December 13, 2013

A Luau Party


Last weekend we channeled our inner hula-hula and threw a luau for Francesca's third birthday party.

We hadn't held a party for her before because, well, who wants to throw a party where the guest of honour is likely to face plant in the cake (one year olds) or snatch things out of the hands of party guests shouting "MINE", leaving a trail of wailing toddlers and distraught parents in their wake (two year olds).

At the age of three, the manners are a little more civilised (although 'civilised' is perhaps too strong a word) and children seem to cope a lot better with copious amounts of sugar, gift mania and adrenalin.

Sort of.

It is also the age where children seem to 'get it'. Francesca couldn't remember her previous birthdays so everything was new and magical and filled with wonder.

On the morning of her birthday, she kept thanking us. Check out this video of her opening her first present. I love Jack's sense of occasion and suspense, and of course he's absolutely gagging to help her (she finally gives him permission, bless)

The day of the luau dawned bright and sunny. I woke up with the birds at 5am and, despite willing myself to go back to sleep, the fun of hanging pom poms and sticking fruit into a pineapple was too inviting so I got up and began preparations. And no, I'm not being sarcastic. Whilst playing endless games of 'shops' and pushing the swing 42,000 times a day makes me want to throw my pretend cappuccino at the pretend wall of the pretend cafe, I love organising my kids birthday parties.

I shamelessly nicked the idea of a luau from Kelle Hampton, the queen of kids parties, and I'm so glad I did. It was not only the perfect theme for little kids on a warm summer's day, but it was relatively easy and inexpensive to prepare. Kelle puts enormous effort into her parties, but I knew I would have to take a few shortcuts, so I tweaked the theme to suit me and added a few little ideas of my own. Please feel free to go ahead and perpetuate the nicking of this kids party idea!

It was very considerate of our hibiscus trees to bloom just before the party

What's a luau without a paper umbrella?

Leis waiting at the entrance for guests to don on their way in

Utilising some of my old hospitality skills (fan napkins were all the rage in the 90s I'm telling you!)

Strings of pom poms ($2.50 from the local discount store) prettied up the old gazebo roof

The good ol' Kmart clam shell filled with water and frangipanis made a gorgeous tropical pool (which filled with dirt and grass within ten minutes!)

Polkadot cups awaiting a pina colada non-alcoholic punch

I decided not to run any games. I'm still scarred by Jack's 5th birthday party when every kid made off with their lolly after unwrapping their paper from Pass The Parcel, until only two little kids were left passing the pathetic little parcel between them and looking utterly miserable and lonely.

I think small children, who, let's face it, still aren't fully socialised, are happiest when they can wander around doing their own thing so I set up two little craft stations.

The biscuit decorating table was very popular. Store bought cookies (one of those shortcuts I mentioned - I really was planning to make my own!), choc chips, sprinkles and icing in tubes - surprisingly little mess!

I love the concentration on this little one's face

This craft table held thin foam dolls with cutout clothes which had sticky, peel-off backs (K-mart).
We also had a small jumping castle that a friend generously lent to us (thanks Mick and Tina), and the trampoline was still a big hit.

Of course, it wasn't long before the kids discovered the two clam shell pools and the pretty party clothes were peeled off. One little boy got all his gear off and ran around quite happily starkers, yahooing and whooping it up around the backyard, no doubt amped up on the goodies on the biscuit decorating station. Can't wait to go to his 21st!

Then it was time for food! We served ham sandwiches and sprinkle sandwiches cut into shapes using cookie cutters, mini hot dogs, popcorn, fruit from Mr Pineapple Head and, in a nod to our ongoing love affair with all things Peppa Pig, some Peppa cookies (thank you Coles).

It was just gorgeous seeing all those sweet children tuck in to their party food, squealing & chatting by turns, and being gently guided by their mamas to try the fruit. And of course, there was our girl at the head of the table with her two jaunty pigtails and a perfect plumber's crack.

