Tuesday, January 29, 2013


An opportunity to reflect on my surroundings. To breathe in the rare moments of stillness in my world. To celebrate simple abundance in my daily life.
1. Artwork from the first day at new Kindy. I am very grateful for the kind way he has been invited into this lovely little community.
2. Op-shop goodies: a lovely vintage sheet (I found the matching pillowcases a few days later!) and another big glass jar, which I have already filled with sweet peaches, sugar syrup and booze. See you in six to eight weeks, peach liqueur!
3. Tomatoes, charred by the heat. Now they are getting well and truly soggy.
4. Drawing has been de rigueur over the school holidays. His walls are now covered with home-made posters of favourite cartoon characters.
5. The community centre chicken coop- we have the keys! We went to visit, harvested some tomatoes growing there and put our plan down. Getting some girls to live there is next on the agenda.
Linking up with The Beetle Shack.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

on the offensive

Could you imagine all the incredible things in history, that would not have happened, if the person doing them had been concerned about offending someone?

The recent kerfuffle in Australia, after TV presenter 'Kochie' offered his opinion about public breastfeeding (which boiled down to fine as long as it's classy) led me down a path of self analysis. Koch (and many others commenting online in agreement) feels that breastfeeding parents should be concerned with the comfort of those around, and as such, practice discretion so as not to offend.

Aside from my feelings about breastfeeding or bottle feeding your baby in public (I did both in lots of places, never covered up and never noticed a nasty look or felt judgement), it got me thinking about what it means to be offended.

If I am offended by somebody else's behaviour, it means that their behaviour is outside the limits of my personal values system. My personal values, just like yours, have been built over time, influenced by my family, my culture and my experience. I have boundaries around what I consider acceptable behaviour. Limits as to what I think I can do, without causing hurt or pain to others. Being offended or taking offence doesn't really hurt, does it? It doesn't cause injury or disability. It might make you blush a little, or feel irritated, or embarrassed, or maybe a bit cranky.

I tend to be a bit of a doormat person, I consider the feelings of others to the detriment of myself at times. It's a trait that annoys me about myself. But I think that's why I'm having a hard time thinking of behaviours that offend me. I take offence to seeing vulnerable people hurt, but even then, it's a stretch to assume I have the right to take on pain intended for someone else. It's called taking offence because it is an act of choice- you are in control about how you react to the behaviour of others. You have the option to take offence, to let someone else's actions (which have nothing to do with you) affect you.

Next time you see a public behaviour that 'offends' you, take a minute to examine whether the behaviour is aimed at you. Do you really believe a mother feeding her child is hoping to upset strangers? I am sure there would be more effective ways to cause embarrassment.

And mothers, just continue on. Do what works for you, it is difficult enough without wondering which of the people around you thinks you should be doing it classier. Perhaps you could try wearing a tiara and pearls. Remember, what you think about me is none of my business.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

dear parents of school children

I want to share with you all my worldly wisdom, upon entering our third year of having a child attending school. You should know, I am also a teacher, having been responsible for enrolling hundreds of Preschool and Kindergarten children. Even with that background, nothing prepared me for being on the other side of the fence.

Parents, please know that your child entering school is filled with opportunity. Opportunity for your little one to branch out, expand his social sphere. Your child's teacher will henceforth be the oracle of all knowledge. You know nothing. The skills that your child will learn will astound you. And by 'skills', I mean a whole new raft of swear words and armpit farting. Don't be sad, new parents (especially in front of them, it freaks them out and makes it more difficult for the teacher to peel them away from you), be happy in the knowledge that you have prepared your child well. And you now may be able to enjoy a cuppa whilst it is still hot.

You might feel sad, or happy. This may be your first, or final child heading to big school. Whatever you are feeling, make sure the kid knows you feel they will be safe, and their experience will be happy. If you don't feel sure about that, lie. Or get in touch with your school to talk it through. Hopefully you have already been attending orientation sessions. While you have stifled yawns through PowerPoint presentations about Best Start Assessment, little Frannie has been making a paddle-pop-stick schoolhouse that you can now never throw away. So the environment, and some of the people, should be familiar. I can't really give you advice about how to work through the emotional side of starting school. I can, however, tell you some practical secrets that may help...

