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Saturday, December 31, 2011

I Can Do It Myself

Nothing a cloth, a hose, a shower
and a hungry dog can't fix.
Even though it can be frustrating waiting for a little miss or sir to work out which of the holes to stick their head into, or which shoe goes on which which foot, you've got to keep the big picture in mind - if you want them to stand a chance of meeting that special someone and moving out of the house before you die you've got to teach them little things like how to dress themselves and cook two minute noodles so they can survive in the real world. No one is going to date someone whose mum helps them put their undies on before they go out. 

And for the record, as much as you love the little cherub now, you WILL want them to move out at some point, if only so you can play some decent music.

As parents, one of the things we try to teach our kids is how to do things for themselves, whether it be making their own beds or dressing themselves.

I have a work colleague who is far better at this than I am. Her daughter has been making her own lunches since prep. My kids don't seem to know where we keep the lunchboxes - for a while there I'm pretty sure they thought their lunch boxes stayed in their school bags (which stayed in the car) and magically refreshed themselves with food overnight, much like a computer game. 

A level of self sufficiency is even more important in a house with this many souls in it. And a house with me in it. I don't know which dresses belong to which girls - I swear some of Miss17's clothes look like they're small enough to fit Miss4. 

And although getting them to do stuff for themselves is important it inevitably leads to some amusingly disastrous results. Like today, when Miss4 was making breakfast for herself and Miss2 and she covered herself in milky cereal. Herself, the table, the chair and the balcony.

Frustrating? Yes. 

Funny? Hell yes. 

Something she'll learn from? Well, I'd like to say yes but this isn't the first time her breakfast has leaped out of the bowl and made a dash for freedom, which is why they were breakfasting on the balcony, so I might get back to you on that in another 14 years.

Wish me luck - she likes listening to Justin Bieber. 

Saturday, December 24, 2011

I Choo-Choo-Choose CHRISTMAS!

Our four youngest and two cousins meet Santa and his missus after a train ride.
It was very exciting and they almost all loved it. Can you pick the odd one out?

G-town has a fantastic attraction called the Mary Valley Heritage Railway - an old train, The Rattler, which chugs and belches it's way along the tracks to some local towns and gives guests a chance to experience life before comfortable seats and air-conditioning. It reminds me of when I would go to town with my Nanna from home in Fairfield to Cabramatta.

In the lead up to Christmas the good folk at MVHR take families on short rides up the line, afterwards letting the little kids meet Santa and receive a toy. And all for $4 a head. We've made it an annual tradition, which includes checking out the Christmas lights around town before and afterwards. Every year I tell the kids we won't be stopping, we'll just drive past and every year they're so beautiful we stop and walk around the displays.

On the train, the Silver Bullet, Master6 and Miss8 got the chance to 'drive' the train - they did very well, concentrating very hard when we had to cross a bridge so as not to derail us. Unfortunately we couldn't all sit together on the train, but this just made it even more fun as we broke into several clusters to stare out the open windows at yards full of Christmas lights and to wave at drivers patiently waiting for us to clear the crossings.

Meanwhile, today I've been secretly putting together toys in our bedroom, with all the windows shut and the door locked. It's a lovely cool summer day outside, but I've been sweating like a long distance runner. So far it's all gone together pretty well, which I'm happy about. Tracey wanted to call in her father for the construction, but I refused to subcontract on this build. I just hope I haven't spoken too soon.

Some lovely friends of ours came and caroled us late this afternoon, which is something we look forward to each year. Love your work Pitt's!

Master20 just arrived home and Miss4 was all excited - "Geoffrey's not dead!" she yelled out as she ran to hug him.

"Right," said Master20. "Maybe I should call home a little more often."

So now, with all my children under our roof, it's really starting to feel like Christmas.

I'll catch up again after Christmas - I don't think anyone wants to blog on Christmas day, do they? In the meantime - MERRY CHRISTMAS, everyone. Travel safe and party hard!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Hide & Seek - frantic fun for the whole family

You know how when things seem to be going really well and then something unexpected happens and suddenly it seems you're trying to drink honey through a straw? No matter how hard you try you can't seem to get anywhere. Not quickly anyway.

Well that happened to us on Saturday night.

After an afternoon spent playing Rummy-O and watching the kids on scooters and swings we said goodnight to our hosts and mustered our kids towards the car, where we all stood waiting for someone to open the doors.

"You got the keys, Bruce?" Tracey asked me.

"No, you drove last," I reminded her.

She ferreted around in her purse and came up with nothing remotely resembling a car key.

"Maybe they're on the table," she suggested. After a minute I realized she was suggesting this to me so I could race back into the house. Still nothing. This nothing was becoming increasingly worrisome as sometime last month we misplaced our spare set of car keys at home. 

Thereafter ensued an emu hunt through the house looking for our keys, with all the adults and older kids involved in the search. Five minutes later we were continuing to find nothing when one of the younger kids whispered something in one of the older kids ears then ran off.

"Apparently the car keys have been buried in the garden," we were told. 

I was torn between three essential questions - who, why & where. The first was the easiestly answered - Miss4. The why involved a game of hide and seek which spun out of control. And the where took some coaching of a morose Miss4, a torch and a few minutes of digging to answer.

And I think in fairness it's got to be said - awesome hiding spot Miss4! You won that game by a clear margin. Just don't ever do it again.

Eventually we were on our way, chiding each other for not having found our spare keys yet and pledging we'd get to it sooner rather than later and turn our house, not to mention the garden, inside out until we find them.

