Anzac Day Has A Smell

April 25, 2011  
(This is Part 2.  For Part 1, a recollection of my childhood Anzac Days, pop over to my guest post here)

Australia lost their last living link with the Gallipoli story when Digger Alec Campbell – the final surviving Aussie participant in the Gallipoli campaign - died in 2002. And we said goodbye to our last surviving World War I veteran in 2009 (110 year old Jack Ross; although he did not see active duty outside of Australia). Second World War veterans are now in their eighties and nineties and will soon be part of Australia’s past history like their comrades before them, and Aussie Korean War veterans will not march too far behind. Eventually, when my father’s generation have passed, the Australian veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan will take pride of place on the white folding chairs at the front of Dawn Services around the country.

All of these men and women. All of those stories. Each one an integral part of Australia’s history.

As I was growing up, war was one of those things I thought I knew about. I had a Vietnam veteran for a father, so I was closer to the real deal than most of my classmates, but as Dad’s kids, we got the sanitized version; the amusement of the ration packs, the cardinal rule of always, always changing one’s socks daily to combat rotting feet in the ever-damp jungle conditions, the heroic death of a mate (once, after a few drinks, Dad let it slip that it had been a landmine – “Let’s just say it wasn’t a pleasant way to die. We all watched him just disappear into thin air.”) We never questioned the tales, never delved any deeper. It was unspoken – best not to ask Dad about what it was really like. No, let him continue to tell the stories he wants to tell – like the times he (thrice!) lost his 'stripes' (was demoted) for insubordination, or the time he got violently ill eating French bread from a street vendor in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) and threw up on a superior officer’s shoes, earning him 24 hrs standing upright and alone in the middle of the company barracks. But the reality of what he – and countless millions before him – endured as a serviceman was staggering. Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was a very real part of many soldier’s lives, including my father’s. We learned strange things like the correct way to walk around his sleeping form – never, ever tiptoe – and also what a map was. You think you know what a map is? Try memorizing its description the army way – “A map is a portion of the earth’s surface, drawn to scale, usually on paper, showing both natural and artificial features”. And yes, we all knew that by heart before the age of ten.

Dad lost mates, people he had trained with and with whom he entrusted his life, as he was entrusted with theirs. Imagine your five best friends. Now imagine them marching off to war with the very real prospect of losing a couple on a battlefield. It’s incomprehensible, isn’t it? But for our Diggers, a reality.

Sixty thousand Australian men and women served in Vietnam, with five hundred and twenty-one not returning home. As the first war being chronicled on the nightly news, tensions were high, and protests back home and in the United States were a continual feature. And Australia was conscripting, never a popular choice (Dad went voluntarily). When the veterans returned, they were openly mocked in the street. There was none of the glory that had been given to returning First and Second World War veterans. Even some of the old veterans themselves held concerns, with some RSL Clubs excluding Vietnam veterans from joining as members during the sixties and seventies, and some even extended this exclusion to cover the Anzac Day parades as well.

Eventually, Australian Vietnam veterans were given an official “Welcome Home” parade in Sydney on October 3, 1987. It was my eighth birthday. And finally talks began for a national memorial for fallen Vietnam soldiers – some fifteen-plus years after Australia’s involvement in Vietnam ended.

Five years later to the day, on October 3, 1992, the Vietnam Forces National Memorial was dedicated in Canberra – and I turned thirteen.

Anzac Day belongs to my Dad and to every veteran, living or dead, that has ever served our country with the honour and dignity passed down from those original men and boys who landed at Gallipoli. And for all of you without direct military links, Anzac Day is for you as well. This is part of who we are, our national identity.

Tepid party pies included.

(Photo credit - "Red Poppy" by Annies Pics via Flickr Creative Commons)

The One Where I Pretend To Be Uber-Organized

April 22, 2011  
Guess what?

You can now use the same self-made printables that I use to keep my life and home running smoothly efficiently adequately slightly above chaotic!

Just look up ↑ Yup, up there.  Under 'FREE PRINTABLES!' you'll find, uh, the free printables.

These are a collection of (deliberately) non-fussy, simple-to-print, black-and-white forms I've created over the past couple of years to help me with the 'brain dumping' process that occasionally needs to happen if I want to sleep at night.  Feel free to use for your own binders/dumping purposes.

As time goes on I'll add some more but feel free to make suggestions (and please let me know if you have problems accessing or downloading anything)

Saving Money At The Supermarket? Yes Please!

I've been reading a very interesting book this week - The $21 Challenge by Fiona Lippey & Jackie Gower.  The basic premise behind the book is that you can feed a family of four on $21 a week by being creative and using already-purchased items from your fridge, freezer and pantry.  The $21 is to add fresh fruit and veg and to purchase bits and bobs to round out a recipe.  You're not allowed to 'cheat' by running out and stocking up on basics before starting the challenge, so it forces you to get inventive with what you have, and you're not meant to stay on the $21 budget every week, just the odd week here or there to 'blitz' the budget back into black.

Way back when The Bearded Avenger and I were saving madly for a house deposit, in addition to exploiting every shred of free entertainment our community had to offer (and outside of this going nowhere), we were the king and queen of the supermarket.  In fact at one point I had an article up on The Dollar Stretcher website detailing our shopping method - which wasn't ever unique or radical, just part of your basic envelope budgeting system, with a small twist - and I remember feeling pretty good about being able to keep our shopping down to $120 a week with three small children.

