Saturday, December 31, 2011

[Working Title*] Yay Me

It is the end of 2011.

And while that won't make much difference to aspects of everyday life such as whether to give the kids weetbix or rice bubbles for breakfast, and who had the Dora doll first, it does mean I can take stock of the last year and see what I actually managed to achieve in terms of my journey to becoming a writer.

I started the year by finding out I had won first place in a local writing competition, run by the West Australian newspaper.  It was the first time I had won something and the first time I saw my name in print. 

And I liked it.

I still remember the phonecall saying that I had won and to look out for my story the following day.  I was so excited I was jumping up and down on the spot, not very subtle considering I was standing on the creaky floorboards.  I am sure the woman heard every single juvenile jump, not to mention the smile which was threatening to burst the phone apart. 

Then in June I applied for a writing job at Weekend Notes and started doing reviews for them, mainly restaurants and things involving food. My speciality. Seven months and 38 articles later, I am ranked in their Top 10 (Perth) writers and have even earned a few hundred dollars.  This in no way covers the cost of all the breakfasts, lunch and dinners I have been eating**, but I am prepared to overlook this as it's all in the name of research. Right?

I returned to uni this year and completed two fabulous units - Creative Non-Fiction and Feature Writing for Magazines.  Thanks to some inspirational and generous people who allowed me to tell their stories about miscarriage, grief and loss, I wrote two articles which are hopefully being considered for publication. Part of me felt unworthy of being the translator of these intense and personal stories of loss, as thankfully, I had never been in their shoes.  Yet, the response I got from the articles, from those who had lived them, made me realise that I want to spend more time writing about topics people shy away from, ones they consider too taboo, too sad or too hard.  Because there is a strength that can be gained in knowing that you are not alone.

I continued writing my blog, somewhat patchily I will admit due to a four month period of intense sickness.  This will be my 100th post for the year, which has a nice rounded feel to it.  I covered a range of topics including the renovations, Baby Number Three, returning to uni, parenting and my writing journey.  My most popular - and commented upon - posts were about my decision whether to have a third child, and the creepy man at my daughter's kindy who was acting inappropriately. A big thankyou to my friend Rachel from 'Because I Said So' whose site has been responsible for many of my referrals.

So how will I finish the year?  With another big smile on my face.  A phonecall from my Mum this morning alerted me to the fact that another of my short stories was published by the West Australian today (page 46 if you're interested).  I wasn't the winner this year, but at least they got my name right.  

* I couldn't come up with a better title than 'Yay Me'.  I feel rather self-indulgent today, and if I cannot eat my way through another box of chocolates, at least I can blow my own trumpet for a bit.

** Sincere thanks to my partner in crime Brad, who has sacrificed many a morning to come in search of the ideal breakfast location with me (and more often than not, paid for the privilege).

Monday, December 26, 2011

Ten Rules for A Successful Christmas

How was your Christmas?  Did you manage to survive it without drowning yourself in a carton of brandy-flavoured custard?

I have come through relatively unscathed, however I have developed some rules which I plan to follow next year to make things run a little more smoothly. 

Rule Number 1: Never attempt a new recipe for the first time on Christmas Day.

This should be common sense, but I do tend to get carried away with all the free Christmas magazines that find their way onto my kitchen table at this time of year.  All the recipes look so delicious, so easy, so new and exciting.  Stop. Right. There.  There is a reason why Women's Weekly have 'triple tested' on their front cover.  It takes a couple of attempts to make sure the recipe actually works, that the timing is right, that a major ingredient hasn't been left out, that it is not full of raw onion.  Unless you really hate your family, don't use them as Guinea pigs on Christmas Day.

Rule Number 2: If you buy battery-operated toys, also buy batteries.

Funnily enough I learned this rule not from the kids, but from hubby who was most disappointed he could not play with his new PacMan alarm clock because I hadn't put batteries in it.

Rule Number 3: You have probably forgotten someone.

Just accept that you will forget someone in your Christmas present buying frenzy.  Buy a box of Ferrero Rocher, wrap it up and leave the gift tag blank.  Isn't that what everyone does?  Just don't recycle last year's box of chocolates.  Best before dates are a dead giveaway.

Rule Number 4:  If you have two kids, buy two of everything.

It is inevitable that the five year old will want whatever you bought the two year old.  Accept it.  Buy two and save yourself the drama.

Rule Number 5:  The longer you spend making Christmas Dinner, the less of it the kids will eat.

At least grandparents appreciate the time and effort you put in, even if the kids whinge and moan and demand Vegemite sandwiches for dinner.

Rule Number 6: There won't be enough space for all the new toys.

I suggest chucking out one of the kids.

Rule Number 7: Get your guests to bring their own plate and cutlery to take home and wash.