Or we can maybe get another key cut. Can you guess which way I think we'll go?

Jazz In Wonderland

With summer here we once again opted to have our Jazz clippered, only this time we weren't going to make the same mistake as last year when we had all her hair taken off - a fully shaven dog was a big mistake because none of the kids (nor the adults initially) recognized her.

So we left her head and tale this year and what we've ended up with is something which reminds me of the Red Queen from Tim Burton's Alice In Wonderland - a disproportionately large head on a wee little body.

This was last year's abortive effort -

Oh My Dog, What Have We Done?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Scoring With Secret Santa

As my folks are spending Christmas in Cairns with my sister we celebrated our Devereaux family fun this weekend. As a result we've had a wonderful time at my parent's place with my brother and his family. Master19 and his beautiful partner, Frances, came up for the day, making it even more special.

A hotly contested Secret Santa item yesterday was this bell (for obvious  reasons). Actually hotly contested might be over stating it, but in any case I wanted it. Other desirables were a bbq tray for cooking sausages (worked not at all today at the park) and a Where's Willy (as opposed to g-rated Where's Wally) book. Come to think of it there was a large chocolate block with the Where's Willy book and maybe the girls were after that - that does seem more true to form.

Because there's so many kids in our families (8, excluding Master19 who is included in the adult group now), every adult buys for one child so the kids each get a present - we set a budget of $40 a gift - but it doesn't break the budget. For the adults we set a $10 budget for a present for the game of Secret Santa, meaning each person spent a total of $50 on gifts for the weekend.

Picking and trading presents in our Secret Santa can take an hour to get through a mere eight gifts, but it's one of the highlights of the get together.

And now the 'pleasure bell' has pride of place beside my bed. Thank you Santa!

One of the kids misread the writing on the bell yesterday and asked me if it says 'ring for six.' To be honest I don't care whether Tracey chooses sex or a six pack - either way I'll drift off to sleep happy :)

How we play Secret Santa:

1. Weeks ahead an amount is agreed upon as the maximum which can be spent of each gift. Keeping the amount low is the key to ensuring some ingenuity and a sense of humour is used in purchasing the gift - an expensive Blu-ray player might be a swell gift to receive but a cheap husband remote controller will get more chuckles, so cheap budgets are better.
2. All participants purchase one gift and wrap it, arriving at the function and putting their offering into the center of the table. I have Tracey buy, wrap and place mine. Afterall, someone has to focus on remembering to bring the beer.
3. Number bits of paper from one to how ever many people are participating, and everyone draws a number out of a hat. Watch for cheats at this point as everyone will want number 1. A good way to ensure no sneaks take advantage and sneakily get it is to sneakily get it yourself. I recommend simply not adding it to the hat and then pretending to pull it out. Remember, you're not cheating, your stopping others from cheating.
4. Starting with number one (you, refer to step 3), everyone gets to pick a wrapped gift from the center of the table, or alternately, if someone has unwrapped something they fancy, they can forego picking a wrapped present and steal it off them. When this happens the person who has lost their gift can now likewise either steal an unwrapped present off someone or pick a still wrapped gift from the middle. Once a gift has been stolen in a round, it can't be restolen until the next round. The stealing of gifts is where the real fun comes into play. I steal gifts I don't want just to upset the cart of apples - not the bell though: I wanted the bell.
5. Once all the gifts are unwrapped and everyone has a present there is one final opportunity for stealing, with the person who had number one (You.Yay!) given the chance to steal what they want. This is usually a hotly contested round, with people trying to be sneaky and making their gift less obvious if they don't want it taken, or people trying to talk up their gift and encourage someone to take it off their hands. Strategy is rife with couples too, because once a present is stolen it can't be swapped again, so it isn't unusual for a husband to steal their wife's gift to secure it.

For the record, I didn't steal the bell off Tracey and neither did she steal it off me to secure it for us. She went for the cheese knives. I'm trying not to read too much into that.

Above - my brother Shane gets to use his Secret Santa score for our breakfast at the park, only to find it doesn't work real well. Later we worked out it's actually for cooking snags on BBQ grills. Should have gone for the bell, Shanus. Sucker!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Catching a Conversation By The Tale

You know how sometimes when you come in on the end of a conversation you don't actually pick up on the thread of the topic so well? That happened to me today.

A girl at work was chatting to a customer while she saw to his banking needs.

"We don't use the F word here," she said to him as I passed by.

Odd thing to say, I thought. I wonder if he was being rude or if they were talking about work protocols. He seemed like an alright sort of guy, and there was no hint of animosity between them. Never one to censor my words I jumped in.

"We say intercourse instead," I told the customer.

Both Kimmy and her customer continued to stare at me for what became an awkward amount of time. They mustn't have heard me properly, I thought.

"We don't say the F word, we say intercourse," I said helpfully. Thinking this time, for sure, I'd elicit a snicker. I got more than a snicker, I can tell you. But the joke was on me.

"Actually, the F word we were talking about was FLOODS," said Kimmy.


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Local Flash Mob

Who says we ain't all class like here in G-town?

Few of the local girls and boys rounded up a flash mob (misnamed because it's very g-rated and all their clothes are kept on) at the local shopping centre. I'm not at all surprised - karaoke is huge here.

I was very excited when I saw the sheet music - thought they were going to break into a bit of Jeff Buckley. But it was a nice song anyway, although I only know the words to the chorus.

Good to see a few of the old girls up on tables - no doubt there were a few under them as well. Tends to be the way when a bunch of friends get together and go out on the town in Gympie.