For those reading in Far Off America-Land, here's some info that might make the rest of this post make more sense.
  • Couponing is not a national sport here.  In fact, supermarkets don't do it at all.  The odd coupon can be found attached to a flyer or on the back of a shopping docket, but they're generally not for grocery items and they're certainly not used while food shopping.  Therefore when you talk about double and triple couponing, and clipping coupons, and paying for coupons, and being a member of a coupon club, and posting coupons across the country, and a show called Extreme Couponing our eyes glass over.  We are very sorry (and quite possibly jealous) but we don't get it.
  • We do not have Walmart.  Hence no Super Walmart. Our supermarkets and our department stores don't play nice together and have always had their respective corners of the playground.  The notion of being able to buy beef mince (ground beef) under the same roof as a pair of sweatpants confuses us.
  • We don't have CVS or Walgreen's - or any of these other pharmacies with 'extra care bucks' or rebate programs.  Those store pantries filled with free shampoo and razors that you Americans keep posting? Salt in the wound folks. Salt in the wound.
  • We have Aldi's but... my nearest store is interstate, 373 kilometres / 231 miles away.  Nobody needs bulk groceries that badly.
  • Costco only opened it's first store in Australia in 2009.  ONE Costco for 22½ million people.  All of whom are probably there on a Saturday morning. Meaning even if it was close by (it's not) I probably wouldn't be there.
Australia must practically seem like a third world country to you savvy American shoppers right now, huh?

If an ordinary Aussie housewife in an ordinary city or town wants to save money on food, she tends to have the following 'tools' at her disposal.
  1. Supermarket catalogues / buying loss leaders.
  2. Price-bookin' it.
  3. Menu planning really, really well.
  4. The 'Backyard Supermarket' (ie, the humble veggie patch)
My old $120 per week budget bit the dust a long time ago.  I have a spouse who senses a disturbance in a force if the optimum snack-to-husband ratio is not maintained at all times, a 12yo who eats like a grown man with worms, and a couple of fussy-bum other children.  All of them eat a large portion of their food outside of the home (school lunches and work meals) so packing nutritious and interesting and begging-to-be-eaten-can-I-have-that-again-tomorrow-you're-a-domestic-genius lunchboxes is a continual battle.  You could double the old budget and it still wouldn't come close to what we're currently spending.  I'm at the blasted supermarket four or five times a week, easy.  All from lack of planning.

Twenty-one bucks seems utterly ridiculous at first, especially if you're used to spending - and remember, this is Aussie shopping, with none of the fancy shopping tools you USA folk have - upwards of $300 a week.  But when I really sit down and think about it - cutting the grocery budget dramatically is absolutely doable.  I'm not ambitious enough to attempt a proper $21 challenge (which is essentially a 'live out of your pantry stocks for 7 days plus a few additional bought ingredients' gig), but the grocery spending could definitely do with an overhaul - let's say $200 a week to start.  I'd be pretty happy with that.

Over the next few weeks - beginning the first week of May, since it's the school holidays here at the moment and everything is backwards and upside down with the kids at home - I'll post my progress.  There's a ton of great info out there that's well worth a look-see.

Chalk Meets Cheese

April 19, 2011  
When our first child signaled his imminent arrival all those years ago, he tried to do so six weeks early.  With the help of drugs and the will of a thousand kung-fu masters, the little darling held off another couple of weeks, finally ambling into the delivery room, back to front and upside down, one month before his due date.  To the soundtrack of Hope Floats no less (ahhh, dear old Harry Connick Jnr with the sideways smile).  Jaundice and then phototherapy rounded out the first week of Eldest's life.  He was born into an Aussie near-outback summer, so he rarely wore clothes before the age of four months.  We saved a fortune.

When Middle decided to show his face two weeks early, it was an entirely different scenario.  Short, sharp and sweet, we were home from the hospital the next day.  It was also the middle of a southern Australian hills-country winter so the poor little mite was a bit starved of sunshine for a few months.  Middle was born looking like a wise old man - keen to get here early and show up his older brother.

Youngest was excitedly anticipated, being the first Pink One and all, and she essentially fell into the world after an induction on her due date.  That one was fun, despite the rather indelicate pronouncement that I had a 'boggy uterus'.  Well what did they expect? If you get three cars in three years stuck in the same mudpile, things are bound to get a little messy.  After pethidine (evil, evil stuff) wiped my memory of the last four hours of labour with Eldest, and Middle's speed-demon 23 hr hospital stay gave us whiplash, I was determined to savour this last birth - so we videotaped it.

I have watched that tape exactly three times.  Once in the hospital after she was born, once on her first birthday, and once the day The Bearded Avenger went in for the ol' snippety-snip.  The first three hours of sound consists of me wailing "Check the camera!" and "Is the camera still on?" and "Go get the damn camera!" - and the last twenty minutes is me asking over and over, loop-style, "Is she still a girl?" It's so embarrassing.

Of course, it's not everyday one gets to see one's own vulva stretched around a bowling ball, so there's that.

