August 23, 2013

In Which I Hobnob With Fancy Fashion Folk

Mercedes Benz Sydney Fashion Festival kicks off
So onto more desirable subjects . . .

On Wednesday night I was lucky enough to win two tickets to the Mercedes Benz Sydney Fashion Festival as a guest of fashion/style/beauty guru Nikki Parkinson from Styling You and MaybellineNY.

That's a whole lotta name dropping isn't it? Well here's another one. Ruby Rose. She's the MaybellineNY ambassador we got to chat with before the show. A sweeter, more drop-dead gorgeous, down to earth girl you could not find. She even pretended to buy my friend Clare's line that she wanted a picture taken with her just so she could show her teenaged daughters. But in reality, we were both just so excited to be hangin' with Ruby Rose, pretending that we weren't old, wrinkly, forty-something mums.*

Me, Ruby and a non-working flash!
Nikki, Ruby Rose and a working flash! (Pic courtesy Styling You)
 For just one night, we were transported into the glittery, shiny, wrinkle-free world of fashion where the espresso martinis were plentiful and the 'oh wow' moments kept on coming.

I was a little nervous about what to wear, but as I rifled through the hangers in my wardrobe I realised that the only person with a care factor of more than zero about what I looked like was me. So I opted for comfort over speed with skinny jeans, a floaty top to hide any muffin action, and boots with a solid mid-heel to navigate me along ferries, trains and city streets.

I was excited to meet Nikki, as I not only love the content of her website (my weekly Nina Proudman style fix) but admire her as a professional blogger who seems to effortlessly blend great content with the brands she works with, all in a voice that feels like a message from your best mate. She is also phenomenally productive, (unlike a certain blogger whose blog you may or may not be currently reading). Run don't walk over to her blog when you've finished here for Nikki's fabulous fashion, beauty and style ideas.

Unfortunately, my entrance to the private Maybelline lounge to meet Nikki was far from elegant. I had decided to take my trench off just before entering the room and couldn't get the sleeve over the ten-strong bangle party happening on my wrist. I'm trying to say "Hello, it's so lovely to meet you" to Nikki and the other guests, whilst trying to shake off an unwieldy garment hanging from my arm (picture much wild arm shaking, orangutan style). It was like an embarrassing moment from some sad comedy. In the end, I shook Nikki's hand with the trench coat still hanging from my right arm (how professional! how dignified!), then tore the whole thing off so that the sleeve ended up being inside out and flung it on a nearby chair. Classy much?

Nikki, on the other hand, looked so polished and fabulous in white jeans and a sparkly Sass & Bide top. She instantly put me at ease, as did the glass of champagne that appeared at my side by Andrew the waiter, who smiled and kept them coming.

After everyone arrived, we set off on a tour backstage where we got to watch all the models having their makeup done and received a few tips from Nigel Stanislaus who is Maybelline New York's Australian makeup director. You can see his little talk about how to contour your face with bronzer (and how NOT to) here.

I know, I know, you're thinking "potential model material" but we're just too busy unfortunately

I was a little bit worried that they might mistake Clare and I for models and we'd get pounced upon by hair and make-up people (a mistake easily made of course) but I relaxed when I realised the gap between our thighs was, well, non-existent and we would be left alone. PHEW!!

Then it was time for the show. I must say I was surprised and delighted by the whole thing. I didn't expect to enjoy it so much. The clothes were from labels that I know I can find easily locally and, more importantly, would actually wear. Well most of them. Whilst there wasn't a see-through poncho or deconstructed tuxedo in sight, I would be hard-pressed to find an occasion on which to wear an evening gown made of wetsuit material!

I am no expert but I am fairly sure these frocks were made of neoprene. Pretty convenient if you fell in a pool at a party!

After the show it was down to The Hub for more fabulous cocktails and food. Did I mention the espresso martinis?

In the Hub you could get a touch up at the Maybelline make-up stand, get all styled up for a faux fashion shoot, stock up on Redken samples and ooh-aah over a fancy lookin' silver Mercedes Benz. No idea how they got THAT down in the bowels of Town Hall, but I had other things to focus on, like finding my perfect lipstick colour.

