Saturday, April 30, 2011

Genuine Gym Junkie

Since last year I have been going to the gym.  A good friend of mine and I would disappear after the babies were asleep, hop on the treadmill or bike, flick the TV to MasterChef and have a good chat while we rolled along.  In all honesty we would have been lucky if we worked off the calories in a fun size Milky Way, but that's not why we were going.

That friend and I now walk out in the real world, and while I think we work harder than ever, it left an opening for a gym buddy.

So I was thrilled when another good friend stepped up, but also a little afraid because I knew he would actually make me work hard.  Like sweaty hard.  I hate to sweat and try to avoid all activities which produce it, which is why I enjoyed my gym based chatting workouts because there was very little sweat involved.  I had a teeny tiny towel I took with me but it was merely for show (No Towel, No Workout), and more likely to be used to wipe up water which I would dribble down my chin because I cannot seem to drink out of a water bottle with any degree of decorum.

It didn't take me long to realise that my teeny tiny hand towel wasn't going to cut it for a gym session with a real gym junkie.  I needed a big towel to wipe up big amounts of sweat.

So today I was doing interval training on the bikes, with my friend pushing me harder and harder.  I spread my new big towel out across the handle bars, just like I have seen all the real gym junkies do, and I was feeling pretty good about myself.

'So,' I said between gasps. 'I look like a real gym junkie, don't I?'

I gestured at the towel proudly and then pointed at his, also laid across the handle bars.

'I think I really belong here now,' I huffed.

He just smiled at me and lifted up the corner of my plush white towel.

'Maybe,' he said.  'If you didn't have little elephants saying 'I love my Mummy' embroidered on the towel'.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Bunny Love

The Blonde Bombshell is four weeks away from turning four, but personally I still consider her young enough to want and need a favourite stuffed toy.

Bunny, (it's a descriptive name, not a creative one), is a four year old, foot long stuffed pink rabbit.  He used to be bright pink, with luxuriously soft fur but after numerous adventures in the washing machine he is now more of a muted and munted shade of crispy beige.  He is very loved, or was, until a few nights ago...

'Ok sweetie, time for bed.  Here's Bunny...' I started tucking him under the covers next to her but she pushed him away.

'I don't need him anymore,' and promptly tossed him down the end of the bed, where he landed on his head, legs splayed in a most undignified pose.

You don't need him anymore?

What on earth could have happened overnight that made her go from considering Bunny to be only slightly less important than Mum and Dad (but more important than her baby sister) to considering him unnecessary?  What could have happened to make her decide that the toy she wrapped in a blanket each night so he wouldn't get cold no longer rated a place next to her in the bed?  What could have happened to stop her loving a bunny that we once had to drive across Perth in the rain during nap time to collect when we left him at a friend's house because she couldn't possibly sleep without him?

My heart crumpled and landed on its head in a most undignified position.  I wanted to pick Bunny up and cuddle him and tell him she didn't mean it, that it was all a big misunderstanding.  Gosh, I even considered taking him into my room and letting him sleep with me.

But I didn't.  I left him on his head, kissed the Bombshell goodnight and walked away.

The next night, despite my placing him temptingly on the pillow at bedtime, he was again relegated to the end of the bed.  Again the following night.

Why does it matter, I ask myself?  Why am I so upset about this?  It's a stuffed toy, not a pet puppy.

Tonight, after the Bombshell had fallen asleep, I discreetly moved Bunny and placed him next to her.  His big, black plastic eyes stared straight ahead, up at the ceiling.  Later, when I went in to turn off her bedside lamp, her arm was wrapped around his neck, her cheek pressed against his.  His big black plastic eyes showed his thanks, and I picked up the restored pieces of my heart and went to bed.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Tell 'Em That You Mean It


I recently signed up with a young fellow
who came door to door in March, to have
the Saturday West delivered.  At the time he did not mention that
there would be a delivery fee, and it wasn't until I received my first bill that I realised
 there would be an additional fee.  It's no biggie and of course it makes sense that is a charge
 for the service, I just thought I would feed this back to you because there might be other people
who sign up and then find out later there is a delivery fee and who are not very happy.

I hope this doesn't make you think I am a nutter, I just think it's sometimes good to provide feedback.


Do you ever give feedback to complete strangers?  I don't mean getting on your soap box and having a rant or making a complaint, just letting someone know - very politely - when you think there is something they need to know?