I have three extremely different children.  I think it's God's way of keeping himself amused.

After autism had slapped us around for a bit, we figured we were pretty clued in to the way the world worked.  Crap happened, we thought, so being the crap connoisseurs we were, we were fairly confident we could recognise the next delivery of crap when it came.  Then when Middle began showing the same early warning signs that Eldest had - predominantly lack of communication - we panicked.

We became convinced we were raising a second child who wasn't 'normal'. But since we'd never had a 'regular' child before, we didn't really have a baseline for comparison.  He was a bit odd, in sort of the same way as his brother, so as far as we knew he was on the spectrum too.  Middle's speech delay was addressed with three months of speech playgroup and before we knew it he was five and starting school, yappering away like any normal kid.

Something was still going on though.  The kid could read.  Not "Oh wow, Little Johnny knows his ABC's already, isn't that cute!" but "Why is that child reading his mother's library books?"  His morning reading sheet - laid on each kid's desk by the teacher - was a whole page of 12pt font when everyone else's was two or three sentences.  And because we don't do 'normal' well in this family, we panicked some more.  Advanced reading became 'hyperlexia'.  Preference for books over toys was his 'collecting'. We were seriously gearing ourselves up for a future spectrum diagnosis.  But then his teacher pulled us aside one day.

"I think Middle needs his work extended.  I'm not able to provide him with enough individualized attention in the basics as he is years ahead of where he should be.  There's a very real possibility that he is gifted."

Well day-um.

What do you say to that? Uh, thanks? Oh and by the way, we have an older son who has severely scorched our nerves so we're not the best judges of child development - we thought there was something wrong with him - sorry we dropped the ball?

Middle began sitting in with another class for reading and comprehension about halfway through his first year of primary (elementary) school - a class of Year 2 students.  At the end of his first year of school we made the decision that he would skip Year 1 altogether.  He was now 6-12mo younger than everyone else (but luckily very social, so he made friends quickly - well colour me stupid, there's a big 'may not be autism' sign for you!)

Here we are, several years later.  Middle is rather short for his age, and has always been the youngest in every grade since he skipped.  No autism. No Asperger's. No trouble adjusting to older kids.  Nothing.  The kid is more attuned to life than I am sometimes! Of course we're proud - and look, I'd be lying if I said all this advancement wasn't pretty damn nice after years and years of battling bureaucracy and funding cuts and low test scores and social struggles and exhaustion.  Because it is.  The Bearded Avenger and I mostly walk around looking stupid and being unable to answer Middle's maths problems so that's a fun new element to add to our topsy turvy lives.

But then.


At the end of February, Middle sat a test.  Not just any test, nope.  This one was a special test to determine whether he would gain a place in an advanced program in high school.  In my city (of over one million), there are only three high schools that offer this Dept of Education-driven program, and only one south of the city, where we live.  Five hundred and twenty four children in Years 6 and 7 - all of them top of their classes - sat the test.  They were then scored (auugh) in relation to each other.

Middle ranked 99th.

He was probably one of the youngest - if not the youngest - kid to do the test.  He 'competed' (auugh again) against kids who are 12-18mo older than him.  And he broke the hundred. We have an interview, and have heard that the top 100 are generally offered places in the program right off the bat. If this is true, Middle could actually have the choice to start high school a year early, skipping Year 7 entirely, and making him 11½ when he walks in the doors.  We may not choose to go that route - there's the option of deferring for a year so he's a little older - but wow.

I may have cried several (okay, a lot of) tears when I opened that envelope.

You see, when you've walked (run, sprinted, back-pedaled, skipped, inched) the autism road for as many years as we have - Eldest was diagnosed nine years ago this month - you lose track of life, you really do.  Everything is so wrapped up in therapy choices and communication and special ed classes and NEPs and funding.  Focus is always on what the child cannot do.  Expectations are generally low.  Everything is a struggle.  Sanity is a thin thread.

With Middle, I have downplayed the gifted thing for years, because every time I hear my own words through my own ears I can't help but put it through a bragging filter - kind of like, oh look at me, with the super-smart kid, isn't he clever, nee-ner, nee-ner, nee-ner!  Even to Middle himself - we compliment and congratulate just like any decent set of parents would do, but we temper our praise as well.

All our energy has been focused on Eldest for so long that when we held in our hands real evidence that Middle was special too, that by God we hadn't stuffed up this parenting thing to the degree we thought we had, that we had actually contributed genes and the environmental aspects that went into creating this utterly unique individual - it kind of blew our minds.

So this is me bragging on my kid.  My awesome, extraordinary ten year old kid who knows more maths than his mother and could give his father a run for his money in abstract thinking.  My kid who has worked damn hard to earn his place in this world, just the same as his older brother, and I love him more than my bursting little heart can hold.

Your time to shine buddy.  I am so very, VERY proud of you.

Dear Pimples, I Hate You, Love Eldest

April 17, 2011  
This motherhood gig is rough.

It's not like that snuck up on me, what with the speech delay, therapy playgroups, nappies until the age of six, echolalia, nuclear meltdowns, NEPs (negotiated education plans) or puberty.  No, I knew all that was merely the supporting act for what was to come.