Clare showing me that she loves me. Awww . . .

Me finally discovering a pink lippie that suits me - thank you Maybelline makeup artist!
The other highlight for me was meeting another of Australia's most successful bloggers, Christina Butcher from Hair Romance.  Not only is she absolutely gorgeous, there is nothing she doesn't know about hair. On her website you can learn how to do a chic braid without looking like Heidi or download her 30 Hairstyles in 30 Days e-book. She also has clear, simple-to-follow tutorials on every hair style imaginable.

Nikki, Christina & starstruck moi
The next morning, I sat with Francesca as we unpacked the very generous Maybelline showbag. Oh my goodness, that glitter nailpolish was like a magnet and required instant application onto toddler fingernails. I can't wait to try the Dream BB Cream and the Colour Tattoo metallic eyeshadows, as well as all the never-would-have-chosen-for-myself lipstick colours in their new Whisper range.

"I want that one mummy"
So there you have it. A gushy post, yes. But a much nicer gushy than my last post I think you'll agree.

Have a fabulous weekend everyone. A big fashion show MWAH to you all (double mwahs to Nikki - thank you so much) xx

*Actually, I'm speaking for myself. Clare may be forty-ish, but she is also drop-dead gorgeous and funny as f@#% and I love hangin' with her too.

August 19, 2013

The Mystery of the Exploding Toilet

I will preface this post with a warning: Do not read if the subject of poo offends you. Also don't read if you are eating, especially if you are eating mushy weetbix. If you are a parent, read on, as neither of those things will bother you in the slightest!

I was having a coffee with my friend Nat on Friday before we headed off to our sons' athletics carnival. We were congratulating ourselves on both of our toddler daughters becoming fully toilet trained in the last month, which is a pretty big milestone, not only for them, but for us. It is the Milestone of No More Nappies, and by extension, no more cleaning up someone's poo off their, admittedly adorable, bottom! Parents of the world, you know what I'm talking about. We crave this milestone. We love this milestone.

Cue a perfect example of 'pride goeth before a fall'. Oh the pride! Oh the fall!!

Downstairs at our house we have a very large two car garage. Well I'm sure technically two cars would fit, but our garage is so full of STUFF that you would be hard pressed to park a pair of roller skates in there.

Off the garage is a small bathroom with a shower and toilet. On Saturday, we went downstairs, opened the garage and were greeted by the alarming sight of a garage floor swimming in poo and a toilet overflowing with what seemed like the effluent of the entire population of Collaroy. And here's the reason for my earlier warning. It looked exactly like mushy weetbix. With dates floating in it. And a MUCH more fruity scent.

And Oh. My. God. The stench!

I grabbed my phone and called our friend Guy who is a professional fireman, but like most firies, has another trade; in Guy's case, plumbing. He instructed us not to let any water down any sink in the house or flush any toilets and he would be there within the hour.

And so began a back-breaking, heart-breaking, nose-breaking five hours of removing every item from our garage that had been seeped in poo onto the lawn, and the removal of ALL THAT POO.

I don't want to gross you out more than I already have. I think you get the picture. Oh you want a picture? Really?? Well okay . . .

Oh come on, you know you wanted to see it . . .
Then Guy arrived - the plumbing equivalent of Superman - and John and I let our own superpowers be revealed. Together, we became some kind of stinky Super Heroes League.

My super power? Poo Immunity. As a mother, I have wiped up enough poo to make me resistant to its malodorous stink and repulsive appearance.

John's super power? Poo Eliminator. As a Virgo, he wields disinfectant like Spiderman wields webs. He dispatched two litres of Pine-O-Clean in 15 minutes. No germ escaped his reach. Bring in fellow Virgo, big son Ryan, and you could've eaten off the garage floor after 5 hours. (Or not. I probably still wouldn't).

But Guy? He was the Big Kahuna of our little poo elimination outfit. First up, his detective work. We had to download a Sewer System Diagram for our property from the internet. Using this, he began to dig. And dig, and dig, and dig. He cracked the concrete path like it was honeycomb and, when he could sense he was getting close, he gently troweled away the dirt like a skilled archaeologist until he hit the jackpot - a sewerage pipe with a big problem.

