Monday, July 26, 2010

Cooking up a storm....

I really love cooking. Over the years I’ve learnt to be careful and not eat as I cook and eat sparingly of the finished product, but I do love food.

Otherwise the hips would overflow and I would be one of those people that would be forced to purchase an extra seat on the plane – "side fat" the boy child calls it. Who hasn’t sat next to that large person on a plane and been swamped by their side fat. Not nice.

Yes I really do like cooking. I’ve joined this International Cooking Group here in town. An eclectic mix of the most wonderful people from all over the world and the Middle East. We have a ball. I count myself lucky to be invited to join. The nature of the group and its activities mean that numbers need to be capped and a balance kept so that one group doesn’t dominate. There’s a limit of 2 from any country and I’m the only one where English is their first language.

It is a hoot!

A big commitment - we meet every week at a different home and the hostess for the week does a demonstration of something from their national cuisine. We start early everyone having brought something for morning tea. We do coffee, talk and then cook and end with lunch and if we’re lucky the hostess has karaoke and then we can go all afternoon. We have so much fun. We learn and share and talk and cook. We get great ideas about food and also different ways of doing things. We share cultures and language.

Sometimes my head spins. I am so humbled by these wonderful ladies whose command of half a dozen languages astounds me flipping from one language to another as they converse across the table. My rudimentary French has improved and while my conversation is basic and limited I am understanding more and more the drift of the French conversations that happen. My Arabic is even more rudimentary but I have wonderful support from those ladies that can speak it to learn more and more. Everyone is helpful and fun.

So what does an Australian cook at an International Cooking Group. I really couldn’t come at anything with vegemite! Wasn’t fussed on doing Anzac Biscuits or a pie! Our food is such a fusion of the multicultural nation that we are. I didn’t have access to the bush herbs and spices that you can get in supermarkets in Australia. So what to do?

Last week was my turn and facing this dilemma was hard. My solution of course was chocolate. A bit like the Godfather thing where the solution is always to “go to the mattresses” my solution is always to go to the chocolate – preferably dark chocolate. Is there any other sort of chocolate to cook with?

Going over the border to the nearest Carrefour (why don’t they come to Australia?) I returned laden with dark chocolate (Dutch), French cream (well UHT), French butter (unsalted of course), rice bubbles and French white cooking chocolate. Well the ingredients may not have been Australian, the recipes weren’t as well but the cook and the attitude and the zest for good food certainly was all Australian.

So what did I cook? Easy! Chocolate spiders, Mars Bar Slice, Nigella’s Molten Chocolate Baby Cakes and Nigella’s Snow Flake Brownies. Nigella and chocolate I truly believe are synonymous and she makes it sooooo easy.

I had to send out a disclaimer though, I wasn’t going to be responsible for people making themselves sick, gaining weight and generally eating too much.

It was a great morning, smooth liquid chocolate melting and mixing and stirring and forming into such yummy treats. Only problem is I think I have turned people off chocolate for at least 3 months.

Were there leftovers after I sent everyone off with little parcels to take home? Well there were a few - a box of brownies and 2 pieces of Mars Bar Slice.

The man in my life loves a chocolate treat. He’d called to see if there was any of that "Rice Bubble stuff" left. I’m sure it was the Mars Bar Slice calling to me all afternoon from the refrigerator. Needless to say those 2 little pieces of slice didn’t last until he got home and when he did get home I said I would make him some more. I explained what we would need to get to make another batch.

"Oh" he said. "That’s not the rice bubble stuff I meant". It turns out the man in my life loves Chocolate Crackles. Almost 24 years we have been married and I never knew. So I promised I’d make Chocolate Crackles for him. A bit of creative shopping substituting coconut oil for copha and I have a happy man!

It just goes to show there is always something new you can learn about each other!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Cleaning up ....

It’s like an ingrained behaviour in me. I have to clear my own plate from the table.

Once I picked up a short stint of work – just a couple of weeks. It was fun. One of the nice advantages of where I was based is that there was a cafeteria. Morning and afternoon tea came round on a trolley to my desk. Wonderful friendly people brought tasty morsels to my door and I became particularly fond of fresh watermelon juice.

The cafeteria had linen tablecloths, linen napkins, wonderful food and people waiting to clear and tidy. More like a restaurant than a cafeteria. I just couldn’t do it though. I’ve been raised in an environment where at lunch, at work you fend for yourself. You clean up your own mess!

