Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Every Yuletide, I do Wonder

All over town, in every town, Christmas trees are coming down and Christmas lights are twinkling less and less as the days go by. In our home, we took down the tree today as we have always done traditionally in my family on Epiphany, on the twelfth day after Christmas. As we packed the decorations back into their boxes for another year, I realised that if I was going to write a Christmas-themed post, I had better do so today before everyone well and truly moves on from Christmas and plunges into whatever 2015 has in store.

I had actually intended to write this several days before Christmas. I won't bore you with the details of why that didn't happen, suffice to say that I got swept up in the silly season and before I knew it the twelve days of Christmas had disappeared.

Today the Orthodox churches make their yuletide celebrations and I must confess that every year, as I'm running around the shops like a mad woman in the week before Christmas, I find myself wondering why the rest of the western world doesn't do the same. It has always struck me as rather cruelly ironic that the very same gifts that I buy the day before Christmas at full price go on sale the day after Christmas for about half the price. Ditto all the Christmas paraphernalia.

Each year, I mention to the matriarchs in my family that it would make considerably more sense to do our gift giving on 6th January rather than 25th December because we could all do all of our shopping at the sales. Each year they nod and murmur in agreement, but we go on year after year, spending like drunken sailors prior to the 25th and then lamenting that we have no money left to spend at the post-Christmas sales. Oh well, I suppose if we did all postpone our present opening until Epiphany then the shops would soon catch on and shift the start of the sales until 7th January, wouldn't they? In the meantime, I suppose all this goes to show why gift vouchers have become such popular presents!

Long before I associated Christmas with financial predicaments, I was still never short of things to ponder when each time that tinseled time of year rolled round. As a child who loved the atlas just as much as I loved the anticipation of Father Christmas' annual visitation, I would often ask my Mother how it was possible that one man could possible visit the house of every child in the entire world in just one night. Mum, always quick off the mark, explained that different countries have different time zones from each other and therefore his task was not quite as momentous as it seemed.

That satisfied my curiosity for a while - until I became aware of just how many people there actually were in the world and that time differences or not, Saint Nick could not possible get around to all of them in twenty-four hours. But Mum didn't miss a beat. "He manages to do it", she told me, "because not every child in the world has been good and he only has to visit the children who've been good". (This was followed by something along the lines of  "So you'd better be extra-specially good, hadn't you?"!)

My other main childhood Christmas contemplation was also related to geography. I loved the carol We Three Kings of Orient Are but was greatly frustrated that none of the atlases in the house listed Orientare in the index. When I eventually asked my Mother where it was located and she set me straight on the matter, I remember feeling seriously displeased with the creator of the carol for having fooled me for so long.

Now speaking of being displeased, according to an article I read in The West Australian newspaper just after Christmas, a recent survey conducted by Gumtree found that somewhere in the vicinity of 20 million unwanted Christmas presents were received in Australia last year (valued at an estimated $520 million). Apparently the listings on Gumtree increased by 25% in the days after Christmas as people put their undesired pressies on the second hand market. Reading this article only reinforced my resolve to move our family's present-swapping day to Epiphany, as sites like Gumtree and Ebay are swarming with bargains in the days after Christmas. However, the thing that struck me most about this article was the paragraph that read: "About 70 per cent of those quizzed in the poll said they knowingly bought 'undesirable' gifts".

Who would knowingly buy someone an unwanted gift?? I asked myself. And then I read on. "Work colleagues and in-laws are the worst offenders for unwanted presents under the Christmas tree", the article stated. Ah yes, I can relate to that. Two years ago, I received a bottle of wine from my Kris Kringle at work. It looked like a very nice bottle of wine indeed. I just happened to be seven months pregnant at the time. And as for the in-laws part? I'm not even going to go there (but hey, if you've ever received a used, useless, hideous or down-right insulting gift from an in-law, I'd love to know about it!)