One night while I was sleeping - it had to be then, I can't account for it any other way - Eldest grew a foot and a half, skipped two shoe sizes, started 'changing' (uh-huh, that kind of changing) and amped up the sass to about four billion.  It's phenomenal how fast this is all happening.  And I am freaking the heck out.

At 5'4, he is as tall as me now.  He is twelve.  TWELVE.  Two months ago he still needed help turning the taps on in the shower (for fine motor/safety reasons); now he screams if I so much as breathe near the closed door. We started deodorant this year, "like Dad's".  And he wears trunks now - not briefs, trunks - but for gosh sakes woman, not the purple ones! Purple is the bad colour! (bit of poetic licence there). He eats like he's preparing for hibernation, which in reality is probably pretty close to the truth because I seem to remember an awful lot of sleeping in as a teenager.

But the newest installment on the road to full-blown teen angst? Pimples.

They seem to have popped up overnight.  I don't remember pimples at twelve, but then again, I was probably too busy reading Enid Blyton and The Baby-Sitters Club to bother looking in a mirror (substitute Nicholas Sparks and blogs now and not much has changed!)  Of course, this couldn't just be rectified with a quick chat about facial hygiene and the passing of the baton acne wash, no sirree.  We're talking Yippee! It's Another Autism Teachable Moment ™. Fun for the whole family!

So this is why at 8:45 pm tonight I found myself demonstrating the correct technique of applying pimple wash to one's face without chemically burning one's eyes.

A long time ago, in high school I think, we had a teacher give us an interesting exercise.  Imagine explaining how to make a cup of tea to someone who does not know what a cup, a teabag, the kettle, or a spoon is.  You cannot use gestures. Pick up the tall round thing with the hole in the middle.  That flat thing that looks like a stick ("No, you can't say that, assume they don't know what a stick is either") is used to move the white powder ("That could mean any kind of white powder to them") to the round thing with the hole.  That bag with the string ("What's a bag?") goes in too.  Now fill the big thing with the handle up with get the idea.

Teaching Eldest how to de-pimplify was a bit like that.  Or a Fawlty Towers episode.

He didn't want to put water on his face.  He didn't want to make bubbles with the wash.  He nearly lost an eye to the soap and an errant finger.  Rinsing his face afterward was even more fun with the concept of cupping one's hands together to hold water long enough to splash on to his face being utterly lost on him.  It was hilarious and tragic all at the same time.

This is one of those things that people in the outside world don't ever have need to contemplate.  When their kids get to be about ten or eleven, Mum or Dad sits them down for 'the chat' (even if the Big Chat has come and gone, there's usually the Fun Specific Facts About Puberty chat to come). You might explain things once, with reminders every now and then to put on deodorant, shower and brush teeth.  If crazy things start happening to, or coming out of, their bodies at inopportune times, hey, it's all good, it's normal, don't sweat it.

Autistic kids' brains don't work like that.  Most of the time with Eldest, an instruction or habit or snippet of important information has to be repeated often, sometimes dozens of times, before it 'sticks'.  For some things you need to physically show him how to manipulate his hands, or work taps, or operate simple machines (a toaster, for example - not a lathe, in case anyone was worried). It's all about the visual, miming behaviours for him to mimic later.  It can be really tedious and you need a ton of patience.  Tonight, for example, he was Not In The Mood for instructions.  As we were washing our faces together ("This is how you move your fingers on your cheeks.  Watch out for your eyes.  Keep your mouth closed") he was snarky and uncooperative.  Which means he wasn't paying attention, therefore almost certainly rendering tonight's little demonstration completely ineffective.

If it had been Middle or Youngest, I would only have needed to tell them where to find the cleanser in the cupboard and know that they'd do what they were asked, properly, using a skills set they'd already learned by default.  In fact, Middle would probably have spent the time planning experiments to measure the differences in suds produced by adding different amounts of water to the subject's face.

Youngest would have performed the entire task while singing Taylor Swift's latest tune and twirl-dancing around the bathroom.  And then finished it off with a gymnastics 'ta da!' gesture with arms above her head.

Eldest...well, it's interesting.  Anything requiring an electronic device and we're home free.  That kid could reprogram a DVR underwater (probably after having pored over the manual - for fun - as light bedtime reading the twenty-nine nights prior) It's just the repetitive, 'practice-y' kinds of things that he struggles with sometimes.

God help us when he needs to be taught how to shave.

I wonder if there's an app for that?

I Date Myself

April 13, 2011  
It's the last week of school before a two week Easter/end of term break, so this mama is getting in all her alone time now, while she still can. I'm looking forward to the holidays for lots of reasons (not the least of which is that I won't have to make school lunches or wash uniforms for 16 straight days) but in all the years I've been wading through this motherhood muck I have come to the conclusion that we gals should most definitely learn to put our own oxygen masks on first.

To that end, a while back I started taking regular Solo Date Days.  The basic premise is pretty obvious, but here's how it works for me.  The Bearded Avenger (TBA) works a three week roster.  Every third week essentially consists of all dayshift, so he's gone from way early to almost dinnertime every day.  Obviously the kids are in school, so I take one of those days - usually the Tuesday - off.

