Thursday, April 24, 2008

The things they say...

Chase to Harmonie this morning: “Harmonie, you are dumb. D. A. M. Dumb!”
I love the funny things our kids say, particularly when they have no idea why they are funny.
The other day, the kids were suspiciously quiet. After a quick search, I found them on the floor of my room, playing with an underwire which had come loose from one of my bras. (Yes, I know, my lingerie wardbrobe could do with an update!)
“Mumma look, it’s a Frisbee,” Harmonie said, flinging it at her brother.
“No, you wear it on your head,” Chase said, putting it on his own head like a hair-band. “Or, you can put jewellery on it and wear it around your neck. Like this.”
And proceeded to make a necklace with it.
Kids are funny.
I love how simple sayings and mispronunciations become part of family folklore.
Harmonie can’t pronounce the B sound properly, and it usually ends up as G. As in: “Is that a Grand New Car/Yoghurt/Honey/insert anything she’s particularly interested in”? So in our house, we no longer just have brand new things, but Grand New Ones. Sounds so much better.
Years ago, a friend’s toddler son kept endearingly calling me “Mochie”. Charmed at his attention, I asked my friend what he meant. “Erm, monkey actually,” my friend admitted.
So much for popularity! But ‘Mochie’ very quickly crept into our everyday use. To this day, my husband and I regularly refer to each other as Mochie – Moch for short.
Driving to school, there’s one of those extremely tasteful – not – signs for nasal delivery systems. SEX. The sign screams in large red letters. I cringed as Chase began to spell it. “S. E. X. Sox!” he said triumphantly. “Mumma, why do they want people to buy more sox?”
I can put the birds and the bee talk off for a while longer then …

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Date Night

Having just blogged about budgeting, it’s ironic that this weekend Kyle and I ignored my own advice, and actually ate out.
It’s okay though, because it was Date Night.
In the interests of a healthy relationship, occasionally we feel the need to get out and rediscover what we loved about each other, before kids, budgets, homework, and life came into the equation.
That’s called Date Night, and it is not a luxury, it’s a necessity!
So the other night, Nice Nanna agreed to watch the kids, while Kyle and I had the chance to reconnect without worrying about exhorbitant babysitting fees.
Originally, we’d planned on dinner and a movie, but with budgeting in mind (you almost need to take out an extra mortgage to go to the cinemas these days), we chose a lovely dinner instead.
We like to check out new places, so after a check of our Entertainment Book (we buy one each year, and as well as saving us money it introduces us to loads of places we may never have discovered on our own), we chose to eat at Mizu Japanese Eats at Teneriffe.
This place is fab! I had a couple of excellent house whites, while Kyle had a Japanese beer.
I chose the vegetarian Bento Box, and was served beautifully presented and mouthwatering serves of tempura, sushi agedashi tofu, soy-glazed roasted pumpkins, sweet potatoes, green salad and rice.
It was delicious – and best of all healthy, so I wasn’t breaking my diet. (Well, except for the two wines. But it was Date Night, so they didn’t count).
Kyle went for the Mizu Bento Box, which came with three mixed entrées, sushi rolls, tempura, teriyaki chicken and tofu, plus rice and miso soup.
We were way impressed, and I can thoroughly recommend it for a lovely evening out. Friendly service and delicious healthy food that won't break the budget. We will certainly be back. Er, for Date Night though. So it won’t count when we’re doing our budget – will it?
In any case, although we love our kids, Kyle and I find the occasional night essential for our sanity - and our relationship. And that's priceless!
The luxury of being able to talk about something other than the kids (though I admit, they are frequently the topic of conversation) is wonderful. Let alone to actually finish a meal, and a conversation, without having to rush someone to the loo, clean up a spilt drink, or break up WW3!
Our dates aren't always at restaurants. Sometimes it's a movie and a takeaway on the way home; a catch-up with friends, or we might just spend a few hours shopping together (particularly pre-Christmas or kiddie birthdays). Occasionally, we'll pay a lovely babysitter who has known our kids since they were born, to take them to a park or a movie while we get into DIY projects at home in a fraction of the time (and without the fuss) they would involve if the kids were home to 'help'. Bless their little hearts.
That's not to say we don't do all that with the kids as well. It's just that sometimes it's nice to be a couple again, not just Mum and Dad, and to reconnect on that level.
And you know what? Our kids accept it, think it's pretty funny, and are always quite excited that Mummy and Daddy are going on a date.
When we get home - or the next morning as the case may be - they love to hear every little detail.
"What did you do?", "What did you eat?", "Was the movie scary"?
And we have a pleasant conversation telling them all about it.
So I'm hoping that we're teaching them a lesson about love and adult relationships too. That parents are people too, and that it's healthy for them to need some time alone occasionally.
Anyone else want to share their Daddy-Mummy Dating Secrets?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Would you dumpster-dive to save money?