The Amazing Guy - our super hero!
Due to a dodgy plumbing job where someone had done a rough silicon job of covering the outlet in the pipe, hundreds of tiny plant roots had wormed their way into the cracks, thirsting for the ultimate plant food. Inside the pipe, being fed by the finest fertiliser produced from collective Barraclough bottoms, the roots had grown fat and eventually blocked the pipe completely. This is what ultimately caused the massive backwash that exploded from the downstairs loo on Saturday.

After this excellent piece of detective work, Guy pulled out the electric eel, a contraption that worms its way through the pipes underground, breaking up all the roots and other blockages in its path.

I must say, the whole experience, watching Guy work and figuring it all out, was fascinating and I learned a lot about sewerage systems and plumbing in general.

We were lucky actually. It could have been so much worse. It could have happened upstairs where we live. We could have lost irreplaceable items. There could have been carpet involved for heaven's sake - can you imagine?!

And finally, it was over. We left most of our belongings from the garage out on the lawn overnight and headed inside for hot showers and a large tankard of whiskey for John and a gallon of wine for me.

Feeling exhausted but satisfied by our handling of the situation, I carried Francesca to her room later that evening, chatting about what stories we'd read before bed. I was so proud of her. She had gotten herself up from her afternoon nap and had happily occupied herself on the deck above where we were working with a tube of moisturiser. (Oh there was so much moisturiser. But we ignored that. She was happy and quiet and busy so we left her to it).

As my soft-skinned daughter and I walked into her room that night, my nostrils were once again filled with a familiar scent. I peered into the potty we keep in her room for emergency night wees, and lying there in a semi-circle, like a taunting grin, was a sweet little turd.

A perfectly fitting end to the day wouldn't you say?

August 16, 2013


There are many, many reasons why I love my mum. She is warm and loving, buys nice clothes in the wrong size which end up in my wardrobe, cleans my fridge whenever she visits and, much to my brother's delight, has stopped putting sultanas in savoury dishes.

But most of all, I love that when I emailed her a couple of months ago and asked her if she would come up to Sydney from Melbourne and mind the kids for four nights, she didn't hesitate to swap all golfing and other retirement-related activities for toddler-wrangling and school runs.

You see, John and I had devised a madcap scheme to shirk all work and parental duties for a four night getaway to Thredbo where we planned to ski, eat, drink, sleep and apres-ski our irresponsible butts off, something we never could have done without Mum agreeing to shoulder the burden.

What? You think just because she had three kids before the age of twenty-one and worked her fingers to the bone supporting us for 25 years that she should be having a rest and enjoying her retirement? Don't be ridiculous. Looking after my kids is her REWARD after all those years. Just ask her.

Mum? . . . . .

Oh, she's probably at the golf club showing her friends the adorable videos she took of the kids while she was here and telling them all how SELFLESS I am for allowing her to spend such a chunk of quality time with her grandchildren.

Anyhoo, moving on!

A gazillion thank yous darling mother - our little snowy getaway was heavenly.

You can't even begin to imagine how liberating it was to spend six hours in a car without a single "are we there yet?" or "can we stop for Maccas?" or suffering a sustained whiplash from passing endless food options to a toddler.

Last year when we drove to Crescent Head, we spent five hours listening to the world's loudest toddler crying and whinging, only to have her fall asleep within 15 minutes of home. We felt like we'd been trapped in a war zone, finally escaping the car with ashen faces and the glazed-over look of the undead. The deaf undead.

Giddy with excitement about our alpine adventure, we literally leaped out of bed at 5.30am, shrugged on the clothes we'd laid out the night before, and without so much as dragging a toothbrush through our mouth or kissing the kids goodbye, we tiptoed out to the car, which was all packed up, and made our getaway.