I'd venture to say that chocolate is one of those gifts you can't go wrong with (except for that aforementioned Kris Kringle of mine, who also gave me a packet of Tim Tams, even though everyone in the workplace filled out a form before our KKs were allocated stating if we were allergic to anything. I wrote that I was allergic to gluten, but I suppose my KK either didn't know what that meant or else was trying to poison me). But chocolate, on the whole, gets two thumbs up from me. It's the perfect gift for people you don't know very well. It says I'm thinking of you, without assuming to know someone better than you actually do. It's also perfect for re-gifting. I secretly find myself wondering every year how many boxes of chocolates are passed around the neighbourhood before they are actually eaten. When a friend or a neighbour pops in with an unexpected box of choccies, you can just go to the pantry where you've stored all the other boxes of choccies you've been given and whip it out with a flourish and say "I've got something for you too!"

I also wonder if some of those boxes ever make it back to their original buyer. You know, if my neighbour buys me a box and I re-gift it to the school secretary and she re-gifts it to her neighbour who re-gifts it to her son's basketball coach who re-gifts it to her ironing lady who also happens to be the neighbour who bought it for me. I guess as long as the chocolate gets eaten in the end and everyone feels loved, it's all good. More re-gifting equates to less consumerism too of course, so keep passing those chocolates round - it's win-win.

One of my most profound Christmas ponderings would definitely have to be about my own personal consumption of chocolate. Every year, as I inevitably find myself eating my own weight in chocolate over the course of a single week, I ask myself if it is better or worse for my health to eat my annual supply of the stuff in just one week or to ration it out throughout the year. Unfortunately for my waistline, I have never come to a finite conclusion on that matter and continue to steadily consume it throughout the year as well as devouring it in frightening quantities at the year's end.

In all seriousness though, I do wonder every year, when I'm wrapping presents at the last minute and rushing out in sweltering summer heat to get that present for that person I accidentally forgot to buy for (there's always one) why I don't get myself more organised. Ever since I officially became an 'adult' and started buying gifts myself, I have promised myself every year without fail that the following year I will be more organised. I will start the present hunt early. I will be so organised that I will get all of my shopping out of the way during the July sales. Well actually, I did that one year. I bought all the presents months in advance, hid them cunningly in all sorts of improbable hiding spots where no-one was ever going to find them and then, the week before Christmas when I went to dig them all out to wrap them, discovered that I had forgotten where most of them were. I turned the house upside-down, but still didn't manage to find them all and ended up running to the shops, as per usual, at the last minute to re-buy presents for nieces and nephews I had already bought for (If you ever want anything hidden good and proper, I'm your woman).

I suppose it's time to wrap up this Christmas post and forget about anything and everything to do with Christmas until the very last minute next year because there really is no point kidding myself that I'm going to be organised next time either. I'd just like to say though, that I don't leave Christmas to the last minute because I dislike the season. I love Christmas. I know not everyone does though. I know a few people who wish they could skip the whole day altogether.

So here's the funny thing. It's actually possible. My parents had a friend who moved from Australia to the United States for work. One year, he boarded a plane in California in the late afternoon of 24th December to fly home to Sydney for Christmas. The flight took fifteen hours, so in theory he should have landed in Australia on Christmas Day. But there is a 19 hour time difference between his point of departure and arrival and so when he touched down in Sydney it was actually the early hours of 26th December and he had missed Christmas altogether!

I suppose if you really really loved Christmas you could always do that flight back the other way. If you timed your departure right, you could end up having two Christmases in one year.

Regardless of whether you'd rather two Christmases or none at all, I hope you had a wonderful end to 2014 and that 2015 is your best year yet.

Loads of belated Christmas cheer,

What do you wonder about at Christmastime? Do you re-gift? Have you ever received a Christmas present that you hated? Are you brave enough to tell me you have deliberated bought an 'undesirable' gift?? 