Mmm, yummy! But would you want to eat it if you knew where it came from?
Times are tough, and the price of EVERYTHING is going up, but would you dive into a dumpster to save some cash?
Some people do.
Apparently, the struggle to live beyond our means has created a new breed in Australian society, the Feegan. Also known as dumpster divers or skip dippers, Feegans are apparently ‘conscientious objectors to consumerism’ to whom saving money is secondary to reducing wastage.
True story.
According to an Australian Institute study, a small but growing group of well-educated city dwellers are regularly going through rubbish bins to get free food, clothes and other products – literally turning other people’s trash into their own dinners. Foragers came from a diverse range of Australians, including teachers, professionals, shop assistants, students, musicians, and families.
Am I fussy, or is this just a little bit gross? (Okay, a lot!) If Kyle came home one night and suggested we all go out cruising for good garbage, I think it would probably be grounds for divorce!
But it’s not just your ordinary, garden-variety bins that appeal to Feegans. Commercial bins and skips are the prizes for these modern-day scavengers.
Apparently, many companies throw out boxes of food, including fruit and tinned food, when they are beyond their use-by date, have been dented or damaged, or are just a little spoiled. In fact, one keen Feegan, who claims to have not needed to buy any food except condiments in five years, insists: “It’s entirely possible for someone with a fridge and freezer to dumpster-dive once a week and do the equivalent of a weekly shop.”
Move over Coles, Woolies, and Aldi.
And it’s not just groceries that are among the treasures buried amongst rotting garbage. Participants in the Australia Institute’s report were also taking home beauty products, light bulbs, electrical goods, magazines, tools and clothing after their scavenger hunts.
It’s happening in restaurants and cafes too, where canny non-diners wait until people have left the table than hoover up whatever has been left on their plates.
Now, I’m as keen to save money as the next person, but I’m afraid I’m not about to turn Feegan just yet.
If like me, your idea of a good time doesn’t involve eating someone else’s leftovers or raiding their garbage bins, read on.

Bronnie’s Budget Busters
Here are some ways we’ve managed to economize at home:

* We’ve given up Foxtel. The kids were watching way too much TV anyway, and apart from the first couple of days where they moaned about it endlessly, they haven’t really missed it.
* I’ve swapped bottled wine and bubbly for cask wine (Sob!) An added benefit is I don’t really enjoy the taste of cask wine, so I drink much less of it – so I’m improving my health too.
* Instead of paying for gym membership or exercise classes, I’m working ‘normal’ exercise into my day – walking, yoga, stretches.
* We eat and entertain at home as much as possible rather than going out. That means the grocery bills are higher, but we’re shelling out less on takeaway and meals.
* We make great coffee at home, so don’t feel the need to buy one when we’re out and about. I’ll often have one before or after shopping, or pour one into a travel cup if I’m going out.
* Cooking dinner, we often make extra and freeze the leftovers – for example, lasagna and spaghetti bolognaise. That way, there’s always something available for those evenings when we’re too tired to cook, so we’re not tempted to reach for the takeaway menus.
* I've stopped buying expensive muesli bars, pre-packaged cheese, and fruit for the kids. I make my own versions, which are healthier anyway. Again, I’ll often freeze muffins and biscuits for lunchbox treats, and I’ll cut normal cheese into dinky shapes for them.
* I also give them juice and milk in reusable containers rather than buying poppers.
* We’ve cut back on driving. For example, we’ll go to our local park rather than a bigger park further away like Southbank or Roma Street Parklands, where we’re also up for parking fees. The kids have just as much fun, we save petrol and traffic time, and reduce our green footprints.
* We shop at markets wherever possible. Brisbane’s Rocklea market on Saturday is great for fruit and vegies, and it's better quality as well as cheaper than what you see in the stores. I also love the Asian shops at Darra for cheap fruit, vegies, rice, noodles, seafood and sauces.
* We only hire DVDs or buy pizzas on Tight-Arse Tuesdays, when you get them two-for-one (and we don’t do it every week).
* I ALWAYS pack snacks and water for the kids every time we go out, even if it’s for a quick shop. Otherwise I just know they’re going to hound me for expensive junk food and fizzy drink. I’m not a completely miserly mother – they still get the occasional treats and snacks while we're out IF they’re good.
*I try to go shopping when the kids are at school. That way I don't end up buying a lot of expensive crap and shouting a lot.
*I've switched to disposable razors instead of my smooth girlie one which needs expensive refills. (That's when I'm not using my husband's instead. Shhh!)
*I've stopped my daily newspaper delivery. I can read most of what I want to read online. Same goes for magazines. And I'm saving trees too!
*We've stopped the admittedly-lovely dog-washing lady from coming by to wash our dogs. Now we do it ourselves. We fill an old kiddie-pool with warm water, and wash them in the front yard. The kids love to get involved, and there have been no complaints from the furry ones either!