Great effort boys and girls :)

Monday, December 12, 2011

Water Slide

An exhausting six parties this last weekend, including my staff party. Three kids parties on Saturday and two on Sunday kept us hopping.

The final party on Sunday started with everyone huddled in the garage as a storm went over.

Looking at the water slide set up in the yard I asked Tracey if we were inside because we were worried the kids might get wet.

"No," she assured me. "We're worried about them getting electrocuted or a limb falling off that tree." This is why Tracey is in charge.

After the storm passed the kids spent a couple of hours on the slide having a ball. The slide itself was $20 of plastic, the spare tyres off the cars, a hose and a bottle of detergent. So much cheaper than the shop bought ones and yet so much wider and longer.

I was half expecting tears and scraps before we left but the whole thing went without a mishap, although Miss1 cleared the playing field when she shat in her pants.

Awesome fun.
Miss4 rides Miss8 all the way
down to the puddle of suds

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Sleepover House Rules

A boy stayed over last night. That's right, a boy.
Although Miss16 has been quite at pains to explain this boy is not a boyfriend yet I think, from what I've seen of the two of them together, I would much rather if she told me he was.

Watching young people grow from child to adult is both a wonder and a trial. You hope you've taught them well and they've listened to the bits you especially wanted them to listen too, and realized much of the rest was meant tongue in cheek and wasn't to be taken seriously. Then you let them go.

We have rules, of course, regarding friends of the opposite sex staying over. She's 16 - 17 in a few weeks - so we try to be realistic, like we were with her older brother. Different beds (she has a bunk bed so effectively she's in the tower, he's in the dungeon) and no closed doors. 

The door was shut for a minute last night when we were out and Grandma was here looking after the kids for us. 

"It's only because there's glare on the telly," Miss16 told Grandma.

"Well, move the telly," Grandma told them, and firmly opened the door. Grandma knows the rules, but nice try guys.

Actually they'd have had to be pretty determined to get anywhere last night anyway, even after Grandma went home - I slept in the lounge room because I snore when I drink too much and Tracey was working today, so they had my head lying down on the lounge two meters from their bedroom. And I was awake until 3 watching a Queen special and waiting for the room to stop spinning. 

Growing up, both our older kids have told us about friends and parties and the things that go on. Sometimes I wonder we're too strict. Mostly I don't. I think it's a balance - trying to give them freedom while still guiding them.

Myself, I hated being a teenager in lust. For a start I was fine talking to girls so long as I didn't actually fancy them - then I was as useless as a fork with soup. Last thing any teenager needs is a side dish of guilt to go with their raging hormones. 

As far as sex is concerned, because let's face it, when they have friends of the opposite sex sleep over that is the only thing you're concerned about, we have some rules. Or guidelines. No, guidelines sounds too iffy, they're rules.

These are our rules regarding fooling around and sex:

1. Take your time. Don't rush the bases. Once you hit second base it's hard to go back to first. 
2. When the time comes, it's your decision. Don't have sex for the wrong reasons. Wrong reasons include, but are not limited to: to impress friends: because he wants to: because you feel pressured. After that, it's up to you. 
3. Relationships are about people, not sex. Sex is just a bit of fun. And it is fun: great fun. But if it's just about sex, then it's not a great relationship.
4. Protection is not optional.

We're not buying her a double bed or anything and we hope she waits until she's a bit older before she hits a home run (not a rule maybe, but we like to put it out there, and if said while uttering the rules it carries more weight - we hope). 

Okay, who knows. She might end up with a string of boyfriends before settling down at 35. Or she might marry the first guy she sleeps with. Hell, she may decide to wait until she's married. It's been done before you know. At the end of the day, it's up to her, not us. And anyway I trust her to make the right decisions. And if you think the tone of that last line is a little desperately hopeful, well welcome to parenthood.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Our Christmas Tree Is Finally Up

Last night we finally erected our Christmas tree.

We're a bit late this year with getting things organized but we were trying to wait for Master19 to come up from Brisbane so we could do it all together, but for one reason or another it never eventuated.

Even Miss16 didn't make it to the tree decorating because of work, but we couldn't put it off any longer - late tree assembly is number eight on the top ten catalyst events resulting in dysfunctional families. Or we just couldn't take the endless, whining, zombiefying pleas for Miss8 to put the tree up. One of those.

For years we've alternated between nicely decorated trees, beautifully colour coordinated with green and silver, or crappily decorated trees, the crappy part being the toilet roll decorations my kids have made (bless 'em).

This year we decided to just get all the decorations out and let the little buggers do whatever they wanted to the tree - so naturally we ended up with a tree resplendently adorned with every single bauble and bit of tinsel in the house.

Unlike most families, I suspect, the last thing we add to our little corner of Christmas isn't the angel or star on top of the tree, it's the kiddy pen around it - not to stop the gifts from getting out but to stop the kids from getting in, or they'll unwrap all the presents and destroy the lights and generally bringing the tree down on top of themselves.

So now the tree is up and safely behind it's prison fence it's finally starting to feel like Christmas.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

My 'Gympie Woman' Magazine Contribution

The lovely ladies at the Gympie Women In Business asked me to contribute towards their latest Gympie Woman publication, and the needy media-tart in me accepted eagerly. I appeared in the I Say, You Say section giving my take on Christmas Day - where do you spend it? I thought today I'd share it with you. There's a link at the bottom of the page if you would like to nip over and see what the magazine is all about.