It makes me laugh, but also feel secure in the knowledge that these same little girls will be acting as each other's wing-women at parties in the future, making sure that no one leaves the house with too much boob showing or their skirt tucked into their knickers or, indeed, a plumber's crack. They'll remind each other not to accept drinks from strangers, to make sure no one goes home alone and they won't care if no boys ask them to dance - they'll tear up the dance floor together and laugh till their mascara runs down their beautiful faces.

A huge, massive, very big thankyou to our friend Riley who is just finishing Year 11 and still found the time to make this perfect Peppa Pig cake. Honestly, it blew me away! Sooo much better than what I had planned to make in my head.

Well that's about it for Francesca's Luau Wrap-Up. I'll leave you with a picture of a clucky looking John and a very contented little 10 month old Lucy in his arms at the party. He does have a way with babies. They love him. (And before you ask, the answer is no, we are too old, but yes, we are looking forward to grandchildren and yes, we will be laughing tears of relief as we hand them back.)

"Thank you everyone!"

A very big shout out to my wonderful blend-daughter (we're trying to come up with fun ways of not saying 'step-daughter'!) Christianne and her gorgeous flatmate Gemma for keeping the backend machinery of the party rolling and topping up the champers & guava in the mummys' glasses!

In case you're interested, I also created a playlist on the iPod for our Luau. I've been playing it as my office music ever since. Loving it!

Here tis:

1. Little Brown Gal - Maile Serenaders
2. Island of Lost Souls - Blondie
3. Over The Rainbow - Israel Kamakawiwo'ole
4. Under The Boardwalk - Rolling Stones
5. Surfin' Safari - Beach Boys
6. Roar - Katy Perry
7. The Girl From Ipanema - Stan Getz & Astrud Gilberto
8. Surfin' USA - Beach Boys
9. Better Together - Jack Johnson
10. Limbo Rock - Chubby Checker
11. Kokomo - Beach Boys
12. Yellow Bird - Chris Isaak
13. The Tide Is High - Blondie
14. Rock-A-Hula - Elvis
15. Summer Nights - John Travolta & Olivia Newton-John

November 3, 2013

All The Little Effers

I know, I know . . . I've been so quiet with the writing. Do you want my excuses? No? Well here they are anyway. Skip the next paragraph or two if excuses bring out the finger-wagging school teacher in you.

Our other business has been ridiculously busy which, after ten years of trading, we're pretty happy about. Like the birds flying south for the summer, we've been migrating both our website and our accounting over to new (hopefully better!) systems.*

However, unlike the dozens of dead migratory birds we've found washed up on the beach lately (too tired to keep going apparently - I know how they feel!), our whole flock of data has successfully migrated across and I can stop waking up at 3am shouting things like "The CSV file needs to be sorted by Column B!" and "Stop! Don't enter pre-1 July orders!!"

And then also, um, life. She's got her busy bottom on. Big client projects, rugby trips away, a new extra-curricular routine involving hapkido and piano, SOS calls from friends and, of course, these are the Big Birthday Months for our family. You want lots of crazy summer sex, people? You need to suffer the consequences of birthday burnout in September/October as all those little summer conceptions turn into actual people who expect presents and parties and cakes in the shape of popular animated characters for the rest of your life. Consider yourself warned.

But then, those little people do keep us entertained do they not? Francesca, for example, is at the perfect age for linguistic faux pas.

She now recognises the letter 'F' as the letter her name starts with. Whenever she sees an 'F' in a sign or a headline, she says 'Look Mummy, there's my F'. Which is all fine and good and isn't she clever? But when she sees an 'M', she also says 'Look Mummy, there's your F', upon which I correct her and say 'No darling, that's my letter, not my F.' I guess it shouldn't have come as a surprise when she accidentally dropped an alphabet puzzle last week and exclaimed "Oh no, I dropped all the little effers!" Cue snorts of laughter from surrounding adults.

As if the alphabet wasn't hard enough to master, there's all that tricky alliteration to get your tongue around.