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

All that Glitters

Lately, my son has been mentioning some remarks that have been made by his peers regarding people's wealth and material possessions  - or lack thereof. These comments are usually along the lines of how big somebody's house is, how impressive their car is or how much their shoes cost. I wouldn't go as far as to say these remarks disturb me, but they definitely irk me at times, especially considering my son, who was perfectly happy with our house when we first moved into it, has began making comments about how embarrassing it is to live in such a small home.

He's also convinced that certain members of his peer group have begun leaving him out of things "because they're rich and we're poor". When I accompanied his class on an excursion recently, I actually heard one child in the group I was sitting with at lunchtime announce: "Have you guys seen (such and such's) house?" in a tone that implied repulsion. He was not taking about my son, but it did give me an insight into the kind of talk Ben has been describing to me.

This attitude actually surprises me because this is the lowest socio-economic area we have lived in and yet it's the first time Ben has felt inferior at school on the basis of tangible wealth. Clearly, the kids' comments are reflective of their parents' and possibly precisely because this is a low socio-economic area, some people feel that they have something to prove.

I've done my best to explain to Ben that while our house may be small, we are rich in other ways - in our health, our family and our friends, in the knowledge we have gained through our travels and the strength we have gained by overcoming our adversities. It's a difficult thing though sometimes to explain to a ten-year-old who wants nothing more at this age than to fit in with his peers. I try to help him understand that money doesn't automatically make people happy, or kind or wise.

A few days after I had been on that school excursion, a friend of mine came over for dinner. She always has interesting stories to tell me and that night she told me a story apropos of wealth which I am unlikely to forget.

For the past year, my friend has been employed as a clinical psych registrar, a job that satisfies her intellectually but which is also enormously demanding. While we were eating, she mentioned that there are times when she finds herself wishing she were still employed at The Perth Mint - the job she had while she was a uni student. She had no 'take-home' work and no emotional attachment to the job the way she does now.

It was also an interesting place to work, she said, because each day an array of varied people would walk through the doors. There were tourists from a range of nations, buyers of bullion and connoisseurs of coins. And then there were those who came to peruse the opulent jewellery available for purchase and who had, quite often, too much money to know what to do with it.

Now my friend is restricted in terms of what she can divulge about her current job due to client confidentiality, but there is no reason why she couldn't recount some of her tales from her days at The Mint, including one about a lady who fitted right into the category of customer most recently mentioned.

Being a uni student and living away from home, my friend didn't have an enormous disposable income, but still managed to look fantastic (this is my own observation, not part of the story she told me!). Anyway, even though The Mint offered its employers generous staff discounts she still usually wore jewellery bought elsewhere because, despite the discount, the items were still astronomically expensive.

She had a pair of earrings that she often wore to work because they went well with her uniform and the 'look' she was expected to portray. They were a purchase she had made in a bargain jewellery franchise in a shopping centre which set her back $10. One particular day, she was wearing these earrings at work when a woman came into the jewellery section and began slowly examining the items behind the glass cabinets. My friend had seen her in there before and knew she had money and knew how to spend it.

The woman moved towards the cabinet where pairs of earrings sold for $20 000 and above. She asked to see one of the pairs. She took the box, looked closely at the earrings, took one out, looked in the mirror, shook her head and put it back in the box. She proceeded to repeat this process about half a dozen times, each time with a different pair of earrings priced at $20 000 or more.

Finally, the woman gave an exasperated sign and said: "I just can't find what I'm looking for. Can you show me where the ones you're wearing are kept? What I really want is a pair just like that".

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Six things I want my son to Know {a guest post}

Today, I'm thrilled to be hosting Tarana Khan as a guest blogger on The Muddle-Headed Mamma. Tarana is an expat from India who now lives in Dubai where she writes her blog, Sand in my Toes. She is the mother of a three-year-old boy and her guest post is an insight into the life lessons she aspires to teach her son. I loved reading Tarana's list of Six things I'd want my son to know - it's full of wisdom, integrity and conviction and is written in the gentle but confident voice that characterises Tarana's writing and draws me to her work.