Paper plates and plastic forks are a good idea until you realise the bin is already full of wrapping paper and Barbie packaging. 

Rule Number 8: What goes up must come down.

If you are getting heart palpitations every time you eye the Christmas Tree groaning with its 10,000 ornaments and 1,000 flashing lights, chances are you have put too many decorations up. It is never as much fun taking it down again.  Try the minimalist look.  Or do what my sister does and cover the whole thing with a garbage bag, fully loaded, and stick it in the shed ready for next year.

Rule Number 9: Christmas Day will be the only day of the year one of the kids sleeps in.

Trying to convince the other one to wait before opening presents is a battle best fought with chocolate bribes.

Rule Number 10: The end of Christmas will leave an empty hole in your life and wallet.

But don't worry, Hot Cross Buns will be out in the shops next week.

The Writer's Journey - A Bump in the Road

I believe life is a journey, and within that, each of the roles we adopt take us on a path.  Some of those paths are direct, others - like my writing - tend to meander a bit.

However I have just made it one step closer to being a professional writer.

No, I haven't been published in a major magazine or literary journal (soon though, I hope).

No, I haven't accepted a contract to write my memoirs or become a columnist for a national paper.

I have been spammed.

The other day I received a comment from 'Sammy' on my post 'It's Official - I am Pregnant'.  It's a pretty old post so I thought it unusual to receive a comment.  That is, until I read it:

Congratulation Good Post
Thank you very much
Plan your Pregnancy as you like with
Ovulation Kit now you can choose your time and date of pregnancy you can find me by searching on Google HOME CHECK

It was genuine spam! Some hardworking computer out there had spent the time to dig up my blog and send it a mass-produced comment in bad English.  I feel so special.  Even my own Mum, bless her, hasn't figured out how to send me comments. 

However I soon realised that the computer had not taken the time to actually read the post considering it was about announcing my pregnancy, thereby making its suggestion to buy ovulation kits a bit redundant.  That made me sad. 

Still it's a step in the right direction.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Honesty Anonymous

My problem is that sometimes I am too honest.

My other problem is that sometimes I keep quiet so I don't have to tell the truth.  I have never quite mastered the middle ground of little white lies.

Example number 1:

Shopgirl: Gosh, you are enormous, you must be due any day now

Stupid me: No actually, I'm not due for another 11 weeks

Shopgirl looks simultaneously horrified and disgusted.

I feel fat, loathsome and cranky at Miss Skinny Hotpants.

Example number 2:

Hairdresser: I'm just going to blow dry your hair now

15 minutes later [keep in mind the pregnancy, 32 degree day and the plastic sheet]

Hairdresser (still blowdrying): How are you doing there?

Me, trying not to faint: mmmmm

I feel like I am a fat, loathsome meatball stewing in my own juices.

* * *

I hate it when I do this.  My brain is telling me in the first instance to lie, and in the second instance, begging me to speak up.  It is the same obligation of politeness ("if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all") that makes me walk out of the hairdresser with my chest covered in one-inch red hairs, so thick it looks like I am part orangutan.  I had to go home to wipe it off before returning to the shops to finish my shopping.

Could I have asked the hairdresser to take the time to de-hair me before I left?  Yes, a normal person would have, but apparently I am not normal. I have a problem, and as far as I can tell there is not an AA equivalent.

So today I thought I would try something new.  Lie to complete strangers.

I treated my long-unseen, neglected and apparently very swollen feet to a pedicure today.  The lady in the chair next to me smiled at my bump, raised her eyebrows and asked me how long I had left.

'A few weeks,' I told her.

Her eyebrows flattened in thought as she calculated how far along I must be and the size of my bump.

'Number 1?', she asked.

'Number 3 actually,' I told her.

Her eyebrows shot right off her head. 

I had gone from being the biggest, fattest pregnant woman in history to the one with the neatest bump (and nicest feet) all with a single lie.  I felt pretty good until the woman grating my feet asked me when I was due.

Crap.  I hadn't thought that far ahead and my brain was still fried from being shot with a heat gun at the hairdressers.  I couldn't figure out what my due date would be if I was really 37 weeks.  It all came unravelled and I was left sitting there with my mouth hanging open: 'ummmmmm?, I said'.

Mrs Eyebrow smiled smugly to herself.  She had totally caught me out in my lie and I was stuck there with my feet encased in creams and lotions, unable to extricate myself in shame.

And so even though Winston Churchill said:

Men stumble over the truth from time to time, but most pick themselves up and
 hurry off as if nothing happened.

my caveat to that is:

If you are going to stumble over a lie, make sure you can make a quick getaway. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Chaos at the Kindy Christmas Party

Her eyes darted around the room and she opened a bag just a crack to show us what was inside.

