September 27, 2011

trucks, trucks everywhere

In our house, there are trucks everywhere.  Trucks live under couches, in bedrooms, under duvets, on dinner tables, under pillows, in the kennel, in the garden, in the sandpit (yes, we have a new sandpit, more on that later).  We draw trucks, make them out of Lego, colour them in, drive them around, sleep with them, eat with them, don't go anywhere without at least one for each hand.  We are crazy for trucks.  I say we, because it's infectious.  I can't go anywhere without wildly pointing out the cement truck, or the garbage truck, or the skip truck...

And it's all because of my dear first born.  Amazing what these little people open your eyes to.  Before him, trucks didn't even exist in my world.  He'll be three soon.  And so the birthday preparations begin.  It's still just over a month away, but when you take away the time spent at work, doing chores, preparing meals, looking after house and home, it really doesn't leave that long to get organised.  And God knows I could never be anything but.

Invitations, food, decorations, venue and the all important cake... yes, a truck cake.  Although he's on the fence as to whether it should be a garbage truck cake or a dump truck cake or a ladybird cake.  Don't ask me where that last one came from.

September 17, 2011

the men in my life

When I went to university at the age of 18, it was my first experience of living away from home and doing what I wanted to whenever I wanted to do it.  I went to a girls' school (two, actually) and I made some of my dearest friends there (sure I lost touch with some of them but thanks to facebook, these wonderful people are back in my life and it seems nobody knows me better).  But when I left home, naive, inexperienced, fresh faced and solitary, my world opened up.

The highlight of that time... well, there are many.  I didn't know how to cook - years of being told to go and study rather than hang out in the kitchen with my mum didn't seem like such a great thing when I was suddenly alone and devoid of any kitchen skills.  That said, I learned quickly, and now I love to cook (because I love to eat) and I became exposed to food I didn't even know existed.  Then there was discovering freedom and all the things that come with it.  The music (oh, the music), the parties, video games, the drugs, the financial irresponsibility (which thankfully is now financial responsibility), self discipline (that one comes and goes) and boys.

As someone who'd always been surrounded by girls (not only did I go to all girls' schools, but I also have two younger sisters), it was quite the thing to now be in this liberal place where everyone was the same and everyone treated everyone else with this cool, educated respect, and we were free to be and be with whoever we wanted.  It was a first for me to have platonic, respectful relationships with boys, and also romantic ones too.  I suddenly felt like I was being myself for the first time in my life, free of the expectations of my parents, and the rules that had surrounded my childhood.

I had been brought up to believe that relationships with boys were trouble and nothing else, that it wasn't possible to have a connection with a man other than my father or my future husband, that I would marry a man chosen by my parents and until that day, looking pretty, wearing make up, saying and doing what I wanted were not allowed, not possible.  Except everything I was now experiencing was the exact opposite of that.  I met guys who were into the same music, the same books, the same sense of humour as me and they weren't interested in having sex with me!  At least, I never knew it if they did.  These guys (and some gals too) became my best friends and I went from my first living experience at uni of an all girls on-campus flat to a shared house with three other boys and a girl who was never really around much.  It was then that I started to realise I was way better with boys than I am with girls.  

I met Troy, my dear friend Troy, the geezer that could drink anyone under the table and treated every event as an opportunity to enjoy himself.  Today he has boys of his own and he is someone I want my own boys to meet and look up to.  His friend Kris, the 7' giant with whom I shared a North London flat for many years.  There was Paul, the guy I was in a relationship with for almost seven years - maybe I'll write about that one day - for the most part, it was a happy time of my life, discovering what I wanted out of a relationship, and it was also a sad time of my life, discovering what I wanted wasn't going to be with him.  But through him, I met Ben, who is as dear a friend as anyone could have.  He too has boys of his own now too, shares his music with me, provides an ear when times are hard and has an imagination and ability with words that nobody else has.  His brother Toby, the geek with the video games, who was always up for a game of something and is one of the smartest boffins I know.  Seamus, the guy I was always a little wary of, didn't really know what to think of him until years into our friendship, when I realised he was a kindred spirit.  There was Neil, my funny French/Scot accountancy lecture companion who provided the inspiration to work hard and do my best and I am certain I owe a big part of where I am in my career today to him.  And Steve, who played the guitar, who liked the same music, who looked after me when I'd had a pint too many, and who made the best fried egg sandwiches.  I could go on.