It's not rarely that I wonder how my son will be as a grown up. I wonder what kind of man he will be, and what women will think of him. Will he be sensitive in his relationships? I wonder what kind of friend he will be. Will he be a sincere and trustworthy buddy? I really don't know. And even if I make a little effort every day to teach him a few life lessons, I cannot predict how he will turn out as an adult. It is my belief that people are born with a certain type of personality, which remains the same whether they are children or adults - except under unusual or unexpected circumstances. So I wonder. If there are some things I could tell him when he was much older, what would they be?

These are the six things I would like to tell him: 

1. There's only one mom

I'm not being a possessive mother by saying this, or being jealous of future girlfriends. I just don't want him to expect any other woman to 'mother' him. There is a trait common in first-born kids, especially boys - they are pampered by their moms, and feel that they should be treated that way by every woman they form a relationship with. I'm not going to stop pampering him for sure, but I'd like him to know that no other woman will put up with tantrums, or pay such close attention to his wants, forgetting her own.

2. Respect men and women alike

Yes, women should be respected. But I don't want my son to grow up thinking that there is an inherent difference between men and women that we feel the need to emphasise respecting women. Respect should be given when it is deserved, whether it is towards men or women. I hope there is an improvement in gender equality in future, and women shouldn't have to ask for special treatment to be treated as equals, as they have to now.

3. You can't always win

With men, there is always so much focus on winning, and everything becomes a conquest or a race. I would like my son to know that he may not always 'win', but that he will always emerge stronger and richer in experience from putting all his effort into a project, or in dealing with one of life's many challenges.

4. Be honest in every relationship

Whether it's with a friend, a partner, or a co-worker, honesty is one quality I appreciate most in a human being. I hope my son realises the value of being true to himself and towards others. Life is automatically less complicated by being sincere in our interactions.

5. Choose to be happy

Choose happiness over material things, I'd like to tell him. In an age where things can appear unrealistic on social media, I hope he follows his heart, and doesn't worry about what his life 'appears' like to others, and how many possessions he has. There are many more rewards in life than the materialistic ones.

6. Be sensitive, but not foolish

Of course, I want him to be sensitive to others' feelings. But I wouldn't want him to discount his own. I hope no one takes advantage of his sincerity and kindness. I'd like for him to be trusting, but also keep his eyes open.

My son is only three, but nothing will stop me from thinking about the good human being I want him to grow up to be. I want him to know all these things, even when he's stopped hearing my voice.

Tarana Khan is mom to a toddler, living an expat life. She loves writing and has done her stints as a copywriter, reporter and content editor, before embracing parenthood full time. She blogs at Sand In My Toes, where you can drop by to read more of her parenting and other adventures! You can also catch up with her on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest or Google+.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Ten, Going on Twenty

I have a guest post up at the moment over on the blog of Dubai blogger Tarana Khan, Sand in my Toes, called Ten, Going on Twenty. It's all about my son and all the contrasts and contradictions in innocence and experience that characterise his current age.

I'd love it if you could pop over and have a read. You'll find it here.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

The Chronicles of Exhaustion

Last week, I went to give blood and as I was lying there on the donors' chair, rigged up to a machine with a needle stuck in my arm, I realised that I had not felt as relaxed as this since, well quite possibly since the last time I'd given blood. I didn't know, upon realising this, if I should laugh or cry. Yet this moment was indeed nothing to be scoffed at: I had my feet up. I was responsible for exactly zero children. I had even closed my eyes and started to drift off (that is, until a nurse ran over and asked me if I had fainted).