These are just a few things that have worked for us. Anyone else got some money-saving tips to share, that doesn't involve 'shopping' in rubbish or eating a complete stranger's leftovers?

Monday, April 14, 2008

Cool for cats ... and other stories

Driving home after the school run this morning, I couldn’t help but smiling.
The song ‘Cool For Cats’ by Squeeze came on the radio, and it immediately put me in a good mood.
Cool For Cats was one of my favourite songs as a child. With the inhibition of youth, I’d leap onto the couch (much to Mum’s displeasure) and dance around wearing a pair of dark sunnies like the chick in the video clip. No matter where I am or what I’m doing, suddenly I feel just like a little kid again when I hear this music.
Lyrics like:
“I fancy this, I fancy that
I wanna be so flash
I give a little muscle
And I spend a little cash
But all I get is bitter and a nasty little rash
And by the time Im sober
Ive forgotten what Ive had
And everybody tells me that its cool to be a cat
Cool for cats”
Isn’t it funny how music can do that to you? Take you back immediately to the sights, sounds, smells and feelings of another time and place.
I’m not talking about favourite music which you love to listen to time after time. I’m more interested in music that instantly brings back a flashback or an emotion you thought you’d forgotten.
Apart from Cool For Cats, here are a few from my life so far:
The Lord Is My Shepherd – A hymn played at my Grandad’s funeral, which never fails to create a knot in my tummy and lump in my throat.
Never Ever (All Saints) – Was popular about the time of my divorce and it seemed to encapsulate everything I was feeling at the time. I remember bawling my eyes out when Never Ever came on the radio as I drove up the range to Maleny, where I’d gone to seek refuge with my brother and his family. Even though I find the lyrics a bit messy, they really hit a chord. Take a look:
“A few questions that I need to know
How you could ever hurt me so?
I need to know what I've done wrong
And how long it's been going on?
Was it that I never paid enough attention?
Or did I not give enough affection?
Not only will your answers keep me sane
But I'll know never to make the same mistake again"
Thankfully, there are loads of fun songs too. Including:
Love Shack (B-52s) – Brings back memories of dancing around handbags with my mates after a few cheap wines during my uni days at Toowoomba. Never fails to bring a smile to my face.
I see you baby, (Shakin’ that ass) by Groove Armada – This song was playing the entire weekend when I met Kyle. It’s not exactly the most romantic song, but we still catch each other’s eye and exchange sneaky smiles when we hear it.
Butterly (Crazy Town) – Was on the telly the first time I breastfed baby Chase after bringing him home from hospital.
“Come my lady,
Come come my lady
You’re my butterfly”
The lyrics may not be relevant, but the music really brings back the wonder of being a new Mum, the exhaustion I was feeling, my struggle with breastfeeding, and that lovely newborn baby smell.
Big Girls Don’t Cry (Fergie) – The first ‘adult’ song (ie, not Wiggles, Hi-5 or nursery songs) that Harmonie started singing along to on the radio. It makes me smile because she puts so much emotion and feeling into it!
And there are loads more, but I could be here forever if I get started!
What are your musical memories?

