when it is being inflicted upon them by Mother.  Double-sky high if it is a recipe from a celebrity chef (thanks, Jamie).  Even if they never want to eat the food again, they are actually willing to try several bites and a lot less likely to complain about it before they've given it a go.  Out of this experimentation, we've managed to hit on a couple of winners that they are willing to have inducted into the elite hall of acceptable family dinners (like the basil pesto - who knew?).

584397This school holidays we've given this cookbook by Lelila McKinnon a real work out.  I went a little crazy and allowed them to choose both a dessert and a main.

Here were the results:

Baked salmon: the picking child loved it but it really wasn't embraced by the rest of the family.

Berry pavalova (front cover there): easy and well-received.  It is quite large and very suitable for taking over to a dinner at one's minister's family's house to share (for a totally random example that may have in fact happened). Gluten free.

As-good-as-it-gets lasagne: beautiful but a tad time-consuming.  Sadly, only really loved by one child but the adults don't care - we are not going through the next 20 years without lasagne so everyone's just going to have to cope.

Lamb souvlaki: excellent marinade.  Very easy.  Enjoyed by all.  Will make a regular appearance in the future.

Salt and pepper squid: only attempted this because we have a good fish shop that does all the cutting and prep for me.  It was way too salty and the kids didn't enjoy it much.  It may be okay if we cut the salt down heaps but I can't see it being a regular fav.

Tiramisu: gorgeous.  All the kids liked this.  But it was huge.  Next time I'll only make it when we've got guests.  It's taken me us several days to work our way through the leftovers.

Chocolate mousse:  lovely but not chocolate-y enough.  I'm going to re-try it with dark choc instead of milk.  Recipe was very easy though and the kids enjoyed it (except for the one kid who found out it had raw egg in it and then refused to touch another spoonful and went to wash out his mouth).

The recipe book is very, very good.  Most of them are simple but they are honest family food.  And from a reasonable smattering of cultural backgrounds.  I even found a Filipino favourite of mine!

Anyway, that's the cooking status at our house.  It's back to mac cheese tomorrow.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Pursuing real

It’s happened again. One of the blogs I’ve been reading for a while has had an epiphany. If you’re a seasoned blog reader, it will be a familiar process to you. Someone will be blogging along for several years with a particular passion and then they suddenly realize – dramatic pause - that they’ve changed their mind. (I’d give you an example but any “lifestyle” choice I use might be someone’s pet love so I’ll stay cautiously vague.)

People change and life moves on. Who cares? Nobody much unless we've become a little over-invested in their blog. We've enjoyed the beautiful photos that casually scream “look at my wonderful life” and tried out their recipes for organic kale ice-blocks. They given sage-like advice on managing and organizing life’s chaos and suggested a more gentle way to speak to my children while tastefully repainting a second-hand urn bought at the op-shop.

In any case, we first find that they are in some way endearing. And then clever. And then wise. And then without really thinking about it we are buying the same books and wearing the same clothes and redecorating our walls in the same colour-scheme as their new kitchen. And then we go a bit further and we are re-aligning our priorities and re-thinking our values and re-scheduling our children and pursuing life in the same way as our bloggy-bestie (who doesn’t even know we are alive except for that one time she replied to our comment – squeal).

And then….. she changes her mind. Or has a nervous breakdown. Or declares her old colour-scheme a complete disaster.


One thing I’ve learnt as a devoted blog-reader over the last few years is that blogs are fickle. They allow us to glimpse into the life of a person in the same way that we can see a reflection in still water. When we “know” them, we really only know what they tell us about themselves which is as substantial as a ripple in the lake.

On the other hand, all around us are real people. And they are sometimes boring or inconvenient or smelly or whatever. But they are at least real.

When a real-life friend makes a “lifestyle” decision, we get to see the consequences. We know what they sound like when they speak to their children. We can visit their houses and see the nooks and crannies of their life and the open their fridge and smell the slightly-off cream at the back. We know whether they are the sort of friend you can call when you have to suddenly go into hospital or whether their number is reserved for sunny-day appointments only. Everything about them is set in the context of their real life.