There were girls too, and they too were and still are hugely influential in their own ways and I don't want to understate how important these friendships are, but it's the relationships with the boys that seem to stay with me.  With the exception of Paul (and I tried), I am still in touch with all of them to varying degrees, and it's been quite amazing seeing them go from university students, to ambitious, driven men, or fathers, or husbands, or older versions of their youthful selves or all of those things.  The experience of knowing them and seeing them become the men they are provides me with such a sense of optimism.

Since then, the trend has continued.  At work I have forged some of the best relationships with men, men who are smart, funny and loyal.  And then, of course, somehow, I got lucky and met the amazing man I was to marry, the man who somehow encompasses all the wonderful things about the other men in my life and more.  And after almost ten years together, we now have little men of our own.  Little men, who have so much to teach me about themselves, their aspirations, and little men that I hope one day will meet the big men in my life, the men that have shaped their mother and her idea of what a good man is.  And perhaps, if I am lucky, they will take note, and see what I see and become good men themselves.

September 9, 2011

boys dig flowers too

This last week or so, I've been deliberately spending as much time as possible outside, not just because it's what the boys prefer, but because spring is here, the weather is near perfect, and it's so refreshing to get out of the house.

For a while now, Ollie's been more keen to walk rather than sit in the pram, reminding us again that time is against us, and he's growing up so quickly.  He holds onto my hand (otherwise he knows the alternative is sitting in the pram and he doesn't want to do that) and walks along at his toddler pace, pointing out letterboxes and telling me to 'look at the cute little flowers', stopping now and again to pick one, and then another one for his brother, or poke his nose into someone's mailbox, telling me whether they've collected their letters or not.  It's cute, although it does take a lot longer to get anywhere and I am becoming more concerned about living on a main road.

Max, he sits comfortably in the front of the pram, with his muslin, thumb in his mouth, listening to the conversation between his mum and his brother.  I can't help but feel he loses out when Ollie is now so communicative and Max is not quite talking, but actually, I think it's good for him.  He hears constant chatter, which is more than Ollie had at that age and it feels as though any day now, his language will explode.  Speaking of 'that age', Max is the age his brother was when he came into the world.  17 months old.  It may sound crazy but it's making me think about how awesome it would be if there was another little soul in our lives... though it might be sensible to wait a little while.  Three kids under the age of three would be nuts.

So that's about all that's happening.  There's the usual too, piles of laundry, yearning for a hug from my mum, a wish for a holiday in the French countryside, bone-aching love for my husband and increasing dissatisfaction with my day job.  And is it me, or does it feel like things are about to change?

September 6, 2011

pick me up

The weekend just gone was a tough one.  At least to begin with.  It's not something I want to write about just yet, but we've had an emotionally trying fortnight which came to a head on Friday evening when we should have been eating pasta and drinking red wine.  Instead we did the opposite and after that, it could only get better.  Thankfully it did.

After a lazy Saturday in the garden, it was Fathers' Day and my plans to bake a cake were foiled somewhat, so we ended up making tiramisu, a dessert that has been on Will's mind ever since I bought the packet of savioardi biscuits months ago.  He is a coffee lover, so it makes perfect sense that he should love this dessert, which we made with fresh coffee, grand marnier and marsala.  Here in Brisbane, sourcing a good or even half decent bottle of marsala is not as easy as it sounds, so a special trip was required, after some internetting and old fashioned phone calling to find something better than the last bottle we sampled, which was awful.  (Don't buy Boronia, it tastes like flat Coke - find some proper Italian stuff and quietly disregard the air miles involved in getting it to Australia.)

Choosing the recipe is half the battle for me.  I pore over my cook books, agonise over what the internet has to offer, working out which of the gazillions of recipes on offer will be the one that will work for us.  It's the same with any new recipe I try.  I Google it, then get lost in the search results, by which time the kids are about to wake up from their day time naps and I've run out of time to get organised and try something new.  Not this time though.  I decided to go straight for what I knew should be a winner by typing in 'Food Safari tiramisu' and lo and behold, there it was.  A reasonably fuss free recipe for what looked like a pretty perfect dessert.

And the verdict?  Sensational.  The biscuits were soaked just enough, with just about enough coffee flavour and booze.  The Grand Marnier addition was an inspired one, the dessert tasted like Christmas and we used up some of that gorgeous orange liqueur that would have otherwise languished until the festive season.  We ate our first portions after two hours of chilling and that was something special, until I remembered what we had done the night before this morning, and I couldn't even wait until 10am before helping myself to a smallish portion.  The overnight stay in the fridge sent it from delicious to top quality.