Sunday, April 13, 2008

spa schma

The massage I thought I'd get...

Five months after being giving a day spa experience for my 40th birthday, I finally got the chance to enjoy it.
You’ll remember, the spa had to cancel my original booking, and it was a few weeks before I was able to plan another escape.
So finally the day arrived, and I found myself doing battle with Brisbane traffic on my way into the Marriott.
I needed a massage by the time I got there! I live in the western suburbs of Brisbane, and rarely have the need to drive in the city so I was feeling a big stressed. And if I do, my husband Kyle usually does the honours. Yes, I’m a girl when it comes to city driving, and after years of living in Brisbane, I still get lost! (Even with a GPS!)
It was at the Brisbane Marriott Dome Spa, the city’s first luxury spa, so I was expecting a treat.
The Marriott is special to Kyle and I. We spent our wedding night there in a massive suite overlooking the river. The comfy king-sized bed had been sprinkled with rose petals in a heart-shape, a massive bubble bath had been drawn, and there was a champagne bucket, strawberries and chocolates beside it. Perfect!
From then on, we’d spend our anniversary there each year – at least until the Little Princess came along and family finances meant we had to spend the money on far more important things like groceries and medical bills.
So it was a long time since I’d been to the Marriott, and my first visit to the Dome.
I always feel a bit uncomfortable in a spa. Perhaps it’s the enforced nakedness; perhaps it’s because I never really get a chance to pamper myself. Or maybe it’s because I’ve never really paid for the visit myself. I’ve always been lucky enough to score a voucher as a present, or through my work as a journalist (it’s a tough job, but someone has to do it)!
But the staff were friendly, and soon I was ensconced in my robe and slippers. I was supposed to be offered a cup of herbal tea, but there was no one there to offer me one. Instead, I sipped on cold water and lemon until it was time for my hot stone massage.
I undressed and climbed on the table – strangely, I wasn’t offered any privacy while I did this – and began blissing out. The massage wasn’t any better or worse than any I’ve had before, but I’d never had a hot stone massage before, and I kept wondering when the stones would go on.
They didn’t. My massage was over before I even had the chance to ask! You know how you lose track of time when you’re having a massage … and being a Hot Stone Virgin, I thought maybe they give you a normal massage first before placing the stones.
Now, it was a nice massage, and my therapist was fine, so I didn’t like to complain. But I still felt let down that I didn’t get the massage I’d booked in for. And also – and this is the kicker – I didn’t go to sleep during it, which is usually my measure of a good massage.
I mentioned the mix-up to my next therapist (I’d been lucky enough to get a facial too), and she just said: “Oh, but was it a nice massage?”
Well, yes, it was, but my mother-in-law had paid $105 for that massage, so I was expecting something fabulous. Not just okay. And certainly not different to the one I’d booked.
Anyway, onto the facial which was fine. Afterwards, I finally got my tea, but before I got to drink it, I was told the Champagne Tea my nice Mum-in-law had also treated me to, was ready.
Set up beside the pool, was a small table with a three-tier layer of goodies. It comprised of:
Four sandwich triangles (ie - two pieces of white bread), crust still on, each containing processed meat, cheese, tomato and lettuce,
A tiny pink lamington square,
A slice of banana cake which had seen better days,
A small crème caramel, which I didn’t touch (don’t like them),
Two small scones, one with sultanas, one luckily without (I hate sultanas!),
Apricot jam and cream,
A coffee pot,
A stainless steel jug of hot water,
One cup with two teabags in it,
A plastic flute of champagne.
Now maybe I’m spoilt, but this wasn’t the high tea experience I expected at a five-star hotel.
I thought high tea meant dainty sandwiches with a selection of fillings using a variety of bread. A selection of jam (I don’t like apricot jam – I know I’m fussy!). And at least a real teapot with real tea, and maybe a selection of teas to choose from. And a choice of coffees too.
No one appeared to ask if I’d like anything else. I didn’t, but there was a lovely old lady who joined me who would have ordered one for her daughter and herself too if there had been a staff member around to ask.
Later, I was going to have a shower, but when I got there, there were no towels, and no toiletries (just a body wash dispenser in the shower itself). I would have had to go back to the pool area to get a towel, so I couldn’t be bothered.
So although I did have a nice day, it was just that. Nice. Not five-star and not good value for what my mother-in-law had paid.
I was sad I couldn’t honestly rave to her about it afterwards, and I certainly wouldn’t recommend it to others.
To be honest, there’s a spa down the road from where I live. They do a $99 special, which includes 2 ½ hours of pampering and is actually much nicer. It’s just that the surrounds are not quite as salubrious as the Marriott, and they don’t do a High Tea, but let’s face it, I can do without that!
Maybe the hotel’s standards have slipped since I last visited, or maybe I was just unlucky.
Anyone else had any less-than-five-star experiences lately? Or am I the only one who thinks you should get what you (or your nice mother-in-law) paid for?