A few years back I would never have written an email like the one above.  I would never have provided feedback and I certainly would never have made a complaint.  However, I think that having children and developing that fierce mother lion protectiveness, coupled with the insanity that is home renovations has not only helped me grow a pair, but also made me realise that some people just don't know when they are doing a crap job (or their staff is doing a crap job) or a mistake has been made.

And I am making it my mission to tell those people - very politely - when they are doing a crap job.

Ok, I realise the email is not the most well written prose that ever entered an inbox, but it hit home, because about five minutes after hitting send (and about 30 seconds with my finger hovering over the enter button, wondering whether I actually was a nutter) I received a reply.

Not only was the problem sorted (or at least a solution was suggested) but they also thanked me for the feedback.  Brilliant.  I love it when businesses are receptive to feedback.  I love it even more when I have the chutzpah to provide it in the first place.

Let me illustrate just how far I have come...

When I was pregnant with the Blonde Bombshell, the hubby and I went to a relatively well known restaurant on Cambridge Street in Wembley.  I ordered a pineapple juice and when it arrived I did the usual girly thing of poking the icecubes with my straw.  Lucky thing too, because one floated to the top with a small dead cockroach frozen inside.

If that happened to me today I would have stood up and left the restaurant immediately, after taking the juice to the front desk, demanding to see the manager and letting everyone know that small frozen cockroaches do not belong in pregnant women's pineapple juice (or anyone's pineapple juice for that matter).

But instead I quietly told the waiter who took it away after assuring me he would bring me another.  A few minutes later he returned with a fresh glass of juice with fresh icecubes.  I poked around and sure enough, another cube floated to the top, this time with a slightly larger cockroach frozen for posterity.

What did I do?  Did I jump up and down and threaten to call the Health Inspector?  Did I take it to show other patrons?  Did I take a photo as incontrovertible proof?  None of these things.  I just asked for another.  This time the fellow merely took the glass back to the kitchen, scooped out all the icecubes and topped up the pineapple juice. 

The meal itself was also rather shocking, but in hindsight, nothing was more shocking than our behaviour.  We sat there like idiots and not only did we accept that shoddy service but we paid for it. Knowing us, we probably even gave them a tip.

I have sworn I will never set foot in that restaurant ever again, but they don't know that.  They won't miss me or my custom.

Feeding back shows you care enough to help someone not repeat the same mistake.  Or, if you like what they have given you, helps them know they are on the right track.  That's why I love it when people comment on my blog, so if I am offering you the equivalent of small frozen cockroaches, I want to know about it! 

I guess providing feedback to businesses is the equivalent of telling a stranger that they have something between their teeth. Do you do it?  Or are you too embarrassed?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Writer's New Room

A while back I wrote a short story for the Josephine Ulrick Literature Prize.  It was a short piece about a writer and her new room - a place that was meant to inspire creativity, but instead it was too pure and too quiet and she couldn't write.

At the time I wrote the story (January) my new room did not yet exist, except as a wooden skeleton with a tarpaulin skin.  Yet in some respects, the story has come true, for I find myself in my beautiful new room, surrounded by all the accoutrements of the determined writer - computer, reading chair, bookshelves full of inspiration - yet I am unable to write (present blog excepted).

Sometimes I wonder if I can do this.

Yet this room, lovely as it is, does feel still and quiet.  I am used to writing in the kids' playroom, my feet on the box of Thomas trains, my chair on a Little Mermaid rug.  Maybe I need more stuff on the walls.  There is altogether too much beige in this room, and I am not a very beige person. Maybe I need to stop making excuses.

In class, we regularly have writing exercises.  Some of my fellow students dread them, being forced to write on demand, but I love it.  I love the urgency of it, the passivity of it.  We are set a topic and time and must produce within those constraints. Under these circumstances my pen flies across my notebook, my fingers will cramp because I am writing so fast.  The ideas spill and bleed across the paper, and I feel liberated by the constraints upon me.  Under the dictates of a proffered topic and finite period of time I can produce. 

Why then, when the kids are sleeping (sorry Natasha) and I have all the time in the world, when the choice of topic is mine and mine alone, do I struggle?  Am I so helpless and directionless that I cannot write unless someone has given me a topic? Perhaps.

Send me your topics and I will write about them. 

[I feel like the balloon clown at the circus... tell me an animal and I will make it out of balloons...]