'I bought some champagne,' she said, almost embarrassed.

'Me too!' I told her.

'Me too,' another Mum admitted.  Partners in depravity, we had bought alcohol to the Kindy Christmas Party. Suddenly we were very popular, handing out plastic cups of the good stuff.  Fortifying ourselves against the forty or more children, the heat of the day, and the table full of sugar.

A bottle and a half quickly disappeared, but then, as tends to happen, everyone was too polite to ask for more. 

Santa had been and gone.  I had managed to write the wrong child's name on my Secret Santa gift, causing a kerfuffle I missed entirely because I was having hot flushes (not caused by champagne) and needed to sit outside with a plate of cheese and crackers.

The toddlers found a drink fountain and a helpful Kindy-kid had turned it on for them, flooding the vicinity and providing a lovely big mud puddle for them to splash around in.

Needless to say, it wasn't too long before the toddlers were saturated and demanding their clothes be taken off.  Well, it's not really a party until someone gets naked.  Three someones in this case.

Mouths stained green with Christmas-Tree coloured icing, the kids ran riot with their new toys.  Boys blew each other up and whacked innocent bushes with their new swords, girls danced around with their new glittery and sparkly toys.  Mums and the occasional dad loitered around the food table, the kids certainly weren't interested.

We've lost the naked toddlers!  Nope, there they are - behind the building, using plastic cups to transfer wood chips from the garden beds to the footpaths.  A Kindy-kid sneaks up behind them and dumps a full cup of sand over Miss Curly Mop, straight down her back and into her nappy.  I yell indiscriminately and spend the next five minutes consoling the toddlers, assuring them it's not them who are in trouble. 

For some reason the Mop is unperturbed by a nappy full of wood chips and dirt.  Kids are weird - she freaks out if she has a tomato seed on her chin, but she is okay to get around with a garden bed in her bottom.

In that inexplicable manner of kids, they seem to be amping up and winding down at the same time.  The mums stagger around, sweeping up popcorn and cake crumbs, tired from just watching, envious of how their offspring seem to draw energy from nothing more than their mates and the sun.  If scientists figured out how to make energy the same way kids do, we could solve the climate change crisis with nothing more than a 5th birthday party.

It's time to leave.  Shoes are dug out of the sandpit, the toddlers reluctantly rounded up.  Somehow the pregnant woman has wound up with more champagne that she started with. A cruel ending to a tiring day.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Wishing Tree

The other day I took the Blonde Bombshell to Kmart to buy a few essentials, like a Tinkerbell backpack (no, not for the Bombshell, for her Dad to give to someone at work for Christmas. Or so he says).
Naturally as soon as we walked through the doors she began asking for things.
‘What am I going to get, Mum?’
‘Is that for me?’
‘I want one of those Mum.’
It drives me nuts.
My girls have so many toys they don’t even know they own half of them.   They have so many toys I have to rotate them in and out of storage so they don’t take over my life like multiplying gremlins.
Growing up I had my share of toys.  It may have been a small share compared to my next-door neighbour, and yes, there were popular toys I am sure I wanted but never received (like a Cabbage Patch Doll) but I had something better.  Imagination.
My parents, whether through necessity or sheer brilliance, installed in us a sense of creativity that did not depend on batteries or the latest fad.  I could spend hours recreating a board game with a piece of cardboard and a packet of textas, painting the driveway with water, creating a mini-golf course in the backyard or playing with my imaginary friends  and it didn’t cost my parents a cent. 
My god, I sound like a bit of a loser.  Oh well.
My point though, is that I want to know how to explain to a four and a half year old about concepts such as poverty, gratitude, generosity and not-asking-for-stuff (does that have a proper name?) without sounding like I am preaching to her. Which I do, regularly. So she stops listening.
In Kmart I told her to imagine that there were two little girls, just like her and her sister and that on Christmas they might not be getting any toys.  Her face remained blank.  No toys?  Foreign concept.
I then told her that if we buys some toys and put them under the Wishing Tree, the nice people at Kmart would pass them onto Santa who would be able to give them to these other children.
It came a bit unstuck at this point.  Why does Santa need help? What are these kids’ names? Do we know them?
My answers were ummmm, I don’t know and No respectively. Not good enough Mum.  She lost interest and wandered off to look at Christmas baubles.
Luckily the Mop had been listening and helped me choose some presents for these unknown children.  She even slobbered on the packaging, making it that much more special for them. 
After I had paid for everything I sent the Bombshell on a mission to return the toys to the Wishing Tree.  She disappeared out of sight for a few minutes and returned empty handed but with a big grin on her face.
‘I did it Mum,’ she said.
‘Did you put them under the Wishing Tree, like I asked?’ I said.
Her face looked blank.
‘What tree?’ she asked.
I have no idea what she did with the toys or where she put them.  I hope they make whoever ends up with them very happy.
Merry Christmas everyone.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Why Am I Crying?