Is it any wonder we're all a bit grumpy on Christmas Day? Firstly, you stay awake until the wee small hours playing Santa's Little Helpers and constructing bikes and trampolines with butter knives. Then three hours later the kids wake you up screaming excitedly in your ear, "It's Christmas!"

Shortly after you're dragged out to a magnificent tree resplendent with home made decorations (because nothing says Christmas like badly painted toilet rolls) and celebrating this holiest of days by watching the kids unwrap the latest 1st person shooter for their PS3.

And I love it! I LOVE Christmas. Love, love, love it. I love my kids getting so excited they could almost burst: I love I've been able to yell 'Merry Christmas' at everyone for the last month: I love everywhere I go on Christmas Day I'm presented with enough food to 'Feed The World': And I love, love, love it's the last day I'll have to listen to the croonings of Bing Crosby for another 11 whole months. 

But do you know why i think I especially love Christmas so very much? Because I'm not the one driving two hours on the Bruce Highway, dragging the kids away from their new presents and demanding they be happy about it.

Not that I haven't done my share over the years. When my parents lived in Brisbane I was the one trekking down the highway on public holidays with all the other grim faced parents, Tracey reminding me to use all my fingers when I wave at the other drivers.

Trying to arrange getting around to all the different family functions on the same day is the real Nightmare Before Christmas. Eating just enough at each so as not to make yourself sick nor offend your host is akin to a modern day Christmas miracle. And if there's a marriage split it's even harder. You try telling Grandma and Grandad they won't be seeing their grandkids until the week after Christmas because it's not your year. Nothing but coal in your stocking.

Eventually you pull up in your driveway in the wee hours, carry your sleeping kids into their beds - their sugar highs thankfully having worn off two kilometers from home - down your first beer of the day then crawl gratefully between the sheets to catch some Z's, only to have your wife wake you three hours later by shouting excitedly in your ear, "It's the Boxing Day sales!"

Is it any wonder the day after Christmas we agree to stay home with the kids and let the missus go shopping by herself?

Gympie Women In Business

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Changing Of The Guard

It's nice to know sending all our sons and daughters backpacking overseas for gap years is really helping to spread the Australian culture.

This morning a lovely retired client of mine was taking me through the highs and lows of her recent trip to the northern hemisphere. She and a friend visited Scotland, Ireland, England, Wales, France and Monte Carlo. They'd eaten pancakes beneath the Eiffel Tower and even tried haggis in a Scottish castle (one of those was a high, one a low - you guess which is which).

But the highlight of her telling of the trip was the changing of the guards, because the way she tells it is a riot. I wish you were all there with me to hear it, but in lieu of that I've tried to use her words where I can:

"At Buckingham Palace they were so stoic, so in command. You could tickle their top lip and they wouldn't budge an inch to smack you in the head, like they probably should to people who tickle other people's top lips. But you don't really appreciate how impressive they are until you go to Monte Carlo," she said knowingly. "In Monte Carlo the guards were leaning against things and smoking and had their hands all over girls who wanted their picture taken with them. At Buckingham Palace they stand rigid, their eyes remain fixed and intense. In Monte Carlo they're grinning like coneheads for the cameras. Plus at Buckingham Palace, when the changing of the guard takes place, they march out and salute and everything is very regimented and impressive. At the changing of the guard in Monte Carlo, when the new guard saluted, the retiring guard gave him the thumbs up before sauntering off."

I don't know: it all sounds a little familiar to me. Maybe some Aussie backpackers have picked up a bit of holiday work in Monte Carlo, what do you think?

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Go The F@ck To Sleep

Noni can do no wrong in my books, although she was apparently in some hot water for this reading. Tracey and I think it's hilarious, because it is. And any parent who hasn't at least hissed this under their breath at one time or another is lying or has a nanny.

Samuel L Jackson also does a reading of this fabulous book, but even though the F word rolls out of his mouth like oil out of my old Holden Gemini, Noni's Playschool rendition nails it for me.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A Lack Of Drive

I've never liked cars. Not ever. Especially old ones which have lost their youthful vitality and just want to curl up and nap all the time, as mine tend to do.

Clearly transport intended on being an issue for me today.

Tracey had herself and Master6 booked in for a mole check at 8am this morning and to put the car in for a service after dropping the kids at school, so we needed to rearrange our schedule. Well one of us did, and fyi it was Tracey. By the time I exited the bathroom, five minutes before her appointment, she had the kids organised and waiting.

The plan was for me to go to work while Tracey juggled the four kids through the morning. Good plan, I thought. Bye.

"I'm late," said Tracey as I was breezing out the door with my car keys..

"I won't hold you up," I told her helpfully.

Then looked at the veins setting to burst on the forehead of my heavily pregnant wife. So I helped: cause that's what us hero-type-dads do when the need arises - we swoop in and save the day. Plus I need her to still want to sleep with me when the kids are asleep.

There was no time to dump Miss8 at school or Miss1 at Grandmas. And no car seats in The Red Rocket, so we couldn't divide and conquer.

"Come on!" I encouraged the kids towards the Pajero. "We're late!"

When they were all inserted in their respective harnesses I raced up to The Red Rocket as Tracey shot off up the road. I turned the key. Nothing. I turned the key again. A clicking of some sort - it was difficult to hear it clearly over the cussing sound I was making. On my third try it started and I backed out of the drive and.......realized I had no idea where the mole scan clinic was.