The offending chicken with the salty skin
I roast a chook once a week, rubbing lots of salt into the skin, and the kids and I eat it, hot and sizzling, straight out of the oven. A few weeks ago, we were sitting around the kitchen table with chicken juice running down our fingers, and Jack announced that he loved the salty skin. Of course, little Miss-Contrary in one of the moods that makes me quake in fear in anticipation of her teenage years, announced loudly "I don't like sulky kin". And because it's fair sport in this house to make the toddler repeat her most hilarious mispronunciations for our own comedic pleasure, I asked 'What did you say sweetheart?'

'I don't like skulky sin!'

So there you have it. Sulky kin and skulky sin. Be warned suitors of the future who may wish to woo our girl, she simply won't stand for your grumpy relatives or crimes of a cowardly nature. And if you rub too much salt into the chook, then God save you young man!

*Business Catalyst for the website and Xero for the accounting in case, like me, you have a nerdy interest in these things.

October 8, 2013

On Turning Thirty-Fifteen

I hadn't planned to do anything special for my birthday this year. After all, forty-five isn't a 'big' year ending in a zero and, unlike Jack who celebrated the big double-figure milestone this year, I have been in double figures for quite awhile now.

And yet, as so often happens in our family, a plain old vanilla Monday birthday turned into a whole birthday weekend and I had the loveliest, busiest few days, allowing my brain to ignore the fact that I was, in fact, turning forty-five.

Forty. Freaking. Five.

Quick, pass the champagne. Let's turn it into a birthday week!

The thing is, when I think of that number (let's say it again shall we? FORTY-FIVE!) I don't actually connect it to myself. A forty-five year old person should be a stable, settled, accomplished adult. And occasionally, I do feel that. But for much of the time, I feel like an awkward, naive misfit who's still trying to find her feet. I mean I only discovered eyebrow waxing when I was thirty-four. There I was walking around all Kahlo-eque with a monobrow for three whole decades when I could have had perfect arches and a nose that didn't emerge from a small forest! Girls in their teens know about eyebrow waxing. How come I didn't? Too busy knitting leg-warmers probably.

This year, more than ever, advancing another year in age has given me pause and I've come over all reflective.

In the small, wakeful hours of the morning when you can't turn off a brain that is determined to dwell and wallow and turn molehills into huge flipping alpine regions, I play the horrible, terrible, no good numbers game.

At 45, my mother had a 27 year old daughter, all grown up and off her hands. My daughter is 2. When she is 27, I will be staring down the barrel at my 70th birthday.


I pray every day that I will have managed to keep my marbles and good physical health so that she can enjoy her travelling, career-building, family-starting decade with a mother who is in a position to still help and not hinder.

Forty-five is half of ninety, which means I've only got another half of the game to go. Another half in which I need to score all those tries and conversions so I can hold up some kind of trophy at the end, and not just a plaque that says "Was good at knitting leg-warmers and baking cakes."

Shall I be really macabre? If I lived in the Middle Ages, I'd have been in my grave for the past 15 years, assuming I'd lived to the average life expectancy age of 30.

So let's dwell on the good instead.

The upside of feeling not-quite-grown-up is that I also feel reasonably young in mind and body. Well, most of the time. Living with a toddler helps with that, but I'm beginning to understand what my mother-in-law meant when she turned 80 and said "But Shell, I just can't believe it. I still feel like I'm in my twenties and haven't changed a bit."

The years are passing by, sure, but our basic essence, who we are, doesn't change much. I'll always be curious. I'll always prefer vanilla to chocolate ice-cream. I'll always feel like there's more to learn, more to do and see, just like I did in my twenties.

I still yearn.

And I'm in some pretty sexy, sassy company, turning 45 with the likes of Naomi Watts and Kylie Minogue this year. Nicole Kidman and Halle Berry are already there (the old hags!). But it's rather sad to think that I've outlived Princess Diana by 9 years (where did THOSE years go?) and that sweet little boy of hers, who I remember leaving the hospital in his mother's arms, just left hospital with his own baby in his arms.

And now I sound just like my nan, so enough with the royal baby reminiscing.

But the yearning is important. As long as I'm yearning more for the future than for the past. When I start crying over the royal babies of other royal babies coming home, then you'll know I've hit the point of no return (and slap me while you're at it).