Leaving the coast and the sunrise behind us

Next stop - Goulburn for brekkie!
We stopped for breakfast at the historic Paragon Cafe in Goulburn, where the waitress, bless her, didn't even blink at my request for gluten free toast (no) or decaf coffee (yes). In fact, she must have been used to city slickers like me, with our silly new age food requests and ridiculous caffeine-free notions, because she said they really should start providing gluten-free items. Or perhaps she was just being lovely and wanting to make me feel less silly and ridiculous. Namaste nice Paragon waitress.

Now one thing that you always hope for when you go to the snow is . . . well . . . snow. The whole week leading up to our trip, the snow cams at Thredbo showed a distinct lack of snow and a disturbing amount of dirt and rocks. So you can imagine our joy, just outside Canberra, when we spied the white powdery stuff on the hills. Coming through Cooma, we practically cried tears of joy as the cars lumbering past us on their way back from the mountains had giant white snowy mattresses on their roofs. 

A welcome sight on our way to Jindabyne
Our four nights at the Thredbo Alpine Hotel and five days swishing down the slopes were everything we hoped for. We skiied from 9am until last lifts most days, ate goulash and soup and cake at every cafe on the mountain, scoffed mini Snickers bars on chairlifts, listened to live music every night before dinner, dined on whole river trout and Brazilian barbeque fare, slept in till 8am each morning and generally just enjoyed every last second.
The Thredbo Alpine Hotel likes to offer its guests a swim in the hot Swedish pool and a hot cider after a hard day's skiing. Guess which one I went for?!?
So I didn't choose 'pool'. Surprised?
John declared that the Tuesday was quite possibly the best day out of 15 years together. I'm assuming he's not counting our wedding day or the days we welcomed two new babies into the world, or the day we picked up the Golf GTI (his dream car for years apparently).

And the skiing? We were lucky, lucky, lucky. There was snow and no lift queues which meant no crowds which meant the likelihood of me careening into someone or having them crash into me was minimized. This is a good thing. I am not the world's most proficient skiier. I'm a blue run gal all the way. I love the rush I get from skiing down a perfectly groomed, powdery slope, and in my head I look incredibly stylish and elegant whilst doing so. The reality is that I look like a red and white teddy bear with knock knees. Check it out . . .

But really, for me, the goals are to get down that mountain in one piece, stay as warm as possible and unwrap mini-Snickers bars on chairlifts without losing a glove or pole, all of which I managed to achieve. Huzzah!

I also managed a fabulous bed-in on the third day. Leaving John on the slopes, I took to the king size bed for the rest of the day, snoozing and reading and a little more snoozing. Exactly the kind of battery-recharge session I needed.

Did I miss the children? Oh most definitely. There were many occasions when we'd say things like "Oh Jack would love this" (but interestingly not as many occasions when we'd wish a curious, loud, opinionated toddler was with us - go figure!) However, while it felt like a little part of us was missing, we also kept coming back to the happy fact of our coupledom. To forget about the washing up and whose turn it was to get up with the kids and what to cook for dinner. To leave the petty gripes and parental guilt at home with the piles of washing. How good it felt to spend this time together - to remember 'us' and each other and ourselves as individuals too.

Whether it's the snow or a hotel in the city or sending the kids around to your mums for a night, I highly recommend, if it's at all possible under your circumstances, that you go on an extended date with your partner. You might even find out you still like each other.

And whatever you do and wherever you go, schnapps shots are compulsory. Prost!

At least I look the part (thank you Aldi & your affordable ski gear)
Coffee-in-the-sun o'clock!
No ski boots allowed in the main hotel so this was my footwear solution for trips to and from the boot room. Nice huh?
* Music is Strauss's Blue Danube - courtesy EMI

Red Hippo

August 7, 2013

Layered Rainbow Birthday Cake

One of the advantages of watching Masterchef is that Jack will occasionally see a recipe that he wants to have a go at making. One of the disadvantages is that they are usually Adriano Zumbo creations that involve acetate and titanium dioxide and a degree in chemical engineering. His recipes have reduced grown men to tears. Level of difficulty? Off the charts.

So you probably heard my heart thud into the pit of my stomach when I asked Jack what kind of birthday cake he wanted this year and he replied "Liliana from Masterchef's Rainbow Cake."