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Picture Perfect - Reality Less So

They were perfect.  Tidy hair, clean faces, bright blue eyes.  Smiling brightly, arms wrapped around each other – angels, princesses, cherubs.
I was faced with a table covered with large glossy pictures of the Blonde Bombshell and Miss Curly Mop.  Each was more beautiful than the last.  To purchase them would have required a second mortgage on the house.
Three weeks prior I had succumbed to my own vanity, when I was told from across the shopping centre ‘Mum, you have the most beautiful daughters, let us photograph them for you. It’s free…’
I had looked at the girls.  For once they were nicely dressed, their clothes were not yet covered in food, their faces free from rogue boogers and vegemite smears.  Their hair was neat and tidy.  I had to admit, they did look pretty cute. 
‘Ok,’ I told them. ‘But I only have five minutes.’
My plan was to take the ‘free’ photo (included with the sitting fee of $7 and to buy some $7 keyrings for Mothers Day.  An investment of $28 and a few minutes.  I knew how these places worked, suck you in with a free or cheap photo, then reveal the true price of the extra prints (in this case, they started at $85).  I had no intention of spending up big on photos, and was secretly hoping that the Bombshell had pulled her ‘photo face’, thereby ruining any photo.  I wished for a stray booger, crossed eyes, a spit bubble, anything to justify not buying the prints.
So as the kindly women began laying out the prints today, my heart just sank.  They were beautiful.  Individual and together, with sparkly silver headbands, and ridiculous berets, white background, dark background, big sister kissing her baby sister, their eyes closed and toothy smiles betraying how much they love each other.
‘I like this one’, the Bombshell told me, bending over to kiss a life size image of herself in a silver sequined headband.
In the end I had to buy one, the largest print available, of the two girls.  Curly Mop is sitting in her big sister’s lap, their matching blue eyes mirror images in otherwise distinct faces. 
‘What happens to the other ones?’ I asked the lady as she began stacking them in a neat pile.
‘They’re destroyed,’ she said.
‘I feel like I am throwing away my babies,’ I said to her as she bundled them away.
She looked at me strangely.
‘You still have the real things,’ she said.
I looked at Miss Curly Mopped strapped into the trolley, her hair sticking up in every direction, two slimy streams escaping her nose, mooshed up biscuit decorating her face, orange juice stains down her dress. Then I turned and looked at the Bombshell, still in her Kindy outfit, covered in some sort of paste, lunch and what looked like grass stains – and that was just her face.
She shoved the beautiful glossy photos of my beautiful glossy children in a half filled box of other people’s ideal children frozen in time, and I wheeled my very real, very grubby children* away with only a $95 dent on my credit card.

*not perfect but very loved

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Renovation Virgins - How Not to Be Taken For a Ride

Hindsight, what a marvellous invention.

I can't turn back the clock on my own renovations, but if anyone out there is mad enough to be contemplating one of their own, I hereby offer some of the lessons I have learned over the past two years.

1. Know the basic guidelines set by your local council.  You would think that if you engage a professional builder to draw up some plans they will know what is allowed by your local council. Do not assume anything!  In our case, six months were wasted after the designer submitted a very beautiful set of plans to council which had the upstairs addition at the front of the house.  Our local council are very clear that second storeys must be located at the back of the block. It was only after the plans were rejected that I went online to read the building guidelines, and it was very clear, even to me. If I had been even vaguely familiar with the guidelines before we started, I doubt we would have allowed the first set of plans to even be printed, let alone submitted to council.

2a. Keep a record of everything.  It may seems a little anal and OCD, but I had a 55c school notebook that I took everywhere.  I recorded every conversation we had with builders, designers, banks, tradies and the council. I took down names, dates and phone numbers.  I wrote down the names of taps and tiles and toilets, serial numbers, prices - I even drew pictures!  Taking photos would have been even more helpful.  That little book saved my skin a dozen times over, as I could recall details in an instant, knew who to call if there was a problem, and could solves disputes by simply looking things up in my House Bible.

2b. Get everything in writing.  The flipside to the House Bible is the written quote.  Don't let the warm fuzzy security of the House Bible make you think you don't need suppliers to provide formal quotes.  Print emails and file them somewhere you can actually find them.  If you have a phone conversation with someone, follow it up with an email and get them to acknowledge the decision/price etc in writing.

3. Check things as they are delivered, not after they are installed.  I was at home throughout the entire process as we have two small children (living through renovations with small children is a blog in its own right) but it meant that I was almost always home when things were getting delivered and installed.  If I saw a plumber walking in with a toilet I would stop him, say hello, and promptly check the details and match them with my House Bible to make sure we were getting the right thing.  Most of the guys didn't mind - after all, they were the ones who would have to remove it again if it was wrong.  I picked up on the wrong bathroom tiles before they were installed and the wrong glass splashback.  I was able to stop the carpet layers installing carpet on my jarrah stairs.  I wasn't home the day they installed the wrong glass in the bathroom windows, but we can't win everything!