On the other hand, you don’t know see any of the real life results of your bloggy-bestie’s life-style choice. While her blog is full of lovely family moments shot with vintage filters and gilt highlights, you can’t see the lack of engagement with the needs of others or way their family insularity negatively affects their neighbours and friends. The blog might be full of a well-reasoned mantra for raising marvellous children, but you don’t see that her anxiety and controlling nature is driving them all to a level of perfectionism that is exhausting to live with. While she encourages you to live life in the moment and enjoy the chaos and fun, you don’t see the younger child whose learning needs are being overlooked and the husband who longs for more structure and boundaries in his home.

But you might see that if you knew her in real life.

Or maybe not because maybe things really are all roses and chocolate cookies at their house. Who knows?

I'm not suggesting all bloggers are deceptive or air-brushing their lives.  It's just that the lure of finding meaning and relationships online is so strong that we sometimes fail to keep in mind that real life is much more......REAL.

Which brings me to my point. While I sit and read blog after blog on a Sunday afternoon, that older lady three pews back sits at home and watches a re-run on the telly. She is real. And she’s lived more of life than me. How strange is it that I spend so much time reading the weekly chatterings of 40-something-year-old better versions of myself who I will never meet while I can’t find time for a cup of tea with Vivienne? Why do we bristle like porcupines when offered some well-meaning advice from an older lady we know but so eagerly swallow down whatever is served up to us online by favourite bloggers whom we have never so much as glimpsed in real life?

I'm not giving up blog-world and going offline. I have found some friends online who I count as real even if we've yet to meet (love you guys to bits). And many times I've been helped by the gracious and wise online words of others. But I am challenging myself to take a good look around me and ask myself whether I should pursue real-life a bit more, especially when it comes to the women around me.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The graduation

Okay, so I’m about to bore you with a long description of my happy weekend. If you don’t like as many details as your Aunty Mable shares (even when she’s just telling you she’s bought a loaf of bread yesterday) then skip this post.

At the other end of the fortnight, was my husband’s graduation from a work-sponsored uni course. His work was very kindly putting on a black-tie dinner at a fancy-smanchy hotel in the city. They were also paying for a room for the night.

It’s been 10 years since we’ve had a night on our own without children.

Did I mention 10 years?

I was just a tad excited.


Of course, before this wonderful treat could be enjoyed, there were serious logistics to be sorted. Firstly, what to do with the wonderful children? We did think about just leaving the dog in charge at home (she’s really very trustworthy) but apparently that’s not okay (who knew?) so we opted for some responsible adults instead. Cue the very kind brother and sister-in-law who agreed to have six kids for a night instead of their usual three.

That was terrific but as they live two hours away it meant leaving work early, driving two hours to drop the kids off and then driving an hour and a half back to the city leaving just enough time to dash up to the room and get ready for dinner.

The hotel was gorgeous. I have never seen such a place in my life. Marble fountains. I kid you not. I think there were three of them. And they somehow pipe the smell of gardenias through the air on every floor. Even the doors to the lift were so beautiful I got teary. Ladies and gentlemen, I have never felt like such a hick in all my born days!

By the time I’d been lost in awe at my surroundings and then struggled into an evening gown, I was shaking like a leaf. My husband had already gone up to the reception for group photos and so I texted him to come back down and collect me as I was too nervous to negotiate the corridors by myself.

It was a lovely dinner. And I was ridiculously proud of my husband as he got his certificate. We did not indulge in the dance floor. Neither of us are much for dancing (except when I’m spring cleaning with my youtube 80s dance mix on…. don’t go judging me now) and besides my shoes were only just bearable for walking let alone tripping the light fantastic.

We made a discreet exit at about a quarter to 11 and headed back up to our suite. The turn-down service had been in and there were slippers beside my bed. Ahhhhhh. And pillows like giant marshmallows. So very many pillows.....

Ten years of child-rearing changes you though. No sleeping in for me. Like an alarm clock, I woke at 7 am exactly and there was nothing for it but to have a cup of tea.