Now I haven't been watching Masterchef religiously this year so I had no idea what cake he was referring to and had to look it up online. You can imagine how utterly thrilled I was to discover that Liliana was eliminated from the show for making this Rainbow Cake because it was TOO SIMPLE for Masterchef. "Not a Masterchef dish" said the judges. Music to my ears.

So here you go. Jack's birthday cake, aka Liliana's Rainbow Cake, aka The Elimination Cake!

You can find Liliana's recipe here, however when I read that it took 6 hours to make, I decided to go to my own fall-back cake recipe - a mix-and-melt cake batter that has been handed down to all the women in my family from my great-grandmother. Each quantity makes 2 cakes so the whole thing only took me 2.5 hours, including cooling time and decorating.


Grandma Dillon's Mix-n-Melt Cake

(You will need 2 quantities to make 4 cakes)
2 ¼ cups SR flour
1 ½ cups castor sugar
2 eggs
1 cup milk 
1 teaspn vanilla extract
125g butter, melted
Colours - blue, green (mix blue and yellow), red, orange (mix red and yellow)
Mix all ingredients and beat well. Divide evenly into two bowls and add enough colouring to make the colour really vibrant. Add a little more. Go on.

Radioactive Green & Sizzling Hot Pink ready to go in the oven

Blue and orange seem positively sedate compared to red and green!

Spoon mixtures into 2 tins lined with baking paper and cook in oven at 180C for approx 25 mins. Skewer should come out clean when cooked.


Butter Frosting

500g butter
6 cups icing sugar
1/2 cup milk
2 tspn vanilla extract

Beat all ingredients well until thick.

When cakes are cooled, use a long, sharp bread knife to slice the rounded top from each cake so that the top of the cakes is now flat. (Be prepared to be dazzled by the vibrant colour of your cake inside!) This will make layering easier and your cake is less likely to look like the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Sandwich each cake layer between slatherings of butter frosting, then once the cake is assembled, use a spatula to smooth frosting onto the top and sides of the cake until it is completely covered. 

In a bowl, mix up any kind of sweets you like to decorate the sides. We used Nerds and sprinkles, but you could include anything you find in the cake decorating department of the supermarket! Mini M&Ms could work well too. We literally grabbed handfuls and sort of pressed them into the side of the cake. I won't lie, it was messy but fun! Instead of piping frosting onto the top of the cake, we used chocolate covered marshmallows.

The cake was a huge hit with the kids at Jack's party. There was a big "ooh-aah" factor when it came out. But it is sweeeeet!! My tooth fillings rattled as I raised a spoonful of cake to my lips.


A big knife for a big cake!

August 3, 2013


Warning: This is a completely indulgent, unapologetic love-a-thon for my son Jack, whose recent tenth birthday got me quite pathetically mushy and sentimental.

 My darling Jack

In the words of every parent in the history of the universe "I can't believe you're ten! Where has that time gone?"

I'm writing this letter to you here on my blog because as I've taught you, if it's on the internet, it's out there forever and I want you always to be able to tap into your ten year old Jack.

I think you'll look back and like him. You should. He's amazing.

There are so many things that make you so very 'you' and I'm not just talking about those gigantic, swimming pool blue eyes, or that adorable smattering of freckles on your nose, or the way you insert the word 'actually' into many of your sentences.

You love nothing more than to run around in bare feet and I'm fairly sure that if you were the Prime Minister, you would ban shoes altogether (but that would make a lot of women very unhappy and, trust me, you don't want to get on the wrong side of women. Especially shoe women. Life lesson). We went to the mall last week and you got out of the car in bare feet, accidentally-on-purpose 'forgetting' to bring your thongs, which are, by the way, considered by you to be the only acceptable form of footwear year round. It wouldn't surprise me if you turn up to your own wedding in bare feet. And that's okay, just as long as you've ditched The Shorts by the then. You know what I mean by The Shorts don't you? The khaki cargo shorts with the elastic waist that you wear on permanent rotation now have holes in the bum but I still can't get you out of them. You're loyal like that.