I drove into town and did a few laps of the main streets, finally locating our 4WD. Parking on a hill in case I had to roll start I arrived in the waiting room just as the kids were rearranging the magazines into a less sterile arrangement.

Twenty minutes later it became clear things weren't running on time.

"I need to go," I mentioned weakly.

"But there's noone to look after them when I'm being checked over."

"I'll take the strays to work," I offered. Deal. I raced up the street with Miss1 & Miss4, leaving The Red Rocket to fend for itself and hoping the handbrake was going to hold better than I suspected it would.

Half an hour later, Tracey arrived at work to save us from the whirlwind of destruction which is our littlest two. She also drove my up to where The Red Rocket was parked so I could take it to work.

And the worst was over. Or so I thought.

As the words 'see you tomorrow' came out my mouth this afternoon someone pulled the plug on the clouds and the rain pelted down. By the time I jogged the twenty meters to my car, carting six loaves of bread and some groceries, I looked like a contestant in a wet t-shirt competition. Who am I kidding - with my puppies I'd be a finalist.

Tossing the bags in the back seat I shut the door and turned the key. Nothing. I turned it again. Nothing much. On the third attempt it fired and I breathed a sigh of relief. Prematurely, as it turned out.

You know what is worse than having a flat battery in the car park? Stalling the car on a hill and not being able to start it up again, meaning you have to wave the traffic past until you can roll backwards to a safer spot to park.

Fed up with the whole day I decided to leave The Red Rocket where I managed to roll it and called Tracey for a lift home. I figure I'll call RACQ in my lunch break tomorrow.

"I can't, honey," said Tracey. "The Pajero is still at the mechanics."

I've never really liked cars and at this point it seems unlikely to change.

A Crying Shame


Now here we are, nine days later, and she's out again! This time with her mother and sister, watching a  show called Motherhood or something.

I know what you're thinking - what a selfless man: what a lucky woman. Hey, maybe I don't know what you're thinking afterall.

All I know is once the dinner, baths & bed are done, it's all about me.

All day at work I kept running over things in my head to ensure it was going to run smooth. Should we play UNO before bed? Should I let them bunk in the one room? What are their names again? It's important to get these little things right.

Which was lucky I did because, as always on the big jobs, something was overlooked this morning.

"Tracey!" I said when she answered the phone. "You need to put some beer in the fridge."

Disaster averted.

So now it's 8pm and everyone is asleep. Actually they've been asleep for nearly an hour. Usually their bed time is around now, but they looked so puckered out and besides, I hid the clock.

How. Awesome. Is this.

Tonight is about me. I can drink beer on the lounge and watch the shows which make Tracey cringe. I'm starting with an episode of Yes, Minister followed by Who's Line Is It Anyway and then a little Fawlty Towers, all while reading The Bourne Supremacy on my kindle....wait, that's the baby. All good - installed a dummy.

So now it's 10.30pm. 

The big kids were great tonight. The only time I heard hide nor hair of them was when Miss8 popped into the lounge room and asked me to keep the baby quiet because she was trying to sleep.

I don't know what my wife did to our baby before she left but clearly Miss0 was broken.

I've barely had time to scratch myself tonight. I haven't watched a single thing I wanted. I haven't even had a beer. My night was a cycle of dummy, bottle, burp, nappy, dummy, bottle, burp, nappy - none of it making any difference. 

Of course, when Tracey walked in the door she took the crying baby out of my hands and the noise stopped.

"Is there a button or a switch I don't know about?" I asked her.

Next time Tracey wants a girls night out I'm thinking she can take the kids so we can both have some fun.

Monday, November 14, 2011

A New Beginning

Never having much of a head for school, Miss16 is leaving it to embrace a new chapter in her life. And the whole thing has been driving me nuts. We've had all sorts of 'discussions' this last week. Tempers have flared and died down and flared again. But what I love about my oldest two is we can all disagree and say (sometimes even shout) our piece and still end it all with a hug and a kiss. Eventually. After we've settled down.

I read somewhere kids should see their parents disagree, rather than discussing anything controversial behind closed doors. Kids apparently need to see people can disagree and then resolve a problem. It's important for their development. Well, at times Tracey and I have certainly been super helpful in encouraging their social education :)

This was my face
earlier this week.
We set down certain conditions for Miss16 to be able to leave school and today she finally met them all and is taking up a position at a local fast food outlet. While I prefer the coffee at McDonalds, let's face it, the burgers ARE better at Hungry Jacks. They've offered her 30 hours a week, which is nice, and with her proven savings record over the past four months I think she'll make the most of it. 

So my oldest daughter is leaving school to work in fast food. Not exactly the career I would have chosen for her, but then becoming a Bond girl so she could introduce me to Sean Connery was probably a tall order.

I'm trying to be positive and supportive, but jeez it's hard. Being a parent is difficult, isn't it?! No walkthrough book. No two alike.

Ultimately I think she's going to be fine - she's planning to study childcare at TAFE - but I'll probably worry about her until the day I drop off my perch. Not just her though, I've no doubt I'll worry about all of them. Master19 just contacted me on Facebook tonight to ask what he could do with some of the mince we gave him on the weekend. This from a guy studying a double degree who's been living out of home for a year. It's mince. How hard can it be? Do what I do - Google it. 

So a rough week of soul searching has ended happily. Only five more kids to go. Shoot me.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Chicken, Pumpkin & Asparagus Risotto

I love a good risotto. I love eating it for sure, but I especially love cooking it. Standing over a stove, slowly stirring and ladling stock into the rice is very satisfying. Plus, as there's wine in the recipe, no-one seems to question the bottle of white standing right beside you, keeping you company.