And there you have it.  We succeeded in using up the savioardi biscuits we thought we never would, we made something new and untried, we managed to rustle up a treat for Fathers' Day and it just so happened to be the pick-me-up we needed after a shaky start to what ended up being a great weekend.

September 4, 2011


Today was fathers' day here in Australia.  It's not fathers' day in England, that happens in June I think, so I have to remember two fathers' days, the one for my dad in the UK and the one for the father of my little boys.  I suppose I should write about Will today, after all we celebrated fathers' day with him, but I think instead I'll write about my dad.


Born in 1953 in Sohal Khurd, India.  Moved to England with his parents and four younger brothers in 1963, at the height of those times in the UK when people were starting to learn about other cultures, and those times when racism and ignorance over how an immigrant population could enrich a country was rife.   But my dad and his brothers and their dad and their mum started a new life in England, making sacrifices and leaving their immediate families behind in India in order to provide their children and grandchildren with a better life - although that better life would be a long time coming.

He learned English, wore a turban, learned how to play the guitar, but not without being challenged by his strict but loving father who couldn't accept that his son might want to listen to western music, let alone pick up a guitar and worship his hero, Jimi Hendrix.  I expect this challenge was the start of my dad's open mindedness to let his own daughters discover their way in life, albeit with his guidance. 

He finished his education and became a draftsman, putting to good use his eye for detail and accuracy. I will always remember the tour we took of his office when I can only have been about 4 years old, shortly before he was made redundant and started his own business, a humble hardware store, that grew into a wood workshop, where he worked with his father in the family trade of carpentry.  As long as I have known him, he has worked hard, be it for our education, or to pay the mortgage, or because that's all he knows.

He married my mum in 1974 having only seen a photograph of her because that was the will of his parents.  He set the example he thought it ought to for his four younger brothers, and I'm not sure he ever did it because he wanted to.  37 years later they are still married and not always the picture of happiness you would want to see in your parents, but they look outwards together and regardless of their differences, they are unified in their love for each other, their children and their grandchildren and set an example for us all.

He renovated the house I grew up in, taking it from a ramshackle terraced house to the best house on our street, even better perhaps because it was next door to my granny and grandad.  He built his own workshop from the dirt in the ground. He smells like sawdust and sometimes like oil and always like hard work.

He has worked hard all his life and sometimes in the face of real adversity and always because he wanted to provide the very best for his family.  He can do a million things. I knows what every tool in the toolbox is for and he can fix almost anything.  I wish he would slow down and think about retiring soon. 

He is a dad that expects you to work hard and do your best.  He expected nothing less than straight As from us at school which I would worry and worry about when my school report showed anything but (which was often).  But that he instilled a sense of commitment and hard work in all his daughters can only be a good thing.  Without his unfailing push to make us realise how lucky we are to have had an education, I can't imagine how my life would be now. 

He used to take me to the library every Thursday and would read Dickens to me.  I used to think it was boring but loved it anyway, my dad reading to me.  He taught me to respect books, learning, reading.  It's probably why I love reading to my own children and definitely why I want my children to work hard and be interested in their education.

He worries.  I am sure he worries about more than I know, but in writing this I realise there is so much I don't know about my own dad.

He doesn't always believe he has been successful, but I suppose that depends on what your measure of success is.  Because it's not money, it's not the car you drive or the shoes you wear although he has always taken pride in wearing smart shoes.  Surely it is the love you give and receive.  And if that is the case, he is the most successful man I know.  My dad.

September 2, 2011

who'd have thought...

...that after a huge week at work, I would have had a weekend like this.  Nothing out of the ordinary, but it was as productive as my weekends have ever been and a reminder that the weekends when we have nothing planned but to be with each other are the best.  Will took the boys swimming on Saturday morning (usually we both go), so I stayed at home, blitzed the house and laundry which somehow set the scene for the rest of the weekend, during which the housework stayed done, and I had a cooking frenzy.

On Sunday morning, straight after breakfast, I made green bean and potato curry, muttar paneer and prepped the evening's roast chicken before get this - squaring Max's quilt, then making the binding AND sewing it onto the back of the quilt, all in one day. And Ollie was a joy to be around all weekend, totally interested in what I was doing, and happy to help.  Now I just have to blind stitch the binding on, design a little label for the quilt and we're almost at the stage when I can start the next one.

Sometimes I amaze myself. (Although at this point I should admit that this blog post is almost two weeks old, and I have only just got round to uploading it.  Better later than never.)
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