I have felt the same about having my house cleaned by someone else. Despite being plagued with the back from hell, my surgeon’s word’s not mine, and a house cleaner being a must I cringe at the thought of someone else having to clean up my mess! I do the pre cleaner coming ‘tidy up’; making sure there is enough of everything. But I hate being there when they are there. I feel embarrassed and self conscious. Sometimes I just don’t like to admit that I have to accept help.

One of the few times that I have never felt this way was when Rosa came into our life. A compact Melbournian from Macedonia she cleaned and sorted and taught me lots about managing a busy household with 2 working parents and keeping it clean. More a part of the family she sorted us out and shared our life. I really missed her when we moved to London.

In the UK our cleaner became a dear friend we went to her wedding and shared some wonderful times with her.

Then there were the twins. A whirlwind set of identical twins that charged twice as much but were out of there twice as quickly. They started at either end of the house and met in the middle having cleaned, dusted and sorted, and I could never tell them apart.

Now I have a man that comes. Twenty two steps make it all that harder for the back to get up and clean. He comes well recommended. Just can’t speak English and I don’t speak his language. He does it all. Probably one of the most organised people in the cleaning game I’ve seen. He has a system. He rotates the big jobs, windows, cupboards, oven and fridge. He just knows when and how often and what needs to be done. We manage without words to share.

So I cleared my own plate... the ladies just shook their heads and smiled, and I continued to enjoy the watermelon juice.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Trust .....

Why is it that some of us are never satisfied with who we are? That our life is never glamorous enough, or we’re frightened of being boring, not being noticed, or of disappearing against the wall paper on the desktop that makes up our existence.

Why is it that we have to exaggerate and embroider and add on to what it is about who we are? Aren’t we unique enough?

Why is it that some people have to spin a story because they want to grab our attention – wavering between reality and fiction?

Children and adolescence seem to have the market cornered on this little activity.

Some adults have this habit as well. Boosting up CV’s, embroidering stories where there is only an ounce of truth. They can cause serious trouble and inflict physical and emotional pain and suffering on others.

Don’t they realise that in this day and age the marvels of Google, Facebook, Twitter and other social networking websites don’t let you get away with anything.

Don’t do this to yourself. It doesn’t do you any favours. Don’t do it to me. I’m so gullible and trusting. I have this inherent faith in people that they won’t mislead me. Nobody is invisible and no one can hide.

I’m a great believer in karma. Sometimes things will come back and bite you on the proverbial.

Beware of the teeth marks.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Junk mail...........

I have this sign on my letter box at home NO JUNK MAIL. I think it is pretty clear. Don’t even think about putting advertising material, flyers, pizza brochures, good deals etc in there, I don’t need them clogging up my life filling it with false promises and ways to spend my hard earned cash.

I don’t have a letter box here. My only source of mail is through the internet. I know I’m a bit of a mail junkie and long for a letter or two to arrive. It’s not the same as opening the mailbox, but seeing that envelope on the bottom toolbar just makes my day.

Having said that, I really hate junk emails. It’s not that I haven’t got filters I have. Unfortunately they sometimes screen out the important bits as well.

What they don’t seem to screen out are those chain emails that are sent in such bad taste. I’m a bit of a reading freak and will read everything cover to cover. Do others read everything as obsessively as me or do they stop after a few lines and think that’s funny and decide to send it on? Don't they see the racism, bigotry and petty mindedness that get passed on for humour? Do they not see that this warped humour is a subtle veil covering behaviour that only forges ahead with extending stereotypes?

Some junk mail I don’t mind - beautiful scenery, a thought for life, and a way of laughing at oneself these I don’t mind.

Don’t get me wrong I’m not a prude and Tim Minchin is my sort of gig, using humour to confront bigotry and reflect back on society and its failings is one thing.

Being mean under the cover of humour, is another thing, and is way too much for me.

So stop and think before you click on the forward button and add my name.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Recovery drink....

I’ve given in and write this with Le Tour on in the background and the other commentary in my ear.

Five weeks has flown by fast. Too fast.

The boy child is home now and getting on with his normal routine. His “room” is packed up and linen waiting to be washed. The refrigerator and pantry is empty. His toothbrush lies in its glass in the bathroom, along with the toothpaste. Remnants of the adolescent whirlwind that came and went like Cyclone Phet.

Adolescence is a term I must file away. He’s now somewhere further along the continuum. A young man with likes and dislikes, with opinions and desires.

Perspective. Always a useful word for me. It’s one that counts now. It’s the word I draw on to understand this young man’s land.