You will need:

Pumpkin, 500g, diced into cubes
Chicken stock, 4 cups
Butter, 1 tablespoon
Onion, 1, diced
Garlic, 2 cloves, minced
Arborio Rice, 1 cup
White wine, 1/2 cup for recipe (rest of bottle for you)
Chicken, 3 thigh fillets, diced
Asparagus, chopped into 1cm bits
Lemon, 2 tablespoons
Parmesan, 1/2 cup, grated

Bring pumpkin and stock to boil for 5 minutes then turn off and cover. Melt butter and saute onion, adding garlic and continue to chase it around the pan for a couple of minutes. Add rice and coat in butter mix. Now add the wine and when it's mostly absorbed start adding pumpkin mix a couple of ladles at a time, waiting until previous liquid is mostly adsorbed before adding more, until all used. Add chicken near end of process to allow it to cook through. Add asparagus with the final ladles of stock mix. Make sure you continue to stir the whole time you're cooking - use the leftover wine to occupy yourself. Remove from heat and add lemon juice and parmesan.

Finally, make cheese toasties for rest of family then sit down to enjoy this risotto by yourself. Trust me, unless you're trying to impress a new boyfriend or something, you won't want to share this dish.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Heard recently at home

"Port isn't like wine where there's sweet, dry or draft."

I won't say who said it or I may need to enter witness protection :)

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Donut Cake

Needed a little something extra for lunches tomorrow so I baked this simple cake full of sugary and cinnamony goodness. Kids said it looked like a donut and without knowing this when Tracey came home an hour later she said it tasted like a donut. So I'm calling it a donut cake, even though the recipe clearly said it was a Cinnamon Tea Cake.

You will need:

60g butter
1/3 cup caster sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup milk
1 1/4 cups self raising flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
 after it's baked
1 teaspoon butter
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Beat the butter and sugar, then add vanilla. Add the egg to the mix and beat again. In separate bowl sift flour and salt. Slowly add flour mixture and milk to buttery mixture, mixing well. Pour into greased tin and bake at 170 degrees for about 20 minutes, or until cooked through. Turn out and brush top of cake with butter then sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon.

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Thursday, November 3, 2011

Thinking Ahead is Key

I've been driving the Red Rocket around town this week and it takes me back to when I got my first car. It smells of twenty years of fries and farts for a start. Plus it bunny hops in first, just like my first car. Today was a real trip down memory lane because I locked my keys inside it, just like I used too. It's like riding a bike, you never forget how.

I went from a flush of anger to flushes of embarrassment as car after car of people I know drove past and beeped at me. It was like I was 18 again. I swear if I run out of petrol this week at the Mary St lights during peak hour traffic I'll break out in zits and start listening to angsty songs on its stereo. This car is the proverbial Fountain of Youth.

Finally managed to break into the passenger side but not, of course, until I'd rung my father-in-law to come save me. If there was any doubt Tracey and I were meant to be together they evaporated in a puff of wonder when I learned Ken was an ex-RACQ breakdown service man.  Seriously, as a P Plater I spent more time chatting to his co-workers by the sides of roads in Brisbane and Surfers Paradise than I did my drinking buddies. He was perfect for me.

Home now, so all good, although I fear when my daughter does the same sort of thing in the next six months or so (as she inevitably will) my well prepared, finger wagging parental speech about thinking ahead and having a second key cut might be met with a 'people in glass houses' one of her own. 

Monday, October 31, 2011

Rise Of The Red Rocket

We took the little red rocket for a test drive this weekend to see if it was suitable for Miss16 to learn to drive on. It's far from perfect to look at but it seems mechanically sound and for a mere $1000 it's perfect for our needs.

The car is a manual - Master19 only has an auto license and now finds he needs to get his manual for the job he eventually wants. We didn't want that sort of problem for Miss16, and if you can drive a manual an auto is a breeze.

To be frank I haven't driven a stick for a while. Not sure how I'll go as Miss16's teacher - embarrassed to say my maiden voyage saw me imitating Peter Rabbit down our driveway.

When we arrived home with the car Miss16 still had a couple of friends here from her Halloween Movie Night. This was the first she's heard of the car, so she was very excited and suitably impressed. We're hoping this will kick start her enthusiasm to get started on her learners.

Meanwhile, we'll have a second car so we'll be able to cart the whole family around town when the baby comes :) I bags driving the red rocket! (It's got no car seats).

Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Word From The Coffee Snob

I would rather bungy jump naked from the wing of a Tiger Moth than settle for instant coffee. If you consider I'm scared of heights, tigers and the crazy folk who fly old planes you'll understand how much I detest the foul, loathsome stuff. 

Freshly ground espresso, on the other hand, is the liquid expression of all that is good and proper in the world. At least it is at 7am when I’m dragging myself away from a perfectly good bed.

I'm not alone in my love of the bean - it's the second most widely traded product in the world. The first being oil, which tastes horrid with or without frothy milk and two teaspoons of sugar.

When we renovated our kitchen I was mad keen to have a coffee machine installed. I used to spend an exorbitant amount of money on coffee - around $3000 a year! Put into perspective, that's nearly one hundred cartons of beer. Clearly my coffee drinking was severely limiting my potential for increased alcohol consumption. 

You have to pay big for good quality, right? We got our Miele coffee machine secondhand for $1300 - new they were $3100. I'd done my maths and worked out at three coffees a day it would pay itself off in less than a year. Thereafter, cheap coffees.