1. A 100% attendance award isn't a good thing. If your child is unwell, please let them stay home to get better, and avoid spreading the love.

2. Kids don't like fancy lunches. Keep it simple, familiar, and quick-to-eat. Yoghurt, hommus dip with vegetable fingers, cous-cous salad with roasted heirloom vegetables: all lovely, nutritious foods that will ensure your child gets zero time playing and negotiating the subtle intricacies of schoolyard social politics. And don't bother with wasteful zip-lock bags or wrapping food; buy a couple of those sandwich boxes, and a smaller version for cut up fruit and a snack. We used throw-away wrapping once last year, on an excursion.

3. Be prepared for loss and damage to property. I know that stainless steel eco drink bottle you spent a fortune getting personalised is really awesome, but it will also be the first thing he loses. Just get the cheap ones. And buy back-ups in January, because when stuff gets lost/broken/painted/cut up in June, there is not as much school stock in the shops. I just bought two pairs of school shoes- a pair that fits now, and the next size up, because I learned the hard way. And don't get sucked into buying the full, expensive suite of uniforms. At most public schools, the plain, department store shirts and shorts are fine.

4. Put strategies in place to make your life easier. Because even if you are having a busy/ difficult day, the kid still needs to get to school on time. Buy brown paper bags and have some change hanging around in case you need to order lunch. I keep tortilla wraps in the pantry at all times- those babies have a shelf life of a thousand years, keep well in a large zip-lock bag once open, and never come home uneaten. I also buy Vegemite scrolls or cheese and bacon rolls when on special to keep in the freezer to throw in on 'special' days. Whilst using pre-packaged foods doesn't really fit with our family goals for ethical and healthy eating, I've learned it's better to be prepared to give yourself a break, than to find yourself needing one in a hurry. Set up responsibilities straight away. Your child is at big school now, making new friends, learning every day. She is capable of carrying her own bag, and taking out her lunch containers when she comes home.

5. Your child is going to get nits. And worms. And maybe scabies. Shake it off, and deal with it. You might as well stock up on worming tablets (we all get wormed on the first day of every school holidays) and white conditioner and a nit comb now. You can learn more about treating nits safely here.

So I hope this helps, parents. And remember, the school day is incredibly short, so don't get too excited thinking you are going to get anything done before pickup. Good luck!

in season: peach, mango and vanilla jam

Yum. Born out of the need to use up some on-the-way-out stone fruit from the fruit bowl, this jam was a bit experimental but worked a treat, and is deliciously sweet and tropical.

Grab these:
some peaches and mangoes- I started with about 7 peaches (some white, some yellow) and 2 mangoes
castor sugar
a big pot
kitchen scales
sharp knife

Do this:
1. Begin by preparing your fruit. Cut the mango flesh away from the skin and stone. Bob the peaches, with a cross cut into their bottoms, for a few minutes in boiling water. Peel the skin away (mind your fingers) and cut up flesh into small chunks. Weigh your prepared fruit- I ended up with about 700grams.
2. Work out how much sugar you need, based on a ratio of about 6 parts fruit: 5 parts sugar. I used about 500grams sugar because I'm not good at maths. Pop your sugar and fruit into your big pot.
3. Work out how much liquid you need, based on around 1/2 cup per kilo fruit. I juiced two lemons, then added water to make about 1/3 cup. Add this to the pot too.
4. Add vanilla extract (or the scrapings from a vanilla bean) to the mix to taste.
5. Slowly bring to the boil on medium heat to dissolve the sugar.
6. Boil gently until jam has reduced and is set. You know how to test jam, right? Put a couple of saucers in the freezer when you start. When you think your jam is ready, and the mix plops off the spoon in one continuous blob rather than dribbles in a liquid fashion, drop a small blob on your cold saucer. after a moment, run your finger through the middle of the blob. If it parts the blob, and the jam stays apart, it's ready!
7. Decant into hot, sterilised jars. I wash my (recycled) jars in hot, soapy water and rinse well. Then I place the jars and lids (up the right way) on an oven tray covered with a tea-towel. Then the jars sit in a lowish oven (150 degrees Celsius, fan-forced) for about 30mins. Put the lid on you filled jar, then upend the jar to sit on its head for just a few minutes. If you turn the jar right-side up again, before it starts to cool, you should be able to pop the seal in with your finger. This recipe made two-and two-thirds average sized jam jars. The recycled jars sealed beautifully, but the fancy-pants jar I bought new spilled when I tipped it upside-down. I think it's more of a preserving jar, perhaps.