For six hours, I am my own woman.  I make a point of not making plans with friends on this day.  This is not the day for coffee or long lunches - plenty of time for that later.  No, Solo Date Day is just for me.  If there's a movie playing that TBA appears allergic to, then I might go to that (another benefit of having SDD on a Tuesday - 'cheap tickets day').  I might grab a coffee and go sit in a food court to write (if that sounds odd, next time you're in a food court spend five minutes people-watching - best character inspiration ever).  I might spend a couple of leisurely hours at my favourite fabric store.  Maybe do an op-shop (thrift store) crawl or bus it to the city, rocking out (silently!) to tunes on the way and then taking a solo tour of the art gallery.  I might do whatever the heck I want - and that's the point.

I think as mums we are naturally geared toward a caring role and this often leads to putting our own needs last.  It's like squeezing something that big out of something that small automatically means we'll never eat a hot meal again.  I remember my mother always, always serving herself last at dinner - and if it looked like the food was going to end before the people did, she would take a very small serve and declare herself 'not that hungry'.  She never took the last chop, or scoop of mashed spuds or glass of milk.  Sure, it's lovely and noble and I find myself copying her in a myriad of ways - but it's also damn stupid.  My mother died world-weary at 55.  I am not my mother.

Of course I'm very grateful my kids are all at school and skipping about the countryside for six hours is completely doable for me.  Some gals have younger kids and don't have as many options.  But you can still 'date yourself' at home (bubble bath, wine, book...slice of heaven).  Or if you can leave the cherubs with their father for even two hours, you can run off to the movies, or to the coffee place, or to mecca the fabric store :)  Just make it regular and consistent.

Just for once, take that last chop and don't feel guilty about doing it :P 

And to end, if you haven't already seen it, check out this video:

Why George Clooney Had It All Backward

April 10, 2011  
Show of hands - who has seen Up In The Air with George Clooney? I was a bit late out of the starting blocks with this one and only caught it a few weeks ago. It's always nice to see George fluff about on screen (although scrubs will always suit you better, my dear) and I did get to fantasize about life in a hotel and meals cooked for me rather than by me for a change, but there was something about that movie that just didn't sit right with me.

Mr Yum plays Ryan Bingham, a no-nonsense, efficient sort of fellow who makes a crust flying across the country firing people on behalf of bosses who are too chicken to do it themselves.  He spends three quarters of every year in airports, airplanes or hotels and has honed his luggage-packing skills to a fine point. While on the road, Bingham supplements his income by giving motivational talks on removing dead weight to achieve simplicity and freedom.  Here's an excerpt from one of the talks Bingham gives:

How much does your life weigh? Imagine for a second that you're carrying a backpack. I want you to feel the straps on your shoulders. Feel 'em? Now I want you to pack it with all the stuff that you have in your life.

You start with the little things, the things on shelves and in drawers, the knick-knacks, the collectibles.

Feel the weight as that adds up.

Then you start adding larger stuff - clothes, table-top appliances, lamps, linens, your TV. The backpack should be getting pretty heavy now. And you go bigger.

Your couch, bed, your kitchen table. Stuff it all in there. Your car, get it in there. Your home, whether it's a studio apartment or a two bedroom house. I want you to stuff it all into that backpack.

Now try to walk. It's kind of hard, isn't it?

This is what we do to ourselves on a daily basis. We weigh ourselves down until we can't even move. And make no mistake...moving is living.

Now, I'm gonna set that backpack on fire. What do you want to take out of it?

Photos? Photos are for people who can't remember. Drink some ginkgo and let the photos burn.

In fact, let everything burn and imagine waking up tomorrow with nothing.

It's kind of exhilarating, isn't it?

Bingham's ethos on life appears to be "Don't get close to people because they weigh you down and stifle your ability to be free".  In fact, later in the movie he elaborates on his 'backpack' theory, switches personal items and furniture for people, and tells his audience humans aren't designed to be 'monogamous swans' when it comes to relationships with other people, but sharks.  Ultimately, the character realizes the flaws in this theory and begins to change his mindset, but the original speech (above, near the beginning of the movie) stuck in my mind for days.

If you had a house fire tomorrow, what are the items that you'd be truly devastated to lose?

I can literally count mine on one hand.

Nana's handmade quilts that she presented to each of the children? No, as special as they are, they can be replaced.  Our various electronic devices stuffed full of 'important' details, music, photos and little time-waster games? Of course not - they'd be inconvenient to lose, sure, but plastic and metal isn't flesh and blood.  No, there are very few items that I consider truly irreplaceable.

Human life. This is a given, obviously.  I don't care if I was showering, heard the fire alarm, and had to run out into the street as nekkid as the day I was born - I'm going to get my babies out first.

Photos. Digital copies of precious family memories will help heal the gaping wound losing everything else would bring.  You just can't replicate the look a photo captured on the face of your husband when each of your children were born, or the important family history contained in older images. So scan old photos and store them online or give copies of your disks to relatives to safeguard.

Letters. In this age of disposable communication (text messages and emails) the humble hand-written letter has become a virtual museum piece.  When my father was serving in Vietnam in 1971 he wrote letters home to his mother that she kept and passed back down to him, which then ended up with us kids, and eventually, will be passed on to our own children.  Not only were they precious to my Nana, but they illustrated a time in history my kids' generation are going to forget before too long, and this saddens me. Plus The Bearded Avenger and I wrote letters to each other while we were 'courting' (this was back in the days before the internet exploded) that, while hideously embarrassing to read back after 15 years and three kids together, are nevertheless extremely precious to me, and they could never be replaced. 