This time of life is so hard. Learning and growing and understanding the rules of adult life. It’s a big realisation that after school the world is out there with yet another set of rules and ways to live by.

Becoming independent what does that mean? Another continuum of choice and ability. Making decisions, making mistakes and living with the consequences. Sometimes you are coasting down after a hill climb and sometimes you are picking out the gravel on the side of the road on your butt.

Sometimes you are in between, still wanting to be a little boy, and sometimes you just want to get out there and conquer the world.

I raise my glass to young people on this threshold it’s just another stage of the Tour de Life.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

So I’m not lovely, and I’m not a nice person...........

I’m just not that sort of person. It came as a shock.

Sitting having breakfast at a wonderful coffee shop after last year’s Breast Cancer Walk, with the girl child and my sister-in-law talking about all sorts of things that girls do when they get together we commented on a friend and said isn’t she lovely. It started a discussion on how we see others and how others see us.

It often crops up in conversation ‘she’s so nice’, ‘she’s such a nice person’, ‘isn’t she lovely’. I hadn’t realised it was a personality type.

I made the mistake of saying ‘well what am I?’ I think I am a ‘nice’ person; surely I fit into the ‘lovely’ category?

The girl child practically choked on her soy latte.

A look of horror passed my sister-in-law’s face.

‘Well mama, really you are not a ‘lovely’ person and I wouldn’t put you in the ‘nice’ category.’

Speechless does not even come close to describe my state following that revelation.

But surely I’m a ‘nice, lovely’ person.

Apparently not....

There was a pause in the conversation as she considered her next words...

‘Mama you are fabulous, that’s the only way to describe you.’


What is that? I felt a bit cheated.

But then I thought about it. I don’t fit the mould. I’m a bit opinionated – well ok a lot. I don’t take rubbish from anyone. I do things a bit differently, don’t dress the way others my age dress. I love art, strange art house movies, bluesy music with a classic twist. I love food and a good glass of wine to go with it and let’s not forget the champagne – I have a particular penchant for Moet. I’ve seen a few things and done a few things in my time. I’ve taken risks and climbed some mountains – well ok not the geographic ones. I have absolutely no hesitation showing my new breasts to whoever wants to see them. I keep bouncing back for more. I make mistakes dust myself off and start again.


Yes I think that’s absolutely right.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Une veuve du Tour ...........

It’s tragic. Sport on television has created generations of widows. For particular seasons and events, life enters the twilight zone, stands still, and resides in a haze of transmission details and adjusted time zones.

The lot I have to bear, after a month of World Cup football which really takes a very humble second is........ Le Tour.

It’s been an interesting month having the boy child visit. Us getting used to him and he getting used to us again. The floordrobe being created in the bedroom. The multitude of toiletries I bought before he arrived gradually disappearing – well maybe the toothpaste hasn’t really changed its level. I bought one of those clear bottles of toothpaste so you could see its level and if it was being used. Well at least I tried.

Don’t even get me started on the food that has been consumed. Our grocery bill has quadrupled. How can one adolescent eat so much pasta not to mention the grated cheese that goes on top? I actually found my favourite basic Australian cheese at Al Fair – Bega mature cheddar, and stocked up. I bought a huge block maybe a kilo. Gone in 3 days. Astounding. I won’t even start on the crackers, drinks, cereal and milk. Milk – I’m sure a whole dairy farm in Saudi has been dedicated to his consumption while he has been here.

Getting back to sport..... the last month has seen serious bike riding happen – early mornings, heat, spin sessions, debates, meeting other dedicatees, the man in my life has regained his fitness and shed those kilos that he put on – has got back into a routine and coped with the boy child’s criticisms that he has become soft. I hope I am around to see the boy child when he is 54 and see if he is as fit as the man in my life. He probably will be, given his similarities to his dad.

Cycling is their passion they do it together. Both are competitive. One now has mellowed with age and can be more reasonable – the other still young and ruthless – takes no prisoners in his approach.

Now at the end of the stay Le Tour has arrived.

Le Tour takes no prisoners. You have to be there for every turn of the wheels. Every gear change, every inch of mountain climbed, every corner taken, every crash and near miss.

They are glued for the close ups. What is the: kit, socks, shoes, pedals, gloves, helmet, sunglasses, gears, cassette, wheels, tyres, drink bottles, computers? How much warm up do they do? Who fell where? What is their form like? Who is sponsoring who? Who is supporting who? Who leads who out? What the times are like compared to other years? Who do you think is taking drugs? Who rides well in the wet? Who caused what crash?