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Rant of the Week

Left: Chase and his little sister Harmonie when she was a few weeks old. At that stage I was still hobbling around with a walking stick (giving birth played havoc with my arthritis), coping with sore boobs, wiping up projectile vomit, changing nappies and was so exhausted, I hadn't even thought about exercising! Obviously, I'm not a supermum like J-Lo!

Okay, now I’ve heard it all.
New mum Jennifer Lopez is reportedly rising every morning at 4 am.
Yes, I know that’s not unusual when you’ve got a newborn (and Jen has twins), but get this. She’s not getting up to feed them, change their nappy and lay them gently back to bed before collapsing in exhaustion herself.
Oh no. This yummy mummy is rising at 4 am to exercise FOR THREE HOURS.
Are you kidding me?
Okay, I get that her looks are part of her job, and she needs to look good. But the poor pet just had a c-section 4 weeks ago. She’s just produced two minature human beings. Her life has changed forever. Doesn’t she need to take time out to get to know her babies – and find her feet as a Mum?
Apparently, there are a team of nannies and even a baby masseuse on board to keep things running smoothly, so there’s no suggestion that the little ones are being neglected.
J-Lo, I’m not so sure about. As well as her gruelling exercise routine, she’s cut her daily food intake to 1400 calories a day, and banned all carbs. Hmm, obviously mustn’t be breastfeeding then. Or if she is, she must be starving!
As well, she’s announced she plans to run a triathlon in a few months.
“I want to make my babies proud,” she says.
Forget about making them proud, just be their Mum, that’s what I say.
I don’t know about you, but four weeks after the birth of my children I was physically and emotionally a mess.
My body was still healing, my hormones sent me up and down, and the rigours of parenting a newborn meant I hardly had a minute to myself. Exercise was taking the babies for a walk, and I tried to eat and drink well to keep my milk supply up.
Of course, I didn’t lose 40 pounds in four weeks like J-Lo has (don’t tell anyone, but I’m still trying to lose my baby weight), but at least I escaped with my sanity mostly intact! And I got to spend loads of quality time getting to know my babies and learning to be their mum.
Is she still Jenny From The Block – or just off her block?

Monday, April 7, 2008

Andy just dandy

It’s school holidays, so I took the kids to the Andy Warhol exhibition at the Gallery of Modern Art at Southbank.
We’ve spent plenty of time at the nearby museum and art gallery, but it was our first time at GOMA.
The Warhol exhibition was fab, and we all came away with a better appreciation of his talent and quirky life.
The kids exhibits were hands-on and fabulous. They could have spent all day in the Silver Clouds room, where they get to poke and prod floating silver pillows. The photo boxes and 15-minutes-of-fame video recordings were also popular.
After a picnic in the grounds, we headed over to the museum, making a pitstop at the Museum Café. I have to say it was pandemonium there. Everyone seemed to have the same idea. Unfortunately, the café food was pretty bland and boring – and overpriced, as these places always are.
Later, we did all the usual exhibits, but by then the place was packed. We’d taken the Little Princess’s friend along for the ride, so I was kept busy watching for heads – typically, they’d all take off in different directions at the same time.
After spending a small fortune in the museum gift shop – Chase emptied all his pocket money onto the counter and spent the lot – we headed home.
If you haven’t already been, I’d really recommend making the trip to see the Andy Warhol exhibition before it moves on.
Just eat at one of the other cafes instead (or better still, pack more food and drink!)