My wedding and engagement rings.  I know they are just jewellery. And I'm not even a jewellery kind of girl. And yes, exact replicas can be reproduced from photos. But it would not be the ring that my (then fiance) proposed to me with, or the ring that was blessed with our wedding vows.  Even renewing our vows with new rings wouldn't come close (I once left my engagement ring next to a sink in a public toilet in a shopping centre in a dodgy part of town - for several hours I was in tears, assuming it was lost forever.  Someone had turned it in to centre management.  If that person had left a name, I would have named my nextborn after him/her).

Charlie the Wonderdog. He's a part of our family.  He snores like a freight train, but he's quite useful for cuddles :)

Everything else can go.  I could live with no furniture, no bed linen, no dishes, no clothing.  Or rather, I could live with having to replace them from scratch. The last two lines from Clooney's character's speech are the most insightful of all. 

Imagine waking up tomorrow with nothing.  It's kind of exhilarating, isn't it?

Imagine being able to build a household up from scratch again.  Imagine only buying what experience has taught you a family truly needs, not what years of collecting and dragging those collections to various houses has given you.  Look around the room you're in right now.  I bet you can pinpoint a dozen items you no longer use regularly, things that just seem to take up space, or whose original purpose has long since been outgrown.

It's a lot easier to build from the ground up than to declutter and pare down, that's for sure.  How freeing it must be!  No agonising 'but Great Aunt Mildred gave us that!' decisions. No storing of unused things. Only enough dishes for one day at a time, plus a few pots to cook in.  No dozens of headless Barbies. Just enough clothing to meet your needs means laundry is now a breeze.  One set of sheets per bed that you wash and put back on the same day.  And when they wear out, you replace them.  Two towels per person.  One set of school uniforms.  Cleaning is a cake walk.  Organizing the house takes minutes, not hours.  Everything has a place, everything has a purpose.

Gives you the right kind of goosebumps, doesn't it?

Meet The Bearded Avenger

April 9, 2011  
So my husband has this pretty darn fantastic job, and does lots of properly important things while at work - real getting-your-hands-dirty-but-making-a-difference-at-the-same-time kind of stuff. But I'm not allowed to talk about his job here on the blog (or even to go beyond the rudimentaries while speaking to 'real people').  This is why I've decided to call him The Bearded Avenger.  First, because he has a beard and is therefore automatically upgraded to 'wise' and 'learned' and 'too lazy to shave one annual leave stretch about five years ago'.  Second, the man has all those cool work secrets.  Third, because my first choice of Double Oh Heaven seemed somewhat on the flip side of Too Much Information.

How I wish I had permission to talk about his job! Nothing too specific, of course.  But hooley-dooley - I could branch out into a whole separate blogging niche just from this one subject alone.  Alas - I'm stuck making vague comments about how proud I am and how much I appreciate the intricacies of the work he does.  Even though The Job does impact on family life - sometimes significantly - when I think of the alternative, that there were no folk doing the job that TBA does, I start to feel decidedly sick to my stomach.  So yay for the Hubster.

However - there are many that would think TBA's job isn't that great, or that the pay isn't worth the crapola that is shovelled his way daily by Those Above.  There are even Some People in the greater community who are, let's just say, "unreceptive" to the work of this particular field.

Phooey to them, I say.  It doesn't even matter what TBA does for a crust.  He could clean out porta-potties for a living and I'd still be proud of him (because let's face it - the next time you're at a carnival with three kids in tow and every one of them has had too much to drink and you're about eleventy-four miles away from the nearest restrooms, you'll be pretty darn glad for Mr Porta-Potty).  It reminds me of this awesome quote:

If you are called to be a street sweeper, sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, 'Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well'
(Martin Luther King Jr)

Now how can you go wrong with a sentiment like that?

When Autism Kicks Your Butt

April 7, 2011  
Most of the time I think I cope remarkably well with the day-to-day struggles autism brings to our lives. At this stage, nine years post-diagnosis, we're old hands at the routine. Unnatural (but sort of cute) obsession with game shows? Check. Reminding him to pull his shirt out of his shorts after going to the toilet so he doesn't look like that disabled kid? Check. Standing firm during tantrums and fussing and back-chatting and oh-my-gosh-kill-me-now puberty? Oh heck yeah - check, check, CHECK.

But every now and then, it stops being an ordinary part of our day. Every now and then, and over the smallest of things, I find myself tearing up.

This is not easy.
This is not standing proud in the midst of adversity like a blond-braided, horn-wearing Thor-dette.
This is quietly falling apart.

It might not be for long - maybe just a couple of hours - and it may not be very visible, but it happens. I try to keep moments like these largely hidden because honestly? Ninety-five percent of the time I'm fine, I don't take crap, I don't suffer ignorant idiots and I sure as heck won't hesitate to take an uninformed person down a peg or two if the occasion arises. I fight for my son, and I fight hard. I just need a break from fighting against him sometimes.