You might think this was a lot of money to spend. I know I did. Tracey, too, took a lot of convincing. Especially as I balked when she wanted a dishwasher - looking back I can't believe I tried to come between my wife and a dishwasher and survived to tell the tale. I've grown smarter since then.

The good sense of quality over price came home to us one day when we were purchasing a candle holder in Silly Solleys and it had broken before we made it through the checkout. Buying cheap junk is akin to investing in a pyramid scheme - you might get lucky, but you probably won't.

So we have this awesome (-ly expensive) coffee machine and for three months I was constantly standing in front of it, thinking to myself, "You lucky son of a beach. You have THIS! You've made it. You can die a happy man." With all the love I was feeling, you might imagine my shock then when I went to a friend's house and he produced a better result with his bottom of the range Sunbeam. Not just a better result - the quality his Sunbeam produced was head and shoulders and upper torso better than my Miele white elephant.

Needless to say, after many years tweaking my Miele, we last July gave up and purchased a $200 Sunbeam coffee machine (I figure it paid itself off in twenty days) and although the Miele has the advantage of freshly grinding the beans, I haven't made a cup of Joe with it for about a year. Now when I happen to glance at it I think to myself, "You unlucky sod. You have THIS! You wanted it. It was dead money."

It gets worse though. We'd twice needed to repair the Miele machine since it was installed five years ago, both times costing us about $400. I could have bought four Sunbeam machines or ten cartons of beer for that.

Tracey and I have changed our thinking over the last 15 years: We always try to purchase quality, even if it means we have to wait longer to save up the extra money or if we have to go without something else.

Our coffee machines prove, however, that spending bigger bucks on something isn't always a guarantee of a better end result.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Fear Knots

With so many friends and customers trotting off to exotic destinations lately the topic of conversation turned to holidays at work today. While I couldn't be buggered with all that chasing down of cathedrals and Neanderthal cave paintings I totally get the lure of Italy & France - it's the chance to bond with their gloriously delicious food.

For me a tour of these countries would involve a maybe five simple meals a day, plus snacks. I sometimes wonder whether I was a hobbit in my previous life. Unfortunately I don't think I'll ever manage to get to these countries though, because the odds of them building a bridge between Australia and any of the other Continents in my lifetime are slim. And I don't fly well.

"More chance getting killed in a car on the way home tonight than crashing in a plane," one of the girls at work said in an odd attempt to make me feel better about flying. It doesn't. 

"That's not it," I informed her. I thought the conversation would move on, but it didn't.

"The food can be a problem," prompted another of the girls. 

"That's not it," I said. You see, the problem I have with these long flights is I refuse to sleep on the plane.

"Can't you take a pill?" someone else suggested. 

"That's not it," I told her, and I realized I'd begrudgingly have to spill the beans. The reason I won't sleep on the plane is the first thing I do when I wake up, just prior to full consciousness in fact, is toot. It's biological or genetic or something. So I have this fear I'll let off a bum burp rather loudly, possibly even asphyxiate a few passengers, and then have to spend the entire flight with everyone looking at me.

Although tooting involves a completely different orifice I gather it's an extension of my fear of public speaking.

And it's not that I'm not afraid of flying - I am. That and a whole gambit of others. Being a parent can do this to you - suddenly you see the potential for disaster in every puddle of water and Lego block. There's my fear of heights, my fear of drowning & conversely my fear of dying by fire, my fear of snakes and my fear of being eaten by sharks, tigers, hippopotamuses &, since Jurassic Park, velociraptors. My fears could fill your average theatre.

Only thing I'm not scared of is actually dying, but the how I die is a whole other kettle of fish. And in fact I suspect my fear of flying is more my fear of the two minutes of plummeting out of the sky than the actual impact. But no need to go into that here, I can save it for when I get me a good psychiatrist. And trust me, he's gonna be rich.

Never quick to quit, the girls at work tried to allay my fears so that I might one day bite into a chocolate eclair or have Foie Gras on toast for breakfast in the home of the guillotine (fear of having my head chopped off, Highlander style, isn't in the good seats in the Auditorium of Bruce's Fears, but it definitely gets invited to the after party).

"I fart on planes all the time," said one of my lovely workmates. Don't be shocked. I'm the only bloke at work and this conversation is lame compared to some of the topics I've had the pleasure of trying to ignore. "Nobody can hear you toot over the sound of the engines."

And for the first time in many years I actually thought flying might be doable for me. Until I got home.

"Oh, they'll hear YOU alright," my sweet wife told me. "Although there's a chance the people up in business class might just think it's really bad turbulence."

I never like air plane food anyhow.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Crappy Beer

As wonderful as this holiday has been something icky has come to my attention which nearly threw the whole thing off.

I was watching telly with the kids, as you do - a show about green energy and solutions. Have you ever noticed how kids’ shows are so much more informative than adult shows? I can watch the news and come away with more questions than answers – What are our troops doing in Afghanistan? Why is the Reserve Bank putting up rates when the politicians don’t seem to want them to? Where the hell is Port-au-Prince? If I ever want the real lowdown I turn the channel to Behind The News, a program aimed at explaining current events to kids. At least I can understand what they're going on with.

So I was watching this show about green stuff, like alternative energy generation and water conservation, and it was all finally starting to make a bit of sense, when they started talking about beer. Hallelujah! I had to wait until I was 18 to learn the important stuff. Kids these days are so lucky.