Every now and then, more frequently these days, I get a glimpse of the man you will become, mostly when I watch how you interact with your two year old sister - gentle, kind, a strong sense of justice, an ability to find silly in the serious when needed. You can jolly Francesca out of a whingy mood with a wrestle on our bed, or a game of chasey where you always let her catch you (after awhile anyway!) It does make me laugh, though, how you roll your eyes when Cesca talks about Thomas or the Wiggles, like you can't believe you ever went out with them!

You are beginning to open up to the world outside your own sphere - questioning, considering, speculating, reasoning. You watch for other people's reactions and moderate your own responses. It's not just you and teddy anymore kid. In other words, you are maturing and it swells my heart to watch.

I'm especially proud of the way you've handled the transition to your new school, in particular how easily you've made new friends, yet maintained the authentic friendships from your old school. I think the reason you've made such great new friends is that you know from experience how important it is to be kind, inclusive, non-competitive and giving of yourself. The difference in you is amazing. You are more confident, eager to learn and willing to stand up for yourself. You also look great in yellow! How cool that you get to wear your favourite colour to school every day.

Despite your rapidly growing maturity, you are still very much a kid. You love to run the wrong way up escalators when the coast is clear, wrestle with Dad on the king size bed, perform arm-fart concerts in the bath and conduct fantastical mock battles between Autobots and Decepticons. You are a champion lego builder and an excellent hand-baller and you still can't eat an ice-cream without getting a chocolate moustache. And beard. At least ice cream is one of the foods you will eat. Ahhhh Jack, let's not talk about food hey? Let's just say I hope you take after your brother Ryan who, for awhile there would only eat meat and bread, preferably meat inside bread. Now he eats everything on God's green earth, even salad. Think of it. SALAD!! You roll your eyes now about the Wiggles. One day I hope you will roll your eyes remembering your infatuation with white processed foods, while tucking into a quinoa, beetroot and goats cheese salad.

You have begrudgingly accepted that Monday to Thursday is screen free time and when you forget that you don't like that particular house rule, you actually enjoy the other things you find to do. I find you curled up in a corner with a book, practicing your favourite piano pieces, playing handball against a wall, skating in the cul de sac with your mates, or sitting quietly in your bedroom recreating lego spaceships into new and fanciful masterpieces.

You don't need much help with your homework these days, and when the teacher tells you to write interesting sentences, you really do take that on board big time. Here are some examples of your recent sentences:

On Monday I shot a blazing, hot arrow into the sky and accidentally knocked a poor crane to the ground. 
The energetic heifer was jumping up and down and magically started flying and got stuck in a tree. 
The old man earned a pittance for his amazingly, massive job. (Damn capitalists!) 
The young, intelligent boy pasteurised the milk to get the dreadful germs out. 

I get the feeling you've been learning all about adjectives in class this term. I must say I'm very pleased there is a young, intelligent boy in charge of the milk. I must also remember not to walk under trees that have magical, flying, energetic heifers in them!

You have long legs and lanky arms that seemed to have stretched overnight (oh my chubby-faced, roly-poly baby boy - where did you go?) but which can still curl up neatly in order to fit on mum's lap which, thankfully, you still like to do every day.

You smell a bit more like a sweaty boy now. And suspiciously like chocolate milk a lot of the time.

You love sport. Any sport, but rugby union, rugby league, soccer and AFL are your favourites. You get in there and give every sport you play 100%. Losing never seems to bother you or many of your mates. You just love the game, the tackling, the fun of it all. And the sausage sandwiches slathered in tomato sauce of course.

You have encyclopaedic knowledge about all things Minecraft and I am blown away when I watch you journey through the incredible worlds you've created. You are a true digital native, navigating the online world in a way that is second nature to your generation. I will scramble to keep up with you, but keep up I must. The internet is a big, scary universe and it's my job to protect you and remind you of what is real and good, that the internet can distort reality and make bad things seem normal. I love that we can talk about that stuff now and I hope we always will.

Most of all I feel incredibly lucky that I get to come along for the ride (and I promise not to embarrass you too much - no more Abba songs!)

All my love always & forever

Mum xoxo

PS. I've made a little video for you . . .

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