Broncos, breakfast and barbecues

Starting the day with champagne is such a civilised thing to do.
We had breakfast at the Brisbane Broncos club on Sunday. It was a first for us, but obviously an institution for the rest of Brisbane. The crowd was made up of well-dressed matrons, elderly gentlemen, families, couples and kids, most of them in their Sunday best.
For $15, it’s probably one of Brisbane’s best-kept secrets.
Okay, so you’re not going to get Eggs Benedict, smoked salmon or real coffee for that, but the buffet spread we did get was pretty good.
Scrambled eggs, bacon, croissants, beans, savoury mince and more made up the hot dishes, plus there were cereals, fruit, yoghurt and juices. My favourite though, was a very acceptable glass of Australian bubbly for starters. I thought it was a bit mean that Kyle, who wasn’t drinking, refused to get a glass as well so I could have his!
Afterwards, the kids ran around on the Broncos training ground while the adults chatted. It was a relaxing way to start the day.
Not surprisingly, given the price, the breakfast is popular, so you do have to put up with the occasional jittery old dear, or over-excited kids (ours included) eating for Australia. But it’s fine as long as you chill out (and perhaps sneak an extra glass of bubbly).
We continued the Brisbane theme by having a barbecue that afternoon. Beer, bubbly, steak, snags and salads with good friends.
Just what a weekend should be like!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Undomestic Goddess

I am not a domestic Goddess.
I am an undomestic one.
Unlike Nigella Lawson, I am rarely found licking my fingers suggestively in the kitchen.
And unlike the authors of best-selling Aussie book Spotless, Shannon Lush and Jennifer Fleming, I guess I find far too many things much more interesting than cleaning, scrubbing, and polishing. Like eating, drinking, sleeping, watching telly, sex, hanging with the kids … and just about anything really.
But even an Undomestic Goddess such as myself finds time when she must break the rules.
And so it was, this week, when the Little Princess spotted something tiny and wriggly in the rice I was about to cook for her dinner, that I realised: I really had to do something about the pantry.
So, after work (truth to be told, during work – because I work from home), I spent many hours I will never get back, cleaning out our pantry.
Guess what I found?
Among a mountain of uneaten foods and condiments:
Two bottles of soy sauce, half-empty,
Two bottles of mirin, half-empty,
Two bottles of hoi sin sauce, unopened,
Two bottles of maple syrup, one fresh and one gross,
Several packs of unopened packets of brown and jasmine rice, teeming with weevils,
Unopened bottles of liqueur sauce, seeded mustard, and pickles, received in Christmas hampers two years ago,
Sour sweet lolly ropes, last used to make an ill-fated Dora the Explorer birthday cake in February 2007,
And a zillion bottles of barbecue sauce and gourmet sauce.
I gave away whatever we didn’t use but was still good to a local charity, and cooked up a huge batch of rice and veg for the dogs. But I was still overcome with guilt at the amount of waste that ended up in my garbage bin.
My husband and I watch our finances, so I felt sick at the amount of money we'd wasted. Literally.
Talk about an affluent society!
We’re both at fault. He loves buying gourmet sauces and cooking aids; I’m a sucker for buying up big on special (and today realised, it’s only a special if you actually use it!) I also can’t help buying up big on staples like pasta sauce and rice because I hate running out of it.
But from now on, I’m going to check the cupboards before making up our shopping list – and I’m not making any promises, mind – will try to do the pantry clean-out more often.
Anyone else guilty of this?
I guess it all goes to show that I really am an Undomestic Goddess. Although not exactly proud of it.

Pic: 'Spotfull' is a fab book by Aussie author, TV and radio personality James Valentine. It's a spoof of the Spotless series, and features loads of advice for the domestically-challenged.
Here's an example:
"Problem: Egg stains of pan.
What to use: Legs.
How to apply: Walk to bin. Throw pan in bin. Walk to cafe. Order eggs."
"The food cupboard is always packed. Old jars of jam and peanut butter get pushed to the back to make space for the new ones you've bought in anticipation of the old runs running out. You just never quite finish the old one, and you can't quite throw it out because that would be wasteful, so you start a new one and before too long you have two half-finished jars of peanut butter and you need to buy a new third one for when they run out. This process is repeated with everything from shortbread biscuits to chicken noodle soup. Things rarely leave the packet. People open the packet, use half to feed the kids and then stick the packet back in the cupboard. Stuff spills throughout the entire cupboard."
I tell you, it's a window into my world...