Only it wasn’t all beer and skittles. Turns out there’s a brewery treating raw sewerage to use in their beer making process, instead of turning on a tap like normal people.

And it’s a brand I drink! Well that certainly leaves a nasty taste in my mouth. So did I miss a memo? Is this why they call it piss?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

We're Back From The Black

Day one of our technology hiatus and I was reading not one, but three books - anything to distract me from my lifeless looking laptop sitting in the cupboard.  My three books were Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species and Charlaine Harris’ Altogether Dead. I couldn't seem to settle on one, even from hour to hour, and keep flitting from one to another as my mood took me. And I was moody. Oh so moody. The kids kept asking me what they'd done wrong - that can't be good. So it seemed that so far the turning off of laptops hadn't been great.

Night before we started this torment I went to G-town to pick up Miss16 and bring her back to Tin Can Bay. While I was in town I dropped in on a few friends including Maree & Denny. I spent a very present half hour trying to convince Denny of the benefits and joys of Facebook and computers, but despite what I think are solid, indisputable arguments – which as you know include keeping in touch, ease of banking & access to porn – I don’t think she was sold on the idea.

Tracey must have been feeling equally as mind-numb from no internet because she didn’t even notice I was missing for half an hour. By two o’clock I was sick of looking at my neutered laptop so we took the kids to the local bowls club (do you like how I say we took them, like it was exactly what they wanted and nothing to do with us) and they played in the kiddy area while Tracey and I enjoyed a relatively quiet drink. Naturally we were on call for disputes and hugs, but mostly we were able to sit there and discuss Christmas presents and our complete lack of any idea of what we’re buying. And because we have no internet we can’t even look up ideas on line.  

Furthermore, Miss16 was taking the whole ‘no laptops’ thing way too well, meaning I hadn't even been able to enjoy her misery. I suspected when she’s sneaking off she was using the computer at her friends’ houses. Clever bitch. Wish I had friends. Tracey ducked down to the library a few times, and it occurred to me they have computers there. I was dying to ask her if she cheated, but then I thought I might also want to go to the library by myself to look for yet another book later (wink wink), so I thought I'd better keep my mouth shut. Meanwhile, I was really starting to wonder why I was bothering with this.

The next day went much smoother for me, until mid afternoon when my Kindle died (I should perhaps explain that while our techno hiatus started out as an all points ban, it has continued subject to certain exemptions - primarily it means no telly, no gaming devices and absolutely no internet, but Kindle can be used for reading and mobile for phone calls) I realized I didn’t bring the recharger cord (so much for that, just the mobile for the next few days). Reduced to a single book until I can get to the library, I spent the day reading a couple of pages and then lying on the lounge with my eyes shut - not sleeping, mind, because that would mean leaving Tracey to look after all the kids by herself and I wouldn’t do that to her. Afternoon did seem to go very fast though.

Miss16 had a lovely time styling Miss7 & Miss4’s hair for them, then we took the kids out for a photo shoot by the water (dodging jelly things on the sand) and ordered fish and chips for dinner. Only no-one wanted fish and chips except me (when did these kids start getting choices?), so there was also a heap of burgers and dagwood dogs. 

First place we went to order dinner was recommended to me by a customer in G-town, however the stupid shop didn’t take eftpos. I can’t believe the number of places down here which don’t take eftpos. It’s like the whole place is still living in the eighties.

And while I love how laid back and casual it all is, I’m driven to distraction by businesses which don’t want my money simply because they can’t see the notes and jiggle the coins. Madness.  The shop attendants are always quick to point out the closest ATM but if they aren’t prepared to harden up and face the 21st century then I’m not going to do it for them (until I get over myself and go to the bank - in this case the following night, and yes, the fish and chips at the recommended shop was far, far better).

So I had the second best fish and chips in Tin Can Bay followed by the best. Miss16 stayed out until 7.30 with some friends (we met her at the shop to buy her a burger). Night was drawing and colouring in with another platter of cheeses and I did some writing the old fashioned way - with paper and a pencil and no spell check. Blech!

By Friday we were in a much better place as a family (read as, I wasn't so moody about not having my laptop turned on and facing me). Tracey did heaps of crafty things with the kids, including making sandcastles from toilet rolls, and was taking loads of photos and I went on two bike rides a day with the kids. Two! I'm thrilled I got to do this because G-town is not a good place to take kids riding, so it's good to get a heap in while I can.

Even managed to carry Miss4's bike down to the paths a couple of times so she could ride with her older siblings - she loved that. Usually I walk along side her and we go around a few blocks.

Master6 caused a few little accidents by riding into his sisters, which is beginning to tear his confidence apart. At one point he was walking his bike and refusing to ride because he was too dangerous, but we built him back up. Jeez, if being a little chaotic on the road was a reason to stay off them my folks would never be able to back over their letterbox and go shopping.

Tin Can Bay is just what we needed to recharge the batteries, and we recommend it to anyone wanting to go somewhere and do nothing (at a very reasonable price). But if you want restaurants, shops and excitement, avoid it like the plague. As we were leaving we met some lovely people across the road who let us look through their rental (in case ours sells and is no longer an option). They were horrified when we said we were there for two weeks.

"What did you do?" they asked. I'm thinking they came for 3 days and left for life.

But sadly it's all over now. I'm definitely a net junkie though because now it's Saturday and we're home and all bags and bikes and assorted claptrap from the trailer are unloaded, but only as far as the balcony, and already I'm on my laptop trying to ignore my kids. Oh, well, they'll get their chance again next month.

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