Breakfast was a buffet downstairs. Again, I was overwhelmed with the loveliness of it all. They had everything – everything – anyone could possible want for breakfast. A chef cooked my poached egg in front of me and then another chef flipped my flapjacks while I waited. So delightful.

We sat down to enjoy our breakfast and I casually noticed the table near us was occupied by three grown sisters who were soon joined by their mother and father. I decided (because one must have a back-story for the people you are next to when you are eating breakfast) that they were probably in town to shop for one of the girls’ weddings. They seemed nice.

I didn’t think much more about them until a little later when the murmur of their conversation made my ears prick up. It was the lilt of someone reading. I turned and saw the father had open a copy of “Daily Light” and was reading them their morning devotions. And then they discretely prayed. Even the glamour of our surroundings did not stop them from spending time together with God and his word.

As my friend Lill said when I told her the story later, “Ah. You were amongst family!” Yep. I suddenly felt at home.

Slowly we did return to real life and pack up our little belongings and head downstairs to check out. As we waited for the valet to bring our car, I was just brimming over with the delights of it all. I’m not usually a person who likes frills and fusses. But this was a little slice of loveliness that I will turn over and over in my mind for quite a while.

So here’s a selfie to prove it all really happened and I didn’t just imagine it all.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

A little in-flight entertainment

X-rated marketing by Isuzu

Isuzu has decided to promote their new trucks as "X-rated" with the instructions that we should, "Go on, have a perve."  Added to that they are running a promotion with the prize being a trip for "you and three mates" to "5 Hot Nights" in Bangkok.

Thailand hosts Asia's largest sex industry and it's estimated that around 250,000 Western males visit each year for the purposes of sex tourism.  Around 32,500 of these are Australian men.  If you, like me, find Isuzu's campaign unacceptable click here to sign the petition.  If you want to read more, click here.  Collective Shout have previously been successful in getting their message heard by advertisers so go on and let Isuzu know they should rethink their message.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

It’s hard to know how to reflect on the last few weeks. At the start of the last fortnight, we had a funeral. At the end of the next week, we had a graduation. The highs and lows of life have been all jumbled up and combined at a pace that was almost unsustainable.

We farewelled my wonderful mother-in-law. To be honest, it all seems surreal still. I don’t expect to see her around because we lived so far apart so it doesn’t seem as though she’s gone. And yet I stood on the muddy ground as they lowered her – or what was left of her after the cancer had done its worst - into the cold earth. I was fine at the funeral. Well. Almost fine. It was when I got back to the house that it began to sink in. I went into the kitchen to make a cup of tea and I opened the pantry to find something.

Everything about the place made me think of her. Her writing on the labels. The ingredients that were so familiar I could name the dishes they would be destined for. The cereal that she only bought for the grandkids when they stayed. It wasn’t just that she was a good cook (she was indeed). It was that the kitchen was the heart of how she served and loved her family, her church, her community and even strangers that came her way.  

The kitchen undid me and I had to take refuge in the front yard for a bit to pull myself together. Still, once we travelled home, I felt disconnected again from the whole event. It’s been such a long time coming - this terrible end that we kept hoping would be avoided somehow - that it’s hard to process.

I haven’t let myself think much about it since we returned home. Haven’t want to and haven’t had much time. My husband had to go away for work the week after. The kids needed attention. My work was frantic. Then in the middle of last week I suddenly realised what I wanted: a photo of the pantry. With tears, and mentally kicking myself for not having taken the photo while I’d been up there the week before, I sent off a hurried email to my sister-in-law who is still at the house. “Could you please take a photo of the pantry and email it to me? Open both doors and step back until the pantry fills the frame. Please don’t neaten anything up. Thanks.” Odd. But thankfully my sister-in-law is kind to lunatics and sent me back my requested shot.

I’ve edited it now and added below the verse that my mother-in-law kept on her fridge for the last couple of years of her trial. Once I get the right frame, I plan to hang in it my kitchen. Her pantry in my kitchen. A great reminder of the example she set me in her loving service to her family and beyond, and of the hope she had that there was much more to come beyond our few short days.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Anyway, that was the funeral. I’ll bore you with the graduation in another post some time soon.