Now one thing that this business of blogging has taught me is the importance of capturing the minutiae of everyday life on camera just in case they may be useful for future storytelling. And so, as I was reclined in my donors' chair, dreaming that I was, in fact, reclined on a deckchair on a cruise ship somewhere in the Caribbean, I reached down the side of the chair to retrieve my phone from my handbag to take a selfie of my arm. This was not, shall we just say, one of my best ideas. I was so relaxed that I had forgotten that the nurse had elevated my chair before inserting the needle into my arm and as I reached for my bag, I almost fell out of my chair and onto the ground. As a result, I am unable to provide a photo of this moment and you will have to settle for my illustration instead, for which I make no apologies (I never claimed I could draw!)

I settled back into my chair and closed my eyes again, hoping both to escape the concerned gazes of the nurses and to re-achieve my previous state of zen. And as I lay there, I asked myself exactly why I was feeling so exhausted lately. Yes, I'm busy, but I have been just as busy in the past. Yes, I have interrupted sleep, but I've never let that break my stride before. I haven't blogged for three weeks. Three weeks and a day, to be precise. That's a record for me. I don't have writer's block - the ideas all still swarm around in my head - I'm just too doggone tired to type them out.

I used to have a bit of a nocturnal routine: I'd put my kids to bed, do the dishes, have a shower, make a cup of tea, do some reading and writing, brush my teeth and go to bed. But gradually, the items on that list diminished until I got to the point where I would be lucky if I got my teeth brushed before I collapsed into bed. And more than once, I even hit the hay without even changing out of my daytime clothes (a nice contrast, don't you agree, with wearing my pyjamas during daytime hours?)

A couple of months ago, I gave myself permission to have my first nanna nap for reasons other than ill health. Ever since my eldest was born ten years ago, I had always filled up my children's nap times with various active tasks - studying, working, blogging, exercising. Even the occasional domestic chore. But once I finally said to myself 'you are tired, therefore you should sleep', it has become a habit that is hard to break. I find myself fantasising throughout the day about the next time I will be able to catch forty winks. The girl who used to run around like the energizer bunny on five or six hours of sleep has gone AWOL.

On a mission to find her, I brought up this topic with my bestie shortly after my trip to the Blood Service. She nodded at me in solidarity; like me, she too has experienced a relationship break-up this year and the spectrum of emotions that go hand in hand with that experience. "It's emotional exhaustion", she reasoned.

I chewed this theory over in my mind and it made sense. While I was in my relationship, my energy was propelled by fear and anger and my survival instincts. Now that I am well and truly away from that situation, those things that propelled my energy are no longer needed. I have finally given myself permission to relax. On the other hand, the near constant harassment and the continual need to fight off negativity is incredibly draining. I felt blessed to have the insight and the empathy of my best friend so she could help me to see this.

Sometimes, when we are in survival mode, our bodies put up with physical and emotional stress until we no longer have to live in 'fight' mode. When we can finally relax, that physical and emotional stress starts to take its toll. I remember reading once about prisoners of war who had survived in prison camps for years without dental care, but almost as soon as they were released from captivity their teeth started to show signs of decay. Their bodies were giving themselves permission to be unwell because they were finally in a situation where they could seek help for their physical problems. I am in no way suggesting that my experience is parallel to those of POWs, yet on a micro-level, it is a similar circumstance.

Now I really must add somewhere in the course of this post (and here seems as good a place as any), the role I think my parental participation in my son's weekly Little Athletics competitions is playing on my energy levels. It's a big commitment, this Little Aths. We have to be at the oval at 7am and the day isn't usually over until 2 in the afternoon. The parents are expected to help in some capacity with the timing of the track events or the measuring of the field ones, which is fun, but with a toddler in tow by the time the afternoon rolls round I feel like I've run, hopped, skipped, jumped and thrown every event out there with the kids. Oh and walked. I can't forget the race walking; it's the comical highlight of my week.

But here I am bemoaning the fact that I have to be wide awake and on my toes before 7am while my bestie, during the course of last week has: made and decorated a birthday cake, a christening cake and a wedding cake, completed a uni assignment and an oral presentation, played three games of netball and hosted her daughter's fifth birthday party. This is the girl who empathised with my emotionally exhausted state and yet still managed to do all that while being a marvellous mum to her three kids.