I've also learned to take pleasure in the present, a skill I needed those four decades to develop.

So I celebrated 45, or as my friend called it, my thirty-fifteenth! I like the sound of that. Two more numbers that have meaning. I gained a step-mother when I was fifteen and became a step-mother when I was thirty.

There was champagne and cake and a sparkly helium balloon with the words "Happy Birthday Shell" written on it that Francesca appropriated for 48 hours, insisting, since she chose it, that it was hers. She even slept with it to ensure nobody else could snaffle it.

There was a day in the city with my gorgeous gal-pal Susie during which we may have drawn breath for, oh, around five minutes. We talked on the bus, we talked on the ferry, we talked all through lunch and the whole way through our hand and foot treatments at the day spa. When we got to the Art Gallery of NSW, we went straight to the cafe and talked for an hour, then talked our way around the Contemporary, Modern and Classic exhibitions.

Lunch at the Ivy was followed by tea and macarons on the fancy floor of Westfield.

Some creepy 'installation' in the contemporary section of the Art Gallery of NSW. That is a dead clown on the floor. Told you. Creepy.

I was spoilt with gifts by family and friends - a handbag from Mum, a wallet from my generous step-daughter, dinner and babysitting from the boys, a beautiful pair of silver earrings from Jack, an ipad from a husband who not only tolerates my technology addiction, but enables it. And lots of lovely bangles, cuffs and pendants from friends who know how much I love to accessorise!

Birthday spoils, featuring the annual homemade card from John full of pics from our year.

So here I am, thirty-fifteenths, grateful for my health, my fabulous family and friends, and especially grateful that we don't live in the Middle Ages. The lack of sewerage systems would be a deal breaker and I'd be sure to muck up all those thee's and thine's.

Hopefully I have another thirty-fifteenths ahead of me to achieve the things I still yearn for.

"You don't have to be just one thing. But you have to start with something."

Do you know the song 'Amazing Life' by Clare Bowditch? No? Well, here it is. Listen to it somewhere quiet. It's a gentle and inspiring kick up the butt with a velvet boot. Take her words on board. I intend to.

Tell me, how did you feel on your last birthday? Excited, reflective, depressed, in need of vodka or just looking forward to a nice bit of cake?

September 11, 2013

Alone Not Lonely

I've been taking part in Fat Mum Slim's Photo A Day challenge this month, mainly to feed my iphone photo app addiction, but also because it's a chance to flex a little creative muscle in a life that is currently dominated by procedure, organisation and analytical thinking. And navigating children's meal times ("I don't like chicken anymore!", "I POUR DA MILK!" So much fun.)

The prompt for Day 4 was the word 'Alone' which immediately reminded me of my friend Taylor who posted this on our mother's group page recently:

I want a day off. Alone. Just one. An entire one. At my own house where I am all alone and don't have to do a single thing for anyone else. Alone.

And doesn't that just sum up perfectly how many parents feel? We love our children without a doubt, but oh my giddy aunt, the desire to have a teensy tiny window of time alone can be overwhelming.

I sometimes look back at my single-girl twenties and wonder what on earth I did with ALL. THAT. TIME. And I would still not get around to paying bills. What on earth did I do? I honestly can't remember, but I was obviously extremely, very, enormously busy looking after myself and indulging my own needs. It's a wonder I got around to having a shower some days!

Earlier in the year I wrote about the intense desire I still have to spend time alone, a desire that was indulged by three days at the Golden Door. Alone.

I remember talking to some friends at the time who found my request to spend time alone a little odd. There were comments like "I could never leave my children for three days" or "I wouldn't know what to do with myself" or "My husband would never cope." I can understand those sentiments, I really can, but I can't bring myself to say them because, for me, they are not true. I could, I would and he did. But that's just me.

Although dig a little deeper, widen the circle, and overwhelmingly there are many of us harbouring a secret urge to occasionally run away for a bit. In my case, not so secret. And nor should it be.