He can't help it, I know. This is just him, wrapped in confusion and hormones. I do not consider him to 'have' autism. Autism is just a part of him, of who he is - it colours every thought, every emotion, every relationship that he has - but you can't separate him from it in the way that you can with measles or a bad cold. I don't think he will be cured (for the record, I consider autism a neurological disorder, with a screwy-gene trigger, and not something he 'caught' from vaccinations - I respect your opinion, please let me keep mine). Though I hope and pray that autism gains more acceptance as time goes on - and not just the puzzle ribbon-wearing, benefit dinner-hosting, support-you-from-a-distance acceptance, but the real, solid, I'll-be-friends-with-your-son-in-the-school-playground-even-while-the-cool-kids-watch type - people need to know that it is not always like this. There's a whole group of us who wait for a quiet moment away from being 'Mum' and just cry. And then we strap on the armour, pick up our spears, and go out to fight another bear tomorrow. We aren't superwomen. We are not impenetrable. And most of the time the bad stuff hurts like a b*tch.

It was easier when he was younger, in a way. A fussy four year old isn't an anomaly - but a fussy 12 year old who is as tall as his mother behaving like a four year old certainly is. Though he has since outgrown the full-blown nuclear meltdown stage (an autism meltdown is a wonder to behold, truly), he still has odd behaviours. He still stims (though much reduced, his hand flapping will never fully leave him), he still speaks oddly and occasionally gets confused with the meanings of words and structure of sentences, he still gets in your face about whatever his current obsession is. When you talk to him for any length of time, as awesome as he is, it's very clear that he is affected. This is who he is.

But we are lucky. We are so very, very lucky. Some days I have to work hard at reminding myself of this, but we are. He had no functional speech until the age of four, but we got there. He wasn't toilet trained until his sixth birthday, but damned if we didn't conquer that mountain too. He does not have an intellectual disability. We are yet to see - and will hopefully never see - seizures. We have had great, selfless special education teachers along the way - true angels on earth.

But it doesn't stop the worry. Nor the ignorance seemingly built-in to a large percentage of the population. And though people will still continue to tell you you're doing fine, that you should be proud of such a well-adjusted kid, that you're a great mother - you'll still find it hard to believe. After all, you can't be there all the time to explain him, to protect him, to speak for him, to applaud him. There will be hurting, tears, bullying. And you'll tell yourself every day that you need to cut the rope, to let him go off and be hurt because while all that is happening he is growing and learning and accepting and maybe along the way (you desperately hope) others are growing and learning and accepting too. But this is the most painful thing in the world for you to imagine because all you can see ahead is an enormous blazing fire, and what you're expected to do amounts to dumping your child right in the middle of it and expecting him to fight his way out with no scars.

It's insanity. It's the opposite of what is implanted into every nerve-fibre the second you become a parent. It feels like you're feeding him to the wolves. Willingly.

I know - or rather, I hope - that he will be fine. I repeat this to myself every day like a mantra - he'll be fine, he'll be fine, he'll be fine. And though the support of friends and family will follow you, and though for every bad day there are ten good ones lined up to take its place, there's always doubt. Maybe he won't be fine, comes the eventual whisper.

And alongside it, the faint smell of smoke.

Return Of The Man Cold

April 5, 2011  
It's April, and for those down in southern Australia, it signals the beginning of the truly cool weather as winter guns it's engine and prepares to catapult us into the scariest stretch of the year of all - THE FLU SEASON.


I would like to say that come wintertime I am blessed with ample opportunity for joyful wifely service in the care and nurturing of my dear, lovely husband when he takes ill (which he is prone to do, two or three times a season).  I would like to say that, but I can't.  Because this is him:

This just doesn't get old for me :)

And then I remembered something I'd written a few years back, during The Man Cold of '07...

(*sung to the tune of "Good King Wenceslas" - don't ask me why I thought of this in April!)
Good wives all around the world
Prepare yourselves for cleaning
When the bowls lay all about
Waiting for the heaving
Brightly shone the bathroom light
Though the air was fo-ul
"Honey, can you come here quick, I think I need a to-ow-el!"

Some will come but most will run

You look like Death on To-oast
With bloodshot eyes and dripping nose
Don’t try to play the ho-ost
Broadly grinned the wise doctor
His pockets lined with go-old
And you’ll be wishing for the days
Before this blasted cold!
Is it too late to head to Fiji for the winter?

A Meatless Sausage Roll And No Tofu In Sight? You Betcha!

April 4, 2011  
You know when you stumble across a recipe that is so easy, so great and so kid-friendly that you have to share it with the world?

We made these last night and they were so ridiculously easy its almost embarrassing. They're sausage rolls made without sausage mince. Or meat of any kind for that matter (and no tofu either). And not one child I've fed these to can tell the difference. I didn't hold out much hope that the end result would be edible, let alone appetizing, but I was wrong - they taste fantastic.