4. Don't be afraid to ask questions and make complaints.  This was the hardest lesson for me to learn, as we are all raised to be polite and not make a fuss.  Make a fuss!  If you are not happy, say something!  Yes it's awkward and you feel like a right heel, but not only are you paying for it, but you have to live there after all the tradies pack up and move on.  If it's not right, get them to fix it.  If it was your kids who spilt paint all over the bricks you'd yell at them and make them clean it up, so why would you accept any less from professionals who are being paid to give you something new and beautiful?

5. Keep telling yourself it will all be over soon.  Building is like pregnancy... there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and it will all be worth it.  Keep things in perspective, keep a sense of humour and keep a bottle of wine in the fridge.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The End is Nigh!

Can you hear that? That is the sound of a vacuum being run over the floorboards in my new upstairs extension.

That is the sound of being so close to the finishing line you can practically reach out and touch the ribbon, or at least the dude standing next to it with the stop watch and bored expression on his face.

I have not been writing about my ongoing saga with the renovations because it has been making me so angry I have developed a new personality.  Funnily enough, this new person is someone I have always wanted to be.

I argue, plead, cajole, negotiate, articulate and am pushy on a scale that would scare the pageant mums with their coiffed and made up toddlers.  I have surprised myself on a number of occasions, and regularly congratulate myself on my 'House Book' which contains every single conversation I have had with builders and tradies over the past two years, every colour decision we made, every fitting we ever chose.  I have dates, names and figures in excruciating detail and it has saved my proverbial more times than I care to count.

I love my anal tendencies. I would thoroughly recommend them to anyone considering the renovation route.

I digress.

This week the plastering was repatched (again), and the walls repainted (again).  The sink was fixed. The splashback installed. The new TV aerial installed. The blinds were installed.  On Friday - only three sleeps to go - the carpet will be installed.

Carpet - no more echoing floorboards and bits of plaster stuck between your toes.  No more builders dust and the need to wear thongs every time you go upstairs. After the carpet goes down, we can move in!  After the carpet goes down, there will be no more strange men in my house. A friend said the other day that doing renovations and having lots of strange men in the house must be like having unwanted house guests. Hit the nail on the head!

I have decided I love my carpet installer and he will be my new hero. If I ever have a boy-child I will name him after the carpet installer, because he represents to me the end of this very dirty, very expensive, very frustrating journey. The end is nigh, I can almost smell it.  And it smells good!. 

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Ready, Set...

All of a sudden it's April, and five months have passed since I decided I wanted to be a writer.  That's about 150 days and a whole heap of hours.

And in that time I have done a whoooole lot of nothing.

Published the Great Australian Novel?  Not quite.

Published an article in a national magazine?  Nup.

Published anything? Na uh.

On the positive side I did win the short story competition and today I received news that four of my 'Beyond the Nappy Bag' stories have been accepted for a book to be published in the US entitled, funnily enough, 'Beyond the Diaper Bag*'.  I don't get paid for these as the book is raising money for charity, but it is still very exciting.

So my question to the writers out there - how do I get started?  How do I stop all my endless prep and research and get started? How do I stop diddling around entering competitions which are great fun and good experience, but don't pay for a ream of paper, let alone pay any bills. 

Do I put all the names of the magazines on a dart board and throw wildly to see who I should approach first?  Sometimes it seems the world is too big and there are too many options.

I am excellent at background research, undertaking further study, buying all the right text books.  Today I even bought some very cool, very writer-appropriate book ends.

I can blog until the cows come home, and have immersed myself in interviews for my university assignment.  I just can't seem to get started on writing that might help pay the bills.

Has anyone got any good advice or suggestions?  I'd really love to hear your stories how you got started.

* Thanks Jo for suggesting this contest

Friday, April 1, 2011

Pulme scrope

Have you ever paid close attention to the jumble of letters computers sometimes throw at you to verify you are actually a human and not just a very clever computer program?

Do you think there are a roomful of people somewhere just laughing at us as they create dubious sounding combinations such as 'lesuzzle' and 'scrope'?

I started writing them down (yes, I am aware how lame that sounds) because I am convinced it is not just a clever computer program that creates these so-called 'random' jumble of letters. 

Other examples include:





Seriously, read them out loud.  Some of them are just rude!
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