Thanks to the Rushleigh- The At Home Chronicle for the great information about sugar, water, fruit ratios.

Do you have a stock or store cupboard at your place? Are you busy preparing summer fruits to enjoy later? I'm excited at the thought of some summery flavours to have on toast in winter. And after the success of my arancello, have plans to make some summery liqueur. What do you think- stone fruits or summer berries?

Monday, January 14, 2013

still.life (three)

An opportunity to reflect on my surroundings. To breathe in the rare moments of stillness in my world. To celebrate simple abundance in my daily life.

1. Breakfast debris. A combination of children's cereal, an attempt to right a milk intolerance and the remnants of the Christmas table.
2. Celebrating my birthday, 1980's Chinese style. As it should be.
3. Drove past a case on the side of the road for several days. Chatting with a friend on the beach, she told me about her desire to sew a quilt. We stopped and checked her out, brought her home, and she works! A classic, couldn't-kill-it-with-a-stick, Singer, built in 1958. She's heavy, we named her Gertrude, and my friend is happy.
Hanging out, in all the happy stillness, at The Beetle Shack. Do check it out.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

waving, not drowning. ok. maybe drowning a little bit.

I knew it was coming. I had stopped sleeping at night, but falling asleep in the day. I felt sluggish, and snippy. Everything I looked at reminded me of yet another in the overwhelming basket of tasks I was yet to finish. I had a big, bad case of the I can'ts.

But most especially, was the look in my kid's eyes. That look that betrayed what he was trying to hide: a fear that the ground was shifting beneath his feet. So I pulled on my big girl pants and went to see the doctor. But there was a wait. Our waiting list is about three months the receptionist said I can give you some paperwork to take home if you like?

Sobbing on the floor of the public toilet next to the fruit shop, with two toddlers stroking my back? Not my finest hour. But an important hour, nonetheless.

The following week my mind was brimming with Christmas preparation, job applications and a couple of sick kids. When I took them to the walk-in clinic, I threw my name in, too. An ear infection and some croup were sorted out. The doctor was kind. She waited for me to talk, and she listened. She talked to me about my treatment last time. She gave me a prescription, a referral and some hope. And two weeks later, the fog really is lifting.

Sometimes, I can't do it on my own. Sometimes, I can't fix it. Now though, I know that somebody will grab my hand, I just have to stick it up to start with. I have some work to do now, starting with taking it easy on myself. I'm looking very forward to feeling deserving again! And feel very, very grateful that I can access help where I live.

How are you doing today?

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The sun has gone down on the first day of a new year. A glorious day, contrasting sharply with the way I felt yesterday.

I really don't do the last day of the year well. I spent yesterday swinging between obsessive cleaning and chucking out anything in my path. Sorry kids. One shelf of the pantry is impeccably clean, but I can't find a set of house keys. I can't remember how I felt on the final day of 2011, but this time around, the end of the year filled me with nerves. Like if I get excited about the new year, it will kick me like a startled horse. It always sneaks up on me, the new year. We only waved off our final beautiful house guests on Sunday, so we decided to stay home and see the new year in. Just, together. We ate party food, watched the nine-o'clock fireworks with the kids, I made myself a vodka, lime and ginger beer and drank it in a few gulps before realising I had used alcoholic ginger beer. We went to bed and missed the whole thing. Perfect.

I woke up in the new year and baked a loaf of bread. I replanted one of my indoor pot plants. I collected some seeds from my garden. Nasturtiums and coriander. I fed my kids breakfast. And I thought, Hey, 2013, I'm not scared of you. I don't know what is around this corner, or any corner in our lives, but I do hope it's filled with more of the magic of today's ordinary. Strong, competent children splashing in the waves in the morning, a simple meal for lunch, restful afternoon naps, a late afternoon park play.

As we left the beach this morning, I saw a family of Willy Wagtails playing in the dunes. A family of five. And I know we belong here.


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