It was her big day and we were running late.  Early December, yet it was bucketing down, thunder punctuating my fingers tapping on the dash as we headed to Kindy.

It was the day of the Kindy Christmas concert.

The Curly Mop was dressed in a brand new pink gingham dress, a Christmas tree clip in her curls.  Dad [on a rare day off work] was wearing a green t-shirt and sported reindeer antlers, a video camera dangling from his wrist.  We were the last to arrive, all the tortuously small chairs lined in neat rows, oversized bottoms squeezed in.  Every second person had a digital camera.

The Kindy class were sitting patiently at the front of the room, reindeer antlers made out of hand prints strapped to their little heads.  Straining to see their parents, waving at cameras.  The anticipation was palpable.

The teacher started the CD player and all the kids jumped up and started dancing manically.  20 video cameras shot up in the air in unison.  Younger siblings loitered around the cake table.  The Blonde Bombshell jumped from side to side and waved her arms with a massive grin on her face.  The reindeer antlers on the girl behind had slipped over her eyes, and she was facing the wrong way.

The music finished and the kids all fall to the ground.  Parents and grandparents clapped like they had just witnessed the best thing they had ever seen.  Which we just had.  I was feeling quite teary.  It must be the pregnancy hormones.

Next up, an Australian version of Jingle Bells.  'Dashing through the sand, in our bathers and our thongs...'
The Bombshell had been practicing for weeks.  She never quite got the lyrics correct, always mixing the traditional and the modern versions, slurring over 'one-horse open sleigh' which probably doesn't make much sense to a four year old living in Australia in the 21st century.  I never corrected her, as it was supposed to be a 'secret'.

On the chorus they all pulled out bells and madly waved them around.  The lyrics were drowned out, but the smiles got even bigger.  For the big finale, Six White Boomers.  The would sit down for the verse, then get up and start jumping (like a boomer*) for the chorus.  The sound of 20 children jumping (almost) in unison rivalled the thunder outside.  The sound of 40 adults clapping was almost overwhelming.

Then it was over.  I don't know who felt prouder, the kids or the adults.  I felt like crying.  Then they each presented us with a handmade calendar, wrapped in handmade paper and decorated with a handmade card. The children were herded outside for fruit, while the adults enjoyed morning tea made by the kids.  Last week The Bombshell had told me they had made 'fluffy white balls with lots of onion' for the morning tea.  Onion?  Hopefully she meant coconut.

She did.

Best Kindy concert ever.

* A boomer, for my overseas readers, is a name Aussies give to big kangaroos.  Naturally, we all stand around saying things like 'he was as jumpy as a boomer'.  Not really.  They only time we use the word is in this song:

Six white boomers, snow white boomers
Racing Santa Claus through the blazing sun
Six white boomers, snow white boomers
On the Australian run.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Eating for Two (Months)

A find myself with a small window of opportunity.  A port-hole really.

Twice a week the Blonde Bombshell and Miss Curly Mop attend daycare, a remnant of the days when I used to work outside of the house, and more recently, when I attended university.

Now uni is over for the year, I have a small window before the new baby is born where I am essentially childless twice a week.  Bliss, you might say.

I know I should be taking advantage of this opportunity and spend it writing.  Afterall, according to the banner at the top of this blog my goal is to become a professional writer.  Last time I checked, you didn't win that title like a lottery.  You actually had to write things.

But instead of utilising this time by working on one of the many story ideas pinned to the corkboard above my desk, ideas that stare at me every day, accusing me of neglecting them, I am whiling away the hours doing other important things.  Like watching Celebrity Apprentice and The Slap.

I am also eating a lot. 

This is justifiable because I am pregnant.  Luckily, I have been able to combine my love of eating and my desire to write into my sideline at Weekend Notes.

Every time I go to a restaurant, cafe, park or event I write a review and it is published online.  I even earn a few dollars.  I carry the tools of a professional writer - a digital camera and a notebook - and will snap photos of my food, and everyone else's.  Woe betide the person who tucks into their lunch before letting me take a picture.  I am amazed at how patient my friends and family are with me and my rather nasty habit. 

In turn, friends and family are amazed at just how often I am eating out these days.  It's a bit embarrassing really, but I almost feel I am a squirrel storing nuts for the winter.  This analogy can be taken two ways - you can say I am eating plenty to make a nice comfy home for baby, or you can read the desperation of a woman who knows that soon all traces of a social life will disappear for a year or three.
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