Cottage Rolls

Makes 24

1 cup low fat cottage cheese
3 eggs
1 onion, finely diced
1 tbsp soy sauce
1/2 cup grated carrot
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1 cup quick-cooking oats (the ones that are chopped up a bit)
3 sheets puff pastry
1 tbsp milk
1 tbsp poppy or sesame seeds (optional)

  1. Preheat oven to 200ºC (375ºF-ish). Line two trays with baking paper.
  2. Combine cottage cheese, eggs, onion and soy sauce in a bowl.
  3. Add carrot, oats and breadcrumbs (I ended up using about 1 cup of breadcrumbs total - you don't want the mixture to be too 'wet') and mix well.
  4. Cut each pastry sheet in half to form two rectangles. Heap the mixture onto the middle of each pastry rectangle, forming into a log shape as you go. Leave a 2cm (1 inch) border of pastry all around. Brush these pastry edges with the milk. Roll up to enclose filling. Cut each log into four pieces.
  5. Place on a lined baking tray and repeat with remaining pastry and mixture. Brush tops with milk and sprinkle with poppy/sesame seeds if desired.
  6. Bake for 35 mins or until the pastry has puffed and become golden brown. Serve with tomato ketchup for dipping.

These would be a great alternative to the usual high-fat-nutritionally-devoid fare served at children's parties. The pastry still contributes a moderate amount of fat but the payoff is that this recipe is cheap to produce, is vegetarian, and the kids won't notice they're eating something healthy! You could also add some other grated vegetables to the mixture, such as zucchini, for that added nutrient boost.

Seriously? These are awesome - my kids devoured them.

The Family Mixing Bowl

April 3, 2011  
I bought a mixing bowl today. Okay, so it was a really big salad bowl, but you only know that because I told you. It’s a mixing bowl, okay? Right.

I was looking for a large, solid, crockery-style bowl in which I imagined mixing copious batches of Mama-ish delights. You know, cookies, cakes and brownies. All the good things in life.

I wanted something cutesy, maybe with a pretty little pattern on it. I imagined myself poised over it, apron firmly tied around my waist (should I mention that I don’t actually own an apron?) and wooden spoon in hand, spreading the love. Or the icing, at least.

Turns out, ‘cutesy’ was oh so last season daahling. (Yes, actual words from a kitchenware salesperson today!)

I looked everywhere. The best offerings I found weren’t half as big as I wanted, and the worst was a mustard/baby poop-coloured monstrosity the likes of which would have graced my grandmother’s kitchen. Which is okay, if you’ve inherited such an item and have the memories of Grandma’s apple crumble to back it up. When you are forced to buy poop-coloured kitchenware...well, its just sad.

In the end I found a perfectly plain crockery salad bowl. It didn’t look cute at all. It looked bland. It looked, well, boring. And it was made to house salad. I’ve never made a salad that big in my life. I drove home lamenting the pseudo-loss of my old fashioned (but trendily modern at the same time) pastel-coloured, grooves-in-the-sides piece of culinary beauty. You know the ones I'm talking about.

But then when I got home I looked at plain, simple ol’ mixing bowl sitting on the benchtop. And thought to myself, wow, what a blank canvas. How many sticky little fingers are going to slide along the bottom of that doughed-up bowl and make a dash to a waiting mouth before Mama sees them? How many batches of Fudge Brownies are going to cycle from bowl to oven? What about the meatballs and pasta salads? Or my mother-in-law’s Anzac Biscuits?

Because a mixing bowl isn't just a's a legacy.

The Dignity Of Risk

April 2, 2011  
Just a little something to contemplate on a Saturday night...

The Dignity Of Risk

What if you never got to make a mistake?
What if your money was always kept in an envelope where you couldn't get it?
What if you were never given a chance to do well at something?
What if your only chance to be with people different from you was with your own family?
What if the job you did was not useful?
What if you never got to make a decision?
What if the only risky thing you could do was act out?
What if you couldn't go outside because the last time you went it rained?
What if you took the wrong bus once and now you can't take another one?
What if you got into trouble and were sent away and you couldn't come back because they always remember your 'trouble'?
What if you worked and got paid $0.46 an hour?
What if you had to wear your winter coat when it rained because it was all you had?
What if you had no privacy?
What if you could do part of the grocery shopping but weren't allowed because you couldn't do all of the shopping?
What if you spent three hours every day just waiting?
What if you grew old and never knew adulthood?

What if you never got a chance?

From Linda Stengle's book, Laying Community Foundations For Your Child With A Disability.

April Fool's Day Can Bite Me

April 1, 2011  
I woke up this morning feeling like ninjas had injected flu goop through my eyeballs and into my sinuses while I slept. I want to sew and cut and create today but I have a slightly-more-than-sneaking suspicion that I'll be alternating between blowing my nose violently until my ears bleed and dropping comatose onto the couch (although the upside to being sick is that I get to visit with Mr Darcy, my standard 'feel good go-to')  Thank God the kids are in school, or they'd be eating gruel for lunch.

I'm not a good patient.  I think that's because I'm rarely sick and tend to spent my winter months playing nursemaid to the four other people who live in this house and eat my food. In the past week alone I've had one kid off school for three days with a cough that could rival any chain-smoking biker, and another kid away for one day with a migraine that set off a fever and vomiting (or was it the fever that set off the migraine? Or the vomiting that set off the fever? Aughh, who can tell?) And the way things work around here, I calculate I have approximately four hours until DH begins planning his own funeral due to complications following a Man Cold.

So yeah.  April Fool's on me.

I'm going to go drown my sorrows in a bucket of hot tea now...
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