Whilst the good ship Mother-Guilt is difficult to disembark, I am firmly of the opinion that it is critical to leave her vegemite-encrusted decks and give yourself time off, to remember what it's like to be you, just you. To be alone with your thoughts, to let them ramble or spin off on random trajectories, not reined in by timetables and shopping lists. To let the horse have her head and gallop wildly. For dreams to come out of hiding and be thrown into the light, imagining what they could become. A novel written, a new baby planned, a trip to Paris that you will start saving your gold coins for.

I've always been good at being alone. Oldest child, only girl, vivid imagination - my childhood laid the foundations for an adult who is comfortable buying a single ticket to the movies or sitting alone in a restaurant. I look forward to the two days a week when I work alone at home. I get the children off to school and daycare, put the kettle on for an uninterrupted cup of tea (which I get to drink while it's still hot! Imagine!!) and happily camp out in my own head for the day, working on our various businesses and periodically engaging with the world via email, social media, sometimes the phone.

Me aged 3. Resemblance to anyone?
When I first met John, he had forgotten how to be alone and for awhile it caused occasional friction between us. He couldn't understand why I needed to sometimes wander off alone and I couldn't understand why he wouldn't want to. Eventually I came to the realisation that he had been an employer, a father, a husband for so long, he had forgotten how to be Just John. Like an atrophied muscle, he had to start flexing it again, teaching it what to do. Nowadays, Saturday mornings see him champing at the bit to get out on his paddle board. He drifts away on the sea, out of sight around the headland, and dwells in the land of Just John for a bit.

I believe in the ability to be alone but not lonely. Contentedly alone. Although the contentedly bit can be hard to achieve, sometimes impossible. I hate that. Alone time and a brain that insists on being a scattered, worried mess. Like shopping for clothes with a wallet full of cash and being unable to find a single garment that suits me.

I want my kids to develop the alone muscle, and not just for the obvious fact that the quality of my alone time is directly proportional to the quantity of their alone time. Invariably they will find themselves on a train from Rome to Paris with only a novel for company, or stood up in a bar, or in the limbo between starting a new school or job and making friends. I want them to be okay with that. To know they are a self-contained entertainment unit, content with an audience of one.

"There is no friend as loyal as a book" Ernest Hemingway (shame old Hemmers didn't take the same view regarding wives!)
Francesca is growing out of her daytime naps, a milestone I've been dreading. Being around a toddler from sunup to sundown without a break is enchanting on so many levels, but utterly exhausting as well. It's easy to fall into the trap of feeling like you need to entertain them all day - an endless parade of food, drinks, outings, babycinos, books, songs with actions and swings. Oh God, save me from the swings! The two hour daytime nap was the circuit breaker we both needed.

Thanks to the magic clock, she still has at least an hour's break a day. We call it rest time. She must stay in her room until the 'sun' comes up on her clock (I set it for approx 75 minutes). Sometimes she falls asleep, but most of the time I can hear her pottering about in her room, chatting to her dolls and teddies, drawing on her blackboard or pretending to read her books. In other words, learning how to be alone.

Can you guess what the best part of being alone is? Not being alone at the end of it. Spending time by myself brings my relationships into sharp relief and, dare I say it, makes them better. "Absence makes the heart grow fonder." A tired old cliche, sure. But an accurate tired old cliche.

So here's a crazy idea. Why don't we all just agree that there is nothing selfish or strange about wanting to spend time alone. That it's part of being human and doesn't need to be cloaked in an excuse. Let's just agree that it's normal and energising and inspiring. Go on. It's really quite liberating.

As Audrey Hepburn said "I have to be alone very often. I'd be quite happy if I spent from Saturday night until Monday morning alone in my apartment. That's how I refuel." And Audrey Hepburn was a goddess. You want to listen to a goddess, don't you?

It's now 1.29pm. The clock is set for 2.30. I can hear Francesca talking to her baby doll (who is being told to close her eyes!) and I have 61 minutes in which to miss her, forget about her and be a better, rested, happier mum for her when she comes out.

I'm outta here. Ciao!

You can follow my Photo A Day challenge over on Instagram . . . (join me!)

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
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