Urged on by her example, I planted myself in front of the computer last night determined to blog, only to discover that the computer had other ideas (which may have something to do with the fact that Annalisa climbed up onto the desk and jumped up and down on the keyboard the night before). Whatever the reason, no matter what I tried, it was not going to cooperate.

While I'm on the subject of broken things, I might just slot into this post that my car has also been broken for almost two weeks because some nincompoop decided it would be a good idea to drive into the back of me. That means that I have been walking a lot more which should, in theory, increase my energy levels, so I'm not quite sure what's going on there. Perhaps I'm not doing it properly. Perhaps I should stop giggling at those race walkers and start taking notes on Saturday mornings instead.

So here I am, carless, computerless, lying in bed in the dark, writing a blog post on my phone, hosting a pity party of one. I'm going to sign off now because my thumb is aching from all this phone typing (and if that's not a First World Problem, I don't know what is!)

But before I go, I have a favour to ask of you... 

Could you please either tell me that you've been here, done this and that before too long the energy does return, or could you please give me some tips on how to coax that energy back or, failing that, could you just tell me that you feel the same?

I will be eternally grateful.

one mother hen                                     The Multitasking Mummy
P.S please note - if you were planning on advising me to drink green juice in the morning, you'll also have to be willing to come over here and make it for me (I think I've already established that I don't do mornings :)

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Rubbish Bin Art

In the suburb where I grew up, there is a cul-de-sac where. if you go walking on a Friday morning, you will be treated to a free art exhibition.

As you can see from the photos below, the residents of this little road have jazzed up their rubbish bins. The first time I saw these works of art, I wondered if maybe an entrepreneurial teen had offered to decorate his neighbours' bins in exchange for a fee, but I'm pretty sure that's not the case as each of the bins are so different from each other and it's hard to imagine they were all done by the same person.

I then wondered if perhaps the residents had some sort of an arty party one day where they all got together to give their bins a lick of paint. The street does seem to be a bit of an artists' hideaway; several of the houses have studios on their properties and one even has an old railway carriage.

This seems to me the most likely explanation, but I suppose there is always the possibility that one Friday morning, one creative mind wheeled his spruced-up bin onto the curb and all the other residents had a case of artistic envy and quickly followed suit.

Whatever the circumstances, it's definitely a fun street to walk down on bin day ...

This last one would have to be my favourite ... just in case painting a bin is not creative enough, this household crocheted a 'bin cosy' for theirs! 

Mummy Mondays Linky                               one mother hen

Which of the bins is your favourite?

Have you ever painted a bin yourself?

Have you ever crocheted something for an inanimate object? 

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

100 Word Story - Reader's Digest Australia Competition

I've wanted to take on the challenge of writing a one hundred word story for a few years now and recently, I saw in the Reader's Digest Australia magazine that their 100 Word Story Competition is on again. The prize for the overall winner is $1000 and since I have taken my car to the mechanic and my teeth to the dentist both in the same week, I decided that now is well and truly the time to enter. I had thought that the challenge was to write a story of 100 words or less, but it turns out that it must be exactly 100 words. After adding and taking away words half a dozen times, here's what I came up with:

She sits in front of the cake, eyes gleaming, totally present in this moment.

Her family gathers around her, smiling, taking photographs. They wouldn't have missed this party for anything.

One of them lights the candle, another turns off the lights. Her gap-toothed smile broadens, she starts to drool. Someone leans across with a napkin and wipes her chin.

She's can't express her gratitude with words, but they can see how much she's enjoying herself.

They start to sing. It's time to blow out the candle. Just the one, to symbolise a century; one hundred would have been too many.



The Reader's Digest 100 Word Story Competition is open until the 31st December 2014. You can enter your own story here. Hyphenated words count as one. Good luck!

Have you ever written a 100 word story or any other very, very short work of fiction?