Every detail is recorded in the cycling ‘c:’ drive of their memories. Will be discussed, reviewed, fodder for coffee with the bunch, brought out at every opportunity over the next 4 weeks and thereafter.

I really don’t mind. Well not too much. I am learning a bit more French as we don’t have English coverage. It is a bit more interesting than watching golf on TV. I also know they practice what they see. Not just TV sofa sports addicts. These guys get out and do the kilometres. They are fit and healthy and care about their bodies.

Jusqu'au 26 juillet je vais pratiquer mon français un peu plus et l'espoir que je vais occasionnellement ont une tasse de thé a fait pour moi et parfois obtenir à regarder un film à la télévision .....

Friday, July 2, 2010

How hard does it have to be? ... the hidden costs of breast cancer ......

Sometimes it seems as if it will never end. You think it is all over and bang you get hit again by another aftershock from the earthquake that hit your life in the form of breast cancer.

How do you count the costs? think you have your life in order and breast cancer rears its ugly head. You have a great job – stressful but it’s yours and you earned it. You work hard and for the first time in years feel as if you are contributing and getting on top of things. The extra family income helps you add another dimension to the family planning for the future. Your husband is in a good job well respected and working hard. The children are doing well and you count your blessings that they have managed so far into adolescence and not gone off the rails.

Work would be fine you have issues you deal with but that is your job you learn and grow and make decisions and move on. In the middle of dealing with the issues you are landed with the diagnosis. So many things get left unfinished. There’s no tidy endings, no farewells, too many things unsaid.

How do you measure the cost of lost confidence? wonderful husband hangs in there. His life turned upside down. Confidence that he knew where he was going, what he could do, that he had control and could make decisions. How do you measure that when it gets shattered? How does he keep on going at work, keep focussed, keep up the priorities?

How do you protect yourself from those who would take advantage of your loss of confidence? How do you cope with your dismay that there are people who would take advantage of this situation?

There is no such thing as your “wife has breast cancer leave”. Maybe for the first even the second lot of surgery, by the fourth he’s changed jobs, by the seventh he’s not working, by the eighth he’s on a job interview interstate, and then by the ninth he’s working overseas. You have to do what you have to do to keep it all afloat.

How do you deal with a diagnosis that is beyond your control and sideswipes you from out of nowhere?

.....there’s an old saying the wonderful man in my life tells me:

How do you eat and elephant? A mouthful at a time.

.....and that’s what we did, one decision at a time and one day at a time. You sometimes get the decisions right and sometimes don’t.

Trying to move forward when we feel as if we are stuck in quicksand.

How do you measure the cost of having to move?

.....not something that is easy at the best of time but when you are in the middle of treatment what choices do you have. Distance and multiple surgeries and procedures are not the best of friends.

How do you measure the impact on a teenager?

.....moving, changing schools, a crucial period of his life, after working so hard to get where he was. How do you measure that? How do you measure his loss of confidence? His lack of trust and disappointment. How do you measure his lost opportunities and pathways for the future? How do you measure the loss of trust? The resentment, anger and the sadness.

How do you measure the cost?

.....having the surgery and treatment seems to be the easy part. It’s over and I can show off my perky new breasts.

.....still the reverberations come. Sometimes out of the haze when I least expect it.

How do you do it?

..... I wouldn’t know where to start to measure the cost. It is just too great and it still keeps coming. I do the best I can.

It would be easier if I was the sort of person that wore their emotions out there and became a falling heap on the ground but I just keep on soldiering on. Falling heaps are good at getting a lot of attention but they often don’t get the job done.

How do I measure the cost?

.....of my sadness at the impact of this on the ones I love all around me. That they have changed and our family has changed is something that I cannot control. Everyone reacts differently according to their own experience and sensibility. The relationships that have been battered and bruised and are still in shock and pain from all that has happened, how do you measure that? How do you try and put it all back together when you know that some of the pieces have changed forever and cannot go back no matter how hard you try to make them fit?

If only there was something that would stop the aftershocks coming. A quick easy fix that soothed the frustrated and broken hearted from the trauma. Some direction that would tell me how to reach out to my family who are suffering still and tell them it’s ok.

Of course we're grateful. I'm here and we have a future. It is just one piece of the ceramic that needs to fit back together.

Very slowly our grief and anger ebbs and flows sometimes it has subsided and sometimes it still can be a crashing tsunami affecting us all so differently.

Tomorrow will come, it’s just one day at a time...